Friday, March 30, 2007

Bush and the Rovewellians: Still Going

Also at DKos.

The Bush administration and its supporters never give up. They still think they can bullhorn their way out of any disaster they create.

Bush administration sex doll Joe Lieberman told CNN on Thursday that he "thinks the president's changed policy in Iraq has successfully decreased the violence in Baghdad and increased the confidence of U.S. forces there."

Joe Lieberman "thinks" things are going well? What makes him think that?

"Our soldiers told [Ret. Gen. Jack Keane] they feel more confident than ever as they go on patrol in Baghdad in the neighborhoods we've settled into with their Iraqi colleagues," Lieberman told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "The American soldier is more confident walking the streets of Baghdad today and that's a very important change."

As to the wave of shooting deaths in Tal Afar earlier this week, Lieberman told Blitzer the massacres were all the more reason not to leave Iraq prematurely.

As the CNN report indicates, Joe is getting his information from retired Army General Jack Keane. You should know a few things about Keane before you judge what he has to say about the progress of the "surge" strategy.

Keane was a military adviser to the Iraq Study Group (ISG) who labeled the group's recommendations as "impractical." “Based on where we are now we can’t get there,” he said, and added that the ISG's conclusions said more about "the absence of political will in Washington than the harsh realities in Iraq.”

Funny thing about Keane. Around the time he was working with the ISG, he was also working with Fred Kagan of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute on the so-called "surge plan" that Mr. Bush is presently executing. In late December of 2006, Keane and Kagan wrote:
Bringing security to Baghdad--the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development--is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail.

So it's little wonder that Keane would tell Lieberman that "our soldiers feel more confident" while on patrol in Baghdad.

It's also little wonder that the Kagan/Keane plan seemed so tailor made to refute the ISG's recommendations, given that Keane was in on the ISG's deliberations.

And hey, come to think of it, Robert Gates was an "expert" on the ISG prior to his nomination to the Secretary of Defense post.

Isn't that interesting?

Higher and Deeper

Mr. Bush recently quoted two Iraqi bloggers as saying that things are returning to normal in that country's capital. Said bloggers are a pair of brothers who write an English language blog in Baghdad. They both got to meet Mr. Bush in the Oval Office in 2004. U.S. Blogger JuliaAnn notes that the Iraqi bloggers' prose sounds like something Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes might have written. It sounds that way to me too. It sounds to me like they're on the payroll.

On the diplomatic front: Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah pulled the pin on the Bush administration's Iraq policy earlier this week with his opening remarks at the annual Arab League summit meeting.
In beloved Iraq, blood is being shed among brothers in the shadow of an illegitimate foreign occupation, and ugly sectarianism threatens civil war.

"We were a little surprised to see those remarks," said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. He allowed as how maybe King Abdullah was "mistranslated."

Heck of a job, Burnsie. Did you come up with the "mistranslated" line, or did Karen Hughes write it for you?

Reuters reports that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Saudi Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir to discuss Abdullah's remarks. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice and Al-Jubeir had a "good chat."

I just bet they did.

On the home front: six weeks after the Washington Post broke the Walter Reed scandal, Mr. Bush visited the facility. That's more time than it took him to visit New Orleans after Katrina.

"The problems at Walter Reed were caused by bureaucratic and administrative failures,'' he said at the end of his two hour visit. The system failed you and it failed our troops and we're going to fix it.''

Not surprisingly, Bush didn't mention anything about timelines for getting the Walter Reed problems fixed. And what's the hurry? Top Walter Reed officials, including the Army's surgeon general, had heard complaints about the conditions at the hospital for more than three years.

After all, Katrina happened almost two years ago, and we've been we've been stuck in Iraq for four years. Halliburton and its subsidiaries will get around to fixing them eventually.

Or not.

Here's another non-surprise. In January 2006, Walter Reed awarded a five year, $120 million contract for support services and facilities management to IAP Worldwide Services. IAP is led by Al Neffgen, a former Halliburton official.

I'm sure that's a coincidence. I'm also sure that $120 million contract will grow like a beanstalk now that now that Mr. Bush has promised the facilities situation at Walter Reed will be "fixed."


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

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bush: Alone, Unafraid, Unhinged

Also at DKos.

Here's how well the "surge" strategy is going. From the New York Times :
BAGHDAD, March 28 — One of the bloodiest chapters in Iraq’s sectarian strife unfolded over the past two days in the northern city of Tal Afar where gunmen, some of them apparently police officers, participated in the revenge killings of scores of Sunnis in the aftermath of a huge double suicide bombing in a Shiite area.

Two hours after the explosion of truck bombs, which killed 83 people and wounded more than 185, the gunmen — some of whom witnesses recognized as police officers — went house to house in a Sunni neighborhood, dragged people into the street and shot them in the head, witnesses and local leaders said.

Tal Afar was once regarded as one of the few success stories of the American occupation.

More Corners Turned

The diplomatic piece of the "surge" is going great guns too. At the opening of an Arab League summit, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, our biggest, bestest buddy in the Middle East, condemned the U.S. occupation of Iraq. “In our dear Iraq, the blood is spilling between our brothers in light of an illegitimate foreign occupation,” he said.

Ain't that a kick in the head?

Saudi Abdullah also touched on the situations in Sudan, Lebanon and Palestine, and called on Arab states to increase their unity. It sounds to me like Abdullah is sending a clear message to the Bush administration: you've screwed up our whole part of the world. Take your cowboy hat and ride out of town. Sooner is better than later.

Arab leaders are queasy about America's naval buildup in the Persian Gulf aimed at intimidating Iran. It's not that they love Iran. They just don't want another war in their sphere of influence.

It's not just the Arabs who are looking to distance themselves from the U.S. Even our British bulldog is lifting its leg on us. The Brits have asked us in so many words to stay the hell out of the Shatt al-Arab waterway incident in which Iran grabbed 15 British sailors and marines.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Thursday morning, the Senate passed a $122 billion war funding bill that requires Bush to begin to withdraw troops within 120 days and sets a non-binding goal of ending combat operations by March 31, 2008. I'm guessing it will take weeks to resolve this bill with the House bill, but it looks like some sort of bill containing timelines for withdrawal will make it to Mr. Bush's desk.

Mr. Bush threatens to veto any bill that contains timelines, which means he'll veto his own war budget request. Then, of course, he'll blame Congress for not supporting the troops. What happens next is anybody's guess.

Mr. Bush has an uncanny knack for painting himself in a corner. Until recently, his supporters in politics and the media have always managed to pry him out of his jams. He may be running out of juice.

The U.S. Attorney firing affair is heating up, and might handcuff (virtually if not literally) a number of his chief advisers, most notably Karl Rove and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. My guess is that Attorney-gate is just the first in a series of devastating investigations the new Congress will slap on the administration.

If Mr. Bush finds himself in a corner he can't squirm out of, what might he do?

Another Fine Mess

In a worst-case scenario for Bush, congressional investigations could dig up enough dirt to justify impeachment proceedings against both him and Dick Cheney. Between the two of them, they have as many skeletons in their closets as they have bats in their belfries. I've been skeptical that an impeachment scenario could come to pass, but lately…

Last week, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) said on the House floor that "impeachment may well be the only remedy which remains to stop a war of aggression against Iran." That might well be true, and I like Dennis Kucinich but he isn't exactly the King of Clout in Washington.

But when Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) starts hinting around at the "I" word, one tends to sit up and listen.
Any president who says, I don’t care, or I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else, or I don’t care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed--if a president really believes that, then there are--what I was pointing out, there are ways to deal with that.

Given young Mr. Bush's psychological profile, it seems that if he senses he's in an "inescapable" corner, he's more likely to act out than to compromise, and the most dramatic act he could commit would be a flimsily justified attack on Iran.

And he might just use the Iranian's hijacking of 15 British sailors and marines as the "next Pearl Harbor" he needs to launch another lunatic war.


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

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On a Collision Course With Iran?

Also at DKos.

The Associated Press reports that on Tuesday, the U.S. Navy commenced the largest demonstration of force it has conducted in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The exercise involves 15 warships, including two aircraft carriers, and more than 100 combat aircraft.
At U.S. 5th Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, U.S. Navy Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl said the U.S. maneuvers were not organized in response to the capture of the British sailors--nor were they meant to threaten the Islamic Republic [Iran], whose navy operates in the same waters.

Oh, no. The last thing we'd be conducting a major naval operation in the Gulf right now would be for the purpose of shouting "boo" at Iran.

Aandahl also said that, "What it should be seen as by Iran or anyone else is that it's for regional stability and security… These ships are just another demonstration of that. If there's a destabilizing effect, it's Iran's behavior."

I'm not sure whom Andahal thinks he's kidding. There's only one "threat" to maritime "stability and security" in the Gulf, and that's Iran. Aandahl is talking public affairs office poppycock.

Dubya and Dubya-er

The showdown between the U.S. and Iran boils down to a manhood measuring contest between young Mr. Bush and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. To date, neither president has measured up in the foreign policy game.

Bush has been a puppet of Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives from the beginning, and only those in the non-cognitive hardcore right still support the administration's foreign follies. Iran has been crawling along a razor's edge in an attempt to emerge as a regional superpower, and has taken a lot of risks, especially in its nuclear program and its naval power demonstrations. They may have finally slit themselves open with their grab of 15 British sailors and marines in the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

For the life of me, I can't figure out how that happened. It was a colossal screw up, either at higher levels of command or by the on scene commanders.

CNN reported Wednesday that the one woman among the British sailors and marines will be released soon. British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told members of Parliament that Britain will impose "a freeze on all other official bilateral business with Iran until this situation is resolved."

The Iranian Embassy in London released a statement on Wednesday stating the detainees are in good condition. "We understand the anxiety of their families, but they must be assured that they are in safe hands and have a better life than the risky mission in the Persian Gulf waters," the statement said.

According to CNN, Iranian hard-liners have pressed their government to charge the British personnel with espionage and put them on trial.

British Vice Admiral Charles Style says that global positioning system information shows the HMS Cornwall, the British frigate involved was 1.7 nautical miles inside of Iraqi waters. Iran says the Cornwall had gone 0.3 miles into Iranian territorial waters.

Britain is coordinating diplomatic efforts with the rest of the European Union and Turkey, but has asked the U.S. to keep a low profile. "They have asked us to keep the rhetoric down and not do anything that would jeopardize their efforts to get the sailors and marines released," one senior official told CNN.

That's a good sign. You know the Brits haven't gone mad when show the common sense to tell Condi Rice's State Department to stay the heck out of a ticklish diplomatic situation.


Mr. Bush still doesn't show any signs of turning cognizant. The House has passed emergency appropriation bills to support our Middle East wars that include withdrawal timelines, and the Senate appears likely to pass similar legislation soon. Bush continues to threaten to veto any bill with timelines that comes across his desk, and says he will hold Democrats responsible if they delay military funding. The Democrats, to their credit, appear to be holding fast.

Our 60 year-old boy emperor has isolated himself so completely that the only friends he has left--at home and abroad--are the neoconservative cabalists who put him into power and got him into the mess he's in, and still, the neocons are the only people he listens to.

So is Bush crazy enough to go for broke and pull the trigger on Iran over the British incident (and over British objections)?

As frightening as it is to say, we can't dismiss the possibility.


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

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Revoltin' John Bolton is Back

Also at DKos.

Old neoconservatives never die. They don't fade away either.

John Bolton, the discredited former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been making the talk show rounds lately. Last Sunday, he appeared on CNN's Late Edition and blew the standard pile of neocon bull feathers up Wolf Blizter's pant leg.

Why does the mainstream media continue to give these yahooligans bullhorns and bandwidth?

The Neo-conspiracy

Raw Story gives a fair summation of Bolton's interview with Blitzer. The administration never said Iraq was an "imminent threat." Overthrowing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. The president's surge strategy is "the only strategy there really is."

This is the same John Bolton who claimed in April 2006 that the plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein was not cooked up by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the neoconservative think tank formed from the ranks of the American Enterprise Institute. Funny thing: Bolton's signature appears on the PNAC letter of January 1998 that admonished President Clinton to remove Hussein from power. Bolton was also a signatory of the May 1998 PNAC letter to Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich encouraging the same thing.

Source Watch chronicles Bolton's fabled history as an opportunist, a bully and an ideologue. During young Mr. Bush's first term, he was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. In that role, he helped fellow neocon Dick Cheney make the case for the Iraq war. Prior to that, he had served in key positions in the Reagan and elder Bush administrations, working at the State and Justice departments. Bolton was one of the team of GOP attorneys who descended on Florida during the 2000 election and who famously said, "I'm with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count."

When Bolton's name first went to the Senate for confirmation as U.N. Ambassador, Carl Ford Jr., a former assistant secretary of state and CIA officer, testified that Bolton was a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy" who abused intelligence analysts who disagreed with him.

When Bolton couldn't achieve Senate confirmation, Mr. Bush gave him a recess appointment to the U.N. Ambassador slot. When his recess appointment expired in December 2006, the Senate again refused to confirm his appointment, and Bolton resigned. Today, Bolton is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

The neoconservative cabal takes care of its own. But the fact that they've sent John Bolton unto the breach to shore up their message indicates just how desperate they've become to maintain a semblance of legitimacy in the U.S. political scene.

AlterNet gives us a video view of a red faced Bolton getting dressed down on a BBC program and, as a bonus, also provides footage of Bolton getting his brass handed to him by John Stewart of the Daily Show. What in the wide world of sports were the neocons thinking when they let a witless boob like Bolton go toe-to-toe with Stewart?

John Bolton is all fright wig and slap-shoes. That the neocons have chosen him as their media point man of the moment shows what a circus they've become. And yet, lamentably, pathetically, tragically, Mr. Bush is still listening to them, and following their advice.

The pecans are in charge of the nut farm.


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

Monday, March 26, 2007

What's Iran Up To?

Also at DKos.

Regardless of whether the British frigate involved was in Iranian or Iraqi waters, Iran has custody of 15 British sailors and marines. Will this incident become the "trigger" that starts a U.S.-Iran war?

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says that he wants to resolve the issue diplomatically, but calls the situation "very serious" and hopes the Iranian government understands "how fundamental an issue this is for the British government."

We don't know a heck of a lot about the incident. Here's a synopsis from the San Francisco Chronicle:
Eight Royal Navy sailors and seven marines, traveling in high-speed inflatable rafts through the cramped waters off the Iranian and Iraqi coasts, had just finished inspecting an Iranian-flagged merchant ship for contraband Friday morning when they were surrounded by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps gunboats, detained and hauled off to a nearby Iranian military base.

Iranian officials say the Britons were being held for violating Iranian territorial waters. But British and U.S. military officials insisted the Iranian gunships crossed into Iraqi waters. In a brief communication with a passing British helicopter, Iranians said the 15 men were safe, a U.S. official said.

This incident is both troubling and puzzling. Coalition and Iranian naval vessels have been dancing around these waters together for some time. Why did this snatch and grab operation occur now?

In the era of reliable satellite navigation, it seems unlikely that any of the vessels involved didn't known exactly where they were. The demarcation line between Iraqi and Iranian territorial waters in that part of the waterway may be contested, but that's not a new controversy. Why would the British conduct an intercept operation in what they knew to be contested waters? Moreover, why would the Iranians pull a move this bold if they knew their claims that the incident took place in their waters would be questioned? (And they almost certainly must have known it.) Why did the British sailors and marines let the Revolutionary Guard take them without a fight, and why did their frigate allow the Guard's gunboats speed away without pursuing or challenging them?

We can spin scenarios until Wisconsin cows give cottage cheese. It's possible that the merchant ship being searched was carrying something important enough for the Brits to take extreme risks to find it and for the Iranians to take extreme risks to make sure the Brits didn't discover what it was. It could also simply be that one of both of the local commanders involved committed colossal errors in judgment. Given the pollution in today's information environment, we may never know what really happened.

This affair has features resonant of the Tonkin Gulf incident that Lyndon Johnson used to escalate U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the Iranian Hostage crisis, in which 52 American citizens were held by Iran for 444 days and that many consider to have been the key factor of Jimmy Carter's defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980.

We can't know today how things will play out, but I wouldn't characterize the prospects for a peaceful solution as "bright."

Much of what comes out of the mouths of Iran's leaders is a vainglorious attempt to gain street credibility at home and throughout the Middle East, where it seeks to become a dominant regional power. But supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene's recent remarks are somewhat difficult to decipher.
Until today, what we have done has been in accordance with international regulations. But if they [the U.N. Security Council] take illegal actions, we too can take illegal actions and will do so.

No one is certain what Khamene means by "illegal actions" that Iran might take. Was the abduction of British sailors and marines an example?

To date, despite its belligerent rhetoric, I've considered Iran's leadership to be rational actors. Now, I'm starting to wonder. Up to now, Britain has been opposed to a unilateral U.S. attack on Iran. The maritime body snatch might reverse the U.K.'s position on that issue.

The Iranians' pal Russia isn't too happy with them either. Iran is falling behind on payments for Russia's help in building their reactor in Bushehr. Russia and China have released a joint statement calling for Iran to comply with U.N. sanctions, a remarkable step considering that they are Iran's most powerful allies.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded:
Iran will not stop its peaceful and legal nuclear trend even for one second because of such an illegal resolution…

… The Iranian nation will not forget those who backed and those who rejected (the resolution), while adjusting its international relations.

Wheels Within Wheels

We don't know what's going on inside Iran. Reformists won a landslide victory in February's general election, a sign that Ahmadinejad has lost support of the population and the ruling mullahs. Perhaps the internal political situation in Iran is so splintered at this point that they're no longer able to conduct a coherent foreign policy. Right now, they're pushing their two best friends into the arms of their enemies.

It's like they've stolen a page from the Bush administration playbook.


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

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pat Tillman and the Size of the Lie

NBC reported late last Friday that a Pentagon investigation has found that:
…nine U.S. Army officers, including as many as four generals, were aware that Special Operations soldier Pat Tillman was killed by friendly forces in Afghanistan, but did not inform Tillman's family in a timely manner.

How about them bad apples?

Associated Press says that the Department of Defense inspector general "will cite a range of errors and inappropriate conduct" however, "it appears the inspector general will not conclude there was an orchestrated cover-up in the investigation."

Nine officers, including four generals, knew the Tillman story was a lie and there was no orchestrating?

The Baby With the Bathwater

As I've said before, one of the largest casualties we've suffered at the hands of the Bush administration has been its near total pollution of the information environment. It pains me to say that I don't believe a single thing the administration or its supporters say, and that includes information from any official military source.

The Pat Tillman saga is just one small example of the kind of denial/misinformation/disinformation machine the military has become under the present political regime. But don't think this atmosphere of duplicity started when Donald Rumsfeld took over as George W. Bush's Secretary of Defense. The origins of this web of deceit go back a long way.

Up or Out

Most of you have seen the film Patton, and know about the kinds of competitive spirit that existed among the generals in Eisenhower's European Theater of Operations during World War II. That kind of ambition and jealousy among military personnel was hardly a twentieth century phenomenon, though. In Shakespeare's Othello, the antagonist Iago creates unholy mayhem against his general in retaliation for having been passed over for a key promotion, and Shakespeare was merely reflecting a phenomenon in military affairs chronicled by Homer.

Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, introduced the "up or out" policy. Service members who failed to gain promotions by certain points in their careers were forced out of the military. This created an atmosphere in which every duty assignment became a competitive experience with one's peers. In theory, this had a certain Darwinian advantage: only the cream of the crop could survive and rise to positions of high rank and authority. Unfortunately, this policy created a "zero defect" atmosphere that encouraged caution, sycophancy, herd mentality, backstabbing, and the other earmarks of dysfunctional organizations. During my tenure in the military, "Go along to get along" was the careerist's motto, and the notion of a military leader like Bull Halsey or George Patton emerging in the contemporary age was considered, as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would say, "quaint and obsolete."

Sea Stories

I can tell a million of them. One of the most egregious sins committed by career officers is their willingness to lie about their commands' materiel readiness.

There was the two-star admiral whom I witnessed saying words to the effect of "Why should I take the hit for telling the truth about the readiness of my battle group when it's the fault of the supply system?"

There was the group commodore who told me on multiple occasions that my squadron deserved the Battle Efficiency award, but couldn't win it if I continued to tell the truth about the mission readiness status of my aircraft.

There was one of my first skippers who had to get up on a Sunday, put on dress whites, and go tell a three-star why he'd told the truth about his personnel shortage crises in an official (and required) report.

I could go on, but what's the point? No doubt, you get the idea. My experience was Navy-centric, but what I've related is the same kind of thing that put our ground troops into Iraq with insufficient body and vehicle armor, and lack of training to perform the kinds of missions they were expected to perform (think Abu Ghraib).

So that nine senior officers lied about the Tillman affair during Rumsfeld's tenure doesn't surprise me. In fact, it's the sort of thing I've come to expect. The military has been co-opted into the neoconservatives' Big Brother Broadcast.

And as to early reports from the likes of Bill Kristol that the "surge" strategy is working, well, pardon me if I'm skeptical.

At the end of the day, compared to all the other lies the Pentagon has told us, the Pat Tillman scandal is just a drop kick in the bucket.


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

Friday, March 23, 2007

House Vote on Iraq

The House resolution that will require combat troops to be out of Iraq by the end of August, 2008 passed at approximately 12:45 on Friday. A similar Senate bill that calls for troops to come home a year from now has passed a committee vote.

We're approaching a point where the Democratic Congress may well wrest control of the Iraq war away from Mr. Bush. If that happens, will the Democrats rue the "victory?"

Iraq and a Hard Place and Hard Decisions

America sent a clear signal about its attitude toward the war when it put Democrats back in charge of the legislative branch in November--"stay the course" doesn't cut it anymore. Most Americans understand that terms "victory" and "defeat" no longer apply to Iraq. We're not at war with that country. We're deployed in a country that's at war with itself. It's a war that has more sides than the Pentagon. Which side do we choose?

We can't conduct a peacekeeping operation there. Peacekeeping requires willingness on the part of the belligerents to have peace. That condition does not exist in Iraq, and is not likely to as long as we remain in the middle of the fighting.

The Bush administration has illustrated through its actions that it's perfectly willing to let our involvement in the Iraq war go on until brown cows give chocolate milk. The neoconservative vision was to dominate the oil rich Middle East region through an enhanced U.S. military footprint, and the neocons still call the tune where Bush's foreign policy is concerned. (The chief architect of the so-called "surge" plan was Fred Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a key member of Bill Kristol's Project for the New American Century.)

The new Congress, under mandate of the electorate, could not continue to allow Bush and his neo-confederates to have their way on Iraq. They couldn't get the votes to cut off funding for the war that would require an immediate withdrawal, and an immediate withdrawal isn't a good idea anyway.

An orderly withdrawal, however--one that's organized around strictly enforced benchmarks and milestones--is a good idea, the only one that makes any sense. A fine old military adage says that level of effort expands to fill the time allowed to achieve the assigned task. My not inconsiderable experience tells me that's as true as truisms get.

Hiding Behind Skirts

In his brief speech on Friday afternoon, Mr. Bush accused the House Democrats of pulling an act of "political theater." It was interesting how the White House spinsters staged the event. The young hottie soldier girl behind his right soldier smirked twice at presumably pre-rehearsed moments. On Bush's left stood some old guy from one of the national veterans' groups who looked like an old Soviet commissar. Talk about political theater.

The die is cast. As the deadline bills move through Congress, the administration will do its best to "prove" the escalation strategy is "working." A real deadline bill will have to make it past a Republican filibuster in the Senate. If it jumps that hoop, it will have to roll through a presidential veto, and that's going to take a lot of Republicans in Congress to break ranks with the White House. How many GOP legislators will bend to anti-war sentiment in their constituencies and throw Bush on the Metro tracks remains to be seen.

As to the criticism that the House bill passed because it threw pork to U.S. spinach and peanut farmers: I'd rather see farmers profit from this war than to see Halliburton and its subsidiaries make another dime from it.

But the real trick behind all this maneuvering is whether or not the step-lock Republicans will decide to knuckle under to pressure from the Democrats when they decide once and for all that the war in Iraq is "lost" and they can blame the Democrats for it.


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

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Attorney-gate: It's the Cover Up, Stupid

Also at DKos.

Oh, what a tangled web. Historians may reflect that the Bush administration's downfall was its blind faith in the power of the lie. The current controversy over the firings and hirings of U.S. Attorneys could be the brouhaha that collapses the Bush administration's card house of deceptions.

The Final Straw?

As sins of the Bush administration go, the firing of U.S. Attorneys for political reasons is a relatively venial one. Compared to lying its way into an optional invasion of Iraq that the neoconservatives had been pushing for since January of 1998, long before Bush the younger threw his hat in the ring, firing a few federal prosecutors for not playing ball with the administration is the relative equivalent of snitching cookies.

And yet, Attorney-gate may prove to be the straw that broke the camel's proverbial back.

The judiciary committees of both houses of Congress have passed measures authorizing issuing of subpoenas against Karl Rove and other high level administration officials regarding the firing of eight federal prosecutors. The White House responded by offering to allow the officials to testify behind closed doors under the conditions of no oaths and no transcripts. Senator Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) described the offer as "nothing, nothing, nothing."

We can see where this is heading--hardball negations will take place to try to avoid having subpoenas actually issued. If the negotiations don't work, subpoenas will fly. The administration will claim executive privilege to ignore the subpoenas. Congress will charge them with contempt, and the mess will spill into the federal courts.

In military art terms, this kind of jostling is called "peripheral warfare."

As best we can tell, the administration didn't do anything illegal by firing those eight U.S. attorneys except lie about why and how they did it. But that's not what Attorney-gate is really about. It's about the Iraq war, and it's about the limits of executive privilege.

If Congress can coerce Rove and other administration high-rollers into public testimony under oath over Attorney-gate, it can call the entire unholy gang in to testify on the run up to Iraq, the domestic surveillance program, the Patriot Act abuses, and the entire laundry list of the Bush cabal's high crimes and misdemeanors.

That would fracture the Republican Party even further than it already is. GOP pols would have to either abandon the neoconservative cabal that has infested it or go down with the ship.

That's precisely why I think aggressive pursuit of open, under oath testimonies by administration luminaries in front of congress is a good thing. We need a vibrant two-party system. What we most certainly don't need is a conservative party dominated by militaristic maniacs.

Thursday afternoon, MSNBC's Tucker Carlson reported that the Senate Judiciary Committee has sent a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding saying words to the effect of "is that your final offer?"

Tucker's bobble-heads thought the Senate committee might settle for an agreement in which the Bush boys and girls might testify on record as long as they don't have to testify under oath.

What. The. Hell?

What's the point of having someone testify if they don't promise to tell the truth?

Then again, what do oaths mean to members of the Bush administration? They all took oaths to uphold the Constitution, and look how that turned out.


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

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Defense Budget: Good Money After Bad

"Isn't it odd that after a terrorist attack that relied on $2 box-cutters, we are redoubling our pursuit of fantastical weaponry?"

--Robert Scheer

The United States spends as much or more on defense as the rest of the world combined. In 2005, according to the CIA's World Factbook, America spent $518 billion on the military. China, the closest thing we have to a peer competitor, spent a paltry $81.5 billion on defense in that year.

As the Project on Defense Alternatives reports, the net Department of Defense tab for 2008 will be around $647 billion. That doesn't count another $36.4 billion for Homeland Defense and a further $84.4 billion for the Department of Veteran's Affairs.

What are these astronomical expenditures buying us?

The Next Generation

It pains me no end to say this, but at a macro level, it's difficult to see what purpose the United States military serves anymore. No one is capable of invading and occupying us. Our military did not defend us from the 9/11 attacks, and only a diehard neoconservative will argue that our armed forces are winning our wars overseas or accomplishing our national objectives there.

How on earth did the world's sole superpower maneuver itself into such a tight corner?

To a great extent, we've fallen into the paradigm that says we always prepare to fight the last war, and the "last war" we continue to prepare to fight is World War II. If you compare today's U.S. force structure to the one we fought Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini with, you'll find it's not much different. In World War II we had armor, artillery and infantry. Our naval forces consisted of aircraft carriers, surface combatants and submarines. Combat air power featured fighters and bombers. We had airborne and amphibious land assault and special forces. That's pretty much what we have now--only now, all that stuff costs a lot more than it did then. Pound-for-pound Today's stuff is far more capable than yesterday's stuff, but dollar-for-dollar it's much less effective at achieving war aims.

In a 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article titled "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation," William S. Lind and others* noted that:
The peacetime soldier's principal task is to prepare effectively for the next war. In order to do so, he must anticipate what the next war will be like. This is a difficult task that gets continuously more difficult.

In a particularly prescient passage regarding levels of technology, Lind and his associates predicted a condition that we're woefully aware of today:
Even in equipment, terrorism may point toward signs of a change in generations. Typically, an older generation requires much greater resources to achieve a given end than does its successor. Today, the United States is spending $500 million apiece for stealth bombers. A terrorist stealth bomber is a car with a bomb in the trunk--a car that looks like every other car.

The "Fourth Generation" authors didn't get everything quite right. Stealth bombers like the B-2 come off the assembly line at a sticker shock and awe price of $2 billion or more apiece. They also said that "so far," terrorism "has proven largely ineffective."

They were right, though, in saying that:
However, the West no longer dominates the world. A fourth generation may emerge from non-Western cultural traditions, such as Islamic or Asiatic traditions. The fact that some non-Western areas, such as the Islamic world, are not strong in technology may lead them to develop a fourth generation through ideas rather than technology. The genesis of an idea-based fourth generation may be visible in terrorism.

Net-eccentric Warfare

Much of our military/foreign policy woes sprang from the "transformational" military concept known as network-centric warfare (NCW). NCW and its wingman Shock and Awe became the "new theory of war" under Donald Rumsfeld's Office of Transformation, headed by the late Arthur Cebrowski, but in truth, it was nothing more than throwing the latest technology at tactical level applications. It did not address strategic and political aims of war and foreign policy, and hence proved useless in our so-called Global War on Terror.

How much longer we'll pour national treasure into the U.S. Military Industrial complex for the means to fight wars which that complex doesn't equip us to fight remains to be seen.

But I'm guessing it will be much longer than necessary.

Related articles by Jeff Huber:

In an Arms Race with Ourselves

Invasion of the Transformers


*Lind's coauthors were Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (USA), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR).


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

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Iraq: Those Poor Kids

UPI Pentagon correspondent Pamela Hess of has been making the cable news rounds lately, and is telling some compelling stories about her experiences in Iraq. Her interview on C-SPAN in early March of this year is the most moving eyewitness accounts of "conditions on the ground" you're likely to see. It was almost enough to convince me that we should "stay the course" in Iraq.


Saving the Course

Hess related her experiences of U.S. troops doing their utmost to provide security to that segment of the Iraqi population that just wants to get on with living a normal life. Some of her anecdotes are heart wrenching, especially the one about the poor Iraqi kid who got shot in the face four times by bandits. One is tempted to suspect that she's acting as an administration shill, but I don't think that's the case. We've seen plenty of Rovewellian phonies making crafted appeals to emotion. Hess's emotion is genuine. But there's a problem with making decisions about wars based on emotion.

In her C-SPAN interview, Hess made the point that the Iraq war isn't about U.S. national security, and I agree with her. The administration's bunker mentality bunk about how "they" will follow us "here" if we withdraw from Iraq is just a bunch of boo noise. Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia won't take over Iraq, and neither will Iran or Syria.

As to the threat of a regional war breaking out in the Middle East, well, that's bunker bunk too. None of the countries in that part of the world have militaries capable of sustaining prolonged, high intensity conflicts. At worst, we might see one or two border skirmishes, and if those idiots want to skirmish along their borders, let them. There's no need for us to step in the middle of those kinds of pillow fights.

So what the hell are we doing in Iraq?

Saving Face, Saving Grace, Saving Dick and Dubya's Big Oil Cronies

If we're trying to spare ourselves the embarrassment of the world's "best-trained, best-equipped" armed force in the world having its brass handed to it by a relative handful of sand gomers armed with popguns and Radio Shack technology, we're too late.

A year or so ago, I wrote an article that said the only valid reason to stay the course in Iraq was that we owed the Iraqi people something for having broken all their pottery, which is more or less what UPI's Hess espouses, but that excuse is wearing thinner than the knot in Karl Rove's tie. It's all starting to sound like one of those Catholic charity commercials about "those poor kids" in Africa with swollen bellies and flies in their eyes.

At this point, I'm a lot more concerned about those poor American kids coming home with their limbs blown off and their eyes shot out, and the ones who don't come home alive.

And what do their sacrifices serve? They line the pockets of Dick and Dubya's big oil buddies who want to keep a chokehold on the global energy market, even as young Mr. Bush exhorts us to cure our addiction to foreign oil.

Now, that's something to cry about.


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

Monday, March 19, 2007

Iraq: Happy Anniversary

Also at DKos.

Happy fourth!

We've turned more corners in Iraq than there are in Manhattan, so I'm skeptical about early reports that the surge strategy is working. General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, says there are fewer reports of sectarian violence, but that may be because some militia groups have run away or gone underground. And it's not like Baghdad has turned all peace, love and understanding all of a sudden. 10 U.S. soldiers were killed and four were wounded in the city last week.

If that's an indication that the surge strategy is "working," aspirin is a cure for genital herpes.

Work in Progress

Of course Petraeus would say that the surge plan is working. It is, in part, his baby, and his endorsement of it is what got him planted in his present billet. Only two of the five combat battalions allotted for it are in place now. The other three won't be on station until June, and Petraeus needs to help the White House keep pressure on Congress to ensure the legislative body doesn't cut off funding for the surge before the surge has a chance to prove it can work.

Whatever "work" means.

As Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times notes, when Mr. Bush first announced his surge strategy, Shiite militias were considered the main antagonists. The Shiite militias have faded into the brickwork, making room for Sunni Militias to strut their stuff.
Col. J. B. Burton, the commander of the Second Brigade Combat Team for the First Infantry Division, told reporters on Friday that the Sunni militants were also taking advantage of the decision of some Shiite militias to become less active or leave Baghdad. Sunni militants “have seen an opportunity with Shia extremists out of the area to strike with much violence,” Colonel Burton said. “What we have seen is when the Shia extremists departed our area of responsibility, specifically in western Baghdad, incident rates in the Shia areas dropped dramatically,” he said. “Incident rates in the Sunni areas increased a bit with vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices targeting Shia gathering places and Iraqi security force locations.”

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the two-star public affairs officer in Iraq, said that of the 77 car bombings in February, 44 occurred in Baghdad. But Baghdad isn't the problem, per se, because the car bomb factories aren't in Baghdad. They're in outlying areas.

According to U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus, “They tend to be in the outskirts in these very rural areas, small villages and outlying houses and farms, and so forth, and we clearly have got to find as many of those as we can to destroy them and then, obviously, to interdict those that are still able to be built."

Petraeus added, “Although the focus, the priority, clearly is Baghdad, anyone who knows about securing Baghdad knows that you must also secure the Baghdad belts, in other words, the areas that surround Baghdad.”

The areas that surround Baghdad--like, you know, the rest of Iraq. And maybe outlying countries like Iran and Syria and Egypt and Turkey and who knows where else.

We're facing a cat stampede, and we'll never get all the critters back in the corral no matter how many cowboys we throw at the problem. But, boy, that doesn't keep the men in charge from pumping out the happy talk. On Face the Nation Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said "I think that the way I would characterize it is so far so good--it's very early."

Sure, Gates admitted, the violence is spreading, but General Petraeus expected that. A "squirting effect" Petraeus calls it.

The important thing, Gates said, is that we wait weeks and months to see if the new strategy works, and whatever we do politicians in Washington must not handcuff the military commanders with "specific deadlines and very strict conditions."

Gates also said, "I would say that the Iraqis are meeting the commitments that they have made to us, that they have made the appointments." That's an interesting comment in light of this report last week in theNew York Times:
WASHINGTON, March 14 — The Bush administration, which six months ago issued a series of political goals for the Iraqi government to meet by this month, is now tacitly acknowledging that the goals will take significantly longer to achieve.

We're making progress. We need to be patient. No deadlines or conditions. The Iraqis are "standing up."

All of this should sound very familiar to you. It sounds like "stay the course" to me. It sounds like "four more years."


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

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Iraq: Playing the Course (and Cheating)

Also at DKos.

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."


Pro-war rhetoric continues to resonate of the peculiar neoconservative brand of insanity. Last week, Representative C.W. Bill Young (R-FL) said, "Nobody wants our troops out of Iraq more than I do, but we can't afford to turn over Iraq to al-Qaida."

The Sunni organization al-Qaeda is not going to take over Shiite dominated Iraq. If Young honestly thinks it can, he's an utter dullard. It's more likely that Young was the Bush liegeman chosen to introduce the latest Rovewellian talking point.

Staying the Course

From the beginning, The administration and its echo chamberlains have sold their woebegone war in Iraq with a fabric of glittering generalities, appeals to emotion, bandwagons, sand bagging, blame shifting, straw man attacks, faulty main assumptions, false analogies, and the rest of the propaganda arsenal. They coaxed us into this war by making visions of mushroom clouds dance in our heads, and they've been playing Rovewellian mind games with us ever since.

Their most enduring trick has been the "fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" mantra. In recent months "fighting them over there" has morphed into "If we withdraw, they will follow us here." Pish. How are they going to get here--hide in our troops' luggage? Swim? Wind surf? Jump?

Despite what Bush the younger tells us, the oceans do, in fact, still protect us. Nobody has an army large enough to invade and occupy the United States, and they certainly don't have a navy or air force capable of transporting a force that size across the Atlantic or Pacific. Even if they did, we could sink them and/or shoot them down before they got halfway here.

Yes, terrorists might still sneak through our borders and ports in drips and drabs like the 9/11 perpetrators did, but nothing we're doing militarily in the Middle East is preventing that from happening. That's Homeland Security's job, and if Homeland Security can't keep terrorists from infiltrating our country, why does it even exist?

Young Mr. Bush exhorts us to show "resolve" in the Middle East. But the kind of resolve we're showing in the Middle East is the kind of resolve it takes to throw yourself in front of a moving bus, and then lie there while the bus continues to roll back and forth over you.

In January, Senator Joe Lieberman (?-CT) said on Meet the Press that "We all want to find the right exit strategy. But my own sense of history tells me that in war, ultimately, there are two exit strategies. One is called victory; the other is called defeat."

My three dogs have a better sense of history than Lieberman does. Wars, especially modern American wars, have seldom been decisive. World War I ended in an armistice, the conditions of which laid the groundwork for World War II. World War II concluded with the formal surrenders of Germany and Japan, but that only led to the Cold War and a series of dirty little third world proxy wars that lasted for half a century.

One pro-war neoconservative pundit recently compared Representative Jack Murtha (D-PA) to Lee Harvey Oswald. He said that Murtha and Oswald formed a small club of individuals who deserved to be classified as "ex-Marines." This pundit is not a Coulter-class luminary in the neoconservative galaxy. He is a distinguished dean and professor at one of our most distinguished graduate level war colleges who consistently indulges in this kind of vituperative through the Big Brother Broadcast megaphone. With people like him in key positions of upper level of military academia, it's little wonder our national security brain trust is so bankrupt.

We hear from voices on the right that a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will create conditions that could lead to a regional war, but the fact is that U.S. presence in Iraq has created a regional war. Conflict, at one level or another, rages from the Horn of Africa to Pakistan, and our presence in Iraq is fueling it, not containing it.

The Bush war hawks keep serving up grape flavored hallucinogen shooters, and their non-cognitive supporters keep slamming them down. Meanwhile, a pack of dune farmers armed with tinker toys continue to make the "best-trained, best-equipped" armed force in history look like it couldn't find its oasis with a map and a flashlight.

It's so difficult for me to watch our chicken hawk leaders pour more of our magnificent troops into a war they're not designed to fight in pursuit of a "victory" that cannot be defined, and justify their policies and strategies with arguments they have to know are medicine show hokum, and blame their failures on the CIA, the news media, Catholics who voted for John Kerry, and whatever other scapegoat is handy.

It breaks my heart.


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

Friday, March 16, 2007

Still Making the Mesopotamia Mistake

Thursday morning, I listened to Fred Kagan on an NPR program telling the world how well the "surge" is going, how Iran is a trouble maker, and the rest of the standard neoconservative line of bunk.

Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and was a chief architect of the so-called surge plan. Along with his father Donald and brother Robert, Fred Kagan was a key member of Bill Kristol's Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the "think tank" that brought us our Mesopotamia mistake.

It's little wonder that Fred's painting a rosy picture.

More Maliki Malarky

NPR reported on Wednesday that the Pentagon itself has finally caved and started using the "c" word.
For the first time, the Pentagon's update to Congress on the state of the Iraq war acknowledges that elements of the Iraq conflict "are properly descriptive of a 'civil war.'"

Properly descriptive of a civil war. Brother. The Iraq war is properly descriptive of a Hobbesian nightmare.

Thursday morning, MSNBC showed live footage of Mr. Bush speaking with Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi in Washington. Bush congratulated Abdul-Mahdi on his government's progress at working toward unification (He knows it's "hard work.")

Also on Thursday morning, Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger of the New York Times gave a different view of the Iraqi government's "progress."
The Bush administration, which six months ago issued a series of political goals for the Iraqi government to meet by this month, is now tacitly acknowledging that the goals will take significantly longer to achieve.

A “notional political timeline” that the administration provided to Congress in January in an attachment to a letter from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had called for most of the objectives to be met by this month.

According to the Times, most of those objectives have not been met by Malaki's government. "Officials" say they expect "most political progress to be months away."

How many months? 10? 100? 1,000?
The officials also say the slowness of the political progress could extend the amount of time the surge troops will need to stay in Iraq and its suburbs. There's a surprise.

Philip D. Zelikow, until recently the counselor at the State Department, says that part of the slow progress is because of “a recognition that things were worse than people realized.”

What a classic piece of Bush administration indigestion this is. The problem is that we now recognize a problem that we didn't recognize before? No, Mr. Zelikow, the problem is that you didn't recognize problems. And there's little indication that the Bush cabal will learn to recognize them in the future.

Mr. Zelikow's successor at the State Department is Eliot Cohen, who along with Donald Kagan, Dick Cheney and others was a charter member of the PNAC.

Zeilikow said that “significant parts of the new strategy need to be developed from scratch.”

The entire new strategy needs to be thrown out with the junk mail.

The Senate bill that called for troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days and set a goal for complete withdrawal by March 31 2008 got blown out of the water late Thursday. A House bill calling for all combat troops to be out of Iraq by September 1, 2008 passed through committee, but House Republicans are resisting the measure.

Representative C.W. Bill Young (R-FL) said, "Nobody wants our troops out of Iraq more than I do, but we can't afford to turn over Iraq to al-Qaida."

This is sheer lunacy. Is Young really dumb enough to think a Sunni group like al-Qaeda could take over a Shiite dominated country, or was it just his turn to introduce the nonsensical talking point of the week?

The Bush administration has made mistake after mistake in Iraq, and seems bound and determined to keep making them. Fanatics like Young are enablers.

I'd like to see the House bill passed on the floor, but am not optimistic. I fear we'll continue to flop and twitch in Iraq until the Army and Marine Corps grind themselves into hourglass fill. Then we'll redeploy to the periphery, like Representative Jack Murtha (D-PA) proposed back in November of 2005.


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

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Peter Pace Provokes a Peck of Patriotic Poofs

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace is entitled to his opinions regarding homosexuality. Whether it's proper for him to express those opinions publicly is another matter.

In an interview with Chicago Tribune editors and reporters, Pace expressed his support of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military.
He said his views were based on his personal "upbringing," in which he was taught that certain types of conduct are immoral.

"I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts," Pace said... "I do not believe the United States is well served by a policy that says it is OK to be immoral in any way.

"As an individual, I would not want [acceptance of gay behavior] to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else's wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior," Pace said.

I have serious problems with equating homosexual behavior and adultery, but even if, for a moment, we accept the two as similar moral behavior, Pace's statement is charged with a kiloton of hypocrisy. You couldn't count the number of generals and admirals who have had extramarital affairs on the toes and fingers of Old Mother Hubbard and all of her kids. Many of those affairs involved junior officers. I know of one case where an admiral was playing patty cake with a senior enlisted man's wife, and the admiral arranged for the enlisted man's ship to be out at sea whenever he rolled into town to for a roll in the hay. That guy wound up making four stars and commanded a regional unified command.

What's good for the goose…

"Don't ask, don't tell" was a goofy loophole to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The UCMJ says homosexual activity is a punishable offense. "Don't ask, don't tell" essentially said it was okay to be gay and serve in the military as long as you didn't tell anybody you were gay and didn't engage in homosexual sex. In other words, "keep your mouth shut, don't swish, and don't get caught."

As a senior officer, I swam through an ocean of administrative nightmares. Some of them involved closeted gays getting outed by homophobes, but that was nothing compared to the fraternization issues between young men and women working closely together in the same command. (And that's in no way meant as a knock on women serving in the military. I'm just saying that having homosexuals under my command was the least of my headaches involving the sexual behavior of my subordinates.)

So I don't know. The way I presently look at the gays in the military issue is that gays have served in militaries since there have been gay people and militaries, which has been a heck of a long time. I heard on MSNBC today that an estimated 65,000 gay persons presently serve in the U.S. military. No matter how we try to legislate homosexuals out of the military, we'll still have homosexuals in the military. So why bother making laws to prevent something we can't prevent?

As to the close living quarters situation: if I'm showering in an open bay with 20 other sailors, odds are that one or two of them are gay. Given my choice, I'd as soon know which one or two of them are.

As to gay fraternization problems: we should treat them the same way we treat heterosexual fraternization. (Colonels and generals get away with it, everybody else fries.) And from an administrative point of view, gay fraternizers have a major advantage over heterosexual fraternizers. Gay fraternizers can't knock one another up.

As for Pace calling homosexuality immoral: heh! Nobody in the Bush administration has any business public making moral judgments about anybody else.

As to whether a military that allows open gays to serve will be effective, well hell, it's not effective now. The best-trained, best-equipped force in the history is getting its heinie poked in two third-world sinkholes.

The cavalry isn't getting the job done. Maybe it's time to call in the Village People.


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

Monday, March 12, 2007

Army Strong, Army Dumb

The Guardian Unlimited reports that at an Association of the Army meeting in Fort Lauderdale, FL last week, top U.S. generals admitted that Iraqi rebels are smarter than they are.

Did these "top U.S. generals" honestly think the rest of us hadn't noticed that?


From the Guardian:
In Vietnam, the US was eventually defeated by a well-armed, closely directed and highly militarised society that had tanks, armoured vehicles and sources of both military production and outside procurement. What is more devastating now is that the world's only superpower is in danger of being driven back by a few tens of thousands of lightly armed irregulars, who have developed tactics capable of destroying multimillion-dollar vehicles and aircraft.

One three-star general at the conference told the Guardian that "Iraq and Afghanistan are sucking up resources at a faster rate than we planned for."

That kind of razor's edge analysis is the reason those three-stars make the big bucks.

The same three-star also said, "America's warriors need the latest technology to defeat an enemy who is smart, agile and cunning--things we did not expect of the Soviets."

The Guardian article doesn't identify this three-star (of course), but it doesn't matter. If guys like him are making three-stars in the U.S. Army, it's little wonder the U.S. Army is getting its chin socked by numerically and technically inferior force.

The U.S. Army already has the latest technology--at least the latest technology that has been fielded. If an Army three-star thinks mo' better technology will make up for lack of smarts and agility, well, we may as well disband the Army.

Bullets versus Arrows

We developed our World War II and Cold War military to counter adversaries who had significant and organized air, land and sea forces.

Technological advances aside, the basic components of today's U.S. military are the same as the force we had in the latter portion of the 20th century: armor, artillery infantry, special forces, aircraft carriers, surface combatant ships, submarines, fighter and bomber aircraft, air and amphibious assault.

The adversaries we're fighting today don't have any of those things, and they're kicking our cans up and down the sidewalk at will.

High tech, mobile forces are designed and trained to defeat other high tech, mobile forces. Insurgencies, they don't do so well at. In multi-sided Hobbesian conflicts like the one we're witnessing in Iraq, they positively suck. The U.S. Army hasn't been worth a spit shine at fighting asymmetrical, counter-insurgency style wars since it won the west from the Indians.

Planning for Failure

General David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, will attempt to execute the Army's new counterinsurgency doctrine (which he played a large part in formulating) in that country, but even he reportedly gives the "surge" plan only a one in four chance of succeeding.

How are things going? This from Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post :
Soon after arriving in Iraq, [NBC News anchor] Brian Williams was listening to an Army colonel describe how much safer Ramadi had gotten when another soldier shouted that it was too dangerous to stand there and hustled them inside the military outpost.

Days later at the Baghdad airport, Williams and his team heard five explosions, saw smoke rising near the taxiway in front of them, and were relieved to board the Fokker jet that carried them out of the country.

I wasn't at all surprised to read in the Los Angeles Times that…
American military planners have begun plotting a fallback strategy for Iraq that includes a gradual withdrawal of forces and a renewed emphasis on training Iraqi fighters in case the current troop buildup fails…

If the man in charge says there's a 75 percent chance of failure, it's a good idea to plan on him being right.

A senior Pentagon official told the LA Times "This part of the world has an allergy against foreign presence," and that the chances of the surge's success may be diminishing. "You have a window of opportunity that is relatively short. Your ability to influence this with a large U.S. force eventually gets to the point that it is self-defeating."

It's too bad we didn’t think about that "allergy against foreign presence" thing before we decided to become the presence that caused the allergy. And it's entirely tragic that we committed our "best-trained, best equipped" force into a situation where it was all but guaranteed to defeat itself.

It's sadder still that after spending itself into the sand on a low odds escalation strategy, our land forces will adopt a periphery redeployment posture sometime in 2008 that resembles what Congressman Jack Murtha (D-PA) proposed in November of 2005.

Time flies when you're having fun, doesn't it?


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

The Bush Legacy

Also at DKos.

The Bush administration's chief propagandist is still spinning webs. In an interview with Michael Abramowitz of the Washington Post, Karl Rove said that there is little talk in the White House these days about young Mr. Bush's legacy, but there's one thing he's certain of. Bush's greatest impact on future presidents will be his doctrine of "preemptive war."

The doctrine, according to Rove, "says if you train a terrorist, harbor a terrorist, feed a terrorist, you will be treated like a terrorist yourself. And then the corollary of that, which is that we will not wait until dangers fully materialize before taking action."

Abramowitz notes that Dick Cheney recently told ABC News "I think history will regard us as having made good, sound, solid decisions."

I think history will regard Cheney and Rove as having heads full of snakes.

Restoring Sanity

Abramowitz also points out that others have a more pragmatic view of the Bush II legacy.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser in the Carter administration, said the next president will be forced to discard the most "extreme policies" of the Bush administration if he or she hopes to regain American influence in the world, and to abandon Bush's vision of Islamic extremists as on par with the Nazi empire or the Soviet Union at their zeniths.

The next president, he said, "will have to make serious readjustments with rationality."

The rational assessment of the Bush administration will be that it didn't make any sound decisions, and that preemptive war, especially when conducted by a sole superpower against a much weaker opponent, is sublime folly.

Any war is a risky undertaking, and unnecessary risks are not the kinds of things rational political leaders should undertake. On a necessity scale of zero to 10, repelling an invasion by a neighboring country ranks a 10. Invading a country halfway across the world based on pan-fried intelligence and Imperialistic ideologies rates several places to the right of the decimal point.

Intelligence, especially strategic intelligence, is an iffy thing at best. The ability to accurately determine a potential adversary's capabilities through advanced surveillance technology and intentions is limited. Graham Greene's Our Man in Havana (1958) and John le Carre's The Tailor of Panama are two excellent spy novels--written by former spies--that demonstrate the frailties of human intelligence. When you subject intelligence to manipulation by political ideologists with a war-centric agenda, as happened with Iraq--and that threatens to happen again with Iran--you have a recipe for perpetual fiasco.

What's more, as our Iraq excursion illustrates, preemptive wars overseas that involve invasion and occupation based on fuzzy intelligence grind one's land forces into sandbag fill, and it's intuitively obvious to anyone who isn't a Cheney-class compensated psychopath that pursuing a policy that destroys your means of pursuing it is, in layman terms, just plain crazy.

Hatters, Hares and Lemmings

Rebuilding America's Defenses, the Project for the New American Century's neoconservative manifesto published in September of 2000, stated that…
…the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein. (Page 14.)

The 9/11 attacks gave the Bush administration neocons (Cheney, Rumsfeld, Perle, Wolfowitz, Bolton, Feith, etc.) the "new Pearl Harbor" they needed to carry out their delusional Strangelove strategy.

Rather than rebuilding America's defenses, the neocons have put our military bow and barrel down in a sand dune. And yet, incredibly, the likes of Rove and Cheney insist that they have created a template for the success of future U.S. policies.
By any rational measure, these guys are nuttier that a pecan orchard, but some theoretically sane Americans still listen to them and take them seriously. Maybe the psychiatric field should come up with a new term for people who still cling to the Bush agenda--"compensated lemmings."

The celebrated 20th century logician Bertrand Russell said that "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts."

I'm not the wisest guy in the world, but I had doubts about the Bush administration when it came into office. I was vaguely aware that he was backed by a neoconservative cabal who had wild ideas about forging a 21st century American empire through armed force, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up when Dick Cheney started talking about restoring the power of the presidency. But what the heck, I figured. The system is too strong, too well established, for a group of wild-eyed ideologues to lead us down the road to aggressive fascism. Silly me.

Six years and change later, the fanatics and the fools who still follow them have turned the United States of America into a militaristic oligarchy with theocratic underpinnings. Our foreign policy is a shambles. Our instruments of power--military, diplomacy, economy and information--are broken. Rule of law is a "quaint and obsolete" notion, and the Constitution itself has become a non-binding resolution.

The lasting legacy of the Bush administration will be that the only thing we have to fear is the people who govern us.


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

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Federal Bureau of Intrusion: 'Berto's Burglars

Also at DKos.

It's hardly surprising to discover that the FBI has been abusing its authority under the Patriot Act. What gets my attention is that the person who blew the lid on the scandal was a Justice Department inspector general (IG). For the past six years, the Justice Department's primary function has been to make sure the law does not apply to Mr. Bush.

According to a Washington Post report, the IG audit…
… detailed widespread abuse of the FBI's authority to seize personal details about tens of thousands of people without court oversight through the use of national security letters.

It also found that the FBI had hatched an agreement with telephone companies allowing the agency to ask for information on more than 3,000 phone numbers -- often without a subpoena, without an emergency or even without an investigative case. In 2006, the FBI then issued blanket letters authorizing many of the requests retroactively, according to agency officials and congressional aides briefed on the effort.

On release of the IG audit, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III promptly apologized and promised swift corrective action. At a press conference in Uruguay, Mr. Bush said he was "pleased" that his FBI chief "took responsibility as he should have."

Holy heinous hypocrisy.

Yeah, I'm sure Bush was "pleased" to see yet another of his liegemen take a bullet for him. Meuller should have been canned immediately. What will happen instead, I suspect, is that Bush will keep him around and see how the radioactive dust settles. If the problem gets buried in the hoopla of all the administration's other dirty bombs, Mueller will probably stay in place for the rest of Bush's tenure. If it turns into another Libby-gate, Mueller will take the heat from Congress until he reaches critical mass, and Bush will reluctantly accept his resignation. If things get really, really bad, Mueller might not get his Medal of Freedom.

Something Happened

As with so many of the Bush administration's shenanigans, it takes a Vulcan mind meld to figure out exactly what happened in the Patriot Act abuse affair. To begin with, there can't be much more than a fistful of lawyers who know what the Patriot Act says. It's a compendium of line item changes to other sections of U.S. code. The original version was passed on October 24, 2001, a mere month and a half after the 9/11 attacks. One's mind boggles that such a labyrinth piece of legislation could have been cobbled together in that short a period. A conspiracy aficionado might conclude that the Act was in development well before 9/11.

Senators from both sides of the aisle expressed outrage at the recent IG report. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, "This goes above and beyond almost everything they've done already. It shows just how this administration has no respect for checks and balances."

Dick Durbin (D-IL) said the report "confirms the American people's worst fears about the Patriot Act."

Arlen Specter told media reps that Congress may "impose statutory requirements and perhaps take away some of the authority which we've already given to the FBI, since they appear not to be able to know how to use it."

The Patriot Act authority the FBI doesn't know how to use is something called a national security letter, which the Times describes as…
…a type of administrative subpoena that allows the FBI to demand records from banks, credit-reporting agencies and other companies without the supervision of a judge.

The IG report found that the FBI had abused the privilege by underreporting to Congress the number of times they used it. But wait a minute--the privilege itself sounds like a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution which guarantees…
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Who knows? The concept of constitutional checks and balances is so scrambled at this point, we may never be able to put the egg back together again. The legislative branch gave the executive branch authority to conduct searches and seizures without warrants from the judicial branch as long as it let the legislative branch know what it was up to. Now, the legislative branch that cut the judicial branch out of the picture is throwing a tantrum because the executive branch cut the legislative branch out of the picture.

Triple Vision

The distinction between the executive branch's Justice Department, the legislative branch's judiciary committees, and the judicial branch is blurred to the point where the only way the Constitution makes sense is if you read it while you're so drunk you're seeing triple.

The Patriot Act is so full of snakes that Congress will never figure out how to fix it. They need to just repeal the damn thing. Then they need to impeach--or threaten to impeach--FBI director Mueller. Then they need to do the same with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see Larisa Alexandrovna's take on 'Berto's culpability in this fandango). And then they need to go after Dick Cheney, the kingpin who had played the largest role in turning the office of the president into an imperial throne.

As to whether we can breathe easy now that the Justice Department IG is on the job: the IG report released on Friday was required by Congress as part of the dope deal they made when the reauthorized the Patriot Act last year, back when the GOP still had control of Congress.

How did Dick Cheney ever let that happen? He must have been distracted: Iraq, Afghanistan, Plame-gate, NSA-gate, shooter-gate…

Everybody has their favorite parts of the Bush administration's innumerable scandals. Here's my favorite part about Patriot-gate:
The findings by inspector general [Glenn] Fine were so at odds with previous assertions by the Bush administration that Capitol Hill was peppered yesterday with retraction letters from the Justice Department attempting to correct statements in earlier testimony and briefings. Gonzales and other officials had repeatedly portrayed national security letters as a well-regulated tool necessary for the prevention of terrorist attacks.

One such retraction letter, sent to Specter by Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard A. Hertling, sought to correct a 2005 letter that attacked a Washington Post story about national security letters. "We have determined that certain statements in our November 23 letter need clarification," Hertling wrote.

Yeah. They weren't lying. They just weren't clear enough about the truth.

That's understandable, I suppose. It's hard to be clear about the truth when you don't tell it.


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

Friday, March 09, 2007

Iraq: Timelines, Benchmarks, Accountability?

Also at DKos.

The Associated Press reported Thursday morning that House Democrats are pushing for legislation that will require U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by fall of 2008. That sounds like a timeline to me.

The legislation reportedly also says that the withdrawal deadline will move up to the end of 2007 if Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government doesn't meet benchmarks set for readiness of Iraq's security forces.

Thursday afternoon, Senate majority leader Harry Reid introduced a joint resolution calling for U.S. troops in Iraq to begin redeployment in 120 days and for all American combat forces there to be redeployed by March 31, 2008.

Timelines and benchmarks: it's about time.

Crystal Balls and Tea Leaves

As Will Rogers once famously said, all I really know is what I read in the papers, and I don't believe most of what I read in them. From what I can divine between the lines, it looks like the Democrats have given up on trying to stop Mr. Bush's surge, but are taking measures to ensure the surge doesn't turn into a long-term escalation. The proposed House bill, according to AP, "also calls for the Pentagon to adhere to its existing standards for equipping and training U.S. troops sent overseas and for providing time at home between tours of combat."

From what U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus and his number two man Lieutenant General Ray Odierno are saying publicly, the full surge--five combat brigades plus 7,000 something support personnel and 2,000 or so military police--won't be in place until sometime in June of this year. Odierno says the surge force level can't last beyond August without taking draconian measures that would include extending tours in theater and cutting stateside rotations short.

This clumsy dance will float back and forth across the floor until the inevitable happens. Whether the Democrats manage to push a timeline and benchmark bill through or not, U.S. ground forces will poop themselves dry sometime late this year or early in 2008. We'll end up redeploying to the periphery like Jack Murtha recommended back in November 2005.

As the 2008 election madness heats up, the Republicans will try to gin up spin that either says they achieved "victory" by staying the course or blame "defeat" on the Democrats and the liberal media.

A Tectonic Shift?

Recent media reports suggest that Dick Cheney is losing his influence on young Mr. Bush subsequent to the Scooter Libby convictions. I'm not convinced of that just yet. Cheney and his neo-confederates have been propping Bush's empty hat above the podium throughout his tenure in the White House. 60 years old now, Bush has never been held responsible for any of his actions and never had to pass a test he couldn't cheat on. If you've noticed, he's starting to look his age. It's about time he started acting it.

It may be that Congress will finally get him and his administration under control and hold them accountable for their horseplay. From the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform:
Chairman Henry A. Waxman announced a hearing on whether White House officials followed appropriate procedures for safeguarding the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. At the hearing, the Committee will receive testimony from Ms. Wilson and other experts regarding the disclosure and internal White House security procedures for protecting her identity from disclosure and responding to the leak after it occurred. The hearing is scheduled for Friday, March 16.

Can we dare to hope that the grown ups are taking back control of the kindergarten we call Washington D.C.?

Over the weekend, you might want to check out this interview between David Swanson and retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski. Kwaitowski's last assignment was in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Under Secretary for Policy Near East South Asia (NESA) Policy directorate, and she knows a little something about what went on during the Iraq intelligence bake sale. The money quote regards her assessment of Doug Feith's infamous Office of Special Plans.
There is no doubt in my mind that what they were impeachable offenses.

Have a good weekend. Let's all hope the sun rises come Monday morning. (I have it on best authority that the odds makers in Vegas say it will.)


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

Thursday, March 08, 2007

More Iraq Wackiness

Also at DKos.

General David Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, says there's no "military solution" to that nation's conflict. From AFP:
At his first news conference since taking charge of US-led forces in Iraq, Petraeus said he had felt "shame, horror and sadness" on Tuesday when he heard of a suicide attack that killed more than 100 Shiite pilgrims.
"There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq. Military action is necessary to help improve security... but it is not sufficient. There needs to be a political aspect," he said.

There's no military solution but military action is necessary but it is not sufficient. Hmm.

The necessary but insufficient military action involves a buildup of U.S. forces that Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the number two man in Iraq, says will need to last through February of 2008. However, military officials say that the troops levels will begin to decline in August 2007 unless more units are sent or held over.

Only two of the five "surge" brigades have arrived in Iraq. The last of the brigades won't be ready to conduct operations there until June 2007. So unless somebody figures something out, the "surge" will be in full force for a whopping three months at best. That's probably not enough time for the Iraqi government to get its political act together. And it's probably not enough time for the Iraqi army and police to get their act together either. The latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq said that “the Iraqi Security Forces, particularly the Iraqi police, will be hard pressed in the next 12 to 18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success.”

Which means that at best, Iraqi Security Forces might be ready to rock and roll around February 2008, which is about the time Odierno says the surge can ebb.

That leaves at least a four-month gap that needs to be filled, and the gap will likely stretch out much longer than that. All previous projections on Iraqi force readiness have been, to say the least, optimistic.

Something will have to give. Tours in theater will have to be extended, and rotations home will have to be curtailed, which will almost certainly have an adverse effect on training. Looming somewhere in the not too distant future is a material readiness crisis--the gear can't last forever.

We continue to grind our military into sand by throwing it at a problem it can't solve. Democrats in Congress are still groping to craft legislation they can pass that will stop the madness, but they're not having much success.

Meanwhile, the national debate on Iraq remains at the level of "they'll follow us here" platitudes, generalities, appeals to emotion and insults. One neoconservative pundit, himself a former Marine, compared John Murtha to Lee Harvey Oswald. This vituperative didn't come from some A.M. radio or Fox News hack. It came from a distinguished professor at one of our most prestigious graduate level war colleges.

Mr. Bush keeps pursuing something that will have a vague resemblance to "victory," anything short of which he classifies as "defeat." Most of the rest of us have no idea what victory or defeat in Iraq might consist of.

This war has more sides than the Pentagon, and it's already spilled beyond Iraq's borders. We have Shias on Sunnis. We have Shias on other Shias. We have the Shias and the other Shies and the Sunnis on U.S. forces. We have the Kurds involved in there somewhere. Some hardcore Baathists are still around. Iran is supposedly mixed up in the fray. The Saudis probably are too. And Syria maybe. The Turks might get drawn in. Russia and China are somewhere on the periphery. Then we have those pesky terrorists: al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim brotherhood. And don't forget the Taliban!

Pro-war types warn us that if we leave, a regional war will break out in the Middle East, but that war already exists. Conflicts at various levels of intensity are underway in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries, all related in some way to the strife in Iraq--the strife for which there is no military solution and that we continue to pour more troops into.

Some empires went out with a bang; others went out with a whimper. We're setting ourselves up to go out in a straightjacket.


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