By Jason Fritz
Best Defense guest respondent
When my copy of the January-March 2013 issue of The CAVALRY & ARMOR Journal (the U.S. Cavalry and Armor Association version of ARMOR Magazine) arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, I was also a bit puzzled by the article titled "How to Eat Steak with a Knife and Fork!" Not only because the title motif "How to Eat X with Y" has become quite tired, but because I expected it to be the beginning of an onslaught of "Armor Rulz!" articles in future issues. Of course, reading the article you can see that it is not a paean to maneuver warfare but rather is only a plug for three schools offered by the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, written by the commander of those schools.
To me the biggest issue was not that ARMOR ran an article about "core competencies," but rather that the publishers used valuable space in a branch journal to advertise schools that officers and NCOs should be going to anyway. I do not share Tom's lament on the tactical focus of ARMOR as it is a journal for armor units, which are by definition brigades and below and therefore tactical formations. But his post brings up a prevalent problem: the demise of the branch journals.
Anyone who subscribes to their branch journal has probably noticed this decline. Articles are becoming repetitive. Issues are becoming thinner. I certainly can't think of a single article in the past two years in ARMOR from which I felt I learned something. In the case of ARMOR, which was first published in 1888, this demise is ill-timed. For the first time in over a generation our armor force has extensive and varied combat experience and we should not lose these lessons. And this is true for every branch. In an introduction to the Association version of the issue that Tom linked to earlier in the week, MG (R) Terry Tucker, former chief of Armor and current president of the U.S. Cavalry & Armor Association, wrote:
I would like to take a moment to thank all who contribute to this Magazine and participate in the important discussion of our Mounted Force. However, as important as it is for our contributors to submit articles based on history, "tactics, techniques and procedures," or personal experience, our mission challenges us to exchange critical thought among our members. I believe we too often fall short in this area in our Cavalry and Armor Journal and in ARMOR Magazine. We want discussion, differing opinions, and even heated debate when appropriate.
Branch journals may not be Foreign Affairs, Parameters, or even PRISM, but they are and have been the primary outlet for professionals at the tactical level to disseminate, discuss, and debate their tradecraft. Theirs being such a focused audience, you won't find academics rushing to get published. That leaves it to those of us who have been there and done it to keep these forums alive; you don't know who needs to know what you know or what doors writing will open for you. I wrote one article for ARMOR in 2008 while I was still in the Army. In addition to earning a free year's subscription to the magazine, this article played a significant role in my securing my first job out of the Army. The article, titled "Measuring Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare," has been the publication prospective employers have invariably asked about first because they recognize ARMOR and because they are interested in the topic. Recognizing this success, I shouldn't have stopped at one article -- something I intend to fix this year.
If you are a commander in the force, find a way to incentivize your officers and NCOs to write for their journal -- prospective writers need to know that writing is valued in their organization. Whether you are a commander or not, submit articles to your branch's journal (make sure you abide by their submission criteria). Get your good ideas and your name out there and put it in print. Branch journals provide an opportunity for you to influence your community, work on your writing skills, and maybe help someone who needs the information or idea you're holding on to.
It occurred to me that the characteristic phrase of our time may be "body parts." Journalists just love to use it, most often I think in reporting on car bomb explosions. That strikes me as lazy -- why not say "arms, legs, heads, jawbones, and so on"? (Unless, of course, you can't tell what they are.)
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
Always Faithful, a documentary film that traces the path of five Marine dog handlers from their training through to their deployments, will premiere this Sunday in the greater DC area as part of the 2013 GI Film Festival.
With this feature-length documentary, director Harris Done and producer James Moll, focus on each handler's story with a straight-to-the-camera interview style that includes photos and footage from combat theater. One of the most interesting aspects about this documentary that I haven't seen delved into in great detail elsewhere is the application process for becoming a handler. It has varied based on the "urgent need" for handlers in recent years, but becoming a Marine Corps dog handler is a distinctly competitive pursuit. At the end of the test taking and the essay writing, the Marines applying for this job have to face a review board -- a daunting and nerve-wracking experience which Done has captured on film.
Done has long been a war-dog enthusiast. In 2009 he made War Dogs of the Pacific, a documentary about WWII military dog handlers. (In this trailer you get a taste of the great archival footage.) The timing of this film was crucial as all but one or two of the WWII veterans he interviewed have since passed away. Done's ties to these men clearly ran deep; when Bruce Wellington, a Brooklyn native who served as a messenger dog handler, died, Done gave a eulogy at the funeral. It was that connection which propelled him to pursue the storyline of the "war-dog handler" into modern day.
It's a rare experience to have interviewed K9 handlers across generations as Done has -- men who went to war in the 1940s as well as men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan during the last decade. But when it comes to the core of this job, Done found that "some things never change."
After a while Done began to notice that all the handlers he interviewed "would use the exact same phrases" when they talked about what it took to bring a dog into war. "I just realized that with any kind of working dog, they have that intense bond."
DC moviegoers can purchase tickets here. (There are multiple listings for Sunday show times, so don't give up if you have to scroll down some.) For everyone else, Always Faithful will soon be available for purchase on iTunes.
Rebecca Frankel is away from her FP desk, working on a book about dogs and war.
I was on riding the Washington, DC Metro finishing the May issue of the Marine Corps Gazette when I realized I had not read more than a paragraph or two into any of the articles. Part of the problem was that the topics of the issue were mainly aviation and cyberwar, which I know are important, but are not special interests of mine. But I also got the feeling that they simply took every boring article they had lying around and stuffed them all into one issue.
Even so, the Gazette is better off than the Army's Parameters, which doesn't seem to have put out an issue since "Autumn 2012." Maybe it's going to publish only on an annual basis. Nice work if you can get it.
Not from what I am hearing ‘round the barnyard. Here's an example, from retired Special Forces Col. David Maxwell, on the record and everything, about Fox's ‘scoop' saying SF could have responded to Benghazi in time:
Whistle blower my a**. If this guy is a real special operator (and I have my doubts) I wonder if he realizes what an embarrassment he is to the community. What he offers is pure speculation and not based on any real facts as I have heard and appears to be coming from his fourth point of contact. He comes across as just another conspiracy theorist who is taking Fox News for a ride.
Here are the results of our survey of good books of military history that aren't about the U.S. military.
There were so many British books mentioned that I moved them into a second category. The first part here is genuinely foreign books -- not necessarily written by foreigners (though most are) but about wars in which the British and Americans were not major players, or at least not written from the Anglo-American perspective.
Most of these mentions were in the comments, but about 10 percent came in by e-mail.
I offer them in no particular order. Not even cleaned up -- just pasted in. For details on the books, go back to the comments section -- lots of explanations there about why a particularly book was nominated.
David Glantz, When Titans Clashed
Rommel's Infantry Attacks (2 nominations)
Counterinsurgency in Africa: The Portuguese Way of War 1961-74
Martin Van Creveld, everything but especially Command in War
Michael Oren, Six Days of War (2 votes)
Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, 34 Days: Israel, Hezbollah, and the War in Lebanon
Alistair Horne's The Price of Glory
Noel Mostert's The Line Upon a Wind
Patrick Rambaud's The Battle
Roland Perry, Sir John Monash: The Outsider Who Won a War
Larteguy's The Centurions and The Praetorians (3 nominations)
Harold Parker's Three Napoleonic Battles (short treatments of Friedland, Aspern-Essling, and Waterloo, with observations uniting all three)
John Elting's Swords Around a Throne (the Billy Yank/Johnny Reb treatment of what it was like for soldiers, leaders, and specialists in Napoleon's Grande Armee)
David Galula's Pacification in Algeria
Legionnaire, by Simon Murray
B.H. Liddell Hart's Caesar: Man, Soldier, and Tyrant
Colonel Saburo Hayashi, Kogun: The Japanese Army in the Pacific War
Hoito Edoin, The Night Tokyo Burned
No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War, by Hiroo Onoda
The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, by Mark Thompson
The Franco Regime, by Stanley G. Payn
Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa, by Peter Godwin
Sean Maloney's three-volume history of the Canadian experience in Afghanistan (Enduring the Freedom, Confronting the Chaos, and Fighting for Afghanistan). He also did a narrative of the first eight or so years entitled War in Afghanistan: Eight Battles in the South.
Ivan's War, by Catherine Merridale (2 nominations)
The Reluctant Admiral, by Hiroyuki Agawa (Yamamto)
Vasily Grossman, A Writer at War
Bernard Fall: Memories of a Soldier-Scholar, by his wife Dorothy with an introduction by David Halberstam
Quotations of Chairman Mao Tse Tung
Either The Code of the Samurai or The Hagakure or The 47 Ronin
Heart of Darkness for anyone about to do an AFRICOM rotation. (And one de-nomination.)
Lester Grau, The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan
Alistair Horne's Savage War of Peace
Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom
Avigdor Kahalani, Heights of Courage
Rabinovich's Yom Kippur War
On the Banks of the Suez: An Israeli General's Personal Account of the Yom Kippur War, by Avraham Adan
Forgotten Soldier, by Guy Sajer (2 nominations)
All Quiet on the Western Front, and the lesser known but just as powerful sequel to the book, The Road Back, both by Erich Maria Remarque
Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel
Coalitions, Politicians and Generals -- Some Aspects of Command in Two World Wars, by Dominick Graham and Shelford Bidwell
Strange Victory, by Ernest May
Julian Jackson's The Fall of France
Witness to Surrender, by Brig. Siddiq Salik
The Way It Was, by Brig. Z.A. Khan
In the Line of Duty, by Lt. Gen. Harbaksh Singh
Guerrilla Warfare, by Ernesto "Che" Guevara
Afgantsy, by Rodric Braithwaite
The Jungle is Neutral, by F.Spencer Chapman
The War in Paraguay: With a Historical Sketch of the Country and Its People and Notes Upon the Military Engineering of the War, by George Thompson
On British military -- listed separately because more familiar
Keith Douglas, Alamein to Zem Zem
George MacDonald Fraser's Quartered Safe Out Here (3 nominations)
John Masters, first two volumes of his memoirs
Emile Simpson, War from the Ground Up
Keegan's Face of Battle
William Slim, Defeat into Victory (4 nominations)
The Rules of the Game: Jutland and British Naval Command, by Andrew Gordon (4 nominations)
Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of The Great War, by Robert K. Massie (4 nominations)
The Last European War: September 1939-December 1941, by John Lukacs
How the War Was Won: Factors that Led to Victory in World War One and The Killing Ground: The British Army, the Western Front & the Emergence of Modern War 1900-1918, two volumes by Tim Travers
The Story of the Malakand Field Force, by Winston Churchill
Churchill and Seapower, by Christopher Bell
J.F.C. Fuller's Strategy
Donald Morris, The Washing of the Spears (Zulu Wars)
Gordon Corrigan's Mud, Blood, and Poppycock (attempts to bust many of the popular myths about WWI on the Western Front)
Niall Ferguson's The Pity of War (doorstopper-sized analysis of WWI)
Andrew Roberts' Masters and Commanders
The Tizard Mission: The Top-Secret Operation That Changed the Course of WWII, by Stephen Phelps
Not Mentioned in Dispatches
18 Platoon, by Sidney Jary
The Defence of Duffer's Drift, by Maj. Gen. Ernest Dunlop Swinton.
Brazen Chariots, by Robert Crisp
My War Gone By, I Miss It So, Anthony Loyd, ex-British soldier in Bosnia.
Forgotten Armies: Britain's Asian Empire and the War with Japan, by Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper
The Great Crusade: A New Complete History of the Second World War, by H. P. Willmott
Battle for the Falklands, by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins
Sassoon's The War Poems
The Dark Hills, by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Bingen on the Rhine, by Caroline E. Norton
Richard Haass is a pretty smart guy, but he let someone talk him into this headline: ‘The Irony of American Strategy.'
Like, gag me with a spoon. Cute? Maybe. But I think that headline could only be written by someone who had not lost someone in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 12 years.
Actually the article isn't bad, although it leans heavily on the weak thought that 10 years ago the United States got deeply involved in the Middle East when it didn't need to, but now when it wants to get out, it can't. That strikes me more as an op-ed (or blog post) than a full-blown Foreign Affairs thumbsucker.
A major in the 101st Airborne suggests that we do a reading list of modern military books that are not about the American military experience (and not the usual classics). Three of his suggestions are The Dambusters, Defeat into Victory , and Churchill's Generals.
To that start, I'd add Keegan's Face of Battle and Alistair Horne's Savage War of Peace. What else? I'll allow histories, memoirs, novels, and poetry.
ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images
In our cynical age it is easy to forget that sometimes the newspapers get it right. I was struck while reading George Orwell's diaries by the reports he cites in August 1939, just weeks before World War II began in Europe.
The Manchester Guardian comes off particularly well. It reports that month that "German mobilization will be at full strength halfway through August & that some attempt to terrorise Poland will be made."
A few days later, Orwell notes, the same paper's diplomatic correspondent predicted that "Spain will almost certainly remain neutral in case of war."
There. Got it off my chest. Just had to say it. Slow to load, balky to use.
And my blood pressure spikes every time I read that cheerful, dumb introduction, "Welcome to Foreign Policy's new commenting system! The good news is that it's now easier than ever to comment and share your insights with friends."
Like I say, the bad news is the new commenting sucks! That's the insight I wish to share.
Fifty Shiite gunmen invaded the offices of four newspapers in Baghdad. They smashed equipment, stabbed some people, and threw one reporter off the roof.
Let freedom reign?
SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
By Jim Gourley
Best Defense commenter of the year
Last week Tom requested suggestions for new blogs to add to his daily reading list. I thought there were some interesting recommendations from readers, but after investigating each one I went back and clicked through the different windows in succession to gain a little more perspective.
Looking at them in aggregate provoked questions. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, so what world view would the range of sites produce? How does the news feed presented by these sites differ from what Tom is probably already reading? Grouping the sites by their emphasis implies that view would be primarily technology-based, lightly seasoned by some current events in specific regions with dubious commentary. There is very little context. By and large, it lacks breadth and depth. The spectrum of information is narrow and the range of subjects too one-dimensional to provide necessary background.
I read lots of blogs, none of them regularly and not all of them related to defense matters per se, but I tend to see value in unique cultural overlaps. I seek context, perspective, answers. Lately, I find the blogosphere giving me more questions than answers.
Spend enough time
reading the tech blogs and you'll see that there are scores of unmanned weapons
systems in development in the United States and throughout the world. Within
fifteen years we may have a UAV that brings J.J. Abrams' new television series to life, warships with lasers, and bipedal battlefield
terminators assistants. All of these blog posts follow the same thematic
approach. They simply show us the technology. That's valuable information, but
I only need to see it once.
Nowhere can I find answers to the immediate questions I ask upon reading these blogs. Why are we developing these technologies? What existing weapons programs that we're currently shoveling money into will be rendered obsolete by these new weapons? Where does the care and equipping of human service members fit into this? Exactly what threats and enemies are such weapons meant to counter, and what retaliatory developments do we anticipate said enemies to attempt? Do we have a plan or are we just building stuff?
Intelligence and strategy blogs have made the pivot to China well in advance of the defense department, it seems. The American political discourse about the Chinese threat was electrified during the presidential campaign and think tanks are moving apace with speculations of what a conflict with China would look like. But in all the debate over who would do best at "getting tough with China," I didn't hear a compelling argument for getting tough in the first place. Is China really our enemy? Do they have to be our enemy? Is the conventional wisdom more conventional (or perhaps convenient) than it is wise? I have no end of questions about what the American security establishment thinks of China because there is no clear explanation of how it thinks about China. Is there a blog for that?
The defense, intelligence and national law enforcement architectures continue to meld in ways both mysterious and disturbing. The DEA has operated in Afghanistan for a number of years. Predator drones have been used to track cattle rustlers in North Dakota. Part of President Obama's legacy will be a government that can wire-tap my phone without a warrant and assassinate me without due process. I see these developments and I have more questions. Are there still such things as American defense, intelligence and law enforcement establishments, or is it gelling into a monolithic "security establishment?" How long a shadow does it cast and do civil liberties and posse comitatus fall underneath it? Is everyone contributing to this emergent construct actually okay with the potential consequences, or are we just following orders?
Blogs are a relatively new species in the journalism environment, but already the conceptualization of them has become traditional. They were conceived as web-based forums for microbursts of data to help news organizations keep up with the increasing pace of information flow. It was believed that the in-depth analysis would be left to the more substantive print media side of the house. The value of print has already been challenged and found lacking, but so too should the idea that synthesis and analysis can maintain the old pace as developments continue to accelerate. Blogs can't just be places to collate data points any longer. They need to start connecting the dots that are rapidly accumulating. I think 'Best Defense' has succeeded in that endeavor, but Tom depends on good sources of information like any human being. There are more questions than ever. More blogs ought to attempt answering them. Those answers matter now more than ever, because the new pace to which blogs have contributed is not going to wait.
Jim Gourley has been elected to the Best Defense all-star commenter team three years running.
Best Defense TV reviewer
I'm embarrassed to admit, I recently watched a long portion of the second episode of the new "reality" TV show Stars Earn Stripes. The premise of the show is that eight D-list "celebrities" -- predominately reality TV returnees, washed up actors, and athletes -- train with former U.S. military servicemembers and first responders and take part in "missions" to demonstrate their prowess and nominally learn/appreciate something about military life. There's also a Survivor element to the "contest" where a non-performing team is dismissed each episode. The "stripes" the remaining teams earn equate to $10,000 donations to service-oriented charities like the Wounded Warrior Project and their ilk. NBC claims the show will "pay homage to the men and women who serve in the U.S. armed forces."
I found the program
lame and somewhat sad. Anyone with military experience would laugh at the
canned explosions -- M203 rounds do not blow up like that, especially when the
blue training round lands under rather than in the target. ( I'm looking at you,
Picabo Street.) The "tasks" that the "celebs" were charged to execute
were laughable. Indeed, the marksmanship demonstrated (even by the military
professionals) wasn't that impressive given the high powered rifle sights,
supported firing positions, and short distances to the target.
But the real kickers were the unconvincing hostess Samantha Harris -- who previously co-hosted Dancing with the Stars, wearing sexy combat chic clothing that would make the Scud Stud blush, and General (Retired) Wesley Clark -- the opportunist flag officer and onetime presidential candidate everyone loves to hate. The two co-hosts, respectively, bat their eyes and look grim and try to sell the concept as a credit to the troops, but the show devolves "combat" down to a series of Darby Queen obstacles with embedded squibs and targets that don't shoot back.
How sad to see General Clark leering over a fake TV screen (badly overlaid on a circular table) in a fake command post, giving orders and commentary with fake gravitas. But Clark is well known for narcissism and never finding a camera he didn't love. The late David Hackworth once called Wes Clark a Perfumed Prince -- and later retracted his comment -- but this made-for-TV endeavor seems to validate the moniker.
What's most worrisome about this show is that it is a show, sold as entertainment. A squad of Nobel laureates has already criticized the program calling Stars Earn Stripes a "sanitation of war ... likening it to an athletic competition." They called for the show's cancellation stating: "It is our belief that this program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence. Real war is down in the dirt deadly. People -- military and civilians --die in ways that are anything but entertaining."
I have to agree with their sentiment, especially given the ham-handed nature of the exercises. There's no real danger, and no real consequences. I'm sure the celebs retire to their Hollywood mansions after each camera shoot, whereas, somewhere in Afghanistan, PFC "Snuffy" finishes his real "shoot" and retires to his tent built for 6-8 of his closest squadmates. Surprising no one, I hope, there's no reality in this reality TV. Even if this show was a well-meaning effort to bridge an increasing civil-military divide (as Clark claims), it is so poorly executed that it marginalizes the efforts of U.S. troops in the field. That's what makes Clark's involvement all the more worrisome. The public doesn't know that Clark is not overly respected within the ranks, and likely accepts his involvement as a military stamp of approval.
The Army Profession campaign has spent almost two years trying to discern the impact of a decade of war on the profession. One of the ideas the campaign members have been considering is the concept of a "non-acting professional." In this case, they have been trying to analyze the role of the military retiree (p. 24) within the profession. This need arose as many general officers (e.g. Clark and Honore) took to the papers and the airwaves commenting on military operations and politics (e.g. Newbold, Batiste) from the safety of their retirement. The ongoing concern remains allowing for the proper balance of dissent, First Amendment rights and the role of former government servants -- who, it should be remembered, remain subject to recall to active service. This is a continuing discussion that will not be resolved anytime soon.
Clark's latest TV endeavor is more embarrassing than harmful, and likely grazes but does not fall within the area of concern which the Army Campaign is exploring. But I do think Stars Earns Stripes undermines the hard work of our servicemembers around the globe, by turning combat-lite into a game show. The fact that the show is giving money to veterans groups doesn't redeem it in the least.
The best way to get rid of such a show is not to watch it. Unfortunately, an estimated 5.4 million Americans watched the Stars Earns Stripes first episode. We're rapidly headed towards the world hypothesized in Mike Judge's Idiocracy, where the top TV show was Oww, my balls. [Note: Another reality TV show, this season's America's Got Talent, actually featured a segment that easily could have been titled Oww, my balls].The quality of what passes for entertainment is worrisome and getting worse.
I've often argued for a Sunday primetime reality TV show (probably on the fourth place network), filming soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines with all their glory (and warts) in theater. Each week would spotlight a different unit, in a different place -- not unlike news reels from World War II. If it was honestly handled, I think that would be a hit show that really better communicates what combat and service means while drawing some much needed attention to the troopers in the field. That would also be a worthwhile bridging effort for that civil-military divide we are always so concerned about. I'll keep waiting; meanwhile, I'll hope that Clark gets his face off of TV and Stars Earns Stripes goes AWOL.
"Hunter" is an Army officer. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the federal government, the College of Cardinals, the bullpen of the Washington Nationals, or "The Itchy and Scratchy Show." Then again, they might. Especially the bullpen guys.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on September 15, 2010.
I am finding Army magazine over the last couple of years much better than in the past, consistently running relevant, thoughtful articles like the two I have highlighted in the last couple of days. I think Army has surpassed the Marine Corps Gazette and is giving Proceedings a run for the money as the most interesting and relevant of the services' glossy professional magazines.
Meanwhile, speaking of the U.S. Army and publications, whatever happened to Parameters? And has Military Review just gone stupid? It apparently is being edited by people who haven't read the last several years of its own articles -- witness this straw man article written by someone who seems to think that the COIN campaign in Iraq in 2007-08 didn't have an extremely lethal element.
I frequently am interested by stuff in Joint Force Quarterly and Prism, but they are too new to have established records, and JFQ especially seems to have its ups and downs -- witness a goofy, uninformed article on military dissent in the new issue. (And a misspelled name, too.) And it has been years since I've read anything really new in the Naval War College Review or in anything published by the Air Force, with the exception of a volume of war poems and stories collected by some faculty members at the Air Force Academy.
The great photo above came from Army magazine, taken by the hard-working Dennis Steele. I used to run into him at United Air's international departure gates at Dulles Airport.
"Hey, Dennis, coming or going?"
"Iraq or Afghanistan?"
And off he would trudge under his bags of cameras.
Dennis Steele, ARMY magazine
That's the National Park Service verdict on Bill O'Reilly's error-filled history of the assassination of President Lincoln. My favorite example: He has the president meeting in the Oval Office-which didn't exist until the 20th century.
While I was on August break trying to finish writing my book, Greg Jaffe, one of the most thoughtful defense reporters going, had a fine article that looked at the "patriotic''commericals that use our sentiments about soldiers to peddle beer. The article is rather discursive, but captures well the gap between today's new combat vets and the other 99 percent of society. I liked especially that Jaffe went to the creator of one of the ads and reported the guy's thinking.
In a related piece, Chief Red Bull offers some useful thoughts on the do's and don'ts of greeting homecoming soldiers.
Dexter Filkins has a terrific piece in the new, Sept. 19 issue of the New Yorker that at first glance is just about the recent killing of a Pakistani journalist, but actually is kind of an overview of the state of play with the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence agency.
I am glad that he did it, but also awed that he did it. It takes real nerve to go around Pakistan these days prying into the ISI's relationship to the Taliban and al Qaeda, and about whether it is killing journalists -- especially in the country where Danny Pearl was kidnapped and decapitated for doing something similar.
One item in the article particularly struck me: A March 17 airstrike by U.S. drones not only killed some insurgent leaders, but also the ISI officials with whom they were meeting.
Anyone interested in Pakistan should run out and buy a copy of this article.
Wikimedia Commons; BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
What a story! It turns out that four military personnel deployed to the U.S. Embassy to help with security and explosive ordnance disposal. For Fox, this apparently constitutes President Obama breaking his vow not to insert troops. The article actually begins, "Despite repeated assurances from President Obama and military leaders that the U.S. would not send uniformed military personnel into Libya …"
I wonder if one day having worked for Fox News during our time will be regarded like being a supporter of Sen. Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. I think Fox may be the most destructive force in American society nowadays, basically pouring poison into the stream of our political discourse.
(HT to a captain of the Marines)
New England Secession/Flickr
I was struck by this observation by "JESTEPHENS" about the BD character in Doonesbury: "If only we all were as reflective as BD has become. Remember in the early days of the strip how emptyheaded and reactionary he was. Trudeau has taken BD from that shallowness to a character who has become something of a cultural barometer."
This is one of those things that seems obvious when you read it -- but it had never occurred to me. BD is now one of the major heroes of the strip.
By "A. Checklist Monkey"
Best Defense guest columnist
When I first read the
commentary by Jörg Muth comparing the different command philosophy/command
cultures of the Armies of Germany and the United States. I couldn't help but laugh. My
very first thought was, "If he thinks the Army is bad, I wonder what he
would think of the Air Force!" As a space and missile operations officer
in the USAF, not only is the concept of Auftragstaktik foreign, any
exercise thereof could possibly get you thrown in jail!
As an ICBM ops officer, I was trained from day one to not think for
myself, to always follow checklists, and to never try and shotgun
anything. Time and again in my training I was told to "Just follow the
checklist," or "The checklist will take care of you." For the
most part, they were right. Nearly 50 years of ICBM ops gives you a lot of time
to work out the bugs in a system. If something went wrong out in the field with
one of the missiles, and it was discovered that you made a mistake by not
following your checklist, you were at risk of being relieved of duty, given
extra training on top of your regular training, and having to go through the
process of being re-certified to perform nuclear alerts again (a process that
could take a day or several weeks depending on the severity of the error). You
weren't allowed to think for yourself. You were trained NOT to.
There is a reason AF space operators call themselves "Checklist Monkeys."
"Read a step, do a step, eat a banana," is a common quote thrown
around in the space ops world.
Even when I was not out in the field sitting on alert, I experienced massive frustration at the micro-management and inflexibility of how life in the missile world was being run. When I was a 2Lt, I very quickly came to realize how nothing would ever change after I made a few suggestions about how the alert shift schedule could be worked better (a quality of life issue, I admit). I was told point blank: "Interesting idea, but forget about it because nothing's gonna change." He was right. In the nearly five years I was in my missile wing, nothing did. When it came to annual performance reports--in the AF we call them OPRs for officers, EPRs for enlisted--they had to be coordinated up to the WING COMMANDER. Not just signed off, mind you. I mean that the Flight, Squadron, Group and Wing levels all had to get their hands on that OPR/EPR, make changes, send it back down the chain so the changes can be made, and then send it up again for more review/changes before it was signed off. I had an OPR I wrote on one individual take THREE MONTHS to get approved. Auftragstaktik? What's that?
Despite my intentions, I wound up reading a smattering of the 9/11 coverage. Lots of energy expended by the writers, I am not sure to what end. I think yesterday's Doonesbury strip captured my feelings best.
And my second favorite comment is from old Francis Fukuyama: "Since 2001 the most important world-historical story has been the rise of China. This is a development whose impact will almost certainly be felt in 50 years' time. Whether anyone will remember Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida at that remove is a different matter."
This blog turns out to be produced not by an individual but a collective. A friend asked me why I was not more bothered by the deception. I think it is because I consider it 90 percent artistic license and just 10 percent an integrity violation -- the 10 percent being the e-mails the group sent pretending to be an individual. So I am less upset and more just impressed that a group could consistntely produce prose with that power.
This is a piece I ran by the group.
That's the article I'd like to read by everyone who predicted a stalemate or quagmire in which the United States eventually would have to insert ground troops. (For those of you too hurried to click through to all them links, I am calling out the following members of the diverse quagmire/stalemate coalition: Dov Zakheim, Andrew Sullivan, Alexander Cockburn, Anne Applebaum, Richard Norton-Taylor, Melanie Clarke, the German government, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, the Xinhua news service, and the Beirut Daily Star.)
Who wants to go first?
Meanwhile, from Fareed Zakaria, here is one of the best summaries I have seen of the meaning of the Libyan war:
The Libyan intervention offers a new model for the West. It was a humanitarian mission with strategic interests as well -- support for the Arab Spring and the new aspirations of the people of the Middle East. It was also a new model in that it involved an America that insisted on legitimacy and burden sharing, that allowed the locals to own their revolution. That means, however, that it is in the hands of the Libyans. They can avoid the mistakes of Iraq, which makes the challenge before them even more daunting. But it is a challenge they have eagerly sought and one for which they will find help from friends around the world.
It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of guys. There has always been a rough edge in good journalism, but these people have acted like thugs -- a point seemingly lost on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal as it comments on its owners. I agree with pretty much everything Nocera writes. As with other major scandals, I am struck not only by how we never know what is going to happen next, as Nocera says, but also, how in retrospect each step seems inevitable.
The little think tank that could is launching a new TV series, titled "Command Post," with the Lucian empire. You can see the first episodes, about the future direction of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, here.
Next, "CNAS: The Movie"? If so, I wanna be played by Homer Simpson, the TV character with whom I most closely identify.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, essentially accused the Pakistani government of beating a journalist to death in May. "It was sanctioned by the government," he said.
There is an interesting parallel here to the murder of Danny Pearl back in 2002. He was killed by al Qaeda in Pakistan. Saleem Shahzad was killed by the government of Pakistan, Mullen is saying.
Also, the New York Times reports
that there is new evidence that the Pakistani military sold nuclear weapons
technology to North Korea.
Again, I wonder why anyone thinks Pakistan should still be considered an ally.
Wikimedia Commons; BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
But there may be even more to this story. "I wouldn't give up on her yet," cautions Jim Gourley, our chief correspondent for physical and mental fitness. "I've dealt with people like this before. She's obviously in Damascus, and pretty apparently homosexual. Given that, I'd say the real story may still be a sympathetic one. What I've found in my experience is that people like this craft these kinds of elaborate personalities for themselves as an escape. I would hypothesize that the incident with her father facing down the security goons is half-true, with the heroic father being the creation of an imagination that wishes her real father was like that. Probably more likely is that she was rejected by her family in the beginning and feels horrible about it."
He also was a critic of the ISI.
I take it the State Department is still arguing that we should continue to play along with Pakistan because there we have no other choice. I think we do have a choice.
BANARAS KHAN/AFP/Getty Images
I read a statement from Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday that he "expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004, which were overwhelmingly supported by both Houses of Congress."
So Netanyahu "expects" to hear this from the President of the United States? And if President Obama doesn't walk back the speech, what will Netanyahu do? Will he cut off Israeli military aid to the U.S.? Will he cease to fight for the U.S. in the United Nations, and in the many international forums that treat Israel as a pariah?
I don't like this word, "expect."
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.