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Current Topic: Military

Nothing Will Work, But Everything Might
Topic: Military 7:39 pm EDT, Jun 23, 2010

Stanley McChrystal:

Time is running out.

Richard Holbrooke:

Only with hindsight can one look back and see that the smartest course may not have been the right one.

George Packer:

Obama wanted a serious internal debate about his policy, and he got one, with advisers considering whether the war was already lost. Yet the conclusion was, in a sense, foreordained by the President's campaign promises. Intellectual honesty in the private councils of the White House told you something about the calibre of the officials involved, but in the realm of public policy it made little difference.

Richard Holbrooke must know that there will be no American victory in this war; he can only try to forestall potential disaster. But if he considers success unlikely, or even questions the premise of the war, he has kept it to himself.

Richard Holbrooke:

The war in Afghanistan will be much tougher than Iraq.

It's going to be a long, difficult struggle.

Ezra Klein:

The implicit assumption of these arguments about strategy is that there is, somewhere out there, a workable strategy.

Ahmed Rashid:

Democratic politicians are demanding results before [the 2010] congressional elections, which is neither realistic nor possible. Moreover, the Taliban are quite aware of the Democrats' timetable.

John Sweeney:

Western policy seems glued to fighting a war that many people in the know are now saying the west is never going to win.

Michael Hastings:

The president finds himself stuck in something even more insane than a quagmire: a quagmire he knowingly walked into, even though it's precisely the kind of gigantic, mind-numbing, multigenerational nation-building project he explicitly said he didn't want.

Jackson Diehl:

In the end, Obama adopted what is beginning to look like a bad compromise. He approved most of the additional troops that McChrystal sought, but attached the July, 2011 deadline for beginning withdrawals. Since then both sides have been arguing their cases, in private and in public, to the press and to members of Congress.

Garry Wills:

McChrystal's removal will not make the Afghan war go any better, for the simple reason that nothing will do that.

No other general is going to succeed with such men in such a position. The overwhelming lesson of Hastings's article is not: "Get rid of McChrystal." It is, simply: "Get out!"

Thoughts and Tips on Non Kinetic Actions
Topic: Military 11:41 am EST, Nov 24, 2009

Gold Star. It's almost enough to make you hopeful about the future.

Be nice until it's time to not be nice.

Things will be frustrating. Don't get frustrated.

$500 can build things that change how people live.

You can see a preview of selected slides.

Charles C. Mann:

Minute changes in baseline assumptions produce wildly different results.

Cormac McCarthy:

Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

David Foster Wallace:

The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive, day in and day out.

Richard Haass:

Let's not kid ourselves. We're not going to find some wonderful thing that's going to deliver large positive results at modest costs. It's not going to happen.

David Kilcullen:

You've got to make a long-term commitment.

Johan de Kleer:

One passionate person is worth a thousand people who are just plodding along ...

Caterina Fake:

Much more important than working hard is knowing how to find the right thing to work on.

Paying attention to what is going on in the world. Seeing patterns. Seeing things as they are rather than how you want them to be.

Thoughts and Tips on Non Kinetic Actions

Stanley McChrystal's Long War
Topic: Military 11:53 am EDT, Oct 18, 2009

Dexter Filkins:

In a tour of bases around Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal repeated this mantra to all his field commanders: Time is running out.

Stanley McChrystal:

One of the big take-aways from Iraq was that you have to not lose confidence in what you are doing. We were able to go to the edge of the abyss without losing hope.

Have you seen "Revolutionary Road"?

Hopeless emptiness. Now you've said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness.

Richard Haass:

After eight years of mismanagement and neglect every choice the United States faces in Afghanistan is dreadful. The weight of the evidence suggests that curtailing our ambitions is the option least dreadful.

Let's not kid ourselves. We're not going to find some wonderful thing that's going to deliver large positive results at modest costs. It's not going to happen.

Elizabeth Rubin, from the Korengal Valley:

It didn't take long to understand why so many soldiers were taking antidepressants.

George Packer:

Richard Holbrooke must know that there will be no American victory in this war; he can only try to forestall potential disaster. But if he considers success unlikely, or even questions the premise of the war, he has kept it to himself.

Stewart Brand:

In some cultures you're supposed to be responsible out to the seventh generation -- that's about 200 years. But it goes right against self-interest.

Ahmed Rashid:

If it is to have any chance of success, the Obama plan for Afghanistan needs a serious long-term commitment -- at least for the next three years. Democratic politicians are demanding results before next year's congressional elections, which is neither realistic nor possible. Moreover, the Taliban are quite aware of the Democrats' timetable. With Obama's plan the US will be taking Afghanistan seriously for the first time since 2001; if it is to be successful it will need not only time but international and US support -- both open to question.

Nir Rosen:

"You Westerners have your watches," the leader observed. "But we Taliban have time."

David Kilcullen:

You've got to make a long-term commitment.

Milt Bearden, in March:

The only certainty about Afghanistan is that it will be Obama's War.

From 2006, a snowflake:

Building a new nation is never a straight, steady climb upward. Today can sometimes look worse than yesterday -- or even two months ago. What matters is the overall trajectory: Where do things stand today when compared to what they were five years ago?

Stanley McChrystal's Long War

Is it Time for a Cyberwarfare Branch?
Topic: Military 9:26 am EDT, Mar 14, 2009

Greg Conti, in the Spring 2009 issue of IA Newsletter:

Make no mistake -- the cyber cold war is being waged now.

The revolution in cyberwarfare ... necessitates the formation of a cyberwarfare branch of the military, on equal footing with the Army, Navy, and Air Force. We do not make this recommendation lightly.

The culture of each service is evident in its uniforms. Absent is recognition for technical expertise. The cultures of the Army, Navy, and Air Force are fundamentally incompatible with that of cyberwarfare. NSA is not the right type of organization. Unit bake sales are unlikely to attract and retain the best and brightest.

The change will not be easy, but the risks inherent in maintaining the status quo are significantly worse.

From a recent WaPo story about Rod Beckstrom:

"He brought a completely different perspective, which in one way could have been his undoing," said a senior member of the intelligence community.

From a 2005 NYT op-ed:

The Army will need this lieutenant 20 years from now when he could be a colonel, or 30 years from now when he could have four stars on his collar. But I doubt he will be in uniform long enough to make captain.

Mike Wertheimer, the idea rat behind A-Space:

"I am threatening the status quo, and that's a hard pill to swallow for anybody."

About Sean Naylor:

Like any good reporter, he seeks to tell the whole tale, and some of what he reports the senior leadership would prefer not to hear.

Your daily dose of Simpsons:

Frink: "Now that I have your attention, we have some exciting new research from young Lisa Simpson. Let's bring her out and pay attention."

Scientist #1: "She's just a little girl!"

Scientist #2: "Let's not listen!"


Sure, we have to worry about platforms and ships and guns and tanks and planes and that stuff. That is not what the department of defense has to be about.


The point that we wish to convey is that it is now fairly easy to devise scenarios in which the United States "loses" a war, something that seemed impossible during the post-Cold War era.

A final thought from BG Mark Kimmitt:

"I'm an artillery officer, and I can't fire cannons at the Internet."

Is it Time for a Cyberwarfare Branch?

The General’s Dilemma
Topic: Military 7:10 am EDT, Sep  8, 2008

Steve Coll:

David Petraeus is a professional briefer, and with a PowerPoint slide before him he will slip into a salesman’s rapid-fire patter. He illustrates his remarks with a laser pointer; he will swirl a bright dot of emerald light around a particular sentence fragment until a listener risks succumbing to hypnosis. Petraeus and his staff will discuss at length the shading of colors on a slide, or the direction of arrows depicting causality. When I asked, in a skeptical tone, about this passionate use of PowerPoint, the General responded in the staccato of the medium: “It’s how you communicate big ideas—to communicate them effectively.”

In counter-insurgency operations, Petraeus has written, the critical issue for military commanders is “how to think, rather than what to think.” In part because insurgencies and civil conflicts involve political and perceptual contests as well as military ones, “tactics—both those of the enemy and our own—constantly change, and the winning side is generally that which learns faster.”

“What works in Iraq definitely won’t work in Pakistan in the same way,” Petraeus said. “I mean, you cannot envision large numbers of Americans on the ground in any scenario, at least not in the way that they are here.”

The General’s Dilemma

Scenes from Iraq
Topic: Military 7:10 am EDT, Sep  8, 2008

The Big Picture:

Over five years since it began, the war in Iraq continues, but with some recent notable progress. On Monday this week, American forces formally returned responsibility for the security of Anbar Province, at one time, the center of the Sunni insurgency, to the Iraqi Army and police force. Violence in the region has decreased dramatically - attacks down by 90% over the past two years. The continuing relative peace and order in the region remains a fragile scenario, with many former insurgents now acting as police, or as gunmen allied with American-backed "Awakening Councils". Here are some scenes from around Iraq (and a couple from here in the U.S.) over the past several months.

Scenes from Iraq

Web War
Topic: Military 7:10 am EDT, Sep  8, 2008

It's not surprising that the Defense Department has reacted negatively to soldier blogging. The military is a strenuously hierarchical institution, with finely graded ranks and carefully managed authority. Social networks create new openings for soldiers to step outside that hierarchy, even while deployed, and share their perspective to large and strategically important audiences. That gives military planners pause. Yet isn't it axiomatic that soldiers are entitled to exercise the freedoms they are willing to die for? It was that principle, coupled with antiwar activism, that drove America's last successful popular effort to amend the Constitution, to grant suffrage at the age of enlistment. Today's soldiers have much more modest requests. They want to network with new people, commune with friends and family, and share their stories with anyone out there who wants to listen. Pentagon leaders should be first in line.

Web War

Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars
Topic: Military 9:23 pm EST, Feb 18, 2008

Traditional, irregular, terrorist, and disruptive threats may no longer be separate threats or modes of war. Instead, we see an increased merging or blurring ... Future contingencies will present hybrid threats specifically designed to target US vulnerabilities.

Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Wars

Ramadi Nights
Topic: Military 6:51 am EST, Feb 11, 2008

Second Lieutenant Dave Hagner was tall and smooth-faced, and like many other marines he carried himself in a way that brought his toughness into uncomfortable contrast with his youth. He was twenty-seven, older than the men in the platoon he commanded. During the day he worked out and joked around and daydreamed of the boat he would buy when he left the Marine Corps. It was long and sleek, and probably it would be white. It would whisk him light and free above Hawaiian reefs, chasing marlin, sailfish, sharks. He intended, in retirement, to be an old man by the sea.

At night he put the boat aside, slipped into his body armor, checked his rifle and his radio, his ammo clips and night-vision goggles and safety glasses. He pulled on gloves, pushed in earplugs. If he felt lucky, or unlucky, he would ask aloud how the mission would go and toss into the air an angular stone painted with various prophecies, like the Magic 8-Balls you can buy at toyshops. Fortune found, Hagner led his platoon into the ruined, stinking maze of Ramadi. Quietly they slipped by packs of feral dogs, lagoons of sewage. They stepped around the unexploded mortars and crept under open windows, the soft sounds of whispered Arabic falling over them, the speakers unaware of, or unconcerned about, the passage of armed men. When they reached a certain neighborhood, Hagner’s marines would burst into houses and bring the male occupants to him as they blinked off sleep.

Then the questioning began.

Neil Shea, in the Virginia Quarterly Review.

Ramadi Nights

Dulce et Decorum
Topic: Military 6:33 pm EST, Dec  8, 2007

George Packer:

The other night, I had a drink with two of the soldiers who collectively wrote a New York Times Op-Ed piece, published in August.

What struck me in our conversation was that these two soldiers were not completely disillusioned with the Army or with the difficult type of warfare that Iraq forced on them. One of them had recently been promoted and plans to stay in the Army; the other admitted that he wanted to go back to Iraq. They hope to write, with other soldiers, a book about counterinsurgency that would examine the Army’s new field manual against their experience fighting the complex array of warring factions in Iraq -- not to refute it but to improve it. In short, they’re exactly the sort of soldiers the Army needs to keep.

I wonder how long their precious knowledge will be valued by a military and a country that already show signs of wanting to consign Iraq to the memory hole where, three decades ago, Vietnam disappeared.

Also, from last month:

If innovative officers see that their innovations are not valued, they'll either conform or leave.

From a year ago:

... emergency measures have taken a heavy toll on ... the career decisions of some of the Army’s most promising young officers.

And from even farther back:

Bearing "true faith" to the Constitution requires military personnel to speak out, regardless of the cost, when they think our civilian leaders have gone beyond the pale. Both our democracy and the lives of the soldiers who fight in our name depend on it. If officers remain silent when our military policies go terribly wrong, there's little the rest of us can do to set things right again.

Dulce et Decorum

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