I've long wanted to know more about what the Iraq war looked like from the side of the insurgents. I actually had hoped one day to write a book about this in collaboration with Anthony Shadid, but he was killed about 13 months ago while trying to cover the fighting in Syria.
But I got a bit of insight, unexpectedly, when reading Ernie O' Malley's On Another Man's Wound: A Personal History of Ireland's War of Independence, which was recommended recently by one of this blog's guest columnists. (I didn't know when I learned that the book and his other memoir were the basis for the great film The Wind That Shakes the Barley.)
Here is O'Malley's net assessment of the war. It sounds kind of familiar, no?
The enemy could have regular meals, a standard of comfort, the advantage of numbers and training, more than ample supplies of ammunition, and well-cared-for and efficient weapons, but they were...operating in a hostile countryside when they left the shelter of their barracks....The British could defeat some of our columns and round-up our men, but they could not maintain civil administration when they had lost the support of the people.
Tom again: O'Malley found that the British army, though full of veterans of World War I, was slow to adjust to the situation in the Irish fighting, where the rebels could move among the people. "Few [British] might be elastic enough for guerrilla fighting," he concluded. He detected in the British soldiers "a glum, swarthy melancholy."
As a captive, he concluded that, "Soldiers make bad gaolers," or jailers. He eventually escaped. The British never even figured out his true identity, even though they beat him and threatened to torture him with a red-hot poker, holding it close enough to his face to burn his eyebrows and singe his eyeballs. Calling Abu Ghraib!
What did victory look like? One day early in 1921, the fact that the fence-sitters were coming over to the side of the rebels made O'Malley realize he was winning: "We were becoming almost popular. Respectable people were beginning to crawl into us; neutrals and those who thought they had best come over were changing from indifference or hostility to a painful acceptance."
One important difference, though I don't know quite what to make of it: The British soldiers and their Irish foes were much closer culturally than were the Americans and Iraqi insurgents. They could even speak to each other, which meant that O'Malley could sort of apologize to some British officers held prisoner before executing them. O'Malley's brother had even been in the British army.
What General Hodges lacks in facts in his column he makes up in indignation. Dare General David Barno worry that the Army is losing talented Army officers? "What an insult to the thousands who are in fact staying," Hodges fumes.
Is the Army "somehow non-adaptive, too inflexible and unimaginative"? Well, I would say too many Army generals are. But, without any facts to back up his case, and conveniently ignoring years of inadaptiveness in Iraq (2003-06), General Hodges assures us that, "This is nonsense and I reject it." He offers no facts, but hey, we have to take it on faith, he seems to say -- after all, how could a system that produces me be faulty? It reminds me of the old Ring Lardner line: "‘Shut up,' he explained."
But you all know what Tom thinks -- I wrote a whole book on the subject. I would like to know what you all think, especially junior officers, both those leaving and those staying in. Let's ask those involved. Who is right: Hodges or Barno?
Necessary disclosure: Barno is a colleague of mine at CNAS.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
When a series of 12 bombings rocked Mumbai in March 1993 -- blasts that killed over 250 people and left more than 700 others injured -- one member of India's Bomb Detection and Disposal Squad (BDDS) was heralded as savior, a golden lab called Zanjeer. And now, two decades later, Zanjeer's photo and his story are making the Internet rounds once again, this time in memorandum.
Zanjeer's first find during those fateful days came on March 15, when he gave his signature three-bark alert on a bomb-laden scooter parked on Dhanji Street, a mere "stone's throw away" from BDDS headquarters. In the days that followed he reportedly saved thousands more lives by finding explosives in "unclaimed suitcases" discovered at the Siddhivinayak temple and then again a few days later at the Zaveri Bazaar. All in all, Zanjeer helped members of the BDDS find, as reported by Reuters, "more than 3,329 kgs of the explosive RDX, 600 detonators, 249 hand grenades and 6406 rounds of live ammunition."
Zanjeer, named after a 1973 Hindi action film about a lone honest cop who perseveres in a world overrun by corruption, was trained in Pune and joined the officers of India's BDDS in 1992 at just one years old. The much beloved and lauded dog went on to have an illustrious and astoundingly productive eight-year career, during which he was credited with uncovering: "11 military bombs, 57 country-made bombs, 175 petrol bombs, and 600 detonators." These finds coming after the March bombings in 1993.
When Zanjeer died of bone cancer (other reports say lung failure) in November of 2000, his fellow officers gave him full honors during a ceremony and memorial service -- as seen in this photo as a senior official places flowers over Zanjeer's body. And while the world is remembering this dog 20 years later, citizens of Mumbai are said to have commemorated the anniversary of Zanjeer's death yearly.
According to Zanjeer's obituary, "The cops grew so dependent on Zanjeer that there were occasions when they would bring only Zanjeer and no equipment." The chief of BDDS during Zanjeer's tenure, Nandkumar Choughule, said that the dog was "god sent" and that when men were not able to track down the explosives, it was Zanjeer who found them.
I recently picked up the memoirs of General Curtis LeMay, partly out of guilt that I don't know more about the history of the Air Force. My problem is, I still don't.
The book is mainly pablum. I gave up about halfway through and skimmed the rest, something I rarely do.
I did learn a few things:
--Alamogordo, New Mexico, seems to be the only Air Force base so lonely that even the chaplain once deserted.
--LeMay had a contempt for professional military education typical of the fast-rising officers of World War II. "It was utterly absurd, sending a lot of people to the War College after the war, when they'd already been through the mill." I wonder if the seeds of the Vietnam War are contained in that view -- that if you fought in the big one, there was nothing more to learn?
--I didn't know that he actually wrote that the solution to the Vietnam War was to threaten "to bomb them back into the Stone Age." He did.
--He did seem to use mission command, and see it as particularly American. "My notion has been that you can explain why, and then you don't need to give any order at all. All you have to do is get your big feet out of the way, and things will really happen. Forever I took the same course. Get the team together. ‘There's the goal, people. Go ahead.'"
That said, much of the rest of it is the type of claptrap that H.L. Mencken made a living destroying. I had expected that having Mackinlay Kantor, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Andersonville, as co-author of the memoir was a recommendation. I didn't realize that Kantor was a hack.
So I would rate this memoir as even worse than Douglas MacArthur's, which at least gave the reader a strong sense of that general's querulous grandiosity. And also worse than Tommy Franks' book, which had some memorable passages that inadvertently revealed that man's ignorance of his profession. (Plus, you can buy it used for one penny.)
I've been reading a briefing by Maj. Gen. Richard P. Mustion, commander of the Army's Human Resources Command, who predicts that the Army will have to eject about 24,500 soldiers in the next five years. That is, in order to reach the projected size of 490,000 in 2018, it will have to lose 17,000 more enlisted soldiers than it would lose through natural rates of attrition, and also 7,300 officers.
I hadn't seen those numbers before. Have youse?
I actually think the Army is going to have to lose more than that, because I think the overall defense budget will be cut more than the Pentagon expects. If that happens, I hope the Army aims to maintain quality more than quantity.
So says this sobering piece.
MOHAMMED AL-SEHITI/AFP/Getty Images
Steve Coll, a former managing editor of the Washington Post and author of Ghost Wars, a favorite book of many readers of this blog, is one of the best journalists I've ever met. He especially understands intelligence matters, national security, and Washington. So when he wrote this week in the New Yorker about the possibility of high-level indictments of national security officials at the Obama White House, I paid attention. Here is an e-mail interview I conducted with him:
It's clear that the Justice Department has been carrying out extensive interviews with current and former senior administration officials about David Sanger's excellent reporting on the Obama administration's involvement in cyberattacks against Iran. At the same time, the administration has established that it is willing to tolerate aggressive leak prosecutions against current and former government officials. Equally, the White House is allowing Justice prosecutors to make such decisions without political interference -- as is proper (See: Richard Nixon). So if you add all that up, indictments are a possibility.
I have not formally approached the Times or Sanger about this investigation -- the subject of my New Yorker reporting was the separate prosecution of former C.I.A. officer John Kiriakou, who pleaded guilty and became the first C.I.A. officer ever sent to prison for providing information to the American press. In that longer story, I mentioned the ongoing Sanger case as context, based on what I picked up along the reporting trail, and I cited some reporting by the Washington Post, which appeared earlier this year.
I don't have any reason to think that. The Times, under executive editor Bill Keller and now Jill Abramson, has had to handle a succession of tricky editorial and publishing decisions involving classified information, from Wikileaks to these multiple leak investigations by the National Security Division at Justice. There was the Kiriakou case, which involved the Times; a separate case involving former C.I.A. officer Jeffrey Sterling and Times reporter James Risen; and now the Sanger case. In the Risen and Sanger cases, the Justice investigations have involved reporting done for books, in addition to reporting done for the Times. My reading from far outside is that the Times editors have done very well handling these dilemmas. It's a complicated responsibility, as I can testify from experience at the Washington Post. I'm sure there are at least a few calls the editors would like to have back, but overall I think they've made courageous, responsible decisions in the public interest.
I don't know.
Almost certainly not, particularly if they involve heavy charges under the Espionage Act or other similar statutes, as Justice has done in previous cases. As my story about the Kiriakou case outlined, leak prosecutions are highly selective and they fail to take into account the institutionalized failures and hypocrisy of the government's management of classified information. David Pozen, a law professor at Columbia University, estimates in a forthcoming Harvard Law Review article that fewer than three in a thousand leak violations are actually prosecuted, and the true percentage, if all leaks of classified information could be counted reliably, is almost certainly much closer to zero. These kinds of prosecutions -- aimed, apparently at creating a deterrent effect -- in an atmosphere of such laxity just can't be justified as public policy, even if they are permissible as a matter of law.
The Kiriakou case teases some of that out -- it's a very polluted environment. There's a lot of opportunism from all sides. That's why they call Washington a swamp. But I think the single biggest factor -- and a factor that could be fixed -- is the broken system that over-classifies government information by orders of magnitude. Until the government can credibly distinguish a real secret from a phony or artificial one, prosecutions of leakers will always seem selective and without adequate foundation.
By April Labaro
Best Defense guest columnist
(March 20, 2013)
What's new in warfare? Not much, according to Major General H.R. McMaster, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence.
Rather, McMaster said in a talk the other day (March 20) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, we've actually had to re-learn some basic concepts. The most important one being that despite technological advances, there are continuities in modern warfare that shouldn't be overlooked. This is where he got all Clausewitzian on us, arguing that the continuities are that war is an extension of politics, has a human dimension, is always uncertain and, ultimately, is a contest of wills. Ensuring that these lessons don't have to be re-learned in the future may be more important than the outcomes of the wars themselves, he said.
There are also a few lessons that we shouldn't have learned, the first "wrong lesson" being that the raiding approach leads to a fast, easy and cheap win. It didn't work in Iraq or Afghanistan and is not likely to work in the future, he asserted.
The second bad lesson is that wars can be outsourced to proxy forces. What can be accomplished via proxy forces is often exaggerated, he warned, in part because collaboration does not necessarily mean congruent interests.
And what projections can be made about the future of ground maneuver warfare? There's a lot of uncertainty, but McMaster said he doesn't buy the arguments made lately by schools of thought that believe that the future will be more secure and our ground forces will not face many strategic surprises. Institutionalizing the lessons learned (and unlearning the "wrong" ones) is a critical first step towards making more accurate projections and improving the effectiveness of our ground forces, especially in the face of fiscal austerity and the growing range of unconventional threats.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.