Wealthy Frenchman

Friday, August 31, 2007

Katrina All the Time


Two years ago today, Americans watched in horror as a great city drowned, and wondered what had happened to their country. Where was FEMA? Where was the National Guard? Why wasn’t the government of the world’s richest, most powerful nation coming to the aid of its own citizens?

What we mostly saw on TV was the nightmarish scene at the Superdome, but things were even worse at the New Orleans convention center, where thousands were stranded without food or water. The levees were breached Monday morning — but as late as Thursday evening, The Washington Post reported, the convention center “still had no visible government presence,” while “corpses lay out in the open among wailing babies and other refugees.”

Meanwhile, federal officials were oblivious. “We are extremely pleased with the response that every element of the federal government, all of our federal partners, have made to this terrible tragedy,” declared Michael Chertoff, the secretary for Homeland Security, on Wednesday. When asked the next day about the situation at the convention center, he dismissed the reports as “a rumor” or “someone’s anecdotal version.”

Today, much of the Gulf Coast remains in ruins. Less than half the federal money set aside for rebuilding, as opposed to emergency relief, has actually been spent, in part because the Bush administration refused to waive the requirement that local governments put up matching funds for recovery projects — an impossible burden for communities whose tax bases have literally been washed away.

On the other hand, generous investment tax breaks, supposedly designed to spur recovery in the disaster area, have been used to build luxury condominiums near the University of Alabama’s football stadium in Tuscaloosa, 200 miles inland.

But why should we be surprised by any of this? The Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina — the mixture of neglect of those in need, obliviousness to their plight, and self-congratulation in the face of abject failure — has become standard operating procedure. These days, it’s Katrina all the time.

Consider the White House reaction to new Census data on income, poverty and health insurance. By any normal standard, this week’s report was a devastating indictment of the administration’s policies. After all, last year the administration insisted that the economy was booming — and whined that it wasn’t getting enough credit. What the data show, however, is that 2006, while a good year for the wealthy, brought only a slight decline in the poverty rate and a modest rise in median income, with most Americans still considerably worse off than they were before President Bush took office.

Most disturbing of all, the number of Americans without health insurance jumped. At this point, there are 47 million uninsured people in this country, 8.5 million more than there were in 2000. Mr. Bush may think that being uninsured is no big deal — “you just go to an emergency room” — but the reality is that if you’re uninsured every illness is a catastrophe, your own private Katrina.

Yet the White House press release on the report declared that President Bush was “pleased” with the new numbers. Heckuva job, economy!

Mr. Bush’s only concession that something might be amiss was to say that “challenges remain in reducing the number of uninsured Americans” — a statement reminiscent of Emperor Hirohito’s famous admission, in his surrender broadcast, that “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.” And Mr. Bush’s solution — more tax cuts, of course — has about as much relevance to the real needs of the uninsured as subsidies for luxury condos in Tuscaloosa have to the needs of New Orleans’s Ninth Ward.

The question is whether any of this will change when Mr. Bush leaves office.

There’s a powerful political faction in this country that’s determined to draw exactly the wrong lesson from the Katrina debacle — namely, that the government always fails when it attempts to help people in need, so it shouldn’t even try. “I don’t want the people who ran the Katrina cleanup to manage our health care system,” says Mitt Romney, as if the Bush administration’s practice of appointing incompetent cronies to key positions and refusing to hold them accountable no matter how badly they perform — did I mention that Mr. Chertoff still has his job? — were the way government always works.

And I’m not sure that faction is losing the argument. The thing about conservative governance is that it can succeed by failing: when conservative politicians mess up, they foster a cynicism about government that may actually help their cause.

Future historians will, without doubt, see Katrina as a turning point. The question is whether it will be seen as the moment when America remembered the importance of good government, or the moment when neglect and obliviousness to the needs of others became the new American way.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

For Bush, bad news on every side

By Joseph L. Galloway

If it weren't for bad news, George W. Bush wouldn't have any news at all.

Let us count the ways that this lamest of lame-duck Presidents has been hammered in recent days.

Two of his closest Texas buddies have jumped ship. First, the man known as Bush's Brain, his political spinmeister Karl Rove, announced that he was gone. Then his legal mouthpiece, the forgetful Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, joined the exodus.

The President's friend Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki took umbrage at Bush's remarks in Canada criticizing the Iraqi government's failure to meet any of the benchmarks laid down by Washington, responding that Iraq had "other friends" it can fall back on. Presumably, Maliki's buddy list starts with Iran. A day later, Bush rowed way back, telling the National VFW convention that Maliki was his "good friend" and had his full support.

In the same speech, the president hauled out, of all things, the lessons of the war in Vietnam and the consequences of the American withdrawal from that long, bitter and divisive conflict as a reason to stay the course to victory in Iraq. Internet wags immediately noted that "Bush at least had a plan to get out of Vietnam" while he has none for getting out of Iraq.

Historians just as promptly noted that the President's reading of what happened in Vietnam and Indochina after the U.S. withdrew begged a number of questions. Prime among them was whether the U.S. entry into Vietnam and Cambodia had more to do with the slaughter of millions during the war and after than its exodus did. And more to do with the deaths of 58,249 American troops before the withdrawal.

It also reminded everyone that the president himself arranged to spend his time safely at home in the Texas Air National Guard, and his Vice President Dick Cheney took five deferments to dodge any service at all, while 3 million other Americans took their turns fighting that war.

Then there's the matter of the forthcoming report to Congress on September 11 by Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker on the results of the surge of additional U.S. troops to Iraq.

Even before the White House acknowledged that its political section would be writing that report and that Petraeus and Crocker would likely testify in closed-door sessions on Capitol Hill, there was ample evidence that they'd report that the addition of another 30,000 to 40,000 American troops has produced some progress in the security situation.

It will be harder, however, for the administration to trumpet any indication that improved security has led to any political progress in a country splintered along sectarian lines.

While it's true that the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq has fallen by half in the past two months, it's also true that the number of Iraqis slaughtered in sectarian violence has doubled in the past year, while Iraq's government and parliament dithers and debates and does little or nothing.

Shortly after the Petraeus/White House report on Iraq is presented, the Pentagon will be presenting the latest bill for the surge — an estimated $50 billion on top of the $147 billion Congress just voted for continuing the war. That will bring the ongoing tab for Iraq to near $15 billion a month.

Or, as they say, in for a penny, in for $1 trillion, and please ignore the fact that we can't find the money or the leadership needed to repair our own failing air traffic control system, our aging infrastructure of roads and bridges and sewer and water systems, health insurance for the 47 million Americans who don't have it and can't afford it, or our military forces and equipment, which have been stretched beyond the breaking point by endless combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Is it any wonder that so beleaguered a president, counting down his last 16 months in office, has now begun talking tough about Iran and pumping up the threat of terrorism in American cities, trying one more time to frighten Americans into the same acquiescence to The Decider's decisions, no matter how irrational they are?

When can we expect President Bush to find a new turning point, a new and updated rationale, for staying so foolish a course in a war he started but can't seem to end? When will enough be enough?

Men’s Room Chronicles


It is time for Republicans to start asking themselves whether there’s something about ceremonial leadership positions that causes their colleagues to collapse under stress.

Larry Craig was co-chair of the U.S. Senate Mitt Romney for President campaign until the recent unpleasantness caused him to resign. Senator David Vitter, the Southern regional chair of Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign, got caught with his name on the D.C. Madam’s rolodex. The state representative who was titular head of John McCain for President in Florida was charged with soliciting sex in the men’s room of a public park. And then there was the South Carolina state treasurer who was chairman of his state’s Giuliani chapter until he got indicted on a drug charge.

Does lending one’s name to a Republican presidential campaign create an irresistible impulse to misbehave? Or is this the sort of job people only undertake when they feel a secret need to do penance?

When it comes to conservative Republicans’ explanations for how they came to be arrested in a public men’s room ....

(How often, really, do you start a sentence like that?)

... Craig’s claim that nothing happened, but that the Idaho Statesman made him so nervous he accidentally pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, was not exactly convincing. Still, it was an improvement over Bob Allen, the arrested Florida state representative and McCain backer. Allen claimed he offered to perform a sex act on an undercover officer because, as the only white man in the restroom, he felt he was in danger of being robbed.

The nation’s first famous-political-name-caught-in-a-men’s-room incident occurred in 1964 when Lyndon Johnson’s confidential assistant, Walter Jenkins, was arrested in the bathroom of the Washington Y.M.C.A. A shocked press corps theorized that Jenkins, a family man, must have been driven to uncharacteristic behavior by his slave-driving boss. “A psychiatric breakdown under the strain,” concluded Theodore White. Jenkins, who had actually been arrested once before at the same spot, told the F.B.I. that he had only been involved in those two incidents — but that if there had been any others “he would have been under the influence of alcohol and in a state of fatigue and would not remember them.”

Now, of course, we understand that people’s sexual impulses do not switch gears because they have been under a lot of pressure at work. The only possible reaction to watching Craig say “I am not gay” over and over had to be pity for the man and his unhappy family. The Republicans, however, are not in the mood to have a thoughtful discussion about how much the demonization of homosexuality tortures God-fearing conservatives who find their sexual impulses at war with the party line. Or to sponsor an interesting debate on whether a man who pleads guilty to waving his hand under a toilet stall is worse than a man who, say, once pleaded guilty to drunken driving. John McCain has called for Craig’s resignation. The party’s Senate leadership, having finally found a use for the Ethics Committee, has ordered up an investigation. (Thank heavens we didn’t distract them with Ted Stevens’s finances.)

Mitt Romney absolutely raced to condemn his former campaign committee luminary. Really, it was a good thing that when word about Craig first came out there weren’t any small children or elderly people between him and the nearest microphone. Romney not only wanted to distance himself from anything involving the term “he said-he said,” he was also fighting the whole school of thought that discounts the importance of a candidate’s private behavior. As the only leading Republican candidate for president who is still on his first wife, Romney wants private behavior way, way up there at the top of the list.

“The most important thing we expect from elected — an elected official is a level of dignity and character that we can point to our kids and our grandkids and say, ‘Hey, someday I hope you grow up and you’re someone like that person,’ ” he told Larry Kudlow on MSNBC. “And we’ve seen disappointment in the White House, and we’ve seen it in the Senate. We’ve seen it in Congress. And, frankly, it’s disgusting.”

People, have you ever in your life pointed to your kids or grandkids and said that you hoped they grew up to be like Larry Craig? Or Bill Clinton? Or Mitt Romney? No. You might hope they were as politically skillful as Clinton or as financially successful as Romney or as ... um, good at barbershop quartet singing as Larry Craig. We do not hire our elected officials to shape our children’s characters. We want them to pass good laws and make sensible decisions on our behalf. If something terrible happens, we want to feel that they are strong enough to get us through it. But we have very little investment in whether they’re faithful to their wives, or even whether they’re tortured by demons of sexual confusion.

Although if it involves men’s rooms, we would really rather not hear about it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Holding Kids Hostage


The governors of New York and New Jersey were upset and not trying to hide it.

“We had zero forewarning,” said New Jersey’s Jon Corzine. “It was sprung at 7:30 on a Friday night in the middle of August, the time when it would draw the least fire.”

He was talking about the Bush administration’s latest effort to thwart the expansion of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program. Governors in several states are trying to include more youngsters from the lower rungs of the middle class and have vowed to fight the president on this issue.

Acting during a Congressional recess, and making a distinct effort to stay beneath the radar of the news media, the administration enacted insidious new rules that make it much harder for states to bring additional children under the umbrella of the program, known colloquially as CHIP.

The program is popular because it works. It’s cost effective and there is wide bipartisan support for its expansion. But President Bush, locked in an ideological straitjacket, is adamant in his opposition.

In addition to the new rules drastically curtailing the ability of governors to expand local coverage by obtaining waivers from the federal government, the president has threatened a veto of Congressional efforts to fund a more robust version of the overall program.

“It’s stunning,” said New York’s Gov. Eliot Spitzer. “He says he’s going to veto health care for kids because it’s too expensive at the same time that these continuing resolutions for the war, where we don’t even know what the cost is, are going through unabated. This is insanity.

“Everybody agrees this is the right thing to do except the Bush administration.”

Health coverage for poor children is provided by Medicaid. CHIP was originally designed to cover the children of the working poor. That has worked well, but there are still huge numbers of families who need help.

“The reality,” said Governor Spitzer, “is that there is an enormous proportion of American society above the poverty level but in the lower middle class that simply can’t afford health coverage.”

Wherever there are large numbers of families without coverage, you will find children who are suffering needlessly and, in extreme cases, dying. They don’t get the preventive care or the attention to chronic illness that they should.

“That has not only an immediate effect on their development,” said Mr. Spitzer, “but a long-term cost to society that is incalculable.”

Several states, including New York and New Jersey, have used federal waivers to raise the family income ceiling for eligibility to participate in CHIP. New Jersey, for example, offers coverage to the children of families with incomes as high as 350 percent of the official poverty rate for a family of four, which is $20,650 a year. New York has an upper limit of 250 percent of the poverty rate and is trying to raise it to 400 percent.

State officials said the onerous new rules would make it all but impossible to offer coverage beyond 250 percent of the poverty level.

Administration officials have argued that the CHIP program should adhere closely to its original intent of limiting coverage to families only slightly above the official poverty line. They said there is a danger that families with higher incomes would begin substituting CHIP for private insurance coverage.

The reality is that under the administration’s approach enormous numbers of children in families without a lot of money will be left with no coverage at all, private or otherwise. The expansion of CHIP is the most efficient, cost-effective way of reaching those youngsters.

Denying CHIP to such families forces them to seek out hospital emergency rooms when medical treatment can no longer be postponed. “I see it every day,” said Governor Corzine. “If you’re uninsured, particularly with children, if you don’t have a place to go, that’s where people show up.”

What’s happening is cruel. Children who should be eligible for CHIP are being held hostage to policies driven by a desire to protect the big insurance companies and an ideology that views CHIP, correctly, as yet another important step on the road to universal health care.

Ronald Reagan, one of the tribunes in the fight against Medicare and Medicaid back in the ’60s, pumped up the warnings against “socialized medicine” by saying that if Medicare becomes a reality “you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

I wonder what crazy things the ideologues think would happen if CHIP is expanded to cover the children who have no health insurance today.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Socialist Plot


Suppose, for a moment, that the Heritage Foundation were to put out a press release attacking the liberal view that even children whose parents could afford to send them to private school should be entitled to free government-run education.

They’d have a point: many American families with middle-class incomes do send their kids to school at public expense, so taxpayers without school-age children subsidize families that do. And the effect is to displace the private sector: if public schools weren’t available, many families would pay for private schools instead.

So let’s end this un-American system and make education what it should be — a matter of individual responsibility and private enterprise. Oh, and we shouldn’t have any government mandates that force children to get educated, either. As a Republican presidential candidate might say, the future of America’s education system lies in free-market solutions, not socialist models.

O.K., in case you’re wondering, I haven’t lost my mind, I’m drawing an analogy. The real Heritage press release, titled “The Middle-Class Welfare Kid Next Door,” is an attack on proposals to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Such an expansion, says Heritage, will “displace private insurance with government-sponsored health care coverage.”

And Rudy Giuliani’s call for “free-market solutions, not socialist models” was about health care, not education.

But thinking about how we’d react if they said the same things about education helps dispel the fog of obfuscation right-wingers use to obscure the true nature of their position on children’s health.

The truth is that there’s no difference in principle between saying that every American child is entitled to an education and saying that every American child is entitled to adequate health care. It’s just a matter of historical accident that we think of access to free K-12 education as a basic right, but consider having the government pay children’s medical bills “welfare,“ with all the negative connotations that go with that term.

And conservative opposition to giving every child in this country access to health care is, in a fundamental sense, un-American.

Here’s what I mean: The great majority of Americans believe that everyone is entitled to a chance to make the most of his or her life. Even conservatives usually claim to believe that. For example, N. Gregory Mankiw, the former chairman of the Bush Council of Economic Advisers, contrasts the position of liberals, who he says believe in equality of outcomes, with that of conservatives, who he says believe that the goal of policy should be “to give everyone the same shot and not be surprised or concerned when outcomes differ wildly.”

But a child who doesn’t receive adequate health care, like a child who doesn’t receive an adequate education, doesn’t have the same shot — he or she doesn’t have the same chances in life as children who get both these things.

And insurance is crucial to receiving adequate health care. President Bush may think that lacking insurance is no problem — “I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room” — but the reality is that the nine million children in America who don’t have health insurance often have unmet medical or dental needs, don’t have a regular place for medical care, and frequently have to delay care because of cost.

Now, the public understands the importance of health insurance, even if Mr. Bush doesn’t. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an amazing 94 percent of the public regards the fact that many children in America lack health insurance as either a “serious” or a “very serious” problem.

So how can conservatives defend the indefensible, and oppose giving children the health care they need? By trying the old welfare queen in her Cadillac strategy (albeit without the racial innuendo that made it so effective when Reagan used it). That is, to divert public sympathy from people who really need help, they’re trying to change the subject to the supposedly undeserving recipients of government aid. Hence the emphasis on the evils of “middle-class welfare.”

Proponents of an expansion of children’s health care have, as they should, responded to this strategy with facts and figures. Congressional Budget Office estimates show that S-chip expansion would, in fact, primarily benefit those who need it most: the great majority of children receiving coverage under an expanded program would otherwise have been uninsured.

But the more fundamental response should be, so what?

We offer free education, and don’t worry about middle-class families getting benefits they don’t need, because that’s the only way to ensure that every child gets an education — and giving every child a fair chance is the American way. And we should guarantee health care to every child, for the same reason.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Challenging the Generals


On Aug. 1, Gen. Richard Cody, the United States Army’s vice chief of staff, flew to the sprawling base at Fort Knox, Ky., to talk with the officers enrolled in the Captains Career Course. These are the Army’s elite junior officers. Of the 127 captains taking the five-week course, 119 had served one or two tours of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan, mainly as lieutenants. Nearly all would soon be going back as company commanders. A captain named Matt Wignall, who recently spent 16 months in Iraq with a Stryker brigade combat team, asked Cody, the Army’s second-highest-ranking general, what he thought of a recent article by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling titled “A Failure in Generalship.” The article, a scathing indictment that circulated far and wide, including in Iraq, accused the Army’s generals of lacking “professional character,” “creative intelligence” and “moral courage.”

Yingling’s article — published in the May issue of Armed Forces Journal — noted that a key role of generals is to advise policy makers and the public on the means necessary to win wars. “If the general remains silent while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means,” he wrote, “he shares culpability for the results.” Today’s generals “failed to envision the conditions of future combat and prepare their forces accordingly,” and they failed to advise policy makers on how much force would be necessary to win and stabilize Iraq. These failures, he insisted, stemmed not just from the civilian leaders but also from a military culture that “does little to reward creativity and moral courage.” He concluded, “As matters stand now, a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

General Cody looked around the auditorium, packed with men and women in uniform — most of them in their mid-20s, three decades his junior but far more war-hardened than he or his peers were at the same age — and turned Captain Wignall’s question around. “You all have just come from combat, you’re young captains,” he said, addressing the entire room. “What’s your opinion of the general officers corps?”

Over the next 90 minutes, five captains stood up, recited their names and their units and raised several of Yingling’s criticisms. One asked why the top generals failed to give political leaders full and frank advice on how many troops would be needed in Iraq. One asked whether any generals “should be held accountable” for the war’s failures. One asked if the Army should change the way it selected generals. Another said that general officers were so far removed from the fighting, they wound up “sheltered from the truth” and “don’t know what’s going on.”

Challenges like this are rare in the military, which depends on obedience and hierarchy. Yet the scene at Fort Knox reflected a brewing conflict between the Army’s junior and senior officer corps — lieutenants and captains on one hand, generals on the other, with majors and colonels (“field-grade officers”) straddling the divide and sometimes taking sides. The cause of this tension is the war in Iraq, but the consequences are broader. They revolve around the obligations of an officer, the nature of future warfare and the future of the Army itself. And these tensions are rising at a time when the war has stretched the Army’s resources to the limit, when junior officers are quitting at alarming rates and when political leaders are divided or uncertain about America’s — and its military’s — role in the world.

Colonel Yingling’s article gave these tensions voice; it spelled out the issues and the stakes; and it located their roots in the Army’s own institutional culture, specifically in the growing disconnect between this culture — which is embodied by the generals — and the complex realities that junior officers, those fighting the war, are confronting daily on the ground. The article was all the more potent because it was written by an active-duty officer still on the rise. It was a career risk, just as, on a smaller scale, standing up and asking the Army vice chief of staff about the article was a risk.

In response to the captains’ questions, General Cody acknowledged, as senior officers often do now, that the Iraq war was “mismanaged” in its first phases. The original plan, he said, did not anticipate the disbanding of the Iraqi Army, the disruption of oil production or the rise of an insurgency. Still, he rejected the broader critique. “I think we’ve got great general officers that are meeting tough demands,” he insisted. He railed instead at politicians for cutting back the military in the 1990s. “Those are the people who ought to be held accountable,” he said.

Before and just after America’s entry into World War II, Gen. George Marshall, the Army’s chief of staff, purged 31 of his 42 division and corps commanders, all of them generals, and 162 colonels on the grounds that they were unsuited for battle. Over the course of the war, he rid the Army of 500 colonels. He reached deep into the lower ranks to find talented men to replace them. For example, Gen. James Gavin, the highly decorated commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, was a mere major in December 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Today, President Bush maintains that the nation is in a war against terrorism — what Pentagon officials call “the long war” — in which civilization itself is at stake. Yet six years into this war, the armed forces — not just the Army, but also the Air Force, Navy and Marines — have changed almost nothing about the way their promotional systems and their entire bureaucracies operate.

On the lower end of the scale, things have changed — but for the worse. West Point cadets are obligated to stay in the Army for five years after graduating. In a typical year, about a quarter to a third of them decide not to sign on for another term. In 2003, when the class of 1998 faced that decision, only 18 percent quit the force: memories of 9/11 were still vivid; the war in Afghanistan seemed a success; and war in Iraq was under way. Duty called, and it seemed a good time to be an Army officer. But last year, when the 905 officers from the class of 2001 had to make their choice to stay or leave, 44 percent quit the Army. It was the service’s highest loss rate in three decades.

Col. Don Snider, a longtime professor at West Point, sees a “trust gap” between junior and senior officers. There has always been a gap, to some degree. What’s different now is that many of the juniors have more combat experience than the seniors. They have come to trust their own instincts more than they trust orders. They look at the hand they’ve been dealt by their superiors’ decisions, and they feel let down.

The gap is widening further, Snider told me, because of this war’s operating tempo, the “unrelenting pace” at which soldiers are rotated into Iraq for longer tours — and a greater number of tours — than they signed up for. Many soldiers, even those who support the war, are wearying of the endless cycle. The cycle is a result of two decisions. The first occurred at the start of the war, when the senior officers assented to the decision by Donald Rumsfeld, then the secretary of defense, to send in far fewer troops than they had recommended. The second took place two years later, well into the insurgency phase of the war, when top officers declared they didn’t need more troops, though most of them knew that in fact they did. “Many junior officers,” Snider said, “see this op tempo as stemming from the failure of senior officers to speak out.”

Paul Yingling did not set out to cause a stir. He grew up in a working-class part of Pittsburgh. His father owned a bar; no one in his family went to college. He joined the Army in 1984 at age 17, because he was a troubled kid — poor grades and too much drinking and brawling — who wanted to turn his life around, and he did. He went to Duquesne University, a small Catholic school, on an R.O.T.C. scholarship; went on active duty; rose through the ranks; and, by the time of the 1991 Persian Gulf war, was a lieutenant commanding an artillery battery, directing cannon fire against Saddam Hussein’s army.

“When I was in the gulf war, I remember thinking, This is easier than it was at training exercises,” he told me earlier this month. He was sent to Bosnia in December 1995 as part of the first peacekeeping operation after the signing of the Dayton accords, which ended the war in Bosnia. “This was nothing like training,” he recalled. Like most of his fellow soldiers, he was trained almost entirely for conventional combat operations: straightforward clashes, brigades against brigades. (Even now, about 70 percent of the training at the Captains Career Course is for conventional warfare.) In Bosnia, there was no clear enemy, no front line and no set definition of victory. “I kept wondering why things weren’t as well rehearsed as they’d been in the gulf war,” he said.

Upon returning, he spent the next six years pondering that question. He studied international relations at the University of Chicago’s graduate school and wrote a master’s thesis about the circumstances under which outside powers can successfully intervene in civil wars. (One conclusion: There aren’t many.) He then taught at West Point, where he also read deeply in Western political theory. Yingling was deployed to Iraq in July 2003 as an executive officer collecting loose munitions and training Iraq’s civil-defense corps. “The corps deserted or joined the insurgency on first contact,” he recalled. “It was a disaster.”

In the late fall of 2003, his first tour of duty over, Yingling was sent to Fort Sill, Okla., the Army’s main base for artillery soldiers, and wrote long memos to the local generals, suggesting new approaches to the war in Iraq. One suggestion was that since artillery rockets were then playing little role, artillery soldiers should become more skilled in training Iraqi soldiers; that, he thought, would be vital to Iraq’s future stability. No one responded to his memos, he says. He volunteered for another tour of combat and became deputy commander of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which was fighting jihadist insurgents in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar.

The commander of the third regiment, Col. H. R. McMaster, was a historian as well as a decorated soldier. He figured that Iraq could not build its own institutions, political or military, until its people felt safe. So he devised his own plan, in which he and his troops cleared the town of insurgents — and at the same time formed alliances and built trust with local sheiks and tribal leaders. The campaign worked for a while, but only because McMaster flooded the city with soldiers — about 1,000 of them per square kilometer. Earlier, as Yingling drove around to other towns and villages, he saw that most Iraqis were submitting to whatever gang or militia offered them protection, because United States and coalition forces weren’t anywhere around. And that was because the coalition had entered the war without enough troops. Yingling was seeing the consequences of this decision up close in the terrible insecurity of most Iraqis’ lives.

In February 2006, Yingling returned to Fort Sill. That April, six retired Army and Marine generals publicly criticized Rumsfeld, who was still the secretary of defense, for sending too few troops to Iraq. Many junior and field-grade officers reacted with puzzlement or disgust. Their common question: Where were these generals when they still wore the uniform? Why didn’t they speak up when their words might have counted? One general who had spoken up, Eric Shinseki, then the Army chief of staff, was publicly upbraided and ostracized by Rumsfeld; other active-duty generals got the message and stayed mum.

That December, Yingling attended a Purple Heart ceremony for soldiers wounded in Iraq. “I was watching these soldiers wheeling into this room, or in some cases having to be wheeled in by their wives or mothers,” he recalled. “And I said to myself: ‘These soldiers were doing their jobs. The senior officers were not doing theirs. We’re not giving our soldiers the tools and training to succeed.’ I had to go public.”

Soon after Yingling’s article appeared, Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond, commander of the Fourth Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Tex., reportedly called a meeting of the roughly 200 captains on his base, all of whom had served in Iraq, for the purpose of putting this brazen lieutenant colonel in his place. According to The Wall Street Journal, he told his captains that Army generals are “dedicated, selfless servants.” Yingling had no business judging generals because he has “never worn the shoes of a general.” By implication, Hammond was warning his captains that they had no business judging generals, either. Yingling was stationed at Fort Hood at the time, preparing to take command of an artillery battalion. From the steps of his building, he could see the steps of General Hammond’s building. He said he sent the general a copy of his article before publication as a courtesy, and he never heard back; nor was he notified of the general’s meeting with his captains.

The “trust gap” between junior and senior officers is hardly universal. Many junior officers at Fort Knox and elsewhere have no complaints about the generals — or regard the matter as way above their pay grade. As Capt. Ryan Kranc, who has served two tours in Iraq, one as a commander, explained to me, “I’m more interested in whether my guys can secure a convoy.” He dismissed complaints about troop shortages. “When you’re in a system, you’re never going to get everything you ask for,” he said, “but I still have to accomplish a mission. That’s my job. If they give me a toothpick, dental floss and a good hunting knife, I will accomplish the mission.”

An hour after General Cody’s talk at Fort Knox, several captains met to discuss the issue over beers. Capt. Garrett Cathcart, who has served in Iraq as a platoon leader, said: “The culture of the Army is to accomplish the mission, no matter what. That’s a good thing.” Matt Wignall, who was the first captain to ask General Cody about the Yingling article, agreed that a mission-oriented culture was “a good thing, but it can be dangerous.” He added: “It is so rare to hear someone in the Army say, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ But sometimes it takes courage to say, ‘I don’t have the capability.’ ” Before the Iraq war, when Rumsfeld overrode the initial plans of the senior officers, “somebody should have put his foot down,” Wignall said.

Lt. Col. Allen Gill, who just retired as director of the R.O.T.C. program at Georgetown University, has heard versions of this discussion among his cadets for years. He raises a different concern about the Army’s “can do” culture. “You’re not brought up in the Army to tell people how you can’t get things done, and that’s fine, that’s necessary,” he said. “But when you get promoted to a higher level of strategic leadership, you have to have a different outlook. You’re supposed to make clear, cold calculations of risk — of the probabilities of victory and defeat.”

The problem, he said, is that it’s hard for officers — hard for people in any profession — to switch their basic approach to life so abruptly. As Yingling put it in his article, “It is unreasonable to expect that an officer who spends 25 years conforming to institutional expectations will emerge as an innovator in his late 40s.”

Yingling’s commander at Tal Afar, H. R. McMaster, documented a similar crisis in the case of the Vietnam War. Twenty years after the war, McMaster wrote a doctoral dissertation that he turned into a book called “Dereliction of Duty.” It concluded that the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the 1960s betrayed their professional obligations by failing to provide unvarnished military advice to President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara as they plunged into the Southeast Asian quagmire. When McMaster’s book was published in 1997, Gen. Hugh Shelton, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs, ordered all commanders to read it — and to express disagreements to their superiors, even at personal risk. Since then, “Dereliction of Duty” has been recommended reading for Army officers.

Yet before the start of the Iraq war and during the early stages of the fighting, the Joint Chiefs once again fell silent. Justin Rosenbaum, the captain at Fort Knox who asked General Cody whether any generals would be held accountable for the failures in Iraq, said he was disturbed by this parallel between the two wars. “We’ve read the McMaster book,” he said. “It’s startling that we’re repeating the same mistakes.”

McMaster’s own fate has reinforced these apprehensions. President Bush has singled out McMaster’s campaign at Tal Afar as a model of successful strategy. Gen. David Petraeus, now commander of United States forces in Iraq, frequently consults with McMaster in planning his broader counterinsurgency campaign. Yet the Army’s promotion board — the panel of generals that selects which few dozen colonels advance to the rank of brigadier general — has passed over McMaster two years in a row.

McMaster’s nonpromotion has not been widely reported, yet every officer I spoke with knew about it and had pondered its implications. One colonel, who asked not to be identified because he didn’t want to risk his own ambitions, said: “Everyone studies the brigadier-general promotion list like tarot cards — who makes it, who doesn’t. It communicates what qualities are valued and not valued.” A retired Army two-star general, who requested anonymity because he didn’t want to anger his friends on the promotion boards, agreed. “When you turn down a guy like McMaster,” he told me, “that sends a potent message to everybody down the chain. I don’t know, maybe there were good reasons not to promote him. But the message everybody gets is: ‘We’re not interested in rewarding people like him. We’re not interested in rewarding agents of change.’ ”

Members of the board, he said, want to promote officers whose careers look like their own. Today’s generals rose through the officer corps of the peacetime Army. Many of them fought in the last years of Vietnam, and some fought in the gulf war. But to the extent they have combat experience, it has been mainly tactical, not strategic. They know how to secure an objective on a battlefield, how to coordinate firepower and maneuver. But they don’t necessarily know how to deal with an enemy that’s flexible, with a scenario that has not been rehearsed.

“Those rewarded are the can-do, go-to people,” the retired two-star general told me. “Their skill is making the trains run on time. So why are we surprised that, when the enemy becomes adaptive, we get caught off guard? If you raise a group of plumbers, you shouldn’t be upset if they can’t do theoretical physics.”

There are, of course, exceptions, most notably General Petraeus. He wrote an article for a recent issue of The American Interest, a Washington-based public-policy journal, urging officers to attend civilian graduate schools and get out of their “intellectual comfort zones” — useful for dealing with today’s adaptive enemies.

Yet many Army officers I spoke with say Petraeus’s view is rare among senior officers. Two colonels told me that when they were captains, their commanders strongly discouraged them from attending not just graduate school but even the Army’s Command and General Staff College, warning that it would be a diversion from their career paths. “I got the impression that I’d be better off counting bedsheets in the Baghdad Embassy than studying at Harvard,” one colonel said.

Harvard’s merits aside, some junior officers agree that the promotion system discourages breadth. Capt. Kip Kowalski, an infantry officer in the Captains Career Course at Fort Knox, is a proud soldier in the can-do tradition. He is impatient with critiques of superiors; he prefers to stay focused on his job. “But I am worried,” he said, “that generals these days are forced to be narrow.” Kowalski would like to spend a few years in a different branch of the Army — say, as a foreign area officer — and then come back to combat operations. He says he thinks the switch would broaden his skills, give him new perspectives and make him a better officer. But the rules don’t allow switching back and forth among specialties. “I have to decide right now whether I want to do ops or something else,” he said. “If I go F. A. O., I can never come back.”

In October 2006, seven months before his essay on the failure of generalship appeared, Yingling and Lt. Col. John Nagl, another innovative officer, wrote an article for Armed Forces Journal called “New Rules for New Enemies,” in which they wrote: “The best way to change the organizational culture of the Army is to change the pathways for professional advancement within the officer corps. The Army will become more adaptive only when being adaptive offers the surest path to promotion.”

In late June, Yingling took command of an artillery battalion. This means he will most likely be promoted to full colonel. This assignment, however, was in the works nearly a year ago, long before he wrote his critique of the generals. His move and probable promotion say nothing about whether he’ll be promoted further — or whether, as some of his admirers fear, his career will now grind to a halt.

Nagl — the author of an acclaimed book about counterinsurgency (“Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife”), a former operations officer in Iraq and the subject of a New York Times Magazine article a few years ago — has since taken command of a unit at Fort Riley, Kan., that trains United States soldiers to be advisers to Iraqi security forces. Pentagon officials have said that these advisers are crucial to America’s future military policy. Yet Nagl has written that soldiers have been posted to this unit “on an ad hoc basis” and that few of the officers selected to train them have ever been advisers themselves.

Lt. Col. Isaiah Wilson, a professor at West Point and former planning officer in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, said the fate of Nagl’s unit — the degree to which it attracted capable, ambitious soldiers — depended on the answer to one question: “Will serving as an adviser be seen as equal to serving as a combat officer in the eyes of the promotion boards? The jury is still out.”

“Guys like Yingling, Nagl and McMaster are the canaries in the coal mine of Army reform,” the retired two-star general I spoke with told me. “Will they get promoted to general? If they do, that’s a sign that real change is happening. If they don’t, that’s a sign that the traditional culture still rules.”

failure sometimes compels an institution to change its ways. The last time the Army undertook an overhaul was in the wake of the Vietnam War. At the center of those reforms was an officer named Huba Wass de Czege. Wass de Czege (pronounced VOSH de tsay-guh) graduated from West Point and served two tours of duty in Vietnam, the second as a company commander in the Central Highlands. He devised innovative tactics, leading four-man teams — at the time they were considered unconventionally small — on ambush raids at night. His immediate superiors weren’t keen on his approach or attitude, despite his successes. But after the war ended and a few creative officers took over key posts, they recruited Wass de Czege to join them.

In 1982, he was ordered to rewrite the Army’s field manual on combat operations. At his own initiative, he read the classics of military strategy — Clausewitz’s “On War,” Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” B. H. Liddell Hart’s “Strategy” — none of which had been on his reading list at West Point. And he incorporated many of their lessons along with his own experiences from Vietnam. Where the old edition assumed static clashes of firepower and attrition, Wass de Czege’s revision emphasized speed, maneuver and taking the offensive. He was asked to create a one-year graduate program for the most promising young officers. Called the School of Advanced Military Studies, or SAMS, it brought strategic thinking back into the Army — at least for a while.

Now a retired one-star general, though an active Army consultant, Wass de Czege has publicly praised Yingling’s article. (Yingling was a graduate of SAMS in 2002, well after its founder moved on.) In an essay for the July issue of Army magazine, Wass de Czege wrote that today’s junior officers “feel they have much relevant experience [that] those senior to them lack,” yet the senior officers “have not listened to them.” These junior officers, he added, remind him of his own generation of captains, who held the same view during and just after Vietnam.

“The crux of the problem in our Army,” Wass de Czege wrote, “is that officers are not systematically taught how to cope with unstructured problems.” Counterinsurgency wars, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, are all about unstructured problems. The junior and field-grade officers, who command at the battalion level and below, deal with unstructured problems — adapting to the insurgents’ ever-changing tactics — as a matter of course. Many generals don’t, and never had to, deal with such problems, either in war or in their training drills. Many of them may not fully recognize just how distinct and difficult these problems are.

Speaking by phone from his home outside Fort Leavenworth, Wass de Czege emphasized that he was impressed with most of today’s senior officers. Compared with those of his time, they are more capable, open and intelligent (most officers today, junior and senior, have college degrees, for instance). “You’re not seeing any of the gross incompetence that was common in my day,” he said. He added, however, that today’s generals are still too slow to change. “The Army tends to be consensus-driven at the top,” he said. “There’s a good side to that. We’re steady as a rock. You call us to arms, we’ll be there. But when you roll a lot of changes at us, it takes awhile. The young guys have to drive us to it.”

The day after his talk at Fort Knox, General Cody, back at his office in the Pentagon, reiterated his “faith in the leadership of the general officers.” Asked about complaints that junior officers are forced to follow narrow paths to promotion, he said, “We’re trying to do just the opposite.” In the works are new incentives to retain officers, including not just higher bonuses but free graduate school and the right to choose which branch of the Army to serve in. “I don’t want everybody to think there’s one road map to colonel or general,” he said. He denied that promotion boards picked candidates in their own image. This year, he said, he was on the board that picked new brigadier generals, and one of them, Jeffrey Buchanan, had never commanded a combat brigade; his last assignment was training Iraqi security forces. One colonel, interviewed later, said: “That’s a good sign. They’ve never picked anybody like that before. But that’s just one out of 38 brigadier generals they picked. It’s still very much the exception.”

There is a specter haunting the debate over Yingling’s article — the specter of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. During World War II, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower threatened to resign if the civilian commanders didn’t order air support for the invasion of Normandy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill acceded. But during the Korean War, MacArthur — at the time, perhaps the most popular public figure in America — demanded that President Truman let him attack China. Truman fired him. History has redeemed both presidents’ decisions. But in terms of the issues that Yingling, McMaster and others have raised, was there really a distinction? Weren’t both generals speaking what they regarded as “truth to power”?

The very discussion of these issues discomforts many senior officers because they take very seriously the principle of civilian control. They believe it is not their place to challenge the president or his duly appointed secretary of defense, certainly not in public, especially not in wartime. The ethical codes are ambiguous on how firmly an officer can press an argument without crossing the line. So, many generals prefer to keep a substantial distance from that line — to keep the prospect of a constitutional crisis from even remotely arising.

On a blog Yingling maintains at the Web site of Small Wars Journal, an independent journal of military theory, he has acknowledged these dilemmas, but he hasn’t disentangled them. For example, if generals do speak up, and the president ignores their advice, what should they do then — salute and follow orders, resign en masse or criticize the president publicly? At this level of discussion, the junior and midlevel officers feel uncomfortable, too.

Yingling’s concern is more narrowly professional, but it should matter greatly to future policy makers who want to consult their military advisers. The challenge is how to ensure that generals possess the experience and analytical prowess to formulate sound military advice and the “moral courage,” as Yingling put it, to take responsibility for that advice and for its resulting successes or failures. The worry is that too few generals today possess either set of qualities — and that the promotional system impedes the rise of officers who do.

As today’s captains and majors come up through the ranks, the culture may change. One question is how long that will take. Another question is whether the most innovative of those junior officers will still be in the Army by the time the top brass decides reform is necessary. As Colonel Wilson, the West Point instructor, put it, “When that moment comes, will there be enough of the right folks in the right slots to make the necessary changes happen?”

Fred Kaplan is the national security columnist for Slate and author of the forthcoming book “Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power.”

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Avoid the Craziness and No One Gets Hurt


FOLLOWING are a few highly preliminary observations about the recent turmoil in the financial markets:

IT’S ABOUT THE FEES Hedge funds are largely a fraud. A hedge fund is supposed to hedge against market movements by unhedged instruments. In a very simple example, they are supposed to go short when the market is falling and thereby make money to hedge against losses in long positions.

I am sure that some were doing that recently, but from what I’ve seen, many were just highly leveraged bets on long positions. When the market turned sharply against them, they not only lost, but also sometimes had to sell under the compulsion of margin calls and thus hastily and for a loss.

These are not what I could call hedge funds. This is just gambling. Now we see that, at least for many funds, it’s not about investing prowess or sharp insights. It is, as my idol, Warren E. Buffett has said so many times, about “fees, fees, fees.” The model hedge fund is not a means to outperform the market. It is a means to outcharge the investor.

THE RICH AREN’T SO SOPHISTICATED In 2005 and 2006, there was considerable discussion about whether hedge funds needed to be regulated. It was finally decided by the powers that be at the Securities and Exchange Commission that because their investors were often very rich people who were presumably sophisticated investors, the hedge funds needed only the slightest nod toward regulation versus, say, mutual funds.

For anyone at all familiar with rich people, the idea that to be rich is to be sophisticated is almost laughable. Rich people become rich generally in ways that have zero to do with sophistication in investing. I have seen this in spades this week with all of the shrieking from my rich pals about their investment losses. Maybe we need to rethink the notion that the rich do not need regulatory protection.

But more to the point, some of the largest investors in hedge funds are pension and welfare funds for unions and for other groups of employees. These people might well have been stunned if they knew the incredibly risky games that their “2 and 20” managers — charging 2 percent of total asset value and 20 percent of profits — were playing with their money. It is hard to believe a police officer in Los Angeles would really want his pension money tied up in the last slice of subprime, especially with leverage.

If hedge funds are to continue as an entity of some scale, it is high time they are required to display transparency, full disclosure and the kind of fiduciary duty that more sophisticated players in finance always need to show their investors. In other words, we have just seen that we need serious regulation of hedge funds.

FEAR CAN TRUMP FACT Today’s news media will “catastrophize” anything they can. The subprime mess was always much smaller than the media let on. (See my column of two weeks ago.) In a nation of our size, in a world economy on fire with prosperity and liquidity, the losses were not large, but the media endlessly tried to scare us.

When fear can easily outrun fact, some basic education is required from our national stewards of finance. The performance by Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, was letter perfect. His injections of liquidity and his resolve to invite banks to the discount window to preserve liquidity were just what the doctor ordered.

Henry M. Paulson Jr., the Treasury secretary, was a slightly different story. He should have been putting things in perspective, assuring us that the government would maintain orderly markets, and that the real problem was fear itself. He did dramatically improve his performance last week, but my feeling is that he still does not realize that he is the financial steward for all Americans, and not just the powers of Wall Street.

INVESTMENTS CAN’T BE ALL THINGS If something seems too good to be true in the world of money, it usually is. The junk bonds that Drexel Burnham Lambert once ginned up were supposed to be loans to less-qualified borrowers that would pay higher rates of interest, but not be subject to default rates that offset those gains. They weren’t (except that once the markets had beaten them to a pulp, Leon Black, of Drexel and then Apollo, made a fortune buying them for a song).

Internet stocks were supposed to offer universal wealth despite paying no dividends and having no earnings. They were supposed to defy the conventional rules. They didn’t. Subprime was supposed to be, in effect, a Milken junk bond, with a low-rated borrower and high interest but defaults low enough to allow a profit to the bond holders. In fact, immense profits were made by the issuers, but when the real default rate appeared, the free lunch vanished.

MARKETS ERR IN THE SHORT TERM After all, they are always changing, so their previous prices must have been a mistake. But they tend toward being right. (Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Something similar is true of the stock markets.) But in the short run, some drastic overvaluations and undervaluations can occur.

Something like this is happening now with financial stocks, which are at levels that would seem to forecast a second Great Depression. If that does not happen, in 10 years some smart people who bought financial stocks in the late summer of 2007 might be happy they did. It would take staggering mistakes of monetary policy to justify the prices of those stocks now. Unless Mr. Bernanke is replaced by Chuckles the Clown, it won’t happen. More to come.

Ben Stein is a lawyer, writer, actor and economist. E-mail: ebiz@nytimes.com.


# Frank Rich is off today.
# Maureen Dowd is off today.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Jammin’ With Gabriel


They were rambunctious geniuses — Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell and Max Roach — the nucleus of a group of immensely talented musicians who engineered a revolution in jazz as wondrous and profound as the birth of Cubism in painting.

Max was a tall, skinny kid who had grown up in Brooklyn and was so gifted a percussionist by his early 20s that Dizzy would express the mock fear that the angel Gabriel (the only trumpeter who could rival Dizzy at the time) might try to steal Max to play drums in some heavenly band.

He warned Max to stay put if Gabriel came to call.

I imagine they’re all jammin’ with Gabriel now. Max, the last survivor of that rowdy crew that created bebop, the stunningly complex and sophisticated music that ignited modern jazz, was buried yesterday. My great fear is that the music, underappreciated and poorly understood, is dying, too.

Max had an easy surface personality, which belied the torments he had to fight through as he adhered obsessively to the highest artistic standards, and the lifelong resentment he felt about the way the music was treated.

Elegant, husky-voiced and quick to smile, he was full of stories about the titans of jazz. I remember him chuckling one afternoon as he pointed to an elaborately carved straight-backed chair in his apartment on Central Park West. He was telling a story about Charlie Parker that went back to the 1940s.

Bird, peerless on the saxophone, was not only addicted to heroin, he was also phenomenally charismatic. His personal habits were as closely imitated by other musicians as his music.

“The guys would flop at my house in Brooklyn,” Max said. “My mother did day work, so we’d be there by ourselves all day. Now Bird was clever. He knew my mother was very religious and as soon as he’d hear her putting that key in the door, he’d pick up the Bible, jump in that chair and pretend he was reading it.

“My mother would say to me, ‘Why can’t you be like that nice Charlie Parker?’ I’d say to myself, ‘That’s my problem.’ ”

Like so many others in Bird’s orbit, Max became addicted, too. Bird would die at 34 from the effects of heroin addiction and alcoholism. Max was able to kick his habit. He then advanced the triumph of bebop with the creation of a stunning new sound — dubbed “hard bop” — that emerged from his alliance with the trumpeter Clifford Brown.

By the mid-’50s, Max was standing atop a pinnacle. Compulsively creative and an absolute virtuoso, he had almost single-handedly dragged the drums out of the shadows and demonstrated that they were much more than a mechanism to keep time for the rest of the band. They could be the expressive equal of any of the other instruments in the jazz repertoire.

And he was the co-leader, with Brown, of a phenomenal quintet that was recognized by critics and fans alike as a genuine artistic achievement. Brown, a modest, soft-spoken young man with a warm and powerful sound, was being hailed as the most talented trumpet player to emerge since Gillespie.

“Oh, man, he was something else,” Max said. “He was going to set the world on fire.”

The quintet was booked to play a gig in Chicago in the early summer of 1956. Brown, who was 25, and the band’s pianist, Richie Powell (Bud Powell’s younger brother), were to drive from Philadelphia to Chicago to meet Max and the rest of the band there.

Not long after midnight on June 26 the car in which they were traveling, driven by Powell’s wife, Nancy, careened off the rain-swept Pennsylvania Turnpike and plunged down an embankment. All three occupants died.

Max went into a tailspin. He drank heavily and sank into a depression.

But there was always the music, his recovery mechanism, and it was always fresh and inventive. “His artistic integrity was always intact and operating at a high pitch,” said Shannon Gibbons, a singer who was close to Max for many years.

Jazz no longer commands the attention it once did, and many of its greatest practitioners have slipped into the realm of the forgotten. (Your average person has never heard of Clifford Brown.)

Once when I was talking with Max in his living room, I noticed that his gaze had shifted to a spot over my shoulder, and there was an odd look in his eyes. Behind me, over the sofa, was a large photo of Max with Bird and Diz, Bud Powell and the bassist Charles Mingus.

Dizzy had only recently died. Remembering when they had all been young and wild and great together, Max said, “Damn, now all of those cats are gone.”

Major General John Batiste, US Army (retired)

From Think Progress because the WSJ wouldn't touch it.

Over a year and a half ago, I made a gut-wrenching decision to leave the Army in order to speak out about the war in Iraq. I turned my back on over 31 years of service and what by all accounts would have been a great career. I realized that I was in a unique position to speak out on behalf of Soldiers and their families. I had a moral obligation and duty to do so. My family and I left the only life we knew and entered the political debate. As a two-time combat veteran, I understand the value of thorough planning and deliberate execution. I understand what it takes to win. As a life-long Republican, I am prepared to carry on with the debate for as long as necessary. I have been speaking out for the past 17 months and there is no turning back.

As a conservative, I am all for a strong military and setting the conditions for success. America goes to war to win. I am not anti-war and am committed to winning the struggle against world-wide Islamic extremism. But, I am outraged that elected officials of my own party do not comprehend the predicament we are in with a strategy in the Middle East that lacks focus and is all but relying on the military to solve the diplomatic, political, and economic Rubik’s Cube that defines Iraq. Our dysfunctional interagency process in Washington DC lacks leadership and direction. Many conservatives in Congress have allowed the charade to go on for too long.

It is disappointing that so many elected representatives of my party continue to blindly support the administration rather than doing what is in the best interests of our country. Traditionally, my party has maintained a conservative view on questions regarding our Armed Forces. For example, we commit our military only when absolutely necessary. In the same way conservatives have always argued against government excess in social programs, the lives our young men and women in uniform, our most precious resource, are not to be used on wars of choice or for nation building. The military theorist Carl von Clausewitz taught us that wars are to be fought only as a last resort–the extension of politics by other means.

These principles are apparently not understood by many of the Republicans in our Congress. Besides the fact that many conservatives allowed President Bush to jump head-first into a war of choice, the bullheadedness of Congressional Republicans who argue for staying the course runs contrary to conservative values. Many politicians of my party continue to argue that we must liberally use up whatever our military has left. Bottom line, the Republican Congress of the last six years abrogated its Constitutional duty and share in the responsibility for the debacle in Iraq.

Our all-volunteer military cannot continue the current cycle of deployments for much longer. America’s national strategy in Iraq is akin to a four legged stool with legs representing diplomacy, political reconciliation, economic recovery, and the military. The glue holding it all together must be the mobilization of the United States in support of the incredibly important effort to defeat world-wide Islamic extremism. The only leg on the stool of any consequence is the military–it is solid titanium and high performing, the best in the world. After almost six years since September 11, our country is not mobilized behind this important work and the diplomatic, political, and economic legs are not focused and lack leadership. Most Americans now appreciate that the military alone cannot solve the problem in Iraq. In this situation, the stool will surely collapse.

Our military and our treasury are not unlimited resources. The war in Iraq is breaking our fine Army and Marine Corps, and we are perilously close to doing damage that will take more than a decade to fix. Our brigades and divisions in Iraq today are at near full strength because the rest of the force has been gutted. We cannot place America in a position of weakness as it just begins its long war against world-wide Islamic extremism. The Republican administration is bleeding our national treasure in blood and dollars with little to show for it.

The high price we are paying might be worth it if Iraq’s many factions were making meaningful progress to achieve political reconciliation. But, after more than four years, Iraqis are no closer to settling their differences and the sitting Shia government is ineffective. With insufficient coalition and Iraqi security forces on the ground, the myth of Sisyphus is playing out over and over again. The Iraqi Parliament goes on vacation instead of working, and every few months, it seems, another Iraqi political faction walks out of the process. To me, continuing to expend money and American lives on a nation that shows little drive to solve its own problems is the foreign policy equivalent of a welfare queen.

The only way to stabilize Iraq and allow our military to rearm and refit for the long fight ahead is to begin a responsible and deliberate redeployment from Iraq and replace the troops with far less expensive and much more effective resources–those of diplomacy and the critical work of political reconciliation and economic recovery. In other words, when it comes to Iraq, it’s time for conservatives to once again be conservative.

Bush's Vietnam Blunder

By Jim Hoagland

Friday, August 24, 2007

Desperate presidents resort to desperate rhetoric -- which then calls new attention to their desperation. President Bush joined the club this week by citing the U.S. failure in Vietnam to justify staying on in Iraq.

Bush's comparison of the two conflicts rivals Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" utterance during Watergate and Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," in producing unintended consequences of a most damaging kind for a sitting president.

It is not just that Bush's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on Wednesday drew on a shaky grasp of history, spotlighted once again his own decision to sit out the Vietnam conflict, and played straight into his critics' most emotive arguments against him and the Republican Party.

More important, Bush has called attention to the elephant that will be sitting in the room when his administration makes its politically vital report on Iraq to the nation next month. For Americans, the most important comparison will be this one: As Vietnam did, Iraq has become a failure even on its own terms -- whatever those terms are at any given moment.

That is, the administration has constantly shifted its goals in Iraq to avoid accepting failure and blame -- only to see the new goals drift beyond reach each time. Liberation of Iraqis became occupation by Americans, democracy became an unattainable centralized "national unity" government and this year's military surge has become a device for achieving political reconciliation among people who do not want to reconcile.

Bush's appeal to Americans to turn away from "the allure of retreat" centered on the indisputably horrific consequences for the people of Vietnam and Cambodia of defeat in 1975. But his analogy also summons the historical reality that U.S. involvement in Indochina became untenable when that engagement itself became a threat to America's social fabric and national cohesion -- and then to the very institutions that had responsibility for the war, the U.S. military and intelligence services, as well as the presidency and Congress.

Iraq fortunately has not produced anything like the scale of casualties and domestic conflict that Vietnam visited on the United States. The two conflicts also differ greatly in their potential regional consequences. Bush had done well until now to steer away from such analogies.

But his words invite examination of the mounting damage that Bush's approaches to the war in Iraq and to national security in general are doing to U.S. institutions in an American society that has significantly changed since 1975.

Some military commanders, CIA agents in Iraq, Republican members of Congress, State Department diplomats and others now make their highest priority the protection of their own reputations, careers and institutions -- the three blend seamlessly into a single overriding ambition in Washington -- for the post-Bush era, which thus draws closer, in the manner of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The need to protect the White House, the Pentagon and both major political parties from greater Iraq fallout explains much of the blame being dumped on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at this late date -- even though his deficiencies and close links to Iran and Syria were clearly visible when the administration helped install him in the job in 2006. As he has been throughout the Iraq experience, Bush is condemned to play the cards he dealt himself.

The prime minister's chances of producing the "national unity" government that Bush demanded but that Maliki himself never seemed to believe in are now being shredded by the maneuvering for position in the twilight months of the Bush presidency.

The U.S. military is helping Sunni tribes organize into armed militias that will owe their loyalty beyond the tribe to American commanders rather than to Maliki's government. Similarly, the CIA has molded an Iraq intelligence service that draws no public funds from the Iraqi government and presumably is paid for by Langley. The agency's reluctance to act against Kurdish rebels operating against Iran and Turkey may also be part of a separate vision of the agency's future role in Iraq.

Such maneuvering is ultimately self-defeating, as was Bush's desperate bid this week to mobilize on his side the old resentments and fears of the political battles fought over Vietnam. Bush's speech fits Talleyrand's definition of something worse than a crime: It was a blunder.

Vietnam and Iraq are totally different situations. But U.S. institutions and their leaders will still follow the Washington laws of self-preservation when campaigns abroad begin to threaten their survival.

Bush's next invasion: Vietnam?

Following the president's logic, our best move is to repeat a huge mistake.
Rosa Brooks

Re-invade Vietnam!

Oh yes. You thought the Bush administration was fresh out of ideas? You thought that with Karl Rove leaving, the administration that brought us the war in Iraq and "Mission Accomplished" had no more tricks up its sleeve?

Think again.

On Wednesday, speaking before a Veterans of Foreign Wars audience, President Bush did something he had previously avoided: He compared the Iraq war with the Vietnam War, agreeing that Vietnam does hold lessons for U.S. policy in Iraq.

Can't argue with that. For most Americans, the lessons of Vietnam were reasonably clear before we invaded Iraq and have been painfully reinforced by the ongoing disaster there:

Don't fight needless wars; don't go blundering around in countries where you don't know the language, history or culture; don't underestimate the power of nationalism, ethnicity and religion to bind together -- or tear apart -- people whose interests otherwise seem to diverge or converge; and, most of all, don't imagine that military force can solve fundamentally political problems.

But the president, who has his own very special set of history books, drew the public's attention to some entirely different lessons from Vietnam. To Bush, the "unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens."

Right! To Bush, the tragedy of the Vietnam War is that we didn't let it drag on for another decade or so.

Some might quibble with Bush's understanding of historical causation. Yes, many innocent civilians suffered in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam -- but it's more accurate to attribute their suffering to the prolongation of the war itself, rather than to the U.S. withdrawal as such.

It's hard to be precise (as is the case in Iraq today, no one kept careful count of Vietnamese civilian casualties, and all sides in the conflict had an incentive to fudge the true figures), but somewhere between 1 million and 4 million civilians died as the war needlessly dragged on, many killed by U.S. weapons. Millions more were displaced.

But those are details.

Bush went on to assert that "another price to our withdrawal from Vietnam" was the rise of "the enemy we face in today's struggle, those who came to our soil and killed thousands of citizens" on 9/11.

Yup -- it's so obvious! The U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam caused the rise of Al Qaeda -- and, by extension, "our withdrawal from Vietnam" ultimately turned Iraq into "the central front" in "the war on terror."

Once you're in the right frame of mind -- the Right frame of mind, I should say -- the logic becomes blindingly clear:

Step 1: In 1975, the Vietnam War ended and young Osama bin Laden, age 18, saw that the mighty U.S. could be brought low and that an unhappy citizenry could push a democratically elected government to end an unpopular war.

Step 2: Hmm. This step is a little tougher. Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. on 9/11. Then Bin Laden, bearing the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam constantly in mind, um . . . somehow tricked us into going to war in Iraq . . . where Al Qaeda had no presence prior to the U.S. invasion . . . because he knew we'd make a mess of things . . . and that Al Qaeda could move in while we were bogged down fighting insurgents . . . and bog us down even more?

Something like that.

And from there, we easily reach Step 3: We are stuck in a quagmire in Iraq, just as in Vietnam! Millions of civilians are paying the price for U.S. over-reaching -- just as in Vietnam! Our credibility is suffering -- just as in Vietnam! The American public has lost faith in the war -- just as in Vietnam! Bin Laden is happy to see us brought low -- just as in Vietnam! If we leave, more bad things may happen, and Bin Laden will also be happy -- just as in Vietnam!

Step 4. Therefore, as the president explained Wednesday, we must stay in Iraq forever, until every last terrorist or every last Iraqi civilian is dead, whichever comes first.

But Bush forgot to mention Step 5, which follows logically from Steps 1 to 4.

How can we show the innocent civilians of Southeast Asia that we haven't forgotten them and simultaneously send a message of resolve to the Iraqi people? How can we show Al Qaeda once and for all that the U.S. is not to be trifled with?

It's time for Step 5:

Re-invade Vietnam.

Because no matter what they say -- it's never too late to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Seeking Willie Horton

So now Mitt Romney is trying to Willie Hortonize Rudy Giuliani. And thereby hangs a tale — the tale, in fact, of American politics past and future, and the ultimate reason Karl Rove’s vision of a permanent Republican majority was a foolish fantasy.

Willie Horton, for those who don’t remember the 1988 election, was a convict from Massachusetts who committed armed robbery and rape after being released from prison on a weekend furlough program. He was made famous by an attack ad, featuring a menacing mugshot, that played into racial fears. Many believe that the ad played an important role in George H.W. Bush’s victory over Michael Dukakis.

Now some Republicans are trying to make similar use of the recent murder of three college students in Newark, a crime in which two of the suspects are Hispanic illegal immigrants. Tom Tancredo flew into Newark to accuse the city’s leaders of inviting the crime by failing to enforce immigration laws, while Newt Gingrich declared that the “war here at home” against illegal immigrants is “even more deadly than the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

And Mr. Romney, who pretends to be whatever he thinks the G.O.P. base wants him to be, is running a radio ad denouncing New York as a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants, an implicit attack on Mr. Giuliani.

Strangely, nobody seems to be trying to make a national political issue out of other horrifying crimes, like the Connecticut home invasion in which two paroled convicts, both white, are accused of killing a mother and her two daughters. Oh, and by the way: over all, Hispanic immigrants appear to commit relatively few crimes — in fact, their incarceration rate is actually lower than that of native-born non-Hispanic whites.

To appreciate what’s going on here you need to understand the difference between the goals of the modern Republican Party and the strategy it uses to win elections.

The people who run the G.O.P. are concerned, above all, with making America safe for the rich. Their ultimate goal, as Grover Norquist once put it, is to get America back to the way it was “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over,” getting rid of “the income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.”

But right-wing economic ideology has never been a vote-winner. Instead, the party’s electoral strategy has depended largely on exploiting racial fear and animosity.

Ronald Reagan didn’t become governor of California by preaching the wonders of free enterprise; he did it by attacking the state’s fair housing law, denouncing welfare cheats and associating liberals with urban riots. Reagan didn’t begin his 1980 campaign with a speech on supply-side economics, he began it — at the urging of a young Trent Lott — with a speech supporting states’ rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964.

And if you look at the political successes of the G.O.P. since it was taken over by movement conservatives, they had very little to do with public opposition to taxes, moral values, perceived strength on national security, or any of the other explanations usually offered. To an almost embarrassing extent, they all come down to just five words: southern whites starting voting Republican.

In fact, I suspect that the underlying importance of race to the Republican base is the reason Rudy Giuliani remains the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination, despite his serial adultery and his past record as a social liberal. Never mind moral values: what really matters to the base is that Mr. Giuliani comes across as an authoritarian, willing in particular to crack down on you-know-who.

But Republicans have a problem: demographic changes are making their race-based electoral strategy decreasingly effective. Quite simply, America is becoming less white, mainly because of immigration. Hispanic and Asian voters were only 4 percent of the electorate in 1980, but they were 11 percent of voters in 2004 — and that number will keep rising for the foreseeable future.

Those numbers are the reason Karl Rove was so eager to reach out to Hispanic voters. But the whites the G.O.P. has counted on to vote their color, not their economic interests, are having none of it. From their point of view, it’s us versus them — and everyone who looks different is one of them.

So now we have the spectacle of Republicans competing over who can be most convincingly anti-Hispanic. I know, officially they’re not hostile to Hispanics in general, only to illegal immigrants, but that’s a distinction neither the G.O.P. base nor Hispanic voters takes seriously.

Today’s G.O.P., in short, is trapped by its history of cynicism. For decades it has exploited racial animosity to win over white voters — and now, when Republican politicians need to reach out to an increasingly diverse country, the base won’t let them.

David Brooks is off today.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bush's rationale for Iraq war keeps changing

Joseph L. Galloway

Year-by-year, month-by-month, now even day-to-day, we're treated to a different rationale for the Iraq war from a different President George W. Bush.

In the beginning, the reasons for invading Iraq and toppling the dictator Saddam Hussein were his possession of weapons of mass destruction, his nuclear weapons program and his links to the real al Qaida.

When no evidence of the truth of any of those reasons could be found after a year and millions spent in a desperate, failed search, the rationale became the installation of a freely elected democratic government in Baghdad.

For the best part of a year, the Bush administration denied that a homegrown insurgency had taken root in Iraq. In their view, it was just a collection of Baath Party “dead-enders” and foreign jihadists who were killing Americans.

Then the administration grudgingly admitted that there was an Iraqi insurgency, but carried on with a campaign that focused on brute force — kicking in doors, searching families, carting off the men in wholesale sweeps that filled prisons and detention camps to overflowing — that had nothing to do with counterinsurgency warfare except to create many more insurgents.

Elections were held and a democratically elected Shiite Muslim majority took control of the Iraqi government and parliament.

By then, however, a sectarian civil war had taken root and the murder of innocent civilians, Shia and Sunni and Kurds, was the order of the day, and ethnic cleansing of entire neighborhoods in the capital was beginning. The administration denied that a civil war was under way, long after it was.

Our focus next was on training, equipping and standing up Iraq Army battalions and Iraqi police units to take over security duties so U.S. military units could begin standing down. The facts that the effort was underfunded and poorly managed, and that some Iraqi units refused to fight with the Americans and that others joined in the ethnic cleansing were ignored or covered with optimistic public pronouncements by the president, Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Our ally, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, was hobbled by his political ties to the Iranian-backed Shiite militias that infiltrated or were inserted into key government ministries. American forces uncovered secret Interior Ministry prisons jammed with Sunnis who'd been cruelly tortured. Each morning’s toll of tortured and executed people found dead, alone or in groups, grew to as many as 100.

Vice President Cheney famously declared two years ago that the insurgency was “in its last throes.” The president steadfastly rejected any comparison of our lost war in Vietnam with our lost war in Iraq, as he also rejected any suggestion of doing anything but “staying the course.”

The commander on the ground and the commander in the region last year declared that this war couldn't be won militarily and recommended against any surge or escalation in the number of U.S. troops. They were replaced by the fourth U.S. ground commander, Army Gen. David Petraeus, and the third head of the U.S. Central Command, Navy Adm. William Fallon.

The bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission offered a new way forward in Iraq after nine months of study, recommending the beginning of a drawdown of U.S. forces and a new reliance on diplomatic negotiations with Syria, Iran and other neighboring countries. It also offered President Bush a way out of the quicksand.

He paid slight lip service to the recommendations and promptly opted for the surge, an escalation from 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq to what's now reached 160,000 and will go even higher to 171,000 later this fall.

There were two objectives — use U.S. troops to create a more stable and peaceful environment in and around Baghdad so the Maliki government and the Iraqi parliament could achieve a series of benchmarks. The most important benchmark was to begin reconciliation among the warring communities.

With Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker scheduled to report to Congress on what the surge has accomplished on September 11, we learn that the White House political aides actually will write the promised assessment.

This week we saw two President Bushes in action. In a news conference in Canada, he acknowledged that while security has improved somewhat thanks to the surge, the Iraqis have made little progress toward meeting the benchmarks. Two days later, speaking at the National VFW convention in Kansas City, the president spoke at length about the need to stay the course in Iraq indefinitely.

He pleaded for the patience he said is needed to win in Iraq, and surprisingly put forward the example of the Vietnam War and our withdrawal from there after 10 years and 58,249 dead American troops as a reason why we must stick to our guns in Iraq.

He trotted out his administration's now shopworn fear tactics, arguing that persisting in this senseless war will prevent a massacre of millions in Iraq and attacks on us at home by a reinvigorated al Qaida.

The more things change in this administration, the more they stay the same.

The Great Clock Plot


This week, The Times reported that President Hugo Chávez is planning to move Venezuela’s clocks ahead by half an hour. The story created one of those wonderful moments of newspaper community, as readers around the nation suddenly shared an identical thought:

Say what?

Chávez unveiled his plans on his regular Sunday television show, in what several other news reports referred to as a “rambling” address. Reaction was swift, with many people recalling the scene in Woody Allen’s “Bananas” when a revolutionary hero becomes president of a Latin American country and announces that from now on, “underwear will be worn on the outside.”

The other popular comment was that Americans are in no position to make fun of countries whose leaders make incoherent speeches.

Chávez has always been strong on the grand leftist gesture. (Remember the day that he called George W. Bush “the devil” at the United Nations?) But it’s hard to quite grasp the populist appeal of having to use a calculator to figure out when the next plane arrives from Bogotá.

In his speech, Chávez connected the time change to his plan to reduce the Venezuelan work day in 2008. His administration believes that:

1) Cutting everyone’s work day to six hours will increase national productivity; and 2) That if you change 7 a.m. to 6:30, it will create a “metabolic effect, where the human brain is conditioned by sunlight.”

Now I know all this sounds extremely silly, but in the name of fairness, remember that:

1) You live in a country where the administration believes that cutting taxes for the heirs to billion-dollar estates will lead to increased prosperity for unemployed steel workers.

2) Every year, most Americans spring forward and fall back so that the Sun God will send extra rays to we who honor him with the ceremony of the changing of the clocks.

3) So far, Hugo Chávez hasn’t invaded anybody.

Inquiring minds still want to know about that half-hour. The Venezuelan science minister says the government wants to return the country to the system it used before 1965.

When it was changed. For convenience.

Perhaps President Chávez just isn’t a clock-watching kind of guy. His weekly TV program is six hours of him talking, which is an extremely long time to ramble on unless you’re Fidel Castro or an American sports commentator.

But what if there’s a trend under way here? The list of countries who use the half-hour system does not inspire much confidence. There’s Burma. And Afghanistan. And then there’s Nepal. When the countries around it are at 3 p.m., Nepal believes it to be 3:45. This may have something to do with the altitude.

Newfoundland is on the half-hour system, defying the rest of Canada to do anything about it. The reason, as Premier Danny Williams once explained, is that Newfoundlanders “like to be different.” Their country is mainly about cod — very important, historically speaking, but not frequently in the headlines these days.

So people there like a little attention. They like having a Newfoundland Time Zone. They like the fact that the national broadcasters always have to say: “Stay tuned for the news on the hour. On the half-hour in Newfoundland.”

We may be on to something here. How many countries do you think would feel better about the world if they just got mentioned once in a while? Probably won’t work for Afghanistan at this point, but we could try getting the networks to say things like: “News is up next, and let’s hope it’s a nice day in Surinam.”

Sooner or later, somebody in the White House will notice that the one other country whose clocks are running to the tune of a different drummer is Iran. Chávez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are extremely cozy, always pinning medals on one another and sending anti-Bush jokes back and forth. At this very minute, Vice President Dick Cheney is somewhere in his basement, working up a new theory about the Evil Axis of Half Hours.

Let’s just not go there. Riordan Roett, the director of the Western Hemisphere studies program at Johns Hopkins University, says that the fact that the president of Venezuela announces something does not necessarily mean it’s a done deal. “See if Chávez repeats it,” he advised. “If it’s just a one-time thing, the rational people who are still in the government will just ignore it.”

If only we had a similar system in the United States, imagine all the things we might have avoided over the last six years.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

War’s Chilling Reality


Bryan Anderson, a 25-year-old Army sergeant who was wounded in Iraq, was explaining, on camera — to James Gandolfini, of all people — what happened immediately after a roadside bomb blew up the Humvee that he was driving.

“I was like, ‘Oh, we got hit. We got hit.’ And then I had blood on my face and the flies were landing all over my face. So I wiped my face to get rid of the flies. And that is when I noticed that my fingertip was gone. So I was like, ‘Oh. O.K.’

“So that is when I started really assessing myself. I was like, ‘That’s not bad.’ And then I turned my hand over, and I noticed that this chunk of my hand was gone. So I was like, ‘O.K., still not bad. I can live with that.’

“And then when I went to wipe the flies on my face with my left hand, there was nothing there. So I was like, ‘Uh, that’s gone.’ And then I looked down and I saw that my legs were gone. And then they had kind of forced my head back down to the ground, hoping that I wouldn’t see.”

HBO’s contribution to an expanded awareness of the awful realities of war continues with a new documentary, “Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq.”

Mr. Gandolfini, one of the executive producers of the film, steps out of his Tony Soprano persona to quietly, even gently, interview 10 soldiers and marines who barely escaped death in combat.

The interviews are powerful, and often chilling. They offer a portrait of combat and its aftermath that bears no relation to the sanitized, often upbeat version of war — not just in Iraq, but in general — that so often comes from politicians and the news media.

Dawn Halfaker, a 28-year-old former Army captain, is among those featured in the documentary. She lost her right arm and shoulder in Iraq, along with any illusions she might have had about the glory of war.

“I think I was a little bit naïve to what combat was really like,” she told me in an interview on Sunday. “When you’re training, you don’t really imagine that you could be holding a dying boy in your arms. You don’t think about what death is like close up.

“There’s nothing heroic about war. It’s very tragic. It’s very sad. It takes a huge emotional toll.”

Still, she said, there was much about her experience in Iraq that she was grateful for.

“Nobody in the film is asking for pity or sympathy,” she said. “We’re just saying we had this experience and it changed our lives, and we’re coping with it.”

The term “alive day” is being used by G.I.’s to refer to the day that they came frighteningly close to dying from war wounds, but somehow managed to survive. There are legions of them.

Miraculous advances in emergency medicine, communication and transportation are enabling 90 percent of the G.I.’s wounded in Iraq to survive their wounds, although many are facing a lifetime of suffering.

It’s become a cliché to talk about the courage of the soldiers and marines struggling to overcome their horrendous injuries, but it’s a cliché embedded in the truth. Sergeant Anderson, a chatty onetime athlete, is doing his best to put together a reasonably satisfactory life without his legs or his left hand, and with a damaged right hand

He told Mr. Gandolfini, “If I didn’t have my hand, if I lost both my hands, I’d really think, you know, it wouldn’t be worth it to be around.”

He has a wry take on the term “alive day.”

“Everybody makes a big deal about your alive day, especially at Walter Reed,” he said. “And I can see their point, that you’d want to celebrate something like that. But from my point of view, it’s like, ‘O.K., we’re sitting here celebrating the worst day of my life. Great, let’s just remind me of that every year.’ ”

Last year HBO produced a harrowing documentary called “Baghdad E.R.” that showed the relentless effort of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to save as many lives as possible from what amounted to a nonstop conveyor belt of G.I.’s wounded in combat. At the time, Shelia Nevins, the head of documentary programming at the network, said, “We tried to put a human face on the war.”

They’ve done it again with “Alive Day Memories,” which is scheduled to premiere Sept. 9.

There are no politics in either production. They are neither pro- nor anti-war.

But the intense focus on the humanity of the men and women caught up in the chaos of Iraq, and the incredible sacrifices some of them have had to make, is an implicit argument in favor of a more thoughtful, cautious, less hubristic approach to matters of war and peace.

Executive MBA
Get An Executive MBA from Top MBA Schools