Monday, November 27, 2006
In the meantime, in anticipation of that event, I want to make the readers of The White Rhino Report aware of some changes in the way that I can be contacted. Beginning today, my two primary e-mail addresses will be:
I also now have Skype capabilities. My Skype name is: al.chase
If you are a Skype user, please send me your Skype name so that I can add it to my contact list.
I look forward to hearing from you, and to telling you more details about White Rhino Partners. Stay tuned!
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Have a blessed Thanksgiving week. Take a moment to say a pray of thanks for those who are serving - and have served - in our armed forces.
I have spoken in the past of the fine work done by Ty Burr, movie critic for the Boston Globe. I agree almost totally with Ty’s assessment of this film, so I offer the link to his review.
The one point at which I take issue with Ty’s reaction to the film is his dismissal of the scene with the stag. I found this scene to be riveting and important. Princess Di was hounded to death and stalked to her death by the relentless paparazzi. In an ironic twist, Prince Phillip decides to help keep Princess Di’s orphaned sons occupied and away from the TV coverage of their mother’s death by taking them out each day hunting on the 40,000 Royal Estates in Balmoral, Scotland. He does not call the search for the stag “hunting,” but rather, “stalking.” In a memorable scene, Queen Elizabeth, whose monarchy is in danger of going in the ditch as a result of the stubborn course she has steered in refusing to publicly acknowledges Princess Di’s death - since she was “no longer an HRH” - drives her old Land Rover onto the ford of a stream – where it bogs down. As she sits and waits to be rescued from her own foolishness, she encounters the stag – majestic and unafraid. It is clear that the stag stands in for both the dead Princess Di and for the younger Elizabeth – once proud and intrepid. She shoos the stag away to temporary safety, but he is eventually shot by a visitor to a neighboring manor. In a telling scene, she privately views the remains of the stag – more moved by his death than by the demise of her erstwhile daughter-in-law.
There are many films that have been released in recent weeks that are getting buzz and box office. The less-heralded “The Queen,” is well worth paying homage to.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
I found the general’s remarks of sufficient weight and insight that I choose to reproduce them in their entirety here in The White Rhino Report. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, Class of 1969.
His bio can be accessed through this link: http://www.newberry.edu/about/president.asp
* * * *
US Strategy in Iraq
9 November 2006
Mitchell Zais [JEB] BG, USA-Ret
"Many of our faculty and staff have asked me my views about the current situation in Iraq. A few students have also asked. So I thought I would take this opportunity, two days before Veterans' Day, to provide you with some insights as seen from the perspective of a combat veteran who served as the Commanding General of US and allied forces in Iraq. I also served as Chief of War Plans in the Pentagon and have spent considerable time studying national security affairs, including a fellowship at the National Defense University. So while it's true that everyone has opinions about Iraq, I would argue that not all of those opinions are equally well-informed.
This talk will address our strategy in Iraq. I won't talk about what the next steps should be, what the long-term prospects for peace in Iraq are, or how we can best get out of the quagmire we are in. Those might be other talks. For today I'm going to focus on strategy
Let me begin by saying that most of our problems in Iraq stem from a flawed strategy that has been in place since the beginning of the war.
It's important that you understand what strategy is. In military terminology there is a distinction between strategy, operations, tactics, and techniques.
Strategy pertains to national decision-making at the highest level. For example, our strategy in World War II was to mobilize the nation, then defeat the Nazi regime while conducting a holding action in the Pacific, then shift our forces to destroy the Japanese Empire. Afterwards, our strategy was to rebuild both defeated nations into capitalistic democracies in order to make them future allies.
An example of an operational decision from World War II would be the decision to invade North Africa and then Italy and Southern France before moving directly for the heart of Germany by coming ashore in Northern France or Belgium.
Tactics characterize a scheme of maneuver that integrates the different capabilities of, for example, infantry, armor, and artillery.
A technique might describe a way of employing machine guns with overlapping fields of fire or of setting up a roadblock.
Our strategy in Iraq has been:
1. Fight the war on the cheap;
2. Ask the ground forces to perform missions that are more suitably performed by other branches of the American government;
3. Inconvenience the American people as little as possible, and
4. Continue to fund the Air Force and Navy at the same levels that they have been funded at for the last 30 years while shortchanging the Army and Marines who are doing all of the fighting.
No wonder the war is not going well.
Let me explain how the war is being fought on the cheap.
From the very beginning, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who thankfully announced his departure yesterday, has striven to minimize the number of soldiers and Marines in Iraq. Instead of employing the Colin Powell doctrine of "use massive force at the beginning to achieve a quick and decisive victory," his goal has been "use no more troops than absolutely necessary so we can spend defense dollars on new technology."
Before hostilities began, the Army Chief of Staff, Eric Shinseki, testified before Congress that an occupation of Iraq would require hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Shinseki made his estimate based on his extensive experience in the former Yugoslavia where he worked to disengage the warring factions of Orthodox Serbians, Catholic Croatians, and Muslim Kosovars.
Shinseki also had available the results of a wargame conducted in 1999 that involved70 military, diplomatic, and intelligence officials. This recently declassified study concluded that 400,000 troops on the ground were needed to keep order, seal borders, and take care of other security needs. And even then stability would not be guaranteed.
Because of his testimony before Congress, Rumsfeld moved Shinseki aside. In a nearly unprecedented move, to replace Shinseki, Rumsfeld recalled from active duty a retired general who was more likely to accept his theory that we could win a war in Iraq and establish a stable government with a small number of troops.
The Defense Department has fought the war on the cheap because, despite overwhelming evidence that the Army and Marine Corps need a significant increase in their size in order to accomplish their assigned missions, the civilian officials who run the Pentagon have refused to request authorization from Congress to do so. Two Democratic representatives, Mark Udall from Colorado and Ellen Tauscher of California, have introduced a bill into Congress that would add 80,000 troops to the end-strength of the active Army. Currently, this bill has no support from the Defense Department.
When I was commissioned in 1969 the Army was one and a half million. Despite the fact that we're engaged in combat in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Philippines, and committed to peacekeeping missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Sinai, and on operational deployments in over 70 countries, our Army is now less than one third that size. We had more soldiers in Saudi Arabia in the first Gulf war than we have in the entire Army today. In fact, Wal-Mart has three times as many employees as the American Army has soldiers.
As late as 1990, Army end-strength was approximately 770,000. With fewer than a half-million today, defense analysts have argued that we need to add nearly 200,000 soldiers to the active ranks.
Today, the Army is so bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq that fewer than 10,000 soldiers are ready and able to deal with any new crisis elsewhere in the world. And because the Army is so small, after only a year at home units are returning to Iraq for a second and even a third 12-month tour of duty.
Let me add a parenthetical note here explaining a difference between our services. Army tours of duty in Iraq are for 12 or 13 months. For Marines it's normally six months. For Air Force personnel it's typically four months. So when a soldier says he's going back to Iraq for his third tour, it means something totally different than when an airman says the same thing.
Because the active force is too small, the mission of our National Guard and reserve forces has been changed. Their original purpose was to save the nation in time of peril. Today they serve as fillers for an inadequately sized active force. This change in mission has occurred with no national debate and no input from Congress.
We have fought the war on the cheap because we have never adequately funded the rebuilding of the Iraqi military or the training and equipping of the Iraqi police forces. The e-mails I receive from soldiers and Marines assigned to train Iraqi forces all complain of their inadequate resources because they are at the very bottom of the supply chain and the lowest priority.
We have fought the war on the cheap because we have failed to purchase necessary equipment for our troops or repair that which has been broken or a worn out in combat. You've all read the stories about soldiers having to purchase their own bulletproof vests and other equipment. And the Army Chief of Staff has testified that he needs an extra $17 billion to fix equipment. For example, nearly 1500 war-fighting vehicles await repair in Texas with 500 tanks sitting in Alabama.
Finally, we are fighting this war on the cheap because our defense budget of 3.8% of gross domestic product is too small. In the Kennedy administration it averaged 9% of GDP. The average defense budget in the post Vietnam era, from 1974 to 1994, was about 5.8% of GDP. If we are in a global war against radical Islam, and we are, then we need a defense budget that reflects wartime requirements.
A second part of our strategy is to ask the military to perform missions that are more appropriate for other branches of government.
Our Army and Marine Corps are taking the lead in such projects as building roads and sewage treatment plants, establishing schools, training a neutral judiciary, and developing a modern banking system. The press refers to these activities as nation-building. Our soldiers and Marines are neither equipped nor trained to do these things. They attempt them, and in general they succeed, because they are so committed and so obedient. But it is not what they do well and what only they alone can do.
But I would ask, where are our Department of Energy and Department of Transportation in restoring Iraqi infrastructure? What's the role of our Department of Education in rebuilding an Iraqi educational system? What does our Department of Justice do to help stand up an impartial judicial system? Where is the US Information Agency in establishing a modern equivalent of Radio Free Europe? And why did it take a year after the end of the active fighting for the State Department to assume responsibility from the Department of Defense in setting up an Iraqi government? These other US government agencies are only peripherally and secondarily involved in Iraq.
Actually, it would be inaccurate to say that the American government is at war. The U.S. Army is at war. The Marine Corps is at war. And other small elements of our armed forces are at war. But our government is not.
A third part of our strategy is to inconvenience the American people as little as possible.
Ask yourself, are you at war? What tangible effect is this war having on your daily life? What sacrifices have you been asked to make for the sake of this war other than being inconvenienced at airports? No, America is not a war. Only a small number of young, brave, patriotic men and women, who bear the burden of fighting and dying, are at war.
A fourth aspect of our strategy is to fund Navy and Air Force budgets at prewar levels while shortchanging the Marine Corps and the Army that are doing the fighting.
This strategy, of spending billions on technology for a Navy and Air Force that face no threat, contributes mightily to our failures in Iraq.
Secretary Rumsfeld is a former Navy pilot. His view of the battlefield is from 10,000 feet, antiseptic and surgical. Since coming into office he has funded the Air Force and the Navy at the expense of the Army and Marines because he believes technological leaps we'll render ground forces obsolete. He assumed that the rapid victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan confirmed this belief.
For example, the Defense Department is pouring billions into buying the newest fighter aircraft, at $360 million each, to take on a non-existent enemy Air Force.
But, for pilots like Rumsfeld, war is all about technology. It's computers, it's radar, and it's high tech weapons. Technologists have a hard time comprehending the motivations of a suicide bomber or a mother who celebrates the death of her son in such a way. It's difficult for them to understand that to overcome centuries of ethnic hatred and murder it will take more than one generation. It's hard for them to accept that for young men with little education, no wives or children, and few job prospects, war against the West is the only thing that gives meaning to their lives.
But war on the ground is not conducted with technology. It is fought by 25-year-old sergeants leading 19-year-old soldiers carrying rifles, in a dangerous and alien environment, where you can't tell combatants from noncombatants, Shiites from Sunnis, or suicide bombers from freedom seeking Iraqis. This means war on the street is neither antiseptic nor surgical. It's dirty, complicated, and fraught with confusion and error.
In essence, our strategy has been produced my men whose view of war is based on their understanding of technology and machinery, not their knowledge of men from an alien culture and the forces which motivate them. They fail to appreciate that if you want to hold and pacify a hostile land and a hostile people you need soldiers and Marines on the ground and in the mud, and lots of them.
In summary, our flawed strategy in Iraq has produced the situation we now face. This strategy is a product of the Pentagon, not the White House. And remember, the Pentagon is run by civilian appointees in suits, not military men and women in uniform. From the very beginning Defense Department officials failed to appreciate what it would take to win this war.
The US military has tried to support this strategy because they are trained and instructed to be subordinate to and obedient to civilian leadership. And the American people want it that way. The last thing you want is a uniformed military accustomed to debating in public the orders of their appointed civilian masters. But retired generals and admirals are starting to speak out, to criticize the strategy that has produced our current situation in Iraq.
But, if we continue to fight the war on the cheap, if we continue to avoid involving the American people by asking them to make any sacrifice at all, if we continue to spend our dollars on technology while neglecting the soldiers and Marines on the ground, and if we fail to involve the full scope of the American government in rebuilding Iraq, then we might as well quit, and come home. But, what we have now is not a real strategy - it's business as usual.
* * * *
We owe Brigadier General Zais our gratitude for his 30 years of service, for his insights and for the clear expression of his opinions about where we are in the war and how we should make adjustments.
Friday, November 17, 2006
“Old Ebbitt Grill is just steps from The White House and museums in downtown Washington. Established in 1856, it was a favorite of Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Harding and Theodore Roosevelt and is still a popular meeting spot for political insiders, journalists, celebrities and theater-goers.Its Beaux-Arts facade, mahogany and velvet booths and bars set in marble, brass and beveled glass are Washington at its finest, and The Oyster Bar at Old Ebbitt is D.C.'s most famous.”
Because we were dining early, our waiter made us aware of a serendipitous reality that we had been unaware of when we booked our reservation. The hour between 5:00-6:00 is deemed “Oyster Hour” at The Ebbitt, and everything on the raw bar menu is half-price during that hour!
The Ebbitt serves more meals each year than any other restaurant in the U.S., yet it manages, with its many separate dining rooms and bars, to maintain a very intimate and comfortable atmosphere. Its setting across from the Department of the Treasury is, indeed, a propos, since this place is clearly a National Treasure to those of us who appreciate fine dining with a touch of class.
So, I am pleased to add the Old Ebbitt Grille to the exclusive White Rhino’s Favorite Links From A-Z: O = Old Ebbitt Grill.
The scenario is that it is 2010, and the Royal House of Saud has been toppled in a coup d’etat, and the former Saudi Arabia has been transformed into the fundamentalist, wahhabist Nation of Islamyah - the first foundation stone in building a Shia Caliphate that will eventually encompass the entire Muslim world. The plot of this book seems to be Clarke’s worst nightmare of what would happen if the policies of the Neocon ideologues that Clarke railed against in “Against All Enemies” were to continue un-checked and un-abated. The Middle East becomes a fascinating chess board – with pieces being moved around the board in complex gambits by the Americans, Chinese, British, Iranians, Kuwaitis, Saudis. The action centers on complex plots and attempts to de-stabilize the region by attacking Bahrain and U.S. assets stationed there. Told in the style of Le Carre and Ludlum, the story is one that held my interest throughout the 300 pages. Clarke’s deep knowledge of internecine intrigue and power struggles – both petty and global in scale – inform the characters in this novel and set up the tensions that drive the storyline. I often found myself musing: “So, this is the way it really works behind the scenes!”
Former U.S. Senator, Gary Hart, made these comments about Clarke’s novel:
“On his book's jacket, the author says: ‘Fiction can often tell the truth better than nonfiction. And there is a lot of truth that needs to be told.’ As co-chair of the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, I am often asked what caused us to predict terrorist attacks on the United States months before Sept. 11, 2001. More than any other factor, Clarke's chilling briefings of our commission persuaded us. Perhaps he is trying to persuade us of a truth yet again.”
Clearly, Clarke’s purposes in writing this book are both didactic and polemical. As a result, some of the dialogue can be wooden and contrived, and some of the characters seem to be stalking horses to put forward and give voice to Clarke’s pet peeves and theories. That having been said, I enjoyed the book very much, and found it to be both instructive and enjoyable. It comes with my strong recommendation.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Dear Friends of Mountains for Miracles -
Just a quick reminder about the Mountains for Miracles reception & Mount Kilimanjaro presentation this Thursday at 6:30 at Sports Club LA’s Blu Restaurant. Many thanks again to our hosts at Boston Realty Advisors.
I hope to see many of you there!
Climbing for the Cure,
Director, Mountains for Miracles
“Supporting Childhood Cancer Research Through Epic Mountaineering”
* * * *
I changed my flight back from D.C. so that I can be at this special event. I invite you to join me in learning exciting details about how Mountains for Miracles' innovative approach to supporting cancer research enables individuals, groups and companies to support this worthy cause while at the same time indulging in once-in-a-lifetime mountaineering!
If you have questions about the event or the overall program, feel free to contact John Serafini.
See you there!
In the Preface to “Against All Enemies,” Clarke does a clear and cogent job of delineating his premise, the parameters of his argument and the limitations of his subjective point of view:
“As the events of 2003 unfolded, I began to feel an obligation to write what I knew for my fellow citizens and for those who may want to examine this period in the future. This book is the fulfillment of that obligation. It is, however, flawed. It is a first-person account, not an academic history. The book, therefore, tells what one participant saw, thought, and believed from one perspective. Others who were involved in some of these events will, no doubt, recall them differently.” (Page xxv)
“All [American leaders] have sworn to protect that very Constitution ‘against all enemies.’ In this era of threat and change, we must all renew our pledge to protect that Constitution against all foreign enemies that would inflict terrorism against our nation and its people. . . . We must also defend the Constitution against those who would use the terrorist threat to assault the liberties the Constitution enshrines. Those liberties are under assault and, if there is another major, successful terrorist attack in this country there will be further assaults on our rights and civil liberties. Thus, is it essential that we prevent further attacks and that we protect the Constitution. . against all enemies.” (Page xxvii)
Fair enough. Clarke has given us an appropriate “let the reader beware” warning that he is sharing personal recollections and is not a historian. With that caveat firmly in mind, I found myself sharing Clarke’s frustrations as he recounted what went on behind the scenes in the White House as the Bush administration settled into its responsibilities to lead the nation. Despite the best efforts of Clarke and his team to convey the urgent nature of a potential terrorist threat, it took months for Clarke and his cohorts to succeed in scheduling a meeting with Condi Rice for a thorough briefing on the threat. That first meeting occurred on September 4, 2001 – 8 months into the Bush administration, and one week before the Al Qaeda attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon.
Clarke paints a picture of decisions being made based on pure ideological bases, rather than on the basis of analysis of facts and credible intelligence findings. Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, emerge as the chief ideologues in Clarke’s account.
“On the morning of the 12th, DOD’s focus was already beginning to shift from al Qaeda. CIA was explicit now that al Qaeda was guilty of the attacks, but Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy, was not persuaded. It was too sophisticated and complicated an operation, he said, for a terrorist group to have pulled off by itself, without a state sponsor – Iraq must have been helping them.
I had a flashback to Wolfowitz saying the very same thing in April when the administration had finally held its first deputy secretary-level meeting on terrorism. When I had urged action on al Qaeda then, Wolfowitz had harked back to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, saying al Qaeda could not have done that alone and must have had help from Iraq. The focus on al Qaeda was wrong, he said in April, we must go after Iraqi-sponsored terrorism. He had rejected my assertion and CIA’s that there had been no Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the United States since 1993. Now this line of thinking was coming back.
By the afternoon on Wednesday, Secretary Rumsfeld was talking about broadening the objectives of our response and ‘getting Iraq.’ Secretary Powell pushed back, urging a focus on al Qaeda. Relieved to have some support, I thanked Colin Powell and his deputy, Rich Armitage. ‘I thought I was missing something here,’ I vented. ‘Having been attacked by al Qaeda, for us now to go bombing Iraq in response would be like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor.’
Powell shook his head. ‘It’s not over yet.’
Indeed, it was not. Later in the day, Secretary Rumsfeld complained that there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan and that we should consider bombing Iraq, which, he said, had better targets. At first I thought Rumsfeld was joking. But he was serious and the President did not reject out of hand the idea of attacking Iraq.” (Pages 30-31)
Clarke describes several similar scenarios in which those who were responsible for analysis and intelligence reported to Bush and Rumsfeld that there was no credible evidence to tie Iraq to any recent terrorist activity against the U.S. In each case they were told, in essence, “Go back and look again, there must be something there.”
The mindset of the ideologues in the administration, as described in Clarke’s account, reminds me very much of theologians who are guilty of looking for verses in the Bible to buttress positions they have already arrived at, rather than letting the text help them to inform their positions. In technical terms, it is the difference between “exegesis” and “eisegesis.” Let me take a moment to explain. “Exegesis” – “reading out” - is the discipline and art of delving into a text and reading out of the text the substance and intent of the message as it was framed by the original author. “Eisegesis” is “reading into” the text our ideas and prejudices to look for ways to support those pre-formed ideas.
For example, in reading the verse: “I will make you fishers of men,” good exegesis would involve learning how Jesus’ original audience of fishermen, tax collectors and Galilean zealots might have understood his message and applied it to their lives in 1st Century Palestine. Inappropriate eisegesis of the same text would be to use the verse as an advertising slogan to convince 21st Century Americans to buy a new composite fishing rod, or to use it to claim that Jesus must have been opposed to eating red meat!
So, instead of “exegeting” the intelligence findings and analysis of the experts to deduce that al Qaeda - and not Iraq – was culpable for the 9/11 attacks – Rumsfeld and his team seem to have been guilty of “eisegesis” in grasping at straws and looking to pin the blame on Iraq. Such an approach is not only intellectually dishonest, it borders on demagoguery.
Clarke makes a strong case that in going after Iraq instead of concentrating on al Qaeda in our “War on Terror,” we have not only missed the prime target, but have also succeeded in further alienating the rest of the Muslim world – thereby spawning a whole new generation of radicalized terrorists and enemies. He also argues that we have pinned our allies in the Arab world into a tight corner that makes it difficult for them to openly support the United States.
“The new leader of Central Command understands. General John Abizaid told the New York Times that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are ‘involved in a fight against extremists that is crucial to their ability to maintain control. . . It’s a battle of ideas as much as it is a military battle . . . not the type of fight that you’re going to send the 82nd Airborne’ in to handle. Yet Abizaid’s bosses in the Pentagon and the White House do not seem to understand how to fight the battle of ideas or the limits on the ability of our shooters to defeat the al Qaeda ideology.” (Page 263)
As the new Congress - both houses of which will now be controlled by the Democrats – prepares to debate where we go from here with regard to Iraq, these will be crucial deliberations. Let’s hope that political ideology – from either side of the aisle – does not trump reasoned discourse and analysis of what will best serve the long-term interests of our nation and of the world in which we have the burden of remaining standing as the last Super Power.
In this book, Clarke has pulled back the curtain on earlier processes and decisions that were flawed and were driven by personal vendettas and agendas. If his revelations hold to a higher standard those who will be debating our future in Iraq, then he has done our nation a service in the telling of the story from his vantage point, and he will have contributed to forestalling assaults against our way of life . . . "against all enemies."
"Pearl Harbor survivor Houston James of Dallas is overcome with emotion as he embraces Marine Staff Sgt. Mark Graunke Jr. during the Dallas Veterans Day Commemoration at Dallas City Hall on Thursday. Sgt Graunke, who was a member of a Marine ordnance-disposal team, lost a hand, leg and eye while defusing a bomb in Iraq in July of last year."
Let’s remember the hundreds of heroes like Marine Staff Sgt. Mark Graunke, Jr. as they work to overcome their wounds and find a place of service and a career after their time of military service has been completed.
Have you considered pro-actively seeking to hire one of these men and women who have been wounded while serving our country?
Saturday, November 11, 2006
The Kirov Ballet was in town to perform their signature piece, "Swan Lake" - a fairy tale set to Tschaikowsky's lilting music. Boston is clearly a ballet-friendly town. The Christmas season performances of "The Nutcracker" have become de rigeur holiday fare for many New England families. I do not consider myself a serious student or afficionado of "The Dance," but I have had occasional brushes with the world of ballet over the years. In 1968, on the streets of Lisbon, Portgal, I bumped into Rudolph Nureyev and had a conversation with him. In the 1970's, I saw Mikhail Barishnikov at the height of his powers dance "Les Sylphides" at New York's Lincoln Center. In the 1990's, my travels took me to historic St. Petersburg, Russia, home to the two hundred year-old Kirov Ballet, arguably the greatest dance company on the planet. I saw their production of "Giselle" in the company's "home field," the elegant Marinsky Theater.
This was my first opportunity to see the lengendary "Swan Lake," and I was pleased to find a ticket to the event. The Wang Center was chock full of Russians - filling the voluminous stage and occupying many of the seats in the audience. Throughout the evening I heard frequent expressions of delight and approval - in English and in Russian. This particular production features a controversial alternative "happy ending" to the fairy tale, but the buzz about "Swan Lake" over the years has had little to do with the thin plot. It has everything to do with the brilliant blending of many art forms into one kinetic and timeless masterpiece. For a performance of "Swan Lake" to live up to its legendary reputation, a wide variety of art forms must be simultaneously displayed in their highest form of mastery - musical composition, orchestral brilliance, sensitive conducting, dancing that combines grace, athleticism and precision, intricate choreography, costume design, set design and lighting design. Last evening's performance was a showcase of world class talent in all of these categories. It was magical!
I am neither equipped nor inclined to give a detailed technical description of the dancing, but I can state that I have never before seen such consistently flawless dancing - from the Prima Ballerina who danced the dual roles of Odette and Odile to the 32nd swan in the Corps de Ballet. The precision, artistry, grace. athleticism and focus of each dancer was breathtaking. Words do not often fail me, but they do so in this case. It was like watching the Sistine Chapel come to life - like watching an animated Degas painting.
Gentlemen, even if you thought you would never be caught dead at the ballet, you can earn tremendous points with your wife or girlfriend by surprising her with a spontaneous trip to the Wang Center - today at 2:00 and 8:00 or tomorrow afternoon. A little bit of culture won't kill you, and you might even find yoursef impressed with the athleticism on display by the Russians in tights!
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Equally deserving of our support and gratitude are those who have served in the past, and the families of those who have made the sacrifice to choose a career in the service. In the midst of the busyness of our lives, it is appropriate for us to pause and take the time to offer prayers on behalf of the fallen – and their families. And time for us to offer words of appreciation for faithful service rendered by the thousands of men and women who have chosen to serve with our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard.
Jim Savard, a regular reader of The White Rhino Report, has sent along this e-card, that I am pleased to share with other readers:
To all of my family members, friends and readers who are veterans, I offer my gratitude, appreciation, admiration, respect and love.
I just sent a congratulatory e-mail to Jim Webb, who has been projected as the winner in the hotly contested race for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia. In narrowly defeating the incumbent, Senator George Allen, Webb tips the balance of power in the U.S. Senate to the Democrats. Yet Jim Webb is anything but a prototypical “liberal” Democrat. A graduate of the Class of 1968 of the United States Naval Academy, Senator-elect Webb served in the past as Secretary of the Navy, after a distinguished combat career in Viet Nam.
I was introduced to Mr. Webb a few years ago by my friend and Jim’s Annapolis classmate, Capt. Bill Boykin (USN Retired). In addition to his career in the military and in public service, Jim Webb is a prolific and engaging writer. If you would like to understand what makes our nation’s newest Senator tick, I commend to you two books – one by Jim Webb and the other about him and some of his famous fellow Annapolis graduates.
“The Nightingale’s Song” by Robert Timberg, tells the fascinating tale of five Annapolis graduates who fought in Viet Nam and some of whom eventually ended up in the Reagan White House and embroiled in the Iran-Contra scandals. The names comprise a litany of familiar household names: John McCain, Bud McFarlane, Oliver North, John Poindexter and Jim Webb. This book offers tremendous insights into why men like McCain and Webb would eventually find themselves called to serve in the Senate.
Jim Webb’s novel, “A Sense of Honor,” is a stunning roman a clef that tells of Webb’s experiences as an Annapolis midshipman in the 60’s – told through the eyes of his fictional protagonist, Bill Fogarty. The controversy that followed in the wake of this novel’s publication resulted in Webb being banned for a time from stepping foot on the Annapolis campus.
I owe a debt of graduate to my good friend, John Byington, for making me aware of these two extraordinary books. John once said to me: ”If you really want to understand those of us who have graduated from the Naval Academy, then you should really read ‘A Sense of Honor’ and ‘The Nightingale’s Song.’”
It will be interesting to watch how Webb and McCain – whose early careers were so closely intertwined – will interact from opposite sides of the Senate aisle.
One thing more - did I mentioned that James Webb was a platoon commander in Delta Co./1st Battalion/5th Marines?
The highlight of the evening was the address offered by the guest of honor, Major General Stephen T. Johnson, currently serving as Deputy Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Maj. Gen. Johnson and his wife had flown up from Washington for this special event. He shared some thoughts about the Marine Corps’ rich history, heritage and future. He recounted an anecdote that I feel encapsulates much of what makes the Marine Corps’ ethos so unique. I will summarize the point of his story.
Current Marine Corps Commandant, General Michael Hagee, makes it a regular practice to visit wounded Marines who are recuperating at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. During a recent visit, he bumped into singer and actress, Cher, who was also visiting some of the wounded veterans. According to Maj. Gen. Johnson’s account, Cher was conducting her visit in a very low-key and self-effacing way, not as a “publicity stunt,” as some are wont to do. She asked General Hagee if she could accompany him as he pinned a Purple Heart on a wounded Lance Corporal. After the brief ceremony had ended, she went over to congratulate the Marine, and said to him: “This is quite a special day for you. You received the Purple Heart, and you got to meet Cher.” Without hesitation, the Lance Corporal replied, “No, ma’am! With all due respect, I received a Purple Heart, and I got to meet the Commandant!”
As my network of relationships with Marines – those who are on active duty and those who have served in the past - has grown over the years, I have become more and more impressed with the special bond that unites Marines to one another. The “corporate culture” of the Marines, the “esprit de corps,” and the “brand” of what it means to be a Marine has no peer and no parallel in my experience. These men and women are committed to one another in a way that is awe-inspiring. They are indeed, “The Few – The Proud.” And they deserve our gratitude, admiration and respect.
Happy Birthday, my friends!
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
This past Monday, Pat Tillman would have celebrated another birthday – his 30th. You are all aware that Pat died in Afghanistan in April of 2004. It took tremendous pressure from the Tillman family to force investigations that ultimately revealed that Pat’s death was attributable to “friendly fire.”
Pat and his brother, Kevin, joined the Army together, and both served as Rangers. Kevin left the Army in 2005, and as a civilian, has become outspoken about his views of the war. As I read his words, it is clear that he is making no effort to be “objective” or “politically correct” in sharing his opinions and observations. He speaks from his personal pain and experience. It is not an easy message to read, but one that deserves our thoughtful consideration.
This week our nation pauses to remember Veterans’ Day and to honor those who have served the cause of freedom and democracy as members of our military. As part of my personal observance of Veterans’ Day, I will be at Harvard Business School this evening as a guest of The Armed Forces Alumni Association, as the Marines at HBS celebrate the birthday of the United States Marine Corps, founded in 1775.
So, this week seems an appropriate time to begin to lay out in the pages of The White Rhino Report my growing dilemma of knowing how to think about the war in Iraq. The gist of my dilemma is that I want to be able to speak openly and honestly about my escalating sense of dismay – and even outrage – at the conduct of the war, without in any way indicating a waning of support for the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day in doing their sworn duty to obey orders as they are handed down to them. As more and more of my friends, whose opinions I respect, return from Iraq with tales of failed strategy and lack of vision from the top, the more I become convinced that “Staying the course” is not the way to go. I don’t have any brilliant solutions for how best to extricate ourselves from the mess that we have created, but the anecdotal evidence that has come onto my radar screen causes me to believe that Iraq has become a quagmire of biblical proportions. I have also targeted my reading these past few weeks to try to better educate myself about what has happened – and why.
Let me offer a sense of perspective. When I listened to Colin Powell address the UN as he laid out the case for the need to intervene in Iraq to forestall the immanent use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, I believed General Powell. Consequently, I supported the decision to send troops to Iraq. The information that has emerged in the intervening months and years has caused me to second guess the rationale for the war, and has led me to question my willingness to continue to support this administration’s policies regarding the prosecution of that war.
In the coming weeks, I will share my thoughts in greater depth as I review several books that touch on aspects of the war. Lest we, as a society, repeat the worst mistakes of the Viet Nam war era, let me reiterate how vitally important it is to draw a clear line of distinction between questioning and criticizing policy decisions on the one hand, while supporting without reservation the men and women who are being asked to implement those policies as they are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a nation, we are blessed to have an armed forces made up of some of the finest and best trained warriors in the world. They deserve nothing less than our enthusiastic support, gratitude and prayers.
As I prepared to post this article, the word had just come down that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is resigning. Perhaps even the administration is finally beginning to understand the depth of the anguish - expressed at the polls yesterday - that the American people are feeling about this war and those who have been its architects.