Jun 15

(To read other “Facts Behaving Badly”, please click here.)

Here’s an odd question, from the first line of the The Social Network, “Did you know there are more people with genius I.Q.s living in China than there are people of any kind living in the United States?”

I did not know that.

And though I loved the film, this line always stuck me as wrong. Why? Basic arithmetic. Definitionally, to “have a genius IQ”, you have to be in the top 2% of intellectual prowess and cognitive ability. Since China has approximately a billion people, 2% of their population is about 20 million people.

I think there are more than 20 million people living in America. (Unless one-third of the Chinese people are geniuses...which doesn’t sound realistic does it?)

Writing up posts on the media, Iraq and the military at the start of the year, I remembered another “Fact Behaving Badly” I hadn’t written about yet. Many of the guests on political talk shows during the lead up to war are from the military and most--if not all--support future military interventions.

But this odd fact--that soldiers and generals support war--contradicts the wisdom passed down to Michael and me by my father when we were kids. Our dad has taught us an old adage about the military: soldiers hate war. But don’t take his word for it. Here is a legitimate, not-behaving-badly quote from a soldier on war:

I hate war as only a soldier can.”

- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Address before the Canadian Club, Ottawa, Canada, January 10th, 1946

This isn’t a hard fact, like the debunked Social Network quote from above, but it’s still a “Fact Behaving Badly”, or at least an “Adage Behaving Badly”. On a purely factual basis, do some soldiers hate war? Probably. I can’t debunk that. Do all soldiers hate war? Absolutely not. So we should probably stop repeating this adage, unless we change it to the less impactful addendum “Some soldiers hate war”.

As has been widely discussed since the release of The Hurt Locker, some soldiers and veterans fall in love with the thrill of battle. Sebastian Junger described the phenomenon here, of which he is a self-described victim. (Junger after having seen the devastation of war first hand, still wanted military intervention in Syria.) Many inexperienced soldiers love going to war to see what it’s like, as we wrote about here and here. Officers love war because, frankly, nothing advances a career like successfully leading a battalion, brigade or division in war. And retired generals have a financial self-interest to support future wars; when they leave military service, many generals join the boards of defense contractors and think tanks.

So, adage debunked. But there’s a more concerning rhetorical flourish to this adage, as our next two quotes will prove, emphasis mine, that we need to debunk:

Nearly all soldiers—and this applies even to professional soldiers in peacetime—have a sane attitude towards war. They realise that it is disgusting, and that it may often be necessary.

- George Orwell, August 1944

This does not mean that you are warmongers. On the contrary, the soldier above all other people prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. But always in our ears ring the ominous words of Plato, that wisest of all philosophers: 'Only the dead have seen the end of war.'"

- General George MacArthur, West Point, May 12th, 1962

First off, yes, MacArthur misquoted Plato. More importantly, both Orwell and MacArthur take the sentiment “soldiers hate war” and add the qualifier “but we should still go to war.” It takes the first sentiment, “War is awful. I’m a soldier. I’ve seen it.” and adds “...so when I tell you we need to go to war, you can trust me.” Coming from Orwell, writing in the middle of World War II, the sentiment is understandable. Coming from MacArthur, who was relieved of command because he was trying to escalate a war, well, you see the danger in this line of reasoning.

The MacArthur/Orwell point of view is both more popular and more dangerous. And a very sneaky rhetorical device. Basically, they’re arguing that because soldiers and veterans hate war so much, if they think we should go to war, well, you know they must be right. They’d only argue for it in the most dire circumstances; it’s not in their self-interest as soldiers, allegedly, though, as I showed above, it actually is.

Which brings us to our last example, from John McCain in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Only a fool or a fraud talks tough or romantically about war...I hate war, and I know how terrible its costs are.

- From a 2008 TV ad.

I detest war. It might not be the worst thing to befall human beings, but it is wretched beyond all description....Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.”

- From a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

Wow. That’s a powerful anti-war statement. But McCain follows the “I hate war, so when I tell you we need to fight another one, you know you can trust me” rhetorical playbook perfectly. In his speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, he continues:

But we must also have an aggressive strategy of confronting and rooting out the terrorists wherever they seek to operate...I hold my position because I hate war...we must sometimes pay those wages to avoid paying even higher ones later.

For someone who “hates” and “detests” war, John McCain sure wants us to fight a lot of them. In Iraq. In Iraq again. In Syria. In Iran. In Ukraine. In Libya.

And that is the danger with adages like this one.

Apr 08

(This is an op-ed we tried to submit to the New York Times and Washington Post. For the full story, check out yesterday’s post. With the P5+1 agreeing to a deal on Iran’s nuclear program last week, war with Iran seems much less likely, so we are running the opinion piece here.)

Writing in the Washington Post on March 13, foreign policy analyst Joshua Muravchik told America that the only realistic option to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons would be to bomb Iran. On March 26, former ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton repeated this argument in the New York Times, under the straightforward headline, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”.

Neither man mentioned the primary cost America would bear in such a war: dead soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

While the US would very likely win a war with Iran, it could easily claim tens of thousands of American lives. Any advocates of war--from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Muravchik to Bolton--shouldn’t just talk about going to war; they should mention the cost, the likely thousands of dead Americans it could take to win. As a veteran who deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq and who knows that over 6,000 Americans died in those two fights, I don’t think this is too much to ask.

Yes, a war with Iran could claim thousands of U.S. lives. In August 2012, I published a paper called, “The Costs of War with Iran: An Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield,” where I used my experience as a former Army intelligence officer to describe the possible options available to Iran in a war with America. While Iran likely couldn’t “beat” the United States, Iran could kill large numbers of U.S. troops and civilians. It could do so in a matter of weeks. And this is something war-hawks never mention.

How could a war with Iran kill 10,000 US soldiers? After studying the U.S. for the last 30 years, Iran learned its lesson: anyone who fights America traditionally will lose. Iran will use asymmetric tactics, including cheap, light weapons to defeat more expensive, heavier conventional U.S. weapons, waging this war across multiple fronts. For example...

...Iran could sink a U.S. aircraft carrier. It learned during Operation Praying Mantis in 1988 that it has little hope of conventionally defeating the U.S. Navy. Instead, it will use shore-launched cruise missiles, fast attack boats, mini-submarines, torpedoes, mines and even suicide boats to cripple, set fire or sink as many American ships as possible. The IRGC Navy can’t beat the U.S. Navy, but it could inflict thousands of casualties in a few hours.

...Iran could fire ballistic missiles at our bases in the Middle East, from Afghanistan to Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Iraq. They could fire ballistic missiles at Israel or even southern Europe. Iran has the largest ballistic missile inventory in the Middle East. Most of these missiles aren’t very accurate, but they could still kill hundreds if they land in population centers or crowded military bases.

...Iran could launch terror attacks. Iran has funded irregular insurgent groups (like Hezbollah) around the world. It could encourage these types of forces to attack the Green Zone in Iraq, which still houses thousands of American diplomats and civilians. It could use proxies to wage a terror campaign across the Middle East. And, though I think it is unlikely, Iran could use proxies to try to attack Americans or Europeans on their home soil.

...and Iran could escalate the conflict. It could temporarily close the Straits of Hormuz, spiking gas prices. It could foment Shia revolts in Sunni dominated countries, like Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, causing unrest in oil producing nations.

But one option scares me above all else: if Iran provokes the U.S. to invade. Iran knows that an invasion will likely cause the most U.S. deaths since Vietnam. In both landmass and population, Iran is larger than Iraq and Afghanistan put together. Iran has better irregular forces than either of those two countries as well. In short, a ground invasion would quickly become a quagmire.

Anyone advocating for war should have to answer tough questions. I encourage every journalist from every network, from CBS to CNN to Comedy Central to ask the one tough question I implied above: how many lives will this cost? As a voting population, we deserve to know how many lives certain pundits and politicians are willing to sacrifice to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

In my analysis, I believe that every pundit advocating war should be prepared to say this statement, “I believe going to war with Iran is worth the cost of 10,000 American lives.” If they can’t say that, then they don’t have the strength of their own convictions.

Mar 25

(Today's guest post is by long-time friend of the blog, Sven Ortmann of Defence and Freedom. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.)

It's simple to start a war, common to win battles, but difficult and rare to complete a war with one's objectives achieved.

This crucial final step ought to be about as simple as the second according to Clausewitzian military theory: All you need to do is win big enough or many enough battles to 'disarm' your opponent (to deny your opponent the ability to resist). A disarmed power yields to your will--that's what the theory implies.

There are several exceptions to this rule which turned all-too many conflicts even messier than anticipated. One such exception has gained a lot of attention in the last about ten years: The opponent could devolve into a lesser state of organization and persist (as a guerilla force, for example). The opposing power might even avoid disarmament by becoming elusive and by keeping the intensity of warfare at a level which doesn't exceed its ability to regenerate its potential for violence: A conflict cooled down just enough to sustain the refusal of offered conditions.

There's a different and historically very powerful case; some wars are fought over a distance which doesn't allow the initially-superior power to force a decision. The despair of non-nomadic invaders of Russia comes to mind. Imperial Japan faced a similar difficulty in its war planning. It did defeat Russia in 1905, but probably only because Russia was politically unstable and at the brink of a thorough revolution. This kept Russia from continuing the land war with a hastened completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Later on, Imperial Japan faced the dilemma that it couldn't possibly bring the US, UK or France to their knees. Even the loss of Singapore was but a small scratch inflicted on the British Empire, and even the British shipyards in isolation would have been able to compensate for a lost “decisive” battle within three to four years. The French could have ignored the loss of Indochina and French Polynesia for decades without agreeing to peace. The US could have ignored the loss of the Philippines and rebuild its fleet in three-year intervals completely.

A Mahanian focus on decisive naval battles, reinforced by the memory of the Battle in the Tsushima Strait, was the Japanese' mental escape from this Sword of Damocles. The Clausewitzian view treats a major victory in a battle of great army concentration (and by theoretical extension, its naval equivalent) as disarming and war-winning because this was true for the relatively small and neighboring powers in Europe. The stubbornness of the people of Spain under the Napoleonic occupation and the ability of the Russians to sacrifice vast areas of land including their biggest city without yielding should have signaled the very limited validity of this view from the very beginning.

The difficulty in reaching a satisfactory completion of war by defeating the enemy's military might coined the 20th century: The British Empire refused to accept defeat because, though inferior on land and in the air, it was able to avert an invasion of England. The asymmetry between a land-centric power and a naval-centric power precluded the Clausewitzian decisive clash of Schwerpunkt forces vs. Schwerpunkt forces and thus a Clausewitzian completion of the war.

Guerillas all over the world followed the Spanish example of averting final defeat and survived as political movements even if temporarily disarmed, rarely ceasing resistance entirely.

And then there's another completion of war, without a decisive battle (though some scholars will stretch the meaning of Schwerpunkt beyond recognition to cover this case): The strategic coup de main, which often precluded a major war with its fait accompli: Often times it's simply not worth or promising enough to wage war when the other power has already grabbed what it wanted.

The Shiites and Sunni of Iraq dealt the real decision of the recent Iraq war by the fait accompli of ethnic cleansing and majority rule, while Americans were being fed stories about harassing attacks with mines that had no real bearing on the outcome:

Such a demographic change will likely last for centuries, whereas the question whether the harassment of convoys with the mine campaign was defeated or not is inconsequential in Iraq today already.

The completion of war after a fait accompli is typically found once some face-saving exit is being left open by the "winner" or created by the loser through sheer narrative manipulation. The recent conflict about the Crimea shows the power of the coup de main and its achievement of a fait accompli: The Ukrainian military wasn't disarmed or incapable of continued resistance; it hadn't even completed gearing up by the time the Ukraine de facto accepted the loss of the Crimea to Russia since reconquest or intervention of the UNSC was out of question.

It is notable that much of the (largely unsuccessful) Western interventionism, such as cruise missile diplomacy, bombings, assassination drone campaigns, military assistance programs and no-fly zones was devoid of a decisive battle, fait accompli or offering the enemy a face-saving exit.

It's no wonder Western scholars of military affairs are bemoaning the difficulty of “successfully” completing a war: The West is thoroughly incompetent at it, while others aren't.

This is something even gold-plated combat aircraft, multi-billion dollar warships, nuclear weapons, UNSC veto powers and the heaviest infantry of the world cannot change.

Sven Ortmann is a German blogger. Since 2007, his blog, “Defence and Freedom,” has covered a range of military, defence policy and economic topics, with more than a million page views. His personal military background is his service in the Luftwaffe. He has guest-blogged at the Small Wars Journal Blog and other blogs on military topics.

Jan 14

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Iraq Redux", please click here.

And click here to read the entire “The (Opportunity) Costs of Security” series.)

Last week, I asked, “Did we consider the opportunity costs of the first Iraq War?” The answer was, “No.”

But I limited myself to only considering the opportunity costs of spending our “war capital”, the vague combination of American morale/enthusiasm for war. When we go to war we also spend real financial capital. War costs money. And that money has opportunity costs of its own.

The worst part of over-hyping of the ISIS threat is that it will lead America into another war without questioning the costs or considering these opportunity costs. According to some estimates, a new Iraq war could cost billions (with a B). (It’s already cost at least a billion dollars.)

How did it get so high? Well, every aircraft carrier costs millions to operate in a war posture. Every deployed soldier costs tens of thousands of dollars. Every contractor costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Every cruise missile costs tens of thousands of dollars. Every plane in the sky requires extra maintenance. This totals out to nearly $300,000 for every hour were at war with ISIS.

And America might spend billions more to defeat ISIS. As I referenced last week, fiscally conservative Republicans suddenly become drunken soldiers at the strip club when it comes to fighting wars. So we need to have a conversation about opportunity costs. Here are my biggest candidates for how America could have spent a billion dollars instead of fighting ISIS.

Finally, a caveat: I only wanted to think about foreign policy spending, because frankly, we’d be here all day if we wrote about ways military spending could be converted into domestic spending. (Vaccinations, infrastructure, and so on.)

Paying Down the Debt

Somehow, when it comes to federal spending, wars and military spending don’t seem to count. Famously, the first war in Iraq was the first time America went to war and lowered taxes instead of raising them. As Eric C wrote in his comment on last Monday’s post, in 2008, whenever Republicans accused Democrats of raising the debt with proposed stimulus programs, all he could think about was constantly increasing defense spending, intelligence spending increases after 9/11, and the ginormous cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, without a dime raised in taxes to cover these costs.

An opportunity cost of the first Iraq war, in monetary terms, was not saving money for stimulus in case the economy crashed. Which happened five years after the first war started.

How much have the post 9/11 wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries cost so far? At least $1.5 trillion, according to James Fallows. According to Linda J. Bilmes, the price tag could reach up to $4 to 6 trillion, factoring in associated military costs and veteran's benefits.

But we shouldn’t live in the past. Let’s look to the future. And the very simple calculation every politician should make is whether it is more important for America to pay down its debt (now and in the future) or to fight another war in the Middle East. Maybe the current billion dollar price tag won’t break the bank, but it would help.

Leading the World in the Sustainable Development Goals

Later this year, the U.N. will replace the Millenium Development Goals--that were moderately successful--with the Sustainable Development Goals. The U.S. could really cement its leadership of the world by vowing to spend 1.0% of its GDP on foreign aid and development. (The current global target is 0.7% of GDP.) The U.S. currently spends 0.19% of its GDP on foreign aid. (Despite the perception that the US spends 25 to 30% of the federal budget on foreign aid, it spends about 2%.) We could even do it with business friendly tactics like direct aid, small business loans, and venture capital support. But the U.S. would rather spend a billion dollars on war funding than getting people out of poverty.

Or Leading the World on Climate Change

If you’ve been reading/following any of the Economist’s year ahead coverage, you know that later this year the world’s leaders are meeting in Paris for a summit on climate change. While the U.S. and China have taken a step on the path to confronting climate change by agreeing to terms, the U.S. could do even more by helping developing countries confront climate change. Financially, developing countries face a tougher burden developing green energy; strategically, this is the best way to stop carbon pollution.

Again, this would require hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars, and it would require the Senate to ratify a treaty (more on that next week), but it is a real option. And it is possibly much more dangerous than ISIS.

Fighting Ebola

Finally, let’s close with a way we could have really helped people last year. What if I told you that Ebola could have been stopped before it became an epidemic. You would probably say, “Well, yeah, I read about that in the The New York Times, how poor communication led to an epidemic.”

And you’d be right.

Frankly, America has some of the best health care professionals in the world. If we had an extra billion dollars to spend on helping people abroad, I wish we’d spent much more, much sooner in Africa. Perhaps we could have tracked the spread of the disease more effectively, preventing the tragic lack of communication that led to the deaths of tens of thousands. We would have actually saved lives, built up good will, and come across as a nation interested in helping people.

Now that sounds like a smart way to spend money.

Jan 09

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: iraq Redux", please click here.)

When ISIS started taking territory in Iraq, America--with an assist from the media--became afraid of two things. The first was that ISIS would start launching Al Qaeda style attacks against the US, which Michael C debunked yesterday. The second was that…


Unfortunately, ISIS has been about to take Baghdad for over half a year now... 

- 12 June 2014, Al Arabiya, “ISIS Militants Plan to March on Baghdad

- 12 June 2014, The Daily Mail, “ISIS butchers leave 'roads lined with decapitated police and soldiers': Battle for Baghdad looms as thousands answer Iraqi government's call to arms and jihadists bear down on capital

- 15 June 2014, The Telegraph, “Iraq crisis: ISIS battles for Baghdad - June 15 as it happened

- 22 June 2014, Haaretz, “High anxiety in Iraqi capital as it awaits ISIS invasion

- 1 July 2014, Newsweek, “Expected to Take Aim at the 'Baghdad Belt’”

- 29 September 2014, The Daily Mail, “ISIS fighters now 'at the gates of Baghdad': Islamic militants fighting 'just one mile from Iraqi capital' despite days Western airstrikes

- 5 October 2014, The Washington Times, “Islamic State withstands bombing campaign, plots Baghdad invasion

- 11 October 2014, CBS, “ISIS encroaches on ultimate prize in Iraq

- 12 October 2014, Al Arabiya, “ISIS rallies ‘10,000 militants’ at gates of Baghdad

- 14 October 2014, Time, “180,000 People Flee Western Iraq as ISIS Inches Ever Closer to Baghdad

- 17 October 2014, The New York Times, “ISIS Keeps Up Pressure Near Baghdad as Iraqi Troops Hesitate

To be fair, ISIS “threatened” Baghdad mainly in June and October. But this collection is only a partial list. I only started collecting headlines like this after ISIS threatened Baghdad the second time, and I thought, “They haven’t taken Baghdad yet? They’ve been threatening them since June.” More important than that question is this one:

Can ISIS even take Baghdad?

Now, I’m no military expert--that’s Michael C’s area of expertise--but from my layman’s point of view, one thought stands out: Baghdad is majority Shia. True, finding accurate numbers on the actual demographic breakdown is not easy. But according to Newsweek and Joel Wing’s excellent Musings on Iraq--which cites the CIA fact book--Baghdad is 70 to 80% Shia. Secondly, the Shia majority has some very powerful militias ready at their disposal, as America learned the hard way.

In other words, ISIS won’t be waltzing into Baghdad anytime soon.

Jan 07

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Iraq Redux", please click here.)

As the media responded to the death of American journalist James Foley at the end of last summer, the hype for a new war eventually caused 63% of Americans to support air strikes against ISIS. (Read Zach Beauchamp for great coverage on the over-reaction here.) The culmination, for me, was this article by Retired General James Allen [emphasis mine]:

“If all the actions of the Islamic State, or IS, to date weren’t sufficiently reprehensible, this act and the potential for other similar acts will snap American attention with laser-like focus onto the real danger IS poses to the existence of Iraq, the order of the region and to the homelands of Europe and America.

To make sure his readers understand the severity, he continues, “Make no mistake, the abomination of IS is a clear and present danger to the U.S.” Remarkably, General Allen provides almost no evidence to prove this point.

I’m not picking on just General Allen; no one in the Obama administration, including the President himself, or congressmen advocating for war, ever provided evidence that ISIS posed a threat to the US beyond “Trust us.” A perfect example is this USA Today article with the provocative headline, “Islamic State biggest threat since 9/11, sources say”. Again, beyond “sources”, it didn’t have any evidence.  

Since I can’t debunk every media article, I want to use General Allen’s op-ed as a case study in how to over-hype the threat of terrorists. So what evidence did Gen. Allen bring to bear? Here’s a list after reading and re-reading his op-ed:

- The Islamic State wants to establish a Caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

- There are foreign fighters in their ranks.

- They are a well-organized insurgent group.

- They have money and weapons.

- They beheaded one American journalist. (And since more.)

- Al Qaeda used Taliban support in Afghanistan.

- Finally, this vague sentence: “The leadership of the so-called Caliphate has been clear that it will focus on Western and American targets if given the chance...”

So all those factors point to a group that could and is threatening the current state of Iraq. At least they have a significant chance to carve out a chunk of territory for their own. The problem is many of those “facts” don’t lead to ISIS being a threat to America’s homeland, as General Allen claimed.

Take the first and last bullet points; they’re contradictory. If ISIS wants to establish a Caliphate, the worst thing it could do would be to provoke US, UK and European nations into re-invading Iraq. That would set back its plans years, decades or end them all together. (Ask the Taliban how it worked out for them.)

Further, US intelligence agencies really don’t know much about the group. In fact, the US Counter-Terrorism adviser contradicted the Secretary of Defense on whether ISIS posed a threat to the homeland. So its more accurate to say, “Some sources say ISIS isn’t a threat and other sources say they are.” The number of fighters under ISIS control vary wildly from one estimate to another. When the US intel community (and the media) don’t know much about a new terrorist group, they tend to overestimate their strength.

To top it off, this dire and immediate threat to the US finished the year by completely dropping out of the news almost altogether, except for articles about how ISIS ended the year stalled out.

(Oh, and using the evidence that because Al Qaeda was harbored by the Taliban that ISIS will surely harbor international terrorists isn’t evidence.)

Yes, ISIS committed a war crime when it executed a journalist in Iraq. Yes, ISIS is bad for the Middle East and civil wars are bad for the world. However, given that it is against their interests to attack the US, we don’t know how many troops they have in the first place, they don’t have a terrorist arm, it is probably reasonable to conclude they won’t attack the U.S. homeland.

If politicians really want to make the case for action against ISIS, they can, but they shouldn’t hype a terror threat on our homeland.

Jan 06

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Iraq Redux", check out the articles below... 

- Future ISIS Terrorist Attacks and Beach Front Property in Arizona

- Waiting For ISIS or: The Islamic State is about to Take Baghdad!

- The (Opportunity) Costs of the First Iraq War

- The (Opportunity) Costs of ANOTHER War with Iraq

- Bad Media! or: The Media Failed on Iraq...Again

- Every Political Talk Show Needs a War Skeptic and Other Solutions for Our Pro-War Media

In one of our first posts, Eric C made a bold prediction. In “The Obama Blame Game Part 2”, he wrote that, “Since 2003 all terrorist roads lead through Iraq.” He predicted that, in the future, terrorists would be inspired by Iraq, trained in warfare in Iraq, and even funded/organized in Iraq. In short, invading Iraq would have more to do with promoting extremism than it did in stopping it.

Like other predictions we have made, Eric went from being wrong to right. Terrorism didn’t “go through Iraq”, as a succession of lone wolf, would-be jihadists--the failed Times Square bombing or the failed underwear bombing or the failed cargo plane attacks--had their origins in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, respectively. The Boston Marathon bombing had its origins with Muslim Chechens.

(Eric C clung to his point that, borne out by each of the above plots, the U.S. invasion of Iraq still inspired many, most or all of the would-be jihadists.)

Then came ISIS. When the Islamic State of Iraq/Syria/Levant beheaded Western journalists, it seemed to finally vindicate Eric C. And when they invaded Iraq, the Washington national security establishment jumped on board with Eric C’s thesis: ISIS (formerly the scary Al Qaeda in Iraq) is the new boogeyman of the moment. These national security types believe that if we don’t get involved in Iraq again, we will be attacked on our own homeland (though many were the same who advocated for invading Iraq the first time). 

In just the above four paragraphs, we’ve related Iraq to international terrorism, counter-insurgency, extremism, failed predictions, American politics, the failure of the Army, a “Getting Orwellian” topic, and we’ve only just started scratching the surface. Iraq, one of the reasons Michael C joined ROTC, one of the places he deployed (at the very end), one of the inspirations for this blog, is back in the news because its civil war (unsurprisingly) re-ignited. And that civil war involved the beheading of a US journalist that caused the country to believe ISIS was the most dangerous organization in the world. And that fear, in part, helped swing the balance of power in Washington in an election year.

So we have our “On V Most Thought Provoking Event of 2014”, though not without some controversy, which we debated yesterday.

Of course, the thoughts this war inspired are legion. Expect a good bit of debunking, controversial opinions, and unmentioned ideas.

In short, as a nation, still haven’t learned the lessons of the last decade.

Nov 24

Our nation doesn’t understand its heroes. Just ask Marcus Luttrell (from Lone Survivor):

“It’s been an insidious progression, the criticisms of the U.S. Armed Forces from politicians and from the liberal media, which knows nothing of combat, nothing of our training...”

“Knows nothing”? Maybe that was true when Luttrell co-wrote Lone Survivor, but as we wrote in “The Loudest "Quiet Professionals" Start Screaming: Hollywood Edition” and “The Political Navy SEAL” , the media can’t get enough of SEALs. These “quiet professionals” have become stars, especially in the “mainstream media” (though we hate that term).

60 Minutes has led the charge on glorifying SEALs. In the last few years, On V favorite Scott Pelley has done two stories about SEALs. In the first, he--like every other reporter on the planet--reported on the Osama bin Laden raid. However, he followed this story with another in-depth piece about this SEAL rescue. Lara Logan has gotten in on the action too. And 60 Minutes did a story on Luttrell. None were critical of SEALs at all.

Then there is the whole sub-genre of SEAL articles just about killing Osama bin Laden. Esquire featured the most notorious version with “The Shooter”, with some odd sections about why “the shooter” doesn’t have health care. (Another “shooter” also recently outed himself.) ABC News also featured another SEAL explaining why they shot Osama on sight. Vanity Fair’s Mark Bowden published an entire book on the subject, and compared his writing to Mark Owen’s book No Easy Day. Peter Bergen questioned “The Shooter”’s accuracy as well on CNN. Another “shooter” also recently outed himself, again no one can really prove if he did or didn’t do the job. He also gave a talk last year at a Republican fundraiser.

But what if you prefer reading and avoiding the mainstream media? How will you ever find books about the Navy SEALs? You won’t. The SEALs are just too damn secretive.

Unless, of course, the Navy grants access to a photographer. Take this contradictory passage from an article by NBC News. The article opens with the lines, “Since the U.S. Navy began its special Sea, Air, Land Teams, commonly known as the U.S. Navy SEALs, in 1962, little about them has been made public. That was on purpose.” Then a few paragraphs later...

“Mathieson has spent the last six years photographing and researching the SEALs. He recently published a definitive book on the SEALS with David Gatley titled, United States Naval Special Warfare/U.S. Navy SEALs. This is not an outsider’s peek inside the SEALs. Rather, Mathieson was given unique access to the inner workings of the secretive group because the Navy blessed his project.

Not so secretive, is it? It’s okay, the Washington Times used almost the exact same words to describe Mathieson’s book. (As if they read the same press release...) (H/T to Abu Muqawama.)

If you need more reading, USA Today gives you seven more options on books by SEALs recently released, including...

- Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior by Rorke Denver

- SEAL Team Six: Memoirs of an Elite Navy SEAL Sniper by Howard E. Wasdin

- Inside SEAL Team Six: My Life and Missions With America’s Elite Warriors by Don Man

- Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown by Eric Blehm

- Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson

- The Red Circle: My Life in the Navy SEAL Sniper Corps and How I Trained America’s Deadliest Marksmen by Brandon Webb

And they didn’t even include A Captain’s Duty, American Sniper, SEAL Target Geronimo or Luttrell’s second book Service.

Our point isn’t that Navy SEALs aren’t quiet professionals. The vast, vast majority are; they go about their service without writing about it, even after they get out.

Some SEALs, though, are ruining that for the rest.