Thursday, February 01, 2007

For those who are unaware, William Arkin is a defense intellectual and critic of the Bush administration who blogs at the Washington Post under the rubric Arkin's Early Warning. He is also the author of Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World - a book that is invaluable as a reference on contemporary operations to military historians, though by virtue of " outing" quasi-secret and secret military and intel nomenclature. I mention this because I wish to be clear that Arkin is not a Georgetown cocktail party " expert" playing pundit but someone who really knows his stuff.

Yesterday, Arkin, responding to televised complaints of U.S. troops in Iraq about the anti-war movement back in the United States, wrote:

"These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President's handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.

Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.

Sure it is the junior enlisted men who go to jail, but even at anti-war protests, the focus is firmly on the White House and the policy. We just don't see very man "baby killer" epithets being thrown around these days, no one in uniform is being spit upon.

So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

I can imagine some post-9/11 moment, when the American people say enough already with the wars against terrorism and those in the national security establishment feel these same frustrations. In my little parable, those in leadership positions shake their heads that the people don't get it, that they don't understand that the threat from terrorism, while difficult to defeat, demands commitment and sacrifice and is very real because it is so shadowy, that the very survival of the United States is at stake. Those Hoover's and Nixon's will use these kids in uniform as their soldiers. If I weren't the United States, I'd say the story end with a military coup where those in the know, and those with fire in their bellies, save the nation from the people.

But it is the United States and instead this NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work."

Well, now.

Technically, from the perspective of military history, Arkin is correct that professional soldiery are a " mercenary" force. John Keegan has written the same thing in another context. Militaries come in only a few basic forms, conscripts, mercenaries and caste - and professionals from the Swiss Guards to Renaissance captains to the U.S. military have war as their vocation.

That being said, Arkin was not using " mercenary" in that context but in the casual perjorative meaning, as a slur. And he knows it. Why did he do it ? Because he was mad that troops in Iraq, guys to whom the label of " chickenhawk" won't stick nor with whom could stronger insults be applied without incurring the wrath of WaPo editors, criticized the anti-war movement. Accurately criticized, more to the point. The troops you, see, are supposed to shut up and ol' Bill was incensed.

I'm a believer in free speech so I do not support calls for Arkin to fired, censored, physically menaced, burned at the stake or whatever. The man has just made a fool out of himself on a national platform and plenty of people are letting him know it. The justifiable verbal abuse being heaped in his direction comes as a direct cost of saying stupid things.

Particularly, when everyone knows that you know better. You want to blog Bill ? Learn to take your lumps like a man.


Arkin retracts the use of "mercenary". Good. That was the right thing to do.


Castle Argghhh! has a round-up

OPFOR recommended by Matt at MountainRunner

Blackfive - wields the F-Bomb

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Ignoring who he attributes decision making to, that he apparently assumes a perfect world in tactics and equipment and training (and not considering their role in the problem and who allowed the problem) because all of that would be too complex for him. Sadly, Arkin also believes our guys are paid a "decent wage" and are apparently provided with adequate healthcare.

Op-For was much less kind.
When TPMB’s writing gets a little kooky you know he’s on distillates and meds because he tells you so. If I get loopy it is because I’m writing well past my bed time. You read Arkin’s latest and absent an admission that he had a heavy liquid lunch you are left wondering if something more serious isn't impacting his intellect.
"You read Arkin’s latest and absent an admission that he had a heavy liquid lunch you are left wondering if something more serious isn't impacting his intellect"

Like an excess of ideology.
"Like and excess of ideology."

Well, yes, there is that (chuckle) but its just a complete piece of s*** regardless of the political slant. Blogs have no editors, but the guy has been writing for public consumption for twenty years . . .
"Well, yes, there is that (chuckle) but its just a complete piece of s*** regardless of the political slant"

True. I can abide disagreeable opinions but not stupidity.

Arkin seems not to get that ppl are offended not by his anti-war opinions but from the searing contempt and obvious bile with which they were directed at soldiers who *dared* to criticize antiwar people.

I guess the antiwar position is that "only people in the armed forces can speak out in favor of the war and anyone in the armed forces should not be permitted to speak out in favor of the war"
The hysteria and self-serving chatter in response to Arkin's stupidity is rather educational.

Specialist Johnson is certainly entitled to free speech, but that doesn't saint him, nor should the fact that he is serving in Iraq saint him. His comment betrays a fundamental understanding of reality. The American people overwhelmingly do not support the war. They do not trust Pres. Bush. Not only did they just vote the GOP out of power in Congress largely because of the war in Iraq, they shrugged and disagreed when Bush tried to sell them on the surge this month.

Their contempt and distrust may yet turn to the military, especially as the narrative of the war shapes from one where all blame lies with Bush, Cheney & Rumsfeld and is more equitably shared with military leaders like Gen. Casey, Abazid and others who were more interested in political power, influence and good graces than telling the truth about necessary force levels, training needs and actual good decision-making/leadership.

Lost in the hysteria is the fact that Spec. Johnson and the others SLUR the majority of Americans, who no longer support the war yet do their utmost to support the troops in supporting pay raises, bonuses, education improvements, Starbucks and other amenities at some of those big bases in Iraq, etc. etc.

What you have here is three soldiers along with some milbloggers and commentators who aren't intelligent enough to process the wonderful real world of daily and inherent paradoxes and contradictions in their minds.

While Arkin may have said "F U" to the troops with his asinine "mercenary" slander, what people fail to realize here is that these three soldiers and their supporters online and in the media are saying "FU" to the majority of Americans who have set aside their opposition and outright disapproval to Pres. Bush's flagging Iraq effort and continue to do their utmost through personal and political support for the military men and women themselves.

We're in an optional war, and nowhere in the Constitution does it seem to require every American to support it every step of the way no matter the cost or the increasing understanding that its not being fought correctly, fought for honest reasons of national security and interest in the first place and by competent leadership in the White House.

Slandering people (and disgustingly lumping the American majority that no longer supports Pres. Bush's war into a strawman with the tiny fringe of crazies who are anti-military and anti-US) as unpatriotic for anything less than this vepid lemming attitude towards the military and the president is unAmerican and should be considered treason because it is nothing less than a call for dictatorship where citizens can no longer question their leaders and the military's competence, strategy or suitability for the job at hand.
Apologies... His comment portrays a "fundamental misunderstanding" of reality.
Hi eddie,

This has little to do with the ability of citizens to criticize their leaders. Many people who support the war feel that Bush is to blame.

About every post Arkin's ever written criticizes Bush or the war but this is the first time he's engendered such a vehement response and that's because of "the slander", not the antiwar position.

Arkin isn't some Joe Sixpack. He of all people should know better and as such, I hold him to a higher standard on military issues than a garden variety MSM goof.

As I'm sure you know, soldiers tend to gripe but there has been far less of that in the media about Iraq than the bitter grumbling that occurred during WWII about " slackers" on the home front. What is startling in fact, is that such criticism of antiwar people was aired at all. I can't think of a similar example.

I agree that he certainly knows better and should have not used the loaded term.

I fear the sainting of the military onto some high pedastal from which it can only tumble over time, and I see the nasty side of it already in the politicians and pundits (and Secdefs) who go ape-shit about patroitism and civic duty over long overdue Senate debates, declining public support for the war and other examples of dissent and query.

When soldiers talk like this on TV (and it is free speech that they are perfectly free to express), it only serves to weaken the binds of trust between citizens and the increasingly politicized institution.
Arkin is right about one thing... the tipping point for citizens and the military is coming. Another year or two of misadventure and/or failure in Iraq may hasten it.
Humble clarification is due from me as well... this post (at least what you wrote, not what you linked to) and its comments are not what I'm criticizing.
Given that he retracted his use of the word mercenary;

I agree with Arkin on the issue of "the troops" being above criticism. I think frankly that it's a little absurd that "the troops" are so frequently used as a massive generalization - whenever anybody refers to "the troops" they are almost always using them as a political football. Remember, "the troops" includes everybody from Captain Brian Freeman to Private Stephen Green. Thus, it's kind of silly to refer to them as a homogeneous group.

Also I think it is a little perverse that Arkin got so much hate mail for basically saying "American soldiers also happen to be falliable human beings." OPFOR and Blackfive go totally over the edge in their criticism ("slime", "excrement", etc.). Remember, the chain of command, from bottom to top, goes: military --> President --> American citizens. I think Staff Sgt. Sahagun, who said "one thing I don't like is when people back home say they support the troops, but they don't support the war," might not have totally internalized that.
Hi Adrian,

It was definitely a question of having framed the argument offensively rather than the argument per se, which I think we have all heard before. Anyone who threatened Arkin was in the wrong but if you wack a hornet's nest, you tend to anger the hornets.
OPFOR calling Arkin slime... Zenpundit calling OPFOR hornets... can't we all just get along!
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