Saturday, January 30, 2010


In typical post-modernist fashion we've "moved on" past the events that once dominated our discussion on the predecessor of this place, Intel Dump. But Glenn Greenwald does us a favor by reminding us that we have never really addressed, never "truth-commissioned", never "De-Baathified" our moron-level criminality in southwest Asia.Of all of us here, only Charles had the clarity and vision to call the Mess-o-potamia what it was; a criminal act, an act of aggressive war of the very type that earned the losers the gallows at Nuremburg sixty years ago.
"By contrast, we treat it all as a pointless relic of the irrelevant and distant past, all because the people who did it have banded together to decree that the worst possible crime is not what they did, but instead, would be if the rest of us examined what they did and insisted on meaningful accountability."

A Bullet to the Heart

Another guest post, from the Jedburgh Team over at Ranger Against War:
People will die of fright in anticipation
of what is coming upon the world
--Luke 21:26

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright, bright
Sun-Shiny day
--I Can See Clearly now the Rain is Gone,
Johnny Nash
Til they were outed, Trijicon, Inc. : Brilliant Aiming Solutions™ featured little Bible quips on their advanced combat optical gun sights, things associated with death and destruction. Friend FDChief recently made note of this on MilPub (Blessed Are the Snipers), and we will extend it since Rifle Marksmanship is one of Ranger's life tools.

All of us Old Goats were taught basic Rifle Marksmanship with iron-sighted, .30 calibre service weapons. This training included Known Distance Shooting prone, sitting and kneeling and offhand. All positions were fired both slow and rapid fire. All these aspects and the course of fire (200, 300 and 600 yards) were modeled after the National Rifle Association National Match Course.

The only difference from the NRA was that military matches issued GI ammunition while civilian matches shot their own personal match ammo using a service rifle. Ranger's first National Match competition was through the Director of Civilian Marksmanship at Camp Perry, Ohio.

The last time pulling range duty for ROTC Summer Camp (Ft. Bragg), the course of fire was simply foxhole, standing and supported shooting at pop-up silhouettes. That was the sum total. Since soldiers usually do not carry around foxholes or field sandbags in their rucks, this course did not provide realistic combat training.

But for scopes. In the past, only the 1903/A4, M1C and M1D and the XM21 service rifles were issued with scopes for sniper use. Interestingly, the effective range is not extended by using a scope, since the limiting factor is the shooter's ability and the accuracy of the rifle. The figure is usually 460 meters normal rifle range for the average shooter and rifle.

If one cannot shoot sans scope, adding one does not change one's inability to hit the target. If you flinch without a scope, you will probably flinch worse after you are bitten by a scope.

The ACOG/Trijicon brags it's Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight is "the most technically advanced combat gun sight available" (, pg. 39). The US Marine Corps has contracted 800,000 ACOG's at $660 Million USD ($825 per unit in 800,000 lots) for the USMC. Not such a good deal when the catalog lists them at $792-$836 for lots of one, depending on the mounting system.

Probably the Bible quote costs the USMC extra.

The following questions arise:

* How many people are in the USMC? Why are they ordering so many scopes?

* Why is a $792-$836 scope being added to a $1,500 rifle? Why not just train the soldiers to use the factory iron sights?

* Why put an ACOG on an auto-fire weapon?

* Does the use of this scope really effectively extend the 5.56 mm round's range to 800 meters?

* If the enemy is beyond 460 m., why not just work them with mortar and artillery fire?

* If we are currently using Rules of Engagement, then we can't fire until fired upon, and clearly, anybody doing so will not engage unless within 460 m. So, what is the advantage to our soldier's using the ACOG?

* If the enemy is 400-600 m. away, why not apply 7.62 Machine Gun fire on them? Anything further is why God created Redlegs and mortarmen, God bless their souls.

* The AK47, DPM MG and RPD MG are all iron-sighted, 460 m.-effective weapons. We are fighting rag-tag, rag bags for heaven's sake.

So, we now have an issue rifle, with ACOG scope, which costs $2,575 (including after-market add-ons), but what is it?

It is a rifle that often malfunctions in combat. This is a functional as well as a training problem. Fire discipline must be inculcated in the troops; shooting to make noise alone overheats a weapon. Excessive full auto/burst regulated fire also prematurely overheats the weapon.

If we are putting ACOG's on every rifle, then we should eliminate the auto/burst function on the service rifle for all except one auto rifleman per team. Aimed fire should be stressed.

There are several competitive and perfectly serviceable sights and scopes on the market. All are sold by Brownells and can be viewed online. These included the Burris fast-fire ($219.95) and the Trijicon Red Dot ($310.83). There are three pages of comparable M16-family scopes, many of which are more economical and just as serviceable as the ACOG.

Just my opinion based on a lifetime of shooting rifles.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Question for the Readership

The last couple of posts have discussed our government and its economic policy. Based on the comments, there seems to be considerable disagreement about the details but a general understanding that the U.S. government seems to be doing something wrong; the GOP and their blue enemies both at fault, more or less.


We've talked about what the U.S. seems to be doing. I would like to hear from the group what they think we SHOULD do. My questions would be these:

1. What would you say are the fundamental functions of a national government - specifically, what should it pay for? Certainly things too big for individuals to do; build harbors, airports, bridges, armies, submarines...but which? And is there a real need for subsidiary governments - provinces, states, regions...and how do they fit into this scheme?

Is medical care for its citizens a good idea for a national government to provide? A state government? How about pensions for the elderly or infirm? Support for science, or the arts? Subsidies for fishermen or farmers?

Is there a sort of Maslow's Hierarchy of governing? Where would you rank these things? If you had to throw something or things overboard to right the Ship of State, which would you recommend?

2. How do you pay for these things? What sort of taxes would you recommend, and how would you apply, administer and collect them? Who should collect more, the nation, or the state/region?

3. And last, to what degree should all of this taxing and spending impinge on the private economy of the nation?

I'm not asking for "perfect" solutions - just ideas. And, I would also ask - to what degree would you consider your ideas practical? Given the state of the nation today, is there any hope, in your opinion, that your ideas could ever be adopted?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Everything Old is New Again

Jim and Lisa at RANGER AGAINST WAR have a nice little post up discussing something similar to the preceding post here - regarding what is happening to the U.S. economy and the apparent disconnect between the travails of the ordinary citizen and the circus act going on inside the Beltway.
"Discretionary wars, health care tampering . . . it seems like fiddling while Rome burns. Walmart is the new GM, and when this bellwether of our economic fitness is straining at the seams, doesn't that demand notice?"
Perceptive boyo that he is, the Minstrel Boy adds:
"...the game needed to be changed. the styles and rules altered. That wasn't done. also, the pig of bad debt, credit default swaps and other failed schemes has yet to move through the python of the economy. Without intense and often draconian measures to rearrange the way business is done, all we are doing is postponing the inevitable collapse."
The frustrating thing about all this is that this isn't rocket science. Pretty much anyone who has looked at market economies knows and knew that without some sort of regulatory and fiscal governor that the market goes through these booms and busts regularly. U.S. history is full of them, from the foundation of the republic until the Great Depression.After 1932, though, and the rentier class having shat the bed so thoroughly that even the self-delusional Rockefeller wannabes couldn't pretend something wasn't wrong, the Roosevelt Revolution slammed down on the financial high-rollers, forcing them to swap some of their profits for the assurance that the Feds would prevent the proles from lynching them - and remember, they had Soviet Russia as a scary reminder that this wasn't impossible.

So most of us labored under the artificial stability of the regulated market for most of our lives. We thought that this sort of economic crash, the kind that destroyed people's lives and wrecked entire regions, was a sort of myth we read about in history books.

But Ronnie and his merry band of freebooters (and let me add that although the debased intellectual coin that brought us "Greed is Good" came from the Right, the political lifting that removed the New Deal brakes on the financial gamblers required many enablers of the Left, as well, the hypocritical bastards...) brought back the Big Casino, gutted Glass-Steagall, releveraged the markets and ushered in the financial crapshooters (Bob Reich, I think, said once that the only real financial "innovation" that benefited the average consumer was the ATM - everything else was a way for the financial insiders to spin illusory profits out of the bubbles) and, hey, presto, it's back to the Great Panics of the 19th Century.So, MB, it's more than just a temporary digestive problem. I truly believe that we've fundamentally changed the way the game is played, changed it back to be closer to the way it was played in the days of the Robber Barons and the Gilded Age.Thoughts?

Fight, Flee or Freeze?

From Attackerman:
"For the Obama administration to exempt defense spending from its kinda-sorta-spending-freeze is a position that makes no sense from a policy perspective. None at all. From a political perspective, it only begins to make sense because a brain-dead media would amplify the braying ignorance blasted from a GOP congressional megaphone about Defense Spending Cuts OMG. And even then it doesn’t make sense. A holdover Republican Defense Secretary is now the biggest advocate of an even slightly sensible defense budget in the Obama administration."
I agree completely with the point that making the DOD exempt from budgetary consideration is insane. Whether or not Defense spending is excessive is another matter - I suspect that it is but don't know enough of the programmatic details to make a rational assessment.

Glenn Greenwald has more:
"But the freeze is more notable for what it excludes than what it includes. For now, it does not include the largest domestic spending programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And all "security-related programs" are also exempted from the freeze, which means it does not apply to military spending, the intelligence budget, the Surveillance State, or foreign military aid."
The inclusion of the Big Three domestic social welfare programs makes a mockery of this "freeze". This reeks to me of pure political kabuki, the thing that the Obamites were supposed to "change".

(Update 1/26: Andy makes a good point, and the previous pie chart lumped a lot of additional, perhaps defense-related but still technically not pure DOD spending together. This is from the CBO, and breaks out the DOD as a stand alone portion of the budget. It is still, you note, after Social Security, the largest individual slice. And, realistically, the VA, Homeland Security, and the "off-budget" funding for things like the NSA should be included in the DOD slice. It's not THE biggest slice...but it's a hell of a big slice.)

But on the DOD question - this is called "MilPub", after all - this reeks of Democrats running in fear of Republicans demagoging the issue of defense spending.

There is no question in my mind that the GOP will not ever make sane decisions about DOD funding - they all want the money and they all want it all (if they could zero the budgets for the Departments of Energy, Education, HHS and EPA and throw it all at another carrier air group they would, IMO). If the Dems have no stomach for it, is there any way short of Malthusian fiscal collapse to reform the defense budget and acquisition process?

Have at it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

American Psycho

OK...raise your hand, everyone here who thinks that those poor, voiceless little waifs, those sadly neglected and ignored stepchildren of the American Dream, the American corporations, have too little say in our political process. Just rai...anyone? Hello? Can I see a hand here? Is this thing on? Hello?

You would think that the last thing any human with a functioning brain that had spent a month or two of waking moments in this United States would want to see is more, and stronger, corporatism in the U.S. electoral and governing process. Or a fiercer embrace of the legal fiction that Xerox and I.G. Farben and Microsoft are "people", with all the legal rights and powers you have, only with a fucking gajillion more dollars and about an entire phalanx more attorneys. Especially given the kinds of "people" we know that corporations would be - the skeevy neighbor who is always out trimming the hedge when the nubile teenage daughter is out sunbathing. Fuck, we all know how that's gonna end.

Well, thank goodness for our Supreme Court, who knows better than you goddam commie corporation-hating bastards. Here's Dalia Lithwick on Justice Stevens concurrence:
"While Stevens is reading the portion of his concurrence about the "cautious view of corporate power" held by the framers, I see Justice Thomas chuckle softly. (Scalia takes on this argument in his concurrence.) Stevens hammers, more than once this morning from the bench on the principle that corporations "are not human beings" and "corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires." He insists that "they are not themselves members of 'We the People' by whom and for whom our Constitution was established." But you can plainly see the weariness in Stevens eyes and hear it in his voice today as he is forced to contend with a legal fiction that has come to life today, a sort of constitutional Frankenstein moment when corporate speech becomes even more compelling than the "voices of the real people" who will be drowned out.
Free at last, free at last, thank God All-Wal-Mighty, they're free at last!

Update 1/22: Glenn Greenwald has a contrasting view here. And I tend to agree with him that this isn't a huge structural change. The ugliness is in exposing the open corporatism of the central four conservative Supremes. Greenwald makes a good point here, too:
"But on both pragmatic and Constitutional grounds, the issue of corporate influence -- like virtually all issues -- is not really solvable by restrictions on political speech. Isn't it far more promising to have the Government try to equalize the playing field through serious public financing of campaigns than to try to slink around the First Amendment -- or, worse, amend it -- in order to restrict political speech?"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Guest Post: FIDling while Rome burns?

Lisa and Jim at RANGERAGAINSTWAR asked me to post this, which I do with great appreciation for their work there and a comment:

"A question came and went in a discussion thread, but I would like someone to address it: Can anyone posit a historical example of military action defeating a terror network?

Further, can anyone provide examples of an occupying military power defeating a terrorist network solely via military means? We can restrict our survey to the 20th-21st centuries.

It is my position that while you can eliminate an externally imposed threat in another country (parachutists), you will never defeat an indigenous insurgent movement. Che in Bolivia and the Chinese guerrillas in Malay might be examples.

An external occupying power will never defeat an indigenous insurgent terrorist network, IMHO."

My comment would be that this would have to be restricted to:

1. Post-1945. The pre-war world was a very different place, both in terms of what people knew about the less-paved parts of the world (almost nothing, in most cases) and how they felt about it. Prior to the end of WW2 there were a LOT of people who felt it was perfectly OK to kill bogloads of brown and black people if it meant good things for Western and/or white people. As far as I can tell the only places left that still think this was are the editorial board of The Weekly Standard and the inside of Charles Krauthammer's head. And,

2. places where the foreigner is not a former colonial power with a large internal colonial population and a taste for ruthlessness - and here I'm thinking Algeria. The French DID pretty much defeat the FLN militarily...but under circumstances I have to consider a "one-off". And they were defeated politically, which counts for something.

Anyway...have at it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Blessed are the Snipers, for they shall Hit the Center of Mass

This is sweet. Turns out that this outfit is adding little Bible verse citations to the end of the serial numbers to the weapon sights they supply the U.S. Army.
"Trijicon, which is based in Wixom, Michigan, said the inscriptions "have always been there" and said there was nothing wrong or illegal with adding them. The company's vision is described on its Web site: "Guided by our values, we endeavor to have our products used wherever precision aiming solutions are required to protect individual freedom."
"We believe that America is great when its people are good," says the Web site. "This goodness has been based on Biblical standards throughout our history, and we will strive to follow those morals."
Because nothing - nothing - says "Blessed are the peacemakers" like a full metal jacketed round right through the fucking forehead.

Rev, Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr.

As it was then, so it is now;"Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours."

I think he'd have something to say about Wall Street, too.

Here was a Caesar! when comes such another?

Sunday, January 17, 2010


I have an odd sort of love-hate for Michael Yon.

He is one of the few journalists really willing to spend a LOT of time in some of the filthiest ass-end parts of the world finding out what's happening there. He also knows soldiers and soldiering in a sort of latter-day Ernie Pyle way, and I like that.

On the downside, he's a sort of dirty-boot Bob Kaplan, Tom Clancy with a notepad, a guy who's never met gee-whiz cool Aaaaaarmy training he didn't love. He's sort of a man-size eleven-year-old that way, and he commonly mistakes technical and tactical proficiency for strategic and geopolitical competence, and he always assumes that the GI's are the epitome of studly cool and the fuzzy-wuzzies are dirty rats.I love the fact that he has some great pictures and a nice little article about the gunners at FOB Frontenac (although, Mike? That'd be "Cobra Battery, 1st Battalion, 17th Artillery - the 17th Infantry are those guys walking around with the teeny little bullet launchers, remember?).

But as I'm enjoying the pretty night fire pictures I come across this:
"Sometimes the crews fire “H & I” or “terrain denial” missions. Harassment and Interdiction missions are fired at terrain known to be used only by the enemy at certain times, and so anytime the enemy feels like rolling the dice, they can move into that terrain. Such missions also provide influence for “shaping” the battlefield. If the commander is trying to flush the enemy into a blunder—maybe an ambush—or maybe to cut them off from an escape route, he can have the guns pound into a gorge, say, that is used as an enemy route. Or maybe he just tries to persuade the enemy to take a route where we have sniper teams waiting. The battery can be used in many ways that do not include direct attacks on enemy formations."
Yes, indeed.

When I was just a mere slip of a redleg, my FDC Chief taught me that H&I fires in a LIC were the worst way of substituting motion for direction, a bad excuse for shooting unobserved rounds at a grid coordinate, a waste of rounds and a good way of pissing off the locals at you.We did this shit a lot in Vietnam, where my Chief got sick of it. Typically you had no eyes on the "target", which could be a trail junction, the edge of a treeline, a river ford, anywhere. And since you were also typically in the middle of a farming district, these were also typically used by local Romeos slipping out to see their hootchie Juliets, woodcutters, farmers, enemy runners, monkeys, roebucks...just about damn near anything. But the point was that - despite what Yon thinks - you never really knew. It was a statistic, a way that the artillery battalion or brigade could say "We fired XYZ missions on Targets Able, Fox and Whiskey"

I have no idea if H&I fire is any better in A-stan than it was in Vietnam. But the fact that we're doing it at all...?


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Unnatural Disasters.

Haiti, widely seen as a leading contestant on the reality show "World's Most Utterly Hosed Polity", got slammed by an M7.0 earthquake yesterday.

To put this in perspective, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 - also on a major branch of a strike-slip fault, also in the vicinity of a major city, has been estimated anywhere between 7.5 and 8.25. This was a big earthquake, but not a HUGE earthquake.We think of the Caribbean as being worked over by hurricanes, not earthquakes, but the tectonics of the region are nearly as nasty as southern California, and the Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden fault system, the projected source of the movement, moves about 7 mm/year, "half the overall motion between the Caribbean plate and North America plate" according to the U.S. Geological Survey.Again, to give you perspective, the slip rate on the San Andreas Fault Zone is roughly 25mm to 30mm/year.One thing to think about, though, is that we're going to hear a lot about this as a "natural disaster". But earthquakes have been happening since tectonics first began some time about 4.3 billion years ago. Unless you were spectacularly unlucky, if you lived in a wickiup and hunted or gathered your food, you probably lived through big earthquakes.

But a couple tens of thousands of years ago we began building ourselves permanent houses. Those houses were fairly ramshackle things, and when the ground shook, even moderately, they fell down on us and killed us. As in the Libyan fable, by our own feathers, and not by others' shafts, are we now striken.

We're going to hear a lot of hand-wringing about how awful a "natural disaster" this is. There'll be the usual assistance, the normal pantsload of helicopters, doctors and Red Cross volunteers. But call me a nasty, cynical son-of-a-bitch, but what we WON'T see is what Haiti needed and needs.The last big strike-slip earthquake in the U.S. was Loma Prieta, 1989. Another M7.0, almost exactly the same as this one. Total of 63 dead, some four thousand injured. Lots of homes damaged.

I'll bet that the death toll in Port au Prince will be at LEAST in the low hundreds, probably in the low thousands, possibly even in the tens of thousands...with thousands more maimed or damaged in some way. In a quake almost exactly like the 1989 San Francisco event that killed sixty-fricking-three. Why?I'll tell you why. We have a pretty good idea how to design and build things to resist much earthquake shaking. In an M8+ all bets are off, sure, but for most quakes, we can design buildings and communities to get most people through the shaking alive.

But this takes money. And the political insistence to enforce building codes. And those two things are things that Haiti has in very, very short supply. So today, as always, many Haitians are dead who need not have died.

Because in Haiti, as in much of the world, lives are cheaper than structural steel and people are more disposable than dimension lumber.

Sympathy, donations and talk are cheap. Soldiers come and go. Changing the way the places like Haiti function is hellishly hard, and it seems pretty hypocritical to me to talk today about our sorrow for the victims of this while we were perfectly happy to ignore them before the first temblor because it would have required us to give a shit and do something about their crappy "government" and impoverished existence.

So this is an UNnatural disaster. Earthquakes don't kill people - people kill people. Or, to be precise, the buildings we don't build to a standard of practice kill people. Lack of building codes kill people. Governments kill people.We can regret this. We can grieve about it. But until and unless we - and, more specifically, the Haitian ruling classes - are willing to commit large amounts of our money, political will and time to reorder the way people build, work and live in Haiti, we cannot change it.

(Cross-posted from GFT)

Monday, January 11, 2010

BG may be right...

...but the whole idea of actually fighting a conventional war against a conventional adversary is getting more and more implausible. First, I think we've lost our fighting edge and our overall competence in matters military. More importantly, this isn't even anywhere near our gravest issue. Our nation is in serious trouble, to the point where one wonders if we can even survive another fifty years. Who's going to get us? Who's going to bring the nation that's done all of those wonderful things over the past 200+ years, the "City on the Hill," to its knees. Those dastardly terrorists? China? Russia?

Nah. It won't be another nation. And it certainly won't be terrorists unless the American people collectively die of hyperventilation from fear that, "gasp, there might be 19 more guys with boxcutters."

It's become pretty clear to me that the fault lies not in the stars. It's with us, the cowardly lion of a nation, the infant that cries for more, more, more, and then engages in a tantrum when it doesn't get its way. Here's something that might tell BG why I don't think an industrial war is even possible:

We're in deep shit. Fighting wars is the last thing we should be thinking about. Want more? Mull this over a bit:

And you know what's absolutely terrifying about this grim news concerning state and local pensions? That problem pales in comparison to the onrushing trainwrecks of Medicare and Social Security. Medicare is first, only about seven years from now, with Social Security following in about 25.

Why are we even talking about wars? Bg's out there doing a war where we're supposed to be rebuilding Afghanistan and taking care of its people, right along with our generosity with Iraq and its people. We really can't even take care of our own people now—I mean, shit, universal health care is somehow considered subversive—but one can only guess what it's going to be like in 5-10 years. And yet, because of our cowardice and the ineptitude of our government, we think it's OK to divert trillions of dollars that would take care of Americans to military endeavors involving chasing rag tag malcontents numbering in the hundreds. The hundreds! Think of it. Four-star generals as squad leaders.

OK, so Bg assures me our military is on the ball, hot shit, can knock the socks off anyone out there. The 1927 New York Yankees of armies. Yeah, they're screwing around right now in these third-world places, but when it really counts, you bet, you can count on them. But then I come across this:

And I wonder. What I'm hearing from the horse's mouth, the actual 2-star running the whole intelligence apparatus (and I've heard intelligence is fairly important in doing this COIN stuff) is that the last eight years were wasted. The lives, the money, shit, man, all of it wasted. And then I really start wondering about Bg's thesis, about how this wonderful military that has so few people, but costs so much, would really do in an all-out, serious war. I wonder how the mental giants, the great captains running those wonderful efforts we've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, I wonder how they might stack up against a wily Russian or Chinese general. And how our troops, growing ever more used to working in police actions, whacking the odd wog, might perform against seriously disciplined troop formations with modern weaponry.

I don't want to know. And I also know that folks in Europe don't want to know. Bg and other serving military folks often complain about the failure of NATO nations—other than long-time sucker Britain—to invest heavily in our wars. Well, I'll edify these GIs: First, the Euros don't want to kill their kids in fruitless endeavors. Secondly, they know they've made promises to their own people—pensions, etc.—and they don't want to fritter away their treasure on chasing the wind.

I say, good for the Euros. As for America? Americans all love John Wayne—kind of fits with our fantasy view of the world—so I'll end with a quote from the old draft dodger: "Life is hard. It's harder when you're stupid."

What would you call a nation that squanders its youth and its treasure fighting to make the world safe for the commercial interests of nations it views as "threats?" Everybody does realize we're making it possible for China and Russia—nations that Bg actually considers fighting in that fantabulous future war—to make lots of money, right? Would stupid work?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Guest Post from BG

Good friend and frequent commentator BG has asked that I assist him in getting his thoughts out to you all. Believer in the free flow of ideas that I am, I am doing so, with no editorial input or comments. Everything you see below is BG. Have at it!

Can the US Armed Forces win the next war?

This question came up a couple of times in numerous threads, and I thought it was important enough to have its own thread. More specifically, the question is this:

Will the US Armed Forces have the capability to win the next prolonged, conventional fight?

My first, instinctive response was, “Who cares? It is an irrelevant question because there are no conventional, or ‘real’ wars left to fight in the foreseeable
future. However, after giving it a little thought, it is a very relevant question for obvious reasons. If history has taught us anything, history is predictably unpredictable.

Ultimately, this is the job of the US Armed Forces: “To support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” One can
even mix in the words, “against all threats to our national interests” seeing
how the job of the military is not (and never has been) solely to protect our
nation against existential threats posed by enemy nations, but instead the
military has always been used to protect the interests of Americans abroad from
the oil fields of the middle east, to the railroads of the wild west, to the
pineapple fields of Oahu. So with that said, let’s have the discussion and start with two assumptions that we need to go any further.

Assumption #1: There is a conventional threat that could lure the US Armed Forces into
a prolonged, conventional fight. Although I have no examples of this threat, without this assumption, the rest of this argument is pointless.

Assumption #2: This next war will occur after Iraq and Afghanistan have drawn down to
sustainable levels. I consider this to be less than 10,000 uniformed troops per country, which I consider to be realistic by 2016 (less troops than we kept in Korea for 50 plus years). Any discussion about trying to fight a conventional fight, air land battle style, before this occurs is marred with logistical challenges of projecting forces to a third theater and is just not realistic (nor, IMO, is a realistic scenario based on the current assessment conventional threats to the US Armed Forces).

I absolutely believe that the US Armed Forces will have the capability to win the next prolonged, conventional fight (based on the above assumptions).

Although I admit that I may be too close to the topic to make a completely unbiased, unemotional assessment, but I also feel my near 18 years of service, a mixture of Active, Reserve, officer, enlisted, combat arms, combat support and special operations, as well as participation in 4 different armed conflicts, does give me some insight worthy of discussion.

One of the primary arguments against our ability to win the next, “real” war is that we will not be ready due to three concerns. First of all, we are currently decisively
engaged in two theaters. I will not argue this, thus assumption number #2.

Second, we don’t have the forces required, the industrial base or the
economy to fight a prolonged war. My argument against this is simple. What was the status of our Armed forces and our economy in 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland? A hallow Army, a country still in a decade long economic depression. It took years for the US to prepare itself for WWII, and don’t forget our first engagement in 1943 at Kasserine pass where the US lost over 6,500 soldiers. What makes the US military
great is their adaptability and flexibility.

The third concern, probably the most common, as to why we won’t be ready to win the next “real” war is the US Army’s current focus on COIN. The argument is that we’ve lost our “hard skills” and our ability to meet another army head on. I will take the opposite stance. I believe that our current COIN and Irregular warfare training and war fighting will instead make us better prepared for a conventional war (after a short period of “reblueing” at national training centers).

1. The equipment we use today is still the premier war fighting equipment in the world (minus the M4 carbine and the M9 pistol, but don’t get me started).

2. Conventional warfare tactics are EASY. Action, reaction, counteraction. Give me a doctrinal template, show me a map and I will give you 3 enemy courses of action. It is two dimensional thinking. What you know about the battle field is far greater than what you don’t know, what lies in the fog of war is usually just one or two pieces of key information and all you have to do is find it and act. COIN is far from easy. You have action, reaction and counteraction for dozens of simultaneous variables. The amount of unknown information is overwhelming. A couple of rotations at a CTC and we are back in action for conventional fight.

3. “Amateurs talk about tactics, professionals study logistics” Rommel. During the invasion of Iraq, our greatest failure was logistics. The “Strategic Pause”, when 3ID waited out a sandstorm and the US government gave the Saddam Regime one last chance to surrender occurred partially for diplomacy, but primarily because 3ID overextended their supply lines. It was a logistical failure, and this was after decades of air land battle, ground offensive, conventional training. Those were the logisticians of
the post Cold War.

But who are the logisticians of today’s and tomorrow’s US Armed forces? COIN can be the most challenging logistics environment known to man, and Afghanistan is probably the worst of all logistics scenarios. One of my best friends was a forward support company commander for an infantry battalion in Afghanistan. She (yes, she, did any think we would see a time where a female officer had an infantry blue guide on, times have changed, and in a good way), her company was responsible for providing logistics to over 12 combat outposts spread over an area the size of New York state in the worst
terrain imaginable. Some places were only accessible by helicopter, some by logpacs that took 2-3 days of driving on IED infested, ambush alley roads. Tell
me something. Do you think these soldiers are learning something about logistics?

4. The small unit leaders of today, many of them with as much, if not more, combat time than garrison time, will be the leaders of tomorrow. I’ve often heard that the
Army of the 80’s was the best Army the country has ever seen, due partially to
the Vietnam junior leadership taking over key positions. I don’t know if this is true, but if there is some truth to it, I assess that the same will happen in the next 5-10
years. No, today’s leaders of the Armed Forces won’t be able to effectively get in a plane today, fly their units to a new country and jump right into a conventional fight without a reasonable expectation of Task Force Smith redux. But I maintain that any
fighting force that can survive a COIN fight, especially in Afghanistan, can
quickly relearn the basic tank on tank battle. Again, what has always made our Armed Forces successful (or unsuccessful) has been our ability to adapt, improvise and flex.

I fully believe that fighting in a COIN environment values these qualities above all, and those who do well will take these experiences with them to the next fight. I have an issue with my own argument here. The question is “will the US Armed Forces have the capability to fight a prolonged, conventional fight”. One of the real issues is not
the capability of the US Armed Forces, but instead the political and popular
will of the US population. This leads me to add a third assumption, that the US government will not attempt to fight the war “on the cheap” as we attempted during the GWOT, and that the US population is willing to mobilize for a long fight. Therefore, assumption #3.

Assumption #3: The threat against our nation is considered existential, or at the very
least, considered extremely important to the American people. This assumption must be made for a prolonged fight because without it, we have to worry about the US politicians attempting to fight another war “on the cheap” again. And without a full commitment, that will jeopardize any prolonged military venture. (Damn that Clausewitz
Holy Trinity thing).

So what? Assuming that our nation gets into a prolonged conventional fight (which I still consider the biggest assumption of them all), after we’ve had time to pull out of the current engagements, and the next biggest assumption, assuming the threat is
great enough that our nation will get behind a real commitment, then absolutely, YES, the US Armed Forces can win the next prolonged, conventional fight.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

What If They Gave A War...

...and after everybody came, the enemy jumped out of his foxhole, yelled "Psych!", and walked home.

How long do you think it'd take before we realized?I got a hell of a laugh out of the idea of Obama as FDR. But I'm not so sure I should be laughing.

(Immense h/t to Matt Bors over at "War Is Boring". Support your local blogger and knock 'em down a couple of bucks.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Anybody else think that 2010 sounds really strange? The older folks who hang out here will understand; the younger ones will get it soon enough. It's amazing how the years slip by until one finds it impossible to deny reality: dog, you're old. That was driven home forcefully when I returned home from our two-week sojourn in Cambridge, MA, to find this large booklet in the held mail: Welcome to Medicare. Oh, yeah, that's my next great adventure. Can't avoid it: 1945-2010 equals 65 years. Fortunately, with the exception of some minor signs of decrepitude, I'm generally in pretty good shape.

Yeah, I'm related to this woman. And, yeah, that's the kind of weather they've got where she's now hanging out. We spent those two weeks over Christmas helping her move from San Francisco to Cambridge, where she begins a new job as an associate director with a biotech firm located next door to MIT. Her new home is about two blocks from Harvard. I love the area, and we had a great time, but if I've got anything to say about it, future trips will take place in warmer months.

OK, enough on the kid. This post is really about how we spent the transition from 2009 to 2010. I'm going to tell you what we did and then I'm going to invite everybody else to discuss how they spent this New Year's. Maybe you'd even like to share your fondest or perhaps wackiest New Year's memories.

I think most of you know I live in the Hilton Head, SC, area. This is fundamentally a fairly upscale retirement/resort area. In the summer, younger folks come on vacation to go to the beach and play golf. Year-rounders tend to be old farts who've decided to retire to a place where they can wear shorts ten months out of the year, and golf year-round. The reason I mention this is because living in one of the many small communities here is somewhat akin to being in the military back in the old days. We're all transplants with our families and old friends elsewhere, so we tend to band together and socialize a lot. If you don't want to hang out with neighbors, this isn't the place for you.

We spent New Year's Eve doing something we'd never done before. A guy down the road—a retired lawyer—hosted a dinner with five couples, where we all paid for a sit-down deal that cost $130 per couple and included dinner (filets) and unlimited drinks, to include some very high end wines. Why'd we pay so much? Well, we had a cook, a fellow whom we all know well, a guy who's a chef and wine expert who works at a local place, cooking right there for us, serving us, etc. It was kind of the ultimate sybaritic experience; I felt I deserved it after having gotten the Medicare booklet. Three of the guys were military: me, another Army guy, and a Navy captain. The others were the aforementioned lawyer host and an engineer who grew up in Savannah. We drank too much and had a very good time.

Didn't have enough time on New Year's Day to nurse the hangover properly. Didn't see much football, either. At noon we went to a neighbor's open house, where the host and hostess served champagne and mimosas and cooked omelets and waffles to order for about 30 people. We took a break at home for about an hour and then went across the street for another open house. This one involved two huge hams, black-eyed peas, collard greens, corn bread (all traditional Southern fare), as well as tons of appetizers and desserts. Oh, and there was an open bar as well. Meanwhile, the wife had a pork roast cooking in the oven. It didn't get eaten last night, but it was good tonight.

So that's my New Year's. Most memorable? I don't know. There've been a lot. New Year's Eve 1967-68, I won something like $800 playing poker. Couldn't lose: I was leaving Vietnam the next day. That was like two month's pay; that, and the Freedom Bird made for a nice New Year's. The ones overseas—and I've had ten, best as I can recollect—were of course always unique. Not always pleasant, but always unique. Most of them in the States were a little more mundane, especially as I grew older and didn't party so much. I think that's why I appreciated last night so much: didn't doze off watching a million or so people pretending they're having a good time whilst freezing their butts off in Times Square. And yesterday without football other than as background noise, wasn't at all bad.

Please be gentle with me. I'll soon be an official senior citizen.