December 6, 2009

We Still Don’t Get It

Filed under: — Chap @ 11:06 pm

Afghan Quest proves Twain’s aphorism that a lie gets halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on.

The French had found rocket fragments from two rockets. One was Chinese and the other of Russian manufacture. They did not get the word out immediately. In fact, the reaction of the French leadership was to cancel a mission that they had planned and “wait it out.” They did not hit the streets immediately, telling the story and showing the rocket fragments to everyone they could find. This gave the Taliban time to concoct a ludicrous lie that, in the absence of any information to the contrary, some people were believing.

How many years in and we still haven’t figured out that the first lie wins the mindshare? That if you don’t push truth out there quickly, you’ll get your hat handed to you by people who are building a win out of any BS excuse story that sticks?

Why have so few people in DoD seen things like Pallywood? The bad guys know this; it’s their biggest force multiplier and they protect this capability.

September 11, 2009


Filed under: — Chap @ 3:53 pm

I re-entered the United States today from a Middle Eastern country. It was faster than I thought I would have been. I transferred in Atlanta–the joke goes that if you die and go to hell on that airline, you’d have to go through Atlanta–and left on the small flight home within five minutes of another flight from Boston, eight years ago.

The flight into Atlanta was painfully long, halfway around the world against the jet stream. I flew over a rogues’ gallery of countries I’ve never visited and likely will never do in uniform, flying over names like Esfahan, gazing down and asking myself what I was looking at, why this was so normal. The plane was packed. A significant percentage was guys you could spot as American a mile away. Being used to maintaining a somewhat low profile in a city with occasional small explosions and looking as unmilitary as I could save changing into the local mufti, seeing all the guys with KBR shirts or desert camo backpacks loudly gathered in groups and talking about home set my threat sensors off and I sat in a corner near the dudes with thobes out of habit, not being the hardest target, just harder than the softest. Once I was aware of my reaction I relaxed and got to meet some of the folks flying into Atlanta: mixed US-Middle Eastern civilian couples on their first trip to the states as families, Afghanistan planners and civil affairs types, contractors in Iraq doing services for us in uniform, tourists (today of all days?), tired looking active duty…and me, up for a couple of days due to a ticketing snarl delay in an airport with no pay phones and a sixteen hour flight en route to a funeral.

Some of those were Army going back to the town where the base was, and I drove near a base or two en route home. Outside Army bases you can see a miniature history of American warfare in the allies, comrades and camp followers who came back with Joe and set up shop right outside the gate. The Japanese, Viet, Korean, German, and other shops and restaurants tell a story, newer ones prominent, later generations assimilated and off to other things. But no, or not many, Afghani or Iraqi restaurants. The immigration restrictions, and the lack of Joe marriages in theater, have killed that source of new citizens off.

It’s been eight years since I was navigator for a submarine on what was supposed to be the last day in its 38 or so year life underway on nuclear power. We were supposed to pick up family members and take them to the pier where we would shut down the reactor and keep it that way. We had offloaded all our weapons in preparation for decommissioning, and felt helplessness–the core was good, we had gas, but the dry deck shelters we used for our primary mission were thousands of miles away in Hawaii, and the certification on the ship would run out in a short time. As I walked past the nav plot some guy talked about dropping ordnance. I asked “who? That’s the hard part–who do you shoot?” Funny how that would be a core realization for the next few years.

And I tried to be relevant since. The ship was done, and in any case so was my time left on it. Later so was my career as a submarine driver; in the interim I kept being refused when volunteering for Afghanistan, Iraq, anything operational and in front. Apparently my skills in staff worked me out of job. They wanted me at that desk, they needed me at that desk. So I managed to at least change desks: got some Arabic and French, party trick level, read a lot of reports and books, and got some other skills. Though my role is insignificant today, it frees up some other guy to do what I want to do, and occasionally I have a small influence.

The folks I work with I can’t talk about here–or won’t, in any case. Nothing sexy; I’m just aware of sensitivities. Deployments are harder with the family older, me older, children to worry about. I’m forward, but not as forward as the guys actually earning the combat pay. But it’s necessary, what I can do.

It’s not enough. I missed St. Crispin’s Day. What I do is better than nothing, though, and that helps.

July 27, 2009

An Interesting Food Fight

Filed under: — Chap @ 1:32 am

Lex points out a Tom Ricks report of a War College paper slagging the immediate leadership after a bloody battle in Wanat. In addition, he links a Small Wars Journal discussion where LTC Gian Gentile attacks the shift from doctrine to dogma inherent in the critique.

Now, reports the Amphibian, we have congressional involvement for one platoon-level action. Longtime commenter AW1 Tim adds at CDR Salamander in response:

I am familiar with the unit involved, and the investigation, as such, is purely agenda-driven.

There are a number of factors that the Congress-critter and the “historian” are leaving out of their talking points, and, like the MPA incident at Bagram, there’s a WHOLE lot more to this story then what d!ckless & co. have put out.

As just one point, the Battalion involved is composed of 5 companies, plus a Headquarters & Headquarters Co. It is one of two Battalions of the 503rd Airborne regiment, itslef part of the 173rd Airborne brigade.

This incident involved one platoon, from ONE of 5 companies, from one battalion of one Brigade. To be raising charges about Battalion leadership at this stage is preposterous. Yes, Commanders ARE ultimately responsible for what goes on, but this is a PR head-hunting expedition.

The REALLY [bad word] part, to me, is that Brigade is in training to deploy in the very near future BACK to that are, their FOURTH deployment to Afghanistan. This seems more like a serious, and very ill-timed distraction designed to intentionally reduce the effectiveness of a premier combat unit on the eve of a deployment, in order to distract certain folks from a failed presidential agenda, and play into a “failed policy” in Afghanistan.

LTC Gentile reminds us that (1) being a nice guy isn’t all there is to winning wars, even though some of that’s required in COIN, (2) sometimes you do all the right things in COIN and still have people shooting at you, and (3) Sun Tzu didn’t just say “know yourself” because the enemy gets a vote.

I have two reactions to this discussion.

–There are a whole lot of reasons you can have one small battle in one place in a big area of operations. Is the attention to this one event significant, or stochastic? Is it just because the fight was desperate and deadly to Americans? Is the enemy allowed to pick a place and time of attack, or is this only happening because of things we do?
–The effect on the leadership and the unit of this public condemnation, and it’s not “scrutiny” it’s “condemnation”, will be devastating. So far, what I’m hearing second hand is that the guys who were on the ground don’t agree with what I’m hearing about the report. If that guy Ricks is advertising is wrong, and he may well be based on Jimbo’s dismissal, Gentile’s critique in the comments here (“…None of the false information that Tom Ricks has said about my unit will change that basic fact”) and that of folks on the ground, then both Douglas Cubbison and Ricks have done something very damaging to people and organizations when they shouldn’t have. I claim no expertise and am outlining the potential cost to reputations and more importantly future operations. In World War Two we used to be better at being coy about naming names in order to get the lessons out faster; we do similarly with safety investigations. The process Cubbison started and Ricks reported is different and may have unintended consequences in the future. If they were wrong, then that’s a significant cost to pay for their error. If they were right, then they have to convince a lot of people who aren’t buying it.

But Senator Webb’s getting involved so everything will be better, right?


July 26, 2009

R.I.P. Andy Borchardt, CAPT, USN

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:30 pm

One of my many teachers suddenly died while on travel. CAPT Borchardt was the chief of staff at Submarine Group Seven in the mid-nineties. Although I was a lowly lieutenant far from the flagpole, he taught me several useful tricks about how the world really works.

My wife was the only person I’ve ever seen render CAPT B. speechless when she responded back to some teasing at a local social event with a small thermonuclear device of submarine wife snark. She and he got along very well after that…

Some of those lessons were ‘funny later’ kinds of lessons. After a sea tour doing ops and no real exercise experience, I got thrown into a big and visible exercise with another country that hadn’t been done in a long time. So here I am, the railroad tracks on my collar months old, dodging bizarre traffic in a place I’d never even thought about going to, arguing with admirals as politely as I could as we established the baseline safety rules by which the two navies could completely rewrite the schedule of events two days before the exercise. (Those who know, wince.) CAPT Borchardt, in his irascible manner, guided me through that process like a lion gently cuffing a cub, keeping my confidence just up enough to get the job done and just deal with it. A couple of days later I’m underway and standing nose-to-nose with the TAO on the USS John S. McCain, grabbing the red phone and stopping the exercise because of a problem with those safety considerations. It was a good time to wonder when my court-martial was going to be scheduled.

I somehow missed the green table and got thanked instead, once things cooled down and the exercise was safely completed. From CAPT Borchardt and other officers mentoring me, I learned that the best performance in a job sometimes means being on the ragged edge of being fired.

CAPT Borchardt taught me other life lessons as well. About that time we also had a sad event that required an official investigation–and some sensitive actions I won’t repeat here. Suffice it to say that I learned without having to learn the hard way that sometimes truth without compassion is cruelty, an excellent lesson I’ve tried to follow when I could.

After that time our paths would occasionally cross. He and his family had a good plan leading to and past retirement, he was doing well for himself, and was getting along fine until he suddenly died.

I’ll miss him.

July 13, 2009

And I Keep Doing This Why?

Filed under: — Chap @ 9:44 am

Let’s see.

Lots of others have been long gone. I went past the five year point even when nobody came to visit, not even the guy in the Pope hat. I’m still on eighteen social media sites, but can’t write about the job or write about the kids. That leaves, uh, cats, booze, music and politics, none of which I can do much to add to the current players in that game.

I’m kind of thinking about killing the blog, kind of not. I’ll leave it up on line if I do, but the problem I have is that there’s not much I can write in this forum that’s useful.

In Which I Feel Ever So Slightly Correct About Something

Filed under: — Chap @ 9:27 am

A long time ago, back when I was writing more, I wrote about the National Intelligence Estimate leaked to great fanfare. Part of the post said:

I observed that the release of the national intelligence estimate on Iran (NIE) got big press in many outlets. This is not normal. I think it’s a political act.

This recent right-ish article about something different reminded me of that post, because it says:

Career employees also leaked information that they thought would hurt the reelection efforts of Republicans. The National Intelligence Estimate that was leaked in September 2006 was actually prepared in April. I have no doubt it was leaked by a career employee to damage Republicans in the congressional elections, which is why it did not come out until shortly before the election.

Sometimes the most important information is not the news but the metadata. Why this, why now, from who, what’s missing?

June 18, 2009

I Think I Might Be In Disagreement With Phibs

Filed under: — Chap @ 9:14 am

He’s got a letter from NROTC central in J-ville that offers scholarships to folks without the scholarship, to schools without the usual draw for midshipmen. He likes this not at all.

Tell me again how you defend this horrid example of bean counting, CYA, discriminatory, patronizing, treatment. How?

I am contacting you because of the outstanding application you submitted for the NROTC Program. Although our Four-Year National Scholarship application process for the fall of 2009 has closed, many scholarship opportunities are still available for you to begin college this fall.

One of the numerous scholarship opportunities that I want to make sure that you know about is our Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Scholarship. HBCU scholarships are available at sixteen colleges and universities and provide the same benefits as our regular Four-Year National Scholarship. The only difference is that the HBCU scholarship may only be used at one of our participating HBCU colleges and universities. You will find all but three listed at the following link: The three that aren't listed are: Allen University, Columbia SC / Texas Southern University, Houston TX / and Tuskegee University, Tuskegee AL.

This e-mail does not indicate that you have, or have not been awarded the 4YR National scholarship that you previously applied for, so continue to check the NROTC Web-Site for those results. This is simply another great scholarship opportunity that you may want to consider if you are not awarded the other one.

To start with – I assume that they don’t care what race you are, just that you go to a HBU? Huh? Then again, are just interested in what your DNA is and that you go to to a HBU? Do other universities get this special treatment? If I am blond haired and blue eyed and go to Howard University, I get a scholarship? If I am blond haired and blue eyed and go to Yale I don’t?

Let me take a stab at defending this, given no other information than this letter and personal experience. I don’t think I have a problem with innovating to get people into the service who are just as qualified, and I think there are lots of odd little programs like this for other reasons. Bottom line: This might be a good deal just like other ROTC deals that have existed having nothing to do with race or ethnicity, and has the potential to get us closer to the Freeman Standard I think is best for our country.

This idea is not unknown, you know. In the mid-80s I was offered a minority scholarship at HBC Fayetteville State U. once–but by the time I got that letter out of the blue I was in the Navy and thus unable to respond. I don’t know how they knew my ethnicity, or my address, but it was quite a surprise.

FSU would have been an interesting life path. So would have JSU, mentioned below.

I would expect that admissions offices also shop for prestige students to provide a perceived benefit somehow: change average incoming test scores, get football players that can win the game, make the paying alumni happy by discriminating towards children of alumni. I don’t know how this plays here; I don’t have the information. My speculation is that bringing in the students with full ride scholarships into the HBCs helps the HBCs just like my master’s university wanted me to pay a ridiculous fee so they could give a discount without my knowledge or permission to the student from Rwanda sitting next to me in class. It’s a business; it’s their choice; I could have declined to pay and didn’t even know it until I figured it out later.

Once I got the ROTC scholarship, several computers fired up around the country, processed the acceptance list, and sent me letters for their schools. Jacksonville State in Florida wasn’t an HBC but had a somewhat similar demographic IIRC; they offered prior enlisted students free room and board because they knew Uncle Sugar was paying our ticket. I figure that was a win-win for the mid and the school, as my going to college with only $300/month from GI Bill sucked. I actually got my degree from a different school because the CO of that unit called me personally on the carrier–made an impression on an E-4, eh? Competition among NROTC units, who knew?–and the financial aid department also contacted me, telling me they finagled a $2500 cash bennie for veteran ROTC students. All this from a university which was simultaneously debating kicking ROTC off campus.

[By the way, the stated reason for this dustup was gay rights and DADT. This university now has a lucrative campus in Qatar. You tell me who the hypocrite was.]

There might well be a good explanation for this initiative: some of the HBCs didn’t play in the NROTC for a while because either they weren’t allowed to, or because they didn’t want to play. This had been changing–and I remember Bowman at NR going to places like Howard trying to recruit into the nuke program, a solution I like a lot better than changing admission requirements or treating people differently at accession or promotion time. I also like the idea of HBCs getting more “minorities” (from their perspective)–self-segregation only works so far in getting to the Freeman standard, eh?

Restated: Universities can have special deals and have for other reasons for a long time. I’m mostly okay with that and would have gladly gone to an HBC if FSU had offered me a full ride before I was in boot camp and unable to accept. I think this method CDR Salamander criticizes is much different from lowering standards, or setting quotas, and will provide a different result than perhaps the diversity folks anticipate if that’s what they’re doing. I want ROTC presence in as many universities as we can handle, because I want the universities to more actively participate in the defense of the concepts they hold dear. If anyone qualified can get the deal, then I think it’s a good idea.

So, my $.02. Dart board is now up; standing by for incoming.

What’s Next? The Armadillo Returns, Starts His Own Blog, And Shoots The Wrestling Coach?

Filed under: — Chap @ 7:08 am

Well, this is a blogospheric trainwreck. Protein Wisdom is sort of like the Fall in that blog owner Jeff Goldstein is the site, like Mark E. Smith is the Fall, no matter who else is playing in the band. (I hereby reserve dibs on posting on Protein Wisdom, if such unlikely event should come to pass, as “Your Granny On Bongos.”) PW has had lots of drama in the last three years: it’s been huffily shut down and brought back within days, contributors have been noisily tossed off the site, there’s been an ugly lawsuit. It’s quite the soap opera at times. The latest iteration of PW was mostly made up of posts by a contributor named Dan Collins, with several other front page contributors and the site’s owner showing up every once in a while.

And now Collins is gone from the site–something ostensibly about a difference of opinion about something in this week’s news–with a new blog and a lime green design that only needs blink tags to look like 1996. He seems more comfortable there, although the site’s new; Dan Collins as PW didn’t feel right and I didn’t spend much time there. Goldstein for his part is running a fundraiser and trying his hand at Twitter.

The dispute seemed at first okay. Now the ugly’s starting to come out. It’s like a divorce I saw once where the split was not acrimonious…and as time went on got more and more ugly and destructive to those around it.

I guess I’ll get some popcorn and try to sit far enough away that the splatter doesn’t get on me, like a front row victim at a Survival Research Labs show.

June 13, 2009

Everybody Congratulate Me

Filed under: — Chap @ 5:08 pm

I’m working for half pay as of today. I have broken service, so that means nearly a quarter century of thinking I’ll stick around this outfit for only a couple of years more…

June 9, 2009

On Ivan van Sertima

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:09 am

Cobb helps teach me a little more I didn’t know. I only learned of John Hope Franklin after his death, and I didn’t know the people who followed him. One, Ivan van Sertima, has also recently passed on after a life long enough for Cobb to note his ideas have also fallen by the wayside:

Van Sertima unlike many who followed him was significantly dignified and coherent. He occupied the middle realm of black existential coaches. Very few people followed his career path as an historian and anthropologist which demonstrates the great irony of his appeal. Yet almost all of us recall his gift of the recognition of the Olmec head [see his post for photo]. It’s African. Or more to the qualified point it is African enough. Because whether or not you buy into Van Sertima’s scholarship, you cannot deny that he was the right man at the right time in the development of black social capital. Before him, you might find men such as John Hope Franklin, C. Eric Lincoln and C. L. R. James. People vaguely recognized by our generation as living and having something scholarly to do with the me-centrism of blackness, but not up close and personal – not in our faces or our media. They wrote those big old books that nobody ever made us read, learn and get tested on. Following Van Sertima was a class of Afrocentrists who continued the soul-lifting exhortations of African greatness, but didn’t really bother to write large, deep or often. The likes of Jawanza Kunjufu, LeGrand Clegg and Frances Cress Welsing were greatly derivative of the respect built up by their antecedents.

Van Sertima was therefore, right in the middle of our more radical roots, bringing forth a controversial subject with academic credibility on a matter of import that is no longer important.

You know, if Cobb had written a book about this, it might well have shown up in the “African-American section” at Borders…and thus it would have been very unlikely that I would have seen it. I’m glad Cobb’s writing to me as well.

June 4, 2009

The Joy Of Power Point

Filed under: — Chap @ 1:08 am

So I once heard the waililng and griping at this one big meeting with all the flag officers because entirely too many of them, when given a set time for their presentation like everybody else, showed up with a hundred slides saying “I’ll just talk faster”.

This “I’ll just talk faster” thing does not happen, you know. Allowing less than a minute per slide ain’t a-gonna do it.

This mini-rant was inspired by this pronouncement by Guy Kawasaki, who describes how he wants a pitch to be formatted. I can see where it needs a tweak for different situations, but it’s a great place from which to start if putting together a pitch. And, quite frankly, if you’re a flag talking to flags in a big room with the Power Point hooh hah going, you’re pitching to them, selling whatever fool thing you think others need to care about as much as you.

(Off topic: The rant was also inspired by the observation that an IT or information security department cannot just shut down the thing that lets an organization’s special but not snooper secret computer system talk to any other computer system, if that involves having the admirals look at the unclassified pretty picture of their ships on the screen, but not be able to put that same picture on a Power Point slide for the other admirals. The flags talk in Power Point and when you lose this battle it will hurt when some of the splatter gets you.)

April 23, 2009

Shaping The Navy Leadership

Filed under: — Chap @ 3:51 am

The Navy’s captain/O-6 selection list came out today. Some folks I know made it. Some folks I know did not. I had some comments typed up here discussing how I thought the service’s leadership will change based on that, but I think I’ll stop here for the moment.

April 14, 2009

Filed under: — Chap @ 10:06 pm

The thing that bothers me about the commentary on the execrable Homeland Security report on “rightwing extremists” is that human beings, staffers, wrote and vetted and approved the document. Who are they? Why did they do this? Who approved it inside the organization?

Until people start thinking of large organizations as being comprised of people and not monolithic black box entities, they will miss important parts of what’s going on. There’s got to be some guys you could point to and say “he’s responsible” below the director of the department; those guys should also be under specific criticism.

(That said, the American Legion’s head writing to the DHS head to complain about the slur makes sense. The letter is from one large organization to another.)

March 30, 2009

Pass This Info To Wounded Warriors

Filed under: — Chap @ 8:46 pm

I learned this from a relative who makes a living resolving Social Security claims. Some cases coming up have been troubling, and I’m passing what I learned along so maybe some other Purple Heart wearers can avoid losing money. Relative works to pay the rent but also says it would be better not to have to work on these kinds of cases, even discounted or pro bono. So, with what I’m sure are many mistakes, here’s what I’ve learned.

Bottom Line
Some wounded military, who are getting medically boarded out of the military, are getting SSA benefits delayed or denied–incorrectly. Part of the problem is that a new program designed to give them money is new and not everybody knows about the program.

This is the website from the Social Security Administration with the supposedly authoritative information. Don’t blindly trust a word I write on this post, as I’m only a pogue; the government website will at least have been looked at by someone in the government at some point.

If a military member has been

  1. Injured in the line of duty after 2001
  2. Has orders shifting them to a special transient unit (such as the Wounded Warrior Battalion)
  3. Has a medical board in process but not yet discharged

then that person’s eligible for social security benefits above and beyond other benefits listed. At this point the military admin folks should be encouraging the guy to apply for SS disability, which covers SSI, Medicaid, and Medicare. There’s a new program in the SSA called the Wounded Warrior Program which expedited this process.

Here are some potential glitches to this process.

  • In order to get SS disability you can’t be working (that means gainful and substantial and at this point I’m talking out of my hat; go see an expert). SSA’s made allowances for this, keeping guys from losing eligibility solely because they’re waiting to get discharged. Sometimes this concept gets lost in the SSA bureaucracy.
  • Some guys are getting denied benefits because the bureaucrat doesn’t know his department’s own program. Some guys are denied because their case isn’t presented right and nobody can make heads or tails of it because the military member just dropped a medical file on some schlub’s desk.
  • If there’s a denial, there’s an admin appeal (reconsideration request) which is a pain, and then there’s a possibility for a hearing about it. A case can take a year and a half to get to a hearing, with appeals. That’s a long time to need rent money.

If a guy goes to a hearing, it’s before an administrative law judge. This is more informal than most courts, but the judge is the person who makes the decision. Those judges also don’t necessarily know about this program, and their caseload is high so waiting for their decision can take a while.

Okay, so that’s what I heard second hand from a person who gets paid for going in front of those judges. Take it for what it’s worth–but please pass to someone who might need it the link above and the caveats I mentioned. It might save them a lot of money, or a long delay.

March 14, 2009

In Which I Disagree Somewhat With Crossroads Arabia

Filed under: — Chap @ 10:44 am

Argh, Chas Freeman.

I’ve met the guy. Back around 2002, I heard the fellow speak in a forum I’m not repeating here. I will say the guy sounded normal and had good information; he passed some sound facts to military officers and experts who appreciated hearing what the people in the Saudi government were thinking about current affairs. That’s the extent of my interaction with Freeman. At the time I thought he was smart, more D than R but more insider than either.

John over at Crossroads Arabia worries about the reaction to Freeman’s aborted appointment to an intelligence position in the government. I share the concern he mentions here, particularly since such jobs sometimes come up in the careers of guys like me, regardless of politics.

Let me repeat and be clear, however: I’m not at all bothered that Freeman will not be holding the position of Director of the National Intelligence Committee. I don’t care for his politics and I think he has a badly distorted view of the Middle East. I am bothered that it is now considered ‘fair game’ to tar anyone with any connection to Saudi Arabia. I guess I’d best not look for a government job in the future. I also have concern about anyone now working for the US government in Saudi Arabia who might have had any sort of political aspirations in his future. The message seems to be, ‘Forget it: you’re tainted.’

Where I disagree is with the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby did it” tone of Freeman’s letter withdrawing himself from consideration, which I think is disingenuous. John says

There is joy in the world of certain Zionists (e.g. The Chutzpah of Chas. Freeman, which closed comments with a baloney excuse), which continue the calumny that working for a think-tank that has received money from Saudi Arabia equals ‘working for Saudi Arabia’ or being its ‘agent’. But for some people, truth hardly matters when there are other principals at stake, apparently.

(Don’t know about the comment-closing excuse–it does sound a little off–but I’ve seen that complaint on other blogs. WordPress doesn’t have that problem all that much.)

Here’s my problem with the Freeman explanation of events. If you read only his letter, or the comments at Crossroads Arabia, then Israel or closeness to the Saudis are the only issues with Freeman. Newsweek reports that the Democratic congressional leadership helped kill the nomination…for different reasons, including one reason Human Rights Watch opposed the nomination: emails from Freeman supporting the Chinese government in the Tiananmen massacre. Here’s an op-ed from Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA):

Freeman’s charges of an elaborate conspiracy to derail his nomination are disingenuous. The “Israel lobby” never contacted me. For me, the warning flags about Charles Freeman went up when I learned of his questionable associations and inflammatory statements about China and Tibet.

CNOOC’s investment in Sudan’s oil sector is part of the lifeline that has sustained the regime of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court this month on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 2004, Sen. Sam Brownback and I were the first two members of Congress to travel to Darfur, where we saw the suffering and destruction that have taken place under the Bashir regime.

Congress voted unanimously in December 2007 to authorize state and local governments to divest assets in companies that do business in Sudan. President Bush signed this legislation into law on Dec. 31, 2007. Yet Freeman’s appointment to this high-level post would have undermined the policy of U.S. divestment from the genocidal regime of Sudan.

On top of all this, Freeman gave a speech at the National War College Alumni Association last April 25 in which he described the uprisings in Tibet the previous month as “race riots.” A year after those uprisings, 1,200 Tibetan protesters remain missing.

Equally disturbing to me was Freeman’s take on the events at Tiananmen Square in 1989, as he wrote in an e-mail that has been reported by the media. While the Obama administration claimed that Freeman’s comments were taken out of context, I had the opportunity to read the entire conversation, and I strongly disagree.

Freeman said, “I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government. . . . Such folk, whether they represent a veterans’ ‘Bonus Army’ or a ‘student uprising’ on behalf of ‘the goddess of democracy’ should expect to be displaced.” I was in China in 1991 and visited Beijing Prison No. 1, where Tiananmen protesters were enslaved, forced to make socks for export to the West, simply for seeking their freedom.

While the reports of Freeman’s public statements first raised my concern about his suitability to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council, his words after his withdrawal crystallized exactly why Freeman was the wrong choice for the job.

That’s a big piece of his op-ed, but it summarizes many of the arguments against Freeman’s nomination I saw that had nothing at all to do with Israel or Walt/Mearsheimer’s vaunted Israel Lobby. The Bonus Army is an odd analogy; I know Army people on active duty today who bitterly critique MacArthur and Patton for their role in the protest’s suppression.

Nominations are going to bring objections out of the woodwork, some relevant, some rational, some neither. Admiral Blair himself got some criticism because he was PACOM, he followed administration direction in engaging with Indonesia despite human rights violations by their military, and some people saw this as unacceptable. Well, that’s sometimes a tough call, isn’t it? A few years later we had innocents dying in large numbers in the few days immediately after the tsunami…how to prioritize human rights and who to talk to in the first few hours, eh? Long term, tough calls have to be made, and some of them will engender opposition no matter what you do. I can easily see how someone who hasn’t followed Saudi politics, or who is thinking more of King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, would look at the Valentine’s Day reforms initiated by the Saudi king versus Freeman’s characterization of it and conclude something much different. John Burgess is right; working around the Saudis as an American can label you, and enough money has been thrown around to ends not in keeping with US interests that the taint can follow even when it shouldn’t. Got it; this is complex; maturity and good analysis rules apply. Freeman’s withdrawal, like Zinni’s withdrawal when he got shafted, was a personal trial and a real expense to him. It costs money to stop working on what you’re working on and take the government salary–Freeman describes some of the difficult process in an interview with the Nation. It sucks to get put on hold, or to be torpedoed, or to be borked out of the job after going through the insane work of putting your whole life in the disclosure forms and asking ‘mother may I’ from flacks and congressmen to do a lousy job for less pay than you’re making.

But Freeman’s letter angrily denounces the Israel Lobby for torpedoing his nomination, and not the other issues. And that criticism frames the narrative at Crossroads Arabia. Good people can disagree–James Fallows thinks that Freeman’s contrarian attitude would be a plus in that job, for instance–but to accept the frame that it’s the Joooos means you’ve been suckered by Freeman’s letter.

March 2, 2009

Matthew Bogdanos On Being A Whole Person, Redux

Filed under: — Chap @ 3:17 pm

Thanks again to Greyhawk at Mudville, for pointing out an essay by a man I admire: Matthew Bogdanos in the Washington Post discussing why warriors and thinkers cannot be two wholly separate cultures in a successful society. Read the whole thing, please; here are some money quotes:

These figures reflect a disturbing trend. A nation largely founded on the citizen-soldier ideal finds itself, following Vietnam and the expulsion of recruiters from campuses, with the military and civilian worlds warily eyeing each other across a cultural no man’s land. As budgets shrink future forces, veterans will be fewer and the chasm wider — to our peril.

No one wants everyone to think and act alike. Diversity is a major source of our nation’s strength. But this diminishing shared experience leaves us ill-prepared against global terrorism. As the British general Sir William Butler warned a century ago, “A nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking done by cowards.”

It was not always so. We praise classical Greece for philosophy, art and democracy. Yet Athenians knew Socrates, the father of philosophy, for his bravery on the battlefield and Xenophon, author of the epic “Anabasis,” for his generalship. Aeschylus, antiquity’s greatest tragedian, wrote his own epitaph: “This gravestone covers Aeschylus . . . The field of Marathon will speak of his bravery.”

In our time, a steady aggrandizement of self at the expense of society has forced the warrior culture and its ideals to the margins as antique refinements, like knowing classical languages. Yet the most cherished ideal — arête, the classical Greek concept of honor — is anything but passe. Just as “Semper Fidelis” (always faithful) is not merely the Marine Corps motto but a way of life, so is honor a form of mental conditioning — a force-multiplier: Decide in advance to act honorably, and you know without hesitation what to do in a crisis. Codes of conduct are society’s version of the same conditioning.
…if we limit the warrior ideal’s physical courage to an isolated subculture of military, police and firefighters, focusing them solely on this virtue, we risk cultivating doers less tolerant of different lifestyles or ways of thinking. And if we limit aesthetic appreciation to the world of academics and economic elites, never encouraging them to roll up their own sleeves, we risk fostering gifted thinkers great on nuance but subject to paralysis by analysis.

Without greater understanding between the military and civilian worlds or, better, a return to a synthesis of the two, we risk a future without all of us working toward the same ends — whatever society decides those ends should be. And we risk misusing military force because of misunderstandings about what it can and can’t do or, once used, its being prematurely withdrawn because of unrealistic expectations. The solution is an educated citizenry that understands its soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines — understands that we are you.

Bogdanos is a Marine colonel with a Ph.D. in classical art and is a darn good assistant DA for New York City, who was the right man in the right place at the right time during the Iraq invasion. Okay, maybe the Orwell quote isn’t Orwell; it’ll do, thank you. Bogdanos is also riffing on something I noticed in his book a while back, and even continuing the synchronic trend this week of quoting General Sir William Butler.

February 28, 2009

Bill and Bob Get In A Scuffle

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:01 pm

Bill and Bob had a post a while back that sounded to me like a pretty tight case against bad journalism. See this summary from Lex for the smackdown in post and comments, and this from OpenAnthro for another view and later colorful and oh so culturally sensitive bashing of milbloggers (Check out the general agreement with Pelton’s characterization of what a milblogger is for high quality anthropological thinking). The whole thing sounds to me to tarnish the reps of Robert Pelton and Eason Jordan’s Iraqslogger for reasons including sending things down the memory hole, statements that don’t match and conflict of interest. Also, the Human Terrain Project, of which I know little except having listened to various emotionally charged arguments thousands of miles away from the project itself, has something very weird going on that’s in addition to the academic resistance to the use of knowledge for icky military use.

Pelton will probably launch the Google Alert comment in response, I’m sure, and the “Open Anthropology” people, well, who knows what they’ll say to dis me; perhaps I’m not reporting on every topic that is important to them right then and they can call me a “victim of cerebral palsy” like they do with others that might have divergent opinions and not just a “moral and intellectual coward” because I’m a blogger on active duty and thus a milblogger to those who aren’t enlightened enough to know that Pelton’s definition of same is established doctrine. Ah well. Shorter post: Hey, look at all these bugs! Lots more rocks, too! Someone is wrong on the Internet!

Changing topic: Also on Bill and Bob’s Excellent Adventure, there’s a good summary/analysis of John Nagl and Andrew Bacevich debating each other in print. The conclusion: They’re talking past each other.

Dr. Nagl offers a course of action that is predicated upon the belief that Afghanistan – and Central Asia – is vitally important to the security of the United States. Prof. Bacevich dismisses even addressing this issue in what appears to be a de facto assertion of the irrelevance of Central Asia to national security, and counsels that departing Afghanistan is the only way for President Obama to truly cast his legacy. This misses the Point/Counterpoint that was advertised.

Later on they mention a Sen. McCain response, which I haven’t read.

I’ve had a chance to see some C-listers talking over the past month or so, mostly DoD/DoS/greybeards. You can tell that there’s a lot of angst about what the goals and end states are for Afghanistan in DC. Petraeus ain’t dishing end goals yet; according to some Pakistan Army officers I met and news articles and general chatter, the Pakistan Army and ISI have been coming over here a lot more while we’ve been filling gapped billets in Pakistan and visiting on the ground; lots more leaks from the New York Times (thanks again for endangering current operations, people) and Senators (thanks again etc), indicating either institutional pushback-by-killing-people, or actual change in ops.

Perhaps Stravinsky Should Have Taken A Cue From Either The Futurists Or Spike Jones And Conducted With A Pistol

Filed under: — Chap @ 12:23 am

Um, it’s a late night, I don’t feel like working, and the kids are up in the middle of the night so sleep is not an option. Aimless meandering follows, no idea what’s going on past the ‘more’ tag.

February 14, 2009

You Don’t Have My Permission, For What Little That’s Worth

Filed under: — Chap @ 9:50 pm

Lot of people upset about people in the press reopening the “can we photograph dead bodies now please” can of worms. Blackfive reports. Mudville doesn’t like it, with roundups of milblog buzz and a well-written argument from Robert Stokely, who should be in a position to help decide. Chuck really doesn’t like it.

To Ed Henry and his issue’s supporters: You are not “honoring” us with those images; I’ve seen the purposes for which those images have been used. You know it isn’t news, I know it isn’t news, you’re not fooling anyone: you get emptional oomph from it, and that’s it. I do not want press photographers using the image of my remains to sell their papers. I do not want the people who used the image of my comrades’ remains for political purposes to have access to such an image from my remains. It’s none of your business, and don’t you think someone who died for their country, and their family who has to deal with what you publish, would have given enough in such a situation already?

And for those who think this is supposed to be a standard news cliché: Why don’t you stick to what you all do best, sticking microphones and cameras in grieving faces and asking how it feels to have such a bad thing happen? Or picking wings off flies?

February 11, 2009

The Grand Tradition Of The Punk In Uniform

Filed under: — Chap @ 4:57 pm

Lex gets books; I don’t. That’s fine, as I have a Shelf to get through this year.

One book that didn’t escape his attention is that of Lily Burana, who has a website here. Gal sounds as though she’s had an interesting life. Used to have pink hair and be punkish. Married to an Army officer type.

I’ve been noticing lately that there seems to be a heck of a lot of guys my age in the military who started out as wearers of safety pins. I wasn’t a punk, didn’t fit there, but I dabbled in the culture and dug the art and prose, so I half count. Phibian also has the DIY attitude. Several officers I’ve met started out earlier as punks, and of course the enlisted guys I had the pleasure of serving with included guys who lived down the street from the Misfits, or who were heavily into MRR culture and married adult film stars, et cetera. Great group of guys, and as anti-apathy as they were as teens.

Funny how for some people the two cultures can mesh pretty well after twenty years.

Update: Phibian concurs and points out I forgot to add Doc to the mosh party.

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