Permissible Arms

Sleeping through the static

Posted in afghanistan, counterinsurgency, iraq, united states, us defense, us military, us politics by Karaka on 1 September 2010

Must reads of the day, Iraq War (or ending thereof) edition:

Mike Few at Small Wars Council; have a quiet moment ready.

Boys, so many of you did not make it to see this day. I love you and miss you much. I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Iraq is still a mess, but, officially, the U.S. heavy involvement is done. I wish that you were here to see it. I wish that I could write a letter to each one of you, but I can’t. There’s too many- 30 of y’all to date not counting Afghanistan. I’m gonna start at the beginning.

Today is a strange day. The Army promoted me to Major. Andy Hilmes is about to be a battalion commander. Can you believe that? I’m gonna be who I set out to be. I promised y’all that I would do my best. I stayed the course.

Gulliver, on refuting assumptions about millennial attitudes post-Iraq War.

You know what else has limits? The explanatory power of age-based demographic binning. Let’s give it up. Stuff like this is tired, and it doesn’t teach us anything. Are some of us going to draw the same lessons as Elizabeth Dickinson? Sure. Are some of us going to draw the same lessons as Duncan Hunter, Jr., who is 33 and probably doesn’t agree with a single damned thing Elizabeth Dickinson wrote? Sure. We’re not “the Iraq war generation.” That generation may exist in the Army and Marine Corps — a limited, more experientially and culturally homogenous grouping, and one that’s been directly shaped by personal experience with that war — but it doesn’t exist in society. One of the great “lessons of Iraq” is this: people in a society as broad and rich and disparate as the U.S. will always find ways to disagree about what’s best for the country and its security. Let’s not contribute to polarization and acrimony by suggesting that there’s one appropriate way to have experienced the last decade.

I too am wary of painting my (our?) generation with a broad brush. I’m in the later half of my twenties, and the one thing I can say with absolute certainty about my peers and the Iraq war is that for 2/3 of them this whole war business “slipped their minds” in favor of playing Halo or trying to find a job to pay off their student loans or deciding whether they wanted an iPhone or a Droid. Should Dickerson’s piece be qualified even further than what she states near the end of her piece:

Of course, I am but a subset of my demographic group, and no one authorized me to speak on behalf of my peers. But like the generation that grew up in Vietnam, we will be the Iraq generation. What that means is not yet clear, but it begins now. It’s day one of life with no Iraq War.

by saying that even this is only relevant for the, let’s face it, minority of people in the millennial generation who think of “foreign policy” as something more than that wicked backpacking trip through Germany the summer before senior year; or of those who even think of places outside the United States at all. Because I’m going to say that my generation, as much as you can loosely categorize a group of otherwise disparate humans into a collective based on something as broad as age, is as insular as most in the sense that the border of thinking ends at the border of this country, if it doesn’t end at exactly where one lives and works. Claiming any kind of real awareness of Iraq and Afghanistan as nations and not “stuff that shows up in the news a lot” seems to be giving great leeway to my millennial peers that I frankly do not believe exists. I would bet anyone a beer (but not Bud Light Lime) that more twenty-somethings have watched the 82nd Airborne GaGa-dancing than have read a single news report on the effects of counterinsurgency on the advancement of the Afghan people.

I’m pretty cynical on this, I know. It’s borne from my own experience. Dickinson’s article requires at least one (probably more) caveat: her points only apply to those who are paying attention in the first place.

Only your top official!

Posted in iraq by Karaka on 30 August 2010

This is hands down some of the most entertaining spam I’ve ever received.

Attention: The Managing Director,

RE: Enquiry For Quotation.
Can your company quote for an urgent project for Iraq Governments under a Joint Contracting Command program? If it is in your jurisdiction, then kindly respond and send a presentational information on your specialty and working terms for immediate evaluation. We would appreciate to discuss this important project with ONLY the top most official of your establishment.Thank you and kindly treat as urgent.

Habeeb Al-Hassan,
Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Yes sir, Mr. Foreign Affairs Minister, my tiny regional non profit will get right on that.

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From Dawn to Dusk

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, pakistan, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 24 August 2010

Back from my stint at Attackerman. That was a good experience, if a little stressful–Spencer’s audience is a lot bigger than mine, and I hope I kept the fire going well enough in his stead with my compatriots.

For all the people (journalists) bemoaning the slow news days of August, I must say I don’t see it. Between the floods in Pakistan, the existential crises of Pakistan’s obstructionism in Afghanistan, the likely food shortage resulting from Russia’s non-stop drought/wildfire combo and Pakistan’s floods, plus the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the interesting philosophical questions that can arise from the withdrawal, it’s been a non-stop thought farm for me. Granted, it’s no McClusterfuck, but it hasn’t been a quiet month.

Speaking of the flooding, I keep coming back to stare at this picture:

Photo: Courtesy of Robert Simmon, NASA.

That kind of macro view really shows how massive the Indus has become, and how terrifying it is. (H/t Natural Security.) What a crummy Ramadan.

Remembered Heyday

Posted in iraq by Karaka on 19 August 2010

Captivating post in the NYT At War blog from Yasmine Mousa, highlighted as this week marks the nominal draw-down of US troops in Iraq.

While driving along 14th of Ramadan Street in Baghdad recently, I remembered that street’s heyday. It was a jubilant street, with an assortment of boutiques, cafes, and toy shops. I saw that some of the shops had been closed since the worst days of 2006 and 2007.

The driver frowned at my remark.

“You did not see what it was like during the years of anarchy,” he said. “It is a fiesta now. It is evening now, and look how crowded the streets are with pedestrians and cars. Back then it closed at noon and you did not see a bird in the highway, because snipers were on both sides of the street. It was a street of horror. We are blessed now.”

Over coffee, my friend’s face had gradually taken on a look of appalled horror. It is no surprise. She lives in a country where human life is sacred and cherished.

I think it is appropriately the Age of the Diplomat in Iraq from this point onward; but Mousa’s post suggests how far those civilians have yet to go.

Bargaining Chips

Another boring-but-informative (and potentially useful) link dump. Where are my words?

Soldiers smoked late one evening at Forward Operating Base Salerno in eastern Paktika Province.

Only Got One More Step to Go

A little bit of late night blogging; somehow Friday just slipped away from me. Posting has been light as all my blog-related brain cells have been dumped at Attackerman; normal service should resume soon as the vestiges of moving office suites fall away.

Bits and bobs:

I shall attempt substance soon. Promise.

Back to Reality

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, united states, us defense, us military by Karaka on 9 August 2010

Adam Weinsten has some good thought on Brad Manning over at Attackerman today. Also at ZIA, some of the data culled from the leak is graphically represented. I still think it’s a grey area, whether to utilize the information or not, but still interesting to see.

As I blogged at Attackerman this morning, Secretary Gates announced today some big cutbacks in the defense department budget–including the closing of JFCOM, which General Odierno was recently nominated to head. According to the Secdef, Odierno knew and was supportive of the decision (of course, he would have to be so publicly) but I wonder where he–and the many defense contractors who will be made redundant very soon–will eventually go.

Matt Gallagher at Kerplunk opined as to why the US needs to return to the draft.

Which brings me back to the Draft. I’ve become more and more convinced that a healthy republic needs conscription to keep it healthy and honest. The gulf discussed isn’t anyone’s fault, an unforeseen byproduct of the all-volunteer force – but this gulf must be filled, unless we’re intent on recreating Legions loyal to their commanders over country. (An extreme example. We’re nowhere near there. Yet.) The Draft would be controversial, debated, and very likely protested. All good things in a properly functioning people’s government. Meanwhile, the benefits of such would be twofold:

1) The citizenry would actually hold their political leaders accountable, as they’re supposed to. Apathy being a republic/democracy’s worst enemy is not a new understanding, but it remains a poignant one…

2) Wars would become a collective undertaking by the nation as a whole, rather than an isolated segment of the population. This would prove beneficial to both society and to the military. The number of sons and daughters involved would greatly increase, thus increasing personal connections and a sense of engagement, thus increasing product output.

I shrunk this down a little, to avoid reproducing his post, but I will note that I’ve had a discussion about a draft with a friend of mine several times, and we were both a little surprised to discover that the both of us–liberal Portlanders that we are–support the draft. And not solely a military draft, but a civilian draft as well. The idea being that you gave a year, two years, in service to your country either in defense or administration. We never fully worked out the weedy parts of it, but I still find it an interesting idea, analogous to Americorps or the Peace Corps or Teach for America. Worth reading, even if (especially if) you disagree. You can also catch Matt on CSPAN Books here.

I wish I’d caught this live, but the New America Foundation hosted a roundtable on civilian casualties in Afghanistan last week.

Using recently declassified data from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Jacob Shapiro and a team of academic researchers have produced the first detailed analysis of the link between civilian casualties and violence directed against ISAF troops.

I’m about halfway through, and hopefully I’ll be able to watch the rest this week if work is even slightly more placid than it has been.

MoI’s post on organized crime in Iraq struck some real chords. The U.S. invasion in 2003 removed all restrictions upon Iraq’s gangs. First, before the U.S. attack Saddam released 30,000-100,000 criminals in October 2002. Second, the Americans invaded without enough troops to secure the country. Then the government collapsed, followed by the economy falling apart. Finally the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi military. All of those factors together emboldened gangs, and the anarchic situation that Iraq found itself in created powerful incentives towards lawlessness to make a living.

Josh Keating and Mike Few ask What’s the Difference Between Combat and Noncombat Troops? in the FP Explainer; see Mike’s extended thoughts at SW Council. (That totally looks like Star Wars Council, doesn’t it?) I’m working on a brain dump, but life as I know is has still not fully returned to peaceable normal. But I have high hopes for tomorrow.

DoD is ruining education!

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, us congress, us defense by Abbie on 5 August 2010

Thanks to Karaka for letting me guest post again!

I usually keep quiet when those with experience start debating military and foreign policy issues on blogs and elsewhere online. These issues interest me terribly, but I don’t suffer from any illusions that I know half as much as the people I choose to follow on Twitter on these matters. But on the issue of guns vs. butter–or more specifically in this post, guns vs. schoolbooks–I have an informed opinion that goes something like this: Please stop blaming war spending for diminishing the federal investment in education spending. Recent efforts to secure much-needed aid for educator job retention has reignited a long-suffering debate about funding priorities that has me banging my head against the wall.

I represent educators before Congress. Yes, I’m a lobbyist. My colleagues and I enjoy advocating on one of the few “nonpartisan” issues in Congress, if such a thing exists. We have our fair share of dramatic debates, but when it gets down to brass tacks legislators generally agree that education is a good thing. This is similar, I believe, to the widely held post-Vietnam idea in Congress that we must support the troops, regardless of personal feelings about war or defense policy.

Tough times call for tough measures and all federal agencies are preparing for Congress to allot them smaller budgets to complete their work. This includes the Department of Education. But nothing demonstrates the state of our poor economy to many Americans more than this: Even the (discretionary) federal funding juggernaut more commonly known as the Department of Defense is cutting back.

Secretary Gates has gone to great lengths to implore Congress to do away with spending of programs he calls “excess” or “poorly performing” in an effort to streamline DoD. He’s even gone so far as to call for the President’s veto of any appropriations bills that include funding for six projects he opposes (see page one of his June testimony here). He’s also called on his staff to shrink the department’s annual budget by more than $100 billion over five years. (To learn more about why, read the recent CBO report detailing DoD’s ballooning expenses, or the excellent report by Robert Haddick at Foreign Policy.)

Despite these and other efforts, my education colleagues—who I respect and work passionately along side in our efforts to expand the federal investment in education—continue to make the baseless argument that DoD is to blame for shrinking funds for federal education programs. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve suffered through one of my colleagues’ angry diatribes against spending on “the wars” or “DoD” or “the military” I probably wouldn’t be sweating my student loans payment this month. The argument simply doesn’t stand up.

To suggest that funding for any non-DoD program hangs on the funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is naive and shows extreme ignorance of the federal appropriations process. Anyone ever heard of mandatory spending programs like Social Security and Medicare? Let me assure you that these programs are having an impact on available monies legislators have to play with.

Please, let’s have reasoned debate about the benefits of war, the implications of war, even the morality of war. I find myself questioning our efforts “over there” at times, too. But let’s not suggest funding these wars is depriving states of federal education aid. Legislators choose whether or not to appropriate funds. They make choices. Legislators choose to prioritize funding and programs.

Congress has the responsibility to fund defense and education fairly and appropriately. It’s not an either/or debate. The federal government needs to do both better. Let’s face it, they need to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars, generally.

I’m hardly the first to point out the deterioration of reasoned debate and policy development in America. When Congress is involved, there is always plenty of finger pointing to go around. But on this issue, surely we can rise above and realize one priority (national defense) does not undercut the other priority (educating the nation’s youth).

Combat Art

Posted in afghanistan, iraq, united states by Karaka on 27 July 2010

If you’ve never encountered Michael Fay’s artwork before, now’s the time to check it out. He is a very talented combat artist, who combines scans of his work with blogging.

Much more at Fire and Ice.

Drums and Guns

Posted in counterinsurgency, iraq, us military by Karaka on 23 July 2010

I’ve been inattentive this week–I’m co-ordinating my office’s move, the first in eight years. How much junk can ten people collect in eight years? A lot, a whole lot, of junk. So until we’re into the new place on August 2, posting will be light to nonexistent. Apologies.

I’ve been reading David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers, which may come in as the most difficult book I’ve read thus far this year. And I haven’t been shying away from the hard stuff. Finkel’s observations have a grinding, struggling quality to them. It’s as if he’s describing a drowning in slow motion, wrenching every excruciating detail from the scene and reconstructing it with some of the layers removed to show you the pain and fear in high definition.

In some ways, this is just a variation on the themes explored in Sebastian Junger’s War or The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell. Stories about soldiers given a task for which they couldn’t be fully prepared, for which there can never be sufficient training; soldiers learning truths about themselves and about life. The hard realities of being in wars which were never meant to be wars.

Where Finkel veers off, though, is in the nature and tone of his descriptions. He scours away the extraneous, leaving behind a stark frame of a story. He clearly wants you to draw your own conclusions, but informs the way you draw them from the way he structures his prose.

There’s a clear and unaffected respect for the soldiers he observes. But Finkel draws on the disgust and bewilderment and FUBARness of the situation by strategically placing certain lines that change your perception of the story he’s telling.

This is not necessarily a criticism, mind. More something I’ve noted over halfway into the book. It does make it a challenge to read at times, because the thread of agenda, or at least of desired perception, is more evident to me now than when I started it. “The Good Soldiers” is a book for a whiskey and ginger evening, when you can lose yourself in the pages and come out the next day not remembering it clearly. Hard to read, but worthwhile for that fact.

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