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Yesterday, I met an authentic modern hero. Not the kind of domestic hero, who works as a volunteer at a food bank, or rushes to put out a fire, or adopts a needy child. But a modern military hero, who acted to save lives at the risk of his own in a combat zone, who accepted the role of leadership, even when it meant personal sacrifice. A living oxymoron: a French Algerian, who came to America, renounced his French citizenship to join the U.S. Army, and rose to become the newest and one of the 10 living Medal of Honor winners alive today.
Captain Florence (Flo) Groberg appeared yesterday at a small luncheon hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He brought along his charming girlfriend and his Pentagon handler, a public affairs master sergeant. Groberg described coming to America from a Paris suburb, where his French Algerian mother had married an American businessman. He attended high school and college in the U.S., and after 9/11, and becoming a naturalized American citizen, joined the Army and attended Infantry Officer’s Candidate School and advanced Ranger training.
On Groberg’s second tour in Afghanistan, he was leading a personal security detail for senior American and Afghani officials walking toward a local conference, when an elaborate suicide bomber attack began. Identifying the nearest would be bomber, Groberg pushed down the assailant, taking part of the blast himself, but saving many others in the process. While four died in the attack, Groberg survived, and after 33 surgeries is back on his feet. Two weeks ago President Obama presented him with the Medal Of honor at the White House.
Captain Groberg, now a Pentagon civilian employee, is an intelligent, personable, modest patriot. When asked to comment on national policy issues, he reminds the audience that, “I am just an Army Captain, not a talking head political commentator.” He believes the U.S. is well prepared and our forces are well trained to fight the asymmetrical battles of the 21st century. Asked what his calling was in Afghanistan, he said, “to help the villagers with their local security issues.”
Asked what military traits he thought would be most beneficial in civilian employment, Groberg smiled and said, “punctuality, and then planning. Punctuality means we should up when, where and as needed, and planning means we approach every situation with a plan of action.”
In today’s era of widespread cynicism about America’s foreign adventures, with which I can heartily relate, it is moving to meet and hear from one of hundreds of thousands of young people who live to serve and sacrifice in the name of American principles and leadership that they trust and admire.
The invasion of Libya by the West has been coming for a long time. Since well before Lockerbie. Perhaps since the 7th century. What a bad idea it is now is yet to fully unfold, but if it proves to be a step forward, I will eat my shirt. The chances of it being successful militarily, for the West are slim in the short run, and non-existant in the long run. In the U.S., the American people remain almost wholly uninvested in the decision to invade — less than 1% of Americans are involved with the military (see my blog on how bringing back the draft could save our democracy), and therefore our Congress is uninvested and broadly uninterested in the unilateral decision by the White House and Pentagon to go to war. Historians will one day say that there were wise people in America and the West in these times, but that they were naive and impotent, and could not resist the military cravings of their society for revenge and domination in Africa and the Middle East.
We should have stayed out of Libya. We should have learned more about what makes their tribal society work, because we’re not engaging a country, but tribes. Should we have learned those lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan? Of course. Did we? Of course, not. As we continue these invasions, we are creating the terrorists and despots of the future, and no one seems to know or care. Though our weapons are louder, we are as dumb and arrogant, and doomed, as were the Crusaders, and when the Libyans, and the Muslim community and the Russians call us and our “coalition” that, they are correct.
I’ve been a supporter of Obama. But his lack of vision regarding Libya and his entrapment by the insane aggression of our military establishment is lamentable. We should unravel ourselves on Libya, which will likely doom Obama, which is too too bad, but seems increasingly inevitable.
Julien Assange did not steal the documents, he received them from those who did. Thus he is not a spy. He has chosen to publish some of them — OK, a lot of them. That makes him a journalist, like someone who reports for the NY Times, the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal, all of which have dealt with classified information given to them. Thus, to prosecute Assange is to criminalize journalism, undermining the first amendment and free speech.
What is disturbing to me is not that he has published these diplomatic documents, but what some of the documents contain — characterizations of officials of other countries that are inconsistent with what our government acknowledges, trite and mean spirited personality profiles that should never have been dignified in official documents, and admissions of guilt of what amounts to war crimes or at least violations of public standards and treaties.
The persecution and prosecution should not be focused on the whistleblower, Assange, but on the officials and our and other governments who have not acted ethically or legally, as revealed in these documents.
Excerpt from “Freedom’s just Another Word,” by Frank rich, NYT, 9/4/10. “The other American casualties of Iraq include the credibility of both political parties, neither of which strenuously questioned the rush to war and both of which are still haunted by that failure, and of the news media, which barely challenged the White House’s propaganda about Saddam’s imminent mushroom clouds. Many pundits, quite a few of them liberals, stoked the war fever as well. Some eventually acknowledged getting it wrong, though in most cases they stopped short of apologizing for their failures of judgment and their abdication of journalistic skepticism about the government’s case for war.
“Even now those think-tank types who kept seeing light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel are ubiquitous on television and op-ed pages making similar stay-the-course prognostications about Afghanistan. Their embarrassing track records may have temporarily vanished into the great American memory hole, but actions do have consequences, and there must be an accounting. America does have a soul, and, as Franzen so powerfully dramatizes in “Freedom,” when that soul is violated, we are paralyzed until we set it right.”
Somehow, leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq to work as “trainers and advisors” doesn’t smack of an end to the war in Iraq, and it doesn’t even stack up to the shameful 60-year garrisons we’ve left behind in Germany, Japan and South Korea.
While the returning “combat” troops deserve our thanks and appreciation, I hope there are no victory ticker tape parades in NYC or DC, or any crowing from the imperial White House for a so-called “end” to the war that’s gone on longer than the Civil War or WWII.
The criminals in the last White House who committed all these people, all these deaths and injuries, all these resources to a fantasy, remain at large. And 50,000 “trainers” left in Iraq does not end the war, while we pile on new mistakes in Afghanistan. I’m ashamed of our country’s former and current elected and civil leadership in Federal government, and their sick and vicious “defense” strategies…
I started my adult life wasting 3 years in the Army during the dumb Vietnam War, and the beat goes on to this minute.
Yes, Professor Jay Rosen (jayrosen.posterous.com) is right, we the public would be better served if the commentary by politicians and “experts” on political talk shows were fact-checked on a timely basis. Here is my comment on his blog site: “Rosen is right, there should be fact-checking of these political talk shows, and it should be done independently, and I’d subscribe to any blogger or news organization that does it well. Real journalists deal in facts, and based on facts, render opinions.”
Below is an except from my blog entry of June 23, and the 90,000 war documents leaked this week lend further support to the premise that our war in Afghanistan is chaotic and leading us nowhere, except to more debt and premature burials of young men and women. The billions we pay Pakistan has something to do with maintaining the security of their nuclear capability, as supposedly does some but not all of our military presence in Afghanistan. We need to hear the truth about this nuclear blackmail, if that’s what it is. We need a lot more, not less, transparency about our motives and strategies in the “Stans,” and I’m not at all sure the American people will like or support what we find, if ever we hear the truth.
June 23: Support for the war in Afghanistan is being held together with bailing wire, and is so fragile that a feature story by a freelancer in a magazine known as an anti-war rock’n-roll sheet could tip it over and bring down one of the country’s most respected military leaders. Who says Washington is not all about optics? The only rationale for staying in Afghanistan with the intensity we do is maintaining the optics of competence of the leadership that keeps us there. The Rolling Stone didn’t portray distorted optics, they spoke the truth. The truth that everyone except millions of our troops and citizens hadn’t yet seen. McChrystal had to go, to put those optics back together and restore the view through rose-colored glasses, a view of a strategic, well-planned and unified U.S. military mission in Afghanistan.
But the crummy magazine has done what the nation’s leading press and elected leadership can’t — they have exposed the chaos of our failed national strategy in Afghanistan.
I was intrigued as to how McChrystal and Co. were roped into talking with the Rolling Stone. The attached link provides some thoughts. Even if McChrystal wasn’t played, as the piece suggests might be the case, I think it is plausible that his civilian new-media guru thought he could get McChrystal the sort of glamor piece Petraeus got in Vanity Fair. Civilian contractors like SOSi are probably part of the problem, conspiracy or not. I’d like to think that a professional, seasoned military PAO would have been more careful. As someone who’s been personally stung by the Rolling Stone (but not related to the military), I also have disdain for the approach and style of reporting the magazine supports.
I hate to give the Rolling Stone credit for anything, because I don’t relate to the publication, but as FAIR so correctly pointed out today, the McChrystal article was more a condemnation of the war strategy itself than of the recalcitrant General and his staff, and what FAIR characterizes as the mainstream “corporate media” failed to read, see and report that. Let’s hope the Congressional approval process for Petraeus brings that failed war strategy into the light of day.
Media Missing the McChrystal Point
“The media firestorm over the Rolling Stone profile (6/22/10) of General Stanley McChrystal mostly missed the real point of the article, which was a damning portrait of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
“Much of the media coverage stressed the criticism and insults hurled by McChrystal and his staff at various administration figures. Some of these remarks were more substantive than others. A joke about Joe Biden (“Bite Me”) has been overblown; McChrystal and his staff seemed to be suggesting a list of possible gaffes the general might make following a speech.
“The real significance of the piece is in the criticism–voiced by soldiers in Afghanistan and military experts–of the war itself. “Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it’s going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm,” wrote Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings.”