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A break from convention coverage because one of my favorite milbloggers needs your help.
The moment some folks have been waiting for... I'll add comments to the post below as the speech progresses...
Here's the full text of House Minority Leader John Boehner's speech today, as released. Apparently this one's getting some attention around the blogosphere. I'll be live blogging it from here on the convention floor, so my thoughts will be added (in italics) as he delivers...
Item one: there was a brief intermission to allow the setup of the teleprompter for Congressman Boehner. He's the first to use one here...
Washington (Aug 31) House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH)
Remarks to the 92nd American Legion National Convention - As Prepared For Delivery
August 31, 2010
Thank you for that introduction, Commander Hill. The American Legion made a great choice by electing an Ohioan to serve as national commander.
Thank you for having me - it is always an honor to be among those who wear and have worn our nation's uniform.
Before I go any further, I want to thank the American Legion and all our veterans service organizations for supporting our troops wherever they are stationed and caring for them when they come home.
It is truly hero's work and I know I speak for all the members of the United States Congress when I say 'thank you.'
I also want to congratulate Commander Hill and the hundreds of bikers who participated in yet another successful Legacy Run. All told, you raised more than $360,000 for the families of servicemembers who have fallen in the line in the years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Your efforts serve as a reminder of our shared resolve as a country to never forget 9/11 and to keep faith with the heroes who lost their lives that day -- often in the hope that others might live.
Those memories don't fade and these colors don't run. So we honor the sacrifices of our 9/11 heroes --- today... tomorrow...always.
Thank you for the work you are doing to help improve veterans' access to the quality health care they deserve.
I was proud to work with the Legion last year to stop a severely misguided plan to bill veterans' health insurance companies for combat injuries. Insurance companies don't send men and women into combat, our Nation does - and our Nation should take responsibility for that momentous decision.
And I was proud to stand with the Legion this year to expose flaws in the new health care law that could have harmed veterans. With the Legion's help, we successfully protected veterans' health care benefits from new mandates and costly regulations.
JOBS AND THE ECONOMY
As important as our government's commitment to provide quality health care for our veterans may be, just as important is a commitment to the dignity and respect that comes from holding a job.
Today, as thousands of our warriors come home seeking to provide for their families and realize the American Dream they have volunteered to defend, awaiting them is an economy that affords neither opportunities nor jobs. Veterans' unemployment is now at 11 percent.
That is why I have called on my colleagues in the Congress and the president to join me in supporting a series of immediate actions to end the ongoing economic uncertainty and help more Americans find an honest day's work.
'Stimulus' spending sprees, permanent bailouts, federal mandates and government takeovers have failed this nation and have failed our veterans.
It's time for a fresh start so that every man and woman who has donned the uniform of our nation knows that when they leave the service, the opportunity for a good job in the private sector awaits them.
It is an honor to share the stage today with Secretary Robert Gates and I join him in thanking our brave men and women who have served and are currently serving in Iraq.
This day belongs to our troops, whose courage and sacrifices have made the transition to a new mission in Iraq possible. It is with profound gratitude that we reflect on all that our servicemembers and their families have done - and continue to do - during a time of peril. We also salute the work of their commanders, General David Petraeus and General Ray Odierno.
At this moment, I can't help but think back to a time when the situation in Iraq was grim and the future seemed bleak.
When General Petraeus embarked on the surge strategy, it was widely viewed as our last chance to save Iraq from spiraling into an irreversible descent toward chaos. The consequences of failure then, as now, were severe.
Some leaders who opposed, criticized, and fought tooth-and-nail to stop the surge strategy now proudly claim credit for the results.
* One leader in the U.S. House of Representatives declared the surge a failure before it was even implemented.
* One leader in the United States Senate said, and I quote - 'this war is lost' - while additional forces were being mobilized.
* One lawmaker rejected the idea that the surge would reduce violence in Iraq, saying - and again I'm quoting - 'in fact, I think it will do the reverse.'
(No names named. We'll have to play "guess who")
These are lawmakers who supported - and accepted support from - an anti-war organization that ran a full page ad in the New York Times smearing a four star general, a commander of men and women in harm's way as "General Betray Us."
These are sad facts.
Today we mark not the defeat those voices anticipated - but progress.
(Applause nearly broke out here - but the Congressman kept talking...)
And I want to thank President Obama for setting aside his past political rhetoric and recognizing the importance of the surge and the diplomatic agreement signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki.
At this hour, 50,000 U.S. troops are still in Iraq. For those troops, and for their families, the war will not be over until they come home. And though the mission has changed, their work is no less critical.
For there is no stronger bulwark against the menace posed by the Iranian regime or other extremist forces in the region than a democratic Iraq. There is no greater inspiration to moderate governments and reformers in the region than a successful Iraq. And there is no better argument against those who preach intolerance and hatred than a free, stable, thriving Iraq.
Of course, true success in Iraq will be determined not by the words politicians speak today, but by their actions in the months and years ahead.
The hard truth is that Iraq will continue to remain a target for those who hope to destroy freedom and democracy.
The people of that nation - and this nation - deserve to know what America is prepared to do if the cause for which our troops sacrificed their lives in Iraq is threatened. I hope the president will address that question as early as tonight, when he speaks to the nation, and the world.
Over the past several months, we've often heard about ending the war in Iraq, but not much about winning the war in Iraq. If we honor what our men and women fought for, we cannot turn our backs now on what they have achieved.
When we support our troops, we support them all the way - there is no such thing as supporting our troops, but not their mission.
(After missing wo earlier opportunities, here finally the Congressman paused, and the room applauded.)
Victory in Iraq was the only option in 2007 - and it is the only option now.
The American Legion understands that, and the American people understand that. That is why we are here talking about our troops returning home in success instead of gradual surrender.
Of course, too many of our own have returned home from Iraq to be laid to rest. Their sacrifices have not been in vain, and I know Legionnaires give their all to ensure that the families of the fallen are held up in our hearts and deeds.
Staff Sergeant Daniel Clay is one of our fallen heroes. His wife, Lisa Bell Clay, once worked in my congressional office. Sergeant Clay was one of our United States Marines killed in Fallujah in 2006.
He left behind a letter to his family to be read in case of his death. In the letter, Sergeant Clay wrote: 'What we have done in Iraq is worth any sacrifice. Why? Because it was our duty. That sounds simple. But all of us have a duty. Duty is defined as a God-given task. Without duty, life is worthless.'
This Marine understood his duty to God and country. We as elected leaders must understand ours as well.
(Interrupted again by applause)
COMMITMENTS TO OUR TROOPS
Our troops in harm's way should never have to doubt Congress's commitment to supporting their mission.
When asked to provide our troops in harm's way with the resources they need, we should do so without delay. That means no more troop funding bills held up by unrelated, extraneous domestic spending and pork barrel projects.
("Pork barrel" brought a round of applause before he finished the sentence.)
We need a Congress that understands when we send our sons and daughters to risk all in defense of our security - victory is the only option - and we will do whatever it takes to provide them with the necessary support so they can return home swiftly and successfully.
No voice - no matter how strong or committed - can substitute for the voice of the Commander-in-Chief.
That is why the president must take the time to articulate in a coherent, consistent matter to their families and fellow citizens the cause, purpose, and goal of their mission.
These imperatives should not be communicated in the manner of 'checking a box.' These missions should not be bunched together among a laundry list of political challenges.
Afghanistan is not just one of 'two wars' - it is central to the global struggle against extremism and intolerance.
The border Afghanistan shares with Pakistan is a virtual command and control center where al Qaeda leaders plan and plot their attacks against the United States and its allies.
Afghanistan must be resistant to the forces of extremism hell bent on returning to power and it must be resistant to becoming a potential safe haven for terrorist organizations.
I support our counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, but the president must do more to emphasize his commitment to ensuring its success rather than focusing on arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal. And he must also place a greater emphasis on ensuring successful implementation of both the military and civilian components of his strategy.
Using campaign promises as a yardstick to measure success in Iraq and Afghanistan runs the risk of triggering artificial victory laps and premature withdrawal dates unconnected to conditions on the ground.
After years of hard fighting - which has come at a high price - we cannot afford to underestimate the impact our domestic debates and political hedging have on decisions made by friend and foe alike.
If we are successful in accomplishing our goals in Afghanistan, it will be because of the endurance, discipline, and patience of our troops. I know the American Legion joins me in expressing gratitude to our men and women serving in Afghanistan.
CONFRONTING AND DEFEATING THE TERRORIST THREAT
The United States certainly cannot afford to think short-term when our enemies have proven time and again they are in it for the long haul.
This is a war that began well before the tragic events of 9/11 - it is a war the American people did not seek, and did not start. This is an enemy that first tried to blow up the World Trade Center in 1993. This is an enemy that then took its desire to kill Americans abroad - to Riyadh in 1995, to Khobar Towers in 1996, to East Africa in 1998, and to the U.S.S. Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000.
This is an enemy that seeks to impose a pernicious legal code and wills the death and destruction of anyone who opposes them.
Before 9/11, the United States treated terrorism like a law enforcement issue. We handled each incident as separate and unique, content with investigating after the fact rather than focusing on preventing the attack. We characterized the perpetrators as criminals to be tried and contained, rather than terrorists to be deterred and defeated.
We see signs of a return to this pre-9/11 mentality in proposals to house terrorists on American soil just to fulfill a political promise.
The American people were told last year that keeping open the Guantanamo Bay Prison, which houses the worst of the worst, served as a rallying cry for our enemies.
We were told that closing the detention facilities and importing the remaining terrorists into the United States would diminish the threat.
And then, starting with a plot to blow up the Manhattan subway system last September, we witnessed four terrorist incidents on U.S. soil in an eight-month period - including the Fort Hood shooting....the attempted Christmas Day bombing....and the failed Times Square bombing.
Each of these attacks represented new strands of terrorism. Each of these terrorists received varying degrees of support, but all had ties to international terrorist organizations and their radical extremist platforms.
Now more than ever, the American people deserve every assurance that their government has the right legal authorities and the right mindset in place to prevent future attacks.
Just days ago, the Justice Department announced it would not be pursuing charges against the terrorist who allegedly coordinated the bombing of the USS Cole.
This is no garden variety terrorist. This is a terrorist who has the blood of 17 American sailors on his hands. This is a terrorist who worked hand in hand with one of the 9/11 hijackers.
The commander of the Cole, who has fought for justice alongside the families of the fallen sailors, has said the Obama Administration is blatantly playing politics with this issue.
When it comes to holding those who kill innocent Americans responsible for their heinous acts, politics should be the last thing on our mind.
Over the course of the last 20 months, it is clear our country's overarching detention policy has been lost. We do not know the parameters for when, how, and under what circumstances we will capture, solicit information from, and detain illegal enemy combatants.
We are a nation at war. A patchwork of political promises does not represent a coherent strategy to confront and defeat the terrorist threat.
We need a Congress that will hold our government accountable for an overarching capture, detention and interrogation policy. And we need a Congress that will use every tool at its disposal to keep terrorists off U.S. soil.
(A few more applause breaks through the above. But the enthusiasm level seems moderate, at best - neither enthusiastic nor unenthusiastic, "acknowledging" or "agreeable" might be more descriptive terms. There are plenty of people here, but the room is not packed for this event, the crowd may have thinned a bit from the Shinseki and Gates speeches.)
Stopping at nothing to confront and defeat the terrorist threat - that is how we can best protect the American people and set an example for the world.
Our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are also critical to maintaining America's centuries-old role as a selfless beacon of freedom and hope.
For America did not become 'the last, best hope of man' by accident or by force. It was a choice - a choice first made by revolutionaries who faced down what was then the most powerful empire in the world.
During his second Inaugural Address, President Lincoln talked about how the Union did not seek to make war, but chose to accept war in freedom's defense rather than letting the nation perish.
And at the height of our test of wills against Soviet Communism, President Reagan reaffirmed America's commitment to a genuine peace, but made certain the Evil Empire knew that "we will never compromise our principles and our standards, and we will never give away our freedom."
When reports of President Reagan's words reached the Siberian gulags, the Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky tapped them out to his fellow prisoners in code.
Years later, when finally he was free and his oppressors had been tossed to the ash heap of history, Sharansky visited the Oval Office. And he urged President Reagan to keep giving his speeches, so that others who aspired to liberty could hear his call to arms.
President Reagan's rhetoric rang out to another dissident, an electrician by the name of Lech Walesa, who shaped the Solidarity movement that caused one of the first dents in the Iron Curtain.
When President Reagan died - 15 years after the Berlin Wall came down - Walesa wrote in America's newspapers that "we in Poland took him so personally. Why? Because we owe him our liberty."
Margaret Thatcher said of President Reagan: he took words and sent them out to fight for us.
What words are being sent out now from our government to fight for the cause of freedom and democracy? What words does a prisoner in Cuba's gulag or a freedom fighter in Iran hear?
Or those who are struggling to hold onto newly formed democracies in places such as Georgia or the democracies in our own hemisphere threatened by Venezuela?
And if the prisoners of Belarus or North Korea hear nothing - if it is silence that echoes in their cells rather than the firm words of America's support - if they hear nothing, will they one day be able to sit in the Oval Office or write in the pages of a free media to thank an American president?
Never forget that America remains the only nation on the face of the Earth founded on an idea, not an identity - an idea that free people can govern themselves, and that government's powers are endowed only through the consent of the governed.
An idea that the rights of all will be respected and protected, and that no one's opportunity to pursue happiness will be limited.
If America will not stand with freedom-loving peoples and those who seek to be free from evil - whether in the guise of petty tyranny, radical Islam, or any Marxist regime - then who on this Earth will?
Ideas matter. Our government must reawaken itself to the task of providing a more robust defense of freedom and liberty.
Because when America does not articulate these enduring values in a forceful, consistent manner - when we do not send these words out to fight for us - we cause turmoil and confusion.
Our enemies take this as a sign of weakness or a dimming of our belief in ourselves.
Our allies see cause to be uncertain and unsettled about what role the United States will play in the future.
When we do not speak out, our deeds are left to speak for themselves.
Every time we make a concession to countries acting against our national interests...every time we ignore or snub the commitments, shared values, and sacrifices of our allies...we pay a price.
IRAN AND ISRAEL
As we gather here, Iran is working to develop a nuclear weapons program. Contrary to the wishful thinking of some, the Iranian regime is capable of doing a cost-benefit analysis of pursuing these weapons in the face of international isolation.
Iran is more than prepared to sacrifice the well-being of its people for the chance to fundamentally change the balance of power in the region. It is the true source of instability in the region, and we must not naively assume a nuclear-armed Iran would be containable.
The destinies of Iran and Israel are often inter-linked, with good reason. Israel is an island of freedom surrounded by a sea of oppression and hate, surrounded by enemies who seek its destruction.
Israel is on the front lines of the ideological and violent clash we are confronting. The attacks against it - whether through acts of violence, international criticism, or manipulation of laws of war - are often the vanguard of what our country will face.
America has stood by Israel since Harry Truman sat in the Oval Office. Our commitment to this long-standing friendship should be no less strong today.
Where I come from, you stick by your friends, you stick by people who share your values. You do not send a message of strength to your enemies by shunning your friends and allies.
The foreign policy of the United States should not be built on a platform of apologies, corrections, and reset buttons. (Another applause break here. I think "reset button" did it.) We will not confront and defeat the terrorist threat by blurring America's exceptionalism and backing out on America's commitments.
Our nation has paid a tremendously high cost these last nine years at war, and our military personnel and their families have paid the highest price.
We have had heart-wrenching debates regarding how best to address these challenges. These debates have left scar tissue - between parties and ideologies - but the challenges we face know neither.
We have serious decisions to make regarding our path forward, and these decisions will be made in an environment in which we borrow 41 cents of every dollar we spend. This means we must focus on working together to identify our national security priorities and ensure our continued military and economic superiority.
Just as America's founding was a choice, maintaining its greatness is a choice as well.
Today, we choose to do what needs to be done - to do what we know to be right - and to never accept the next best thing for our families, for our country, and for freedom.
These are articles of faith worth fighting to the last for. You have done it. Your comrades have died for it. Our troops risk all for it.
All you've asked for, and all they ask for, is the full support of their elected leaders, and so long as I have anything to say about it - I give you my word - they will have it.
High atop the United States Capitol Dome stands the Statue of Freedom, completed in 1863 during some of the darkest and most divisive days in the history of our country.
What I love most about the Statue of Freedom is that she faces to the east ... because the sun never sets on freedom's face.
The sun never sets on an idea America pioneered...an idea America has championed...an idea generations of Americans have fought and died for, incurring a debt this nation can never fully repay.
Thank you. God bless you, God bless your families, and God bless America.
(Standing ovation as Souza March begins... approval, but hardly thunderous applause...)
The American Legion's Patriot Award was just presented to Duane Jackson and Lance Orton, the two Legion members who foiled the Times Square bomber earlier this year.
Their actions prevented a catastrophe, and while that foiled attack was big news for a while, there's a bit of irony in that the event is one already fading from our national memory thanks to the actions of two alert heroes.
The degree of interest and response to this speech is slightly greater than that for Secretary Gates. Not surprising in the largest veterans' group in America.
"There will always be unfinished work" - the opening line. VA's budget increase over the past year is the largest in 30 years, and will increase next year, too.
"Eliminate veterans homelessness by 2015." This is VA's key goal for the next few years.
"No longer need to document a "stresser" event to qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD; service in combat will suffice. This will apply not just to veterans of our current wars, but all living veterans.
The Secretary cited the great success of the New GI Bill - but missed an opportunity to thank the Legion for advocating for the issue.
Secretary Gates is on stage, you can watch the live video feed here.
He's addressing tomorrow's change from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn, and pledging to never forget the contributions and sacrifice of American troops who made it possible.
Afghanistan effort is moving ahead in all fronts.
A few main points:
Think of the Afghan campaign as two different wars - the first, to oust the Taliban, was in 2001 and early 2002, and was won outright.
Today, for the first time in nine years we have the troops and resources needed for this fight. In addition to troops, we've tripled the number of deployed civilians.
We are not turning off the lights next July. Any drawdown will be conditions-based. If the Taliban believe we are headed for the exits next summer they will be deeply disappointed to find us very much still in the fight.
The closing pitch: It is critically important moving forward that we not repeat the mistake of ignoring the lessons of history and reducing expenditures on defense. A pledge for a leaner more efficient Pentagon, and robust programs for the troops in the field.
Greyhawk here: with the President scheduled to deliver a key speech regarding the name change for the Iraq mission, and potential controversy to follow should Rep Boehner deliver a rebuttal here, the Secretary stuck to recent boilerplate talking points. The clear use of the phrase "conditions-based" in regards to any drawdown in Afghanistan is notable, though Gates has been making the point since last December. The line about the Taliban being disappointed to find us still in Afghanistan in July, 2011, is relatively new, and was delivered emphatically.
Notable? The Defense news release neglects to mention that the Secretary spoke about Afghanistan at all.
More - a read ahead excerpt from Boehner's speech this afternoon: "I support our counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, but the president must do more to emphasize his commitment to ensuring its success rather than focusing on meeting arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal. ... Using campaign promises as yardsticks to measure success in Iraq and Afghanistan runs the risk of triggering artificial victory laps and premature withdrawal dates unconnected to conditions on the ground."
So, Secretary Gates's re-emphasis of earlier points re: drawdown could be taken as a bit of a pre-response.
I'm on the convention floor in Milwaukee, enjoying the hospitality of the American Legion at their 92nd Annual National Convention. Events are already underway - you can watch the live video feed here. Guests scheduled to address the group include House Minority Leader John Boehner (story here), Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Master of Ceremonies Ben Stein has just taken the stage. More to follow - refresh the main page for updates.
This could be interesting- "Boehner To Slam Obama Ahead Of Iraq Speech":
House Minority Leader John Boehner is preparing to bash President Obama and other Democrats during a speech Tuesday for having opposed the troop "surge" in Iraq that he says is now allowing a shift of U.S. forces there from combat.
In a speech to be delivered at 1:10 p.m. CST to the American Legion convention in Milwaukee, Wis., Boehner, R-Ohio, will also talk about the role the U.S. should play amid tensions in the Middle East.
Boehner's speech will come as Obama is set to deliver a major televised speech Tuesday from the Oval Office marking the shifting from a combat role for American troops in Iraq to an advisory one.
I'm in Milwaukee covering the convention, so I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say.
"According to his office," we are told, "Boehner will urge Obama to assign credit for the progress in Iraq squarely on the men and women in uniform -- and he will also seek to remind voters that "the transition Obama is celebrating was only made possible by the implementation of the surge Obama opposed prior to his election as president," as his office put it in a press release today."
It's not hard to give credit where due - here's how I said it from Baghdad, in November, 2007:
How did we win this war? There are complex answers to that question, but there is also a simple one that is true and is the basis for all the complexities that spring from it: We won the war because United States Soldiers and Sailors and Airmen and Marines do not quit.
Notice that's November, 2007 - so that's giving credit when it was due, too. A few months after that and we were transitioning from combat to rebuilding and advisory operations. But even if someone wants to give credit where it's due, to pretend that transition happened this month is to participate in a fraud.
Live video feed of the event here. I'll be live-blogging from backstage all day tomorrow - in addition to Boehner, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, VA Secretary Shinseki, and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates are on the schedule. See you there (or here).
Roosevelt lived several more years with that bullet in his chest. There's an historical marker in the entryway of the hotel I'm staying in marking the spot where the assassination attempt took place.
I saw another historical marker along the river, explaining the town's origins as rival settlements on either side. That rivalry "was so intense that they made a point of making sure their street grids did not line up, perhaps trying to discourage the inevitable linking of the two communities by bridge. Today's downtown bridges all cross the river askew to line up with Juneau's and Kilbourn's legacy of mis-aligned streets."
Milwaukee seems to be a fine town for those who admire historical markers, or buildings with architectural character, or uncrowded streets. There is little visible hustle and bustle here, even on Thursday or Friday you can cross the downtown streets unhurriedly without fear of traffic. On this past weekend if not for the easily identifiable members of the American Legion the sense of being in a ghost town would be complete.
And yesterday the Legionnaires held their parade through those very streets. For miles they marched through the afternoon sunshine, white haired American veterans and their spouses, grouped in rank and file by state, each led by banners and a flag bearer. Along the route those few who weren't marching stood tall for each of those American flags passing by.
Speaking of Blackfive, Mr Wolf rode into town as one of 400+ bikers in the 1400-mile Legacy Ride. He's done a series of posts on that trip, the latest is here.
More to follow. There's much going on here, and many good folks to meet...
I'm once again honored to share a message from Robert Stokely:
The hour of 1700 24 Aug eastern daylight time has now come and gone, and all afternoon I watched the clock as I worked. It has now been five years since I stood in an open doorway at an air cargo hanger for US Airways at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport and watched as an Escort Sergeant and the Casualty Assistance Officer uncrated Mike's Casket and drape the American Flag over him, neatly cornering it out and not accepting anything less than perfection. I stood there, large tears dripping down my cheeks onto my coat, tie and dress shirt, trying to give a proper salute to Mike, an untrained civilian whose hand trembled against my forehead, my chest aching pain of a grieving heart. An office full of workers whose day was like any other suddenly realized what was happening and froze and stared. They were to say the least, aghast having been caught by surprise at the moment. As the Escort Sergeant and CAO satisfied themselves Mike's Flag was properly draped, they turned and looked at me, nodding with approval and I released my salute as they slid his Flag Draped Casket into the waiting hearse. I walked outside needing fresh air, but more importantly to call my wife Retta, as I had come alone. As she answered the phone I simply said "Our Boy is Home" and then the tears became a sob in unison as she sobbed from the other end. After a few moments I got in the hearse and rode the 30 plus miles to the funeral home, where Mike's mom and other dad were waiting and he would stay overnight, unannounced so the community could be given notice the next day and have their desired opportunity to welcome Mike home. It was the best we could do with just a two hour call block he was coming in.
Mike's Flag Draped Casket was just inches over my shoulder as we traveled many of the same roads he and I traveled over the years as I went back and forth with him on weekend, holiday and summer visitation trips between his mom's home and my home. Many moments of remembering, whether singing a goofy song, yelling up at our favorite local traffic copter announcer (Scott Slade who Mike called Scott Wade as a little boy), eating at a Burger King with a playground, visiting a game ranch where Mike once had to rescue his younger brother Wes from a somewhat aggressive small deer. Every mile was a memory, and yet another moment for a broken heart to ache even more. It was a long ride but not nearly long enough, and over too soon and then, it was time to share him with others.... It was my Last Ride to Take My Boy Home. It is burned in my memory as vividly as scenes on film captured on DVD. As I go monthly or more often to tend Mike's grave and visit him I travel by Hartsfield just eyeball distance from that Air Cargo Hanger on a monthly basis, sometimes more often, as well as many of the same highways we traveled that moment in time five years ago. I never fail to look over going and coming and feel that moment and remember my first glimpse of my Boy's Flag Draped Casket, and I never want to forget the pain, for to hurt deep you had to love deep.
People ask me about Mike, how I am doing, and sometimes how I cope and I like that, for it means they Remember Him. I tell them I will die with a broken heart, but I choose to live with as much joy as possible, for God gives us life, and my Boy would want me to go on and live as full and happy a life as possible. I owe it to God and my Boy and it is the least I can. And in a selfish way, it is my sticking it back to those who killed Mike, my way of taunting them and saying you hurt us bad but you failed to take us all out and we will now stand up and we will not cower, we will not retreat, we will not blame in bitterness and WE WILL REMEMBER MIKE WITH HONOR. I openly say that those who killed Mike and would rob our country of freedom would have been better off to have left him alone, for they awoke an entire family, community and many new friends around the world. Those who killed Mike failed, and he won. Mike and our family are not the only ones they failed with, for the Families of the Fallen in the War on Terror, even though knocked to their knees, as a whole, rose again to stand as tall as they might, joined by millions of supporters at home and hundreds of thousands of fellow soldiers and their families who stayed engaged, some many deployments over, even knowing what could happen.
Cut and Run was not a strategy, option or path to victory. Duty, Honor, Country, and might I now add Sacrifice, was! When others called to leave, those who really counted said no, I will go, some again and again, and many more gave their lives, while others had their lives altered in many ways. One in particular is SFC Mark Allen who served with Mike. Upon his redeployment from Iraq in 2006, he had a safe full time job at the State level with the Georgia Army National Guard. In mid 2008, when he got wind that a lot of his Iraq battle buddies, now with Bravo 2/121 of the 48th GAARNG were likely going to get orders in the coming year to deploy to Afghanistan, he demanded his way out of the safe job and into Bravo 2/121. I shall never forget on the 3rd anniversary gathering at Mike's grave, Mark and his wife came as they had the previous two years, and brought their one month old daughter and stood in the hot evening sun. He told me of his plans and hope to have orders to join Bravo 2/121 in a month or so. I was the unit's Family Readiness Chairperson and a month later at the Armory, which is near my work, in he pops and says its official "I'm here." Mark and his wife weren't with us at the fourth anniversary gathering, and a few days before I visited them at Bethesda where Mark lay in a coma from a serious gunshot wound and brain injury sustained in a fierce firefight where his squad encountered overwhelming enemy forces and fire on July 8, 2009, just a month into his Afghan deployment. I looked at Mark's wife as she cooed to him and stroked his arm telling him I was there. I choked back tears and mumbled "You all have to be the bravest folks I know because you saw up close and personal what happened to us, yet you went again." Mark Allen has only recently began to make the first simple steps of cognitive recognition, but they are steps that the odds didn't support were possible. And you know what, if he could get out of the bed, he would go again.
And there are so many more like the Allens. There are more of the Allens than the "others" who want to slurp at the fountain of freedom but who don't want to do any lifting, much less the heavy lifting, and when it gets tough are the first to call for cut and run. It is because of those like the Allens that we will endure, we will prevail and we will live free.
And it is because of those like the Allens, the Chuck Z, Greyhawks, Blackfive, Thunderrun, They have Names, Patti Patton-Bader and her entire SA organization too many to mention, as well as so many others that space and time can not measure, that my broken heart can rest gently on their support and endure with assurance that what Mike did mattered and what he gave will be Remembered with Honor. And I have to think thus it is so for the many like me. What a blessing to live among such great people in such a great country.
DUTY HONOR COUNTRY.
proud dad SGT Mike Stokely, Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
KIA 16 AUG 05 near Yusufiyah Iraq
US Army E 108 CAV 48th BCT GAARNG
(Introductory note: Marines and fans of Marines click here. End of story.)
No doubt there's something else on TV now - but last week I caught a bit of the coverage of "the last American combat brigade leaving Iraq." I wonder if this marks the series finale for this particular program - one that's only been broadcast sporadically since 2007 anyway.
Here's a very brief clip:
The Pentagon is letting NBC make the announcement for them... I'm not sure if that line of dialog adds or subtracts to the degree of realism they've been able to inject in this program. Keeping with the theme of the earlier episodes it looked like news programming, but it's less Edward R Murrow and more a direct descendant of the format used by Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre. But times have changed - perhaps in part due to the power of video, in our modern era as many as 25% of Americans believe this is actually real - I don't think that many were taken in by Welles' War of the Worlds broadcast. It probably helps that NBC wasn't the only media outlet participating, although how - even in the dull summer re-run season - the producers, whoever they are (not the Pentagon, who like TV "news" reporters, follow orders) managed to get so many different networks to coordinate and carry this is beyond me - I'm impressed.
Though certainly some logistic aspects were easier than others. For example, as with most months over the past seven years of the now twenty-year long war, there actually was an American brigade leaving Iraq last week (and our humble thanks to those men and women for a year sacrificed far from friends and family - and a job well done), so at least the networks didn't need to hire a cast of thousands or obtain military vehicles for this mini-epic. And though some might say participating in this drama somehow diminishes whatever that very real brigade actually did accomplish in Iraq over the past year, I disagree. (And besides, they're hardly the first unit in history to have to play along with a dog-and-pony show.)
More on that in a future post. For now, watching this show raised a question in my mind: when did the actual last combat brigade return from Iraq? There are probably several specific units that could claim the title. (Among the contenders is the very brigade featured in this work of fiction - who actually did a tour back during the combat phase of OIF, too; in fact, most of the
Brigade Combat Teams Advise and Assist Brigades still in Iraq now also did combat tours back in the day.) So, identifying one specific brigade as such is a slap in the face to the others. But for those interested in real history it's at least worthwhile to take a look back at the period when it might have happened - especially since it wasn't on TV.
For our purposes we can use the Brookings Iraq Index American casualty (more specifically, death) figures as a good enough definition/indicator of American combat in Iraq. A grim tool for a grim purpose - but here's their basic chart.
You can click these images for a larger version in a popup window. It's tempting to simply draw a line through October, 2007, as a clear point with a distinct before and after (because it is - here's how I described it from Iraq in October, 2007) - but we can look a bit closer here.
Above, same chart - but I've added boxes that I believe separate the war in Iraq into distinct phases. We could make further divisions, but this one will do for our discussion.
From the left to right - the small area at the edge is the period from the ground invasion in March, 2003 to the "end of major combat operations" - as I believe President Bush called it - in May of that year. The next period takes us to about the one-year point from the invasion - call it the "low-level insurgency phase," or substitute "growing" for "low-level" if you prefer. The first "Ramadan spike" is evident, (there was one every year until 2007 - they aren't obvious on Western calendars) but there's a clear difference from that period to the next phase, the three years and five months from April, 2004 to September, 2007. This is undeniably the period of heavy American combat in Iraq. (Although that's Iraq-relative - some term other than "heavy" might be used by those who fought in Vietnam and earlier wars.)
The end of that phase is obvious - but as we move to the right of that previously-cited October, 2007 line the distinctions become increasingly less clear...
...although with an exception for the Basra and Sadr City operations in Spring, 2008 the trend was steadily downward. By October, 2008 another definite step is evident, beyond which broad characterization of Iraq as an American "combat zone" becomes more difficult to make. The largest spike in death toll for this later period (in May, 2009) was due to an increase in non-hostile fatalities (though that figure includes the murder of five soldiers by a fellow soldier that month).
But an earlier event in this period actually established the next step down. In November, 2008 the Status of Forces Agreement between Iraq and the United States (under negotiation for much of the previous year) was concluded. Among other points on the drawdown timeline it defined was the July 1st, 2009 deadline for removing all American "combat" troops from Iraqi cities. The drop in the American death toll from that point is now plain to see. (And the time following that drop is the period during which the brigades now returning home deployed.) American influence over events in Iraq fell accordingly from this point, too - those who believed democracy and self-determination for Iraq were among the goals of Operation Iraqi Freedom would likely (if cautiously) welcome that development. (On the other hand, those who were concerned that a change in US administrations would have some impact on this process should be relieved to note there's no real distinction to be made on our chart in January, 2009 or immediately thereafter.)
That's the quick review of when Americans were in combat in Iraq. Now, when did the last US combat brigade return from Iraq? We've got to look at one more important point before answering. The close-up view below highlights the period commonly called "the surge." (The box with the dashed outline indicates the period during which the troop levels increased.) Obviously that's the period when the death toll plunged (many of the people who denied it was happening at the time would insist that's a mere coincidence today) but for our current discussion "the surge" period only matters for one reason - tour length.
It was never shown on the "Iraq War TV show" - or even mentioned in the many books that have been written about "the surge" - but there were no additional combat brigades sent to Iraq at this time. (And this was a time when ratings for the TV show were high.) The increased troop levels were accomplished not by adding brigades (they were all already there or scheduled to deploy anyway) but simply by extending tour lengths from 12 to 15 months, as explained here at the time. (This non-trivial point, like so many regarding Iraq, is crucial - though absent - in any discussion of Afghanistan today, but that's a topic for another post.)
Army units deploying during the time outlined by the solid red box in the chart above were scheduled to serve fifteen months in-theater; units deploying after July, 2008 did so with the requirement reduced back to twelve. So, any units that deployed during that "hottest" period in Iraq had come home by December, 2008. (By late 2008 things had cooled in Iraq enough that some even came home early - if not to national TV coverage - with replacement units sent to Afghanistan instead.)
So, if you think that "September, 2007 was the last month with real combat in Iraq," then it follows that the last "combat brigade" came home some time before December, 2008. That's a fair point, but reasonable arguments can be made for a later date. While the Oct 07-Sep 08 phase was conducted with a dramatic reduction in casualties, there's no denying some degree of combat was ongoing, and some brigades experienced combat in Iraq at the time - even though the Iraq TV series by then was on hiatus in America for the election year.
Los Angeles Times' foreign editor Marjorie Miller attributes the decline to three factors:
• The economic downturn and the contentious presidential primaries have sucked oxygen from Iraq. "We have a woman, an African American and a senior running for president," Miller says. "That is a very big story."
• With no solutions in sight, with no light at the end of the tunnel, war fatigue has become a factor...
Some might argue that accurate coverage of America's wars at the time could have helped Americans ask the right question of those diverse candidates - but while periodic television "specials" appeared whenever combat did occur, at least one US "surge" Division whose tour of duty spanned the two phases of the operation produced their own video detailing how they had transitioned from combat ops to a support/rebuilding function through this time.
The last of the brigades to deploy to Iraq in the phase ending in September, 2008 were back home by October, 2009. But few returning at that late point would make the claim to have "seen a lot of combat" in Iraq. However, veteran brigades from the actual combat phase had actually been home long enough to deploy again in 2009 (in the case of last week's brigade, almost long enough - but that's another story...) and as mentioned previously, they make up the bulk of American forces in Iraq now.
For a second look - here's a graph of American deaths in Iraq constructed from the numbers kept by icasualties.org. While the line we tracked on the Brookings chart depicted all American fatalities, this one only includes combat deaths - hostile fire, IEDs, etc.
There are differences on the right side of the chart - not surprising for a period when non-combat deaths made up a much larger percentage of the total compared to the combat phases of OIF. The step down in 2008 actually occurred three months earlier - but in the period when Army brigades were serving 15 month tours, so the September, 2009 date for any units returning that might have served in that period remains unchanged. In addition, any case to be made for two distinct post-Jun '09 phases in the previous chart evaporates here.
Here's the average number of American combat deaths/month in Iraq for those respective phases:
The bottom line: unless you want to stretch the definition (or play word games - but see final paragraphs here) the last American combat brigade came home from Iraq long ago.
Worth repeating: that might have been 4/2 Strykers - here's a story comparing their current tour with their last. And I agree with the message President Obama sent to the White House email list marking their latest departure from Iraq: "I hope you'll join me in thanking them, and all of our troops and military families, for their service."
But if you're wondering why now? - the answer is simple. "Mr. Obama released a restrained written statement," as the New York Times described his email last weekend, "and made a one-sentence reference at a pair of fund-raisers."
...the White House wants to find a way to mark the moment and remind voters just two months before midterm elections that he delivered on his vow to pull out combat forces. Mr. Obama plans to make a high-profile speech on the drawdown next week, and aides are discussing whether to have him meet with returning troops. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Indianapolis on Monday.
Following his speech on the topic earlier this month the New York Times reported that "Mr. Obama has adopted Iraq as a relative success story, and aides said he and other administration officials would hold several events in August to honor returning soldiers and promote the drawdown." More:
The notion that Iraq would be the political selling point while the "good war" in Afghanistan is now the sour note underscores how much has changed since Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign.
Perhaps that's easier to understand if we take a quick look at the icasualty reports for both wars.
The AP adds that "The schedule reflects a White House eager, with pivotal congressional elections approaching, for achievements to tout, especially in areas with the emotional significance of the Iraq war." So the short answer to "why now?" is easy: it's hoped that this can help convince that 25% of Americans who believe what they see on TV is real to contribute cash and votes to Democrats. In that regards, the Iraq TV show has yet to break from its seven-year (or is it 12-year?) theme.
The plan was not concocted overnight - it was over a year in the making, and pulling it off required shortening the between-tour dwell time for 4/2. More on that topic in a follow-on post. We'll close this discussion with a final caution to those who would play word games with terms like "combat". Fortunately, during their now-completed tour, "the last combat brigade in Iraq" had no combat deaths, though they did lose one soldier to "injuries sustained during a non-combat related incident." But other units have been less fortunate. On the very day 4/2 handed over control of their last outpost to Iraqi forces and began their departure, "Spc. Faith R. Hinkley, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died Aug. 7 in Baghdad, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked her unit in Iskandariya, Iraq."
So another possible answer to the question posed in the headline of this post is "they haven't yet." (But as a guy with friends deploying there next year, I hope that's the wrong answer.)
Next: The Theater of War
A quick acknowledgment up front: there are broad issues at stake in any court examination of the Stolen Valor Act, and "slippery slope" arguments to be made against any broad decision. I'm familiar with those arguments for both sides in this case, and am concerned - as anyone vaguely familiar with the rights enumerated in the U.S. Constitution should be - with any push in any direction down any of those slopes.
All that's why I favor a very narrow decision on SVA. While the Ninth Circuit majority in ruling on Alvarez insists they've made a narrow decision it appears otherwise. Here's a look at the very legitimate concerns raised by the SVA, and why the Ninth's majority ruling is wrong (and in spite of their declarations to the contrary, broad).
1. Does Congress have an interest, or are they "sticking their noses where they don't belong"? "Yes" to the first. (Something the Ninth acknowledges and dismisses at the conclusion of their decision.) A key point (and one many interested members of the public appear to overlook) on the SVA - it applies only to individuals making specific claims to have earned medals. While medals represent something less tangible (more on that later), the actual medals in question exist because Congress has authorized them. This does not imply that Congress is the ultimate authority, merely that they are within their rights to act. In this case, they acted to restrict speech - so likewise, the courts have an obvious interest as a check on Congress. (However, the Ninth's majority expresses concern that Congress may next declare it illegal to lie about your weight on Facebook - but this is why that argument fails. Yes, we should all be concerned about any congressional effort in that direction, and would welcome the court's check on any such action, but SVA is hardly step one.)
2. Are service members "harmed" by those making false claims to medals?
Here's an important point - none do what they do in order to earn medals; further, few will say they deserve the recognition they earn. But the medals authorized by Congress represent society's appreciation for what a service member has done. What the recipient thinks of that recognition, or whether they feel they've "earned" it or not is somewhat beside the point. Opinions of those individuals who've served are varied, as are opinions of those in the larger society they serve. One contributing factor to that diversity of opinion is that it's a tough call for those who defend free speech to endorse some restriction on free speech (at least a tougher decision than for those who simply enjoy free speech). That said, several (including the nation's largest) veteran's groups endorsed the Stolen Valor Act. (An excellent history of the grassroots development of the Bill at that link. Notably, congressional reluctance to take up the issue was one of the first obstacles to that effort.) Some even consider it too weak - "In October 2008, The American Legion passed a resolution that urged Congress to make Stolen Valor Act crimes punishable as felonies - not misdemeanors..."
To be clear - the final "vote" on this issue does not belong to these groups. (In fact, I reject any "chickenhawk" argument that implies only those who've served have a right to an opinion.) But the concern is expressed and the perception of harm - a grievance - clearly exists.
3. Is a known lie constitutionally protected speech?
Based on multiple Supreme Court rulings (cited by the lower court and rejected by the Ninth), a lie is not protected. (See also the dissenting opinion here.) But that's not the same as saying "it should be illegal to tell a lie" or even "we should pass laws against lying" - statements I generally disagree with, and suspect the authors of the Constitution would, too. Most lies are petty, everyone lies, and how an individual deals with and responds to known liars - those whose word they can't trust - should mostly be left up to the individual (or society). So, while there are ample cases of legal restrictions on speech, SVA appears to be an unprecedented law - a restriction on uttering a known lie regardless of motive and/or circumstance. (But not without some discretion in enforcement - contrary to popular myth, exceptions for Halloween, theater/television/movie performances, etc. exist.) Perhaps it is unprecedented - only if we insist that the speech in question is otherwise harmless.
4. Should we grant Congress broad power to decide/declare what is "truth" and what is a "lie"? Absolutely not. But I have no concerns on this point with regard to SVA. There is no significant "gray area" in whether or not the statement "I got a medal" is true. Hence, that's not a distinction being made by the government, and SVA is not an example of Congress defining "truth". As the lower court ruled in Alvarez, "Whether one actually received a military award is easily verifiable and not subject to multiple interpretations." That in turn is an acknowledgment of fact, and not an example of a judge defining or determining (by rendering an opinion) truth - which in most cases a judge must do. But while I can provide several examples of less well-defined 'truths' for which I appreciate the opinion of the Court, it is difficult to imagine a case where truth is more clearly defined - or where a court's opinion is less needed. Hence, a court rejection of SVA on these grounds goes beyond "checking" Congress and establishes inherent doctrine that only a court can declare something to be true or false. While we respect the courts as the ultimate legal arbiter of truth in those countless gray areas (and a court ruling in favor of SVA would not equate to relinquishing that authority) this particular example needs no deeper examination and the courts need not fear encroachment where none exists. In this regards the lower court was right and the Ninth has far overstepped its bounds.
5. This brings us to is SVA addressing a trivial issue? If not already clear the answer is no. We've already noted the various veterans groups that perceive harm from frauds. Beyond those concerns, society (whether acknowledged by individuals or not) attaches value to actions of service members, whose role is to protect the rights and freedoms of others. That value can't be quantified, but there's an obvious (and ironic) proof it exists and is considerable: it's exactly what motivates every fraudulent claim to military honors - of which there are many. Against this we consider those rights and freedoms so defended (free speech, for one) that also have immeasurable value that can't be trivialized. Beyond examining the relative values of the two, the potential harm from any action must be weighed. It's tempting to portray the issue as one of free speech versus the rights of its defenders...
6. Except... that's not the issue, and portraying it as such would be an egregious error. This is the issue: We don't restrict speech without strict examination of some compelling "greater good."
So here's the ultimate question: does society value the meaning represented by the medals given in recognition to those who risk their lives defending its freedoms enough to accept a law placing a restriction on a type of speech previously considered unworthy of protection?
I say "yes" - with no hypothetical future examples endorsed. For reasons stated above that would not be a precedent-setting decision. The Ninth's majority ruling says no. They claim not to be granting a broad "right to lie" - but based on where they've set the bar in this case it's difficult to imagine an example of a pure lie that they might consider unworthy of protection.
But I wrote this in the sidebar of this website seven years ago:
I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here.
So feel free to let me know if I'm wrong.
Added: given the broad ruling on Alvarez, here's a repeat of an earlier observation on Strandlof:
Sometimes second-best options are chosen - and not everyone would lose were that the case here. Strandlof could some day stand as law of the land. Potential repercussions from that are varied and unpredictable. But advocates of free speech in its purest form will rejoice, as will anyone who values a newly acquired and unassailable right to lie.
Mark Seavey, in The Hill's Congress Blog - Lying to America: Stolen Valor Act must be restored.
"We have no doubt that society would be better off if Alvarez would stop spreading worthless, ridiculous, and offensive untruths," the court's majority wrote. "But, given our historical skepticism of permitting the government to police the line between truth and falsity, and between valuable speech and drivel, we presumptively protect all speech, including false statements, in order that clearly protected speech may flower in the shelter of the First Amendment."
If the SVA was a restriction on speech that was useful in any way, shape or form - or even attempted to define "speech that is useful" - I'd be dead set against it. As it is, and as with any of our many legal restrictions on speech, the relative merits of each side of the argument must be determined. And while medals don't motivate soldiers to commit heroic acts, the bottom line is the value a society places on military honors had damn sure better exceed the value that society places on the most baseless lies (as the now-overturned lower court judge said, "Whether one actually received a military award is easily verifiable and not subject to multiple interpretations...") if that society wants actual worthwhile free speech (the sort worth fighting for, as the authors of the Constitution demonstrated in more than words) to remain protected by something more than a piece of paper.
And while the 9th claims in their ruling that they aren't granting a broad, new "right to lie" they are indeed doing just that. (One might conclude they are "mistaken," - which is quite different than lying.) For my part, I can't help but think it's our elected officials (or 'ruling class' if you prefer) - the very government the court claims to be protecting us from - who gain the most from this new constitutional "right to lie." (That's not just because they are so often busted for this specific fraud.)
That also seems to be the most non-partisan political issue I've ever heard of. More later.
Update: More here.
It occurs to me that given the discussion of The Stolen Valor Act (SVA), it might be worthwhile to read it...
§ 704. Military medals or decorations
(a) In General.-- Whoever knowingly wears, purchases, attempts to purchase, solicits for purchase, mails, ships, imports, exports, produces blank certificates of receipt for, manufactures, sells, attempts to sell, advertises for sale, trades, barters, or exchanges for anything of value any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the armed forces of the United States, or any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, or the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration or medal, or any colorable imitation thereof, except when authorized under regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
(b) False Claims About Receipt of Military Decorations or Medals.-- Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
(c) Enhanced Penalty for Offenses Involving Congressional Medal of Honor.--
(1) In general.-- If a decoration or medal involved in an offense under subsection (a) or (b) is a Congressional Medal of Honor, in lieu of the punishment provided in that subsection, the offender shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both.
(2) Congressional medal of honor defined.-- In this subsection, the term "Congressional Medal of Honor" means--
(A) a medal of honor awarded under section 3741, 6241, or 8741 of title 10 or section 491 of title 14;
(B) a duplicate medal of honor issued under section 3754, 6256, or 8754 of title 10 or section 504 of title 14; or
(C) a replacement of a medal of honor provided under section 3747, 6253, or 8747 of title 10 or section 501 of title 14.
(d) Enhanced Penalty for Offenses Involving Certain Other Medals.-- If a decoration or medal involved in an offense described in subsection (a) or (b) is a distinguished-service cross awarded under section 3742 of title 10, a Navy cross awarded under section 6242 of title 10, an Air Force cross awarded under section 8742 of section 10, a silver star awarded under section 3746, 6244, or 8746 of title 10, a Purple Heart awarded under section 1129 of title 10, or any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law, in lieu of the punishment provided in the applicable subsection, the offender shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 1 year, or both.
A brief look at the First Amendment in its entirety:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Let's edit that down to what matters here: "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech." Good stuff, simple and to the point. But had we somehow maintained a strict interpretation of that rule the Republic likely wouldn't have survived a decade.
Some "freedom of speech" is denied. The age old "fire in a crowded theater" argument, for example - or libel, false advertising, and fighting words - to name a few more. But generally, some compelling greater interest - public safety, etc. must be a factor in imposing such a limit on speech.
However, as Judge Klausner states in denying the motion to dismiss on First Amendment grounds in the Alvarez decision (defendant had stated "I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor"), "Whether one actually received a military award is easily verifiable and not subject to multiple interpretations..." therefore "this Court is presented with a false statement of fact, made knowingly and intentionally by Defendant..." and "Such lies are not protected by the Constitution."
He cites a Supreme Court decision supporting that claim:
Garrison v. State of Louisiana is better authority. 379 U.S. 64 (1964). In Garrison, a District Attorney made defamatory statements about state court judges at a press conference, in violation of a Louisiana criminal defamation statute. Id. at 64-66. In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court expressly held that false statements made knowingly and intentionally are not protected under the First Amendment, even when political in nature...
Here's the pertinent quote from the Supreme Court's Garrison decision:
For the use of the known lie as a tool is at once at odds with the premises of democratic government and with the orderly manner in which economic, social, or political change is to be effected. Calculated falsehood falls into that class of utterances which "are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality. . . ." Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568, 572 . Hence the knowingly false statement and the false statement made with reckless disregard of the truth, do not enjoy constitutional protection.
So, the knowingly false statement does not enjoy constitutional protection. But along with that we must express a legitimate concern: we don't grant the government broad power to determine what is truth or what is a lie.
And here we turn to Judge Blackburn's Strandlof decision:
That The Stolen Valor Act is DECLARED to be facially unconstitutional as a content-based restriction on speech that does not serve a compelling government interest, and consequently that the Act is invalid as violative of the First Amendment.
The judge ruled that the government could demonstrate no compelling interest in declaring an individual's knowingly false claims to having earned military decorations illegal, and that such a test must be applied to any restriction on speech. This presents an obvious conflict with the premise that the knowingly false statement does not enjoy constitutional protection - and that conflict must be resolved. We should be concerned with an either/or type decision in this case, as erosion of either of those concepts is of obvious concern. But we need not sacrifice one to preserve the other.
With SVA Congress (and the President) made a very narrowly defined law regarding speech that is inarguably a lie, and inherently non-political. One would be hard-pressed to find some claim less worthy of constitutional protection. (Certainly the confidence of an overwhelming and bi-partisan majority of members of Congress that they were acting morally, legally, ethically, in their purview and in the interests of their constituents in this case is some evidence of that. The subsequent lack of any significant public "anti-SVA" sentiment speaks for itself.) But we must acknowledge that while lies are generally held to be unprotected speech (and SVA addresses a specific lie that no reasonable person would defend or claim a "right" to tell) SVA appears in important ways to be an unprecedented law. (An actual restriction on a "pure lie.") While some might express concern over unpredictable future attempts to pass similar legislation ("What, will they make it illegal to lie about my weight next?") this case - if decided on narrow terms (per the Alvarez example) - does not "open the door" to such hypothetical abuses. (Which, were they to occur, could likewise be settled on narrow definitions.) On the other hand, if rejected by the judicial branch on broad terms (per Strandlof), speech previously presumed to be unprotected will be afforded protection. The widely accepted concept that a knowingly false statement does not enjoy constitutional protection will be moot. Hence, (and speaking here as someone who is repulsed by those who make fraudulent claims to unearned military awards but is not an enthusiastic supporter of the SVA) the Alvarez decision appears to be the best option.
Sometimes second-best options are chosen - and not everyone would lose were that the case here. Strandlof could some day stand as law of the land. Potential repercussions from that are varied and unpredictable. But advocates of free speech in its purest form will rejoice, as will anyone who values a newly acquired and unassailable right to lie.
The war in Iraq, as described by Kermit Roosevelt, son of US President Theodore Roosevelt:
Kermit joined the British Army to fight in the Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) theater of World War I. He was attached to the 14th Light Armoured Motor Battery of the Machine Gun Corps, but the British High Command decided they could not risk his life and so they made him an officer in charge of transport (Ford Model T cars). From then on, however, Captain Roosevelt made it his main aim in life to get his Ford in front of the armor. With his incredible talent for languages, within months of being posted to Mesopotamia, he had mastered spoken as well as written Arabic and was often relied upon as a translator with the locals. As in Africa with his father, he was courageous to the point of recklessness. He was awarded a Military Cross on 26 August 1918. When the United States joined the war, Kermit got transferred to the AEF in Europe, relinquishing his British commission on 28 April 1918.
Following the war, Roosevelt told his story in the book War in the Garden of Eden. The book, illustrated with photographs by the author, is below.
This could be fun
Interesting insider critique of how the media covered the Iraq war in USA TODAY (today). Fog of War: What Are We Missing? by Jim Michaels.The author will host a live chat at 1330 EDT today.
For the most part, the news media missed the entire story as it unfolded.
For all the hype of today's 24/7 instantaneous news, the media were consistently about six months behind important developments on the ground in Iraq. Newspaper readers in 1876 got more timely information about the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Michaels' focus in the article is on the Anbar Awakening - a story the media undeniably missed while it was developing. He's also "author of the just-released A Chance in Hell: The Men Who Triumphed Over Iraq's Deadliest City and Turned the Tide of War."
Follow the links here for the story and the online chat.
Don't miss tonight's (8:00 eastern) YouServed Radio program - featuring Maj Norm Hatch. Folks who attended (or viewed online) the Milblog Conference this year will never forget their time spent with this incredible Iwo Jima vet - the Marine whose efforts brought us these films:
If you missed the Milblog Conference, do not miss this one - time spent with Maj (retired) Hatch is time well spent. (And if you listen live - tonight at 8 eastern you can join the fun in the chat room while you listen.)
This Pentagon press release practically went unnoticed...
...but given that it's hardly the best way to mark the 20th anniversary of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, lack of attention might be a good thing.
Speaking of history - here's young U.S. Army Captain H.R. McMaster narrating video on the capabilities of a well-crewed tank...
Reaching 70 Easting at 16:22, the lead cavalry troops of 2nd "Cougar" Squadron knocked out a screen of eight Iraqi T-72 tanks. Three kilometers beyond, T-72s could be seen in prepared positions at 73 Easting. This was the Iraqi Brigade Assembly Area.
Fearing the loss of surprise, E-Troop's commander, Captain H.R. McMaster, decided not to wait for heavier units to come forward and engage the Iraqis. McMaster ordered E-Troop to advance and engage the Iraqi tanks in a hasty attack.
E-Troop consisted of 13 M3 Bradleys, two M106 mortar carriers, one M577 command track, a M981 FIST-V, and 10 M1 Abrams tanks from 3d Squadron's M- ("Mike") Company.
Armored battles in the open desert are generally decided very quickly; 73 Easting was no exception.
Those capabilities were demonstrated once again a few years later. (But, it should be noted, the tank is less effective in an American-style modern counterinsurgency operation - H.R. McMaster would likely be the first to acknowledge that.)
Enough history lesson - back to the August 7th, 2010 press release for a last word:
"This represents a significant milestone for the Iraqi Army as we approach the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the beginning of Operation New Dawn," said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero, United States Forces - Iraq Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training. "These tanks will strengthen the Iraqi Army's ability to protect the sovereignty of Iraq. And a stable and secure Iraq that can protect itself will be a stabilizing force in the region."
"The remaining 129 tanks and seven recovery vehicles," we are informed, "are scheduled to be delivered in similar increments on a monthly basis until about December 2011." By amazing coincidence, per the Bush administration's SOFA that's the date certain for full withdrawal of all US forces. We'll presume the future deliveries are contingent on (or rewards for, if you prefer) "good behavior" on the part of the recipients.
Last Saturday Reuters reported on the "departure ceremony for the last U.S. combat brigade" in Iraq:
The United States handed over control of all combat duties to Iraqi security forces on Saturday in a further sign its withdrawal is on track despite a political impasse in Iraq and a recent rise in violence.
An amazing event - more on that topic later.
Meanwhile, down the road in Iskandiriyah:
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Spc. Faith R. Hinkley, 23, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died Aug. 7 in Baghdad, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked her unit in Iskandariya, Iraq. She was assigned to the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
Rest in peace, Specialist Hinkley. Our thoughts and prayers to her friends and family.
He spent part of his childhood with his father in the arid plains of central Oklahoma, where classmates made fun of him for being a geek. He spent another part with his mother in a small, remote corner of southwest Wales, where classmates made fun of him for being gay.Many details here on the now-infamous Wikileaker - from his school days:
...to his Army days:
...Manning refused to recite the parts of the Pledge of Allegiance that referred to God or do homework assignments that involved the Scriptures. And if a teacher challenged his views, former classmates said, he was quick to push back.
"He would get upset, slam books on the desk if people wouldn't listen to him or understand his point of view," said Chera Moore, who attended elementary and junior high school with him.
He enlisted in the Army in 2007, to try to give his life some direction and to help to pay for college, friends said.
He was granted a security clearance and trained as an intelligence analyst at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., before being assigned to the Second Brigade 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y.
Before being deployed to Iraq, Private Manning met Tyler Watkins, who described himself on his blog as a classical musician, singer and drag queen. A friend said the two had little in common, but Private Manning fell head over heels. Mr. Watkins, who did not respond to interview requests for this article, was a student at Brandeis University. On trips to visit him here in Cambridge, Private Manning got to know many in Mr. Watkins' wide network of friends, including some who were part of this university town's tight-knit hacker community.
Friends said Private Manning found the atmosphere here to be everything the Army was not: openly accepting of his geeky side, his liberal political opinions, his relationship with Mr. Watkins and his ambition to do something that would get attention.
Although hacking has come to mean a lot of different things, at its core, those who do it say, is the philosophy that information should be free and accessible to all. And Private Manning had access to some of the most secret information on the planet.
Meanwhile, his military career was anything but stellar. He had been reprimanded twice, including once for assaulting an officer. He wrote in e-mails that he felt "regularly ignored" by his superiors "except when I had something essential, then it was back to 'Bring me coffee, then sweep the floor.' "
And it seems the more isolated he felt in the military -- he wore custom dog tags that said "Humanist," and friends said he kept a toy fairy wand on his desk in Iraq -- the more he clung to his hacker friends.
He must have had a tough inner struggle between "his ambition to do something that would get attention" and the need to wait he expressed here:
"im not ready... i wouldn't mind going to prison for the rest of my life, or being executed so much, if it wasn't for the possibility of having pictures of me... plastered all over the world press... as a boy..."Postscript: the NY Times story makes much of Manning's abilities as a "hacker" - but the reality is he just copied files his clearance gave him access to and passed them on. Not exactly rocket science, as they say.
"I would come in with music on a CD-RW labeled with something like 'Lady Gaga', erase the music then write a compressed split file," he wrote. "No one suspected a thing and, odds are, they never will."
"[I] listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga's 'Telephone' while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in American history," he added later.
This question (asked before I heard anything about him being gay and/or a would-be transgender) is still unanswered:
The real question is one of clearance (and I've been a security manager for a large unit - I know how this stuff works). Specifically, why did this guy still have one? (Or at least, access to SIPR.) If this is true:He discussed personal issues that got him into trouble with his superiors and left him socially isolated, and said he had been demoted and was headed for an early discharge from the Army....his clearance should have been yanked long before - as in step one. "Manpower shortage" isn't the answer - as this case demonstrates all too clearly, not everyone is "better than nothing" - sometimes you're infinitely better off being a man down. (I've made those sorts of decisions before, too - with an eye towards deploying to a war zone and otherwise.)
Apparently those "personal issues" included assaulting an officer. I don't think "being gay" makes someone a security risk - but if someone was afraid (or even just slow) to yank Manning's clearance because he was gay we have a different problem altogether.
And more fun links here.
And final thought - thank God Manning wasn't a blogger. (At least, as far as I know.)
Backed by his chemical-weapons arsenal and million-man army, Iraq's Saddam Hussein has become increasingly belligerent. But the Arab world was taken by surprise last week when Saddam rattled his saber at fellow OPEC members Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. He accused the two countries of "stabbing Iraq in the back with a poisoned dagger" by conspiring with the U.S. to glut the world oil market... Iraq also charged Kuwait with stealing oil for the past decade and threatened to retaliate with force if necessary.
Despite the warning, an Iraq-Kuwait war is considered unlikely.
However, the brief article (more like a note, really) concluded, "officials do not dismiss the possibility that Saddam might back his words with action."
Saddam's invasion of Kuwait later that week brings us another anniversary this weekend, one noted by Robert Haddick, at Small Wars Journal:
Twenty years ago today was the official start of America's troubles with Iraq. Operation Desert Shield, a large-scale deployment of U.S., European, and Arab troops to Saudi Arabia, began on August 7, 1990. Five days before - August 2, 1990 - Saddam Hussein had ordered his army into Kuwait, starting a crisis that has dragged on to today. On the 20th anniversary of Saddam's attack, President Barack Obama gave a speech to the Disabled American Veterans. He boasted that his withdrawal plan from Iraq was on track. He passed over the opportunity to reflect on the anniversary America's troubles with Iraq began.
What followed from Operation Desert Shield has been a Twenty Years War against Iraq. Or at least Twenty Years and Counting. Although the end of this long war now seems in sight, some analysts believe America's troubles in Iraq are destined to extend well beyond December 31, 2011.
As an aside, in August 1990 I was in Japan, on TDY from Korea. I can't recall if there was any talk of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki anniversaries, if so it was overwhelmed by the news from Kuwait. But by the time Desert Storm was over I was back in Korea; in between those two events the United States had gained something it had always desired: military installations in Saudi Arabia. And somewhere in an airport in America, the troops coming home from victory in Iraq passed others on their way to man those new duty stations...
They didn't pull us folks from Korea to participate in Desert Storm - we were otherwise engaged - but a little over thirteen years later I made my own first trip to Camp Victory in Baghdad. Give it time and the US military will make good on its promise to show you the world.
But among other repercussions of America's longest war is its Afghan offshoot:
...how many people know why Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States? It's not a difficult topic - he stated the reasons himself in his 1998 fatwa. Americans were in Saudi Arabia enforcing sanctions against Iraq. It's just that simple, boys and girls.That last was a reference to Bill Clinton's February "almost attack" on Iraq. His actual attack didn't come until later in the year, after Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act...
First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.
If some people have in the past argued about the fact of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula have now acknowledged it. The best proof of this is the Americans' continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, but they are helpless.
Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million... despite all this, the Americans are once against trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation.
Added postscript - and another anniversary:
August 7, 1998: African embassy bombings This is the eighth year anniversary of the arrival of U.S. troops into Saudi Arabia and the start of United Nations sanctions against Iraq. A bomb explodes at the rear entrance of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, killing 12 U.S. citizens, 32 Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs), and 247 Kenyan citizens. About 5,000 Kenyans, six U.S. citizens, and 13 FSNs were injured. The U.S. embassy building sustained extensive structural damage. Almost simultaneously, a bomb detonates outside the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing seven FSNs and three Tanzanian citizens, and injuring one U.S. citizen and 76 Tanzanians. The explosion caused major structural damage to the U.S. embassy facility. The US holds Osama bin Laden responsible for these acts.
Read it? Great! Now, choose your Rules of Engagement news:
In the Time magazine version of reality (Headline: Petraeus' Rules of Engagement: Tougher Than McChrystal's), General Petraeus has "doubled down on the orders imposed by his predecessor," and "added restrictions" that "were not what most troops were hoping for." Their "grumbling is unlikely to diminish with the new directives."
But from the Christian Science Monitor we learn that General Petraeus has "issued a change in approach that appears to relax the rules..."
The nuanced shift in the rules is no surprise. Some officers privately said that under McChrystal the priority on protecting Afghan civilian lives had become too doctrinaire and that, in practice, officers were reluctant to return fire or use artillery against attacking insurgents because of the presence - or possible presence - of Afghan civilians among them.
- But their headline asks "Will the new Petraeus rules of engagement make troops safer?" (Their Magic 8-Ball answer is "it's unclear.")
So - the rules are more/less strict and the troops are grumpy/unsafe. But wait! - there's more. Back to Time:
Under General McChrystal, NATO forces were prohibited from calling in air strikes or artillery fire on village compounds where the enemy might have been mixed in with civilians. Going several steps better, General Petraeus has reportedly expanded the ban on air strikes and artillery fire to all types of buildings, tree-lined areas and hillsides where it is difficult to distinguish who is on the ground.Keep in mind Time's "expanded the ban on air strikes and artillery fire to all types of buildings" as we turn to the Wall Street Journal:
Petraeus Resets Afghan Airstrike Rules
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have eased a rule covering the use of force that has been a source of discontent among American troops, according to military officials.
As a result of findings during a review commissioned by Gen. David Petraeus, it has been made clear that troops are allowed to request airstrikes and artillery strikes against insurgents hiding in dilapidated buildings or other abandoned structures. Commanders conducting the review said they found some junior commanders had misinterpreted the rules to mean they weren't allowed to fire on such places.
Confused? Let's review a point made here a couple days ago. First, understand that in spite of what you may read elsewhere, with the tactical directive, as with the new counterinsurgency guidance, General Petraeus has not issued "new ROEs".
Ultimately, such guidance can be seen as the scriptures, open to some interpretation from the folks below. ...From this 'guidance' and a few other sources (here's one) come the much-maligned (and misunderstood) ROE.
But oh noes, you might cry - if news reporters can't agree on the interpretation, how can soldiers do the right thing?
A great question - glad you asked. Before answering, let's turn to the Christian Science Monitor story again:
The nuanced shift in the rules is no surprise. Some officers privately said that under McChrystal the priority on protecting Afghan civilian lives had become too doctrinaire and that, in practice, officers were reluctant to return fire or use artillery against attacking insurgents because of the presence - or possible presence - of Afghan civilians among them.
A Washington Post article by the conservative columnist George Will on June 20 - days before Petraeus replaced McChrystal - pointed out an e-mail from a noncommanding officer in Afghanistan who complained that an officer denied him permission to fire an illumination round to reveal the position of Taliban fighters who were mortaring his position at night "on the grounds that it may cause collateral damage."
The reporter typed "noncommanding officer" instead of the actual source - a noncommissioned officer - but the gist of the story is true, George Will did type something about that in the Washington Post just "days before Petraeus replaced McChrystal":
Torrents of uninteresting mail inundate members of Congress, but occasionally there are riveting communications, such as a recent e-mail from a noncommissioned officer (NCO) serving in Afghanistan. He explains why the rules of engagement for U.S. troops are "too prohibitive for coalition forces to achieve sustained tactical successes."
Receiving mortar fire during an overnight mission, his unit called for a 155mm howitzer illumination round to be fired to reveal the enemy's location. The request was rejected "on the grounds that it may cause collateral damage." The NCO says that the only thing that comes down from an illumination round is a canister, and the likelihood of it hitting someone or something was akin to that of being struck by lightning.
The ANA reach the dismount point and we all get out, prepping to move through the wood piles. These piles could hide anything, giant stacks with limbs and logs sticking out everywhere, trying to see a person in this is going to difficult at best. Once we're all ready I call for the illumination rounds.
DENIED! Because the battalion commander 100 miles away thinks it's to dangerous. His concern is that the canister that the illum round is in will land on a khalat in the area, this canister weighs about 8 pounds. Disregard the fact that without this illum the ANA can't see anything. 8 pounds hitting a house or us not being able to see? I'm coming down on the side of us being able to see the enemy.
I call for the illum round again. DENIED! What the...? This guy is 100 miles away and making decisions that should be made by us on the ground, we're the ones closing with the enemy. I guess empowering subordinates and letting ground commanders make the call isn't taught anymore.
The sharper reader will recall that at that time George Bush was President and General McKiernan was in charge in Afghanistan. Is that the same incident Will is talking about, or is his a more recent repeat? I don't know - but I do know that while ROE haven't "changed", something certainly changed in January, 2009 - and most folks who've developed an intense interest in ROE over the past year weren't nearly as concerned about the topic a very few years ago.
And I know there will always be Rules of Engagement, and misinterpreted rules of engagement, complaints, and death - civilian and military - in war.
(And a good reporter will always be able to find a noncommanding officer to quote on that.)
I mentioned previously that Milbloggers nominated one of our own for a Citizens Medal (second highest civilian award in the United States).
Anyone who read the criteria...
...Who have a demonstrated commitment to service in their own community or in communities farther from home. Someone who has engaged in activities that have had an impact in their local community, on a community or communities elsewhere in the United States or on fellow citizens living or stationed around the world.
And everyone who knows her knows she wouldn't want the attention - so we didn't tell her we had done it. But when we got word she'd made the first cut - and that the White House wanted to contact her - I called her to break the news. It's a cliche, but people who deserve recognition really don't want it - and that's true of MaryAnn. I'd like to say I convinced her that she deserved it (even though her point - that every wounded troop she spends time with at Landstuhl has done more - is correct) but in reality I think I just outlasted her reluctance and wore her down. I'm fairly certain that if I had to I could get several of those troops who've had an otherwise unwanted experience at Landstuhl brightened by her presence to tell her the same things I did, but it didn't come to that.
So, we cleared what was actually the toughest hurdle in the process - getting MaryAnn on board. Really, read the criteria - it says "nominate people like MaryAnn Phillips." So I never doubted she'd make it. And recently she learned she was one of the thirteen folks - from over 6,000 nominees - selected to receive the medal at a ceremony at the White House today.
More milbloggers and friends:
Soldiers' Angels: Angel Wins Presidential Medal
John of Argghhh: An Angel Gets Her Wings!
Laughing Wolf at Blackfive: Congratulations MaryAnn
Bouhammer: An Angel is seen and recognized
Mothax at The American Legion's BurnPit: Some well deserved recognition for two great Americans
Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review's The Corner: An Angel at the White House
...As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America's combat mission in Iraq would end. (Applause.) And that is exactly what we are doing -- as promised and on schedule. (Applause.)
Obama campaigned on winding down the Iraq war, and he used his remarks to veterans, a significant portion of whom did not support him in the election, to remind voters that he is carrying out those plans largely on schedule...
President Obama on Monday opened a monthlong drive to mark the end of the combat mission in Iraq and, by extension, to blunt growing public frustration with the war in Afghanistan by arguing that he can also bring that conflict to a conclusion...
Mr. Obama vowed to complete his plan to withdraw designated combat forces from Iraq...
The mission's name will change from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn...
Today -- even as terrorists try to derail Iraq's progress -- because of the sacrifices of our troops and their Iraqi partners, violence in Iraq continues to be near the lowest it's been in years. And next month, we will change our military mission from combat to supporting and training Iraqi security forces. (Applause.) In fact, in many parts of the country, Iraqis have already taken the lead for security.
As agreed to with the Iraqi government, we will maintain a transitional force...
...The remaining "advise and assist" brigades will officially focus on supporting and training Iraqi security forces, protecting American personnel and facilities, and mounting counterterrorism operations...
...Mr. Obama has adopted Iraq as a relative success story, and aides said he and other administration officials would hold several events in August to honor returning soldiers and promote the drawdown. The notion that Iraq would be the political selling point while the "good war" in Afghanistan is now the sour note underscores how much has changed since Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign.
These men and women from across our country have done more than meet the challenges of this young century. Through their extraordinary courage and confidence and commitment, these troops and veterans have proven themselves as a new generation of American leaders. And while our country has sometimes been divided, they have fought together as one. While other individuals and institutions have shirked responsibility, they have welcomed responsibility. While it was easy to be daunted by overwhelming challenges, the generation that has served in Iraq has overcome every test before them...
...we are humbled by the profound sacrifice that has been rendered. Each of the veterans I have mentioned carried with them the wounds of this war. And as a nation, we will honor forever all who gave their lives -- that last true measure of devotion -- in service in Iraq -- soldiers, sailors, Airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen -- active, Guard, Reserve.
Even as we end the war in Iraq, even as we welcome home so many of our troops, others are still deployed in Afghanistan. So I want to remind everyone...
And that sense of purpose that tells us to carry on, not just when it's easy, but when it's hard, even when the odds seem overwhelming -- that's what we're about. The confidence that our destiny is never written for us, it's written by us. The faith, that fundamental American faith, that there are always brighter days ahead; and that we not will not simply endure, but we will emerge from our tests and trials and tribulations stronger than before -- that is your story. That is America's story. And I'm proud to stand with you as we write the next proud chapter in the life of the country we love.
God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)- Obama
The new counterinsurgency guidance, that is.
ISAF spokesman, German Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Blotz said the COIN guidance communicates how U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus expects all forces under his command to conduct themselves as they work shoulder to shoulder with their Afghan partners to defeat insurgency.
"Its release is a signal, both to our forces and the Afghan people, that our top priority, our first duty, is to protect and serve the Afghan people," he added.
Petraeus will also issue updates to the existing Tactical Directive, which provides more specific direction and guidance on such things as the use of force in conducting military operations, said Blotz.
He said the Tactical Directive is in broad terms consistent with the current directive.
"The fundamental tenets of our campaign strategy remain as they have been, our role is to support the Government of Afghanistan as it charts a brighter future for its people," said Blotz.
Full copy of the guidance at the link - in Dari and English. "To protect and serve the Afghan people" is the emphasis - but there is change from the previous guidance. (Currently still available here.) Gone are the little vignettes "illustrating" the text - like this one:
One ISAF unit and their partnered Afghan company were participating in a large shura in a previously hostile village. Over 500 people, to include former fighters, were in attendance. Nearly the entire village turned out. The unit had been working for months to build relationships with the elders and people. As the relationships strengthened and local projects began improving quality of life and employment opportunities, the village elders requested the meeting. During the meeting, two insurgents began firing shots at one of the unit's observation posts. Knowing the stakes of the meeting, the young sergeant in charge of the OP told his men to hold their fire. He knew this was a provocative act designed to get him to over-react and ruin the meeting. He reported the incident. The shura continued. Later, the village elders found the two militants and punished them accordingly.
And where the old guidance acknowledged kinetic activity...
At the same time, it would be naive to ignore the fact that the enemy often gets a vote on how we focus our time and energy. This is certainly the case in times of high kinetic activity as well as in the areas where the "shadow government" influences the population. There is clearly a role for precise operations that keep the insurgents off balance, take the fight to their sanctuaries, and prevent them from affecting the population. These operations are important, but, in and of themselves, are not necessarily decisive....the new is a bit more aggressive:
- though obviously aggressive with caveat. At the bottom, one of my favorite quotes:
Pursue the enemy relentlessly. Together with our Afghan partners, get our teeth into the insurgents and don't let go. When the extremists fight, make them pay. Seek out and eliminate those who threaten the population. Don't let them intimidate the innocent. Target the whole network, not just individuals.
Fight hard and fight with discipline. Hunt the enemy aggressively, but use only the firepower needed to win a fight. We can't win without fighting, but we also cannot kill or capture our way to victory. Moreover, if we kill civilians or damage their property in the course of our operations, we will create more enemies than our operations eliminate. That's exactly what the Taliban want. Don't fall into their trap. We must continue our efforts to reduce civilian casualties to an absolute minimum.
Exercise initiative. In the absence of guidance or orders, figure out what the orders should have been and execute them aggressively.
I believe I've mentioned that one very recently...
The new guidance follows General Petraeus' first letter to the troops as ISAF commander:
Protecting those we are here to help nonetheless does require killing, capturing, or turning the insurgents. We will not shrink from that; indeed, you have been taking the fight to the enemy and we will continue to do so. Beyond that, as you and our Afghan partners on the ground get into tough situations, we must employ all assets to ensure your safety, keeping in mind, again, the importance of avoiding civilian casualties.
Ultimately, such guidance can be seen as the scriptures, open to some interpretation from the folks below. (General McChrystal acknowledged that in his tactical directive: "I cannot prescribe the appropriate use of force for every condition that a complex battlefield will produce...") From this 'guidance' and a few other sources (here's one) come the much-maligned (and misunderstood) ROE. The change from old to new may be subtle, but a word to the wise is sufficient.
The Citizens Medal recognizes "citizens of the United States of America who have performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens." Executive Order 11494 (Nov. 13, 1969). It is generally recognized as the second highest civilian award of the United States government.Via email from the White House:
On Wednesday, August 4, President Obama will deliver remarks and present the 2010 Citizens Medal to 13 winners from across the country.
For 40 years, the Presidential Citizens Medal has recognized Americans who have "performed exemplary deeds of service for their country or their fellow citizens." This Medal is among the highest honors a President can bestow, and it stands as a token of gratitude to those who represent what is best about this Nation.
While that's been announced, names of the winners have not. More than a few milbloggers are eagerly waiting for that - nominations were open to the public this year, and after reading the criteria we submitted one of our own.
Update: and here she is!
Sig Christenson's on the ground in Afghanistan report is a must-read. This isn't combat action - it's an account of a meeting between Admiral Mullen and local Afghan leaders in Kandahar.
Read the whole thing - but these four paragraphs pretty much nail down the key issues in Afghanistan:
They didn't have kind words for the mayor -- an outsider hired by the Kabul government of Hamid Karzai to run the town -- or for the way aid has been funneled through provincial government officials they see as corrupt and out of touch with the people.
Concern was raised over civilian casualties at the hands of coalition forces.
They had great antipathy for Pakistan, which another elder claimed has but one interest in Afghanistan -- making it a new province.
Perhaps worst of all were doubts the elders have about America. The first elder, citing talks with elders in other districts, said: "You foreigners have provided a lot of assistance, you've been very helpful, and we're hearing that your departure is imminent, and that worries us."
"Let me just speak to that," Mullen replied. "I want to make sure that one of my messages is that we're not (leaving), and that we are very focused on the long-term partnership of Afghanistan.
The astute reader will note there's a fifth paragraph in the excerpt - Admiral Mullen's response to the final point. Until it can be resolved - if it can be resolved - the others are insignificant. (Note: DoD account of the meeting here.)
Back in Washington, the Obama administration launched a weekend news show blitz, with Secretary Gates taking the point on that question:
For his part, President Obama didn't acknowledge any drawdown discussion, but did signal (CBS Sunday Morning) what most observers have interpreted as lowered expectations for Afghanistan
"I think we need to reemphasize the message that we are not leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011. We are beginning a transition process," Gates said on the ABC News program "This Week."
"Drawdowns early on will be of fairly limited numbers," he said. "It will depend on the conditions on the ground."
"Nobody thinks that Afghanistan is gonna be a model Jeffersonian democracy," Mr. Obama said. "What we're looking to do is difficult, very difficult, but it's a fairly modest goal, which is, don't allow terrorists to operate from this region; don't allow them to create big training camps and to plan attacks against the U.S. homeland with impunity.
"That can be accomplished," he said. "We can stabilize Afghanistan sufficiently and we can get enough cooperation from Pakistan that we are not magnifying the threat against the homeland."
"Jeffersonian democracy" was echoed by Biden - who expanded the concept on NBC's Today Show: "We are not there to nation-build. We're not out there deciding we're going to turn this into a Jeffersonian democracy and build that country. We've made it clear, we're not there for 10 years."
"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..."
...but as yet no comments from the White House indicate any sort of "firm resolve" on Afghanistan.
Asked on This Week whether the drawdown of forces will be limited to a few thousand troops, Pelosi said: "Well, I hope it is more than that. I know it's not going to be, 'Turn out the lights, and let's all go home on one day.' But I do think the American people expect it to be somewhere between that and a - a few thousand troops."
In contrast, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on CNN's State of the Union that he could envision a scenario in which more troops would be needed in the country.
"If we get the enemy on the run, and they are having safe havens - let's say down in Kandahar, that's really where the center of gravity is - there is a lot of open terrain down there," said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "And if we begin to clear the city, and our intelligence says they are going out in the hinterlands and they are regrouping, we may need more troops to keep them on the run."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned that conservative critics could undermine the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan...
Graham warned that liberal and conservative war critics could form "an unholy alliance," during an interview on CNN's "State of the Union."
Graham's across-the-aisle Senate colleague Harry Levin put much of the blame for public dissatisfaction with Afghanistan on the media:
Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, said on CNN's "State of the Union" the dropping support for the war can be traced to the spreading public dissatisfaction.
"What I see is a mixed picture with some signs of progress," said Levin. "What gets out is the negative picture, and almost exclusively, actually there [are] some positive indicators, too."
Somewhere, Donald Rumsfeld smiles.
Meanwhile, back at the front - ISAF says success: "Afghan and Coalition Forces Tallies Another Successful Month in Afghanistan."
July marked a total of more than 330 suspected insurgents detained and more than 60 insurgents killed in security force operations. More importantly, several Haqqani Network and more than 30 Taliban leaders were captured or killed. These leadership figures include shadow governors, commanders, sub-commanders and weapons facilitators.
"The insurgent groups are feeling the increased pressure. July was an extremely successful month for Afghan and coalition forces in which 87 percent were conducted without a single shot fired," said Col. Rafael Torres, ISAF Joint Command Combined Joint Operations Center director. The month of July began with a security operation that resulted in the death of more than 20 Taliban fighters and the capture of the Taliban district chief in Baghran district in Helmand province. The operation totaled four hours, yet no Afghan civilian, Afghan National Security Force or coalition troops were killed or wounded.
Apparently the old "we don't do body counts" notion is another victim of change.
But on that topic, while much of the Afghanistan coverage and commentary over the weekend can be attributed to the Wikileaks story, the news that July was the deadliest month for Americans there has also prompted increased attention in Washington.
U.S. troops now account for about two-thirds of the NATO force in Afghanistan, and Americans make up more than two-thirds of July's Western military fatalities...
At least 66 U.S. service members were killed, surpassing what had been a record 60 American fatalities in the previous month.
Some of those percentages will be going up: "...the Dutch mission in Afghanistan formally ended Sunday, though it will take some days for troops to complete their departure. About 1,600 troops from the Netherlands were deployed in Oruzgan province, with a presence of several hundred more elsewhere in the country."
For some good news - "The Kabul police have cleared a United States Embassy vehicle of fault for a deadly collision on Friday..." - but there's more to the story:
The Kabul police have cleared a United States Embassy vehicle of fault for a deadly collision on Friday that set off anti-American rioting near the embassy, a senior police official said Sunday.
After the crash, hundreds of enraged onlookers threw rocks, chanted "Death to America" and set ablaze two American vehicles.
Kabul police announced only one fatality from the collision, with three injured, two seriously. Three contractors involved in the crash were reported wounded in the subsequent rioting, along with four Afghans (including two policemen).
But for real carnage, nothing beats a well-placed IED:
A minibus full of civilians struck a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan early Sunday, and Afghan officials said six of those on board were killed...
No riots were reported.
Afghan and coalition members from the Combined Air Power Transition Force teamed up Wednesday and Thursday to rescue more than 2,000 Afghan citizens from flooding in the Nangahar and Kunar provinces.
(That last bit's for you, Senator Levin.)
Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, said on CNN's "State of the Union" the dropping support for the war can be traced to the spreading public dissatisfaction.
"What I see is a mixed picture with some signs of progress," said Levin. "What gets out is the negative picture, and almost exclusively, actually there [are] some positive indicators, too."
But, he added, "they do carry every act of violence that occurs in Iraq it seems, over and over and over."
Rumsfeld said the media don't report that Iraq's schools are open and the hospitals are functioning, "or (that) the stock market's there, or that in large chunks of the country it's relatively peaceful."
"Those things seem not to get emphasized to the same extent that the violence does," he continued. "So the impression that the people have here is of violence, and the impression people have in Iraq is of a more balanced situation."
Answer to the headline question: 1984.
Spencer Ackerman is heading to Afghanistan, and requests input:
Send me tips, feedback and questions you'd like answered, either in comments or through the email address listed on this site...
...if you didn't have the email address already.
...as we say in the Newspeak.
From: Winston Smith
To: Team Ethelred
Subject: How about this?"...we've got to get the job done [in Afghanistan], and that requires us to haveOr should we just scrap the original completely?
enoughtroops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there. It means that we have enough civilian support, agricultural specialists, people who are engineers, people who are building schools and so forth to help the Afghani government do a better job of delivering on behalf of its people. We are not there to nation-build. We're not out there deciding we're going to turn this into a Jeffersonian democracy and build that country."
Winston dialled 'back numbers' on the telescreen and called for the appropriate issues of 'The Times', which slid out of the pneumatic tube after only a few minutes' delay. The messages he had received referred to articles or news items which for one reason or another it was thought necessary to alter, or, as the official phrase had it, to rectify. For example, it appeared from 'The Times' of the seventeenth of March that Big Brother, in his speech of the previous day, had predicted that the South Indian front would remain quiet but that a Eurasian offensive would shortly be launched in North Africa. As it happened, the Eurasian Higher Command had launched its offensive in South India and left North Africa alone. It was therefore necessary to rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother's speech, in such a way as to make him predict the thing that had actually happened. Or again, 'The Times' of the nineteenth of December had published the official forecasts of the output of various classes of consumption goods in the fourth quarter of 1983, which was also the sixth quarter of the Ninth Three-Year Plan. Today's issue contained a statement of the actual output, from which it appeared that the forecasts were in every instance grossly wrong. Winston's job was to rectify the original figures by making them agree with the later ones. As for the third message, it referred to a very simple error which could be set right in a couple of minutes. As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a 'categorical pledge' were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.
As soon as Winston had dealt with each of the messages, he clipped his speakwritten corrections to the appropriate copy of 'The Times' and pushed them into the pneumatic tube. Then, with a movement which was as nearly as possible unconscious, he crumpled up the original message and any notes that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames...
...But actually, he thought as he re-adjusted the Ministry of Plenty's figures, it was not even forgery. It was merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another.