Archive for the ‘War on Terror’ Category

Would You Do It Again?

March 4, 2009

A Blackfive reader asks a great question: Infantrymen: Would You Do It Again?

I have been seriously thinking of re-upping after 20 years… I have all the questions any deploying soldier would have…effects on kids, family, of course. The question is, if you were offered the chance, would you do it again?

Our community of diplomats, development professionals, and contractors is a little different.  For many, Iraq is another difficult post in a long career.  Others are putting their professional and private lives on hold for this one mission.  My colleagues range in age from 28 to 70.  We have different training and missions than our military comrades.  Many of us serve (deploy) for 2 or more years at a stretch.

What about it, diplomats and development guys in Iraq and Afghanistan… would you do it again?


Gen. Petraeus on the Surge

December 8, 2008

General David Petraeus, CENTCOM commander and former commanding general of Multinational Force-Iraq, addressed the Heritage Foundation in October on the ideas underpinning the Surge.

The only way to secure the population is by liv­ing with them. You cannot secure the people of a neighborhood from a large base by driving through it a couple of times a day and returning to that large base. You have to locate with them, you have to share risk with them—and this in partnership with Iraqi forces. …

Between the period of December 2006 and August 2007, a very dramatic reduction in sectarian violence took place in Baghdad.

That came about because our forces went into those areas, tried to sit on the violence, to stabilize it, to bring it down, to go after the bad guys, to pro­mote local reconciliation, and then to start to deal with some of the other conditions in there in terms of markets, local commerce, and local governance.

Topics include strategic communications, detainee policy, training missions, population security, reconciliation.  This talk is an excellent review of the past and overview of the situation in Iraq today.  Read the whole thing.  Here is the transcript and here are the slides. Via Joe Katzman at Winds of Change.

Governance and Growth

May 5, 2008

Harvard development economist Dani Rodrik has some interesting things to say about governance and economic development – two topics of great interest to counterinsurgents. From his remarks from an April 15 World Bank panel:

A deep insight that has emerged out of the disappointments of the Washington Consensus is that successful policy reform is at its core governance reform. Reforms in the areas of, say, trade or fiscal policy require much more than just cuts in tariffs and a balancing of the budget. If you want to achieve lasting change and have a real impact on the behavior of those agents that determine the success of reform, you must change the “rules of the game”—the manner in which trade policy is made or fiscal policy is conducted. This insight, assisted and reinforced by the academic literature on institutions and growth, has in turn produced a new development agenda focusing on a broad list of governance reforms.

Dr. Rodrik goes on to distinguish between “politics-as-an-end” and “politics-as-a-means.” The former is “transparency, effectiveness, rule of law, lack of corruption, voice and participation… at their core social, political, and legal arrangements which markets-and economic analysis-typically presuppose… deeply embedded in the history, traditions, and politics of a society.”

The latter is the value that good governance creates by providing “producers and households with greater clarity on the rules of the game and investors with greater assurance that they can appropriate the returns to their efforts.” Good governance may or may not be necessary for growth – growth is achieved by removing the most binding constraints, and in some countries governance is not most binding.

Economists and development professionals (says Dr. Rodrik) can give useful advice on governance-as-a-means but not necessarily governance-as-an-end. What’s more, the path to pursue one might not be congruent with the path to pursue the other – there may be tradeoffs.

For most countries the “good governance” and the “governance for growth” agendas are likely to differ substantially. Economists have precious little to say about how to achieve the first of these, but plenty to contribute to the second. From a growth standpoint, the risk is that the governance agenda takes an independent life of its own, and that it becomes divorced from the particular governance challenges that are most closely linked to stimulating and sustaining economic growth.

In Iraq, of course, the Coalition is pursuing “governance-as-an-end” – democratization. At the same time, economic development is seen as important for the later phases of counterinsurgency. It demonstrates the government’s capabilities, reduces grievances (as Austin Bay would say) and absorbs accelerants (military-aged men). Therefore, our Provincial Reconstruction Teams have both political and economics sections.

Here are the comments from the full panel (pdf) via Tyler Cowen. Includes Daron Acemolgu and Francis Fukuyama, but I haven’t had time to go through them.

Meeting Resistance

November 9, 2007

A few weeks ago, the Embassy was treated to a preview showing of the documentary film Meeting Resistance, by Molly Bingham and Steve Connors. They are veteran photojournalists of numerous conflicts. Connors was a soldier in Northern Ireland. This is their first film. Here is IMDB.

Meeting Resistance introduces the viewer to eight or so insurgent fighters from one Baghdad neighborhood. They appear in silhouette, out of focus, or outside the frame. The rest of the footage is B-roll shot around the neighborhood plus a little news footage. Aside from occasional title cards, there is no narration.

The screening was arranged by our Red Team. I would guess that between 200 and 300 people attended. I stood in the back.


What Have We Learned? The Saga of Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp

August 7, 2007

Over the weekend, a report surfaced that Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp had recanted his controversial essay. According to a military source quoted by The Weekly Standard,

Beauchamp — author of the much-disputed “Shock Troops” article in the New Republic’s July 23 issue as well as two previous “Baghdad Diarist” columns — signed a sworn statement admitting that all three articles he published in the New Republic were exaggerations and falsehoods — fabrications containing only “a smidgen of truth,” in the words of our source.

The Weekly Standard also published the following statement from Major Steven F. Lamb, the deputy Public Affairs Officer for Multi National Division-Baghdad:

An investigation has been completed and the allegations made by PVT Beauchamp were found to be false. His platoon and company were interviewed and no one could substantiate the claims.


Fighting Perceptions

August 4, 2007

At The Belmont Club, Wretchard writes:

Kinetic operations are now routinely shadowed by their political and information war counterparts. Death and mayhem are now props to achieve a political and media effect. Although men may shoot and kill each other in Iraq, in reality the effects both of the planned insurgent attack and the current spoiling operations are aimed squarely at Washington DC.

Regular readers will recognize this as a hallmark of War Amongst the People, as formulated by Gen. Rupert Smith in his The Utility of Force. In our review of the book last month, we quoted the General:

The essence of war amongst the people is the destruction of the enemy’s will to resist by employing strength only at the tactical level,

to constantly and expensively undermine the stronger army and to thereby break the will of the government and the people to make war.

The battlefield as a film set. Read the whole thing.

An Open Letter to Franklin Foer

July 27, 2007

To: Franklin Foer, Editor, The New Republic
From: Timothy, Blogger, Zeal & Activity
CC: Michael Yon, Hugh Hewitt
Re: “Scott Thomas” Affair – Next Steps

Dear Mr. Foer:

Your publication of Army private Scott Thomas Beauchamp’s “Diarist” piece has caused some controversy. Apparently, only one detail of his story – beyond the fact of his existence – has been corroborated. Pvt. Beauchamp appears to have strong political views. He’s not a particularly good writer. It doesn’t help that you knew he is married to one of your staffers.

I suggest that The New Republic run a companion piece in its next issue. It has some similarities with the Beauchamp piece, and some key advantages over it. I am confident that it will meet The New Republic’s standards for freelance writers. Running this piece will provide your readers with a valuable, interesting, and informative contrast with Pvt. Beauchamp’s experience.

Like the Beauchamp piece, it deals with a mass grave – a real one. Again, the grave contained children’s bodies. The atrocity here is far more newsworthy than some cretinous horseplay: the children had been decapitated.

Corroboration will not be a problem. The grave’s excavation was witnessed by at least five American Soldiers from C Company, 1-12 Cavalry, who are identified by name, together with Iraqi soldiers from the 3-25 (5th Division). It was captured on video and in numerous still photographs, and its GPS coordinates are available.

Of course, I’m referring to Michael Yon’s dispatch “Bless the Beasts and Children.” On June 29, in a village about 3.5 miles from Baqubah, the capital of Diyala Province, U.S. and Iraqi troops discovered a mass grave containing the bodies of “10-14” villagers and children, as well as their animals.

Additional detail including a final body count is here and comments from a Diyala provincial council member are here. A video interview with American witnesses is here.

Michael Yon, who has been called “this generation’s Ernie Pyle,” is a former Green Beret and freelance journalist. He has been in Iraq since January 2007 and previously embedded in Mosul with the 1-24 Infantry. He has often criticized U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Army chain of command that authorizes embedded journalists. He was among the first to describe the situation in Iraq as a “civil war.” His writing is powerful, direct, and gripping.

Mr. Yon has offered the “Bless the Beasts and Children” dispatch, photographs, and video to all media outlets free of charge during July 2007. While several news websites and blogs linked to the dispatch, as far as I know, no print publication has carried them. Mr. Yon can be reached at

Publishing Mr. Yon’s dispatch will demonstrate the The New Republic’s commitment to complete coverage of the war in Iraq. It will provide the magazine’s readers with important information about our allies and enemies there. It will showcase a gifted writer with virtually unfettered access to the battlefield. And it will soothe the distracting uproar over Pvt. Beauchamp’s allegations.


CC: Michael Yon, Hugh Hewitt

NOTE: I don’t currently have Mr. Foer’s email address so I haven’t yet sent this letter directly to him. UPDATE: Done, with the help of commenter Sharkman, a little before 9 p.m. GMT on Friday.

UPDATE: Welcome, Hugh Hewitt readers! Have a look around – you might be interested in this somewhat related post on Citizen Journalism.

In Defense of Preventing Genocide

July 21, 2007

No doubt you have seen this post from Ace: Obama Says Preventing Genocide Not Enough To Justify US Presence In Iraq… And He’s Right (via Instapundit).

All arguments about Iraq have to be connected to the American national interest. … Talking about preventing a genocide merely to prevent a genocide is the sort of airy-fairy appeal-to-emotion unicorns-and-rainbows rhetoric that never much appealed to me, ever, even before the actual war. …

We’re not in this for the Iraqis. We’re in this for ourselves. It turns out that helping the decent Iraqis take control of their country and drive out the thugs is in our interest, but let’s not mistake their interests, and only their interests, for our own.

I like Ace, but I hope to see him retract this argument. Genocide of the Iraqis is not just some genocide of farmers and laborers in a backwards country that Americans never heard of. It is genocide of people who trusted America’s word, many of whom are trying to construct a just society in very trying circumstances. After all, for better or worse, we destroyed their government and upended their society. Their enemies are there to attack us and exploit the vacuum we created. If we abandon the Shi’ites and Sunnis to the tender mercies of al-Qaeda and the Quds Force, we add them to the shameful roll of American allies used and discarded – South Vietnamese, Hmong, Afghans, Kurds.

I agree with Ace that other American interventions must follow American strategic interest. Obviously there are many other compelling reasons to win in Iraq. (I would add one more: the loss of reputation suffered if we should jetison our Iraqi partners.) But to suggest that, in the absence of these reasons, the Iraqis can go hang, is revolting.

PREVIOUSLY on Zeal and Activity:

Words on Iraq

July 18, 2007

In the past few weeks, we have heard powerful, eloquent speaking on the War in Iraq. If you missed these speeches, take a minute to read the whole thing.

Today, the commander of MNF-Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, spoke on Hugh Hewitt’s radio program.

[W]e have an enormous responsibility, because of course, we did liberate this country. … [T]here’s enormous potential implications for some of the courses of action that have been considered out there, and certainly, a precipitous withdrawal would have potentially serious implications for important interests that we have in Iraq, in the region. …

[O]ur leaders get it, our soldiers get it, they are these flexible, adaptable, thoughtful, culturally astute, and by and large, leaders and soldiers and Marines, and they are showing that on a daily basis here. That is not to say that it is anything at all easy about this, that the complexity is anything but just sheer enormous, or that this situation is anything but the most challenging that I’ve ever seen in some 33 years in uniform.

U.S. Army 1LT Pete Hegseth, the executive director of Vets for Freedom, gave a press conference with a group of Senators in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday (via Power Line).

[W]hile Iraqi political progress is certainly not where it should be, the security improvements American soldiers are purchasing in blood and sweat are a necessary precondition for political progress and a stable Iraq that denies haven to Al Qaida and company.

So we say to Congress, let General Petraeus and the troops do their job. They want to win.


The Utility of Nuclear Weapons

July 8, 2007

Today is the 100th anniversary of Robert A. Heinlein’s birth. Heinlein inspired a generation of rocket engineers and space enthusiasts, wrote classics of science fiction, and advocated arms research as part of strong resistance to Communism.

Dwayne Day marked the day with an essay published at The Space Review (via Instapundit). He quotes liberally from a memo that Heinlein wrote for his colleagues when he retired from the Naval Air Experimental Station in 1945.

Heinlein was prescient about a lot of things; in a way he was right about the atom bomb, but not in the way he meant. His error helps explain the core argument from Gen. Rupert Smith’s The Utility of Force, which I reviewed yesterday.

Here is Heinlein to his fellow aeronautical engineers:

Why we are out of business