Sunday, February 25, 2007

Meme alert

Readers (OK, the one reader, thanks Bro) of this blog may have noticed that I've sensed a strong new meme developing on the left side of the aisle. It goes something like this: "We really, really support the troops. We said it in our resolution. You (the administration) obviously hate them as you treat them like crap. We just want our beloved soldiers to come home."

This morning, McClatchy Newspapers' Margaret Talev says basically the same:

Support the troops.

Few phrases in American politics sound so innocuous but sting so much.

Republican backers of the Iraq war have revived a tactic from the Vietnam era, trying to put Democrats on the defensive by accusing critics of President Bush's decision to send thousands more troops to Iraq of failing to "support the troops" there.

This line of attack could explode this week, when Congress returns from a short recess. The Democratic majority will shift tactics from seeking nonbinding antiwar resolutions to trying to limit troop deployments and curb funding for the Iraq war.

Historians, political strategists and linguists say that questioning Democrats' loyalty to the troops is probably the best leverage supporters of the unpopular war have left.

"What that reflects is the aftermath of Vietnam and what happened to the Democrats," said Stephen Hess, a George Washington University professor and Brookings Institution scholar who worked in the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations. Although polls show that solid public majorities oppose the war, Democrats still can be portrayed as undermining the troops.

The Bush administration and its congressional allies, however, are open to countercharges that they have overworked the Army and Marine Corps, failed to provide troops with adequate armor, and neglected serious problems in how the military and the Veterans Administration are caring for wounded warriors.

Democrats also can argue that the best way to support the troops is to bring them home, said Frank Luntz, the pollster and language consultant who shaped the Republicans' 1994 "Contract With America."

Army Battalion 2-16

The front page of today's Washington Post includes a 4500 word description of the days leading up to the departure of the Army's 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. The central figure of the story is its commander, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich.

This is how the story begins:

FORT RILEY, Kan. -- Their camouflage on, their wives carrying infants, their older children carrying flags, the soldiers of George W. Bush's surge crowded into a gymnasium for their brigade deployment ceremony, a last public viewing before they disappeared into Iraq.

Baghdad, long an abstraction, was now imminent. Of the 21,500 additional troops President Bush decided to send to
Iraq in the coming months, about 3,500 were coming from here. "Are you frightened?" a TV reporter called out. "I'm confident," one of those soldiers replied. An enormous American flag hung on the back wall. A military band lined up in formation. "Ready to go," another soldier said.

Outside, snow was coming toward this isolated place. Inside, as the bleachers filled and the doors swung closed against the cold, a 41-year-old soldier near the middle of the floor began clapping his hands in anticipation.

And now waved at his wife and children.

And now took his position in front of the soldiers he would soon be leading into combat.


While America obsesses about Anna Nicole, and Britney, and a catfight between Hillary and Obama, 800 soldiers are right now putting their lives on the line in hopes of securing a better Iraq for its and our future generations. The Washington Post will probably never run another story on Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich or his battalion. Even so, I have set up a Google news search for the battalion and for Lt. Col. Kauzlarich. I'm going to try to follow their story for the next year and I'll post here of their acheivements and heartaches along the way.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Pride and Joy of the Washington Post

As Dana Priest collects bouquets for her selfless reporting on the outpatient treatment at Walter Reed, Howards Kurtz reveals a little too much about Ms. Priest's motivation.

Kurtz' Media Notes column starts out:

"To the Army's public affairs chief, it was simply an effort to 'get the facts out from our perspective.'

To Dana Priest, who covers national security for The Washington Post, it was a case of Army officials 'shooting themselves in the foot, because reporters are not going to trust them.'"

Ummm, because, you know, the reporters have always blindly trusted them before.

"The Post last week gave the Army six days to respond to the paper's investigation into decaying, cockroach-infested facilities and an overwhelmed patient-care bureaucracy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest Washington. The Army's public affairs office used the time to summon journalists from other news organizations to a briefing at which Walter Reed's commander responded to the findings -- in an article that had not yet been published." ...snip...

"When journalists seek a response from a government agency on a pending story, there is generally an understanding that the information will not be shared with rival news outlets before publication. Such unspoken agreements, however, are hardly iron-clad. Treasury Department officials last year gave the Wall Street Journal declassified information about a secret program to track the banking records of terror suspects after failing to persuade the New York Times to kill a planned story on the subject." ...snip...

I see. It's not really about the troops. It's about scooping the competition.

Priest, who reported the two-part series with Anne Hull, says she told an Army public affairs officer this week: "How do you think this is going to affect our relationship? Do you think I'm going to be willing next time to give you that much time to respond, if you're going to turn around and tell my competitors?" ...snip...

Not to mention that Priest sat on the story for four months and allowed untold numbers of soldiers to suffer untold misery. She and Hull kept this secret from not only her competitors, but also Congress, and anyone within the military system who could have addressed the situation. She and the WaPo chose to cause the most embarassment possible by plunking this on page A1 right during the most sensitive debates we've had yet in Congress and in the streets of America over the war.

"As for Weightman's complaint that the paper should have notified the Army of its conclusions earlier in the process, Priest called that 'ridiculous,' saying: 'You find wrongdoing and you don't report it to the public first? You report it to them first? That's not our role.'"

That's right, Dana. I guess in your world, it's your role to scoop the competition. Let someone else worry about the troops.

Good on ya, Secretary Gates

This is the way to effectively handle a media crisis.

From an A1 story in the Washington Post today:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates named an independent review panel yesterday to investigate what he called an "unacceptable" situation in outpatient care at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and he said that some soldiers "most directly involved" in the problems have been removed from their positions.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to the Army hospital in Northwest Washington, Gates also warned that senior military leaders could be disciplined based on the findings of the review group.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Oh, brother

The major papers must have thought that Presidents' Day weekend means there's one extra day for dumping on the military. Here's the New York Times' contribution:

Jailed 2 Years, Iraqi Tells of Abuse by Americans
By MICHAEL MOSS and SOUAD MEKHENNET

...After his release from the American-run jail, Camp Bucca, Mr. Ani and other former detainees described the sprawling complex of barracks in the southern desert near Kuwait as a bleak place where guards casually used their stun guns and exposed prisoners to long periods of extreme heat and cold; where prisoners fought among themselves and extremist elements tried to radicalize others; and where detainees often responded to the harsh conditions with hunger strikes and, at times, violent protests...

...Mr. Ani said the electric prods were first used on him on the way to Camp Bucca. “I was talking to someone next to me and they used it,” he said, describing the device as black plastic with a yellow tip and two iron prongs. He said the prods were commonly used on him and other detainees as punishment.

“The whole body starts to shake and hurt,” he said. “And you lose consciousness for a couple of seconds. One time they used it on my tongue. One guard held me from the left and another on my back and another used it against my tongue and for four or five days I couldn’t eat.” ...


Hmmm, guess what? I know someone who was at Camp Bucca at the same time that Mr. Ani claimed the abuse took place in 2004 and 2005. I've heard the other side of the story of detainee/guard relations at Camp Bucca. Of course, any chance for another perspective is given only a few sentences in the Times' lengthy story.

And a few things about those tasers that are mentioned in the quote above. You don't lose consciousness and I can't imagine how it would be used on someone's tongue. This story has all the credibility of the Qur'an being flushed down the toilet fable.

Were some detainees mistreated at Camp Bucca? Definitely, yes. And the offenders were punished. For the New York Times to drag out this "newsflash" of treatment that happened two years ago makes one wonder what public good is being served.

Hey, New York Times - don't you know the "Soldiers are torturers" line is soooo yesterday? Today's meme is "We really, really support the troops. Let's just bring them home."

Beyond the Green Zone

An e-friend, Steven Vincent, wrote a book called "In the Red Zone." The title came from the part of Iraq that was beyond the relatively safe borders of the Green Zone in Baghdad. It is from the isolated Green Zone that politicians and journalists tend to work and provide their view of Iraq. "In the Red Zone" was a brilliant book that revealed a glimpse into the soul of Iraqis. Unfortunately, it did not garner much attention until Steven was killed in Basrah in August 2005.

Now, JD Johannes has directed a movie called "Outside the Wire." Here's a short description of the movie:

"This is the Iraq War you won't see on the evening news.

Former Marine and television news producer JD Johannes traveled to Iraq with his old Marine Corps unit to produce syndicated TV news reports for local stations.

From those reports comes a view of the war that only the grunts who operate outside the wire experience.

From a dust-up with Al Qaida outside Abu Ghriab, to a night raid on the home of an insurgent leader, you will see what the Marines saw and hear the story in their own words of why they joined, volunteered for the deployment, why they fight and what it is like to go outside the wire and into combat."

You can buy the movie here. Then, go to the blog which gives this bright advice in developing a caucus' message: "I propose something simple, that can fit on a bumper sticker, and is unequivocal in meaning: Support the Troops: LET THEM WIN"

I think this is my new favorite blog, and it's going on my blog roll.

It's like deja vue all over again

In doing a Google search for folks who "really, really support the troops", I ran across this interesting post by Tim Grieve of the War Room at Salon.com. Here's what Tim had to say in June of 2006:

"They really, really support the troops

Republican congressmen like Walter Jones and Ron Paul hoped that the House of Representatives might have a serious debate about the future of a war that has claimed 2,500 American lives. Dennis Hastert, John Boehner and others in the Republican leadership thought it was more important to jam Democrats and other war critics with an all-or-nothing vote on a support-the-troops-or-else resolution.

Guess which side prevailed?

Soldiers in the field and patriots everywhere can rest easy this afternoon, knowing that the House of Representatives has got their backs. By a vote of 256-153, the House today approved a resolution that rejects any 'arbitrary' timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops and declares that the United States 'will prevail in the Global War on Terror.' The Republican leadership refused to allow any amendments to the resolution, leaving opponents with a choice that wasn't much choice at all: Vote in favor of the resolution, or be prepared to stand accused of supporting an 'arbitrary' timeline for troop withdrawal and predicting U.S. defeat at the hands of terrorists. Oh, and this, too: To vote against the measure, you also had to vote against the part that said that the House 'honors all those Americans who have taken an active part in the Global War on Terror, whether as first responders protecting the homeland, as servicemembers overseas, as diplomats and intelligence officers, or in other roles.'"

Imagine that, politicians using heavy-handed tactics to play to the public over who really supports the troops.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Page A1 News in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post

Tomorrow, Washington Post readers will be offered a stinging rebuke of the military's treatment of wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital. The story was written by Dana Priest and Anne Hull who gathered information without the knowledge or permission of Walter Reed officials.

The story is long and includes the inevitable: "Life in Building 18 is the bleakest homecoming for men and women whose government promised them good care in return for their sacrifices."

Well, I have a few thoughts on the subject:

When our son was deployed, our biggest fear was not that he would be killed, but that he would be gravely wounded. We had heard, going into 2004, that National Guard troops were not treated, medically, as well as regular Army. We were certainly not aware that "the government promised [him] good care in return for [his] sacrifices." We expected the worst. By the grace of God, despite being wounded in the face with grenade shrapnel and serving a year as a prison guard, he came back physically and emotionally healthy.

I feel badly for the soldiers and their families who are described in the Post's story. The Army, being an organization run by humans, is far from perfect. And I hope that progress is being made in the conditions that were described. One of the reported incidents dates back to when Paul Wolfowitz was Deputy Secretary of Defense.

But here is what really gets to me: the Post comes through with another holier-than-thou story about the treatment of soldiers by the military. Yet, the treatment of one of its own war reporters has been less than stellar. Who holds the Post accountable when one of its reporters is damaged while working for them and then apparently casts her off? Where is the compassion and concern? Where is the expose'?

In the end, all these people - the soldiers and reporters - deserve the best treatment possible by their employers. War is Hell and mistakes are made. The Washington Post is able to use page A1 to showcase the mistakes of the military. Unfortunately, there is no such showcase to illuminate the mistakes of the Post. The military is under constant pressure to improve - although we know that progress can be painfully slow. I wonder if anything will ever cause the Washington Post to look within and see that it can be guilty of the same types of abuses of which it accuses others.

Update: Knowing that this major piece was coming in the Washington Post, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, commanding general of Walter Reed Army Medical Center responds. BTW, the Post's story is getting major play across America this morning.

I wouldn't be surprised if this is the new meme:

"We really, really support the troops. We said it in our resolution. You (the administration) obviously hate them as you treat them like crap. We just want our beloved soldiers to come home."

Not just another statistic

Over the years, I've exchanged emails with several people who have worked or lived in Iraq. Last summer, one young man from Iraq sent me a picture of his niece who stills lives, I assume, in Baghdad. She is about the same age as my grandson.

I think of this young girl a lot and wonder if she is safe, and I wonder what will happen if we leave Iraq too soon. John Burns of the New York Times recently gave his opinion on that.

Here is one face of the future of Iraq. I hope she is able to grow into a beautiful young woman.

Update: By coincidence, I just ran across a blog entry that as of Monday, the child was safe and talking to her uncle on the telephone. In the interest of protecting the identity of the child, I won't link to the post. It makes me glad to read that she is OK.

"Believe me when I say I really, really do support the troops"

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post ran a piece by Eric Fair in which he details abusive treatment of detainees at a detention facility in Fallujah. The writer describes the nightmares he experiences as a lingering effect of his failure to stand up to what he called meritless orders to torture the detainees. According to the short bio at the end of the article Mr. Fair: "served in the Army from 1995 to 2000 as an Arabic linguist and worked in Iraq as a contract interrogator in early 2004." The abuse he engaged in occurred in the summer of 2004 - just at the height of the Abu Ghraib coverage.

Mere months ago, a detailed story of reported torture and mayhem by U.S. troops would have been front page news. But in reading the reaction to washingtonpost.com's Bill Arkin calling our troops pampered mercenaries, and in watching senators who had formerly compared our troops to Nazi's and uneducated ne'er-do-wells now knocking themselves out in declaring their "support for the troops," it's become apparent that demonizing the troops is a losing political and journalistitc strategy. Eric Fair's story gained no traction at all in the major newspapers or on the cable news channels.

If there was one lesson learned from Vietnam, it's that turning against the troops does nothing to help a party win elections. Let's hope those same politicians - so attuned to consequences of missteps in times of war - remember the other important lesson from Vietnam, that precipitous retreat in a military struggle will likely leave millions dead.

Why I read the Washington Post

Because there are plenty of grown-ups there who are not sticken by BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome.)

So, when Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Committee, makes threats to stop the surge and force a redeployment of troops from Iraq while avoiding the responsibility that comes with such action, well, the Washington Post editorial board calls him out.

God bless 'em.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

NCO of the Year!

For the whole state of New Hampshire!

Here's an American Soldier to be proud of - great dad, loving husband, wonderful son...and now he's been chosen as the NCO of the year for the New Hampshire Army National Guard.

The next level is a regional competition for the Northeast states. Now, the contest becomes intense: More interviews, a navigation test, PT to the max.

Way to go, Al! Best of luck in the next round!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Understanding what happened in Iraq

John Burns is a reporter from the New York Times and has been cited favorably in the right-leaning blogosphere on his reporting on Iraq. Via the Anchoress yesterday, here's an exchange that Burns had with Tim Russert last weekend:

"Russert: John, was it possible for our policy makers to truly understand the way Iraqis would have reacted? The judgments made here were that when we went in we would be greeted as quote, 'liberators,' to quote Dick, Vice President’s Cheney’s phrase, that they were prepared, in effect, to take governing into their own hands, that they were so upset and had been so downtrodden by Saddam Hussein that they would embrace democracy and rise up, almost immediately.

Burns: Well first of all, I think, again, to be fair, the American troops were greeted as liberators. We saw it. It lasted very briefly, it was exhausted quickly by the looting and the astonishment and puzzlement and finally anger of Iraqis that nothing, or very little was done to stop that. I think that to be fair to the United States, when I speak as a citizen of the United Kingdom, I think that the instincts that led to much that went wrong were good American instincts: the desire not to have too heavy of a footprint, the desire to empower Iraqis.But, and I think that the policy makers in Washington, and to be on honest with you the journalists also, to speak for myself, completely miscalculated the impact of 30 years of violent, brutal repression on the Iraqi people and their willingness, in President Bush’s phrase, 'to stand up' for themselves, to take authority, to take risks. Why did we who, people like Rajiv [Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post] and myself who were there under Saddam, why did we not fully understand that? I think it’s because we were extremely limited by the Saddam regime as to where we could go and who we could go and speak to and what we wrote about mostly — certainly I can speak for myself — was what was most palpable and accessible to us which was the terror, it was real.

To that extent, I suppose you’d have to say people like myself enabled what happened, the decisions made here to go into Iraq and I’m not going to apologize for that. I’ve been to, I think many of the world’s nastiest places in a 30 year career as a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and Iraq was, by a long way saving only North Korea, the nastiest place I’ve ever been. It was a truly terrible place and what I think we were transfixed by was the notion that if you could remove this of carapace of terror and you could liberate the Iraqi people, many good things would happen.

We just didn’t understand, and perhaps didn’t work hard enough to understand, what lay beneath this carapace which is a deeply fractured society that had always been held together, since the British constructed it, by drawing geometric lines on the map — Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia in the 1920s — a country that had really always been held together by force and varying degrees repression. The King, King Faisal, is remembered, the King who was assassinated in 1958, as a kind of golden era, but even that is really, was not really a parliamentary democracy. It was still basically an autocratic state and I think we needed to understand better the forces that we were going to liberate.

And my guess is that history will say that the forces that we liberated by invading Iraq were so powerful and so uncontrollable that virtually nothing the United States might have done, except to impose its own repressive state with half a million troops, which might have had to last ten years or more, nothing we could have done would have effectively prevented this disintegration that is now occurring."

Unfortunately, I haven't followed John Burns' reporting in the New York Times as closely as I have of reporters from the Washington Post. I wish I'd been reading him all along because clearly this man can put forth a non-partisan view of what has happened in Iraq.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Read this, then weep

This post from Michael Yon has been cited frequently in the blogosphere.

Having read thousands and thousands of articles and posts on the war in the last few years, I've become somewhat hardened and cynical. If you can read Michael's post, then not have a gut-wretching reaction to the last picture which explains the title of his post "The Hands of God," you're even more hardened than I.

Update: I was reading The Wide Awake Cafe, and found a different interpretation of what represented The Hands of God in Micheal Yon's post. I thinks it's true that God is everywhere, even in the most unexpected places.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Another case of the pot calling the kettle black

William Arkin, a columnist for the Washington Post a blogger for washingtonpost.com, has created quite a little stir with his series of blog posts: "The Troops Also Need to Support the American People", "A Note to My Readers on Supporting the Troops", and "The Arrogant and the Intolerant."

Here is the comment which I have submitted to his blog:

Mr. Arkin,

As mother of one of the said "mercenaries" and, perhaps even worse in your mind, a former U.S. military prison guard in Iraq, I have been quite interested in your columns of the last few days.

In this post: "A Note to My Readers..." you said: "We give them what we can to be successful, and we have a contract with them, because they are our sons and daughters and a part of us, not to place them in an impossible spot." Sorry, Mr. Arkin you haven't a clue what it is to have a son or daughter at war and then to watch as journalists such as yourself try to infantilize them, call them names, and accuse them of being indulged by America. In your next post, when people come to their defense, you decide the writers are "Arrogant and Intolerant."

To claim that my precious son is your son is the height of arrogance. To write in such a way as to criticize the soldier's right to express an opinion is the height of intolerance.

While some of the comments that have been written to your posts have been most disrespectful, they do not pose a physical threat to you. I dare say that you will wake to see the morning sun tomorrow. This will not be true of some of the young men and women whom you have so thoroughly disparaged in your series of posts. They will have died completing a mission on which they were sent by the American people. It is a mission with which the American public has now become weary and bored.

God bless you, Mr. Arkin, and your freedom to speak what you feel. You live in the greatest country known to mankind and enjoy the most free and affluent lifestyle that could ever be imagined by people just a generation ago. Your freedom is protected by those in uniform whom you chose to insult, and they will die again and again for you.