Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran...

This is one of the reasons we can't have nice things.

Fallows does an excellent job of describing why this is superbly hacktackular, but let me just add that in a sane polity you'd get politely asked to step out into the alley behind the studio after getting caught saying stuff like this and then biffed about the head and shoulders with a stuffed eelskin.

And never, ever invited back to spew this sort of nonsense to a credulous public.

This is exactly the sort of thing that seydlitz used to rave at; a senselessly myopic focus on "how can we/they/"somebody" do this" without any of the adults stepping in to ask "why the fuck would you WANT to do this?" Or, as Fallows himself sums up the geopolitical inanity of this "discussion"; My at-home version of similar analysis: "would plastic explosives, or a ball peen hammer, be more effective in destroying the neighborhood leafblowers, if it must be done?"

And the problem is that We the People, most of us, depend on people like these mooks to "inform" us, which this article does the exact opposite of. Especially when - buried in the blogosphere far from the popular reach of journals like The Atlantic - there are far, far better analyses of this very issue.

Honestly. I know that you're not supposed to attribute to malice what's explicable by incompetence, stupidity, and hubris, but really...

Psst. Somebody's pissed off HR, Moktar, and I don't think it's me.

"After years of trying to discipline him, the leaders of al-Qaida's North African branch sent one final letter to their most difficult employee. In page after scathing page, they described how he didn't answer his phone when they called, failed to turn in his expense reports, ignored meetings and refused time and again to carry out orders. Most of all, they claimed he had failed to carry out a single spectacular operation, despite the resources at his disposal."

Well, I think this pretty much confirms that "we" have won the War on Terror.

When "The Terrorists" are bitching about unreturned phone calls and backbiting about expense reports? Quitting to form competing start-ups?

They're well on their way to becoming as bloated and inefficient as the DoD. All we need to do is wait for the various jihadi groups to form a weapons-contracting system and we're on the way to decisive victory.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Samakhand an Al Qaeda death squad is stealing organizational cell-phone minutes and fiddling with their TDY...

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Dies Irae

I post this every Memorial Day. I don't feel quite the same level of suppressed anger this year as I did in the "Support the Troops" Dubya Years when this weekend became a pep-rally for wars that most U.S. citizens were utterly indifferent to other than as entertainment. But, still.

I have little or no hope that I can ever change the way this "holiday" is celebrated. There will be parades and movie festivals. Warplanes will flyover baseball stadiums. Flags will wave. People will "thank" someone in a uniform for service that was neither done for them nor has profited the serviceman or the civilian.

Few, very few, will visit a war cemetery and ponder the reasons we seem incapable of not making more war dead.

But I will continue to post this every year and hope.

It seems to me that the VERY best thing for the majority of Americans would be to think of this Memorial Day not as time reserved for barbeques and softball in the park, but as the time it took a 19-year-old private to bleed out, alone amid the dying crowd in the grass before the wall at Fredricksburg.The time it took a husband and father to convulse his way into death from typhus in the tent hospital outside Santiago de Cuba.

The time that the battalion runner, a former mill hand from Utica, New York, spent in a shell hole in the Argonne staring at the rest of his life drizzling out of his shattered legs.

The time it took for the jolting trip down the Apennines to the CCP, unfelt by the father of three because of the jagged rip in his gut wall that killed him that morning.The time required to freeze a high school kid from Corvallis, Oregon, to the parched, high ground above the Yalu River.

The time it took for the resupply bird to come to FSB Albany for the plastic bag that contained what had been a young man from the Bronx who would never see the Walt Frazier he loved play again.

The time taken up by the last day in the life of a professional officer whose fiance will never understand why she died in a "vehicular accident" in the middle of a street in Taji.I've been proud to be a soldier. But the modern view of war as video entertainment for the masses sickens me. Every single fucking human being needs to have it driven into his or her forehead with a 10-penny nail that every single day in every single war some person dies a stupid, meaningless death that snuffs out a world in a moment. That those empty eyes zipped inside a bag or covered by a bloody blanket were once the windows to an entire universe.

That the price we pay for "forging our national will" is paid in the unlived futures of those we kill and those of us who die to make it so.

Maybe then we'd be sure of what we want, and what we do, before we open the goddamn doors of the Temple of Janus.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pegging the Moron Meter

Yesterday we finished voting in our "special election" in northwest Oregon.

I've been following this little treasure mostly as a way of checking on the credulity and stupidity level of voters in the Portland metro area, and the final readings of the Moron Meter are now in.

First, on the issue of fluoridation of Portland's water supply, a bizarre coalition of looney Left and looney Right defeated fluoridation because...well, because fluoride isn't natural. God alone knows what these people - about 85,000 of them, by the way - think about pasteurization, immunization, the Germ Theory of disease, and quantum mechanics.

At least we're safe from those goddamn polio monkey serums.

I should note in passing that there are about 446,000 registered voters in Multnomah County, Oregon. And this election was, like almost all elections in Oregon now, done by mail. You didn't have to devote any time or effort to it. You opened the envelope, filled in the little ovals on the form, stuffed the thing back in another envelope and shoved it in the mailbox.

Only about 36% of the electorate - about 160,000 people - even bothered.

But aside from the usual non-interest in the election the real red light on my Moron Meter was pegged to these two guys:

First was a gomer named Lasswell who was running for a position on the Multnomah Educational Service District. Leaving aside the actual role of and value of the MESD, the part that caught me about this guy's ad in the Voter's Pamphlet was is complete and utter incompetence for anything relating to education or any other sort of political administration, for that matter.

The giveaway was his observation about how he was gonna do to the MESD what he'd done in the city of Anfal when he was a'servin' of his Country in Iraq. Because, as we all know, an impoverished Third World city rife with sectarian strife in a former Ottoman province now devastated by war is exactly the political equivalent of the Multnomah Educational Service District.

This goop got 25% of the vote.

Got that? This means that of the some 93,000 people in Multnomah County engaged and motivated enough in the political process to register AND to actually vote in this contest, one in four - 23,382 theoretically-sane individuals - were equally unable to make the same distinction Lasswell could not, between a smashed city in a Muslim state in the Third World and the educational administration of a mid-size American city.

One in four, people. One in four.

But wait; it gets worse.

This goof, name of Morrison, a genuine full-on, rubber-room, unapologetically whackadoodle bull-goose looney whose only issue as a reason for running for Portland Public School board was because WiFi makes your brain all funny (and I tend to agree that someone's brain was all funny here but not that WiFi had anything to do with that) got 18.7 percent of the ballots cast.

Almost 19 percent. Of the people who are probably in the uppermost quintile of engaged and politically aware and socially motivated citizens in the People's Republic of Portland. Nearly one in five. 12,165 people - more than were in the crowd attending that Thorns match I went to watch Sunday.

Voted for a complete and utter tinfoil-hat-grade lunatic.

You can say that, well, fine; the "process worked". The loonies lost.

But think; these are people who shouldn't have gotten anyone's vote. Lasswell, yeah, okay, maybe a handful of people who liked the idea that he was an ex-GI. But Morrison? For fuck's sake, people, the man is certifiable. Around the bend. Ripe for a canvas sportjacket with wraparound sleeves. And yet more than twelve thousand of you fuckers voted for him!

And then you complain about how we can't have nice things.

This is why, people. This is fucking why.

Because a critical minority of you will vote for absolutely goddamn anything no matter how idiotic.

Think about it; if almost one out of five of the most well-informed, motivated, and civically-engaged people in a nationally-known hotbed of social progressivism and intellectual liberalism will vote for a lunatic who is mumbling about electrical radiation melting his brain what the hell is going on out there in places where they think people like Limbaugh, Imhofe, Palin, and Bachmann have a functioning cerebrum?

Jesus wept.

We Are So, so, so, SO Fucked.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fools and their fooling

Someone named Michael Knight wants you to know that, while this development gives him big sads because it's so utterly shocking, shocking given the degree to which the U.S. "...laid the foundations for (post-Saddam Iraq's) democratic traditions..., "Iraq is unraveling".

Excuse me while I take a moment to shove my arm in my mouth to keep from becoming hysteric.

You mean that by invading a precariously cobbled post-Ottoman multiethnic kleptocratic peri-state (rich with a tradition of dictatorial strongmen and winner-take-all politics), proceeding to devastate the physical and economic landscape while enabling the Shiite and Kurdish elements that were the last men standing after we defenestrated the Tikriti mafia, we then left behind a perilously unstable entity that is now in the process of deconstructing into a Maliki dictatorship amid the political, social and economic wreckage that "shock and awe" and a horrendously mismanaged occupation produced?

Really? Really?

No shit, Sherlock.

But the best part of the Foreign Policy article is here: "The United States laid the foundations for these democratic traditions, and can still be a powerful voice in getting Iraq back on track."

What Iraqi with a functioning brain cell would want the United States anywhere within the maximum effective range of anything to do with the governance of Iraq? Is this Knight guy completely whack? Does he think that in a mere decade the Iraqis have forgotten Viceroy Bremer and his shambolic Coalition Provisional Authority? Forgotten checkpoint shootings, arbitrary detentions, Blackwater goons shooting up random streets, bags of unmarked cash filling unnammed pockets? Forgotten the massive corruption, colossal ignorance, and hubris we showed turning up with a 30 round magazine and a copy of Atlas Shrugged, ready to hustle the East?

Every so often I am reminded that "we" as in We the People (and particularly We the People in our representatives in the U.S. government) really haven't the slightest clue what we look like from the outside. People like this Knight, who seems to have actually been there and done that, and yet still seem to think that we have anything to say to Iraq and the Iraqis other than "Oops, my bad."

I'll be the first to say that I hope that the U.S. government and its foreign policy agencies have some sort of idea how to help this place that we knocked down because of some lying grifters' lies and then turned upside-down and shook until its face turned red.

But I'll also be the first to admit that we didn't have a goddamn idea when we had thousands of armed soldiers there on how to actually do that. And that for someone, anyone, to try and pretend - and con the U.S. public into believing - that we now have anything more than a whisper of a hope in hell?

In a just world that person would be kicked in the ass so hard that he would be unable to sit down for a week.

But it is symptomatic of the world we have created that the ass of Mr. Knight and those like him in our government and our punditry will remain as soft and pillowy as a fluffy white cloud.

While the asses of those people who paid the bitter price for the lies and the illusions of Mr. Knight and his ilk will be sore as boils assuming that those poor bastards are still alive to feel the pain.

And there is just no damn justice in that at all.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

America is Clearly Tired

or maybe it's just a lack of imagination or experience, but I tend to think tiredness is what it's got to be.

How else do you explain that the lazy, crap answer that the Attorney General of United States got away with in his defense of the lazy, crap way of 'fighting terrorism' that seems to be the hallmark of Obama's administration.  If Bush's approach was head down, pile into crap.  Obama seems to take the approach of head held high, pile into crap.

As I can see it, the administration discovered a leak and went with a route that was bureaucratically clever, but ultimately really dumb.

But before we go further, let's look at the lazy statement with which we are presented.

...the article by The A.P. that prompted a criminal investigation as among “the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen” in a 35-year career.
Top two or three leaks in his career...he's not sure.  Could be second most serious.  Could be the third. These things are hard to gauge, you know?  But it clearly isn't the most serious leak he's ever seen.  So for the not most serious leak ever, we've got some serious overreach and a great deal of heavy-handedness with how this matter was approached.

The AP was treated as an enemy in this case and kept in the dark as they sought out this serious breach.


What was the MOST serious breach, and what did they do then?  How many laws were breached, how  many bridges burned?  Assuming there is no scandal behind the more serious security leak, why was there one now?

Is it because Americans are tired and don't care?  Saying something secret was released by an article that threatened lives and then not telling us what it was sounds a lot like lying.

Taken by itself, it sounds like a case of misguided ambitions and overreach.  Add to it Fast and Furious and the legal justification for the kill list and it looks like the AG has a completely psychotic group that thinks that they can do whatever the hell they want.  Also add to it...which accomplishments?  What redeeming factor remains for this man and his crew?

The man needs to go.  But more importantly, the administration and the government needs to get chastened by this enough that they think twice before pulling this kind of crap again.  And the crap I am specifically referring to is the type that comes when you are so sure of your own intelligence you make colossal mistakes and still expect to get treated like you're infallible and doing the right thing all the time.  The media needs to revoke the government's right to brief them on what is 'happening' because it seems like they really don't have a clue what's even going on in their organizations.

I think the media should pull out all journalists from these briefings until after Holder goes bye-bye and Presidential kill lists are declared unconstitutional again.  Not that I can impact that, just saying...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Burdens of command?

Something very odd seems to have been happening at Minot AFB:
"The 17 cases mark the Air Force’s most extensive sidelining ever of launch crew members, according to Lt. Col. Angie Blair, a spokeswoman for Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the missile units as well as nuclear-capable bombers. The 91st Missile Wing has 150 officers assigned to launch control duty."
I've always wondered how the crews of nuclear-delivery units - SLBM silo, bomber, and submarine crews - manage to maintain their attitudes and skills knowing that if they ever have to actually use them it will very likely be as part of the end of the known world.

Apparently some couldn't do so.

It would seem to me that if 10% of your unit is not meeting the standards of their mission-essential tasks it's not only the unit has a problem. You as the commander have a problem. If I were the higher I suspect that I would be very critical of a subordinate whose unit had deteriorated to this point.

So when I read this article I guess my question for the USAF readers more knowledgeable of their service and these missile units would be; is it possible that this many troops could get to such a sorry state as to have to be relieved without the commander's knowledge or some sort of responsibility on that commander's part? The USAF appears to believe so - Col. Robert Vercher, the 91st SMW commander, was not disciplined or, if he was, was not so disciplined that he had to be relieved. But how likely is that?

And, also, how difficult IS it for outfits like missile crews to avoid "rot"? ISTM that sitting down in a hole waiting for Armageddon would pretty much suck as a job description, but that's just me.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Neither Art nor Science

Interesting little article over at the NY Times "Disunion" blog, Winning the Field but Not the War. The author's conclusion is that the reason that there were no "decisive battles" in the ACW was not technical or tactical but political and emotional:
"The system of pitched battle broke down because wars like the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War were fought over high ideals, and because they were fought by republics, not monarchies. The wars of the 18th century were legal procedures, fought over carefully stated legal royal claims to territory, and were justified by carefully formulated legal briefs. They were staged in orderly ways intended to symbolize the glory and civilization of royal courts. But in the mid-19th century the two Americans republics and the French Republic began to fight more bitter and more horrible wars, in the name of grander ideals. Hard though it is to accept, democratic idealism and widespread death began to march hand in hand."
Now I would begin by saying that I believe this analysis is flawed. Both the ACW and the Franco-Prussian War (along with WW1 and WW2) DID end with military victories. It's just that those wars, as did most of the industrial-era wars that followed the mid-19th Century, perforce required the "economic" defeat of the losing side (Update: or, as Sven points out in the comments section, at least in the Franco-Prussian War an period of "mopping-up" where the victor had to run around stomping out the remains of the loser's deadenders).

An industrial nation as well as a nation-in-arms couldn't be defeated by "destroying" the national army alone. So long as the economic base remained new conscript armies could be raised if the government had the political will to continue. So IMO what happened was that "pitched battle" became just part of the larger political and economic campaign to destroy the opposing nation's (or peoples') will to fight.

But I wonder...does the increasing number of inter-theological and inter-racial wars play into this increasing "complexity" and insolubility of modern war as well? Do the intractability of religious, tribal, and racial hate play into the long-simmering conflicts that seem to have troubled us so much since 1945? Is there not only just an issue of "grander ideals" but the collision of fundamental social, philosophical, and religious differences that make these conflicts nearly impossible to solve by military means short of outright genocide?

Sunni v. Shia in the Gulf region (and now Syria), Tamil/Hindu v. Sinhalese Buddhist in Sri Lanka, Israeli Jew v. Levantine Muslim in the former Ottoman Levant, Christian southern tribes v. Muslim northern tribes in Nigeria (where our old pals MEND are acting up again...), everybody and their damn tribal grandfathers in seems like we've reopened a box of very old troubles; Christian versus Muslim versus Jew, Arab or African versus Westerner, tribe versus tribe.

Our old friend Seydlitz used to like to talk about how so much of the problems faced by the United States around the world were because the U.S. had lost the ability to think cogently about national interests and how they translated into military strategy.

But...what if the biggest single part of the problem is that too many modern problems are no longer amenable to military strategy?

Or, rather, to military strategy alone?

What if, instead, the U.S. is faced with the dilemma that ancient Rome faced; an amorphously hostile "barbarian frontier" that is no more malleable over the long term to military defeat than the ocean is to bailing dry with a bucket. That there is always a sea of troubles, and that a nation that tries to defend everywhere ends up defending that you can end up throwing a hell of a lot of blood and treasure at problems that you can't solve without making a wasteland and calling it peace, or using nothing but complex combination of force, persuasion, bribery, treachery, local proxies...and pure indifference; picking your fights and choosing to walk away from those you can't do anything about?

So I think the question what degree DO you expend blood and treasure overseas (or overland, in the case of Mexico where there are certainly enough elements of instability to cause at least a level of concern)? How do you calculate your "national interests" in such an environment, and determine which are amenable to diplomacy, which to a mixture of guile and force, which to force alone, and which to a combination of all?

And what are the "better options" to raw military force in places like these? Again, Seydlitz talked several times about the question of "soft power". Is such soft power an option, say, in places as different as Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Indonesia and to what degree where? What would such power look like, and what could it do? And to what degree would the velvet touch have to have a mailed fist cocked behind the U.S.'s back? Little? Much? Constantly? And what would make the application of force more useful, more directed, less likely to produce "collateral damage" and blowback?

And - MOST importantly, in my view - how do you develop a national ability to figure this all out?

I guess my thought is that this entire question is as much about "craft" as it is either the art or the science of "strategic thinking". And I think the problem inherent in the U.S. politico-military system as currently constituted is that our system a) emphasizes short-term domestic political bunfighting over long-term geopolitical thinking, and b) discourages people from staying in one place long enough to perfect their "craftsmanship"; that is, the integration of technical and intellectual learning with practical experience to develop the skills for this sort of thinking, and c) produces "leaders" that are good at a) to the detriment of bothering to pay attention to the relatively low-level craftsmen who are good a b) and thus intensifies the negative-feedback loop. The craftsmen aren't good at their craft but even when they are the "leaders" don't listen which, in turn, discourages the perfection of the craft which, in turn, reinforces the "leaders" willingness to listen to their prejudices and fears rather than the craftsmen who understand the localities...

I will be the first one to say; I don't have an answer but rather a wilderness of questions. Consider this an open thread to add your own, or anything you might have by way of answers...

But I do think that this will become an ever-increasing problem as the U.S. continues its slide back into Gilded Age oligarchy. One of the real problems with oligarchy is that the oligarchs tend to become obsessed with protecting the privileges of their class rather than the welfare of the polity as a whole. To return to the analogy of Rome, the tragedy of the Revolt of the Gracchi was that the senatorial class focused on protecting itself rather than the vitality of the Republic. That, in turn, led to reliance on long-term professional soldiers who owed their loyalty to their commanders instead of the nation.

And we all recall where the bridge across the Rubicon led.

Update: I should draw attention to Sven's post that addresses something of this subject over at his Defence and Freedom site. And the conclusion he's not afraid to draw is even more pessimistic than mine: This is 100% not going to happen, and that's a pity if not doomed to end in tragedy.