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Posts Tagged ‘Military’

We are arming al Qaeda-aligned rebels in Syria.  We are doing this because Bashar al Assad is supposedly a bad guy and now we are told there is a cassus belli in that he may have used chemical weapons.

Was it OK, by contrast, when the rebels massacred a Shia village earlier this week or shot government soldiers in cold blood and posted it on youtube?  Under what principle is it worse for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons than it is for the rebels fighting that government to engage in numerous, intentional, very brutal violations of the law of war?

One or another side’s tactics does not logically tell us that we ought to choose a side and go to war.  It matters a great deal what each of the sides are fighting for.  And it is even more important to assess whether assisting one or the other side is in our interest.  There is always the option of neutrality.  It should be adopted in the vast majority of cases.

Assad is no great guy.  He, like most Middle Eastern dictators, has little regard for the rule of law, has enriched himself at the expense of the public, has used disproportionate violence against his opponents, supported our enemies in Iraq, and has associated with Hezbollah, which is undeniably a terrorist group.  That said, he has led a moderately prosperous, orderly, and tolerant regime that is multireligious, protective of Christians, and otherwise stable and predictable. We’ve seen in recent years similar dictators deposed in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt with totally unpredictable results that are clearly worse than the status quo ante.  We can deal with dictators; we cannot manage anarachy.  Even if Assad deserves to be toppled–and I am doubtful of this–what business is it of ours to sign on with a rebel group that is even more hostile to our nation and its principles?

One may wonder why Russia has become so involved with this conflict, supplying sophisticated arms and a great deal of diplomatic support to Syria.  Two reasons seem clear.  Russia, like the US, has carried on some of its Cold War alliances out of habit, such as its friendly relations with Cuba and North Korea.   More important, Russia  is acting as the protector of Orthodox Christians throughout the world.  This is in line with Samuel Huntington’s thesis in Clash of Civilizations and explains at least a portion of Russia’s foreign policy. This was the chief reason for its support of Serbia during the Kosovo affair, for example.

Why this would be so in Syria is not readily apparent, as the Alawite minority ruling group is a subgroup of Shia Islam.  But there is a pretty obvious explanation.  The Alawaite Ba’athist regime in Syria, like Saddam’s Ba’athist regime in Iraq, grew out of a secular ideology and historically has found its greatest support in a hodgepodge of ethnic and religious minorities. These minorities are all scared of the numerical majority Sunnis and their increasing extremism.  In Syria, the Sunni extremists are part of the broader Salafist/Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam that finds its most militant expression in al Qaeda.

Thus, we have a war with secular and religious minorities (Christians, Shias, Alawites, Druze etc.) on one side, who favor law and order and the devil they know, and, on the other side, fanatical Sunni extremists aligned with increasingly irrelevant secular enemies of the regime. The rebel platform is essentially one of genocide and religious totalitarianism.  This is what we are supporting, and this is undeniably worse than what Assad has delivered throughout his time as leader, in spite of himself, because of the coalition nature of his minority support and the type of governance that flows naturally from such a coalition.

America and Reagan were criticized for “arming bin Laden” during the fight against the Soviet client state in Afghanistan.  This criticism always struck me as pretty stupid and facile.  It’s like saying we were incredibly wrongheaded in World War II to support the Soviet Union, whom we later opposed, in order to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  Things change.  Coalitions come and go. There was no easy way to predict what exactly would come of the anti-Soviet rebels back when there was no Taliban or al Qaeda and, more important, it was worth it at the time to contribute to the devolution of the Soviet regime, even when some risks were apparent.

Whether that criticism of US policy has any merit, it surely is absolutely ridiculous to arm al Qaeda-aligned rebels simultaneously when we’re fighting a war with such people. There is no need for a crystal ball, unlike the 1980s support of the Afghan mujaheddin.  The better analogy would be if the US had adopted a schizophrenic policy during World War II of  aligning with Nazi Germany, while we were fighting Imperial Japan, even as the two remained allies themselves.

Let’s not forget what the real Benghazi scandal is.  Libya spun out of control after the US and European powers in 2011 undertook a totally lawless campaign there, a campaign without UN Security Counsel or Congressional authorization.   The rebels killed Qadaffi in cold blood, when they were not killing black Africans allied with the government.  Soon Libya, like Syria today, became a magnet for the “jihad tourists,” who undoubtedly could not resist the American target. Learning nothing of the very recent past, we’re now going to arm al Qaeda rebels because the regime they are fighting against used one among many nasty weapons in what is invariably the most nasty of wars:  a civil war.

The law of war is important, as is respect for the rights of civilians and other noncombatants.  But violations of the law of war alone are not a reason to go to war.  This is doubly so when the so-called good guys are just as guilty of violating the law of war as those whom we now aim to oppose.  Most important, the people we are proposing to support with arms, in addition to fighting atrociously, are fighting for a goal that is fundamentally atrocious:  Islamist totalitarianism and mass murder of  the Assad regime’s supporters. 

For a guy who appeared to have some sensible, nonideological instincts to oppose a great deal of military intervention during the 2008 campaign, Obama has shown himself to be as deeply wedded to the Washington DC interventionist consensus as anyone before him.  Indeed, he has apparently doubled down in his recent elevation of the interventionist Samantha Power to the post of UN ambassador.

We find the answer to this apparent contradiction in Obama’s lifelong leftism.  Obama is not essentially a pacifist, but rather an anti-American leftist.  He most favors wars that have nothing to do with America’s interest. In the liberal imagination, such wars are far preferable to wars where strategic goods like oil or commerce may be affected, as these interventions are marked by purity of intention.  Thus, he proposed to fold up the tents and scale back the war on al Qaeda earlier this week, even as he propels our forces into messy civil wars in Libya, Egypt, and Syria.  Worse, Obama is willing not only to ignore America’s interest in these cases, but to work directly contrary to it by arming al Qaeda-aligned rebels in the name of “humanitarian war.”

This is more than misguided do-gooderism.  This is treachery that knows no bounds, as it is no ordinary betrayal of the common good, but rather a treachery that imagines itself as a cosmopolitan, universalist morality that transcends parochial and discriminatory notions of mere national interest.

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Some Marines in Afghanistan pissed on a dead Taliban.  And the Marines’ leadership is pissed off about it.  As they say, it’s better to be pissed off than pissed on.

These kinds of things are clearly not good, but they are also somewhat predictable.  Let’s not get carried away in our condemnations.  Americans, like our enemies, have done things like this before.  Eugene Sledge recalled with some horror how Americans pulled gold teeth from dead Japanese on Pelelieu.  American “ear necklaces” and trophy photos were not unheard of in Vietnam.  The pissing incident  is pretty mild and spontaneous in the historical scale of mutilating the dead.

The tone of the leadership is lacking all proportion. General Amos said the wrongdoers would be prosecuted to the “fullest extent.”  Defense Secretary Panetta described their actions as “deplorable.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she saw the video with “total dismay.” The corrupt Hamid Karzai uttered some words of condemnation.  And, as usual, we’re told this incident will inflame Muslim feelings.

Moral judgments must be intelligent, nuanced.  Even when there is an objective moral wrong–a violation of the law of war and a violation of Christian principles about respect for the dead–in every case there is also the question of culpability.  Here that question hinges on the mitigating effects of an extreme situation:  namely, a war against a brutal and uncivilized enemy that has no regard for the laws of war.

These Marines had likely just completed a fight for their lives.  They are young men whom we want to be aggressive and who spend the better part of boot camp being trained to kill enthusiastically.  It is quite a bit to expect these 19 year old, testosterone-fueled, scared, tired, stressed out, and angry young men also to behave exquisitely when they complete a firefight and discover, to their elation, that it is the enemy Taliban who are dead rather than themselves.

Plus, let’s not forget there are many worse war crimes, like mistreatment of civilians, looting, killing prisoners, mutiny, and other atrocities, atrocities with living victims.  To me this pissing incident is worrisome less for the harm of the underlying offense than its suggestion of a breakdown in discipline.  We do not want an undisciplined force for our own selfish reasons.   But even so, we recognize–or at least we should recognize–that military discipline is working against ordinary human instincts in wartime, such as aggression, thankfulness to be alive, hatred of the enemy, and contempt for this terrorist enemy in particular.  Our concerns for discipline must be realistic.

In other words, as in the civilian world, the law should take into account extreme emotional states and provocation in determining punishment and meting out justice. Obviously certain crimes go beyond mere misplaced aggression and suggest a psychopath; such individuals clearly must be identified and punished. This is not such a crime.  This is one of ordinary men committing ordinary human offenses under conditions of extraordinary stress and privation.  From our military and political leadership, some balance is called for.

The leadership outrage is not only excessive, but such occasional pirouettes of outrage are highly selective.  Is there equal outrage for the fact that this unlawful enemy tries every day to kill our troops and their own countrymen who may support us?  Will we condemn the widespread fraternization, adultery, and screwing around that occurs as a result of putting women in a combat zone? Or how about the crimes that thuggish guys in uniform sometimes commit at home, like the rape murder of a Marine couple that occurred in San Diego?   Will our leaders condemn with equal fervor the lawless attack on our airpower by Pakistani border guards?  (No, it is we who apologized to them.) Finally, will we note the relative scale of war crimes here, as it is the Taliban that ran a totalitarian state worthy of the Khemer Rouge before our arrival and who today sexually mutilate women who will not go along with their Satanic program?

I must say, I’m especially tired of hearing about how this will affect the enemy and his feelings.   Muslim feelings are already inflamed against America, let’s not forget.  Before Abu Ghraib and the death of bin Laden and the Koran burning pastor, we had the 9/11 attacks.  Before, during, and after this incident, Muslims have tried abroad and at home to kill our countrymen.  They likely will do so as long as we try to transform their backwards societies, and they will probably still hate us from afar even when this task is abandoned, because we are wealthy and powerful and, most importantly, because we are not Muslim.

As I said above, this kind of crime suggests a breakdown in discipline.  It needs to be punished for that reason, but that punishment should fit the crime.    It certainly does not deserve any jail time, the stupid video notwithstanding.

One might think that the video has necessitated extreme punishment because of diplomatic considerations.  I think that is only part of it.  There is a domestic agenda that these men and their unbridled warrior aggression threatens.   The video suggests their confusion, their youth, and their immaturity in more ways than one.  The men involved are especially unwise to forget the politically correct military whom they serve, a military whose leaders did cartwheels to defend diversity after Major Nidal Hassan killed 13 fellow soldiers, a military that has fallen over itself to integrate gays, and a military that has declared its traditional core of white males obsolete  in order to pursue the sacred goal of diversity, a military that is impossibly trying to “win hearts and minds” while deliberately ignoring the impact of totalitarian Islam.  I find these things 100 times more offensive than whatever a bunchy of lance corporals did to some Taliban corpse.

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Iraq Pullout

America really gave it the college try in Iraq, but in no sense of the word can it be said we “won.”  It was more like a draw or a mixed bag. We won everything worth winning back in 2004:  Saddam was gone, no WMDs were found, and we had lost a minimum of lives. But since then we’ve seen an insurgency arise that cannot be beaten, and we have empowered Iran and installed an Iranian-friendly government in Iraq due to the friendliness of these two Shia-majority regimes.

This week we left Iraq with little fanfare; indeed, we left kind of in a rush since the “friendly” Iraq government would not approve important details in a renewed status of forces agreement focused on training Iraqis.

The insurgency has ebbed and flowed during our tenure, and it still persists. Our military became really interested in counterinsurgency along the way, and this led to the rising star of General Petraeus for a time, but the military and politicians alike realized–perhaps without saying so explicitly–that we’re not really cut out for this kind of war, and that it cannot be won without a decent partner in the indigenous government, and that such a partner is nearly impossible to find when there is a tradition of nationalism and also the Islamic religion, i.e., in the entire Middle East.  So we left, and we’re soon going to be leaving Afghanistan for many of the same reasons under similar circumstances (and there, as well, finally having done something useful in whacking Osama bin Laden in spite of all the marginal results during the interim).

One thing wars do is expose a nation’s military in all its competence and glory–consider the Battle of Fallujah, the swift expulsion of the Taliban, or the death of bin Laden–but also in all its infamy, pettiness, and mismanagement, coupled with the casual dishonesty and misinformation that surround even the most basic affairs, such as the bestowing of a Medal of Honor.  Surely, these contrasts are not lost on the soldiers and veterans, many of whom now are learning what class of people run the VA bureaucracy or have found that a good war record can be turned into dust with a few bad fitness reports in garrison.

Thomas Ricks has an interesting observation that the type of war we have fought, where so little measurable progress can been made, particularly encourages various type of “chickenshit,” as  a means of restoring the illusion of control:

The main issue is this–a LOT of the senior leadership is lost in the sauce, has no idea what’s going on or how to accomplish anything concrete. So, they attempt to make themselves feel like they’re in control of the situation via a) imposing ludicrous chickenshit on those below them, and b) spending most of their time liaising with other senior Americans, doing coordination meetings, briefings, etc., etc., etc. That way, they feel like they are in control of their environment, and never have to encounter anything which would suggest differently. All this is done at the expense of their subordinates and of the war in general, but that’s ok.

Of course, peacetime militaries are notoriously worse in this department, and it will be interesting to see how the huge cadre of combat veterans reacts to these things as we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Ten years ago today, our country and my family received a terrible blow.  We were attacked.  Our countrymen were murdered.  We were shaken. 9/11 is an important historical event that has defined much of the last ten years, but it was also a family tragedy for me, as my Uncle Donnie Regan gave his life that day in the line of duty with the New York City Fire Department.

I distinctly remember the day, as I’m sure most Americans my age do.  I was living in Texas at the time–taking time off and about to start my first law firm job in a few weeks–and received a call from a close friend.  They were evacuating the Dallas Federal Building.  I turned on the TV.  The first tower was already down.  I was stunned.  The second tower came down soon thereafter.  My alarm at this took a little time; at first, I thought this was a replay of the first tower falling.  Then I realized that this situation was even worse than I thought.  Rumors of the “mall in DC” being on fire were on the news.  No one knew the extent of it.   I spoke briefly to my parents, when I heard that Donnie–my uncle and the father of my cousins to whom I am closest–may have been at the towers.

(more…)

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Another sad and typical story from Afghanistan:

A Marine lieutenant colonel and sergeant have died in Afghanistan in what appears to be a shooting by an Afghan policeman.  . . .

“While this is a serious incident, the actions of this individual do not reflect the overall actions of our Afghan partners,” said Marine Maj. Gen. James Laster, the International Security Assistance Force’s deputy chief of staff for joint operations. “We remain committed to our partners and to our mission here.”

We can’t win “hearts and minds” without supporting and building up an Afghan government.  And we can’t do that without recruiting policemen and soldiers.  But we really don’t know who we’re recruiting or why.  We don’t speak their language.  Even if we did, we’d be surprised at how hostile they are on account of their religion and primitivism.  The Taliban crazies and “friendly” elements in Afghanistan look much the same.

This type of thing has happened a lot lately, including in the 9 person massacre of American airmen last month. And our military always says the same thing, that this is some “rare exception.”

There is no easy answer, consistent with our impossible nation-building mission.  But there is one easy answer that will actually work to prevent this kind of horror and also restore our strategic flexibility:  Get Out! Indeed, we’re not in the more terrorist-saturated Pakistan, and obviously we have problems with al Qaeda there, but they can’t project power to us since we’re relatively far away, and yet we can still take out terrorists there from time to time, just as we do in Yemen and Somalia and other places where our forces are not stationed.  One thing is for sure:  the people we’re supposedly helping in Afghanistan hate us, frequently kill us, and we cannot trust “our partners,” all the way up to their president.

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Military tribunals make perfect sense for members of al Qaeda.  These individuals are non-citizens, their prosecution often depends on sensitive intelligence, and their presence in American courtrooms would be disruptive and a security risk.  In war, military tribunals have been used from the Revolutionary War forward, and their streamlined procedures, ability to hold proceedings in secret, and capacity for swift justice recommend them over civilian procedures designed for ordinary crimes.  Of course, the  years-long delays in trials for Guantanamo Bay prisoners and the failure, since 9/11, to execute huge numbers of al Qaeda members in our custody suggests the “swiftness” part is not taken seriously enough by the executive branch.  By contrast, in World War II, Germans using American uniforms to infiltrate allied lines and disrupt American units during the Battle of the Bulge were summarily executed.  But, even so, these tribunals are preferable to the alternative, even if their potential efficiency has not bee employed to great effect.

So it is with a mixture of happiness and schadenfreude that I learn the Obama adminsitration is going to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in a military tribunal down in Guantanmo Bay.  Recall that Obama and many of his supporters preened self-righteously about the demerits of preventitive detention, the need to accord al Qaeda detainees full POW status, the evils of military tribunals, the inhumanity of drone attacks and much else during the 2008 campaign and before.  That is, the left didn’t only rail against the War in Iraq, where they had a point.  They also railed against every aspect of the war against al Qaeda. 

On both fronts–preventitive war and the use of cedures for terrorists–Obama is in retreat.  He is realizing that most Americans don’t really give a fig about terrorists, they want them killed or captured, and simply have the minimal humane concern that innocent goatherders be returned to their families if they can be reliably identifiied.  We all know, and Obama and his buddies forgot, that the burdens of proof are shifted in wartime and that we must err on the side of safety, particularly as we face a foreign, ruthless, and uncivilized enemy that deliberately hides among civilians.  It is not America’s fault that the innocent Afghanis and al Qaeda terrorists appear similar; it’s al Qaeda’s, with their ragamuffin appearance and terrorist tactics. 

I’d like to think this decision is a sign of Obama growing in office, but it appears more like simple triangulation.  Just as he dropped his lifelong obsession with gun control once he became president and realized it was political dynamite, it’s obvious that his views on foreign policy and the law of war were mostly campaign props, instincts developed from years in liberal Hyde Park, rather than well thought out positions.  Here he has been temporarily burdened by the incompetent Eric Holder’s “true believer” implemntation of these principles, but Obama’s political instincts are not so terrible than a guaranteed loser–such as a face off with 9/11 Families in NYC–is going to be pursued to the bitter end. Even on his signature issue, race and American identity, he left his pastor of 20 years when it became a problem. 

We are reminded from all this and much else that Obama is not a man of high principle; his chief principle is his love of self and his interest in political survival.  And thus all that “hope and change” rhetoric is now quite obviously a bunch of gliterring genrealities uttered by a thoroughly ordinary politician.

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I’m really amazed, frankly, that for ten years the commanders of US efforts have said that “we’re making progress” as things seem, more or less, not to have changed much after the bulk of al Qaeda fled into Pakistan’s western tribal regions in early 2002.

Retired Marine Bing West’s new book looks very interesting.  He basically says we’re not winning, the commanders are full of it for self-serving reasons, that our strategic assumptions are wrong, and that the best thing to do now would be to scale back the mission radically and pursue the narrow American national interest in tamping down the international terrorist component over there.

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The complete explosion of craziness in the Mideast, and Obama’s inconsistency with longtime allies like Mubarak and the leaders of Bahrain (where the US has a large military presence), suggests he’s torn.  But he’s torn between two equally ineffective “idealistic” approaches to foreign policy.  On one hand, he is like George W. Bush and supports democracy, as if it did not matter what type of leaders or government such democracies may elect.  This is the old style FDR/Wilsonian liberalism that informs much of America’s 20th Century foreign policy.  And, on the other, he is the leftist anti-colonialist of his youth, and thus finds it unseemly to criticize Third World movements of national liberation.  So one minute he supports the protesters, but then he realizes this may appear like cultural imperialism, so he says they must move slowly.  He has no idea what he really wants, nor does he know what to expect from his provocative speeches.  His thinking is incoherent, and his policy incoherence is the natural result.

The last realist US president was George H.W. Bush.  But he too had problems, as he was a realist, but believed strongly in US interventionism and the ideal of “unipolarity.”  Nonetheless, at least such an approach has some natural limits, as it does not aim to create instability in places where we benefit a great deal from stability, such as Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Japan or South Korea.

America’s interests worldwide are narrow:  primarily, our people benefit from friendly and pacific regimes that do not aim to harm us, and secondarily we benefit from regimes that are liberal (if undemocratic) insofar as they support property rights, markets, the rule of law, and trade.  None of these goals are fostered by the two competing liberal idealisms that favor democracy alternately with Third World thugocracy, and nor too have these goals been well fostered by the do-gooder interventionism of the first Bush and Bill Clinton.

What is missing–what is always missing–from our national conversation is a sound policy of strategic disengagement.  A policy that asks seriously why we have 50,000 plus troops in Germany? A policy that asks why we care particularly how Egypt and Bahrain picks its leaders?  A policy that seriously questions if we are getting a good return on our enormous investment not in defense–though it is labeled as such–but rather military power projection and military presence worldwide?

Judging by Egypt’s unrest, the lackluster results in Iraq, and the relative lack of fallout from the departure of US troops from such varied locales as Iceland and the Philippines, it seems we can do without, and, indeed, would likely accomplish much more if we aimed for realistic, narrow, and achievable goals rather than messianic and idealistic policies such as “democratizing the Mideast” and “ensuring stability in Europe.”

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The Deepest Cuts

I wrote not too long ago about how ridiculous it is Obama has essentially quadrupled deficit spending, and created an astronomically expensive new entitlement, while demanding deep cuts from the military.  This is undobutedly the fruit of his early 1980s, Nuclear Freeze, anti-military worldview.

I personally think the Pentagon could save a lot of money by scaling back America’s commitments around the globe quite radically, adjusting its retirement system, and changing its procurement process.  But the bigger solution must come from narrowing the mission:  we should retain power projection ability, but one focused on territorial defense, as opposed to defending amorphous “interests.”  With a few exceptions–sea lanes, nuclear proliferation, terrorist training camps–we can mostly ignore the globe’s parochial hotspots, which have little to do with us and the outcome of which will barely affect us.  It seems to me the US gets relatively little in the way of return from having forces in places like Germany, Guam or South Korea.  Let’s keep a few logistics bases, a decent number of carriers and prepositioned gear, and mostly let the world go to hell.

That said, we still need functional aircraft, tanks, or our great wealth will make us the subject to bullying and shakedowns by more militarily powerful countries.  It turns out our planes are getting very old (see below)

And yet we’ve largely scuttled the F-22, the F-35 strike fighter is on the chopping block, and the Marines this week lost their Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. The latter is a particularly bad cut–unless some off-the-shelf choice is quickly chosen to replace it–as the current amphibious vehicle is super-old, slow, poorly armored, and cannot realistically last another 20 or 30 years.  Of course, the EFV’s development was super-expensive, problem-plagued, and typical (I’m sad to say) of major USMC weapons-development programs, such as the costly Osprey.

 

The Legacy Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle Destroyed in Iraq

You have to know a wee bit about military gear (and how old much of it is) to know what replacements are reasonable and what are not.  You also have to have a strategic vision not to allow the Pentagon to metastasize into developing capability for fighting ten wars, simultaneously, all with gold-plated leadership, retirements, and contractors.  Obama seems to have neither the necessary knowledge, nor vision, to intelligently tackle Pentagon reform, and Gates appears to be simply following the boss’s latest 90 degree turn. Both are seeking to cut crucial programs, while continuing the role of the US as global cop.

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The Soviet system privileged party officials, political correctness, and ideological rectitude above all, even military competence.  Commissars were placed alongside combat officers to ensure loyalty to party goals.  Big decisions were made in ridiculously bad ways because of ideological blinders and commitments that saw “class conflict” and the “wheel of history” where it was absent.

The US military more and more resembles its Soviet predecessor, right down to an inconclusive war of Afghan nation-building.  This week the Captain of the USS Enterprise was canned not for an accident or dereliction of duty or anything like that, but instead for making a raunchy video that poked some fun at the problems of integrating women on a combat ship, as well as other stresses of living with 5,000 other people for months on end.

The message to mid-level officers is clear:  be boring, be compliant, and never dare question the ideological goals of the anti-military powers that be regarding women and gays, whatever the cost.

Incidentally, has the military ever tried to measure the impact of women in the ranks?  I mean specifics:  the dollar cost, the cost in human lives, degraded performance, levels of fraternization, etc.  It seems a study like that will never be done.  The old guard has been drummed out.  The subtle impacts of special treatment are accommodated, ignored, or merely grumbled about in private.  And the actual negative impact of women on training and efficiency in units like fighter squadrons, military police, or combat engineers is deliberately ignored.

Who knew the America of 2010 would recreate the New Soviet Man of 1919 l. . . . and this after the spectacular implosion of the Soviet regime in 1991?

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The New Model Army

DADT will become law soon, passed this week by the lame duck Democratic Senate after earlier passage by the House.  I oppose this law for all the usual reasons.

Like the gay rights movement as a whole, this is part of a broader cultural movement:  destruction of the military and other traditional institutions in the name of equality.  Their prerogatives, culture, ethos, and the human type the military allowed to flourish have become intolerable  in a society dedicated to an “equality” that allows no distinctions of right and wrong, man and women, or anything else.  The post-Vietnam denegration of the military began the process, which was accelerated by the Tailhook Scandal.  In an hysterical overreaction, women were forcibly integrated into units in which few had any interest and in which the units had hitherto flourished as all male domains.  Standards were lowered.  Less time was spent at the rifle range and more and more on endless lectures on diversity and sexual harassment.

The worst fruit of this process has been habitual dishonesty at every level of command.  Ignoring the facts and speaking the party line is now so ingrained, that no one with an interest in a military career dares note the farcical lack of physical ability among many women “warriors,” nor the lack of patriotism by certain diversity candidates, some of whom have a bad habit of shooting up their peers in the name of Allah.

As in the integration of women into combat units, the end of DADT will change the military more than it will demand any changes of the gays who now have the right to serve “openly.”  On what basis will a lack of hand-holding, male-male kissing, domestic partner benefits, a lisp, sex change operations, and God knows what else be justified?   Gays are allowed to serve now–let us not forget–they simply must keep that controversial part of their lives to themselves.  In other words, discretion and respect for public standards is required.  No more.  And there is no basis now to recognize that the secondary and tertiary behaviors described above are disruptive of military order.  Nor does anyone seem to care that this behavior is offensive to a great many of the people who actually want to serve in the military, conservative and religious people from the Red States, people completely unknown to the Pelosis and Obamas of the world, and people who will quietly resign and leave the military, just as many quality men have defected from certain combat support units because of the disruptive presence and double standards required to have women integrated in the ranks.  Oh well, no price too high for diversity, not even lost wars and homicidal Army majors apparently!

The DADT repeal has nothing to do with the good of the military, winning wars, or genuine concern for justice.  It is a big fat middle finger to an institution the left habitually despises and has since the Vietnam War.

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I was perusing the Washington Post’s excerpts of Bob Woodward’s new book on Obama’s decision temporarily to add 30,000 troops to the Afghanistan campaign.  A few things are rather striking to me, and they reveal Obama’s defects as a leader.

First, Obama is completely ambivalent about the mission and the troop increase in Afghanistan.  This is the case in spite of his campaigning as this being more important than Iraq and his announcement in early 2009 of a recommitment to Afghanistan.  Obama seems unaware how his flippancy can degrade the mission and morale.

Two, he is completely vague about his goals, other than the goal of getting our troops home. The September 2009 deliberations are rather strange to me, because there seems little collective recognition that in April of 2009 Obama announced an ambitious recommitment of resources to Afghanistan with a goal of destroying the Taliban, protecting the population, and increasing the skills and reality of the Afghan government and its security forces.  Having stated this goal, Obama now asks for wildly varying “options,” even though he seems unaware that certain goals, having already been stated, exclude certain tactical options.  But he’s used to options, because he’s used to low stakes legislative and public relations decision-making; he doesn’t realize that in more practical tasks, from building a car to defeating an enemy, you can’t tell someone to take a satellite to the moon and also demand that he gives you an option that doesn’t involve a rocket.  Incidentally, Don Rumsfeld’s obsession with troop levels in Iraq had much in common with Obama in this respect; he too wanted the military to do the impossible on the cheap.

Three, the military is at times borderline insubordinate, but a certain amount of push-back is to be expected, particularly when you’re being told (a) accomplish the impossible but (b) told to use fewer troops than you have already said are necessary to accomplish part “a” of this mission.  It would be nice if once in a while we’d actually see someone resign in public protest of these impossible orders.  Indeed, the military’s original timeline went out to 2016, which suggests quite a bit about how little will be accomplished by 2011 when the drawdown is supposed to begin.

Finally, Obama also seems to have a real problem with dissent.  He wants everyone to “sign off” on the plan, but it’s clear some disagreed before, during, and after its formulation.  These things happen, and this need not be a major problem.  The President’s the decision-maker.  But manufacturing false consensus where one is absent is not the mark of a mature leader, but rather of an insecure one who wants “yes men.”

Obama is not serious about the Afghan war.  He has split the difference with the military and given them contradictory mission guidance. Woodward’s expose of his decision-making shows to me that far from the problem being the existence of various factions–a normal feature of every major strategic decision–the commander in chief himself is the problem.  Specifically, Obama is incoherent, unserious, and inexperienced in how the world works, particularly on military matters.  The conflicts among his subordinates and his own impatience with them originate in his own incoherent leadership.  He doesn’t see this and mistakes his pig-headedness and stupidity for steadfastness and enlightenment.

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That’s what they used to say about World War I:  you had armies of lions led by donkies.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s clear that the grand strategy–democratic nation-building in the Muslim world–will do little to make us safer from terrorism and requires an impossible tutelage of proud, xenophobic Muslims by secularized America and its military. 

Nearly ten years into Afghanistan, the place is what it has always been:  dangerous, anti-American, Muslim, and primitive.  Iraq is little better.  Yet conservatives remain optimistic, bragging even about the Iraq “victory.”  At the same time, the military plods onward, in spite of the strategic lunacy of our civilian leaders’ vision.  I confess, I was once more optimistic about the possible outcome.  Events have chastened me.  I have returned to my natural isolationism (coupled with a Jacksonian bias to the occasional, brutal retaliatory raid).  Ten years after these campaigns have begun, it’s clear that they are doing more harm than good, at least for our country and its security.

Lawrence Auster observed an important aspect of why this farce continues in a comment on the increasing focus of training Americans to build rapport with locals:

In Afghanistan and Iraq, as in Vietnam and Korea before them, the politicians assign the military a fundamentally impossible mission to accomplish. The military is told that they cannot defeat the enemy decisively, but must concede to the enemy an inviolable strategic sanctuary from which the enemy controls the tempo of combat. Moreover, the politicians place absurd restrictions on how the military must conduct operations even in the non-sanctuary areas where it is allowed to fight. Rather than resign or resist, the top brass accepts a strategy and operational restrictions that guarantee failure. This leaves the mid-level officers in the unenviable position of executing the impossible strategy under the ridiculous restrictions. Coming from a “can do” culture, the mid-level officers come up with incredibly involved and expensive multi-step plans to carry out the impossible mission. Mid-level officers who try to do the impossible are decorated and promoted; they know that if they salute, make no waves, and do their time overseas, their careers will stay on track. The few officers who realize they are executing a strategy that guarantees defeat either resign in disgust or are forced out. It is simply not in the Army’s institutional interest to lift its eyes above the level of the “intermediate steps” to the strategic level–among other things, this would bring about a profound crisis in civil-military relations, as the Army would have to refuse or resist political instructions that made no sense. As a result, the Army as an institution prospers even as it is defeated and even as the nation wastes vast amounts of money and lives trying to do the impossible.

Of course, mid-level officers are not supposed to conduct grand strategy; it’s healthy that they are subordinate to civilian leaders and also healthy and admirable that they are optimistic.  But there comes a time when some push-back is called for.  If a mission is unworkable, impossible, and will simply get soldiers and men needlessly killed, then it’s time to say something, whether in professional journals, in briefings to civilian leaders, or otherwise.  If nothing else, there is a time to say ” yes we can patrol here and there, meet with this or that village, and the like, but we do not have enough men to defeat the enemy, guaranty local security, and, further, we cannot and will not win hearts and minds, because our very presence in an Islamic land is repulsive to the people. And finally, none of these things will do anything identifiable to defeat al Qaeda or make America safer.” 

One unfortunate consequence of the incresaing “professionalism” of the modern military is its leaders’ absolute financial dependence on the government and, by necessity, prevailing political winds.  The old aristocratic volunteer officer might have been more inclined to speak out, whether against a losing campaing in Afghanistan or a meddlesome requirement to integrate women into his unit, not least because he could fall back on an inheritance and family wealth.  The modern major and lieutenant colonel is on the brink of a comfortable pension and is likely from a middle class background; to speak out to forcefully against the crazy directives coming from on high would result in penury, if not worse.  We sometimes wonder why Soviet engineers and soldiers and bureaucrats participated in their insane system year after year, in spite of the obvious lies, half-truths, destruction, and missed projections made by central planners.  There, as increasingly is the case in America, the state was everything.  In the Soviet Union, the withholding of a job, a pension, a license, a prescription, an apartment, or a degree was incalculaby destructive of the individual.   And there, as increasingly is the case in America, there were almost no resources outside the state, including private wealth, to fall back upon if one had earned the disfavor of the state.

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I read (but did not watch) the President’s speech on Iraq.  Of all the things he has done as President, stopping our mindless “stay the course” approach in Iraq has been something I generally approve.  I also think it’s a testament to his relative moderation on foreign policy that our withdrawal has been orderly.  I disagree with conservatives who say we’re “cutting and running” or that his failure to acknowledge the “success of the Surge” shows his bad faith.  The Surge, in fact, while it tamped down some violence in Iraq, has hardly been a success without qualification.  There is still a significant terrorist presence in Iraq.  Its politics are still corrupt, and its likely future will be as a Shia-led Iranian partner. And the Surge is often credited with a reduction in violence caused by the earlier Anbar Awakening, which itself was caused by the mistakes and oversteps of al Qaeda in Iraq.

The original mission in Iraq (of finding and destroying WMDs) turned out to be largely unnecessary.  Upon this, Bush elevated the secondary mission of installing a friendly democracy.  This led to a seven year counterinsurgency campaign that has ended inconclusively.  It likely created as many Iraqi nationalist terrorists as it destroyed Islamist ones.  And for its modest or nonexistent benefits, it did tie down our forces, cost many American lives, destroy much American equipment, and cost a great deal of money over the last seven years.  If the first part of the Iraq mission was defensible, the latter portion was clearly a mistake.

As a work of rhetoric, however, Obama’s speech was uninspired.  He never seems tremendously comfortable in the commander in chief role.  He keeps our troops’ sacrifices and honorable work on the same plane as jobs for steelworkers or healthcare reform. In other words, he misses some of the romance of the soldier’s life that Bush and Reagan understood.  This is one of many reasons a great many Americans view him as an alien figure, who does not share their values.

Where Obama does not get points from me and where he seems particularly confused is on Afghanistan.  He disagreed with Bush and pulled out of Iraq because he surmised, correctly in my opinion, that the mission was a counterproductive loser.  But why then should the same type of mission be pursued in Afghanistan so many years after the 9/11 attacks? Unlike 2001, there are not significant terrorist training camps there; we are dealing there, as in Iraq, with a nationalist and Islamic insurgency fueled by our presence and the various petty and major grievances Afghans have with our lumbering presence.  The main part of the enemy have fled to Pakistan, which is an on again, off again, partner in the war against al Qaeda.  The mere presence of al Qaeda in Afghanistan should not be enough to justify an extended nation-building campaign; al Qaeda is also in Iraq, not to mention Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, and, for that matter, Germany, France, the UK, and the US.  It’s not clear from Iraq that replacing corrupt dictatorships with corrupt, sectarian democracies does anything at all to fight terrorism at a strategic level.  Once again, look at Pakistan, a functioning, long-established Islamic democracy, where large elements of its military and intelligence infrastructure support Islamic terrorists.  In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, limping along with a smaller, but still significant presence, hardly seems the kind of serious change Obama made such a show of in the campaign.  It looks more like hedging his bets in an area in which he is supremely unconfident.  And this course promises to continue blood-letting, expense, and meaningless accomplishments like slightly reducing the daily car-bomb count in countries that have nothing to do with us.

How to use the military to fight terrorism is not an easy question.  But part of the answer seems like focusing on the terrorists themselves and not being terribly concerned with changing the environment that incubates them.  That environment is fueled by a combination of Islam and typical Third World corruption, and it cannot be easily changed.  But what our military can do is blow up camps, lavish informants with cash, use drones to blow up terrorist leaders, bomb terror-supporting countries, sink ships, and otherwise engage in our own version of “hit and run” tactics rather than conventionally, and expensively, trying to transform ancient peoples into good liberal democrats.

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A halfway intelligent lance corporal knows that the Afghans are sick of our presence, are united by xenophobic nationalism, and that a great many are skeptical of the kleptocratic Afghan government and military.  So the following exchange with General Petraeus suggests a man whose demand for precision ebbs and flows with his desire for a particualr conclusion:

When asked whether nationalism is putting down roots in Afghanistan‘s tribalized society, Gen. David Petraeus is judicious: “I don’t know that I could say that.” He adds, however, that “we do polling” on that subject. When his questioner expresses skepticism about the feasibility of psephology — measuring opinion — concerning an abstraction such as nationalism in a chaotic, secretive and suspicious semi-nation, Petraeus, his pride aroused, protests: “I took research methodology” at Princeton.

Some things can’t be put into a powerpoint slide.  They just are known intuitively, based on long experience with the people involved.  We lack this experience in Afghanistan.  We lack this experience in Iraq.  We are trying to do some good things, and we are doing them honorably on the whole, but the payoff in terms of national security is hard to see.  The alternative–the occasional punitive raid–seems more easily accomplished and more consistent with the primitive conditions of these nations, as well as the limitations of the American government and American military.

I certainly respect Petraeus’ intelligence and his broader view than many of his peers.  That said, his apparent penchant for statistics in the inchoate realm of counterinsurgency suggests a certain hubris.  He is understandably unlikely to announce when the strategy and overall mission are destined to fail.  He is an impressive “can do” person.  That said, the mediocre results in Iraq have been redefined as a great victory, even though Iraq is securely in Iran’s orbit and is still a violent, unfriendly place.  His remarks on “methodology” in particular reminded me of something John Lukacs wrote critical of certain tendencies in academia in his book Historical Consciousness:

For the image of the people-obscured as it is by rhetoric and obfuscated by statistics–is an elusive phenomenon. We live in an age of democracy, of popular sovereignty, of popular rule: but who are the people? Intelligent opponents as well as some of the proponent of modern democracy recgnized that of Aristotle’s ‘s three principal types of government–monarchy, aristocracy, democracy–the last one, government by the people, by the many, is the most difficult. But there more to this. Rule by “the people” is not only difficult; it is also the most complex; and the most abstract. It is abstract, because while it is possible to find out, and later relatively easy to reconstruct, what a certain ruler wanted, or even what a ruling group wanted, who can say what “the people” wanted–with any reasonable degree of certainty.

General Petraeus needs to consider this.  We don’t know Afghanistan.  Polling of the smallish number of accessible Afghans in the city won’t change that.  We don’t know Afghanistan, in part, because of the failure to train up specialists in the relevant languages that could help us know what the hell these people are saying, thinking, writing to one another, and the like.  We are, in spite of ourselves, the arrogant, ugly American, giving people what they don’t want and surprised when they turn around and want to kill us and our proxies.

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