Feb 11

Eric C and I love the free market. Economics, historical experience and classically-liberal political thought all demonstrate that the free market, through competition, weeds out weaker competitors in favor of better, more efficient, more effective rivals.

War weeds out weaker competition too. Unfortunately, only war weeds out weaker competition; peacetime militaries mostly have to guess whether or not they’ve prepared adequately/properly for the next war. Doubly unfortunately, most armies hate change. Conservatism and tradition, embodied by bureaucracy, rule the day.

Today, I want to describe an innovation (admittedly, a 100 year old innovation) in naval camouflage that I think could save lives--possibly hundreds of American’s lives--that will never, ever in a million years happen:

The Navy should paint its warships rainbow colors.

Okay, okay, okay. You probably expect me to make a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” joke right about now, and I’m not going to give it to you, because I am 100% serious. In addition to multi-colored hues, I believe the U.S. Navy should paint all its ships in zig-zags, stripes and swirls.

It’s called disruptive camouflage. Instead of blending with the background, you confuse your enemy. Think zebras. At first, its like, “Man, zebras suck at camouflage. They blend into nothing. That’s the worst camouflage ever.” Unless they’re not trying to blend into the background, but each other...that might actually trick lions.

Disruptive camouflage works in naval warfare. In World War I, when German U-boats surfaced to fire torpedoes at enemy ships and cargo vessels, they only had a few seconds to determine the distance and direction of these ships. They would then dive again to avoid being spotted, resurface, locate the enemy ship and fire. Since torpedoes traveled slowly, U-boats had to lead their targets by several nautical miles, trying to predict where their prey would end up in a few minutes time.

Seems tricky, right?

Well, British and American warships knew that U-boats needed to predict within eight degrees the direction of their victims, so they developed some counter-measures. Since blending in with the ocean is pretty much impossible, they tried to confuse their opponents instead.

By painting zigzags of different colors all over their battleships, when the U-boats surfaced, they could spot the American and British vessels; they just didn’t know where they were going. Or how far away they were. The different colors, swirls, zigzags and shapes made vessels appear to be traveling forward or backwards, slower or faster. When the U-boats resurfaced, they would often be aiming in the complete wrong direction, and would have to start the entire aiming process over.

Eric C’s favorite model of disruptive camouflage is the “fake wake”. On the back of a boat, the painters would paint a large white wake as if the boat was steaming full speed in the opposite direction. Instead, it sailed off going forward.

The Navy called this camouflage, “razzle dazzle”. Since every second counted, the longer it took a U-boat to aim and fire, the more chances the allied ship had of discovering the U-boat and radioing for help. This 99% Invisible podcast keyed me into this entire phenomenon, and how, as host Roman Mars narrates, the US Navy looked like “a flock of sea-going Easter eggs” or “a cubist nightmare”.
I can hear the skeptics. The clever Navy officer has an easy counter to Michael C, faux naval surface warfare expert. “Yeah, Michael C, razzle dazzle worked when the enemy manually fired torpedoes. Our missiles and torpedoes rely on sonar and radar. Razzle dazzle won’t help a damn bit.”

The hypothetical Navy officer would be right...if all America cared about was fighting high-intensity warfare against the Chinese or Russians. In that case, naval warfare would happen at distances of hundreds of miles, and each side would use advanced imagery and surveillance to find naval flotillas. However, I think a war with either of those two counties is incredibly unlikely, despite how much the defense establishment prepares for that scenario.

But the single most likely nation the U.S. might fight a war against, especially a naval war, in the next year--or next five years--is Iran. As this post from last year lays out, Iran plans to prey on the U.S. Navy’s geographical limitations with low-tech weaponry. They will use mini-subs, speed boats and anti-ship cruise missiles to swarm our ships in very shallow and narrow waterways.

While razzle dazzle won’t help in a high intensity naval war, it could help in an asymmetric war like this. A suicide boat is essentially a surface torpedo. In the effort to swarm larger U.S. ships, timing is everything. Every second Iran’s small boats remain undetected is another second likelier they are to sink a U.S. ship. Imagine entire flotillas of Iranian vessels setting out in the wrong direction, finding themselves further away from their targets rather than closer because of American razzle dazzle camouflage. This could mean the difference between the U.S. Navy sinking a couple dozen Iranian small boats or an American aircraft carrier (with 6,000 sailors) sinking.

I’m a realist (not in foreign policy terms) though. I know I will never see razzle dazzle paint jobs on U.S. Navy vessels. I’ll address why on Wednesday.

Feb 06

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

On Violence is pro-democracy. Shockingly, not just here in America, but around the world too. As a result, we believe the U.S. should encourage pro-democracy movements. And this doesn’t just apply to the countries we hate (the way Republicans are pro-democracy in Iran), but countries we are allied with too. (The way those same Republicans avoid mentioning that Saudi Arabia has a king. A king! What is this, the Middle Ages?)

So we feel like we have to deal with the “fallout” of the Arab Spring, the poorly-named “Arab Winter” (or, as Wikipedia dubs it, “Reactions to Innocence of Muslims”). Today, we have a few random thoughts. Tomorrow, we’ll have even more.

Point 1: How is it possible that people still don’t get what free speech is?

Prohibiting speech is not the same as condemning speech. During the election, the Romney campaign lambasted the Obama administration for opposing free speech when the Egyptian embassy condemned the anti-Islamic video that touched off anti-America protests in Egypt and Libya. Unfortunately, this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t approach. If President Obama hadn’t condemned the video, the Romney administration would have said President Obama let hate speech slide.

Remember, people--even government employees--are allowed to say people shouldn’t say things. It only inhibits free speech if they prosecute them, or threaten to prosecute them. Conservatives and liberals both confuse this point, and embrace it, depending on the political winds.

Point 2: Many foreigners (in dictatorships) really don’t get what free speech is.

One of the most fascinating angles to the whole poorly-named Arab Winter was that people living in dictatorships assume that every piece of media is cleared by the government. From their point of view, America, by allowing Innocence of Muslims to exist, agreed with the content of the film.

Point 3: This is the ugly side of revolutions

We hate predictions so we try to not make too many of them. Last year, Michael C tried to do a “prediction audit” on the blog, and we didn’t have a lot to write about.
Except, in this case, we kind of called it. Discussing the Arab Spring, we pointed out that most revolutions are violent, yet most people advocating revolutions don’t realize this. The Arab Winter fits that trend. This shouldn’t shock anyone who has ever studied the history of revolutions; the American Revolution arguably wasn’t complete until our nation slaughtered 600,000 of its own people in a civil war.

Freedom has a price. In addition to America’s Revolutionary War and Civil War, the U.S. had to launch an entire Civil Rights movement. England had Cromwell take over as a dictator...with mass persecutions. France created the guillotine during its revolution...then had revolutions every dozen and a half years for a century. Germany had Hitler take over during the Great Depression.

Democracy isn’t always pleasant, but it is more pleasant than any other form of government. As the Arab Spring evolves, partisans on both sides should take deep breaths; international relations liberals should temper their expectations; realists should withhold their judgement. In either case, having strong democratic partners in the Middle East will provide more freedom, security and prosperity than dictators, but it will take time.
Point 4: Oh, and we mean ugly.

How ugly was the response to Innocence of Muslims?

Protesters stormed and wrecked numerous American embassies. Many people died. From Wikipedia:

“On September 13, protests occurred at the U.S. embassy in Sana'a, Yemen, resulting in the deaths of four protesters and injuries to thirty-five protesters and guards. On September 14, the U.S. consulate in Chennai was attacked, resulting in injuries to twenty-five protesters. Protesters in Tunis, Tunisia, climbed the U.S. embassy walls and set trees on fire. At least four people were killed and forty-six injured during protests in Tunis on September 15. Further protests were held at U.S. diplomatic missions and other locations in the days following the initial attacks. Related protests and attacks resulted in numerous deaths and injuries across the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

So sad. So ugly.

Feb 04

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

Thought 1: Top Secret America Ensnares Its Own

The FBI ended up confiscating some 20,000-30,000 documents related to the whole Petraeus investigation. Simply staggering. But why did they have to collect so many?

Because the FBI hoped to catch General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell in the most over-prosecuted crimes in Top Secret America: storing classified information on unclassified computer systems. The horror!

Our national security system grossly over-classifies any and every document it produces. And it produces too many of those documents in the first place. As a result, completely innocuous documents end up on unclassified systems. Most of the time, the military only prosecutes whistleblowers who anger the current administration; not spies, terrorists or respected generals.

Worse, the media (and prosecutors) fail to distinguish between Top Secret and Secret documents, when really only the former are “secret”. Everyone in the military has a security clearance. I firmly believe that any “Foreign Intelligence Service” worth its salt (China, Russia and Israel) has hacked into our “secret” SIPR computer network.

Thought 2: Hagiography...the Most Popular Word of the Year

I feel like the media went tripping over itself to immediately label Paula Broadwell’s book, All In, a “hagiography”--which I’m guessing most people can’t actually define. Hagiography is the technical term for a biography of a saint (Wikipedia tells me).

The earliest use of “hagiography” after the Petraeus scandal came on the 9th of November, as far as I can tell, in Slate. It was then repeated on the 10th, 11th, 13th, and 16th in places from Foreign Policy to The Guardian to Commentary to Business Insider. This is far from an exhaustive list.
Why weren’t more critics this critical when it was first published? To his credit, Spencer Ackerman actually labeled the biography a hagiography when it was first released due to a critical AP review. (Kind of incredible considering this later article.) Still most commentators waited for a sex scandal to dismiss the book.

Thought 3: The Petraeus Scandal and the Patriot Act

Fortunately for America, this sex scandal will have a good side effect: we might start dismantling America’s crazy post-9/11 laws.

As this Slate post makes clear, this scandal has raised some disturbing questions: Why did the FBI investigate Petraeus? Did they obtain warrants? If no crimes were committed, how did the scandal break?

The FBI has so much power, and so little terrorism to catch, they investigate regular citizens, not just scary looking foreigners. As Glenn Greenwald notes, “...it appears that the FBI not only devoted substantial resources, but also engaged in highly invasive surveillance, for no reason other than to do a personal favor for a friend of one of its agents, to find out who was very mildly harassing her by email.” As Joan Walsh writes, “Once people get over the latest pageant of human frailty on display in the Petraeus story, maybe they’ll realize how much privacy we’ve all given up in the last decade, under both political parties.”

Which will (hopefully) lead to real world consequences. As On the Media explains, the revelation that the FBI can investigate anyone on little to no suspicioun may prompt politicians to act, since they might see themselves in Petraeus’ place.
Thought 4: The Military Will Learn The Wrong Lesson From the Media

Tom Rick’s blog has a great prediction about the lessons the military will learn:

“Talking to reporters always will cost you down the road. So hold the media at arm's length. Or more. Don't engage unless ordered to do so.”

Jan 28

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)


I don’t want to write about this. Honestly, I don’t. If you’re like, wow, this is the fourth post this week on the sex scandal, these guys are really obsessed with this thing. We’re not. We hate sex scandals. As a nation, aren’t we past this yet?

No, we’re not. So here are my thoughts on a general who put the “biog” in biography. And don’t worry, we’ve got thoughts on Benghazi and the poorly-named “Arab Winter” next week:

Thought 1: The actual Petraeus sex scandal.

Since we began On V, Michael C and I have wanted to write about nepotism in the military. Too many generals just happen to have well-placed fathers and uncles with stars on their shoulders.

Or fathers-in-law. General Petraeus, as I found out when the scandal broke, married the daughter of West Point’s well-connected, four star General superintendent in the early 1970s.

To me, this feels like the real sex scandal.

Thought 2: Why is everyone so surprised?

A number of reporters were shocked (shocked!) that a man of Petraeus’ stature and demeanor could have an affair. I wasn’t. I sort of assume that every mega-successful man (in every nation on Earth) is cheating on his wife...or at least the revelation that he is doesn’t surprise me. There’s not one Senator, Congressman, President, CEO, celebrity or General that, if it came out they were having an affair, I’d be like, “Wow.” (That includes Mitt Romney and Tim Tebow.)

Doubly so if the successful person in question is nerdy. Tiger Woods--a loner, obsessed with sport’s nerdiest game--all of a sudden becomes a multi-millionaire celebrity. Of course he cheated on his wife; he’s making up for a sex-deprived youth. (Girls in high school are not impressed by a star golfer. Porn stars? They love a dude worth over $300 million.)

Petraeus--nerdy, dedicated, obsessed, not exactly the best looking guy in the world--all of a sudden becomes one of the most famous men in America. And he cheated on his wife.

Does this surprise you? At all? It shouldn’t.

Thought 3: The most annoying quote I heard during this scandal.

On Meet the Press, David Gregory said, “I want to return to the personal aspect of Director Petraeus who had to resign because of his affair with Paula Broadwell.”

No, he didn’t. He didn’t have to resign, because he didn’t do anything illegal. He chose to resign, because he was embarrassed. There’s a difference.

Thought 4: I blame partisans.

Honestly? My first reaction to this Petraeus scandal was, “Thank God. Now he can’t run for president.”

And that’s the problem. Republicans and Democrats love taking down their rival politicians. And the media helps them do it. That’s why these scandals keep continuing. Democrats delight in taking down Republicans (Newt Gingrich, Chris Lee, John Ensign, David Vitter, Mark Foley, Mark Sanford and most famously, Larry Craig.) Republicans delight in taking Democrats down (the ur-sex scandal Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, John Wu, Gary Condit and the entire Kennedy family).

In our modern, politicized media, each side of the aisle now has news channels, magazines and websites chasing, promoting and reminding us about the sordid details. Both sides need to knock it off. In the end, it doesn’t make the country or the government any better, and that’s the real problem.

Finally, an apology.

Frankly, I didn’t want to write about this scandal. I hate the media’s obsession with sex scandals. And I’d write about that, except that’s pretty well-worn ground as well.

Yet, as we wrote last Monday, there weren’t that many interesting events in 2012, and the Petraeus scandal does have a lot of interesting angles to it, like over-classification to warrantless FBI searches to military morality. Since we’re spending a few weeks discussing a sex scandal, I just just wanted you to know that I’m aware of how cliched the whole thing is and how, by extension, we’re perpetuating this cycle.

I’m sorry.

Jan 24

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

During my deployment to Iraq, the highlight of my day (besides churning through a DVD or two of The Wire before bed every night) was reading the Stars and Stripes “Letters” section. It looks like a traditional letter section. It reads like a traditional letter section. But it is anything but a normal letter section.

At that time--summer of 2010--”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” understandably dominated the political debates and news coverage in Stars and Stripes. And whenever one side published an op-ed, the Stripes letter section would reverberate for weeks with the response.

Then the chaplains entered the the fray...

For example, First Lieutenant (Chaplain) David Wooten compared the the Army to a family, writing, “Simply put, it is impossible for a family that embraces homosexuality to function normally.” That line caused letters to flood in for weeks.
Then, retired Colonel (Chaplain) Alexander Webster fired off an entire opinion piece on the irreparable harm sure to come if America repealed DADT. His best line says that rescinding DADT will, “shred the social and moral fabric of our armed forces.
According to the chaplain’s pre-DADT-repeal writing, getting rid of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would rend the moral fabric of America’s armed forces, filleting it into an ungodly, immoral, unethical horde of unrepentant sinners. Since Congress did repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”--and the military continued to function just fine--I haven’t felt the need to complain about the rhetorical inconsistencies of a handful of uber-vocal chaplains.

Until l’affaire Petraeus, which again brought the Army’s sex life to the front page. The New York Times ran the headline, “Petraeus Resignation Highlights Concern Over Military Officer Ethics.” The best example was Fox News digging up the over-hyped and patently false, “deployment sex pact”. (The idea that spouses leaving for Afghanistan agree to allow infidelity for the length of deployment. They don’t.)

I hadn’t realized that not only are our men and women in uniform required to defend the nation; apparently they must also be chaste warrior monks, chivalrous knights in shining khaki.
It turns out our soldiers are human. They aren’t as moral as our chaplains would have you believe, or as evil as anti-war advocates argued in previous wars. As I wrote before in “Where did God go in Afghanistan?”, our military looks like a cross-section of young America, about as moral and ethical as the country it serves.

I have one story that captures this best. Once my men and I were talking about pay. I said that a hundred dollars was a lot of money to me. My men responded that a hundred dollars isn’t a lot to a specialist (a junior soldier). Someone said, “Yeah, because a specialist will burn through that in an hour in a strip club.” Upon further discussion, we determined that the average specialist would probably go through a hundred bucks in a strip club in about fifteen minutes.

To be blunt, our soldiers go to strip clubs...just like regular Americans. Our soldiers have sex outside of marriage...just like regular Americans. As a result, strip clubs cling to military bases like venereal disease clung to World War II GIs. According to these two websites, soldiers have historically had wicked bad STD problems.

They curse...just like regular Americans. For example...

“The [Generation Kill] miniseries DVD extras include a discussion with the real Marines, during which this phenomenon is brought up: Ray Person tells a story about meeting people who, despite his own ability to validate the material, refused to believe American serviceman would even swear so much.”

From the entry on Generation Kill at TVtropes.org

They get in fights...just like regular Americans. And they always have. Sebastian Junger captures this pretty well in War:

“There were four platoons in the company, and of them all, Second Platoon was considered the best-trained and in some ways the worst-disciplined. The platoon had a reputation for producing terrible garrison soldiers men who drink and fight and get arrested for disorderly conduct and mayhem but who are extraordinarily good at war. Soldiers make a distinction between the petty tyrannies of garrison life and the very real ordeals of combat, and poor garrison soldiers like to think it's impossible to be good at both.”

To be clear, because people will misread this, the military isn’t any more or less moral than any other organization in America. It’s simply a collection of (mostly young) people who want to serve their country. And young people curse, get in fights and go to strip clubs. The military isn’t, and shouldn’t try to be, a bastion of morality. Or a bastion for America’s truly religious. It is and should be a volunteer force of men and women--of all colors and religions and cultures--who want to fight to defend America.

Chaplains and journalists should understand that.

(By the way, in my experience, chaplains rock. I say again, chaplains were a bright spot of my time in the military. But these were chaplains that didn’t usually didn’t write letters to Stars and Stripes.)

Jan 23

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

Here’s one civilian’s take on why the military is less effective than the private sector: you can get fired for cheating on your wife.

Though we hate writing about sex scandals--as we wrote last Monday--this Petraeus fiasco has way too many interesting subplots. The most important, most telling detail that came out of the whole thing was the revelation that our innovative, technologically-superior, thoroughly-modern military still adheres to a set of rules and regulations that 18th century Puritans would find reasonable. Apparently, in the 21st century military, you can still get court martialed for cheating on your wife.

Really? Really?

Here’s a copy of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, article 134, paragraph 60. Two sections stand out. First, it opens by explaining, “(1) That the accused wrongfully had sexual intercourse with a certain person; (2) That, at the time, the accused or the other person was married to someone else...” It ends by stating, “Maximum punishment. Dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for 1 year.” In layman's terms, prison. For a year.

Now, one could argue that the middle section is somewhat more nuanced. Again and again, it points out that, “To constitute an offense under the UCMJ, the adulterous conduct must either be directly prejudicial to good order and discipline or service discrediting.” Except that the sentence above it reads, “Adultery is clearly unacceptable conduct...” So it doesn’t matter if the next section says that it has to affect good order; all adultery affects good order.

Somewhat softening the law, in 2002 George Bush...

“...further discouraged adultery prosecutions by issuing an executive order that clarified the circumstances that might necessitate legal action. Although the order maintained that "adultery is clearly unacceptable conduct," it also listed a variety of factors that commanders should take into consideration before proceeding with a court martial. These include the accused's rank, the impact of the affair on the involved parties' job performance, and whether any of the hanky-panky took place while the accused was on the clock.”

Except that, in 2003, the military charged Captain James Yee with adultery, not because his affair affected good order, but because they couldn’t pin anything else on him. If a law is on the books, it’s on the books. Until the military removes the law, it hasn’t really entered the 21st century.

Imagine if we applied this 18th century law to the rest of America. First off, there goes the NBA. Since they work in the public sphere, adultery actually would be “discrediting”. The NBA then wouldn’t exist...or it would and Jimmer Fredette would be its LeBron James. And in the NFL, Manti T’eo would be this year’s number one draft pick.

Hollywood? Goodbye actors. And directors. And producers. And everyone associated with filming movies from the production assistants to studio heads.

We’d have no books for kids to read in English class.

I’d guess that, at least, thirty percent of the corporations in America wouldn’t have CEOs. And at least four American presidents would have been fired. (To be fair, we tried this in the nineties.) Hell, a lot of church pulpits would go empty.

It all made me think of this quote from the Simpson’s episode where Milhouse's dad gets a divorce.

Cracker Factory Executive: Kirk, crackers are a family food, happy families. Maybe single people eat crackers, we don't know. Frankly, we don't want to know. It's a market we can do without.

Kirk: So, that's it after 20 years? "So long. Good luck?"

Cracker Factory Executive: I don't recall saying "good luck."

In short, the military is the executive at the cracker factory. Soldiers are adults. And adults have affairs. I don’t condone cheating. (Among people my age, I am more against cheating than most.) But that doesn’t mean I support laws enforcing anti-adultery regulation.

Now, I can see the counter-argument: the private sector does have checks and balances on sexual conduct. Mainly, bosses can’t pressure subordinates into having sex with them, which is a good thing. Sexual harassment is illegal and should be. Officers can’t have sex with subordinates because that’s sexual harassment. And both the public and private sector have laws against that.

But regulating everything else? Well, it’s just another example of our traditional, staid military not changing...for the worse.

Jan 22

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2013", please click here.)

This Christmas, Eric C and I wanted two books. The first was The Signal and the Noise, by “statistics witch” Nate Silver. The second? Arnold Schwarzenegger's autobiography Total Recall.

We love Schwarzenegger who is, by any measure, an amazing individual. He won Mr. Olympia seven times. He became the world’s biggest movie star. He served as California’s governor for two terms. And then there’s the stuff people don’t know, like how he took community college classes when he first got to America to learn English and business. Or how he took advantage of California’s booming real estate market through the 80s and 90s to multiply his wealth several times over.

Yet, whenever we’ve talked about the most famous Austrian since Mozart, our friends just want to talk about the kid he fathered with his maid.


When we started this series, I made the overt exaggeration that, because General David Petraeus had sex with a woman who wasn’t his wife, it called into question everything he had achieved in Iraq and Afghanistan. If that sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. It’s beyond farcical.

And yet...General Petraeus is no longer the director of the C.I.A. The revelation that General Petraeus had sex with a woman who wasn’t his wife caused the media in Washington to completely re-examine his life and achievements. And the immediate conclusion was: it was all a myth.

Here are a few examples of over-reaction, led by perhaps the most cited example by Spencer Ackerman.

How I Was Drawn Into the Cult of David Petraeus

“Like many in the press, nearly every national politician, and lots of members of Petraeus’ brain trust over the years, I played a role in the creation of the legend around David Petraeus. Yes, Paula Broadwell wrote the ultimate Petraeus hagiography, the now-unfortunately titled All In. But she was hardly alone (except maybe for the sleeping-with-Petraeus part). The biggest irony surrounding Petraeus’ unexpected downfall is that he became a casualty of the very publicity machine he cultivated to portray him as superhuman.”

The Petraeus Myth

“With the reign of King David coming to a fast and tawdry end, a few writers have asked a great question: How did the media get so duped by the myth of David Petraeus?”

Cult of David Petraeus: Did Media Perpetuate a Myth?

“The now-retired four-star general, who ran the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was routinely called the greatest strategic military mind of his generation. While an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has no direct connection to Mr. Petraeus's military achievements, it does take the glow off the cult of personality that had developed around him. And defense reporters are now acknowledging they played no small part in burnishing that once-shining image.”

The Man and His Myth

“Of more abiding interest is what sort of legacy an extraordinary career has left. The General’s heroic status as the epitome of the modern soldier-statesman-scholar was rooted in both real achievement and a myth of his own and others’ creation.”

"David Petraeus: the downfall of a man and myth

“It was not the sexual indiscretion that shocked America, so much as the contrast it presented between the carefully cultivated myth of Gen Petraeus – the tall, ascetic fitness freak with a name like a Greek god who affected weariness at the hero status that was thrust upon him – and the reality it exposed.”

Myth. Cult. Illusion. Fraud. What should be a throwaway line in the second to last paragraph of his obituary will now be the opening paragraph. Like Schwarzenegger, an entire life’s accomplishments have been over-shadowed by a footnote. Fortunately, as some of the writers above point out, no one really believes that General Petraeus’ affair reflects on his time as the commander of forces in Iraq. One man’s bedroom antics shouldn’t really affect his performance review, even if he is the head of the CIA.

But it did give critics an opening. Despite the perceived success of the surge in Iraq, many academics grumbled for years that P-4 benefited from a confluence of events. They also complained that the media couldn’t/wouldn’t pick up the story. Many of these critics used Afghanistan to buttress their arguments, “See counter-insurgency doesn’t work!”

So when the media discovered that the beloved General Petraeus had had an affair, the rewriting began. These same critics, who had previously been ignored, had an opening. And a “legend” was destroyed.

I don’t care if the media was entranced by the FBI investigating General Petraeus. (That story was so bizarre they should have been.) But the media shouldn’t use it to rewrite history. Paula Broadwell sleeping with General Petraeus says nothing about the decline in violence in Iraq from 2008-2010. (Though, Iraq is still more violent in raw numbers than Afghanistan.) Paula Broadwell might have written an excessively complimentary biography of Petraeus that now can’t be trusted for its academic impartiality, but her actions don’t call into question counter-insurgency theory.

Instead, I agree with Glenn Greenwald. The national security apparatus of America is nigh untouchable. Criticism of soldiers--of any rank--just isn’t tolerated...even when it needs to be. The military is the most respected institution in America, which makes it immune from criticism, a common On Violence complaint. The media needs a sex scandal to criticize it.

If critics of population-centric counter-insurgency were right in a historical/strategic sense, the logic of their arguments and quality of their evidence should change the minds of the intellectual class, not the sexual impropriety of the man most associated with counter-insurgency theory.

Because that would be ridiculous.

Dec 19

(To read the entire "Our Communist Military" series, please click here.

And as we now have to clarify in each one of these posts, we don’t actually think that the military is “communist”. That’s a rhetorical stand-in for socialist, liberal, progressive, what have you.)

Yesterday I wrote about how Reagan “hated” our communist military, sarcastically inferring this from the fact that he hated the government. (The military, it turns out, is a part of that government.)

Weeks ago while I was writing yesterday’s post, “superstorm” Sandy happened. (For the record, I hate writing “superstorm” instead of “hurricane”. Let’s just call it a hurricane. Or “storm”.) In probably the most perfect summation of conservative love of the military, we often quote this joint anti-DADT statement by a number of milbloggers, which includes the line, “No other organization has...rescued more people from natural disasters”. Sandy proved that statement right again.

Then I read BlackFive contributor Deebow’s argument against Obama’s reelection:

“Just ask the citizens of New York and New Jersey how more government is working out on getting them back up and running after Sandy (and based upon this, I can't wait for government run health care).”

Apparently, the military isn’t very good at responding to natural disasters as conservative milbloggers--including four writers at Blackfive--had claimed. According to this quote, the response to hurricane Sandy was a disaster.

Wait, did anyone else help out in response to hurricane Sandy?

Oh yeah, veterans groups and local national guard units, which I know, because those links come from BlackFive.

By writing, “Just ask the citizens of New York and New Jersey how more government is working out on getting them back up and running after Sandy”, Deebow called the National Guard, reserves and veterans groups, like Operation Rubicon, incompetent.

Deebow could argue that it was all the non-government people who kept the situation from falling apart. But isn’t the National Guard still a part of the government?

And what about Team Rubicon, a group of veterans who ply their skills in disaster areas? If Team Rubicon was an example of the private sector out-performing the public sector, that begs the question: when, after leaving the government, er, military do veterans become competent?

Of course, Deebow doesn’t actually think the military is a failure. He just hates President Obama and grasped for the most recent example of (perceived) government incompetence he could find. (The highlight of the post where we found this quote is, “In this election, I don't think it is over dramatic to say that never before has America faced such a stark choice of moving toward the light of freedom, or turning toward 1,000 years of darkness...” Nope, that was over dramatic.)

Did he take the time to consider that the military--or veterans, or local National Guards--had responded to Sandy as well? No. But he (unintentionally) called them out as failures anyway, even though the National Guard and veteran’s groups performed exceptionally well in the disaster.

(And oh by the way, it turns out--despite Deebow’s assertions to the contrary--the American system, both public and private, is surprisingly effective at responding to disasters. Listen to the NPR’s Planet Money to get a taste of why.)