Saturday, December 31, 2011

Guten Rutsch! Happy New Year! Boas Entradas!

Wish all the best for 2012! Let it be a boring, uneventful year . . . and for a bit of mood music, why not Max Raabe?


So far so good, and as Al's mentioned we'll be the recon element for the flow of events . . . being as we are a few hours ahead. Watched the New Years concert from Vienna on TV which has been a family tradition since we lived in Berlin, back in the bad ole days. It always ends with the Radetsky March . . .

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dead Time

There's something about watching a soil sample rebound from consolidation that encourages reflection.

Boredom, perhaps?

This week between Christmas and the New Year has always seemed like an odd sort of interval of no-time to me ever since my Army Days. Back in the Eighties, at any rate, this week was usually a period of massive "ghosting"; we'd fall in for a ridiculously abbreviated morning PT - often distinguished by pure fun-PT like basketball, dodgeball, or the usual exercises but led by the junior privates for the entertainment and mirth of all involved - and then go hang around the aid station for the morning, clean already-clean weapons, dick off doing small PM chores in the motor hole, or find reasons to go "inventory our TA-50" which always seemed to entail fiddling with the field gear in our racks with our boots off while watching He-Man cartoons.

After midday chow even this pretense of military activity ceased, and we would spend the rest of the afternoon just goofing off; hanging out in the chow hall, or at the gym, visit our married pals at their quarters, watch bowl games in the dayroom or just chill in the barracks with our friends.

I remember one particular mid-week afternoon that turned into a "Faces of Death" marathon from noon until well into the following morning.

Remember those videos?

In the pre-cable era I recall that the "Faces of Death" videos were considered shocking evidence of the decline of Western Civilization; amateur (or professional outtake) films of people getting waxed in various either horrible, or comical (or both) ways. Hangings, electrocutions, falls, plus all the usual gawdawful atrocities humans have always managed to figure out how to perpetrate on each other...packaged in a tidy ninety-minute VHS tape perfect for bored-GI entertainment. But the usual finger-waggers and professional morals nannies considered them the nadir of human morality and signs that Western civilization was headed for the depravity of Rome and Babylon.

How innocent were we..?

Anyway, this week was also the time when young troops would get involved in all sorts of insane horseplay; it was this time in 1986 when Private Black pioneered "drainsurfing" during an unexpectedly-intense dry season downpour and ended up in the swamps behind Venado Beach. Given Blackie's penchant for bizarre nonsense I'd have to say that this was fairly subdued for him; nothing was set afire, nobody but him ended up naked, and there were no arrests. This week was for "Jackass"-grade stunts before there was a "Jackass".

Today I'm a sedate middle-aged, middle-class father and husband and the notion of jumping in a raging drainage ditch with a foam sleeping pad wouldn't occur to me any more than running for mayor of Portland. But this week, this dead-week between the two holidays, still retains an odd sort of surreality for me.

It has always seemed to me that the old year really dies with the solstice and the Jesus-come-lately graft of religio-commercial holiday glitter we've pasted to it. The silly alcohol-fueled celebration of the New Year a week later marks the beginning of another year's journey around the sun.

But for now we wait, idly diverting ourselves with desultory work and the bright nonsense of our new toys, through the short, dark week as the earth spins through the no-time that spans the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.

And, perhaps, take some time to reflect on where we've been. And wonder where we're going.

Monday, December 26, 2011

All the Troubles in the World

...are listed here - the source of the graphic below:I find it interesting to note that some of what we think as truly appalling human conditions - chattel slavery, for example - last for years, decades, even centuries...and yet take a relatively small toll in human lives compared to, say, World War 2, which many of us still consider a Good War and one of the United States' "great adventures".

Which, I think, points up the caution needed in placing a price on horror in death alone. Slavery has always been considered one of the truly heinous human acts because of the wealth of misery it contains. There are, indeed, "fates worse than death" and few of them are remitted the slave.

What I do find interesting to note is the apparent increase in horror over the past hundred years or so. But then you stop for a moment and think of the centuries of human atrocity that have simply disappeared into the memory hole. Rome alone fought nearly constantly during her Republican and Imperial periods - Plutarch says
"[Janus] also has a temple at Rome with double doors, which they call the gates of war; for the temple always stands open in time of war, but is closed when peace has come. The latter was a difficult matter, and it rarely happened, since the realm was always engaged in some war, as its increasing size brought it into collision with the barbarous nations which encompassed it round about. But in the time of Augustus it was closed, after he had overthrown Mark Antony; and before that, when Marcus Atilius and Titus Manlius were consuls, it was closed a short time..."
I wonder; what will some future Plutarch write about our own country in our own time?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best to all

Friday, December 23, 2011

Battles Long Ago: First Stronghold 1873

Over at GFT: the first major engagement of the Modoc War, 1873.The red-hot rampage of War in the Lava Beds - now for your holiday reading pleasure!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Iraq and I Roll - Open Thread

I normally hate these "open threads", but, frankly, I wanted to hear from the other drunks in this joint; so now that the Third Gulf War is "officially" over (it's not, let's not kid ourselves, but the U.S. has declared victory, so let's make a note to file...) what was the takeaway of the group.

I did think that it was...ironic? Intriguing? ...that this week also featured two other events that seem to carom off the entire Iraq circus;

1. The official recognition by the U.S. Congress of what seems to have been the functional reality inside the Beltway for some time; that "We Are At War", and that war - where it is, who is "fighting" it, how it is "fought" - is whatever the U.S. Executive branch defines it to be, and

2. The passing of one of the most vocal, and certainly the most acerbic, of those who loved the Gulf War; Christopher Hitchens.

I sorta wish we had ol' Hitch this side of the dirt for this one; his opinion would be sure to jump-start the conversation.

Anyway, rack 'em up, as Clint Black would say.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Worth the time to read

This is far afield from our regular programming, but there had been a couple of requests for the bride's insights on the Chap 11 of AMR, so here is some very good info.

The bride just received this link
from former colleagues at AMR Corp. She has a lot of respect for Michael Boyd, head of the Boyd Group. In her opinion (first hand experience) Boyd and Bob Crandall, who retired as AMR CEO a few years ago, represent two of the three sharpest minds in contemporary commercial aviation, the third being Herb Kelleher of Southwest (also a first hand opinion). In fact, the wife would love to see a presidential ticket of any combination of the three. But then, people that brilliant, courageous and honest just don't run for president any more.

What is most interesting is Boyd's scathing comments about the pundits. Yes, we not only live in a land of instant experts, but people actually make serious decisions based on these uninformed fools' bleating. One of the reasons WASF.

Read and enjoy. I'm sure it runs counter to anything you have read elsewhere.

Another interesting article about the Chap 11 is this one. It gives a good insight into why AA was the last "legacy airline" to use Chap 11, as Arpey was of the same school of moral thought as his predecessors Don Carty and Bob Crandall.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Apropos of this Pearl Harbor Day post at GFT, here's a nice article in Naval History Magazine about how the events leading up to 7 DEC 1941 point up the problem that governments and militaries have, not just in assessing threat capabilities, but in assessing their own.

As Parshall and Wenger (2011) points out;
"In the case of the Pearl Harbor attack, the U.S. Navy had no real inkling of Japanese carrier warfare capabilities and therefore could not accurately assess likely operational targets. Not only that, but Japan’s carrier force—known as Kido Butai—was evolving so quickly on the eve of the Pacific war that almost no naval intelligence organ would have been able to track, internalize, and gauge those capabilities."
Even the Japanese Navy wasn't really able to understand their own strength.The article correctly notes that
"Indeed, the Japanese themselves did not seem to understand clearly the nature of the weapon they had created, or how best to wield it. Within six months of the opening of the war, poor strategy on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s part would end up committing Kido Butai’s component carrier divisions piecemeal, first at the Battle of Coral Sea and then at the Battle of Midway. During the latter, Kido Butai was decisively defeated—with four of its carriers sunk. Japan’s overwhelming early war numerical advantage was thus erased. Shortly thereafter, America’s superiority in production began asserting itself."
My friend seydlitz likes to talk about how the lack of strategic vision in the 2011 U.S. has contributed decisively to our frittering away our blood and treasure pursuing impossibilities in Central Asia. But I think one of the important lessons of Pearl Harbor, as well-discussed in Parshall and Wenger (2011), is how extraordinarily difficult trying to understand even one's own military and geopolitical strengths and weaknesses is.

How much more so trying to integrate all that into an overall assessment of potential threat capabilities, friendly political and military capacity, national interests, and geopolitical variables.Especially in a domestic U.S. political climate of increasing polarization and magical thinking.

Not saying that this shouldn't happen, or can't happen. But just pointing out that all our historical examples show how extraordinarily difficult it is.

Friday, December 9, 2011

"By employing a plethora of tax-dodging techniques, 30 multi-million dollar American corporations expended more money lobbying Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, ultimately spending approximately $400,000 every day -- including weekends -- during that three-year period to lobby lawmakers and influence political elections....."


During a meeting of the Republican Governors Association in Orlando this week, Frank Luntz, one of the most well known political communications strategist in the country, talked to GOPers about how they could do a better job talking about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” said Luntz, a Republican strategist and one of the nation’s foremost experts on crafting the perfect political message. “They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”

It ain't gonna be pretty.

The Death of COIN, or the Death of Strategic ("C") Thought?

Recently Col. Gian Gentile USA (h/t to ZP) came out with yet another well-written short article on the dilemma facing the US military today. Which other US officer would one put in the same category as Gian Gentile? Good question . . .

In Coin is Dead: US Army Must Put Strategy Over Tactics, Gentile takes issue with the Counter-Insurgency (COIN) response to the Global War on Terror. He's done this in the past and I posted an analysis of a 2009 article he wrote. In that earlier post I dealt with Gentile's critique of COIN and expanded on that. In this one I rather leave COIN to Gentile but expand into the larger issues I see as at stake.

I organize this post the same way I did the earlier one, providing a list of Gentile's main points, but with fewer this time since this essay is much shorter. I then provide a following list of my own.

The first of Gentile's main points is that "tactical objectives have been used to define victory". This linked with the simple fact that both Afghanistan and Iraq have been "characterized by an all-emcompassing obsession with the methods and tactics of counterinsurgency".

Second, American strategic thought has lost the ability "to link cost-effective operational campaigns to core policy objectives, while taking into consideration American political and popular will".

Third, having learned nothing from the strategic defeats in both wars, "the American military has embraced the idea that better tactics can overcome serious shortcomings in strategy and policy".

The Fourth, following the third, is that the "US military is in dire need for a conversation on strategy, one that looks critically at the past 10 years of war and asks hard questions about the operational methods employed".

Fifth and finally, the future will not necessarily be like the past, unless the national political and military leaderships stumble into another incoherent war and the failure to even attempt to learn from the past will condemn "the US Army and Marines to strategic irrelevance in the years and decades to come".

Gentile is repeating an argument here he as made before, that concentrating on COIN while at the same time ignoring the political dimension in which war operates only condemns the US military to making the same mistakes they made in the past. It could be that the actual threats the country faces in the future are more of a conventional nature and thus requiring quite a different military than one well-versed in COIN, but at the same time having lost the knack for early 21st Century conventional warfare.

While I applaude Gentile's forthrightness in speaking out as a serving US Army field grade officer, I don't think he goes quite far enough in his critique. Mine is very much the opinion of a US civilian strategic theorist rather than a serving US military officer and should be taken as such. I agree with Col. Gentile's views as expressed in the article, but I make no assumption that he would in turn agree with what follows.

So from my own Clausewitzian perspective, let me add my own points which I hope will expand on and in some cases provide some possible political context to Gentile's points.

First, tactics has become the sole focus for the simple fact that the government has been loath to define what the actual political purposes/policy goals of the wars conducted were/are. This was particularly true for Iraq. The military was essentially given a list of propaganda themes (WMDs, overthrow a terrible dictator, inflict punishment for 9/11, ensure our security) and told that they were the political goals, when in reality the actual goals were the overthrow of the Iraqi government and the establishment of a US client state, bases for US force projection throughout the area, domination of Iraq's national resources and economy. That US economic interests/corporate players botched the last two goals should come as no surprise. They were too busy chasing the no-risk war $$$ . . .

So the disconnect between political purpose and military aim was intentional and reflected the rank dishonesty of the US government guided by our political/economic elite. Had the goals been more modest in nature, this might have not been a crippling problem, but given the radical nature of our policy goals (essentially the remaking of the Middle East and of various Muslim political identities) and the massive material and moral resources necessary, these military adventures were doomed to failure from the start. This was/is the fundamental reality of the situation: pre-ordained failure, if for no other reason then simply that these radical goals were not achievable through military means. Essentially instead of simply the confusion of COIN, for us the very concept of strategy (as in military means attaining a military aim to support a coherent political purpose) itself has been lost.

Second and very much related to this was/is the assumption by US policy makers that force and violence were/are the preferred means of attaining their strategic (political) goals, and with the level of force and violence the US was/is able to wield, there was/is no question of failure. I include the present tense here to indicate that this dubious assumption is still very strong in spite of the obvious reality to the contrary. It is in fact driving our current policy in regards to Iran. The assumption among a large swath of the US political elite is that violence is not only a means, but an end. Simply massive destruction is what war is about and when you have destroyed all the enemy target sets you have identified, victory follows. Warfare is simply deploying and manipulating, usually high tech and very expensive, weapons systems to maximum effect. There is no consciousness of war being a social interaction, where the enemy reacts, there is no understanding of a necessary connection between the military aim and the political purpose. "Strategy" is simply causing large explosions in the enemy's backyard while the "warriors" back home watch on TV and feel ever so proud and secure.

Back in 2003 the attitude was, hit the Iraqis hard enough, so the neocon thought went, and the US would be able to achieve anything, even the remaking of the Iraqi political identity. Would anyone argue today that that had any possibility at all of success? Yet we see essentially the same thing in regards to Iran.

There is a decidedly "Marxist" as in exclusively materialist view in all this. Political values stand for nothing in comparison to either unrestrained violence or potential economic prosperity. Make it worth their while, allow the magic of the market do its work, and the conquered peoples would become happy consumers in no time. What could possibly be their reason to resist the corporate bounty offered them? Violence as the unstoppable force, followed by simplistic notions of economics with both displacing politics.

Third, COIN provided an answer to two quite different problems. First, it was the basis of domestic propaganda/information operations whereby the war was repackaged as something quite different then it had been initially. General David Petreaus, "the father of COIN" became the "man with a plan", so the focus shifted from a lack of resources committed to "giving the plan a chance to succeed". Also the Iraqi "surge" provided the basis of the "we won" meme which has been more of less dominate among many Americans since 2007. I would argue that domestic information operations by the US military has become one of the legacies of these wars and will only become more important in the future since it in effect constitutes the military's only success story. This brings up another characteristic of the US as being "too big to fail" notion mentioned above. As long as the public supports the, that is any war, then that war continues, the US only having to worry about "us defeating ourselves as happened in Vietnam". The curious mix of a high level of material/financial resources versus a low level of moral and physical resources necessary to fight these wars particularly stands out; war as endless domestic financial shakedown.

COIN also provided for an unending operational commitment to both wars, since as long as the US was operating in the field, the reality of the strategic failures we had actually suffered could be ignored, actually discounted. COIN allowed for the "can" - and the political decision to withdraw from a couple of lost wars - "to be kicked down the road" indefinitely. In fact President Obama's decision to withdraw from Iraq leaves him open to being tarred with having "lost the war" since he ends military operations there and thus must now deal with the strategic reality (which has been there all along, as in Iran being the prime benefactor of the 2003 invasion of Iraq). This long ignored strategic reality also drives the current lurch to war with Iran, since a new war allows for another throw of the geo-strategic dice: Deep in the hole, is our political elite simply "throwing with their fingers crossed"?

Fourth and finally, while I agree with Gentile in his view of COIN, the actual strategic discussion we should be having involves not how the military should be structured, but rather how the political dysfunctions of our political system should be addressed and radically dealt with. The focus on what's wrong with the military is a symptom of a much larger and serious problem. I fear that all the discussion in regards to COIN or no COIN is a distraction from what we should be dealing with, especially regarding the 2012 election . . .

How to conclude?

Allow me to make three comments:

First, this whole time that we live in could be seen as simply the latest link in a long line of social history, that of attaining "human self-awareness" which I would define as the ability to govern and regulate ourselves without any type of ideology. Long ago our species came to the conclusion that the only way to unite large numbers of people was through a "Weltanschauung" or spiritual worldview, something that made sense of the whole in terms of existence. We've in the West essentially burned through religion, and politics and are now at economic system, which is the threadbare rag that we attempt to hide naked self interest. Consider that we do possess the capacity to negotiate, administer and salvage this planet to the adequate betterment of all. Whether we will or not is another question.

Second, be clear that this is basically a despicable betrayal. This is NOT what was sold to the citizenry as OUR country. The usurpers attempt to blind us with our own values, but they themselves are at heart hopelessly corrupt. Ad hoc structured cynical opportunism built on flimsy stands, essentially broken shards of glass pieced together collapsing before your eyes. Besides fear of not believing, what's left? 2008 came and went with no change. Still the old elite continue, but they are not anything near capable of pulling off what they are now attempting . . .

Finally, language itself has escaped us. We no longer enjoy the rather common place ability of describing our own political relations and conditions. Intricate concepts involving complex social systems/relations are reduced to one simple cause, usually dealt with by means of violence. That this stupid and self-defeating approach to strategy - or even basic existence - that this has led to consistent institutional failure does not matter in the least. Instead, we use language drained of all useful meaning. Clear communication is basic to survival of a group which makes me wonder if what we see today is predominately dead language used by essentially a dying political community blubbering its last shrieking gasps . . . Sad.

More than sad, tragic. Tragedy is something our grandparents would have understood.

On the most personal level, I, my generation and myself, imo, stand disgraced before our grandparents. They are the ones that I, for one, actually answer to, in this very specific case, since they did more to define my values than my parents did, however hard my parents may have tried.

We've lost it big time as a political collectivity somewhere along the line. "C" stands for communal. That's the very simple message of this post. If I were still a Christian, I would tell you all to pray, but since I am now an agnostic, I simply would recommend to hang on tight and hope for the best. That, and perhaps consider immigration.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gary Francis Powers Redux

For those who need some brushing up on history, Powers was the pilot of the notorious and doomed high-flying U2 spy plane whose siblings are still used for not only spying, but also I'm happy to report, for Astronomy.

I was out to the movies last night ( "The Immortals" if you want to know, decent enough and surprisingly literate, with the amount of Mythology packed into it ). I bring this bit of info up because the Air Force has been running a series of ads before the flick starts about "this isn't Science Fiction, it's what we do everyday", or some such. I only half listen to them. One in particular shows these huge swivel engine transport planes landing on ruined bridges to save lives, which makes me laugh, because, well, it's silly. Maybe you've seen them and know what I'm on about.

There is buried somewhere in my head a quote from the Original Star Trek series attributed to Nimoy's Mr. Spock, also paraphrased.

"Military secrets are the least secure of all secrets".

So we lose one of our Flying Technological Terrors, as Darth Vader put it in disparaging the Death Star in the face of one of its commanders, to our hated enemy and cause of all trouble in the Middle East, Iran. As Stewart notes above, first comes the lie, then eventually, to our credit, comes the truth.

Our government spends billions to develop these technologies to keep us safe from the Terrors Outside the Walls, spends billions more flying them around the world to spy and gather intelligence and kill where we may, but we cannot rebuild our people's lives, keep them healthy, adequately fund our education system or find a policy that works, rebuild our decaying infrastructure and frayed economy.

We gut our own sacred enshrined and much ballyhooed freedoms, while those brave and long-suffering US citizens and others in our military around the globe fight to preserve them.

There are still vital and healthy signs in the Old Sod left, enough that I'll still go out to plead my case to vote, participate, and to Hope for Some Change. But Lordy, it's a long so very long row to hoe.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

He is Us

Thursday the U.S. Senate made an interesting choice.

It departed from the post-9/11 world, where we were "at war" with the people who planned and performed an act of political violence, and entered the post-post-9/11 world, where we are "at war" with those people who support, in various ways and to various degrees, the people we went "to war" with after 9/11.

Now I'm not going to pursue this further; those of you who have read my previous writing here know how I feel about that. And I don't think that this was a dramatic step beyond - it really just formalized what my country has been doing for most of the past decade or so. It's a tad depressing to realize that the notion that the entire world is now a "battlefield" is so unexceptional that it passes without general comment. But not surprising.

But I'd just like to observe that, to me, the fascinating part of all this is how much it reflects the convergence of our "warriors" and the "warriors" we officially fear, hate, and despise.

Here's Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson on the entire notion of presumption-of-innocence in a nation "at war" - "U.S. citizens do not have immunity when they are at war with the United States. Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy."

And here's shoe bomber Richard Reid on why he wanted to blow up a planeload of civilians: "I am at war with your country. I’m at war with them not for personal reasons but because they have murdered more than, so many children and they have oppressed my religion and they have oppressed people for no reason except that they say we believe in Allah."

Got it?

So my question is - how and when does it end?

Does it EVER end?

How CAN it ever end?

If the "enemy" is everyone you hate...and the "war" consists of when, where, and who you want it to be, whether you're an individual with a grudge, or a government official pondering a potential for some present - or even future - "danger" can you ever say that the "war" is over?

Because I cannot see any serious political figure or faction on the U.S. scene that disagrees with this broad formulation that "We Are At War!". Democrats, Republicans...everyone I see and hear, everyone who is in a position to actually effect U.S. policy...all appear to agree in one form or another that We Are At War and that our national foreign, military, and economic policy MUST be shaped by that.

And the people we are "at war" with are in large measure fantasists, goofballs that truly believe in bin Ladin's Caliphate opium-dream, or just angry and vengeful because we have killed someone they care about, or are in it for some other sort of personal revenge. That's not a war that's fought for policy that ends with a peace treaty; that's the sort of "war" that only ends with a grave.

So...does this mean that the United States will be "at war" for the rest of my life?