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Archive: April 2007
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Smackdown
Blames "Intellectual and Moral Failures" for Failing to Properly Advise on Iraq
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 04/27/2007 10:35 AM ET
WASHINGTON - MARCH 15: US Army officers and generals attend an open hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill March 15, 2007 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty
WASHINGTON - MARCH 15: US Army officers and generals attend an open hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill March 15, 2007 in Washington, DC.

"For the second time in a generation, the United States faces the prospect of defeat at the hands of an insurgency," writes Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an active-duty officer and an Iraq veteran who is deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, in Friday's issue of the Armed Forces Journal.

Yingling boldly blames a failure of duty by the US military's general officer corps, in his recommendations for reform even going so far as advocating an intervention of Congress to correct the dire situation.

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....

Failing to visualize future battlefields represents a lapse in professional competence, but seeing those fields clearly and saying nothing is an even more serious lapse in professional character.... A military professional must possess both the physical courage to face the hazards of battle and the moral courage to withstand the barbs of public scorn. On and off the battlefield, courage is the first characteristic of generalship....
America's generals failed to estimate correctly both the means and the ways necessary to achieve the aims of policy prior to beginning the war in Iraq. Finally, America's generals did not provide Congress and the public with an accurate assessment of the conflict in Iraq....

The most fundamental military miscalculation in Iraq has been the failure to commit sufficient forces to provide security to Iraq's population....Privately, many senior general officers both active and retired expressed serious misgivings about the insufficiency of forces for Iraq. These leaders would later express their concerns in tell-all books such as "Fiasco" and "Cobra II." However, when the U.S. went to war in Iraq with less than half the strength required to win, these leaders did not make their objections public.

Given the lack of troop strength, not even the most brilliant general could have devised the ways necessary to stabilize post-Saddam Iraq. However, inept planning for postwar Iraq took the crisis caused by a lack of troops and quickly transformed it into a debacle....

After going into Iraq with too few troops and no coherent plan for postwar stabilization, America's general officer corps did not accurately portray the intensity of the insurgency to the American public....For reasons that are not yet clear, America's general officer corps underestimated the strength of the enemy, overestimated the capabilities of Iraq's government and security forces and failed to provide Congress with an accurate assessment of security conditions in Iraq. Moreover, America's generals have not explained clearly the larger strategic risks of committing so large a portion of the nation's deployable land power to a single theater of operations....

The intellectual and moral failures common to America's general officer corps in Vietnam and Iraq constitute a crisis in American generalship. Any explanation that fixes culpability on individuals is insufficient. No one leader, civilian or military, caused failure in Vietnam or Iraq. Different military and civilian leaders in the two conflicts produced similar results. In both conflicts, the general officer corps designed to advise policymakers, prepare forces and conduct operations failed to perform its intended functions. To understand how the U.S. could face defeat at the hands of a weaker insurgent enemy for the second time in a generation, we must look at the structural influences that produce our general officer corps.....

Yingling continues with a plan for reform intended to transform the military's officer corps into merit-based system specifically designed to reward creative intelligence and moral courage.

Considering Lt. Col. Yingling rank and experience, his ideas and recommendations deserve a full reading and careful consideration.

Soldier Mom
Caldwell Responds to the Tillman-Lynch Hearings
By TRACEY CALDWELL 04/25/2007 12:39 PM ET
West Point, UNITED STATES: US Army cadets stand at attention as they wait to make their way to lunch at the mess hall 30 March 2007 at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY.
Don Emmert/AFP/Getty
West Point, UNITED STATES: US Army cadets stand at attention as they wait to make their way to lunch at the mess hall 30 March 2007 at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY.

In the hearing before Congress this week, we got to hear Jessica Lynch talk about spin. We got to hear the Tillman family discuss outright deception. Jessica Lynch told us she was confused as to why they lied and tried to make her a hero. I am too. Jessica Lynch was a hero the day she chose to serve her country. She proved that she still is when she testified before Congress to advocate for the American people being told the truth. She is no less a hero because she was knocked unconscious at the beginning of the battle.

I have heard from military families who were told their child died saving others in their unit, battling the enemy, or giving candy to Iraqi children. They sometimes tell these stories with a bit of skepticism. Was it just hype, something to make them feel better about the loss of their child, or was it the truth? Does the military think that the loss of a loved one will be easier if they tell you a lie instead of the truth? Is the motivation to maintain support for a war, as the Tillman family suggests? All wars, even necessary wars, are ugly, full of messy, tragic deaths. Battlefields are not nice places, not everyone dies saving his fellow soldiers or giving candy to Iraqi children.

If the military learns anything from the hearing before Congress, hopefully it will be that military families want the truth. Each time the military lies about how a soldier dies, it sends a message that service alone is anything less than heroic. Some story had to be fabricated to make the death worthwhile because the soldier accidentally died just doing a job.

These kids became heroes the day they decided to serve their country. Most kids their age are not volunteering to go to a war zone, to risk their lives. Young soldiers do something rare. They go far from home, far from their loved ones; they do jobs that are hard and often boring. They are heroes for doing so, and if they die while doing it, that is a heroic death.

But now when a soldier who goes beyond the call of duty and shows exceptional heroism, giving his life for his fellow soldiers, his family is cheated. They are left wondering if they are being told the truth or is this just more hype, more lies?

The Tillman family wants what all military families want: the truth. They have persisted in their battle, refusing to accept anything less. They have gotten further than many other military families because their son's name was Pat Tillman. Their willingness to take their battle before Congress will hopefully result in the military learning that the truth is what military families deserve. It is what the American people deserve.

Our children are not serving in a movie of the week; they are serving in a real war. Hiding the realities of their lives and the tragedies of their deaths, also hides the real heroism these soldiers show when they volunteer to live that war everyday. Their death is the end of their heroism, not the beginning.

Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor of BellaOnline.com, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at IraqSoldierMom@gmail.com.

Smackdown
Qaradawi Says "No Justification for Suicide Operaration," or Kiling Civilians
04/20/2007 12:38 PM ET
Qatar's Egyption-born cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi gestures during a press conference held on the eve of the fifth International Al-Quds (Jerusalem) conference, in Algiers capital 28 March 2007.
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty
Qatar's Egyption-born cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi gestures during a press conference held on the eve of the fifth International Al-Quds (Jerusalem) conference, in Algiers capital 28 March 2007.

"A person does not have the right to kill himself, not to say others, in the Islamic view," said a prominent Islamic scholar, Dr. Yousuf Al Qaradawi, at a "Human Rights in Islam" symposium in Doha.

Qaradawi said, "Right to life is the first and foremost human right upheld by Islam and in its view, no one has the right to take it."

Qatar's English-language Peninsular reports that Qaradawi has called the militant groups in the Islamic world to re-examine their concept of 'Jihad' and open a dialogue with Muslims scholars.

"There no justification for the suicide operation in Iraq where civilians are being killed, as Iraq has many developed weapon to fight the enemy. This was acceptable in Palestine in a certain time of period when the Palestinian people didn't have weapons to fight their enemies. Now, thank Allah, they do have some weapons and there is no much of that kind of operations," Qaradawi said answering a question from the audience.

Soldier Mom
Soldier Mom Tells Olberman Why He Is Wrong
04/19/2007 1:14 PM ET
SANTA ROSA, CA - APRIL 16: Honor Guard members carry the casket of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Williams into a funeral home April 16, 2007 in Santa Rosa, California. Williams was killed by a sniper while on patrol in Baqubah, Iraq on April 8th.
Justin Sullivan/AFP/Getty
SANTA ROSA, CA - APRIL 16: Honor Guard members carry the casket of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Williams into a funeral home April 16, 2007 in Santa Rosa, California. Williams was killed by a sniper while on patrol in Baqubah, Iraq on April 8th.



Tuesday night on MSNBC's Countdown, Keith Olberman asked why our national mourning is so profound for the Virginia Tech massacre, but comparatively muted for the loss of thirty soldiers who died during the last ten days. I don't believe Americans mourn the deaths of our soldiers less, but I do think they go through a different kind of mourning.

The soldiers who died in Iraq held no less promise and were no less valuable than the young people who lost their lives at Virginia Tech. But we know Iraq is dangerous place and most Americans don't choose to send their kids into a war zone. But most Americans do send their kids to school. I desperately want to hold on to the illusion that my daughter, a college student, is safer on campus than her brother in Iraq. With the Virginia Tech massacre, we are mourning not just the loss of these fine young people, but the loss of a false, if comforting, belief that our children are safe when we send them to school.

I have never met anyone, whether they support or oppose this war, who doesn't care about our soldiers' safety and mourns their deaths. I know from writing this column that Americans do care about our soldiers. Americans who have never met my son, who know him only from reading this column, they let me know me know that they are praying every day for my son. When I don't hear from him and worry about his safety, they worry with me. When I do hear from him and know he is safe, they are relieved and celebrate with me. I know that if he were killed in action tomorrow, they would mourn with me. If you look beyond the Department of Defense press announcement of a soldier's death, that tells you the name of soldier, his age, his hometown and his unit; if you Google the soldiers name, you will find the hometown paper accounts of his death. You will find the interviews with family and friends. There you will learn what America lost when that soldier didn't come home from this war.

The national media chose to cover our grief at the loss of the Virginia Tech students. Almost everyday soldiers die in Iraq and everyday the national media chooses not to cover the grief we feel at the loss of our soldiers. They don't cover the memorial services for these soldiers. They don't come to their candlelight vigils. They don't come to their funerals to see the flag draped coffins. They don't interview their friends and family. The president does not to come speak at their memorial services.

Mr. Olberman raises the possibility that this is because it is more dangerous to cover the Iraq story in Baghdad than it is to cover Virginia Tech. But it is no more dangerous to cover the grief that Americans feel at the loss of a soldier than it is to cover the grief that Americans feel at the loss of the Virginia Tech students. Mr. Olberman, do not mistake that choice to mute our grief with the loss that we Americans feel for our soldiers. The American people have been way ahead of the media and the politicians in understanding what this war is costing us, and we grieve the loss of each and every soldier.

Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor of BellaOnline.com, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at IraqSoldierMom@gmail.com.
Soldier Mom
Consequences During War More Severe
By TRACEY CALDWELL 04/11/2007 11:31 AM ET
Late last month the Army revised upward the number of active duty soldiers who have deserted. While still less than one percent of our active military, the number who have chosen desertion has risen significantly over the past few year, and the Army has begun to prosecute these desertions more aggressively than they did before the war.

Since the report released, I have heard people make the argument that the Army's more aggressive punishment of deserters shows how desperate the military is to retain soldiers. Last night, with friends making that same argument, I found myself defending the army's decision to pursue prosecution of these deserters. Please don't misunderstand--the Army is desperate to hold on to soldiers, but I don't think that motivates the prosecutions.

When a soldier goes missing he is AWOL--absent without leave--for the first thirty days, and then he is classified as a deserter. He can expect upon capture or return he will face his commander, who will have the discretion to prosecute through a court-martial, discharge, retain and rehabilitate, or by applying an administrative punishment. Only five percent of desertions result in trial. Ideally, the military would like to rehabilitate the soldier and reintegrate him back into his unit.

Prosecuting a soldier, doesn't add another soldier to the battlefield. As for being a deterrent to keep other soldiers from deserting, if the only reason a soldier is not deserting is fear of prosecution, he isn't going to be much of a soldier; probably more of a burden to his unit than an asset. The truth is that the consequences of desertion are more serious during wartime than during peace, so the prosecution of those who choose that path should be more severe when the nation is in a state of war.

As anyone who has a loved one serving in this war, I know this war is hard. Over the last six years, my son has served multiple deployments in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It is difficult to return to a country whose battlefields you left a year before, only to find situation worsened. Multiple deployments burden the soldier, the moms and dads, the girlfriends, the fiances, spouses, sisters, brothers, and most of all the children.

Last night, my friend Dave pointed to the high number of soldiers under stop-loss orders preventing them from leaving active duty as proof of the militar's manpower desperation. My son represents just one of the 70,000 soldiers under stop-loss orders who have been told, not asked, but told, that he will have to continue to serve beyond the initial commitment he made to the military. Many of these soldiers had other plans for their lives, and it can be difficult to find yourself trapped into military service. But it is not these soldiers who are majority of our deserters.

In the past year and a half, sixty percent of the deserters had less than one year of service. These are not soldiers who had seen multiple deployments being asked to serve beyond their commitment. Eighty percent of the soldiers had less than three years service. Contrary to what many think, most deserters are not conscientious objectors. The most common reasons given for desertion are dissatisfaction with military life, family problems and homesickness. That is not in anyway meant to discount the difficulty serving in the military may have caused the soldier who chose desertion.

But actions have consequences. Joining the military has consequences. You give up the right to decide when, where, and what wars you will be called on to fight. You place your trust in the civilian leadership that the American people have elected to make those decision for you. You trust that the American people have made the right choice and that the leaders they have elected will make the right choices and you follow those choices, the orders you are given, without question. This is required of every soldier. If you decide that you can no longer follow those choices and choose to desert you must expect your actions to have consequences.

When a soldier deserts his unit, they still have to deploy without him, often with no one to fill that position. Even if someone can be found to fill the position, that person has not trained with the unit and built unit cohesion with the other soldiers. The soldier's decision to desert places all other members of his unit in greater danger. The consequences to his unit are much greater during wartime than they would have been if we were not at war, so a soldier choosing desertion should expect that the consequences to himself will be greater.

The decision of a soldier to desert has serious consequences for both him and his unit. The Military and the American people should never send a message to our soldiers that their actions don't have consequences.

Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor of BellaOnline.com, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at IraqSoldierMom@gmail.com.

Commentary
Many Rejected ISG Recommendations "Quietly Implemented"
04/06/2007 5:03 PM ET
WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 6: Iraq Study Group co-chairmen former secretary of state James Baker (R) and former chairman of the House International Relations Committee Lee Hamilton (L) conduct a news conference by the The Iraq Study Group on Capitol Hill December 6, 2006 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty
WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 6: Iraq Study Group co-chairmen former secretary of state James Baker (R) and former chairman of the House International Relations Committee Lee Hamilton (L) conduct a news conference by the The Iraq Study Group on Capitol Hill December 6, 2006 in Washington, DC.

When the Iraq Study Group released a 79-item list outlining a "new approach" to the war in Iraq last December, it was widely condemned on both sides of the political aisle. Congressmen called the group's recommendations flimsy, unoriginal, and ineffective, not to mention an outright recipe for defeat. Meanwhile, the Bush administration essentially ignored the ISG - headed by political veterans James Baker and Lee Hamilton - and proceeded to form a study group of its own, writes Michael Boyer in this month's Foreign Policy.

Four months later, things are different. "Throw a dart at the ISG report, and you’re liable to hit a recommendation that the White House is implementing," Boyer notes. Here's where some of the darts have landed:

1. The report's first 12 recommendations, calling for heightened diplomatic efforts in the Middle East addressing relations with Syria and Iran as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The White House originally dismissed the report's call for direct talks with Iran and Syria, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will sit down with leaders from both countries at a regional conference on Iraq expected to talk place this month. At the same time, the White House is at pains to highlight its peace efforts in Israel-Palestine.

2. Additional economic and military support for Afghanistan. The Bush administration recently increased both.

3. Reforming Iraq’s Ministry of the Interior. The president's plan for Iraq, released last January, requires just that.

4. Bringing foreign investment into Iraq’s oil sector. The White House has pushed for passage of the Iraqi Hydrocarbon Law, which would apportion oil revenues on a national, per capita basis and allow foreign oil majors to revive the country's devastated oil sector. Approved by the Iraqi cabinet in March, the bill is expected to come before Parliament soon.

5. More foreign aid for Iraq. "Bush asked for it after the ISG recommended it."

Where the White House hasn't heeded the report, Congress has, Boyer points out. In the Senate, presidential candidate Barack Obama and Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid have called for a 2008 troop withdrawl.

"The ISG’s work was neither brilliant nor particularly prescient," concludes Boyer, but the White House was too quick to dismiss it. The Bush Administration has belatedly, implicitly embraced the recommendations because it has accepted what the report said in the first place: that there are no easy fixes to Iraq.

Soldier Mom
Chance Encounter With Veterans Lends Comfort
By TRACEY CALDWELL 04/06/2007 4:17 PM ET
Last week, a friend invited me to join her at her timeshare to take my mind of my son, who I hadn't heard from in days. I knew that keeping busy would be good for me, so I packed my bags and we headed to the beach.

The first afternoon we spent wandering the shops in the village. When evening came, we walked down to the beach to watch the sunset. Along the beach, a band played on a restaurant patio, so we went over and claimed seats by one of the fire rings.

It was a lively crowd, lots young people enjoying their spring break. We introduced ourselves to the others at our fire ring: Matt, Steve and his wife, Tanya; Mike and his wife, Anna. We quickly discovered the young men were veterans of the Iraq war who had served together with the 101st in Tikrit.

Steve had been injured and was still receiving treatment at the Veterans hospital. He had met his wife before he went to Iraq, and they married three months after he returned home. Mike had married his wife just before going to Iraq, and they had spent the first year of their marriage apart. Matt was still single.

The three young men had all moved to California to work for Matt's dad. According to Matt, it had not been difficult to convince them to move. Their wives loved the California weather, and Matt said all he had to do was drive the guys along the beach to see California girls before they were hooked.

It comforted me to watch how well these young men were adjusting to life after Iraq. They seemed happy with their new jobs and their lives. They had put Iraq behind them and were moving on, but had built a friendship that looked certain to endure long after the fighting ends.

I left that evening feeling better about my son. When we got back to the timeshare, there, in my inbox, was a message from him. Finally!

He chastised me for worrying; of course, he is safe. He wrote, "I am very, very, very, busy right now so get used to it. There are still a lot more missions ahead for me."

While my son was chewing me out in his email, another soldier had written me. She wrote, "I am a soldier in Iraq whose mother worries about her. She gets so upset when I don't e-mail her, even though I've explained sometimes I cannot. I know it's just her worrying and feeling so out of control to do anything for me, her child?. Sometimes we soldiers forget how tough our deployments can be to those at home, but at least we know what we're doing and where we are. Those at home can only wonder, and hope."

So while I may have annoyed my son with my worrying, it seems I did inspire a few soldiers to email their moms with a little more understanding.

Tracey-Kay Caldwell is the mother of a soldier, Democratic Party Editor of BellaOnline.com, and a freelance writer. She can be reached at IraqSoldierMom@gmail.com. See here for more IraqSlogger posts by the "Soldier Mom."

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