Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Devil and the Details

The American Thinker notices that Time Magazine's article, "How to Leave Iraq" is illustrated with a picture of a helicopter pulling a Stars and Stripes "A" out of Iraq. It is pretty dramatic in artistic conception, the only fly in the ointment being that the image is that of a Russian helicopter, an Mi-24 Hind. American Thinker expresses a certain disappointment.

Accompanying TIME/CNN's current online article by Michael Duffy entitled, "How to leave Iraq," and reportedly on the cover of the TIME print edition, is an illustration graphically demonstrating how limited these so-called news organizations' knowledge of the American military happens to be. The "last helicopter out" a vision harking back to Vietnam and beloved of the Mainstream Media, in this case just happens to be Russian, an MI-24 Hind gunship, according to the folks over at Blackfive, a leading milblog where contributors tend to know what they are talking about when it comes to things military, unlike the mainstream Media weenies.

The blooper is no big deal in itself. But I suspect it comes from the same circles where all tracked vehicles are known as "tanks", all automatic rifles are described as "machineguns", all aerial ordnance is described as "cluster bombs" and the general idea of warfare is one in which stupid, yelling men advance shooting from the hip at everything that moves. Amazingly enough none of these shortcomings in knowledge are regarded as disqualifying anyone from discoursing on grand strategic concepts -- which is what the Time article is about.

Such ignorance, rather than undermining the authority of a strategic commentator, is sometimes regarded as actual proof of a wider mind, unlumbered by the low tradesman's obsession with machinery, technics, calibers, ranges, doctrines, history and whatnot. Ever since the Great War "proved" that professional military men were 'donkeys who led lions', a substantial percentage of Western intellectuals wouldn't be caught dead with more than a smattering of knowledge about things military. To know any more might create suspicions of stupidity; a first-rate mind could never interest itself for long with such dumb muck. While the actual rote operation of warfare could be left to the tradesmen, there arose the belief that the really important questions had to be left to the unfettered, liberally educated mind able to see problems in the round. Nowhere was this better expressed than in Clemenceau's dictum, "war is too important to be left to the generals."

Yet it is sobering to remember that before the Great War, the reason Joffre, Haig and the other Great War generals possessed such authority -- Joffre was absolute dictator at the front, even when the front was on French territory -- was the reaction to the catastrophes produced by an aristocratic officer corps. Before society learned to mistrust the professionals they first learned to mistrust the amateurs. So great was the disillusionment with the amateur leadership of the social upper crust that the safety of the nation could never be entrusted to them, but to the professionals. Only after the Great War would the attitudes turn again.

Up until the 19th century officers bought and sold their commissions in the British Army. It had the inestimable virtue of preventing the "wrong sort of people" from becoming officers. But the system had disadvantages in practice. Chiefly, it invited incompetence.

The worst potential effects of the system were mitigated during intensive conflicts such as the Napoleonic Wars by heavy casualties among senior ranks (which ensured that the vacant commissions were exchanged for their face value only), and the possibility of promotion to brevet army ranks for deserving officers. An officer might be a subaltern or Captain in his regiment, but might hold a higher local rank if attached to other units or allied armies, or might be given a higher Army rank by the Commander-in-Chief, or the Monarch, in recognition of meritorious service or a notable feat of bravery....

The malpractices associated with the purchase of commissions reached their height in the long peace between the Napoleonic Wars and the Crimean War, when Lord Cardigan paid £40,000 for his commission. It was in the Crimea that it became most obvious that the system of purchase led to incompetent leadership, such as that which resulted in the Charge of the Light Brigade. An inquiry (the Commission on Purchase) was established in 1855, and commented unfavourably on the institution. The practice of Purchase of Commissions was finally abolished as part of the Cardwell reforms which made many changes to the structure and procedures of the Army.

The aristocrats confidently believed their inherent superiority would win out. It would be "all right on the day". Of course it very often was not, and the dull technicians often beat the men who fancied themselves the first rate minds. One thread that runs through strategic history has been to what extent the amateurs and professionals should play off against each other. And it's reasonable to think that they both need each other. This debate was renewed in Vietnam when the "Best and the Brightest" saw fit to run the war without the old-fashioned concept of victory; when Lyndon Johnson swore that not an outhouse could be bombed without his specific approval. When national leadership became obsessed with "sending signals", as if the Armed Forces were nothing but a woodfire and blanket to be used for communicating with people who didn't speak English. If the Great War showed that the professionals did not always have the answers, Vietnam illustrated that the amateurs didn't always either.

It isn't necessary to be able to tell an MI-24 from a UH-60. Yet given that intellectual superiority is never to be taken for granted, it helps, ceteris paribus to know the distinction. It's a safe bet that al-Qaeda can tell the difference.


Blogger Unknown said...

Time (and other MSM) should consider breaking new ground on editing. They could send each article (before publication) to a random selection of the people they host on "Real Clear Politics" and get a better result in a few hours than whatever it is they do today (full time staff, I suspect). I don't know why editing as a job hasn't changed character to something that leverages the better-known individuals on the web (at least for review and questions back to the reporter(s) pre-publication). It can’t be because doing a sanity check in parallel with final paste-up would delay publication. And it likely wouldn't cost them much, if anything, assuming they gave people credit.

Given this is the state of reporting, it's likely an upper bar for the awareness of our leaders in congress (and the bureaucracies). What should we expect from this type of oversight and management?

When is something that has all the outcomes of corruption not corrupt? Perhaps when it is a government designed to do a minimum of harm given human weakness. I call this "soft corruption" but corruption none the less.

Mr. Gingrich talks about the world that works (the private sector and the creative destruction of competition that rewards intellect and judgment) and the world that doesn't (large government that punishes intellect and can’t abide individual judgment while rewarding compromise, consensus, constituency and process).

I worry that these same types of reporters also write that we need not be concerned about, say, China because they now spend one tenth of what the U.S. spends on its military. What if it takes our world (government that doesn't work) twenty times as much to match the effort of a world that does? Perhaps China has similar or worse problems in its institutions, but I've not seen it (after 10 years and 20 plus weeks working in that country). I've seen the opposite. One of many examples: In financial, trade, economic development, regulation and educational settings I've seen at least 50 offices (of hundreds) with books by Milton Friedman and Hayek (and even the occasional Ayn Rand). I've spent 20 years of occasional visits to the offices of U.S. government agencies and Congress and seen the same precisely twice.

I don't think China is a threat especially given what they (middle class business folk and bureaucrats) are studying and the current state of our mutual dependence and their own growing dependence on the rest of the world (esp. energy), but I do worry that we're now too institutionally ignorant to understand (or do the simple work necessary to create fact-based analysis) that will keep "Time"-like impressions from informing strategic decisions.

What a pity.

7/22/2007 06:37:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

This story reminds me of a Q&A session from the first gulf war, where a marine colonel had just given a briefing about a hot pursuit action that was taking place. Of course, he had described a scene of carnage, where Iraqi soldiers were being treated "extremely rudely". I can still see the look on his face as a young female reporter commented, "This hardly seems fair."

7/22/2007 08:02:00 AM  
Blogger Derek Kite said...

As the invasion of Iraq started, maybe a day in, CBC radio news had a report from Heathrow (I think) about US aircraft taking off headed towards Iraq. The commentator breathlessly opined that things must be going badly since B-52's were taking off in numbers, and obviously their only utility was carpet bombing.

I think that was the moment that I stopped reading the paper and listening to TV and radio news for information.

BTW, I had to wait at the hospital friday, and picked up a Time magazine to while away the hours. It was awfully anemic. I think Time magazine may not last as long as the US involvement in Iraq. Maybe they'll need Hind helicopters to lift the editors off the roof as their shareholders try to catch them.


7/22/2007 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

Exactly Wretchard, but look at our elites.

There is an internal war in the West between the elites who back the Islamists due to common enemies: ordinary people, the military, and police; and generally the ordinary people, military and police.

What possible use could someone like Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame, Larry Johnson, Michael Scheuer, or Richard Clarke have upon stopping terrorist actions designed to kill thousands or millions of Americans?

You have an old money dilettante, his upwardly-marrying trophy wife who sits in a cubicle and can't imagine life outside safe suburbia, and bureaucrats whose career is based on trading gossip with foreign dictator's cronies.

You can't send these people out to someplace like Anbar Province, with a group of men ready to kill enemies and engage allies over practical power-sharing agreements to stop AQ from constructing a terrorist base there. Dealing with tribal leaders one day, in remote and primitive conditions, and killing enemy forces the next (or perhaps the same day).

It's a bottom-line class struggle. The Military is made up working-middle class people, with a smattering of old-line military families like McCain's. But mostly careerists, often second or third generation the way Detroit had autoworkers for generations.

And the interest of the middle and working classes are directly opposed to that of the elite. I know this sounds Marxist, but consider what Lincoln had to say in his July 9, 1858 Speech:

"Those arguments that are made, that the inferior race are to be treated with as much allowance as they are capable of enjoying; that as much is to be done for them as their condition will allow. What are these arguments? They are the arguments that kings have made for enslaving the people in all ages of the world. You will find that all the arguments in favor of king-craft were of this class; they always bestrode the necks of the people, not that they wanted to do it, but because the people were better off for being ridden. That is their argument, and this argument of the Judge is the same old serpent that says you work and I eat, you toil and I will enjoy the fruits of it. Turn in whatever way you will---whether it come from the mouth of a King, an excuse for enslaving the people of his country, or from the mouth of men of one race as a reason for enslaving the men of another race, it is all the same old serpent, and I hold if that course of argumentation that is made for the purpose of convincing the public mind that we should not care about this, should be granted, it does not stop with the negro."

This is an old, old struggle. Plato hated the upward mobility of those who rowed against Xerxes, and longed for a King unconstrained by Greek social rules.

Fundamentally the Left does not know about Military stuff because it does not WANT to know. It does not want to know because it does not want a military. Which because by it's nature it's open to ordinary men forms a profound threat to the hereditary sinecures that the Left is all about. The New Republic fake story fits into that: "soldiers are brutal and dehumanized louts who are stupid and cruel, we are much better."

Wherever the Left has taken power it has abolished the Military, save in Russia and China which had significant external enemies (and even then Stalin spent most of the Thirties purging his military).

This is all about power in the West. Who has it and who can keep all of it. Think of it as analogous to the Meji Emperors who outlawed firearms and westernization because it threatened the Samurai social order. I assume the Black Fleet will arrive soon.

7/22/2007 12:32:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

My mom always told me that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing.

And so it is with the American Right when it comes to Iraq. The same Asperger syndrome mentality that would obsess over some helicopter clip art instead of attacking the substance of a weak article in Time is the same mentality that would forget that the Cold War is actually over.

In fact there are Mi-24 Hinds flying in Iraq. Don’t forget Poland. They are the third largest fighting force with the MNF-I. There is even a video showing an American flying one (

Perhaps Time were just trying to point out, with the recent announcements of a possible British withdrawal, that good old “New Europe” will be with us there to the bitter end.

7/22/2007 12:35:00 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

What Kevin is trying to say, is:



7/22/2007 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

No, Kevin. The Cold War is not over. The BBC, Time Magazine/CNN, is proof of that.

7/22/2007 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

I think the blooper is a big deal. If you can't even tell your own aircraft, your own warships in which American troops protect you against your enemies, you are not paying attention, you are not taking the world seriously.

If you are making an artistic point by being willfully ignorant, you are still ignorant, and anyone paying attention knows.

I lost $50 one time on a bet that Carter would win re-election. I was on the other side of the world, and relied on TIME for my data. Bad choice, but it was un-willful ignorance. Still, ignorant, fifty bucks worth.

Whiskey, the Black Fleet will meet pirated bootleg AEGIS at Shanghai, in your analogy.

Luckily, the Black Fleet will be F-22's, and the analogy will hold.

7/22/2007 06:48:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Kevin said::::In fact there are Mi-24 Hinds flying in Iraq. Don’t forget Poland.

Sure Kevin you are certainly correct... The Times has been right up front praising our Polish allies as have all of the Media ('unilateral US war'). Why just today I was reading about the Australians on the front page of the local rag.

Good thing you are here and you speak Lefty because all of us are Asperger syndrome victims. Of course the Times was making heroes out of the Poles. God! Why didn't I think of that!!!

By the way, I can tell you the substance of the Times article without reading it, it hasn't changed since 2003 or since Viet Nam really. Defeat for America, the foolhardiness of our efforts. Gosh, that's a new message, I really haven't heard before. Thanks so much for bringing it to our attention!

7/22/2007 08:23:00 PM  
Blogger Tarnsman said...

The results of the Turkish election is in and the ruling Islamic party lost seats, but still retained control. Note how the MSM will spin the story. The loss of seats for the ruling party will be papered over because it doesn't fit the "the war in Iraq is radicalizing the Middle East" meme.

7/22/2007 09:41:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher Jamison said...

Sadly, the practice of buying commissions is alive and well today. Instead of wearing uniforms the new "amateurs" wear suits and pantsuits while they command from congressional offices, the Oval Office and Staff meetings. The President and SecDef ignored the generals who said to go in hard and heavy. The congresspersons (yuck, I hate newspeak) want to set time-tables as if war was a business project with known variables and predictable outcomes. Meanwhile, the men and women in the field continue to adapt and win overwhelmingly against an hidden and flexible enemy.

Why don't we moved the forces in Germany (yeah, the ones we left there back in, what, 1944-45?) into bases in Iraq. Preferably around the oil fields. That way we act as a deterrent to an invading Iran and we keep the oil flowing. Just a thought (or two).

7/23/2007 01:06:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher Jamison said...

In all this talk about "redeploying" (insert withdrawal from a battlefield), everyone assumes that the men and women fighting this war want to leave. IMO they think "well who wouldn't want to leave a war?" but they, without any sense of irony, never connect that with their own (snidely delivered) question, "well who would want to join the military?"

How about this; Ask for volunteers to stay and provide training and reaction/clearing/support forces for the new Iraqi government. If we get enough volunteers to man a sustainable force, problem solved. Considering most, if not all, of the Americans serving today either volunteered after the war began or re-enlisted during the war, I believe they support the war. And those back home watching it on CNN from their Lazyboys or discussing it over skinny, mocha, frapawhatzits in Starbucks? Who cares- they are spectators to history- not participants. Just enjoy the record economy, watch your TiVo and have another slice of SHUTTHEF**KUP.

I'm on my second tour in Iraq, by the way. Not seeking adulation (as most fighting this war are not) just firing a preemptive round in defending my position.

7/23/2007 01:26:00 AM  
Blogger buddy larsen said...

Well-said Christopher. Lefties do for a fact think you're a robot. The idea that you are over there deliberately and consciously defending your home & hearth is just too far astray from their myth. They can't cope with such a notion. They've been conditioned, and they don't know it.

7/23/2007 05:16:00 AM  
Blogger 3Case said...

An early scene in Monty Python & the Holy Grail:

A Gregorian chant is heard, punctuated by a loud "thunk". As the camera pans in, monks are seen chanting and the "thunk" is revealed to be them each whacking themselves on the forehead at the end of each verse with a thick, wide length of plank.

7/23/2007 06:06:00 AM  
Blogger 3Case said...

Another well-said, Christopher.

7/23/2007 06:21:00 AM  
Blogger LarryD said...

"Think of it as analogous to the Meji Emperors who outlawed firearms and westernization because it threatened the Samurai social order."

Historical quibble, it was the Shogunate, not the Emperors, who held the real political power. In fact, this has been true for most of Japan's history, the few Emperors who where the exception had to first retire from the role of Emperor because the ceremonial duties took up too much time.

7/23/2007 06:41:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

And let us not forget that there were some who excoriated the military for not inflicting stiffer punishments when a pair of F-15 pilots could not tell a UH-60 from an Hind-D and shot down two of our own choppers during enforcement of the northern Iraq No Fly zone.

And the F-15 pilots had to make quick decisions in a combat situation and did not have the luxury of a leisurely perusing of the latest copies of Janes' All the World's Aircraft or access to numerous Internet sites.

The MSM are not just bad at what the do, they are bad with no real excuse.

7/23/2007 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

MSM are style over substance, which is to say, lightweight, irresponsible and dull-witted. Hence, the Hind error and the dim defense of it here.

At the least, there had to be an editorial meeting in the TIME art department where it was decided they liked the Hind best for aesthetic reasons. After that, the rest of editors were asleep at the switch.

7/23/2007 03:58:00 PM  
Blogger buddy larsen said...

Maybe some unreconstructed Soviet in the art dep't was having a bit o fun?

7/23/2007 04:35:00 PM  
Blogger 3Case said...


May be.

7/24/2007 05:29:00 AM  
Blogger 3Case said...

I'm trying to remember when editors in the print media became such wholly unrepentant buttboys for Marxo-lefthadis. That is one of the great unaddressed betrayals of Western civilization.

7/24/2007 05:34:00 AM  

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