Thursday, November 29, 2012

Who’s on First?

New administration postings are to be coming soon.  Petraeus is already gone, Panetta wanting to retire to gather walnuts, Clinton to go and do who knows what, Eric Holder too maybe.  Who is to replace them?  Here are some strawmen nominations for you to throw monkey poop at:

For the CIA from my armchair perspective we do not need another general or admiral.  DOD already controls the lion share of the intelligence budget through NSA, NGA, NRO, DIA, and the various Armed Services activities - ONI, AFIS, INSCOM, etc.  We need to stop militarizing the CIA as we have done in the past.  Besides why appoint a high profile person to be DCIA, the head of CIA, whoever gets that title is no longer the DCI that leads and manages the entire intelligence community.  That job belongs to retired 3-star James Clapper the DNI.  So I am thinking why not Mike Morrell who is now acting-DCIA.  He is a thirty year man, mostly in analysis.  He does have three years overseas 2003 to 2006 that I would like to know more about where and what he was doing before I bless him unconditionally.  Is he on Armando Spataro’s list of 23 for example?  But Panetta depends on him so he can’t be all bad.  There has been too much turnover in the CIA directorship – let’s get some stability by vetting and appointing an insider.  No more tourists I say!

For ISAF, Obama has already made a good choice with Fighting Joe Dunford.  He will be OK and will even be blessed by the whackos in the Senate.  I hope he does as good a job of retrograde out of Afghanistan as he did with RCT-5 in the march to Baghdad.  His forward command post during that time was a single HMMWV with which he stayed with the leading unit on the way up.  May he be the last man out of Kabul in 2014.

CentCOM?  I don’t know if General Mattis is ready to leave but he has been there for over two years which seems to be more than other commanders there except for Abizaid who had the job for four.  Promote the Deputy, Admiral Harwood.  He is a former SEAL and he has a MA in International Relations and is also a graduate of an MIT Foreign Policy program.  CentCOM needs a more diplomatic command face.  Harwood was reportedly a Bush favorite so I have to ask if he has a clean slate with interrogation policy?  And hopefully he only did zero or a minimum number of emails to CentCOMs unofficial social secretary, Ms Kelley?  I don’t know the answers but at least put him thru the vetting process.

I am not smart on the State Department, but Rice is too much of an interventionist for my taste, a leftie neocon if you will.  The smart money seems to be on Kerry and he will probably face no oppo in the senate.  But back in Mass the Republican Playgirl model is waiting in the wings for another shot at the Senate.  I favor a woman, they have done a good job at State.   Are they more subtle? - or maybe less threatening? – or am I being sexist?  Jean Shaheen would be my first choice.  Second choice is my own soon-to-be ex-Governor Christine Gregoire who although she has little or no FP experience is one heck of a negotiator and deal maker.  They are both about five years younger than Kerry and that is not a job for an old guy like Kerry who is my age.  Or if Obama wants to play the Team of Rivals thing then go with Olympia Snowe or John Huntsman.

For DOD my choice would be a non-politician, someone from the business world.  Someone respected by both sides of the aisle that could make the cuts needed.  Alan Mulally, president and CEO of Ford comes to mind.  He has BS and MS in two engineering fields and an MS in Management from MIT.  And he was called somewhat of a financial miracle worker at bailing Ford out of ruin without taking government aid.   He used to work for Boeing years ago, but to my knowledge mainly worked in the Commercial Aircraft Division and not in selling military a/c to the pentagon.  Even so could he recuse himself for any acquisitions in which Boeing is bidding?

DOJ – I understand Napolitano wants the job (I am fine with Janet) which would leave DHS open.  I am fresh out of ideas.  I kind of favor breaking it up into its components, but we all know that will not happen soon.  So maybe give it to Admiral Papp the Coast Guard Commandant???  They are the largest component of DHS and the most important imho.

Feel free to put forward your own best bets.   And don’t feel bad about throwing that monkey stuff at my choices.  I hope to get a score of at least one correct when Obama makes his choices.  Or two, since Dunford has already been nominated.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Solitudinem faciunt

I have been pondering a "decisive battles" post on the final months of what is known as Eelam War IV, the conclusion of the long conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tiger rebels.
While the conflict itself is horrific, the engagements between the rebels and the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) are potentially of interest to citizens of the nations currently engaged in suppressing rebellions in the Middle East, which as of this writing includes the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and Israel in the occupied territories.

I thought that a look at the tactics and techniques that made the government forces successful and defeated the rebels might be useful for U.S. citizens pondering their own government's course in its wars and its support for the wars of its allies.

What I found was very revealing, but not about military tactics or techniques, but about nightmare and horror.

First, in researching Eelam War IV I discovered that the conflict may well be the most poorly documented recent major war outside the Russian campaigns against the Chechen rebels. The government of Sri Lanka did an exceptionally good job of preventing outside observers from getting any but the most haphazard notion of what went on in northern Sri Lanka in late 2008 and 2009.

For example, some sort of engagement at the village of Aanandapuram was fought in late March and early April, 2009. I had hoped to write up this engagement as the "decisive battle" for March 2013, given that it seems to have been the final act of the Tamil rebel forces as a conventional military outfit. But I quickly ran into the realization that providing any sort of militarily sensible account of the events of Aanandapuram was damn near impossible.

For one thing, I couldn't even come up with anything approaching an order of battle for either side.

Based on SLA sources we know that this combat included elements of the SLA 58 Division, 53 Division and something called "Task Force 8" (probably composed of SLA Special Operations units). But which of these units were engaged, and where? A Tiger website claims that "(t)he 4th, 6th,8th, 12th, 14th and 20th Gajabahu battalions, 5th Vijayabahu, 9th Gemunu Watch, 11th and 20th SL Light Infantry along with 1 special forces and 2 commando got into action" but offers no explanation of how these units were committed, or where, and what they did there.

SLA sources also tell us that the "Charles Anthony" Infantry Brigade of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE or just "Tamil Tigers") was present, although in what condition or strength is unknown. The same sources mention that a number of senior LTTE leaders were killed there, including the commanders of the Jayanthan Infantry brigade, the Imran-Pandian, Maalathi, Sothia infantry regiments, the Kittu artillery unit, the Kutty Sri mortar unit. Whether these leaders were with their units, and whether these LTTE units still existed effectively as bodies of troops?

We have no idea.
The other side of the hill includes Tiger websites and press releases quoting Tiger-source material. But much of this is as oblique and opaque as the SLA press releases.

In an attempt to find some documentary evidence of the engagement I read The Cage by Gordon Weiss and was not helped. The 2011 work details Weiss' account of the slaughter of Tamil civilians during the last stages of Eelam War IV but has little about the military hows and whys.

And that, in turn, led me back to thinking about the recent fighting in Gaza, and the reality of suppressing rebellions that we here in the West don't like to think about.
Since 1945 we many of us - civilians and soldiers alike - believe or try to believe that there is a "humane" way of crushing rebellion. That civil wars and rebellion-suppression can be successfully fought along Geneva Convention lines.

We like to believe that there's a "plan" or a "strategy" that can end these rebellions with less bloodshed. Conditioned on our belief in technical means to political, economic, and even military ends, we like to think that if we just hit on the right "strategy" we can bring the rebels in out of the cold, make them sit down with their rivals, "work things out".

This has meant that U.S. policy, as well as the reputations of the U.S. military and its general officers in the recent wars in southwest Asia, largely rests or has rested on the ability to successfully implement "counterinsurgency" plans along these Western lines, which typically feature relative military restraint along with civil "nation building" or "hearts-and-minds" campaigns; call then what you will, the idea is to bring the rebels back into the "government" camp and to "pacify" the rebellious regions without exterminating the inhabitants.

The original example cited for this sort of CI success is typically the 1948-1960 Malayan Emergency. Now and then you get mentions of the British CI efforts in south Yemen, Oman, and Dhofar.

But...when you look hard at those successes you start to realize their "one-off" characteristics.

Malaya was the really special case; a rebel group composed nearly entirely of a racial minority group that then made a series of critical strategic mistakes. In my opinion the attempt to re-create Malaya led to a whole bunch of screw-ups in places like Vietnam; the success of Malaya was due less to the British Hannibals than the MRLA's Varros.

What you do see, looking around, is that the mechanics of suppressing rebellions hasn't changed all that much since Roman times. You kill everything moving and keep killing until they stop moving.

It has worked in Sri Lanka largely because, not in spite, of the fact that the Sri Lankan pledge of "Zero Civilian Casualties" was a sick joke.

The grievances of the Tamil minority that the Weiss book documents thoroughly were not slight or trivial. The decisions that led to the Tamil rebellion were not facile, and despite their atrocities the LTTE were not dilettantes or wannabes. The Tamil rebellion was desperate, and desperation was required to crush it.

There is a reason that Eelam War IV is so poorly documented; because it was an old-fashioned Roman-sort of civil war. In my opinion the Sri Lankan government and the SLA recognized the legitimacy of the Tamil rebels.

But they had no interest in accommodating those people; they were interested in keeping power for themselves. That meant not "pacifying" the rebel areas; it meant destroying them, destroying the rebels and all their people, in such a way that they would never again think that the chance of victory outweighed the costs of defeat.

"Shared" power tends to become separate powers over time; ask the Czechs and the Slovaks, the Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. The Sinhalese-majority Sri Lankan government had no interest in sharing power with the Tamil minority. It wanted to crush them, and crushing them meant - as it has always meant since Crassus' day - killing them in job lots.

And to kill to that degree meant keeping the press out. Without the cameras and reporters and the other busybodies of the lily-fingered West the SLA could get on with the business of crushing the rebellion with fire and steel.

Don't get me wrong; I don't like that.

Is it horrible? Yes.
Is it a war crime? Yes.
But it works.

And I know that. And I know that the record of the alternative - the Western hope that good roads and plasma TV will make the angry people happy again - has been iffy at best and disastrous at worst, if you can't change the fundamental problems they are angry about.


I guess that the only "lesson learned" I can come up with from the Battle of Aanandapuram is Tacitus' old lesson written over again in the letters of blood; Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque, ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.
I wish I had a different story to tell. I wish I thought that there was a solution to the problems of Afghanistan or Israel short of endless war or brutal genocide.

But I don't.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fall 1942 - The Turning Point of the War in Europe

November 1942 provides us with one of those events in military history where we can say in retrospect, that it was from this particular point in time that everything started to unravel, in this case, go bust for Nazi Germany in World War II. While I would argue (and I think FD Chief agrees) the actual or "strategic" turning point was probably the June invasion of the USSR and then on December 11, 1941, the declaration of war against the US, Stalingrad provides us with the "operational" turning point. Since we have learned from our own (American since 2001) experience that in war the operational outcome can lag significantly behind the strategic outcome, this only proves the importance of this operational level and how hanging on operationally can influence to some extent the final result, although not to the point of reversing the strategic reality. Rather what seems to be the case is that the losing side loses only more, but at a greater cost to the victor.
My intent here is not to examine the Stalingrad campaign or analyze the operational decisions, but rather to put it within the strategic context of what Germany - or rather Hitler since he was calling all the shots - had to deal with seventy years ago.
On 19 November the Red Army launched an attack against the northern flank of German Army Group B (the German 6th Army, most of 4th Panzer Army and the Romanian 4th Army) that was engaged at Stalingrad and occupying almost all of the city and blocking river traffic along the Volga river. The next day Marshall Zhukov launched the southern wing of his double envelopment from the southern flank. On 23 November (the Germans say the afternoon of 22 November) the two spearheads met at Kalach trapping about 250,000 Axis troops. The Soviets staged a repeat of the meeting for a propaganda film (at 1:20-29).
Reading the German Oberkommando der Wehrmacht war diaries one gets something of the overwhelming character that Hitler's leadership/decisions had put the Germans in strategically. Besides the Eastern Front with its various Army Groups engaged, there were the Eastern Mediterrain, Libya, Tunisia, the Balkans, southern France (the occupation of Vichy), Finland, and the various air and naval operations to contend with.
One gets the impression that the Russian Front was not seen as a single theater, but rather as five separate fronts: Finland, Army Group North facing Leningrad, Army Group Center facing Moscow, Army Group B at Stalingrad, and Army Group A in the Caucasus. Thus each individual front competed individually with those in the West and keeping Italy in the war was Hitler's priority towards the end of 1942. This possible perspective regards only the operational decisions, not those involving logistics, production, genocides, and other matters that Hitler reserved for himself. That the situation with Army Group B was dangerous was recognized relatively early on with the 20 November order to establish Army Group Don from the staff of the 11th Army under the command of Field Marshall von Manstein to take command of Army Group B and other forces coming in. This headquarters was to be tasked with reestablishing the front on the Don/Volga. This distinction is important, it was not first to reestablish contact with Stalingrad, but to re-establish the front as it had existed prior to the Soviet offensive, it was assumed that those forces in Stalingrad would remain in place. A withdrawal from Stalingrad and the Volga was never seriously considered until it was too late. Manstein and his staff were at Vitebsk and due to the weather and rail conditions were unable to arrive in theater until 24 November.
It is also important to remember that the Germans were in the middle of a major troop movement regarding Tunisia. There the 5th Panzer Army was in the midst of being established with significant air assets having been earlier withdrawn from Russia. Movement of the 10th Panzer Division, the Hermann Göring Divison and other formations were underway. In fact on the 20th of November the 22nd Luftlande (Airborne) Division, another capable formation, finished its deployment to the island of Crete which was under no threat at all.
At this point it is important to consider what had led to the summer offensive in the East in the first place. First, the Germans considered the Russians to be on their last legs. The situation of the civilian population in the unoccupied areas of European Russia was known to be catastrophic (based on captured letters to Red Army soldiers). Much of the industrial potential had been seemingly neutralized, and finally the Red Army had suffered tremendous losses up to that point. It seemed from the German perspective unlikely that the Red Army would be able to reconstitute an effective fighting force under the stress of war given what remained. Second, while Moscow was the political center, the Caucasus and the Don/Volga area provided necessary resources. Seizing these resource centers would both considerably weaken the Red Army and strengthen the Wehrmacht at the same time, or so it was assumed.
And then there was the city of Stalingrad itself. On 9 November 1942 in Munich, Hitler had given a speech:
. . . I should say that for my enemies, not for our soldiers. For the speed with which our soldiers have now traversed territory is gigantic. Also what was traversed this year is vast and historically unique. Now I do not always do things just as the others want them done. I consider what the others probably believe, and then do the opposite on principle. So if Mr. Stalin expected that we would attack in the center, I did not want to attack in the center, not only because Mr. Stalin probably believed I would, but because I didn't care about it any more at all. But I wanted to come to the Volga, to a definite place, to a definite city. It accidentally bears the name of Stalin himself, but do not think that I went after it on that account. Indeed, it could have an altogether different name. But only because it is an important point, that is, there 30 million tons of traffic can be cut off, including about 9 million of oil shipments. There all the wheat pours in from those enormous territories of the Ukraine, of the Kuban territory, then to be transported to the North. There the manganese ore was forwarded. A gigantic terminal was there; I wanted to take it. And do you know, we're modest: that is, we have it; there are only a couple of very small places left there. Now the others say: Why aren't you fighting there? Because I don't want to make a second Verdun but would rather do it with very small shock units. Time plays no part here. No ships come up the Volga any more-that is the decisive thing. They have also reproached us, asking why it took us so long at Sevastopol? Because there, too, we did not want to cause an enormous mass murder. Blood is flowing as it is-more than enough. But Sevastopol fell into our hands, and the Crimea fell into our hands. We have reached goal after goal, stubbornly, persistently. And if the enemy, on his part, makes preparations to attack, don't think I want to forestall him there, but at the same moment we let him attack also. Because then defense still is less expensive. Then just let him attack; he'll bleed to death that way, and thus far we have always taken care of the situation anyhow. At any rate, the Russians are not at the Pyrenees or before Seville; that, you see, is the same distance as for us to be in Stalingrad today, or on the Terek, let us say;-but we are there; that can really not be disputed. That is a fact, after all. Naturally, when nothing else will do any more, they also say it's a mistake. Then they suddenly turn around and say: "It is absolutely a mistake for the Germans to have gone to Kirkenes, or to have gone to Narvik, or now perhaps to Stalingrad-what do they expect to do in Stalingrad? For Stalingrad is a capital mistake, a strategic mistake." We will just wait and see whether that was a strategic mistake.
I have a Wehrmacht city map of Stalingrad, dating from June 1942. On it, the city is long, but narrow, hugging the Volga. From the map it looks like it would be so easy to simply punch through to the river. The reality was otherwise, but even as the Red Army encircled the Germans at Stalingrad, they continued operations to capture the last Russian positions in the ruined city, that according to the war diaries . . .
This has been an interesting thread. I would like to thank all who commented, it is the sign of a capable audience when they are able to interact with the initial argument and expand on it considerably, adding many additional pieces to the vast mosaic. I think we are able to consistently achieve that on MilPub as shown by the many posts by various authors and corresponding dialectical commentary on this blog . . . we should keep on keeping on . . .
Four points to close with. First, we are talking about perhaps the most terrible military campaign in history. The geographical and human dimensions are almost beyond our comprehension; the scale of destruction, loss and tragedy are impossible to measure in numbers since the ripples are still touching Eastern Europe in various ways today.
Second, and this a repeat of an earlier argument, that being that we have an adequate description of the totalitarian nature (both specific to the Nazis and general regarding other totalitarian systems) of political movements. My post on Hermann Rauschning's The Revolution of Nihilism introduces the basic ideas. I blended in some of Hannah Arendt's ideas from her classic The Origins of Totalitarianism, but did not begin to do Arendt's thesis justice. It would take much more study, and probably a better mind than mine to achieve that. I consider this very important since following the basic concepts, I would argue that we see a resurgence of totalitarian thinking today in the US. This is particularly evident in our predilection to see violence as the preferred method of dealing with foreign policy issues.
Third, I mentioned a Clausewitzian connection. This is the concept of the Feldherr which influenced not only German, but Soviet, French and JFC Fuller as well. Professor Hew Strachan (who else?) has a great lecture which covers this topic:
So the Feldherr was a military genius who, because he was distinguished by more than his "will, brains, understanding, self-confidence, by something still higher than a longing for fame and honour," became a statesman. For Hesse, the role model was Frederick the Great. The challenge of the 1920s, after the Kaiser's abdication not least because of his failure to fulfil that role, was how to meet its demands in future. The German army had failed to understand Clausewitz before 1914 because it had read him in a narrowly military way, focusing on battle, not on war as a whole. Because Clausewitz saw war as a continuation of policy by other means, he also understood war, according to Adolf Leinveber, writing in 1926, as "an organic whole, from which the individual parts are not separable." Leinveber accepted that politicians had to give unity to war through policy and through the war plans that flowed from that policy. But what therefore followed-not only for Leinveber but also for many others-was that war required "a magnificent dis­tinguished head, a strong character." The Feldherr would unite the conduct of war and policy, so that he became a statesman without at the same time giving up the capacity to conduct war: "he embraces with a glance on the one hand all state issues, while on the other he is sufficiendy confident in his knowledge of what the means which lie in his control can do." p 389
The need for a Feldherr was seen by those representing the entire political spectrum in Germany, from liberals to monarchists. The French used Clausewitz after the war to further develop their concept of the Generalissimo and Fuller's approach to Grand Strategy is much more difficult to achieve without this position. In the USSR, Trotsky, Frunze and Svechin argued for the subordination of specialized and conventional (as opposed to partisan) military command to the political leadership residing in the leader of the Communist Party. Thus we see the position of both Hitler and Stalin - along with the totalitarian elements which in this case are separate but still obviously important - as being influenced by the experience of the First World War and this being common to both democratic and totalitarian governments.
Finally, there is something of the Liddell Hart notion of the "indirect approach" to Fall Blau, the German campaign in the summer of 1942. Hitler wished to bypass the political center of Moscow and instead seize the southern resources/stop movement along the Volga as a way to cripple the USSR. I don't think he actually expected to come to terms with Stalin, but rather to so weaken the Soviet government that they could be held off indefinitely.
It was not a question of time or strategy, but simply a "fact" as Hitler mentions in the linked speech. The Germans were on the Volga and the Terek and they would remain there, and the Feldherr as maker and shaper, "history's actor" had made it so. As I think the readers of this blog are aware, we have seen similar notions of arrogance and self-absorption, of ideologically-tainted wishes replacing strategic thought, of the conceit of violent and limited minds attempting to remake political existence in line with their own whims . . . let's hope this extreme example from the past acts as a caution to temper our own future.
Second Postscript:
Very interesting German soldiers's film from the times . . . Towards the end . . . Stalingrad and Fall Blau . . .

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gaza Redux, or

Didn't some guy in the USA get elected? First off, a short quote from the guy who won a 2nd term as president of the USA
“There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on from outside its borders,” Obama said Sunday in his first public comments on the fighting. “We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend its borders.”
Well, in his defense, it is difficult to see missiles clearly when one's own eye is packed full of them. Nearly 4 years ago to the day, Dec. 27, 2008, before the Brand New President of the USA could be sworn into Office, the Israeli gov't launched Cast Lead against the people of Gaza, for a 3 week period, with attacks by air, sea and land. Now, 4 years later, Hamas has missiles that can reach both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Is this progress?
But if Netanyahu and Barak are responsible for creating the immediate pretext for an attack on Gaza, they are also criminally negligent for failing to pursue an opportunity to secure a much longer truce with Hamas. We now know, thanks to Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin, that in the period leading up to Jabari’s execution Egypt had been working to secure a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas. Jabari was apparently eager to agree to it. Baskin, who was intimately involved in the talks, was a credible conduit between Israel and Hamas because he had played a key role last year in getting Jabari to sign off on a prisoner exchange that led to the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Baskin noted in the Haaretz newspaper that Jabari’s assassination “killed the possibility of achieving a truce and also the Egyptian mediators’ ability to function.” The peace activist had already met Barak to alert him to the truce, but it seems the defence minister and Netanyahu had more pressing concerns than ending the tensions between Israel and Hamas. What could have been more important than finding a mechanism for saving lives, on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. Baskin offers a clue: “Those who made the decision must be judged by the voters, but to my regret they will get more votes because of this.” It seems Israel’s general election, due in January, was uppermost in the minds of Netanyahu and Barak.
More Progress,
ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan described Israel on Monday as a "terrorist state" in carrying out its bombardment of Gaza, underlining hostility for Ankara's former ally since relations between them collapsed in 2010. . . . "Those who associate Islam with terrorism close their eyes in the face of mass killing of Muslims, turn their heads from the massacre of children in Gaza," Erdogan told a conference of the Eurasian Islamic Council in Istanbul. "For this reason, I say that Israel is a terrorist state, and its acts are terrorist acts," he said. Ties between Israel and Turkey, once Israel's only Muslim ally, crumbled after Israeli marines stormed an aid ship in 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip. Nine Turks were killed in clashes with activists on board. . . .
towards the Stone Age, where some in Israel have threatened to send Gaza
There is no justification for the State of Gaza being able to shoot at our towns with impunity. We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing. Then they’d really call for a ceasefire.
This is progress?

Loss of allies among Muslims and more death for the Fish Barrel that is Gaza for poll points in an election? Assassination of a member of Hamas willing to talk about peace and getting along with their neighbors? And the US gov't bound hip and thigh to a regime like this?

Israel is set on a path to Self Destruction, and no, I don't want to see that.

What the whole world does see, however, is that for the 2nd time in 4 years, Gaza has suffered for political points. This is atrocity, it is genocide, death and terror launched against a helpless and oppressed population for frivolity.


(FDChief: N.B. Here's what I think you wanted for paragraphs, bb; let me know if you had different ideas...)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ironbottom Sound

This month's battle over at GFT: Second Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (Fourth Savo Island) 14-15 NOV 1942.
Death revisits Sealark Channel, the great gray ghost-ship, a Japanese admiral turns away with decision in his grasp - again - and the thunder of cannon in the night.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Arabian Knights

If you're down and confused 
And you don't remember who you're talking to 
Concentration slips away 
Because your baby is so far away 
--Love the One You're With, 
Crosby, Stills and Nash

Well, what am I supposed to do? 
You won't answer my calls,
 you change your number.
 I mean, I'm not gonna be ignored, Dan!   
--Fatal Attraction (1987)

Military leadership is not always about success:

  • The March of the 10,000
  • Thermopylae
  • Little Big Horn
  • The Confederates at Petersburg
  • The Lost Battalion of World War I
  • Wainwright at Corregidor
  • The U.S. Marines at the Chosin (with U.S. Army support ☺)
  • The U.S Special Forces at Lang Vei
  • Lt. Murphy in Afghanistan

We are taught that physical courage is the factor that makes us soldiers (err, New Age Warriors), but this only part of the equation. A recent discussion about Shackleton's fraught Antarctic expedition motivated this thinking.

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton led his crew with fierce loyalty after the loss of their ship (The Endurance).  He set up Camp Optimism in the most unhospiaible climate, and tirelessly motivated his crew to labor and to keep hope alive. Shackleton believed that character and temperament were as important as technical ability, and lived by the motto, "Optimism is true moral courage." 

While physical courage is the hallmark of soldiering, it is not the gold standard for leadership.  Moral courage is supreme, and it the U.S. Army seems weak in this area.  We accepted General MacArthur's vacating his command, leaving General Wainwright and his Army in the lurch.  Contrast this with the loyalty of Luftwaffe Group Commander Erich Hartmann who refused a direct order to avoid Soviet capture by flying to safety in the British sector, as it would have meant the abandonment of his men.

After capture and spending 10 1/2 years in a Soviet gulag, Hartmann said in a later interview, "I could not leave my men.  That would have been bad leadership."  He and many others like him show a moral strength which reaches beyond the physical.  Think of John McCain refusing an offer of early release by the North Vietnamese command -- that is moral courage.

Transition now to the lavish lifestyles of men like Generals Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus -- the plush lodgings and planes in which they traveled were more befitting of the Arabian 1001 Nights.  Their sumptuous offices at CENTCOM and all the other HQs, the limousines, the private command airship companies and all the other bling that kits out the 0-8 through 0-10 caste are far-removed from the lifestyles of their predecessors.

Instead of leadership we now have commanders steeped in West Point Honor Codes, Infantry Creeds, Ranger Creeds and a plethora of feel-good buzz words that are as meaningless as a mouthful of grits.  Witness Petraeus's vaunted "12 Rules for Living": "The only thing better than a little com­petition is a lot of competition. Set chal­lenges for your subordinates to encourage them to excel." The rules are generally insipid pop platitudes not likely to give Tony Robbins a run for his money on the motivational talk circuit any time soon.

Contrast present leadership with that of Chesty Puller at the Chosin Reservoir retrograde.  He gave his Jeep to the weak and wounded and marched out as a simple Infantryman (despite heart problems). On Guadalcanal his Regimental Command Post was in the forward reaches of the battlefield within rifle shot of the enemy.  Compare this with the fights at Waygul and Wanat, when the senior commanders were physically absent.

Leadership has both physical and moral aspects.  None of the U.S. senior officers refused to preemptively invade Iraq; First Lieutenant Ehren Watada is the only junior officer to officially protest the Iraq War by attempting to resign his commission (he was Court-martialed and ultimately discharged from service.)  Did any of our leaders even murmer the word, "Aggressive War"?

It is possible that ethics professor Colonel Ted Westhusing gave protest via suicide during his Iraq posting six years ago.  The Los Angeles Times reported, "In emails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the US had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military" (General Petraeus's Link to a Troubling Suicide in Iraq: The Ted Westhusing Story). In his suicide note, he wrote, "I didn't volunteer to support corrupt, money grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves." 

If elective invasions, bombing, Predators and Reapers, secret prisons, torture, open-ended detention and more do not raise any hackles amongst the General Officer class, then a penile thrombosis is very little thing in comparison, which is not to say it is nothing.  It is just a logical outgrowth of a corrupt and entitled mindset.

Amidst moral cowardice on such a scale, how do we even discuss Petraeus's moral lapse?  We have divorced morality from the equation when we adopted elective warfare and assumed the mantle of warriorhood.  Petraeus did what warrior-kings do: he took an Amazon concubine.

--Jim and Lisa

[cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar] 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remembrance Day

On this day we should think more of those veterans who served as private, pfc, or nco rather than four star David.  Is there a similar day in Greece, Al?   Seydlitz, what about Portugal?  Sven, Germany? 

I still remember my great-uncle Dinty, a ww1 vet who got a taste of the mustard gas, and who lived with us in the forties and early fifties because he could not afford a place of his own.  Until my sister was born anyway, and the room was needed so he moved on to my Aunt Alice's house, and later to another Aunt before he finally passed away peacefully.  At least he was with family.  For many today that is not an option, although it should be.

I spent a few hours yesterday passing out paper poppies and shaking a can to raise funds for impoverished vets.  There are many 80 and 90-year old veterans or their widows on a small fixed income.  Many cannot afford to get back and forth to the VA hospital or even to a local Doc.  Some need help navigating the VA bureaucracy.  Some are living in houses with leaky roof that they cannot afford to get fixed.  I have seen them in the market staring at the prices in the meat display fridge and finally settle for spam or items past their expiration date.  My bride has been known to drop a $20-bill on the floor behind them, then tap them on the shoulder and press it into their hands saying they dropped it.  Beats me how the economic pundits can say there is no inflation.  They, those vets and their wives and widows have been called the greatest generation but they are fading fast and should not pass on while cold and hungry.

As for Petraeus he is in good company: Ike, Kennedy, and a few others like FDChief pointed out.  All of us may (or may not) even have strayed from the straight-arrow path ourselves in the bad old days of long peacetime deployments.   Perhaps we were not so full of hubris to think we could get away with it.  We need to stop policing the morals and sexual behavior of others.  We (or at least I) should be more concerned with our own.  King David will do fine.  

A number of those vets or widows are preyed upon by scam artists and phone hustlers.  Good for Holly Petraeus for standing up for military families, for consumer protection, and against illegal foreclosures with Senator-Elect Warren.  A lot of vets were affected by those foreclosures.  The discussion should be about her accomplishments for vets and not her husbands human weakness.

Here is one link Holly Petraeus