Saturday, September 22, 2007

General Petraeus - Honor and Reputation

General David Petraeus's recent ad about "General Betrayus" is way out of line. It is the natural result of the unfortunate rhetorical use of our "troops" as props for political debate. "Support the troops" has become a debating tool, used as both a sword and a shield, by many of our politicos, pundits, and other persons of influence who should know better.
General Petraeus is living in Baghdad these days. He commands our troops there. That is, when he's not being ordered to fly back to D.C. for a political photo-op. Oops, I mean to consult with the President and Important Congressional Leaders. Apparently, using a video conference to give these briefings that would allow the General to stay on-site in Baghdad, and keep focused the job he has at hand, is not adequate. A video conference would probably not get as much tv time for the politicians. Such are the priorities of Washington.
I've flown on military air transport from Bahrain to Boston. It took four days. Flying back only took two. I'm sure the General gets better flight schedules than that, but still, it is a long, tiring flight, and important time out of theater for the man in charge. It is happening more than it should, and it does not help our troops.
General Petraeus is all-Army. If you don't know what that means, these are times when it is important to understand. Allow me to recommend a book, Once An Eagle, by Anton Myrer. I read it as a teenage boy and it is a book that can make a deep impression about the principles of our military. It's available on Amazon.
Regarding our General, let's consider an old military motto, "death before dishonor." This is an expression that few would say out loud these days. But to many career military men,
dying a heroic death fighting for their country is the choice they would make over retiring as a failure. And our General is a career military man. He is a man with a mission. A mission to succeed. He was not ordered to try hard, or to just do his best. He was ordered to accomplish a mission. And he'll keep at it until he succeeds or dies trying. Unless he is told to stop.
This is why the ad by was a low blow. (Trivia for non-sport's fans who've always wondered what this means - "low blow" is a boxing term that means a punch to the lower abdomen, nearing the family jewels. It is not only against the rules, but is considered unsportsmanlike, cheating, and "fighting dirty.") Moveon's belief that this was OK comes from a pervasive misunderstanding, shared by many Americans, of the military's role in America and American politics.
Military officers are taught from day 1 not to become involved in politics. They are taught to keep their political views to themselves, and not to comment if present at a political discussion. They accept this restriction with pride as a part of the purity of the sacrifices that they make for their country. This mentality is why our generals look so uncomfortable when being asked by Congress or the President what our national policy should be. It is not their job to tell the President or Congress what to do. And it is inappropriate to request it of them.
General Petraeus' brief article in the Washington Post was direct and focused on what had been accomplished recently in training, equipping, and deploying Iraqi security forces. We don't know everything else he told the President. But, the context of his public brief is that he has been given an assignment to go to Iraq, quell the violence as much as he can, and train up the Iraqis as much as possible.
He's got all the resources he's going to get, and he knows it. There ain't no more troops. The DOD is already involuntarily pulling Naval Reservist sailors up for active duty as regular ground soldiers at security check points. This is referred to as being a "bullet sponge." Who's next on the list of available military manpower? Postal workers? (One is tempted to wonder how the Texas Air National Guard is fairing these days.)
So, General Petraeus has a job to do. So he is doing it to the best of his ability. That is what he reported on.
What else did people expect? That he would come back and say, "Holy cow! That whole place has gone to hell in a handbasket! We better get our boys out of there or someone's gonna get hurt!" Of course not.
Inherent in the context of his report is a drive and commitment to succeed. That is what has made him a great General. You don't get 4 stars for nothing. The last thing any of us is going to see from any decent military officer as a response to an order is, "Well, I'll try it for a couple of months, but if it's too hard I'll come back and let you know." Any expectation that there was a possibility of that happening is insane.
And no flag officer is going to come back and say, "Unfortunately, despite being provided the full support of the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, I will be unable to defeat the Mahdi Army, an untrained, unpaid, ununiformed street gang with a few thousand members, equipped with small arms and home-made bombs. Those guys are just too tough."
General Petraeus is one of the troops. He will fight until he is told to stop, just like the rest of the Army.
President Bush is hiding behind the troops, politically. He is their leader, and he is misusing them.
The same with Congress.
Either the President or Congress, each without the other, could get us out of this war if either decided to do so. Their protests that it is too hard to get out are not true.
The President has decided to stay. It's the wrong choice. But at least he made a decision.
But Congress, and the Democrats, having been given a clear electoral mandate by the people to end the war, continues to dither.
We are told we cannot just leave, it will take at least a year. We've addressed this fallacy here before. It is NONSENSE. It's the Army! It's built to move! If China invaded Hawaii tomorrow you'd see how fast we can move those troops out of Iraq.
Here's some perspective. There are 130,000 troops in Iraq. Here in Atlanta, guess how many passengers go through the airport every day. Answer: 280,000. One is tempted to think that we could get them all home in just one day if we really wanted to. And we would only have to use one US airport.
Of course, that would require some national and political will.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Daffy Dan Rather becomes Crazy Old Cranky Dan Rather

Smilin' Dan Rather

Dan Rather, after 21 years of keeping CBS News solidly last in the news ratings, is suing his old employer. Why CBS kept him on for so long is a mystery, only deepened by this ungrateful lawsuit.

Apparently, the reason Dan is angry is that he feels that CBS didn't do a good enough job whitewashing Dan's responsibility for that whole fake document mess in a story that CBS, specifically Dan, broadcast about President Bush's somewhat undistinguished military service. The documents were fake. Everybody says so. The consensus is also that a good reporter would have known better.

Dan, who apparently is still claiming the story is true, avoided taking the fall for this Big Screw-up ("BS" in journalism circles) at the time. Three other CBS employees got fired. But Teflon Dan kept the big anchor chair. Though, as time went by, the incident was not forgotten, and more and more people seemed to openly blame him for the fiasco, as well as his failure to take responsibility.

Jim Lehrer once said, many years ago, "I'm responsible for everything that comes out of my mouth." That is what I expect to hear from a news anchor. But, with the exception of Mr. Lehrer, those days are over. Dan apparently feels exactly the opposite.

Back in 1981 when Walter Conkite was retiring, there was a big discussion on whether Dan Rather or Roger Mudd would succeed him as CBS News Anchor. Mudd seemed more substantial, but Rather was more exciting, having done lots of Viet Nam coverage and challenging President Nixon at press conferences. Rather won and Mudd, and CBS, lost.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Katie's Loose Lips

I was an early cheerleader for Katie Couric getting a network anchor job. I thought she should have replaced Tom Brokaw. (Brian Williams? Duh . . .) When she finally did land Dan Rather's old gig, I really hoped she'd do great. After all, she was bound to do better than Dan Rather.

But, there were early signs of things going off-track. The big buildup was, well, unseemly. The first solo woman anchor! A bit of a stretch. Remember Barbara Walters? Not solo, so she doesn't count, I guess. What about Connie Chung's stint with Dan? Ditto. (What a brain trust that was.) And of course, the fact that Elizabeth Vargas was anchoring the news over at ABC was, well, apparently something else.

But still, I liked Katie! I liked that she did that whole crazy cancer thing on tv. That took guts. I liked the merry widow role after losing her husband. I liked that she wasn't afraid to show off her legs, too. Did you hear those mean spirited people getting on her case about being too old to wear skirts without hose on tv? They said her legs weren't that great anyway, and she shouldn't be trying to show them off. Pretty petty stuff. Katie's 40-something gams look great. If you've got it, flaunt it! In my age group, a perky pair of tanned, toned, well-seasoned legs goes great with that morning cup of coffee. That whole gossipy discussion only made me like Katie more, to spite her spiteful enemies.

Then, one day on tv, Katie's eyelids disappeared. At first, I couldn't believe my eyes. But it was true. She had some work done. A facelift. A surprising disappointment. What message was that meant to convey? That she would be both a news anchor and a spokesmodel for the news? What happened to being a role model? I for one liked Katie's face better the way it was. Real.

I suppose that since I almost never actually watch the evening news, my opinion here counts for very little. But that won't stop me from expressing it.

Katie, after all we've been through together, I am sad to say, has lost me as a fan. And here is why.

Recently she was reporting on the deaths of two US soldiers. She introduced the news of their deaths as a "footnote." Then explained that their deaths were "ironic." Apparently, it was Katie's perception of this irony that made their deaths newsworthy.

The young men had recently published an op-ed piece that pointed out that even normal, everyday life activities in Iraq now put people's lives at risk. It was in the New York Times. There is some anti-Katie sniping that this situation is exactly what irony is not, but such criticism misses the point.

The point is how Katie looks at people. Soldiers are people.

Come on, Katie! Two patriotic young people are dead! They were real. They had families. It's not a footnote! It is exactly why so many people are so very very pissed off about this whole Iraq clusterschnook.

How can Katie look at the American people and tell us that two of our young people just got killed, and the only reason it's worth mentioning, as a footnote, is because it's ironic? Was it just a poor choice of words, or has she gotten out of touch with people? Is that really how she thinks?

It seems so. She's not alone. A lot of people think it's not a big deal when a soldier gets killed. Soldiers are not wholly viewed as real people by some. They are just soldiers, and soldiers get killed. We all expect it, so it's not that big a deal. This is wrong thinking. Soldiers are regular young people wearing their work uniforms. Specifically, they are our young people who are willing to sacrifice for their country.

Katie got her job because of her perceived ability to connect with people. That's what's ironic.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

How Larry Gets Off

Poor old Larry Craig. He had the world by the tail. Big job, loving wife, three (adopted) kids, somewhat famous, etc. He seemed to have it all.

Well, apparently Larry's idea of having it all meant a little more than what it means for most of us.

Now Larry has fallen. The victim of a police vice operation in a men's public bathroom at the Minneapolis airport. A victim of a wide stance, restless leg syndrome, and over-zealous police work.

Whammo . . . suddenly Larry is in handcuffs for lewd behavior for . . . well, you know, tapping his foot and putting his hand under the stall wall. Pretty lewd stuff. Though apparently no actual penis was seen during the lewdness.

So Larry pleaded guilty, but only to being disorderly. An ambiguously defined "crime" rooted in biblical admonitions.

Larry, mortified, says, "I'm not gay!" He says it a lot. Maybe that makes it more true. Or maybe it's a fleeting truth in need of regular recharging.

Frankly, I doubt many people care if Larry is, was, or thinks about being gay. I certainly could not care less.

What gives this whole weird tale it's yucky factor is the setting. A public toilet? Eeewww. Who are these people who want to have sex in a public toilet? The germs! The smells! The noises! The random, misplaced drops! Yuck, yuck, yuck.

Plus, there are kids in there! That is what pisses a lot of us off. If my kids were in a public bathroom, and two knuckleheads decided to do the boofoo choochoo, I'd call the cops.

The setting is where Larry went wrong. If Larry had been having a discrete rendezvous back at the Marriott, this would not be such a mess for him. He could declare himself mentally exhausted, check into rehab for a couple of weeks, and voila! He could come back 100% heterosexual.

It worked for Ted Haggard. It could work for Larry.

Larry quit in disgrace after his fellow republicans declared him to be "disgusting." But now he wants to un-quit, with Arlen Specter's support. The only sensible explanation for Senator Specter's position is that he believes Larry's story. Arlen may be all alone on this one.

There are too many holes in Larry's story for it to be credible. Why was he in the public bathroom? He should have been in one of the airline's club lounges. And how do you have a wide stance with you trousers around you ankles? And the hand under the stall wall? I've never heard of that before.

Larry also wants to un-plead guilty to the disorderly conduct conviction. He may actually have a chance at this. If he can establish that he has a legislator's travel immunity from arrest while travelling between Washington and his district, then he can establish that the sheriff had no right to arrest him and the court had no right to try him. Federalism! Separation of Powers! Lack of Jurisdiction! Voila! Larry gets off! Wouldn't that be a hoot?

Politically, it is also questionable whether the Senate should kick Larry out if he refuses to resign. After all, the people of Idaho elected him. So what right do the other Senator's have to tell Idaho it cannot have the Senator it wants? After all, Larry didn't take bribes, or kill the Treasury Secretary in a duel. He wasn't even looking for a prostitute. He was just looking for love in all the wrong places.

As usual, most of our tv pundits have missed a pretty important point about Larry's hypocrisy. Chris Matthews, Matt Lauer, et al rhetorically ask how hypocritical it is for a "family values" pontificator like Larry to look for anonymous, gay sex. Aside from assuming that Larry wanted something "anonymous," as well as unconsciously buying into the bigotry that homosexuality and family values are mutually exclusive, they have the hypocrisy argument exactly backwards.

A person, such as Larry, can believe in an ideal (like marriage and heterosexuality)that he should strive for, knowing that he will occasionally fail or fall short. This is where Christians look for forgiveness. The hypocrisy is to be such a man who falls short, but instead of preaching forgiveness for others, and a path toward redemption, offers only harsh judgment and condemnation. This is the essence of the Republican's hypocrisy on social issues, especially when it comes to bigotry against homosexuals. If Larry would announce that his humiliation has helped him to understand this, a lot of people might be in more of a mood to forgive him.