The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Tag: military

Tampa, the center of the universe

by fpman

At the time of elections in the US it is easy to see that Tampa and its environs are at the center of the universe. Candidates come and go. Florida is a crucial swing state, with a demographic profile that makes it an interesting testing ground of political messages even regardless of this.

And then there is CENTCOM, too. The US military’s Central Command.

CENTCOM

That may be just too much to keep cool about as the case of Jill Kelley, the prominent Tampa “socialite” (at the same time a medical researcher, too) may show.

I have been following her case related to the Petraeus affair which, as you may remember, led to the firing of the Director of the CIA in 2012. General Petraeus’ lover-biographer Paula Broadwell sent some angry messages (“broadsides,” sigh) to Kelley, out of jealousy, from an email account jointly run by her and Petraeus, and this led to the scandal that eventually cost the general his job.

I thought this was pretty embarrassing. One just didn’t expect Petraeus to end his career in this way. When I learned that many others from the top brass at CENTCOM similarly sought the favours of Kelley by actively socializing with her, I thought that was a new level of embarrassing.

But then…

I am not sure what to make of it now that I know that cheap email flattery such as

“I wish that we could clone a couple thousand of you, but the land is likely not ready for that big an impact”

can get people to make you “Honorary Ambassador of Central Command.”

I need to re-adjust to the reality of this somehow.

That’s it for today, I have to go compose some emails.

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Being close to war

by fpman

We’re travelling, and posting is light these days here at the Patrimony.

But this shouldn’t stop us from pointing out some noteworthy analysis produced by others, tangentially relevant to our focus over here. Travelling in the virtual world of the internet we have come across this report on Malala Yousafzai’s donation of $50,000 to rebuild schools in Gaza. She is the little girl who started an activist career at a young age in Pakistan, blogging in favour of women’s right to be educated, who was then shot in the head by the Taliban but survived, and has by now won all kinds of awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize and the World Children’s Prize. The money she is giving for education in Gaza comes from the latter source, actually.

Perusing articles even loosely related to this, on the Middle East, we have then found this article from almost a month ago in the Jerusalem Post. An Israeli perspective, you might say, or rather a perspective on the difference between Israeli and other perspectives, actually, on the most recent round of conflict related to Gaza. It contains some important observations about the emotional impact of how close to one, specifically in terms of human relations, a conflict happens to be.

Two key excerpts should be lifted over here. Firstly, regarding the view of the general public in Israel: It might be difficult for an outsider to understand, but when your child is spending their summer vacation running to find shelter—with merely a 15-second warning in the south, 90 seconds in Tel Aviv—one has limited emotional capacity to see what is happening to the children on the other side.

And secondly, regarding the elite’s perspective: In this war Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s close friend lost his son, the grandson of a prominent left-wing politician was severely injured, and every anchor or reporter knew someone who was fighting in Gaza. In Israel there is often only one degree of separation.

Even in an airport lounge one sometimes has the time to trace back information and so we found this report which reveals that the soldier killed in action was Hadar Goldin, and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s close friend in question is Simcha Goldin. Minister Moshe Ya’alon indeed knew Simcha Goldin well: “Ya’alon knew Simcha Goldin, the dead soldier’s father, from childhood and had known Hadar since his birth. Ya’alon once lectured at Hadar Goldin’s high school at his request.” In fact they are related, too, as Ya’alon’s grandfather was in fact the brother of Simcha Goldin’s grandmother. This means that Hadar Goldin was Moshe Ya’alon’s second cousin once removed.

The prominent left-wing politician alluded to above is most likely Haim Oron, a politician formerly from the left-wing Meretz Party, and a leader of the kibbutz movement in Israel – his grandson was injured on the Gaza border, some time in the second half of July. His name is Adi Zimri, and he was hit in the leg in the explosion of a rocket propelled grenade while searching for Hamas-built tunnels reaching into Israeli territory. By the way, the second link goes to an article that also reveals Haim Oron’s son Oded as being a helicopter pilot, his firstborn son Uri as being a Brigadier-General in the air force, and his granddaughter Omer Zimri as being a reservist officer. Which is obviously not all that uncommon a situation (for a family to have so many members in the military, either on active duty or in reserve) in Israel.

Now, before somebody confuses this brief post on a very specific issue (degree of one’s separation in terms of human/family relations from a conflict, on one particular side involved in said conflict) with a thorough analysis of the background of the Middle East conflict and some kind of justification for anything or its opposite, let us state that it is not. Our point is simply what the author of the article quoted above is also saying: degree of one’s separation in terms of human/family relations from a conflict (as a variable) matters somehow.

The Cowpens Romance

by fpman

What we have embarked on here at The Patrimony is the coverage of political phenomena from a specific, peculiar viewpoint. This will usually entail discussion (i.e. a mixture of responsible, good-natured gossip and analysis) of something (and someone) related to a top decision-maker in this or that country. Today’s, however, is only the second post here so far, and its subject is slightly different.

In case you have missed it, this is what the Navy Times recently uncovered about the 2013-2014 deployment of the USS Cowpens in the Pacific, a tour that has seen the US Navy’s guided missile cruiser take part in disaster relief operations off the Philippines in November 2013, and subsequently get involved in a close confrontation with a Chinese amphibious naval vessel in the South China Sea during the course of December.

USS_CowpensUSS Cowpens (photo: US Navy)

It now turns out that the ship had an equally interesting ride over the 2014 leg of its Pacific cruise. In January, Captain Greg Gombert fell ill with flu-like symptoms, developed Bell’s palsy or partial facial paralysis, and, feeling weak and in a generally inadequate condition to continue to personally command his ship, found it necessary to retreat to the tranquility of his unit commander’s cabin (UCC) for the better part of the ensuing months. For the time being, he handed over command (his responsibility as CO or the Commanding Officer) to his temporary XO (Executive Officer), the chief engineer of the ship, whom he had previously promoted to the position after the predecessor XO had to leave prematurely — at a time when the new XO could not yet make it on board. The problem is: XOs come with a certain carefully determined level of required experience and specific training for the task, and the temporary XO did not have these. Moreover, with Captain Gombert spending most of the time in the UCC, the XO, by then the acting CO, did not even have the captain close by for those special situations with a narrower margin for error where superior experience can make a difference — she had to handle fuel replenishments in heavy seas on at least two occasions alone. This deviation from standard procedure may have put ship and crew at unnecessary risk…

Amidst this narrative you may have noted the gendered reference to the person of the XO. Yes, the executive officer happened to be a woman, by the (some would say remarkable) name of Destiny Savage. If you check out the history on the USS Cowpens, you may also find it interesting that over 2008-2010 the ship was commanded by a female Commanding Officer, Captain Holly Graf, who was eventually relieved of her duties related to allegations that she maltreated her crew. However, before one starts to theorize of a male-chauvinistic conspiracy against women in the Navy, and against women serving on board USS Cowpens in particular, it has to be noted that there indeed was some deviation from standard procedure in this case, even if no major mishap resulted from it.

Where gender certainly does come into play: Captain Gombert and Lt. Cmdr. Savage were eventually found guilty of “fraternization” by the Navy (that is, of being lovers, in this particular context). This, needless to say, is generally not tolerated within militaries, given the need for minds unaffected by ties of this kind in even the most demanding of circumstances. Based on what we know from open sources, the evidence of the two officers’ relationship seems to have been largely indirect though. They may have spent a couple of nights together in a hotel in the Philippines, may have been seen holding hands on one occasion, and Savage is rumored to have often made dinner for Gombert in whose cabin she spent considerable time. And the culinary specialist of the ship would swear that he saw Cpt. Gombert wearing boxers at least once while Savage was with him, and that this was romantically significant.

Savage_and_GombertLt. Cmdr. Savage and Cpt. Gombert (photos via KPBS and Thinking Housewife)

A ship usually makes for a nice metaphor. In this case, it epitomizes much of what this blog is about. For one obvious connection with the world of politics and decision-makers’ friends-and-relations, “fraternization” as well as having one’s actual relatives around can be an interesting issue in the latter universe, too, even as there are no similar anti-fraternization standards for political leaders (for a mixture of good and bad reasons).

But there is more to what the story of USS Cowpens may stand for. As James R. Holmes of the US Naval War College notes writing in The Diplomat, “ships are still islands — in effect self-contained societies — once they cast off all lines.” A ship’s leadership — even though officers therein rise to their position according to specific rules of promotion, or the institutional rules of the game — thus offers intriguing parallel with the leadership of a country.

One point I would make in particular pertains to imagining counterfactual scenarios and outcomes of the events that unfolded on board USS Cowpens. We often conceive of counterfactuals by thinking of circumstances that may have been different. “Had this or that happened, the result would have been different, for better or worse.” Yet it is equally easy to imagine counterfactuals by thinking of what would have happened had there been different people or even slightly different personalities interacting with each other in a given situation. Each and every member of the USS Cowpens crew may have made a difference in terms of how the merits of the case were eventually judged by the Navy — with the different interpretations they had, the way their interpretations evolved over time, the way they expressed what they thought, and the way they acted on the basis of their beliefs at any given moment.

Herman Wouk begins his classic novel, The Caine Mutiny, the fictional story of World War II destroyer/minesweeper USS Caine, by positing about the main protagonist Willie Keith that “the event turned on his personality as the massive door of a vault turns on a small jewel bearing.” Wouk’s masterfully woven plot is nevertheless a good example of how all personalities are important. Replace anyone, or even a personality trait, and you may end up in a different “possible world,” in the language of counterfactual analysis. Not to speak of how an objective description of what happened is hardly possible, and whatever remains may be interpretation rather than fact, from anyone’s respective point of view. In the story of the USS Caine, even Willie Keith is not completely sure by the end of how much he was right to make the decisions he made.

Much of this applies not only to ships and their crews of course.

There are good reasons not to count with personality and interpersonal relations as exclusive determinants of domestic political processes and international interactions, but they clearly are a factor, and often a very important one at that. And in as much as that is the case, this blog is on to something.

To be continued.