Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Remember when all we talked about was Iraq?

It seems like a long time ago, does it not? Nowadays I feel like Afghanistan gets the lion share of the media coverage, which is by no means a bad thing.

These three recent columns on the state of affairs in Afghanistan--two from the Post and one from Slate--paint an interesting overall picture of the country.
"But in the meantime...we haven't exactly "neglected" Afghanistan, as Barack Obama and others often say. It's just that we haven't yet faced up to what we have undertaken to do here. Afghanistan is bigger than Iraq, more rugged, more impoverished and vastly more complicated, with more languages, more ethnic groups, more tribes and more-lethal neighbors. It has only begun to test our stamina."

Fred Kaplan lays out the differences between Iraq and Afghanistan in the context of a potential Afghanistan "surge". He's right to point out some key differences, but Kaplan's dismissal of significant tribal conflicts within Afghanistan betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of the situation there. Applebaum alludes to this reality in the pull quote above.

Finally, David Ignatius bemoans the Taliban's continued ability to successfully come out on top of the Information battle. This one has particular interest to me, as public affairs and strategic messaging were part of my responsibility for the provinces I worked in. I think my team and I did good work, but as Ignatius suggests, Information operations are a part of the fight that we (the coalition) are still getting the hang of.

War and Peace Blogging #2

As you can see from the highlighted numbers below, I have fallen a little behind my goal of reading 50 pages a day, but not by much. At this rate, I should be done before the month is out!

Date: 23 September
Complete at last update: 541
Pages complete: 1038
Read since last update: 497
Pages per day: 497 / 11 ~ 45
Pages remaining:

One of the main characters, Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, had this to say in one of his more cynical moments. It should be noted that the Prince is talking about the high level commanders, not the line commanders making decisions in the moment.

"A good military commander has no need of genius or any outstanding qualities; quite the reverse, he needs to be devoid of the finest and noblest of human attributes--love, poetry, affection, a philosophical spirit of inquiry and skepticism. He needs to be narrow minded, totally convinced that what he is doing is very important (otherwise he would never have enough staying-power), and only then will he become a valiant military commander."

Did George Will just endorse Obama?

I think that he sorta did (emphasis added).

"It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Laser, Rocket Arm #2: Diplomacy Blogging #1

So there has been a bit of a drought since my last post**. Why, you ask? I blame it on the Taliban – that's my story and I am sticking to it.

But a recent post of Andrew's stirred me with such emotion, that I felt the need to come out of blogging retirement. As many of you know, Andrew is reading the novel, War and Peace, before he leaves Afghanistan. That is 1358 pages of goodness. It occurred to me that Andrew might be able to use a little support in his undertaking.

As Andrew knows, I started reading Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy back at Ft. Bragg in our room at the Faith Barracks. I never made much progress in this task, partially because I was trying to read three other books at the time and partially because it's Kissinger's Diplomacy. In the last couple of weeks, a fire was lit within me and I picked the book back up. I am now up to page 332 out of 836. While not quite the behemoth of War and Peace it certainly has some meat behind it.

Andrew – I want to offer my moral support:

Date: 16 September

Pages complete: 332

Pages remaining: 504

**By "little drought", guest blogger Chris means 8 months!!!!1! Also, for a refresher on guest blogging, check out this classic post.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Crusaders and the Conservatives

Check out this fascinating article on two competing factions that exist in today's Army.

On the one hand you have what the author dubs the "Crusaders"--guys and gals who see the Army as a nation building force that must be organized around the principles of fighting a counter insurgency fight. General Petraeus is clearly a member of this school of thought.

On the other hand we see the "Conservatives"--Army officers who believe a narrow focus on counter insurgency undercuts our readiness to fight any conventional wars we happen upon in the coming years.

I'll leave it to y'all to figure out which group you think makes more sense...

But the key point that the author draws out--one that is so often ignored in such discussions--is this: sure we need to organize the Army to fight the counter insurgency fight if nation building is to be Army's primary purpose...but who ultimately decides what the Army's purpose should be? And is terror-fighting interventionism so damned imperative to begin with?

Again...these are interesting (and monumentally important) questions for everyone to ponder and answer on their own. In the mean time, I'm gonna go get some lunch.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cal Bears Football, Past and Present...

Before week 2 kicks off in earnest, I thought I should give a quick shout out to Cal "alums" who took care of business during week 1.

Aaron Rodgers made an impressive debut as the Packers starting QB, throwing for a TD and running for another against a strong Vikings defense.

In Philly, DeSean Jackson was strong in his first regular season game for the Eagles. DeSean didn't have any TDs, but he added several solid kick returns to more than 100 yards receiving on the day. Well, done Mr. Jackson.

And last but not least, Marshawn Lynch had what can only be described as another Lynchian day for the Bills. I don't know if Marshawn will ever average more than 4 yards per carry (though I suspect the Bills line has something to do with that) but Lynch almost always finds a way to make it into the endzone. Last Sunday was no different--keep it up, Marshawn. Make the Bears proud.

It should also be said that while several running backs rushed for more yards last week than Marshawn did, I find it hard to believe that any of those backs are half as handsome as he. Just saying...

Alright, everyone--happy footballing this weekend and I'll talk to you soon.

Go Bears, beat the Twerps! Go Duke, beat Navy! Hail to the Redskins!

Friday, September 12, 2008

War and Peace Blogging #1

I've taken it on myself to read War and Peace before I leave Afghanistan, and to keep myself honest, I'll be posting progress updates here on the 2.0 from time to time over the next several weeks.

Date: 12 September
Pages complete: 541
Pages remaining: 817

Also, I'll leave you with a quote from a passage that I read this morning and particularly enjoyed (emphasis added):

"According to biblical tradition the absence of work--idleness--was a condition of the first man's state of blessedness before the Fall. The love of idleness has been preserved in fallen man, but now a heavy curse lies upon him, not only because we have to earn our bread by the sweat of our brow, but also because our sense of morality will not allow us to be both idle and at ease. Whenever we are idle a secret voice keeps telling us to feel guilty. If man could discover a state in which he could be idle and sitll feel useful and on the path of duty, he would have regained one aspect of that primitive state of blessedness. And there is one such state of enforced and irreproachable idleness enjoyed by an entire class of men--the military class. It is this state of enforced and irreproachable idleness that forms the chief attraction of military service, and it always will."

Hey, Count Tolstoy said it, not me...

Have a good weekend, everyone.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Go ahead...throw your vote away!

Dr. Paul issued a very interesting statement on his blog the other day declaring that when it comes to Obama and McCain, any distinction drawn between the two candidates is a "charade of great proportion." Strong words, Dr. Paul.

Ron believes that we all bear a moral responsibility to "[r]eject the two candidates who demand perpetuation of the status quo and pick one of the alternatives that you have the greatest affinity to, based on the other issues."

Interesting though. But as far as voting third party...I think this issue was pretty much closed by Kang and Kodos years ago (towards the end of the video, but the whole thing is worth watching).

On This Day...

...Two years ago--September, 11 2006--I received a half-sized manila envelope in the mail.

I was living in Berkelely, CA, and I was just kicking off my second year of business school at the University of California. The night before I had gone to a Silver Jews concert in the city, and I slept in a little the morning of the 11th. I don't think I actually left my apartment that day until 3PM when I had to start heading to a class. I stopped to check the mail on my way out the door, and the manila envelope was inside my box.

The envelope had been forwarded from my summer address in Seattle (I worked at Amazon that year as a Product Manager intern) and the return label was from the Army's Human Resources Command.

This was not the first piece of mail HRC had sent me, but each previous mailing had been a regular letter in a regular envelope. Though I hadn't been expecting to receive anything from the Army, the second I saw that return label from HRC I knew what was inside--and strangely, I wasn't at all surprised to be receiving it.

I never did make it to class that day. Inside the envelope was a set of orders that required me to report for duty on the 3rd of October--about three weeks later. The envelope also contained instructions for how to request an exemption from the call up, or a delayed reporting date, so rather than go to class I called my wife (an Army lawyer) and my dad (a retired Army lawyer) to start figuring out my options.

As much as September 11, 2001 changed our lives and our world in the macro sense, receiving those orders on September, 11 2006 changed my life and Lauren's life even more. We are on a fundamentally different course than the one we had been on, and though I know that we would have married and shared our life together regardless, it's impossible to say how different our lives might have been if this burden had been handed off to others.

The Silver Jews, incidentally, played a show in my native Washington, DC on Wednesday evening--the 10th of September, 2008--proving for the umpteenth time that God is not without a sense of humor. I had hoped to be home in time for that show, but alas, I'm still here in Afghanistan for a while longer.