News Brief, Treefingers Edition

Posted alongside many other things at The Conjecturer.

Defense & The War

  • Barry McCaffery, who lost the drug war on two continents and failed upward to a professor’s post at West Point, is applying his strategic expertise to the Air Force. He thinks USAF needs hundreds more F-22s (at $340 million each, and still riddled with decades-old design flaws); three times as many C-17 transports with the simultaneous decommissioning of all C-130s and the much larger C-5; a replacement for the “vulnerable” and “inadequate” B-2 Stealth Bomber; and total control of all UAVs and Space issues. Pretty much only the last bit, about giving USAF a major say in UAV operations, makes the least bit of sense (and even then isn’t nearly as cut and dried as proponents say). Otherwise, I’m wondering why an army guy just helped to validate all of General Deptula’s wettest dreams.
  • Dark humor: “In a development that Pentagon officials are calling not nearly as horrifying as usual, three car bombs ripped through a Baghdad marketplace Tuesday, killing fewer than 15 innocent civilians, severely injuring no more than 30, and merely maiming one U.S. soldier… [they] claimed the attack is conclusive proof that the tide in Iraq is somewhat turning in a vaguely less-ghastly direction.” Yes, I felt bad for laughing.
  • Might NATO have a better idea of how to fight new wars than we do? Indeed, one of the disturbing lessons to be drawn from Dana Priest’s The Mission (review forthcoming) is that the military steadfastly refuses to learn from its past, and its senior leadership at best meekly tries to push for historical literacy. It’s kind of depressing, but a lesson to be learned regardless—especially in modern conflicts.
  • It is interesting to read Jonathan Rauch conclude why the war was a mistake: President Bush. Equally interesting is his admission that he drew the wrong lessons before both Gulf conflicts, and that this record of failure somehow means he’s even right. It wasn’t that the war was strategically flawed from the start (something most of the military brass could see, even if, like Gen. Ricardo, they were too chickenshit to say anything until they had their pensions), it was that the president was flawed. How convenient.
  • An interesting contrast: Michael Yon’s complaint about sloppy coverage of the Iraq War (which accurately includes the warning that the lopsided picture of America in the press will have nasty repercussions), and Fabius Maximus’ “Long War Series,” which includes an essay on the real targets of 4GW (His latest is similarly intriguing). I can’t draw a meaningful conclusion from the two, beyond noting that I find each persuasive while recognizing they are contradictory. Maybe that in and of itself it the point: Iraq encompasses too many contradictions. At the very least, both viewpoints make for interesting contrast with Mark Lynch’s reporting of our continued strategic failures amid tactical successes in Iraq.

Around the World

  • Been busy at talking Bhutto and poppies, complaining about the dearth of Soviet sci-fi for sale, reviewing a damned good book about the history of Caspian energy politics, and carping about the neverending horrors of Borat. All worth a gander.
  • Allies go south! Bonnie on Turkey, Nitin on Pakistan—both spell trouble for the U.S.
  • Michael on internal colonization in Sinkiang.
  • Jeffrey Lewis on the sloppy reporting tricking us into assuming Israel bombed a North Korean nuclear reactor in Syria.
  • I don’t suppose the irony of a Mao-themed restaurant is lost on any of them?
  • The Swiss grow ever closer to their goal of evicting all foreigners.
  • Meanwhile, Barnett Rubin is warning that losing in Afghanistan will be even worse than losing in Iraq. I agree with him fully. Is anyone listening?

Back at Home

  • Of course he knows plenty about foreign policy, but perhaps Romney could learn that we already boycott the UN Human Rights Council before he declares our need to boycott the UN Human Rights Council.
  • West Virginia holds some sort of magic power over everyone else. Totally illogical decisions, like relocating a major FBI division to Clarksburg, or allowing a Senator clearly in the pocket of Big Telecom to draft telecom immunity legislation, or even potentially shuffling around defense contracts, have to be brought into existence by some sort of magic power, yes? Talk about rule by disconnected elite: how else could the two super-wealthy Senators of a poor, isolated state of less than 2 million people wield such power?
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10 Responses to “News Brief, Treefingers Edition”

  1. on 23 Oct 2007 at 2:31 am MichaelW

    Barry McCaffery, who lost the drug war on two continents and failed upward to a professor’s post at West Point, is applying his strategic expertise to the Air Force.


  2. on 23 Oct 2007 at 12:54 pm Keith_Indy

    NATO has a better way to fight the war.

    Video and Web access on the battlefield. Better PR. Certainly the truth is the best weapon in the fight at home, no argument about that.

    Interesting that you also posted about Michael Yon’s complaint, which has been the complaint of any number of commentators (including myself) since the beginning of the war. I’d like to know how the military or the administration gets over the hurdle of a hostile press corp, which gives more credence to “anonymous sources” both in the Beltway and on the battlefield, then our own spokespeople.

    Of course, when the military tries to shape this battlefield, the battle of ideas, they are condemned as propagandizing by our loyal internal opposition.

    I’ve been saying from the start that the only way we could loose this battle was to loose the will to win. The opposition (on the battlefield and off) knows this, and is sapping our will.

  3. on 23 Oct 2007 at 1:03 pm Joshua Foust

    I think part of it is, our own spokespeople have a tin ear for what plays well, and for press relations. Recall Yon complains constantly at the hostile attitude the military bureaucracy takes toward the embedded press. Even when the journalists are sympathetic, he said, they can be pushed away, or pushed into running unsympathetic stories, by how contemptuously they are treated.

    I’ve also noticed in general the government does a really lousy job of selling itself. This isn’t limited to the military—Karen Hughes has been particularly inept at public diplomacy at the State Department—but it is there. Because of the enormous and still growing rift between military and civilian culture, career military guys have no idea how to sell ideas, or even sometimes how to talk to normal people (the robotic “milspeak” I hear at briefings always makes my shoulder tense, not because I don’t get it, but because that’s not how you talk to the press).

    Think about Josh Rushing. He was so appalled at how the military handled press relations he retired to go work for Al-Jazeera, where he has actually done an extraordinary job explaining U.S. culture and even military policy to what could be a hostile Arab audience. For doing that, he was threatened, and many of his former brothers in arms have called him a traitor.

    Blithely comparing the press corps to the insurgency, as you do by calling both simply “the opposition,” is symptomatic of how this simplified thinking is poisoning civilian-military relations, and furthering the disconnect.

  4. on 23 Oct 2007 at 1:48 pm Lance

    Blithely comparing the press corps to the insurgency

    Oh come on Josh.

  5. on 23 Oct 2007 at 1:59 pm Keith_Indy

    And you were calling Barnett (para.) a wishful thinker, based on the fact that he has a desire for them to work with us on missions of common interest (both within the UNSC, and on the battlefield.)

    Let’s see the real enemy in Iraq, wants us out of Iraq. They are willing to murder people in spectacular ways in order to ensure they get headline status. Because killing a handful of American soldiers was supposed to make America turn tail and run. It’s worked before, make some spectacular attacks, drag a few dead Americans around, and the infidels will fold.

    The loyal opposition here in America, wants us out of Iraq. They are willing to inflate episodes that show our soldiers in a bad light, dragging them out in the headlines, even conflating out-right fabrications into headline news. All the while barely mentioning whatever the military and administration was saying about the war.

    You could print out reams of paper with the press releases, transcripts of press briefings, charts, pictures, power-point slides, etc… It’s all available on the internet.

    But, it’s the fault of the military that it isn’t what editors decide to make the front page.

    Is it the job of journalists to interpret the facts, or present the facts, all the facts, not just the ones that fit their pre-disposed judgment of events?

  6. on 23 Oct 2007 at 2:34 pm Joshua Foust

    No no no, I’m saying it goes both ways. Recall, Rumsfeld spent the first two years of the war deliberately twisting facts and events, and many in the press corps got sick of being lied to (”why are you reporting on the car bombs and the looting when a school got built?”). It’s much like my own fatigue at their pathetic attempts to spin what happens—now, when what they’re saying might well be true, I’m immediately inclined to believe I’m being fed a line, rather than what actually happened.

    Yes, it involves pre-disposed judgment concerning motives and veracity, but I don’t think it’s without reason. Going back to the original point, media relations are a two-way street. You cannot institutionalize disdain for a profession then complain when its practitioners respond with negative-slanted coverage. That isn’t to say they should be worshiped, but think about the original push into Baghdad, when the press seemed upbeat, positive, and in a healthy working relationship with the military. That has been mostly the case when they’ve separated from the bureaucracy and spent time with guys in the field.

    The editors, you say? That reminds me of Sarah Chayes, who tried to report green-on-green fighting in Afghanistan (when we couldn’t figure out which warlords to support when they all wanted to kill both the Taliban and each other). Her editor—at America-hating NPR, no less—told her she was being too pro-Taliban and had to slant her coverage more positively.

    I think you’re oversimplifying the issue far too much.

    Oh, and as for the “loyal opposition here in America, wants us out of Iraq” remark, I don’t get the connection. The insurgents want us out of Iraq because they see us as either foreign occupiers, infidels trespassing on Muslim soil, or the Great Satan to be defeated. The opposition here thinks we were led into war on false pretenses, and that our conduct since has been so shamefully incompetent and willfully fraudulent we have lost the moral authority to continue prosecuting it. To conflate the two is disingenuous, to say the least.

  7. on 23 Oct 2007 at 2:50 pm Keith_Indy

    The bad press for the war started on day 1. It’s not like the media soured after many months. I mean, some Democrats and pundits were calling Iraq a quagmire, 2-3 weeks in when operations were paused because of a sand-storm.

    Yes, it’s a two way street. And I think the disdain goes farther back then this war, or this administration, and I dare say, the adult lives of either of us.

    Heh, two groups may have opposite reasons for achieving the same goals. They are still trying to achieve the same goals.

    I strongly believe opposition can be both reasonable, principled, and not detrimental to our efforts.

    We are engaged in a war.

    Kicking, dragging your feet, and stomping around saying that we shouldn’t have gotten into the war (for whatever reasons) isn’t adult behavior. That’s something for history to decide.

    I’ve had disagreements with certain aspects of how the occupation has gone. It is certainly something we were not fully prepared for. There were valid reasons for going in like we did. And there were reasons we couldn’t get out as quickly as we had hoped. The government was slow to respond, and while tactically we adapted on the battlefield, strategically it was like moving the Titanic once the iceberg was spotted.

    But, moving we are, and generally in the right direction. Time will tell. In the next 2-4 months, we will see how the Iraqi Army deals with being giving more operation control. And we should see the logistics and infrastructure of the military improve. Of course, that is only one component of what has always been a multi-part strategy.

  8. on 23 Oct 2007 at 2:54 pm Keith_Indy

    Heck, sometimes the MSM can’t even print good news without finding something negative to spin it with…

  9. on 23 Oct 2007 at 8:44 pm Joshua Foust

    “The media.” Which media? Michael Kelly? Robert Kaplan? John Burns? Rajiv Chandrasekaran? People writing for the Washington Post, New York Times, or Weekly Standard? Fox News or NPR? This is what I mean when I say you over-generalize. There was, and has been, a range of opinion on the war (including strange instances of bad news being spun into a victory) and how well it is being waged.

    Look, you know it is unfair to compare opposition here to the insurgents by simply writing both off as “opposition.” It is as unfair as when Andrew Sullivan lumps conservative evangelicals in with the Taliban in the same breath.

  10. on 23 Oct 2007 at 9:18 pm Lance

    There is some truth to what you say Joshua, but it obscures the underlying dynamic.

    The mainstream media has often acted, and often explicitly stated that it should do so, as if their role is to provide a counterweight, an opposition. To note that is hardly unfair.

    The old saying that the exception proves the rule is incorrect. The real quote is that the exception probes the rule. In this case it surely does. Pointing out that there are exceptions, or that the media does contain some of the reporting we should be seeing does not in any way change the underlying dynamic, it merely illuminates it. Pointing out that there are sources outside of the MSM to provide other coverage doesn’t change how important it is that these alternatives have come into being and are more widely available because the MSM has largely not done so. It is especially frustrating coming from someone who has pooh pooed these other sources relative to the MSM, implying that, for example, Michael Yon’s reporting has been no more reliable than the MSM’s, when it has been far more reliable from both a factual and interpretive standpoint. Holding up John Burn’s, who can’t even get his editorial board to notice what he is reporting, is a delicious irony, but hardly representative.

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