Saturday, May 05, 2007

From The Sublime to the Ridiculous... to the Just Plain Ugly... Part One

I have several important extracts to share with you, across the next few postings (which are coming to you amid a big kitchen remodel and various other major distractions.)

I am linking theme in a series because they illustrate... in a kind of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly sort of way... the range of inspiration and leadership that we can find, if we only look around and open our eyes.

The first of these excerpts is cogent, brilliant, concise and brave. The second could serve as a perfect type-exemplar of utter hypocrisy, simultaneously laughable and terrifying. The final passage is taken from a recent work of scholastic erudition that aims to rationalize and justify today’s real war. Not the “war” on terrorism or in Iraq, but the ruthless offensive that is being waged against the Enlightenment and the rule of law, by a new class of would-be feudal lords.

Let’s start at the high end with a courageous fellow who is clearly a friend of civilization. I have already cited a recent article, published in the Armed Forces Journal: “A failure in generalship” by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, a young officer who had been considered a sure bet to make general himself, someday, until taking the bold (some would say suicidal) step of publicly criticizing the Army’s entire upper echelon.

Indeed, Yingling appears to typify everything I have said about today’s U. S. Officer Corps. (Indeed, he even uses that term in his article (see below), proving that I have not made it up during the last three years I bandied it around.) Committed, professional and self-disciplined, this corps of commissioned public servants is -- among other sterling traits -- the third best-educated clade in modern American life - just after college professors and medical doctors.

That, alone, does not guarantee courage or sagacity, of course. (As we will see in our third and last extract.) Indeed, it has taken far too long for members of the officer corps to overcome their emotional fealty to superficial emblems of crewcut conservatism and come around to realizing how thoroughly they - and the nation - have been had. Betrayed by the spiraling and accelerating madness on America’s far-right.

(As I have pointed out frequently, the insulting behavior of the far-left shares some of the blame. refusing to reach out and embrace our nation’s protectors, or at least talk to them. Is it possible to even calculate the stupidity of a movement that would hand its neoconservative foes whole swathes of influential and important American citizenry, gratis, without even trying to engage and persuade? Or to create a Big Tent that welcomes, instead of helping Karl Rove maintain his?

(Still the betrayal of the far-right is far worse. Professionalism is treated like dirt, careers spoiled and wasted, and the Constitution that these men and women have sworn to defend is trampled. There are no greater victims than our service personnel.)

I stand by what I have said since 2004. Though they have been slow to wake up, these volunteer soldiers are what they have always been -- the thin blue line that stands between the rest of us and a very cold wind. They are the guarantors of our Great Experiment. Even when we criticize the Officer Corps, it should be in tones of respect and perhaps a little awe toward men and women who grasp the word “dedication” better than you and I ever will.

But enough of my own quirky ranting. Here’s an excerpt from Yingling’s document.

”For the second time in a generation, the United States faces the prospect of defeat at the hands of an insurgency. In April 1975, the U.S. fled the Republic of Vietnam, abandoning our allies to their fate at the hands of North Vietnamese communists. In 2007, Iraq's grave and deteriorating condition offers diminishing hope for an American victory and portends risk of an even wider and more destructive regional war.

“These debacles are not attributable to individual failures, but rather to a crisis in an entire institution: America's general officer corps. America's generals have failed to prepare our armed forces for war and advise civilian authorities on the application of force to achieve the aims of policy. The argument that follows consists of three elements. First, generals have a responsibility to society to provide policymakers with a correct estimate of strategic probabilities. Second, America's generals in Vietnam and Iraq failed to perform this responsibility. Third, remedying the crisis in American generalship requires the intervention of Congress.”

If Yingling is any kind of example, the corps may at last be waking up. To the fact that our national leadership has stupidly (or perhaps deliberately?) plunged America into a checklist repetition of every horrid mistake we made in Vietnam.

A few commentators have suggested that Yingling’s article be read NOT as an indictment of generals, but as a slightly disguised attack upon the Bush Administration. Read it yourself and ponder: when he faults generals for failing to successfully advise policy makers in the probabilities of successful outcome, could that not also be taken to mean that policy makers ought to take the dogma plugs out of their ears and actually listen?

Likewise, when he speaks of Von Clauswitz’s famed advice that a nation should have “passion” commensurate with the sacrifices needed in a war, could he not only be criticizing contemporary America in general, for spending is soldiers without sacrificing at home?

”Popular passions are necessary for the successful prosecution of war, but cannot be sufficient. To prevail, generals must provide policymakers and the public with a correct estimation of strategic probabilities. The general is responsible for estimating the likelihood of success in applying force to achieve the aims of policy. The general describes both the means necessary for the successful prosecution of war and the ways in which the nation will employ those means. If the policymaker desires ends for which the means he provides are insufficient, the general is responsible for advising the statesman of this incongruence. The statesman must then scale back the ends of policy or mobilize popular passions to provide greater means. If the general remains silent while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means, he shares culpability for the results.”

When he speaks of insufficient commitment of resources, might Lt. Colonel Yingling be referring obliquely to the greed exhibited by our top 1%? An American aristocracy who, for all their past faults, always used to step forward to help pay for emergencies in bygone days. But who now - while beating drums of “war” - seem to care above all for their lavish tax cuts. Some crisis.

You have to read between the lines, of course. Superficially, Yingling has done something that might blight a young officer’s career - criticizing the entire class of general officers. And yet, this may not be quite as suicidal as it seems, if in this case he had a nod and a wink from several top commanders. If they are true heirs of George Marshall, they would know that the Colonel’s bullets are actually aimed PAST them, at higher targets.

Wherever he accuses generals of failing to “give good advice,” you can easily infer the reverse side of the coin that Lt. Col Yingling cannot legally mention aloud. That good advice is useless if the policy makers are deaf, dumb, blind, obstinate and/or cosmically stupid.

Read the article yourself. It is important. Especially for “ostrich conservatives” who are still floundering about, grabbing at every possible rationalization and excuse to stay loyal to a GOP that has long ago mutated into something quite unworthy to command.

*(Uncivilized, for sure. Unsapient, perhaps. Indeed, judging by its owners' vampiric qualities... undead.)

==Continue to Part 2


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for cross-posting to Daily Kos. Now that I know you're there, I'll keep an eye out for your diaries.

I really loved the possibilities for citizen action and things like the henchman law from Kiln People and would love to see those things made reality.

Actually some of it has been made reality...Daily Kos has people gathering together to combine research and investigative knowledge and skills to push to the forefront things like the US Attorney scandal and the compromised food imports that the FDA seems to be ignoring.

sociotard said...

Just a tech watch thing. Usa today ran a bit about cell phones being upgraded with sensors to detect Chemical/Nuclear/Biological threats.

Also, have you read about the Korean Robot Ethics Charter? The first attempt I know of for a government to try to assess the rights of artificial life.

Anonymous said...

As I have pointed out frequently, the insulting behavior of the far-left shares some of the blame.

What far-left are you talking about? We barely have a left, the Democratic party is the right of most center right European Political parties. Hell, we can't even come up with a decent health care system.

refusing to reach out and embrace our nation’s protectors, or at least talk to them.

Protectors? from what? The evil insidious corporatization of American Culture? The vast wave of evil Mexicans crossing our southern border? or the poisoned food being imported into the US from China? or the equally huge theft of profits from our pharmaceutical industry by those nasty Canadians who have the unmitigated gall of offering inexpensive quality health care to their citizens?

Anonymous said...

First off...
Lt. Col. Paul Yingling is NOT a 'young officer'. A short colonel (O-5) has at least 15 years of service, and more likely 20+. This is not one of the lieutenants or captains (army) or even majors. Short colonels command battallions of up to 2000 men.
And a possibility comes to mind. A man with 20 years of service might find himself in a place where promotion is unlikely and the pressures of the foolishness of his alleged superiors becomes too great to bear for that tiny promotion chance. The good Lt. Col. might have come to the conclusion that the worst they could do to him is force him to accept half pay retirement. Working from my own experience, it's amazing how easy it is to be brutally honest about your own superiors when there is no possibility of punishment.
So, your brave young Col. might be a man trapped by the Army's "Up or Out" mentallity, about to be forcibly retired for failure to make rank, and decided to tell the truth with little risk to himself.

Now that the cynic in me has had his say, let me point out that the Lt.Col. was right. There has been a failure in the military leadership. Generals who have been shunted aside for daring to speak the truth to power have become silent. After telling the administration the truth, they failed to tell the American people, making themselves guilty by ommission of the same crimes. When General Shinseki was dismissed for telling congress how many troops would be needed (Several hundred thousand more than sent) I knew we were in for trouble. Oh, no trouble for me, personally. As a sailor sitting safely offshore I knew I was safely at sea... I knew we could win the war, but could we win the peace afterword? It's not enough to defeat the enemies armies, you have to give him someone to blame for his defeat that won't turn around and bite you.

Anonymous said...

General Shinseki went down with honor. I would not be surprised if he considers that decision to be one of the best decisions in his life. He paid a big price but he did his duty! He told the truth, and if Bush and Congress would have listened to him the occupation of Iraq could have gone very differently. (it might not have, because the Bushies made many more mistakes than not having nearly enough troops to maintain security after the fall of the Bathist government.)

The person who I am most disappointed in, is Colin Powell. He should have resigned in protest before the war. The planning the war did not meet the criteria of the Powell Doctrine. He would have had to know that Bush and Cheney were using his legitimacy to sell the war.

David Brin said...

Thom K, welcome to the site! You find it bright and challenging and diverse.

ABout the US Attoney Scandal... I have been trying hard to get people to notice the ghost at the banquet. The dog that isn't barking.

Far too much attention has been paid to the half dozen US Attys who were fired for not toeing the line or biasing their efforts politically to serve Karl Rove's will.

The REAL scandal is that more than 80 Bush-appointed US Attorneys whose performance apparently satisfied Rove.

Those political shills have diverted professional investigators and prosecutors, concentrated on investigating democrats to an outrageous degree of misproportion. And yet, STILL the ultimate ratio of convictions swings hard to other way! Nothing could better prove the obvious conclusions:

1) That democratic office holders are, in proved fact, vastly more honest than republican ones, on average, in order to have survived such close scrutiny. Just as the Clinton Administration endured cosmically more intense scrutiny without ever seeing a single Clinton appointee even indicted, let alone convicted, for actual malfeasance in the performance of official duties.

2) The 80 or so still-standing US Attys merit close attention, especially from whistle-blowers in their professional staffs.

3) In fact, the Bushite War Against Professionals should be THE central focus of DP efforts. Alas, it is not.


Wow Zechariah, cool stuff! Where's my prediction registry!


Thanks Don, for proving, in your second half, the very answer I would have given to the first half of your remark. I agree that American "leftists" are not very far left. Nor do they have much power, except to play a cultural spoiler role. Seeing crewcut types as reflex adversaries - and refusing to recognize the pragmatic benefits of forging bridges... you bet that harm lies at their feet.


Hawker, your alternate theory holds water... and yet the fact that Yingling's article was published in an august military journal with top billing makes me prefer my theory. That he is (as rumor tells) a favored fast-tracker who has taken on a dangerous and delicate mission on behalf of the best of his superiors. Yes, the bullets hit the generals, as well as those above them. They do (as you suggest) deserve to take some swats. Still, a majority soar toward much higher brass.

Yes, Occam. Shinseki went down with honor. And yes, you took the words right out of my mouth; the guy we have NOT heard from... the guy who OWES US... is Colin Powell.

Yes, he resigned when having to swallow the bile, seeing that his "doctrine had been implemented by Clinton-Clark but violated (raped) by his own boss. Worse, the outright lies that they had given him to repeat at the UN... I sorta kinda feel for him...

But not really. He was there, during the Utter Betrayal of 91, when Bush Sr. - in his own voice - asked the Iraqi Shi-ites to "rise up! We are on our way!" And then we stopped, to let them be slaughtered by Saddam. (Any wonder why they hate us?) He was there in 2003, telling the lies. If he stews in regret, that is a pale and cowardly state to wallow in, compared to what a genuine patriot would do.

Write a book. Expose the monsters. Take a hit from whatever blackmail they have on you and do your part to save the nation, Colin. You are the one guy who could do it.

But he won't. Why? Does he still nurse dreams of a Vice Presidency nod? Dream on. There is only one way to win back a smidgeon of our respect. Ironically, it will come if you step up and let the blackmailers do their worst. Take it - full frontal - for us, General.

Help us to slay your monster pals, and there may yet be a place for you in history. Whatever it is they have on tape, from that party at Prince Bandar's place.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Don, for proving, in your second half, the very answer I would have given to the first half of your remark. I agree that American "leftists" are not very far left. Nor do they have much power, except to play a cultural spoiler role.

Amazing how powerful such a tiny, poor and disorganized group of people can be.

Seeing crewcut types as reflex adversaries - and refusing to recognize the pragmatic benefits of forging bridges... you bet that harm lies at their feet.

Study: Many U.S. Soldiers in Iraq Admit Abusing Civilians, Backing Torture

Yes, forging bridges with torturers and their supporters is always a great idea.

And once more, it's the fault of all those evil and influential leftists who did not vote for Shrub that our Military is killing and torturing civilians ten thousand miles away from the closest US border.

You are going to have to get over the fact that it is not the left that is starting useless wars, dismantling the US economy and stealing everything that isn't nailed down, destroying your beautiful diamond and generally basically f*cking up the works. It's the Right who is doing this with the full complicity of all those fine liberals who having destroyed the left and most of it's organizational structures (your miracle of 47) are just rolling over like a bunch of whipped dogs.

The Liberals don't have the balls to impeach Shrub, nor do they have the balls to end the funding for his war but remember it's the fault of all those nasty lefties who have had the unmitigated gall to tell the American Public a handful of ugly truth about itself.

And Dr Brin,
for your information, I am a former Marine (Lcpl 79-83), I think I know a little something about the military.

Anonymous said...

Everyone forgets that Colin Powel was an apologist for the Vietnam fiasco. But I had hoped he learned something from that. Apparently we still have not learned the lesions of Vietnam and believe we can impose our imperial will on the rest of the world.

David Brin said...

My respect goes up a notch for anybody who was a Marine, no matter how cockeyed his views!!! ;-)

Of course, anyone out there BUT Don can see the ratio of my venom for far-right monsters vs the small and light taps I occasionally mete out toward the pathetic-loony left. Will someone else please explain to him that having the right ratio does NOT mean glossing over the faults of your friends.

Nor accepting that your side's dogmatic romantics are FUNDAMENTALLY more sane than the other side's. What is the main redeeming property of the anti-science, anti-ScienceFiction, political-correctness police in most of our English and Sociology etc departments?

Their charming and utter lack of power.

Anonymous said...

"It is my personal conviction that almost any one of the newborn states of the world would far rather embrace Communism *or any other form of dictatorship* than acknowledge the political domination of another government, even though that brought to each citiczen a far higher standard of living."

Dwight D Eisenhower, in reference to the Suez Crises.

No, we could not have forced Iraqis to accept a long American military occupation, no matter how many troops we deployed. We had over half a million in Vietnam at one point.

Yes, Iraqis and other Arabs would rather suffer starvation under a new Caliphate than be ruled by us, than have a puppet "home rule" parliment subject to the veto of our military and Executive.

Better planning? More Troops? Harder "crackdowns"? I see no reason to believe that any of these would have persuaded Iraqis to accept a lack of true self-governance.

The world over, people would rather be ruled by the worst of their own devils (see also: Cuba) than by the best of our angels. Ike got that fifty years ago, when will the rest of us catch up?

Anonymous said...

I'm very much afraid Colin Powell has turned into a dinosaur throughout this administration. His greatest faults are those that were once his greatest virtues: that by temperament and upbringing he was given to working within the system and following the rules. During the heated days of his young adulthood, the 1950s & 1970s, this was the best thing he could have done. Alas, it's 40 years later and circumstances have made it the worse thing he could have done.

Sign me a long-ago disappointed fan.

Francis said...


It is a truism that there is no viewpoint so right that you can not find lunatics espousing it. And no viewpoint so wrong that you can not find some very intelligent and persuasive people espousing it.

However, the more I read of you, the more I see that Don, not you, is fundamentally right about the left-wing division in America. There are times when you need balance, fairness, and pragmatism. And there are times when you need to simply put your head down and charge. The leftists you deride are superb at the latter but weak at the former, whereas the pragmatists you praise ar estrong at the former but pathetic at the latter. Each group needs the other.

However, it is the pragmatics that have sold out the activists, not the other way. And each group is crippled without the other even if they are regularly at cross purposes (see the right-wing equivalents for examples).

If you want insulting, look at the far-right and yet the far-left in Americal takes almost as much flack.

SpeakerToManagers said...

Having been both a left-wing activist (SDS, 1964) and a soldier (US Army, 1966-69, including a year in Vietnam) I think I can comment on both sides. There's absolutely no question in my mind that there was, and to a large extent still is a knee-jerk antipathy of the left to the military. The difference between then and now is that now, that antipathy is not directed towards individual soldiers*. but only towards the military "establishment".

About Colin Powell: I've been convinced since Gulf War I that his public actions show him to be what's called a "political" general, one more concerned for his career and the political maneuverings of the Pentagon than the practice of the military profession or of the men under his command. His actions in the runup to GW II are not surprising in that light.

* Yes, someone did call me "Babykiller". Maybe even more to the point, when, on leave after Vietnam I attended a planning meeting for a group trying to identify new categories of people to organize against the war, I suggested talking to active duty soldiers, I was told, "None of them are interested in this, they're part of the problem."

SpeakerToManagers said...

I'm just now going through the full text of the Yingling article*. One line stands out as an indication that his criticisms are aimed beyond the general officer corps:

Neither the executive branch nor the services themselves are likely to remedy the shortcomings in America's general officer corps. Indeed, the tendency of the executive branch to seek out mild-mannered team players to serve as senior generals is part of the problem.

Moreover, he proposes changes that might correct the the problems he describes, something I had not heard before. *sarcasm* I wonder why that is being downplayed in the press */sarcasm*

But the key line, I think, is this:
If our operations produce more enemies than they defeat, no amount of force is sufficient to prevail.
Clearly a view that no one currently in power wants to hear.

* I've read several articles about it, and listened to his NPR interview. The interview, incidentally, persuaded me to lend his words a great deal of credence. He was as forthright in his statements personally as in the article. Not so incidentally, he stated in the interview that in the somewhat over 24 hours since the publication of the article he had received "several hundred" emails, only one of which was critical of his position.

NoOne said...

Ever so often, David returns to his paranoid conspiracy theme - that the staggering incompetence on display by the Bush administration and their cohorts has a deeper, more sinister Manchurian candidate explanation. And just as often, David retreats to labeling this position as "just contrarian" when we all shout in dismay that this position is excessively paranoid - which of course doesn't mean that it can't be true.

While I have not spent enough time on this forum to see if the following alternative explanation has received enough net time, I must ask: Could an alternative explanation be that something like a computer program, or perhaps a virus (or even the now discredited meme) is active in this case? If a Manchurian candidate computer program is running in say 25% of the US population - in our loonie, fundie friends and neighbors - they wouldn't be aware of it. Instead, they'd be executing it like lemmings. This alternative explanation requires no paranoid conspiracy theory to sustain it but comes at the cost of positing a certain kind of computer program that say, leads to the destruction of empires - Greek, Roman, Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, British and now American.