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October 2, 2009
American AgoraBy Greyhawk
April 2009, the Milblgs Conference. During this panel we're (L-R Bill Roggio, Bill Nagle, and Andrew Exum, the guy in the corner is me) discussing how the strategy to be used during "the surge" in Iraq was presented in public military-related web sites (specifically in Small Wars Journal) as part of a campaign (see Kilcullen's contribution here) to "get the word out" regarding our intentions for Iraq - and whether any similar outreach efforts might be expected regarding Afghanistan. (All something of a follow-on to this discussion). To put this in its proper time frame, the conference was weeks after the first "Afghan troop surge" had been announced, but the ink was hardly dry on the administration's White Paper defining our approach to Af/Pak, and the announcement of General McKiernan's replacement by General McChrystal as commander of forces was over a month away.
For those without video capability (or having trouble with the sound quality in that version) here's how that portion of the discussion concluded:
Exum: We've got a strategy, we just don't have many good choices to operationalize it...
Me: There was a Bush-era document that was our "Path to Victory in Iraq" that laid out from the perspective from on high... the White Paper strikes me as a similar document to that - this is what we intend, these are our goals...
You may have detected a note of skepticism in my voice regarding the existence of a solid strategy, if so I assure you I was experiencing it at the time - the White Paper was vague, or at least open to interpretation. In one regard that's exactly what guidance from that level should be. Likewise, it should be clear that no one would make any claim that national strategy should be determined in weblogs, military-related or not. The name I chose for that panel - The New Media Agora, reflected this:
The Agora (Greek: Ἀγορά, Agorá) was an open "place of assembly" in ancient Greek city-states. Early in Greek history (900s-700s BCE), free-born male land-owners who were citizens would gather in the agora for military duty or to hear statements of the ruling king or council.
...in short, a marketplace of ideas where such things are merely discussed, and certainly not a decision-making body.
But since then, Exum himself (well-qualified for numerous reasons not including "has weblog") participated in General McChrystal's effort to operationalize that strategy - to bring it down to the next (boots-on-ground) level. In watching all that develop, many of my reservations about whether we had a strategy (and whether that strategy could be operationalized) diminished - at least to the point that when evaluating alternatives this one appeared to be the obvious next step to the goal. Given the unavoidable unknowns inherent in any plan, hindsight is the ultimate - and only - final arbiter of success. But beyond that, we were committed to this path - in fact we were well along it - and available time was a limiting factor. While all of that was part of the consideration, expedience aside the plan remains worthy on merits.
The discussion is ongoing, of course. Nothing is decided. We may stick to the plan. If we're going to try something else for a few weeks then perhaps once we've heard about it we'll be able to embrace that for those weeks, too. Perhaps we'll even have time to try out something different after that. And if you detect a note of skepticism in my writing I assure you I'm experiencing it once again.
Is there some lesson to be learned in all that? Certainly. A great reminder that no matter how hard you work, no matter what you think you know, and regardless of your experience or commitment - from time to time you'll run up against this sort of argument:
...and discover that maybe this was what it really meant all along:
At least, this humble blogger begins to wonder if it might be so.
Elsewhere in the Agora:
Neptunus Lex:"So much for the moral high ground in President Obama's "war of necessity"".
Jules Crittenden: "Good news first. Obama's actually met with his Afghan War commander. He managed to squeeze in a meeting with McChrystal on the tarmac at Copenhagen, while nursing his IOC hangover". (Hopefully the President wasn't in too bad of a mood.)
Spencer Ackerman: "My fellow progressives can find reasons to criticize McChrystal, and I have no doubt they will. I will also find reason to criticize McChrystal. But it should be placed on the balance sheet that no serving military commander has ever gone this far..." (See also here and here.)
Robert Haddick: "Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell made it clear that the objective of President Obama's Afghanistan policy - "to disrupt, dismantle and destroy al Qaeda" - remains unchanged. According to Morrell, what is currently open for discussion among Obama senior advisers is "whether or not counterinsurgency is still the preferred means of achieving that end.""
Major Mehar Omar Khan: "No sane citizen of our world, let alone a Pakistani infantry officer who may soon end up being another name on an ever-growing list of the fallen soldiers in the war against terror, enjoys thinking about the painful possibility of our world's greatest military power and history's most inspiring nation retreating in the face of an onslaught by Kalashnikov-wielding bearded barbarians riding on the back of motorcycles, hungry horses and perspiring mules."
That last might be the quote of the week. Many folks are talking a lot - but in spite of all that competition, I think that message from a guest in the American Agora is hard to top.
Posted by Greyhawk / October 2, 2009 5:20 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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