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June 29, 2011
What he wouldn't sayBy Greyhawk
Back in late 2009, when President Obama decided to halfass his Afghanistan mission and to announce the July 2011 deadline to begin removing the troops he did send there, the DoD was able to manage one concession from the commander-in-chief: he would use language in his announcement indicating that drawdown would be "based on conditions on the ground." It wasn't much to work with, but at least it was something, and the troops gave it their best possible shot.
Unfortunately for them, Obama also immediately dispatched Joe Biden to make sure anyone who was listening would understand without a doubt that conditions on the ground wouldn't mean a damn thing when it came to a drawdown: "Let me tell you what I'm happy with... You're going to see [troop numbers] coming down as rapidly over the next two years."
Afghanistan certainly isn't the first time US troops have been sent somewhere in numbers too small to do a president's bidding, but since then, 100,000 Americans in Afghanistan have fought the first war in world history against an enemy who'd been assured of their opponent's quitting time. I'm told the Tollybon aren't the sharpest tools in the shed (though they might use those sharp tools from time to time), but you don't have to be able to read to understand that.
Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen, nominated to replace Gen. David Petraeus as head of coalition forces in Afghanistan, acknowledged Tuesday that President Obama's decision to draw down 10,000 troops by the end of this year and the rest of the surge forces by September 2012 was not one of the options proposed to the president by Gen. Petraeus.
Score that Joe Biden: 1 - GI Joe: 0. The President is in charge, the generals will salute smartly and carry on, and as Obama explained to the troops at Ft Drum, he's betting our future on negotiations with the Tollybon. (I hear Paris is a good place for that sort of thing.)
Let's turn back the clock a bit, to April, 2008. General Petraeus testified to Congress on the way forward in Iraq. The graph below (for a full explanation, click here) should help put that moment - along with the before and after - in historical perspective; it's indicated by the dashed red line.
This wasn't the more widely-covered ("Betrayus") testimony of the previous summer, but it was an election year, and Democrats were still heavily invested in a narrative of Iraq as an eternal nightmare of endless war. Then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even warned the General ahead of time not to come with a message that things were going well.
While there's no doubt he could have done more with more, General Petraeus got what he needed for Iraq. Of course, in April, 2008 the chart above ended where the dashed line is now - and other ways forward had their advocates, too. Which brings us to this moment in the hearings, as Senator Bayh applied all the skills in his politician's toolbox to get General Petraeus to say that reasonable people could certainly discount his advice.
Back to the present - or at least, last week. To bring us up to date, here's another graph.
The white part of that is something the White House likes to brag about - in fact, they provided it. I had to add the red myself - the steady rise in American war deaths since Obama took office is something they'd prefer to ignore. We can all hope that negotiations with the Tollybon bear fruit - and that the red line plunges with the white as we pursue the way forward in Afghanistan. But as with Iraq in 2008, that way forward was the topic of Congressional testimony from General Petraeus last week.
There's a notable difference in this testimony compared to the 2008 version.
Although the message "you aren't going to put words in my mouth" is still loud and clear - as is this point from the General:
I obviously support the ultimate decision of the commander in chief. That is, we take an oath to obey the orders of the President of the United States.The exchange that followed, however, is noteworthy. The Senator asks "And if you couldn't do that consistent with that oath, you would resign?" - and clearly the expected "yes" response would indicate things aren't really all that bad, so the Senator was probably surprised when the General didn't give it.
I think there's much in his comments for every America to think about. I wish congressional testimony from commanders of American troops at war was considered as newsworthy now as it was in 2007. But wish in one hand, shit in the other - slap 'em together and you've got the way forward in Afghanistan.
"I feel quite strongly about this," the General continued - after Senator Levin had tried to cut him off. "Our troopers don't get to quit."
Added: scratch Kabul's Inter-Continental Hotel from the list of potential peace talk sites; apparently the Tollybon don't like it.
Posted by Greyhawk / June 29, 2011 12:25 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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