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Fighting Myths

There are a few myths that are repeated but never questioned.  Ann Marlow dispels one such myth in her Wall Street Journal article The Truth About Who Fights for Us, 9/27/11.

Excerpts:

Indeed, the Heritage report showed that “low-income families are underrepresented in the military and high-income families are overrepresented. Individuals from the bottom household income quintile make up 20.0 percent of Americans who are age 18-24 years old but only 10.6 percent of the 2006 recruits and 10.7 percent of the 2007 recruits. Individuals in the top two quintiles make up 40.0 percent of the population, but 49.3 percent of the recruits in both years.”

What about the charge that our Army is disproportionately black? This too is false, as is clear from data for fiscal 2010 available on the Army’s website: Whereas blacks comprise 17% of Americans ages 18-39 with high school degrees, they represent only a slightly larger proportion of enlisted soldiers, at 21%.

Meanwhile, whites were significantly overrepresented among enlisted Army personnel in 2010. While 58% of Americans 18-39 years old are white, 64% of the Army’s enlisted men and women are. Whites are underrepresented to a minor degree in only one category, in which blacks are overrepresented: Army officers. While 74% of 25-54 year-olds with bachelor’s degrees are white, 72% of Army officers are white. While 8% of 25-54 year-olds with B.A.s are black, 13% of Army officers are.

HKO Comments-

The reason that this defies the assumptions and claims of many has much to do with the bias of the media and our political elites.  A dominant media that is far different politically from the average voter is also much less likely to know anyone in the military.  Their life experience is likely to confirm their presumptions even if they are factually unfounded.

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More than Mere Tactics

At an industry meeting last week at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, CO, the first speaker on Monday, May 2,  was General Stanley McChrystal.  Given the killing of Bin Laden the day before he changed his topic from one of leadership to speak about the special forces and the situation in the middle east.

He touched on two subjects that was probably new information to most of the people in the audience.  He explained the perspective that the Iranians have on the US by going back 50 years to our (alleged) overthrow of their democratically elected leader Mossadegh and supplanting him with the Shah who proved very unpopular.  We supported Iraq heavily in their long bloody war with Iran.  Read about Mossadegh here. (Rebelyid – October, 2007)

He offered an insight about Islamic radicals.  Many young devoted Islamists are trained to memorize the Koran in Arabic, a language many of them are not familiar with and are thus dependent on their Imam to ‘tell’ them what it means.  Many learn that jihad is war against infidels- the west.  Yet other Islamic scholars contend that ‘jihad’ is a personal struggle of redemption. As with any theology there is likely every shade of distinction between them.  The general’s point was that education is the key to turning the tide of Islamic radicalism.

Our modern military is educated with far more depth than field tactics.  They are deeply aware of the culture and history of the lands they engage.

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What if the Mission Failed?

President Obama made a presidential decision, both to remain focused on the pursuit of Bin Laden and on the crucial decision to bend the rules to send Special Forces in on the ground and kill him.  He deserves credit for the success of the mission.

Such operations demonstrate the incredible ability of our elite forces, but we should not lose awareness of the riskiness of such an operation.  While so much went right there was much that could have gone wrong.  We could have had more dead US soldiers, dead civilians, and another international crisis.  It was the dramatic risk involved that made this decision presidential.

If it had gone bad the celebrations today would have been protests of presidential incompetence.  But the decision would have been just as presidential.  When Jimmy Carter decided to execute a rescue attempt in Iran that ended in humiliating failure he was deemed unfit for office.  Yet, was his decision any less presidential than Obama’s?

The harsh reality in such circumstances is that important decisions commonly entail risks of failure?  Such risks may be reduced by intelligence and experience but they are never eliminated and remain in the best of circumstances.  Many fail to understand that good decisions can yield bad results.

While this decision worked well we should understand that failure is not necessarily synonymous with a bad result.  And sometimes even a bad decision is better than no decision.   Terrible losses in such situations are less likely to come from single failures than the ultimate failure- quitting.

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Fighting Change

When I learned, for example, that the Pentagon had been spending $225 million every year to maintain our forces in Iceland, I sent a memo to Powell recommending that we make a change.  I pointed out that our aircraft originally had been stationed in Iceland to track Soviet subs in the North Atlantic.  Now that there is no Soviet Union, they were spending their time helping Icelandic fishermen in distress.  More than $2 billion had been spent since the end of the Cold War in 1989 to keep our aircraft in Iceland.  I believed that the $4 billion we would be spending over the next twenty years could be better invested elsewhere.  Even so, it took me three years of pressing and prodding – and the resulting loss of another  $700 to $800 million to taxpayers- before I could get our military presence in Iceland renegotiated. This was accomplished over the continued opposition of the State Department. Iceland was a wake-up call for me.  If it was that hard to change our posture there, changes elsewhere in the world would be even more difficult.

From Known and Unknown by Donald Rumsfeld

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Rumsfeld’s View

I have admired Rumsfeld. He seemed intelligently clear in his press briefings and was able to use humor appropriately.  Yet many in the military were scathingly critical of him and pushed for his resignation.  He was deemed to squelch criticism and dissent, and ignore basic principles of war in spite of warnings.  It was my curiosity to understand this disconnect that made me anxious to read his memoir Known and Unknown.

I realize that such a publication shows the writer’s viewpoint and many will deem it a whitewash before even reading it.  Churchill was quoted “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”  Rumsfeld mused over many of his own mistakes, but was direct in addressing shortcomings in the handling of the Iraq war.

At the center of the problem was friction between the State Department under Colin Powell and Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense(DoD).  When Paul Bremer was appointed as CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority-  Rumsfeld thoughtfully included a list of acronyms at the end) in Iraq after the initial military campaign ended, he was supposed to be under the DoD, yet he communicated more directly with Rice and felt he had direct access to the president without going through his immediate supervisor which on paper was Rumsfeld.  He issued articles in the WSJ and made numerous statements without clearance from Rumsfeld, and often in opposition to the policies as Rumsfeld understood them.  When Rumsfeld pushed to have him report to state rather than DoD he was rebuffed.

The military felt less inclined or qualified to build institutions, schools and other sorts of infrastructure that distracted from the intense focus required of combat operations. General Franks and others felt other departments would handle this better.

Rumsfeld felt that Condoleeza Rice’s background in academics with very little practical government experience was a handicap.  Rumsfeld, in contrast, had experience in government going back to the sixties.  He was the youngest Secretary of Defense under Ford and the oldest under W.  Rice felt the need to bridge differences rather than  highlight them. Her intense loyalty to the president  may have shielded him from debates and points that Rumsfeld felt he should have heard.

And there were repeated instances of major intelligence failures; beyond just the missing WMDs.  The infrastructure in Iraq, for example,  was in much worse shape that they expected.

Yet Rumsfeld did not doubt or question the capability or commitment of any of his colleagues.  Bush had secured some very experienced and capable department heads, but Bush ultimately had to manage them and coordinate their missions and address their disagreements. It appears that too many critical differences were left to linger and take care of themselves.

Harmful leaks to the press were not addressed. And the press itself just got so much plainly wrong; many of these misinformed stories had serious consequences.  Foremost was the story about the abuse of the Koran by flushing it down the toilet at Guantanamo.  The source recanted his story, but not until Time Magazine made it the focus of the demonization of the prison facility.

Rumsfeld memoir is extraordinarily well documented. It would serve as an excellent case study in executive management, and it does an excellent job of documenting the complexities of the administration.  For those who are trying to get an accurate picture of the facts and problems we encountered in the Iraq misadventure,  beyond the mindless demonization of the media and pundits, you may not find all the answers in this volume; but you will find Rumsfeld’s front line perspective to be an essential piece.