Archive for July, 2010

It is not as if the disaster described below, in the Afghan war logs released by Wikileaks to the Guardian, the New York Times , and der Spiegle, was not foreseeable.   For example, my close friend and mentor Chuck Spinney wrote an Op-ed for Defense Week in April 2001 What Revolution in Military Affairs? , well before we began the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I also told comrades about the disasters that would await us if we tried to occupy and convert Afghanistan into a democracy (trillions and years later, still no progress), and later when we invaded Iraq (and I describe in my 2002 book Path to Victory: America’s Army and the Revolution in Human Affairs (Presidio Press)) regarding the failure of occupations by foreign armies. I prescribe to the doctrine of 3-3-3 (described by William S. Lind in http://www.carlisle.army.mil/usawc/parameters/Articles/1995/lind.htm .
And I was hardly alone or invisible.  Readers familiar with the work of reformers Colonel John Boyd, Pierre Sprey, Colonel James Burton, Colonel Mike Wylie, Colonel GI Wilson, Colonel Bob Dilger, Bill Lind and Tom Christie, among others, will know that they have been highly visible canaries in the high-tech coal mine since the late 1960s.  For those unfamiliar with their critical analyses, I refer you to  James Fallows’ National Defense (Random House 1981), and Robert Coram’s Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War (Little Brown, 2002), or The Winds of Reform, Time (7 March 1983).

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I admire Senator’s Webb’s writing skills very much.  Below is a recent article / OpEd, and I think he’s really onto something here.  It certainly helps explain the very real and very sharp resentment of many Veterans who fought the war in Vietnam.  He also cites some figures that are eye-opening, such as 91% of Vietnam Veterans are glad they served their country,  78% enjoyed their time in service, and 73% of those killed were volunteers, not draftees.

Have a nice day, Don

 Heroes of the Vietnam Generation

By James Webb

The rapidly disappearing cohort of Americans that endured the Great Depression and then fought World War II is receiving quite a send-off from the leading lights of the so-called 60s generation. Tom Brokaw has published two oral histories of “The Greatest Generation” that feature ordinary people doing their duty and suggest that such conduct was historically unique.


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My post a couple of months ago about William Deresiewcz’s fantastic article “Solitude and Leadaership,” fits here:

“Note the adjectives: commonplace, ordinary, usual, common. There is nothing distinguished about this person. About the 10th time I read that passage, I realized it was a perfect description of the kind of person who tends to prosper in the bureaucratic environment. And the only reason I did is because it suddenly struck me that it was a perfect description of the head of the bureaucracy that I was part of, the chairman of my academic department—who had that exact same smile, like a shark, and that exact same ability to make you uneasy, like you were doing something wrong, only she wasn’t ever going to tell you what. Like the manager—and I’m sorry to say this, but like so many people you will meet as you negotiate the bureaucracy of the Army or for that matter of whatever institution you end up giving your talents to after the Army, whether it’s Microsoft or the World Bank or whatever—the head of my department had no genius for organizing or initiative or even order, no particular learning or intelligence, no distinguishing characteristics at all. Just the ability to keep the routine going, and beyond that, as Marlow says, her position had come to her—why?

That’s really the great mystery about bureaucracies. Why is it so often that the best people are stuck in the middle and the people who are running things—the leaders—are the mediocrities? Because excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that, like the manager of the Central Station, you have nothing inside you at all. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why they’re done. Just keeping the routine going.”

We are in a leadership crisis in this country.


Tim Geithner’s Ninth Political Life

By Simon Johnson, Baseline Scenario, 16 July 2010

In modern American life, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner stands out as amazingly resilient and remarkably lucky – despite presiding over or being deeply involved in a series of political debacles, he has gone from strength to strength.  After at least eight improbably bounce backs, he might seem unassailable.  But his latest mistake – blocking Elizabeth Warren from the heading the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – may well prove politically fatal.


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Like it did in Bosnia and Kosovo?


Bosnian Lessons by Gordon N. Bardos, The National Interest, 16 July 2010 http://www.nationalinterest.org/Article.aspx?id=23704

To understand the limits of what can be achieved militarily and politically in Iraq and Afghanistan, a good starting point is looking at what we have done in Bosnia and Kosovo over the past 10-15 years. The comparison is not encouraging.

Consider the following: Bosnia & Herzegovina (population approximately 4.6 million) has received more international aid per capita than any country in Europe under the Marshall Plan. Kosovo (population approximately 2 million) has exceeded even that figure; according to one estimate, by 2005 Kosovo had received 25 times more aid per capita than Afghanistan. Postwar Bosnia in 1996 and postwar Kosovo in 1999 were militarily secured through the deployment of 60,000 and 30,000 international troops, respectively. In addition to the troops, in 1996 over 10,000 international civilian personnel were dispatched to Bosnia alone. Extrapolating from these figures, a Rand Corporation study by James Dobbins estimated that a Kosovo-level force in Iraq should have numbered some 526,000 troops.


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Mr. Obama’s presidency is now being defined by four intractable problems:

(1) Persistent High Unemployment due to the intractable Great Recession

(2) a Financial Giveaway that protected rich Wall Street bankers at the expense of the masses who are suffering economically from the Great Recession the bankers triggered

(2) A BP Environmental Disaster that reveals the feckless incompetence of the Federal Gov’t — i.e., Obama’s Katrina Moment

(4) His enthusiastic embrace and expansion of the Afghan War into the AFPAK Quagmire.

Ahmed Rashid, one of the most knowledgeable observers of the AFPAK scene (and, ironically, a proponent of the AFPAK intervention) paints a thoroughly depressing picture the nature of the AFPAK quagmire in the attached blog carried by the New York Review of Books.

Petraeus’s Baby Ahmed Rashid, New York Review of Books (Blogs), July 14, 2010 11:15 a.m.


The surprising and speedy crash of General Stanley McCrystal has been seen in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the wider region as just one more sign of the mess that the US and its NATO allies face in what is looking increasingly like an unwinnable conflict.


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Against counterinsurgency in Afghanistan

BY HUGH GUSTERSON, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1 JULY 2010 http://thebulletin.org/print/web-edition/columnists/hugh-gusterson/against-counterinsurgency-afghanistan

It says something about American politics that Gen. Stanley McChrystal was not fired because U.S. casualties in Afghanistan are running at record levels, because the much vaunted Marja initiative has failed, or because the Kandahar offensive is already in trouble during its preliminary rollout. No, he was fired because he and his team embarrassed the White House with carelessly frank talk to a journalist. “This is a change in personnel, but not a change in policy,” said President Barack Obama in announcing General McChrystal’s dismissal. Or, in the words of Rep. James McGovern, we have the “same menu, different waiter.”


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Happy 4th of July!

I hope everyone in our country that has worked hard, means well, and is a good citizen has a great holiday today. Go have a good time with family and friends! I pray that our leaders put service before self. Pray for those in the Gulf who have suffered at the hands of greed, pray for our Soldiers deployed, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but all over the globe.  I am spending the day with my son and grandson riding bikes, after having washed my six dogs and a cat. I spent a great day with my good friend Allen Gill at Ely’s Ford Virginia, and at Chancellorsville battlefield hiking.

If you positively impact one person a day, then that is enough.


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