Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Aaaaaaarmy Training, Sir! (FM 21-20 Edition)

OK, I'm genuinely bemused.

Does this strike you as a little piece of PR for Private Benjamin's Army, you remember, the one with the "condos and the yachts"? Is it just another "You're gonna love this great new PT program because...it's new!" sort of thing that comes out of the schoolhouse every couple of years?Or, WTF, over?

For those who don't want to go read the story, the gist is that the U.S. Army has cut back on some of the physical training elements, especially running, because (at least the official explanation is) the trainees are coming in all fat and nasty and can't run without hurting themselves.

Now. I was on the trail a decade ago, and I don't remember that we had all that many fatties and softies.

I remember complaining about the Joes' committment a lot - about the way they whined and tried to jake it - but not so much about their physical shape. Yes, some were soft, but, hey, we expected that. Not every wannabe grunt was a jock in high school, and the PT program in Basic was designed to ease them into shape. This article implies that even that standard was too high.

It seems intuitively exaggerated that the fitness of the nation's 17-year-olds should have declined so markedly in ten years. Am I just blanking out on the problem, old man style?

Now a LOT of the trainees I remember were different even from my early VOLAR BCT battle buddies. Less...well, "hard", I guess, is the word that comes to my mind. When I was under the hat I seem to remember having had a lot more suburban kiddos who had never really been in a serious fight, who were fundamentally, well, "nice" kids and who never really got that this was all about eventually getting them to the point of getting killed. They were like John Candy in Stripes; there for a challenge, or to lose weight, or whatever. The notion of dying - or making the other dumb bastard die - for their/his country didn't seem to occur to them.

But PT injuries? Not so much.

And just between you and me? A HELL of a lot of training units would eventually pencil-whip their PT failures and make them their line units' problem. Yeah, yeah, I know. Not exactly the West Point Code of Honor.

Anyway, not quite sure what to make of this, but thought I throw it out there as a curiousity. Any thoughts?

Am I giving away my age when I observe that all this reinventing the PT wheel stuff makes me wonder when someone will suggest we really, really NEED to try this cool new thing called the "Run, Dodge and Jump"?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review: "Washington Rules", by Andrew J. Bacevich

At the end of July I presented an analysis of an article Andrew Bacevich had written as a sort of introduction to his latest book, Washington Rules.

In that post I assumed that Bacevich was coming from a Clausewitzian perspective and that his position centered on three main points: 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". 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". And finally, "the reluctance of both the US and Israel to see the fallacy of this view". That is specifically mistaking the instrument of narrow policy for a "problem solver" that can reshape the geo-political landscape.
After reading the book, I find that my initial analysis holds up well, but that Bacevich has broader argument to make.

So what about the book as a whole? Washington Rules can be read as both a description of what has become of US political culture since 1945 and a warning of where that culture could take us if not turned around/radically changed: That is the "Rules" in the title can serve as both a noun and a verb, to rule one has to follow the rules, even if the rules themselves are dysfunctional.

"Washington" for Bacevich is
"less a geographic expression than a set of interlocking institutions headed by people who, whether acting officially or unofficially, are able to put a thumb on the helm of state . . . includes the upper echelons of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches . . . the principle components of the national security state . . . the intelligence and federal law enforcement communities . . . select think tanks and interest groups . . . big banks and other financial institutions, defense contractors and major corporations, TV networks and elite publications, even quasi-academic entities. (page 15)

The "rules" consist of two interlocking components that allow Washington to rule. These are what Bacevich describes as the "credo" and the "trinity". The credo is simply the assumption/belief that the US and the US alone is summoned "to lead, save, liberate, and ultimately transform the world" (p 12). The credo concerns purpose, whereas the trinity concerns means, or the use of means. Following Clausewitz, Bacevich's trinity has both related moral and material elements: its moral side consists of the emphasis of "activism over example, hard power over soft and coercion over suasion" (p 13), while the material are "global military presence, global power projection and global interventionism" (p 14). Bacevich writes:
The relationship between the two is symbiotic. The trinity lends plausibility to the credo's vast claims. For its part, the credo justifies the trinity's vast requirements and exertions.

Admittance to the ruling circle requires openly embracing both the credo and the trinity, something that President Obama did the night he was elected (p 19).

The whole book's purpose concerns the history, critique and dismissal of the credo and trinity and the call for popular support for a new consensus on which to build a new US foreign policy, one that is much better suited to our current reality.

In doing this Bacevich provides a revisionist view (in the most positive sense of the term) of post-World War II US history. The Washington rules first developed after 1945 under Truman, were expanded significantly under Eisenhower, and were modified and implemented under Kennedy and his successors. Bacevich notes that Eisenhower alone offered a warning at the end of his presidency of what had been created in part by his own policies (the famous warning of the "military-industrial complex" of his farewell address, pp 32-34 & 225-6). He also dismisses the argument that Kennedy would have withdrawn from Vietnam had he not been assassinated (pp 90-92).

Vietnam was the potential turning point and given the degree to which the rules had failed miserably it is astounding that they came back so quickly. Perhaps a good indication of how public attitudes had changed is in the comparison of two people, one real and one a product of the cinema. General Curtis LeMay was the creator of the Strategic Air Command, and along with Allen Dulles and the CIA, is one of the two important figures from the 1950s that Bacevich describes in detail. Going into the 1960s LeMay was still a national hero. By 1968, as George Wallace's running mate for the presidency on a third party ticket he had been reduced to a "dangerous buffoon" for suggesting that a few well-placed nuclear bombs could reverse the tide of the Vietnam war (p 124). An indication of where this was leading is shown by the brilliant portrayal of Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper by Sterling Hayden in the classic Dr Strangelove of 1964. By 1970, not only Vietnam, but US nuclear policy, which LeMay had championed, had been called into question.
What was the result? Did the Washington rules come to a well deserved end? Instead of a reassessment, by the end of the Carter administration and with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the rules had been reestablished without much question at all, as Bacevich writes, "Seldom has a war been so fervently memorialized even as it was being so thoroughly drained of meaning" (p 128). Much of this had to do with the nature of the official assessment which allowed for only acceptable views to be expressed. Scapegoats were identified, the failure due essentially to "tactics" and the actual strategic nature of the defeat buried. Those in power simply had too much interest in maintaining the status quo. This narrow-minded self interest remains with us today in George W Bush's War on Terror, since to call into question the events that "paved the way for September 11, 2001" would "call into question a national security tradition that goes back decades" (p 86). Approaches go under new names, but are simply repeats of past failed policies, for example Global COIN as a repeat of JFK's "Flexible Response", Bush's delusional "transformation of the Middle East" as the flip side of Eisenhower's domino theory and Obama's targeted assassinations by predator drone a high-tech repeat of "Operation Mongoose" and the "Phoenix Program". The durability of the credo/trinity precludes any strategic reevaluation and reduces the problem once again to tactics which only allows for their tool kit of military responses.

This is turn eliminates the possibility of effective strategic thought or useful application of strategic theory. As an excellent example of this we have the Surge of 2007, which "trivialized the very concept of strategy" (p. 190). The Surge was all about marketing and (re-)packaging, allowing those who had supported the Iraq war to regroup under a new banner and turn the tables on those we did not support the war. Questioning the success of the Surge was unpatriotic, even Unamerican, attacking the troops and the great man of the hour General David Petraeus.

Bacevich describes Petraeus's actual achievement thus:
Changing the way that a war was perceived - whether within the inner circle of power or in the eyes of the public - could be tantamount to changing reality itself. In a time of crisis, the soldier who demonstrated a capacity to alter perspections might well parlay military authority into influence extending well beyond the narrow realm of military affairs. (p. 195)

Not success, but the illusion of success for the delusional, which well describes our national security situation at present. It is also important to point out that Petraeus's "success" required that he adhere to the Washington rules and play to the strengths of a powerful propaganda machine, that is success is seen as maintaining the status quo no matter what the actual reality may dictate. To Bacevich's credo we can thus add the comforting assumption that the American enterprise of Empire is deemed as "too big to fail", only a question of keeping the US public supportive. Petraeus - and even presidents - simply become instruments for the continuation of the national security state and the rules under which it functions.

Bacevich's description of the Washington Rules seems at first glance remarkably similar to Thomas Kuhn's concept of a "paradigm" in that it comprises a world view in which the institutions involved measure and judge the phenomenon under investigation. Scientists are trained, evaluated and rewarded based on their adherence to the paradigm of their community. Kuhn himself doubted the applicability of his concept to the social sciences - to which strategic theory and political science belong. For this reason the Washington Rules are better classified as an ideology which has a much less firm connection to reality, and which to me would indicate we could remain under the thrall of the Washington rules until we reach political and social collapse. Bacevich agrees (p. 229).

Bacevich's conclusion is that the American people are complicit in the continuance of the Washington rules. An all volunteer force and massive deficit spending allow the price of Empire to be localized to a relative few while the costs are shifted to future generations. The choice other than the Washington rules, if it can ever get wide-spread dissemination, is an older trinity which defined the military as made up of mostly citizen soldiers serving to defend the narrow interests of America itself, not an Empire that benefits the ever expanding intersts of a corrupt parasitic elite.

To disenthrall ourselves from the Washington rules is in essence to rediscover ourselves as a nation. This book serves as wake up call for exactly that.

Post script:

Andrew Bacevich has just come up with a brilliant article in The New Republic . . .

He makes some very important points:

Operation Desert Storm didn’t turn out that way. An ostensibly great victory gave way to even greater complications. Although, in evicting the Iraqi army from Kuwait, U.S. and coalition forces did what they had been sent to do, Washington became seized with the notion merely turning back aggression wasn’t enough: In Baghdad, Bush’s nemesis survived and remained defiant. So what began as a war to liberate Kuwait morphed into an obsession with deposing Saddam himself. In the form of air strikes and missile attacks, feints and demonstrations, CIA plots and crushing sanctions, America’s war against Iraq persisted throughout the 1990s, finally reaching a climax with George W. Bush’s decision after September 11, 2001, to put Saddam ahead of Osama bin Laden in the line of evildoers requiring elimination.

Emphasis mine. Then there's this . . .
Unable to win, unwilling to accept defeat, the Bush administration sought to create conditions allowing for a graceful exit. Marketed for domestic political purposes as “a new way forward,” more commonly known as “the surge,” this modified approach was the strategic equivalent of a dog’s breakfast. President Bush steeled himself to expend more American blood and treasure while simultaneously lowering expectations about what U.S. forces might actually accomplish. New tactics designed to suppress the Iraqi insurgency won Bush’s approval; so too did the novel practice of bribing insurgents to put down their arms.

And this . . .
Which brings us to the present. After seven-plus years, Operation Iraqi Freedom has concluded. Operation New Dawn, its name suggesting a skin cream or dishwashing liquid, now begins. (What ever happened to the practice of using terms like Torch or Overlord or Dragoon to describe military campaigns?) Although something like 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, their mission is not to fight, but simply to advise and assist their Iraqi counterparts. In another year, if all goes well, even this last remnant of an American military presence will disappear.

So the Americans are bowing out, having achieved few of the ambitious goals articulated in the heady aftermath of Baghdad’s fall. The surge, now remembered as an epic feat of arms, functions chiefly as a smokescreen, obscuring a vast panorama of recklessness, miscalculation, and waste that politicians, generals, and sundry warmongers are keen to forget.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

So what IS so wrong with being Brave?

So last post I talked about why I think the current uncritical enthusiasm for the U.S. military as the guarantor of all things constitutional ("Land of the Free Because of the Brave") isn't a particularly good thing in general.

Now I want to talk about why I think it's not politically healthy for the United States in particular.

See, here's the thing:

Military power is, at bottom, about compelling action through the application of relatively unrestricted violence. In a sense, any authority works this way. You or I may obey civil law because we believe it is in the greater interest of our community, state, or nation. But if we choose not to that authority - because in a republic we vest our representatives with the authority - can use anything up to lethal force to compel that obedience.

But. We have chosen, in the United States, to hedge our civil authorities about with proscriptions. Theoretically our police and our domestic law enforcement authorities cannot do many things that would make their business simpler - things like searching, profiling, spying, or detaining, those they merely suspect of wrongdoing. Because, again, in theory, the civil contract still exists, even between those who violate that contract. We choose to imprison those of our citizens that break the rules rather than deport or execute them. They are civil criminals, not enemies. They are still within the bounds of the social contract. Our police - at least so the theory goes - cannot act towards us like our soldiers act towards an enemy.

Mind you, I suspect that they still do it, a bit, in places, at times. But I would argue that those cases merely proof the rule rather than invalidate it.

Wartime, however, is, and soldiers at war are, a legal dies non; a war, by its very nature, means that there is no civil contract. We have agreed to wartime rules that suggest that we cannot treat even our enemies like vermin to exterminate, but they are not bounded within our polity. We don't arrest them and try them - they are not violators of our contract but aliens, utterly outside of it. If we capture them we merely hold them until violence has resolved the political dispute that has made them our chattel. Then we may choose to try them, if we believe that they have committed civil crimes during the wartime, or we release them back into their own society.

And we should note that wars, in general, are often destructive to the social contract within the warring nation. In our own country we have taken actions, from imprisoning individuals without trial to imprisoning entire racial groups without substantial grounds, that would be unthinkable, were unthinkable, in peaceable times.

The history of governments, our own as well as others, suggests that wars are often destructive of political liberties. Wartime governments assume powers to prosecute wars that curtail individual freedoms. While arguably needed to be successful in war these powers are sometimes difficult to divest once peace has returned. The United States government expanded significantly in both of the Twentieth Century world wars, and was likewise fortified by the global Cold War. When Sun Tzu said that no state ever benefited from prolonged war he was speaking of the economic and social drain of blood and treasure. But the effect on politics - the effect we have seen over the past decade - tends to strengthen the government at the expense of the individual. Wars, especially modern wars, are fought by masses. The effect of war is to encourage the government to mold the citizen into a mass, to shape its public into a shaft for the military spearhead.


First, we have a current situation in which a certain portion of our leadership wishes to exercise national will in a certain portion of the globe, the Middle East. This is unsurprising and the inevitable consequence of our economic, political and military status as a Great Power.

Second, we have the natural conflict with the residents of that portion of the globe that occurs when the great power puts pressure on an extraterritorial objective. Some of this conflict will, inevitably, take the form of physical violence.

Third, we have the deliberate choice of the leadership, or at least a significant portion of that leadership, to treat this resistance as a "war", and the citizenry's choice of, or at least the indifference to, this designation, and

Fourth, we have a significant portion of this citizenry that is convinced that their nation's internal defense - its "freedoms" - depends on the power of its military to fight such a war.

The result, I opine, is that there is a critical mass of U.S. citizens who believe that "Freedom is Power". They wouldn't phrase it that way, of course, but what they believe is that military power equals political freedom. That the acts of physical force, untrammeled by civil law, that a soldier must take to win a war with an external enemy are needed to ensure civil liberty. That submission to armed force - or to the sorts of legionary disciplines used to control soldiers in battle - is what is needed to "preserve our freedoms".

I submit to you that the person who believes this sort of thing is the sort of person who has little or no objection of applying military solutions to civil problems.

Secret trials? Secret sentences? Secret prisons? How are they different from what happens to enemy soldiers in wartime, who disappear into prison camps in anonymous masses, who are, if anything, dealt with by military courts martial?

Wiretapping? Spying? How are these different from military intelligence units ferreting secrets by intercepting enemy commo, interpreting recon photos, or interrogating captured troops?

A very good example of this sort of thinking is contained in the discussion of this issue can be found over at Greenwald's blog in John Eastman's response to Greenwald's criticism of the surveillance state that has grown up as part of the "War on Terror". Eastman, who as former Dean of the Chapman University School of Law, candidate for California Attorney General, and former clerk to judges Clarence Thomas and Michael Luttig should understand the difference between civil law and the law of war, even equates the surveillance of civilian suspects with the censorship of his soldier grandfather's letters in WW1.

If this sort of "we're at war so we are all like soldiers under military discipline" attitude has captured the mind of an attorney, jurist, and potential public official, how much more likely is it that the sort of person sporting a "Land of the Free Because of the Brave" bumper sticker is willing to see military discipline, wartime rules, the spartan code of the brave, applied to the everyday life of the citizen? To the civil code of the state?

This is not a healthy thing for a republic. This is not something that any politician, any pundit, any leader, should want or should encourage. This is the sort of thinking that takes the citizen and makes them the subject, the sort of thinking that makes republics into the-nation-in-arms; that takes nations with Cincinnatus and gifts them Napoleon.

Do we really want to find out if we can do that here?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Home of the Brave

One thing you can always count on driving Southeast Portland's McLoughlin Boulevard is bumper stickers.

All sorts, from the usual cowboy and redneck slogans that dominate life in the southeast through the twelve-steppers' "One Day At A Time" all the way to the "Keep Portland Weird" and the outre' band stickers of the hipsters.

But among the most common are the military. These range from my own 82nd Airborne patch decal (stuck down in the corner next to the Rose City Rollers and the literary mudflap girl that represents Mojo) through the very visible USMC propaganda, the yellow-ribbon and pray-for-our-troops painless patriotism tokens. It's pretty amazing, when you think about it, for a nation that supposedly began with a stern rejection of all things standing-army-ish, how infested we are with militaria of a rather denatured and cartoonish sort.

I caught this one as I was still laughing at the one I'd passed several miles back that stated that the driver's other ride was my mother. This kind of statement is actually pretty witty for southeast Portland, the land of the rubber trailer-hitch scrotum.

But I'm not sure the driver got the sort of sexual-dominance result he was looking for (I'm doing yo momma, bitchez!); the mental picture of my mother, 86 and in need of adult diapers, getting sexed up by this Lents Lothario struck me as powerfully ridiculous. Hey, I thought, it doesn't really work for me but you go for what you need, stud, and I was still laughing about that when I ran up behind the pickup flying another of the fairly common southeast Portland automotive messages;

"Land of the Free/Because of the Brave".Normally I shine this sort of silly shit on. I usually find it offensive but harmless, like obese twenty-somethings waddling around with SWAT team t-shirts or screaming eagle ballcaps, the sad ejecta of an American culture that says if you say you want to do something (or worse, say you merely like something) it's almost practically the exact same as actually doing the thing.

But this week I caught a little bit of the old Ridley Scott film "Blackhawk Down" and was struck hard by the bitter, bitter sorrow buried deep within the movie's over-ripe version of the vicious, futile Battle of Mogadishu.

Scott didn't mean it that way, of course; his Beyond Thunderdome battle flick is intended to make you all misty eyed about the young American heroes fighting for each other in comradely love. It's a beautiful, elegiac piece of utter crap war porn.

The American troopers are all gutsy heroes fighting for each other while the cynical politicians wheedle and betray them, of course. The hordes of Skinnies aren't really people; they are there just to be fuckdolls, to give the war porn its money shot. And like good porn, the hot pounding battle action just keeps coming; wave after wave of nameless Somali freaks seem to rise from the dead and attack like horrible real-life Negro zombies armed with AKs and RPGs, their fearsome inhumanity insuring that you will love our fighting men because you fear the dusky legions they are killing.

The reality behind the film - that this meaningless horseshit mission, the bastard product of a midnight union of eleemosynary television and credulous national greatness politics, managed to get 19 men killed and almost 100 wounded for absolutely no fucking purpose - was as invisible to the viewer as the larger context in which these men fought and died. If you took the film at its face value, as it intended you to take it, you saw only all those lovely young American men fighting and dying for the love of their country and each other. You saw the brave defending the free.

And - mind you, I'm still driving along McLoughlin, past the seedy payday loan storefronts and the chrome and neon blare of the car lots, the many newly-vacant windows where the small businesses and mom-and-pop stores have failed under the weight of the Great Recession - as I'm thinking about this I started to get angry, really angry, about the lies that our "leaders", civil and military, that our press, that our punditry, told about Somalia, about war, about the politics of Puntland, that led up to "Maalintii Rangers" - the Day of the Rangers - that left young American and Somali men dead in the dirty streets, and are still being told, told to send more young men to their meaningless deaths in the dirty streets of similarly worthless Third World cities, and told to inflate the "patriotism" of the sort of fool that drives around with a "Land of the Free Because of the Brave" bumper sticker.

And I started wondering.

What freedoms have we Brave been defending lately? Who are these Brave, and what the hell have they been doing to earn their bumper sticker praise?

Were these the brave that stopped the Grenadian armored spearheads cold in the bloody snows around Bastogne and Houfflaize and defended the Arsenal of Democracy from Caribbean aggression?

Perhaps these were the brave whose rifles shredded the Panamanian grenadiers in the fields of Freeman's Farm as we beat back Noreiga's bold bid for continental dominance at Saratoga?

Could these brave have been the brave that caused the astounded Lebanese general to cry "Those are regulars, by God!" as we repelled the Hezbollah invasion of the Midwest at the Battle of Beirut Airport?

Could these brave warriors have been the ones which sank the Al Qaeda carriers at Midway, sweeping the Pacific clean of The Pan-Islamic Co-Prosperity Sphere, and saving the West Coast from invasion?

Or the brave that rolled over the remnants of the evil Ba'ath legions on their way to Berlin and the end of the global Ba'athist threat?


I'm really sick of our sunshine patriotism, of the painless public worship of soldiers and soldiering, our yellow ribbons, our "War on Terror" and the same fucking self-deluding horseshit used to build it that ended seventeen years ago with good men face down in the dust in a dump of a town by the Red Sea. Men whose deaths are now meaningless and forgotten, wasted lives thrown away for a tissue of deceptions and mistakes.

If we were an honest nation we would admit that for most of the past sixty years and certainly for all of the past twenty years our armies and navies have done little but exercise the prerogatives of global power. That's what the armed forces of Great Powers do, and that's much of what we have done since the defeat of Japan, nearly all of what we've done since the defeat of the Soviets.

If we still are the land of the Free - and although I believe we still are, more or less, there are some legitimate grounds to be skeptical of this - I would say that the "brave" have had little to do with it since Tojo went to the gallows or Gorbachev on permanent vacation. It is, rather, because of the Rude, the Skeptical, the Free-thinking, the Morally Outraged, the Watchdogs of Government, the Gadflies, and the Critics.

Yes, we have sometimes served freedom, we soldiers, in our way, when we could, when it served the purposes of our political masters. But that's not our primary mission, and you forget that at your peril.

The Land of the Free isn't free because of a soldier with a gun, you idiot, it's because you, a civilian, force that man to obey you and that soldier submits willingly or faces the weight of the law.

Only a fool places blind trust in the powerful. The business of soldiering is the business of power, as the business of dealing fear and death always is and always has been, and to pretend otherwise is to place your freedom in the hands of that "brave" soldier.

Think, man!

Who, then, will guard your freedoms from him?

Friday, August 20, 2010

And the Winner Is . . .

It was roses, roses, all the way,

With myrtle mixed in my path like mad.

The house-roofs seemed to heave and sway,

The church-spires flamed, such flags they had,

A year ago on this very day!

--An Old Story
, Robert Browning

Our belated recognition of the winner in our
"What Is Patriotism?" contest goes to . . .

Sheerahkahn, for his thoughtful conclusion that
a patriot is "someone who is willing to move on from the old into the new."

For his recognition that true patriotism is not static and requires the patriot's evolution in order to best accommodate the dynamics of his society, he is invited to trot over to Ranger Andy's (
here) and choose a prize. Use it in health, Sheerah -- whenever you are feeling like some solitude even whilst among the masses (of your fellow patriots.) All except the most foolhardy are guaranteed to cut you a wide berth when you don your award. [Let us know your choice @ ranger-at-rangeragainstwar.com]

Runner up
is publius for: "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it."

Honorable mention
goes to basilbeast and mike, who recognize flabby patriotism as a sort of clannish affiliation-by-proximity sans reason, and one which is possibly xenophobic.

Thanks to all for doing your patriotic duty.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Which is More Obscene, "Fuck" or "Lying to a Dead Soldier's Family"?

Despite protests by its producer, director and distributor that "The Tillman Story" is an important documentary that should be available to young people, it has lost an appeal to have the Motion Picture Association of America change its R rating to PG-13.

Producer John Battsek and director Amir Bar Lev made a personal appeal Thursday in Los Angeles before the appeals board, which is composed of studio distribution and major exhibition executives, but could not convince them to change the rating. That makes it unlikely that the picture will be made available to young people in schools and through libraries in years to come.


By Alex Ben Block

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Afghanistan for Dummies

The Bobblespeak Translation gives you the real transcript of the Petraeus "Meet the Press" interview (8/15/10):

Gregory: what do you say to people who say we can’t win

Petraeus: we’re not going to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland

Gregory: with mountains, secrecy, war criminals and money laundering?

Petraeus: ok maybe we will

Gregory: what’s winning?

Petraeus: a government that allows outside investment

Gregory: now we’re talking

(h/t to Jason at Armchair Generalist; like I said - you couldn't make this shit up.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Contribution to "Afghanistan 2050"

I was invited to submit an entry to my third Chicagoboyz roundtable discussion. These have been fun, so I quickly agreed.

Here was the "mission order":
First, each participant will start the post with one paragraph which will be an “excerpt” from a college level American history text in the year 2050. The paragraph will summarize the American effort in Afghanistan, including the end of the campaign (if it has ended) and the consequences over the ensuing decades of the American campaign.

Second, the participant will then commentary and discussion of this historic, backward looking, stage-setting paragraph.

Today was D-Day. My paragraph is here:
. . . Thus ends our discussion of the military aspects of the Afghan campaign. The political roots of the campaign and how they developed – everyone obviously has their own individual story as to how their own family was affected by the momentous events this war helped to set in motion – are not so easily discernible today. President Bush’s decision to invade the country and overthrow the Taliban government in 2001 seemed a logical response to the events of 11 September, but was in reality predetermined by decades of ideological and political confusion which only came to its inevitable end with the withdrawal of Successor States forces in 2018. In effect American policy makers fancied themselves metaphysicians capable of driving human historical events/the development of political cultures through the use of military power. While the tendency among Bush Studies academics is to argue that Bush represents a unique model followed by his three successors, this puts too much influence on the man and not the times, nor the history which made those times what they were. It is difficult to imagine today, but in the waning years of the US Empire three great tendencies came together and imploded pretty much simultaneously. The first was the notion that the US, alone among the political communities of the world, possessed a special mission from God to influence and change the world; we can refer to this as the “shining city on the hill” delusion. The second was the “liberal”/Enlightenment view of the US as a new start, the perfect humanist society which would reform the corruption of the past; refer to this as the Founding Fathers’ assumption. The last was the powerful complexus of interests that formed the Empire’s National Security State which had developed after 1945; let’s call this one by Fulbright’s famous term: The Arrogance of Power. Who was to know in 2001, or even up to the very end, that the first two tendencies provided the poison which destroyed the third, and vice versa? “Afghanistan” is where all three essentially ran out of gas (both literally and figuratively): the scales fell from the people’s eyes, the support of the “too big to fail” Empire collapsed, and a new phase of our people’s history was set in motion that we are still experiencing today. Graveyard of Empires indeed.

And the analysis (for what it is), is here:

Analysis I will leave to the reader. I think it pretty much speaks for itself. This view – following Clausewitz and Max Weber – sees “political states” as social action orientations. When individuals, in this case the citizenry of a state, no longer orient their actions in terms supportive of the state, the state ceases to exist. Afghanistan in itself is of little consequence to the US, just as Vietnam was 50 years ago. It is rather our own policies and the background/causes of those policies which are of actual importance.

I also assume an educated, well-informed citizenry capable of not only critical thinking, but also clearly identifying their own communal interests.

. . .

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

You Couldn't Make this Shit Up.

GEN Ray Odierno on why 50,000 GIs will remain in Iraq:
"... (to) ensure that this government can be formed by the Iraqis, and that all the other nations respect their sovereignty as they go about forming their government. We will not allow undue maligned influence on the Iraqi government as they attempt to form their government..."
Influence, that is, other than...umm...ours.

Approaching The Concept of Community

Both Lisa's and jim's recent posts on patriotism and hypocrisy, as well as various comments by the usual suspects have got me thinking about how all this fits together. I have refrained from providing a definition of patriotism since I wanted it to not only include the negative side which receives so much play today, but also the positive side which also receives much lip service, but little else.

How to begin?

First with two interlocking concepts which describe a good portion of the overall concept of "patriotism". Which means it's more than a simple definition that I'm offering, something more in the line of a complex concept/ideal type/"ideal" linked with another complex concept, that of "community", hence the title.

The first concept is the distinction between individual and plurality. This comes up again and again in strategic theory since from a strategic theory perspective, such terms as "conflict", "war", "force", "coercion", "strategy", "tactics", "operations", "victory", "defeat" and a host of others refer to political communities, not to individuals. Too often students and practitioners think in terms of their own individual interests, but that is not what strategic theory is about, rather exactly what it is NOT about. Instead it is about the actions of political communities, either groups within those communities, or between separate communities. An individual who acts alone against the interests of a community is by definition an outcast, an outlaw or a tyrant.

The second concept goes back a long way, to ancient Greece, as does the origin of strategy itself. The Greeks were clear that self-interest was the flip side of justice, that is both were two sides of the same coin and required each other to make any sense. It is only in terms of a community that self-interest can be defined and justice is when the community accepts the claims of the individual as being in line with the interests of the group. This system in turn required a language, a means of communication within the group with terms that had distinct meanings which everyone understood. To this it is also necessary to remember that for the Greeks justice was only possible among equals (Nietzsche spoke a lot of this as well in his Genealogy of Morals btw).

Part of the genius of Thucydides's History of the Peloponnesian War is how well he describes how this very mechanism that I have described comes apart. Athens no longer considers herself one among equals, but above the rest with the power to do as she pleases. The citizenry starts to quarrel among themselves and to see democracy as a hindrance to the demands of Empire. Language itself starts to lose relevance as terms take on new meanings to cover and legitimize base actions. Individuals each seek their own advantage at the expense of the community, and the community itself eventually collapses into chaos and suffers defeat at the hands of Sparta and her allies.

Based on what I see going on in our country, I wonder if the problem is more of a community going through a process of disintegration than of formulating the right policy . . .

Friday, August 6, 2010

United States of Hypocrisy

I got a cow that's gone dry a hen that won't lay
A big stack of bills that get bigger each day

The county's gonna haul my belongings away

Cause I'm busted

, Charlie Pride

Lord, I hope this day is good

I'm feelin' empty and misunderstood

I should be thankful Lord, I know I should

But Lord, I hope this day is good

--Lord, I Hope This Day is Good
Don Williams


July is the cruelest month thus far, seeing the highest number of American deaths in Afghanistan since the war began (
U.S. Casualties in Afghanistan Soar to Record Highs.) The 66 servicemen killed last month followed the second deadliest month in the almost nine-year conflict.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Obama is yukking it up on The View, The Clintons are feting Chelsea and her new husband to the tune of almost $2 mil, and Mrs. Obama is enjoying a week in the Costa del Sol in Southern Spain with 40 close associates (Material Girl Michelle Obama). No doubt she needed a break after the Maine holiday.

Of course, wealthy people are entitled to enjoy their dough. However, it is all just a bit egregious coming as it did in such a somber month. Aren't leaders expected to show some restraint in a bid for solidarity with the governed? That means more than lip service to bite the bullet and hoe a row.
Oh, and not flying to your fun in the sun on the taxpayer's dime (Michelle Obama flew on Air Force 2.)

It's a given that politics is the last outpost for America's regency, but men like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the missus made every effort to not flaunt the Bono lifestyle. In fact, since they were not arrivistes, there was no chance of such jeopardy.

The Democratic party used to represent the interests of the working class. Even if they weren't all Trumans, they at least understood the concept of
noblesse oblige. Today there are no such pretensions. It all seems pretty declasse, if you ask us.

These people do not lead nor do they produce anything of value. (The last Democratic president who did was peanut farmer Carter, himself a millionaire.) But they sure do sit in the catbird's seat and skim off the cream from those that actually do work and produce. Republicans are exactly the same, but they do not pretend to advocate for the Little Man.

While our New Brahmins throw their opulence in our face, another world hangs on by a thread.
Here in Tallahassee it was reported this week that a patent was awarded to the inventors of the "Cradle of Hope" -- a collapsible, mobile cradle to be used for those without a permanent shelter.

These are the two Americas: One where catered, air-conditioned tents are set up for celebrities hob-nobbing with politicos at swanky events, and one where tents cover grave sites at Arlington burial events.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Price of Patriotism

David Brooks and Sandra Hatfield
If you thought our story on Joel Potter -- the man who received two years in prison for selling the US military bad helicopter parts -- was bad, then wait until you read this.

David Brooks is the founder and former chief executive of DHB Industries, the US Military's leading supplier of body armor. Sandra Hatfield is the company's former chief operating officer.

Together, the two swindled the US Military out of more than $190 million, according to the feds.

Brooks and Hatfield are accused of lying about the performance and stock value of their best selling product, the Interceptor bullet-proof vest, in order to sell it to the US Military at an inflated price. The Interceptor vest is used by most of the country's servicemen and women.

After ripping off the US Military, Brooks and Hatfield proceeded to open up a series of off-shore bank accounts, into which they deposited the exorbitant profits. Scotland Yards has said that it discovered Brooks hiding more than $3.6 million in a London safe deposit box.

With that cash, Brooks bought himself a stable of race horses, porno for his sons, a $100,000 gem-encrusted US flag belt buckle, plastic surgery for the wife, and prostitutes for his staff. He also paid to have Aerosmith and 50 Cent perform at his daughter's Bat Mitzvah, while Tom Petty and The Eagles played at other private parties for the family.

But the shopping spree came to an end when Brooks and his partner in crime were finally charged with defrauding the US Military. They both resigned from their posts and the company, shortly after changing its name, filed for bankruptcy.

Their six-month long federal trial just came to an end this week. If found guilty, Brooks faces up to 30 years in prison.

I caught this news item on Colbert's show last night. I did not see it anywhere else, not on any major news show or newspaper.

On a late-night comedy show.

I remember the stories about body armor, families buying their loved ones sets they believed would keep them alive, the tests and the back-and-forth claims from both companies.

In its investigative report, however, NBC interviewed Jim Magee, a retired Marine colonel who designed the current body armor in use by the military, known as Interceptor. Magee said he felt Dragon Skin was the best available -- "two steps ahead of anything I've ever seen." Other people interviewed for the show claimed that officers at lower levels tried to sabotage the use of Dragon Skin because it was not Army developed and would threaten their funding and programs.

NBC also reported that the CIA had approved Dragon Skin for its elite operatives and that select soldiers assigned to protect generals and VIPs in Iraq and Afghanistan wore Dragon Skin.

The Army has decided to launch "an aggressive campaign" to counter the claims of NBC and the company that makes Dragon Skin, Pinnacle Armor, so I doubt we've heard the last of this one. The discussion boards at Military.com are already filled with comments pro and con.

I do not know enough to comment about the effectiveness of Brook's Interceptor armor vs. Pinnacle's Dragon Skin nor do I know the military folks' term for suppliers whose products are maximized for profit and minimized for reliability.

I do know that in times of war there exist many opportunities for business and profit and jobs back home. But I just cannot help thinking how many of our people might have survived Iraq or Afghanistan if they had the armor a jewel-encrusted American Flag belt buckle could have paid for.


Did You Check The Dryer?

Dear Achmed The Iraqi;

I know you're probably still kinda sore about the last couple of years. I know things haven't always been smooth between us. So it's kinda embarassing to have to tell you that we can't find about 8 billion and change of the oil money we sort of took to, um, reconstruct the stuff that, y'know, we, like, blew up and stuff, while we were liberating you for your freedom, and stuff, y'know?But you know how it is; you go to the mall, you go to the grocery store, you get all that loose cash and you stuff it in your pocket and you MEAN to make sure you get it safely back in your wallet, and then, damn, it's like the stuff just disappears like magic. But I'll bet you can probably ask some of the guys hanging around the kebab shop, the one's with the new AK-47 bling or the new cars. I'll bet they might know where some of it went.

I have to tell you, I'm still frustrated about this, I SWEAR we were taking real good care of this money. I can't IMAGINE where it got to or how we lost it.I hope this means we can still be friends. And get back to me about how that whole forming-a-government thing works out, K?

You pal,


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Define Patriotism

I'm a stranger in paradise

All lost in a wonderland
A stranger in paradise
--Stranger in Paradise, Kismet

Europeans, you must open this book
and enter into it. After a few steps in the darkness
you will see strangers gathered around a fire;
come close, and listen, for they are talking of the destiny
they will mete out to your trading-centres
and to the hired soldiers who defend them
--Wretched of the Earth, preface (Jean-Paul Sartre)

Short human words were like
trying to lift water with a knife
--Stranger in a Strange Land,
Robert Heinlein

Here is a contest sponsored by RAW. It should be a meaningful one for every American, and really, every citizen anywhere.

Patriotism: How do you define it?
Milpub has a rarefied group of readers well-qualified to tackle the topic. This may be as personal or as objective, brief or lengthy, as you wish. Contest ends Wednesday (8.4.10), and prizes can be selected from (non-affiliated) associate and co-adjutant Ranger Andy's site. Talk amongst yourselves.

The idea came from a recent Schott's Vocab -- a Miscellany of Modern Words & Phrases at the New York Times on defining "courage". Many of the responses were most impressive, and can be seen HERE. Maybe we will have a contest later to define courage.