Thursday, December 27, 2018

Making Iraq Great Again

Let me start with this; regardless of the why, the simple fact that the current Chief Executive did a meet-and-greet with his subordinates in Iraq is just fine. It's goes with the job of "commander-in-chief", especially given the standards we've set for our imperial wars. You get the job, you do the work, and that includes some facetime with the people you order into harm's way. If the current idiot had to be shamed into doing it? Well, he's been shamed on a whole bunch of things, like sucking up to Nazis and not, y'know, being a racist, and those haven't worked.

So if he got shamed into going to an airbase in Iraq he's done part of what's the bare minimum for a respectable annual review. So, fine.

Of course, being who he is, he's already getting slammed. The biggest howl appears to be about OPSEC violations, specifically, releasing pictures of Himself with a USN special operations outfit which was on a classified deployment.
IMO, this is the one thing about this junket that can't be laid on the guy. I agree that this was careless (especially for a politician that made a big fat hairy deal about how Obummer was giving the "enemy" all sorts of information about who was going to deploy when and where) but despite his title the POTUS is not an actual serviceman. He's not required to understand OPSEC, neither is he responsible for it personally nor in his entourage.

Nope, the people who should be getting fried for this are the unit and installation commanders. THEY should have known that this was a photo-op and kept the guys whose presence there was supposed to be a deep, dark, secret far away from someone known for using every opportunity to fluff himself and his rep as a bad-ass deal-making shrewdie. Special operations people and Trump? They should have known he was no more likely to have resisted the impulse to show himself hanging with the tough guys than a dog can resist licking his butt.

And the MAGA hats and the Trump banners, turning this into a Trump campaign rally? That's on the commanders, too. They know the rules about using GIs as political props, or letting GIs in uniform, in a military workplace, act as political partisans. The fact that they let this stuff go is entirely on them, and entirely unacceptable. If I were their theater commander I'd be on them like the wrath of God.

Still...this IS Trump, who seems to have a kind of reverse-Midas political touch, so he did manage to turn what should have been a nice little press-the-flesh-with-Our-Troops into a goddamn goat rodeo. Specifically;

1. Somehow he and his entourage (I can't bring myself to call it a "staff", since that implies some sort of planning and organization) couldn't be arsed to check in with, y'know, the "host nation" government about what the Iraqis expected and wanted.

Turns out they expected a visiting head of state to treat the host nation head of state as, well, a head of state. Meaning a face-to-face with the Iraqi PM and all the bog-standard political niceties. Of course Trump, who could give a rat's ass about shithole countries, cut it to a phone call and blew off the locals. This pissed off the Iraqi pols who, while IMO being as much of a fairly-worthless bunch as most Arab pols, are understandably touchy about Americans treating Iraq like a conquered province. The result was an angry shout to vote the Yanquis out. Whether or not that will happen, it was ridiculously needless and a boneheaded oxygen-thief-level fuckup by the POTUS and his groupies.

Trump and his GOP pals love to complain about Iran and the supposed Iranian meddling in the Middle East. But doing dumb shit - unnecessarily dumb shit - like this is how Iran makes bank off of these dodos and gets results from their meddling. Obama's supposed foreign policy mantra was "Don't do stupid shit"; Trump's appears to be "Stupid shit? What's that? Let's do some!"

2. And - although this isn't surprising, given the source - the little speech he then blarted out to the assembled joes and mollies was ridiculously inappropriate. Instead of the "Thanks boys and girls you're the awesomest, hooah!" he gave a full-on campaign speech full of political poison about Democratic immigration treason and larded with ridiculous lies. My least-favorite was his whopper about how he, he, the Grinch, carved the 10% pay-raise-roast-beast. Seriously? What, you're now Caesar in an orange skinsuit, giving donatives to your loyal legionaries? I mean, I know the guy pretty much sees the Constitution as an asswipe, but that's ridiculous. Here's the exact quote:

"You haven’t gotten [a raise] in more than ten years. More than ten years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one."

Aside from being, well, an utter lie, Tangerinius Caesar here couldn't "get them a big one"; he doesn't have the "power of the purse". I wouldn't expect GIs to know that - I did, but I'd taken "US Government" and con law in college - so it's utterly vile for him to try and buy loyalty with that lie.

Of course, there was more of the Trumpkin usual, for example, military policy as protection racket:

"If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price and sometimes that’s also a monetary price so we’re not the suckers of the world. We’re no longer the suckers, folks. And people aren’t looking at us as suckers"

No, dummy. They're looking at you.

They're looking at us as the poor dumb bastards ruled by the sucker.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Soldiering in the Dead Time

One of the odd things that I remember about the Army of the late Eighties was something called the "half-day schedule".

You see, the week between Christmas and the New Year was a dead time for the peacetime Army of that era. Other than the guys posted to places overseas that might genuinely expect some sort of trouble the CONUS outfits typically scheduled nothing for that week. My two units at Fort Bragg and the third at Ft. Kobbe in Panama went to a training schedule that stopped at midday.

So everybody got out for PT in the morning, did some sort of minor housekeeping chores (this was a very popular time for knocking out the bullshit classes required by DoD or DA - accident prevention training, driver training, PMCS...whatever, if it could be done in four hours it was done), and then knocked off in the afternoon. The single guys played football or watched television or just hung out in the barracks, the married guys went home to the Issue Spouse and kiddos.

In a lot of outfits the single guys took all the holiday duties so the married guys could spend time with their families. Here I am at two in the morning pulling HHC CQ during that week. You can tell how thrilled I was to be there and be awake at that moment.

I suspect, like many of the "traditions" of that time the old half-days of Dead Time are long gone. We're a "warrior" Army now and I suspect that warriors are not encouraged to laze about the barracks watching "He-Man" cartoons.

But I'll bet that this week still has that strange, drifting, almost-vacant feeling that we shared during dead time. The sense that the old year had passed away but the new one had not begun; a hollow time, a sort of military Zappadan during which the guys (and girls) have waaaayyyy too much time to think about things done and undone and regret them both.

What made me think of this was coming across the news from Afghanistan and realizing with a nasty start how We the People have allowed our news sources to consign the guys and gals there to Dead Time.

While those of us Stateside civilians enjoy the seasonal largesse of material goods and family coziness they are still soldering on, and sometimes dying, as hidden from our sight as though they were in another world altogether.

Which ones of us know, or care, about the families and beloveds of MAJ Brent Taylor, who won't be calling his home in Salt Lake City this holiday? That received the most awful Christmas present imaginable? Would we care if we knew? Care enough to rouse ourselves from holiday torpor to so much as give their grieving so much as a thought?

How have we come to this, where we are sending young men and women to serve in the hard lands, and, when called upon, to die in our names and without so much as a whisper in our ears to remind us that they have been killed with fire and steel, gladiators for our indifferent spectation?

Last year I posted one of my favorite Heine poems that reminded me of the lonely feel of soldiering during this un-time.

Now much as I love poetry I'm nothing of a poet (if you want to suffer I will dig up some of my old efforts, but, no; some things should be whispered only down a well at midnight) but I think that this poem really needs a translator who once humped a rucksack. So here it is again; my own take on Heine's vision of the Lament of the Tower Guard. The original text is at the link above. It's well worth the read for the poet's words in the original German.

If my work - and Heine's - please you, I hope you will also take a moment to ask yourself; what is being done in your name, and by whom, in this dead time far away from your sight, and do you care enough to stand up and ask; why?

Lost LP/OP (Enfant Perdu)

Forgotten outpost in the Liberation War
I've served here faithfully these thirty years.
I fought without hope that we would win,
knowing inside that I wouldn't get home safe.

I watched both day and night; I could not sleep
like my buddies did in the hootch nearby;
(though the loud snoring of these heroes
made sure I couldn't nod off even had I wanted to).

In the night weariness would grab me,
or fear - for only idiots have no fear -
and I would sing songs and rouse myself
and them, taking my revenge.

So...there I was, my weapon in my hands
when some sneaking bastard showed his head,
and I shot him good and proper and gave his brain
a juicy dose of hot lead.

But war and justice have far different laws,
and worthless acts are often done right well;
The fuckers' shots were better than their cause,
And I was hit and fell bleeding.

The LP is overrun! With my wound draining out
I go down hard and my bros all grab a hat -
So I died, unconquered, my rifle still ready;
Only my heart was broken.

~ Heinrich Heine

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Some damn thing in the Balkans

The Battle of Elli; Greek Navy against Ottomans afloat, and the Superhero Armored Cruiser of Doom.
Possibly one of the strangest military engagements I've ever encountered. Seriously; it's naval war as Chuck Norris flick, where Chuck just tosses all the minions around and stomps them flat.

Your holiday gift from GFT.

Friday, December 21, 2018


I will be traveling over the next week or so.   Unless the Siskiyou Pass is snowed in, or the other I-5 Pass by Mt Shasta City.   To start the trip the bride and I are going to spend some time at Christmas with grandkids and great grandkids.    Anybody know a few good child-worthy rhymes, riddles, or puns or a good source for same?  Just need a little something to soothe the inner savage of toddlers and six (or seven?) year olds.

I’ll try to stay in touch with the blog and may comment, but will not post during the trip.

Later we will head down to the desert to wait out the northwest rainy season.  Rainbirds the locals call us, as opposed to the snowbirds from Minnesota and other frigid zones to the north.  I play golf down there with some old-timers from Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Nanaimo, so I’ll stock up on Trump jokes.  And the bride has a lot of smartmouthing and wisecracking 70-to-80 year old BFFs down there, so I’ll probably hear some puns that are not fit for even my salty ears.   

Once there I will try to start posting again if golf doesn’t take all of my time.  ;-) 

Merry Christmas and hope that 2019 is happy, healthy, and prosperous for you all.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Declaring victory!

Al Jazeera reports that the U.S. ground forces in Syria are going to be gone within 60 to 100 days. Apparently this is because the chances that the Islamic State Navy will appear off New York Harbor to land jihadi marines have become very, very slim:
"Trump tweeted, "We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency."
The "winners" here are clearly the GIs, who get the hell out of a civil war they should never have been inserted into.

Other "winners" include Erdogan's Turkey, which is now free to mop up the Kurdish areas of northern Syria that have been giving the Turks the collywobbles worrying about a Kurdistan in eastern Turkey, Putin's Russia, which now has a free hand to help the third "winner", the Assad government, without worrying about the pesky possibility of a shooting war with the U.S.

The bottom line is that anything that gets my country out of boneheaded land wars in Asia is a good thing, so, frankly, if "Donald the Dove" wants to declare victory and grab a hat from Syria, I'm pretty much okay with that.

But...the losers?

The Kurds, of course. Who, having apparently failed to learn the lessons of 1991, threw their hand in with the Yanquis only to find that spoken promises aren't worth the paper they're not written on. Once again a foreign ally learns the hard lesson that Uncle Sammy is no more trustworthy than any other guy one's he's gotten what he wants off of you.

All together now:

"There's so many times I've let you down
So many times I've played around
I tell you now, they don't mean a thing
Ev'ry place I go, I'll think of you
Ev'ry song I sing, I'll sing for you
When I come back, I'll bring your wedding ring.

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go
'Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane
Don't know when I'll be back again..."

Update 12/19 p.m.: While as a sergeant I'm still fine with just declaring victory and getting the hell out of Syria, at least one individual who was deeply involved in the mission is less thrilled:
"We have not, no matter what the President has said, defeated ISIS. While it is true that ISIS has lost its physical holdings – the self declared caliphate – this actually makes them more dangerous, not counterintuitive as it may seem, it actually increases ISIS’s lethality within and without the Levant in the short term. This is not something that US policymakers, as well as the senior military and civilian leaders tasked with reducing ISIS were unaware of. As is always the case when pursuing strategic objectives, achieving one creates new problems that require new, or at least adjusted, strategies to resolve."
I still tend to think that this is an overall positive for the U.S., but I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise.


Update 12/20:

Update 12/31: Sooo...maybe the GIs aren't going anywhere soon.
"Graham previewed his arguments to Trump for reconsidering the Syria pullout.

"I'm going to ask him to sit down with his generals and reconsider how to do this. Slow this down. Make sure that we get it right. Make sure ISIS never comes back. Don't turn Syria over to the Iranians. That's a nightmare for Israel," Graham said.

“And, at the end of the day, if we leave the Kurds and abandon them and they get slaughtered, who’s going to help you in the future?” he said. “I want to fight the war in the enemy’s backyard, not ours. That’s why we need a forward-deployed force in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan for a while to come.”
This is why if you have Trump in the office pool it's always smart to bet the under. The sonofabitch is never going to make a deal and stick to it; it's always about whoever talked to him last.

Update 1/7/19: What I said about "Trump and whoever talked to him last"? Well, I'm guessing that it was either Bolton or Bibi, because now the money seems to be on the GIs staying in Syria for...well, who the hell knows? If it's until the IS is destroyed, Iran is defenestrated, and The Turks give up on smashing the Syrian Kurds? Shit, the sun will go nova before the guys in Syria DEROS.

The story is that Casey Stengal was surveying the field where the 1962 Mets were "practicing" and was heard to mutter "Can't anybody here play this game?"

Case, you had NO idea; these jokers make your boys look like the freaking 2917 New York Yankees...

Sunday, December 16, 2018

How long can this go on?

George Packer has a thoughtful essay up at the Atlantic that discusses how fraught the political problems of the United States have become, and why.

Bottom line; "movement conservatism" in the US has become completely zero-sum and utterly irredentist. It, and the roughly 35-40% of the American public who support it, no longer see opposition to their beliefs as legitimate or transactional, but as dangerously illegal treason. If you look for a link between the sort of rhetoric (and policy) issuing from the Oval Office, the legislative agenda of the current majority in Congress, and the actions of the GOP in the various states they control you can see the connection; to modern movement conservatism there IS no legitimacy outside the "conservative" agenda. Opposition isn't simply politics, but betrayal of everything that the nation stands for - conservatism. That Trump emerged from this fever-swamp is no surprise, and neither is the reality that despite being obviously the least competent Chief Executive since Buchanan his popularity with the GOP voters is stratospheric.

It's no surprise that the base is in love. The base is consumed with...
"paranoia and conspiracy thinking; racism and other types of hostility toward entire groups; innuendos and incidents of violence. The new leader is like his authoritarian counterparts abroad: illiberal, demagogic, hostile to institutional checks, demanding and receiving complete acquiescence from the party, and enmeshed in the financial corruption that is integral to the political corruption of these regimes."
The obvious problem here is that there is as currently constituted no rational alternative for someone who is hesitant to embrace the changes and challenges of a multipolar, multiethnic nation in an increasingly interconnected world. If people who see themselves as "traditionalists" don't see a way to organize around a reasonable opposition to things they fear they will be forced into choosing the unreasonable and irrational.

There will always be racists and lunatics who will embrace Naziism or bizarre nonsense like QAnon. The tragedy of US politics is that there is now nothing else for the non-racist and non-looney conservatives. It's Trump...or nothing. The reality of first-past-the-post voting is that if the Rockefeller Republicans were to organize and run someone against Trump in 2020 all it would do is hand electoral victory to the Democratic candidate.

This is not supportable. Not in the long term, and not really in the middle- or short-term, either. No nation can endure with almost two-fifths of its population 1) enmeshed in what amounts to a lunatic cult, and 2) unwilling to cede power and willing to accept any machinations to hold it.

Popular democracies and republics depend on the willingness of all parties to accept the legitimacy of their opponents. When in a republican system you have this:
"After Wisconsin Democrats swept statewide offices last month, Robin Vos, speaker of the assembly, explained why Republicans would have to get rid of the old rules (in order to emasculate the incoming Democratic executive): “We are going to have a very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in.”
you will very soon no longer have a republic.

The U.S. has already, in many ways, become an open oligarchy. The U.S. is, in many ways, not the democratic republic it pretends to be. The U.S. has and is already acting in many ways like any other Great Power, disregarding the good of its own populace and the welfare of those in the places outside its borders it acts, in order to maintain and expand that power.

But what if even the pretense of republican ideals breaks down? What if a plurality of the American public decides that power is better than comity, and that victory for their faction is preferable to the will of the majority? What if that faction prefers to become an open autocracy rather than compromise with their domestic enemies?

What will happen then?

Sunday, December 2, 2018


It once was famous.  It had been a center of Buddhist learning.  There are over 3000 caves in which lived thousands of Buddhist monks and mendicants.  There are oil paintings in those caves, perhaps the oldest in the world, that predate oil painting in Europe by 600 years.  It was also a way-station for the Gautama’s missionaries on their way north to China to proselytize and spread the seeds of the Middle Path.   And it was a rest stop, a mountain oasis, for southbound merchants on the old Silk Road.   

An early American traveler described it as no longer bustling, a serene and comfortable place.  The valley, he said, is rich in grains, clover and beans.  Poplar and mulberry trees predominate.  Another traveler, US Supreme Court Justice William O Douglas, visited there in 1951.  He described it like a Shangri-La in his book ‘Beyond the High Himalayas’.  Infamous now of course because of the Taliban dynamiting the statues of Buddha, and Buddha’s wife and child in 2001.  Even though those monuments had survived the previous 12 centuries under Muslim rulers.  

Bamyan is in the news again for religious reasons.  But this time it is a different religion.  It has become a Sanctuary City for thousands of Hazara, who are predominantly Shia and not accepted as fellow Muslims by the Talibs.  They are considered apostates and are a despised ethnic group by the Pashtuns.  They have just last week fled their villages seeking safe asylum from Taliban attacks.   The Afghan National Security Forces are not able to stop these attacks.  And neither apparently can the 10- to 14000 American troops who are training and advising Afghan forces or engaging in counter-terrorism missions.  Nor can the 6000 NATO soldiers and the 26,000 military contractors that are there.  In my humble opinion there is no possible unconditional victory over the Taliban in this ‘Forever War’.  Not without the complete and continuing cooperation of Pakistan and other neighboring countries.  Which is not going to happen anytime soon, at least in Pakistan where there are powerful elements allied to the Taliban.    

I sympathize with those Hazara victims who will end up forcibly converted, or worse.  And I commiserate with those Afghani women who will again be incarcerated in the burqa and will again be denied education.  And certainly there will be revenge killings in Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, or Mazar-i-Sharif if the Talibs take over.   But what is our role?   Why does the US and NATO have to be the policeman here?  It is not in our precinct. 

My solution?  I have none.  You cannot save the country.  Keep on negotiating with the Talibs?  I don't think so, they know we are leaving and will outwait us?   We have been there for 17 years.  But the Afghan Civil War has been going on for 40 years straight since the start of the Saur Revolution in 1978.   

Perhaps allow the country to informally partition itself?  Give support and weapons to the Northern Alliance?   China has interests in the north.  They have signed contracts for developing oilfields near the Amu Darya.   And the Chinese also have a three billion investment in Afghani copper mines.  Sounds to me like this brouha is in their precinct.  Or we could stay out of the way of Iran if they send in troops to support their co-religionists in Bamyan and other parts of the Hazarajat – and also in the Persian speaking districts of Farah and Herat Provinces?   Not only stay out of their way, but perhaps actively encourage them by ending Trump’s attempted barricade of the Iranian economy?  Why not?  They provide weapons and support to Shia militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Yemen; and in some cases they provide IRGC Special Forces.  General Soleimani and his Qods Force should be next door in Bamian instead of on the shores of the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

Photo by Alessandro Balsamo