Friday, February 28, 2014

Crimea open thread (Updated 3/3/14)

It appears that t The Russian Federation may be is in the process of taking military action in the Crimea region of Ukraine. What military action exactly and what precisely this action portends is uncertain, as is the response of the Ukrainian government, the EU, the U.S., and all the other usual idiots.

I won't pretend to have any particular insights into what the hell is going on. So consider this a round of free drinks to discuss the whole business.

Mind you, the LAST bunch that tried to invade the Crimea came to a pretty bad end...

Update 3/3: I see that my comrade Seydlitz is preparing a column on this little fracas, so we're going to have that in just a bit.

But until his post is up I'd like to pose a question for the readership.

The U.S. Right is practically spastic over the current adminstration's "lack of response" to this (for a perfect example see Fred Hiatt's ridiculous editorial in today's Washington Post) but, as in Hiatt's case, cannot seem to actually come down on the side of "Let's be Germany in 1914 and use our Green Lantern willpower to demand our Ukrainian ally force an unacceptable ultimatum on the Crimea to see if the Russians are willing to have a go at us".

I'm NOT suggesting that anyone come up with a reason for the U.S. to "do something" about this; if for no other reason than I don't see how farkling about near the borders of another power is a good idea.

But I'm genuinely curious because I can't really see a way for the U.S. to "do" much of anything that actually has a chance of working to restore the status quo ante with Ukraine/Crimea/Russia. So I think the posturing of the U.S. Right is just that; it's not a genuine geopolitical idea with the force of reason behind it, just another attempt to swiftboat the Kenyan Usurper.

But maybe that's just because I lack imagination. Anybody else here see a series of political/economic/military moves that would premit the U.S./EU/anyone else to convince the Russians to back off here? If so, I'd be fascinated to hear, and discuss, your ideas just to see if we're smarter than the people currently running things in the U.S. power structure...

Update 2, 3/3/14: Shit just got real.

"Russia's military has given Ukrainian forces in Crimea until dawn on Tuesday to surrender or face an assault, Ukrainian defence sources have said."

Friday, February 21, 2014

Keeping the Peace

 --Peaceable Kingdom, Edward Hicks 
 Do those eyes look at peace? 

Ain't it funny how you feel
when you're finding out it's real
 -- Sugar Mountain, Neil Young

 Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God 
--KJV, Matthew 5:9 

Ev'rybody's talking about 
Revolution, evolution, masturbation,
flagellation, regulation, integrations,
meditations, United Nations,
All we are saying is give peace a chance 
--Give Peace a Chance, John Lennon

One of RangerAgainstWar's gripes is the misuse of words in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT  ©). Take the term, "Peacekeeping".

In  the book Blind into Baghdad: America's War in Iraq, James Fallows quotes Army War College scholar and Afghanistan War veteran Larry Goodson thusly:

"When the security situation in Afghanistan was collapsing, we might have come much more quickly to the peacekeeping and "nation-building" strategy we're beginning to employ now (125)"

Aside from the fact that strategy -- a word which implies a thought-out and concerted effort to achieve a desired goal -- is NOT a word which describes the United States' PWOT efforts, let us look instead at the term "Peacekeeping", a term often misunderstood and misused, often in an effort to justify a military presence.

Who doesn't want peace? Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) is an admirable yet elusive concept usually pertaining to efforts to lessen violence and chaos in failed states or in Low-intensity conflict situations. PKO can be a long-term or short-term solution to a problem, if not a resolution of the situation. The three United Nations' guidelines for PKO's are:

1) The consent of all parties
2) Impartiality
3) Non-use of force, except in self-defense and the defense of the mandate

Think of the efficacy of peacekeeping while considering some recent PKOs:

1) The British effort in Northern Ireland --

Was this PKO? Were the British impartial since they were supporting the Royal Ulster Constabulary? The reason for the violence was the Irish Republican Army's desire to rid Northern Ireland of the British presence.

2) Beirut, 1983 --

Was this U.S. operation a PKO? Were the U.S. forces impartial? Did both sides in the violence accept the legitimacy of the U.S. unilateral effort? Since the Marines were bombed in their barracks and HQ, it would seem not, so this was not a PKO.

3) The NATO effort in Kosovo --

Were the NATO forces impartial? No, since NATO warplanes were bombing one side of the equation, so another "no".

4) U.S. in Afghanistan --

Was the U.S. impartial? Did the anti-government coalition accept our presence? Did the U.S. have legitimacy?

A PKO that met UN guidelines but was ineffective was what we call the Rwandan Genocide. While the PKOs were impartial and accepted by both parties, still the genocide continued apace. So simply following UN guidelines may not be an adequate yardstick to measure a successful PKO.

An exception to the general failure of PKOs would be the Sinai PKO separating the Egyptian and the Israelis, keeping peace between former enemies. The peacekeepers are impartial and are there at the behest of both parties. The peace has been maintained.

For a PKO to succeed, both the peacekeepers and the opposing parties must be dealing from the top of the deck, and this is usually not the case in the usual scenarios, unfortunately.

So, is there such a thing as Peacekeeping? "Peacekeeping" is not the same thing as "Peace Making". Peacekeeping is a bit bromidic and euphemistic. One is not so much "keeping the peace" but holding the boxers apart until they can join in the fray once again. PKO's are doomed to fail, until the day honest brokers step up to the table and resolve their differences otherwise. Diogenes is still out there with his lamp ...

Being as we inheritors of the primate legacy, we do not look for rational, non-fighting solutions anytime soon. Perhaps, as with the schoolyard bully, the fight should be allowed, and until someone appears who can trounce him, the most brutish wins they day.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Disillusionment of Ranger: The Genesis

 Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters
cannot be trusted with important matters
--Albert Einstein 

I prefer to be true to myself,
even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others,
rather than to be false,
and to incur my own abhorrence
--Frederick Douglass 

In a room where people unanimously maintain
a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth
sounds like a pistol shot
--Czeslaw Milosz 

Scratch any cynic and you will find
a disappointed idealist
--George Carlin

The Disillusionment of Ranger Pt. II -- The Genesis. (This is an extension of Ranger's Disillusionment, PT I):

One of the most common comments heard in the Army is that it eats its young; here is one of those tales.

All Ranger ever wanted to be was a soldier, and his start was stellar. Number One cadet in his ROTC class, Distinguished Military Graduate, regular Army commission, Jump and Jump Master qualification, Ranger, and then onto his first assignment. But within four months of his first troop assignment, his career was over before it started. He was dinged on his first Officer Efficiency Report (OER), and for the next 44 years he has agonized over the question of why his Battalion Commander hated him, and/or why was he willing to kill him before I even left "shavetail" status.

Why? It's a small and pitiable story, but not unique.

As a Mortar Platoon Leader there was a lot of time spent planning and running range firing for the Battalion. This was one of my duties and I excelled at the task, but one day changed that -- the day that began my professional death. (Keep in mind that Ranger's Commission was Regular Army/ROTC, while the Battalion Commander was a West Pointer, if you think that matters.)

The Battalion was a bad luck unit as was the entire European Command at the time Ranger entered. The war was raging in Vietnam, and the seams were stretched tight. While his Platoon passed all of its tests and was ready to perform its tactical mission, the Battalion and Company failed its Command Maintenance Materiels Inspection (CMMI), and was dinged badly on several operational evaluation tests.

So we find our young LT on a freezing hillside in Germany with a range set up to familiarize and qualify the HQ Company personnel in their in their assigned weapon -- the M3 grease gun, a .45 cal submachine gun assigned to support personnel found in the support platoon of HQ Co. This was simple, clear and unambiguous job, until the S-3 (Operations Officer) and Battalion XO (Major) drove up.

The S-3 and XO directed Ranger to pencil in all the personnel requiring training because they were preparing to be re-tested for the annual CMMI (as the Battalion failed their first attempt.) Failure usually equates to Battalion Commanders being relieved, or at least, not promoted.

So young LT Ranger stood before the S-3 and the XO who, in the name of our lord, the Battalion Commander, were directing him to pencil in the trainees as having received instruction which they had in fact, not, which meant he had a choice: either falsify official records, indicating that soldiers had received training that they did not receive, or to not lie on an official document. You can guess the decision made by an idealistic young LT unversed in Army politics.

Neither Infantry Officers Basic Course nor ROTC mentioned any scenario like this in either ethics or leadership training. As a result of the absence of a bootlicking unit in his education, his career died the day he chose not to lie, as did his hopes and aspirations. You may call him a fool, but the moral dilemma surrounding honor and integrity in the military forces of our nation remains the same for both him and others today.

In his 20 years of active and reserve duty, the "grease gun" scenario  was replicated many times, on much higher levels.
In mobilization drills and exercises, there were major units certified for deployment which were measured with elastic yardsticks. Units were certified as combat-ready which could not pour piss out of a boot. (If you doubt this, look no further than current scandals concerning cheating, lying and corruption regarding the certification of nuclear weapons specialized units.)

It is a long way from that frozen hillside in a 1969 Army unit and our little submachine gun training to 2014 and nuclear surety problems, but they are the same issue. If you will lie about a grease gun, then what else will you lie about?

Lest you think these are isolated events, ask a veteran if they have their own "grease gun" story, for the issue is pervasive and universal. The upshot is, I never again believed any official, unofficial or any other word uttered by any government or military official. I know the system is not run on honor.

Ranger's disillusionment is insignificant in context, but it indicts the system through and through.

[Cross-posted at RangerAgainstWar.]