Saturday, December 30, 2006

Have a Neocon New Year

Also at Kos.

I don't like to fall into full-bore paranoia, but after watching the Bush administration for six years, I'm more inclined to credit conspiracy theories than I am to believe in coincidence. One the eve of Mr. Bush's New Year's announcement about his new Iraq strategy, I more than suspect that America is about to be pushed into a full bore neoconservative policy of militarization from which it will take decades or longer to extract ourselves.

Over at Juan Cole's Informed Comment, Larisa Alexandrovna paints a grim and all too likely scenario:
The administration is stalling as it supposedly weighs its Iraq options, when in fact they have already made their decision… One need only look at the slow leaks coming out, not the least of which was Joe Lieberman’s op-ed in the Washington Post, to understand that we are going to be sending more troops to Iraq…

In the meantime, naval carriers are deployed to send Iran “a warning,” as though the threats thus far and the passing of sanctions are not warning enough. Add to that the detainment of Iranian diplomats invited to Iraq by the Iraqi leadership. Why is the US arresting diplomats invited to a country that the US claims is a sovereign nation governing itself?

…given this entire context, ask yourself again why Saddam Hussein is being executed now, during Hajj even? What is the urgency?

Like Alexandrovna, I see a major escalation of the war in the Middle East being provoked. Some major act of terror or sectarian violence will likely occur; perhaps something in England or the U.S. Iran, now the "likely suspect" behind any and all violent extremism, will be blamed. U.S. naval and air strike forces will be in place to conduct an attack against Iran.

The possibilities are frightening. With increased violence in Iraq (or even without it), Mr. Bush will encounter little opposition to increasing ground troop levels in that country. Thanks to the provisions in the War Powers Resolution of 1973 that allow a president to commit forces to combat for 60 to 90 days without permission from Congress, Mr. Bush can order strikes on Iran on his own authority.

In an open-ocean fight, Iran's maritime forces would be no match for the United States Navy. But a naval battle between Iran and the U.S. won't take place in open-ocean; it will happen in restricted waters of the Persian Gulf (and possibly the North Arabian Sea), environments in which Iran's coastal defense/sea denial navy has asymmetric advantages that allow it to exploit the vulnerabilities of America's power projection naval forces. Moreover, Iran's maritime forces don't need to score a decisive victory over our Navy. A single missile or torpedo or mine hit on one of our ships will be a big enough sting to embarrass us.

Unfortunately, it will also be sufficient justification for Bush to escalate a naval and air operation against Iran. Thanks to Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker and Alexandrovna's revelations in Raw Story, we know that plans for just such an operation have been in process for some time.

War and Empire

We also know that the neoconservative cabal that put young Mr. Bush in the White House to sponsor its imperial policies still has its hand on the helm of U.S. policy. The proposed option to boost troop levels in Iraq and the overall personnel end strength of the Army and Marine Corps came from Fred Kagan. Kagan is a confederate of Bill Kristol, founder of the infamous Project for the New American Century (PNAC), publisher of The Weekly Standard and the son of Irving Kristol, who is considered to be the "godfather" of American neoconservatism.

Fred Kagan and Bill Kristol both admit that an increase of troops in Iraq would not be a "surge." Kagan admits that to be effective, the surge would have to last 18 months or longer. It's more likely that Kagan wants to see the "surge" last 18 years or more.

And there's little question that Bill Kristol wants us to confront Iran militarily. It's even clearer that the neocons want to ensure that diplomatic efforts do not work, and even though charter PNAC member John Bolton is gone from the UN, charter PNAC member Dick Cheney is still the vice president of the United States, so you can bet two mortgage payments that the administration will continue to create foreign policy crises for which the "only" solution is military action or "capitulation."

Even without a GOP majority in Congress to rubber stamp his every empirical whim, Mr. Bush is still the Commander in Chief of our military, and will continue to act as a unitary head of state regardless of whatever efforts the Democratic Congress may make to rein him in. And from every indication, he's still listening to the Fools and Fanatics who got us into our present fiasco, and who are encouraging him to create a quagmire so big that no future leader, however wise, can extract us from.

And the Dick Cheneys and Bill Kristols and Fred Kagans of this world will high-five each other behind closed doors in the American Enterprise Institute building in Washington D.C. as America transforms itself into a permanent militaristic oligarchy with theocratic underpinnings.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Bush Does "Hard Work" on Iraq Strategy

Deb Reichman of Associated Press reports:
President Bush worked nearly three hours at his Texas ranch on Thursday to design a new U.S. policy in Iraq, then emerged to say that he and his advisers need more time to craft the plan he'll announce in the new year.
Whew! Bush took three whole hours away from clearing brush at his ranch to deal with Iraq? Sure sounds like hard work to me.

You have to wonder how many more hours he'll work on Iraq before he announces his plan next year. My guess: fewer than three.

Sorry, Senator Lieberman, I Don't Buy It

If you haven't done so yet, please read Joe Lieberman's editorial in the December 29 Washington Post and see if you find it as unconvincing as I did.

Lieberman starts out:
I've just spent 10 days traveling in the Middle East and speaking to leaders there, all of which has made one thing clearer to me than ever: While we are naturally focused on Iraq, a larger war is emerging. On one side are extremists and terrorists led and sponsored by Iran, on the other moderates and democrats supported by the United States. Iraq is the most deadly battlefield on which that conflict is being fought. How we end the struggle there will affect not only the region but the worldwide war against the extremists who attacked us on Sept. 11, 2001.

Okay: Joe Lieberman spends 10 days in the Middle East and comes back with an editorial right out of the Karl Rove playbook.

What leaders did he speak to? The ones who told him what he wanted to hear, apparently. Yes, a larger war is emerging. It's been emerging ever since we broke the cookie jar, and our presence does not appear to be containing it. And it's a funny thing how Iran is now the source of all the extremism and terrorism. Also notice how shortly after Lieberman mentions Iran, he makes the ubiquitous reference to 9/11. Is this the new subliminal message, that Iran was behind those attacks?

Lieberman follows with:
Because of the bravery of many Iraqi and coalition military personnel and the recent coming together of moderate political forces in Baghdad, the war is winnable. We and our Iraqi allies must do what is necessary to win it.

It's way past time to stop pretending we ever had a real coalition in this war. While I'm sure some members of Iraq's security forces has performed bravely, the overall track record has been one of corruption, infiltration by private militias, and unwillingness to participate in operations. This "coming together of moderate political forces in Baghdad" must have been really, really recent. Maybe, like Mr. Bush, Lieberman is playing fast and loose with tense. Maybe what he really meant was that he's confident moderate political forces will come together. And who exactly are our "allies" in Iraq. The Shiites? The Kurds? The Sunnis?

Lieberman says that the problem in Iraq is "not an absence of Iraqi political will or American diplomatic initiative, both of which are increasing and improving." Where's the evidence that either of those things are increasing or improving?

"If Iraq descends into full scale civil war," Lieberman says, "it will be a tremendous battlefield victory for al-Qaeda and Iran."

It is a full scale civil war, Joe, and a "battlefield victory" is something an army wins in an actual battle on an actual battlefield: al-Qaeda and Iran aren't going to fight a battle like that with anyone.

Lieberman gives us a number of anonymous testimonials. Some colonels he met with said we need more troops, and that we can "win." A "moderate Palestinian leader" told him "that a premature U.S. exit from Iraq would be a victory for Iran." (Iran again. Hmm.)

Rather than engaging in "hand wringing" or "carping," Lieberman tells us, we must summon "vision" and "will" and "courage" and blah, blah, blah.

Joe left "resolve" out of the piece, but he slipped in most of the usual buzz words: some form of "victory" five times, 9 instances of "moderate" or "moderation," 8 uses of "extreme" or "extremist," "moral" or "morally" three times, six repetitions of "terror."

We've listened to this kind of nonsense for years. Enough.

What's going on here, under the fluff, is that the war Lieberman has avidly supported from the beginning has gone to perdition in shopping cart, and he and the neocons are looking for one last chance to redeem themselves. Well, maybe that should be the "next" chance to redeem themselves.

Leading neoconservative Bill Kristol doesn't think a "surge" will do the trick. He thinks establishing sufficient security to allow the political process to succeed will take a longer commitment to increased troop levels. As much as I hate to admit it, I think he's right--a surge of six months or so probably won't establish the security environment we're looking for.

And I can't imagine that six months into an escalated engagement, Mr. Bush will turn around and say, "Well, it didn't work. My bad. Everybody come home."

One can't predict for certain what may happen if we send 10,000 or more troops into Iraq, but as we have seen, counting on a best case scenario to unfold is foolhardy. What the Liebermans of this world don't want to tell us is that if we up the ante, we'll likely go big and long, and possibly broke.

And we still might "not win."

Post Script

I just heard on MSNBC that the Iraqi government has announced Saddam Hussein will be executed by "Saturday at the latest."

Stand by for things to go ape.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Iraq: Pace Pops the Cork on Troop Surge?

From the noise broadcast on MSNBC Thursday morning, it appears that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace will roll over and come out in support of a troop increase in Iraq. If this comes to pass, I'll hardly be surprised. It was just a matter of time before the generals fell in lockstep with the neoconservative plan to escalate the war, further militarize American society, and permanently commit U.S. foreign policy to global domination through armed force.

Earlier this week I noted that the escalation option was proposed by William Kristol side man Frederick Kagan in a presentation titled "Choosing Victory." Kagan's presentation also proposes an increase in the personnel end strength of America's Army and Marine Corps.

Young Mister Bush will most likely buy off on both proposals, which means that America is about to buy another one-way ticket to Palookaville.

New York Times Sells Neocon Madness--Again

Marc Santora is the latest New York Times reporter to wittingly or unwittingly be taken in by the neoconservative/military/industrial line of claptrap. In a December 28 piece, he alternately illustrates why the situation in Iraq is militarily unwinnable, yet echo chambers the standard Rovewellian points about why U.S. military force is necessary in Iraq.
BAGHDAD, Dec. 27--The car parked outside was almost certainly a tool of the Sunni insurgency. It was pocked with bullet holes and bore fake license plates. The trunk had cases of unused sniper bullets and a notice to a Shiite family telling them to abandon their home.

“Otherwise, your rotten heads will be cut off,” the note read.

The soldiers who came upon the car in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad were part of a joint American and Iraqi patrol, and the Americans were ready to take action. The Iraqi commander, however, taking orders by cell phone from the office of a top Sunni politician, said to back off: the car’s owner was known and protected at a high level.

For Maj. William Voorhies, the American commander of the military training unit at the scene, the moment encapsulated his increasingly frustrating task — trying to build up Iraqi security forces who themselves are being used as proxies in a spreading sectarian war. This time, it was a Sunni politician — Vice Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie — but the more powerful Shiites interfered even more often.
“I have come to the conclusion that this is no longer America’s war in Iraq, but the Iraqi civil war where America is fighting,” Major Voorhies said.

Major Voorhies told Santra that, “I have come to the conclusion that this is no longer America’s war in Iraq, but the Iraqi civil war where America is fighting.”

It sounds like Major Voorhies finally took up the coffee habit.

Lieutenant Colonel Steven Mitska, who oversees combat operations in a large part of western Baghdad, told Santora that:
I have personally witnessed about a half-dozen of these incidents of what I would call political pressure, where a minister or someone from a minister’s office contacts one of these Iraqi commanders…

…These politicians are connected with either the militias or Sunni insurgents…

…I believe everyone, to some extent, is influenced by the militias… While some Iraqi security forces may be complicit with the militias, others fear for their families when confronting the militia, and that is the more pervasive threat…

…Who would design this mess?… It is like an orchestra where everyone is playing a different song.

It is a Hobbesian quagmire, one that our troops shouldn't be in the middle of. Santora quotes Major Voorhies as saying, “Sometimes I feel like I work for the Iraqi government,” and "I don't know what the answer is."

Major Voorhies isn't alone. Nobody knows what the answer is, because there isn't one.

But Voories and Miska are seemingly as clueless as are their uniformed and civilian leaders. As Santora reports:

Whatever plan the Bush administration unveils--a large force increase, a withdrawal or something in between--this country’s security is going to be left in the hands of Iraqi forces. Those forces, already struggling with corruption and infiltration, have shown little willingness to stand up to political pressure, especially when the Americans are not there to support them. That suggests, the commanders say, that if the Americans leave soon, violence will redouble. And that makes their mission, Major Voorhies and Colonel Miska say, more important than ever.

No. It makes the mission assigned to Voorhies and Miska more hopeless than ever, and the reportage of this "important mission" nonesense makes the New York Times as hapless as ever in its active or implicit support of the Bush administration's imperialistic agenda.

A "surge" won't work, and it won't be a surge. It will be a permanent escalation. And the neocons' proposed land force build up isn't a "strategic" national security move. It's a move designed to ensure that we can stay involved in somebody else's war for as long as somebody else's war lasts.

Which may be forever.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

New York Times Backs War Without End

Also at Kos.

Wittingly or not, the New York Times has once again fallen in lockstep with the neoconservative agenda. Its editorial of December 24 titled "A Real-World Army" promotes a recipe for ensuring the United States maintains a permanent state of war.
Military reality finally broke through the Bush administration’s ideological wall last week, with President Bush publicly acknowledging the need to increase the size of the overstretched Army and Marine Corps.

Larger ground forces are an absolute necessity for the sort of battles America is likely to fight during the coming decades: extended clashes with ground-based insurgents rather than high-tech shootouts with rival superpowers…

… Given the time required to recruit and train the additional troops, the proposed increase will not make much difference in Iraq’s current battles. But over time it will help make America more secure and better prepared to meet future crises.

If there's a genuine lesson to be learned from the Iraq fiasco, it's that we don't need to fight any more "extended clashes with ground-based insurgents." We'll only need to fight insurgencies if we conduct more preemptive regime change invasions, in which case we won't be "meeting" future crises, we'll be creating them.

Though we no longer have any "rival superpowers," any future conflicts we engage in with third tier rogue world nations should, in fact, be "high tech" shootouts. The kinds of wars we might need to fight with an Iran or a Korea would largely be naval and air power strike operations, not major ground campaigns to take and hold enemy sovereign territory.

It's true that because of the time required to ramp up the ground force end strength, such action will "not make much difference in Iraq's current battles," but given the trend we're seeing in the halls of power, Mr. Bush intends to maintain a significant troop presence in Iraq through the end of his term, which means the larger force will come online just in time (around 2008) to continue the Iraq conflict beyond Bush's tenure.

Post-Bush, we'll either have a Republican war hawk like John McCain in the White House or a Democrat who will face the unsavory choice of continuing Bush's Middle East policy as a fait accompli or risk being labeled by latter day Rovewellians as the "Defeat-ocrat" who lost the war Bush was "definitely winning" when he turned over the watch even though the new Democrat on the block had sufficient force--thanks to Bush's foresight, of course--to continue the fight.

The Kristol Palace

Not surprisingly, the Times editorial also follows the neocon company line that makes Donald Rumsfeld the scapegoat for Iraq.
…it took the departure of Donald Rumsfeld — the author of the failed Iraq policy and the doctrine of going to war with less than the Army we needed — for Mr. Bush finally to accept this reality.

Rumsfeld has much to answer for--in this life and hopefully in the next--for the tragic embarrassment in Iraq. But to single him out as the "author of the failed Iraq policy and doctrine" is out-and-out mendacity.

Yes, Rumsfeld was a key member of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC), but he was hardly alone in formulating the Iraq policy. Other PNAC luminaries who endorsed a ground invasion of Iraq back in 1998 included recently deposed U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, present U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, and PNAC founder Bill Kristol.

Kristol first pushed Rumsfeld on the third rail of the commuter tracks back in 2004 when he lambasted the then SecDef's comment about "you go to war with the Army you have."

If irony were still alive and with us, it would be a funny thing that Kristol and his wingman Bob Kagan thought the Army we had back in 1998 was sufficient to "do this job." In a New York Times article from January of that year, they wrote:
If Mr. Clinton is serious about protecting us and our allies from Iraqi biological and chemical weapons, he will order ground forces to the gulf. Four heavy divisions and two airborne divisions are available for deployment. The President should act, and Congress should support him in the only policy that can succeed.

It would also be funny how in December 2006, Kristol's pet military scholar Fred Kagan (Bob Kagan's brother) justified his call for an immediate influx of troops to Iraq and an increase in ground force end strength by claiming that all alternative proposals "will fail."

It would be even funnier that Kristol now says any troop increase in Iraq must be permanent to achieve success. From a December 24 article by David Edwards of Raw Story:
"There's no point having a short term surge," Kristol said on Fox News Channel. "Especially, if it's proclaimed ahead of time that it's just short term. Then [the enemy] goes into hiding for 3 or 6 months."

"We pull back and we're in the same situation," the Weekly Standard editor said. "Bush will commit--I believe, when he speaks in a couple of weeks--to doing this. That this is a strategy for victory and that he's willing to do this for the remaining two years of his presidency."

I suspect Kristol is correct that Bush will go for a permanent escalation, because I think Dick Cheney is on board with Kristol, and you-know-who is on board with anything Cheney has to say.

We are witnessing a covert form of deliberate strategic mission creep. From the outset, the PNAC neoconservatives' goal was to establish a permanent military footprint in the geographic heart of Middle East and to set America on a course of ever increasing militarization.

The longer I watch events unfold, the more I fear they'll get away with it, regardless of what the electorate demands, and with the hapless assistance of the so-called "liberal media."


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Iraq: the Generals Ebb on the Surge Option

General George Casey, the highest-ranking officer in the Iraq theater of war, has changed his mind. Julian E. Barnes of the Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that Casey, who along with Central Command chief John Abizaid has long resisted increasing troop levels in Iraq, is now open to the idea a "surge" of combat troops in the war torn country.

Something fishy is going on here. I'm not sure what, but I think I hear the sound of Dick Cheney's thugs breaking legs in back rooms.

Neo-connect the Dots

You've got Dick Cheney's office prepping Bob Gates for his Senate confirmation hearings, you've got John McCain banging on Gates at the hearings about the need for more troops in Iraq. You've got neocon Fred Kagan who came up with the surge plan proposal that just happens to refute darn near every suggestion of the Iraq Study Group that Bob Gates just happened to be a part of before Bush nominated him to replace Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. You've got… Well, I could go on, but you've got the idea. You've seen it all before.

The surge plan has been in the can for a while now, and the plan for selling it to the public has too. By the time Bush goes public with his decision on the "way forward" (the only part of the Iraq Study Group report he'll adopt is its marguee catch phrase), the public will think that it's inevitable, and that "everybody agrees" a surge is the way to go, because the only choices are to surge or withdraw, and we can't give up on young democracies and all those moms and dads and kids yearning to be free and blah, blah, blah.

I could be wrong. I have been once or twice before. But it will take something very big to knock this surge train off its tracks, something a lot bigger than Congress. If anyone from either side of the aisle tries to block a troop surge, you'll see a blizzard of Rovewellian bull feathers start flying.

Then What?

So we send 15-30,000 more troops to clean up Baghdad. What happens then?

It's a mistake to think you can reliably predict how the enemy will react, but in plotting branches and sequels, military planners usually project a spectrum of possibilities.

At one extreme of the spectrum, all the disparate militant elements in Iraq plus jihadists from outside the country could descend on Baghdad for the mother of all brouhahas. That's not likely: from all indications, the bad guys are all smart enough not to risk a decisive defeat, and even if they're dumber than I think they are, they aren't organized enough to coordinate in a formal battle of that magnitude.

At the other extreme, the bad guys could all run away and hide long enough for us to start putting Baghdad back together and give Iraq's unity government a chance to get its act together.

Reality will probably play out somewhere between the extremes. Whatever happens, it's a safe bet that the Clausewitzean principles of fog and friction will apply--nothing in warfare ever goes quite as planned.

In a worst case scenario, we'll suffer significant casualties without dealing a decisive blow to the adversaries or rebuilding Baghdad and the Iraqi government will fail altogether.

At that point the possible courses of action get grim. If we decide to redeploy to the periphery, there won't be any way to spin around the fact that we gave it a shot and failed. My guess is that Mr. Bush won't accept that.

Which leaves us with one other course of action--further escalation. I'm not sure how much further we can escalate a group war in Iraq. We could throw everyone in uniform at Iraq for the "duration," but I suspect we don't have enough working gear to equip them all and that we can't maintain what gear we have for very long.

If we go all or nothing and wind up with nothing, well, that would be really, really bad.

The decision to escalate a war involves--or should involve--a complex but imprecise calculation: the probability of success versus the cost of failure versus the cost of not escalating. By my reckoning, the "surge" option offers little probability of success and carries the risk of profound failure costs.

I'd guess that the generals who oppose a surge escalation conducted a similar analysis, and would like to think that the folks who champion a surge did a similar analysis as well. But then I remember who the folks pushing a surge are.

All the Vice President's Men

The crux of the surge plan is contained in a presentation by Fred Kagan titled "Choosing Victory: a Plan for Success in Iraq." Kagan is a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute and a key member of the neoconservative cabal that includes his brother Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol, all those guys in the administration who work for Vice President Dick "Kingpin" Cheney. This is the same flock of chicken hawks who pawned the Iraq fiasco on us in the first place, and all indications are that they still have their clumsy mitts on our ship of state's helm.

Based on their track record, I doubt that any of these neocon "think tank" types ever heard of a cost/risk analysis, much less ever conducted one. What's Fred Kagan's number one argument for adopting the surge strategy?
"Other Approaches Will Fail."

If that's critical thinking, raw sewage is a cure for hepatitis.

But raw sewage is precisely what the administration is about to pour down our throats. They'll pinch our noses and tell us we're drinking a chocolate milk shake.

Like General Casey, the four stars on the Joint Chiefs of Staff who have opposed the surge will cave in and endorse it before Mr. Bush announces his decision. They'll do so because Dick Cheney's White House made them an offer they couldn't refuse. In return for endorsing the escalation, the generals and admirals will get their wish to increase the size of the force and the size of the military budget.

Congress won't dare object to a continued military build-up, and the military industrial complex that has Congress in its pocket won't object to it either. And ideologues like Bill Kristol and the Kagans won't have any objections because their entire purpose from the get-fo was to turn America into a militaristic hegemon controlled by their neoconservative oligarchy.

Happy Holidays to everyone. Here's hoping you all survive the War on Christmas. ;-)


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Iraq: Prisoners of War Propaganda

I'm starting to look askance at military correspondent David S. Cloud of the New York Times. This story from December 21 reads like something I'd expect from Judith Miller:
Gates, in Iraq, Hears Support for More Troops

BAGHDAD, Iraq Dec 21 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, talking to enlisted soldiers on his second day in Iraq, heard broad support today for a proposal to send more American forces to Iraq, an idea that has emerged as a leading option as the Bush administration considers a strategy shift.

“I really think we need more troops here,” said Specialist Jason T. Glenn, one of several soldiers at a breakfast meeting with Mr. Gates who backed the idea. “With more presence here,” he said, security might improve to a point that “we can get the Iraqi Army trained up.”


When Mr. Gates asked, “Do you think we need more American troops?” a majority of the soldiers nodded their heads or murmured, “Yes, sir.”

An army specialist is a technician with the equivalent rank of corporal. I don't mean to pick on Specialist Glenn. He certainly has a right to his opinion and to express it to the Secretary of Defense when he's asked for it, but he's hardly Carl von Clausewitz, so why did his opinion on a possible troops surge make the second paragraph of a lead story in the Times?

And how does a majority of junior enlisted men at a breakfast nodding or murmuring "Yes, sir" constitute "broad support" to send more troops to Iraq?

Cloud notes that "It was not clear how the soldiers who met with Mr. Gates had been selected." It may not have been clear to Cloud, but it's plain as day to me. I can't count the number of staged events like this I saw in the course of my career--a supposedly informal meeting between hand picked volunteers and a VIP where the hand picked volunteers tell the VIP what he wants to hear while media reps look on. (Footage of the breakfast appeared on MSNBC Friday morning, along with the message that enlisted personnel want more troops in Iraq.)

This story wouldn't be so bad if we hadn't already been through scores of these phony town hall encounters during the Bush administration, and if it weren't being projected on the heels of reports that our top generals don't think sending more troops to Iraq is a good idea. That I agree with the generals doesn't necessarily make them right. But I don't see what lasting good a surge in troops would do unless all the militant groups joined together in a decisive battle for Baghdad, and that is not a realistic expectation.

It's possible that a surge of U.S. troops in Baghdad could chase all the bad guys out of the city long enough to train more Iraqi troops, rebuild some of the city, and allow the unity government to get its act together. But if 7 or 8 or 9 months go by and the troops aren't trained and the city isn't rebuilt and the government is still a sham, what then?

The surge option has been referred to in Pentagon circles as the "double down" strategy. A more accurate name would be "all in," because if the gamble doesn't work, we'll pretty much be all done.

A fairly decent argument says that we'll be all done if we don't try something, and that a surge is the only thing we can try that has any hope at all of success.

If that is this administration's best assessment, it needs to sell the strategy to the public in frank, somber terms. We've been fed enough cow plop about this woebegone war, and we don't need to hear or see any more of this "It's what the troops want" balderdash.

And the big media players need to quit letting themselves be used for covert propaganda purposes.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Iraq: Bigger and Longer

It appears the Great Decider has decided to go big and long.

As Peter Baker of the Washington Post reports, Mr. Bush is considering a troop surge in Iraq, and to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps by as many as 70,000 troops. The Army says every additional 10,000 troops will cost roughly $1.2 billion per year. Since recruiting and training take time, any force end strength increase would not be felt until 2008 at the earliest.

So why bother to increase the size of the land forces unless you either a) plan to maintain troop forces at present levels in Iraq beyond 2008 or b) plan to invade and occupy another country or c) a combination of the two.

Brave New World Dictionary

Mr. Bush says he'll listen to his generals, but he doesn’t say which generals he'll listen to. General John Abizaid, head of Central Command has cautioned against a troop surge. Abizaid has announced his intention to retire in March of next year. Abizaid's four-year term was scheduled to end in July 2007. Funny thing how Bush listened to Abizaid when Abizaid was telling him we didn't need any more troops in Iraq, but doesn't want to listen to him now.

Last week, Army chief of staff Peter Schoomacher warned Congress that the active-duty Army "will break" under the strain of current war zone rotations.

This week, Mr. Bush said "I haven't heard the word 'broken,' " he said, "but I've heard the word, 'stressed.'" So it looks like he's not listening to General Schoomacher either.

Before the November elections, Mr. Bush said "Absolutely we're winning" in Iraq. Now he says "We're not wining, but we're not losing," a quote he attributed to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Peter Pace. Ah! Now we know which general Bush is listening to.

Asked on Tuesday about his earlier "Absolutely we're winning" remark, Bush replied, "Yes, that was an indication of my belief we're going to win."

So what he said in the past was happening in the present is presently something he was saying about the future. I guess it all depends what his definition of "is" was.

Mr. Bush has an established track record of interpreting things the way he wants to: the Constitution, laws, treaties--and now elections. He doesn't interpret the recent Democratic victory as a mandate to bring troops home. He interprets it as a call to find a new way to succeed. Did it really take an election to convince him he needed to find a way to succeed in Iraq?

The Big Press Conference

Mister Bush, 10:00 AM, Wednesday.

Success is essential to securing peace for our children and grandchildren. Sustaining the future over the long haul. We need to increase the size of the Army and Marines. Realities on the ground. New way forward. Succeed. Challenges of the 21st century. Victory. No retreat.

I encourage you all to go shopping more????????????????


Buy Partisan

Mr. Bush speaks much of late about finding bipartisan solutions for Iraq, but I suspect that like everything else, "bipartisan" means whatever he wants it to mean. If the Democrats agree to everything he wants to do in Iraq, he'll call it a bipartisan plan. If the Democrats stand up to him, he'll accuse them of being partisan.

If the Democrats go along with the bipartisan plan and it doesn’t work, it will be their fault. If the Democrats insist on a partisan plan and it doesn't work, it will be their fault. If either the partisan or bipartisan plan does work, it will be because of everything the administration and the Pentagon did before Mr. Bush approved of the plan.

I hope that's not how things play out, but it's what I'm planning on happening.

What I don't plan on seeing any time soon is adoption of the most rational plan for Iraq I've heard to date, which is Congressman Jack Murtha's proposal to redeploy our troops to the region's periphery.

Nothing we do, bipartisan or otherwise, will truly "work," not in the sense of achieving the sort of victory Mr. Bush insists on seeking. The people of Iraq need to work their problems out for themselves. There's no military solution in Iraq, and we can't solve their partisan political issues.

Meanwhile, we have a big issue to resolve at home, an issue far more vital to America's survival as a republic than global terrorism. Mr. Bush has, with the able assistance of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (the general he listens to most), become a "unitary executive" which is Rovewellian for "emperor." The best thing the Democratic Congress can do is to perform CPR on the Constitution and see if it comes back to life.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Middle East Miasma

Robin Wright and Peter Baker of the Washington Post report that the White House and the Pentagon are split over the proper "way forward" in Iraq. White House officials want to pursue the surge option of sending 15,000 to 30,000 additional troops to Iraq for six to eight months. The Joint Chiefs of Staff aren't sold on the idea.

The Joint Chiefs fear two unfavorable consequences to a temporary build up. On one hand, more U.S. troops in country will provide more targets for insurgents and may attract more foreign jihadists into Iraq to join in the fight. On the other hand, armed militias presently in Iraq may simply melt back into society and wait for the surge to end, then retake the streets of Baghdad and other cities. Either scenario is likely, and either would lead to negative consequences for the U.S. effort in Iraq.

If internal and foreign militants decide to fight the surged force, they won't do so in a way that produces a decisive, all or nothing battle that they know they can't win. They've been too strategically and tactically cunning to date to expect that they might suddenly turn stupid.

If the fighters all fade into the woodwork, our surge troops will twiddle their thumbs until somebody decides to bring them home, and when the militants swarm back into the streets, it will be too late to bring the surge forces back to fight them.

In either case, our already "stretched thin" force will be stretched even thinner, and will at best have accomplished little or nothing to improve things in Iraq.

One might argue that on the off chance that all the fighters take the option to run off and hide for six months or so, that would give Iraq's disparate political factions time to resolve their differences. But experience has shown that the more time we give the factions time to resolve their differences, the more time they spend not resolving them.

Locked in a Fail Safe

We cannot defeat the "enemy" in this war through military force. That's not our military's fault. Guerilla warriors win by refusing to offer decisive battle to superior forces, and from what we've seen of our adversaries in this conflict, they know how to conduct guerilla warfare as well as anyone ever has.

We can't use military might to force a political solution in Iraq because we the political allegiances resemble a Mobius strip. We're allied with Shia Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who is allied with Shia cleric and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr who considers us the enemy. Al-Sadr is also the enemy of the Sunni militias and political elements whom our friends the Saudis support. Our Sunni Saudi Arab friends are the enemy of our Shia Persian enemy Iran, which is friendly with our Arab Shia friend al-Maliki and our Arab Shia enemy al-Sadr. We can't pick a side to fight with without making enemies of our friends, and our ability to conduct diplomacy is so atrophied at this point that we'll never make friends of our enemies (who, by the way, understand the size of the Gordian knot we've tangled ourselves into and are howling like hyenas about it).

Thus it is that the Bush administration has rendered the instruments of power of the mightiest nation in history impotent.

Speaking of Impotent

CBS News reports that:
…adding a second aircraft carrier to the one already in the Gulf is being proposed as a response to what U.S. officials view as an increasingly provocative Iranian leadership…

…Military officers say the build-up would take place after the first of the year, not with the aim of actually attacking Iran, but strictly as a deterrent.

Retired General and MSNBC analyst Barry McCaffery says this naval buildup will scare our allies more that it will scare the Iranians, and he's right. Two carriers can't provide enough airpower to destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities, and any naval shooting match would result in another military embarrassment for the U.S.--Iran can do a lot more damage to an aircraft carrier than an aircraft carrier can do to Iran.

How anybody in the Pentagon can say with a straight face that presence with no plausible threat of offensive action could possibly constitute a "deterrent" goes beyond the logical limits of my military mind--until, of course, I remember that the guys who proposed this deterrent measure were Admirals, who are so desperate to remain relevant to the overall security picture at this point that they'll promise anything that might help justify maintaining their service's share of the military budget.

The next thing I expect to hear out of the Pentagon is a proposal from the Air Force to sponsor an air show in Tehran that features a flight demonstration by the Thunderbirds, a static display of a B-2 bomber, and free flight suit squadron patches for all our Persian friends.

Come to think of it--throwing an air show in Tehran might be the most rational foreign policy move we could make at this point.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Iraq: Choosing More Victory

Also at Kos.

During a farewell ceremony at the Pentagon last week, Dick Cheney called outgoing cabinet member Donald Rumsfeld the best Secretary of Defense the United States ever had. Apparently, no one in the audience laughed, a sign that sanity has yet to be restored at the Pentagon.

Nor does sanity regarding what to do about the situation in Iraq seem to be busting out all over Washington D.C. On Sunday's This Week with George Stephanopolous, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) that he might "go along" with a plan to add more troops in Baghdad as long as "it's part of a program" to get U.S. troops out of Iraq by some time next year.

I don't think putting more troops in Baghdad is a sound strategy for getting all the troops out of Iraq, and I don't think it's intended to be.

The Baghdad strategy, which Mister Bush is rumored to be favoring, is based on a report titled "Choosing Victory: a Plan for Success in Iraq" prepared for the America Enterprise Institute (AEI) by Frederick Kagan. The AEI is a neoconservative think tank closely associated with the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). Kagan, a former professor of military history at West Point, has a long association with both AEI and PNAC. His brother Robert Kagan is a confederate of PNAC founder and Weekly Standard publisher William Kristol. Bob Kagan, Kristol, and others in the neocon-controlled media are touting Fred Kagan's "fundamentally simple" plan as the one that can "succeed."

I'm skeptical of this "plan for success" on two counts. First is that it's coming from the very people who pushed us into this quagmire. Second is that Fred Kagan's plan is a compendium of the same kinds of glittering generalities, appeals to emotion, questionable assumptions and PowerPoint aphorisms we've been listening to all along.

Fools, Fanatics and Familiar Phrases

"Victory is still an option" Fred Kagan claims in the opening of the executive summary to "Choosing Victory." America, after all, has more than ten times the population of Iraq, and America's economy is greater than Iraq's by orders of magnitude, and we have more than a million soldiers and Marines that can "regain control" of the war torn country.

That sounds encouraging, and it might mean something if we were actually at war with Iraq, but we are not. Iraq is at war with itself, and our troops are stuck in the middle of it. America's population, the size of its gross domestic product, and numbers of personnel under arms in its service serve little purpose when it comes to saving a smaller country from imploding on itself.

"Victory in Iraq is vital to America’s security," Kagan says. "Defeat will lead to regional conflict, humanitarian catastrophe, and increased global terrorism."

We already have regional conflict in the Middle East, and humanitarian catastrophe as well. Global terrorism has already increased. And these things have all occurred subsequent to our occupation of Iraq. Increasing the size of the occupation is more likely to expand the regional conflict, humanitarian catastrophe and global terrorism than it is to diminish any of those things.

In a conflict like the one we presently experience in Iraq, the terms "victory" and "defeat" have no real meaning. Tactical success against pockets of guerilla forces do not produce a political "win," and nobody is going to coerce our troops into laying down their weapons and letting themselves be led on a Bataan-style death march. Nor will Mister Bush and Congress have to submit to terms of surrender.

Kagan's Junk Art of War

Fred Kagan alternately describes Baghdad as the "decisive factor" and the "center of gravity" in the Iraq conflict. In the scholarship and practice of military art, these two terms are so ubiquitous and so vaguely defined that they're next to meaningless. A discussion of the proper use and application such warfare terms is enough to put the entire student body of a service war college into coma for the rest of the semester, so I'll spare you my lecture on the subject other than to say that Kagan is so far off base a six-year old sitting in the bleachers could pick him off at first.

Put in real person terms, Kagan insists that control of Baghdad is the key to victory in Iraq--an assumption that is questionable at best.

Kagan argues that the most pressing need in Iraq is to establish a secure environment for the population, and that Iraqi forces cannot establish that. I agree with that a great extent, but am not convinced that control of Baghdad can accomplish that goal.

The obstacle to security in Iraq is the amorphous collection of militias, terrorists and miscellaneous criminals and evil-doers presently operating in that country. If positioning significant U.S. troop presence in Baghdad could lure all those disparate groups of combatants into the city to conduct an all-or-nothing, win or lose decisive battle, then Kagan's idea might have some merit.

But that won't happen. Guerilla fighters know better than to offer decisive battle to superior conventional forces. The most likely outcome of an insertion of more U.S. forces into Baghdad will be that the guerillas will pack up and disappear, and regroup in places like Ramadi and Fallujah, where we've already played this cat roping rodeo game. And what happens then? We send all our extra cowboys from Baghdad to round up the cats in the provinces, and the cats all come back to Baghdad, and we start all over again?

We've been there. We've done that. And lamentably, thanks to the machinations of Fred Kagan and the rest of the core neocon cabal, it looks like we may go there and do it again.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Iraq: Winds of More War

Also at Kos.

It seems the administration is getting the public used to the idea of sending more troops to Iraq. From David E. Sanger and Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times:
Military planners and White House budget analysts have been asked to provide President Bush with options for increasing American forces in Iraq by 20,000 or more. The request indicates that the option of a major “surge” in troop strength is gaining ground as part of a White House strategy review, senior administration officials said Friday.

Who is really behind this? General John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, has said that a surge in troops levels would only have a temporary effect, and might delay the "standing up" of Iraqi forces. General George Casey, commander of forces in Iraq, has not actively supported a troop surge. General Peter Schoomacher, Army Chief of Staff, says, "We would not surge without a purpose, and that purpose should be measurable."

Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno, who is assuming day-to-day command of U.S. forces in Iraq, is in favor of a troop surge. One can't help but suspect that there's a causal relationship between Odierno's position on troop levels and his appointment to his new position.

Frederick Kagan, former professor of military history at West Point and neo-confederate of Project for the New American Century (PNAC) founder Bill Kristol, has been a leading advocate of a force level increase. Kagan was chief author of Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq, recently published by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and presented to the White House. AEI is a sister neoconservative think tank of the PNAC, and Kagan is involved with both organizations.

Kagan's "Plan for Success" is the template for the proposed Iraq strategy that includes additional forces in Iraq, an increase in overall Army and Marine Corps end strength. It rejects the key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to withdraw U.S. troops, to engage in talks with Syria and Iran, and to embed more U.S. trainers with Iraqi units. Kagan's approach "requires a national commitment to victory in Iraq," which, not coincidentally, folds in neatly with young Mister Bush's consistent rhetoric on the subject (which was crafted for him by neoconservative think tanks like AEI and PNAC.)

Out With the Old, In With the Neo

Some pundits hailed the Democratic victory in November and the arrival of James Baker's Iraq Study group as the death of neoconservatism at the hands of old school realism, but they were sadly mistaken. As Leon Hadar of Lew says, "Rumors of a neocon death are highly exaggerated."

The neocons have, in fact, been strategizing their survival and resurgence since late 2004, when Bill Kristol called for PNAC charter member Donald Rumsfeld's resignation as Secretary of Defense. The neoconservative initiative to invade Iraq and unseat Saddam Hussein was correct, according to Kristol and other neocon luminaries. The only problem was that darn old Don Rumsfeld screwed things up by going in with too few troops, too little armor, etc. While Rumsfeld has much to answer for in this life and the next for his mishandling of the Iraq situation, he certainly doesn't deserve to wear the beard for the overall failure of the neoconservative policy of global domination through use of armed force.

War is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means.

-- Karl von Clausewitz

Today, the neocons are riding on Fred Kagan's academic credibility and gravitas. I have mixed thoughts about Fred. Prior to his conspicuous shift into the neoconservative political camp, I considered him the military scholarship peer of my mentor, Milan Vego of the U.S. Naval War College. Like Vego, Kagan was highly skeptical of Rumsfeld-favored transformational concepts like network-centric warfare, effects based operations, and shock and awe.

In January 2003, two months before Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced, Vego wrote in Proceedings that:
Network-centric warfare reduces the art of war to tactics and targets…

…[We] must restore the balance between strategy, operational art, and tactics…

… The Clausewitzian thoughts on the nature of war, the relationships between policy and use of military power, and the effect of fog of war and friction are tossed away as unimportant in the information age.

In September 2003, months after the fall of Baghdad, Kagan wrote in Policy Review that in both Afghanistan and Iraq...
…the U.S. has been far less successful in winning the peace than it was in winning the war…

…Neither [network-centric warfare] nor “shock and awe” provides a reliable recipe for translating the destruction of the enemy’s ability to continue to fight into the accomplishment of the political objectives of the conflict.

It's all well and good that two of America's leading military thinkers recognize that high tech tactical measures alone cannot achieve the political aims of war, but I am profoundly disappointed that Fred Kagan now argues that low tech tactical measures can achieve strategy and policy goals that high tech measures cannot.

Fred Kagan has lost all credibility as an honest broker of military thought and scholarship. He's become a compliant tool of the of the neoconservative cabal headed by his brother Bob Kagan and Bill Kristol, whose objective is to commit American to expanding its conventional military forces to engage in an eternal state of warfare against an marginally definable "enemy" that has no army, air force or navy.

If Fred Kagan and his neo-conspirators get their way on Iraq--and they're likely to--America will permanently become a militaristic oligarchy, supported by theocratic underpinnings, one that justifies its existence by "promoting democracy" throughout the world at the point of a gun.

If young Mister Bush follows Kagan's advice, he'll be heeding solutions from the same jackdaws who created the problem in the first place.

That will make his legacy in a two-word epithet: redefining insanity.

But then again, redefining insanity is what the neoconservative vision was all about.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Iraq: Laura Bush and the Good News

Also at Kos.

Whatever new strategy Mister Bush comes up with for Iraq, you can rest assured it will include the same kinds of domestic propaganda we've seen so far.

First Lady Laura Bush appeared in a taped interview on MSNBC Thursday morning. What did she have to say about her husband's low poll ratings regarding his handling of the war? It's the media's fault, of course. They're not reporting enough good news. Schools are being built. Parts of the country are peaceful. Americans who don't have loved ones in Iraq just don't know how good things really are there. You know--the standard jewels of denial. (And oh, how many loved ones does Laura Bush have in Iraq?)

This cockamamie gibberish would be amusing if it weren't that some people still buy it. I know one war hawk who still insists that things in Baghdad aren't any worse than they are in Chicago. You can probably guess what he listens to on the radio and what his favorite cable news channel is.

I'm confident that our troops are doing a heck of a good job (and I don't mean that facetiously) in both their combat and non-combat roles, and I'll take the word of retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs of MSNBC that their morale is high. But--nobody invades another country to build schools and hand out soccer balls, and nobody goes to war or continues in one to keep the troops happy. At least, nobody should--nobody in his right mind, anyway.

Which brings us to the First Lady's husband. We've heard much over the past week or so about whether he's capable of changing course in Iraq, or even making rational decisions about it. I've given up trying to figure out what, if anything, goes on north of the guy's neck. I've come to believe that most of his cognitive processes, such as they are, take place somewhere south of his waist, but there's no real way of knowing. To paraphrase Mark Twain, I can't tell if he's pulling our leg or if he's dumb enough to believe his own monosyllabic nonsense. Whatever the case, his words and actions have been consistently void of rationality, and that's a dangerous thing considering that he holds the fate of the country and the world in his hands.

The Next World Order

Throughout history, empires have fallen because they failed to realize that the military might that created them was, in itself, insufficient to sustain them. America's tendency to rely on armed force as its primary tool of foreign policy probably began with the Spanish American War, the war that established the scope of our territorial possessions. Our wars of global influence--the World Wars and the Cold War--established America as the world's sole superpower. At that point, we should have realized it was time to find a kinder, gentler way to maintain our position as the first among the world's nations.

But no.

The neoconservative cabal within the GOP managed to wrest control of the Republican Party and of the entire government, and convinced America that the key to continued dominance was to keep playing the war card.

We've seen how that worked out.

The U.S. spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined, and if irony were still alive and with us, it would roll in the aisles over the fact that our civilian and uniformed military leaders are calling for more money to fix what's been damaged in the ongoing wars we're not winning. The U.S. Army says it needs $17-19 billion more annually for several more years to replace or upgrade gear that's been worn down in Iraq in Afghanistan. The Marine Corps and the Navy need $19 billion to "reset" themselves, and that doesn't even begin to address the cost of replacing aging aircraft. The Air Force predicts a budget shortfall of $160 billion over the next six years.

The U.S. spent an estimated $514 billion in 2005 on defense. That doesn't count expenditures for Homeland Security and uncountable other hidden expenditures on "security." A recent congressional analysis reported that America is presently spending $2 billion per week on the Iraq war alone.

All this to fight a war in a third world country that has no military solution.

And the wife of the most powerful man in the world goes to the media to blame her husband's failures on the very media she's blaming his failures on, even though the Iraq Study Group stated that "there is significant underreporting of the violence in Iraq."

New Focus

According to Robin Wright and Ann Scotty Tyson of the Washington Post, outgoing Iraq ground force commander Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli recommends a plan that allows "the U.S. military to be able to move swiftly to a new focus on training" of Iraqi forces. "Swiftly" apparently means spring of 2007, by which time roughly half of the 15 U.S. brigades in Iraq could shift from combat to training missions. I guess that's swift by Bush administration standards: Bush himself introduced the " stand up stand down" strategy back in June of 2005. It's good to hear that he's decided to get serious about it. Finally. Maybe.

But we won't know for sure because he won't tell us what he's really going to get serious about until sometime in January of 2007. And even then, we won't know how serious he really is.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Dubya Down on Iraq

The very fact that so many differing strategies for Iraq are being proposed now should be your first clue that there are no good ones: no silver bullets, no wooden stakes, no garlic necklaces. What we're conducting now is akin to what in health care is sometimes called "opening the medicine cabinet." The patient is so critically ill that there's nothing left to do but try every drug in the arsenal and hope one of them does the trick. It's a desperation move.

The latest proposed emergency measure, this one coming from the Pentagon, is another plan with a catchy, sexy name derived from a popular casino card game. From Julian E. Barnes of the Los Angeles Times:
WASHINGTON — As President Bush weighs new policy options for Iraq, strong support has coalesced in the Pentagon behind a military plan to "double down" in the country with a substantial buildup in American troops, an increase in industrial aid and a major combat offensive against Muqtada Sadr, the radical Shiite leader impeding development of the Iraqi government.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff will present their assessment and recommendations to Bush at the Pentagon today. Military officials, including some advising the chiefs, have argued that an intensified effort may be the only way to get the counterinsurgency strategy right and provide a chance for victory.

There's way too much testosterone and swaggering cowboy mythology in this plan, which means it will undoubtedly appeal to the gambler in chief. The ephemeral promise of a "chance for victory" may be too much for young Mister Bush to walk away from. He has, after all, insisted all along that he will settle for nothing short of victory, no matter how many times wiser, mature advisers have told him that "victory" per se is unattainable.

In the casino card game Blackjack, "double down" is something skilled players only do when they're ahead, and have cards that offer favorable odds of success. Mister Bush is not ahead of the game, and he has a fistful of the worst cards in the deck. If he decides to double down now, he'll be doing something akin to what the worst Blackjack players do, which is called "double up to catch up," a gambling method casinos love to see their clients indulge in. That leads to another gambling term called "bet the farm," which Bush is also entirely likely to do. And in case you weren't aware of it, gamblers who bet their farms almost always lose them.

Wise Guy Counsel

The "double down" strategy springs from a proposal by Frederick W. Kagan, who plans to release a report on his ideas this Thursday. Fred Kagan is a former professor of military history at West Point. He's also a core member of the neoconservative cabal. His brother Bob is a close associate with Weekly Standard publisher and Project for the New American Century (PNAC) founder Bill Kristol. Fred is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, another neoconservative think tank that pushed for an invasion of Iraq, and he was a co-author of the PNAC's Rebuilding America's Defenses of September 2000, a document that pressed for a U.S. invasion of Iraq prior to the 9/11 attacks even though "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

Listening to the likes of Fred Kagan to resolve the problems that he himself helped create is both a sublime and tragic form of insanity, but I fear that's what Mister Bush and his team are about to do. And that our latter day Machiavelli Dick Cheney still sits next to the American throne ups the odds that Bush will heed Fred Kagan's advice.

Despite the recent election results, we're still in the hands of neoconservative fools, fanatics, and bad card players.

God help America.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Iraq: Dubya, Can You Hear Me?

Also at Kos.

It's a cherished tradition in halls of power: keep asking for advice until someone tells you what you want to hear.

Michael A. Fletcher and Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post report that and Mister Bush and Dick Cheney met with three retired generals and two academics on Monday to discuss the Iraq situation. The group, which included former four-star MSNBC analysts Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, gave a dismal assessment of Iraq, and an even more dismal assessment of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations. They were especially critical of the ISG's suggestions to reduce troop levels and to hold talks with Iran and Syria, suggestions that Bush has already dismissed.

The "experts" still believe Iraq is "winnable."

It looks more and more like the "new way forward" will be the "more of the same way sidewards."

The group agreed with the idea of increasing the number of trainers and advisers as a means of standing up Iraqi forces that have largely been sitting down on the job. Iraq's army has consistently refused to participate in operations aimed at other Iraqis; the police force has been infiltrated with private militia members. The kind of training and advising it takes to solve problems like that involves a horizontal 21-gun salute.

The group disagreed whether more U.S. troops should be deployed to Baghdad, but was in accord on increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps and increasing their budgets. The notion of increasing the size of our land forces has been gaining popularity for more than a year, and I find it more than a little disturbing. We only need larger land forces if we intend to maintain troop levels in Iraq at their present numbers or greater for an extended period of time. Beefing up the Army and Marines is a formula for prolonging the war, not ending it, and will lead to a strategy that adds military force to a problem for which there is no military solution.

More Maliki Malarky

Edward Wong of the New York Times reports that several of Iraq's political parties are in talks to form a coalition to break the political influence of Shiite Cleric and militia leader Moktada al-Sadr. They've invited Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to join them, but Maliki has so far refused because he's afraid they may try to toss him out of office.

Al-Sadr, once Maliki's main political ally, withdrew his 30 loyalists from the Iraqi Parliament in protest of Maliki's recent meeting in Jordan with Mister Bush. Maliki has asked the al-Sadr bloc to return, but they said they will only do so if Maliki and the Americans set a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal. Bush has consistently refused to talk about timetables, and is unlikely to change his mind on the subject.

Here's what's it looks like we're going to do: we'll keep 140,000 troops or so in Iraq to deal with a problem they can't solve so they can stand in the way of a political solution.

One keeps hoping that a previously undiscovered competence and sanity will emerge in the Bush administration, but those hopes are likely in vain. Yes, it helps that Donald Rumsfeld is gone from the Department of Defense and that John Bolton has left the UN. But Condi Rice is still Secretary of State and Dick Cheney is still seated next to the throne.

MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell announced on Tuesday that Bush will not make any decision on the Iraq policy and strategy until after the winter holidays. That's a wise move, provided he uses the time wisely. You probably won't be shocked to hear that I couldn't give a gnat's toenail less about Bush II's legacy, but I do care about the future of the United States. In two years, Bush will retire to his library and finish My Pet Goat. The rest of us have to live with whatever he leaves us.

Whatever Bush decides to do in Iraq will determine America's fate for at least a century. No, that's not hyperbole. Our sortie into Iraq was a grave mistake, and grave mistakes bring dire consequences. If Bush blows it this time, U.S. influence on Middle East affairs could disappear like the sandwich my dog snatched off the kitchen counter last night. The vacuum will be filled by Russia and China, with help from their energy partner Iran. The loyalties of our western European allies will erode even further than they already have. Isolated, our economy will dwindle, as will our leverage over Russia and China, and we could wake up one day to realize that, shucks, we lost the Cold War after all.

So much for that "mission accomplished," huh?

As frustrating as it is to watch the violence rage in Iraq while Bush ponders his next step, it's a necessary frustration. He needs to listen to as many fresh voices as he can absorb, and he needs to shut out the ones he's been listening to, starting with that "higher Father" of his and the Christian right he's been sucking up to. He needs to tell Dick Cheney to stock up on heart medicine, go back to his undisclosed location, and stay there. He needs to tell Karl Rove to pack his propaganda playbook and boogie back to Texas. He either needs to give Condi Rice free rein to conduct foreign policy the way she deems fit or, if he doesn't trust her to operate independently without Cheney and Bolton kneecapping her every move, he needs to bring in somebody else he can rely on to take the diplomatic ball and run with it. And he really needs a new set of generals to replace the ones who kissed their way to the four-star rung under Donald Rumsfeld.

He needs to establish trust with America and the rest of the world. Spitooning Karl Rove will help in that regard, but Bush will have to lose a lot of other bad habits. No more talking points or buzz phrases. No more smirks, quirks, or shuck and jive posing like a six-gun shooter in a bad cowboy movie. No more blaming everybody from the media to the Clintons to Catholics who voted for John Kerry for his failures. He needs to quit worrying about the Republican Party. The GOP is better off without him and he's better off without the GOP.

What he needs to do most is stop acting like a spoiled adolescent playing grown-up and start acting like a 60 year-old man who is the president of the United States and leader of the free world. If he can do that, he might just find that Americans across the political spectrum will still support him. Heck, I might even stop calling him "Young Mister Bush."

If he can't do that, he needs to be impeached.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Iraq: Sergeant Rock and a Hard Place and a Hard Sell

It sickens me that while our troops valiantly try to cope with a Hobbesian situation in Iraq, our political and military leaders argue publicly over word choices.

Is it a civil war or an insurgency or just plain chaotic violence? Was the Iraq Study Group report a stinging rebuke of Mister Bush's policy, or was it endorsement of his goal to achieve a free and stable Iraq? Did it say the policy wasn't working, or did it simply say we need a new policy? Are we "not winning" or "not losing?" (I'm waiting for White House Press Secretary Tony Snow to say we're "not not losing, but we're not not winning either.")

It's bad enough when purely political types engage in this kind of gibberish, but when guys with four stars on their collars say things like "If we withdraw, they'll follow us here" and "we haven't lost a single battle," I despair whether there's an ounce of integrity left in any department of the executive branch.

The next set of Rovewellian buzz phrases and talking points is beginning to emerge. "Way forward" is eating up a lot of bandwidth. "Wash our hands" seems to be the replacement for "cut and run." British Prime Minister Tony Blair came up with a doozy last week, something to the effect that modern realism must have idealism at the middle of it. That's more than a bit like saying a circle is a square with the edges rounded off.

It's all nonsense. And while rear echelon feather merchants wear out the spin cycle button, real troops operate in the way of real harm with no overarching strategy or purpose.

REMF in Chief

Like many, I've tended to fall into a trap of letting young Mister Bush off the hook for his follies. After all, we knew he was an Ivy League boob with a phony Texas accent when we first elected him, and then reelected him. (When I say "we" elected him, by the way, I don't mean "me." George W. Bush single-handedly motivated me to cast my first vote for a Democrat.) When Bush first took office, many of us said, "Oh well, he's got Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to keep him out of trouble." Boy, were we dumb.

As the Bush administration's policies unraveled, many of us laid blame at the feet of Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and the rest of the neocon cabal that had seduced the feckless frat boy down the path to perdition. But the time for cutting Bush a break is over. The guy's sixty years old now, and he's been the leader of the free world for six years. In his joint "press opportunity" with British Prime Minister Tony Blair last Thursday, Bush had a golden opportunity to act his age and live up to the responsibilities of his high office. He chose to do otherwise.

I lost count of how many times he parroted "way forward," or how often he made absurd analogies between our current situation and World War II, and, yeah, under pressure, he squawked the "9/11" meme as he's done so often when the flawed logic of his mono-syllabic rhetoric falls apart.

It's still tempting to feel sorry for Bush. It can't be easy to know--even if only at the edge of your consciousness--that you're the first U.S. president to lose two wars, and to have your daddy's friends tell the world what an abject failure you are.

But too bad: that's the price you risk when you run for high public office. To paraphrase Harry Truman, "If you can't stand the stink, don't go in the outhouse."

The Empire Strikes Out

By adopting the neoconservative vision of a global American empire consolidated through means of armed force, Bush has squandered the gains of over two centuries of blood, sweat and tears spent by our forebears over the course of more than two centuries. Our country is as divided--if not more so--than it was during the civil war. Whatever global goodwill and loyalty we earned in the two world wars and the Cold War has melted like the snow of an early spring morning. Thanks to his inferior stewardship of our armed forces, the military might that brought us to a preeminent position in global affairs has now proven impotent as a tool of national power and influence. China and Russia, our old Cold War adversaries, are on the verge of shouldering us out of the Middle East through their influence with Iran, and they'll do so without firing a single shot or making any serious attempt to compete with us in an arms race.

Bush shows no sign of having learned anything from his mistakes. I'm not sure he even thinks he's made any. America sent a loud and clear message to its government in the recent election in which it took away Bush's GOP majority from both houses of Congress. Bush seems to think the election results reflected the public's fatigue with partisan bickering. He's completely missed the signal that the country is sick of him, and his policies, and his political party.

Bush is still in office, still Commander in Chief of a military at war, and still an idiot. We have much to fear about how much more damage he can do in the next two years, how many decades it will take to undo it, and how many more of our troops will die fighting in stupid wars while we try to smooth the pleats in our national skirt.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Iraq Study Group Grope

Also at Kos.

The Iraq Study Group (ISG) report is on the street.

There is no magic formula. We need a bipartisan approach. The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. The challenges are complex. Violence is increasing. The elected Iraqi government is not adequately advancing national reconciliation, providing basic security or delivering essential services. Pessimism is pervasive.

Great Prescott Bush's Ghost! This ten member blue ribbon committee worked for 9 months to tell young Mister Bush and the American public things my dogs already know?

At least the ISG said in public things that needed to be said, and there's something to be said for that.

They also made some bold suggestions; among the best of them was to engage Iran and Syria constructively. The ISG is hardly the first group to say this, but it certainly helps that they've thrown their weight behind the proposal.

And they made a long needed condemnation of the Bush administration's diplomacy record:
Iraq’s neighbors and much of the international community have not been persuaded to play an active and constructive role in supporting Iraq. The ability of the United States to shape outcomes is diminishing. Time is running out.

"Time is running out" may be an optimistic assessment.

Young Mister Bush: Taking It Like a Boy

Whatever else it may or may not have accomplished, the ISG took an overdue paddle to 60 old Mister Bush's behind. His foreign policy has failed, so badly that there may not be a way to fix the situation in Iraq and the Middle East.

At a Wednesday morning press conference Press Conference, ISG members were remarkably candid during the question and answer session.

Former Congressman and member of the 9/11 Commission Lee Hamilton confessed that it may already be too late for the ISG's recommendations to be effective. "From the very beginning we recognized that events could overtake our work, could overtake policy, American policy in the region. And that may still be the case." What might those events be? "Anarchy, total chaos, the collapse of the government without a new government taking its place and rampant violence throughout the country."

Many would argue that those events are already taking place.

Leon Panetta, President Clinton's former Chief of staff, said, "I think we owe it to [the Iraqis] to try to take one last chance at making Iraq work and, more importantly, to take one last chance at unifying this country on this war. I think the president understands that he simply is not going to be able to proceed with whatever policy changes he wants to implement if we're divided."

That sounded to me like Panetta telling Sonny that he's got one last chance to get his head unscrewed from wherever it's buried or he's tomorrow's breakfast special at Denny's.

Hamilton, Panetta and former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor made a point of saying that ISG has no statutory authority, and that having completed its work, no longer exists as an advisory body.

In naval aviator-ese, this translates into: "Told ya. See ya. Sure hate to be ya."

Several ISG members alluded to bipartisanship in Congress and the role of the press in pulling the country together, but it was clear that real focus of their remarks was the Commander in Chief, and the message was "The bus you hear roaring down the street has your name on it."

How will Bush take all this? All the unflattering psychological profiles of him that I've read and heard resonate, but I've given up trying to figure out what, if anything, is going on between the guy's ears, or who--besides Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and his God--he listens to anymore.

When Mister Bush finally decides to publicly address the ISG report, listen closely to what he says, and see if it sounds any different than anything you've heard from him in the past six years. My best guess and worst fear is that his spin masters will search the ISG's report and press conference transcript for the most convenient lever they can find to discredit it, and I'll bet you a Coca Cola that here's what they'll come up with for Mister Bush's speech:

"ISG Chairman Jim Baker himself said that the approach his committee recommended has its shortcomings …"

Anybody care to take me up on that bet?

In Other News…

Forget about the danger of Cheney talking Bush into launching another unprovoked attack on Iran for the sake of keeping a stranglehold on the world's energy market. That's small potatoes compared to the latest news from NASA.
NASA's Mars rovers, which have been exploring the planet's surface since they landed there in 2004, have found strong evidence that suggests that water flowed on the planet long ago.

Holy simoleons! If there was water on Mars, that means there was life there once, which means there's oil under the planet's surface.

Stand by for a national mobilization to combat the Axis of Extraterrestial Evil.

Wanted Dead or Alive: al-Ming the Merciless.

Despite urging by the Interplanetary Study Group, don't expect the Bush administration to engage in direct diplomatic talks with Venus or Jupiter, which Condi Rice's State Department is about to identify as "rogue planets."


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

Bob Gates: SecDef, Whether You Like It or Not

Whether you like it or not, Robert Gates will be our next Secretary of Defense. If you're not crazy about Gates, consider the immediate option: more Donald Rumsfeld.

If you are crazy about Gates, you might want to curb your enthusiasm. Superman, Batman and rest of the Justice League couldn't come up with a quick and easy solution to the catastrophe Gates is about to inherit.

If you're lukewarm about Gates, as I am, you might be a little concerned that he won't be much more than a placeholder, one that has little choice but to go along with whatever the political wind shifts dictate.

Keep in mind that as Secretary of Defense, Gates is officially still only the number two man in the military chain of command. The official Commander-in-Chief is still George W. Bush, and there's no reason to suspect that after six years of abject sub-mediocrity in that role he'll improve all of a sudden. As to who really calls the shots on Iraq--and the rest of U.S. foreign policy--well, Dick Cheney's still in place, and though he has no official standing in the chain of command whatsoever, and there's little question as to who has been the most influential public official on the Bush administration's military and diplomatic foreign policy. Maybe that's changing. Maybe it isn't.

From what we've heard of the Pentagon, White House and Baker Commission reports on a "new course" in Iraq, there doesn't seem to be very much new in them. Move some troops here, move some troops there, make up some new talking points and catch phrases, and you'll have what by any other name amounts to Son of Stay the Course.

Other Factors

Gates's confirmation hearing on Tuesday was reasonably benign.

Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) gave Gates his most severe cheese grating, thumping him like a pumpkin to admit that we are not winning in Iraq, that we went in with too few troops, that we need more troops now (McCain's favorite mantra these days), and so on. McCain's performance was a 2008 campaign stunt, of course, but to what extent will he be able to influence Gates--and the overall Iraq strategy--by pulling political strings within the GOP caucus?

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) grilled Gates about Iran, making him admit that yes, he thought Iran probably wanted to develop nuclear weapons. When Gates said it was possible they might only want the bomb for deterrent purposes, seeing as how they're surrounded by other nuclear powers, Graham lit off on a tirade about what a threat a nuclear-armed Iran would be to Israel. Gates, to his credit, at least tried to push back, telling Graham that Iran's leaders know what the consequences of a nuclear attack on Israel would be. He also said that any military strike on Iran should be a measure of last resort, and that use of armed force against Syria would be counterproductive.

Gates also refused to be bullied into stating unequivocally that Iraq is the "central front" in the war on terror. (He said it is one of many fronts in the war, which is true.)

So I'm somewhat optimistic that Gates isn't going to roll over for the most hawkish voices in the Senate, and I think that's important because I don't really think the most hawkish voices in the Senate know what they're talking about when it comes to the Iraq War. Joe Lieberman is a particular case in point. He keeps calling for formulation of a bipartisan plan for Iraq, implying that by simply by virtue of being "bipartisan" the plan will work. (If it's a lousy plan, being bipartisan won't make it any less lousy).

Where will the military commanders fit into Gates's scheme? It's hard to say, but I don't expect anything brilliant to come out of our top four-stars. All I've heard from Peter Pace (chairman of the Joint Chiefs), John Abizaid (Central Command chief) and George Casey (Iraq theater of war commander) are talking points from the Karl Rove propaganda playbook. I hate to ping on these guys any further, but I strongly suspect that after six years of suffering under Donald Rumsfeld, they're no longer capable of independent, analytical thought.

And whatever independent, analytical though Gates may be capable of, he's not the Commander-in-Chief. As Gates himself said at the hearings, "There is only one president of the United States, and he will make the final decisions."

Therein Lies the Rub

Young Mister Bush has abused his position as commander-in-chief of the military by treating the Constitution like a personal hygiene product. I very much hope the new Congress will aggressively pursue measures that will put him back in his constitutional cage. But I also don't think the Constitution gives either the legislature or the judiciary overt authority to dictate how a president runs an overall war strategy or how those under him in the military chain of command conduct operations and tactics. If Bush considers all the recommendations presented to him (or pretends to) and says, "Nope, I've decided to keep doing what we've been doing, because we've been making real progress the way we've been doing it," what can Congress or anybody else really do about it?"

The Supreme Court certainly isn't going to declare the Iraq War unconstitutional, and Congress won't snap the purse shut on our troops in the field, at least not for a very, very long time.

Let's hope that Mister Bush agrees to some sort of substantial change in the Iraq strategy. But let's not hope for too much. There is no silver bullet or wooden stake that will put that monster to death in a timely manner. What's more, there's no guarantee that any new plan will work any better than the old plan. For that reason, the new plan actually has to be a series of plans: plan (a) and branches and sequels (b) through (x) that look ahead to what we can try if plan (a) doesn't work out (and in warfare, plan (a) seldom works out according to plan). And we need to have something that kind of sort of looks like a timeline, because without time limits, even rough ones, we're likely to fall back into the same trap of indefinitely staying on a wrong course.


Columnist George Will is the latest among conservative pundits to come out four-square in favor of John McCain's call to send more troops to Iraq.

While I certainly respect McCain's service and the sacrifice he made during the Vietnam conflict, his experience as a prisoner of war taught didn't teach him much about the principles of armed conflict. And what George Will knows about warfare you could fit inside a medium sized skin pore.

I have searched high and low, and maybe I missed it somewhere, but I have yet to hear anyone who advocates sending more troops to Iraq address the matter of what those troops will do once they get there.

"More troops" is not a strategy. It's not even a tactic. Additional troops may be a means to accomplish a strategy or tactic, but only if those troops are given specific assignments that support tangible and achievable objectives that contribute to the overall political war aim.

When we send troops into a war zone without giving them a clear task and purpose, we're not making progress. We're just making targets.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.