Thursday, November 09, 2006

Honorable Combat

Somewhere in that difficult nexis between a civilized human being and a combat soldier lies the idea of honorable combat. In a civilized world this oxymoron is possible only in personal self-defense. A combat soldier does not live in a civilized environment; the soldier's world is chaos, death and destruction. The combat soldier is the embodiement of violence delivered in service of the nation. Somehow that violence must be legitimized, must serve an honorable purpose if the soldier is to live with him or herself.

I have tried to write about honorable combat several times but never came up with much because the concept is so inherently contradictory. Today I find a very good description of honorable combat from Kevin Tillman, describing what happened to his brother, Pat.

"I don't think that punishment fit their actions out there in the field," said Kevin Tillman, who was with his brother the day Pat was killed but was several minutes behind him in the trailing element of a convoy and saw nothing.

"They were not inquiring, identifying, engaging (targets). They weren't doing their job as a soldier," he told an investigator. "You have an obligation as a soldier to, you know, do certain things, and just shooting isn't one of your responsibilities. You know, it has to be a known, likely suspect."

The quote is well down in a long article which on its own, is worth the read.

Knowing whom you are shooting is as important as knowing why. A valid purpose, good judgment and good aim make combat about as honorable as it will ever get.


The linked article also surprised me in that Kevin Tillman was serving in the same theater, let alone on the same mission. I thought the military did not allow siblings to serve together in combat. But then again, four brothers served together in Vietnam.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Yesterday’s returns certainly met my expectations. Exceeded them, in fact. I hoped but did not expect Democrats to take the Senate. I did not expect Webb to win. But the results--a Democratic sweep--was a satisfying smackdown to BushCheney and the conservative movement. I wanted more. I wanted to take out Senator Jon Kyl here in Arizona. He won. But J.D. Hayworth(less) lost. He has much company including some truly odious members: Richard Pombo, Curt Weldon and George Allen. But the Democrat's 51-49 margin puts Joe Leiberman in the catbird seat. Had we knocked off Kyl, Joe would just be another senator. As it stands, he holds the balance of power by virtue of Republican money and votes. He'll be loving the attention.

Arizona demonstrated some real moderation in its returns. Two more Democratic Representatives. Republicans lost seats in the State House and State Senate. We are the first state to reject a gay marriage amendment, established humane requirements for farm animals and enacted a smoking ban. The Libertarian in me voted against the ban but I will enjoy benefitting from it. Arizonans also enacted a draconian eminent domain law and some nasty anti-immigrant laws, so we are still contrarian. Although the propositions aimed at illegal immigrants passed, three vocal anti-immigrant candidates lost.

As always, elections leave me romantically hopeful. That wears off soon enough, but I aways look for cooperation and insight among leaders to bring us together after an election. The past six years have dashed a lot of post-election hopes. At least this time, the Democrats (aka the Forces of Light) have some institutional leverage. And even BushCheney knows this was a smackdown. He phoned Democratic leaders to offer congratulations, invited Nancy Pelosi to lunch and canned Rumsfeld. The replacement is experienced and qualified but he also has an Iran/Contra history.

The results are satisfying. Now comes the hard part of making America work. The past six years of BushCheney arrogance and abuse of power have done serious damage to this country. Pelosi and Reid sounded appropriately cooperative last night. I am enjoying the moment; it's like I'm living in America again. Reality will return but for now it seems that voters in this country have rectified 2004's terrible mistake.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Meanwhile, Back on the Rez

Among the least followed elections today will be the Navajo Nation presidential election. The contest has drawn some attention because a woman seeking the office for the first time, challenging an incumbent. The challenger, Linda Lovejoy, faces two hurdles. One is the Navajo tradition of male leaders. The second is that she is from New Mexico. Navajos from New Mexico have rarely, if ever, been elected to the office. Although a state line is less significant for Navajos they tend to vote by clan and most of the clans are in Arizona, which accounts for about three-forths of the Navajo Nation. So Linda Lovejoy will probably not succeed. If she does, her success will signal a real change in Navajo thinking.

Her opponent, Joe Shirley, also has a tradition to overcome. No Navajo president or chairman has been re-elected since 1978. Shirley would no doubt like to break that tradition. Even if he does, he is unlikely to resemble Peter MacDonald, Navajo Chairman from 1971 to 1983 and 1987 to 1989. Once described as the most powerful Indian in America, he was removed from office in 1989 for a self-serving land purchase. He spent eight years in federal prison for charges stemming from the resulting riot that left two dead. With all that, he remains a revered figure among many Navajos.

Joe Shirley may serve two terms but he is unlikely ever wield the power or earn the loyalty that Peter MacDonald commanded.

Knowing the Score

BushCheney on his presidency:

"I don't know what Harry Truman was feeling like, or Franklin Roosevelt," he told the conservative journalists. "I'm sure there were moments of high frustration for them. But I do know that at Midway, they were eventually able to say two carriers were sunk and one was damaged. We don't get to say that. A thousand of the enemy killed, or whatever the number was. It's happening; you just don't know it. And there's no scorecard."

That's the problem, Mr. Bush. YOU, our leader, have not offered the American people a realistic assessment of the task and its benefits. The short-term, low cost intervention to prevent mushroom clouds over New York that you promised in Iraq has turned into a deadly quagmire. Those old lies now impugn your credibility. American security interests in the region are compromised by an overextended military and an increasingly hostile, disillusioned Iraqi population. Terrorism remains a threat (although not a national security threat requiring that we abandon two centuries of Constitutional government).

That's my scorecard, Mister Bush. It's not hard to come up with a basic scorecard if you think about it. Yeah, it can get all complicated in the details but if you stick to the big goals, you can figure out how to measure progress,how to keep score. The hard part is understanding what the score tells you.

I can see why you'd rather not keep score, or keep the score on your own terms. Any realistic assessment of progress and prospects in Iraq are poor not only for the United States but also for Iraqi society. The short term looks particularly evil and the long term outlook is highly volatile. Not a report card I would want to bring home for the most important challenge of my life. Not at all.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Political Act

Blogging has been good for my philosophical and moral clarity understanding. Writing regularly not only allows but also forces me to clearly state my thoughts and beliefs. Organizing my ideas into some coherent prose requires that I look at fundamental principles, to understand how my beliefs and hopes guide me in the only world I inhabit. Last year I wrote a series about my fundamental beliefs (here and here). Short version: the Golden Rule.

Working in the 2006 election is a good time to examine my preference for Democrats, generally. The Democratic Party is in many ways as much a servant of Big Capital as the Republican Party. Its Congressional leadership has been distressingly spineless against BushCheney’s abuses of power. All this conceded, I still see the Democratic Party as an opportunity to establish a countervailing force against powerful economic interests. The Democratic accomplishments in the 20th century are an enduring legacy of a time when people asserted their rights of economic liberty and freedom from living as expendable cogs of an industrial machine. Democrats sponsored important legislation to protect black Americans in the exercise of their Constitutional rights.

The Democratic record is inspiring. I cannot think of anything comparable that the Republican Party has accomplished in the same time period. They've given lots of money to large corporations, concentrated economic control and power into fewer hands and run a few wars but nothing really stands as a seminal human achievement. And, no, Ronald Reagan did not defeat Communism. Communism fell under the weight of its own internal contradictions (as George Kenan predicted in 1949), growing nationalism and the slow hemmorhaging of its armed forces in Afghanistan. America's contributions to that demise is shared by Democrates and Republicans alike.

Democratic achievements have been far from flawless. Unanticipated consequences, bungled implementation, pigheadedness and prejudice–the stuff of human drama–bollixed things up considerably. Not all Democrats have been heroes. Virginia Democrats of my youth were racists who desperately fought civil rights, closing schools rather than integrate. In 2002, far too many Democrats voted to give BushCheney the go ahead for the Iraq invasion. But looking back 50 years across the nation as a whole, I see a Democratic Party that gave more voice to more people and has shown that it is institutionally capable of understanding public policy from the ordinary citizen’s perspective. That’s the broad view. The practical view is that the Democratic Party offers the only opportunity to counterbalance the very well financed and well represented Big Capital.

So I will almost invariably vote Democratic over Republican. Usually, that is a no brainer. It’s easy to vote Democratic against JD Hayworth(less) and Jon Kyl. Same too for State offices. In Arizona voting Democratic means voting for some moderation in a state where the Republican majority is controlled by a very conservative activist core.

In 2006 I believe the Democratic Party offers the opportunity for change. Change in foreign policy from war to diplomacy and cooperation. Change in economics from further concentration of wealth that endangers the well being of the many for the gain of a few. That’s why I will vote Democratic and do what I can to turn out the Democratic vote in Arizona this year.

I act with hope but no illusion. The Republicans may even pull some kind of a miracle to salvage their majority; polls are tightening as I write. If Democrats win majorities, Congressional leaders may become reluctant to assert the checks and balances of our Constitutional system. They could easily succumb to the perks and money that come to the majority and not take political risks when BushCheney come up with another threat to American democracy. I hope Democrats will rise to the occasion. I know Republicans will not.

Hope. No illusion. A good summary.

[Phone Bank Update: Harry Mitchell's phone bank uses cell phones. He showed up with the governor to give us all a pep talk. Everyone was optimistic and enthusiastic. Food spread was good: sandwhiches, pasta, salad and lots of sugar. Saw a glorious Arizona sunset from the freeway crossing the Salt River as I returned home.]

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Helen Dewar (1936-2006)

Helen Dewar reported on Virginia politics when I began reading the Washington Post and during my first years in Richmond working for the state legislature. She was my first outside perspective on Virginia after growing up immersed in the local culture and lore. Hers was a much needed counter balance. She died November 4 at age 70.

Whether on the Hill or at a political convention, she was willing to do any job that needed to be done, said Post political columnist David Broder, who called her "one of the best reporters I ever knew.

"The thing that was notable to me about Helen . . . is she owned two very different beats, as a reporter on Virginia politics and government, and then she became the definitive Senate reporter. There was never any question among her colleagues that she learned more and had better judgment while she was on those beats than anyone else."

Tough on her editors as well as her sources, Ms. Dewar was an old-fashioned reporter whose clear prose and determination seemed almost anachronistic in an age of multimedia skills and self-promotion. A veteran of hallway stakeouts and midnight votes, she was reliable on deadline, developed authoritative sources and eschewed "gotcha" journalism, her editors said. Her scrupulous fairness earned her friends in both major political parties.

Thank you, Helen.



In Vietnam, combat was the “end of the pipeline”. An apt phrase that fully describes the feel of combat, where the shit flowed and life really could not get any worse. (You could get killed but in some ways that was a foregone conclusion so it didn't matter much in the daily routine.)

Fast forward three decades. In 2006 the National Guard is at the end of the pipeline as BushCheney feeds the Iraq war. Instead of the one year of combat most Americans served in Vietnam, National Guard serve multiple tours in Iraq. Since the Guard's history and purpose have traditionally involved long term commitment within a community, the impact on guardsmen, their families and communities is difficult.

Now it looks like BushCheney will implement his current Iraq policy, which is no longer "stay the course" but continues to do the same thing, with a steady flow of National Guardsmen. The pipeline is still open.

Next year, the number of Army Guard soldiers providing security in Iraq will surge to more than 6,000 in about 50 companies, compared with 20 companies two years ago, Guard officials said. "We thought we'd see a downturn in operational tempo, but that hasn't happened," said one official.

A more sweeping policy shift is under consideration that would allow the Pentagon to launch a new wave of involuntary mobilizations of the reserves, as a growing proportion of Guard and Reserve soldiers are nearing a 24-month limit on time deployed, they said. Army officials said no decision had been made on the politically sensitive topic but that serious deliberations will unfold in the coming months.


Stress on soldiers and their families is mounting as active-duty combat brigades now spend only a year to 14 months home between rotations, compared with a goal of two years -- a trend that Army leaders worry is not sustainable in the long term. Reserve and Guard units are staying home on average three years, compared with a goal of four or five, Army officials said. "It goes without question that Guard brigade combat teams are going to have to deploy again to theater in less time than the . . . model originally called for," said retired Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Stephen M. Koper, president of the National Guard Association.

Yet ordering more citizen-soldiers out of their communities and into war zones imposes a special burden, as reservists are older and more likely to have families and civilian jobs, and must also shoulder the task of responding to homeland disasters and other emergencies.


The Iraq war has also eaten up large quantities of the Guard's equipment. More than 64,000 pieces of equipment have been left behind in Iraq, contributing to a $24 billion equipment shortfall as Guard units have only an estimated one-third of their essential gear on hand, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Same pipeline. Same shit.