May 15, 2006
Hey! What's all this moping around?
Well Loyal Readers, I've been on vacation with Mrs. Chester for a week or so. Didn't pay too much attention to the news while gone.
You can imagine my surprise upon returning and plugging back in to see there's all this talk of Conservative Fatigue Syndrome.
If some of you out there need a little inspiration, I offer you Corporal Jeremiah Workman, USMC:
The President of the United States takes great pleasure in presenting the NAVY CROSS to
CORPORAL JEREMIAH W. WORKMAN
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS
for service as set forth in the following
For extraordinary heroism while serving as Squad Leader, Mortar Platoon, Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, 1st Marine Division, US Marine Corps Forces, Central Command in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 23 December 2004. During clearing operations in Al Fallujah, Iraq, Corporal Workman displayed exceptional situational awareness while organizing his squad to enter a building to retrieve isolated Marines inside. Despite heavy resistance from enemy automatic weapon fire, and a barrage of grenades, Corporal Workman fearlessly exposed himself and laid down a base of fire that allowed the isolated Marines to escape. Outside the house, he rallied the rescued Marines and directed fire onto insurgent positions as he aided wounded Marines in a neighboring yard. After seeing these Marines to safety, he led another assault force into the building to eliminate insurgents and extract more Marines. Corporal Workman again exposed himself to enemy fire while providing cover fire for the team when an enemy grenade exploded directly in front of him causing shrapnel wounds to his arms and legs. Corporal Workman continued to provide intense fire long enough to recover additional wounded Marines and extract them from the besieged building. Although injured, he led a third assault into the building, rallying his team one last time to extract isolated Marines before M1A1 tanks arrived to support the battle. Throughout this fight, Corporal Workman's heroic actions contributed to the elimination of 24 insurgents. By his bold leadership, wise judgment and complete dedication to duty, Corporal Workman reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
For the President,
Secretary of the Navy
Semper Fi, now-Sergeant Workman! I'm glad you're on our side.
[Thanks to Sgt. Workman's mother-in-law for forwarding the citation to me!]
May 8, 2006
General Hayden, Director, Human Intelligence Agency
Two things can be expected from Bush's nomination of General Hayden to be the Director of National Intelligence:
a) During the confirmation hearings, Hayden's role in the NSA wiretapping will be discussed ad infinitum, with lots of posturing by Democrats. Sadly, this will not work in their favor. In the end, they'll either vote for Hayden, angering their own base, or vote against Hayden, showing the country yet again that, "if Al Qaeda makes a phone call to someone in the US" the Democrats don't want to know what is discussed.
b) All of this activity around the NSA wiretapping story will probably cause the larger issue to fade from the spotlight: the CIA is being retooled into an HIA, or Human Intelligence Agency. This is not yet a fait accompli, but it seems that much of the analytical capability of the agency is being transferred over to the Director of National Intelligence, or at least being reproduced there. Whether this is a good thing or not is hard to determine. But it seems to be happening. Perhaps the Bush Administration has decided that rebuilding analysis capabilities in whole or in part is the best way to circumvent the leak-prone CIA: after all, if the place is turned into solely a resource for human intelligence and covert action, its employees will be firmly ensconced around the world, yes? instead of installed in the Beltway's subculture, with Washington Post reporters on speed dial . . .
May 3, 2006
This Is Our War
Devin Friedman of GQ magazine was kind enough to mail a copy of his new book, This Is Our War, which is a compilation of photographs taken by US troops in Iraq. Friedman was on one of many visits to Iraq, sponsored by GQ, when he had a revelation: the war in Iraq is the first where every particpant can take digital photographs of his own experience. He describes his realization in the introduction:
Sitting in this mess hall eating shitty cardboard cinnamon buns with lonely, geeky, barely postpubescent, kind of frighteningly smart army grunts, I had two thoughts. One: the familiar panic at realizing that the rabbit hole goes way deeper than you thought, that the lives of the people you're trying to write about are more vast, rich, mysterious, and moving than suspected, that you've barely scratched the surface. Thought two: Just imagine the untapped resources, the files and files of beautiful, honest, intimate, hilarious, harrowing pictures that exist on the hard drives and Memory Sticks of a nation of soliders, a collective memory of the war in Iraq probably far superior to whatever's on the photo servers at The new York Times or Newsweek. Superior not in terms of technical skill and artistic composition (though often that, too) but in terms of capturing that brittle, fleeting sense of what it's like, that shy animal that tends to make itself scarce around journalists except in brief interludes.Friedman and the GQ staff have done a bang-up job in assembling the photos in this work. Moreover, they've refrained from any excessive commentary. Aside from Friedman's brief intro, and a forward by Gen Wesley Clark, the rest of the book is photos, their attributions, and the occasional quote from troops.
If that "fleeting sense of what it's like" is ephemeral to journalists, I suspect it is just as much so to veterans like myself. Flipping through This Is Our War is an excellent exercise in dredging up memories -- both good and bad -- for me and a work that can do that, which can really make one remember vividly for an instant what it was like is truly to be cherished.
For those who have followed the war in detail, as I imagine many of you loyal readers have, I'd recommend taking a look at this work to get a better mental picture of the landscape of Iraq, in all of its details: the lifestyles of the troops, the terrain, the weather, the Iraqis themselves.
May 2, 2006
Let Blackwater Loose in Darfur
The executives of one of the most well-known private security firms, Blackwater, have offered to provide a brigade of peacekeepers in Darfur, if only someone will pay for it. [hat-tip: Arts and Letters Daily]
A few weeks ago, at an international special forces conference in Jordan, Black announced that his company could deploy a small rapid-response force to conflicts like the one in Sudan. ''We're low cost and fast," Black said, ''the question is, who's going to let us play on their team?"In other words, the private security firms need something other than cash to pay for their peacekeeping; they need some sort of legitimacy. But legitimacy for what? Invasions? The establishment of private empires of sorts?
What companies like Blackwater are proposing to do in Darfur today is very different from the combat missions of a decade ago. ''We have no interest in offensive operations," says Taylor flatly. Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, the industry's trade association, agrees: ''[Executive Outcomes] and Sandline were supporting offensive combat operations. I don't think that'll happen again, and certainly not that way."No one questions that firms like Blackwater would excel at providing this service cheaply and professionally.
Today, private military companies are offering defensive services-they propose to secure refugee camps and vulnerable villages, guard humanitarian aid agencies and NGOs, or, depending on the requirements of the contract, assist peacekeepers like the African Union troops in Darfur.
There's little question that companies like Blackwater could be more effective operationally than the African Union, which has been hampered by its peacekeepers' lack of command and control experience. Private military companies boast a roster of former special forces officers and law enforcement officers who are accustomed to volatile conflict and post-conflict areas like Sudan.The essential problem is unique to the international system: horrific events, like genocide, which occur within the boundaries of a given state, are seen as being within the sovereign bounds of that state, and the territorial sovereignty of any given state, in our current system, is sacrosanct. Only the society of states, embodied in a number of international institutions, can choose to violate that precious sovereignty. Cries of "Never again" then seem to pale so long as that which prompts them is confined to one state. Intrastate genocide becomes, ironically, a sort of externality of the international system.
Blackwater also subjects all of its personnel to an impressive array of extra training-whether they're training to work in Baghdad or the firm's North Carolina headquarters. They take classes in international humanitarian law, leadership, ethics, regional awareness, and ''customs and traditions." They've recently approached Amnesty International about teaching human rights education classes. And the International Peace Operations Association boasts that its code of conduct was written by human rights lawyers.
The industry also claims that it's far cheaper than its multilateral or military counterparts. ''We offer the ability to create a right-sized solution-which creates a cost savings right off the bat," says Taylor. By contrast, Brooks notes, ''NATO is insanely expensive; it's not a cost-effective organization. Neither is the [African Union]. Private companies would be much, much cheaper. When we compared their costs to most UN operations, we came up with 10 to 20 percent of what the UN would normally charge."
And so the handwringers worry over how to stop such ghastly events while still maintaining the territorial sovereignty of states.
There is no easy solution.
Blackwater though, seeks to insert itself due to one particular detail of the particular externality of Darfur. Namely, no powerful state in the world has any inherent national interest in preventing the killing there, except solely out of a sense of altruism. Blackwater offers to solve the problem for them, if only someone will pay for it all.
Here's several ways that Blackwater can raise the capital necessary to fund the Darfur peacekeeping mission, and really score a PR coup at the same time:
Option 1: Pro Bono
First announce that the mission in Darfur will be a non-profit venture. The troops and overhead will be paid for, but the firm itself will make no profit from the enterprise. Call it private security pro bono if you will. Then ask states to fund the cost.
Option 2: The Wealthy Donor Option
Go the non-profit route again. This time though, approach several wealthy individuals for support. How many Hollywood millioinaires turned out for Live8 last year? Ask them to put their money where their mouth is. Most will decline you. When they do, shame them publicly. The publicity alone will attract other wealthy donors. You know, the steel magnate from Pittsburgh, who's retired now, and already given plenty of dough to his alma mater. Or the guy in the heartland somewhere who made his fortune in mousetraps. Ask for $100 million and tell the donors that they might get a building named for them if they give that much to an insitution, but here, they'll be a footnote in history and maybe a city in Africa will carry their legacy. Be creative.
Option 3: The Paypal Option
Go to the world. Again, make it pro bono/non-profit. Ask for private donations to fund peacekeeping in Darfur. If the US public can give a billion or so in a few weeks for tsunami relief, it can certainly cough up several million to stop a genocide. Plus, none of it has to be sifted through the sticky fingers of [insert international body here]. And it'll be tax-deductible!
Finally, PR is key. Hire a bunch of bloggers to embed (ahem: my email address is in the sidebar). The journos should be all over you already. If firms like Blackwater are half as good as they claim, the immediate effects of their intervention, properly publicized, should spur further contributions in a sort of virtuous cycle.
Now take any of the above three choices and mix and match until you have enough dough to support your operations for an extended period. After you get going, your success might be shameful enough to the society of states that they start to cough up institutional money to continue your mission. All told, the private firm comes out ahead and does a good bit to shake the image of "mercenary" that seems to dog the industry.
In case you haven't noticed, each of these involves the non-profit angle. It seems that any for-profit option would have a very hard time gaining legitimacy, unless it was funded by Sudan's neighbors, or perhaps on an installment plan, by the people in Darfur themselves -- though that might be an exceptionally long installment.
Notably, it is the very same people who most loudly proclaim, "never again", who will also most loudly protest private efforts to stop the death. Perhaps actions will be perceived to speak louder than words if things are orchestrated with a bit of savvy and elan . . .
In diplomacy, business, and life, much is made of "the art of the deal." This is a situation that is crying out for a deal to be brokered between a variety of players. Something much greater than wealth will accrue to the person who can put all the pieces together in this situation: a guaranteed place in history.