December 26, 2009

JARHEAD CHRISTMAS

If you missed this yesterday, watch it today. Hat tip to SemperFiWife.


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December 04, 2009

HE IS NOT THERE TO "SERVE" THEM

I still don't know what I think is the right move in Afghanistan. I still see an enormous difference in potential between Iraq and Afghanistan, and moves I thought were a good idea in Iraq don't always seem so good in Afghanistan. I personally think that counter-terrorism seems to fit Afghanistan more than COIN does, but I don't know my hat from a hole in the ground, so my opinion doesn't really count for anything.

But I can't help but keep thinking about firebombing Dresden vs vaccinating goats. It's such a different tactic. And I fear that we're starting to mistake the hearts-and-minds missions as being the end, not the means.

I wrote earlier this year about my husband's career field:

There are people even within Civil Affairs who think that their tasks are the end-goal. There are people who think that how many goats they vaccinated and how many school supplies they dropped off are their accomplishments. My husband, however, always takes a long-term, big-picture view of the world. The goal is not vaccinated goats but whether helping that goatherd made Special Forces' job easier and thus helped advance the cause of defeating our enemies. The healthy goats are the means, not the end.

It's a fascinating way to look at his job, and sadly it takes a confident person to accept that role. Civil Affairs as a branch doesn't want to see itself as just a tool for Special Forces. Some in the branch look askance at my husband when his briefings show the Civil Affairs work as Phase 2 and what SF built out of their work as Phase 3. They want to feel like their role is important. It certainly is, but only if it helps get us closer to the bad guy.

Happy, healthy goats in Afghanistan shouldn't be our goal; winning should.

The reason we are in this war is to stop terrorists from killing Americans. The point is to prevent another 9/11, to cut off the funding for and state-sponsorship of terrorism, and to kill as many al Qaeda and terrorists as possible. We vaccinate the goats because hopefully that will help nice Afghans and Iraqis point out where the bad guys are, or take up arms and help us fight them. We don’t vaccinate the goats because we want to do charity work for them.

Don’t get me wrong, plenty of soldiers have a vested interest in the people they’ve been working with for years now.  Most Americans are compassionate people who want third-worlders to have a better life than they do now; that's why American citizens pull money out of their own pockets and mail school supplies and sneakers overseas.  On a personal level, we all want Afghan girls to go to school and Iraqi businesses to be successful. 

But that’s not the military goal.  We have to remember that that is a means to an end: a better educated and more economically sound populace should lead to less people joining al Qaeda out of desperation, or becoming a suicide bomber for the money.  I want Iraqis and Afghans to flourish, but I have an ulterior motive for that desire. I am not just blindly altruistic in my support for these missions and programs.  They have to advance the cause of the US military, otherwise they're missing the point.

So when I read this interview with author Greg Mortenson this morning, I got my feathers all ruffled:

I guess Gen. Petraeus could sum it up better than me, but he sent me an e-mail last year and he had read "Three Cups of Tea," and he said there were three lessons from the book that he wanted to impart to his troops. No. 1, he said, we need to listen more; No. 2, we need to have respect, meaning we are there to serve the good people of Afghanistan; and No. 3, we need to build relationships. "Three Cups of Tea" now is mandatory reading for all senior U.S military commanders, and all special forces deploying to Afghanistan are required to read it.  [emphasis mine]

And I see that right there as an epic FAIL.

My husband is not there to "serve" the people of Afghanistan.  He is there to creatively find ways to do compassionate missions, with the end goal always tucked away in the back of his mind that it only makes sense to run the mission if it will somehow benefit the American military agenda.  If he wanted to build schools for needy people, he could've just joined Habitat For Humanity.

The Mortenson advice is all well and good if you are an NGO or just an kindhearted fella who wants to open schools in Afghanistan.  His goal is to help those people; he "serves" them.  The military doesn't; the military serves the interests of the United States.  The American military is not one big money tree that Afghans can keep coming to to get "served."  Or at least it shouldn't be.  But every soldier working in Iraq and Afghanistan has a horror story of following Mortenson's Rule #1 and asking the local people what they need...and then getting an earful of upgrades.  "We need power restored to the entire remote village."  Well, have you ever had power before?  Did you have power back when Saddam ran the country?  No?  Then how, pray tell, do you expect us to "restore" it?  My husband visited a school last year and asked them what they could use; they gave him plans for a state-of-the-art kitchen they wanted installed in the cafeteria.  Scale it back a bit, folks; Uncle Sugar isn't going to turn your hot plate into Paula Deen's kitchen.  Especially not if it's not going to get us anything in return.  I want to be assured of quid pro quo before we vaccinate anybody's goats, or at least have a pretty good idea that we'll get something for our effort.

The US military is not one big charity organization trying to fix Afghanistan.  Let the Gates Foundation do stuff like that.  Our missions need to have purpose and need to be grounded in some sense of how this helps the overall goals of our fighting force: If I vaccinate this goat or build this school, will ol' Farzad in the village let us know is he hears rumors of the next planned attack?  If not, then Farzad can find his own damn vaccination.

We are not there to "serve" him.

UPDATE:

Related thoughts from Ralph Peters on TV.  Clip here.  Relevant quote:

In 2001, we didn't go to Afghanistan to turn it into Disneyworld.  We didn't go there to buy retirement homes.  We went there to kill al Qaeda and punish the Taliban for harboring them.  Mission accomplished by late spring of 2002.  Imperfect?  Hey, the world's an imperfect place.  But...we stayed, because we convinced ourselves that -- although we still haven't rebuilt the Twin Towers -- that we were going to build a modern, wonderful Afghanistan.  Ain't gonna happen, ain't worth the effort, even if it worked we get nothing out of it.  Judge, the purpose in 2001 was right: kill al Qaeda wherever they are.

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December 03, 2009

FLOORED BY COINCIDENCE

I am just absolutely reeling right now.  Floored by coincidence.

I have a friend in my knitting group whose husband died as a contractor in Iraq.  She has never been forthcoming with details, and I certainly have never wanted to pry.  But last week she let me know that an episode of Battlefield Diaries would be on the Military Channel, and that it was the attack her husband was killed in.

I had no idea he was killed in the convoy where Matt Maupin was captured.  Nor did I have any idea that I knew the lieutenant who led that convoy; Matt Brown and I were in youth group together in high school.

I am just stunned by the coincidence right now.

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December 01, 2009

"LOOK AT YOUR MAP"

Last night I was interviewed for an article called "Families Await News From Afghanistan." I only played a small role in the article, probably because I wasn't sure exactly what was expected of me. Truthfully, I felt that giving my opinion before Pres Obama's speech was a waste of time, because the specifics of what he'd say is what really means something. Who cares what I think the night before I know what's going on? The reporter -- who was very nice and professional and quoted me accurately (except that I know for a fact I always called him "President Obama" and not just "Obama," as I was quoted as saying. Out of respect for the office of the presidency, I make a point of never calling him just by his last name.) -- asked me what I thought of the proposed additional 30,000 troops and what I thought about the inclusion of an exit strategy. And my answer, which is not conducive to news articles, is that it depends.

What I answered was that it depends on what the 30,000 will be used for. Will they be sent to urban or rural areas? Will they be doing counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism? And as far as an exit goes, I said it depends on whether Pres Obama announces what the end game is. Will he state concrete goals? Will he announce a victory strategy? It makes no sense to denote an arbitrary end to a war based on running out the clock; what does victory look like to the Obama administration?

And I obviously over-thought the substance of the article, because I was apparently over-expectant on the substance of the speech.

I wanted details. I can't form any opinions on whether we're making the right move if I don't know the specifics. And I feel like I didn't learn anything new from listening to Pres Obama's speech tonight than what I already knew from what got leaked ahead of time. (Except I learned there is something called a "tool of mass destruction." Which sounds more like a witty insult than something serious.)

What I wanted was Perot or Beck-style charts and graphs. I wanted another version of FDR's fireside chat On the Progess of the War.

That is the reason why I have asked you to take out and spread before you (the) a map of the whole earth, and to follow with me in the references which I shall make to the world-encircling battle lines of this war.
[...]
Look at your map.
[...]
Heavy bombers can fly under their own power from here to the southwest Pacific, either way, but the smaller planes cannot. Therefore, these lighter planes have to be packed in crates and sent on board cargo ships. Look at your map again; and you will see that the route is long – and at many places perilous – either across the South Atlantic all the way (a)round South Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, or from California to the East Indies direct. A vessel can make a round trip by either route in about four months, or only three round trips in a whole year.

In spite of the length, (and) in spite of the difficulties of this transportation, I can tell you that in two and a half months we already have a large number of bombers and pursuit planes, manned by American pilots and crews, which are now in daily contact with the enemy in the Southwest Pacific. And thousands of American troops are today in that area engaged in operations not only in the air but on the ground as well.

In this battle area, Japan has had an obvious initial advantage. For she could fly even her short-range planes to the points of attack by using many stepping stones open to – her bases in a multitude of Pacific islands and also bases on the China coast, Indo-China coast, and in Thailand and Malaya (coasts). Japanese troop transports could go south from Japan and from China through the narrow China Sea, which can be protected by Japanese planes throughout its whole length.

I ask you to look at your maps again, particularly at that portion of the Pacific Ocean lying west of Hawaii. Before this war even started, the Philippine Islands were already surrounded on three sides by Japanese power. On the west, the China side, the Japanese were in possession of the coast of China and the coast of Indo-China which had been yielded to them by the Vichy French. On the North are the islands of Japan themselves, reaching down almost to northern Luzon. On the east, are the Mandated Islands – which Japan had occupied exclusively, and had fortified in absolute violation of her written word.

Read that and imagine any recent president talking to us citizens this way. Imagine being treated like you have a brain in your head, and that you're a part of what's taking place. Imagine your president asking you to follow his complex speech on a map or with pen and paper.

Instead, we got "We will not target other people...because their faith or ethnicity is different from ours." And praise for teachers, community organizers, and "Peace Corps volunteers who spread hope abroad."

That's all well and good, but I wanted details about Afghanistan.

I don't know why I expected I would get that.

MORE:

Vodkapundit drunkblogged.

he’s decided to send an additional 30,000 troops for 30 months. That’s not a strategic decision. That’s a new-car warranty.

Bad writing. Lame delivery. Tepid response — from cadets ORDERED to be nice. And a strategic vision equal parts High School Essay Content and low-rent public relations.

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