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.
My Afghanistan in 2050 post has been cross-posted to Feminist Philosophers, which pleases me to no end. There’s been some interesting discussion in the comments of the Chicago Boyz post as well that I’m working on parsing.
Also from that discussion, see Afghanistan 2050: A Chronic Low-Grade Sameness. Or, Each Life, A Story. by Madhu.
Ours was not a typical refugee or disaster victim virtopsy. Those we had done in Africa, in Asia, in Europe, on international hospital ships in rough and calm seas both. We only needed the scans to do those. The bodies were not ours and were disposed of as the locals or families saw fit. (Presuming the families would let us scan them. This was sometimes difficult to arrange.) From the scanned images, however, we could compile data and enter it into the open database that our physician-NGO group provided to the public. We shared our conclusions with a world-wide audience of academics, the curious, the bored, the skeptics, war proponents, human rights activists, nationalists, speculators, terrorists, cranks, freaks, perverts, politicians – whoever felt like “tuning in.”
In the “things I never expected” file, Murfreesboro, TN on The Daily Show this week. I would embed, but WordPress apparently hates anything but Youtube. Murfreesboro–where we used to shop for back-to-school clothes, and maybe hit the Red Lobster. Weird.
Andrew Bacevich’s personal missive in Salon this week about the “unmaking of a company man” seems to shed some light on his point of view, light that helps to understand something of his recent pieces, I think.
These visits to Jena and Berlin offered glimpses of a reality radically at odds with my most fundamental assumptions. Uninvited and unexpected, subversive forces had begun to infiltrate my consciousness. Bit by bit, my worldview started to crumble.
That worldview had derived from this conviction: that American power manifested a commitment to global leadership, and that both together expressed and affirmed the nation’s enduring devotion to its founding ideals. That American power, policies, and purpose were bound together in a neat, internally consistent package, each element drawing strength from and reinforcing the others, was something I took as a given. That, during my adult life, a penchant for interventionism had become a signature of U.S. policy did not — to me, at least — in any way contradict America’s aspirations for peace. Instead, a willingness to expend lives and treasure in distant places testified to the seriousness of those aspirations.
Interesting. I missed an opportunity to see Bacevich speak earlier this month, which I regret.
David Wood sort of cheerleads General Conway, or at least doesn’t criticize:
But it took the Marine Corps’ blunt-spoken commandant, Gen. James Conway, who retires this fall, to name the rhetorical fig leaf that emerges from all the comments officials have made about July 2011: the White House could order an inconsequentially small withdrawal of, say, three dozen troops — and claim it had fulfilled Obama’s promise.
“I certainly believe some American unit, somewhere in Afghanistan, will turn over responsibilities to Afghan security forces in 2011,” he told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday. But not Marines in southern Afghanistan, he said, where “it will be a few years” before any withdrawals are possible.
Seeming to call for some forthright talk from the Oval Office, the outgoing commandant added: “I sense our country is increasingly growing tired of the war, but I would remind [them] that the last of the 30,000 troops only arrived this month. I would also quote the analysis of one of my regimental commanders when asked about the pace of the war. He said, ‘We can either lose fast or win slow.’ ” The upshot of all this hedging and backtracking, together with the steady drumbeat of sobering news from Afghanistan, is that a general understanding is emerging in Washington that July 2011 may come and go without any significant troop reductions, and perhaps without any troop reductions at all.
Conway spent the last week and a half going off without a filter, for which one might rightly be wary of engaging in his claims, but I do think there’s a fair assessment here of where ISAF will actually be in July 2011. In addition, Karzai has stated that the withdrawal deadline has boosted Taliban morale, for whatever that is worth.
In the amusing-and-truthful file, this post by @laurenist on celebrity aid appeals has both edgy humor and pointed assessment. Good for a Friday afternoon read.
At least when it was Sean Penn, I didn’t care. But with Misha, I care. Misha, I want you to succeed! You seem like a smart guy, I figure maybe there’s hope.
Let’s start with the orphanages. They tug at heartstrings, the stories about Haitian orphans were all over the news cycle, I get why there is a natural desire to support and fund orphanages. One of the things Misha says in the Random Acts’ introductory video is he wants to “cut out the middleman” in aid delivery. (That was the sound of a thousand heads hitting their desks in aid agencies across the land.) That means sending funds not to an Oxfam America, Mercy Corps, or even Save the Children, but instead sending funds directly to three orphanages in Haiti.
Long story short: bad idea. Disaster relief, especially after an earthquake like the one that hit Haiti, takes years, not just months. Long-term development projects for rebuilding livelihoods, schools, and public services are essential.
Here’s the gentleman in question, give you his best brooding, smoldering stare:
People, you do not understand how much effort it takes to resist photoshopping Starbuck’s head onto this image. (It would make such a good profile picture, man!)
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:
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.
Another boring-but-informative (and potentially useful) link dump. Where are my words?
- Gorgeous photos by Dima Gavrysh at the NYT Lens blog.
- The Natural Security Blog on soft power.
- Michael C. at On Violence on Training the Army after Iraq (perhaps worth reading in conjunction with Kenneth Payne’s The Army after Afghanistan).
- John Sullivan and Adam Elkus on Strategy and insurgency: an evolution in thinking?
- Chicago Boyz round table, Afghanistan in 2050.
- Good comments on Matt’s post at Attackerman on the life and times of the Foreign Service.
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:
- Ink Spots on Stephen Biddle’s recent interview on Afghanistan.
- Adam Serwer, Sharia vs. the New Deal and One Final Point About Sharia-Compliant Finance.
- Ambassador Hill is bugging out of Iraq while the paint’s still drying. That’s going to go over real well.
- BBC Audio Slideshow covering midwife Sadiqa Husseini, a midwife in Bamyan, Afg. Several interesting stories out of the BBC Afghan desk recently; worth poking around there.
- Kenneth Payne, of Kings of War renown, writing at Current Intelligence on the British Army post-Afghanistan. Incisive.
- Steve Metz’s SSI op-ed, America’s Flawed Afghanistan Strategy (PDF), h/t SWJ.
- Erica Gaston, The problem of “population protection”, at the Af-Pak Channel.
I shall attempt substance soon. Promise.
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.
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).
Quick link-dump of stuff I’m reading:
- Christian Bluer, The Problem With Military Writing on Afghanistan. The problem is NOT because of any ‘unique intellectual flaws’ in the individuals. I’ve studied with enough former military in university to know that they are, on average, better students than their usually younger college counterparts…But that being said, the military is – on average – failing to produce useful quality analysis on Afghanistan for public release (and yes, I’ve heard/read the criticisms of how bad the classified analysis is as well).
- Pentagon Starts Study of Post-Afghan Marine Corps. “We’re turning our thinking to resetting the Corps – that’s the code word – and it has to do with what do we want the Marine Corps to look like once we’re out of Afghanistan and assuming there are no infantry battalions in sustained combat operations anywhere in the world,” Navy Undersecretary Bob Work told a lunchtime audience in Washington.
- Casey shares vision of National Guard’s future. “No one wants to go back to the Guard being just a strategic reserve,” Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said during a visit to the 2010 National Guard Family Program Volunteer Workshop. “We have come way too far. Half of the Guard are combat veterans. That’s a fundamentally different force and, as a result, it’s a fundamentally different Army.”
- Adam Elkus on the above. Defense intellectuals are examining the possibilities of smaller, but more high-performing units able to operate with greater degrees of independence due to emerging technology. This is somewhat of a historical trend as well, since the division in the first Gulf War operated with the autonomy of a corps, and the brigade combat team resulted from the flattening of land forces into the Modular Force. There is also a corresponding focus on using maneuver and swarming to fight the “low-signature enemy.”
- Canada-Afghan Blog, Afghanistan Today.
- Marc Lynch, Arab confidence in Obama collapsing. The survey’s findings suggest overwhelmingly that it is the administration’s failures on the Israeli-Palestinian front which drove the collapse in Arab attitudes towards Obama. Sixty-one percent of the respondents say that this is the area in which they are most disappointed (Iraq, at 27 percent, is the only other issue which cracks double digits — only one percent name “spreading democracy”). Only one percent say they are pleased with his policy. Fifty-four percent name an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement as one of two things which would most improve their views of the United States (withdrawing from Iraq is second, at 45 percent , and stopping aid to Israel third at 43 percent ).
- Michael Hancock on dealing with Afghan poppy farming. Still – why doesn’t NATO or the US put together a fund to step in as the new buyer of all this opium. Why not ask Australian or Indian farmers to plant something else, as their contribution to the Coalition war effort? If they don’t want to put their soldiers at risk, that’s fine – they can fight the Taliban so much more effectively with their checkbooks, hurting the insurgents by cutting off a primary source of funding.
- Via DoDLive, the Forum on Women Veterans.
So, while Attackerman’s in Afghanistan, I’ll be chipping in as a guestblogger over at his pseudonymous blog. If I can defeat the evil Comcast internet-giving box tomorrow, I should be back to form; but I’ll be posting both there and here as the DSL gods allow. First post is up, on David Sanger’s piece in the NYT.
Amitai Etzioni has an article up at TNR, “Unshackle the Troops“, that I would really like to read if TNR wasn’t behind a bloody paywall.
H-War and Edge of the American West are ramping up for another Military History Carnival. Maybe I will actually have the time to finish the post I was working on for the last one. (ha.)
Aaron Ellis’ takedown of Melanie Phillips was a tour de force. Of the many things one could say about David Cameron, his lack of foreign policy credentials are not particularly salty.
I’m out with a buddy a while back. We’re talking about brands of beer. He hears a car backfire, and suddenly he’s scanning ridgelines. He’s not here anymore. He’s all the way in Afghanistan, and he takes me halfway back to Iraq with him. I think about saying something, telling him that he’s here, not there. That I’m with him. That everything is okay. But that would be the wrong thing to say. A couple of minutes pass as we walk. He keeps scanning, I just stay by him. After that, we go back to talking about beer. We don’t mention anything about the event.
A couple of days later we’re walking along and he says “you know, I really freaked out the other day.” I tell him that I know, and I was right there with him. That’s all that needs to be said. He knows my story. We don’t need any elaborate cathartic rituals or long discussions about it. It’s no different than strapping on armor and walking outside the wire. I trusted him to be able to take care of himself, and he trusted me to catch him the moment he couldn’t. We’re Ranger buddies, not baby-sitters. Giving him dignity and letting him fight the battle on his own is just as important as helping him get up when he gets knocked down.
In what will be news to no one who reads this blog, Wikileaks dumped 92k documents on the world at large related to the war in Afghanistan. Most of the initial commentary I’ve seen has less to do with the content of the documents–which isn’t really shocking or surprising to anyone who even lightly follows the war–and more to do with the ethical/practical results of a watershed leak. Is this, more than the previous Wikileaks story, a germinal moment in the development of new media? Or is it merely opportunism?
The best analysis I’ve read thus far (given that this just happened yesterday) comes from John McCreary’s Nightwatch, which I encourage you to read in its entirety as it’s a veteran intelligence analyst’s take on the information leaked, the interpretation of the documents from other sources, and an intelligence angle on the manner in which the information should be interpreted.
In today’s reports the new outlets did not reach the obvious conclusion that the increased use of manpads against US helicopters might have contributed to McChrystal’s decision to limit tactical air support because aircraft losses were mounting, mimicking the Soviet experience. In other words, the deaths of innocent Afghan civilians might have been less significant than the rising losses of US airframes. That possibility needs follow-up research.
92,201 reports are not the same as 92,201 facts. In the NightWatch/KGS materials on Intelligence as Evidence the central theme is that every field report must be subjected to six foundation tests and two argument tests, after a filtering process that identifies it as having potential value. None of the news outlets did any of that difficult, tedious work.
Thus, it is only partially accurate to assert the reports provide new insights into how “grim” the war is. Some provide local insights that need to be matched to other reports. Some are fabrications. Many are time sensitive, with no enduring value except as time capsules.
Much more at Nightwatch.