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No Such Thing as a Stupid Question? Not So Fast, My Friend!

Thanks to Peter for linking to my piece on 9/11 and the meaning of victory against the "new " terrorism.

I thought I would share this post to NRO’s military blog, The Tank, regarding my impression of yesterday’s Petraeus/Crocker hearing.

As I watched Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker field questions during the House hearing yesterday, I was reminded of a personal experience. As a young Marine captain, I was assigned to the US Army Field Artillery School to teach artillery tactics. My mentor there was an Army captain who remains the best teacher I have ever known. Before I actually got to teach, I observed my mentor as he took a class of brand new lieutenants through the course. During one session, a student asked him a question. I’ll never forget Howard’s reply. "Lieutenant, we all know that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but I want you to know that yours is the closest to one I have ever heard."

So it was with the ambassador and the general. I don’t believe I have ever heard so many inane and repetitive questions in my life. It’s one thing to push the Democratic story line, but couldn’t these guys come up with some decent questions? How Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker kept straight faces is beyond me. One thing is apparent. There has been a precipitous drop in congressional military experience. This applies to staff as well. God help the Republic.

Discussions - 11 Comments

The real problem isn't lack of military experience, but twisted priorities on the part of so many Democratic senators and congress members. They want to score even more political points than they already have, and they want to abandon Iraq as soon as possible, and are so eager to do both that they are using their time to preach at and discredit Petraeus and Crocker. The impact of this kind of show on Iraq and on American standing in the world is absolutely the last thing they care about. People who were merely militarily ignorant wouldn't speak and act as these people are. The real problem is their ignorance of decency and of true patriotism. "Inane and repetitive," certainly. But more to the point: Unremittingly negative and hostile.

So you spent some time at Fort Sill, how did you like it? Lawton still has a sort of lawless feel to it...but I hear that it has cleaned itself up marginally since its heydays. In any case were it not for September 11th I doubt very much that I would have ended up in Lawton, OK. Of course I guess a transition is afoot...since the guards at the gate will no longer greet you by calling it the home of the field artillery. But as we both know renaming a thing has little impact upon Howitzers or MLRS systems, change occurs at the pace of a -10 which means if you are still PMCS'ing the same equipment...the function couldn't have changed that much.

In any case I wanted to commend you on your article "dismanteling terrorism".

In particular I agree with this statement. "Military success in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere can buy us time. But in the long run, grand strategic victory against the network of Islamist terrorists requires defeat of their murderous ideas. The problem here is that many in the West are beginning to reject the principles of liberalism, and just when adherence to those principles is most necessary to achieve victory in a war of ideas."

I realize that there are a lot of stupid questions...but permit me to play the part of a young lieutenant...actually forget the lieutenant...many are just interested in lofting softballs. Let me ask a question that a first sergeant might ask if he was not so preocupied with practical affairs, and permit me to ask it in the unremittingly hostile sense born of the knowledge that only an act of congress could ruin my career.

How the hell do we go about defeating the murderous ideas of Islamic terrorists? It seems a given that being there is the chief reason why so many Iraqi's and muslims give credence to the murderous ideology of Osama bin Laden. How is building up BIOP helping us in our quest to defeat Islamic totalitarians? Even our Kuwaiti allies want us out of the country. It really seems as if the chief message is: americans get out. But if we are to stay, how much good can we do for a people who are inclined to believe that we shouldn't be there?

In regards to Afghanistan, it seems to me that the drug trade is really at the bottom of terrorism. The Terrorists provide a means for the local farmer to deliver his Heroin to European markets. We can destroy the fields...in which case the farmers have even more reason to relly upon corrupt warlords/terrorists to protect them from americans and the afghan government...or we can destroy the warlords...but then there is a demand for more warlords to help protect the delivery of heroin...in a country with as much poverty as afghanistan demand is filled quickly, no sooner have you killed militant warlords or burned a poppy field than a new teenager with an ak-47 or a plow turns up to till the land or provide a means of reaching a market.

It seems to me that in both Iraq and Afghanistan we are ignoring liberal principles...in Iraq we are ignoring the fact that you can bring the horse to water but can't make him drink, and in Afghanistan we are ignoring Adam Smith's law of supply and demand.

In afghanistan the war on drugs is costing us the war on terror. In Iraq our attempts to instill democracy is costing us a boat load of money without a guarantee that the people there won't be so fed up with american occupation that they will vote in the most radical Islamic clerics. Democracy doesn't necessarily have to be "liberal" democracy! Winning in Afghanistan is going to require re-examining the war on drugs...but we can send soilders out to kill warlords and burn poppy fields, and we can dismantle IED's and destroy weapons caches...but the important thing to consider, and I believe this is a "liberal" consideration is the demand side of the equation. In the war on terrorism "We", and by we I mean the west, the United States and Europe, are creating the demand for everything we are then destroying.

So the focus of the war on terror is too much supply side economics... we are destroying the supply...but in so doing we are proping up demand for that supply. In the middle east where so many people are poor and disgruntled...it doesn't take much arm twisting for Mohammed Jr. to take up where his cousin, aunt, uncle or brother left off.

It will be interesting to see how the Petraeus/Crocker testimony is received and internalized by the American public. Most, of course, aren't watching. But I think there's a broader awareness of the event, and probably the uproar over the MoveOn.org ad.

What I don't understand is why we're not seeing a coordinated GOP response right now. The ad would be simple -- have the camera pan the NYT ad with a voice over intoning how MoveOn.org calls accuses one of America's ranking military officers of betraying his country.

Then the voice could ask, "What do leading Democrats have to say about this insult to the American military troops?"

Cut to footage of Nancy Pelosi saying nothing -- some footage of her between comments from somewhere. Then to footage of Reid, Schumer, Kerry ... all not saying anything.

The connection would be made by implication -- the Democrats support MoveOn.org and their insult to the American military. And it would do so without having to actually make the accusation.

Great idea and great question, Don. Unfortunately, most of the GOP "leadership" doesn't do great ideas. Even great questions are often too much for them. Their objective seems to be getting through the day without being called too many names, more than to win. Winning is hard work, after all.

I would say that the Soviet Union collapsed because its ideas had a means of being discredited...communism just didn't work...it ignored human nature and the laws of micro-economics...it was bound from the word go to fail in the long-run. I am not sure if Islamic fundamentalism has any means of being discredited to the true believer. Its aims are not strictly of this world.

The questions were not designed to elicit information. The questions were formulated to repeat the Democrat/defeatist narrative.

Part of the reason of course that Congress gets away with this nonsense is that no one gets in their face. No one responds as did your Army Captain. Thus we have Congressmen acting like dolts, and more frequently worse than dolts, and we have witnesses who sit there and take it, as if they've no other choice but to sit there and take it.

Exactly. They should not sit there and take it.

Yes, what a delightful to-do if Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker walked out. Unfortunately, they probably would not have their jobs shortly thereafter. That would be bad because we need them.

Rather like Don, I feel breathless to hear how the American people respond to all of this. I'll hear that in my classrooms and about my town. What they say often has a completely different sound than the cacophony from TV and radio.


I have been trying to think why what I am hearing from Congress is so disturbing (as surely this is politics as usual) and it must be the sense that politics is making them irresponsible. So much is at stake for the whole world and those people blather for the cameras, yes, inanely. I wonder if my neighbors are asking themselves, watching the news and hearing the din, "Is this the best we've got?"

Deafening silence regarding the points you (rightly, I think) brought up John. Good luck with that here.

I'm not a huge Rush fan, but I was listening to him on my way back from the Columbus MEPS station and he made a pretty good point in response to the Petreus House testimony: we've got to accept the fact that we're going to have to win the War in Iraq and even the greater War on Terror without the help of the Democrats. This is actually feasible, though it will no doubt be precarious (think "American Civil War" - or "War for Southern Independence" as you will). The fighting will greatly be restricted by a hostile party at home, token or no help from abroad, and a public largely indifferent until victories are acquired. Like all good democrats (small "d"), we Americans hate war and love victory.

And in response to John Lewis, I would say that winning against Islamic fundamentalism (the War on Terror) is possible because it is simply a counter-insurgency writ large, and there are many examples of successful counter-insurgency operations to look to throughout history. One of the most important aspects of waging a counter-insurgency is controlling the population, which is what Petreus has been attempting in Iraq. Provided with security and a visible display of power, the local populace will be less likely to join the guerillas, who in turn will have a harder time finding material as well moral support. In time the population will turn on the insurgents, for the occupying American force will be seen as the provider of order, while every insurgent attack - even if on American forces - will be seen as breaching the peace of every day life. This has been in the USMC's Small Wars Handbook since the 19th century, and whenever it has been faithfully applied has worked. Unfortunately, one of the most precious resources required for waging a counter-insurgency is time, and the hearings this week showed how little we have of that.

In response to John's question about how to defeat the ideas of bin Laden: you misstate the problem. Radical political Islam can be shown -- like communism -- to be contrary to human nature and the principles of a decent society because it -- like communism -- promises justice on earth. Martyrdom might be otherwordly, but for the Islamists martyrdom is simply a means to bring about the end of the reign of righteousness on earth (you didn't see bin Laden on those airplanes). Political Islam (e.g., HAMAS, Islamic Brotherhood, Khomeini, bin Laden) says that it can deliver the political goods: peace, prosperity, equity, even freedom. We can test that: does it? I don't think that it's a coincidence that the most pro-American people in the Muslim world are Iranians, the only people who have actually lived under political Islam.

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