Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Various thoughts and links on the Iraq War

I hate to think about the Iraq War during the days around Christmas.  But, then, I hate to think about the Iraq War at some level any time.  I suppose I could take Barbara Bush's approach (old Barbara, not the not-Jenna twin Barbara) and say why should I clutter my beautiful mind worrying about stuff like that?

But I thought it was a lousy idea before Cheney and Bush invaded.  And it gets lousier by the day, now.  So I have a few more-or-less random thoughts on it.

First of all, here are several articles that are very worth reading: 

Advice Not Taken by Gareth Porter <em>American Prospect</em> 12/18/06: on the warnings from one of the experts consulted by the Iraq Study Group about the poor prospects of a troop "surge".

Surging To Defeat In Iraq by  Patrick Lang and Ray McGovern, 12/18/06 on what a serious, serious risk the Cheney-Bush administration is taking in planning for a "surge"/escalation in early 2007.

Stalingrad on the Tigris? by Patrick Lang, Sic Simper Tyrannis 2006 blog 12/16/06: a somewhat different angle on the surge/escalation approach as it's currently being discussed.  "The carnage implicit in this concept would be appalling," he writes.

Equipment Shortages Undermine Iraqi Forces by David Axes National Defense Nov 2006: about more than equipment; gives a glimpse at the logistical shortages of the Iraqi Army - big-time, serious shortages.

Britney Booed Out of the Lakers Game! X17 Online 12/18/06: how vicious rumor-mongers continue to give aid and comfort to The Terrorists by dissing poor Britney and making up bad stories about her.  Okay, not so much about the war.  And, no, heretics, the fans weren't booing all-American icon Britney, they were booing something happening on the court!

As regular readers here know, I've been giving some attention the last few weeks to the so-called "milblogs", which more-or-less means blogs by soldiers, although the category in practice includes people who like to write about soldiers.

Like any type of blogs, they vary in quality.  Most of the them tend heavy toward the conservative-cheerleading approach to things.  Some of them promote charity-type activities or volunteer opportunities like writing letters to soldiers in the field.

But most of them are pretty blatant in trying to promote the idea that "honoring the soldiers" equates to "supporting George Bush's war policies", whatever those might be at a given time.  I was reminded of that seeing this post at Yankeemom about going to a counter-demonstration in Santa Cruz CA to oppose a peace group demonstrating at the military recuriting office.  I was struck that in an earlier post she said she had received a phone call from the local recruiter to let her know that a peace demonstration would be happening there:

“My” Recruiter just called to tell me about this event taking place across from the recruiting station tomorrow.  I had told him to let me know when something like this was going to go on and I’d be there as A Proud Army Mom to support them.  So I’ll be hanging out with my guys tomorrow, camera in hand.

Now, this is a pseudonymous blogger who generally shows a carelessness about facts giving her first-person, uncorroborated account.  But it's worth asking, are recruiters allowed to do that, organize political rallies?  If he's doing it on his own time, probably.  Still, a pro-government demonstration organized by a serving military official has an unpleasant sound to it.  If this is going on, it deserves publicity, at the minimum.

Her report of the demonstration and counter-demonstration itself is kind of amusing because she's giving a breathless account of what sounded like a pretty tame affair.  But she picks up on a theme I've seen among the prowar deadenders, which is that they gripe about antiwar groups using photographs of US soldiers who have died inthe Iraq or Afgnanistan Wars:

Until Sgt J came across one that I absolutely refuse to put up here.  It was an 8×10  photo of two of our soldiers carrying a fallen warrior - very graphic.  The photo of one of our finest was just laying on the ground next to this sign:  [A sign saying "Help Needed Now!", not exactly an endorsement of Islamic fundamentalism]

I should say so! I felt bile rising in my throat and said something very loudly to the effect that I was enraged by that and how they had no respect and that was someone’s son and how dare they use that in their "vigil"!  I turned to Sgt J and said I can’t do this - I have to go away now.  My fists were clenched…not a good sign.  All I could think of was the parents of this fine young man who would not be sharing Christmas with him ever again.  And these wastes of oxygen were using his death photo to "make their point".  I could hardly breath [sic] I was so angry.

Now, is "Sgt. J" the recruiter?  Is she saying that the Sarge was directing her little counter-demo?

Aside from the fact that she uses terms like "a fallen warrior", "one of our finest" - does anyone actually use terms like this except in ceremonial speeches? - it strikes me that the "milblogs" seem to have no compunction about using images of "fallen warriors" to promote their prowar, pro-Cheney political positions.  For instance, here is Yankeemom's post of 12/13/06.

The post itself doesn't make a political point.  But the other blog posts do, and these honoring-the-dead pieces are used to give the blog a "supporting the troops" air.  Good taste in photo selection is a very particular call.  But it's perfectly legitimate for people on either to use images of those killed and wounded to boost their points.  I'd have to say that I haven't come across many gruesome photos at antiwar blogs that I can remember.

Tanker Brothers uses photos of the dead in their sidebar and in individual posts like this one of 12/16/06.

(Warning, trolls: the next two paragraphs say some thingsabout war propaganda in matter-of-fact terms; if that's going to hurt your feelings, just skip over them.)  In terms of prowar propaganda, photos of the dead from the time they were alive and healthy are considered fine.  A comment in a book I was reading about the First World War made me think about this.  It mentioned that British military censors didn't mind stories about a grieving mother and children left behind when a soldier died in combat.  Presumably, they thought those stories helped acquaint people with the realities of war losses while also being suitable to fit into a "noble hero/fallen warrior" frame.

Photos of dead bodies lying in the muck, stories of the wounded dying in agony in the field, stories of the useless orgy of killing on both sides when brain-dead commanders sent infantry charging against enemy lines defended with machine guns, those weren't considered the proper patriotic messages the military wanted folks on the home front to see.  But that's as much what war is about as stories of heroic sacrifice - and all wars produce many stories of such sacrifices and of remarkable effort by soldiers under tough conditions.  But, honestly, doesn't "Yankeemom" realize that death and mutilation await some of those being recruited who wind up in Iraq or Afghanistan?  I'm sure she would say she does, since she claims to have a son in the Army.  But her description of her emotional reaction to that photo make me wonder what she thinks war is about.

Yankeemom is also promoting a special Christmas action for soldiers serving in the torture gulag in Guantanamo.  Now, it may be the  case that not all soldiers in Guantanamo take part in or condone the criminal, sadistic torture that has been standard operating procedure there.  But I don't see how anyone can understand a special appreciation project for jailkeepers at the Guantanamo Gulag as anything but an endorsement of sick, sadistic torture.  That only counts as "honoring the soldiers" if you assume that all 1.4 million Americans in the services right now also practice mock executions by partial drowning and the various other sadistic practices that are part of the Cheney-Bush torture menu.

Speaking of that 1.4 million, that's become the latest airhead talking point for the small minority who support escalation, that, gee, it's not going to be a problem toget 20 or 30 thousand more troops into Iraq because we've got 1.4 million people in the service.  Nitpicker at Unclaimed Territory is the first one I've seen to start dissecting that howler in a 12/19/06 post:

Robert Pollock [of the Wall Street Journal] is technically correct. According to the DoD ..., we do have 1.4 million active duty service members. However, half of those service members are sailors and airmen ... They do not have the training required to serve as infantry riflemen or military police, the MOSs most needed in Iraq. Not to mention those 700,000 Navy and Air Force service members are already manning the ships and aircraft for which they've been trained. Does Pollock think they can simply switch? No?

I'm not saying there aren't plenty of squids and zoomies with sand in their shorts, but only that Pollock's suggestion that dropping 40,000 troops in Iraq wouldn't be hard is asinine.

Yesterday's Washington Post story, White House, Joint Chiefs At Odds on Adding Troops by Robin Wright and Peter Baker 12/19/06, is understably getting a lot of attention.

But despite my frequent swipes out our infallible generals, I'm not entirely comfortable with the process I see happening here.  As bad as their judgment is, Bush and now Robert Gates are the civilian authorities who formally make the decisions on troop commitments, even though Cheney may be calling the shots.  Somebody is presumably leaking this stuff to bring Congressional and public pressure to bear against Bush's escalation plans.  I'm not entirely comfortable with the Joint Chiefs of Staff or individual services making what amounts to a semi-public lobbying effort against the civilian authorities' policy direction.

A top general resigning in protest would be a more sybolically powerful statement.  But there's not a tradition for the US armed services of resigning in protest.  And that's probably a good thing, in general.  It's hard for me to say much more about that, though, since we don't know who is doing the leaking or really that much about how the dispute is playing out.  Related to this, see also:

Schoomaker: Larger force, more reserves needed by Lolita Baldor Army Times/AP 12/14/06: Army Chief of Staff Shoomaker's warning that, “At [t]his pace ... we will break the active component” of the Army without more access to reserves or an increase in active forces.

Powell says troops stretched too thin by Barbara Slavin USA Today 12/17/06

Bush says he'll seek larger military by Matthew Stannard San Francisco Chronicle 12/20/06.

My question about this is, how are we going to enlarge the Army if they've been having to lower their monthly recruiting targets for the last year and a half in order to claim their hitting them, and also scraping the bottom of the barrel for recruits in many cases?

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