Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Authentic American hero and proven military sage, General Barry R. McCaffrey, US Army (Ret.), testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. You can watch the hearing live on C-SPAN3 right now.

McCaffrey is always worth watching--and not merely because of his exemplary military service; more compelling, he expertly combines his unwavering patriotism and institutional optimism with an experienced and exacting eye, which translates into a willingness to engage in straight talk and tough love.

His penchant for brutally critical analysis continues to tempt partisans and unfriendly journalists to cherry-pick his statements, using select portions of his assessments to buttress the drumbeat of U.S. failure in Iraq.

You may read a previous example of this practice noted here approximately a year ago: The Real Barry McCaffrey Stands Up (which may be helpful for context).

McCaffrey appeared on C-SPAN's Washington Journal this morning. I expect an individual dedicated link later today--which I will add at that time.

Must See TV.
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
From the Associated Press:

Iraqi Prime Minister Says No Retreat

"BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister vowed Thursday to fight 'until the end' against Shiite militias in Basra despite protests by tens of thousands of followers of a radical cleric in Baghdad and deadly clashes across the capital and the oil-rich south.

"Mounting anger focused on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is personally overseeing operations against the militias dominated by Muqtada al-Sadr's supporters amid a violent power struggle in Basra, Iraq's southern oil hub.

"The Iraqi leader made his pledge to tribal leaders in the Basra area as military operations continued for a fourth day with stiff resistance.

"'We have made up our minds to enter this battle and we will continue until the end. No retreat,' he said in a speech broadcast on Iraqi state TV."

Defining Moment?

Is this where the Maliki government finally emerges?

Or is this the end of a brief window of relative tranquility during which we all optimistically imagined a happy ending?

Either way, my sense is that we stand on the brink of a major turning point.
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Just watched a significant portion of the PBS/Frontline documentary, Bush's War.

From the horror of 9/11 to the invasion of Iraq -- inside the epic story of how the war began & how it's been fought on the ground in Iraq and inside the government.

In brief: as always with any Frontline treatment of this president, there is much to say. I cannot promise that I will ever rise to any systematic attempt to offer balance, address the myriad sly omissions, or speak to the numerous invidious undertones. However, I expect that such a project could easily match the documentary itself in length and complicated story lines.

In praise of PBS, the documentary continued the Frontline tradition of artistic excellence; these works of partisan-skewed contemporary history are breathtakingly beautiful to watch.

In short, however, the tenor of Bush's War can be summed up most succinctly with this humble fact: out of four hours and thirty minutes of detailed reporting concerning the war in Iraq and the political skullduggery of the Bush White House, spanning more than six years, the documentary offered thirty seconds to Year Five and the successful "surge," with literally no mention of an Anbar Awakening or David Petraeus.

Enough said.
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
This week marks five years of our war in Iraq and counting. Looking back to 2002, those of us who supported American military action against Saddam perhaps expected "an easier triumph, and a result [quite frankly] more fundamental and astounding," but the war persists.

Please read this review of reasons that going into Iraq made sense at the time (re-recycled from previous posts for the sake of consistency). At the conclusion, there is also a question from a year or so ago (pre-surge), which asks, "Now What?" Thirteen months later, in the midst of a tumultuous presidential election year, this interrogatory remains the fundamental decision for our generation. Please read and comment. I would very much like to hear from you all on this.

Why did we have to go?

1. Saddam was bad. He deserved ouster, capture, trial, and execution. Twenty-five million Iraqis deserved an opportunity to take control of their lives free of Saddam's oppressive regime.

2. Saddam was at war with the United States and a threat to regional security. For more than a decade, we flew combat missions over Iraq and drew anti-aircraft fire everyday. Our forces were stationed in Saudi Arabia to neutralize the threat Saddam posed to the region. Our presence in Saudi (part of our essential commitment to preserving the peace) irritated the international Muslim community. In fact, Osama bin Laden cited our presence in Saudi Arabia as the casus belli for war against America in general and 9-11 specifically.

3. Saddam was contained--but only as a result of the costly military commitments cited above. In addition, Saddam was contained as a result of a United Nations sanctions regime. Before the war, several human rights organizations charged that the heartless US-driven sanctions policy had killed upwards of 500,000 Iraqis through malnutrition and lack of adequate medical attention. Later, we learned of massive corruption on the part of the UN in administering the sanctions against Saddam's Iraq. Moreover, by 2002, the flagging resolve of the French and other European powers threatened the entire sanctions program. Containment was a leaky policy taking on more water every day.

4. Saddam unbound meant a return to the status quo ante bellum in which he had threatened his neighbors and worked assiduously to manufacture and deploy weapons of mass destruction.

5. Saddam and 911? It is a long held article of faith in the mainstream media that "911 and Iraq were not connected." This is nonsense. What they mean to say is that Saddam and his regime were not complicit in the terrorist attacks of 911. Those two statements are not the same. Conflation of these two distinct ideas belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the task that confronts us.

» Read More

Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Tuesday on Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed Washington Post correspondent Thomas Ricks.

Gross tasked Ricks, the author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, with explaining how the much-ballyhooed "surge" is, in fact, failing miserably.

He was the right man for the job. In essence:

Technically, the Anbar Awakening, the "new life in Baghdad," the decreasing levels of violence against American servicepersons, and the plummeting incidents of sectarian violence in Iraq are all positive signs. But the real truth is that none of that matters. The real problem is the "intransigence of the Shia-dominated government."

That is, George Bush said the surge was designed to provide "breathing space" to bring about a political solution. The political solution (at least at the national level) has not materialized; therefore, the surge has failed. Which means Harry Reid was right: "the war is lost" (and a Fiasco, for that matter).

Nothing like some objective analysis from an expert reporter with no axes to grind.

Actually, Ricks merely voiced the opposition talking points already making the rounds. I have avoided this phrase: "Democrats are invested in defeat." However, the utter refusal to accept the objective reality that the surge has worked and opened up new possibilities in Iraq leaves me little choice.

The most pressing question in American politics today remains whether Democrats are willing to forego political advantage to save the country.
Sunday Night was Episode Five of The War, the Ken Burns documentary on WWII: "FUBAR."

If you don't know FUBAR, you can consult this wiki entry.

A couple of themes keep jumping out at me in The War.

1. War is Hell. Innocents die. Good men do bad things. Hearts get broken. Families Grieve. Normal life as we know it stops. War is Hell.

2. FUBAR. SNAFU. TARFU. Things go wrong in war. Communication is dreadful and inevitably a beat or two behind the moment of truth. Very few people seem to know what is really going on, and they are unable to communicate with the ones who need to know the most. Oftentimes, the least confused (rather than the most organized) side prevails. Things go wrong in war.

3. War is especially hard for a democracy. We the people are impatient, often unforgiving, and easily stampeded. FDR understood well that oftentimes military necessity must conform to political reality. He was a great war president in his ability to entreat, inspire, persuade, and balance.

Fighting a War in a Democracy.

An FDR would be nice--but we also need more Ernie Pyles.

Pyle was an embedded reporter, who absorbed the souls of the men about whom he wrote, relaying their lives, everyday heroism and desires to eager consumers of news back home. War correspondents during WWII represented the fighting men and the national cause. Regardless of whether this support for national objectives violated journalistic ethics or compromised objective reporting, newsmen invested in American victory proved beneficial to the Allied cause.

Of course, this sense that we were all on the same side came crashing down during the Vietnam Era when a new generation of reporters, publishers, and editors embraced a much more nuanced sense of the public interest. In the old days, the press often ignored the ugly and emphasized the heroic. The post-Vietnam media covers the myriad mistakes and attrocities of war and mostly ignores the nobility of the cause and the warriors.

An Ernie Pyle archive via the Indiana University School of Journalism here.

Today we have a few Michael Yons and Bill Roggios--but they are by necessity completely outside of the mainstream media. As Katie Couric intimated a few days ago--without much fanfare or reaction--picking sides in a war is just not good reporting.

Is the MSM responsible for our misfortunes in Iraq? Of course not. On the other hand, the mainstream media presents serious obstacles to prosecuting a successful war, which the Bush administration struggles mightily to navigate.

Whose fault is that? Where does the buck stop?

This is a fair question.

Ultimately, it is the President's job to overcome minefields and pitfalls and win wars. Just win baby.

Does democracy present all kinds of extra disadvantages for a war-time leader? Sure. This was true for FDR and his age as well--although we all admit much has changed since then. No matter, it is far too pessimistic to insist that these disadvantages prevent the USA from winning a modern war. Such a pronouncement is akin to assuming an especially brilliant person, likely to be distracted by his curious mind, is at a disadvantage in college. While the preceding statement rings true on its face, the advantage of a brilliant and curious mind is a tremendous plus in higher learning that ought to overwhelm the lesser problem of distraction.

Our freedom of the press is an obstacle (more so now than then, even more so when brandished by cynics happily uninvested in victory). No matter, the power of a free society dwarfs the drawbacks.

One obvious answer: We are desperately in need of leadership adept at marshaling our advantages to overcome our disadvantages.

We could learn a lot from The War in that regard.

24/09: The War

A few reflections after two nights (4/15ths) of The War, a film by Ken Burns:

So far so good. Perhaps it is not the Civil War--but, then again, it is not 1990, Ken Burns no longer has the advantage of surprise, and this war is full of moving images, which makes the narrative much harder to control.

Having said that, I am enthralled--waiting breathlessly to see how it all ends. Well done.

An obvious comparison between then and now is the role of public sacrifice during the time of war. If we did not know already, we see clearly how the WWII generation practiced self-denial and sacrifice on the home front as well as the battlefield. A critique of the Bush administration centering on this divergence has become so ubiquitous in recent days as to seem cliché.

For that reason, I have refrained from making the following observation in print, on the blog, or on other electronic media (until now). Long before I knew what a blog was, the Okie Gardener and I would converse over lunch in a mom and pop Mexican restaurant in Waco during the weeks following 9-11, agreeing that the President must address the nation and ask for sacrifice. Thinking as students of the American past, the reasons were obvious: to win we needed investment of body, soul and mind. Today, among the President's many errors in prosecuting this war, none looms larger than his incapacity to connect the citizenry to the military and the mission in a meaningful way.

However, the exclamation of exasperation most often hurled against President Bush, "instead of sacrifice, President Bush asked us to go shopping," while understandable, is patently off the mark. Quite frankly, America did need to go shopping after the attack. Consumer spending drives the twenty-first century economy, and a robust economy really is the key to keeping this war afloat.

Watching the Burns documentary reminds us that the United States did not prevail in the Second World War because of the wisdom of our leaders, the bravery of our soldiers, the genius of our generals, or the sincerity of our people. Undoubtedly, all those things were true--but they were also true of Germans, Italians and the Japanese.

We persevered and emerged victorious in the long and destructive war because we out-industrialized the great industrial powers of the twentieth century. In the simplest terms, the American economy was key to the American triumph. Shopping was not the basis of our economy during that war--but it may be now.

We are one economic downturn away from crisis—and one crisis away from defeat. That is, a major recession would make further prosecution of the war in Iraq, already unpopular, completely untenable.
From the Washington Post:

Blackwater Faulted In Baghdad Killings

"BAGHDAD, Sept. 17 -- The Iraqi government on Monday said it had revoked the license of Blackwater USA, an American security company involved in a shootout in Baghdad that killed at least nine people, raising questions over which nation should regulate tens of thousands of civilian hired guns operating in Iraq."

Get ready to hear a lot about Blackwater.

Blackwater is one of those unfortunate names that just seems to scream out dirty deeds done in the service of the darker side of government. Thus far, Blackwater has surfaced mainly among anti-war zealots as a line in the litany of mysterious but sinister elements linked to the war in Iraq.

Get ready to hear a lot more about Blackwater.

The Washington Post story in full here.

Thinking Out Loud:

I have not formed a fully developed opinion on Blackwater, as I have not spent much time reflecting on the private security firms employed in the theater. In fact, for years I have done my best to avoid this nagging question:

Why are we spending $10,000 per month per copy on individual hired guns, when we could spend one third of that on a United States Marine?


In the Rumsfeldian rush to light and agile (and un-Vietnam-like troop numbers), did we paint ourselves into a corner in which we are paying way too much for personnel in addition to forfeiting military expertise and control?

Is this really the best way to do this thing?

Get ready to hear a lot about Blackwater.
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
From the Washington Post:

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Bush of effectively signing off on a 10-year "open-ended" commitment [to Iraq]."

I actually agree with the Speaker (in part).

A few weeks ago I suggested that the mission to transform Iraq likely remains a ten-year project.

The calculus must not be how to get us out of Iraq as soon as possible. Rather, the fundamental challenge is how we adjust our strategy to drastically reduce the strain on American soldiers and Marines serving in Iraq, while we simultaneously support vigorously an inchoate nation whose success is inextricably linked to American security.

In arguably, the President made grievous errors from the very beginning, which continue to haunt every aspect of this operation.

The President disastrously underestimated the scale of the task in Iraq, tying the vital interests and future of the United States on an extremely difficult long-term mission. His initial fumbles place high stress on the military, the treasury, and American hegemony. His perceived weakness makes him (us) vulnerable to malefactors domestic and external. We find ourselves in a decidedly precarious national fix.

On the other hand, none of those past mistakes are reversible at this juncture. The issue at hand: what now?

The United States must stay and outlast our enemy. We cannot fail in Iraq. If we do, we will not have a place to hang our hat in the Middle East for a generation. Our perceived weakness will open us up to endless attacks. We cannot abandon our investment at this point. We must hold our ground.

What to do?

1. Re-commit to staying as long as it takes to finish the job.

2. Develop a real strategy that lessens the burden of US troops.

3. Take the necessary measures here at home to replenish and sustain the deteriorated military (more money, a larger force, more down time, less dependence on National Guard and reserves, and more diffused sacrifice).

4. Dig in.

Parting Thoughts:

--Baghdad will not be built in a day.

--The race is not always to the swiftness but, rather, to the runner who perseveres.

--Success is trying one more time than you fail.