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 The implication is that Counterinsurgency (COIN) and Counter Terrorism have superseded the Cold War mindset.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.


  1. I know we've been over this ground before, but I suspect that this is more than just a failure to adapt. I think it also reflects:

    1. the search for a post-Cold War mission for the armed forces,

    2. an inappropriate application of the existential threat/la patrie en danger way of thinking about war in general to these cabinet wars.

    When you think about it, these really ARE a return to the Banana Wars of the Teens through the Thirties, only transplanted to central Asia.

    It remains to be seen if Exxon-Mobil and BP can be recast as United Fruit.

    I know that these wars are irritating because of their strategic insignificance, and occasionally lethal to our Army bretheren, but they really are a relatively small investment in blood and treasure. But I don't see them as a genuine problem unless they become the 21st Century equivalent of the black hole that sucked 16th Century Spain into the Netherlands.

    I suspect that they will drag on sporadically for decades, eventually petering out in a welter of confusion, legacy despots, corrupt, American-trained "armies" looting their countries and overthrowing their governments. And be forgotten, until the next Pakistani or Afghan blows up a New York subway train...

  2. Has anyone watched Rachel Maddow, as she broadcast from Afghanistan, this past Tuesday and Wednesday? Thoughts?


  3. I don't think any US military commander actually thinks they are refighting the Cold War . . .

    Rather it is a war against a method portrayed as both a global and existential threat . . . funny how they can't let go of that . . .

    The military are simply stuck with what they've got. Basically it comes down to domestic politics, how we define ourselves as a political community. Funny how "torture" has come back again, that old stalking horse . . . after the sham that it had been done away with, only to return as state policy even more dug in . . .

    We find ourselves in a political labyrinth of our own making, or rather the making of the political culture we have inherited . . . funny that too.

  4. As a comment, read up on the "Philippine Insurrection". Domestic political division, accusations of imperialism, government lies, bullshit and propaganda, dead civilians, torture, ambush, counterinsurgency...there really is nothing new under the sun...

  5. From Miller, S. C., (1982), "Benevolent Assimilation: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899–1903", Yale University Press:

    "General Otis gained a significant amount of notoriety for his actions in the Philippines. Although multiple orders were given to Otis from Washington to avoid military conflict, he did very little to circumvent the breakout of war. Notably, shortly after fighting began he turned down a proposal from Emilio Aguinaldo to end the fighting, stating “fighting, having begun, must go on to the grim end.”

    Otis refused to accept anything but unconditional surrender from the Philippine Army. His often made major military decisions on his own, without first consulting leadership in Washington at all. He acted aggressively in dealing with the Filipinos under the impression that their resistance would collapse quickly; even after this proved false, he continued to insist that the insurgency had been defeated, and that the remaining casualties were caused by “isolated bands of outlaws”.

    Otis also played a large role in suppressing information about American military tactics from the media. When letters describing American atrocities reached the American media, the War Department became involved and demanded that General Otis investigate their authenticity. Each press clipping was forwarded to the original writer’s commanding officer, who would then convince or force the soldier to write a retraction of the original statements.

    Meanwhile, Otis claimed that Filipino insurgents tortured American prisoners in “fiendish fashion”. During the closing months of 1899 Emilio Aguinaldo attempted to counter General Otis’s account by suggesting that neutral parties — foreign journalists or representatives of the International Red Cross — inspect his military operations. Otis refused, but Emilio Aguinaldo managed to smuggle four reporters — two English, one Canadian, and one Japanese — into the Philippines. The correspondents returned to Manila to report that American captives were “treated more like guests than prisoners,” were “fed the best that the country affords, and everything is done to gain their favor.” The story went on to say that American prisoners were offered commissions in the Filipino army and that three had accepted. The four reporters were expelled from the Philippines as soon as their stories were printed.

    Naval Lieutenant J.C. Gilmore, whose release was forced by American cavalry pursuing Aguinaldo into the mountains, insisted that he had received “considerable treatment” and that he was no more starved than were his captors. Otis responded to these two articles by ordering the “capture” of the two authors, and that they be “investigated”, therefore questioning their loyalty.

    When F.A. Blake of the International Red Cross arrived at Emilio Aguinaldo’s request, Otis kept him confined to Manila, where Otis’s staff explained all of the Filipinos' violations of civilized warfare. Blake managed to slip away from an escort and venture into the field. Blake never made it past American lines, but even within American lines he saw burned out villages and “horribly mutilated bodies, with stomachs slit open and occasionally decapitated.” Blake waited to return to San Francisco, where he told one reporter that “American soldiers are determined to kill every Filipino in sight.”

    GEN McChrystal and GEN Odierno would probably have recognized their archtype...

  6. Seydlitz,
    I'm saying that the same ideas that prompted the cold war are still evident and are the basis of COIN.

  7. FDChief-

    You're comparing the military before with the military now . . . but not their political masters. Here, rather is where the real distinctions come in.

    Consider that our Philippine war was pretty much the way that Western countries (not to mention Russia and Japan as well) dealt with situations of that type. We - as in all the major powers - saw ourselves as spreading and defending "civilization" . . . that is what great powers did.

    Compare that with Bush's attack on Iraq in 2003 where the US pretty much stood alone, except for Tony the poodle . . . where hardly anyone believer our stated rationale or bombastic goals . . .

    As to torture and atrocities by US troops in the Philippines, which you bring up, compare the political responses. In 1902, no one argued that the "water cure" wasn't torture or "necessary due to the circumstances [ticking bombs]". In fact it was William Howard Taft's grilling by the Senate hearing that confirmed the wide-spread use torture in the Philippines. The 1902 Senate hearing dealt with the affair admirably when compared to the total lack of serious Congressional hearings in regards to torture and atrocities, not to mention the whole nature of the war itself, connected to 2003.

    Theodore Roosevelt's response was to declare "nothing can justify or will be held to justify the use of torture or inhuman conduct of any kind on the part of the American military". Officers were tried and some thrown out of the military.

    Cheney's and Bush's responses have been to brag about ordering torture . . . while a few common soldiers have been tried and sent to prison.

    The military has essentially the same approach it has always had, rather it is US politics which have changed, radically.

  8. jim-

    Could you explain to me what you mean?

  9. Seydlitz,
    One of the tenets of the cold war was the domino theory.No need to explain.
    Bush justified Iraq as the reverse of this theory. If Irq goes democratic then there goes the neighborhood. Sorta. Maybe. Keep your fingers crossed.The reverse is a different side of the same coin. No pun intended.
    The approach to N Korea is containment revisited.
    Samo for Iran and Afgh. to a lesser degree.
    We are fighting for a form of containment.Same for our entire European occupation.
    Isn't that what we're calling COIN in AFGH?
    We're fighting them there etc....
    Wasn't this our cold war strategy to sacrifice there for here.?
    Fight them in Germany. RVN etc. so we wouldn't have to fight them here.
    Don't we still have troops in Germany and Korea based on cold war assumptions? This fact is used to justify the long term placement of troopies in theater.Now , not back then.
    I hope this comes across, because i'm not versed in higher military logic.
    I'm just struggling thru to understand the insanity of our policies , and the craziness that passes as logic.
    I don't understand all the fancy briefings, and i reckon i never did.
    Sign me - Sleepless in .....

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. ( bad links )

    Maddow on MTP

    In an online extra, she gives her opinion on why the Taliban are fighting and the inanity of the criticism that setting a deadline for withdrawal simply makes the Taliban just sit it out and wait for foreign forces to leave.

    In her reporting and commentary ever since her show began, the one question that she has put out about Afghanistan is how long will the American taxpayer be willing to pay for this longest war in our history, especially with our present economic woes.

    There are millions of unemployed/underemployed Americans losing their unemployment payments this week. The result of that is yet to be seen.

    So what is our DC leadership doing to ease econonic troubles? Considering raising the age for full Social Security benefits to 70.


  12. jim-

    I think you're trying to read rationality into this, but there actually isn't any . . . at least in how it is presented to the public.

    We remain in Germany and Europe because to leave would mean that we were no longer a great power - in our continued domination of Germany. Up till the end of the Cold War there was a reason for our presence in Germany and for NATO. Since 1991 there has been no reason for either.

    Our political/economic/financial elites are wedded to the idea of America has a world empire based on overwhelming military strength. With the Chinese owning our debt and the Europeans or Japanese able to equal or better us in most advanced commodities there's not much left to us but the ability to blow stuff up. To be able to at least threaten that we have to have a world-wide system of bases from which to project military power . . .

    The American people have been conditioned to see security as overwhelming power, or rather the ability to project that power. The problem here is that our policy choices only promote resistance and the resistance in question doesn't respond well to military force, but since military force is all we've got . . .

  13. BB,
    All the stuff quoted you never hear a question of why we are fighting the Taliban.
    This is a phony war in all senses of the word.
    Of course the Taliban can sit it out.
    You mean to tell me that we couldn't figure that out BEFORE we went in balls to the walls???? And do we need RM to advise us of this obvious fact.?
    Yes , and while Congress makes their glorious moves they remain covered by their golden umbrellas that are paid for by the fools that we call taxpayers, who remain in the shit storm.
    I'd like to add that if this were a real war then i doubt that unemployment could remain high. Wars usually equate to employment.
    Good luck with your job situation.
    I must ask- why again did Obama get voted into office??

  14. "The military has essentially the same approach it has always had, rather it is US politics which have changed, radically."

    But isn't that kind of the point?

    We were an openly racist, aggressively imperial nation at the turn of the 20th Century. So for our Army to treat their little brown brothers like a racist imperial would treat its racial inferior subjects, well, that's like rice being white.

    But now we're supposed to be a nation committed to equality - try getting a max OER/NCOER without a check in the "supports EO/EEO" box - and the law of nations. Which was supposed to be why the Bushies/Cheneys were such a horrific outlyier, boasting about their lawbreaking and torture in pursuit of those fearsome brown terrorists.

    And yet here we are, two years past the Bushies. Has the AUMF been amended, or repealed? Has the PATRIOT Act? Have we closed the secret prisons? Have we prosecuted anyone - other than, as you say, the lowest minions - for the war crimes they committed?

    So I would say, rather, that we changed, between 1945 and some time in the mid-Eighties, and we have gone a long way to changing back to the nation that invaded and occupied a foreign land (while lying about why we did it - regardless of whether anyone else would have tried to take the place over I suspect the Filipinos would have been willing to take the chance on defeating the Japanese rather on our concentration camps) while imprisoning and torturing their people.

    I get the sense that you're trying to make the case that this political and resultant military reversion is specific to the Bush cabal. And if things had really changed when the Obamites swept in I'd be more sympathetic. But I don't see it. Instead I see this as a symptom that we have become more like the nation that fought the Bananan Wars than the one that claimed to have supported the UN and the notion of self-determination, and it seems to be a national attitude (less those of us commies on the Far Left) rather than one confined to the usual Liars of the Right...

  15. "We remain in Germany and Europe because to leave would mean that we were no longer a great power - in our continued domination of Germany. Up till the end of the Cold War there was a reason for our presence in Germany and for NATO. Since 1991 there has been no reason for either."

    Agreed. But I think some of the explanation for this is just simple inertia. Organizations, once formed, can be hard to kill. I wasn't surprised to see NATO end up in A-stan; it was a military alliance whose purpose died in 1991. So either the alliance structure died with it, changed (to a purely European military coordination group with, perhaps, American observers), or it found a new purpose.

    So I think, like everything else in life, the survival of NATO includes:

    1. The "National Greatness" conservatives looking for continued great power status,

    2. NATO bureaucrats looking to continue their mission,

    3. Sheer intertia,

    4. U.S. internationalists trying to maintain an alliance with Europe...

    ...and probably some more I can't think of.

  16. "To be able to at least threaten that we have to have a world-wide system of bases from which to project military power."

    So to extend our early-20th-Century analogies, these are the 2010 U.S. equivalent of "coaling stations" (

    I like it! Or, rather, I don't exactly like it, but the notion of Petraeus as Wolseley and Bill Fallon as Jackie Fisher (with Obama as...Palmerston, maybe?) is entertaining to contemplate...

  17. About Germany and other US bases overseas, there does seem to be some breaking of that inertia, Rep. Barney Frank has been making some noises about cutting the defense budget, especially WRT the US spending more on our military than do the top 10 other military powers combined. He asked why should we spend the money on our military to defend our foreign friends so they can spend their money on other things. My question, "Defend them against what?"

    jim, I've picked up a part-time night security gig at a local hotel on weekends, helping to roll out the drunks from the bar in the early AM hours. Really, not bad, wish I had more hours and bigger pay.

    Don't we all.


  18. FDChief-

    "We were an openly racist, aggressively imperial nation at the turn of the 20th Century."

    Well, yea, and so was everyone else "Western" at the turn of the 19th Century or at least of middle power rank . . . but the other powers have since changed - even Russia - whereas we, or rather certain US elements . . .

    "I get the sense that you're trying to make the case that this political and resultant military reversion is specific to the Bush cabal."

    Would the same thing have happened under Gore? Was there even a chance of Gore (since his brother wasn't governor of Florida) becoming president? Or where the powers behind Bush going to gain power whatever it took? What's your real gut feeling on that? Bush is the man of his times, a lot of stuff comes together under Bush.

    "coaling stations"

    A common view, shared by many with such stations circa 1910, which only underscores the difference between then and today . . . how many such "coaling stations" does, say, Germany, or even France, have today?

  19. Seydlitz,
    As for the Bush cabal i'd not put the ball in their court.
    Truman was the start, followed by Eisenhower, then Kennedy, then Johnson, then Nixon, then Regun, then Bush 41, then Bush 43.
    No the ball is not in GWB's court.
    Truman started the post war ball rolling with his undeclared Presidentially mandated wars.

  20. Seydlitz: While I agree that the Iraq misadventure was a very specifically Bush/Cheney project, I suspect that we would have done something fairly similar in A-stan regardless of who was president in 2002. A President Gore would very likely have been forced to 1) send some sort of punitive expedition into the country, and, 2) once the process had produced some sort of Northern Alliance government, would have been bullied by a combination of national-greatness conservatives and liberals fearful of being tarred with the "again you abandon your allies" brush into a continued occupation of the place.

    "...but the other powers have since changed - even Russia - whereas we, or rather certain US elements . . ."

    That was kind of my point is dragging in the Philippine Insurrection.

    ISTM that the U.S., or, at the very least, a significant part of our political elites, have a remarkable similar worldview to the groups that helped drive the imperial era of the 1890-1940 period. The nation went through a brief period (roughly between 1945-1950) when we had to pretend that we respected and believed in the UN-style principles of nonintervention and self-determination. But by the Fifties, driven by the anticommunist engine of the Cold War we were right back to putting time, money, and, often, soldiers, into fucking around in other countries' internal affairs. I don't see Afghanistan as all THAT much different from the PI, Haiti, Honduras, Lebanon and the Iran coup in 1953, Bay of Pigs, the DomRep in '65...

    I agree that Iraq was unique in that there really was no genuine casus belli there, not even the hoked-up one we used to invade Panama in '89. But that parallel itself is instructive; the first Bush was a "realist" of the old school, and he couldn't resist throwing troops at a non-issue. His kid was just a little more ambitious and a little less intelligent. ISTM more a question of degree and less of absolute quality...

  21. jim: I wouldn't call out Truman; we have a long history, starting back with the "Quasi-war" with France under Adams, of these cabinet wars.

    I would say, rather, that declared wars are the exception. We've only fought five of them, and the Mexican War was "declared" only after it began. The U.S. DoJ states that military operations and military force has been authorized 125 times during that period, with the "authorization" ranging from Acts of Congress to executive orders.

    I tend to agree with those would would argue that the Framers wrote the Constitution with the intent that restricting formal war-making authority to Congress would reduce this sort of "cabinet war". But I would also agree that practice has been to elide or sidestep the formality, making the case difficult to make against them.

  22. Chief,
    I understand and agree with your comments on war making from the time of Washington, BUT, we have, as you point out in your comments, a different world after 1945.
    That's why i single out Truman, because he was the pace setter . His example set the tone.
    The post war policies ignored the North Atlantic Charter and abandoned the lofty ideals of the 2nd war. Colonialism was defended which then allowed or encouraged Soviet anti-colonial posturing.
    This was a self licke sicker than COIN. But all of this is OBE. Where are we now?

  23. Afghanistan was necessary to set up the situation for Iraq, as I have argued before. That was the reason for the war, which would have been quite another matter had Gore been prez. I would add that the question as to how far Cheney/Bush would have gone to secure the presidency is an open one. How Bush & Co reacted to Forida and the USSC selecting the winner is part of our history . . .

    When I argue this scenario, I'm not necessarily arguing this it is the actual reality (although in this case I think it far closer than the "business as usual" view of US politics), rather I'm offering an alternate ideal type with which to compare subjective reality (or simply put, our preception). It's up to each one of us to decide which ideal type best "fits" what they see . . . or which combination does.

    Imo, after 2000 we have a radical break with what had gone on before.

  24. seydlitz,
    The supreme irony is that we went into the business of exporting democracy and reinforced the illusion that elections were the same thing as freedom and/or democracy.
    The recent election in AFGH was a shadow of the US 2000 goat screw.
    I've often said in jest that Gore's reaction to 9-11 would've been to reinstate the assault rifle ban. But in reality , we can't assume that 9-11 would've happened if Gore had won. It's pure conjecture to say otherwise.

  25. jim-

    Agree on Gore and 9/11 . . .

  26. In fact, given the time it took to plan the attack, 9/11 was almost inevitable, regardless of who was President.

    And I can't see a way that Gore avoids the Afghan War; the country would have impeached him if he didn't whack SOMEbody. He might have done better with the followup, tho. I think what would have made a crucial difference is that he would have had very different cabinet officers. Replace Condi with ???, Rummy with a different ???, Powell with yet another ??? and suddenly you have a very different group. And let's not forget the malign effect of Darth Cheney...

    But as far as 2K, seydlitz, I think at this point I am just going to have to accept that we're not going to see eye-to-eye. I don't see it as a radical break - a change in scope and methods, not fundamental mindset - and you see it as a genuine watershed.

    What matters now, I think, is regaining some sanity on the questions of central Asia, and so far I don't see that happening...

  27. The real event imo was 2000 for the US, the rest is frosting.

    A lot of things come together with Bush. Without Bush I think we're talking about roughly the status quo, but with him? And Cheney?

    Cheney was capable of some pretty impressive feats within official Washington and the government bureaucracy. He'd been in the saddle before too, as in the early 1990s head of DoD, as I remember.

    Afghanistan as set up for Iraq. 9/11 as . . .

    I guess George Carlin said it best.

  28. Chief,
    Good luck with the search for sanity.