Friday, July 30, 2010

The End of the Western Concept of War?

In my last post I presented a "stay the course" view in regards to the Afghan war. In this referring to Professor Andrew Bacevich's latest article, we see a very different perspective. Bacevich talks about his book here.

Both are probably seen as responses to the recent wikileaks document dump which Chief has presented on a couple of posts. While Rove's is a probable response, Bacevich's is probably not since it is an introduction to a book that will be coming out soon. That is Rove's is more a reaction imo, whereas Bacevich's is a much more thought out and reasoned presentation. Also since it is introducing a book, one should not expect the "whole story", rather one is expected to read the book, as I will.

My assumption is simply that Professor Bacevich is coming from a Clausewitzian perspective and that his argument will reflect that. This article - following this perspective - is incomplete since it serves primarily as an introduction to the book.

The article is typical Bacevich in quality and style. I recommend it highly. There is only one comment I wish to make concerning it which goes beyond the situation of the US today, and even the US situation since 1945, but that addresses the title of this post.

Bacevich writes:

All of this furious activity, whether undertaken by France or Great Britain, Russia or Germany, Japan or the United States, derived from a common belief in the plausibility of victory. Expressed in simplest terms, the Western military tradition could be reduced to this proposition: war remains a viable instrument of statecraft, the accoutrements of modernity serving, if anything, to enhance its utility.

Grand Illusions

That was theory. Reality, above all the two world wars of the last century, told a decidedly different story. Armed conflict in the industrial age reached new heights of lethality and destructiveness. Once begun, wars devoured everything, inflicting staggering material, psychological, and moral damage. Pain vastly exceeded gain. In that regard, the war of 1914-1918 became emblematic: even the winners ended up losers. When fighting eventually stopped, the victors were left not to celebrate but to mourn. As a consequence, well before Fukuyama penned his essay, faith in war’s problem-solving capacity had begun to erode. As early as 1945, among several great powers -- thanks to war, now great in name only -- that faith disappeared altogether.

Among nations classified as liberal democracies, only two resisted this trend. One was the United States, the sole major belligerent to emerge from the Second World War stronger, richer, and more confident. The second was Israel, created as a direct consequence of the horrors unleashed by that cataclysm. By the 1950s, both countries subscribed to this common conviction: national security (and, arguably, national survival) demanded unambiguous military superiority. In the lexicon of American and Israeli politics, “peace” was a codeword. The essential prerequisite for peace was for any and all adversaries, real or potential, to accept a condition of permanent inferiority. In this regard, the two nations -- not yet intimate allies -- stood apart from the rest of the Western world.

Emphasis is mine.

Three points that correspond to the three highlighted sections:

First the Western concept of war sees war as a political instrument, that is in Clausewitzian terms. Military means becomes the instrument of appropriate policy ends. According to Clausewitz war is made up of a remarkable trinity of passion, chance and the subordination to policy/politics. War is not an independent phenomenon, but part of political intercourse, that is belonging to a larger social whole. Notice that the definition of "politics" here is intentionally broad, encompassing various aspects associated with power in the context of both within and between political communities.

Second, this is not the same as seeing war as a "problem solver" since pursuing a policy is not the same as solving a problem, which may be much more complex. One could for instance wage war in order to distract one's own population from domestic concerns, thus attempting to solve a domestic problem but using war as an instrument in a way that compromises the means and fails to consider the ultimate results of the war in question that one has initiated (chance and passion).

I think it no accident that Bacevich mentions the First World War in this regard. JFC Fuller in his The Conduct of War writes in connection with the aims of the two opposing alliances in 1914:

As regards the aims of the two alliances, which their respective policies should have co-ordinated with the means at their disposal as well as with strategical and other conditions [notice the influence of Clausewitz here], they may be inferred from the causes which brought the two alliances into being. That of France was to cripple Germany, regain Alsace-Lorraine, and reestablish her leadership on the continent, which she had been deprived of by Sadowa and Sedan. That of Russia was to absorb the Balkans, and with them gain Constantinople and an outlet to the Mediterranean, which meant the emasculation, if not the disintegration, of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That of Germany was to prevent either of these contingencies, and maintain her supremacy. That of Great Britain was to destroy Germany as a trade rival, which she could only do with the aide of France and Russia. pp153-4

The war aims of the Entente required the complete defeat of the Central Powers. That is the political aims of France, Russia and Britain were of such a radical nature that they would require tremendous resources to achieve, to even have the chance of achieving. Given a war of this intensity and scope it was unavoidable that chance (unexpected/unintended political consequences) and passion (new ideologies/loss of respect for old elites/mass radicalization) would present themselves, making for a situation which was in many ways worse than what had preceded it.

To ensure success, what was also necessary was that the populations of the Entente powers believe they were in fact waging a defensive war, a war against an aggressive Germany. German operational success and actions in Belgium provided for the cover initially, along with ever more aggressive German war aims as their losses went up and the war went on, so that with the final defeat in 1918 Germany was relatively easily and necessarily burdened with the sole guilt for having started the war in the first place. With the overthrow of the Hohenzollern monarchy, that left the German people holding the bag. That is the "peace treaty" became a means of maintaining domination over a people, in effect continuing the war, but through other means (continued economic blockade/harsh treaty terms). The Allies - including the US - had essentially blurred the distinction between war and peace and had waged war for - especially in the case of the US - bombastically utopian goals which unsurprisingly fell far short in reality. Thus both the Allied and Central Power perspectives ceased to see war as a rational instrument, but rather as an unlimited "problem solver" which was carried over in some form in the following post-war period.

The third point I wish to bring out from Bacevich's article that I quoted is the reluctance of both the US and Israel to see the fallacy of this view. They continue to play in effect by the Entente's rules of 1914-1920. The result then as now will be a continuously deteriorating international situation with ever increasing demands on US/Israeli resources in what is a situation which does not lend itself to a military solution.

It's time we got back to the idea of limits in regards to what can be achieved by military means.

So is it the end of the Western concept of war? Not imo, but rather the realization that the wars of the 20th and now the 21st Centuries have in some cases been the result of political radicalism which expected massive social transformation through war. Thus the grandiose nature of the politics involved (in effect imposing total domination on the enemy including defining his political identity), not the potential use of the military instrument per say, is what has come to a cross roads.

Can we carry on doing things and saying things the way we have for the last nine years?


If we recall the assumptions associated with Karl Rove's view of the war on terror from my last thread:

1. We are engaged with an existential threat that wishes to both harm us and take away our liberty.

2. Afghanistan is the right place to fight this threat, but not necessarily the only place. The overall war aim is one of remaking Afghanistan to suit our purposes, essentially a clean sweep.

3. We can only defeat ourselves, it is only a lack or resolve among our leaders reflected in their poor choice of words that can lead us to defeat in this war. Time is always on our side. Essentially we are "too big to fail".

4. Only ever increasing levels of violence - the emphasis is clearly on military action, on military victory, will assure success. Success is only defined in military terms. Hand-wringing squeamishness is only defeatism.

5. Politics = power = war. You win by having broken the other side, having them accept your view even to their own disadvantage. Whether at home or abroad, it makes no difference.

And compare them with Bacevich's view as presented in his latest article and recent interviews, we see that they are essentially opposites. It is as if Rove and Bacevich exist in two different worlds.

Furthermore, Rove's assumptions will not be questioned and Bacevich's questions will hardly be addressed. Instead he is dismissed politely as a "paleo-conservative" and the sham "debate" moves on. Notice that simple "conservative" has a different meaning today than before, meaning in effect "Cheney and neo-con stooge". Conservativism along with Liberalism have both been gutted as belief systems, as sets of interlocking ideals/values; today in America they simply stand for "interests" or "prejudices" those notions that relieve us of any discomfort should we get a glimpse of what is really going on behind that threadbare curtain. Some may have wondered my reason for posting anything about Rove, why? Because I have had a very uneasy feeling: as if Bush were still on his throne and Cheney still in his bunker at the controls . . . Now, why should I feel that? Could it have something to do with a possible level of betrayal and cowardice that seems increasingly manifest?

Still the basic question remains, how long can a country, even a world hegemon, continue to operate as if it were in some different reality? Assuming that its power is unlimited and that it can in effect bend reality to its own will, create its own situation on the ground? Seventeenth Century Spain was such a country and as FDChief and I have pointed out in the past, its attempt at continued hegemony in the face of material, moral and physical decline only hastened its inevitable collapse.

I support Andrew Bacevich in his attempt to reach the American people with his message. I only hope that this post, in whatever small way, has assisted him in his goal. Andrew Bacevich's warning is a flashing red light that we ignore at our peril.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Karl Rove, The Great War on Terror "Strategist"

In today's Wall Street Journal, opinion section, we have a special treat. Karl Rove the master GOP "strategist" provides us with the proper mindset we need to achieve "victory" in Afghanistan . . .

Wars involve tactical shifts and adjustments. But they also involve "red lines"—and in Afghanistan, the red line must be to defeat al Qaeda and the irreconcilable elements of the Taliban, and to keep them from seizing power again.

The American and British people who are being asked to support this costly effort must know that is our objective. So must the Afghan people, who have seen much the last year to raise doubts about our resolve. And so must the Taliban and al Qaeda. America's enemies need to understand one thing above all else: They cannot outlast us and, if they try, they will be broken and defeated.

Victory in Afghanistan requires two things: the right strategy and the resolve to see it through. Mr. Obama wisely recruited Gen. David Petraeus to head the Afghan campaign. There is no one better equipped to execute a successful counterinsurgency campaign. He is both the father of the "surge" in Iraq and the person most responsible for implementing it. If Gen. Petraeus has the time and support he needs, he can bring similar success in Afghanistan.

"Similar success in Afghanistan" . . . that is the chimera of success, or ambiguously perceived defeat packaged in such a way that it can be sold to the rubes as "victory". It just might take some time though . . . like another 10-15-50 years, but as long as the money's there and the war profiteering investors happy . . . Overall there is a certain timelessness about this war view. Rove could have written the same thing in 2004, 2005, 2006 . . . Time is only measured in terms of the duration of our presence, never in terms of lost windows of opportunity, in time wasted due to incompetent leadership or even a strategic vacuum. America always gets a second chance.

Back to Rove:

Winston Churchill demonstrated that in war, words matter. They signal resolve or weakness, fortitude or doubt. Right now, the uncertain trumpet of Mr. Obama's words—those he has said and those he has chosen not to say—is emboldening adversaries, alarming allies, undermining confidence in the U.S., and dispiriting those who fight in dark and dangerous places for our security and liberty.

The president can and must correct those impressions—beginning with an unambiguous statement that America will stay and get the job done. Only the president can reassure our partners and allies, and strike the fear of God into our enemies. The world is looking for him to act as a commander in chief.

Mr. Obama has acted impressively so far on Afghanistan. He changed strategy based on facts on the ground, increased our troops by tens of thousands, and picked exactly the right man to lead our military into battle.

The president has the right pieces in place. Now he needs to signal to the world that he believes in the cause with all his heart. Let's hope he does.

So many unquestioned assumptions behind his narrative, where would one begin to unravel them? Obviously Rove considers himself an expert on this subject given his background, which also says a lot.

How about these five?

1. We are engaged with an existential threat that wishes to both harm us and take away our liberty.

2. Afghanistan is the right place to fight this threat, but not necessarily the only place. The overall war aim is one of remaking Afghanistan to suit our purposes, essentially a clean sweep.

3. We can only defeat ourselves, it is only a lack or resolve among our leaders reflected in their poor choice of words that can lead us to defeat in this war. Time is always on our side. Essentially we are "too big to fail".

4. Only ever increasing levels of violence - the emphasis is clearly on military action, on military victory, will assure success. Success is only defined in military terms. Hand-wringing squeamishness is only defeatism.

5. Politics = power = war. You win by having broken the other side, having them accept your view even to their own disadvantage. Whether at home or abroad, it makes no difference.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bodyguard of Lies

Here's one of the "92,000 War Logs" released on WikiLeaks the other day.

(Just an IMO; seems to me that most of these are situation reports that are being recorded at whatever tactical operations center (TOC) is tasked with control of the area of operations in question. When I was a TOC troll (the battalion FDC truck usually sits at one end of the FA battalion TOC tent) we kept this sort of stuff on a DA Form 1594, a "Daily Staff Journal or Duty Officer's Log". My guess is that this is what most of these reports are extracted from, or the digital form that replaced my trusty old 1594...)

Anyway, this one's an incident report dated 22 NOV 2009, and a rather interesting one at that. Sit right down and you'll hear a tale of the Warriors and the War Lord.

Take it away, RC South:

"TF PEGASUS reported that an illegal checkpoint with 100x INS stopped COMPASS CONVOY.
TF PEGASUS Scout Weapons Team (2 x OH-58's) pushed to area in response to RC(S) request. This is an initial report from SWT OVERHEAD. 4 x STRYKER's from 1-17 IN enroute.

UPDATE -220918D*(M)
Checkpoint composed of 100 middle-age males with approx 75 x AK-47's and 15 x PKM's.

RC South reports Compass Convoy from KAF to Tarin Kowt on Rt Bear has been stopped by an illegal check point at 41RQR7927036390 near FOB Frontenac by the local Chief of Police (name is Madula) demanding $2000-$3000 per truck. RC South has made contact through OCC-P,OCC-R and now working with the Dep Cmdr of the ANP for RC-S Gen Mirwais. Gen Mirwais has spoken with the Local Police Chief and told him to let the Convoy through. The Local Police Chief refuses to let the convoy through without payment. Madula states he needs the money to run his operation. RC South has sent elements of 1-17 with 4 MRAPs and 2 helos and are on site. IJC CJOC ANP reps have contacted the NPCC in Kabul asking for the NPCC to call Gen Mirwais to assist. RC South further states that the Local Police Chief Madula is paid by the MOI to protect route Bear.

IJC ANP reps contacted NPCC on situation. NPCC attempted to contacted Gen Mirwais but was unsuccessful. IJC ANP reps then called the MOI. Col. Nimatullah (Current Ops) and Gen Mangal (Deputy MOI Security) are workint the problem. Corretion to the name of the Local Police Chief who has set up the illegal check point; Correct name is Matiullah.

UPDATE : 221601D*(M)
FF report that the COMPASS convoy is moving again and did not pay the fee required by the ANP. FF report no further incidents with ANP or INS along the RTE. NFTR.

UPDATE: 2117D* All vehicles in fuels convoy who were stopped have made it safely to their destination (Tarin Kot) at 2030L.

This Incident closed by RC (S) at: 222114D*NOV2009"


Why is this such a big secret? Convoy gets stopped by local warlord (who is also Karzai government official), convoy eventually gets through, end of story.

The convoy route is, I suspect, not a secret. Since the local warlord is supposed to be protecting it, I suspect that the Talibs know where it is, too. I don't see how this compromises OPSEC.

The only thing bigger than just a bunch of guys milling around smartly is the embarassing revelation that one of our sons-of-bitches is an unreliable son-of-a-bitch, just as likely to attempt to extort money from our armed GIs (which, I have to say, while weapons-grade stupid takes some serious balls) as from passing hootchie mamas and opium farmers. Hey, your tax dollars at work, right?

Seems to me that classifying things to maintain OPSEC is one thing; forgetting to declassify them - or trying to keep them hidden out of carelessness, embarrassment, or just another.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

92,000 Military logs?

A commentor going by the name of "Podunk Paul" asks: "Where are you guys? Just what the Guardian calls the biggest intelligence leak in history and you're talking about Netroots, or whatever. Your experience is needed to explain what these 92,000 military logs mean."What Paul is referring to is described here as "more than 90,000 records of incidents and intelligence reports" published by Wikileaks. Including in the specialite' du maison are stuff like:

- the day French troops strafed a bus full of children in 2008, wounding eight.

- a US patrol similarly machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing 15 of its passengers, and

- Polish troops mortared a village, killing a wedding party including a pregnant woman (supposedly in response to attacks set by or assisted by the villagers).

- four British shootings in Kabul in the space of barely a month, in October/November 2007, culminating in the death of the son of an Afghan general.

- second cluster of similar shootings, all involving Royal Marine commandos in Helmand province, took place in a six-month period at the end of 2008.

And throw in the usual drone attacks on the random wedding or funeral, black ops units topping people, sometimes including the people they were sent out to kill, and, from the other side of the hill, the Taliban SAM threat and the bloody work being done by their demo guys.

I guess my question would there anyone who should be surprised by this?

Heavily armed foreigners shoot you when you approach them?

Or bomb you based on poor or nonexistent intel?

Or just fuck up?

The history of war is full to overfull, bursting with stupidity, meaningless death, mistaken killing of friends or harmless passersby. The notion that the Western nations could send fighting men into a chaotic failed state with a 30-year history of internal war and external invasion and somehow fight a delightfully sanitary, perfectly choreographed campaign was neither sensible nor likely. The idea of "fighting for their freedom" was utter nonsense that sprang, like some moronic Minerva, from Paul Wolfowitz's forehead. Afghanistan has been chaotic but never "free" in any Western sense.

How sending 30,000 grunts was going to change that is something only Dick Cheney's turgid mutterings can explain.

No, there is no "news" here, no revelation. I can't "explain" it any better than to repeat what Bill Sherman said; war is all hell, and you cannot refine it.

And, really, we should be congratulating ourselves on our restraint! Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives crucified 5,000 men and women at the end of the Third Servile Rebellion; the Appian Way from Rome to Capua was shaded with the trees bearing this wretched fruit.Poor Crassus, "for all his self-approval, did not venture to ask for the major triumph, and it was thought ignoble and mean in him to celebrate even the minor triumph on foot, called the ovation, for a servile war." (Plutarch, Parallel Lives)

Friday, July 23, 2010

NetRoots Nation on Afghanistan Friday 7/23

Just happened to catch this bit, Major General Paul Eaton (ret.) and Matthew Hoh are on a panel discussion about Afghanistan, this afternoon 430 Pacific, 730 Eastern.

Here's the link with bios and other participants:

The schedule:

It's available by live-streaming here:

and if it was like last year, you can get recorded versions too.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Underworld: Rise of the Weasels

Now here's a depressing thought:
"When I've asked Hill staff and elected officials about this, I've gotten an interesting answer: Think about what you need to do to become a politician, they say. Rise up in your local party leadership. Raise a lot of money. Get yourself quoted in the media. Campaign effectively. You don't really need to know that much about policy. And so a lot of elected officials simply don't know much about policy. Even if they wanted to become known as problem solvers and thinkers, they don't have the chops for it, and the pace of modern campaigning means they never have time to develop those chops, either. It's a depressing thought."
Yes, it is, Ezra.

We're seeing it here in Oregon, where our governor's race, among others, couldn't be more depressing. A retreaded former Democratic governor who proved only marginally effective when previously in office against the usual GOP gormless bumper-sticker who represents the triumph of belief in magic over actual thinking. Neither one can be forced to make any sort of statement that strays close to fiscal or political reality.

Both pronounce the usual crap about "prosperity", "freedom", "responsibility", and "integrity" without ever having to explain how they'll restore First World public services to the state without reworking the Skinnerbox that is the Oregon tax code or unravel the mystery that is the state government.

Hmmm. I could it be that our "leaders" have evolved into this sort of moronic, testicle-less, money-grubbing, mealy-mouthed rodent?Could it be that we prefer to be told these glittering lies than face the hard, ugly truths?

Gee. That's a depressing thought, too.

Update 7/24: Look, let's try and clarify some things here, OK?

1. I have no brief with Ezra Klein or his technocratic bias other than sharng a liberal political outlook. I don't think that making every elected official in the U.S. a "policy wonk" is practical or would sgnificantly improve the lot of the average schmoes like me and thee.

2. But the point of posting this link was not to argue for making every elected official a wonk. It was to point out that, on the contrary, the current U.S. electoral system encourages the average politician to be ignorant of almost everything they vote on and, consequently, base their votes on lobbyist pressure, bumper-sticker politics, sound bites, and the massive influence of the affluent and well-connected.

3. The notion that "changing the primary system" or depending on wealthy "outsiders" (as if someone entering the political lists in this country as a millionaire or a celebrity could and would be fiercely determined to change the very system that produced that wealth and celebrity) will somehow change this balance away from comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted seems unduly naive.

4. And I really don't see any other "white knights" here. The combination of "good-government" socialists, liberals and conservatives, Reds, union organizers, antitrust crusaders - and a Depression - are not in view. The Democrats, what portion of them are not bought and sold, are a political mess. The GOP is, frankly, a moral and political sewer that has failed to repudiate the crony capitalist, oligarchic, and foreign-adventuring slime of the Bush/Cheney cabal. Everything else seems to fall into Naderite vanity projects and Rand Paul libertarian nutballism.

5. So what I'm saying is that this looks to me very like 1890 only without the probable chance of a TR & Co. to pull us back from corporatist oligarchy. I think the next 100 years stands a very good chance of seeing us slide slowly into political senility and social and economic desuetude.

6. Please give me some hope to believe otherwise. Without magical ponies, if you will.

Thoughts for the Near Future

How about this?

I'd like to put this out there as a topic for the next round of posts from our bar staff.

What do you see coming in the immediate future?

Talk about whatever you're interested in; politics, war, peace, the economy, more politics, the military, even more politics, fashion, science, industry.

But let's turn a little from the topics of the present day to a murky look at the coming turn of the seasons. What do our servers think will be important over the short term. What should be important? What will we be talking about in November? In February? Is there something we as individuals, we as groups, we the People, we as (many of us) soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen or former versions of the above...should, could, be doing?

Do you have a particular hope? A fear? An idea?

Let's throw it out there and talk about it.Whaddya say?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Torture as Stalking Horse

It never seems to go away. Just when you think the whole "issue" or "debate" has been resolved, you realize that, no, it hasn't, and we are still at square one . . . that is attempting to figure out whether torture "works". Or rather we are confronted yet once again with that same threadbare stalking horse of "torture as US state policy", since supposedly we as Americans are only driven by fear of the "existential threat" we are told exists.

The stalking horse of torture doesn't go away since the actual goal remains. If the American people are willing to allow people to be tortured, maybe to death, as a matter of state policy, then the establishment of a police state cannot be far behind imo. Thus torture - which is not a means of intelligence collection, but a method of brutal domination - is a stalking horse for a police state.

In fact that is why police states use torture. It is all about domination - not "Tell me what you know", but rather "Tell me what I want to hear".

Barry Gewen, an editor for the New York Times Book Review, penned this article for World Affairs Journal's May-June issue. Gewen claims to be presenting a "balanced" argument, but his conclusion, (surprise! surprise!) is that "torture works" and that we need to establish some mechanism for "harsh interrogations" when the situation arises, as it will given the existential threat we face. This of course, the realistic view as opposed to "anti-torture absolutists".

While reading the piece, you come to realize, that Gewen is actually from a different planet, let's call it "planet Cheney", since the things that he claims as fact are simply laughably false and crude falsehoods, at least on this planet Earth.

For instance, he writes:

Eventually, every discussion of torture arrives at the question of the ticking bomb. We are all familiar with this scenario. Law enforcement or military officials capture a terrorist who knows that a nuclear bomb is about to go off in a major American city. Isn’t the president morally obligated to use torture against such a person in an effort to prevent mass murder?

The anti-torture camp hates the ticking bomb scenario. One law professor, Stephen Holmes, calls it “a utopian fantasy.” Another, David Luban, says it’s “an intellectual fraud.” But in truth it’s not that hard to imagine a situation in which the head of Homeland Security rushes into the Oval Office and tells the president that police are “pretty certain” a bomb is set to explode, and they’re “fairly confident” they have a man who knows where it is. And it’s probably the case that any president—whether George W. Bush or Barack Obama—confronted with such a choice would approve the use of torture rather than risk a catastrophe. And almost certainly a majority of Americans would support the decision.

People can imagine a lot of things, especially when they are told they are dealing with an existential threat, although how exactly Al Qaida's "crotch bomber" is an existential threat is never explained. In fact four of the most serious terrorist attacks - 9/11, London, Madrid and Mombai - all happened with no ticking bombs at all, but with the case of 9/11 intelligence reports which were ignored by the same people who later instituted state torture . . . In fact there are no ticking bomb instances in history of the type that Gewen imagines.

It is here that we get to the actual contradiction to Gewen's whole ticking bomb argument. If we ever do have a ticking bomb situation chances are it will be the result of someone on the inside volunteering the information to US authorities, that is just another of what historically has been our best source of human intelligence information: a "walk in". Here we see the conflict with torture, since if we torture our detainees, who is going to come in and take the risk of being tortured for their troubles?

The ticking bomb is only one of Gewen's dubious arguments. He also cites examples of Gestapo and French Algerian "successes" with torture without considering that both those sides lost the conflict they were involved in, and that in the case of the Gestapo the US executed Gestapo officers after the war who had been involved in torture. Gewen, with his planet Cheney perspective, furthermore has no problem with throwing in US successes in regards to torture in the very next paragraph:

Mark Bowden’s 2003 Atlantic Monthly article, “The Dark Art of Interrogation,” puts forth a veritable catalogue of examples of effective torture, provided by people Bowden interviewed personally. A Marine captain who had served in Vietnam told him of attaching electrical wires to the testicles of a Vietcong soldier to make him reveal possible ambush sites. “The minute the crank started to turn,” the captain said, “he was ready to talk.” After the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the CIA used torture to track down the perpetrators; an agent Bowden spoke to had no doubts about its effectiveness. And the former chief interrogator for Israel’s General Security Services told Bowden that with “sufficient duress” even the hard cases will likely break.

The first case is the infamous Vietcong testicles attached to a TA-1 field telephone story, which I heard as a young Marine Corps officer back in the early 1980s. First, this involves tactical interrogation of enemy/believed enemy troops before they have been turned over to any POW collection point. Second, these were the isolated and illegal actions of Marine Corps infantry in the field doing their own adhoc interrogation, not strategic interrogation where most of the horrendous instances have taken place. Was it effective in revealing possible ambush sites. Possibly, but it was a loser as in actual intelligence collection. Orrin DeForest, who ran a JIC in Vietnam and was probably our most successful Humint collection officer in Vietnam, not to mention recruiting and running our most successful spies, rejected torture as an option and reported any incidents he came across.

The argument that the CIA was successful in "tracking down the perpetrators" of the embassy and Marine barracks bombings due to their use of torture is unproven, at the least. If we consider the example of Ayatollah Fadlallah, the recently deceased Lebanese cleric, the CIA claimed he was connected with Hezbollah, but many experts think that his connection was complex and that his responsibility for Hezbollah's actions non-existent. Perhaps Gewen considers the CIA's reported involvement with a carbomb aimed to assassinate Fadlallah in 1985 that killed 80 people a torture "success". As to Israeli "success" with torture, I'll leave that particular rock unturned.

Gewen doesn't stop there in his pro-torture argument though, and goes back even further in American history to argue that we've a long history of turning the thumbscrews:

Ideals are one thing, the reality of American history quite another. There is, in fact, a well-established American tradition of torture. The definitive text on it is Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali, himself an opponent of torture. He sees “a long, unbroken, though largely forgotten history of torture in democracies at home and abroad.” What the torture techniques of democracies have in common is that they leave no lasting marks on the victims, no proof. Rejali calls this “clean torture.”

Electroshock began in democracies, and it was in the United States that interrogators first used rubber hoses to administer beatings that left no bruises. Sleep deprivation and stress positions (the “third degree”) were once common practices of American police.

It’s not only the police who have tortured or used other harsh methods. The U.S. military has, too. During the war in the Philippines at the beginning of the twentieth century, American troops employed the “water cure,” a forerunner of waterboarding. During the Vietnam War, torture was probably even more extensive. Whatever its professed ideals, the United States has tortured in the past. It has tortured in the near-present. And should needs arise and circumstances dictate, it will probably torture in the future.

One could argue I suppose that lynching is an American national pastime, but that would be absurd, wouldn't it? As to police brutality, using attack dogs and high-pressure water hoses against civil rights demonstrators and the films showing it have been part of our national shame since the early 1960s and those images did much to end segregation in the South. Torture, when exposed has always been rejected and seen for what it is, brutal domination of the strong over the weak. The same holds for the instances of the Philippine War of 1899-1902, when the torture became known, the government attempted at least to hold the perpetrators accountable. Theodore Roosevelt rejected torture and promised to hold those who had implemented it accountable. In fact, "the US" has never "tortured in the past", rather prior to Bush, the incidents of torture were considered crimes or the actions of allies who didn't understand actual US interrogation methods. Actions of individuals do not make for national policy.

How did this all come about? According to Gewen:

The sense of panic that gripped the country after September 11 may have been even greater inside the White House. Threats of additional attacks were flooding in. No one knew anything. And because anything seemed possible, Bush administration officials promised to do whatever was necessary.

Their language became extreme, reflecting the extremity of the situation. All that mattered, as Attorney General John Ashcroft told Robert Mueller III, the head of the FBI, was stopping the next attack. In a meeting of intelligence officials in March 2002, George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, declared: “There’s nothing we won’t do, nothing we won’t try.” The president himself told Bob Woodward: “Whatever it takes.”

This crisis attitude continues to echo in Dick Cheney’s many comments in the current torture debate, and in the statements of other pro-torture absolutists. Where national security is concerned, all is permitted. Public safety trumps any other consideration.

Dick Cheney was hysterical! Planet Cheney was in horrible danger! Perhaps, but if he is referring to this planet, how does Gewen explain some simple facts:

1. If the source of all this danger was Al Qaida, how come more was not done to deal with Al Qaida? The Taliban government was overthrown, but bin Laden got away because we failed to close off his escape route at Tora bora, not to mention allowing the Pakistani ISI to fly out hundreds of their and Al Qaida's operatives from Kunduz before we captured the city.

2. After Afghanistan, the focus switched to Iraq which had no connection with 9/11 at all. Iraq was the main focus throughout the rest of the Bush administration.

3. Our policies only increased Al Qaida's appeal among certain Muslims.

4. Much of the panic in Washington in the fall of 2001 was the result of the Anthrax attacks which the administration attempted to pin on Iraq, not Al Qaida, but was actually the work of at least one American with access to US biowarfare labs.

Rather than hysteria, we have cold calculation and manipulation by Cheney/Bush.

Still, what's all this handwringing about waterboarding all about? Where not there limits in place? According to Gewen:

In fact, the Bush administration, even as it pushed for total freedom of action, did prescribe limits on interrogations. The CIA had precise—even punctilious—rules on how long a prisoner could be doused with water, how loud the noise could be that was piped into a prisoner’s cell, and exactly how long a detainee could be kept in a box. Waterboarding, although it has become central to the torture debate and rouses the strongest passions, was used on only three prisoners, and not at all after 2003.

Here Gewen implies that there were only three cases of torture. In fact government reports list at least 100 people died while being interrogated by us, some of them tortured to death, which would not include any of the three high-profile prisoners. From an intelligence perspective, the top four Al Qaida prisoners who were tortured all came up as a bust. As to the CIA's "rules" . . .

Doctors, psychologists and other professionals assigned to monitor the C.I.A.’s use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques gathered and collected data on the impact of the interrogations on the detainees in order to refine those techniques and ensure that they stayed within the limits established by the Bush Administration’s lawyers, the report found. But, by doing so, the medical professionals turned the detainees into research subjects, according to the report, which is scheduled to be published on Monday by Physicians for Human Rights.

The data collected by medical professionals from the interrogations of detainees allowed the C.I.A. to judge the emotional and physical impact of the techniques, helping the agency to “calibrate the level of pain experienced by detainees during interrogation, ostensibly to keep it from crossing the administration’s legal threshold of what it claimed constituted torture,” the report said. That meant that the medical professionals crossed the line from treating the detainees as patients to treating them as research subjects, the report asserted.

Medical personal were there to make the torture more effective, not really to implement "limits" which were seen as illegal in any case since the Bush administration revoked all the memos covering these actions before they left office.

What about Abu Ghraib?

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that the abuses of Abu Ghraib were not “the tip of the iceberg” (as Human Rights Watch has called them). No one approved of them; they had nothing to do with official American policy. The Pentagon lawyer who first promulgated the rules for harsh interrogations, which included nudity, stress positions, and the use of dogs—the very things we saw in the photographs—was horrified when she learned about Abu Ghraib and called it “anarchy.” No one defended what happened at Abu Ghraib then and no one defends it now—which is why it has no place in the torture debate, except as an illustration of how incompetent leaders can let matters get out of hand.

Conditions were different at Guantánamo Bay military prison, where oversight was firmer and rules closely followed. If the reports of government investigators can be believed, interrogators there adhered almost completely to the authorized guidelines. Of twenty-four thousand interrogations conducted there over a three-year period, only three cases of substantiated abuse were uncovered, and they involved only high-value detainees. In all three cases, the interrogators were disciplined for excesses. We have to be clear: Guantánamo is not Abu Ghraib.

The US Senate disagrees:

The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

In all Gewen makes the Dick Cheney argument, stretching the truth here and avoiding unpleasant details there, putting the torture argument in as favorable a light as possible. The most important point though that Gewen misses is the intelligence perspective. He fails to quote even one intelligence officer on the record as statig that this is the way to go, that torture can save us from the ticking bomb. The reason for that is simple, no Humint intelligence collection officer I have ever met or heard or read has ever thought that torture worked.


I admit that in this post I failed to explain why torture has been used as a stalking horse and who or what is behind it. In the comments section I introduced three quotes: two from William Pfaff's recent The Irony of Manifest Destiny, and the final one from Carl Schmitt's The Concept of the Political.

These quotes introduce three elements which have come together since 2000 to bring us to this point in time in our nation's history. My intention here is not to provide a total picture of our current political reality, that would be beyond whas it humanly (at least for me) possible. The nature of our political reality, as part of the larger social reality, in the US is simply too complex to describe. Rather, as is my approach I present an ideal type consisting of three major trends/tendencies that for me adequately explain our situation. This does not mean that some ideal type could not explain it better.

My intention here is to provide readers with this ideal type and allow them to answer for themselves whether mine, or the "nothing really has changed" view better describes what we see going on around us. Ideal types are not expected to exist in reality, rather they are deliberately constructed to have sharp contrasts. The question then comes for the reader as to how well the ideal type corresponds to what they observe, using at least a couple of opposing ideal type provides the analyst with this ability, with one ideal explaining one situation better, while the other better explains something else.

If one of the ideal types that a group of "openminded" analysts are using is increasingly seen as far from the observed reality, then a radical change has in fact taken place.

It is my view that a radical change has taken place. It dates back to the 2000 election. To understand this change one can think of it in terms of three associated socio-political groups.

The first is a narrow foreign policy elite that has given up on internal democracy as expressing traditional American values and sees it as a impediment to the achievement of their policy goals. Public opinion is fickle and the people tired quickly of wars and expensive schemes. The American public is kept in place by a highly refined "total propaganda" system (in Ellul's terms) which transmits and reinforces the accepted narrative, but attacks or dismisses any competing narrative. This in spite of the fact that a competing radical right narrative is promoted to keep the public divided.

The second is the economic element, or rather what the economic element has become. I called this the "MBA view of the world" to emphasize the fact that all questions come down to that of efficiency. Torture, too, becomes basically a question of whether it "works", not one of ideals or values or cynically betraying both. What we have is the conquest of capitalism by finance. All questions come down to efficiency and the laws of the market which dominate life. Any action that does not break down to ends-means rationality, is by definition, irrational. This affects how we look at our wars - fighting against "democracy" and "the fruits of the market" are simply the actions of madmen, fanatics, "people who wish to change our way of life". Also, the US, like Goldman Sacs is simply too big to fail, no matter how many parasites it has to carry. Essentially we have this group seeing war as economic opportunity with the duration of the war influencing the ever growing ranks of interested economic parties feeding at the government trough.

What first comes to mind regarding these two groups is that they have been in development for some time. They date back to the Vietnam war in the first case and to the 1950s in the second (if the "MBA" film clip is any indication). Both would have remained containable but for the emergence of the last group which has been the radical catalyst.

The third group consists of two somewhat like-minded elements which share certain radical attitudes. The first is the elite associated with Cheney/Rumsfeld and other former Bush I, Reagan and Nixon/Ford officials. They saw Nixon's resignation as a personal defeat, supported Reagan's Iran-contra machinations and the 1992 Defence Planning Guidance initiatives. The second is the neo-conservative movement which equates Israeli interests as being unquestionably also US interests and sees the US as the best guarantee of Israeli security/ambitions. I used a Carl Schmitt quote to describe their view of the political. What we have are three very divergent groups who remain in unstable alliance due to a complexus of interests that are at the same time both contradictory and ambiguous. The confusion of their war aims is reflected by the confusion of their wars . . .

We have lost the ability to act strategically.

In strategic theory terms, wars are waged by states in line with policies/interests/political tensions of opposed political communities. While the total overthrow of an enemy state, the remaking of his political identity is theoretically possible, in reality very few such wars would be waged due to the resources (material, moral, time) necessary to achieve such radical goals. Prior to 2000, the only war of this type initiated by the US was our involvement in the First World War and we lacked the interest and resources to see it through to the achievement of its stated goals. The 1919 peace which followed became a continuation of the war by other means resulting in a fragile political realignment which lasted barely 20 years and plunged the world into an even bloodier conflict.

Schmitt, writing in 1932, defined the political as being able to make the friend/enemy distinction. Wars of this type would be by definition include the radical policy goals mentioned above. Schmitt was of course not only a political theorist, but also a lawyer with political ambitions, who served the Nazi government for a time after their coming to power. He is an unsavory character, but a very interesting theorist who accurately read the politics of his time. In fact his description of the political covers the ideological conflicts of the 20th Century to a large extent, explaining their unrelenting and violent nature.

So Cheney and the neocons reserve for themselves to right to designate who the enemy is. This is the source of their concept of sovereignty, what gives their political view meaning. There will be no compromise with this enemy. Since he is the negation of what they see themselves as, he will have to be either neutered or eradicated. Liberal democracies - following both Schmitt and Leo Strauss - are poorly equipped to deal with such an enemy, since "they are always too ready to compromise".

Obama wishes to see himself as "the great uniter", who was able to bring Cheney and the neocons "back into the fold", thus the constant whitewashing and legitimizing of the actions of 2000-2008. There is no chance of this of course, since Cheney and the rest know exactly who their friends are and who their enemy is . . .

Torture is simply the stalking horse for what is indeed our most profound political question . . .

Friday, July 16, 2010

Despicable Me

Jay Bybee on why torture - or on why giving legal opinions that say, in effect, "torture is OK by me" - is bad and to be regretted:
"I have regrets because of the notoriety that this has brought me," he said. "It has imposed enormous pressures on me both professionally and personally. It has had an impact on my family. And I regret that, as a result of my government service, that that kind of attention has been visited on me and on my family."
Greenwald's conclusion:
"That's what happens when you create a society where elites can engage in the most wretched and destructive acts with total impunity: it engenders a blinding, empathy-free, effete sense of entitlement whereby they see themselves as the only ones who matter and their own plight as the only one worthy of consideration. If you build a political system grounded in the premise that there's an elite caste so special and elevated that they are entitled even to hover above the laws and rules to which everyone else is subjected, the beneficiaries of that caste system are always the first to believe in its virtue."
Worth reading the whole thing.

My question would be: at this point, is the disconnection between the welfare of the People and the welfare of those who have the wealth and political connections to be elected to "lead" the People so great that it has made systematic reform all but impossible? Or is this just a symptom of the deeply pernicious sickness that was specific to the Bushies? If we - when we - get another Republican administration, will people like Bybee be excluded? Should they be? Or, if they are not, does this mean that there shouldn't BE another Republican administration until people like Bybee become non grata?


Hattin 1187

Over at GFT."For our young King followed youthful counsel, while our citizens, in hatred and jealousy, ate their neighbors' meat. They departed from the advice which would have saved them and others. Because of their foolishness and simple­mindedness they lost land, people, and selves."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Charles Benjamin Gittings 1952-2010

I just received this:

"Charles Benjamin Gittings, Jr. born July 23rd, 1952 passed away in his sleep July 14th, 2010 at the age of 57. He is survived by his mother Mary Jacks Foldenauer of Fort Bragg, CA and his father Charles Benjamin Gittings, Sr. of Spokane, WA. His three children Roger Gittings of Jackson, TX, Audra Gittings Villarreal of Hurst, TX and William Gittings of Hurst, TX.

"It was the Charles’ wish to be cremated and buried on the Hanes Family Ranch in Boonville, CA with his cat Lulu. Services have not been planned yet. Announcements are pending.

"If you need to contact someone for information please contact Mary Foldenauer at 707-964-2151 or by mail at 223 S Harrison St, Fort Bragg, CA."

I always liked Charly. And I will miss him. And you know, folks, he was right. Strange, cantakerous dude, but he was right. Give the man his due.

Charles Gittings was a fine American. He never served in the armed forces, wasn't a "warrior," wasn't somebody working for the government excusing excesses because the exigencies of times somehow demanded overlooking our background and traditions.

Charles Gittings was an American. We need more people like Charles Gittings.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Just finished this article about the Fourth Brigade, 1st Armored Division, and the brigade's disciplinary issues at Ft Bliss.

During a pre-departure briefing this spring to about 360 troops at Contingency Operating Base Adder in southern Iraq, Colonel Newell paced in front of them, saying he felt uncomfortable about their impending return to Fort Bliss.

“I have a little stress over sending a brigade home,” he said. “The sad truth is that it is safer for me to keep you in Iraq drawing combat pay with people trying to kill you than it is for me to take you back home.”

One by one, he ticked off cases in which one of the unit’s soldiers had ruined his life at Fort Bliss before the brigade’s deployment to Iraq last year: four suicides, a drug overdose, a murder committed with a baseball bat, fatal drunken-driving offenses, cases of domestic violence, and a shooting after an argument in a bar.

At least six of the unit’s former soldiers are serving 15 years or more in prison for those crimes, and more trials are pending.

As part of a housecleaning, Colonel Newell dismissed more than 150 soldiers from the Army and brought formal disciplinary charges against more than 10 percent of the brigade’s 3,500 troops. In one company, 39 of 150 soldiers were court-martialed.

Pretty sad.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Kitten Will Die . . .

My wife found this story and I thought it deserved its own whole post.

Timothy Kuklis attempts to give kitty a kiss

Friday, July 9, 2010

Time Warp

You're there in the time slip
And nothing can ever be the same

You're spaced out on sensation,

like you're under sedation

--Time Warp,

Rocky Horror Picture Show

Those who can make you believe absurdities

can make you commit atrocities



There is an unwritten rule among competent soldiers that says, never criticize your contemporaries. This is both self-serving and prudent, as have all done something that can be seen as deficient.

So what did McChrystal's unidentified aide mean when he criticized General George Jones as being "a clown" who was "stuck in 1985" (
The Runaway General)?

Presumably the criticism meant that Jones was still a proponent of Cold War methods and ideology [1985 was the year Jones entered the War College, while McChrystal
took command of the 75th Ranger Regiment.] The implication is that Counterinsurgency (COIN) and Counter Terrorism have superseded the Cold War mindset.

the Cold War mentality is still alive and well in U.S. foreign and military policy. From Colin Powell to Condi Rice to Hillary Clinton, we are still playing the containment game with Russia. Even after the collapse of the Soviet empire, the U.S. still aims to isolate Russia, thereby curtailing her efforts at military expansion.

The problem with this approach is that Russia shows little desire to engage in military adventurism. That is instead a role the U.S. occupies in today's world arena.

Our military forces are addressing a Warsaw Pact that no longer exists. So while the comment of McChrystal's henchman was true, there is an odd and disingenuous ideological grafting which is prevalent in the COIN crowd: They justify the continuation of the war in Afghanistan using Cold War logic, and the same language which justified the U.S. occupation of Korea for 60 years.

They speak of The Long War with glee, but to use Korea as justification is an absurd position. The North Koreans are a tad more of a threat than
are the al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, which total probably less than 200.

The bold Coindinistas are, like the General they dismiss, caught in a Cold War time warp; they just don't know it.
It made more sense back when Communism was they bogeyman; at least then it was nation-states against each other. Now, it is a nation-state opposing less than 1,000 people.

The COIN proponents are too stoked to see what an ideologically odd gryphon to which they pay homage.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Comic Relief

The best physical comic this country has produced ever. Plus some good music.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Still trying to believe it.And now Spain gets to try and prove that they ARE the best side in the world, and the Dutch get to try and erase 36 years of rue and loss.

Cruel, beautiful game.

Monday, July 5, 2010

March order

Just a housekeeping note for those who check in at my crossover blog. I have meant for some time to clean up the address for Graphic Firing Table and remove my bride's identification from the blogspot address (she still uses it in her e-mail). The new location is at the link.

Hope to see you in a couple of weeks for the decisive battle for July.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Charles Gittings

An update on Charles Gittings.

1. 6/29:

Hi Jeff,
> I'm entering a nursing home July 7th, and I've decided to discontinue any chemo or radiation after learning that the cancer has spread to my left leg bone near the hip. I'm ready to go. You can share all of that with the other folks on the blog.
> And I'll have a look at the blog...
> Best,
> Charly

2. 6/29:

Dear Charly:

No matter how and when the story plays out, just know this: you've made a friend in me, a friend who respects you deeply. It is an honor to know you.

My very best,


3. 6/30:

The feeling is mutual Publius.

If anyone would like to contact Charly (, I'd suggest that it be sooner rather than later.

Have a great 4th, everyone.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Good Old Days?

Seydlitz likes to remind us that we here in the U.S. seem to have trouble with strategic military and geopolitical thinking. That is, we don't do it well when we do it at all.

Jason over at Armchair Generalist has been on something of a roll lately, talking about the problems at the National Security Council and what he calls, reminiscent of our man seydlitz, the "declining competence of crafting strategy".

jim at Ranger is just convinced that the whole current Beltway gang has their collective head up their ass.

But at the risk of swimming against the flow, may I suggest that we're not getting worse at this.

We were NEVER good at it.

Or, at least, our geopolitical decisions since 1945 show a fairly poor level of thinking about the places, peoples and problems involved, as opposed to simply applying whatever the reflexive, moron-grade thinking of the time was to the issue.

Let's look at the record.

Well, the immediate post-war world didn't give us a lot to work with. We couldn't really do anything about Stalin even if we'd wanted to, which we didn't. Give us some credit for resolving the occupation of Iran in a way that didn't end up with a divided Iran.

But we were about as wrong as we could be about China, letting a combination of Red hysteria and magical thinking about the wonderfulness of the Kuomintang and silly wartime propaganda about Chiang Kai-shek lead us into a cascade of muttonheaded decisions that left us with a new enemy in Asia and tied to a belligerant, strategically useless "ally" whose penchant for getting us into "let's you and him fight" situations is only forgotten today because we adopted another irritatingly pugnacious little bastard of a nation at the same time.

Globally we almost completely missed the opportunity to take advantage of the former European colonies' wars of liberation. Instead of looking inside and rediscovering our primal American Revolutionary we usually backed the old powers, needlessly alienating the new nations.

In some places we actively did worse, notably in our own hemisphere, where our penchant for "our SOBs" gave us the Duvaliers in Haiti (helping us to generations of poverty and instability), the Batistas in Cuba (helping us to Fidel) and the Somozas in Nicaragua (helping us to Danny Ortega and the FMLN). Add our other SOBs like the Shah of Iran and Ferdy Marcos in the PI. Lovely people to invite to a party, assuming it was your own robbery, rape and murder...

We completely fucked up on the Middle East, first by actively supporting the 20th Century crusader state, and then by bankrolling those rulers who supported us and them, perforce dictators because their own populace didn't like their decision. Think about it - in a place where all we really needed was passage of the Suez and petroleum, a place where we had no real need to "take sides", we looked at the places with canals and petroleum and chose...the little piece-of-shit desert theogenetic foreign body. Why? Because we felt bad we'd let Hitler saute' all his Jews?


So after doing the smart thing at Suez in '56 we proceeded to screw the pooch thereafter. And lets not go into the foolishness of what we did in the Gulf culminating in Ambassador Glaspie's offhand meeting with our then-ally Saddam who thought he'd been given to green light to settle his differences with Kuwait his way. But add that to the let's-burn-down-the-grocery-store-to-cook-our-canned-spaghetti logic of funding a bunch of whack Islamic nutjobs to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.


Y'all know about that.

Throw in stuff like developing a dictator in Panama and then invading to oust the same dictator. Ignoring the growing threat of instability below our southern border.

Funding a massive carrier navy designed to refight Midway in an age of submarine-launched antiship missiles.

Issuing every soldier a floppy black felt headgear...

OK, now I know it's time to stop. But, seriously, can we agree that this "loss of strategic competence" isn't exactly news?

We did one Big Thing right - we held out, and hung on - long enough for the Soviet state to collapse.

But we've fucked up SO many little things. When you look at it that way, hanging around occupying the ass-end of central Asia and invading the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates doesn't look all that much different, or stupider, does it? Stupid? Yes.

But not new or different, eh?