Our New National Divide

A fine essay by Goldman Sachs trader and Marine warrior Owen West [son of Bing West] — which concludes

…Monday’s MoveOn.org advertisement, which depicted Gen. Petraeus as a traitor, has been dismissed by Sen. Reid as an inconsequential distraction. But according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan research group, the ad reflects the growing distrust of a Democratic Party that may be taking cues from its leadership. Last month 76% of Republicans expressed confidence in the military to give an “accurate picture of the war,” while only 36% of Democrats did.

This explains the collective skepticism surrounding Gen. Petraeus’s comments but does not excuse it. For while the country can thrive as a politically divided nation, its ability to defend itself diminishes alongside faith in the fidelity of the military. The unbalanced portrayal of the conduct of our soldiers has done damage enough. To impugn our warriors’ motives as political is thoroughly corrosive and hurts all Americans.

Stepping back from the froth, this week will strengthen the country if our political leaders recognize two things. First they must resist the urge to engage in what traders call “backtrading” and prevent hindsight bias from clouding future decisions. Whether or not the decision to invade Iraq was correct, whether or not our presence created al Qaeda in Iraq or attracted them or emboldened other enemies, we now face the complex task of securing America while living up to some responsibility in Iraq.

Second, they must recognize that a bipartisan course of action must be chosen in the context of a much larger war on terror. If the politicians continue pulling the country apart, this game of chicken will end badly and imperil both Iraq and the U.S. If America were hit tomorrow there would be more finger-pointing than ranks closing. That must change.

Finally, we should remember that Doug Zembiec and Ray Mendoza saw the true face of terror in Fallujah, and it cemented their resolve. Like them, Gen. Petraeus is a guardian whose lifelong calling is service to his country. He knows the enemy. He knows our limitations. And he is telling the truth.

How the New Republic got suckered

What Foer did not tell McGee was that Beauchamp was married to Elspeth Reeve, one of the magazine’s three fact-checkers (a point that the press missed too). So Beauchamp was effectively an insider—and would get treated as such.

That understandably human decision would have painful consequences for The New Republic’s reputation.

Richard Miniter has researched what happened at TNR — why did they fall for a fabricator for the third time in the past decade? Because the story was what they so wanted to believe?

The Monday after the party, at the magazine’s offices, Foer was locked in a long serious conversation with Leon Wieseltier, the bear-shaped intellectual who has run the magazine’s literary section with distinction since 1983. They were talking about Beauchamp. Foer couldn’t understand why anyone would just make things up.

Wieseltier did. “Maybe he [Beauchamp] is a sociopath.”

As new details about Beauchamp’s strange private life emerged, Wieseltier’s initial assessment would prove to be on target.

Special operations: UW vs. DA

An interesting short look by Jim Dunnigan at the “growing friction between advocates of Unconventional Warfare (UW), and Direct Action (DA)”, which concludes:

Many in SOCOM view the UW crowd as old fashioned, and relics of a bygone era. It’s believed that new information processing and communications technologies make UW less useful, and DA more likely to produce results, and a lot sooner. The DA crowd has impatient politicians and media behind them, while the UW guys just continue to point out that the only way to get results in some situations, like pinpointing the location of Osama bin Laden, is via UW.

More on Petraeus interview

Richard Fernandez has some interesting insights:

…It is frequently argued that the United States Armed Forces are being destroyed in Iraq. Not literally perhaps, but in terms of unit readiness, morale, equipment maintenance and so on. All those metrics may have in fact suffered to some extent, as they are measured. But it is less easy to quantify such factors as combat experience have had not only upon line units; but on intelligence, combat support and all-arms coordination. It is harder still to estimate the effect on doctrine. In the way the Armed Forces does business with the enemy. Gen Petraeus remarks suggest that the US Armed Forces are far more lethal and much more practiced than they have ever been before.

Of course these “software” multipliers have all been recognized by the media. But all on the enemy side. We are told that the enemy is becoming more experienced, sophisticated, tough and wily. That blowback from Iraq in the form of super-Jihadis unleashed on the West is imminent. But for some strange reason the same advantages are never believed to accrue to the US Armed Forces. The subject is hardly mentioned at all, except when parenthetically referenced in interviews which will hardly see the light of day in the mainstream media. Yet common sense argues that the US Armed Forces must be up on the learning curve to some degree. Learning occurs within all organizations when efficiency means life or death. To assume otherwise would be too fantastic.


At tonight’s blogger round table I sensed a real confidence in the way military operations against insurgent cells are trending, but less so with respect to the political reconstitution process. The military effects can be gauged from the increasing sluggishness in the rebuilding of broken cells inside Iraq. While once an insurgent organization could replace its leaders, etc in X amount of time, it now requires longer periods. The enemy is clearly hurting. There is palpable blood on the floor, as it were. But there is less certainty about how to convert these military successes into reaching the psychological “culminating point” — a Clauswitzian phrase which indicates a moment where the population throws in with one side or the other — which the sense in which BG Robert Holmes, USAF, Deputy Director of Operations for CentCom seemed to use it. How close the MNF-I’s effort was to reaching the “culminating point” was harder to reckon.

BG Holmes seemed most interested in being able to out-adapt the enemy, which he felt sure was going to morph and shift its point of attack, even out of the theater. It was fascinating to see how the battle was regarded in some sense, as a race of mutability. And in that contest, anything went. Diplomatic pressure, aid, the use of the “shame and honor” culture to encourage the rejection of surprise attacks — all were fair weapons to use in this fight. In this case particularly so, because a “transnational” enemy like al-Qaeda could flit to the other side of the globe and attack in a substantially different way.

My own impression, and I should emphasize that it is a subjective feeling, is that the section of the US military I have heard has come to a practical, working understanding of what fighting a networked insurgency entails. It’s an imperfect understanding, but it’s not lip service, not buzz-word garnishing, and its getting better all the time. This understanding can typically enter a huge institution like the US military in only one way: from hard experience felt from the noncoms to the general officers. But this understanding is essential. “Getting it” makes all the difference.

The stories behind Memorial Day.

Once we knew who and what to honor on Memorial Day: those who had given all their tomorrows, as was said of the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy, for our todays. But in a world saturated with selfhood, where every death is by definition a death in vain, the notion of sacrifice today provokes puzzlement more often than admiration. We support the troops, of course, but we also believe that war, being hell, can easily touch them with an evil no cause for engagement can wash away. And in any case we are more comfortable supporting them as victims than as warriors.

Former football star Pat Tillman and Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham were killed on the same day: April 22, 2004. But as details of his death fitfully emerged from Afghanistan, Tillman has become a metaphor for the current conflict–a victim of fratricide, disillusionment, coverup and possibly conspiracy. By comparison, Dunham, who saved several of his comrades in Iraq by falling on an insurgent’s grenade, is the unknown soldier. The New York Times, which featured Abu Ghraib on its front page for 32 consecutive days, put the story of Dunham’s Medal of Honor on the third page of section B.

Not long ago I was asked to write the biographical sketches for a book featuring formal photographs of all our living Medal of Honor recipients. As I talked with them, I was, of course, chilled by the primal power of their stories. But I also felt pathos: They had become strangers–honored strangers, but strangers nonetheless–in our midst.

Read the whole thing, by Peter Collier, co-author of “Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty“.

If you don't speak the language…

Max Boot examines the puzzle of foreign language incompetence:

One of the biggest deficiencies exposed by the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is the lack of language and cultural knowledge within the ranks of federal employees—especially among men and women in uniform. It’s hard to win a war for hearts and minds if the only way you can communicate with locals is through translators, who may not always be around and whose work varies in quality.

It’s a mystery to me why, since 9/11, we haven’t launched a crash program to teach thousands of young people Near Eastern languages. Dari, Pashto, Urdu, Arabic, Farsi—all these languages are tremendously important in the global war on terrorism. We should look for inspiration to the early days of the cold war, when we ramped up programs to teach Russian and Chinese.

Some of Max’s solutions are challenged in the thoughtful comments. E.g.,

…If we decide to immerse all military officers in the languages of Thomas Barnett’s non-integrating belt, however, we need to determine up-front WHY we are doing that — why we are asking our trigger-pullers to be talkers — and have the people buy off on it.

I may be wrong about that, but I think it’s at least worth a public discussion. It should definitely be a deliberate decision about expected roles of the military, explicitly approved by Congress and the executive, rather than creeping in through the back door.

The Strange Impact of Predator Losses

An interesting piece by Strategy Page — providing insights into the demand for UAVs. And the not-surprising Air Force insistence that Predator pilots must be experienced existing pilots. Thus the acute shortage of Air Force pilots, whilst the Army has enough pilots because the army uses NCOs trained specifically for UAV operation.

April 3, 2007: The U.S. Air Force has, so far, lost 53 of the 139 Predator UAVs it has received. Another 110 Predators are on order, but the manufacturer is turning them out as fast as they can. Most of the losses are not combat related. Component failure, or operator error are the most common cause. Not being on board, the operators have a hard time quickly determining what might be wrong. That delay often results in a lost UAV. The same is true for landings, which have a higher error rate than manned aircraft. Nearly all the lost Predators are the “A” model (the MQ-1).

Some of the losses have been the result of collisions with smaller army UAVs. The air force is using that as a reason to give the air force control over all UAVs that operate over at over 3,500 feet. This has caused some pretty testy exchanges between the air force and the other services. The army usually has many more (over 50 times more) UAVs in the air than the air force, although most of these are low altitude micro-UAVs used by infantry and Special Forces units. The army does not want to let the air force have control of its UAVs, because these aircraft provide essential air reconnaissance that the air force is unable to provide. The Predators, in particular, are in great demand, because they can stay in the air much longer than army UAVs (which can, at most, stay up for about five hours per sortie). Predators each average about 110 hours in the air per month. Each aircraft flies 6-7 sorties a month, each one lasting 17-18 hours on average.

Currently, the army only gets about a third of its requests for Predator missions filled. That’s because the air force has not got enough Predators. There is also a shortage of Predator operators. A typical Predator crew consists of an pilot and a sensor operator. Because the Predator stays in the air for so long, more than one crew is needed for each sortie. Crew shortages sometimes result in Predators coming down before their fuel is used up. The air force insists that existing pilots (of manned aircraft) be trained as Predator operators. The army uses NCOs trained specifically for UAV operation. The smallest (and most widely used) army UAVs are the under-ten pound micro-UAVs, which can be operated, after a few hours of training, by any soldier with some experience using video games. The army has no operator shortage.

Why the New York Times buried Maj. Bruce Crandall's Medal of Honor on page 15

Shameful is the only word I can think of to describe the media’s treatment of Bruce Crandall’s Medal of Honor:

In a less doubtful culture, Maj. Crandall’s magnificent medal would have been on every front page, if only a photograph. It was on no one’s front page Tuesday. The New York Times, the culture’s lodestar, had a photograph on its front page of President Bush addressing governors about an insurance plan. Maj. Crandall’s Medal of Honor was on page 15, in a round-up, three lines from the bottom. Other big-city dailies also ran it in their news summaries; some–the Washington Post, USA Today–ran full accounts inside.

Most schoolchildren once knew the names of the nation’s heroes in war–Ethan Allen, John Paul Jones, Stephen Decatur, the Swamp Fox Francis Marion, Ulysses S. Grant, Clara Barton, Billy Mitchell, Alvin York, Leigh Ann Hester. Lee Ann who? She’s the first woman to win a Silver Star for direct combat with the enemy. Did it in a trench in Iraq. Her story should be in schools, but it won’t be.

All nations celebrate personal icons, and ours now tend to be doers of good. That’s fine. But if we suppress the martial feats of a Bruce Crandall, we distance ourselves further from our military. And in time, we will change. At some risk.

I suppose we should be grateful that Maj. Crandall’s story was worth at least a bit of a dead tree for the NYT.

A defeat for lawfare

Harold C. Hutchison writes on the American federal appeals court ruling that prevents terrorism detainees from accessing the U.S. criminal court system. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 appears to be working…

…The lawfare generally targeted the Department of Defense, with both the National Security Agency and the camps at Guantanamo Bay as the major targets. From the time the first terrorists were captured in the war on terror and placed into military custody, lawsuits have been filed by human rights groups – often with the intention of hindering efforts by the United States to wage the war on terror.

The detainee issue has been the biggest subject of litigation. The human rights groups have wanted to maintain the previous approach of putting terrorists on trial like ordinary criminals. There has just been one problem with that. In the United States, there is a discovery process, in which the prosecution must turn over information to the defense. In doing so, terrorists got the same rights as other criminals. In 1995, during the trial of Omar Abdel Rahman, a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the United States handed over a list of over 200 people to Rahman’s lawyers in compliance with those laws. That information eventually found its way to al-Qaeda headquarters. Even as terrorists were put away, al-Qaeda was tipped off as to what the United States knew.

Naturally, protecting intelligence sources became a paramount concern. Hence, the decision was made that the United States would try terrorist leaders in military commissions, where the classified information could be prevented from falling into the hands of terrorists still out there. However, the human rights groups still sued over this, and eventually got a series of court rulings that led to the Military Commissions Act. The legislation clarified rules concerning what is and is not allowed with regards to the treatment of detainees, due to the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Geneva conventions in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Despite the fact it prohibits torture, physical abuse, murder, rape, sexual assault, hostage taking, intentionally causing serious injury, or performing biological experiments on prisoners, human rights groups want it repealed.

Several leaders in the new Democratic Congress, like Senator Patrick Leahy, have announced their intention to restore detainees’ access to the courts despite the problems shown in the past when American rules of discovery led to intelligence being compromised. These leaders have far more concern for the rights of terrorists than they do for the rights of innocent people to not be killed or maimed in a bombing, or kidnapped and beheaded.