Saturday, December 31, 2005
Friday, December 30, 2005
sprinting in circlesMelanie Sisson was hired as an intelligence analyst at the FBI, and promptly quit -- along with untold numbers like her. In a fascinating op-ed piece in the Washington Post, she details her frustrations with the institution:
In January 2003, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III established an Intelligence Program to transform the bureau's closely held national security function into one responsive to the needs of the intelligence, homeland security, law enforcement and defense communities. To bring about this transition, the Intelligence Program recognized the need for an analytic body within the FBI capable of assessing, producing and appropriately disseminating case information, and it quickly began hiring analysts in unprecedented numbers. Perhaps too quickly, since it hadn't really been determined yet just what resources and procedures were needed to enable the bureau's analytical function and ensure the quality of its product.The circumstances Sisson describes at the FBI seem to me to very closely parallel the post-9/11 circumstances of the American military, where we hurled a bunch of shit at the wall and prayed that some of it would stick. And so (for only the very most personal example) here sits Sergeant Bray, one of 6,500 inactive reservists called back to active duty by the U.S. Army (and one of 1,500 to actually show up and stick around), surfing the web at his desk in Kuwait and waiting for his 18 months to be up.
As a result, analysts who joined the FBI with the goal of contributing to national security discovered that there was no system in place to promote or support the kind of work they do. Analysts found that in many cases they had to operate with a dearth of information and intelligence resources. For example, not all the people carrying the title "All Source Analyst" in the division for which I worked even had desktop access to the Internet or to intelligence community e-mail and intranet servers.
More inhibiting has been the absence of uniform and institutionalized procedures for providing analysts with intelligence collected by the FBI itself. There is no guidance giving field offices the information they need to direct case reporting to the appropriate analytic groups, and no policy mandating that they do so...
Rapid personnel growth without a considered picture of necessary resources. No system in place. A dearth of information. The absence of uniform and institutionalized procedures. This is the picture of the American response to the attacks of September 11, 2001: Plenty of motion, not much action.
they liveOne can only hope that this is the product of a very ballsy parodist. But I kind of doubt it.
like buttahExceptionally rich sarcasm in this short post on conservative legal principle and the Republican party.
good to seeSmart letter to the editor in the Dec. 30 Middle East edition of the Stars and Stripes:
Use of the ‘bigger hammer’
In “Using facts to mislead” (letter, Dec. 12), the writer lambastes the writer of “Use of white phosphorus” (letter, Dec. 4) for suggesting that U.S. forces had a hand in hitting Vietnamese civilians with napalm. While the colonel is correct that this incident was not the fault of U.S. forces, he misses the point in the comparison between that incident and the use of white phosphorus in Fallujah, Iraq.
The fact is, while incendiary weapons are tactically useful, we may be ill-advised to apply them in areas where there is a great chance of causing civilian casualties. Even were we to set aside the moral considerations of collateral damage, we must not forget the strategic consequences of killing innocent civilians. Every picture of a dead child broadcast over the television news is a strike against our moral case for conducting war and further undermines our cause. The horrific wounds caused by incendiary weapons are particularly likely to draw the ire of the civilian populace we are attempting to aid.
One may argue that tactical necessity requires the use of such firepower, but this is also incorrect. As described by Marine infantry leader H. John Poole and others, there are tactics that will allow soldiers to infiltrate and seize complex terrain without heavy firepower. But this can only happen if soldiers are properly trained and junior leaders are given the room to lead them.
The U.S. military has relied for too long on the “bigger hammer” approach to war-fighting. In a theater where the enemy will always hide among the innocents, this method may prove disastrous. More firepower did not work in Vietnam. We have yet to see if it will work here in Iraq.
The colonel states that omitting truth, either through ignorance or intentional manipulation, is obscurant. I agree. Let me go one step further and say shame on us if we do not recognize the flaws in our own tactics and do our utmost to correct them.
Capt. Christian E. De Leon-Horton
Logistics Support Area Anaconda, Iraq
Thursday, December 29, 2005
i'm gonna tell the teacher on youMagazines arrive late, here, so I just got the Dec. 17 issue of The Economist. And here's the old familiar theme in a story on the U.S. Army's efforts to adapt -- cough, cough -- to the challenges presented by its current enemy:
In Afghanistan's violent Helmand province, an American special forces captain -- with broad experience of counter-insurgency -- analysed his furtive Taliban enemies thus: "They're cowards. Why don't they step up and fight like men?" Apparently, he had not considered how he might fight if he had no armour, no radio, an ancient rifle and the sure knowledge that if he fought like a man, he would be obliterated in minutes.I'm repeating myself -- gasp! -- but this thinking makes me want to slam my fucking head against the wall. Our enemies are highly proficient at escaping our efforts to kill them...So they must be unmanly. The nerve of these limp-wristed girlies, not holding still to be killed at our convenience! In the army battle drills that we ran and ran and ran in our pre-deployment training, the enemy is fixed in place by one element's suppressing fire while a second element flanks their position and assaults through, finishing them off; the enemy by god sits there and waits to be killed on schedule. Uh, like men. (Manly men. Who are really into chicks.) Our enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan are not playing the role assigned to them in our battle drills, so they're cowards. Of questionable masculinity. Stop for a few moments and linger over the towering fucking dumbness of the United States Army.
What's especially bizarre here is that our (girlish) enemy is doing something not unlike what we're trained to do; American soldiers are taught to break contact if they can't achieve fire superiority in a fight. When the odds are against you in a prolonged firefight -- well, then, dumbass, don't stick around for a prolonged firefight. Somehow it doesn't cost us points off our testicles when we elect to use cover and concealment, or to break off an engagement and live to fight another day. But when our enemy declines to expose his chest for the bullet...Small penis! Small penis! Neener neener neener!
Perhaps someone could convince a certain Special Forces captain -- and a million others just like him -- that war is not primarily about validating his masculinity, and that certain other things are at stake.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
eternal return (2)"Of such delusions Western defeats are made the world over."
January 30: Admiral Harry D. Felt, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, states in Washington that the "South Vietnamese should achieve victory in three years." Admiral Felt defines victory "as the situation wherein the South Vietnamese control 90 percent of the rural population." He added that Saigon then controlled 51 percent.-- Bernard Fall, Street Without Joy, summarizing the year's press coverage
March 5: "This is the key year, 1963," General Paul D. Harkins said in Saigon, in winding up a "mostly optimistic appraisal of the war's course" in South Vietnam, in which he affirmed that the "South Vietnamese armed forces have now attained the experience, training, and necessary equipment needed for victory..."
September 12: General Harkins states that one "can categorically say we're winning the war in the Mekong Delta."
September 13: "Confidential reports from high American authorities in Saigon say that the war can be won in nine months. They say that the border with North Viet-Nam has been 95 percent closed and that the task of sealing the border with Cambodia is proceeding. The Viet-Cong guerillas are being starved out..."(*)
October 2: "Secretary McNamara and General Taylor reported their judgment that the major part of the United States military task [in Viet-Nam] can be completed by the end of 1965...
"They reported that by the end of this year, the U.S. program for training Vietnamese should have progressed to the point where 1,000 U.S. military personnel assigned to South Viet-Nam can be withdrawn..."
November 1: "Victory, in the sense it would apply to this kind of war," is "just months away and the reduction of American advisers can begin any time now," says General Harkins.
(*) This one is my very favorite, simply because the source is "confidential" reports from American authorities -- from high American authorities -- who quietly allow that high American authorities are doing a great job. (Now, keep this quiet, and you didn't hear it from me, but confidentially? I fucking rock.")
but i don't call it cancer, so i can't really be sickIn a recent post, I quoted from notes taken by a student at the Naval War College during a speech by Gen. John Abizaid, the CENTCOM commander (and my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss's boss, or something like that). Abizaid is apparently quite confident that the U.S. military will prevail in Iraq. "Since Desert Storm in 1991," he reportedly said, "U.S. forces have not lost any combat engagement in the region at the platoon-level or above."
I blew right by that statement on the way to some other things in Abizaid's speech that seemed more important. But I've been reading -- bad habit, kids, try not to pick it up -- and keep noticing a theme in the historical literature on the topic of small wars. That theme is expressed most neatly in the frequent comments, from American troops, that insurgents in Iraq "won't stand and fight" or that the enemy "won't play by the rules." (They won't even hold still so we can shoot them, the lousy bastards.) And this, I think, is how Abizaid arrives at the conclusion that we've never lost a combat engagement at the platoon level or above.
Insurgents in Iraq routinely attack American convoys and kill American soldiers, then flee unharmed to fight another day. But we decline to regard the usual form of the attack -- an explosion from a hidden IED, or improvised explosive device -- as a "combat engagement." So they can hit us, kill us, and flee unharmed to do it again tomorrow... And, hey, that totally doesn't even count, okay? It's not, like, a normal military attack. (It's not even in the FM 7-8!) I remember these kinds of rules from grade school dodgeball: Double-bounces are no-countsies! (Try to sound whiny when you read that last sentence in your head.)
A question: If American soldiers lay down Claymores along a road used by an enemy's convoys, and then detonate those Claymores and kill enemy troops before escaping unharmed -- is that a successful engagement? I can't imagine a defensible no answer. So how is an IED attack different? Forget the question of moral equivalence; the question here is much more simply a question of tactical equivalence: We try to kill them, they try to kill us. War.
If we count a successful IED attack on a U.S. Army or Marine Corps platoon as a successful combat engagement, does Abizaid's statement stand?
On third thought -- yes, I have time on my hands -- isn't it kind of odd that Abizaid focused on engagements "at the platoon-level or above"? We're fighting insurgents; in that light, what would this statement even mean? Does the insurgency frequently attack in company and battalion strength, and I've just somehow missed the news? (What is "platoon strength" for the insurgency? Anyone have the enemy order of battle handy?) In the coldest light, Abizaid seems to be saying that we never lose a kind of fight that we never have.
STILL ANOTHER ADDITION:
I should say very clearly, here, that I don't intend any disrespect to Gen. Abizaid. I'm a soldier, and I respect and obey my chain of command. But the question of what the army is doing in Iraq seems to merit some careful discussion for the sake of its potential success or failure, and that's my only intent with this post.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
as they stand up...we'll stand down, and stand down, and stand down...
SAMARRA, Iraq -- On one of his last days in Iraq, Sgt. Dale Evans looked out over the turbulent city from a rooftop tower piled high with sandbags, manning a machine gun. Below him, rows of Bradley Fighting Vehicles stood at the ready. Dusty streets were lined with coiled barbed wire and abandoned houses pockmarked from gunfire -- a protective no-man's land around a base that U.S. commanders describe as their "battleship" in downtown Samarra.
This month, Evans and his company from the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, will leave Patrol Base Uvanni, beginning a third attempt in as many years by U.S. forces to hand this Sunni city over to Iraqi police. It's a major test for the U.S. military in Iraq, and one U.S. commanders here say they can't afford to fail.
blegSometime last year in the history of science colloquium at UCLA, a historian on faculty at a medical school gave a remarkable paper on the history of asthma research in the United States. What was his name?
I'm forgetful, yes.
Monday, December 26, 2005
the corrupt and degraded stateHere's a long opinion from some of those notorious radicals in the House of Lords on the use in court of evidence obtained through torture. Click through and read the opinions of Lord Hoffman, Lord Hope of Craighead, and Lord Brown of Eaton-Under-Heywood.* Or start here, at the Belgravia Dispatch, for a summary. It's worth the time.
(*Which is a much more colorful thing to call yourself than "Carl Levin" or "Bill Frist." We gotta give this English shit a try, man. Rest assured that I am currently rocking the shit out of a powdered wig.)
eternal return (1)
The enemy never forgets that its fight is first and foremost political rather than military. It has not forgotten the basic reason for fighting a war, which is to bring the enemy to a point where one can impose one's will upon him -- whether by brute force or psychological persuasion.--Bernard Fall, Street Without Joy
The insurgents in South Viet-Nam make an intelligent use of a mixture of both methods: Vietnamese village chiefs, youth leaders, school teachers, notables, and other administrative or social leaders of the population are killed or cowed; and American or South Vietnamese units are engaged when victory is almost certain, and always with maximum propaganda effect...
For years prior to the spreading of the South Vietnamese insurgency to its present proportions, I have lectured on the extreme likelihood that the road and rail lifelines along the Vietnamese seashore would become almost useless in case of a full-fledged guerilla war. That fear became full reality during the first half of 1962...All major roads are under attack, and even armored convoys are subject to daylight ambushes, often within less than thirty miles from Saigon. Night traffic, both road and rail, is at a standstill.
Americans still have to learn from the French that the latter lost during the Indochina war over 500 armored vehicles, 398 of which (almost two armored divisions!) were destroyed by enemy action between 1952 and 1954. The most important aspect of that part of the war was that eighty-four percent of those vehicles were lost through mines and booby-traps and only a handful through conventional antitank weapons. Present operations in South Viet-Nam confirm that the Viet-Minh have lost none of their fearsome ability to lay traps for motorized convoys.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
I think that the proposition of going to Baghdad is also fallacious. I think if we were going to remove Saddam Hussein we would have had to go all the way to Baghdad, we would have to commit a lot of force because I do not believe he would wait in the Presidential Palace for us to arrive. I think we'd have had to hunt him down. And once we'd done that and we'd gotten rid of Saddam Hussein and his government, then we'd have had to put another government in its place.-- Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, 1991 (via)
What kind of government? Should it be a Sunni government or Shi'i government or a Kurdish government or Ba'athist regime? Or maybe we want to bring in some of the Islamic fundamentalists? How long would we have had to stay in Baghdad to keep that government in place? What would happen to the government once U.S. forces withdrew? How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to try to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?
I think it is vitally important for a President to know when to use military force. I think it is also very important for him to know when not to commit U.S. military force. And it's my view that the President got it right both times, that it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.
a tiger eating its own tailSenator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, said a fairly remarkable thing on the floor of the United States Senate last week:
Senators launched new salvos in the battle over national security and civil liberties yesterday as recent revelations of domestic spying continued to color the chamber’s stalemate on an extension of the anti-terrorism law known as the Patriot Act.I agree. If American lives are at stake, civil liberties are irrelevant, and the president should take strong leadership without being constrained by the congressional debating society or the namby-pamby judges. So the 400,000 Americans who die every year from diseases related to smoking? The president should take immediate steps to save them, sending public health officials into private homes -- without any of these little chickenshit "warrants" that the left-wing morons can't stop prattling about -- to monitor for tobacco use and confiscate dangerous tobacco products. Lives are at stake, man! This is no time for debate! People are dying -- it's time to tell the civil liberties absolutists to shut up!
"None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former judge and close ally of the president who sits on the Judiciary Committee.
And then there's traffic accidents, a leading cause of death for Americans. What is the president doing about that? Time to stop pussyfooting around, I say, and start confiscating cars. None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead!
And don't get me started on global poverty, which causes malnutrition and is associated with untreated disease. The president needs to stand up, cast aside all of these nonsensical procedural restraints that the ACLU morons can't shut up about, and start redistributing wealth. Lives are at stake! What good is the stupid constitution if people are dying?
I think it's really brave of Republicans like John Cornwyn to abandon all of the principles they've always claimed they stand for. We need more of this kind of bold leadership. And the great thing is that we now have a precedent showing that putative conservatives believe wholeheartedly in an unconstrained exercise of executive power, so they won't have a place to stand when a president operating from the political left starts taking strong action and bypassing the judiciary's Bush appointees and the Republicans in Congress.
Just remember the special code words: If you say that lives are at stake, you can do whatever you want.
celebritiesThe current "In the News" list at Google News:
Saturday, December 24, 2005
the clash of civilizationsOne of my tasks here is to meet a group of Kuwaiti construction workers outside the front gate every morning and walk them through the security station at the entry control point, since they're not on the camp's unrestricted access roster. This morning, I went out to the gate to meet them as always; being Muslim, they showed up for work on Christmas, and so I did too. But it's raining, here, slowly but steadily, and I was wondering if they would work in the rain.
So I drive through the checkpoint, out into the assembly area for camp workers, and find the group I'm supposed to meet, all hunkered down in their trucks. The foreman gets out of his truck, and I get out of mine, and we meet in the middle of the muddy field that serves as a parking lot. We shake hands, say good morning, look up at the sky together for a few moments, and then look back down. Standing there quietly in the rain. And the foreman eventually says that, no, they won't be coming in for work after all. We shake hands again, turn to go back to our trucks. And he says one more thing as I turn away:
"Happy Christmas, sergeant."
and i am not surprisedThis had to happen sooner or later:
Attack on professor is linked to gradeEveryone who has graded anything at a college or university in the last ten years has horror stories about the student(s) who just won't accept that bad grade. They call, they email -- one emailed me six or seven times, with me saying no a little less politely each time -- and they refuse to accept the idea that their grade has something to do with their own effort. ("But I really need a better grade.")
On Thursday, the last day of the semester, professor Mary Elizabeth Hooker cheerfully greeted her hematology class at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell with homemade baked goods and coffee from Dunkin' Donuts, friends said.
That evening she headed to her Cambridge home, unaware that a student, concerned about his failing grade, was following her with a knife in his car, police records state.
Nikhil Dhar, 22, knocked on Hooker's door at 6:30 p.m., started shouting at her and dragged her to the ground, beating her and stabbing her numerous times before slashing her neck and ripping off her shirt, witnesses and police said. He fled but was quickly apprehended by a neighbor.
This one is far uglier in substance, but consistent with the general pattern. Rudeness, aggressiveness, begging, crying, threatening -- if you're a teaching assistant, the threat is the always amusing "I'll go to the professor with this." An adjunct professor at UCLA once read to a group of us in a TA office a note from one of her students; it said, "Please inform me at your earliest convenience when we can meet to negotiate a grade that will be mutually satisfactory to both of us." And every third whiner demands that free "A" because they want to go to law school (where that attitude toward grading will serve them really well). Meanwhile, while grades get higher and higher grades become an expectation rather than a reward for excellence, basic levels of literacy are in decline among college graduates. Not that one has anything to do with the other, of course.
And no, students should probably not know where you live.
And the students aren't the only gradegrubbers; their parents -- parents! -- also get into the act:
Last night also brought an email from the mother of one of my students from this semester who is disappointed about the grade. The mother outlines some reasons why her child would benefit from a higher grade. At no point in her argument does she suggest that her child has an excellent knowledge of the subject matter in my course.The math professor who posted this story to her blog also thought of a good solution to the problem. "Will my students' mothers stop emailing me about their grades?" she asks. "Can I have my mother email back their mothers telling them to stop it?"
Friday, December 23, 2005
the war on horseshitSo apparently there's a fucking war on Christmas*, and apparently the fucking war on Christmas is an urgent topic in books and blogs and on cable news.
So I would just like to report that my wife, who is Jewish, is depressed today because she went to a shopping center near our home in the heart of a Jewish neighborhood -- on fucking Fairfax, for crying out loud -- and was deluged with Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas. To the total exclusion of any other holiday that occurs around this time of the year. (And she's pretty patient about this stuff -- she married someone named Christopher, after all.)
And, indeed, if you go back and click on the link for that shopping center -- that shopping center on North Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles -- you'll see this list of events:
Snow twice a night at 7:00 & 8:00 pmSanta, Santa, Christmas Carolers...
• Visit Santa's Magic Cottage Daily
• Pet Photos with Santa Tuesday &
Wednesday from 6:00 pm
• Christmas Carolers Friday-Sunday
• Premiere Shopping & Dining
• Concierge Services
• Roasted Chestnuts
• Caruso Gift Cards by American Express
• Weekend performances by The Top Hats –
The Grove’s new signature dance troupe
Yep. There's a war on Christmas, clearly. Wonkette has already made the definitive statement on this topic, so I'll just link to it and return to my regularly scheduled coffee-drinking activity. But, I mean, please. Precisely how stupid does an argument have to be before we can reasonably punch somebody in the face for insulting us with it?
*Old news, I know -- I'm in the middle of the desert in a Muslim country, folks.
ADDED LATER: Well worth the time to look at the Amazon page for John Gibson's book The War on Christmas, amusingly subtitled, "How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought." Apparently, "Millions of Americans are starting to fight back against the secularist forces..."
Damn those secularist forces and their overwhelming dominance of American society! We must fight back, though it mean our very deaths! (Was it Castro? Did Fidel Castro send them?)
More horse tranquilizers, nurse!
thank godThere are some tremendously smart, thoughtful, serious officers in the army, and they are thinking carefully about the work they're doing in Iraq. I don't agree with every word, here, but some of his insight into the institutional habits of the army is great. Even better is the fact that he's simply willing and able to think critically about the army -- and that he has a solid foundation of knowledge that helps him to do so. There's some exceptional talent in the officer corps, which is not always readily apparent.
the other problem with a police state......is that it tends to be clumsy, ineffective, and wasteful, as the evidence repeatedly shows.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
if you live in california...Californians Aware is the home of Terry Francke, a public advocacy lawyer who has spent his working life teaching journalists and community activists how to pry information out of local governments using public records law and the state open meetings law. He's a one-man force for government accountability, and his work has helped citizens expose bad policy and morally bankrupt government actions all over the state for many, many years.
So help them keep going. The CalAware "End of Year Challenge" is intended to raise $10,000 for a whole freakin' year of important public advocacy work. Most non-profits spend that much on staff lunches.
At least take a moment to look at their website for a better sense of just how much they do, and then consider it.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
the law of unintended consequencesWhoops:
Iraqi vote points to Islamist path
Stretching newfound democratic muscle upon their first chance to elect a full-term government, Iraqis overwhelmingly threw their support behind religious parties defined along sectarian lines and ethnicity.
A bloc of Shiite religious parties close to Iran has, according to results released Tuesday, attracted the largest percentage of voters.
Here in the capital, a national barometer because it is the most diverse of Iraq's 18 provinces, the United Iraq Alliance - religious Shiites who dominated the interim government formed in May - won about 58 percent of the vote.
A Sunni Islamist alliance comprised of politicians who have defended the insurgency campaign against US troops came in next, with close to 19 percent.
A Man of (Open) LettersJust revealed: A student at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth received a visit from two Homeland Security agents two months ago because he requested on inter-library loan a copy of Mao Tse Tung's Little Red Book. The student was writing a paper for a class on totalitarianism and fascism.
Like I've always argued, active participation is the greatest teacher.
An interesting point here is that an interlibrary loan request constitutes a domestic communication between two university libraries. A fairly routine and minor request at that. Now, on the assurances of George Bush this past Sunday, domestic spying is limited to known Al Qaeda ties and affiliates. Ignoring for the moment that warrant-less surveillance strikes me as unconstitutional, can someone please tell me who in the U Mass interlibrary loan equation is an Al Qaeda operative?
I'm going to make this easy in an open letter:
Not that you read or anything, but in case you're about to waste precious resources investigating my reading activity, I admit now that I own several thousand books. I am after all an elitist academic. If you search, you'll find quite a few books about Marx, many of which you'll be proud to know I picked up off the curb in front of a house in South Orange, New Jersey on a household trash collection night in 1989. Somewhere near my suspiciously French Larouse Gastronomique (1966 edition, many illustrations in full color), you will find a three volume set of the works of Lenin (printed on cheap paper, in Moscow).
There's another three volume set somewhere of Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution -- it's a paperback box set that's the same size and shape of my box set of Carl Sandburg's Lincoln biography, so I get them confused, naturally. I've got an entire bookshelf dedicated to the works of Franz Kafka and another dedicated to the works of George Orwell. You may find this literature instructive but perhaps Laura will protest that reading aloud to you at bedtime from these works is not conducive to restful sleep. I've got an annotated edition of Mein Kampf which I find quite soporific, if I just concentrate on the mind-numbing rhetoric and not the nightmare of unreason which I mistakenly thought was outdated. I find on looking that it is shelved between Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations and a copy of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. I'm not reading anything into that sequential grouping, but maybe you're neo-con policy advisors can.
Since God doesn't talk to me directly as he does you, I rely on several New Testaments, a Koran, and at least two versions of the Torah. I have to keep cross-checking these because between my faulty memory, translation problems, and your foreign policy, I seem to think we're supposed to beat plowshares into swords. I know I used to have a copy of Che's diaries around here somewhere too, but I think I lent it to the hot hippie barista down at Peets Coffee, before she disappeared mysteriously.
I have several copies of The Federalist Papers and the Constitution of the United States, which you may recognize from the White House bathroom since, judging from your actions over the past five years, you've been scrimping on the Charmin and using whatever else might be handy. I have many bookcases filled with volumes of American history and law, which I am happy to lend to you or your agents providing you read them carefully.
Since I'm writing my dissertation on Henry Adams, I've got beaucoups books by him. He thought that the line from George Washington to Ulysses Grant put progressive evolution into question. If Adams were alive today, I'm sure you'd be glad to be the guy who could prove to him that Darwin was completely wrong. Since my art books don't have a lot of words, you might like to peruse them, but then again that reprint of Ben Shahn's "This is Nazi Attrocity" poster from World War Two looks perhaps a bit too much like a picture from Abu Graib for your comfort. Oddly enough, shoved in at the end of the shelf of art books is Stanley Kutler's transcription of the Nixon tapes, entitled Abuse of Power. On the next shelf, you'll find Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here.
Please have an agent interrupt one of my phone calls to the UCLA library to let me know when you'll be coming by to take down my name and pick up my books. I'll stock up on marshmallows and maybe, just maybe, you'll let me keep my Campfire Songbook. I'm sure the way things are going, it'll come in handy soon.
the conservative political tradition (5)"Edmund Burke, one of the most important figures in the history of conservatism..." --
Karl Rove, Speech to the New York Conservative Party
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
"As little genius and talent am I able to perceive in the plan of judicature formed by the national assembly. According to their inevitable course, the framers of your constitution have begun with the utter abolition of the [judicial] parliaments. These venerable bodies, like the rest of the old government, stood in need of reform, even though there should be no change made in the monarchy. They required several more alterations to adapt them to the system of a free constitution. But they had particulars in their constitution, and those not a few, which deserved approbation from the wise. They possessed one fundamental excellence; they were independent...They held for life. Indeed they may be said to have held by inheritance. Appointed by the monarch, they were considered as nearly out of his power. The most determined exertions of that authority against them only shewed their radical independence. They composed permanent bodies politic, constituted to resist arbitrary innovation; and from that corporate constitution, and from most of their forms, they were well calculated to afford both certainty and stability to the laws. They had been a safe asylum to secure these laws in all the revolutions of humour and opinion. They had saved the sacred deposit of the country during the reigns of arbitrary princes, and the struggles of arbitrary factions. They kept alive the memory and record of the constitution...
"Whatever is supreme in a state, ought to have, as much as possible, its judicial authority so constituted as not only to depend upon it, but in some sort of balance to it. It ought to give a security to its justice against its power. It ought to make its judicature, as it were, something exterior to the state." --
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
your tax dollars at workPart One:
I get two paychecks a month. Kuwait is part of a designated combat zone, so my army pay is all tax free. I make a little over $2,000 a month in basic pay, $1,650 in housing pay for our apartment back home, $225 in family separation pay, $50 in hardship pay, and $225 in so-called hostile fire pay. That's $4,150 a month, tax free, for $49,800. I figure that's worth about $85,000 a year in taxable income.
In Kuwait, my housing, food, clothing, medical and dental care, and equipment are all provided -- in the middle of a desert -- by the army. We'll conservatively assign all of that another $25,000 in value.
So, just making an educated guess, my presence as an American soldier in Kuwait is worth about $110,000 a year in public funding.
Today I am taking a long hand receipt for a large set of military vehicles and transferring all of the vehicle serial numbers from the receipt to an Excel spreadsheet. I am, in other words, making a list of a list.
But mostly I play solitaire on the computer.
Just a thought.
Monday, December 19, 2005
a government of lawsExceptionally worthwhile posts at the conservative blog Cunning Realist and the military blog Intel Dump.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
"riven with defects"Very nice post at Arms and Influence on warrantless eavesdropping and other domestic security measures.
reeducationMy mother, who has been a teacher in two exceptionally multicultural California school districts for 29 years, is currently undergoing ten weeks of district-mandated training in multiculturalism. Friday nights; all day Saturday. Ten. Fucking. Weeks.
And I can picture the training, having been through my own mandatory government multicultural training. Remarkable how something so worthy in principle and so healthy in real-world practice turns straight into garbage when you make it a rule, hire a consultant, and turn it into a series of PowerPoint presentations.
I'm reminded of the history professor I know whose husband and children are enrolled in the Cherokee Nation, and who has dedicated her life to researching and teaching American Indian history -- and whose son came home after school one day and announced that his teacher had informed him he wasn't an Indian and couldn't say that anymore, since the correct term is Native American.
A pure and perfect product of mandatory multiculturalism training. I think in Texas they describe this sort of thing as "all belt buckle, no cattle."
So I add this post to the blog, then sign out of blogger and pick up a copy of the army's magazine for soldiers in Kuwait, Desert Voice. The back page is, yes, a commentary urging us to honor and respect our Native American brothers and sisters, and to take a lesson from their history: "We must understand that it is crucially important to honor and respect our environment and show respect and mercy for all people, the way our Native American Indian ancestors did."
A uniformly gentle people, the Native American Indians [you can resolve doubts about what to call someone by calling him, well, everything], who always separated their recycling from the regular trash and cherished the land only for its, like, spiritual value.
The take-away: "I encourage everyone to take a few moments and learn some history and appreciate the numerous achievements Native American Indians have made to our society and see how their contributions has strenghtened the spirit of our country and world."
State-mandated multiculturalism. It's all here: The marginal literacy ("contributions has"), the glib generalizations, the lame contributionist themes.
Hang in there, mom.
Saturday, December 17, 2005
expert testimonyIn a terrific essay in the Washington Post this morning, a Soviet emigre responds to the American debate over torture:
One nasty morning Comrade Stalin discovered that his favorite pipe was missing. Naturally, he called in his henchman, Lavrenti Beria, and instructed him to find the pipe. A few hours later, Stalin found it in his desk and called off the search. "But, Comrade Stalin," stammered Beria, "five suspects have already confessed to stealing it."There's much more, and the whole thing is well worth reading. I would just add that we're probably headed the wrong way when a former Soviet prisoner of conscience starts to say that we're talking about something that sounds familiar to him.
This joke, whispered among those who trusted each other when I was a kid in Moscow in the 1950s, is perhaps the best contribution I can make to the current argument in Washington about legislation banning torture and inhumane treatment of suspected terrorists captured abroad. Now that President Bush has made a public show of endorsing Sen. John McCain's amendment, it would seem that the debate is ending. But that the debate occurred at all, and that prominent figures are willing to entertain the idea, is perplexing and alarming to me. I have seen what happens to a society that becomes enamored of such methods in its quest for greater security; it takes more than words and political compromise to beat back the impulse...
Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes.
ideas at warIn a speech given last month at the Naval War College, CENTCOM commander Gen. John Abizaid warned about the intentions of our enemies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. A student in the audience took notes, which are now circulating informally throughout the Army with the encouragement of the chief of staff (I've seen the document printed out on several desks):
He said that we are focused on the things that we (Americans) have done wrong, like Abu Ghraib, and not talking about this enemy. We need to talk about this enemy. al Qaida is all over the world. Their goal is to get the US out of the region and come to power in the Islamic countries of the region. From there, their goal is to establish a Caliphate (under a single Islamic ruler) that goes from the Atlantic in North Africa to Indonesia in the Pacific. Fifty years after this happens, their goal is to rule the rest of the world.Okay, there's the premise: Our very way of life is threatened by an enemy that intends to take over the world. Very next note from the speech:
Since Desert Storm in 1991, US forces have not lost any combat engagement in the region at the platoon-level or above. al Qaida has no beliefs that they can defeat us militarily. They see our center of gravity as being the will of the American People. That is influenced by the media and they are playing to that. They don't need to win any battles. Their plan is keep the casualties in front of the American people in the media for long enough that we become convinced that we cannot win and leave the region. This would be tragic for our country.The enemy intends to take over the entire world, but has never won a battle, and so plan to establish their total global domination by the alternative means of manipulating the New York Times into manipulating the American people into giving up. Then time passes, and bang, global caliphate.
I've seen versions of this "global caliphate" argument on many, many blogs. Look at the final paragraphs of this very long blog essay, for example: "The wolf is not interested in what we do. He does not spare little lambs because they rub up against his leg and make cooing sounds. The wolf wants to swallow us whole. He wants the fight. He wants the war and the conflict. And he will keep on huffing and puffing until one of three things happen: We show him our throat, for him to rip out; or we convert to Islam and become part of his Caliphate; or we head out into the forest with a shotgun and blow his fucking head off. I made my decision by about 9:30 eastern on September 11th, 2001. I have never regretted it."
But no one ever quite manages to articulate how one gets from the Sept. 11 attacks to world domination; the argument is only that they want it, not that they might genuinely have a map to get there. ("Fifty years after this happens" -- blink, blink -- "their goal is to rule the rest of the world.)
And so I do wonder how much it's worth worrying about this global caliphate. The Germans sent 120 heavy divisions into the Soviet Union, and it didn't work; al Qaeda has tens of thousands of followers -- maybe hundreds of thousands of followers, with the recruiting assistance of a very large U.S. military presence in an Islamic country -- whose operational art peaks at car bombings and hijackings. They're a serious threat to human life, and worth engaging aggressively with a variety of approaches that include the measured use of military force; but they are not a threat to Western Civilization (cue trumpets), and would seem to be as likely to actually establish their global caliphate as I am to grow pumpkins out my ass. Nothing is accomplished from overstating the threat.
Still, the rest of Abizaid's speech is well worth noting. From the same notes:
The battle against al Qaida will not be primarily military. It will be political, economic, and ideological. It will require the international community to fight too. We must not let al Qaida get hold in any country.No place to put a military solution...maintain pressure with the international community. Certainly not the Malkin/Hanson view of the war.
It will result in our worst nightmare. Picture life in Afghanistan under the Taliban, that is what Al Qaida's ideology has as a goal.
If you look at the geography (of al Qaida), there is no place to put a military solution. They are networked and they are all over the world.
They are a virtual organization connected by the Internet. They use it to proselytize, recruit, raise money, educate and organize. They have many pieces that we must focus on: the propaganda battle in the media, safe houses, front companies, sympathetic members of legitimate governments, human capital, fighters and leaders, technical expertise, weapons suppliers, ideologically sympathetic non-government organizations (charities), financers, smugglers, and facilitators. A lot of their money comes from drugs.
We are winning but we have got to maintain constant pressure over time with the international community and across the US government agencies. No one is afraid that we can't defeat the enemy. Our troops have the confidence, the courage, and the competence.
Some very interesting rhetorical tensions at work in this speech. I would love to be a fly on the wall at CENTCOM.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
most people choose the blue pillThis is just so utterly fucking sad:
Millions of people now spend several hours a week immersed in “massively multiplayer online role-playing games” (MMORPGs). These are often Tolkienesque fantasy worlds in which players battle monsters, go on quests, and build up their virtual power and wealth. Some synthetic worlds are deliberately escapist; others are designed to be as lifelike and realistic as possible...In one survey, 20% of MMORPG players said they regarded the game world as their “real” place of residence; Earth is just where they eat and sleep. In July, a South Korean man died after a 50-hour MMORPG session.I decline, thanks.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
The Pen is Mightier than the WordI am really delighted to announce the availability of the Franz Kafka “Writers Edition” fountain pen from Montblanc. The pen’s design, according to the Montblanc website, pays tribute to the short story “The Metamorphis” in which the protagonist is transformed into a large, horrible beetle. The pen also, I am informed, is a fitting memorial to my dear cousin himself, who died horribly in a tubercular ward outside of Vienna.
For those of you who prefer tribute pens celebrating more decadently languid writing and death, Montblanc offers a Proust pen. And for short, pithy notes – perhaps ones breezily jotted down before placing a shotgun in your mouth – there’s a Hemingway model.
I don’t know which pains me more; the sick and wrong commodification of Kafka or the fact that I’m not getting any royalties. But just for shits and giggles, I wonder what twisted tribute pen suggestions we can forward to Montblanc. Do I see a Bukowski Ballpoint in my Christmas stocking?
your penmanship is atrociousDude. Funny.
("The police ruled my father's death a suicide. They said he fell down an elevator shaft." Pause. "Onto some bullets.")
If We Don't Kill Them First With Baby FormulaNicholas Negroponte, director of MIT’s Media Lab, author of Being Digital, and founder of the One Laptop Per Child non-profit, has announced that the $100 laptop is becoming a reality. The $100 laptop is aimed for widespread distribution among the children of developing nations to facilitate learning and bring internet access to the global poor.
It’s difficult to challenge the concept of educating poor children, but I wonder if the project isn’t, at least partially, misguided. One of the questions we must ask ourselves about any new technological advance is “what problem does it solve?”
Advocates are already exclaiming that cheap laptops for poor children in say, Sudan, will change the way children learn about the world. However, it is not access to information that is the serious problem in global education. It’s the number of children who don’t get an education in the first place. According to the World Bank, 115 million children around the world don’t even go to school because they have to work to help support their families. Two-thirds of these, by the way, are girls. This doesn’t include the many students who drop out of school before they can read, write, or count.
The internet revolution has made information fetishists of us. But the distribution of information is meaningless – worse than worthless even – where political and economic circumstances prevent children from having access even to rudimentary educational facilities. Moreover, there is no compelling evidence that computers offer new paradigms for early education. Additionally, no study has been made as to what recipient response will be like: will families with children who get the units seek to sell them for desperately needed cash despite the supposedly theft-safe design? Or will a child’s sudden access to information change family dynamics in socially undesirable ways?
I’m not denying that some children might benefit from the $100 laptop, as will the manufacturers who win the contract for it, and the banks that loan a nation the money to purchase the required million-or-so units it takes to get the cost-benefit of production. But, just because we have a technological advance doesn’t mean that its implementation makes sense. One Laptop Per Child requires a significant investment on the part of a developing nation, sophisticated distribution networks, and the utilization of scarce resources, all for a tool that costs as much as it would to sustain a citizen of a developing nation for about six months. In the United States this would be a 15 or 20 thousand dollar laptop.
We must always consider the usefulness of a technology in light of specific problems. Access to more and more information does not make better students. Even in developed nations, where basic childhood education may be nearly universal, computers have not made children learn, think, or gain critical and analytical skill sets. In countries where children rarely even go to school, a technological answer might just be the hubris of Western science.
the strangerI've been meaning to talk about the frequency with which the word "haji" is used by American soldiers to describe Arabs. What's becoming more interesting, though, is the way the term has jumped the fence. Two examples:
1.) A U.S. soldier in uniform is waiting in the service line at a dining facility at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. She is, to judge by her appeareance and name, of Filipino descent. The "TCNs" -- third country nationals -- who work for the food service contractor in the dining facility are, yes, Filipino. Talking to a friend about the Filipino who served her food to her, the soldier calls him "the haji." (A friend here saw this one.)
2.) A U.S. soldier in uniform walks into a very large, very crowded dining room at Camp Buehring wearing a yarmulke. A group of very young PFCs, all wearing the shoulder patch of the 4th Infantry Division, notice the soldier in the yarmulke and are confused by his weird hat. They think out loud, trying to figure out what's up with that shit: "Is he, like, a haji guy?" one asks. (This one I saw myself.)
An infinitely plastic, infinitely lazy, and infinitely malevolent word, this one. It neatly sums up a whole sad cultural sloppiness and indifference -- about which the less said the better, for now. It's the answer when we can't be bothered to find the answer. Which is, apparently, pretty much all the time.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
he dieted for your sinsMatthew brought a nice tuna casserole. Mark brought a giant brioche. Peter brought chicken. And Our Savior brought reduced-fat rack of lamb with a side of whole-grain kashi. It was just the sweetest li'l pot luck ever.
(From the author of this helpful tome, the title of which a thousand parodists would have needed 10,000 years to invent.)
monkeys and dartboardsI'm being fucking reassigned. I'm in my sixth of eighteen months on active duty -- that's one-third, for those of you doing the math at home -- and the army is still trying to figure out where I work or what it is that I actually do.
Fuck fucking fuck. Rocket scientists.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
"iraq's return to the arab fold"Abdel Monem Said Aly of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Cairo:
For four days (November 19 to 22), the Arab League in Cairo hosted Iraqi political and sectarian factions in a conference for national reconciliation. The meeting witnessed not only Iraq's return to the Arab fold after prolonged resistance by many Iraqis, but also a decision by the Arab world to embrace the Iraqi question that for almost three years has been handled exclusively by the US and the international community...(Published Dec. 4 in the Arab Times, an English-language newspaper in Kuwait.)
The Arab League, which did not support the American invasion of Iraq and denied the war any Arab source of legitimacy, initially entertained serious doubts about the new Iraqi political elite and its patriotism. Despite surrendering the Iraqi seat to the Iraqi Ruling Council and its successor institutions and accepting the UN Security Council process for dealing with the Iraq question, the majority of Arab countries never reconciled with what they conceived as an occupation-installed political power that had no legitimacy beyond the American-protected green zone in Baghdad. The empowerment of Iraqi Shi'ites and their political coalition with the separatist Kurds heightened concerns among the predominantly Sunni Arab world over the fate of Iraqi Sunnis in a new Iraq whose Arab identity had been weakened. The result was a dual Arab policy: offering lip service to the stability of Iraq while leaving the country to its own fate. All Arab League resolutions to support Iraq were ignored, and the small Arab diplomatic presence was withdrawn from Baghdad with the first fatalities among diplomats.
However, as the general Arab pattern has demonstrated, this process of estrangement proved unsustainable. The continuation of the insurgency in Iraq, the possibility of Iraq fragmenting into three states in the course of a very bloody civil war, and the heavy Iranian presence in the country all persuaded the new Iraqi political elite to seek Arab help for salvation and balance.
Salvation was to be accomplished by convincing the rebellious Sunnis that although they are a minority in Iraq, they are part of a very large Arab Sunni majority in the region. And balance was to be achieved by seeking a stronger Arab presence to face the new conservative Iranian presence. The signs of weakening American support for the war in Iraq also worked against those who wanted to maintain isolation from the Arab world. Meanwhile, on the Arab side the fear of a breakdown in Iraq was mounting, along with concern over the spread of a new wave of terror as well as apprehension over the Iranian presence. Fear of the spread of the new Iraqi model of violence and separation--not democracy, to be sure--sounded an alarm that the Arab world did not want to hear.
The result was Iraq's return to the Arab fold. Baghdad was asked to indicate its Arab allegiance and to promise to give Sunnis a new shot at revising the constitution after the coming legislative elections. In Cairo, "resistance" was condoned while "terrorism" was denounced. In exchange, the Arab League will provide legitimacy for the new Iraqi political system, urge Sunnis to cooperate, and help sustain a reconciliation process scheduled to start in February.
the conservative political tradition (4)"Edmund Burke, one of the most important figures in the history of conservatism, was known as an advocate of reform. He understood the essence of conservatism is applying timeless principles to changing circumstances, which is one of the keys to political success." --
Karl Rove, Speech to the New York Conservative Party
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Monday, December 05, 2005
the conservative political tradition (3)"I don’t know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt as I watched the Twin Towers crumble to the earth; a side of the Pentagon destroyed; and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble.
"Moderation and restraint is not what I felt – and moderation and restraint is not what was called for. It was a moment to summon our national will – and to brandish steel." --
Karl Rove, Speech to the New York Conservative Party
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
the conservative political tradition (2)"To make a revolution is a measure which, prima fronte, requires an apology...But in these gentlemen there is nothing of the tender parental solicitude which fears to cut up the infant for the sake of an experiment. In the vastness of their promises, and the confidence of their predictions, they far outdo all the boasting of empirics. The arrogance of their pretensions, in a manner provokes, and challenges us to an inquiry into their foundation...I confess myself unable to find out any thing which displays, in a single instance, the work of a comprehensive and disposing mind, or even the provisions of a vulgar prudence. Their purpose every where seems to have been to evade and slip aside from difficulty...
"Rage and phrenzy will pull down more in half an hour, than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in an hundred years...It is one of the excellencies of a method in which time is amongst the assistants, that its operation is slow, and in some cases almost imperceptible. If circumspection and caution are part of wisdom, when we work upon inanimate matter, surely they become a part of duty too, when the subject of our demolition and construction is not brick and timber, but sentient beings, by the sudden alteration of whose state, conditions, and habits, multitudes may be rendered miserable." --
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
Sunday, December 04, 2005
the conservative political tradition (1)"These opposed and conflicting interests, which you considered as so great a blemish in your old and in our present constitution, interpose a salutary check to all precipitate resolutions; They render deliberation a matter not of choice, but of necessity; they make all change a subject of compromise, which naturally begets moderation; they produce temperaments, preventing the sore evil of harsh, crude, unqualified reformations; and rendering all the headlong exertions of arbitrary power, in the few or in the many, for ever impracticable." --
Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
Saturday, December 03, 2005
fun in the tactical operations center1.) I, Sgt. Chris Bray, do now solemnly swear and assert that I personally know of an incident in which a second shift master sergeant compelled a PFC to do push-ups...over the phone. Multiple witnesses to the incident confirm that the sounds of pushing-up, to include both grunting and counting, were heard over the telephone. In post-event analysis, TOC staff split over whether or not the PFC was totally, like, faking it and shit. An NCO on third shift conducted a complete forensic simulation of a PFC pretending to do push-ups over the phone, but this simulation was not regarded as dispositive.
2.) So the television just suddenly shut itself off, right at the end of a mediocre movie on Channel 10 of the Armed Forces Network. All eyes went to the remote control, sitting untouched and several feet away from any TOC personnel. Long pause. And then the third shift battle NCO, speaking into the silence in his best scary old lady voice, urged Carol-Ann not to go into the light. Other TOC personnel showed no sign that they recognized the cultural reference. Third shift battle NCO sighed heavily.
thrill kills reduxIn a recent post, I mentioned the possibility that private security contractors in Iraq were engaged in recreational killing. Here's another story, from February of this year, about contractors who say that their colleagues engaged in random brutality for the sake of pleasure: "In an exclusive interview, four former security contractors told NBC News that they watched as innocent Iraqi civilians were fired upon, and one crushed by a truck."
Here, too, are some new allegations about contractor-involved thrill kills, from a source that I know nothing about and may or may not be credible.
My sense is that at least some of these stories will surely turn out to be true. The question is, what then? But I do hope that this behavior is on someone's radar, way up above my pay grade.
soak in my luscious reject pileAn op-ed piece that, after a week of serial rejection, will not be appearing in any of our great nation's fine newspapers:
Training for war, I spent an afternoon in an army
classroom listening to presentations on improvised
explosive devices and the insurgents who plant them.
Droning through one of the inevitable PowerPoint
presentations, a sergeant first class read directly
from the slide in front of us: The insurgency, he
read, will probably die down after we capture Saddam
Hussein. Except that the class was taught this
October, a couple of years after that former dictator
had been dragged out of his spider hole. The sergeant
stopped for the briefest moment, mumbled that the
slides were a little out of date, and went right on
In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, the former
Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird describes the war
in Iraq as an effort to "preserve modern culture,
Western democracy, the global economy, and all else
that is threatened by the spread of barbarism in the
name of religion." Those would be some pretty big
stakes. But from where I sit, the operation of the
institutional machinery behind the war has all the
markings of a halfhearted hobby, a project undertaken
and promptly regretted but not yet possible to quit.
Something significant has been lost between the
declaring of war and the waging of it. The slides are
all out of date, and no one can quite be bothered to
Preparing for a bitter and knotty counterinsurgency
against an enemy that mixes with the civilian
population and strikes mostly with hidden bombs, we
ran the familiar battle drills on moving through the
woods in a wedge formation, reacting to contact and
flanking enemy bunkers under the cover of suppressive
fire. What we didn’t get was even a single class on
language – even to learn a very few useful phrases in
Arabic – or on the principles and practice of
counterinsurgency. We trained to fight the Wehrmacht.
If we trained for the wrong enemy, we also trained for
the wrong battlefield. Camp Shelby, Mississippi, where
my battalion trained, is thickly vegetated and
brutally humid – and the principal place the army is
using to prepare National Guard and reserve troops for
combat in the cities and deserts of Iraq. I was
constantly reminded of the late David Hackworth's
discussion of his training for combat in Vietnam,
which took place in a mock Vietnamese village in the
snow of the Pacific Northwest.
These tensions between idea and action – between the
thing needed and the thing chosen – have also been all
over the newspaper for quite some time. I remember
reading in September that the U.S. and Iraqi
militaries were sweeping the Iraqi village of Tal Afar
clear of insurgents for the second time in a year. The
operation was, of course, a total success. By October
I was reading about suicide bombings in Tal Afar. We
are, as the military axiom has it, mistaking motion
That's a choice I hope we won't continue to make. The
current choice is not, as it is so often represented,
between staying the course or quitting; the choice is
between quitting or raising the fight to the level of
its rhetoric. Staying the course is just a slower and
more carefully veiled way of giving up, a retreat on
longer terms. Stern talk is as cheap as any other form
Assuming the validity of the goal, we would have
defeated the insurgency in Iraq with steps that we
have never apparently begun to take in earnest. One
would have been to declare a national emergency in
language skills, rapidly building a training
infrastructure to expand our pool of highly proficient
Arabic speakers in the military and the diplomatic
corps. Another would have been to quickly develop and
sustain an intellectually disciplined
counterinsurgency doctrine that showed up every day in
the training or ordinary soldiers and their leaders.
Did we mean to do all of this, or any of it, or did we
Sitting these days on an army forward operating base
in Kuwait, I have weekly access to hip-hop nights and
spa days; I have ice cream at every meal, and Burger
King in the mini-mall. Couples pair off in the movie
room, blinking at the light and untangling their
bodies as the movies end. And we all wait for the next
move, in a setting that feels more like high school
than a war. To frame this effort as critical to our
national well-being while simultaneously allowing it
to shamble along lethargic and undefined is to suggest
that we never really meant what we said about the
meaning of our curiously desultory war in the first