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February 14, 2011
Wind of ChainsBy Greyhawk
Hundreds of black-clad riot police officers, some in bullet-proof vests, deployed in key locations in central Tehran on Monday to thwart an Iranian opposition march in solidarity with the uprising in Egypt, news reports and witnesses' accounts from Iran said.
I acknowledge "the latest" is a perishable term. But bear with me as I recount some personal ancient history to set the stage for what follows.
August, 1990 - Iran had experienced over a decade of the Mullahs' rule (begun with massive street demonstrations against the Shah and followed immediately by something we called the hostage crisis...). In more recent events, Jihaddis (including the then-unknown Osama bin Laden) supported by the US (though few details of that were known at the time) had cast the armies of the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan just over a year before. The Berlin Wall had fallen just a few months after that. (Reagan had asked Gorby to do it, but ultimately it was chopped to pieces by a crowd of demonstrators.) The Baltic Republics were in the process of declaring their independence from the Soviet Union. ("On August 23, 1989, the fiftieth anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the People's Fronts of all three Baltic countries held a huge demonstration of unity - the "Baltic Way". A 600 km (373 mi) long human "chain" from Tallinn through Riga to Vilnius was assembled. This was a symbolic demonstration of the people's call for independence from the Soviet Union.") Polish elections were scheduled for November; Solidarity's Lech Walesa would win. Back in the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev was trying to reform his government as fast as he could. (Not fast enough, as it turned out, but its collapse was still a year away.) The German band Scorpions was about to release a new album that would include the song "Wind of Change." Inspired by their 1989 Moscow visit ("Scorpions became only the second Western group to play in the Soviet Union - the first being Uriah Heep in December, 1987 - with a performance in Leningrad. The following year the band returned to perform at the Moscow Music Peace Festival...) it was destined to be a big hit.
And that was the world as it was the month Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait (Global opinion expressed here) just over two decades ago. To put that in perspective, most folks under 40 years old will have little personal recall of what all that was like - other than perhaps memories of whistling along with that Scorpions song on the radio (or changing the channel if they didn't like it). Those under 30 will have none. Barack Obama was a student at Harvard Law; Sarah Heath - journalism degree in hand - had married Todd Palin and left her TV news career to start a family. As for me, in August 1990 I was a low-ranking USAF enlisted guy with six years service. As such I was attending the second level of USAF Professional Military Education - then called NCO Leadership School - at Yokota Air Base in Japan. At such schools you learn various aspects of leadership, management, supervision, military history, national security and other topics relative to your next level of responsibility.
In one of the classes - which are mostly designed for open discussion - I questioned (briefly - I knew it was a no-win) an instructor's statement that "Communism is THE GREATEST threat we face in the world today." A repeat of those eleven words was the only response to my various alternative threat scenarios (including Saddam Hussein) and predictions that the USSR couldn't last; after about the third I saluted smartly and said "roger that." He, of course, was sticking to an official script - I mention this only to point out that the US military is slow to change official scripts. I finished that course and returned to Korea - where I was actually stationed and where we were (and still are) actually confronting Communism. But I had to fly commercial - there were no military transport aircraft available in theater because it had all been diverted to delivering our response to the lesser threat posed by Saddam Hussein*.
Flash forward a few months - to exactly twenty years ago this week. We'd been bombing the hell out of Iraq for a month. (But the US wasn't going alone - we'd put together a big coalition to eject Saddam. Egypt was in, even Poland played a part.) Ground war seemed imminent - but on February 15, 1991...
...President of the United States George H. W. Bush announced on the Voice of America radio saying: "There is another way for the bloodshed to stop: And that is, for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations' resolutions and rejoin the family of peace-loving nations."
That didn't happen. Instead, in the last week of February Iraqi forces were ejected from Kuwait and Saddam's army was crushed in a 100-hour ground campaign. The end of it was almost as big a surprise as the fall of the Berlin Wall - Saddam Hussein was left in charge of Iraq (though he pledged to open his country to UN inspections...). As was then explained to confused Americans (myself among them), the goal had been simply to liberate Kuwait (per UN resolutions). So, mission accomplished, one might say. And as America welcomed her troops home, construction and expansion of our long-desired permanent bases in Saudi Arabia got underway. Only in hindsight can we recognize that our two-decade war with Saddam - and Osama bin Laden - had also just begun.
Which brings us to one of those key moments in history - one that begs the question "what if we'd handled that differently?" - and the one that recent events in Tunisia and Egypt (and Iran, maybe?) reminded me of in the first place. In the immediate aftermath of Desert Storm, Iraqi Shiites and Kurds revolted against Hussein's dictatorship. Even if they'd never heard President Bush's radio message, given that we were living in an era when self-liberation of citizens of police states was common, and theirs was controlled by a global pariah, they might have expected American aid - several forms of which were still close by. But if so their hopes (and their revolution) were swiftly crushed. But before that final crush, the American media weighed in.
The Boston Globe was convinced Bush was behind the revolt - and that he should stay the hell out: "The Americans took out Saddam's communications with smart bombs; they are now trying to take out his regime with Iraqi proteges, subsidized proxies and professional hit squads. The present struggle for power in Iraq holds two dangers for the U.S.: that Saddam will prevail, or that he will be replaced by forces equally inimical to peace and human rights. Washington has little control over the battlefield on which this political war is fought."
The LA Times reported the Iraq people were behind the uprising, and that America should stay the hell out: "...if disorders should give way to chaos and foreign armed intervention does become necessary, U.S. and Western forces should make sure they stay well out of it."
The Washington Times believed the US should stay the hell out: "Iraqi dissidents would like U.S. and other allied forces, now occupying most of southern Iraq west of the Euphrates, to intervene on their behalf, but they won't and they shouldn't."
And the Baltimore Sun believed the US was responsible for the revolt - but should stay the hell out: "The U.S.-led coalition has unleashed forces it cannot control. Wars do that."
Somewhere, perhaps, there's a counter-example of a media outlet urging otherwise. If so, I'm not ignoring it - I just don't know where it is. But six years would pass before this update appeared in the Wall Street Journal:
In late March 1991, shortly after the Gulf War, Iraqis were in open revolt. Fighting erupted in all but three of Iraq's provinces, and Saddam's army was left with two days' worth of ammunition. A desperate Saddam sent one of his highest-ranking officers as a "defector" with information that Iraq's senior military leaders were on the verge of a coup but hesitated as long as they faced the threat of a revolution. Accordingly, the U.S. signaled to Saddam that he could use his air power, grounded under the terms of the cease-fire, to crush the revolt. No coup followed.
Unsourced, but plausible. Following that we had a decade of misadventures, the surface of which is scratched here. (Here's a detail-rich account of one episode from Scott Ritter. Believe of it what you will, but this: "The failed June 1996 coup attempt had largely been determined by domestic American political considerations. Like President George HW Bush before him, Clinton and his political handlers were sensitive to public perception in a presidential election year. This shaped both the coup's mission (get Saddam) and its timing (early summer, before the Republicans had nailed down their candidate). Not only was the 1996 plot chiefly a "wag the dog" scenario, but once again, any chance of Iraq disarming under UN supervision had been cynically undermined by the larger US objective of regime change..." is certainly true. Bill Clinton, however, would find himself rather glad to still have Saddam Hussein to kick around some more later. Speaking of which - here's another anniversary this week - hard to believe that one was thirteen years ago...)
Enough memory lane for now. Or almost enough. I'll close by dedicating this golden oldie to all you groovy guys and gals in Tunis, Cairo, and Tehran....
...everyone just whistle along if you know don't know the words.
(And Happy Valentine's Day, y'all. XXOOXX).
*footnote: I pointed out this lack of air assets to someone else when I got back. "You know, if the North decides to make a move now, we can't get the back-up boys over here," I said.
"We'd nuke 'em," he responded, "and they know it."
I chuckled, in the nervous way you do when you hear something like that from someone who actually knows what they're talking about, and you aren't sure if they're kidding or not.
Posted by Greyhawk / February 14, 2011 6:00 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...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
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Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
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