Saturday, January 27, 2007

Lots and Lots of People

The Washington Post and AP are both reporting that "tens of thousands" of people marched in Washington DC today to protest the war. I see that is the phrase of the day across the news reports: "tens of thousands."

No, they're just messin' with you -- this is just something the media like to do.

There were hundreds of thousands of people there.

The crowd was very peaceful, determined, low-key. Previous anti-war protests have been high-energy events, with lots of chanting and singing and skits and costumes and crowds surging this way and that, but this time was different. It's very serious now, people walked along talking. There were some chants. Like, here was a new one:
What do we want?
-- Moderate concessions
When do we want it?
-- In a reasonable time

This was a most interesting crowd. Lots of families, lots of gray hair. Nicely-maintained heiresses and college students and people with babies, vets in uniform and people with dogs on a leash and people with dogs in their arms, teenagers and baby-boomers (lots of baby-boomers) and old, old, wrinkle-faced people hobbling along, all rejecting the President's war and the President's message.

I took a few pictures with my little Canon point-and-shoot while we were there. It was a beautiful day, cool but not chilly like it's been.

In the usual course of things, an event like this -- a quarter-million or more people gathered in one place to make a statement that resonates throughout the country -- will be ignored by the media. I expect this one will be, too. You won't get this from your television or newspaper. You had to be there to know.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought the turn out was small. more like 8 to 9 thousand. it was not the biggest over the last couple of years and not as big as any of the summer protests.

January 27, 2007 10:00 PM  
Blogger JimK said...

You can't tell when you're in a crowd how big it is, there's a little forest/trees problem. The march seemed to stretch for a couple of miles that I could see. The Park Service doesn't count any more, the media just guess, and the promoters exaggerate. But it was a whole lot more than nine thousand people.


January 28, 2007 12:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the main point is that all polling demonstrates that a vast majority of the American people have concluded that the War was a mistake and that escalation is not the way to deal with the mess that the War has created.

Those in favor of escalation say that we "cannot afford to lose" in Iraq. But that begs the real question, which is "Do we have the capacity to win?" This answer does not rest with the skill and dedication of our own military. Rather, it rests with the willingness and ability of the Iraqi governemnt to deal with both Shiite and Sunni terrorists. The Iraqi government needs to have both, but it appears it has neither. Without the Iraqis standing up, failure is inevitable.

The Iranians and the Shiite leadership in Iraq would like nothing more than for us to slaughter Sunnis for them. If we do not do it, then they will. That would deal with the Al Qaeda problem, such as it is, in Iraq (since Al Qaeda is Sunni, not Shiite). Of course, all Iraqi Sunnis are not Al Qaeda. But, in the course of war, given how this war has gone, those distinctions on the part of the Iraqis, have become irrelevant.

On the other hand, the Saudis (and most of the rest of the Arab world -- which is largely Sunni) will be horrified if we do the Shiite bidding in that regard; if we do that, then we will have alienated just those people we need to have on our side.

It seems to most Americans that the only way to salvage anything from this tragedy is to cut the Iraqi government's "military welfare." That government, starring into the abyss, knowing we will not prop them up in the Green Zone and elsewhere, may possibly summon the will to truly try to make an accomodation among the sectarian groups. Then, maybe, we will not have a failure. That may well not happen. But escalation by the United States will do nothing more than delay that day, without making it more likely that the Iraqi government will stand up -- and in the process our own hole will be deeper.

We may just have to muddle through. It took the 30 Years War in Europe for the Catholic/Protestant divide to expend itself. The Shiite/Sunni conflict may have to play itself out the same way. But the West does not have the capacity to force solution of that conflict.

If Iraq further descends into Civil War, the eventual victor likely will not be Al Qaeda, but Iran and Hezbollah.

Yet, Iran has a still-vigorous dissenting movement, as illustrated by the recent local elections which rejected Ahmadinejad's party. Just as containment worked regarding the Soviet Union, a variant of that strategy is likely our best hope in the long run. The insanity fo the Soviet system eventually fell of its own weight. The same may happen in Iran (which poses much less of a military threat than the Soviet Union did).

January 28, 2007 8:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

U.S. soldiers are losing confidence in the way President George W. Bush is running the Iraq war.

According to a new poll conducted by the Military Times newspapers, "For the first time, more troops disapprove of the president's handling of the war than approve of it," the Army Times reported Dec. 29.

"Barely one-third of service members approve of the way the president is handling the war," the newspaper said.

The findings of the poll, which was conducted by a mail survey from Nov. 13 through Nov. 22, marked a significant fall in the president's popularity and credibility with members of the U.S. armed forces, who had previously been among his staunchest supporters. In a previous Military Times poll two years ago, 83 percent of poll expected victory in Iraq. "This year, that number has shrunk to 50 percent," the Army Times said...

January 28, 2007 12:04 PM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

This, from the pages of the New York Times ("Protest Focuses on Iraq Troop Increase," posted 1/28/07),

There were a few tense moments, however, including an encounter involving Joshua Sparling, 25, who was on crutches and who said he was a corporal with the 82nd Airborne Division and lost his right leg below the knee in Ramadi, Iraq. Mr. Sparling spoke at a smaller rally held earlier in the day at the United States Navy Memorial, and voiced his support for the administration’s policies in Iraq.

Later, as antiwar protesters passed where he and his group were standing, words were exchanged and one of the antiwar protestors spit at the ground near Mr. Sparling; he spit back.

Capitol police made the antiwar protestors walk farther away from the counterprotesters.

“These are not Americans as far as I’m concerned,” Mr. Sparling said.

Another counterprotester, Larry Stark, 71, a retired Navy officer who fought in Vietnam for five years and was a prisoner of war, said, “We never lost a battle in Vietnam but we lost the war, and the same is going to be true in Iraq if these protesters have their way.”

The protesters on Saturday were undermining troop morale, Mr. Stark said, and increasing the likelihood of a premature withdrawal.

“It’s like we never learn from the past,” he said.

We may not have learned from the past, but it is clear that groups within our country have, and they yearn for a return of their "glory days".

February 01, 2007 3:55 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

Sorry, I try not to do this, but I do so relish when a member of the media so completely exposes themself as a crank and a partisan. Read on...


Early Warning
William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security

The Troops Also Need to Support the American People

I've been mulling over an NBC Nightly News report from Iraq last Friday in which a number of soldiers expressed frustration with opposition to war in the United States.

I'm sure the soldiers were expressing a majority opinion common amongst the ranks - that's why it is news - and I'm also sure no one in the military leadership or the administration put the soldiers up to expressing their views, nor steered NBC reporter Richard Engel to the story.

I'm all for everyone expressing their opinion, even those who wear the uniform of the United States Army. But I also hope that military commanders took the soldiers aside after the story and explained to them why it wasn't for them to disapprove of the American people.

Friday's NBC Nightly News included a story from my colleague and friend Richard Engel, who was embedded with an active duty Army infantry battalion from Fort Lewis, Washington.

Engel relayed how "troops here say they are increasingly frustrated by American criticism of the war. Many take it personally, believing it is also criticism of what they've been fighting for."

First up was 21 year old junior enlisted man Tyler Johnson, whom Engel said was frustrated about war skepticism and thinks that critics "should come over and see what it's like firsthand before criticizing."

"You may support or say we support the troops, but, so you're not supporting what they do, what they're here sweating for, what we bleed for, what we die for. It just don't make sense to me," Johnson said.

Next up was Staff Sergeant Manuel Sahagun, who is on his second tour in Iraq. He complained that "one thing I don't like is when people back home say they support the troops, but they don't support the war. If they're going to support us, support us all the way."

Next was Specialist Peter Manna: "If they don't think we're doing a good job, everything that we've done here is all in vain," he said.

These soldiers should be grateful that the American public, which by all polls overwhelmingly disapproves of the Iraq war and the President's handling of it, do still offer their support to them, and their respect.

Through every Abu Ghraib and Haditha, through every rape and murder, the American public has indulged those in uniform, accepting that the incidents were the product of bad apples or even of some administration or command order.

Sure, it is the junior enlisted men who go to jail. But even at anti-war protests, the focus is firmly on the White House and the policy. We don't see very many "baby killer" epithets being thrown around these days, no one in uniform is being spit upon.

So, we pay the soldiers a decent wage, take care of their families, provide them with housing and medical care and vast social support systems and ship obscene amenities into the war zone for them, we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?

I can imagine some post-9/11 moment, when the American people say enough already with the wars against terrorism and those in the national security establishment feel these same frustrations. In my little parable, those in leadership positions shake their heads that the people don't get it, that they don't understand that the threat from terrorism, while difficult to defeat, demands commitment and sacrifice and is very real because it is so shadowy, that the very survival of the United States is at stake. Those Hoovers and Nixons will use these kids in uniform as their soldiers. If it weren't about the United States, I'd say the story would end with a military coup where those in the know, and those with fire in their bellies, would save the nation from the people.

But it is the United States, and the recent NBC report is just an ugly reminder of the price we pay for a mercenary - oops sorry, volunteer - force that thinks it is doing the dirty work.

The notion of dirty work is that, like laundry, it is something that has to be done but no one else wants to do it. But Iraq is not dirty work: it is not some necessary endeavor; the people just don't believe that anymore.

I'll accept that the soldiers, in order to soldier on, have to believe that they are manning the parapet, and that's where their frustrations come in. I'll accept as well that they are young and naïve and are frustrated with their own lack of progress and the never changing situation in Iraq. Cut off from society and constantly told that everyone supports them, no wonder the debate back home confuses them.

America needs to ponder what it is we really owe those in uniform. I don't believe America needs a draft though I imagine we'd be having a different discussion if we had one.

By William M. Arkin | January 30, 2007; 8:51 AM ET


Early Warning
William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security

A Note to My Readers on Supporting the Troops

I knew when I used the word "mercenary" in my Tuesday column that I was being highly inflammatory.

NBC News ran a piece in which enlisted soldiers in Iraq expressed frustration about waning American support.

I intentionally chose to criticize the military and used the word to incite and call into question their presumption that the public had a duty to support them. The public has duties, but not to the American military.

So I committed blasphemy, and for this seeming lack of respect and appreciation for individuals in uniform, I have been roundly criticized and condemned.

Mercenary, of course, is an insult and pejorative, and it does not accurately describe the condition of the American soldier today. I sincerely apologize to anyone in the military who took my words literally.

Almost every day, we can hear or read someone in uniform saying that they are just doing a "job." We don't necessarily take this to literally mean that they are only in it for the work.

Of course those who choose to wear the uniform do so because they are patriots and because they feel compelled to take up arms to defend the nation. What we take from their self-deprecating description that they are only doing their job is that they are not glory seeking, and that in order to make war and put themselves in the unnatural position of risking their lives and killing others, they have to focus on their profession, to do what they have been trained to do, to put aside the seeming inhumanity, to just "soldier on."

When we in society make war and consent to war, we accept the righteousness of those who fight on our behalf with the knowledge that they are a part of an organized and disciplined military force that operates lawfully and chivalrously. We also accept that they kill only as a last resort, and that they are engaged in a just endeavor that in its existence and though their conduct presents the prospect of restoring peaceful relations once the enemy has been defeated.

In the 30 years that we've had an all-volunteer force, this is the first war we've had where the justness of the cause is questionable and where we are losing and still could "lose."

Those in uniform who think about and speak out about this predicament are rightly frustrated and angry. Many seem to find some solace in blaming the media or anti-war "leftists" or the Democratic Party or the liberals, or even an ungrateful or insufficiently martial American public.

But if those in the military are now going to argue that we are losing in Iraq because the military has lacked for Ssomething, then the absence of such support should be placed at the feet of the Bush administration, Rumsfeld and company, and a Republican Congress -- not on the shoulders of the American public, who have been nothing but supportive, even those who have opposed the war.

Finally, the military as an institution needs to ask itself what role it plays in where we are today in Iraq. One of the reasons that the military is held in such high regard in our society is that we love and expect the honesty and toughness and professionalism of those in uniform. We expect the generals to know what they need and to speak forthrightly and without hesitation. We expect politicians and spinners to deflect responsibility and blame -- not the military.

When I hear soldiers and war supporters expressing their frustrations about the American public or the news media, something doesn't quite seem right -- even when the soldiers and war supporters aren't talking about me. I know that those in uniform would like to bring the war to an honorable conclusion, but are they blaming those who are against the war and the news media for having tied their hands under a Bush administration which is certainly the most warrior-oriented in the past 20 years? Is there no space for respectful acceptance of the possibility that people who also love the nation and care about our security think that the country is wasting national treasure - lives and money - on an unwinnable cause?

In the middle of all of this are the troops, the pawns in political battles at home as much as they are on the real battlefield. We unquestioningly "support" these troops for the very reasons that they are pawns. We give them what we can to be successful, and we have a contract with them, because they are our sons and daughters and a part of us, not to place them in an impossible spot.

In our instant and globally wired world, these very men and women are additionally burdened by their access to our debates and words. This is a difficulty of our modern world, but I completely reject the notion though that we undermine them or support the enemy by debating at home.

I also reiterate my core point, which is that military attitudes should not serve as a censor of the civilian debate at home, either literally or through intimidation.

In the end, it is Specialist Tyler Johnson who deserves a thoughtful and respectful answer, and in my original piece, I failed to give him one.

Spec. Johnson said "you may support or say we support the troops, so you're not supporting what they do, what they're here sweating for, what we bleed for, what we die for. It just don't make sense to me."

Spec. Johnson, everyone supports the troops. But if supporting the troops comes to mean that we cannot raise questions about the military, about how wars are being fought in our name, that we cannot criticize those in uniform, can't protest, can't write, can't demand better, then what kind of country do we have?

I know you are out there every day risking your life, and for that I am grateful. But I just can't stand by and do nothing when I can see that your risk is no longer being matched by a commitment or a plan or the prospect for victory or a just ending. I can't be silent when I can also see that you are a pawn in a Washington political tug-of-war that has become more about the Bush legacy and future power here at home than about Iraq.

Spec. Johnson, I also firmly believe that you are wrong if you believe that Iraq represents the difference between freedom and slavery for all of us in the future. I understand, and respect, that you think it. I understand, and respect, that that's what keeps you going. I'm just asking you to understand that different people have different views of the world, and that those views don't mean that they are un-American, anti-American, or contemptuous of the military.

By William M. Arkin | February 1, 2007; 5:31 AM ET | Category: Iraq
Previous: New Middle East Commander Correctly Stays in His Lane | Next: The Arrogant and Intolerant Speak Out


Early Warning
William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security

The Arrogant and Intolerant Speak Out

Well, one thing's abundantly clear about who will actually defend our rights to say what we believe: It isn't the hundreds who have written me saying they are soldiers or veterans or war supporters or real Americans -- who also advise me to move to another country, to get f@##d, or to die a painful, violent death.

Contrary to the typically inaccurate and overstated assertion in dozens of blogs, hundreds of comments, and thousands of e-mails I've received, I've never written that soldiers should "shut up," quit whining, be spit upon, or that they have no right to an opinion.

I said I was bothered by the notion that "the troops" were somehow becoming hallowed beings above society, that they had an attitude that only they had the means - or the right - to judge the worthiness of the Iraq endeavor.

I was dead wrong in using the word mercenary to describe the American soldier today.

These men and women are not fighting for money with little regard for the nation. The situation might be much worse than that: Evidently, far too many in uniform believe that they are the one true nation. They hide behind the constitution and the flag and then spew an anti-Democrat, anti-liberal, anti-journalism, anti-dissent, and anti-citizen message that reflects a certain contempt for the American people.

What I've heard ever since my article "The Troops Also Need to Support the American People" was published on Tuesday are a lot of people telling ME to shut up and be grateful for the sacrifices others are making.

I never said we shouldn't support the troops. I just lamented that "we support them in every possible way, and their attitude is that we should in addition roll over and play dead, defer to the military and the generals and let them fight their war, and give up our rights and responsibilities to speak up because they are above society?"

Thousands have written telling me to "shut up and quit whining," that the troops do support the American people - "with their lives."

I can't respond to everyone individually - keep the cards and letters coming though, I do read them - but I'll try to tease out of the comments some themes that confirm in my mind the difficult state that this impossible war has put us.

TR writes "you're an America hater and a friend of our enemies."

JS writes that "this country is in the fight of its life. Terrorists are attempting to establish a world-wide caliphate. And you tell us we DON'T need to stop them."

And adds MEJ: "Cowards like you guarantee that my grandchildren will be fighting a war someday because we of the generation were too cowardly and comfortable to be honest about the world around us."

These are opinions about the war in Iraq and the "war" against terrorism. They aren't facts. I understand people need to believe that the United States is engaged in a grand and noble mission to continue to support the deaths and sacrifices being made by American forces. Nonetheless, there is also an equally valid opinion that not only is the United States NOT involved in some fight for our lives in Iraq but that our military actions merely increases and complicates our insecurities tomorrow.

An army Major with the 1st Cavalry in Baghdad writes: "there is no way to accurately opine about the war unless you've been on the ground."

KJ (and many others) adds that I am just "sitting in the lap of luxury that is the United States."

Again, I understand the frustration of those in uniform and the supporters of the war. But these are not the only people who have a valid opinion, and there is great danger for the nation - as Bush-Cheney and company have already demonstrated - when people arrogate to themselves the sole determinant to make a judgment about national security.

The Army Major goes on to say that "soldiers -- unlike journalists -- have values inculcated from the very beginning of basic training."

D speaks of "last week's leftist freak show in D.C." to describe anti-war protest.

KC questions how I could jeopardize the "safety and morale of those who lay their young and noble lives on the line for you and your ilk."

Too many to count denounced me (and my ilk) for being elitist, arrogant, exclusive, a Washington a@$*hole or worse, above-it-all, and superior.

Given that I spent so much of my time in this column every week railing about Washington myself, the dismissal is hilarious. But there is such contempt for civil society in these words and I wonder where it comes from?

As the Major says, something is inculcated into the minds of military members from day one of duty. It is not just defense of the Constitution, it is also unanimity of thought and an unwavering regard for hierarchy. Without this, you can't have a military and you can't expect human beings to go against their instincts to put their lives on the line.

I'm not saying that this makes people in the military automatons, or that they are stupid. But this unanimity of thought and this absolute allegiance to a hierarchy of ideas is and should be foreign in the civilian world. That's what makes the two different.

I hesitate to describe the military "attitude" about the world, or to even apply some negative connotation to the assertion that the military, from the Pentagon on down to the lowest platoon assumes a singular worldview.

But Major TW from Baghdad describes the world as he sees it and condemns me for my dissent:

"Iraq is only a mistake if, like Vietnam, we don't finish the job. Your sloppy logic at the end of your piece belies your agenda. You write Iraq, 'is not some necessary endeavor, the people just don't believe that anymore.' Would invading Europe in 1944 been a "necessary endeavor" if the American people had not believed it? How about maintaining West Berlin in the 1970s? And what about Somalia in the 1990s? Pulling out following the Blackhawk Down incident arguably emboldened bin Laden and played a hand in 9/11. With the benefit of hindsight should we have stayed? Even if it cost more American lives it might have saved 3000 years later."

The Major asks a terrific question as to what it says about our society that 3,000 lives are not considered "worth it" and I'll develop some thoughts on this in the future.

But what does it say about our current political and military leadership?

Bush and company, and the Abizaid's, Casey's, and Petraeus's have had years to make their case to the American people that the threat is so great and the mission so noble that the sacrifice is worth it. They clearly have failed to make their case and that is why the majority of Americans no longer support the war.

The notion then that we should defer to the military to fight when and how and where they want is absurd. As the debate about the Iraq war demonstrates, war-making is a shared endeavor and the arrogant and intolerant few who think they are above the people seem to be those who are wearing the uniform.

By William M. Arkin | February 1, 2007; 9:39 AM ET | Category: Iraq
Previous: A Note to My Readers on Supporting the Troops

February 02, 2007 11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

William M. Arkin, a former Army intelligence analyst and consultant, has written extensively about military affairs, including several books on the topic. In 1994, his "The U.S. Military Online: A Directory for Internet Access to the Department of Defense" was published. It's now in its second edition. E-mail Arkin at

February 02, 2007 6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice design of blog.

August 13, 2007 3:39 PM  

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