Two Vets Walk into a Bar

At the end of a long day I break out of my zombie-like march when I recognize a face I have not seen in a decade. We were introduced on day-one and indoctrinated into the ways of the big green machine as well as the profession. The machine sent both of us to lands known for their sun and sand, though his was filled with Arabs and mine Hula girls. He closed out his tenure in uniform working in the two garden spots that have dominated the news of late and more specifically working hand-in-hand with those we would leave behind to finish what we started. Today he capitalizes on his expertise (nothing wrong with that) in the world I left behind.

Pleasantries exchanged and bonhomie re-established we got down to business.

“So what’s the deal? Good news or bad news? Are these guys going to be ready to take over soon?”

“They can do it Mike, they have the skills. It’s all religious, all tribal. Once they’re trained up they’re as good as any regular troop. Problem is they’re only concerned about taking care of their own.”

After a couple of examples that are unfit for mixed company he broke it down into simpler and more palatable terms.

“Imagine a catastrophe that happens on the border of three states. The guard units of each state get called up to restore safety and order. You have no worries about each unit keeping a lid on things in their own state, but if they had to cross the border they’d be unfamiliar with the territory, the customs, and the colloquialisms. You jack up the probability of mistakes, resentment and violence. Now pretend this isn’t happening in the US but in a place where the catastrophe has been going on for decades and so has the hatred.”

“Smells like the Balkans.”

“You know what I mean then. We’re not fixing this problem any time soon and maybe it can’t be “fixed” but it can be salvaged. You wouldn’t know it if you listened to my co-workers though.”

“Yes . . .”

“These kids I work with; they haven’t been there, they don’t know the language or the people, they’re straight out of college, they’ve done nothing and they don’t care as long as they can push their agenda.”

The second Guinness was kicking in.

“I sat in a briefing the other day and this guy who knew nothing about the military much less the mission was briefing the old man on the latest OPLAN that was about to kick off. I had to buttonhole the old man afterwards and explain what was really going to happen. I went to the briefer later and explained what he got wrong and said I’d help him with the next briefing and he said, “I’m not worried about it, once George Bush is out of office this’ll all be fixed.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Dude, they wear it on their sleeves. I sent a draft paper around for comments and this Ivy League new hire took a red-pen to it. The gist of all her “edits” was ‘take out anything that isn’t bad news so that we can get the policymakers to end this quagmire.’”

The vernacular degenerated from there (as GIs who have had a few are wont to do) and I realized that recent speculation about the real politicization of intelligence was disturbingly correct. Imagine a leaderless resistance with the “truth to power” crowd all hell-bent on crafting assessments to match talking points and the reality on the ground be damned. Objective, unbiased application of methodology against facts? Intelligence is becoming more like modern journalism every day. The most blissful ignorance is apparently the self-imposed kind.

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