Wednesday, February 29, 2012

End of the American Century

Professor Andrew Bacevich has a new book out, a collection of essays entitled The Short American Century. Bacevich is well known by the barkeeps here and to our readers as well I assume. His is one of the few voices of reason heard in contemporary America today, which says a lot.

On this post I would like to introduce Bacevich's new book as well as point out two other articles one from November 2011 and the other published this month. The book provides necessary context while the two articles provide an analysis of our current situation. I'll start with the older article, then proceed to the newer article and finish with an extract from the book which ties the two together.


The first article, from 2011, entitled Big Change Whether We Like It or Not provides a thoughtful analysis of America going into the current year. Perhaps the worst aspect of the situation is not the overwhelming change we are facing, but the attitude of the current political/economic elite:

In Washington, meanwhile, a hidebound governing class pretends that none of this is happening, stubbornly insisting that it’s still 1945 with the so-called American Century destined to continue for several centuries more (reflecting, of course, God’s express intentions).

Here lies the most disturbing aspect of contemporary American politics, worse even than rampant dysfunction borne of petty partisanship or corruption expressed in the buying and selling of influence. Confronted with evidence of a radically changing environment, those holding (or aspiring to) positions of influence simply turn a blind eye, refusing even to begin to adjust to a new reality.

With the onrush of political, economic, environmental, even military changes happening now, our national leadership prefers to pass off bromides, sound bits of past glories and worn-out boilerplate from chicken dinner speeches to the people as if they offered some sort of proper response.

Bacevich lists "four converging vectors involved" although he admits there may be more. They are:

First the Collapse of the Freedom Agenda which was Washington's response to 9/11 in the form of Bush's invasion of Iraq:

Intent on accomplishing across the Islamic world what he believed the United States had accomplished in Europe and the Pacific between 1941 and 1945, Bush sought to erect a new order conducive to U.S. interests -- one that would permit unhindered access to oil and other resources, dry up the sources of violent Islamic radicalism, and (not incidentally) allow Israel a free hand in the region. Key to the success of this effort would be the U.S. military, which President Bush (and many ordinary Americans) believed to be unstoppable and invincible -- able to beat anyone anywhere under any conditions.

Alas, once implemented, the Freedom Agenda almost immediately foundered in Iraq. The Bush administration had expected Operation Iraqi Freedom to be a short, tidy war with a decisively triumphant outcome. In the event, it turned out to be a long, dirty (and very costly) war yielding, at best, exceedingly ambiguous results.

In retrospect it seems amazing that there was so little resistance to this "policy" which was more the nature of corruption mixed with systemic failure at a whole variety of levels. None of the elite come out looking even halfway competent or even trustworthy here which is why they would just a soon sweep it all under the rug. "Next war please!" As it is "history's actors" got bitch slapped by reality, as if it could have turned out any other way . . .

Second, the Great Recession:

Instead of being a transitory phenomenon, it seemingly signifies something transformational. The Great Recession may well have inaugurated a new era -- its length indeterminate but likely to stretch for many years -- of low growth, high unemployment, and shrinking opportunity. As incomes stagnate and more and more youngsters complete their education only to find no jobs waiting, members of the middle class are beginning to realize that the myth of America as a classless society is just that. In truth, the game is rigged to benefit the few at the expense of the many -- and in recent years, the fixing has become ever more shamelessly blatant.

This realization is rattling American politics. In just a handful of years, confidence in the Washington establishment has declined precipitously. Congress has become a laughingstock. The high hopes raised by President Obama’s election have long since dissipated, leaving disappointment and cynicism in their wake.

This vector is probably the most difficult to deal with since it affects our every day existence. An economic system and money itself rests on trust, trust that bills will be paid and that the money used as payment will be accepted as payment. So if more and more people think they are being scammed and that there are powerful interests who are making fortunes off this crisis/their misfortune, then what do you do?

The American view of history up to now (with a short hiatus during the Great Depression) was that if you work hard you can get ahead and that if you provide for your family, getting them for instance a good education, they will be better off economically than you were. That used to work in enough cases where it was believable, but now? Tell a young family that now and see their reaction. This type of social economy has been on the way out for a long time, but the current crisis has lifted the veil for a lot of people which explains the current Populist response. Today we have the economy as casino and our political "representatives" have stood back or actively supported this change before our very eyes. To get an idea of the change I'm talking about we have to think of the economy not as money but as a value system. Consider the closing scene from Executive Suite of 1954 which adequately describes the clash between two perspectives. I would add to this the thought of the novelist Ayn Rand who remains widely (or "wildly") popular today.

In effect a new faith has taken over, "the Market" (portrayed as a synthesis of accounting principles/financial management and Ayn Rand), but that faith is breaking apart against the rocks of an ever more brutal reality. While those in power profit from the current situation, how much longer will it be taken as fact by the American public?

Third is the Arab Spring:

Although Washington abjured the overt colonialism once practiced in London, its policies did not differ materially from those that Europeans had pursued. The idea was to keep a lid on, exclude mischief-makers, and at the same time extract from the Middle East whatever it had on offer. The preferred American MO was to align with authoritarian regimes, offering arms, security guarantees, and other blandishments in return for promises of behavior consistent with Washington’s preferences. Concern for the wellbeing of peoples living in the region (Israelis excepted) never figured as more than an afterthought.

What events of the past year have made evident is this: that lid is now off and there is little the United States (or anyone else) can do to reinstall it. A great exercise in Arab self-determination has begun. Arabs (and, arguably, non-Arabs in the broader Muslim world as well) will decide their own future in their own way. What they decide may be wise or foolish. Regardless, the United States and other Western nations will have little alternative but to accept the outcome and deal with the consequences, whatever they happen to be.

This is only the most recent manifestation of what Zbigniew Brzezinski calls the Global Political Awakening. This is a "worldwide yearning for human dignity" that has been ongoing since at least the French Revolution. What it triggers is populist activism which can be channeled in different ways to quite different effects. Dictators can rise by popular acclaim, even be voted into office . . . What we have here is not the decline of the state, but the overthrow of the last vestiges of Western imperialism in the Arab world, which will usher in new political forms and thus new state apparatuses. The state is simply the apparatus of political control, how the leadership in fact rules, is not something that can simply disappear. Our influence in regards the Arab Spring is limited, even negligible, or counter-productive to our interests, and for that reason our responses have to be considered in that light.

But then what are the chances of that? We see that our attitudes in regards to the first two vectors actually preclude it, and along with our still intact assumptions as to the infinite application of military force actually determine our seemingly self-defeating response.

The Fourth and last Vector that Bacevich lists is Europe:

Today, Europe has once again screwed up, although fortunately this time there is no need for foreign armies to sort out the mess. The crisis of the moment is an economic one, due entirely to European recklessness and irresponsibility (not qualitatively different from the behavior underlying the American economic crisis).

Will Uncle Sam once again ride to the rescue? Not a chance. Beset with the problems that come with old age, Uncle Sam can’t even mount up. To whom, then, can Europe turn for assistance? Recent headlines tell the story:

“Cash-Strapped Europe Looks to China For Help”
“Europe Begs China for Bailout”
“EU takes begging bowl to Beijing”
“Is China the Bailout Saviour in the European Debt Crisis?”

The crucial issue here isn’t whether Beijing will actually pull Europe’s bacon out of the fire. Rather it’s the shifting expectations underlying the moment. After all, hasn’t the role of European savior already been assigned? Isn’t it supposed to be Washington’s in perpetuity? Apparently not.

Shifting expectations is again the point here. Since all these assumptions are based on US dominance, we see that this dominance in fact no longer exists, as if we needed yet another example to prove that.

I think Bacevich overstates the case and misses the real turnaround. How much of the current crisis was the result of Europe "screwing up" and how much was a direct result of the economic "heresy"/scams coming out of the US? Would this current crisis have happened at this time without the Wall Street implosion? The view I see as gaining ground in Portugal is that the Wall Street "vandals" sucked what they could out of the US and then came to Europe to do the same . . . this accepting that plenty of mistakes had been made on this side of the Atlantic. It was the gaming of the crisis which has destroyed a lot of European faith in US business methods and economics. Add to this, the profound disappointment in Barack Obama and how he utterly failed to deal with the financial crisis, essentially co-opting to the banks. The "US", although few will say this openly, is now seen by many Europeans as akin to a highway robber, operating outside the "rule of law".


The second and more recent article, From Liberation to Assassination, Scoring the Global War on Terror describes how the Global War on Terror has evolved. From the Shock and Awe of the Rumsfeld Era we proceeded to the COIN of the Petraeus Era and are now in what Bacevich calls the turn to assassination by RPA/Special Operations Forces. Instead of a high-profile official like Rumsfeld or Petraeus, the "emblematic figure of the war formerly known as the Global War on Terror (WFKATGWOT)" is a relatively unknown figure by the name of Michael Vickers.

Bacevich concludes this article:

How round three will end is difficult to forecast. The best we can say is that it’s unlikely to end anytime soon or particularly well. As Israel has discovered, once targeted assassination becomes your policy, the list of targets has a way of growing ever longer.

So what tentative judgments can we offer regarding the ongoing WFKATGWOT? Operationally, a war launched by the conventionally minded has progressively fallen under the purview of those who inhabit what Dick Cheney once called “the dark side,” with implications that few seem willing to explore. Strategically, a war informed at the outset by utopian expectations continues today with no concretely stated expectations whatsoever, the forward momentum of events displacing serious consideration of purpose. Politically, a war that once occupied center stage in national politics has now slipped to the periphery, the American people moving on to other concerns and entertainments, with legal and moral questions raised by the war left dangling in midair.

In other words chronic strategic confusion as a result of possibly terminal political dysfunction. At least that is how I would read it.

The glowing Washington Post piece I linked above had this to say:

Today, as the top Pentagon adviser on counterterrorism strategy, Vickers exudes the same assurance about defeating terrorist groups as he did as a 31-year-old CIA paramilitary officer assigned to Afghanistan, where he convinced superiors that with the right strategy and weapons, the ragtag Afghan insurgents could win. "I am just as confident or more confident we can prevail in the war on terror," Vickers, 54, said in a recent interview, looking cerebral behind thick glasses but with an energy and build reminiscent of the high school quarterback he once was. "Not a lot of people thought we could drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan."

Vickers joined the Pentagon in July to oversee the 54,000-strong Special Operations Command (Socom), based in Tampa, which is growing faster than any other part of the U.S. military. Socom's budget has doubled in recent years, to $6 billion for 2008, and the command is to add 13,000 troops to its ranks by 2011.

Senior Pentagon and military officials regard Vickers as a rarity -- a skilled strategist who is both creative and pragmatic. "He tends to think like a gangster," said Jim Thomas, a former senior defense planner who worked with Vickers. "He can understand trends then change the rules of the game so they are advantageous for your side."

Emphasis mine. The first highlighted item could as well be said of us, but I doubt if the irony was as potentially obvious in 2007 when the article was written. Also notice the term "strategist" linked with "gangster".

Have we ever really had a coherent strategy at all? That is if we consider strategy as using military means to achieve a military aim in support of a political purpose. Our goal all along has seemingly been simply to impose and maintain dominance. The secondary goal of achieving permanent and complete security (essentially the 1% Doctrine) is not really an achievable goal since total security is never possible.

So why does the GWOT go on? Is it because it has gained a constituency with a personal interest in its further continuance no matter how much it costs or how many foreigners it kills or lives it destroys? Especially under the new version it could go on for some time irregardless of the backlash it is building against us . . . Perhaps the answer is in the four vectors discussed in the first article.


The last Bacevich piece I will include here is a short essay from the new book, The American Century Is Over - Good Riddance. In it besides proclaiming the obvious end of American dominance we also see the end of the American claim to global leadership, what Henry Luce referred to in 1941 as the great mission of the US. That mission has now come to an end.

For me the money paragraphs were these two:

But I suspect that's not going to happen. The would-be masters of the universe orbiting around the likes of Romney and Obama won't be content to play such a modest role. With the likes of Robert Kagan as their guide—"It's a wonderful world order," he writes in his new book, The World America Made (Knopf)—they will continue to peddle the fiction that with the right cast of characters running Washington, history will once again march to America's drumbeat. Evidence to support such expectations is exceedingly scarce—taken a look at Iraq lately?—but no matter. Insiders and would-be insiders will insist that, right in their hip pocket, they've got the necessary strategy.

Strategy is a quintessential American Century word, ostensibly connoting knowingness and sophistication. Whether working in the White House, the State Department, or the Pentagon, strategists promote the notion that they can anticipate the future and manage its course. Yet the actual events of the American Century belie any such claim. Remember when Afghanistan signified victory over the Soviet empire? Today, the genius of empowering the mujahedin seems less than self-evident.

Strategy is actually a fraud perpetrated by those who covet power and are intent on concealing from the plain folk the fact that the people in charge are flying blind. With only occasional exceptions, the craft of strategy was a blight on the American Century.

So "strategy" as scam, con game for the suckers who are only expected to foot the bill.

Strategy as marketing. But the marketing of dominance through domestic propaganda. Next new product out . . . war with Iran . . .


"Gloomy". That's what this perspective is called: not by those here, us barkeeps or the readers, not imo. The ones who refer to us as "gloomy" post on their own Neocon or Robbish doctrinal speculation blogs. They then comfort themselves with the self-serving notion that we don't really understand how tough it could get . . . the "warriors" know far better than we lesser mortals could ever . . .

The "warriors" don't listen to Bacevich either, which puts us in good company. It also indicates what we all have in common . . . the simple understanding that any reform/change will require acknowledgment of the problems and suitable solutions. Avoiding the painfully obvious with faith in "balance" or Randian "objectivity" is a decedent even nihilistic response.

We, the opposition to the "warriors", simply keep chipping away, like Andrew Bacevich does . . .

Like Publius does, like Al does, like FDChief does, like jim does, and everyone else reading who understands and agrees with my words.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Most of the world is ignoring - except as a topic for idle comment - the bloody business going on in Syria.Mind you, the usual suspects (the Arab League, the UN) are saying the "right things"; they'd like to see the killing stop, they'd like "someone" to step in. The West, including my own country, is deploring all this nasty killing though rather sotto voce so as not to have to, you know, do something about it. So, as usual, it seems like everyone would like to guard the nice people being so brave and anti-dictator-y in Homs but no one really wants to BE the "guards", the actual guarding process being so messy and all.

And the Syrian government, having taken as a parole another Latin maxim - oderint dum metuant; let them hate so long as they fear - goes on its merry way killing those in opposition to it.

And I have only one real question; if Syria, why not elsewhere?

I mean, the Syrian government is rather nasty, although by historical measure not all that vile, and even much of current global practice not so much more so than many, including some that my country lavishes public affection and tax largesse upon.

But if the current ratissage in Homs (and elsewhere in Syria) is not practically the very definition of civil war, then, what is it? Yes, the rebels are getting hammered in a very bloodily unequal fashion. Since when has the suppression of rebellion become a non-contact sport?After the failure of the Third Servile Rebellion Crassus crucified 6,000 slaves along the Via Appia. In the aftermath of Sherman's Atlanta and Savannah campaigns thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Southern civilians suffered hellacious hardships. Many probably starved, or died of various diseases, or exposure. Rebellion is, and by political calculus must be, a hazardous thing; Tokugawa Ieyesu is said to have claimed that nothing justified rebellion other than success.

So perhaps I'm a fool, or being deliberately obtuse, but I fail to see in this ugly little civil war a casus belli for anyone not a Syrian in the same way I didn't get the enthusiasm for jumping into the Lybian fracas. While the al-Assad government is a pretty bad guy I don't see a "good guy" here any more than the Lybian TNC looked plausible as "good guys."

And, frankly, this current enthusiasm for leaping into other people's civil wars seems to be setting up a bad idea as conventional wisdom. It took a long time to set up the current Westphalian state system. It has a hell of a lot of flaws, but right now it seems about the best idea we have for providing people with the things government provides. And one of the fundamental pillars of the Westphalian state is the assumption that rebellion against the state is just that, and that unless a foreign state wishes to ally with the rebels in hopes of helping them become the state - with all the subsequent diplomatic and political connections that implies - the best thing that foreign state can be is neutral.

If we want to attack Syria, to my mind we'd be better off - as I insisted we should have done in Lybia - to just make a treaty with the rebels and jump in on one side. The notion of using the civil war as a reason to "fight for peace" seems silly to me in that it promises to expended at least treasure if not blood for very little tangible gain.

Hey, I don't like bullies, either. But I've been in enough playground fights to know that stepping into family fights to try and stop the hurting usually just gets you nothing but bruises while seldom solving the problems that started the fight in the first place.So you might say that everything I needed to know about Syria I learned in third grade. Not that I expect that anyone is going to listen. Just sayin' so I can say "I tol' ya so." I'm kind of an asshole like that.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Truth, Lies and Afghanistan

--President's Day, 2012

Garbage. All I've been thinking about

all week is garbage.

I mean, I just can't stop thinking about it

, Lies and Videotape (1989)

The Armed Forces Journal ran a piece earlier this month by Lieutenant Colonel Daniel L. Davis, "Truth, Lies and Afghanistan: How Military Leaders Have Let Us Down." After two year-long tours in the country, Davis decided to write about how the reality he saw did not mesh with the spin.

While it is commendable that LTC Davis spoke his truth, Ranger will fish out the problematic details.

In his first graph, Davis speaks of "the enemy", but of whose enemy is speaking?
Are the enemies of the Afghan government enemies of my country? Is the U.S. war fighting or doing counterinsurgency (COIN)? What is our mission? How did killing Taliban become a U.S. war policy?

Davis says he deployed hoping to find local governments and military "progressing toward self-sufficiency", but becoming self-sufficient is not an outcome of the application of military power;
to the contrary. A nation has military power because it is self-sufficient. Mirroring U.S. policy, LTC Davis puts the cart before the horse.

Writes Davis:

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

How does "pacification" relate to the U.S. effort? What is pacification, and is it a part of nation-building? Have there been any precedents for successful military pacification programs central to a U.S. mission in a theatre scenario? Surely it is not as simple as occupying key terrain and killing all opposition forces.

Is it possible that the insurgents, the Taliban and the Afghan people are not aligned with U.S. goals? Davis saw "little or no evidence" of a government capable of providing even basic needs, and "[s]ome of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn’t want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government."

If true, then there is no government structure in Afghanistan -- only a poor simulacrum reliant totally on U.S. arms to subjugate the population. This is not a reason for the U.S. military to be killing people on a daily basis, and Davis suggests as much.

When speaking of the police, Davis asks a police captain if they send out harassing patrols, but harassing patrols and combat patrols are military functions, and should be separate from police authority. Police should not hunt people down for the purpose of killing them; they are law enforcement, not war fighters.

Of course, the police captain thought Cavalry LTC Davis's question nuts:

No! We don’t go after them,” he said. “That would be dangerous!”

The captain made a sane response. Sticking him and his officers out in the middle of a lawless nowhere is nuts. How does it benefit anything if another firefight happens or not? If their government is a chimera, why would anyone expect the police to die for a fantasy? Afghan policemen are not Cav troopers; the latter get to go home after their tours.

A non-sequitur occurs in the piece: After describing the failings of the Afghan National Police (ANP), Davis says most U.S. officers told Davis
"they had nothing but contempt for the Afghan troops in their area — and that was before the above incident occurred." Troops and police are different entities; while both are surely substandard, Davis only gives particulars on the ANP behavior.

He quotes a local official serving as a cultural adviser to a U.S. Commander who cites the example of a Taliban murder of an off-duty ANP member visiting family as showing that "[t]he people are not safe anywhere." However, the ANP member was a representative of the government and as such, he was a valid target for the opposition forces; that is how insurgents operate.

"Abysmal" is the word Davis uses to describe the "tactical" situation, but really, he is describing the social and political status quo, too. Perhaps since he is writing as a military man for a military journal, he was simply writing to his audience. But a change in tactics can only affect the military situation, leaving the other failures in place.

Davis sometimes gets bogged down in the how's, but addressing the why's will deliver a better truth. The war was based on lies and false assumptions, and truth can never flow from that font.

Davis concludes,

When it comes to deciding what matters are worth plunging our nation into war and which are not, our senior leaders owe it to the nation and to the uniformed members to be candid — graphically, if necessary — in telling them what’s at stake and how expensive potential success is likely to be. U.S. citizens and their elected representatives can decide if the risk to blood and treasure is worth it.
Likewise when having to decide whether to continue a war, alter its aims or to close off a campaign that cannot be won at an acceptable price, our senior leaders have an obligation to tell Congress and American people the unvarnished truth and let the people decide what course of action to choose. That is the very essence of civilian control of the military. The American people deserve better than what they’ve gotten from their senior uniformed leaders over the last number of years. Simply telling the truth would be a good start.

This is no slam on a mid-level 0-5 who is putting it on the line, but shouldn't we have had this discussion 10 years ago rather than last week, and shouldn't it be led by someone with more horsepower than an 0-5?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Meuse Mill

Decisive Battle for February: VerdunOver at GFT.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Understanding the Human side of the Greek "Crisis"

There were some recent articles that can give an insight to the social uproar in Greece. Both focus on the German view of numbers being more important than humans, a major societal difference between the Germans and the "Mediterraneans".

Take the time to read these three. They are enlightening, and not one is written by a Greek!:

1. Germany must decide what the European Union is for

2. Germany Vs. the Rest Of Europe

3. The dark side of Germany's jobs miracle

Germany touts its "low unemployment", and has demanded that Greece, as one step towards recovery, follow the "German model" of lower wages (Germany has no "minimum wage") to "spur competitive productivity". However, German labor policy has created an expanding underclass of working poor. By abolishing the minimum wage and creating new categories of part time employment to "cook the unemployment books", Germany conducts a program of what amounts to massive government subsidy of private enterprise. German employers can pay paupers' wages to be competitive on the world stage, and the government pays "benefits to the poor" to these very workers to make low wages possible. In short, the "welfare" benefits are not a result of serious low wages or unemployment, they promote and support, by policy, low wages. The resulting "competitively" priced goods offered for domestic consumption and, more significantly, export provide the tax revenues to pay the welfare benefits intended to keep the price of these goods "competitive". Since this is technically a "social program", not direct government subsidies to industry, it does not trigger any WTO complaints.

As noted in article 3, the number of so-called "working poor" has grown faster in Germany than in the currency bloc as a whole over the past 10 years or so. This number has grown to the point that while PM Merkel and her Finance Minister are promoting the "German model" for the weaker economies in the EU, they are considering altering German labor law to address the growing population of working poor dependent upon the state for survival, as it is becoming a political (not just economic) liability.

As Andy, in his astute sense of the dangers of "entitlement programs" would note, allowing a totally unregulated labor policy to exist, supported by government payments to the worker, cannot go on indefinitely. A significant portion of Germany's "expanding economy" is a direct result of Berlin using tax dollars to make low wages possible, and since there are no limits on German employers establishing low wage jobs, there are no limits on the social program benefits this will entail. And, as the past 5 years or so have shown, German employers have jumped on the poor pay bandwagon with gusto. But man, it looks good on paper, if you simply look at "unemployment levels" and ignore welfare levels. Also note that there appears to be no escape from the rolls of "working underclass" once one enters that category of worker. Where in the US, we claim to have had a goal of reducing "working poverty", the German system has made it a integral and significant part of their business model.

Back to Greece. Berlin has demanded, as part of the bailout, that Greece dramatically lower minimum wages to spur "competitive pricing", as has been done in Germany. However, at the same time, they are demanding dramatically reduced government spending, particularly on social programs. Greeks are not stupid. If wages are reduced, a la the German model, but not supplemented by social services and payments, a la the German model, human misery will result. And you can't increase, no less maintain, social services and payments with an ever decreasing government budget. Greeks are well aware of the large numbers of German youth seeking summer employment in tourism here, as they can't earn that much at home, where the "employment miracle" is touted.

Couple the simple math of the German demands with some of the ill advised statements of the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, and Greek citizens are up in arms. Schäuble has made statements assuring Portugal, for example, of "flexibility" in their bailout, while demanding rigid adherence from Greece, as well as saying that "protecting banks" was the first priority. His aparent indifference to human suffering has rankled folks here, who know that his "German model of recovery" is pure hogwash. While other German officials have, over the past two years, have made ill advised and demeaning statements, Schäuble has become the lead and continuously visible proponent of a perceived "German superiority" stance. Anyone who has read a bit of history can guess how Greeks, amongst others, might react to any message of "German superiority". One neighbor, who has spoken quite rationally about the current mess, noted that Schäuble speaks more generously and forgivingly towards Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal, all of whom face larger debt burdens that pose a greater threat to the EU, but were "either an ally or neutral sympathizer to the Nazis, not an opponent, as was Greece". While I neither agree nor support such a perception, I can understand it. Emotions are running high.

(I would note, parenthetically, that early on in this mess, one German government minister suggested publicly that Greece cede sovereignty of several Greek islands that were popular German holiday destinations to pay off some debt, since "Those Greeks don't make any good use of them for any other purposes anyway". Not an endearing comment by any stretch.)

There is no question that Greece has brought her debt problems on herself. There is also no question that the plodding response by the EU, no less the demand for a phoney application of a "German model" to the current "crisis", has contributed to the worsening of the situation.

No way in hell am I excusing the rioting in Athens. However, there is also no way in hell the "German model" of recovery, as demanded by Berlin, can result in anything other than long term suffering. The "German employment miracle" is based, in no small measure, on smoke and mirrors, and any close look will find that to be the case. Trying to tackle a situation such as the current Greek governmental debt crisis cannot be done without addressing the human side of the society. Otherwise, the solution to the Greek debt problem could easily bee seen by the Greeks as "The Final Solution to the Greek Problem". As noted in the articles above, some editorial cartoonists are already beginning to depict it that way.

So, for those of you getting the "snippets" in the US news, that's a bit more for you to digest. Does this have significance outside Europe? Most definitely.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What is your definition of "Terrorism" or "Terror"?

Hi all-

Claus, one of our regulars, came up with a good question on the last thread. The thread itself was imo jim's attempt to understand what terror/terrorism can generally be assumed to be, by those of us who read and understand and can communicate ideas . . . mike and jim's discussion triggered my comment which in turn allowed for Claus's . . .

So, here we are. And we have a long way to go. And things will have to go a bit slow, which ain't bad, since I have a lot of things to do, and ya'll do too. So, gentlemen, and any ladies out there, let's sit back, take our time, and think this baby out . . .

First off, "my" definition of terrorism:

"violence intended to coerce the enemy rather than weaken him militarily"

Thomas Schelling, Arms and Influence, 1966, page 17.

Or rather Thomas Schelling's definition, which operates within a strict Clausewitzian strategic theory "framework". That is why he can make it in 11 words . . .

Terror/terrorism is a method, not a tactic or a strategy. Schelling is - it should go without saying - a master Clausewitzian theorist.

Terror as simply coercion of course is all about sending a message. The method by which the message is sent allows for any type of political message. In Libya last year and Syria this, the governments intended to send a clear message, that is the tyranny would continue. Resistance is futile. How effective would you judge that to be from the recent history? Elsewhere, where has it been successful, and where not?

Lenin's concept of terror, on the other hand, provided the flip side to his propaganda operations. Coercion to convince any half-believers that the old regime would not be coming back, the "remnants" were rather going to be annihilated. His concept of the absolute enemy was after all a political one . . .

"Al Qaida" terror? Self-defeating. In other words seemingly more the nature of a pawn, or even a distraction?

Does the US use terror? Given this definition, I think you would have to say we do . . .

So, first a definition from you all, and then my second question . . .

In your opinion, what would be the best weapon of terror?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Variations on a Theme

--Brian Shivers could play his ownself in the film

Give Ireland Back To The Irish
Don't Make Them Have To Take It Away

Give Ireland Back To The Irish

Make Ireland Irish Today

--Give Ireland Back to the Irish,

Paul McCartney and Wings

So hold on to your rifles boys and don't give up your dream
Of a Republic for the workin' class economic liberty
Then Jem yelled out "Oh Citizens this system is a curse

An English boss is a monster an Irish one even worse"

--James Connolly
, Black 47

So you saved your shillings and your last six pence

Cause in God's name they built a barbed wire fence

Be glad you sailed for a better day

But don't forget there'll be hell to pay

--Rebels of the Sacred Heart,

Flogging Molly


Brian Shivers was convicted two weeks ago of the murder of two soldiers during a Real IRA gun attack on Massereene Army base in
Northern Ireland three years ago. The Guardian, The Telegraph, GlobalPost and MSNBC call him a "dissident"; Reuters calls him a "nationalist". Ten years after the events of 9.11.01, we still use the terms interchangeably, though they are not commensurate.

The answer as to Mr. Shivers' correct label depends upon which side of the fence you live. In 1975, an armed Irish Republican Army member killing an armed British soldier would have been declared simple terrorism, but everything is pumped up today. Terrorism mutates according to the needs of the political climate.

History lessons are in order: Ireland was the first British colony, and though we often view it as integral part of the British empire, not all the Irish see it that way. Technically, Ireland's colonial existence is in violation of the World War II Atlantic Charter that set the elimination of colonialism as a war goal. Britons are on board with this, except in the case of Ireland. (Yes, Ranger actually wore orange into an Irish pub on St. Patrick's Day, but he did not know why he was getting the evil eye, being a Slovak and all.)

In this sense, the IRA may be seen as a legitimate "separatist" movement, or an insurgency or guerrilla war. It could also be seen as an unconventional war since it fits within the parameters of all of those events. The IRA and the ETA are the only two Euroterror groups that share the distinction of having a possible validity behind their violence (as seen from their perspective.)

However, the questions remain the same: How do we define terrorists, dissidents, insurgents and militants? What are their differences, and where do they overlap? Without correct terminology, how can they be appropriately dealt with? Our definitions are often vague and in accordance with political expediencies, but if something is legally vague, that usually equates to unconstitutionality.

An example of the expediency angle is a recent 60 Minutes episode featuring the Emir of Qatar which marveled over his game plan for improving life within his little sandbox. However, the Emir is also a big contributor to Hamas and Hizbollah; Hamas is recognized by the EU and many others as a terrorist organization, and the Council on Foreign Relations states the U.S. recognizes Hizbollah as terrorist, as well.

So why does the U.S. Department of Justice bust pathetic little pawns in the terror game while the big machers like the Emir continue to play their hand, untouched by U.S. sanctions? When Iran supports such groups the U.S. goes ballistic, yet the Emir openly provides material support to two Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. We step on the ants while the elephant sits in the middle of the room.

In addition to proper definition, we need to enact the proper responses. The British, French, Italian, Spanish and German governments neutered and countered domestic terror by applying the rule of law to the issue. There is nothing that a terror group can do that is not against the existing laws of all civilized societies (with the exception of propaganda and some financial aspects, but U.S. law covers these with "material support" and "conspiracy" charges.) Kidnapping, murder, extortion and bomb-making all violate national laws.

The terror threats faced by Europe in the 1970's and '80's are different than those faced by the U.S. today, but the concept remains the same. All terrorists are criminals, bottom line, and laws are on the books to deal with criminals.

Unless we treat them as such we will lose the war that we claim is against terrorism. When we ignore the reality of our legal system, we lose our legitimacy.

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar]

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Uncle Sam and the Giant Midget?

Interesting post from James Fallows on the current enthusiasm for the "Pacific Turn" that recently appeared in the Obama Administration's publication of "Sustaining National Leadership", the ostensible strategic blueprint for the coming decade or so of U.S. geopolitics. My fellow pubcrawler seydlitz has a nice discussion of this document here.

Central to this worldview seems to be a belief that a U.S.-v-China faceoff is inevitable.The publication states that
"U.S. economic and security interests are inextricably linked to developments in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia, creating a mix of evolving challenges and opportunities. Accordingly, while the U.S. military will continue to contribute to security globally, we will of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region. Our relationships with Asian allies and key partners are critical to the future stability and growth of the region... The maintenance of peace, stability, the free flow of commerce, and of U.S. influence in this dynamic region will depend in part on an underlying balance of military capability and presence."
Fallows discusses this in relation to the recent work of John Mearsheimer, who seems to have an even more definite view of the degree to which this is likely to be a military confrontation.
"I--China--want to be the Godzilla of Asia, because that's the only way for me--China--to survive!"
Mearsheimer is quoted as saying,
"I don't want the Japanese violating my sovereignty the way they did in the 20th century. I can't trust the United States, since states can never be certain about other states' intentions. And as good realists, we--the Chinese--want to dominate Asia the way the Americans have dominated the Western Hemisphere."
Fallows disagrees; the PRC is too fragile, too riven and riddled with internal problems to present a genuine expansionist military threat, a factor he believes that Mearsheimer and his interviewer Bob Kaplan ignore:
"From the outside, it looks like an unstoppable juggernaut. From inside, especially from the perspective of those trying to run it, it looks like a rambling wreck that narrowly avoids one disaster after another. The thrust of Mearsheimer's argument is that such internal complications simply don't matter: the sheer increase in China's power will bring disruption with it. I am saying: if you knew more about China, you would be less worried, especially about military confrontations. He is saying: "knowing" about China is a distraction. What matters are the implacable forces."
I will be the first to admit that I don't know enough about the economics, politics, and military capabilities of the PRC to make an informed assessment, but what I know about recent history suggests to me that none of those vulnerabilities are enough to prevent a polity from embarking on a ruiniously destructive and aggressive foreign policy - we've watched it occur in our own country in our recent lifetimes.

Earlier examples abound as well. The disastrous endless wars between Byzantium and Sassanid Persia that crippled them when confronted with the Umayyads. The various military overreaches of several European states, particularly Spain in the Netherlands in the 16th Century and in general in the 17th and 18th, Portugal after the 1600s, and France pretty much throughout her history.ISTM that there is a genuine discussion on the subject to be had here; as Fallows concludes,
"I think...while we need to think constantly and seriously about China, a "showdown" would be a result of miscalculation or recklessness on either side, rather than of unstoppable tectonic pressures. On the other hand, I completely endorse Mearsheimer's (and Kaplan's) view that we should have been paying more attention to China, and been less bogged down in the Middle East, through the past decade. But his case is certainly worth considering..."
but I guess I'm skeptical that, given the current trends in U.S. politics, - that tend more towards magical thinking and foreign-policy-as-domestic-politics - such a discussion of an sort of intelligent throw-weight worth having could be had, or even had at all. But I'm willing to do convinced otherwise; as I said, I don't even begin to pretend to have enough information on the strengths and weaknesses of either side...

Consider this a "what do you think" open thread.

(cross-posted to MilPub).