Wednesday, December 30, 2009

First 2010 Reading Assignment for Our Crew

Stumbled across this in my morning reading of the IHT. The manuscript of Leavenworth's Combat Studies Institute history of operations in Afghanistan from Oct 2001 until Sep 2005. It's 422 pages, so don't think you can digest it too quickly. I haven't begun to read it, as I hate reading material this voluminous on the web, but will start to read it tomorrow night, once the New Year festivities are behind us.

However, the Times did print their synopsis here.

So, start reading it and as time goes by, perhaps it can provide fuel for discussion.

Happy New Year to all.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Some thoughts on tactical issues, too...

Interesting little article (actually, it's not so much an article but a steno job by Tom Ricks) about an AAR delivered by a warrant in A-stan.What I find a little depressing is the degree to which this is no-shit-Sherlock infantry 101. Stay off the roads and trails? Goddam, troop, my platoon daddy taught me that lesson he and his homies had learned the hard way (in the A Shau in 1967) waaaayyy back in 1982. Where the hell else do you think your enemy is going to put the mines, hero? Y'all been to war for, what, six or seven years now, and you're still forgetting this?

Having to remind the gyrenes about walking both point and slack point? About security halts? About rally points? Crossing linear danger areas?

One selling point of having a volunteer Army (and the USMC has been volunteer since 1945) was to prevent the "not-in-Vietnam-twelve-years-but-one-year-twelve-times" syndrome. If this warrant is ragging the troops for CRS disease, it sounds like this was either one fucked up platoon or we're having a problem learning and applying the simple old infantry tactics and techniques. All this stuff was hammered home in the Sixties in Vietnam. My generation learned it from the guys who came back to be our platoon sergeants and first sergeants and passed it on to our troops in the Eighties and Nineties when WE were platoon sergeants and first sergeants.It's a little irritating to think that we're reinventing the patrolling wheel having supposedly been at war for all this time. I think we agree that the U.S. has some serious issues with strategic thinking. This little article suggests that we might have some tactical problems, too.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Some thoughts on Strategic Issues

While catching up on my reading the other day, I found this paper in the Spring 2009 Naval War College Review (which, due to the turtle pace of bulk mail, arrived here in Oct) to have a few snippets that are aligned with the talk of "strategy" here.

Dr Bookman offers this quote from a 1955 paper written by Herbert Rosinski, a Nazi-era émigré German historian:

"Strategy = the comprehensive direction of power to control situations and areas to attain broad objectives." (page 3 of the .pdf document)

To me, what makes an operation "strategic" is that it meets all of the above criteria. The power must be purposefully directed, it must be comprehensively directed, the direction must be for the purpose of controlling situations and areas, and that control must be for the purpose of attaining broad objectives. (I restate the obvious for the purpose of emphasis.) I would offer that lacking any one of those imperative factors renders an operation non-strategic, or results in what becomes "strategic error".

Note that Bookman offers, "Control—and focus on its implications and ramifications—is the active ingredient of Rosinski’s seminal 1955 contribution; as control’s antithesis he points to a “haphazard series of improvisations.”" (pg 5) I would therefore ask if generally reactionary operations can ever be strategic in their application and outcome?

A third snippet that caught my attention was: Objectives refers to actual, not declaratory, strategy. In a world where public relations has become a function of command often no less important than the classic duties of a general staff, it is all too easy for strategists to let their declaratory strategies edit their real goals. In one limiting case of this kind of error, the “objective” is replaced by a mere slogan—which may be accepted with little analysis within an inner circle of high command as well as circulated among a wider public. (pg 5) Bookman addresses the uselessness of the terms "Victory" and "Defeat" as strategic objectives, as they are, in the larger strategic context, meaningless.

With the above snippets in mind, one might ask exactly what are and or were the situations and areas we sought to control in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to achieve broad objectives, and what were these broad objectives? In short, were these two wars initiated with a less than strategic view or fundamentally flawed by strategic error? Were the situations and areas to be controlled sufficient to achieve a stable geopolitical outcome (i.e. - were the objectives sufficiently broad?) and was the power applied comprehensively directed and sufficient to achieve control?

In terms of the second quote, one need only look at the period following the toppling of the two governments to see a “haphazard series of improvisations" that, as Rosinski says, lead us to understand how this antithesis of control allowed both theaters to fall into chaos. Whether or not history tells us that both nations may be unmanageable, the very lack of serious Phase IV operations ensured that history need not be the driving force. Rather, our lack of strategic vision sealed the deal.

Last of all, is the issue of slogans as strategic objectives. One could easily find sloganeering in the stated objectives of both wars, no less the GWOT. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find significant statements of the control that was to be exercised over specifically identified situations and areas. Yes, we were going to stand up two governments, or help them stand up, but what control can one have over such a situation, especially when we are claiming to allow them to do so by an almost immediate imposition of democracy? Is democracy really subject to control by an external power?

One will also find a mention of the pitfalls of "weapons based strategy". Perhaps all our discussion about COIN could be seen as a "tactics based strategy" discussion. Has the tactic displaced or skewed strategic thinking? Can COIN meet the criteria Rosinski sets out for strategy? Does it provide the comprehensive direction of power to control situations and areas to attain broad objectives, or is it a bit too reactive, and thereby too haphazard and improvisational to rise to strategic effect?

Just food for discussion.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Merry

From the Fire Direction Center:This holiday isn't exactly my thing. But for those whose it is; may yours be blissful and happy. May you be overwashed by the love of those you love around you. And may you wake to peace and content.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

No One Ever Lost Money Betting On The Stupidity of the American Public

And sure as hell not in Monterey.

But, hey, we've all been there: there you are strolling along, there they are, lying there in the public grass glistening in the California sun like little chocolate Faberge' Easter eggs, how could you NOT just pop one in your mouth?

They're like candy.

(h/t to the Comics Curmudgeon)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Money for Nothing and your Chicks for Free

I KNEW there was a reason I was a paratrooper.Works the same in the Ukraine, I see. That beret and the sailor shirt...they draw the girls like catnip, the little dears.

(h/t to Lawyers, Guns and Money for this delightful video)

Gian Gentile's Strategy of Tactics and the Ghost of Reinhold Niebuhr

A matter of semantics has to be cleared up before preceeding further. It is unwise to concede to Mao Tse-tung that the revolutionary's opponent is a "counterrevolutionary", for this word has come to be synonymous with "reactionary", which has not always been, nor will it always be, the case. Therefore, one side will be called the "insurgent" and his action the "insurgency", on the opposite side, we will find the "counterinsurgent" and the "counterinsurgency". Since insurgency and counterinsurgency are two different aspects of the same conflict, an expression is needed to cover the whole: "revolutionary war" will serve that purpose.

David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare, xii

Colonel Gian Gentile has produced a thoughtful - and I would add given the political siutation in the US - heroic interpretation of the current state of not only the US Army, but the whole US way of war, or what it has become. Today the all encompassing concept is COIN or population-centric counterinsurgency, which for Gentile is the problem.

Let me start with an outline of Gentile's main points and his conclusion with my own comments at the end. Gentile's article has 10 main points:

1. "Population-centric Counterinsurgency" or COIN has become an all encompassing concept for the Army which precludes choice as to other methods and approaches.

2. The American "way of war" (counter to Russell Weigley) has historically been of "improvisation and practicality", not an "ideological attachment to seeking out the next Austerlitz". The American way of war is thus pragmatic . . . not ideological . . .

3. COIN is not a military strategy, but at best an operational doctrine and at worst a "strategy of tactics", or simply an "intellectual straightjacket", which blinds the practitioner to not only other options, but its inherent limitations.

4. This total focus on a single method leads to self-deception: "appearing to apply David Galula's principles (Galula provides the "historical how-to text") while at the same time ignorance of military strategy.

5. What lead us to this crisis point was first of all a false (and for the Army self-serving) reinterpretation of the Vietnam War. Abrams the good (using COIN) following Westmoreland the bad (the conventional approach), but the politicians and public losing "their will" when the Army could have won in the end.

6. The second cause, and the more recent, has been the victory narrative associated with the 2007 Surge in Iraq, which Gentile describes as "hubris run amuck". Here he repeats his well-known argument that the Surge was simply one of numerous causes for the decline of violence in Iraq. The Surge did contribute to the change, but was not the main cause of it. He then implies a broader argument that the Surge in fact was a tactical measure that compromised strategic success.

7. The US military is unable to think in a historical context. The term the Army uses - "counterinsurgency" - is "so loaded with historical context, assumptions, myths, and absurdities that it has become almost meaningless". This can also hide a whole range of political purposes which are rather left unsaid, since COIN can be "used to define and judge any small war, imperial war, or insurgency".

8. Since 2006 there has been a lack of debate as to the way forward for the Army. Compared to 1976-82, when 110 articles appeared in Military Review, following the publication of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency, there have been only a series of articles "touting the triumph of the Surge, a narrative that has steamrolled the American Army into accepting this new way of war".

9. COIN is assummed by its supporters (who fancy themselves as the "Young Turks" of the Army) as being "more difficult than conventional warfare", "more demanding", even more "political", although COIN is executed at a much slower pace with much more reaction time for commanders. In COIN since one has E-5s interacting with local villiage elders, it is assummed that this approach is in fact more "political", but policy has always existed at the lowest tactical level, [as the Communists well understood with their emphasis on constant education for not only cadre, but potential supporters - lack of historical context once again]. This focus on the political in the tactical also promotes this total focus on tactics, making for a "strategy of tactics" with no consideration of the link between tactics and strategy as a means to a political purpose, let alone of considering strategic effect. Gentile approvingly quotes Clausewitz at this point.

10. With the total emphasis on COIN, the Army has lost track of its conventional skills, which is another of Gentile's old arguments. He sees this as an unacceptable risk which could lead to serious consequences should the Army be called upon to military action at the other end of the conflict spectrum.

In conclusion he says that the Army would be better off studying the history of the British Empire of the latter half of the 19th Century where, "if nothing else" they understood the essence of strategy, that being the link between resources and means and ends. The British then, unlike the COIN supporters of today, did not see military operations as ends in themselves. What COIN boils down to is a form of "total war", the remaking of societies through military means, a ceaseless series of "crusades" sold as "nation-building" but which actually require the remaking of political indentites by outside force. How this supports the nationl interest or is let alone achieveable, or what the long-term costs would be is lost in the maze of tactical considerations, COIN having in effect "buried strategy".

What to add?

I think Gentile's assessment very accurate from a Clausewitzian strategic theory perspective. I would howerver add a few points which make the COIN position even more dubious.

First, not only does the current Army way of war lack the historical context of counterinsurgency, it lacks the theoretical context, having in effect cut and pasted what they liked from David Galula to fit their purposes. A careful reading of Galula's classic Counterinsurgency Warfare, would indicate how precarious the US position in the actual "wars on terror" is. Referring to the Galula quote above, which exactly is the revolutionary side? Who is attempting to impose their view on the local population, the Taliban, or the US/NATO? Galula also assumes that the Counterinsurgency begins from a position of institutional strength, possessing all the elements of a state in being. Even a colonial power would have had a functioning state system, there is no place in his theory for the outside actor (posing as the "counterinsurgent") starting a new state from scratch and imposing it on the locals (even officials of the former state) who then are labelled as "insurgents". The point here is that certain strengths that Galula assumes belong to the counterinsurgency do not exist in the two (or three) conflicts where COIN is being applied today, ditto for the assumed weaknesses associated with the insurgency.

Also in line with Galula's view, the political context sets the stage for revolutionary war. Prior to 1938 (see page 22) there were no successful insurgencies against colonial regimes, rather it was the crisis that Western and Japanese imperialism underwent as a result of World War II that ushered in the era of successful insurgency. Without the actions of Japan, Galula argues, the Chinese Communists never would have succeeded against the Kuomintang. For this reason, a Western state, even the lone super power, invading and establishing a client state given the current political context would be an exercise in futility for Galula, something which simply is not going to happen, that is his theory, the basis of COIN today, would not allow for it.

Second, this crisis of American strategic thought goes back a ways. I've put the beginning point as 1991. I have also argued that the similar notion of 4GW was Ludendorff's concept of Total War stood on its head. That is that war from this perspective "absorbs politics" and becomes theoretically something autonomous.

Third, Rupert Smith in his book, The Utility of Force argues that the US way of war is frequently "less an art than a search for the technical solution and a process" (page 88). This being an industrial process, industrial warfare having been the US way of war since the Civil War with a few exceptions. I think this emphasis for a technological solution part of US strategic culture, but that would apply more to the practical view that Gentile argues than the ideological view he associates with COIN. Also is not this search for a technical solution also influenced by the understanding that war is a test of opposing wills, that is traditional strategic theory?

My last point concerns the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Why? Rev. Neibuhr has been in the news of late with President Obama being described as "Niebuhrian" in his approach to morality, especially his comments on "evil" and even becoming "a war president". With all this name dropping going around (how many Americans even know who Niebuhr was or what his views were?) there must be something going on . . .

If one actually reads one of Niebuhr's classics, The Irony of American History, then one comes across a very intresting connection with Gian Gentile's view, showing us who is a "Niebuhrian" and who is not . . .

Long before the New Deal radically changed the climate of American political life the sovereign power of government had been used to enforce taxation laws which embodied social policy as well as revenue necessities; great concentrations of power in industry were broken up by law; necessary monopolies in utilities were brought under political regulation; social welfare, security and health and other values which proved to be outside the operations of the free market were secured by political policy. More recently, housing, medicine and social security have become matters of public and political policy. All this has been accomplished on a purely pragmatic basis, without the ideological baggage which European labor carried. The development of American democracy toward a welfare state has proceeded so rapidly partly because the ideological struggle was not unnecessarily sharpened.
page 100

Niebuhr found our emphasis of pragmatism over ideology as a great strength, perhaps our greatest strength and something which ensured the continued health of the American body politic which he saw as a Republic. This pragmatism was reflected in how we did things and how the country developed over time, how would Niebuhr see the changes that have shook this country since 1951? or more specifically in the points mentioned in the quote since the 1980s? That is a re-emphasis on ideology which in reality masks narrow political interest and an abandonment of one of our key American virtues.

This abandonment of our better pragmatic nature for the promise of superficial ideology has also inspired the current popularity of a new "way of war" which masks uncomfortable political realities. The current confusion in our strategic thinking reflects the larger confusion of our politics.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

OK, so does this tell us anything?

Today's IHT had an article chock full of interesting tidbits. Here's a couple of them, and I'll number them for quick reference as you comment.

1. Mr. Gates, who maintained his usual laconic reserve as the disarray unfolded, was by Friday more openly reflective when he acknowledged to American troops in Kirkuk, the oil-rich region north of Baghdad, how hard a sell the wars were at home. “One of the myths in the international community is that the United States likes war,” he said. “And the reality is, other than the first two or three years of World War II, there has never been a popular war in America.”

Talk about a Freudian slip on a horrific scale! So, should there even be "popular" wars? Having worked in the field for the bulk of my adult life, to include actually fighting in a couple of them, I shudder at the notion that any war might be "popular". I would hope that those who bear arms would be clinical about their trade. I would also hope that those clinicians would also retain a touch of humanity at the same time. Perhaps not in the heat of close contact, but at least in the larger sense.

Isn't it time to think about war as a last resort? To use a word so terribly over worked by GWB and Co, should war be "popular" of more correctly viewed as the application of necessary, but basically evil acts in response to unnecessary evil acts? Of course, necessary and unnecessary is in the eyes of the beholder.

In my eyes, popularity or not, the major failure of the American culture is the presence of far too many people who take war, especially "away games", far too lightly. If the 19 boxcutter wielding guys of 9/11 had killed or maimed a proportion of the NYC population equal to some of our collateral damaged innocents in Iraqi or Afghan villages - - - - well, think about it!

2. Mr. Gates found himself ..... startled by President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who blurted out at a palace news conference that the Afghans would not be able to pay for their own security forces until 2024

Ok, boys and girls, if the Afghans will not be able to pay the bill for 15 more years, who will? And in return for those 15 years of payments, what will be the return on investment? You gotta love Karzai. If he is right, his "honesty" should scare off sane people. If he is wrong, you have to wonder where his head is. Either way, he's announced, "Heads you don't win and Tails you lose". Actually, after reading all that has been written about the nature of the country, his comment sounds quite plausible. Where would a tribal, non-industrial, natural resource poor country get the money to fund security forces sufficient for what we hope of them?

3. And, while we are wondering why the current wars are not "popular":
Mr. Gates did meet with Mr. Maliki early on Friday, the same day he finally managed to talk to some troops. That was in Kirkuk, where in a town hall-style session he was asked unusually pointed questions. Why, one wanted to know, is the United States still at war after eight years?

“I think it’s a mistake to look at Afghanistan as sort of one eight-year war,” Mr. Gates responded in the same even tone he had used all week. “We had a war in 2001, 2002, which we essentially won. And the Taliban was kicked out of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was kicked out of Afghanistan, many of them killed. And then things were very quiet in Afghanistan.”

Without blaming President George W. Bush’s administration, which he once served, for sidelining the conflict in favor of Iraq, Mr. Gates said the second war in Afghanistan started in late 2005 and early 2006. “But the United States really has gotten its head into this conflict in Afghanistan, as far as I’m concerned, really only in the last year,” he said.

I think we have discussed his first claim, "essentially winning" the "first war in Afghanistan". How can you claim victory when the only result was a political vacuum, not a firm, sustainable political end state? OOOpppsss, there I go again, asking why we ignored our well developed doctrine for an "Occupation". Societies with Attention Deficit Disorder don't do occupations.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Books For Soldiers

In case you haven't been to one - or in case no one has ever told you - war is one of the most boring things humans ever invented.

It is a sort of Perfect Storm of bad food, worse hygiene, unchanging scenery and incessant companions punctuated (if you are unlucky) by moments of bowel-loosening terror.

And then you get up and do the same fucking thing again the next day.

And the next. And the...

You get the idea.

So now that we're neck deep in the Annual Holly-Bedecked QuasiReligious Festival of Corporate Greed, perhaps you can spare a moment to help those stuck in this craptacular business. One of the best ways I can think of - short of storming the Capitol and forcing the congresscritter to watch repeated showings of "When Justin Met Kelly" until they agreed to make peace and bring the deployed guys home - is here, at "Books for Soldiers".

(h/t to my battle buddy Jim over at RangerAgainstWar for turning me on to this site).

So to do something really decent to poke a thumb in the eye of your corporate masters (who want you buying something spendy and trendy to celebrate the birth of the impoverished Prince of Peace), how about kicking down a spare twenty or fifty to help some OTHER dogface make it through a long day somewhere in Central Asia?

Like you need another Christmas sweater, right?

(crossposted at MilPub)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Unknown Unknowns

This from Fred Kaplan over at Slate:
"At an otherwise uneventful hearing before the House Armed Services Committee this morning, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said something that should confirm and heighten most people's apprehensions about the war's escalation."
And goes on to comment that it was Savior-General McChrystal saying he had a lot to learn about the 'Stan.Umm, actually, Fred, no. That's just the way generals work. I'd be surprised if Ike knew all the details of the conditions inside the German infantry divisions defending the beach at Normandy. His G-3 and G-2 knew, though, and used that knowledge to make Ike's invasion plan work. McChrystal has staff, and his subordinate units' commanders and staff, who know their AOs better than he ever will.

No, what I heard on the radio yesterday morning that made me shiver was our modern day Little Mac tell the congresscritters something to the effect of; "You'll see, by 2011 the Afghan people will see the results of our success and see the benefits of siding with their government."

Now THAT is scary. First of all, it assumes that we're going to lick this ice cream cone in 18 months. That's lightning speed for a domestic rebellion. The Sri Lankan and Indian troops took, what, 30 years to clean out the LTTE?

Second, and most frightening, is the bland assumption that all this military goodness will drive Abdul and Miriam Lunchpail into the lovin' arms of the government in Kabul. THAT'S real crack smoking. The average Afghan is loyal to family first, clan second, tribe third, probably some sort of weak regional feeling last and Kabul every third leap year, if ever. No amount of force yet applied has changed that, and is unlikely to.If McChrystal really believes that - and is not just blowing smoke up the Congresscritters' collective butts - then he really DOES have a lot to learn about the 'Stan and we really ARE in trouble.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Climate Change, globally political, or politically global?

Or as I once asked, “does the marketing drive the science or the science drive the marketing?”

Since Chief beat me to the punch, I strong recommend reading his thread first.

Climate change is always a hot topic, and more so today than ever. Every scientist has a position on it, including myself. This thread, then, is presented because I had this discussion with a few people, scientists, who are not affiliated with any University group, or independent group advocating, promoting “Let’s do something!” really, it was a discussion amongst a few scientist from various backgrounds.

Without a doubt things are changing in our environment. One just has to go to Alaska to see the once great glaciers all but disappearing. In fact, one of the greatest concerns is called “rebound” earthquakes. This is happening in Alaska due to the disappearance of tons of glacial ice per square inch off of Alaskan soil which is causing the earth, mantle, to
“rebound” from all the weight coming off from it.

However, there are other factors to take into account that indicates empirical change in our world and that would be the receding glaciers in Antarctica where entire shelves of ice are calving and separating from the continent only to float northwards in the currents and melt.

Also, there are other indicators that things are on the move…earthquakes in deep places. Everyone knows about the tsunami that scrubbed clean lots of islands and mainland resorts in the Pacific, but what a lot of people don’t know is that that earthquake was so powerful it actually shifted the axis of the planet…not by a whole lot…but significantly enough that it was noticed.

Which brings me to this point: We live on a dynamic planet.
Living on a dynamic planet means that things are going to change.

Oh yes, they will.
What doesn’t change are peoples attitudes, and for the rejoinder I would like to say that we should take care of our planet regardless of
whether or not our production of greenhouse gases is affecting the temperature of the planet.

One of the more interesting aspects of human influence on the planet can be found in England…eight-to-ten inches below the surface. There, you will find the ash layer…soot really, that is a left over from the birth of the industrial age. Apparently, the ash is from all the coal that was burned to fuel the engines of progress…and even though the descriptions from that time of gray foreboding skies, choking smog, and black lung that affected non-miners the island still has green hills.
And really, that is where I’m coming from.
Life adapts, continues and moves on with us…or…without us.

So what, then, is our motivation for keeping the planet we live on healthy, and nice?
Well, because someone has to be the fucking parent in a world full of shitty diaper wearing children. I wouldn’t let my son run around in shitty diapers, and I suspect none of you would, either

And besides, who wants to lay down in their own garbage?

So, really, the truth of the matter is yes, things are a changing on our planet, and more than likely if we curbed our desire to soil our own beds we probably wouldn’t have so many environmental problems…but there is the issue of the human condition and that, in my opinion, is what the Climatologist were trying to change. Albeit, inelegantly, and deceptively, which in the end did more harm than if they had just been forthright and let he science speak for itself.

In short, yes, there is significant evidence that points to change, and yes, there are a lot of people who have vested interests in advocating for and against doing something.

The real question you have to ask yourself is what are you going to do about it?

Everybody talks about the weather...

bg mentioned the Copenhagen Conference on climate change and the recent fooforaw about the "censoring" of climate change skeptics by the mainstream climatologists.

Now, overall, I am perfectly confident that if human industrial emissions ARE having a significant impact on global climate (and I cannot imagine why they wouldn't - see below) that this conference will continue the great tradition of looking away from a difficult and painful choice until it rips our collective head off and vomits down the neck stump. There never has been a human society that anticipated their own impact on natural systems prior to those systems going to hell. Ask the Sumerians about soil salinization, the Anasazi about irrigated agriculture in a desert, or the Easter Islanders about giant heads. Oh, wait, you can't...But as for the "censoring" the background is in geology, not climatology, but here's my short take:

1. We are in an interglacial, and we know that over the past 1.8 million years the Earth has warmed and cooled considerably from where it is today. From the VOSTOK ice cores in the Antarctic we have O16/O18 ratios that give us a fair idea of global temperatures back into the end of the late Pleistocene. Stratigraphic, palynological and flora/fauna interpretation can give us a good guesstimate of global temps back at least as far as the Proterozoic (4 billion years ago). And we know from that that the Earth has been both much warmer and much colder than it is now.

2. But...the temperature data we have now looks suspicious; it spikes starting in the late 18th Century and that trend seems to be continuing. This trendline is rising at about the same rate as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which saw 6 degrees of rise in 20,000 years and had a fairly major impact on planetary life.The thing is that we think that the PETM was triggered by one or more natural causes, the most likely thought to be the release of deep-ocean methane deposits or "clathrates". Of the other natural or cosmogenic processes that have affected global temperatures, from cometary impacts to the development of grasses, we have seen none over the past 200 years.

3. We also know that...

4. Industrial gases, including CO2, do have a "greenhouse" effect, and we have poured a tremendous amount of them (relative to the global baseline) into the air since about 1800.

5. So it makes sense, in a purely empirical way, to be highly skeptical of the notion that "humans can't alter the global temperature stasis", which is the primary point of the skeptics. Even if the temp spike and the industrial emissions aren't 1:1, it makes no sense to think that there's no effect at all (which is the main skeptic point).

6. And the real problem is that we know from Venus that there's a tipping point where the greenhouse becomes irreversible. And we don't really know what that tipping point is here on Earth. Runaway greenhouse here is unlikely - we have too much free water - but the point is we don't know. We don't know what is happening, other than the global temperature is rising above the normal trend and we have no smoking gun - no volcanism, no bolides, no clathrates, nothing that we know or think has caused warming in the past - to account for it. We don't know.

7. So since we know so little to me it makes perfect sense to reduce the amount of industrial gas emitted into the atmosphere to the greatest extent possible. And many of the skeptics

- whose evidence consists mostly of nitpicking holes in the theory and some pretty wild assumptions (as in the cartoon above - are paid for by industries that have a short-term stake in preventing this. It's also worth noting, as the Toronto Sun editorial stated:
"A key factor in the controversy is that the data discussed in these e-mails was not suppressed. It was discussed in the IPCC's Fourth Assessment report, which concluded it is more than 90% likely that human emissions of greenhouse gases are responsible for climate change."

This whole business is another attempt to make doing nothing - or making a mistake - seem like doing the right thing. Haven't we been there before?

So my feeling is this: we're not going to reverse the industrial revolution and go back to living in yurts. No one who warns of climate change believes we will. What they are trying to do is talk to a largely uneducated, credulous and greedy public about the notion that we need to put off our pursuit of that Wii and that Hummer H4 to slow down the emissions cycle and reduce the chance that we will end up with a runaway greenhouse.

This is the scientific equivalent of taking your foot off the gas because the terrain ahead suggests there may be a hard left turn in front of you. The skeptics, many of them, are saying "Fuck you, you pussy, floor it!" for no reason other than they have found some irregularities in the climate data, the scientific equivalent of saying that you don't need brakes because the road has always been straight and always will be.

So in a perfect world the climatologists would lay out all the data, point to the trend and then point out the irregularities and discrepancies and admit "We don't know why this is, this seems anomalous, but the overall data seems to suggest this." But the Western publics know only this: anything that curtails their industrial "progress" makes them "poorer" in the short-term.

Therefore if someone can manage to take those irregularities and discrepancies and make them look like a fatal flaw (which is possible with any scientific data you don't really understand how to interpret) they will seize on it as an opportunity to do nothing.

So I don't think that what the climatologists did was smart in the long run; if there IS a serious climate problem, people in general are going to have to become smarter about it in order to solve it.

But in the long run we're all dead and these guys have been fighting the battle against the nay-sayers for thirty years. We all saw how the people who were skeptical about the good sense of invading a fucked-up post-Ottoman Third World dictatorship to let freedom reign were swiftboated and lied about and generally screwed over. They did, too.

So I can fully understand their instinct to shut these guys up before they managed to raise their Pecksniffian bullshit to full Cheney on them.

The editorial in the journal Nature sums the situation up pretty well:
"In the end, what the UEA e-mails really show is that scientists are human beings — and that unrelenting opposition to their work can goad them to the limits of tolerance, and tempt them to act in ways that undermine scientific values. Yet it is precisely in such circumstances that researchers should strive to act and communicate professionally, and make their data and methods available to others, lest they provide their worst critics with ammunition."
But no matter. The entire controversy is a tale told by a lot of idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The bottom line is that if this climate problem forces us to make a hard decision today, forces us to put down the TV remote and do something that makes us poorer and smaller in the short run...we'll kick it down the road. We like our problems minor, and our major problems invisible - until the moment they strike us dead. That way it's SO much less stressful.

Just ask anyone in Sumer.

Or on Venus.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Afghanistan's plains

It now appears certain that the present Administration is going to commit something like 10-12 additional maneuver brigades (or the equivalent of 2.5 divisions in our presently effectively-divisionless Army) to the Umpteenth Afghan War.

Debate at this juncture seems meaningless. After all, it has been over a year since the Obama Administration took over, there have been endless debates on the subject, and at no point does anyone with any significant influence in Washington seem to have said "Well, sod this for a game of soldiers; let's just grab a hat."Fred Kaplan, one of the few writers at Slate with any pretense of having given this war any real thought, comes down tentatively, hesitantly, gingerly, what-ever-other-name-you-want-to-give-the-act-of-sitting-down-naked-on-a-bear-trap-ly on the side of continued engagement after reading off all the reasons that this foreign expedition will probably fail.

Fine, Fred. You've probably thought about this more than I have.'s the thing; to me, there's a hidden landmine, a real shot-to-the-heart, buried in the very last paragraph on the first page:
"Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that enlarging the Afghan army was the key to success (and to America's exit). In March, when Obama ordered another 21,000 troops to Afghanistan, Gates assigned 4,000 of them—the 4th brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, a highly decorated combat unit—specifically to train Afghan soldiers."
Emphasis mine.

Now I come at this from a very specific frame of reference. To wit: I spent about 8 years as an airborne medic and medical NCO in airborne line units just like 4th BDE (which, from the division's website, looks like two battalions of the 508 PIR (airborne light infantry) and a battalion of the 73rd Cav, which is no longer the light tank outfit it was when I was there but some sort of bastard wheeled recon/security organization in HUMVEEs). Pretty much standard-issue paratroops. Good on 'em.


Here's the nitty: we didn't train people. Airborne troopers aren't trained to train people, especially foreign people. Check their METL. "Train Afghan troops"?

Not there.

They fight, and fight well. They include some truly outstanding NCOs who could teach eunuchs to fuck like mink. But "train Afghan soldiers"?

Nope. Sod THAT for a game of soldiers.

If this is what the "plan" is - to use some of our maneuver elements to straight-up fight the Talibs (a losing game in Afghanistan, where foreign troops can either be merciless conquerors or just passing through, but not really anything in-between, not successfully, not for long) and the rest to "train Afghan troops" - we're looking at a years-long arc of fail.

Training foreign maneuver forces is a hell of a tricky job, touchy as old explosives and calling for a very specific skill set that is usually developed over years if not decades. The British used to have a terrific knack for it; you had people like "Chinese" Gordon training the "Ever-Victorious Army" of mercenaries in 1860 and then the Khedive's Army in Egypt in the 1880s, Kitchener training those same Egyptians and Sudanese. Guys like Harry Maclean in Morocco training the hell out of the local bandits (that's him below, third from left with the lovely white whiskers)But these guys weren't doing something for freedom or democracy; they were working for the good of their own Empire. They were going to be there a looooong time, and knew it. They went native, and, largely because of that, were well outside their own regular Army, the very sorts of guys that today make up the 4th BDE, 82nd ABN and all the units like it.

Mind you, we used to have a bunch of folks like old Harry Maclean, whose specific job it was to do what he did. They were called "Special Forces" and their entire rationale was to sneak into Bad Places, train up local yobs into "Mike Forces", fight the Bad Guys and, if that didn't work, blow hell out of the place and split.

Mind you, this was before the SF was turned into Rangers with sexier hats.


But grabbing a bunch of guys off of Ardennes Street and expecting them to produce the 21st Century-equivalent-of-the-Indian-Army-of-the-Raj out of a bunch of illiterate Hazaras and starving Pashtuns?

That's the fucking "plan"?

Jesus wept.

That ain't gonna work."When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier ~of~ the Queen!"

(Endnote: after I published this I stopped and really LOOKED at the two pictures of the current GIs I had grabbed off the internet and my first thought was: what the FUCK are these goatscrews? A squad straggling through the desert like a bunch of Castro Street drag queens at the fucking Gay Pride Parade? Joe Snuffy going for his third attempt at a posthumous Purple Heart skylining on the knoll? Where the hell are their team leaders, squad leaders, and platoon sergeant?

Does anybody here know how to play this game?)