Thursday, September 29, 2011

Nation Building! Major Lujan's View

. . . There are still corrupt, lazy, incompetent senior officers in the ranks, clinging to positions they’ve bought or traded for. Yet for every one of them, I met five young, hungry soldiers eager to take up the fight. Men like Jawad, a brilliant 23-year-old intelligence officer, or Jamaluddin, a sergeant major who had revolutionized his entire battalion from within.

I watched them wake up early every morning to drive unarmored Ford Rangers down some of the most dangerous roads in the world. They unfurl huge Afghan flags and fly them from every truck. I watched them run toward the sound of gunfire, despite often having only a Vietnam-era flak vest or less to protect them. These men are Uzbeks, Hazaras, Tajiks and, increasingly, Pashtuns — former rivals now working together. They are the beginnings of a nation.

“Winning” is a meaningless word in this type of war, but something is happening in the Afghan south that gives me hope. Rather than resignation, America should show resolve — not to maintain a large troop presence or extend timelines, but to be smarter about the way we use our tapering resources to empower those Afghans willing to lead and serve.

For all our technology and firepower, we will succeed or fail based on what happens after we bring our troops home. . .

Hat tip to Colonel Lang for presenting Major Lujan's view favorably. I can respect the Major's conviction, and he comes across as a real Mensch, but Lang's right as to our inability to deal in the long term . . .

Also, for me from a strategic theory perspective, this is a non-starter.

We simply lack the cohesion to pull something like this off, so maybe we should consider some nation-building at home, although that would require us to come to terms with our own problems.

The ability to perform strategic operations, to achieve extensive political goals requires a high level of both national/social cohesion, as in the means/values mix needed to carry out such ambitions, but also the material resources/international conditions available to see them through.

What would be the historical analogy to the US situation in AFghanistan in 2011? The US in the Philippines in 1925? Or the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in 1988? Or . . . ?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What If They Gave A War And No Enemies Showed Up?

Vary much apropos of the discussion we were having here about "whither the defense budget?", Robert Farley zeros in on the U.S. Army, asking "So with no Soviet Union, no clear role in war against China and a skeptical public, what is the Army to do?"He doesn't have any more answers than we had, but just interesting that another observer noting that for all the money we're spending and propose to spend on our military capabilities, there just doesn't seem to be any way to really focus that spending.

Right now it seems like there's just no there there...

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Battle of Kiev - September 1941

13th Panzer Division, 1st Panzer Group, Army Group South, Summer 1941

Seventy years ago today the massive encirclement operation known as the battle of Kiev was declared over by the German High Command. The success was deemed the greatest defeat of its kind in history with the Wehrmacht taking 665,000 Red Army prisoners, although Soviet sources give a smaller number. The Deutschewochenschau number 577 of 24 September 1941 opened with a dedication to Generaloberst Ritter von Schobert - commander of the 11th Army - who had died a "hero's death" (den Heldentod fand) when his reconnaissance plane landed in a Soviet minefield earlier that same month. The music playing in the background to the report provides an example of the attitude the Nazis had towards sacrifice at this point in the war. It was assumed that there would be significant losses given the stakes involved and the willingness to self-sacrifice (Opferbereitschaft) of the soldiers from the highest to the lowest ranks was expected since the decisions made and the successes achieved would mark the next phase/epoch of not only the history of Germany, but the entire world. Through this unprecedented level of destruction, the participants in this crusade were in effect making a new world.

The Kiev operation is interesting for several reasons in addition to its very scale. For maps look here for detailed maps and here for a general map.

Stalin had thought an offensive at this late date in the season would not come in the south, but towards Moscow, which he knew from his spies in Berlin and elsewhere was the prime German goal. General Zhukov was in fact sacked for suggesting that Kiev would have to be surrendered. At the end of July with the German Army Group Center stalled to the front of Smolensk, Zhukov saw the threat to the south and recommended a retreat across the Dnepr. Stalin took this as a challenge to his strategic leadership and had Zhukov replaced with Marshall B.M. Shaposhnikov whom Stalin considered politically reliable and unlikely to disagree with his views. Zhukov was given command of the Reserve Front facing the German bridgehead at Yelnia to the front of Moscow, where his successes there were to pay later dividends.

So, first we have the unwillingness of the Soviets to retreat, but if the main goal was Moscow, why turn half the Panzer strength of Army Group Center south into the Ukraine instead of northeast towards Moscow? Why was there this diversion of strength which allowed for the massive encirclement of the Kiev pocket?

To answer that question we need to go back to the planning stages for the campaign which had started at the end of 1940. A series of competing plans were drawn up, and while there was general agreement as to the main emphasis on Moscow, there were those who felt that either Leningrad in the north, or the Ukraine should be secured first. Hitler's own variant envisioned a flank strategy focused on Leningrad. In December 1940, a General Staff Kriegsspiel or war-game was conducted by General von Paulus (who would later go into captivity with the remnants of his 6th Army at Stalingrad). The results were quite interesting and contrary to the very optimistic projections coming from the Army High Command (OKH), the Wehrmacht High Command (OKW) and the Luftwaffe (OKL).

Based on his war-game, Paulus concluded that: First, the resources at German disposal were barely enough to advance to Moscow and reaching the Archangel-Volga River line were beyond their capabilities. Second the spaces and time involved did not allow for the Blitzkrieg approach which had been used effectively against both Poland and France. The Panzers could advance, but at such a speed that the following infantry would be left far behind. Also the Luftwaffe would not be able to displace forward as quickly as in the past leaving the Panzers with limited air support the further they advanced. Third and finally, supply would be difficult once the advance got beyond the Dnepr-Dvina line. Constructing new supply areas, relaying European gauge rail lines not to mention repairing what had been destroyed would take months. It should be noted that the war-games included certain optimistic assumptions some of which later proved unfounded. The Germans assumed superiority in tanks, artillery, signals equipment and aircraft, and assumed that their infantry divisions enjoyed a 1/3 superiority in terms of heavy weapons over Soviet infantry division equivalents.

In spite of the war-game's conclusions, General Halder of the OKH believed the fighting quality of the Red Army to be so low, that he assumed that the campaign would be over by the onset of winter. At the same time Halder was focused on Moscow as the main aim of the campaign and thought it possible to capture the capitol during the 1941 campaign.

The OKW under General Jodl were convinced of the importance of Moscow, but thought that the northern flank, the area between Leningrad and Moscow would have to be cleared before an advance on Moscow could commence. Halder was able to convince Jodl of the soundness of his views, but given the influence of Hermann Göring and the Luftwaffe who were pressuring Hitler to capture the Ukraine and the Crimea as well, Halder was having difficulties. Success it seemed had made far too much possible, that is assuming that the Red Army was on the edge of collapse . . .

Reichsmarschall Göring is seen today as simply a drug-addicted buffoon, but in 1941 he enjoyed a relatively high level of prestige in the Nazi hierarchy. It is interesting to note that in the Wochenschau edition linked above, he receives a prominent place in the presentation. In the summer of 1941 Göring was seen as an expert in Blitzkrieg warfare, due to the Luftwaffe component of the system, and considered by many to have a better grasp of the subject than the reactionary generals like Halder of the General Staff.

Thus we see Göring, not Halder or even Jodl, playing a key role in strategic direction in the summer of 1941. It was also at this time that he promised Hitler that the Luftwaffe would be able to "destroy Leningrad from the air". So it became policy with a memo issued by Hitler on 22 August. This is important to note: As the Panzers were moving south towards Kiev, the Luftwaffe was moving north to support Army Group North's attack on Leningrad.

The final indignity for Halder was performed by General Guderian, who in a private discussion with Hitler on 23 August confirmed that Moscow should be the main goal, but that also he be allowed to retain control of his entire 2nd Panzer Group for the Kiev operation. Guderian advanced due south to close the pocket with the 1st Panzer Group advancing north. Thus Guderian retained control of his formation, but this allowed Zhukov to grind up a German Army Corps at Yelnia, which would have could have been better used on the later advance on Moscow.

Kiev was a great victory, which opened the door to the Ukraine, but it also saved Moscow since the Germans would be unable to shift the 2nd Panzer Group north in time, not to mention the losses/wear and tear which could not be replaced. Instead of smashing the forces to the immediate front of Army Group Center with a fall offensive and then digging in for the winter, the Germans risked it all to take Moscow as the weather turned cold, with an army that had been equipped to win before the snows fell . . .

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Drinking Club with a Book Problem

Jim and I have been kicking around the idea of starting up a monthly discussion of some printed work.

In other words - a MilPub Book Club.

We thought we'd throw this out and see if there are any other takers. Our thought is that it'd work like this;

Every month one of us would throw out a suggestion for something for us to read. We thought that it wouldn't have to be restricted to military affairs and politics, but since that's what we talk about most we thought that they'd probably turn out that way. Jim says no fiction or historical fiction, and I would suggest trying to keep it to items published within, say, 20 years, to keep from circling back to the Classics. Journal articles are OK, but I'd suggest we try and keep it a little more strenuous than the typical Atlantic magazine piece. Yes?

We'd then take three or four weeks to read the thing, and then the original poster would open the dance with a "open discussion" post, giving his synopsis of the work and perhaps some commentary, whereupon we'd all get to chime in/pile on/discuss.How's that sound? Anyone else like the idea?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

"Fat, Dumb, and Homophobic is no way to go through life, son"

I got a big laugh from this, the latest on the proposed re-institution of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (aka "Youse Homos Can Serve Until We SAY Youse Can't Serve") from Former Senator "Man-on-Dog" Rick Santorum:
"What we are doing is playing social experimentation with our military right now. That's tragic. I would just say that going forward we would reinstitute that policy if rick santorum was president. That policy would be reinstituted as far as people in I would not throw them out that would be unfair to them because of the policy of this administration. But we would move forward in conformity with what was happening in the past. Which was sex is not an issue. It should not be an issue. Leave it alone. Keep it to yourself whether you are heterosexual or homosexual."
because if you needed to know anything about what the man doesn't know about military service circa 2011, this pretty much tells you.And that's...pretty much everything.

I never served in anything but an all-male unit until after I got off active duty. But since then I've been assigned to everything between a headquarters company and a laundry-and-bath platoon with stops along the way with every sort of military critter.

And one thing I can tell you with stone-cold certainty.

Sex is ALWAYS an issue.

Doesn't matter if it's the boys on the girls, the girls on the boys, the boys on the boys or the girls on the girls. We're human, so until we're about 68 years old roughly a third of our brain is occupied in thinking about sex. I'm not sure what the other 66 percent does; sudoku, maybe.

Obviously the most complicated this gets for military discipline is in mixed-gender units. I've worked in several, and I can tell you that you can walk and talk military discipline and the UCMJ all you want to, but you get a young man and a young woman together and you automatically have the potential for something not covered in the rest positions at the halt section of FM 22-5.

Mind you, the Army has a long history of being stupid about Sex. I saw it first all the way back in 1981, when in its infinite wisdom the Army had set up a mixed-gender BT company. 1st Platoon of A/4/3, Fort Dix N.J. was female. "First Fox" fireguards shared a stairwell with my Second Platoon, and I was later told (though I was unaware at the time, being first a squad leader and then platoon guide and thus exempt from fireguard) that the young women on guard ranged from adorable to fugly and the young men from studly to dorky. But they were there, they were horny, they were bored, so almost none of them left Fort Dix unscrewed.

It's lucky we never did have a fire; the horndogs were too busy having it off in the empty cadre rooms to have sounded an alarm.And in my experience it almost always has nothing to do with homosexuality, which makes Santorum's connection between the Big Gay Scary even less sensible. The disciplinary problems and/or personnel complications were 99.9% heterosexual and 85% consensual (the other 15% were a supervisor/supervised deal, which IMO pretty much can't really be counted as such any more than any other "sexual harassment" type scenerio can).

And gay?

Ask anyone who served in Panama back in '86 and '87; the women's barracks over at 210 Aviation was like a big OG-107-covered episode of "The L-Word". Damn near every one of those gals liked her girls like she liked her corn-on-the-cob; hot and covered in butter.

But y'know what? They worked their asses off and kept those aircraft where they belonged, in the air, and as a result nobody really brought up the whole "hot-girl-on-girl-GI-action" thing.So excuse me if I continue to laugh at young Mister Santorum, who seems to think that U.S. troops have to put their genitalia in the company safe before leaving Reception Station. Sex not an issue?

Maybe on your planet, spaceman...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


The Bielski family and partisans

The people can be oppressed

by violent measures,

but they cannot be governed by them

--Leo Tolstoy,
letter to Czar Nicholas II

Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it

--George Santayana

Shall I tell you what the real evil is?
To cringe to the things that are called evils,
to surrender to them our freedom,
in defiance of which we ought to face any suffering
--Lucius Annaeus Seneca


Defiance is a book (1993) and a movie (2008) based upon the lives of the Bielski partisans of World War II.
The group was named after the organizers, a family of Polish Jews who rescued Jews from extermination and fought against the Nazi German occupiers and their collaborators in Poland. They saved approximately 1,200 Jewish lives.

The Bielski's story is but one of many amazing wartime stories of average people who endure against overwhelming odds, many of which are probably lost to history. Of the Bielski group,
70% were women, children, and the elderly; about 150 were shooters. The movie delivers a highly romanticized version of a dire existence, replete with the Hollywood sensitive Nazi.

Ranger found the Bielski's behavior links with classic unconventional and guerrilla warfare, though their primary function was to ensure the survival of its Jewish members. His personal SF training was the result of the U.S. adopting UW/GW experience which evolved from the OSS in WW II, reflective of partisan and resistance warfare of WW II. This type of warfare was fought in all theatres in that war, and were aimed if not at destroying, then hamstringing the armies of occupation of the Axis forces.

Partisan units existed to harass, destroy and generally force the occupiers to dilute the combat power of their maneuver units by diverting them to fight the partisans. The titular use of the term in this case is not exactly correct since partisans existed to fight, where the Bielski unit existed primarily to save Jews; they fought only when forced to engage enemy forces.

The regular armies of the Allies provided trainers and support for partisans which enabled the UW/GW forces to exist behind enemy lines. The Bielski unit received limited aid from the organized Soviet partisan units. Though minor, it is doubtful the Bielskis could have endured without it.

Another key point relevant to today's UW/GW scenarios is that the unit would not have survived without the active and passive support -- regardless of how meagre -- of the local population.

WW II is now 66 years old. Can such units still exist in future wars? Will Special Forces maintain their classic OSS/UW/GW orientation in future conflicts? Has Special Forces performed as UW/GW assets in the Phony War on Terror (
PWOT ©), or has their performance been a weak approximation of the OSS template?

The OSS types were originally organized to infiltrate enemy-occupied territory to link up with and train UW forces, then task-organizing them for actual combat operations. All UW/GW operations of significance in WW II complemented the Allied Armies' tactical plans.

Partisans were used to target specific objectives and were discouraged and disallowed from random and unfocused attacks upon the Axis forces. Although the UW/GW units were not strictly military organizations, they were compelled to operate in a military manner.

After WW II, the USSF was organized to operate with partisans and dissident groups in areas occupied by the Warsaw Pact forces. In the Republic of Vietnam, the Special Forces supported the government of Vietnam, while in Europe they opposed the governments of the Iron Curtain countries.
This shows the SF -- like the sword in our unit patch -- is a double-edged weapon which will cut in both directions.

The question is, will SF retain its original function as an UW/GW force multiplier if the U.S. were to engage in a conventional ground war?
Can organizations like the Bielski Partisans survive today's battlefield scenarios? Are partisan units a concept that is still within the realm of military logic?

A good story should provoke such thoughts on the relevance of its topic to the present day.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Join the Debate

One of the outcomes of the recent deficit reduction legislations will be cuts in Defense Spending. AOL Defense has some thought provoking articles. What's your take on:

Coming Cuts May Put Services At Each Others Throats

Defense Industry Comes Out Swinging: Don't Cut Us!

That's just two articles addressing the looming cuts. More can be found at this link.

Are our military services ill structured and inappropriately expensive for the future? What roles and missions do you think are valid, and what services fill those roles?

The Smoking Lamp is lit!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Quo Vadis?

In the "December 12th" Thread, Andy made this thought provoking comment:

Somehow we've always seemed to muddle through. Not sure if that's because of luck or some unseen force in the system or what. Can it continue? Probably not.

My concern is whether or not we have retained the ability to "muddle" in a productive direction. I wonder if our long standing, stable and productive form of government and governance is still what the masses, and more importantly, the power brokers, really want.

It is unsettling to see how our perceptions have been altered by the Bush experience. Chris Matthews of MSNBC recently asked a former Bachman campaign manager:

"Would you like to see her commander in chief of the United States?"

While there is no such position or title identified nor authorized in our Constitution, the title is gaining more and more common usage. Do the people really want to have a "Commander in Chief" of the country itself? If the United States is effectively "We, The People", then does that mean "CINCUS" (Interestingly pronounced "Sink Us") exercises command authority over each and every person in the country?

Should we return to calling the CINCUS "His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties", as was the title originally used by Washington until James Madison and the House of Reps demanded something a bit less lofty?

Nearly 200 years after the outrage over "His High Mightiness" had simplified the President's Title to "Mr President", Richard Nixon made a short foray into adding a touch of imperial majesty to his surroundings by putting the White House Police into garish uniforms he helped design, making the Marine Guards' Dress Blues look like leisure suits. The outrage was almost universal. Time magazine editorially wondered at the time whether the White House would soon revert to its old name, which, for a while during the 19th century, was the "President's Palace". Perhaps contemporary folks will begin calling the White House the CINCUS' Command Post?

Is it not just a bit perplexing that so many of those who wish to "return to the Constitution of the Founding Fathers" lean towards semantics, perceptions and practices that are quite alien to what was put in place all those years ago?

The late Rodney Smith, PhD, who brilliantly taught 9th Grade US History and Government in my high school, impressed upon us "the beauty" of how the framers of the Constitution strove to insure the continuity of our sovereign existence and provide for a "peaceful transition of Power" from one administration and Congress to the next. How he must be rolling in his grave as we now see that the objective of partisan politics has become the "overthrow" of an administration. Just listen to the many, many voices, both in and out of elective office, that clamor for same. Consider the ridiculous, never ending "investigations" of President Clinton and his friends, and the attempt at impeaching him over a BJ, when nothing more substantive could be found. Overthrow by any means available! All too many of us want to live in a "Banana Republic", as long as we are the ones in power.

More than the trends towards a militaristic police state, the disregard for "peaceful transition of power" leaves me unsettled. The recent debt ceiling extortion shows that many no longer care to recognize the legitimacy and lawful obligations of previous elected governments of our country. Where Nixon's Police uniforms gave the visual impression of a Banana Republic, actual recent legislative actions is the behavior of one!

But it not just an undercurrent of militant political "violence" to topple a government. Couple this with the recent voices of "yes" at the question of whether an uninsured person in a coma should be left to die, and one has to wonder. Once upon a time, the basic conventions of civility would have led people to keep such thoughts to themselves. And these cries to let the uninsured die came from an audience of people who's political platform is supposedly "Pro-Life".

So, I guess my worry for the future is that we may see many more significant shocks to our "system", and I'm not sure they will be the kind that can be muddled out from under. There is a limit to how much trauma an organism can withstand.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September 12th


My last post was a straight-up rant, and one that those who know me have learned to dread. By late August they are avoiding meeting with me, or attending any sort of event where politics or recent history may be discussed, but as early as the First of September they are even dodging my phone calls and deleting my text messages before reading them, knowing that my vitriolic bile will be reaching explosively toxic levels.

The actual detonation is usually reserved for the collision of some innoffensively idiotic television 9/11 retrospective and my forebrain which leaves me flecking the innocent phosphor screen with spittle shouting about 1948, Lebanon, Charlie Wilson's War, Rummy/McFarlane, the cake and the Bible, and the House of Saud.

After that things return rather quickly to normal, and by 13 SEPT I can even hold normal conversations with friends without more than an occasional mutter about "the fucking moron-grade American public..."

All very entertaining, that the ranting is done, what now?

Andy brought up a post on the blog "Zenpundit" that he considered the best observation of 9/11 he had read that day. I went over and read it and found a generic "The Day History Changed" (because, of course, the Soviet Union never fell in 1989...) sort of thing, with the usual mild "perhaps we should re-examine some of the choices we made that day" caveat at the end.

And that got me thinking. Okay, so, first; what things DID change that day?

Well, remember on 11 SEPT 2001 the U.S. was snakebit by one of the snakes we'd been handling since 1948, and not in a good way (our snake made the other snakes play mean, and we had done some snake-slapping ourselves) so while it shouldn't have been a surprise the sheer effectiveness of it was a nasty shock. We'd gotten used to the idea that those Allah-pesterers were pretty much hopeless fuckups, so the notion that they could kill large groups of Americans (that is, large groups of Americans not dispatched on pointless show-the-flag-missions in the Levant by Saint Ronald of Hollywood) using boxcutters and lead pipes was a novel one.

So overseas we did what we do; we went and fucked us up some wogs. First in Afghanistan (where, in justice, the tricksy bastards who smote us were lurking and, besides, it was a wretched hive of scum and villainy, anyway) but then in Iraq (which had nothing the fuck to do with 9/11 but, hell, Saddam was a right git and his sons had stupid names (Uday? Who the fuck is named "Uday"?) and we'd been itching to pimpslap him since back in '92) and then pretty much all over the Arab world, with drone aircraft, anyway. Busy, busy little Yankees!

But at home we were even busier! We did some things we hadn't done - much - before; we set up secret ways to spy on people (who were supposed to be Evul Terrists but, hey - it was SECRET. So who the fuck knows?), we started files on everyone who was different and scary; Muslim clerics, peace activists, chicks with hairy pits, Mormons (oh, wait, no...Mormons were only scary to teabaggers. Oh, wait - most of the people we spied on were scary to teabaggers. Carry on).

We passed something called the "USA PATRIOT Act" which let cops and spies do all sorts of cool stuff they'd been forbidden to do for years because, well, the last time they did it they railroaded a bunch of people for stuff they didn't do and spied on domestic political "enemies"...and that was just the part we KNOW about - supposedly there's this "Secret" PATRIOT Act that lets the door-kickers and snoopers do a lot MORE stuff, except, y'know, it's fucking SECRET, so we have no fucking idea what it involves.

We jammed a bunch of different agencies - the Coast Guard, the DEA, the guys who inspect poultry - into this monster superagency, called in the "Department of Homeland Security", tossed an assload of money at it and told it to go stuff to scary brown people. Or something. We opened secret prisons and put secret prisoners in them because...well, it's SECRET, dummy, so we didn't know exactly why they were there except our Leaders told us they were bad, scary people, the "worst of the worst".

Except the ones we let go because, well, they turned out to be goatherders, or innocent Canadians, or carpet beaters ratted out by the guy who was sleeping with their wives.

Yeah, that.

But, anyway, I think we've pretty much pegged the stuff that Zenpundit's guy said we should "re-examine"; a bunch of wars abroad and a bunch of domestic snooping and spying at home.

So let's "re-examine" them. Let's. Let's put on our Yankee Thinking Caps and try to figure out whether there was anything different we could have done about all that crap.

Wars and Rumors of Wars

Believe it or not, I don't actually think that the original, 2002, 114th Afghan War (surely they must be up in at least the low three figures by now, right?) was all that bad a move. Probably could have been done a little slicker with some cunning diplomacy, an assassination and a bribe or three, but, really - they're Afghans; feud, revenge, making an affray, putting in fear...that's cake and ice cream to them. Even the Taliban probably expected the hiding they got. It's the Afghan Way, the central Asian version of a chicken in every pot; a cluster bomb in every Islamic Center.

Now, having done the traditional punitive expedition, the notion of hanging around trying to kill enough Pashtuns to turn the place into Waterbury with more goats was simply stupid. But that was eclipsed by the Really Big Stupid; Iraq.

And, frankly, there is only one way to "re-examine" Iraq. Aggressive war is a crime under the Nuremburg verdicts.

We hung people like Jodl and Ribbentrop and Tojo for it.

Until Dubya and Dick and Wolfie and the rest are hanging alongside them we will never be able to "re-examine" Iraq in any sane fashion. Admitting that we - that members of our elected government, with our tacit approval - committed a war crime (that lead to the useless, meaningless deaths of thousands) and many subsequent crimes is the only possible first step to "re-examining" that lunacy and preventing its repetition.

And that, we will never do.

And the other thing we will never do is "re-examine" the two main pillars of our treatment of the Middle East; the Israel First, and the Your Gas Is Really Our Gas policies.

We made a conscious decision to put Israel's welfare before our own selfish interests back in 1948. All the old State Department hands - the guys who had made their bones in the Middle East, the guys who (mostly) were defenestrated by the Red witch-hunters after State "lost China" in the late Forties and early Fifties - warned Truman about that. But we made our bed, and we choose to continue to lie in it.

You know how I feel about Israel our "ally". But I am a very small minority, and I accept that so long as we have Israel's back - with all that entails, such as supporting pro-Israeli/anti-Islamist dictators like the Mubaraks and the Sauds - we put ourselves at odds with the bulk of the Middle Eastern Arab and Muslim populations.

So, too, our incessant need for petroleum, which means our need for pliant bobos or buyable clowns on the gaddis of the petroleum states. So we prop up the Shah in Iran, or the Gaddafi's in Libya, or the Malikis in Iraq, regardless of the enmity...and until the wrath...of their own peoples becomes too great.

But in the process we ensure ourselves of a constant, running, low-grade warfare with certain elements in the Islamic world. There is no element of the foolish "Islamofascism" or "hating our freedoms" so beloved of the GOP's wingnut brigade. Rather, they hate our Israel, or they hate our porn, or our bare-legged women, or our greed for their petroleum, or their disregard for their lives.

This makes them no better (and no worse) that we. They are acting selfishly, their selfish interests will always collide with ours if we persist in the policies we have pursued - and we show little or no interest in or willingness to change them - and so we are fated to encounter these Islamic characters until either we change or they do. There is no real other option.

We simply cannot have Israel, cheap Arab petroleum, and peace with the hard-core Islamists and Arab nationalists.

So that "re-examination" leads to the grim conclusions that we are in for a long, long century.

The Laughing Policeman

On the Home Front, however, what holds us back is not inevitable collision but moral and political cowardice.

We have erected, brick by brick, a monstrous edifice of surveillance and secret machination. Little in U.S. history since the Alien and Sedition Acts, or perhaps some of the most extreme lawlessness enacted in actual wars (such as Lincoln's violation of habeas corpus or Roosevelt's Japanese internment) can equal the sheer grandiosity of this vast and secretive erection. We have granted, out of our fear and anger, immense powers to our most uncontrolled servants and trusted them to remain servile.

Why, I do not know.

And, by and large, these powers have gone unneeded and unused for the demolition of actual "terrorist" plots and plans. Most of the domestic acts of "terror" have been foiled by simple citizens, or random customs agents, or street cops snitched on to someone. Several of the most "nefarious" plots appear to have been largely the work of government agents, who have tracked down various disgruntled and unhinged individuals, coaxed them, coached them, made their weapons for them, even driven them to the "terror" site before arresting them.

And many of these powers are even less comprehensible than that, like the 21st Century equivalent of the lettre de cachet, the "national security letter", that cannot even be mentioned under pain of imprisonment. We cannot know if the lettre de...excuse me, the "national security letter" has been misused...because those against whom it has been used cannot speak of their misuse, and if they attempt to do so they will find themselves in another modernization of Bourbon justice, the Chateau d'If of the "secret prison".

Can you imagine a United States with "secret prisons"? With nameless prisoners, latter-day Monte Cristos but in their orange jumpsuits and hoods? With secret letters demanding secret interrogations, carried on in secret and then buried below further layers of secrecy, lowered into a well a midnight, never to be known?

Is this the United States we pledged to as children? And if not, why not?

Because of some raggedy Islamic fantasists plotting in some dumpy motel in Lahore?

Or because

In a sane world we would shake our heads like a dog shaking off water, and immediately eighty-six about 99 percent of the ridiculous security rigamarole we've invented since 9/11, starting with the "PATRIOT" Act, the AUMF, and continuing from there. We'd relegate "terrorism" to the nuisance status it deserves and making in the province of our State Department and our spy agencies, who could make the appropriate recommendations to Congress and the President when they spotted another bin Laden lurking behind the arras.

Because, as I said, he will come. When you fight an old enemy long enough he will throw out the occasional Mosby, or bin Ladin, or Francis Marion.

But sending out troops to beat the hustings where he may be born...or sending in police to snoop and sneak on Americans guilty of nothing more than disliking WalMart or protesting foreign worse than a crime. It is a mistake, and one that we have been paying for this long decade.


Again, to undo all of this harm would be to admit that we were sniveling, mewling cowards to begin with. To admit that we fucked up dozens of people's lives for no better reason than our own bed-wetting fears. And to accept the calumny due us for being frightened little weasels too small to deserve the freedoms we so boldly lay claim to, and yet so quickly piss away rather than face any potential for harm.

And we would rather give up ALL those freedoms than accept that.

So, in brief; abroad we cannot have peace with a segment of Islam - unless we radically change our goals and interests in the Middle East, which we have and continue to show no interest in doing - while at home we will not have liberty - unless we radically accept responsibility for our own panicked fuckups as well as the risk inherent in living in an open society.

So in that sense the dead of 9/11 really DID die in vain, or worse - their deaths have made their nation a smaller, meaner, more secretive, less dynamic place.

By their deaths we were given a chance of greatness and instead we went shopping - on credit - whilst fools and knaves led us into dark places.

"It is by our own feathers, and not by others' shafts, are we now stricken"

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I thought after last year that our long national indulgence in the compounded delusions of self-pity and self-righteous anger were starting to fade.But for the tenth anniversary of the events of 11 SEP 2001 has brought out all the usual idiots parroting all the usual tropes; It's was all about US! OMFG it was Pure Evil! It was Such a Shock 'Cause We were just Minding Our Own Business when We were viciously mugged!Well, okay, so we've had ten years and we're STILL thinking about this.

(Anybody want to make a bet as to whether Pearl Harbor was still front page news on 7 DEC 1951? No? Didn't think so. It was a very different war in a very different time, and in many ways were were a cruder, harder, simpler...but more sensible people fifty years ago.)

So let's get a couple of things out of the way first.

That an Islamic attack of some sort was successfully completed on U.S. soil was an entirely rational and expected result of the Middle East policies we had been pursuing for decades; since 1948, at the very least. This doesn't make OBL or AQ any more loveable or "justified". But you bankroll, arm, and act as consigliere for one of the local mobs in a bad part of town, don't be surprised to wake up with a horse's head in your bed some morning. It ain't an "if", it's a when, goombah, capisce?That it succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its Saudi maker is unquestionable. If 9/11 was a battle and you looked at it trying to define "Who won 9/11?" the world's tallest dead Saudi would have to be the winner, hands down. For the cost of a relatively small number of expendable fanatics (and the bombing and occupation of a stone-age tribal wasteland back into the stone age) he sent his target rampaging through the Middle East, bombing, shooting, and - worst of all - acting like the least competent imperial power in history. Too meek to conquer, too clueless and viciously self-protective to woo, too stupid to realize the difference...Osama must look back at the past ten years and the present position of his target, exchange incredulous looks at the demons tormenting him, and all three of them must collapse in helpless laughter. Satan in all his genius couldn't conceive of a richer foul joke.That the most significant, durable, and successful effect it has had has been the erection of a monstrous internal and external surveillance and propaganda contraption that extends across multiple agencies and continents, absorbs billions of dollars and tens of thousands of careers and lives...and all in pursuit of this chimera. Al posted the link to a Naval War College journal article in the preceding post. In it the author bemoans the costly, inept behemoth we know as the Department of Homeland Security.Because it is a massive boondoggle ginned up by the world's last superpower to oppose the efforts of a handful of raggedy-assed clerics and Muslim fabulists dreaming of Caliphate in dumpy rooms in Third World shitholes that, even if successful, would be unlikely to do better than 9/11 - that is, kill a relative handful of Americans compared to the number who drive into utility poles while texting every year?


Because "...we need a longer term strategy for dealing with terrorism overall. Perhaps the most disappointing non-event of the past ten years has been the complete failure of America's intellectual infrastructure, including its colleges and universities, to create a reserve of expertise similar to that funded by the U.S. government in the wake of the Soviet challenge in the 1950s."

Got it?

The threat from a tiny band of poorly-funded, tactically-incompetent, Islamic boneheadsis and should be considered the modern equivalent of the challenge posed by the world's only other global superpowermassively armed with blue-water fleets, intercontinental bombers, an trained army of spies and assassins, and, oh, yeah, fucking nuclear ICBMs.

So one would think that this tenth anniversary of the moment we started the geopolitical equivalent of slamming eleven vodka and Red Bull shooters, stripping down to our skivvies, and leaping into the beer tub down at the local lesbian softball victory party swinging a length of tire chain and shouting "I can whip any bitch in the park!" we'd be looking around sheepishly at all the angry bull daggers, picking our saggy wet Jockeys out of the crack of our stinging ass and wondering what the fuck we had been thinking.

(Stops. Sighs. Shakes his head.)

Instead of indulging in an orgy of self-pity, maudlin sentimentality, and self-righteous victimhood.

But we won't.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Worth Sharing

Once in a while, a snippet from an article is so precise, so succinct, that it bears sharing. In an article about the Dept of Homeland Security, Joan Johnson-Freese, of the Naval War College faculty wrote:

DHS was a panic reaction, a precipitous act by a Bush administration determined to show it was "doing something" about terrorism. The horses had already escaped, but the Bush administration went ahead anyway and bought more land, constructed extra barns, equipped them with state-of-the-art doors, and then hired thousands of conscientious civil servants to slam them shut over and over again, for the rest of eternity.

Almost as elegant as "Broke out in assholes and shit themselves to death".

I've always considered myself fortunate to have attended the Naval War College. Professor Johnson-Freese has reinforced that for me. BRAVO ZULU!

The full article is worth reading, as well as the several links in it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why I Write

But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy?


y, Gnarls Barkley

[Motivated by Sgt. Rabb's post]:

I was a soldier once and now not-so-young, a fact which allows me to connect the dots from present to past. The logic of soldiering has been left deeply ingrained in my thoughts and actions.

Last night was suffused with memories of past screw-ups and negative events that I still cannot justify or accept as being correct. Today's events resurface them, and I am discomfited down to my Ranger lizard brain.

When I was a platoon leader, my assigned strength equaled the 37 men killed in the recent shoot-down of the Chinook in Afghanistan. My platoon was line infantry, not elite in any manner. We did, however, stress one military precept: Dispersion.

We never put all our eggs in one basket. We would never allow one military round to kill or wound more than was militarily acceptable. We maintained dispersion while eating and even in the chow line when we were operational.
My tracks (M 106) were never bunched up to allow enemy counter battery to knock out more than one of our guns. Not being bunched up is Rule One of ground combat.

On or about 21/22 Jan 71 there was an action at B53 in the Republic of Vietnam in which another entire helicopter of highly-trained Special Forces and Special Operations Assets men were blown out of the sky. To this day it is my contention
that these men were sacrificed because there was not a proper and judicious recon. Helo gunship fire suppression of the area was not employed and the men did not know what enemy they were facing nor their capabilities.

U.S. SOF assets are still making the same senseless mistakes that get good men killed for no measurable reason.
What is the benefit of the cost?

Thirty soldiers died at the hands (we are told) of a lucky RPG gunner. But in Special Forces, we are taught
there is no such thing as "luck" -- there is only the presence or absence of solid planning and execution. No unit should lose 37 people associated gear from one lucky RPG shot.

Such a loss is criminal negligence on the part of the operational planners and team leaders. No sensible soldier would put all his assets in one bunch, hoping luck would not turn ill; it does not work that way either in gang warfare or combat.

Ranger does not believe the shoot down of the Chinook was an RPG loss. Why does the media not posit the employment of a ground-to-air Redeye or Strella-type missile? If the U.S. uses technology, then why not the Afghanis?
Why the fiction that their successes are due to sheer, dumb-ass luck? The Gods of War need not be Christian or Western.

What would it mean if they were as tactical as we?

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar]

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Gift Box; Books, Fruits, and Nuts...

DragonCon ??? A sci-fi fanatic acquaintance stumbled across this and emailed the link. This parade was held in Atlanta? I wonder what they do in the convention hall – fire-breathing workshops? - lady troll mudwrestling? And what is served in their foodcourts? I hereby declare that the Left Coast is no longer the land of fruits and nuts, that distinction is now bestowed on Georgia. I use to think that the Civil War re-enactors were a little ‘dinky dau’. Maybe they are the same people expanding their horizons.

Fall Reading List – One new book on order titled: ‘How the Helicopter Changed Modern Warfare’ by Walter Boyne. It has some good reviews. This I understand is a history of the development of military rotary wing aviation and of the evolution of their use and tactics and not a technical discussion on aerodynamics. Coming in the mail soon I hope. I am not an aviator myself but have had a love and hate relationship with helos since I took my first ride 50 years ago over the pine savannahs and sawgrass swamps of Camp Lejeune in the passenger seat of an HOK-1 (later renamed OH-43), the one with the side-by-side intermeshed twin rotors. I would hope it covers Brute Krulak pushing the vertical envelopment concept in the 1940s when everyone else considered helos as only good for observation and search-and-rescue. The author Boyne is one of the founders of ‘Air and Space’ magazine and a pre-eminent aviation historian so I am expecting a good read. This should be on your list Al, but then you probably already have a copy.

Plus some used books I picked up from the annual book sale at our local library listed below:

I already started on Asprey’s bio of ‘Frederick the Great’, but am only through the first chapter about his youth. What a strange relationship with his father. I thought the English royals had toxic family relationships but they were nothing compared to this household.

Also a bio of Cervantes the author of Don Quixote – how could a jarhead like me resist the life story of a Spanish Naval Infantryman who was reportedly at the Battle of Lepanto.

A bio of Graham Greene the novelist, occasional spy, friend of Kim Philby and Charlie Chaplin, and critic of American imperialism.

The memoirs of Vincent Sheean, foreign correspondent who interviewed Abd el Krim in the Rif War of 1920s Morrocco, Sun Yat Sen and Borodin in China, and who covered the Spanish Civil War, Italian invasion of Ethiopia, and the occupation of Sudetenland.

Barbara Tuchman’s ‘The March of Folly’ – I think she needs to update with a new chapter on Junior Bush.

And I have to confess some spy thrillers, I cannot stay away from LeCarre and Alan Furst, plus a few of Stuart Kaminsky’s Moscow detective mysteries. I am addicted, I use them as in-betweens of more serious reads.