Saturday, December 27, 2008

Revenge of the Surge

We got through Christmas without having NORAD accidently blow Santa out of the sky, but don't let your guard down yet. While visions of sugarplums danced in our heads, the Pentagon flew another escalation strategy under the radar. On the eve of Christmas Eve, Dexter Filkins of the New York Times reported "Taking a page from the successful experiment in Iraq, American commanders and Afghan leaders are preparing to arm local militias to help in the fight against a resurgent Taliban."

Merry Christmas, fellow citizens. Odds are now almost certain that your country will be in a state of war throughout your lifetimes, and possibly throughout your children's lifetimes as well.

They Lied With Their Boots On

It's hard to be surprised any more when the NYT echoes the Pentagon's G.I. jingo, but the experience of watching the newspaper of record cut and paste phrases like "a page from the successful experiment in Iraq" is aging poorly. From the outset, a key component of the surge strategy was the propaganda piece that would make it sound "successful" regardless of how it went.

As in the principles of war, "objective" is a prime tenet of information operations; but there's a difference between the way objectives work in warfare and how they're used in propaganda. In warfare—theoretically, anyway—the objective is supposed to be straightforward and tangible, and all operations and tactics should support the primary goal. In information operations, the objective, at least the stated one, is so vague and flexible that it doesn't need to have anything at all to do with the actual military operation. In fact, it's best if it doesn't; the less any statement meant for public consumption has to do with reality, the greater freedom of movement the information operator (aka "bull feather merchant" or "BFM") has.

When Bill Kristol pal Fred Kagan and the rest of the neocons at the American Enterprise Institute rammed their surge strategy past the Joint Chiefs' tonsils, the BFMs had to justify escalating the war to the public. Too many brass hats had admitted there was no military solution to the Iraq fiasco, so the "political unification" canard was adopted.

Political unification has proven to be as elusive as Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction; with the provincial elections just a stone's throw away, there's talk of a coup to oust Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki. That's been no problem for the BFMs, though; looking ahead, they nested the "security" piece of the puzzle in the original mission statement: establish security in order to allow political unity to come about. Since some measure of decreased violence has been achieved in Iraq, the BFMs can point to it as proof of the surge's success, and be reasonably confident no one will remember that improving security was the task, not the goal. They can also be fairly sure that not too many folks will ask hard questions about how that "security" was achieved.

In his three tours of duty in Iraq, David Petraeus has followed the same operational formula: he hands out a lot of weapons, bribes everybody he gave the weapons to not to use them, and transfers the heck out of Dodge before the time bombs he set blow off his successors' thumbs and noses (Hey, what's this?).

Four months after Petraeus turned over command of a "tamed" Mosul, the city's police chief defected and insurgents overran the city. When Petraeus was in charge of training Iraqi security forces, his recruits disappeared into the desert night along with about 190,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols. As commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq, he created "Awakening Councils," groups of former Sunni militants that Filkins says "are credited by American officials as one of the main catalysts behind the steep reduction in violence there." More that 100,000 of these former anti-U.S. guerillas have been armed to armpits and put on the dole so they won't attack Nuri al Maliki's government forces. Creating the Awakening Councils was the single dumbest thing—among a field of highly qualified contenders for the title—that we've done in Iraq, and now, it's one of the most compelling reasons for us to stay there forever: if we leave, the gravy spigot runs dry, and all our beautiful ugliness will melt out the drain pipe when the Sunni gunmen go back to their old line of business.

And thus it is that our catalyst of victory is the machinery of our failure; we've succeeded so well in Iraq that we must stay there always. Permanent occupation of Iraq was the operational and strategic objective all along, of course, even before 9/11, even before young Mr. Bush was selected to head the neoconservative ticket.

But the BFMs are still doing a good job of keeping the system from acquiring that target.

Hell No, They Won't Go

They're also doing a good job of camouflaging what the junta is up to these days. As of December 28, Barack Obama's web site still promises to phase "combat troops" out of Iraq in 16 months. His Secretary of Defense and top generals must not have looked at his web site lately. (I'm sure they've been busy.)

Retired Marine General James L. Jones, the incoming National Security Adviser, and ongoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and legacy Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen are all on record as being opposed to withdrawal timelines. Jones has said a timeline would be "against our national interest." Mullen warned that a deadline would be "dangerous," and Gates objected to the 16-month plan during the presidential campaign.

General Ray Odierno, commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq and boy sidekick to David Petraeus, recently announced that U.S. troops would stay on in Iraqi cities beyond the summer deadline called for in the Status of Forces agreement. Gates, who was on a tour of the region blaming Iran for everything wrong in the world, didn't say boo about Odierno's public defiance of the agreement. That's not surprising. In a recent article Foreign Affairs article, Gates Wrote, "there will continue to be some kind of U.S. advisory and counterterrorism effort in Iraq for years to come." From the tenor of the rest of the piece, it sounded like he meant "years to come after 2011."

The BFM work-around to ignoring international agreements and mandates from the commander in chief is pure magic:

Q: When are armed troops in a combat zone not combat troops?

A: When we call them something else.

Presto, change-o, give them a different name and grind the new president's campaign promises into his eye like a broken whiskey bottle. Maybe the BFM expression for that sort of thing is "following orders from the bottom up."

The folks who brought us war without end in Iraq are rolling out advance publicity of their planned sequel set in the Bananastans, and nobody, including Barack Obama, seems to notice or care. In propaganda art that's called "desensitizing."

Maybe we used up what was left of our national outrage on the Iran strike that never happened. Or maybe we have this waifish notion that Barack Obama couldn't possibly let a bad thing like Iraq happen again.

Could he?

He sure isn't stepping up to the plate on this Gaza atrocity, is he? Maybe he's waiting to get permission from the Pentagon.

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. Commander,
    Happy New Year!

    Given what is now going on in Gaza, we won't even need to "make our own enemies."
    As long as we continue to supply Israel with planes and bombs, she will continue to make enemies for us.

    And to think this is all happening right before a new administration takes office.

    I can't wait to see how Obama is going to "change this mindset" that triggers "shock and awe" on an imprisoned, starving people.

  2. You keep saying BFM's and I keep thinking of the other definition of the term.

    The gutter is, after all, a step up or me........

    Maybe if the Iraqis could get BFM's and liquor in the same place it would be a better country.......

  3. Skippy,

    Isn't what you're thinking of actually a four-letter acronym? ;-)


  4. General Quarters10:56 PM


    I think you are on to them! Speaking of acronyms, are you familiar with MSEL? I think it is relevant, at least the concept is.


  5. I really enjoy this blog.

    What is funny is the SOFA Bush negotiated, is on paper, to the left of Obama's Roman Empire strategy, of keeping an auxillary force in Iraq. The danger for Obama, is that Iraqis take the SOFA seriously.

    Afghanistan is so open to being bought off. One day you can be Taliban and government next. Loyalties are always for sale there in particular. The big picture, is Obama is marching into Russia's situation.

  6. GQ,

    MSEL must have been AMT (after my time). Can you enlighten me?


    Thanks. Yeah, the whole region is buy off-able. Come to think of it, the whole world is.

    That's why it sometimes drives me nuts that we try to buy everybody off with foreign aid or out and out bribes and to coerce their behavior with military action as well. What if we just stick to bribes, and if they didn't get the results we want, rather than invade, we just dry up the bribes.


  7. That probably would have worked better when there was still something left in the cookie jar to bribe 'em with.

    They just can't resist twisting the knife:

    "People will soon thank Bush for what he's done"

    Or maybe that was supposed to be humorous, I don't know. I always thought Condi had the makings of a fine stand-up comedian. BTW, that picture of her just screams to be on your web site. She looks like a Ferengi that just closed the deal.

  8. Let's see, I'm trying hard to remember how that bribe 'm corrupt government business worked on the Northern Provinces of the late great Roman Empire.

  9. Anonymous12:09 PM

    I think I remember that when the bribes ended, the bribed brought their empty purses and all their sharp pointy things to the gates of the bribers. . .

  10. General Quarters1:45 PM

    MSEL = Master Scenario Event List. Complex, joint exercises are scripted and sequenced event by event supporting the overall macro scenario and exercise objectives. Events are compiled into the MSEL (could contain thousands of discrete events) which the exercise control group uses to control the flow and action of the exercise. Each event is designed to be a "dot" in the overall scenario, or to elicit a particular reaction from a participant, eg "E2C squadron commander C/S "Zen" briefs CAG that at 1650Z 4 UFO's invisible to radar sprinkled his Hawkeye with Pixie Dust before departing at warp speed." What's a CAG to do?

    If a participant makes an incorrect decision and goes off the reservation, new events are scripted and inserted into the MSEL to drive the action in the direction that the control group desires, either to achieve the "correct" outcome, or to flex and stress the participants decision making ability.

    MSEL events can contain both exercise reports and actual OPFOR activities.

    Remember the quote attributed to Rove: ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors.. and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’ ”

    You're reverse engineering the script.


  11. GQ: Oh, yeah, MSEL, I remember those from Roving Sands and etc. I was thinking along the lines of BOHICA.

    MandT, I recall the bribe thing working out for the Romans the way Jeg describes. Was it the Visigoths who banged at the gates?


  12. "Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground?"

    Is the present not a timely and worthy occasion for the more thoughtful citizens among us to analyze...

    Washington's Farewell Address,

    ...particularly paragraphs 31 through 42 and consider its application to the new international context?

    Here's another excerpt:

    Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defence against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

  13. Not much to say to that except thanks for posting it.


  14. Commander, I don't remember who said it, -- it may have been you.

    "No matter how cynical I get -- I can't keep up."

    Young Mr. Bush, once again, is vacationing -- while the MidEast goes up in flames.

    Meanwhile, having turned a blind eye to the atrocities in Gaza,(giving the thumbs up as it were to Israel,) he has laid the groundwork for capturing the Jewish vote, when brother Jeb runs for the Senate, in Florida.

    Nothing that Bush/Rove does, is done without looking at the possible/probable, "political" advantages.

    Getting Big Brother into the halls of power in Washington, for a possible bid at a future presidency, is worth whatever the cost.

  15. EL,

    Yeah, that's why I'm out of patience with Barack keeping mum on his surfin'safari. The time for etiquette is over. The president we have is burning the world. The one we elected needs to start bitching about it.


  16. Commander,

    You have more patience than I do.

    I hit the "unsubscribe" link, weeks ago, on all the e-mail solicitations for donations I got from anything Obama-related.

    David Axelrod spoke for Obama on all the Sunday talk shows, this past weekend.

    The Democratic leadership in Congress is in agreement with the White House. HAMAS is the terrorist culprit.

    Unfortunately, for the American people (my great-grandkids, specifically) there will be no more bitching in the future, than has been done in the past -- about anything the State of Israel decides to do.

    It isn't etiquette. It's economics. AIPAC obviously still controls the congressional purse strings.

  17. "In warfare—theoretically, anyway—the objective is supposed to be straightforward and tangible, and all operations and tactics should support the primary goal. In information operations, the objective, at least the stated one, is so vague and flexible that it doesn't need to have anything at all to do with the actual military operation. In fact, it's best if it doesn't; the less any statement meant for public consumption has to do with reality, the greater freedom of movement the information operator (aka "bull feather merchant" or "BFM") has."

    What a great explanation of the difference between war and information operations.

  18. Thanks, Russ. I need to develop this idea further, but I'm beginning to believe its all BFO (bull feather ops) anymore: not connection to reality or tangible goals.


  19. Anonymous7:34 PM

    I think there are goals and objectives designed by the government, they are just not revealed to the great unwashed.
    Governments exist to take and keep and benefit themselves and their supporters. So long as they can get others to do their bidding, fight their wars, etc., the game continues. Think of governments and their lackeys as lawyers in a courtroom. They appear to be at each other's throats, but after the trial is over, they go to lunch together and pay off their bets as to who would win the case.

  20. Anonymous1:11 PM


    Great point about the Surge-Nazis. Its all a bunch of crap. The sruge was so damned successful that there are still 146,000 American tropps there - notice we never hear anything anymore about the Coalition of the Willing? But we still have 180,000 so-called "defense contractors" there

    Yesterday, Saudi Arabia announced it was considering another cut to its oil production. Today, Iraq announced it was opening up 90% of its oil fields to production in 2009. Now it all becomes so clear!

    The good news is, by spring 2009, I will be free to comment without anonymity. Happy New Year


  21. Keep the faith, SF.


  22. Happy New Year Love :)

  23. Anonymous3:53 PM

    Commander - it just keeps getting better. DOE just announced that they are resuming purchasing oil on the open market for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This comes a mere 48 hours after Iraq announced its opening 90% of its oil fields to production, which was announced an even merer 24 hours after Saudi announced it was cutting production by another 2 million bbls a day. I see I see said the blind man! Free market indeed!


  24. IC2. Jesus, Larry and Curly.


  25. Quantum Mechanic12:20 PM

    General Quarters or anyone,

    concerning MSEL or the quote you posted attributes to Rove ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors.. and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’ ”

    Does that only apply to military operations or does Rove also mean economic and other operations?

    If it also applies to other than military operations is it so difficult to figure out the script?

    Also what do they use to create these new realities? There has been some mention on blogs of a system that can predict the psychological reactions of individuals or a group based on the profiles they enter as parameters. Forgot what it was called. Is that what that quote applies to or is this supposed system real?

  26. General Quarters8:27 PM

    Quantum M.,

    If Rove did say it, I think it is a good assumption that he meant the full spectrum of operations given his level in the hierarchy. If you google MSEL you will find samples used by agencies other than DoD, indicating that it is a tool in broad governmental use. Look at a sample MSEL and I think you would agree that you could reckon the script if you MSEL formatted all the events that Jeff writes about. The geo-politics of the last years have a peculiar artificial smell to me, like they were scripted and sequenced by the "exercise control group" on which I sat many times in another life.

    I would further recommend that you pop on over to and read "The Last Roundup" by Christopher Ketchum.


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