Thursday, July 15, 2010

On reading things to intentionally piss yourself off

Blaise Pascal said that "man's sensitivity to the little things and insensitivity to the greatest are the signs of a strange disorder." My strange disorder is this: I willfully seek out writers that I know suck, and that I know are only going to piss me off. My "little things" are Bill Gertz and Ralph Peters.

As SNLII would surely remind me, I don't limit myself to Peters and Gertz: I aver that everything Gian Gentile writes is basically the exact same piece, and yet I continue to read it just to get myself all bowed up again. But this isn't that big of a deal, right? Everybody does it, I'm sure. After all, reading isn't just about learning (at least not for people like me) -- at least as important as the information content is the tone, the rhetorical exercise... the part where the writer is trying to convince me of something. I suppose it's a sign of the decline of the rhetorical art that much contemporary writing now consists primarily of assertion rather than argumentation (or so I assert).

But I digress. What I really want to get to is this: Ralph Peters and Bill Gertz suck. Bad.

What's worse than that, though? The fact that these two jokers are consistently included in the DoD's daily news digest, The Early Bird. Here's why this is a big deal: there are probably several thousand (into the tens of thousands) readers of the Early Bird every day across the Defense Department and the services. It's compiled by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, which gives this introduction on the entry page:
The Current News Early Bird is a daily compilation of published items and commentary concerning significant defense and defense-related national security issues. It aims to represent how the public, Congress and the press see military and defense programs and issues. The Early Bird is an internal management tool intended to serve the informational needs of senior DoD officials in the continuing assessment of defense policies, programs and actions. Further reproduction or redistribution for private use or gain is subject to original copyright restrictions.
So let's put it this way: Editorial decisions about what to include and what not to include are hugely influential in shaping what for many officers and DoD civilians will be the primary source of news for the day.

Peters, at least, is filed under the Opinion heading. Everybody knows how nuts he is, so I'm not going to spend a whole lot of time ranting about his terrible op-eds, always plagued throughout -- no matter the subject -- by a serious case of sudden expertitis.

(Just because I can't help myself, here's a taste from today's steamer:

Aid those already on your side, not your enemies: Our attempts to bribe our enemies with wells, make-work and welfare are doomed to failure. Reward your allies with aid projects; let the hostiles envy them -- and figure it out on their own.

Unconditional aid to tribesmen who just want your butt gone won't buy you lasting gratitude (that rarest human sentiment). Your generosity's read as weakness, not goodness.

In Ralph's Professional Tough Guy world, there's no such thing as a civilian population -- everyone's an "ally" or a "hostile." But I digress.)

Gertz, on the other hand, for reasons that are entirely obscure to me, has his weekly "Inside the Ring" column highlighted solo under its very own heading, under which -- so far as I can tell -- no other article ever appears: "National Security." Every Thursday, like clockwork, there it is:

17. Inside The Ring
(Washington Times)...Bill Gertz

The column is meant to be a quick hop around the most relevant defense issues of the week, both separating the wheat from the chaff for the general reader and letting defense insiders in on what their colleagues are talking about. (Gertz's Washington Times bio says that ITR "chronicles the U.S. national security bureaucracy.") Instead it's mostly a vehicle for Gertz to advance his pet interests: China hawkery, Democrat-bashing, and advocacy on behalf of those Peters types who seem to think all Arabs and Muslims are "terrorist potentialities." He throws down a whole lot of editorial commentary (occasionally extending to outright bullshitting) in a column that is meant to look like down-the-middle, just the facts ma'am reportage.

Want an example? Well, it just so happens that I have a particularly egregious one from today's column! In the very first section, Gertz reports on a 02 July memorandum from OSD to Pentagon leadership on the subject of military interactions with the press. He runs down what amounts to a book report on the memo and the media's reaction to it, paraphrasing Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell's press conference responses to questions on the subject.
Gen. McChrystal's ouster last month marked the second four-star to go down because of loose lips with the press, Mr. Morrell said. The first was the 2008 resignation of dovish U.S. Central Command commander Adm. William J. Fallon, who resigned after telling Esquire magazine that he was the only thing preventing a war with Iran.
Now this is total bullshit.

First of all, Fox Fallon did not "[tell] Esquire magazine that he was the only thing preventing a war with Iran." Here's what Tom Barnett wrote in his introduction to the Esquire piece:
If, in the dying light of the Bush administration, we go to war with Iran, it’ll all come down to one man. If we do not go to war with Iran, it’ll come down to the same man. He is that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance. His name is William Fallon, although all of his friends call him "Fox," which was his fighter-pilot call sign decades ago. Forty years into a military career that has seen this admiral rule over America’s two most important combatant commands, Pacific Command and now United States Central Command, it’s mpossible to make this guy–as he likes to say–"nervous in the service." [snip]’s left to Fallon–and apparently Fallon alone–to argue that, as he told Al Jazeera last fall: "This constant drumbeat of conflict . . . is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions."
Note: That's Tom Barnett writing. You see any direct quotes from Fallon that suggest that he thinks he's the only thing preventing a war? No, me neither. On top of that, Fallon came out afterwards and told Tom Ricks that Barnett's piece was "poison pen stuff" that was "really disrespectful and ugly." Sound like a guy who's pumping himself up as the last best hope for peace? So yeah, Gertz is basically just lying.

And the other bit, the "dovish" part? That's another d-bag move. Fox Fallon served 41 years in the U.S. Navy. He served in Vietnam, Bosnia, and Iraq, commanded an attack squadron, a carrier battle group, and two Global Combatant Commands, and he earned a Bronze Star and a Navy Commendation Medal with valor device, among dozens of decorations. Here's what he had to say when Barnett asked him what would happen if tension with Iran did boil over to the point of war:
"Get serious," the admiral says. "These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them."
Now he's a dove? Only for those morons who were dissatisfied with his low level of China hawkery while at PACOM, and his statements to the effect that fighting another major land war against the state directly between two other states in which we're fighting would probably not be an optimal outcome for anybody.

Who the hell is Bill effin' Gertz to call this guy "dovish"??

Ok, I'm getting myself all spun up over one little thing, but it should be clear by now that Gertz has no problem fabricating and casting false aspersions to advance his ideologico-editorial agenda. And this is a guy being reprinted in the Early Bird every single week, where senior leaders read his "analysis" as matter-of-fact reporting. F that.

GET BILL GERTZ OUT OF THE EARLY BIRD. (Or at least put him in the "Opinion" section.)


  1. Maybe I read the Peters piece too quickly this morning (after Steve Metz gave it a thumbs up), but I didn't see any problem with it. He obviously words his sentences inelegantly, but the basic idea is right.

    I didn't read Gertz and don't plan to unless someone makes a credible case that it's worth reading (which is the only reason that I read Peters this morning - Metz linked to it via Twitter).

  2. The fact that this is one of Peters' least idiotic columns is telling, isn't it? To congratulate Peters for being vaguely, kinda-sorta right about a few really broad and general things like "Afghans are not the same as Americans!" is to set a pretty low bar. Plus: Blind squirrel, acorn, sunshine, dog's ass, etc.

    I'm not going to nitpick the whole column, but it's filled with broad-brush, received-wisdom nonsense and really effing stupid aspersions like the one where he suggests that Holbrooke is on Pakistan's side, not the America's.

  3. I guess I kind of know what to expect from him, so I glide past the 90% of it that makes Rush Limbaugh type assertions and I just take away the few grains of non-crap (which there were admittedly not very many of, and none of them were Earth-shattering).

    My take away:
    - CERP money is a short-term tactical solution (duh)
    - You do not negotiate from a position of weakness (duh)
    - Western democratic society cannot be transplanted in the mountains of Afghanistan (duh)

    Maybe there was other stuff, I don't know. I refuse to re-read it.

    I guess Metz linked to it because it wasn't 100% standard Peters BS.

  4. Gulliver, you goof. I'm pretty sure you need to switch to decaf.

    At least Ralf Peters gets Pakistani strategy better than you do.

    Do me a favor:

    1. Go to zenpundit and listen to Dr. Metz's lecture on strategy, especially the section dealing with partnerships and Pakistan.

    2. Have a look at this Haider Mullick discussion on COIN vs. FOIN (re: Pakistan)

    and in particular pay attention to Curtis and Tellis's comments.

    3. Come back here and apologize to me, PROFUSELY, for your previous comments on Pakistani strategy.

    Okay, obviously I'm kidding because the above is just obnoxious.

    No wait. I'm not kidding about one thing - the American foreign policy establishment's insane South Asia policies (whether right or left, Democrat or Republican) is actively endangering Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and ISAF's mission in Afghanistan, and indeed, the entire subcontinent.

    : )

    (I had to go with the smiley. What else can a person do when the intellectual cages our DC intelligentsia have built for themselves begin to kill the very thing the cage is meant to protect? Okay, that analogy sucked, but give me some time and I'll come up with another one.)

    As for the rest of your post, uh, is EARLY BIRD some kind of DC military TMZ gossip website?

    Weird town, people.

  5. I meant Ralph. And whatever else I got wrong in my screed.

  6. And finally: you do know I'm just busting your chops and I fully expect you to comment-yell back at me? Or not, depending on if you're back down from your caffeine high. What is that, two back to back posts about a thousand words in length?


  7. Gulliver my friend, I think Madhu may be on to something re decaf...Because we all know that booze only makes the rants more entertaining:)

  8. Madhu, I thought we'd concluded that we just shouldn't talk about Pakistan anymore. Every time we have one of these exchanges it just depresses me, because I draw the worst, most disappointing conclusions about ethno-national determinism.

    This isn't about Pakistan.

    The excerpt I posted from Peters wasn't about Pakistan.

    I'm still waiting to have it explained to me how you plan to satisfy our objectives in South Asia without engaging Pakistan, and short of invading. It's not really a topic for this thread, though, I don't suppose.


  9. I promised you a more fleshed out response to your response and I will get to it eventually, I promise. When I feel like it. You know?

    I dunno. I'm having one of my periodic: "blogging publically is asymmetrical and I can't take the strange referral log behavior showing up on my referral logs lately."

    This happens about once every couple months and the problem is this: as a pathologist, and thus "professional noticer" I get wierded out. I kind of understand why Abu M doesn't like to blog as much anymore. Even by my lax standards, it's getting very strange over there. Poor Abu M and Londonstani.

  10. Okay, that didn't make sense, did it? Maybe I'll shoot you all an email to explain what I mean....