The Best Defense

Iraq: The endgame begins

The war in Iraq continues. Suppose we gave a war in Iraq and nobody here cared? Not clear what the deal is to keep U.S. forces in Iraq. But keeping just 3,000 troops worries me -- that's more like a big kick-me sign than a force that can support and protect itself. (Unless it is a cover for about 12,000 more mercenaries.) I mean, Mookie already has threatened to whack American advisors remaining into next year. Meanwhile, Turkey conducted a bunch of airstrikes against Kurdish targets in northern Iraq.

It is also going to be harder to see one more American die in Iraq now that Iraq has lined up with Iran to support the beleaguered regime in Syria. Leaves a kind of even emptier feeling. (But at least we got Iraq's stockpiles of WMD!) Old Juan Cole sees an emerging Damascus-Baghdad-Tehran alliance. A new axis of evil?

Ken Pollack is worried that Iraq is on the precipice, again:

There is extensive scholarly literature on how civil wars start, end and recur, and Iraq's experiences over the past eight years conform to these patterns frighteningly closely. Historically, states that have undergone an intercommunal civil war like the one in Iraq have an unfortunate tendency to slip back into such conflict. This is especially true when the state in question has major, easily looted resources-like oil.

This same history demonstrates that a slide into civil war typically follows a period of time when old problems come back to haunt a country but everyone sees them as relatively minor and easily solved, and thus they do not take them seriously or exert themselves to nip them in the bud. Then, seemingly small and simple-to-overcome issues snowball quickly-much faster than anticipated-and a resurgence of civil war that people believed was years or even decades away reignites overnight. Unfortunately, the point where civil war became inevitable typically is clear only in the rearview mirror.

Speaking of Iraq, it is good to see old Joel Wing come off the injured reserve list.

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The Best Defense

Military retirement (II): And a few more words about the role of NCOs

Here are a few words that follow on yesterday's comments by Bob Goldich.

By Col. Robert Killebrew, U.S. Army (ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist

I might reinforce the thought that NCOs are the jewel in the crown of the armed services; one old petty officer once said that it's harder to be a good NCO than it is to be a good officer, and that's true. Within the services, they are an entirely different class of people; less well paid than officers, but aware of their specialness, tougher on each other than officers are on one another, and masters of their trade.

In my experience in the Army, a command sergeant major exemplifies what the NCO corps is. He or she is expected to be the expert on all things relating to the training and leadership of young soldiers; in my battalion, he "advised" on all assignments of enlisted personnel and officers -- I mean he made them and I agreed -- and he ran the lives and careers of First Sergeants and Platoon Sergeants with tact toward the company commanders and other officers. (He also, behind closed doors, gave me NCO perspectives on the development of my junior officers). First Sergeants have the same relationships with company commanders. The world would be a much better place if we had more retired CSMs and fewer retired colonels.

Years ago, when I was a major and we lived in Fayetteville, I took my lawnmower to a small engine repair shop. The place was run by a retired Master Sergeant who had gotten a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star and half a dozen Purple Hearts in Vietnam. His body was a mess. Between his retirement pay, disability and medical benefits and his repair shop, he and his Vietnamese wife were doing okay (I think his kid was then an NCO in the 82nd, but can't be sure).

These are the guys the retirement system has to serve, and you can bet the younger soldiers notice.