Monday, October 13, 2008

Let Them Eat Sand

by Jeff Huber

I thought Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki showed state fair size baby makers when he told us to start packing our caissons and hit the dusty trail that leads out of Iraq. Then General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the closest thing Pakistan has to a head of state, did Maliki one better when he announced that "no external force" would be allowed to conduct operations inside his country.

But Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar took the blue ribbon when he told U.S. and NATO commanders that yeah, he'd negotiate; he'd negotiate how's about you accept safe passage the hell out of Afghanistan or I whip you like a Russian stepchild?

We can regard this kind of treatment from Iraq and the Bananastans in one of two ways: we can take umbrage and continue to dig ourselves China-ward, or we can think of it as a gift horse and not show bad form by dwelling on its third world dental work.

Rough Riders

The American warmongery got its collective nose bent out of joint by remarks that some high muckety Brits made recently. Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said of the Bananastan conflict "We're not going to win this war," and that victory over the Taliban is "neither feasible nor supportable."

Leaked comments by British Ambassador Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles state that NATO forces in Afghanistan are "part of the problem, not part of [the] solution," and "the American presidential candidates…must be dissuaded from getting further bogged down in Afghanistan."

It's a bit of a horse pill, taking this kind of talk from the folks who abandoned Lord Cornwallis and let him get his can kicked by George Washington and the French at Yorktown, but the British know of whence they speak when it comes to getting trapped in the Middle East La Brea. In 1922, then Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill wrote of Britain's misadventure in Iraq that, "At present we are paying eight million pounds Sterling a year [the equivalent of half a billion dollars today] for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having." We presently pay a hundred billion dollars a year—200 times what the Brits expended—for the privilege of living on that volcano.

The example of the more recent Soviet experience in Afghanistan (1978-1989) should give U.S. political leaders pause for reflection. Its decade and change in Afghanistan cost the Soviet Union over 14,000 personnel killed, nearly a half-million casualties, and an incalculable economic loss. Many consider that the Soviet Union's Afghan excursion was one of the key factors that delegitimized its Communist party rule.

Even more recently—in September 2008, in fact—the highly respected Rand Corporation published a report titled How Terrorist Groups End. The report not only asserts that military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups, it admonishes "there is no battlefield solution to terrorism" and "Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended: It is often over-used, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment."

One expects John McCain to ignore sound advice and analysis of this kind: his thinking process seldom involves organs located above his waist. One expects a more enlightened approach to decision making from Barack Obama, yet Obama appears to remain convinced that Afghanistan if the right place to be fighting.

Soft Heads, Brick Walls

Enquiring minds are beginning to wonder how we can extract ourselves from the Middle East. A better question is what do we gain by staying?

The pat pretexts are terror and oil. Both are steaming piles of horse dinner.

If we're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here, why do we need a Department of Homeland Security? Don't sneeze at me about how our woebegone Middle East wars have kept another 9/11 from happening. 9/11 happened because more acronym and tri-graph executive branch agencies than you can shake a tax form at—JFCOM, NORAD, FAA, FBI, DOD, DIA, CIA, NSA, NSC and etc.—were asleep at the switch. Bin Laden declared war against us, in writing, clear back in August 1996. Did that swarm of Ichabod Cranes we employ full time to protect us need more time to get ready? They didn't need to suspend habeaus or listen in on dirty phone conversations or anything like that to stop 9/11 from happening. All they needed to do was their freaking jobs. Now, it's virtually impossible for another 9/11 to happen; some of those sorry slobs are doing their jobs for a change because they know they'll lose them if another 9/11 happens.

There's no excuse at this point for any sort of major foreign initiated terror plot to sneak past Homeland Security, and the evildoers can't cross the oceans in sufficient numbers to invade and occupy us. Nobody has a fleet of ships or aircraft large enough to get them here, and if they had flying carpets, Pentagon force planners would be puling like kittens about the "magic lantern gap."

The argument that we'll give the evil ones sanctuary if we leave the field is humbug as well. We can't possibly deploy enough troops enough places to deny them all the potential sanctuaries. In the places we are deployed, our Petraeus-centric strategy amounts to handing out weapons to yahooligans then bribing the yahooligans not to use the weapons on us. If we're not there they can't use any weapons on us and hey, by golly, we can stop bribing them too.

As for the oil swill: I challenge any American to look at the record petroleum company profits and record gas prices and tell me we're fighting these woebegone wars in camel land for anybody other than Dick and Dubya's Big Oil buddies. Remember how not too long after Gulf War II went south they started telling you the high price of gas was because we didn't have enough refineries, and the shortage of refineries was your fault because you wouldn't let them build a refinery near your house? Big Oil quit telling you that when it came to light that back in the mid-90s—after you'd already bought them Gulf War I—they purposely limited their refining capability to maximize their profits. The reason you haven't read about their recent efforts to increase refining capability is because they haven't made any. Why bother? Now these characters are telling you gas prices will come down if they can drill offshore and break open the ANWR reserve, and both of your presidential candidates appear to be buying their story.

Both candidates are also making coo noise about breaking our addiction to oil by developing alternate energy sources. That sounds like Carter era déjà vu all over again. We're still addicted to oil for the same reason people are still addicted to tobacco; there's still money to be made from the stuff. Big Oil is bound and determined to make sure we don't wean ourselves off of fossil fuel until they've squeezed the last possible dime in the global economy out of the last drop of petroleum in the planet.

If the next president really wants to take on the biggest threat to U.S. security, he should roll up his sleeves and duke it out with Big Oil. If the dune herders want us to go home, fine; let them eat sand. Like the Rand analysis said, our best approach to the Middle East involves "a light U.S. military footprint or none at all."

I vote for "none at all."

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Scott Horton's interview with Jeff at Antiwar Radio.


  1. Oh Heck!

    We have yet again worn out our welcome.

    Off topic:
    I went back yesterday and tried to catch up on some of your "musings" that I had missed, while dealing with the "no power" aftermath of Ike.

    The Tina Fey/Sarah Palin comparison was interesting, in light of the release of the investigative report yesterday from Anchorage.

    Hard to believe, I know, but the good Governor does indeed abuse the power of her office.

    Dick Cheney, George W., Karl, in drag. Pick one.

    Any book on how much longer the McCain/Palin ticket will continue to go on campaigning?

    Also, given how badly we have worn out our welcome in the Bananastans, and how shabbily we have treated even our friends, do you think anybody in the world, really cares if we have to declare bankruptcy -- kind of like Iceland?

  2. IMO the rest of the world only cares about our economy because it can drag theirs down the tank.


  3. Anonymous4:44 PM

    Here's a link to a little economic boost to military spending that you're sure to have comments about:
    Looking forward to reading same.

  4. Wow, thanks for the link, Jeg. Yeah, I'll have a thing or two to say about this.


  5. Great piece, again. New look at McCain's thought processes -- doesn't use organs above his waist.
    And you're right -- nothing won't happen until we the heck out of the Middle east/Afghanistan.

  6. Bruce,

    Yep, out of the ME and tell Big Oil no to offshore and ANWR.

  7. Anonymous12:59 PM

    Hello Jeff...

    I just posted a response to this fine piece at My Left Wing and Booman Tribune. Thought you might want
    to read it.

    But...what if the whole BARREL is rotten? The fruits of usury.



    Arthur Gilroy

  8. Thanks, Arthur. Catch you over there.


  9. Anonymous4:55 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. Most of us would vote for "none at all." Whoever set up this house of cards arrogantly assumed that if military force was all there was to prop up said house of cards, that it would be sufficient.

    And uh, Jeff, a hundred billion might be low. Didn't they just pass a 612 billion dollar defense bill last month?

  11. 612b is the total defense budget. the Iraq cost has typically been quoted at 100b per year.


  12. Yeah, I get that the 612 billion is 2009 defense budget. You don't agree with Stiglitz?

    Did you hear anything about this?

    According to Time, McCain campaign staffers in Virginia are teaching volunteers to see Barack Obama as having terrorist 'friends,' and then providing these volunteers with arguments for persuading voters that Sen. Obama, like Osama Bin Laden, shares responsibility for bombings of the Pentagon.

  13. Stiglitz may be right, but I'm not sure all his asumptions are sound. The Virginia/McCain thing doesn't surprise me at all.


  14. I remember that before the invasion of Iraq a lot of people (esp. libertarians) argued that the oil companies did not want the war, because geopolitical turmoil would cause instability in the markets, and this instability would wreck their business. Funny, it doesn't seem to have hurt the poor dears one bit.

    I also remember one guy suggesting that the Saudis and other rich Gulf nations should pull their assets out of U.S. banks, and quit buying U.S. treasury paper. A financial crisis in the U.S. would make an invasion less likely, by his reckoning. I was never clear on how the creation of millions of unemployed, pissed-off Americans was supposed to make a war less likely. It seems like it would be just the ticket, as a matter of fact (and we may be about to finally find out).

    Thanks for the encouragement on what I wrote, and maybe I will develop it further, but it's really nothing that others (smarter and better informed) have been saying for a long time. It's been rather depressing for those of us who've been following the energy thing for years to see how people are reacting now that it's finally in their faces. I've been especially disappointed in libertarians, whom I generally admire. They seem to have opted for some combination of: "This isn't happening!"/"An alternative energy source is just around the corner!"/"Let the market work, damn you!"/"What the (bleep) do scientists know, anyway?"

    And, of course, "drill, drill, drill!" (Which sounds a bit rude, actually). I quit reading one (very popular) libertarian site when some of the writers there started flogging "abiotic oil," which is petroleum geology's answer to creation science.

    Their attitude reminds me of the scene in Erik the Viking where Atlantis is sinking below the waves. The Vikings try to convince the inhabitants to save themselves, but they are in complete denial. "None of this is actually happening!" their Leader proclaims. Sounds like a certain North American country of my acquaintance.

  15. JP,

    My take on Libertarians: Neal Boortz is one, so beware. ;=)


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