Friday, April 11, 2008

Why Not Study War Some More

(orig. Posted 4/10/08, on MySpace)

OK, so here are some more responses to the Petraeus/Crocker testimony before the Senate and House. Mainly, they boil down to the notion (not a new one for me, mind you, but driven home with fresh force) that most people do not have the faintest understanding of the military, its mission, methods and mindset. As I’ve repeatedly groused in the past (and doubtless will do in the future) the activities of our military in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere tend to be presented in the most superficial and tendentious manner imaginable...when those activities are presented at all (i.e., "good news is no news").

Thus, you’ll get reports about "violence" and Casualty Numbers, entirely unaccompanied by any reporting of what the military was actually doing at the time (routine patrol? hot-fire engagement of armed terrorist cells? IED blast while en route to build or repair another school/water treatment plant/medical clinic?), how people were killed/wounded (firefight? roadside bomb? sniper?), which people were killed (enemy vs. coalition forces), and, perhaps most importantly, whether or not the objectives of any given operation were achieved.

In other words, all you get from the Body Count Media is a vague sense that a lot of mayhem is happeing, with no clear point, and with no end in sight. Sound familiar?

As I try and assess what is going on in any given theater of our military’s operations (and those of our allies), there are a few sites to which I go to try and gain a broader perspective than would be available to me in the MSM.

On the principal that it is generally best to go straight to the horse’s mouth, one could always go to several sites sponsored by the military itself, such as the Pentagon/DoD’s web site, as well as the site for the Multi-National Force, Iraq. I know, I know, I can hear you now: "Why should I dignify those jingoistic Government Propaganda sites with any of my time?" Uh-huh. In case I haven’t been tediously clear by now, I am not proposing that you single-source anything. However, it is useful to begin with a sense of how the military is presenting its goals and methods and progress and setbacks (yes, they do report setbacks), before going on to compare those narratives to other sources and drawing your own conclusions.

Speaking of going straight to the horse’s mouth, over the last few years, there has been an explosion (pardon the pun) of "Milblogs." This is just what it sounds like: people in the military, frequently on active deployment, blogging right from their AO ("Area of Operations"). This is an unprecendented opportunity for the rest of us to have a glimpse --free from the editorial priorities of those who "report from the front" -- of what our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines are thinking and experiencing. These can be very frank and earthy (as you’d expect), so not always safe for work!

Trouble is that there are so many of them, and not all of them are especially interesting or edifying reading. A good place to start is on, where you could go to the "Top 100 Favorite Milblogs" section (scroll down a bit). A couple of my own faves are: Blackfive, the Mudville Gazette, and Acute Politics.

I have found these to be a useful reality check against the overly bleak (from the Left) and overly rosy (from the Right) reports of our military’s morale and performance. Some of these blogs can be very critical of the government and its policies (leading to some stunningly wrong-headed and thankfully short-lived efforts to shut them down).

Now, I did deliver a doubly-deserved diss to the frequently fatuous flatulence of most "embedded reporters" (Credit: brave enough to ride along with our troops through the scrum. Demerit: not brave enough to deviate from the "It’s All Going To Hell" narrative their editors demand). However, they are most decidedly not created equal. There are at least two independent reporters who ride along with our military though the very thick of it, and who write with an eloquence and objectivity which is simply unmatched in MSM World. They are Michael Totten and Michael Yon. Their articles tend to be long, and highly detailed and lush with striking photos. I highly recommend them. Also, if you do like what you see, I encourage you to drop a little something in the tip jar (PayPal), as this is what finances their journalistic trips for the most part, and thus keeps them free from the editorial biases of the big News Outfits. I’ve contributed and consider it money very well spent.

Pulling back the focus from the grunt’s-eye view to the broader strategic picture, there are a number of sites which I have found to be indispensible. Here they are, in no particular order:

The Long War Journal, edited by Bill Roggio and published by the non-profit Public Multimedia, Inc. It offers wide-ranging reports and editorials and podcasts covering all theaters of the Long War, from Indonesia to Minnesota to Paris, to the Middle East. Tight, efficient writing and well-sourced reports make it an invaluable resource for keeping track of the twists and turns and victories and setbacks in the Global Conflict in which we are engaged. It may also prove useful for those of you who are still trying to decide if we are engaged in any such thing!

By the by, Bill Roggio is also a contributor and co-founder of the recently-launched Iraq Status Report page, which is meant to serve as a "one-stop shopping" site for the good, bad, ugly, etc. on Iraq. It is rapidly becoming my favorite site for an initial daily pass at the news from Mesopotamia. So far, so highly recommended (and I’ll let you know [like how I talk as if anyone is actually reading this? Wacky fun.] if it drops in quality or veers too sharply in a supportive/critical direction).

Threats Watch is another highly useful site. From their "About" page:

ThreatsWatch.Org was established in 2005 as the means to disseminate information on national security threats in an accessible, interactive and contextually aware form. In 2007 ThreatsWatch.Org became the web-based publication of the Center for Threat Awareness (CTA), a 501(c)3 tax-exempt corporation whose mission is to increase public awareness of threats to national security and liberty.

Its daily briefings and "Rapid Recon" sections are especially useful in tracking evolving threats and responses.

Global is a dizzying trove of information on matters of...well...Gobal Security. It can be a bit overwhelming, but eminently worth bookmarking due to its value as a research site. How they manage to make such a staggeringly comprehensive resource available for free (as opposed to Stratfor) is a mystery to me, but I’m grateful.

OK, I’m up on a hard break here, so I’ll let this be. I’ll likely be back to update this post sometime.

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