Sunday, March 09, 2008

Media commentary

I decided to outsource the vast majority of the good content in today's web log entry- it was cheaper.

I make postings like this from time to time. They probably don't interest anybody but me. As this is my blog, however, I can make as many stupid comments about these articles as I want. Readers can be as selective as they decide. My catharsis, other's boredom. And it also gets most of these discussions out of the way, as I know that upon my return to the States I will not be in the mood to talk about Iraq with folks if they demonstrate a complete lack of understanding about what is going on. By "lack of understanding" I mean those with less of a clue than me- I'm pretty in the dark given that I work for a "need to know" organization that doesn't feel that I need to know very much.

I'll comment on a bunch of articles that I came across today, almost all through the Army news site, which compiles a nice collection- some days the articles interest me more than others- today was one of those days.

It is not news to me that they're spending a lot less than they're making right now- some internal memos have been flying around- U.S. folks trying to cajole their counterparts into spending more of their budgets, and on the right things. I suspect about half of it is willful hoarding, organizationally and individually (some would call it corruption)- which to me seems a combination of Arabic instinct and a legacy of deprivation under Saddam. The other half is the inefficiencies in the bureacracy and them trying to learn our incredibly slow contracting process. My perception anyway.

I don't have a mission which exposes me to the level of danger these guys faced. I've been on convoys, both civilian and military, but not much. I might even qualify as a "fobbit". But I don't really live on a "FOB"- my "forward operating base" is an Iraqi army base, and my force protection is my 9mm and my m4 rifle. This week I've been on my own with my National Police friends, sometimes with an interpreter, sometimes without, which leads for some interesting attempts at communication. I would have been so much better with the language if I didn't have 50 or so interpreters working for me for 9 months, but that all ended in January. But I have lost friends- one I knew to a good degree, the others were part of the staff but not as close. I've never gotten a tattoo- but I have thought of having something like that done to remember them. And the "closure" process of memorial services was different- these were contractors, so they didn't get the traditional military treatment. In fact, with one of them, the only real ceremony was the National Police getting together, 2,000 strong, and sharing a prayer and a moment of silence. I think of you often, Hurstie, JJ, and Umran. You each had family that now has to move on without you. Each of you were not combattants. You were murdered, one of you in your own home.

Only WWII was longer. But this article points out how segmented the experience is. I was chatting online with a buddy of mine at Microsoft about this the other day. The country isn't at war, the military is- and only people closely associated- such as family and friends- seem to even notice anymore. But the eloquence of reporters, writers, etc can't express what it is like for those missing their loved ones, either temporarily, or permanently- or working with loved ones that have been changed forever from wounds physical, mental or both. I have to admit that I'm going to work hard in some ways to forget all of this when I go home myself. Denial, despised as it is, in some ways is a very healthy mechanism. Forgetting and moving on is an approach that helps us keep going. But there's another part of me that knows there are certain things I need to hold on to, and that the fraternity of soldiers I have chosen to join needs me to continue to serve in various ways. We can't ever fully walk away, as much as we might want to.

Maria Duran’s Endless Wait, Emily Brady, NY Times
These are the types of articles that leave me near tears as I think of my wife and children at home. I do all that I can to reassure them that I am well, and that I'll return soon. And I pray that I will. I feel blessed, so blessed. I have lived and loved, fought, played, traveled, studied. I've enjoyed many cultures, many foods, climates. So if I were to never go beyond this point, it was for me an extraordinary 38 years. But I want to get back for them. I need to give more to them, I've had my turn. I want them to be able to take down the yellow flag in the window, and not have to put up the black flag.

The Iraq War Will Cost Us $3 Trillion, And Much More, Bilmes and Stiglitz, Washington Post
The costs are staggering. I read this one with a grain of salt, considering the authors and the media outlet used, it can be expected to lean a bit left. And with such large numbers, there is a bit of estimation in the whole process. And as many of the articles I highlight above note- many of the costs are measured in non-economic terms.

The State Of Iraq: An Update, By Jason Campbell, Michael O'Hanlon and Amy Unikewicz, NY Times
I liked this one because the opinion was supplemented with data. I've been having a bit of a back and forth dispute with an individual who likes to complain that what the NPs are doing here (or rather not doing- paying money to the base commander) at this post is jeapordizing Iraqi Army missions here at this post. Rhetoric aside, the numbers just don't add up. But some folks analyzing the situation in our little corner of Iraq, rather than look at the data, look at the rank of the signature block, and attend to the inflammatory language. Thankfully, I don't work for those who are being fooled.
This one speaks for itself, but refers to the notes above, not below. Ahoy!

We Can't Win These Wars On Our Own, (Washington Post) John A. Nagl
I've always been impressed with what I've read from and about LTC Nagl. The impression I get, though, is that his unorthodoxy has not been received very well in military circles. That unorthodoxy is not rewarded in the military is an observation that breaks no new ground. But of course, most of my observations don't break any new ground. "First, break all the rules" (Dana recommended reading, BTW) plays well in business management symposia, but not quite so much in an organization which details exactly how to do even the most mundane things in manuals that I must admit I don't read very carefully. I have read more carefully the COIN doctrine, and the Army FM on leadership, and to be frank, I'm not sure many leaders in my Army have read that leadership FM. It actually isn't too bad. It borrows heavily from leadership thinking and study in other domains, including business. And of course it uses previous military examples.

Alternate leadership technique....

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