We’ve Got to Write as Well as We Fight. 

Radio Check.

Let me be upfront and say that my knowledge of military public affairs is limited to the past thirty minutes I’ve spent researching it online, a Navy Times column I read during this morning’s Ops/Intel brief, and a thing I had for this knock-out Air Force public affairs officer I saw only 3 times from afar during my last deployment but wanted desperately.

So I don’t know much about the trade, technically. What I do know is that if articles, op-eds, blog-spots and perspective pieces are the radio check of our minute-by-minute web based news-cycle, the transmission of the Department of Defense is coming in weak and barely readable; while those with a less informed (and in many cases, flat-out wrong) story on defense matters are coming in loud and clear.

No One Reads the Marine Corps’ Website, Except for Marines.

In a given morning I’ll scan a couple dozen websites and blogs for various angles on the day’s same headlines. CNN, FOX, The Drudge Report, Huffington Post, Salon.com, VictorHanson.com, NationalReviewOnline, RealClearWorld, TheHill.com, Politico, TheDailyBeast, RealClearPolitics, GovExec.com, are a few of my usual stops. Some lean right, some lean left – all are well done, receive millions of unique hits each day and maintain a significant base of loyal readership that fuels the national debate.

Before my morning ritual of coffee drinking and mouse clicking comes to an end, I’ll visit the military sites. I’ll stopover at USMC.mil and DoD.gov before getting on the secret computer and reading what’s come down on the high side from CENTCOM and the EarlyBird. What I notice between the news I’m reading in the popular media and what’s coming down on the secret side is (not surprisingly) incredible. And for many important security-orientated reasons, ought to be kept that way. But, there’s no reason why other truly important (unclassified) stories, like some I read about on USMC.mil, can’t be tailored ‘fit to print’ and digested by a greater audiences accessed through more mainstream outlets.

No one reads the Marine Corps’ website, except for Marines. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem because the U.S. Department of Defense is doing a lot of good in the world and all anyone reads about is the bad. Or some perversion of the good.

It’s a problem because in a world shaped by instantaneous media, framed by a post 9/11 landscape, information is power and flows fast and freely. That and the ‘little guy’ (who might be drinking beer in Queens or building a bomb in Sanaa) has a voice.

‘Everyman’ has (at least some) power to shape opinion and policy and communicate in ways they never could before in the history of media. Stories are read, watched and listened to without the benefit of the full (to say nothing of the true) story (my contributions to this forum excluded). The order of battle has changed for good and the human terrain is now the most critical to the wars we wage; 0s and 1s are more powerful than gunpowder, public opinion (at home and abroad) matters now more than ever and did I mention no one is reading the Marine Corps’ website?

All this is a problem because we’ve got to write as well as we fight. And we’re not. Each day we lose key ground in the arena of public opinion. Ground we can’t afford to be losing and shouldn’t have to surrender in the first place. Not to beer drinkers in Queens or bomb makers in Sanaa. Not to no one.[1]

The Pentagon’s Don Draper & Co.

Strengths and Weaknesses.

All this is not the fault of the Public Affairs Office. My experience with those in this line of the work is that they are extremely smart, capable, creative, professional and good looking (at least she was from a distance). No, the fault is not theirs. The failure is institutional. The Department of Defense is the nation’s war machine whose principle undertaking (to blow stuff up) is not tailored to appeal to (or really even make sense to) the average well-read and informed citizen (to say nothing of the average drooling, self-medicated FaceBook-dazed idiot). So that’s the first problem, tough message. Then there’s that second problem – what makes a good warrior or a competent staff member doesn’t make a good advertiser. And aggressive advertising and an on-point message is what we need these days.

All branches of our military adhere to the fundamental American-warrior tenants of service before self, commitment to a greater good, honor, and quiet professionalism. These values are effective in war but do not resonate in the always-be-closing culture of your hottest Madison Avenue advertising agency.

It seems the U.S. military’s greatest strengths in its execution of war – the power of our enlisted men and women and our collective values and ethos (and other stuff like discipline, stoicism, selflessness and our God given right to air supremacy) – run counter to the things needed to achieve our desired post-modern end-game (winning the information war) which includes sex-appeal, a well-articulated (civilian translated) message, and any sort of press or attention we can get on Craigslist, Twitter, or Google.

Recognizing that both problems with the information-war-end-game (the Pentagon’s message and its military staff) are institutional creatures and necessary for the conduct of our national defense (and really long PowerPoint meetings), it’s pretty clear that it can only be fixed by means of the post modern economy’s dirty little answer to all dirty little post modern business problems: outsourcing!

Dirty, dirty outsourcing.

The Pentagon needs to outsource a Madison Avenue advertising agency to do that which it cannot: give their good work a better message. “Task Force Mad Men” – an elite unit of civilian contracted advertising executives – would do just that. Headquartered in the Pentagon, in a specially designed and smartly decorated corner office, they’d handle the DoD’s media-relation woes with ease, humor, and welcomed sex-appeal; all without the burden of such things as honor and quiet professionalism.

Of course we wouldn’t want to hinder their creativity with those stuffy Pentagon rules, so they’d be able to wear great suits, drink stiff Manhattan’s at 1030 in the morning and chain smoke cigarettes while inventing brilliant ways to sell the plans, policies and events of the U.S. military war machine to both the educated and the drooling.

By their exclusive talents and skill sets (and for the right price) they will be uniquely suited to advertise on behalf of an entire body of government incapable of doing it for themselves. Their job would simply be to articulate to the world what it is the U.S. military does (help when possible, dominate always[2]), and integrate these stories with what it is the public is reading, watching, and thinking we do (blow stuff up). They would exist to achieve the desired end-game in the information war.[3]

Mad Men’s Mission: Explain Iraq, and…Everything Else.

Mission 1: Explain Iraq.

The Bush Administration couldn’t do it. Iraq was an unpopular war that many Americans disagreed with from the start. But aside from the politics of the thing, the war (all things considered and as wars go) was waged well: a remarkable 3-week ground campaign, a successfully waged counter-insurgency (which, as a matter of military history, is outright momentous), the development of a new army, the construction of a national economy, the birth of an independent judiciary, and the establishment of a Congress and consensual national government were all events that didn’t need to happen, but did, largely due to the political agnosticism, professionalism and dedication to mission accomplishment by the men and women of the Department of Defense who served there.

Placing politics aside, and viewing the war in Iraq with the necessary comparative circumstance (that is, from the eyes of a soldier who walked the earth and understood his purpose there in ways the civilian-citizen could not) Iraq was a great success. And as our troops begin their exit from that place this month, they deserve that due respect of what their service meant and has accomplished.

Instead they return to an ambivalent American public largely unaware they were gone in the first place; the media will report on “news” as irrelevant as Bristol Palin’s love life and as boring as Tiger Woods’ being sorry. Too politically traumatized to say “welcome home” and too anti-Bush to say “job well done,” pop-media will not report on our servicemen’s return from a 7 year war no one expected them to win anyway.

Mad Men’s Mission 1: President Bush Couldn’t Explain Iraq Sober. Have a six martini, emergency Crisis-Action-Team-style lunch and explain Iraq, half drunk.

Mission 2: Everything Else.

Next the Mad Men will need to explain everything else. This will be done probably between stages of blacked out drunkenness and hungover self-loathing. They’ll need to start with why every Pentagon project is so damn expensive (because it really does take $100,000 worth of vehicle armor to defeat the blast from $100 worth of explosives) and ending with, you know, everything else. And they’ll need to do so across the spectrum of popular culture and media and in ways that can be digested, understood and reasoned by the American public. Even to the drooling idiot who just now friend-requested me on FaceBook.

And they’ll have to explain other things too. Hot-topic issues like Afghanistan. And less heated and politically mild issues like the repeal of Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell.

Operations in Haiti are still underway, but Wycleaf Jean’s stripper addiction is more of a story than the East Coast MEU’s life saving and rebuilding efforts in that country.

What about Pakistan? As I write this I’m sitting off the coast of Karachi in a plastic chair in a tiny ship’s cabin that’s 98 degrees. 20% of the country is underwater. A dozen helicopters are leaving this ship and the others around us, all to fly north to help save thousands of men, women and children from drowning. Two out of every three Pakistani’s “hate” America. Most have never met an American. But they “hate” us. Many Pakistani’s secretly believe there is a Marine Regiment somewhere in hiding, just waiting to come and take over their country (which is precisely why my platoon and I are still sitting on the ship and not headed north on the helicopters). And so now, despite their hatred of us, many Pakistanis will meet an American for the first time and will do so with outstretched hand as they’re lifted to safety by the brave pilots and crew chiefs that will save them.

Explain that Mad Men! Please explain that, because if you go online right now you’re more likely to read about Blago than the DoD’s impressive humanitarian efforts here to help save the drowning masses that, up until now, so despised them.

And these are just some of the many stories that must be told and sold to the American people and an audience worldwide.

A Sales Strategy That Might or Might Not Work.

Like any DoD strategy, this Public Affairs strategy is bullet-proof and incapable of failure. And, like any DoD policy, I have a concrete 5-pillared plan of execution and have staffed out the details. So you can read about those later.


1.) Hire only long-ball hitters. Mad Men style[4].

2.) Spend the money.

3.) Engage the mainstream.

4.) Put an end to quiet professionalism.

5.) Other things I can’t think of.

And it’s really as simple as all that.

End Game.

While it’s hard to say that we’re a “nation at war” when the average American is more familiar with what happened in the last six seasons of Lost than in the last 9 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s easy to see we’re not the world’s favorite. The military certainly understands there’s a war going on and we’ll all be fine for now (remember our cry: help when possible, dominate always! except in Latin), but for later’s sake, we need the drooling masses to know there’s a war going also. Which is precisely why the Pentagon must have their Mad Men who will write as well as we fight and deliver their radio checks loud and clear. All this or else some beer drinking bozo from Queens will have the final say – and I was kind of hoping to have the beer-drinking-internet-blogging-bozo market cornered should this whole thing fall thru.


[1] This sentence is not, for the record, well written.

[2] Does anyone know the Latin for this? It could go on the DoD seal.

[3] Their secondary mission would be to look really cool, get bombed and run freely around the Pentagon in the middle of the work day, and later write an HBO miniseries based on events that actually happened. Everything would be free game so as not to inhibit their artistic genius. Except sexual harassment, that would need to be toned down a bit and would be best practiced after hours at their favorite K-Street saloon.

[4] (If at all possible, just hire the actual cast of Mad Men.)

Posted by Alexander Martin in Cyber, Marine Corps

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  • Thomas Arno

    Re (2) – could be ‘dominor usequequaqe’. Acronismcally, ‘DU’. So, inevitably, phonetically, ‘duh’…

    Regards, Tom.

  • APM

    In Greek it might be “Eleison Arkete”–literally: have mercy, rule.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Journos “don’t know much about history, don’t know much geography…They just want a headline, don’t care about truth, or justice, or anything else but their own prejudices and ambition.

    Neither does John and Jane Q. Public, or ad agencies, especially mythic ones.

    Party rivalry doesn’t stop at the water’s edge (of the US coastline) anymore. It never stops and nothing is exempt.

    What to do?

    Dunno. Covert assassination to expedite conquest of Hollywood and the TV networks, which are all pretty much quisling these days?
    Tempting, but there are legal and management issues one might not want to deal with, given nothing is covert these days. So that won’t work, it was just the whisky sours talking. Always best to ignore the voice of the bourbon.

    So I got nothin’.

    Any suggestions from the smart, savvy, sneaky and sober in the audience, which don’t involve serial murder and multiple felonies?

  • Rick Wilmes

    “Any suggestions from the smart, savvy, sneaky and sober in the audience, which don’t involve serial murder and multiple felonies?”

    Sense you ask. If they hate us I say let them drown. Maybe one of them will be Osama bin Laden. I heard at one time he may be hiding in Pakistan.

  • Paul

    I’m not sure if there is anything we can do— we as a culture tend to look forward and not backward. Learning from history and it’s implications is something that is not rooted too strongly in our culture for any number of reasons. “We can do it better than the past, we’re not like others, there’s nothing to learn…” etc, etc.

    As a history teacher I run into this all of the time. Too many of my students don’t want to take the time to think and try and make the connections between their current circumstance as individuals, much less as an American, to what has gone on in the past. Sad, but a challenge. It’s not about making history “interesting” or “fun” or any of the other approaches– it’s almost as if there is a cultural bias against learning about the past.

    The mistakes in public by our elected officials on both sides of the aisle just makes me sad. Not all politicians were this way. There are many in our history that drew upon a classical education and historical foundations to guide their decisions. Trouble is, doesn’t matter how edumacated the prez is– Congress and the public need the same.

    Sorry, no solutions– other than a history test for anyone trying to run for office– fail and they can’t get on the ballot. Make it even a contest to play for money for their campaign. “I’ll take Historical War Lessons for 12,000, please…”

  • Chuck Hill

    There is the Robert Heinliein solution. No citizenship, unless you have served your country.

  • “Succure ubi potente, semper domina” which uses the imperative (for commands) for both verbs, uses “ubi” which can be translated as “where” or “when”, and has the always useful SEMPER. If it had to be plural, as in a command to all of the individuals, it would be something like “Succurete ubi potentibus, semper dominate”. I think “potente” can be translated as either “strong” or “able”. My Latin is over twenty years dusty, so it may not be quite right.

    One of the problems I’ve got with outsourcing the advertising is that episode of WKRP when the Army recruiters try to give them some radio ads.

    They do need to find a way to get the good word out, so maybe your way would work – the current method certainly doesn’t!

  • Paul

    Mr. Hill

    “Starship Troopers” is underrated as both a story and as a political treatise. The movie did it no justice at all. Should be required reading at all military academies, both public and private. That, and “Once a Warrior King” by David Donovan, and “Endless War” by Ralph Peters.

  • Byron

    Starship Troopers is on the required reading list for Marine officers. I believe it has been in several other commands over the years. And properly, the way it works is that you must be willing to deed your life to the Federal Service for a minimum of one year, to do with it as the service requires. Even (as the book says)if the person has no hands or feet, the individual can still be a medical test subject. It’s not a requirement to be in the military, either; just that you willingly obey the Federal Service in whatever they decide to do with you. The individual can back out at any time, too…but can never try for citizenship, either. And if you remember, at the time of the Bug War, citizenship was not held in high esteem by the upper class; it was for the lower classes only. Rico’s father gave him all sorts of hell for joining…then shows up at the end of the book as his company sergeant.

  • Chuck Hill

    As I recall, Heinlein was a Marine, and once a Marine…

  • Byron
  • Paul

    One of the aspects of Starship Troopers I particularly liked was that officers first had to serve as enlisted men and in order to serve as a Sky Marshall one had to be both MI and Navy.

    While the first would be hard to do in our current mode of operation– it isn’t impossible. What if someone who had every intent of being an officer first serve as an EM for either two years active before going to a service academy or four years in the guard/reserve if attending either a private military academy or ROTC?

    The second would be very problematic. I think in ST people simply lived longer and had the capability of essentially having two careers.

    As an educator I’ve felt that some kind of federal service would do many of my less than stellar students some good. Something that I’d love to see is a kind of civilian service– perhaps for an updated CCC, or even a teaching/EMS/public safety program for areas that need such service. Not Teach for America– but something more rigorous and organized with financial incentives to do it.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    Alex, back in Career 1.0 I was a PAO, based on my prior experience in print and broadcasting. What I very quickly came to see, and saw over and over again through my entire career, was that one can never forget that the PAO “career path” is just that: An end unto itself. Navy Public Affairs are, as you have pointed out, NOT journalists, but public relations people. By their nature, they spin, dissemble and serve their masters’ bidding. If you take a close look at the career paths of most career PAO’s, you don’t see a whole lot (or any at all) time at-sea or in the air in a real warfare specialty. In point of fact, they are already “Mad Men in Uniform.” If you do see it, it’s maybe one tour, then retreat, at high speed, to staffs, preferably in nice, comfortable places. They are more at home with fellow PR people than they are with sailors, sea-going officers or IA’s in the mud at some forsaken outpost in the ‘Stan. Most are looking to move on to that nice, cushy civilian job selling soap or snake oil “elegantly” or even better, a GS job doing the same thing they’re doing now.

    Outsourcing to people who’s general peer groups look upon the military with scornful disdain and who are all about “the product” they produce to meet the high brasses’ latest “message du jour” isn’t going to solve anything. First, you need to change the message. Then you find people with a natural talent to communicate that forceful message to the public, match them up with technical professionals and let them go to town. Every so often, send them back to sea or the Air Wing or wherever to get back to their tactical roots and out of the “messaging” business.

    To the career PAO’s out there who are offended: Tough cookies. I was, once, one of you. I know who you are and what you are, and you AREN’T anything different than the same people you schmooze with at cocktail parties, except the you don’t have ponytails or $300 haircuts and you wear the same “outfit” to work everyday.


  • Derrick

    War is a very technical topic, and I’m not sure the general public would have the inclination or the subject matter expertise to understand information regarding it. Therefore I’m not sure advertising agencies are the best route to go for communicating information regarding ongoing military operations. Also there is a possibility of political reaction to the US military spending taxpayer dollars on advertising an operation. I tend to think that providing explanations regarding the war in Iraq is a responsibility of the President of the US, not the servicemen and servicewomen.

    Perhaps a cheaper alternative could be found in the Internet? Perhaps an official and moderated website can be set up whose focus is the operation in Iraq? Selected personnel could be given blogs on the website, and their responses to selected journalists’ opinions on the operation could be posted there as well. For example, the hypothetical website could contain a link to (http://antiwar.com/casualties/) and a response by a blogger, plus comments from other bloggers below.

  • Rick Wilmes

    If Iraq is a success how do you explain the governments inability to function.

    “BAGHDAD — Negotiations between Iraq’s two most powerful political blocs broke down Monday, dashing hopes that a solution to a more than five-month impasse after national elections was on the horizon.”


    Or the continued bombings.

    “BAGHDAD — A suicide bomber infiltrated a crowd of young Iraqi army recruits Tuesday and detonated powerful explosives, killing more than 50 people and wounding 95 others in an early morning attack just two weeks before U.S. forces are due to end their combat mission in Iraq.”


  • Fouled Anchor


    Exceptional post. I think the Navy might just be one step ahead of you. Remember, it was an outside advertising firm, not PAOs, that came up with “A Global Force for Good.”

  • Mr. Wilmes,

    If you would have told me when I was on the ground in Iraq in 05, 06, 07, or 08 (but much less so when I was there in 09), that 1,000 Iraqi’s would gather in square peacefully, awaiting screening to join the Iraqi National Army I would have laughed.

    That such an attack happened is tragic, but as a matter of historical circmunstance, predictable. Things always get worse before they get better – the enemy gets desperate.

    The real question is this: Did volunteers turn up in Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad to enlist in the Army the next day, after the attack?

    They did, by the thousands. That’s indicative of many things (the desire to work probably more so than to serve the nation), but mostly reflects a stoic post-war mindset: not allowing terrorists/the enemy to control their fate.

    This is a mindset I think we’ll see reflected at the national level in the political theatre…

    Which speaks to your first point, that they’re unable to reach consenus. This is part and parcel of the natural evolution of any democracy – they must create their version of democracy as we created ours…

    They certainly have the necessary conditions to prosper going into their debates (arid land, a literate population, fresh water, an exportable product and an accessable seaport), the challenge is now reaching agreement as to what that prosperity will mean across ethnic, tribal and religious lines…

    I anticipate there will be thousands more impasses, breakdowns, election delays in the months and years to come; all this as hard as it is healthy.

    Nevertheless, my point in this article was not a political one, but simply that against all odds, the US military 1.) executed a brilliant conventional ground campaign, 2.) an even more impressive counter-insurgency, and 3.) set the conditions for a judicial, executive and legislative authority.

    I remember reading that in some of our Regimental level orders back in 2005:

    “Commander’s Final Result Desired: Set the conditions for a successful national election.”

    We knew why we were there…even when everyone else seemed not to…

    Fouled Anchor,

    Great point – and it was also a civilian industrial psychologist who coined: The Few. The Proud. The Marines. Both cases at the heart of my satire: we need to outsource that which we cannot do well for ourselves.

  • John Mustin

    I agree with your premise. Warfighters excel at waging war; advertisers excel at story telling.

    I’m one of a select few that can bridge the disconnect you describe: a USNA grad, SWO, former deployed commanding officer, reserve Commander with 20 years of line officer experience – who is also a partner and the Chief Marketing Officer of a Manhattan advertising agency.

    I’m up to the task.

    Let’s get started.

    CDR John Mustin

  • RickWilmes

    “The real question is this: Did volunteers turn up in Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad to enlist in the Army the next day, after the attack?
    They did, by the thousands. That’s indicative of many things (the desire to work probably more so than to serve the nation), but mostly reflects a stoic post-war mindset: not allowing terrorists/the enemy to control their fate.”

    What evidence do you have to support your conclusion?  The increased violence in Afghanistan seems to suggest that the jihadist are no longer in Iraq but Afghanistan.  

    As Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack have pointed out, the Iraq War

    served a Darwinian function for jihadist fighters; those who survived ended up better trained, more committed, and otherwise more formidable than when they began.  Unfortunately, the skills they picked up in Iraq-sniper tactics, experience in urban warfare, an improved ability to avoid enemy intelligence, and use of man-portable surface-to-air muddles-are readily transferable to other theaters.  The insurgents have also learned how to get through U.S. checkpoints, which are far less formidable on U.S. borders than they are in the war zone of Iraq.  The ethos that glorifies suicide bombings has spread as well.  The United States and its allies are more likely to face young men and women willing to kill themselves as they kill others, making targets much harder to defend.  Most important, the jihadists have learned how to use improvised explosive devices, the greatest killer of U.S. forces in Iraq, and these devices have already shown up in Kuwait.


  • Mr. Wilmes,

    Not so much a case of the jihadist here (in Iraq), the jihadist there (in Afghanistan), as it is the jihadist everywhere…

    Frankly there’s much to worry about in Iraq: Shi’a milititas (the Promise Day Brigade, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq & Kata’ib Hezbollah), young, able & unemployed Sunni militias (Sons of Iraq), hardline Kurds, Tehran’s evil-hand in Baghdad’s mixed political bag, to name a few…

    No sir, you’re quite right, the job is far from done; lasting “success” for Iraq still very much in question.

    And yet, militarily, the campaign of 2003 was a success. Saddam’s removal and execution, a success. The turn from the utter chaos of the 04-07 years to the Iraq of today (even with the associated violence), a success. Iraq was Al Qaeda Corporate’s “front line” – why order your footsoldiers from your front line? Defeat.

    Certainly there were many military mistakes (there always are in wars) but the failures were political.

    The US military accomplished their mission in Iraq and as the last combat soldier departs, “success” is now Iraq’s to realize or not.

    CDR Mustin,

    I’m in.

  • RickWilmes

    ‘And yet, militarily, the campaign of 2003 was a success. Saddam’s removal and execution, a success. The turn from the utter chaos of the 04-07 years to the Iraq of today (even with the associated violence), a success. Iraq was Al Qaeda Corporate’s “front line” – why order your footsoldiers from your front line? Defeat.’

    Would you say it is an Orwellian success?

    If not, why not?


  • HURT A.J.

    Good write – but you missed the mark. 1) The Mad Men are tasked with driving masses toward a product, not actually selling it or producing content. Therefore, they would do a great job of driving the public toward marines.mil, but the content itself is still the responsibility of the organization. 2) The Marine Corps employs the 5th largest advertising agency in the world to market/advertise the organization – the company that essentially invented graphic design. Sterling Cooper couldn’t hold a candle to the wizards at JWT. 3) Don Draper’s military service would consistently produce “flashback scenes” in the Pentagon setting. The key man in creative would probably fly to LA on a whim, not tell anyone, propose to a beat-generation playwright on Venice, call Betts, realize his mistake, and fly back. He would then tear apart his contract proposal in front of Burt and throw a glass of J&B in Roger’s face. Like it or not, the Marine Corps has to maintain it’s brand image (smart, tough, elite warrior), even when releasing public information. Just let the machine work. The machine doesn’t know good or bad, it doesn’t differentiate the excellent and insufficient. It does what it is programmed for. Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Mr. Wilmes,

    My response to your question is no, I do not think it is Orwellian.

    I sent your question to a mentor and former profesor of mine, Victor Davis Hanson. He responded with the following points:

    1) Iraq now does not translate oil wealth into genocide at home, nor does Iraq attack 4 of his neighbors
    2) Oil is transparent and sold under competitive auspices, so much for no blood for oil (we didn’t get it, the Chinese/Russians, Euros did)
    3)Iran is currently under enormous pressures, partly due to a free Shiite population next door, and partly due to the US presence; we “strengthened” Iran is not quite true, given the subversive effect of a free Iraq next door
    4)We killed thousands of al Qaeda operatives, where else would we have done so?–Waziristan, Pakistan? The much deprecated ‘fly-paper’ theory actually proved true. After we went in, bin Laden’s polls in the Middle East dived as did those of suicide bombing, we really did meet radical Islam and defeated it in Anbar province
    5) Iraq is a far more humane place than it ever has been
    6) there were positive side effects: Dr. Khan shut down his nuclear franchise; Libya gave up its WMD program; Syria got out of Lebanon
    7) Joe Biden called it one of Obama’s “greatest achievements”, and Obama dropped the March 2008 all out deadline, apparently he thought it different from his own caricatures.

  • Hurt AJ,

    great points, thank you.


  • RickWilmes

    You are correct to call in backup unfortuneatly his response has made the situation worse.  Let’s look at point 

    “1) Iraq now does not translate oil wealth into genocide at home, nor does Iraq attack 4 of his neighbors.”

    My question is when was this ever the standard for “success in Iraq” and how does that improve the United States security at home?

    As Elan Journo in “Winning The Unwinnable War” points out.

    “Let’s pause to identify who, exactly, gained political power in U.S.-endorsed elections.

    The government of Iraq, reflecting the proclivities of the fractious population, is headed by a Shiite-Kurdish coalition. At its head is the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq(SCIRI), an outfit that Iran helped to create during the Iran-Iraq War with the goal of establishing an Islamist theocracy to supplant the regime of Saddam Hussein.” (p. 162-163)

    As Dr. Lewis has pointed out in the link I provided


    We did to Iraq in 3 weeks what Iran couldn’t do in 8 years.

    BTW, I have VDH’s book, “The Father of Us All” along with the Summer and Autumn editions of Military History Quarterly, and Stephen Budiansky’s “Air Power,” on my desk. Budiansky reveiws “The Father of US All” in the Summer issue and VDH provides a response in the Autumn issue.

    In “The Father of Us All”, VDH mentions that he grew up on a farm. Let him know I grew up in places like Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point, Barstow, Ca, Okinawa, Japan and Kaneohe, so I am not like “Americans tend to lack a basic understanding of military matters.” (The Father of Us All, p. 4)  Oh yeah, my Youngster cruise was on the Peleliu when this happened.


    If you told me back than that I would be discussing what “success” means in war at the USNI blog in 2010, I am not sure what my reaction would be.

    Yet here we are.

  • The remark about the Marine Corps website relating only to Marines is intriguing.

    Look at the Canadian Navy’s website for one that engages the public – especially the young:


    As is often the case with Internet, you don’t have to pay expensive consultants – just get out on it yourself to see what others are doing and what is successful.

    My hobby is wargaming and model building. Trying to get military and naval facilities to provide meeting spaces has … especially since 9/11 … been an exercise in futility time after time. And during the Viet Nam era, wargaming alone maintained a healthy interest in military and naval affairs among the young, even while at the same time some of them were going out protesting.

  • ASM, American

    Here we are indeed. And at your argument’s core a sad defeatism. Classically elitist, apologetic, & blinded by emotional politics. Why so reluctant to regard even the smallest, yet hard-fought step forward as a success? I’d have a much easier time with your position if you’d cede what’s good is good, and what’s bad is bad.

  • RickWilmes


    when I was a kid I lived in Okinawa, Japan. We would visit Suicide Cliffs which is now a peace park. Japanese would gone up to my brother, sister, and me and say in broken English “We are so sorry. It will never happen again.”

    My question to you ASM is where in Iraq can I take my children and they will have Iraqiis walk up and say, “We are so sorry, never again?”

    Instead, when I walk through an airport to get on a plane, “I have to take the shoes off of my daughters feet.”

    Emotional politics???


  • RickWilmes

    “Why so reluctant to regard even the smallest, yet hard-fought step forward as a success? I’d have a much easier time with your position if you’d cede what’s good is good, and what’s bad is bad.”

    It can’t be better said than this 

    “Recall why the administration ordered the surge.  The purpose was to dig ourselves out of a self-made quagmire.  Even by a generous accounting of the facts, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was never a hub of Islamist activity nor a major backer of the Islamic totalitarian movement.  But following the Bush crusade to bring “democracy,” welfare goods, and a so-called reconstruction to that nation, it became a jihadist playground.  The fantastical notion of a pro-Western, pro-freedom Iraqi regime evaporated amid the blazing wreckage of umpteen roadside bombs and the acrid stench of decaying corpses felled in the insurgency(see chapter 3).  The surge of thousands of U.S. troops went to fight our way back up from a catastrophic negative, to some point closer to zero-a state of relative calm, for the sake of Iraqis.

    That this turn of events is celebrated not merely as progress, but as a triumphant acheivement reveals just how the idea of success in war has been emptied of meaning. (Winning The Unwinnable War by Elan Journo, p. 162)

  • Where you and I differ is that you saw war with Iraq as a war of choice, I saw it as unavoidable.

    If war wasn’t waged then, it would have been waged sometime later, and in far worse conditions.

    This was the principle lesson of more than a decade of sea and air patrols, no fly zone enforcement, embargos, “weapons inspections” and high stakes brinksmanship with Saddam and his Baathists…that this was no peace at all, but rather, as Thuycides writes, the paranthesis…

    History will see this conflict as a long battle in a much longer war with Iraq: Gulf War I (the defense of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia), Gulf War II the no-fly zone years (hardly peace for the pilots that flew those missions, Saddam’s neighbors or the rest of the free world), & Gulf War III (the invasion and subsequent counter-insurgency).

    You served in the Gulf during that time – did it feel like we had a lasting peace with Iraq? Were our interests in the region secure? Was Saddam a rational actor we could expect at the negotiating table? All this to say nothing of sponsorship of terrorism, and acts of genocide…

    And I already know your rebuttal. We had him where we wanted him, right? The status quo was acceptable, right? Well, for the record, the Clinton Administration didn’t think so…and neither do I.

    And because we disagree that this was/or was not a war of choice, we’ll never agree how best to define success…so let us move on, to future articles, debates and discussions.

    But cheer up Rick, we did well over there, and try to understand that, despite it all, Iraq is now a better place with an uncertain future under an elected representative with freedom, than it was with a certain future under a tyrant without it.

    And as casus belli goes, oil/no oil, WMD/no WMD, terrorism/no terrorism…there’s nothing more American than that.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Remarkably well-stated. Kudos.

  • “But cheer up Rick, we did well over there, and try to understand that, despite it all, Iraq is now a better place with an uncertain future under an elected representative with freedom, than it was with a certain future under a tyrant without it.”

    Last night on the principal Norwegian TV news program was a very graphic, horrifying report on the birth deformities and cancers caused by our Depleted Uranium (DU) ammunition residue … which can never be eradicated.

    The Norwegians have been among our best allies, but when these people see our continued – remember Agent Orange? – use of treaty-violating CBR weapons causing such suffering and grief, even they can turn against us.

    As to Iraq’s “elected representation,” give it maybe a year after our pullout and another despotic regime will emerge – this time, unlike Saddam’s secular Baathists who we had in check, a Muslim fundamentalist ally of Iran.

    You weren’t, by any chance, Nero’s violin instructor, were you, Alexander?

    Your kind of thinking undermines our (strategic and economic) strength and serves our enemies.

    Remember that the elder neoconservatives “were” Trotskyites, and the Trots must be most pleased at how we have STUPIDLY weakened and debased ourselves and our values.