January 04, 2008

Final Post

"I am leaving this message for you because it appears I must leave sooner than I intended. I would have preferred to say this in person, but since I cannot, let me say it here."
G'Kar, Babylon 5

"Only the dead have seen the end of war."

This is an entry I would have preferred not to have published, but there are limits to what we can control in life, and apparently I have passed one of those limits. And so, like G'Kar, I must say here what I would much prefer to say in person. I want to thank hilzoy for putting it up for me. It's not easy asking anyone to do something for you in the event of your death, and it is a testament to her quality that she didn't hesitate to accept the charge. As with many bloggers, I have a disgustingly large ego, and so I just couldn't bear the thought of not being able to have the last word if the need arose. Perhaps I take that further than most, I don't know. I hope so. It's frightening to think there are many people as neurotic as I am in the world. In any case, since I won't get another chance to say what I think, I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. Such as it is.

"When some people die, it's time to be sad. But when other people die, like really evil people, or the Irish, it's time to celebrate."
Jimmy Bender, "Greg the Bunny"

"And maybe now it's your turn
To die kicking some ass."
Freedom Isn't Free, Team America

What I don't want this to be is a chance for me, or anyone else, to be maudlin. I'm dead. That sucks, at least for me and my family and friends. But all the tears in the world aren't going to bring me back, so I would prefer that people remember the good things about me rather than mourning my loss. (If it turns out a specific number of tears will, in fact, bring me back to life, then by all means, break out the onions.) I had a pretty good life, as I noted above. Sure, all things being equal I would have preferred to have more time, but I have no business complaining with all the good fortune I've enjoyed in my life. So if you're up for that, put on a little 80s music (preferably vintage 1980-1984), grab a Coke and have a drink with me. If you have it, throw 'Freedom Isn't Free' from the Team America soundtrack in; if you can't laugh at that song, I think you need to lighten up a little. I'm dead, but if you're reading this, you're not, so take a moment to enjoy that happy fact.

"Our thoughts form the universe. They always matter."
Citizen G'Kar, Babylon 5

Believe it or not, one of the things I will miss most is not being able to blog any longer. The ability to put my thoughts on (virtual) paper and put them where people can read and respond to them has been marvelous, even if most people who have read my writings haven't agreed with them. If there is any hope for the long term success of democracy, it will be if people agree to listen to and try to understand their political opponents rather than simply seeking to crush them. While the blogosphere has its share of partisans, there are some awfully smart people making excellent arguments out there as well, and I know I have learned quite a bit since I began blogging. I flatter myself I may have made a good argument or two as well; if I didn't, please don't tell me. It has been a great five-plus years. I got to meet a lot of people who are way smarter than me, including such luminaries as Virginia Postrel and her husband Stephen (speaking strictly from a 'improving the species' perspective, it's tragic those two don't have kids, because they're both scary smart.), the estimable hilzoy and Sebastian of Obsidian Wings, Jeff Goldstein and Stephen Green, the men who consistently frustrated me with their mix of wit and wisdom I could never match, and I've no doubt left out a number of people to whom I apologize. Bottom line: if I got the chance to meet you through blogging, I enjoyed it. I'm only sorry I couldn't meet more of you. In particular I'd like to thank Jim Henley, who while we've never met has been a true comrade, whose words have taught me and whose support has been of great personal value to me. I would very much have enjoyed meeting Jim.

Blogging put me in touch with an inordinate number of smart people, an exhilarating if humbling experience. When I was young, I was smart, but the older I got, the more I realized just how dumb I was in comparison to truly smart people. But, to my credit, I think, I was at least smart enough to pay attention to the people with real brains and even occasionally learn something from them. It has been joy and a pleasure having the opportunity to do this.

"It's not fair."
"No. It's not. Death never is."
Captain John Sheridan and Dr. Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5

"They didn't even dig him a decent grave."
"Well, it's not how you're buried. It's how you're remembered."
Cimarron and Wil Andersen, The Cowboys

I suppose I should speak to the circumstances of my death. It would be nice to believe that I died leading men in battle, preferably saving their lives at the cost of my own. More likely I was caught by a marksman or an IED. But if there is an afterlife, I'm telling anyone who asks that I went down surrounded by hundreds of insurgents defending a village composed solely of innocent women and children. It'll be our little secret, ok?

I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so.

On a similar note, while you're free to think whatever you like about my life and death, if you think I wasted my life, I'll tell you you're wrong. We're all going to die of something. I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was.

"What an idiot! What a loser!"
Chaz Reingold, Wedding Crashers

"Oh and I don't want to die for you, but if dying's asked of me;
I'll bear that cross with honor, 'cause freedom don't come free."
American Soldier, Toby Keith

Those who know me through my writings on the Internet over the past five-plus years probably have wondered at times about my chosen profession. While I am not a Libertarian, I certainly hold strongly individualistic beliefs. Yet I have spent my life in a profession that is not generally known for rugged individualism. Worse, I volunteered to return to active duty knowing that the choice would almost certainly lead me to Iraq. The simple explanation might be that I was simply stupid, and certainly I make no bones about having done some dumb things in my life, but I don't think this can be chalked up to stupidity. Maybe I was inconsistent in my beliefs; there are few people who adhere religiously to the doctrines of their chosen philosophy, whatever that may be. But I don't think that was the case in this instance either.

As passionate as I am about personal freedom, I don't buy the claims of anarchists that humanity would be just fine without any government at all. There are too many people in the world who believe that they know best how people should live their lives, and many of them are more than willing to use force to impose those beliefs on others. A world without government simply wouldn't last very long; as soon as it was established, strongmen would immediately spring up to establish their fiefdoms. So there is a need for government to protect the people's rights. And one of the fundamental tools to do that is an army that can prevent outside agencies from imposing their rules on a society. A lot of people will protest that argument by noting that the people we are fighting in Iraq are unlikely to threaten the rights of the average American. That's certainly true; while our enemies would certainly like to wreak great levels of havoc on our society, the fact is they're not likely to succeed. But that doesn't mean there isn't still a need for an army (setting aside debates regarding whether ours is the right size at the moment). Americans are fortunate that we don't have to worry too much about people coming to try and overthrow us, but part of the reason we don't have to worry about that is because we have an army that is stopping anyone who would try.

Soldiers cannot have the option of opting out of missions because they don't agree with them: that violates the social contract. The duly-elected American government decided to go to war in Iraq. (Even if you maintain President Bush was not properly elected, Congress voted for war as well.) As a soldier, I have a duty to obey the orders of the President of the United States as long as they are Constitutional. I can no more opt out of missions I disagree with than I can ignore laws I think are improper. I do not consider it a violation of my individual rights to have gone to Iraq on orders because I raised my right hand and volunteered to join the army. Whether or not this mission was a good one, my participation in it was an affirmation of something I consider quite necessary to society. So if nothing else, I gave my life for a pretty important principle; I can (if you'll pardon the pun) live with that.

"It's all so brief, isn't it? A typical human lifespan is almost a hundred years. But it's barely a second compared to what's out there. It wouldn't be so bad if life didn't take so long to figure out. Seems you just start to get it right, and then...it's over."
Dr. Stephen Franklin, Babylon 5

I wish I could say I'd at least started to get it right. Although, in my defense, I think I batted a solid .250 or so. Not a superstar, but at least able to play in the big leagues. I'm afraid I can't really offer any deep secrets or wisdom. I lived my life better than some, worse than others, and I like to think that the world was a little better off for my having been here. Not very much, but then, few of us are destined to make more than a tiny dent in history's Green Monster. I would be lying if I didn't admit I would have liked to have done more, but it's a bit too late for that now, eh? The bottom line, for me, is that I think I can look back at my life and at least see a few areas where I may have made a tiny difference, and massive ego aside, that's probably not too bad.

"The flame also reminds us that life is precious. As each flame is unique; when it goes out, it's gone forever. There will never be another quite like it."
Ambassador Delenn, Babylon 5

I write this in part, admittedly, because I would like to think that there's at least a little something out there to remember me by. Granted, this site will eventually vanish, being ephemeral in a very real sense of the word, but at least for a time it can serve as a tiny record of my contributions to the world. But on a larger scale, for those who knew me well enough to be saddened by my death, especially for those who haven't known anyone else lost to this war, perhaps my death can serve as a small reminder of the costs of war. Regardless of the merits of this war, or of any war, I think that many of us in America have forgotten that war means death and suffering in wholesale lots. A decision that for most of us in America was academic, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, had very real consequences for hundreds of thousands of people. Yet I was as guilty as anyone of minimizing those very real consequences in lieu of a cold discussion of theoretical merits of war and peace. Now I'm facing some very real consequences of that decision; who says life doesn't have a sense of humor?

But for those who knew me and feel this pain, I think it's a good thing to realize that this pain has been felt by thousands and thousands (probably millions, actually) of other people all over the world. That is part of the cost of war, any war, no matter how justified. If everyone who feels this pain keeps that in mind the next time we have to decide whether or not war is a good idea, perhaps it will help us to make a more informed decision. Because it is pretty clear that the average American would not have supported the Iraq War had they known the costs going in. I am far too cynical to believe that any future debate over war will be any less vitriolic or emotional, but perhaps a few more people will realize just what those costs can be the next time.

This may be a contradiction of my above call to keep politics out of my death, but I hope not. Sometimes going to war is the right idea. I think we've drawn that line too far in the direction of war rather than peace, but I'm a soldier and I know that sometimes you have to fight if you're to hold onto what you hold dear. But in making that decision, I believe we understate the costs of war; when we make the decision to fight, we make the decision to kill, and that means lives and families destroyed. Mine now falls into that category; the next time the question of war or peace comes up, if you knew me at least you can understand a bit more just what it is you're deciding to do, and whether or not those costs are worth it.

"This is true love. You think this happens every day?"
Westley, The Princess Bride

"Good night, my love, the brightest star in my sky."
John Sheridan, Babylon 5

This is the hardest part. While I certainly have no desire to die, at this point I no longer have any worries. That is not true of the woman who made my life something to enjoy rather than something merely to survive. She put up with all of my faults, and they are myriad, she endured separations again and again...I cannot imagine being more fortunate in love than I have been with Amanda. Now she has to go on without me, and while a cynic might observe she's better off, I know that this is a terrible burden I have placed on her, and I would give almost anything if she would not have to bear it. It seems that is not an option. I cannot imagine anything more painful than that, and if there is an afterlife, this is a pain I'll bear forever.

I wasn't the greatest husband. I could have done so much more, a realization that, as it so often does, comes too late to matter. But I cherished every day I was married to Amanda. When everything else in my life seemed dark, she was always there to light the darkness. It is difficult to imagine my life being worth living without her having been in it. I hope and pray that she goes on without me and enjoys her life as much as she deserves. I can think of no one more deserving of happiness than her.

"I will see you again, in the place where no shadows fall."
Ambassador Delenn, Babylon 5

I don't know if there is an afterlife; I tend to doubt it, to be perfectly honest. But if there is any way possible, Amanda, then I will live up to Delenn's words, somehow, some way. I love you.


[A note from hilzoy, the friend he asked to put this post up: people are leaving their respects to Andy here, here, and here.]

Posted at 11:18 AM · Personal · Comments (0) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

June 22, 2007


No, I won't be blogging here again quite yet, but I'm now up and running at the Rocky Mountain News. You can see the new blog here, and a profile of yours truly (warning, there are pictures of me) here. It's good to be back.

Posted at 11:58 PM · Blogging · Comments (0) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

February 22, 2007

Shameless Plug

I don't know how many of my readers might be interested, but a friend of mine has started a blog called Crossed Sabers where he is recording his working on the history of the American cavalry. He's already got some interesting posts up regarding the manning of the regular cavalry during the Civil War. If you have an interest in the Civil War, you might enjoy Don's site.

Posted at 07:35 AM · Blogging · Comments (0) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

February 21, 2007

Closing Shop

As I noted yesterday, it turns out that I have been blogging in violation of a Department of Defense directive that restricts how much political activity soldiers may be involved with. This directive is intended to prevent even the appearance of impropriety among military personnel: the United States prides itself on being a nation where the citizens tell the military what to do and not the reverse. While in theory this does not mean that a soldier shouldn't have the same opportunities as any other citizen to express his opinion, in practice they cannot have the same carte blanche as a civilian. One can hardly be blamed for wondering if the military is really in check to the civilian authority if soldiers are constantly seen expressing disagreement with their civilian masters, even if they obey their orders without question. The U.S. military has a long tradition of apolitical officers, and that has served both the military and the country well since our inception.

While I am hardly well-known within the blogosphere, I have established enough of a brand that simply no longer noting my connection to the military is not sufficient for me to continue blogging. While I enjoy blogging, I cannot do so with a clear conscience in violation of orders. I could continue blogging while attempting to remain within the rules, but that kind of blogging is not really my style. For the past five-plus years I have written about what moves me, because that it what I enjoy. I would not feel comfortable attempting to balance my beliefs and my duties.

I may still write something from time to time here. And the Rocky Mountain News has asked me to write about my experiences in Iraq, so I will be writing there beginning next month and I will put a link up here to that once it gets rolling.

It has been a fascinating journey. I suspect that I will return when I retire. Until then, thanks to all (both?) my readers and take care.

Posted at 06:12 AM · Blogging · Comments (8) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

February 20, 2007


It would appear that yours truly is in violation of certain DoD policies (specifically directive 1344.10) regarding political activities by members of the armed forces on active duty. I am going to review the directive and make whatever changes are necessary to put me in compliance with that directive. So blogging may be light for a while, as I'm not going to put anything up that would have any potential to cross that boundary until I'm sure where the line is.

Posted at 10:25 AM · Blogging · Comments (15) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

February 19, 2007

Syllogisms for Dummies

At first, when I read Matt Yglesias' explanation that the surge isn't working (not all the bombs have stopped going off), I got a trifle annoyed. I imagine lawyers and doctors get the same sensation: when the talk turns to the military and strategy, the blogosphere is packed with Wellingtons and Sun Tzus, all ready to explain how the military works and what the U.S. should do to achieve its goals. But that's not a bad thing; war is as much art as science, and good ideas are hardly restricted to those of us who have chosen to serve in the military.

Besides, young Matthew has provided a wonderful metric for those of a libertarian bent, like me. Consider:

Social security doesn't work: some old people are still poor.

Welfare programs don't work: some people are still poor.

Medicare doesn't work: some old people don't have access to health care.

Medicaid doesn't work: some poor people don't have acces to health care.

Hell, using Matt's logic, we ought to have the federal government trimmed at least by half in no time. Why do I get the feeling Matty wouldn't agree with that extension of his logic?

A second example of Matt's thinking includes the idea we shouldn't criticize President Carter because he seems to have a rather marked bias against Israel because the Carter Center does many good works and we wouldn't want to undermine that. By that logic, since I think even Matty could agree the U.S. government does many things, doesn't that mean we should refrain from criticizing President Bush since that might undermine people's belief in government?

Posted at 04:34 PM · Humor · Comments (6) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

Asking the Hard Question

I have been reliably informed that my posting of late has been rather dark. That's probably true, in no small part because it seems that no matter where I turn, I end up reading things like this:

The goal of Democrats -- and their allies -- over the next two years should not and cannot be to stop the war cold turkey. The goal should be to politicize the issue in preparation for 2008.

I may not agree with the assessment of the far left, but at least they're honest. They think we've lost in Iraq and that we should get out now. Contrast that with those who see in Iraq a wonderful opportunity to win more seats for their party, like publius. It pleases me to no end that if I end up getting killed in Iraq, at least my wife can take comfort in knowing my death may help the Democrats win the White House in 2008. Really, that makes it all worthwhile.

Harsh? Absolutely. And I realize that publius' motives are sincere. But while the odds are pretty good I'll live through my trip to Iraq, the fact remains that too many of my comrades will die in Iraq between now and the day a new President takes office in January 2009. If people think that we have lost in Iraq, then they have a duty to say so and do what they can to get us out of Iraq, not position themselves to be in better shape to do so in two years. The idea that Congress cannot stop this war flies in the face of the facts. Congress can quite easily end the war within six months if they so choose. No money equals no war, and while the Democrats aren't strong enough to pass a resolution rescinding the Authorization to Use Military Force, they are certainly strong enough not to pass a budget funding further operations in Iraq. Yes, six months is a long time and more people will die, but that eighteen month window means perhaps 1,000 more dead soldiers and many times more soldiers whose lives will be forever changed by the wounds they receive there.

Of course, doing so would probably be politically devastating to the Democrats. The Republicans would use such a move as ammunition for scurrilous demagoguery, carefully avoiding the questions they've mostly been able to dodge over the past four years about their responsibility for the war. But the war would still end, and while it might hurt the Democrats initially, given that their actions would come roughly a year before the next election, who knows how they might look in the fall of 2008 when American soldiers are no longer coming home in caskets; President George H.W. Bush looked nigh-unbeatable a year before the 1992 election; I assume we all remember how that one turned out.

More to the point, it seems to me that it is the right thing to do, if you believe we should be getting out of Iraq. If you think the surge cannot work and that we've lost, I fail to see how you can justify waiting an additional 18 months because the politics aren't right. John Kerry once asked how you can ask someone to be the last man to die for a mistake. It would appear that for a lot of Democrats, that question is easier to answer than Kerry thought.

Posted at 02:37 PM · Politics • · War · Comments (8) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

February 16, 2007

Goodbye, Keith, and Thanks

Former Red Sox closer and the man who was on the mound for the Red Sox' first World Championship in 86 years Keith Foulke has hung up his spikes. I suspect that a large reason he has been hurting the past two seasons is because he gave the Red Sox everything he had in the 2004 postseason. Whether or not that's the case, I will remember him catching Edgar Renteria's groundout to close out the 2004 world classic. Thanks for your hard work, Keith, and good luck with life beyond baseball.

Update: My report on game four, and my reaction the Sox' World Championship.

Posted at 04:03 PM · Baseball · Comments (1) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

Complex Phenomena

This is why I don't get too worked up about global warming one way or the other. Apparently scientists are not seeing the kind of warming in Antarctica they would expect based on the climate models they're using.

Does this mean that global warming isn't happening, or that the anthropogenic theories are wrong? Nope. It doesn't mean they're right, either. It means that the Earth's climate is unbelievably complicated, and that scientists are still trying to figure out how it all fits together. This is a laudable goal. It is also one that will take a great deal of time, in all likelihood. What this particular piece of data means will take some hard work to determine.

Which is why it's hard for me to get energized for either side of the global warming debate. The plain truth is that even climatologists are still working out what precisely is happening to our climate. And the vast majority of those who take a strong position on the issue are doing so out of faith, not science, because the number of people who have both the scientific chops and the time to actually review all the data out there are vanishingly small. Everyone else is just picking a position they happen to like and running with it. That's their business; I'm certainly not going to tell anyone else how they should live their life. But I'm not going to get all worked up about something I can't evaluate for myself, and I'm not too proud to admit that climate science is outside my area of expertise.

As an aside, before someone decides to declare me a 'climate change denialist' (a charge that tends to undermine the cause of global warming, for my money), I suspect that the consensus about global warming is correct. I simply am noting that I don't know enough about the issue to know; and neither do most of those most worked up about it, as far as I can tell.

Posted at 07:43 AM · Global Warming · Comments (12) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

Qui Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

We long ago decided as a society that in order for human beings to live together, the use of violence needed to be restricted. While everyone has the right to defend themselves, the right to initiate violence is restricted to the government. For this to work to the benefit of the citizens, the government has to be strictly limited in how and when it can initiate violence. The people who are given some piece of governmental authority must be held to the highest standards, or else you end up with a system where those who are part of government are held above the common citizens. Kind of like what you see in modern-day America.

It should go without saying, but I'll note here that I have nothing but the highest respect for the people who serve as police officers, as a rule. Police work is in turns boring, tedious, and terribly dangerous, and the people willing to put their lives on the line to deal with the murderers, rapists and other less-than-sterling examples of humanity out there are often real heroes.

But any organization consisting of more than a handful of people will include its share of bad apples, and the way that organization handles those bad apples tells us volumes about it. And as Rogier van Bakel points out here, far too often police officers are held to a far more lenient standard than those they are appointed to protect.

Why shouldn't we give police the benefit of the doubt? After all, they're out there risking their lives for us. When some nut case starts shooting up a mall or a burglar is in our house, we expect the police to go in after them, knowing that doing so may get them killed. Shouldn't they get a little more leeway? While I'm sympathetic to that argument, I have to say no.

We grant our police great powers. And as Stan Lee pointed out many years ago, with great power comes great responsibility. When police officers screw up, people die. Radley Balko has done yeoman work (I suspect that when the history of the early years of blogging is written, Radley is going to be seen to have been one of the most important of all of us by a sizeable margin) documenting the numerous times the police have killed innocent people in the course of their duties. I'm sure the officers involved generally feel pretty awful about what they've done. But the people are still dead, and while remorse is good, putting standards in place to make police a bit more careful is even better.

I don't think the police should have to live in fear of choosing between the worse of two evils: getting shot or going to jail because they shot the wrong person. There are times when a raid goes bad and an accident occurs and it's just bad luck. But far too often we see cases like Kathryn Johnson or Sal Culosi, where innocent people die because of police negligence or misconduct and there is little impulse by the police or the local DA to hold those officers responsible. That is unacceptable, and it needs to stop. If a private citizen would be charged for an action, a police officer should be as well, no questions asked.

Posted at 07:08 AM · Culture · Comments (1) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

They Killed Kenny!

You bastards!

Yes, I'm pleased that yet another terrorist is in paradise eating his 72 raisins, and the fact it was the Iraqi police who may have wounded al Qaeda in Iraq's current leader and killed his aide is good news. But killing al-Zarqawi didn't make Iraq safe. Capturing Saddam didn't make Iraq safe. Killing Saddam's sons didn't make Iraq safe. So it's unlikely that this is going to make Iraq safe either.

Good news? Absolutely, if it indicates that the Iraqi police are improving in their ability to take on the insurgency. But it will take more than one report to show where we are on that path, and until then, one suspects that, like Kenny, we'll see the head terrorist again.

Posted at 06:39 AM · War · Comments (1) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

Arkin Fallout

Retired Colonel Ken Allard will no longer serve as a military consultant for NBC News, in no small part because he's disgusted by NBC's decision to retain William Arkin as a military analyst. It's hard to blame him; having Arkin as a military analyst is a bit like having a Shia imam as your Islam analyst. Funny how the media works that way. If you're a hard core Democrat, it's assumed you can be objective easily. Tim Russert and George Stephanopolous both get to host Sunday morning talk shows where they are nominally an objective observer, but I can just imagine the screams if someone who had formerly worked for Republican Senator and Governor or in a Republican White House were suddenly tapped to serve as host of a Sunday morning show. And with Arkin it's the same thing: his anti-military views in no way serve to disqualify him from the title of analyst, while a reporter with pro-military views would quickly be dumped for a more 'objective' viewer.

Good thing conservatives control the media. Presumably Dr. Terpstra would be NBC's military analyst if the media didn't have such a conservative tilt.

Note: Yes, I opened the door on the whole media bias issue, but let's not waste much time arguing, as there's no evidence on Earth that's going to convince anyone they're wrong on this issue. Those on the left are going to continue to point to corporate ownership of the media as proof the media leans right and those on the right are going to continue to highlight the preponderance of Democrats in the media as proof it leans left. And nobody is moving an inch from those positions, so there's little point in arguing about it.

Note 2: So why did I write this post? Because it's my blog and I can write about whatever I want to. And by turning the question to media bias I hope to elide the fact I broke my promise about not mentioning Arkin again. Pretty clever, eh?

Posted at 06:32 AM · Media · Comments (2) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

February 15, 2007

Supporting the Troops

I know I'll never convince anyone about this, but I'll point it out anyhow: today's example of what I expect to see more and more of over the coming months, people who never did like the troops and are no longer afraid to say so.

Professor(?) June Scorza Terpstra asks can we really support these troops? The answer, to her, is a clear no.

I knew in that moment that this was what the future of teaching about justice would include: teaching war criminals who sit glaring at me with hatred for daring to speak the truth of their atrocities and who, if paid to, would disappear, torture and kill me. I wondered that night how long I really have in this so called “free” country to teach my students and to be with my children and grandchildren.

Well, Professor, you may rest assured that this is one war criminal who will defend to the death your right to say whatever you like, even if you continue to feel the need to make scurrilous accusations about me and my fellow soldiers.

Although I will do my best to make sure that if I do have children, they don't attend a school where you're teaching, as I'd like my progeny to learn to think for themselves, thank you very much.

Posted at 08:10 PM · Military · Comments (4) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

On Assumptions

The blogosphere is abuzz today with the exciting news of slides from the Iraq planning. As it appears the people chatting about the subject are unfamiliar with the inner workings of the military, it's important to explain just what these documents do and do not say.

At issue is this slide: plan.jpg

In the military, the word 'assumption,' like many terms, has a very specific meaning. When planning, we rarely have all facts available to us. Developing a detailed plan often requires us to make assumptions. For example, if we are developing a plan to invade Canada, we may not know how the local population will react to our presence. Our plan needs to take that issue into account, so we make an assumption, say that the locals will attempt to disrupt our invasion force through insurgent tactics. When we make an assumption, it needs to pass two tests: it must be necessary and valid. Necessary refers to the plan. If we don't need to make the assumption, we shouldn't make it; we make assumptions only when planning cannot continue without more data. Valid refers to the realism of the assumption. We cannot assume that the Canadians will greet our invasion with open arms simply because that would make things easier. To use an historical example, when the Allies planned Operation Market Garden, they assumed that XXX Corps could reach Arnhem in four days. That assumption was necessary: without it, the Allies would never have dropped the 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. But it was not valid: it took XXX Corps seven days to reach the south bank of the Rhine, by which time 1 Para was combat ineffective. MG Urquhart took 10,600 men into Arnhem; less than 2,300 made it out and 1 Para was never reconstituted; bad assumptions lead to disaster.

A good staff will examine each assumption carefully against these criteria. A good plan makes only those assumptions that are absolutely necessary, and takes pains to validate assumptions as soon as possible. I am not in a position to criticize the staff that built the plan for Iraq, as I don't know what they did in developing these assumptions. But certainly in hindsight many of them look pretty bad. Let's review each of them.

"This operation will be the national main effort." Meets both criteria easily. The amount of personnel and supplies meant OIF needed to be the main effort so the assumption was necessary, and clearly Iraq has been our main effort for the last four years, so it was also valid.

"Opposition groups will work with us." I'm not certain this meets either criteria. The war plan itself was clearly successful without help from opposition groups, and I'm not convinced the occupation failed for a lack of assistance from opposition groups either, so I don't think this was necessary. It was not valid, either, although I recall reading in Cobra II that this was the CIA position at the time, so it may have seemed a valid assumption at the time.

"Co-opted Iraqi units will occupy garrisons and not fight either US forces or other Iraqi units." This one has confused a lot of people. This is not saying that the Iraqi Army will hide in its barracks. It is referring to the belief that some Iraqi units could be convinced to simply stay out of the fight. Again, however, this assumption was not necessary to the plan, as the Coalition was able to take Baghdad despite few, if any, Iraqi units choosing to go to ground rather than fight. Nor did it appear to be valid, although this was another area where the CIA claimed they had more success than they had.

"Regional states will not challenge US military operations with conventional forces." Both valid and necessary.

"DoS will promote creation of a broad-based, credible provisional government prior to D-Day." The crux of the problem. It's questionable whether or not the State Department could have accomplished this, but it is certain they didn't even put any particular effort into doing so. Since leaders are supposed to develop their plan in such a way as to validate their assumptions, the failure of CENTCOM to even point out that this was not occurring in the runup to war is particularly damning.

"Continued freedom of navigation for shipping and naval forces through the Suez Canal / Straits of Hormuz / Northern Arabia Gulf." Valid and necessary.

"Operations in Afghanistan transition to phase III (minimal air support over Afghanistan)." Valid and necessary, albeit a factor in why Afghanistan remains a problem.

"BCT in Kuwait replaced by full-up brigade." Valid and necessary.

"US forces in Turkey (ONW and all other units) TACON at N-Day; SOF in Turkey OPCON to CINCCENT at N-day." The SOF part is valid and necessary. The other turned out to be neither, as Turkey did not grant permission for 4ID to attack from the north, but the operation still succeeded.

"Iraqi regime has WMD capability." Arguably neither valid nor necessary, but a wise precaution to take.

All in all, the list appears to have required a bit more work. The big failure, as I noted, was that the State Department did not do what was asked of them and nobody at CENTCOM raised that as an issue that I am aware of. If that was a necessary assumption for the success of the plan (and it certainly would not have hurt), CENTCOM should have screamed bloody murder when it became apparent it was not going to happen. Their failure to do so, while hardly the sole point of failure in the Iraq war, was a critical breakdown.

Posted at 02:10 PM · Military · Comments (7) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

Troop Availability

Matt Yglesias is a smart guy, but I see he's one of the many who doesn't understand the military much, if at all. In a piece about Rudy Giuliani Matt notes that Giulani stated that he would have sent 100,000-130,000 additional troops to Iraq beyond what President Bush used for the invasion "even though no such volume of additional troops was available." Really, Matt? And you know this from, perhaps, your extensive military experience? From intense study of doctrine and policy? Nope. He just knows it because 'everyone' knows that.

I don't mean to be cruel to Matt (not that he'd care), but this kind of thing really frustrates me, especially coming from a guy who likes to talk about how 'reality-based' he is. The U.S. Army alone could have supplied an additional 130,000 troops to the Iraq war in 2003 and still had troops to spare. This isn't complicated, it's just addition and subtraction. We used about 130,000 troops in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Double that and you're at 260,000 troops. There are a bit more than 500,000 troops in the Active Army, and about 1.2 million in the Army as a whole. It doesn't seem too hard to figure out that 260,000 is less than either of those numbers, and that doesn't even include additional Marine forces that could have been used as well.

Maybe Matt meant something else when he said the troops weren't available. Perhaps he was saying that high a number of troops would have been politically unfeasible. That's questionable, as we used more than that in Desert Storm, but at least some argument can be made for that. No argument can defend Matt's casual claim that an additional 130,000 troops were not available. That's sloppy at best.

Posted at 12:10 PM · Military · Comments (4) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

A Stain on the Army

I see that Colonel Janis Karpinski, formerly Brigadier General Karpinski, is continuing her attempts to escape any blame for Abu Ghraib. The woman is, quite frankly, shameless and it's a disgusting comment on my Army that she earned a star only mitigated slightly by the wisdom shown in taking it back.

Karpinski was in command of the prison at Abu Ghraib when the torture and mistreatment of detainees was routine. Karpinski is upset with Senator Lindsey Graham because he commented that he's sorry he didn't get the chance to court-martial her, prompting Karpinski to brand Graham a coward. I can't speak to the Senator's physical courage, but I certainly applaud his sentiment, noting only that it would have been even nicer had he pushed a lot harder for the Army to go after people further up the chain at Abu Ghraib. And that chain, at a minimum, should include the woman who was running the show at the time.

There are two possibilities about Karpinski's involvement at Abu Ghraib. Either she knew what was going on and failed to stop it, or she didn't know it was happening. The latter is no excuse. The woman was a general officer charged with running the prison. The buck may stop in the Oval Office, but a commander is responsible for everything her unit does or fails to do, and that makes Karpinski guilty as sin. She worked in that prison every day. The soldiers there were under her command. It was her duty and her responsibility to know what they were doing and to set the standards for her subordinates. Given what happened, it seems pretty clear what her standards are.

It's too late to try Karpinski for her failings. But it doesn't seem too much to ask for the woman to try and remember that she was an officer and to take responsibility for her failures.

Posted at 11:41 AM · Military · Comments (3) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

Milbloggies Open

Nominations are now open for the 2006 Milbloggies. The rules are as follows:


1. A military blog can be nominated ONLY once by the same registered user. However, a user can nominate as many military blogs as they wish. All nominations must be submitted online through Milblogging.com by 5:00 pm EST on February 21, 2007.

2. The top five nominees in each branch and country category will be announced on February 22nd and those nominees will move into the Voting Phase beginning February 22, 2007. The Voting Phase will close on February February 26, 2007. Instructions on voting will appear on the website on February 22, 2007.

3. Nominees may be military blogs that belong to the following branch categories and countries in the Milblogging.com database:

Branch Categories:

U.S. Air Force
U.S. Army
U.S. Civilian
U.S. Civilian Contractor
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Marine Corps
U.S. Military (Parent)
U.S. Military (Spouse)
U.S. Military (Veteran)
U.S. Military Supporter
U.S. Navy
U.S. Reporter
Foreign National (Civilian)
Foreign National (Military)


United States

4. To nominate a military blog, you must be signed in or a registered user (just like last year). Registration is quick and free and you will not receive any SPAM. This helps maintain the integrity of voting. To place you nomination, simply click on the listing in the Milblogging.com database, and click the Nominate button at the top of the blog profile. You can reivew the milblogs you nominated at any time, by signing in and clicking Manage Favorites. Click the link that says View Milblogs Nominated by You.

5. Winners will be presented awards at the 2007 Milblog Conference on May 5, 2007. Winners are not required to attend the conference in order to receive their awards.

If you're interested in Milblogging, this is a great way to find a lot of interesting blogs devoted to military writing.

Posted at 08:06 AM · Blogging · Comments (0) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

Fish or Cut Bait

I've talked about why the Democratic Party has a bad reputation among the troops before. Sadly, it appears that they're planning on reinforcing, rather than overcoming, that image. It appears that, since they cannot get the votes for a resolution to end the Iraq war (although they have managed to burn two weeks on a nonbinding resolution), the Democrats are going to try to end the war via the back door.

The Democratic concept seems to be making it harder and harder for the President to fight the war, which will eventually force him to give up. Representative John Murtha, perhaps best known for his innovative plan to redeploy American troops to somewhere close to Iraq, like Okinawa, wants to prevent the military from deploying troops to Iraq unless they are properly trained and equipped. This sounds like a reasonable restriction, but the devil is in the details. Murtha seems to think that no Army units meet this criteria, and it's a safe bet the legislation he crafts will be designed to make sure that few, if any, units can meet it. Presumably the Democrats think they will be able to have their cake and eat it this way, 'supporting' the troops while preventing the Army from relieving any of the troops in country.

The result, however, while it may be great for troops who aren't in Iraq when the legislation is passed, means that those troops still over there will suffer higher casualties and longer tours. Not the kind of support I'd ask for. If these requirements are tacked onto deployments, the Army will have little choice but to attempt to meet them, which will mean that units currently in Iraq will have to stay longer because it now requires more work to get their replacements into country. Further, whatever hope there is for defeating the insurgency depends on getting additional boots on the ground. By preventing that, the Democrats will establish a worst-of-both-worlds situation where we won't send additional troops to improve the situation, but we won't bite the bullet and pull those we have out.

If the Democrats believe we've lost in Iraq, they should vote to pull the troops out. Yes, it would probably be vetoed, but at least they would have made a stand for their principles, and come the fall they could end the war the hard way by refusing to provide funds for the troops in Iraq. If they really believe that the only good option is to get out of Iraq, then they have no excuse for not doing everything in their power to make that happen. Every day they choose to pussyfoot around the issue is another day when American troops are killed or maimed in performance of their duties in Iraq. John Kerry infamously asked how you ask a man to be the last person to die for a mistake. If the Democrats really believe remaining in Iraq is a mistake, how can they reconcile that with asking more American soldiers to die because ending the war is politically inconvenient for them?

The Democrats own Congress now. That means they can't just carp from the sidelines anymore. They bear equal responsibility with the President for what happens in Iraq from now on. They need to make a decision to stay or go in Iraq, and if the answer is go, then they need to make it happen. Otherwise there is little difference between them and the Republicans who started the war. Actually, there is one key difference: the Republicans who started the war believed it could be won. They didn't ask troops to stay in harm's way because it might damage their reelection chances.

Posted at 06:17 AM · Politics • · War · Comments (3) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

February 14, 2007

You Keep Using That Word...

Kevin Drum joins in the piling on Glenn Reynolds for his proposal for dealing with Iran. I don't agree with Glenn's prescription, for various reasons I won't bother to get into here, but I'm curious about part of Kevin's response. According to him, "killing civilian scientists and civilian leaders, even if you do it quietly, is unquestionably terrorism." Really?

Terrorism involves attacks designed to gain political support by convincing the government of a nation to acede to their demands rather than endure more attacks. Terrorism is not necessarily attacks against civilian targets, and attacks against civilian targets are not necessarily terrorism. Strikes at enemy leaders or civilians directly involved in the war effort have been accepted as legitimate targets in the past. In World War II the Allies leveled entire cities in attempts to destroy enemy factories. There is little doubt the Allies would have done whatever it would take to go after German scientists involved in their atomic bomb project if they had believed it had a reasonable chance of success. One can argue the morality of such attacks, but it's hard to reconcile them as terrorism.

Update: Welcome, Instapundit readers, and thanks to Glenn for the link. Don't forget to check out the main page while you're here.

Posted at 06:51 PM · Philosophy · Comments (3) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

Emails From the Edge

I was rather harsh regarding Amanda Marcotte's complaints of being a victim regarding her leaving the Edwards campaign. While I stand by that assessment, the harassment she and Melissa McEwan (who quit the campaign yesterday) have received since this whole mess surfaced is really beyond the pale. I don't care what either Ms. Marcotte or Ms. McEwan wrote; there is no excuse for the kind of viciousness displayed on that page. Yes, I realize that is doubtless a sampling of the worst stuff, but I fail to see how that somehow makes it acceptable. We are, as George Costanza once observed, living in a society here, and whether we like it or not, we've got to live together.

I do not expect that people are all going to like one another. Hell, I can barely stand anyone outside my immediate family. But is it really too much to ask that we refrain from both vile comments and threats during the course of our discussion? If you're that worked up about something, let me suggest taking a nice walk or doing something else that will vent your frustrations in a more productive way. Or just be like me and bottle it all up inside, that's ok too. Trust me when I observe that letting fly with some rude comment, no matter how cathartic it may be in the short run, does absolutely nothing to resolve the problem and is likely to make things worse, not better.

Posted at 10:23 AM · Politics · Comments (7) · TrackBack (0)

Andrew Olmsted

2004 Weblog Awards Finalist


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Most people who serve in the military for any length of time ask why they're doing it at one point or another. You can only sit out in the rain for so long before you wonder what drives you to keep doing it. The Reasons Why is a collection of quotes and stories from history and literature that try to answer that question. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

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This is a vanity site that gives me the opportunity to comment on current events, or anything that catches my eye. What I post here is intended to put my thoughts on particular issues up for discussion; I do not pretend to be infallible or anything close to that. When I post something, it is what I believe, but it may be based on inaccurate information or faulty analysis. Where that occurs, I look to my readers to help me find the facts and improve my analytical abilities. As this is a vanity site, I have no regular publication schedule, (although I generally post daily), nor do I receive any editorial guidance. But thanks to the magic of the Internet and the kind souls who've gone to the trouble of linking here it does provide me the opportunity to contribute in some small manner to the philosophical and political questions of the day.

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