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January 4, 2010
Word GamesBy Greyhawk
Rory Stewart attempts to explain Obama' s Afghanistan policy, as defined in his West Point speech:
But perhaps even more importantly, defining a more moderate and limited strategy gives him leverage over his own generals. By refusing to endorse or use the language of counterinsurgency in the speech, he escapes their doctrinal logic. By no longer committing the US to defeating the Taliban or state-building, he dramatically reduces the objectives and the costs of the mission. By talking about costs, the fragility of public support, and other priorities, he reminds the generals why this surge must be the last.
Yes - he avoids a lot of future blame by refusing to state policy in clear terms, but he also gets results like this from a unit suffering some of the highest casualties in Afghanistan:
And that confusion isn't confined to Afghanistan - and isn't likely to be settled from on high:
Stewart - who is certainly as well-qualified as anyone to have a go at it - believes he's interpreted the president's message, and seems assured that Obama is defining "a radically different strategy--a call strategy--which is about neither surge nor exit but about a much-reduced and longer-term presence in the country. The President did not make this explicit. But this will almost certainly be the long-term strategy of the US and its allies."
That "neither this nor that" explanation seems fine on one level, but I'd be hesitant to stake my reputation on any interpretation of anything the president "did not make explicit," and here's why.
1. Obama is responding to perceived crisis in much the same way all weak leaders do - by offering up vague "instructions" that can be interpreted as the receiver sees fit. (General McChrystal, therefore, can continue to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan while Joe Biden assures America that we aren't pursuing a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. McChrystal, of course, will have to word his public statements on the topic very carefully - Biden's crew tend to shit their little silk panties when they feel threatened.) Anyone with a little bit of work experience understands the weak leader/vague instruction approach: if your actions are successful it's because they got it right; if you fail it's because you got it wrong.
2. Much of what could work in Afghanistan would have the same name as what was used in Iraq, and Democrats don't want to be in a position of explaining why they now support something they can be quoted repeatedly as opposing vehemently just a few short years ago. This is true of all aspects of what we used to call the war on terror (which as Roger Simon points out was a euphemism in the first place) - so new names are needed for everything, and where new names aren't expedient vague guidance will have to do.
Word games - only the names have been changed to protect the innocent, or in this case, the folks for whom hypocrite is the worst insult possible.
But if you're not a fan of word games, Barry McCaffrey predicts we'll soon enough be working with numbers instead:
I really hope he's wrong. That's mostly for the troops and their families, but also because I'm not looking forward to what the experts will have to say about that.
Posted by Greyhawk / January 4, 2010 4:38 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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