The Best Defense

Washington whispers: Gates to replace Jones?

I am picking up the vibe that some powerful people want to have Defense Secretary Robert Gates move over to the White House to replace retired Marine Gen. James Jones as national security advisor.

Maybe this is the reason Gates made pro-Jones comments to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius the other day. "I think of Jim as the glue that holds this team together," Gates said.

UPDATE: Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell pinged me to denounce this item. "It's utterly and completely absurd," he said. "There is not a grain of truth to it."

It always makes me wonder when spokespeople speak with absolute certitude. So I asked the ascocarpish Morrell what made him so sure, and he said it is because he works closely with Gates and talks to people at the White House all the time. We'll see. Maybe he isn't talking to the right people.  

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The Best Defense

Army of 178

You know how you are at home on the couch after a long day reading a favorite magazine, and it is just not bringing it? I felt like that last night as I paged through Army magazine, and all my favorite authors seemed like they were just not seeing the ball, kind of like Big Papi this year.

Then, when I had just about given up hope, I turned to page 86 of Army , the last page in the magazine, and to my surprise got intrigued by an article by retired Brig. Gen. John S. Brown about the 178 campaign streamers carried on the Army flag. I used to ponder these during particularly dull hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- the flags are displayed up on one wall.

Some surprises to me:

  • About 90 percent of the time, the streamers represent a victory. (Confederate mileage may differ somewhat, he notes.)
  • During the six campaigns north of the Alps from D-Day to VE Day, some 136,000 Americans died. Yow.
  • At Cold Harbor, Virginia (about 20 minutes east of Richmond) 12,000 men died in a single day, in Grant's worst battle of the Civil War.
  • The "longest continuous campaign" was against the Comanches, lasting from 1867 to 1875. (I think Iraq may beat this, but the jury is still out.)
  • But the longest single fight was against the Seminoles, which ran intermittently from 1817 to 1858.
  • Oddly, streamers have not yet been authorized for operations in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. I didn't know that. Seems kind of screwy to have Medals of Honor given, but not battle streamers.
  • For fans of Samuel Huntington keeping score at home, notes Gen. Brown, "80 percent of our defeats were inflicted by people who speak English."

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