Embrace Teh Suck
Just got in from hearing the author speak about his new book, â€œFiascoâ€ by Thomas Ricks, of the WaPo at a think tank here in DC. Iâ€™ll not review the book, thereâ€™s a relatively decent one found here. You may also read the author take on a bunch of very angry people during a live chat at the WaPo. We were told by the host of the event that the book is #1 on Amazon, and I can see why for some itâ€™s proving to be a must read.
Instead Iâ€™ll make a couple of observations about the event itself, doing my best not to piss off some new friends I made there. The short version of what I want to say: feel good about yourselves, fellow blog readers; youâ€™re as or more informed than a majority of policy makers and influencers, thatâ€™s clear.
It was a packed house, filled with military analysts, high ranking former officers, economists, journalists, think tank writers, a various policy makers from across the federal board. Our Favorite Litigant Ambassador was there. I suspect I was one of only a handful of bloggers, and I kept that a bit under wraps, the better to hear what people had to say free from fear of rabid lambofascism. The average age of the crowd was easily 50 or more, and there were surprisingly few flunkies or sycophants that I could tell.
The host and his organization are clearly Old Establishment Liberals and Democrats; this audience had little love for Bush or the War. Mr. Risk kept his presentation short, as did his co-panelist, a Republican retired officer with direct experience in Iraq. They opened the floor for questions, and I got a real sense of how insider discourse on the war is oriented. The bad news: policy and decision makers are still struggling with the notion that if we just change tactics, â€œvictoryâ€ in Iraq is possible.
Folks brought up a lot of lesser known facts that usually arenâ€™t found in the SCLM but are well known in the blogosphere. Most people were happy to talk about the war in the greater context, there was plenty of discussion about the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. For a DC crowd, I felt surprisingly little hyper-Zionism; most people understood that peace and justice in the Levant is the only way to bring an end to the WOT. There was a goodly amount of discussion about the economic aspects to the WOT, and a general dissatisfaction with the â€œcatastrophic successâ€ philosophy that Rummy and Bush have pursued. Perhaps most encouraging to me was a real commitment to helping out our troops, mainly by getting them out of Iraq as soon as possible. However, consensus on how to achieve that was missing, and in its place was the shared perception that without Republican aid, no end of the war is in sight. Several people brought up a speech Hagel gave today, I wasnâ€™t there but it seems the buzz is that Chuck is leaving the WOT reservation and good.
But in truth, the person who impressed me the most was the Republican former military officer. Afterwards I sought him out, because he seemed to share my perception that the mess in the Middle East is an American concern for genuine strategic reasons now, no matter how much I may not like that. He led a great deal of discussion about the failure of military leadership in the Iraq, as well as of the complete lack of understanding on the part of the media, Congress, and the public at large why that failure is so key to understand the larger failure of the war itself. The officer and I agreed, heartily, that Rummyâ€™s â€œnew militaryâ€ needs to be purged of the career self-serving class of mid- to higher level officers whoâ€™ve been responsible for such horrid treatment of the Iraqis, the growth of the insurgency, and the bubble of unreality in which Bush makes policy. It gave me heart to know that a Republican would say this, for I believe that it will be a long time before the Democrats grow enough spine and develop enough understanding to reform the military as it must be. And indeed, the numbers in the book support what we already knew: the military will undergo another transformation just as it did after Vietnam.
I donâ€™t mean to disappoint on the subject material within the talk itself, rather I want to congratulate you on what you already know. There was literally nothing discussed by this rather large and influential group of experts that we havenâ€™t covered, extensively, here in the blogosphere, and long ago at that. It was both vindicating and depressing to realize that weâ€™ve been proven fucking right, over and over again, and if anyone had been listening to us, thousands would still be alive and billions would still be in the treasury.
But yes, â€œimportantâ€ people are finally waking up to the facts: the war is lost, civil conflict will continue to consume the former state of Iraq, while the Iranians and fundamentalist forces of Islam continue to benefit. There is a true crisis, at almost every level, in our military, and our political leadership, on both sides, is essentially clueless and lacks both the knowledge and will to do anything significant about it. The media has completely abdicated its responsibility as critical guardian of the public trust, â€œaccessâ€ has killed investigative reporting and embedding has replaced journalism. Our nation faces true economic crisis as the war profiteers continue to drain our treasury, and we can expect no relief from rising energy costs, or all the suffering that will bring. Bush still has two years to go, even if the Democrats retake one or both houses, Augean challenges await them and any successful Dem presidential contender.
Still, I remain hopeful that even though consensus like this is six years too late, itâ€™s an important and significant step in the right direction. Policy makers seem to be perceiving the change in political will; Movement Neoconservatism is officially on the way out. It remains to be seen if American Experiment in Democracy can be saved, but itâ€™s clear to me now that I need to redouble my efforts to reach out to policy makers, and convince them that they need to embrace and apply the gigantic reserve of wisdom and experience that we enjoy daily on the blogosphere. Seriously, weâ€™re doing all their best work for free, and if weâ€™re a little less formal, weâ€™re certain faster on the draw when it comes to perceiving the dimensions and impact of â€œreality.â€
Ricks told an interesting story that may be in the book. Two Marines, enjoying 110 degree heat in Iraq, were standing near him when a large cargo plane flew low overhead. This happens regularly, and one consequence is that for a brief time, the area temperatures for those beneath the plane rose as it went by, to 180 degrees. As the plane passed, one Marine said to another, â€œdonâ€™t you just love the way you can feel that temperature drop?â€ (that is, back down to a mere 110). Risk says that this a common coping mechanism in Iraq that many of our noncoms employ to deal with that which they cannot change. They call it â€œembracing The Suck.â€
Here on the Intertubes, I propose we take a similar stance when it comes to our work and decision makers. We may prove to be right, and the doomsayers among us may yet have a last, bitter laugh as the seas engulf us and the rioting masses of starving, wood-burning theocrats burn down the last bastions of civilization to bring about their Final Rapturious solution. In the meantime, all we can do is embrace our own Suck, which Iâ€™ll call Teh Suck, and continue to be the bleeting, rabid, foaming basement dwellers we know ourselves to be. Sometimes, being right really is worth that lifetime supply of Cheetos.