UPDATE: 12 Captains

A couple of items regarding yesterday’s post about the Washington Post Op-Ed by 12 former Army captains.

First, Phil Carter at Intel Dump linked to my post as part of an update to his own post on the subject (which I had previously linked to):

A number of bloggers and writers on the right have pulled out the long knives to attack these captains for their op-ed. (A few on the right have also offered more balanced critiques.) Which was entirely predictable. I’m not surprised by the tacks they’re taking: that these guys weren’t there during the “good COIN” strategy being implemented by Gen. David Petraeus, and that they rotated home too long ago to know what’s going on today. Both are fair points. But excuse me, gents, when’s the last time you were in Iraq? I trust these captains’ views for what they are — the opinions of men and women who have been there.

That’s obviously a fair point, as Murdoc’s not been to Iraq or served in the armed forces. However, it doesn’t invalidate what I wrote. I responded by commenting on Intel Dump, but since no response from anyone to my comment has been forthcoming, I’ll repost that comment here:

My problem with the op-ed is that it certainly appears to be much more of a laundry list of antiwar movement talking points than a meaningful military analysis.

The 12 former Army captains describe the situation in Iraq as one of “strategy dependent on peace breaking out”. This is just very simply wrong and it seems to support claims that the writers are basing their position on outdated information.

As a civilian trying to make sense of what’s going on in Iraq through the distorted prism of the media and blogosphere, I truly do appreciate the value of reports by those who are or have been there. I don’t dispute any claims of corruption, mismanagement, hardship, and difficulty.

But after presenting these important and troubling issues (which I would argue have NOT been all that under-reported in the past 5 years), the conclusion is that we need either a DRAFT or IMMEDIATE WITHDRAWAL. Again, this doesn’t look like anything we need combat vets to analyze for us…we could hear the same thing from any clueless anti-war/anti-military protester at any rally.

There’s no new insight here. There’s no thought-provoking evaluation by those “in the know” to enlighten us at home who are trying to understand.

If a strongly Right-wing media outlet published a report of this sort by a dozen former officers that supported the campaign in Iraq, they would rightly be pointed out as likely spokesmen for the cause, wouldn’t they?

I support the right of these former officers to make their opinion known. I agree that they warrant a bit of attention because they know things that the rest of us don’t. But that doesn’t make their words or position above criticism.

I guess I find it a bit curious that no one in the comments section (a total of 35 other comments as of this writing) decided to respond to anything I said. Maybe, because I’m a civilian with no prior service, I don’t rate a response? In any event, to dismiss my points because I’m a civilian is certainly allowed but sure smacks of the old “chickenhawk” argument to me. Whatever floats your boat.

I think there’s merit to the “these captains haven’t been in Iraq in 2007” point, though, because they are basing their position on, more or less, “We’ve been there so we know what we’re talking about”. This is a very solid argument, one that is difficult to refute, as long as it’s accurate.

But these 12 former Army captains claim that the current strategy is (and I’m quoting them verbatim)

a strategy dependent on peace breaking out

This is very clearly and demonstrably NOT the current strategy. This very well may have been the official strategy when they served in Iraq, and it indeed looked like it a lot of the time. But the new strategy and tactics announced in January 2007 and implemented over the course of the spring and summer are a fairly significant departure from earlier strategy. None of these 12 served in Iraq since the strategy changed, and therefore their “we were there” argument loses a fair amount of it’s strength.

This is an important point, so I’ll say it again. If you’re going to raise the “we were there and you weren’t” banner, you have to have been there. These soldiers were there, but not one of them has been there since the change in strategy. This change in strategy is a key element of what we’re doing. So, in effect, they weren’t there and didn’t see what effects the new strategy was and is having. Why pointing this out is so controversial I cannot imagine.

Again, these 12 former Army captains claim the strategy is

a strategy dependent on peace breaking out

when it very clearly is not.

This must mean that either

  1. They don’t know the current strategy because they weren’t there and didn’t see it
  2. They don’t know the current strategy because they have never known the strategy
  3. They’re intentionally misstating the current strategy for any number of reasons

I’m sure that there are other possibilities, but unless you honestly think that the current strategy is one “dependent on peace breaking out” I don’t see how any of them add weight to the opinion of these 12 former Army captains.

I’m certainly not claiming that these 12 are not genuine former Army captains. I’m not claiming that they weren’t in Iraq. I’m not even claiming that they should be ignored.

I’m claiming that their op-ed not only doesn’t appear to be an up-to-date military analysis of the situation in Iraq, it bears a suspicious resemblance to standard anti-war organization propaganda.

Secondly, the Armchair Generalist linked to my post:

[Right wingers] hate it when “phoney soldiers,” i.e., those military professionals who don’t support the current administration’s policies, speak out in public. As Tbogg notes, these critics of our soldiers like to start out (or finish) with “I value their service, but…” I’m going to pick on my buddy Murdoc, since I think he shows the symptoms of this disease.

I guess, in order to not “show the symptoms of this disease”, I could not state that I value the service of our military personnel. But that’s senseless. If the “but” card is going to be played successfully, as I noted someone trying to do yesterday, it should be a fairly simple matter to show that either the card player doesn’t honestly value the thing they claim to or that their argument directly contradicts the thing itself.

So, in this case, if I’m showing symptoms of a disease, one should be able to show that I don’t actually value the service of these 12 former Army captains or show that my criticism of their opinion destroys that value. I hope that it is clear that I do, in fact, value the service of every member of our armed forces and that I value and honor those that have served in the past. I believe its pretty clear to anyone who reads this blog that I honor and respect the service that others have given to me and mine.

I also don’t think my criticism of or arguments against their op-ed invalidate the value I see in them for their service.

Said a commenter on Intel Dump:

Keep in mind that those dismissing the young officers remember to include the “while I respect their service” qualifier which is starting to resemble a condom of some type.

The point seems to be that if one values or respects the service of these 12 former Army captains, one cannot criticize their op-ed. That’s stupid.

Finally, Armchair Generalist, after calling me out for showing signs of the disease, argues for a draft:

I think Murdoc conveniently ignores how we need 180,000 contractors plus our 160,000 soldiers to maintain operations. Why not have a draft? It’s not the operators who think it’s crazy, it’s the politicians who refuse to consider the option. After all, all the American public needs to do is shop at the malls – they don’t have to actually sacrifice their time and money to the military.

Again, anyone who reads this site should see that I recognize the need for large numbers of additional support staff. It’s not more boots on the ground that I’m arguing against. It’s not a larger military that I’m arguing against. It’s the Draft that I’m arguing against. I have been very clear about that, as well as repeatedly calling for a larger military.

Maybe I’m wrong about those serving in the military being largely against the Draft. But I don’t know that I’ve ever discussed it with one active duty serviceman who favored it. I’ve sure talked to a lot who were militantly (so to speak) opposed. I really don’t think it’s the politicians who are holding the military back from drafting people. In fact, the only officials I recall seeing argue for a draft are politicians.

I happen to think that overpaid contractors are better than underpaid draftees. And as I’ve said before, the main points raised by most draft proponents aren’t that it would improve our military but that it would make things more fair. Apparently allowing everyone to enlist that wants to isn’t fair enough. There are, of course, those that only want a draft so that they can protest it, but I dismiss them as morons. (Which might be dangerous, because there sure seem to be a lot of the idiots around…)

So, after all of this additional explanation, I stand firmly by my original main points from yesterday, which are:

  1. The fact that these 12 former Army captains haven’t served in Iraq this year hurts their credibility when they comment on the current situation in Iraq
  2. Their opinion that the only hope for military success in Iraq is to re-institute the Draft is very wrong and very dangerous
  3. I disagree strongly with their position that the only alternative to a Draft is immediate withdrawal from Iraq
  4. Their op-ed doesn’t look like military analysis, it looks like anti-war talking points
  5. I’m curious to know if they are acting as spokespeople for an anti-war or anti-military organization


  1. To keep things in perspective always remember that a CPT is simply a LT that’s learned how to read a map (well, normally). If I cared enough about the opinions of 12 CPT’s out of all the number who rotated through I’d ask a couple of questions. What was their branch designations and what were their assignments. There’s a definite outlook difference between a logistician and a cavalry branch officer. Hell, you could see said differences in garrison situations, let alone combat ops. A draft is not needed and is undesirable. If there comes a time when young men can’t be persuaded to pick up a weapon in support of the nation then this nation needs to die. At that point it will have become to rotten to deserve life. Those people calling for a draft appear, on the whole, to support some esoterical political or social stance that is normally beneath contempt. The final critique of what went right, wrong and why will not be made for many years. Full explanations won’t be available until document declassifications occur (normally twenty years for routine as I remember). I’ve lived long enough to once again see various interest groups, in and out of the military, using the military to score coup points on the political scene. I feel old and tired.

  2. MO, I’m not sure why everyone’s so bunged up about 12 O3s. Seems to me all this just prolongs their exposure and, in so doing, builds their credibility to their fans. And I thought this was odd: ‘…those dismissing the young officers remember to include the ‘while I respect their service’ qualifier which is starting to resemble a condom of some type.’ Kinda like ‘I support the troops, but not their mission’, nu?

  3. Murdoc, Those guys are so 2006. Having been in Iraq (on my second tour) for more than 10 months now, the situation is pretty far removed from the picture they paint. I am in an REMF position (I can hear the naysayers already), but I do read the reporting from throughout Anbar and try to keep up with the other major AOs. Attacks are down in Anbar, way down. The CPTs make the ‘whack-a-mole’ argument, but that would mean that the insurgents in Anbar went to Diyala or Baghdad or somewhere else. Some did, but attacks there did not rise as much as they went down here. In fact, attacks are down throughout the country, and have been decreasing all summer. There is corruption, true, but that’s a generational fix that requires a lot of patient leading by example. I guess what I’m saying is that now that we are finally seeing some success after a long, dark 2006, these guys show up and use their experiences from then to paint the current situation and our Iraqi counterparts in the worst of lights. It’s disingenuous and pretty screwed up in my humble opinion. I agree with you that they probably didn’t meet each other at the VFW. Lastly, I’m a Marine Captain with 15 years in. For a variety of reasons, I support a draft. First, a specialized draft would get folks with special skills to where we need help. Second, a more general draft would provide troops for less technical garrison jobs. Third, although military efficiency would take a hit for sure, but the long term effect on society might be worth it. The US military has been drifting right for a couple decades now, and although I’ve voted republican since I could vote, this worries me. We as a military are drifting apart from mainstream society, or maybe society is drifting apart from us. The military seems to becoming more ‘hereditary’ and eventually this will have drastic consequences for our country. A draft would be one way to bring the military back to center. With luck, it would move the country back to center too. Regards

  4. Snowflake, ‘As much as I appreciate your service…’ Heh heh, sorry, shipmate, but I couldn’t resist :) Look, I am whole-heartedly against a draft, with one exception. If we institute a draft, then EVERYONE is eligible to serve, and NO EXEMPTIONS will be granted FOR ANY REASON. Even CO’s would be inducted and then parcelled out to the medical corps or Chaplains service, etc. Otherwise, I’m against it. We’ve got plenty of folks. What we CAN do is to expand the military by volunteers and to start stripping troops away from places like the Balkans, Germany, Korea, etc. I’ve been there abd done that. I’ve got a little over 5K hours of Combat AirCrew time with the Navy. I’m happy those 12 O-3’s got their litle bit written, but it has all the earmarks of another planned hit piece by the leftists, prepping the battle area for the next election. As was said earlier, I’d be REAL interested in knowing what their specialties/branch designators are(were). I’ve heard from a reliable source that one of them wasn’t actually IN the military, but was a GS-3 contractor over there, and a couple others never actually went to Iraq. That’s the sort of background that helps put their words into a better perspective. Personally, I could care less about all the corruption arguments over there. That’s the way the Arabs have operated for centuries. Our liberal bunny-huggers over here need to realise that the Arabs (and, by default, the majority of Islamists) are NOT Americans in funny clothes. they do NOT share our values or ideas about equality, political correctness, or GASP progressive thinking. What America needs is a stable and reasonably open, democratic government and society in Iraq in order to protect our national interests. Screw spreading democracy. I want a stable middle east and a stable market that will protect the personal interests of ME, My Family, and My Nation, in that order. If democracy flourishes and spreads as a by-product, then we can all sing kumbayah but until then we need to fix our sights on killing terrorists and islamo-facists, and anyone else who supports them. I’m not playing the pro-democracy game anymore. This is a war between civilization and world-wide terror and enslavement. The latter is endangering our national interests, and for that reason and that reason alone, it’s worthwhile to continue the fight. Respects,

  5. Doesn’t the 180,000 contractors include the foodservice workers, truck drivers, etc.? I would not believe that there are 180,000 additional Blackwater types in Iraq. BTW, the US State Department has its own security service. For whatever reasons, they have chosen to hire Blackwater in Iraq rather than use their own internal people. The UN hired Gurkhas and Fijians. Why isn’t anyone bit**ing about them?

  6. Amen to AW1 Tim’s comments. Bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East & Central Asia is a waste of our time and resources. The biggest problem with the Bushites and the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the Stan, have been the occupations ideological underpinnings. I think many of our leaders have had very unrealistic, vague, and unachievable ideological goals for remaking these countries. I’m not arguing we shouldn’t have invaded the Stan and put the Taliban & Al Qaida out of business. They absolutely needed to go, they’d directly attacked us in an Act of War. The invasion of Iraq was an excellent example of our Military adapting and overcoming, after that, it’s too often been an ideologically driven disaster pretending to be a strategy. Tim’s observations about Arab/Islamic culture, corruption and their differences from us, most importantly, not having any real desire to be converted by us into western style liberal pluralists; are spot on. Tim’s other observations about stability and peace, albeit ‘tainted’ with the predominate local cultural values, is realistic, achievable and would have better served as our strategic goals than the pie in the sky ‘freedom and democracy’ trap the Bushites, DOS, and other bunglers have led us into. Any democracy or liberalization of these people and cultures is likely to result from a ‘subversion’ of their women and younger members, and will certainly be generational in scope and a secondary effect of their association with us and other westerners. Our strategy needs to be driven by realism, pragmatism, and achievable goals that are directly tied to a strategy based on long term national interests; like stability, peace, trade, & assured supply of goods and materials that benefit ‘us’ and those we deal with. Not rolling train wrecks of ideologically driven misguided occupations.