Commentary Magazine


Topic: East coast

To Jennifer Rubin, The Fondest of Farewells

For the past three years, Jennifer Rubin has set this blog and this website afire with her breadth of knowledge, her love of the intricacies of politics, her passion for ideas and policy, and her commitment to principle. The living embodiment of the word “indefatigable,” Jen has labored daily from her home in suburban Virginia, writing early in the morning and late at night, on computer and Blackberry, all the while getting her two boys to school and back, and to Hebrew school and back, never missing a news story, never missing an op-ed column, reading everything and digesting everything and commenting on everything. She is a phenomenon, especially considering that for the first two decades of her working life, she was not a writer or a journalist but a lawyer specializing in labor issues who worked for Hollywood studios primarily.

On December 1, Jen will be leaving COMMENTARY, where she has also served as our contributing editor for the past year, to take up blogger’s residence at the Washington Post. It is a brilliant hire for them and a terrific loss for us. A noteworthy fact about Jen’s versatility is that, even considering the thousands of blog items (literally) she has written for us over the past three years, the best-read of all her COMMENTARY contributions was her recent long article, “California, There It Went,” a unique and powerful combination of memoir and elegy for the state she left to take up residence in her new East Coast home and begin her second career as a writer.

We’ll miss her, but we’ll keep reading her, as I expect you will too.

For the past three years, Jennifer Rubin has set this blog and this website afire with her breadth of knowledge, her love of the intricacies of politics, her passion for ideas and policy, and her commitment to principle. The living embodiment of the word “indefatigable,” Jen has labored daily from her home in suburban Virginia, writing early in the morning and late at night, on computer and Blackberry, all the while getting her two boys to school and back, and to Hebrew school and back, never missing a news story, never missing an op-ed column, reading everything and digesting everything and commenting on everything. She is a phenomenon, especially considering that for the first two decades of her working life, she was not a writer or a journalist but a lawyer specializing in labor issues who worked for Hollywood studios primarily.

On December 1, Jen will be leaving COMMENTARY, where she has also served as our contributing editor for the past year, to take up blogger’s residence at the Washington Post. It is a brilliant hire for them and a terrific loss for us. A noteworthy fact about Jen’s versatility is that, even considering the thousands of blog items (literally) she has written for us over the past three years, the best-read of all her COMMENTARY contributions was her recent long article, “California, There It Went,” a unique and powerful combination of memoir and elegy for the state she left to take up residence in her new East Coast home and begin her second career as a writer.

We’ll miss her, but we’ll keep reading her, as I expect you will too.

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Daily Beast Swallows Newsweek

They call it a merger, but let’s not kid ourselves. Tina Brown will be running the show and is sure to offload the remaining deadwood at Newsweek and dispense with its un-navigable website. I sort of imagine Vanity Fair — the East Coast edition. Costumed members of Congress in large group photos by Annie Leibovitz. More slam pieces on Sarah Palin. And, of course, lots and lots of ads. The Daily Beast is editorially eclectic — running from the left-leaning anti-Israel rants of Peter Beinart to the conventional media wisdom of Howard Kurtz to the sharp essays of Mark McKinnon. And, for old times’ sake, she may throw in the conspiracy meanderings of Seymour Hersh, just in case the New Yorker crowd wants to take a peek now and then. So it will certainly be a less dreary and predictable publication than the newer Newsweek or the old Newsweek, for that matter.

Yes, her own politics are predictably left, but she has, at least in this round of her career, not imposed the sort of ideological rigidity that has branded the Huffington Post as the left’s cocoon (where nary a non-liberal opinion can be uttered). But what they say in a Tina Brown publication is much less important than how they say it. And how they dress.

It may not be a better class of journalism, but it will certainly make a splash and might well be commercially viable. Besides, I look forward to all the stories on politicians and their pets and to getting an inside look at the lavish homes of our elected leaders.

They call it a merger, but let’s not kid ourselves. Tina Brown will be running the show and is sure to offload the remaining deadwood at Newsweek and dispense with its un-navigable website. I sort of imagine Vanity Fair — the East Coast edition. Costumed members of Congress in large group photos by Annie Leibovitz. More slam pieces on Sarah Palin. And, of course, lots and lots of ads. The Daily Beast is editorially eclectic — running from the left-leaning anti-Israel rants of Peter Beinart to the conventional media wisdom of Howard Kurtz to the sharp essays of Mark McKinnon. And, for old times’ sake, she may throw in the conspiracy meanderings of Seymour Hersh, just in case the New Yorker crowd wants to take a peek now and then. So it will certainly be a less dreary and predictable publication than the newer Newsweek or the old Newsweek, for that matter.

Yes, her own politics are predictably left, but she has, at least in this round of her career, not imposed the sort of ideological rigidity that has branded the Huffington Post as the left’s cocoon (where nary a non-liberal opinion can be uttered). But what they say in a Tina Brown publication is much less important than how they say it. And how they dress.

It may not be a better class of journalism, but it will certainly make a splash and might well be commercially viable. Besides, I look forward to all the stories on politicians and their pets and to getting an inside look at the lavish homes of our elected leaders.

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O’Donnell’s Victory and What It Means

1. The victory of Christine O’Donnell in the Delaware Senate race is the fourth defeat for the so-called “establishment” Republican candidate in a primary this year — preceded by Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Joe Miller in Alaska. That’s the East Coast, a border state, the Southwest, and way the hell and gone — an unmistakable demonstration that the Republican Party is reconstituting itself in an unprecedented fashion.

2. There seems to be a general presumption that O’Donnell can’t win, because polling suggests she has a long haul and because there are many questions about her fitness. Granted, all relevant signs suggest the man she defeated, Mike Castle, would have been the likely winner and she has an uphill climb. But can she win? Don’t be ridiculous. Of course she can win — in theory at least. She’s out of money, but her political stardom should allow her to raise millions from grassroots Tea Partiers nationwide and close the money gap with her Democratic rival.

3. The presumption among delighted people on the left-liberal side is that all this roiling on the right suggests a party in disarray and a movement intent on cannibalizing itself. That’s one way to look at it. The other is that the GOP is actually expanding and seizing the populist mood that seems to be the national direction — even though the GOP leadership, especially in the Senate, is finding the whole business unnerving and destructive.

1. The victory of Christine O’Donnell in the Delaware Senate race is the fourth defeat for the so-called “establishment” Republican candidate in a primary this year — preceded by Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Joe Miller in Alaska. That’s the East Coast, a border state, the Southwest, and way the hell and gone — an unmistakable demonstration that the Republican Party is reconstituting itself in an unprecedented fashion.

2. There seems to be a general presumption that O’Donnell can’t win, because polling suggests she has a long haul and because there are many questions about her fitness. Granted, all relevant signs suggest the man she defeated, Mike Castle, would have been the likely winner and she has an uphill climb. But can she win? Don’t be ridiculous. Of course she can win — in theory at least. She’s out of money, but her political stardom should allow her to raise millions from grassroots Tea Partiers nationwide and close the money gap with her Democratic rival.

3. The presumption among delighted people on the left-liberal side is that all this roiling on the right suggests a party in disarray and a movement intent on cannibalizing itself. That’s one way to look at it. The other is that the GOP is actually expanding and seizing the populist mood that seems to be the national direction — even though the GOP leadership, especially in the Senate, is finding the whole business unnerving and destructive.

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Dismantling Our NATO-Linked Infrastructure

The recent cost-cutting proposal to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is followed by a report this week according to which the U.S. Second Fleet staff and headquarters are on the chopping block. Second Fleet operates out of Norfolk, Virginia and exercises command and control of U.S. naval operations in the North Atlantic. During the Cold War its level of operational tasking was staggering; in 2010, its main focus shifted to fleet training. Its maritime cognizance of Latin America and the Caribbean was transferred to the resurrected Fourth Fleet in 2008. Meanwhile, Second Fleet has been used since 9/11 to command homeland-defense activities off the East coast. Its Pacific counterpart, Third Fleet in San Diego, performs similar functions on the West coast.

Like JFCOM, however, Second Fleet has a unique role in our obligations with NATO, one that confers on it the densely packed title “Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre of Excellence.” Wearing this hat, Second Fleet labors to improve Alliance interoperability and doctrine in naval and expeditionary operations. It performs as a naval arm of the Allied mission to which JFCOM contributes through its liaison with the Norfolk-based NATO command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

It may be considered a sign of sclerosis in an alliance — possibly even of senility — when the tasks assigned to its agencies can no longer be conveyed in sensible language. NATO has big plans for ACT, however, and expressed strong endorsement of its mission in May of this year. That alone ought to warrant more careful reflection over eliminating JFCOM and Second Fleet. But the proposal to gut the U.S. Navy’s command infrastructure in the Atlantic carries existential implications for our core alliance with Western Europe. The fresh perspective needed here is strategic, not budgetary.

In terms of military planning, getting rid of Second Fleet means no longer seeing the Atlantic as a threat axis or potential maritime battle space for which dedicated tactical preparation is required. Other commands can take over some of the grab-bag of functions Second Fleet has been assigned in recent years, but a numbered fleet is uniquely organized for an integrated approach to naval warfare.

Dispensing with Second Fleet appears out of step with Russian developments since 2007, when Vladimir Putin declared that he would resume the Soviet-era posture of forward operation and surveillance. Today, Russian bombers again operate close to North America and Western Europe. Russian submarines ply the Arctic, where Moscow’s claims of mineral rights conflict with those of NATO allies America, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. A year ago, the Russian navy announced its resumption of a submarine presence off the U.S. East coast, deploying its most modern submarines equipped with long-range, land-attack cruise missiles. An ambitious naval building program makes it clear that Russian leaders want to reestablish their maritime profile in multiple directions.

Under President Obama, however, the U.S. military is becoming less organized in secure the East coast and the Atlantic. The shift is not yet comprehensive, by any means, but the proposals to eliminate JFCOM and Second Fleet make it a trend. Obama’s decision last fall to abandon Bush’s missile-defense plan in Europe will leave the Eastern half of North America vulnerable — in a way the Western half is not — to ICBMs from the Eastern hemisphere. Now Obama’s Defense Department seems to be playing down the importance of training and developing joint naval tactics with NATO, at the same time it proposes to eliminate, in the Atlantic, the unique military role of the numbered fleet.

Neither alliances nor security conditions maintain themselves. It may be true that Second Fleet has been organized out of a job over the past decade, but it’s not clear that today’s geopolitical reality validates the decisions behind that transformation. An insecure Atlantic has never been a harbinger of peace. We may well come to regret having been so shortsighted — and sooner than we think.

The recent cost-cutting proposal to eliminate Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is followed by a report this week according to which the U.S. Second Fleet staff and headquarters are on the chopping block. Second Fleet operates out of Norfolk, Virginia and exercises command and control of U.S. naval operations in the North Atlantic. During the Cold War its level of operational tasking was staggering; in 2010, its main focus shifted to fleet training. Its maritime cognizance of Latin America and the Caribbean was transferred to the resurrected Fourth Fleet in 2008. Meanwhile, Second Fleet has been used since 9/11 to command homeland-defense activities off the East coast. Its Pacific counterpart, Third Fleet in San Diego, performs similar functions on the West coast.

Like JFCOM, however, Second Fleet has a unique role in our obligations with NATO, one that confers on it the densely packed title “Combined Joint Operations from the Sea Centre of Excellence.” Wearing this hat, Second Fleet labors to improve Alliance interoperability and doctrine in naval and expeditionary operations. It performs as a naval arm of the Allied mission to which JFCOM contributes through its liaison with the Norfolk-based NATO command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT).

It may be considered a sign of sclerosis in an alliance — possibly even of senility — when the tasks assigned to its agencies can no longer be conveyed in sensible language. NATO has big plans for ACT, however, and expressed strong endorsement of its mission in May of this year. That alone ought to warrant more careful reflection over eliminating JFCOM and Second Fleet. But the proposal to gut the U.S. Navy’s command infrastructure in the Atlantic carries existential implications for our core alliance with Western Europe. The fresh perspective needed here is strategic, not budgetary.

In terms of military planning, getting rid of Second Fleet means no longer seeing the Atlantic as a threat axis or potential maritime battle space for which dedicated tactical preparation is required. Other commands can take over some of the grab-bag of functions Second Fleet has been assigned in recent years, but a numbered fleet is uniquely organized for an integrated approach to naval warfare.

Dispensing with Second Fleet appears out of step with Russian developments since 2007, when Vladimir Putin declared that he would resume the Soviet-era posture of forward operation and surveillance. Today, Russian bombers again operate close to North America and Western Europe. Russian submarines ply the Arctic, where Moscow’s claims of mineral rights conflict with those of NATO allies America, Canada, Norway, and Denmark. A year ago, the Russian navy announced its resumption of a submarine presence off the U.S. East coast, deploying its most modern submarines equipped with long-range, land-attack cruise missiles. An ambitious naval building program makes it clear that Russian leaders want to reestablish their maritime profile in multiple directions.

Under President Obama, however, the U.S. military is becoming less organized in secure the East coast and the Atlantic. The shift is not yet comprehensive, by any means, but the proposals to eliminate JFCOM and Second Fleet make it a trend. Obama’s decision last fall to abandon Bush’s missile-defense plan in Europe will leave the Eastern half of North America vulnerable — in a way the Western half is not — to ICBMs from the Eastern hemisphere. Now Obama’s Defense Department seems to be playing down the importance of training and developing joint naval tactics with NATO, at the same time it proposes to eliminate, in the Atlantic, the unique military role of the numbered fleet.

Neither alliances nor security conditions maintain themselves. It may be true that Second Fleet has been organized out of a job over the past decade, but it’s not clear that today’s geopolitical reality validates the decisions behind that transformation. An insecure Atlantic has never been a harbinger of peace. We may well come to regret having been so shortsighted — and sooner than we think.

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Iraq Casualties

This is the last day of May, and, although it is still the early afternoon on the East Coast as I write, in Iraq the day is nearly over. Barring some catastrophe it appears that this month will go down as either the lowest- or second-lowest casualty month for U.S. troops in Iraq. According to icasualties.org, 19 U.S. soldiers died this month. (It is possible that a few more deaths may still be recorded as, tragically, some wounded soldiers may not make it.) The record had previously been set in February 2004 when 20 soldiers died. Of course all the usual caveats apply: even 19 deaths is far too many, and there is no guarantee that there will not be greater bloodshed next month.

Still, this is another sign of progress and a further rebuke to the naysayers who were suggesting that recent fighting in Basra and Sadr City was a serious setback. Actually, those offensives have resulted in defeats for the Sadrists and victories for the democratically elected government. Now that the fighting is over, greater stability is returning-at least as much stability as you are likely to get in a country that remains at war. A coalition spokesman announced that the number of security incidents is at the lowest level since March 2004, and by the Associated Press’s count the number of Iraqi civilians killed this month was the lowest since December 2005. Notwithstanding the temporary increase in violence recently, overall the number of attacks has declined 70 percent since the troop “surge” was completed in June 2007.

A month ago the news media had a field day publicizing the increase in casualties in April, when 52 U.S. personnel died. Since the figure in May is less than half that, by all rights the press should treat that as big news, right? Don’t bet on it. Too often the press has operated under the motto: good news is no news. But I am ready to be pleasantly surprised.

This is the last day of May, and, although it is still the early afternoon on the East Coast as I write, in Iraq the day is nearly over. Barring some catastrophe it appears that this month will go down as either the lowest- or second-lowest casualty month for U.S. troops in Iraq. According to icasualties.org, 19 U.S. soldiers died this month. (It is possible that a few more deaths may still be recorded as, tragically, some wounded soldiers may not make it.) The record had previously been set in February 2004 when 20 soldiers died. Of course all the usual caveats apply: even 19 deaths is far too many, and there is no guarantee that there will not be greater bloodshed next month.

Still, this is another sign of progress and a further rebuke to the naysayers who were suggesting that recent fighting in Basra and Sadr City was a serious setback. Actually, those offensives have resulted in defeats for the Sadrists and victories for the democratically elected government. Now that the fighting is over, greater stability is returning-at least as much stability as you are likely to get in a country that remains at war. A coalition spokesman announced that the number of security incidents is at the lowest level since March 2004, and by the Associated Press’s count the number of Iraqi civilians killed this month was the lowest since December 2005. Notwithstanding the temporary increase in violence recently, overall the number of attacks has declined 70 percent since the troop “surge” was completed in June 2007.

A month ago the news media had a field day publicizing the increase in casualties in April, when 52 U.S. personnel died. Since the figure in May is less than half that, by all rights the press should treat that as big news, right? Don’t bet on it. Too often the press has operated under the motto: good news is no news. But I am ready to be pleasantly surprised.

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IOWA: Obama the Clintonite

Barack Obama brilliantly waited a solid 20 minutes after Huckabee spoke before taking the stage.  He was the star of the night, and he made the most of it, even if it meant slipping outside East Coast prime time.  After a bitter and dreary Hillary concession that was painful to watch, Obama delivered a barnburner. And it was impossible not to hear in his speech a barely disguised attack on everything that is Hillary. “Change.”  “Unity over division.”  “Tell the lobbyists.” A health care plan that “brings together Democrats and Republicans.”  His refrain  — “this was the moment” —  was a
clarion of something new at the very moment that Hillary is looking stale with that has-been husband at her side. And then, of course, he has stolen the best bits of the ’92 Clintons:  hope, middle-class tax cut, courage to change. The network chatter afterward was positively effervescent. Iowa is supposed to create momentum. Tonight, Obama created something even better: Buzz.

Barack Obama brilliantly waited a solid 20 minutes after Huckabee spoke before taking the stage.  He was the star of the night, and he made the most of it, even if it meant slipping outside East Coast prime time.  After a bitter and dreary Hillary concession that was painful to watch, Obama delivered a barnburner. And it was impossible not to hear in his speech a barely disguised attack on everything that is Hillary. “Change.”  “Unity over division.”  “Tell the lobbyists.” A health care plan that “brings together Democrats and Republicans.”  His refrain  — “this was the moment” —  was a
clarion of something new at the very moment that Hillary is looking stale with that has-been husband at her side. And then, of course, he has stolen the best bits of the ’92 Clintons:  hope, middle-class tax cut, courage to change. The network chatter afterward was positively effervescent. Iowa is supposed to create momentum. Tonight, Obama created something even better: Buzz.

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Bookshelf

• Time was when the writer who published his own book was by definition an amateur and, more often than not, a crank. Vanity-publishing outfits like Vantage Press existed to divert the life savings of literary innocents into the printing of unreadable, amateurishly designed volumes that promptly vanished without trace, leaving their hapless authors thousands of dollars poorer. A visit to Vantage’s website is guaranteed to make the hardest of hearts sink (“We believe that you and all other authors have the right to express your ideas in print . . . if funds are needed for basic living expenses, this program may not be for you”).

But times have changed, and so has the book business. Nowadays most major publishers are less and less willing to take a chance on promising manuscripts that are deemed unlikely to sell in reasonably large numbers. At the same time, the simultaneous emergence of online booksellers and computerized print-on-demand technology (which allows books to be printed, bound, and shipped to buyers one copy at a time) has made self-publishing economically feasible for professional authors who know how to market their own books.

This new style of self-publishing is already having an effect on the availability of out-of-print titles. Two weeks ago, I wrote about a paperback edition of Mary McCarthy’s Theatre Chronicles published by the Authors Guild Back-in-Print Bookstore, a service of iUniverse, the biggest and most influential print-on-demand service in America. Will living authors be equally quick to embrace self-publishing—or is it destined to remain as marginal and disreputable as vanity publishing? For what it’s worth, I suspect that in the short run, we’re more likely to see the adoption of print-on-demand technology by new, independent publishing houses that will use it to slash their overhead, thus making it possible for them to gamble on worthy but hard-to-market manuscripts that the major houses are no longer willing to consider.

Read More

• Time was when the writer who published his own book was by definition an amateur and, more often than not, a crank. Vanity-publishing outfits like Vantage Press existed to divert the life savings of literary innocents into the printing of unreadable, amateurishly designed volumes that promptly vanished without trace, leaving their hapless authors thousands of dollars poorer. A visit to Vantage’s website is guaranteed to make the hardest of hearts sink (“We believe that you and all other authors have the right to express your ideas in print . . . if funds are needed for basic living expenses, this program may not be for you”).

But times have changed, and so has the book business. Nowadays most major publishers are less and less willing to take a chance on promising manuscripts that are deemed unlikely to sell in reasonably large numbers. At the same time, the simultaneous emergence of online booksellers and computerized print-on-demand technology (which allows books to be printed, bound, and shipped to buyers one copy at a time) has made self-publishing economically feasible for professional authors who know how to market their own books.

This new style of self-publishing is already having an effect on the availability of out-of-print titles. Two weeks ago, I wrote about a paperback edition of Mary McCarthy’s Theatre Chronicles published by the Authors Guild Back-in-Print Bookstore, a service of iUniverse, the biggest and most influential print-on-demand service in America. Will living authors be equally quick to embrace self-publishing—or is it destined to remain as marginal and disreputable as vanity publishing? For what it’s worth, I suspect that in the short run, we’re more likely to see the adoption of print-on-demand technology by new, independent publishing houses that will use it to slash their overhead, thus making it possible for them to gamble on worthy but hard-to-market manuscripts that the major houses are no longer willing to consider.

In the meantime, though, there are still a few smaller-than-small houses that are continuing to take chances on off-center books. A case in point is Doug Ramsey’s Poodie James (Libros Libertad, 151 pp., $19.95 paper). Jazz aficionados know Ramsey as a distinguished critic, whose previous books include Take Five, the definitive biography of Paul Desmond. In recent years, though, Ramsey has also embraced the possibilities of new media, launching a blog called “Rifftides” that lets him write as he pleases, instead of being restricted to the fast-shrinking roster of print publications whose editors care about jazz. Now Ramsey has written his first novel, which was brought out not by a mainstream house but by a new, independent Canadian publisher who puts out serious, well-designed books, whose authors were unable to place them elsewhere. You probably won’t find Poodie James at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, but you can order it easily from Amazon or directly from Libros Libertad. You’ll find that the cover and typography are as elegant-looking as anything published by Knopf in its salad days.

Why did Ramsey go to Libros Libertad? Undoubtedly because no major publisher would take a chance on a Gatsby-length novella by a first-time novelist who is no longer young. Worse yet, Poodie James is about a small-town deaf-mute, and it’s written in an old-fashioned, determinedly non-experimental style not unlike that of Jon Hassler. What could be less sexy?

No doubt you already know where I’m going, so I’ll cut to the chase: Poodie James is a very good book. Not only is it handsomely and lyrically written, but Ramsey’s snapshots of small-town life circa 1948 are altogether convincing, and he has even brought off the immensely difficult trick of worming his way into the consciousness of a deaf person without betraying the slightest sense of strain. I especially like the scene in which he tells us how it feels for the title character to “listen” to Woody Herman’s big band at a local dance:

A man with a big smile walked out holding a clarinet. The musicians sat up and brought their horns to their mouths. The man raised his hand and brought it down. The force of the sound hit Poodie and traveled through his chest as a tingle…. Poodie wondered if the dancers got the same sensation from hearing the music that he did from feeling it, radiance in the belly, warmth around the heart.

I wish I’d written that.

Ramsey is no less adept at sketching the constant tension between tolerance and suspicion that is part and parcel of the communal life of every small town. I grew up in a place not unlike the Washington town where Poodie James is set, and so can testify to the knowing skill with which it is portrayed here.

A quarter-century ago, Poodie James would have had no trouble finding an East Coast publisher, and it might even have made its way into the hands of a Hollywood producer, since it could easily be turned into a very nice little movie along the lines of The Spitfire Grill. That Ramsey had to travel another route to get his first novel into print says more about the postmodern culture of publishing than it does about his gifts as a writer of fiction. I commend it to your attention, and I hope its author has another novel or two—or three—up his sleeve.

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The View from Parris Island

I just spent several days on a tour arranged by the Marine Corps Association, speaking to various groups of Marines at Parris Island, South Carolina, their East Coast recruitment depot, and at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, their main East Coast operating base. It was inspiring and educational in equal measure.

The educational part came from a meeting with the Marines’ newly formed Foreign Military Training Unit, part of the recently established Marine Special Operations Command. The Marines are, in essence, emulating the Army Special Forces by creating groups of eleven Marines (akin to the Green Beret A-Teams) who receive language and educational training and then journey to various parts of the world to train friendly military forces. The goal is to keep sending the same groups of Marines back to one country or region so that they can establish the personal relationships which are all important in this type of work. This initiative doesn’t get the headlines that the Marines receive for their heroic fighting in Iraq’s Anbar province, but, over the long term, it could make just as important a contribution to winning the struggle against radical Islam.

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I just spent several days on a tour arranged by the Marine Corps Association, speaking to various groups of Marines at Parris Island, South Carolina, their East Coast recruitment depot, and at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, their main East Coast operating base. It was inspiring and educational in equal measure.

The educational part came from a meeting with the Marines’ newly formed Foreign Military Training Unit, part of the recently established Marine Special Operations Command. The Marines are, in essence, emulating the Army Special Forces by creating groups of eleven Marines (akin to the Green Beret A-Teams) who receive language and educational training and then journey to various parts of the world to train friendly military forces. The goal is to keep sending the same groups of Marines back to one country or region so that they can establish the personal relationships which are all important in this type of work. This initiative doesn’t get the headlines that the Marines receive for their heroic fighting in Iraq’s Anbar province, but, over the long term, it could make just as important a contribution to winning the struggle against radical Islam.

The inspirational part of my trip came simply from having the opportunity to chat with so many outstanding warriors, current and retired. I never get tired of spending time with men and women in uniform, and Marines are, on average, some of the best. They are so dedicated, so selfless, so gallant—and yet they wear their accomplishments and sacrifices so lightly, in keeping with a military code that is supposed to give credit to the team, not the individual. Drill instructors at Parris Island work 80 even 100 hours a week for less than $20,000 a year. (At least their housing isn’t as bad as it used to be. The Corps has brought in a private developer to create nice, tract-style homes on the base.) Other Marines are in Iraq and Afghanistan risking life and limb for equally meager salaries.

And, however much civilian society may grow disaffected with the war in Iraq, the Marines stand ready to fight on—and on and on. I was chatting with one Marine captain, who has done a tour there (many other Marines have two, three, even four tours under their belts), and he told me that he and his peers have no desire to leave Iraq. Morale remains high, he said—a fact borne out by high reenlistment rates.

Marine recruiting is also running strong, even though all who sign up know that they will be heading “downrange” before long. This captain explained that the motivation for Marines isn’t so much that they support this particular war, although most do. It’s that a war is going on, and they feel the call to serve the nation. They don’t have to inquire too closely into the rights or wrongs of the conflict; they have been called upon to fight, and that’s all they need to know. The prospect of being killed or maimed isn’t a big deterrent. They know the risks they’re running, and many Marines I spoke to expressed amazement and disgust with the casualty-preoccupation of civilian society.

I admit to a bit of disenchantment when I traveled through Charlotte airport on my way home. Here I overheard the usual conversations of business travelers talking about market share and stock options and product rollouts. Somehow it seemed unworthy, even sordid, compared to the lives of duty, honor, country that the Marines lead.

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