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Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam’

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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Like night follows day, liberals oppose wars started by Republicans and shrug their shoulders at those started by Democrats.  Indeed, even when those wars–both Iraq and Afghanistan–were supported by congressional resolutions and UN mandates, there was much talk over the last decade of “illegal wars” and the evils of unilateralism.  All that talk evaporated when President Hope and Change assumed the helm.

The Libyan campaign manifests a certain amount of multilateralism (indeed, France is there, which is apparently the sine qua non of all multilateralism) but there is no authorization at all from a congressional resolution.  Under the War Powers Act, which was instituted post-Vietnam and post-Nixon, American military action of more than 60 days requires consultation with Congress and formal congressional support.  Indeed, this statute itself quite a bow to executive power, as the Constitution does not seem to contemplate any unilateral, executive military action other than in the case of repelling national invasions.  Congress must declare wars.  And, a fortiori must authorize warlike military action in general. Here it has partially delegated that power, but retained its essential role in the process.

Obama is thwarting that role and usurping the powers of war and peace solely to himself.  This is, quite frankly, the traditional mark of a tyrant.  It should have all Americans from every background and political persuasion concerned.

Here we have an action far overseas, that has been subject to minimal explanation to the American people and is based on a very dubious rationale of stopping so-far-nonexistent-masacres, and not a single American legislator has voted in favor it.  The deadline for such authorization has come and gone, and Obama has announced quite lawlessly in my view that he does not have to and does not intend to seek any congressional support for the Libyan campaign. 

Ideological and cowardly as our political leaders are, we’ve seen little institutional concern over Congress’s rights here. Their one trump card now would be to defund the campaign.  But there seems little support for that. If this war is indeed popular, shouldn’t the Congress at least vote to authorize it, if only to preserve its own institutional power? One would think the Congress would ant to shore up its ability to prevent a future unilateral war.  And this war, unlike Iraq, is truly unilateral insofar as it emanates from and is sustained by the will of one man alone, the President, without any checks and balances to speak of!  That he has teamed up with other regimes, some democratic and others less so, is immaterial.

We are witnessing one of the chief evils of a Republican-Party dominated national legislature:  they rarely see a war or military action they’re willing to oppose, which passivity they imagine to be the height of patriotism.  In spite of this imagined seriousness, some completely idiotic wars have come and gone this way (such as Kosovo), and, from a purely self-interested standpoint, it should be noted that Democrats do not return the favor even after they’ve voted in favor of military action, e.g., the ridiculousness that is John Kerry.  While the President deserves some deference on foreign policy, particularly in the age of al Qaeda, that deference can be taken too far.  When the President has no congressional authorization whatsoever and violates a statute to commit a war, that is the time for nonideological action based on the institutional concerns of the legislative branch itself.

The President, like all presidents, quite naturally and predictably changed his tune and supported Bush-era institutions such as the GITMO detainment and related executive rights over foreign policy.  This is what powerful men do; they are jealous over their power and their prerogatives.  But Congress, contrary perhaps to the expectations of the Founders, has proven to be a bit of a pushover, particularly on matters of war and peace.  Why is this? Well, the less they do, the less responsibility they have, and thus the less blame they must endure for failure.  This seems to be part of the problem.  In addition, the rise of ideological politics, where ideologically motivated political parties seek certain ends without regard to which branch may implement them seems to have been an unexpected development of the last 100 years or so.  The Founders imagine a politician to be a proud man, naturally avaricious of power, and therefore unlikely for ideological or other goals to give up that power.  The founders, nearly all lawyers, imagined the genius of the advocacy system writ large, whereby faction would balance faction and each branch of government would be on guard against the others. What they did not contemplate is that ideology and the politics of party would castrate men, rendering them obedient and humble before the President elected by a national plebiscite.  The disaster of Vietnam shook Congress from its stupor.  Let us hope nothing quite so bad is required to get the Congress to check the ambitions of Obama.

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Obama’s Afghanistan Problem

There have been a few excellent editorials, including this short piece by Gary Wills, in recent weeks noting that Obama risks becoming the LBJ of his time:  a man with an ambitious domestic agenda, whose foreign policy mishaps and inconclusive, persistent prosecution of a counterinsurgency are his undoing.

I think the analogy is apt, but the left and the country in general seem a great deal less interested in the war now that George W Bush is out of office.  Casualties are mounting, many of the same problems of corruption exist in Afghanistan as in Iraq, and the war’s results are mediocre at best.  Yet Obama has a freedom of movement on this that defied his predecessor.  LBJ, by contrast, was seen as “the man” by the New Left and was given no real breaks for his progressive agenda at home or Democratic Party identification.  Indeed, the 1968 Democratic Convention was the sight of one of the greatest riots of the far left as part of the anti-Vietnam movement.

Obama, I believe, will muddle through in Afghanistan and not take a significant hit.  The main issue that has eclipsed all others is the dreadful state of the economy, which so far seems impervious to the various spending and stimulus measures he has issued.

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Senator Joseph Lieberman writes today that we should get in the face of India, Russia, and China and shame them into reigning in Burma, with whom all three nations have good relations. And people think Bush is making America enemies around the world! This is typical of the Democrats’ post-cold-war foreign policy: the cause must be pure, with little relation to U.S. interests; the cost may be immense; the benefit (and likelihood of success) minimal; and then, and only then, will we know we are behaving authentically. Because only then will we know that our power is being used solely for humanitarian reasons. Liberals, in spite of their self-image as peaceniks, have a penchant for military intervention, so long as it’s done for the right reasons. Let’s not forget, Vietnam (1965-73), Korea (1950-53), Bosnia (1996), Kosovo (1999), Bay of Pigs (1961), Haiti (1995), and East Timor (1999) all happened on a Democratic President’s watch.

If one of these venture fails, we can rest assured that our purity of intention will make up for our errors. This is dangerous stuff, devoid of any natural barriers to excess. Bush is bad enough and also a kind of liberal: he combines a vague sense of interest with a messianic sense of mission that stresses democracy and human rights. But Obama, Lieberman, and Clinton are much worse: they forget the interest part and replace it solely with a good intentions policy, one that views “selfless” missions as more valuable because they prove to ourselves and the rest of the world that we are good people.

Almost all liberal foreign policy functions to discredit and apologize for the Western past. It is supposed to show we’ve “grown up” and are no longer mere imperialists. We don’t fight for ourselves but for others. Of course, we have an agenda, and it seems at first glance to be a kind of self-assured imperialism. But for liberal hawks that agenda is everyone’s agenda, because everyone wants democracy, free speech, MTV, homosexuality, CNN, globalization, outsourcing, abortion, etc., and the only reason they don’t have them now is because they’re oppressed. Remember how excited they were about the spontaneous rallying cry for the Iraq War “Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy,” as if our own standards on these matters were beyond criticism. Most important, liberal foreign policy functions to atone for the great stain of American inaction in the face of the Holocaust. Almost all their thinking is based on a set of principles that retroactively would have required our intervention in the European Campaign before December 7, 1941.

This is history repeating itself not as tragedy or farce, but as psychodrama.

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In the wake of the Cold War, the US military was cut dramatically. We went from a 750,000 man Army to one of about 475,000 today. The Navy and Air Force undertook similar cuts. We went from spending about 5.5% of GDP on the military to 3%. One consequence has been that the “all volunteer force” is stretched thin, has had to make due with relaxed recruiting standards, and there is a great deal of grumbling from senior commanders that the Iraq War and the repeated, lengthy deployments are killing recruiting and retention.

A larger military, both now and in the future, likely would be easier to recruit for and retain manpower, even during a time of war, than the present system. There is a reason for this paradox: such a military would allow greater time between deployments, greater flexibility when a surge of any kind is needed (including for contingencies in other theaters), and it would ease the strain on the battlefield through more overwhelming force whenever a large number of forces may be concentrated. Since one of the missions our troops will likely be called upon in the future is counterinsurgency, large numbers of skilled, trained, and well-rested infantry will be needed. The basic dynamics of this type of war are less technology and more manpower intensive than their counterparts. The U.S. had over 500,000 troops in Vietnam and the French had more than 400,000 in Algeria. We have now approximately 160,000 troops in Iraq. Since our goals in the wake of 9/11 have been so ambitious–indeed, overly ambitious and utopian in my opinion–Rumsfeld and Bush’s continuation of the “peace dividend” military and their failure to demand a larger military (particularly when support would have been high right after 9/11) has proven foolish indeed.

This is not just a matter of 20/20 hindsight. Their decision-making was truly warped. Who looks at the Soviet problems in Afghanistan and blames them on troop levels rather than on the Soviet penchant for “scorched earth” tactics and the inherent unpalatability of its ideology to the religious Afghan people? Who looks at a looming occupation and thinks gratitude will grease the wheels when governance and power are necessary? Who looks at a country the size of Iraq and thinks troop levels that are a fraction of the number of (per capita) police in the peaceful United States will get the job done? The combination of incompetence and ideological blindness is the root of the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq. Some hard-headedness, including about the size of the military, will be needed in the next administration. We should not, because present-day recruiting problems avoid planning for the next conflict in a way that is sustainable, avoids a draft, and allows the military to accomplish the mission.

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