Tom Ricks On Bringing Back The Draft: Wrong Solution For The Wrong Problem

Tom Ricks’ short post argues we should bring back the draft. He’s wrong. Ricks’ major premise? Shy Meyer’s AVF failed as political trip-wire. The minor premise? Hence Iraq. Ergo, professional militaries make war more likely. So bring back the draft.

Draft, All Volunteer Force, Vietnam, Iraq

First, Ricks misinterprets the AVF’s structural function. The AVF actually worked as designed. Second, claiming a draft would’ve prevented Iraq is historically untrue. Drafts don’t necessarily increase political caution for war. Even in democracies. Compulsory national conscription – from the later stage French levee en masse on down allowed nations to jettison limited wars for mass conflict.

Some type of national service might be desirable. But for other reasons. Such as improving civil-military relationships and national cohesion. We’ve noted that for years here. Just not a draft.

You Asked For It, You Got It

Iraq happened because the American people wanted it. Full stop.

True, Cheney and company lied. (A future draft wouldn’t stop political mendacity). Remember Freedom Fries? Surrender monkeys? The Bloom Mobile? Firing Phil Donohue from MSNBC? The pornographic generals’ parade across cable? Those psychoses arose from fear – manipulated or not. Mass conscription can fan such contagions as much as contain them. It’s wrong to superimpose today’s mindset retroactively.

Take events in sequence. The 2001 Afghan campaign appeared painless. Special Forces on horseback calling in JDAMs. Plug ‘n play war. How many journalists like Ricks wrote about that, then?

Shinseki’s office and others offered quiet resistance beyond his famous testimony. But overall, the conventional military wanted in on GWOT. The Navy even fretted that the Army and Air Force would get all the glory (and funding). Flag rank officers complained to us at the time, seeking a piece of the ‘Away Game’ pie.

Rangel called for a draft during the run-up. Even then it was a cop out. Process alone wont compensate for lack of political will. It was unpopular to speak out against the war. A draft would’ve saved us from ourselves (and Cheney et al.) 2002-2003? Really?

Iraq’s real lesson is ‘win’ a war in 3-4 years. Marshall in 1945 doubted American willingness to field a *winning* conscript military beyond 5 years. Drafts serve to curtail a war’s duration, not its inception.

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Winding Down In Iraq Without Consequences

And so Obama completes another Bush Administration milestone. The formal withdrawal of American forces commences from Iraq — although the Obama Administration fought hard (and bungled negotiations) with the Iraqis to leave a residual force. A goal to which ‘serious’ people like Joe Lieberman and John McCain still cling.

Oddly, the Senators and CENTCOM may get their way even so. Iraqi domestic political opposition (which centered mostly about language in negotiations re legal jurisdiction over American troops and initiation of military activity) may require American troops to ‘leave’ before they are ‘invited’ back. So don’t be too surprised to see American contingents re-flow back to supplement the tens of thousands of contractors and other assorted flotsam and jetsam left behind. Like some kind of cruddy residue.

The ‘support our troops’ stickers in SUV windows are fewer now. The magnets tucked away. Many Americans possibly sense things are different because NCIS no longer features Iraq-related plots prominently. For several seasons now.

Those who lied the U.S. into war a war of aggression or continued to support those lies after exposure? They’ve collectively (nice word, that, no?) have paid little or no price. Many personalities are regulars on the cable TV circuit. Some churn out mind numbing books that like Speer and Posnan try to argue ‘they did not know’ (and weren’t there). It’s their good fortune that Iraq is already becoming the (second) ‘Forgotten War’.

Others are less fortunate. Some returning home will be shocked at the society they thought they were defending. Welcome to the 99%.

A Tiny Flicker Of . . . Hope . . . ?

As nervous as I was about this whole process, the one thing I didn’t lose sleep over was the possibility of taking bin Laden out. Justice was done. And I think that anyone who would question that the perpetrator of mass murder on American soil didn’t deserve what he got needs to have their head examined.

Obama on ’60 Minutes’ (May 8, 2011)

Maybe Bismarck really was right after all. Although, to be fair, once again the Goldilocks process is revealed. The options before him were: (a) stand-off kinetic force; (b) boots on the ground; or (c) wait for more data to increase confidence percentage. He chose (b). (Thank goodness – ed.)

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You Don’t Say . . . Gates Gets Wet As An Amphibian

In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.

Bob Gates, February 25, 2011

You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line”! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha . . .

Vizzini, (1987)

Gates tells the Army that Krauthammer and the ‘Go Ashore’ crowd are history. And beneath the crude bureaucrat calculation, Gates seeks to return the U.S. to fundamental geopolitical realities: we’re an amphibian power, not a continental one. Too little, too late.

Stone’s Unexpectedly Empathetic ‘ W ‘

Stone’s new flick is surprisingly balanced, even sympathetic. Think an over long contemporary SNL skit, albeit with sharper writing. W here has pathos. He is often a passive reactor to events, especially those he himself sets in motion.

We’ll let you decide whether Stone made a ‘good’ movie. As a rule, we don’t care for most Stone movies. ‘Wall Street’ is perhaps the notable exception. The inevitable comparison to ‘W’ will be with Stone’s earlier ‘Nixon’. As Stone himself says and we agree, there really are no comparisons — he clearly did not feel constrained by boundaries of form when making ‘W’.

One reason? So much leaked in the last 2 years from this most secretive of regimes. The Warlord’s actions are accepted consensus truth. Impeachment now is a formalism. Global judgment already is both fact and truth. Second, in Stone’s telling, W’s tragic flaws are more forgivable. The man himself is so genially banal. Nixon by contrast possessed infinitely greater skills and correspondingly more dangerous *capacity* for darkness.

Stone’s movie provides enough characterization and factual detail for strong partisans of all viewpoints. We could imagine almost all emerging from a theater amused, ready to argue points over a beer or three. Why? Because in a strange and possibly unintended way, Stone exonerates W from culpabilities.

This shifts the key debate to who is the most venal in the Warlord’s retinue. The script sticks to actual quotes and facts even if composited from different meetings or places to maintain dramatic flow. Each historical character by necessity is a moving sketch. Stone continues the Left’s bizarre infatuation with General Jello Powell. Here, General Jello is given a wholly undeserved ‘presence’ and personal backbone. The Left’s school yard crush is beyond tiresome, it’s stale. Cher Condi is depicted with pitch perfect detail and historical accuracy. Even her amen chorus in the Imperial City will be deflated knowing that her efforts to airbrush away 2001-2005 will be for naught. Richard Dreyfuss as Cheney gives his most wickedly funny role in our opinion since ‘Moon Over Parador’. Finally we laughed out loud when our old acquaintance Steve Cambone gets a shout out.

The movie’s climax is understandably Iraq and the immediate fall out. Stone choreographs missing WMDs, David Kay’s resignation and bitter recriminations swirling around a puzzled and frustrated W. Inter-staff quips, snide comments and ducking of responsibilities are shown in historically accurate and entertaining detail. The Stiftung could not help but feel that with a few slight changes the same would portray Cheney’s machinations hiding DoJ’s opposition to surveillance and other Cheney/Addington initiatives.

The movie ends abruptly. When the lights came on, Rachel Maddow’s demographic clapped and hollered. We shared the general sense of thumbs up but left in a different place than the Maddow types. Our reaction on the fade out of Stone’s W the man surprised us. For him, we felt pity.

This Would Not Be Happening If Warren Christopher Were Alive *

What does the Obama Convention offer? Not much.

Nothing on Guatanamo, illegal and unconstitutional torture, nothing about Russia beyond platitudes about Neocon solidarity with Georgian freedom-loving activities, nothing about NATO expansion, nothing about China, India beyond a roll call of rising powers, and so on.

No specifics about Iraq (and skipping Biden’s vote for the war, too). No talk about restoring the constitution or separation of powers from a rogue Imperial Regime in both domestic and foreign affairs. We did get a shout out to the Iranians. And a gloss over the Crowned One’s glaringly thin credentials for the job patently ‘above his pay grade’.

Biden is the attack dog? It wasn’t a Dukakis 1988 gig but no Ann Richards there either. And Joe, lose the French cuff links. (We’re partial to them now and then but not when we pretend to be a working class stiff hob nobbing with Tweety and Scrantonians — and we know the area very well personally). Democrats can’t seem to take their gloves off to save their lives.

If not Biden, who? If not now, when? Carville must be bouncing off walls. Land one. Hard. And keep going. Repeat exercise. Politics is a contact sport — ‘change’ notwithstanding.

We agree Biden at least rose above Mark Warner — who was an outstanding govenor — but eh. Biden’s effort couldn’t even rouse a captive audience ready for red meat. Who would have thought the Democrats could once again teeter on the edge of pulling defeat from the jaws of inevitable victory. Even the Crowned Prince’s ‘surprise’ visit was flat — choreographed to put him in that building briefly for optics. A last minute pirouette to prevent his sole participation being his ‘Party Rally’ in that bizarre Flavian Amphitheatre. One can only pray some idiot doesn’t unknowingly say, ‘Yo dog, wouldn’t a cathedral of light be tight? Suburban soccer moms would think it was like, down with a U2 show. Hectic for sure.’

The Big Dog still shows them how to draw distinctions with ease — something he tried to teach Kerry to no avail. He truly is he most gifted natural politician of this generation. We can’t expect that from the Crowned One tonight based on his rhetorical history. A surprise would be welcome.

Last night was the best for the Democrats so far — although HRC has been exemplary through out. If the Crowned One or David Axelrod doesn’t pay down her debt now (or at a more felicitous moment) in a significant way, they are truly men of little vision, honor or decency.

And as an aside, who precisely anointed the slightly bloated Luke Russert the spokesperson for the Millennials?

*Old joke from 1993 (and yes, we know he is still ambulatory).

FSOs Into Iraq, Leaves In The Wind (updated)

Once more into the breech dear friends, once more! We’re of two minds on this. On the one hand, drafting people without any requisite skills into Cher Condi’s ruinous ‘transformational’ policy of democracy building in Iraq? On its face both absurd and dangerous; on the other hand, we’ve never been impressed with foreign service officers (FSOs) overall, much less about their complaints re a screening lottery process which includes their past postings and their desirability/luxury.

Candidly, with the exception of a handful of people, we’ve never really met any — or heard of any — exceptional foreign service officers. The entire culture of the foreign service is about conformity and ‘not rocking the boat’. It’s hard to describe or convey in a mere blog post but it’s real. The reasons are many, not the least of which is the whole performance review process. A rating of “Excellent” (or less) can and often does kill a career. (It needs to be “Outstanding”). Naturally, any nail that sticks out . . . Accordingly, in the Foreign Service, there are alot of “C” people, some “Bs” a few “B+s”. Very, very few “As”. Once an FSO is in, the relative quality also depends on what “cone” is being discussed. At an embassy, the most desirable and best staffed is the political cone, followed by the economic cone, etc. (FSOs traditionally were also ranked in seniority from 5s (most junior) to 1s (senior)).

“Back in the day”, the old Foreign Service Institute is where FSOs and other government entities would send people for area studies and language training. (Both often seen as career killers or dead ends for ambitious non-FSO apparatchiks. Who needs language skills or area studies to understand the world?). Now, there is this ridiculous, sprawling militarized and fortified campus called — as we noted in another post, with the obsession for bestowing the title of ‘National’ now on everything — the National Foreign Affairs Training Center. They at least were decent enough to name it after George Schultz. Unlike many other secretaries of state, Schultz understood the value of area studies and put a great deal of support behind it.

So, like we said, we are somewhat ambivalent. 1,500 FSOs have already served in Iraq and the regime and its Ambassador Ryan Crocker are looking to fill now 31 slots (48 originally but 17 have since volunteered). Serving in the fortified Green Zone is hardly the “death sentence” that FSOs and their association are claiming.

But it is also true that FSOs in general have no relevant skills for democracy building or civil society creation, let alone tribal arbitration. On the other? It’s hard for the Stiftung to feel sympathy for a Department that overall has been so mediocre for so long. State actually enabled this regime even while pouting in passive aggressive so-called ‘resistance’. If 31 FSOs are forced to give up the cocktail circuit in Paris or Vienna for one year in the Green Zone (ten months in country, 2 months vacation) with a major monetary bonus while their families are taken care of, and then given priority first pick of their next assignment, well there are worse things in the world.

The Bloody Crawl Home

No matter what Petraeus says today about one brigade coming out early next year or not, by September many if not most brigades will be pulling back to Kuwait and the long sail home.   The Army simply can’t sustain the surge without breaking, period.  Even Pace knows this.

Sometimes retreats are disasters, sometimes not. Few expect this one to be akin to those Great Historical calamities, at least in immediate terms — although a fighting retreat is not ruled out.

The long term implications may be as bad if not cataclysmic. Yet Bin Laden’s throw of the dice is that he can wave a red cape and keep the Warlord impaling himself and American power on the Iraqi Tree of Thorns. That Bin Laden’s speech echoed so many Democrat themes the perfect goad. How well our enemy understands us, how ignorant and unwise we.

A Democratic majority has not forced a withdrawal to the understandable bewilderment and rage of their base. Still, they stopped in no small way the larger danger posed by the Administration — the destruction of liberal democracy here at home. Not completely — as made clear by the FISA cave in. But better than the unified government. That, to the Stiftung was always the larger peril, the war merely the most obvious.

So don’t expect alot of comment here in the days and weeks ahead about Petreaus, the blahs over this or that, etc. It’s all smoke and mirrors to the Stiftung. Our troops are going to start coming home, Dear Reader, in 2008. One way or another.