Monday, March 31, 2008

Al Sadr Does the Christian Thing

It was mighty Christian of Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr to tell his Mahdi Army to stop fighting in Basra. I’m afraid I would have taken a far more Old Testament approach to the recent violence in Iraq.

It’s not, after all, like al-Sadr and his followers were the ones who started this latest round of bang-bang. It was, in fact, al-Sadr’s self imposed moratorium on violence that gave President Bush’s “main man” General David Petraeus grist for his claim that the surge was “working.” You’d think maybe Petraeus would have wanted to leave the hornet’s nest alone; but no. He decided to target ”criminal” and “rogue” elements within the Sadr organization.

U.S. forces and the Badr Organization, a rival Shiite group, conducted raids for months on Sadr’s people. The Mahdis warned repeatedly that they would fight back, and they finally did. Shocking.

Predictably, Petraeus reacted to the March 31 rocket attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad by blaming them on the Iranians. Blaming Iran for Shiite violence is his favorite method of trying to cover up the fact that he’s the one who armed the Shiite militias back in 2004 and 05 when, while in charge of training Iraqi security forces largely consisting of Shiites, he handed out Kalishnikovs like they were Hershey bars. (As overall commander in Iraq, he compensated for his earlier gaffe by establishing his Awakening program in which he armed Sunni militias.)

Somebody in what we laughingly refer to as the “chain of command” in Iraq decided that President Nuri al-Maliki would lead an offensive against the Sadrists in Basra. On March 27, Mr. Bush called Maliki’s operation “bold” and said that it showed the growing capability of Iraq’s security forces. Heh.

Al-Maliki gave the militants in Basra an ultimatum; if they didn’t surrender in 72 hours, they would face “severe penalties.” At the end of 72 hours, he extended the deadline. I guess that showed those pesky Sadrists. (I’m going to count to three. Then I’m going to count to ten. Then I’m going to count to a hundred. If I have to count to a million, I’m going to become very cross with you.)

Some of Malaki’s forces refused to fight or changed sides. One officer in an Iraqi commando unit said, "We did not expect the fight to be this intense." Four of his men were killed and 15 were wounded. "Some of the men told me that they did not want to go back to the fight until they have better support and more protection."

It must be nice to be in an Iraqi commando unit and have the choice not to go back to fighting until you get the support and protection you want. It’s too bad the troops providing the support and protection didn’t have that option, because those troops were U.S. troops who flew in air strikes on Basra positions and fought militiamen in the streets in Baghdad. I bet those guys are completely thrilled that their boss Petraeus let Maliki go off half cocked on an operation that they had to step in and bail him out of.

I also bet those U.S. troops were relieved to hear from neoconservative luminary and father of the surge strategy Fred Kagan that “The Civil War in Iraq is over.” Yep, Freddie the Freebaser really said that, on Monday March 24 at an American Enterprise Institute event titled “Iraq: The Way Ahead." Less than 24 hours later, Maliki went ahead and launched the growing capability of his troops into the bold operation that, apparently, only al-Sadr can put an end to.

Ali al-Dabbagh, an al-Maliki spokesman, said on the television channel Iraqia that the government welcomed al-Sadr’s call for a ceasefire. I guess so. It’s always a good thing when the guy who’s kicking your teeth in stops it. Whether or not the ceasefire continues depends on whether the government is grateful enough to al-Sadr to accept his terms, which include amnesty for Mahdi Army fighters.

One wonders how long al-Maliki will consider al-Sadr’s amnesty request, especially considering that al-Maliki first proposed amnesty for militia members in September of 2006.

Isn’t it simply lovely that the more corners we turn in Iraq, the more we paint ourselves into the same corners?

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword.

"So we can play war..."

"Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served." — Publishers Weekly

"A remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

View the trailer here.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Really Long War

“The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war.” – Quadrennial Defense Review Report (February 6, 2006)

“No nation has ever profited from a long war.” – Sun Tzu (long ago)

The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review Report noted that it was “imperative” for the Department of Defense to “hedge against uncertainty over the next 20 years.” The DoD will have to hedge a sight longer than 20 years if John McCain gets himself elected in November. McCain has “no objection” to American troops staying in Iraq for a hundred, a thousand, or heck, make it an even million years. He’s not likely to meet a lot of resistance to that policy from the Pentagon. Ten thousand centuries’ worth of job security doesn’t grow on trees.

Our old playmates Russia and China won’t object to McCain’s plans for a million-year replay of the Cold War either. The only concern they have on that score is McCain’s penchant for either changing his mind or forgetting what he said in the first place.

Brave New World Order

A new world order emerged when Mr. Gorbachev brought down the Berlin Wall. The next world order began when U.S. psyop forces staged the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue. From that point, it became apparent that America’s military might meant little without a peer force to compete against.

Desperate to designate a new boogey man, the Bush administration pulled a country out of its hat whose gross domestic product and defense budget are barely six percent of America’s. In its 2006 National Security Strategy, the administration asserted, “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.”

Admiral William Fallon, outgoing chief of Central Command, gave us a far more ingenuous assessment of the Iranians. “These guys are ants,” he told Thomas P.M. Barnett of Esquire magazine. “When the time comes, you crush them."

True enough, but if we crush Iran, what then? Leveling Tehran will only make us look like bigger jerks than we already do. We could whack Iran’s navy, but we did that in the late 80s during the tanker wars and it didn’t do us much good—they still have a navy, and it’s a better one than they had then. It’s doubtful we can bomb all of Iran’s nuclear industry. Whatever part of it we can get at the Russians can rebuild for them fairly quickly, and Iran can afford to pay them to do it because all the stealth bombers in the U.S. Air Force inventory carrying all the deep penetrators in the arsenal can’t put a dent in Iran’s oil reserves.

Plus, if we smack down Iran, whom do we get to replace them as our greatest “challenge?” We’d pretty much have to reach for a fictional bad guy like Eastasia or maybe even Lilliput. The administration doesn’t want to paint Iran’s patrons Russia and China as too much of a threat because we supposedly already beat them up. It’s embarrassing enough for Bush and the Cheney Gang that they can’t win the wars they started; they don’t want to admit that they’ve gone and retroactively lost the Cold War as well.

The 2006 QDR report says that “Of the major and emerging powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States,” but that’s cover smoke to give our nuclear submarines and stealth bombers a reason to exist other than being the most expensive means imaginable for assassinating terrorists. It may be that, as the report says, “The outside world has little knowledge of Chinese motivations and decision-making,” but the Chinese have a long end eminently scrutable track record. They had sufficient ancient wisdom to stay out of the arms race of the first Cold War, and they know better than to change strategies for the second one.

The QDR report ominously tells us that, “Since 1996, China has increased its defense spending by more than 10% in real terms in every year except 2003.” Great Caesar’s ghost, if that’s the best the Pentagon's propaganda wiz kids can come up with, they need to find themselves a new bull to pluck.

America’s defense spending has more than doubled since 2001. We spend darn near as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. China’s defense budget is about 17 percent of ours, and keep in mind that China isn’t building on the "best-trained, best-equipped” military “on the face of the earth.” They’re still replacing the force structure they had around the time that they shot down William Holden in The Bridges of Toko Ri. There’s no percentage in trying to catch up with us. It’s impossible. The Soviets came off their wartime economy in the early nineties and the Chinese had the good sense to never go on one. The only way they could obtain an arsenal to match ours would be to buy it from the only nation left with a viable arms industry, which would be us.

And why should they bother to do that? Strategically, they’ve already got us where they want us. They can sit back and let us be the ones who pour ever-increasing hordes of national treasure into the Middle East sand trap we’ve created for ourselves and on extravagant weaponry that doesn’t protect our shores or win our overseas wars. They can let us double our national debt every six or eight years while we engage them in the most lopsided economic warfare in the history of nations: they buy our debt; we buy their poisoned toys and feed them to our kids.

But look on the bright side. The long war may not last so long after all. At the rate we’re going, Cold War II won’t last a million years, or even the 50 years the first Cold War lasted, before our economy consumes itself.

Heck, John McCain might even live to see the end of it.

"So we can play war"

"Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served." — Publishers Weekly

"A remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

View the trailer here.

Week Endnotes

Here are the stories that got my attention this week.

1. Robin Wright and Joby Warrick, “U.S. Steps Up Unilateral Strikes in Pakistan,” Washington Post, Thursday.
Wright and Warrick note that U.S. strikes on al Qaeda sites (i.e., “villages”) in Pakistan are taking place in accord with “a tacit understanding with Musharraf and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani that allows U.S. strikes on foreign fighters operating in Pakistan.” My question is, and has been, who in the U.S. is ordering these operations and under what authority? I’ve also asked this question about Somalia, where we’re also bombing selected al Qaeda villages.

I’ve heard the answer that the host governments have invited us in, and that’s dandy. But host governments don’t order U.S. troops into hostilities; the president does that, and he does it with either a) a declaration of war from Congress or b) specific statutory authority of Congress. One can reasonably argue that the original Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) of September 2001 covers our activities in Afghanistan, and the separate Iraq AUMF authorizes combat actions there. But there is no AUMF for Pakistan or Somalia. No one in Congress or, that I can find, the mainstream media is raising an eyebrow over this, although plenty of these folks are screaming about other executive branch abuses of constitutional authority.

2. Gareth Porter, “US/IRAQ: Sadr Offensive Shows Failure of Petraeus Strategy,” IPS, Wednesday.

Porter cuts to the chase and tells us how Mr. Bush’s “main man” David Petraeus responded to the Mahdi Army uprising: “Petraeus reacted immediately to Sunday's rocket attacks on the Green Zone by blaming them on Iran.”

Petraeus, naturally, didn’t offer any explanation as to why his enhanced force was unable to deter or defend against the rocket attacks, or why his blessed surge strategy was coming apart at the seams. And, as usual, he offered no concrete evidence whatsoever to back his accusations against Iran. As I’ve said before, the most tangible evidence of Iranian participation in attacks on U.S. troops the Bush administration has managed to provide is a series of pictures in a PowerPoint presentation that for all we know could have been taken in Joe Lieberman’s attic or Lindsey Graham’s closet. Yet time after time, for over a year, the big press has played echo chamberlain for the administration’s claims.

I hear this morning on NPR that Iraqi President Nuri al Maliki has extended the “deadline” for the Mahdi Army to lay down its weapons. Heh. “I’m going to count to three, and then I’m going to count to three again, and then I’m going to count to three three times, and then I’m going to count to ten, and then I’m going to…”

3. Bill Maher, “The 100 Years War,” The Huffington Post, March 21.

I missed this one last week. Maher postulates: “That by a certain neocon definition, Iraq is a success” because maybe a 100 year, indecisive war is exactly what they wanted.

Well, yeah, Bill. In “McQaeda,” I offer my take on what is evolving not as World War III, but as Cold War II. I’ll have more on that subject in next week’s regular column.

4. Jeff Huber, Bathtub Admirals, Kunati Books, 2008.

Yay me! The story on my book is that Amazon started shipping it this week and they say they only have four copies left but they’re ordering more. I hope that doesn’t mean they only had five copies to start with.

Somewhere in the five-year course of working on BA I decided that it was a satiric prequel to the shenanigans we see Bush and the Cheney Gang pulling today. BA is populated with more Queegs than you can throw a ball bearing at, including the mysterious Fix Felon, a murky, Cheney-like “power behind the scenes” character. Little did I know at the time that Admiral William “Fox” Fallon would become a leading character in our real life drama of a failed president and his failed wars.

In BA, Fix Felon is one of the bad guys. In real life, Fox Fallon is evolving into the only four-star hero to come out of Mr. Bush’s woebegone war on terrorism. He’s the only top officer who stayed on and stuck to his guns regarding his disdain for Bush/Cheney policies and strategies. I’m more convinced than ever that his Esquire profile was a deliberate effort at getting out the message that he was het up about the nonsense in Iraq, that he had, in fact, called Petraeus a chicken stuff heinie smoocher to his face, and that he was purposely forcing the “crazies” to force him to step down. It’s clear in the second picture of Fallon in the article that he was sitting in a studio for celebrity photog Peter Wang, and basically says, “Yeah, I’m flipping Bush off. Got a problem with that?”

It now appears that the administration is holding up Fallon’s retirement so it can keep him from testifying before Congress. Talk about chicken stuff.

And speaking of chicken stuff, here’s a nice picture of the book ;-)

"So we can play war…"

"Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served." — Publishers Weekly

Monday, March 24, 2008


It must be a kick in the head to base your claim to the presidency on your savvy in foreign affairs only to have it get out that Joe Lieberman knows more about them than you do. I bet it’s a lot like how I feel when my dog corrects my grammar in front of people.

One would like to think that Senator John McCain misspoke when he said in Jordan during his tour of the Middle East that the Iranians have been “taking Al Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back.” He is, after all, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the GOP’s designated crown prince, so you’d think he’d be aware that the official rant is that Iran is training Shiite Iraqi militants, not the Sunni al Qaeda guys. But no, McCain made the Iran-al Qaeda accusation four times in just over three weeks, and it wasn’t until Lieberman cooed something in his ear that he said, “I’m sorry. The Iranians are training extremists, not Al Qaeda.”

The question is, of course, whether McCain is really that dumb and/or senile or if he’s just being a diligent echo chamberlain of the neoconservative agenda. It may be that he lives in a bubble even more opaque than the one Mr. Bush occupies. Then again, he may be a Cheney class Machiavellian. As historian and journalist Gareth Porter noted on March 22, “Sen. John McCain's confusion in recent allegations of Iranian training of al-Qaeda fighters in Iraq is the result of a drumbeat of official propaganda about close Iran-al-Qaeda ties that the George W. Bush administration and neoconservatives have promoted ever since early 2002.”

Whatever the case, McCain is a key component of the disinformation campaign designed to revive the world order we thought we’d put out of its misery at the end of the 20th century.

Speak of the Devil

By the wildest of coincidences, Dick Cheney was careening around the Middle East at the same time John McCain was and (would you believe it?) also talking about al Qaeda. We’ve come to expect that any time Cheney opens either side of his mouth a covey of satanic versus will fly out of it, and he came through for us during a stopover in Baghdad where he asserted that there was "a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda" prior to the U.S. invasion, despite the findings of a recently released Pentagon study that stated there was "no smoking gun" to prove an "operational relationship" between Saddam Hussein’s regime and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group.

That’s par for Cheney. In April 2007, he went on Rush Limbaugh’s radio program to deny an earlier Pentagon report that confirmed Hussein had no strong ties with al Qaeda, and in 2003 he claimed there was “overwhelming” evidence of a Hussein-al Qaeda connection after the 9/11 commission concluded that “no collaborative relationship" had existed.

Mr. Bush was on message as well on March 19 during his Operation Iraqi Freedom fifth birthday speech. He associated al Qaeda with Iraq a whopping 14 times in the course of 26 minutes. He made ample reference to 9/11, naturally, and to Saddam Hussein. And I’d love to know which young Republican wrote this piece of eyewash for him: “As we have fought al Qaeda, coalition and Iraqi forces have also taken the fight to Shia extremist groups -- many of them backed and financed and armed by Iran.”

Bush got the story straight on which evil doers Iran is supposed to be backing in Iraq, but the story is still specious. Despite the best efforts of Dick Cheney’s Iranian Directorate, the most compelling proof that Iran has backed and financed and armed any Iraqi extremists the administration has come up with so far is that handful of photographs in a PowerPoint presentation that for all any of us know could have been taken in Lindsey Graham’s closet.

Bush’s “main man” General David Petraeus added to the “My Pet Scapegoat” story on Monday March 24. He told reporters he had evidence that Iran was behind the Easter Sunday shelling of the Green Zone in Baghdad, but apparently he didn’t bother to say what that evidence might consist of and the reporters didn’t press him on the subject. How convenient.

But it matters not one whit that none of these messages are coherent; the important thing is that the mantra once again got airplay and bandwidth: Hussein…9/11…al Qaeda…Iran… All the Rovewellian dissonance gets drowned out by talk radio and Fox News and the beer buzz, and if Hussein and al Qaeda and Iran and al Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks are all connected, then everything the Bush administration has done is righteous, and of the remaining viable presidential candidates, only John McCain can carry on the great crusade.

How Cold Was It?

Mr. Bush’s boo noise about World War III erupting if Iran gets nuclear weapons decoys attention from the direction the world is actually taking. A no fooling Clausewitzean war between the U.S. and Iran would do about as much real damage as a professional wrestling match and last about as long. As outgoing Central Command chief Admiral William Fallon said of the Iranians in his celebrated Esquire profile, "These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them."

Indeed, Iran’s economy is barely six percent the size of ours, and the disparity between the two defense budgets is similar. What primarily makes Iran a serious player in the global power competition is its status as the most important client state of our old Cold War adversaries Russia and China.

Don’t succumb to the fear factor that the mention of Russia and China evoke, though. Those two are no more dumb enough to step in between Iran and us if teeth and eyeballs start flying than they are to reengage us in a serious arms race. But to have a second Cold War where Iraq and Iran substitute for western and eastern Europe (with Venezuela standing in for Cuba and the bananastans taking the roles of South Korea and Japan), and where we supply all the military hardware and personnel and they don’t have to chip in a single soldier or tank or ship or airplane, hell yeah, as far as Russia and China are concerned, bring it on!

And like John McCain, they couldn’t give a rat’s watch fob less if it lasts 50 years like the first Cold War, or a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years.

You know who else won’t mind? The neocons’ pals in the military industrial complex. They’ll be able to extort Congress into buying and maintaining a fleet of exorbitant weapons like nuclear submarines and stealth bombers to fight an adversary armed with RadioShack explosives and Home Depot box cutters for a virtual eternity.

"So we can play war…"

"Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served." — Publishers Weekly

"A remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Another Corner Turned

This just arrived in the email:
Breaking News Alert
The New York Times
Sunday, March 23, 2008 -- 10:27 PM ET

4 Soldiers Killed in Baghdad, Pushing A.P. Count to 4,000 Killed in Iraq

The U.S. military said four American soldiers were killed by
a bomb in Baghdad, raising The Associated Press's count of
the U.S. death toll in the war to at least 4,000.

Read More:

Ah, me. Well.

I can’t wait to see what I do to the first jackass I hear say that they would have all died in a car accident anyway.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

GWOT Chronicles: Strategy Schmategy

"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

Someday we Americans will look back on our Global War on Terror and ask ourselves what the hell we thought we were doing. Here’s one of our latest shenanigans.

In case you hadn't noticed, we're using nuclear submarines to assassinate terrorists these days. That’s not the most efficient way to assassinate terrorists, but it’s the most expensive, so it has that going for it.

Even assassinating terrorists with B-2 stealth bombers wouldn’t be as expensive as doing it with nuclear submarines. B-2s cost a ridiculous amount of money, all right, but not as much as the subs. The subs carry a lot more people and take a lot longer to get where they’re going, so the people in them have to eat and sleep and so forth. The two pilots in a B-2 eat box lunches and can go to the bathroom without getting up from their seats. And then there are those expensive nuclear reactors, which nuclear submarines have and B-2s don’t.

And as ridiculous as the cost of an F-22 air-to-air stealth fighter is, it’s less ridiculous than the cost of a B-2 stealth bomber, and there are other drawbacks to using an F-22 to assassinate terrorists as well.

Buck for the Bang

For an F-22 air-to-air fighter to assassinate a terrorist, the terrorist pretty much has to be in another airplane. The other airplane is most likely to be an airliner, and the terrorist is not likely to be on an airliner alone. Hence, if an F-22 assassinates a terrorist, it will create a lot of collateral damage (i.e., kill innocent people) in the process.

If a B-2 tries to assassinate a terrorist, it does so by dropping one or more bombs on the place where we think the terrorist is. This usually kills a lot of innocent people too, but they’re usually in a village in a third world country and aren’t the kind of people who can afford to travel in an airliner, so nobody cares about them. Still, the problem with using a B-2 to assassinate a terrorist, aside from it being cheaper than a nuclear submarine, is that even though its stealth is supposed to make it invulnerable to air defenses, it can still crash like any other airplane. If a B-2 crashed while it was trying to assassinate a terrorist, it would be like it got shot down by a village full of poor people, and the U.S. Air Force can’t afford that kind of embarrassment.


When a nuclear submarine tries to assassinate a terrorist, it does so with its Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, which pretty much do what a B-2’s bombs do except that while a B-2 flies the bombs from the air base to the target, the cruise missiles fly themselves from the submarine to the target. That makes the cruise missiles a lot more expensive than the bombs, and is yet another reason why submarines are better for trying to assassinate terrorists than B-2s. Plus, a submarine’s cruise missiles can kill as many innocent poor people as a B-2’s bombs can, so sub launched cruise missiles have virtually no drawbacks.

The most recent evildoer targeted by submarine launched cruise missiles was Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. I should have said “alleged evildoer” because Nabhan was not on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list. To get on that list, you have to be indicted as a terror suspect. Nabhan was on the FBI’s “seeking information list,” wanted for questioning about terror attacks that happened in 2002.

According to reports, the submarine, stationed off the coast of Somalia, launched “at least two Tomahawk missiles” at the town of Dobli on March 3. Submarines usually launch two or more missiles at a time because they can crash like a B-2 before they reach the target, or malfunction and not explode when they get there. Shooting more than one cruise missile increases the odds that at least one of them will do what the others were supposed to. We know that at least one of these cruise missiles made it to Dobli and blew up there because at least one of them killed at least six people.

We don’t know if one of the people killed was the intended target, though. In fact we’re not entirely sure the intended target was Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan. The Associated Press says he was; the Los Angeles Times says it was a guy named Hassan Turki. One wonders if the guys in the submarine that launched the cruise missiles knew which guy they were trying to whack.

If the intended target was Nabhan and he survived the attack, maybe that’s a good thing. That way, the FBI might still get a chance to contract the CIA to water board him and ask him those questions they wanted the answers to before they decided to job a submarine to do a job on him.

It’s not pleasant to use words like “assassinate” and “whack” and “do a job” to describe this sort of thing. It would be nicer to call it an “act of war,” but the War Powers Act of 1973 requires Congress to approve wars that go on longer than 90 days. We’ve been whacking people in Somalia for more than 90 days, and Congress hasn’t approved a war there yet. The same thing holds true with Pakistan.

Some of the people in the Congress that hasn’t approved war in Somalia or Pakistan insist that the President can’t have war with Iran unless they approve it. They’re not saying a thing about him whacking people in Somalia and Pakistan though. I don’t quite understand why that is, or why it doesn’t seem to bother these Congress people that we’re snuffing individuals who we deem to be probable or possible or even simply thought to be terrorists based on the say so of the same kind of intelligence experts who told us Saddam Hussein still had weapons of mass destruction.

Throw More Money at It

A lot of those Congress people voted to fund the new Virginia class of nuclear submarines we’re using to rub out these probable and possible and thought to be terrorists. Maybe some lobbyist for Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman convinced them that the older, less expensive Los Angeles class submarines weren’t up to the job.

Oh, I know, people will say we didn’t really build the new nuclear submarines to kill terrorists; we really built them to kill bad guy submarines. That may be true. I’ve studied a little bit of military history, though, and we’ve built a boatload of submarines since the Civil War, but I don’t recall hearing or reading about a single one of them ever killing a bad guy submarine. One or two instances may have escaped my attention, of course, and we certainly killed a lot of bad guy submarines in World War II, but we did that with airplanes and surface ships.

In February, the Pentagon proposed a $515.4 billion defense budget for 2009 that, adjusted for inflation, will be the most America has spent on defense since World War II if our Congress people pass it.

That doesn’t cover the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere else, or Homeland Security, or spy stuff not done by the Defense Department, or defense activities that the State and Treasury and other departments do. No, the $515.4 billion mainly go for things like the new class of submarines we use to assassinate terrorists, and the B-2s and F-22s we need as back up in case all the submarines sink.

On a closing note, Admiral William Fallon, whom Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called “one of the best strategic thinkers in uniform today,” announced his resignation as head of Central Command last week because he couldn’t bring himself to pretend he supports his commander in chief’s GWOT strategy.

That’s the news from our woebegone war on terror, where the president plays general, the generals play politics, the politicians play dumb, and the body armor still sucks.

"So we can play war…"

"Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served." — Publishers Weekly

"A remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

"Desert Fox" Fallon Folds

Admiral William Fallon announced today that he will step down as head of Central Command on March 31.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that, "The notion'' that Fallon's leaving "portends any change in Iran policy is ridiculous.''

So stand by for the you-know-what to hit the fan when the policy changes.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sandbox Admiral

I normally find some pseudo-witty way to euphemize profanity, but for this piece I felt it was important to reflect the language of the source documents. Thanks for your indulgence.

Admiral William "Fox" Fallon is the first Navy four-star to be put in charge of U.S. Central Command, the Middle East sandbox traditionally assigned to an Army or Marine Corps general. According to a recent Esquire article by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Fallon may also be the only force in global politics keeping Dick Cheney from entangling America in an all out war with Iran.

If that's so, it's another indication of just how broken America's system of government has become under George W. Bush's dysfunctional stewardship.

Bull Run

When Fallon took the CENTCOM helm in March 2007, some observers (including this one) feared he had been given the job for the specific purpose of attacking Iran. Who better, the reasoning went, to preside over the type of air and maritime operation that a conflict with Iran would dictate than a naval aviator, especially one like Fallon who'd already had experience as a four-star theater commander in the Pacific?

Historian and journalist Gareth Porter put that perception to rest in May when he cited Fallon as having said an attack on Iran "will not happen on my watch" and reported that Fallon had identified himself as part of a group of senior officers who were "trying to put the crazies [Cheney's neocon cabal] back in the box."

In September, Porter gave an account of a meeting between Fallon and Mr. Bush's "main man" General David Petraeus in which Fallon called Petraeus "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" to his face. "Fallon had a 'visceral distaste' for what he regarded as Petraeus's sycophantic behavior in general," Porter wrote. Fallon was "strongly opposed to Petraeus's role as pitchman for the surge policy in Iraq" and deemed that Petraeus had put "his own interests ahead of a sound military posture in the Middle East and Southwest Asia."

In Barnett's article, Fallon called Porter's account of his meeting with Petraeus "absolute bullshit," and said the tip-off that the story was bogus was the word "chickenshit." "My kids called me up laughing about that one," Fallon told Barnett, "saying they knew the story wasn't true because I never use that word."

"So put Fallon down as a 'bullshit' and not a 'chickenshit' kind of guy," Barnett wrote.

Heh. I'll tell you what's bullshit: the notion that a hard-boiled character like Fallon could spend forty years in the Navy and rise to the four-star level and never use the word "chickenshit." "Chickenshit" is a keystone of traditional naval jargon. It means something distinctly different from "bullshit," and is the precise word that describes Petraeus and the publicity stunts he pulls like when he challenges enlisted men half his age to one-arm push up contests to dazzle senior Pentagon correspondents who ought to know better than to be taken in by that kind of chickenshit. (Like, is there a private in the Army who doesn’t know he needs to let Petraeus win when Tom Ricks is watching?)

In fact, the more I reread Barnett's article, the more it sounds like a crock of bullshit that somebody's trying to pass off as a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

Looks Like, Feels Like, Smells Like, Tastes Like

Porter wrote an analysis of Barnett's story, and Barnett wrote a blog on Porter's analysis, and pretty soon Barnett's Fallon story turned into a story about Barnett. I guess that sort of thing is an inescapable fact of post-modern journalism. Regardless of their primary media, investigators and pundits alike have to compete with Chris Matthews and Bill O'Reilly for bandwidth, and transparent, objective reportage these days is as rare as a Mel Brooks screenplay that doesn't have a juicy part for Mel Brooks. As a result, journalists of all stripes feel pressure to trade their integrity for access to the high and mighty.

Accordingly, it's hard to ignore the conspicuous indications that, wittingly or not, Barnett told the world the story about Fallon that Fallon wanted the world to hear.

Barnett describes Fallon as "that rarest of creatures in the Bush universe: the good cop on Iran, and a man of strategic brilliance." It's "left to Fallon--and apparently Fallon alone" to "push back" against an "ill advised" attack on Iran. Fallon is "the American at the center of every circle" in the Middle East, and it is "a testament to his skill, and to the failure of American diplomacy, that so much is left for this military man to do himself."

In all, "Desert Fox" Fallon does the entire American hero repertoire: speeding bullets, locomotives, tall buildings, you name it.

It may just be that Barnett is taken with powerful men and can't refrain from gushing about them in print. In 2005 he gave the same lipstick service to then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. ("Rumsfeld pops out of his chair with the speed of the weekly squash player he still is at age seventy-three and strides over to shake my hand." Ick!)

But Barnett's Fallon story contains more shape charged messages than a schoolboy crush alone can account for.

We have a major magazine telling a global audience that Fallon might get fired for standing up to Bush. That pretty much guarantees Bush can't fire him. For good measure, we get the horseshit where Fallon calls the chickenshit story total bullshit. That's in case anybody gets the bright idea of shit canning him for letting the chickenshit story get out; he couldn't have leaked the story if it never happened, right? Tee hee, wink. I bet that just about drives Dick Cheney snakeshit.

The world hears Fallon's private message to the leaders of Iran. When Barnett asks what will happen if it comes to war with that country, Fallon answers, "Get serious. These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them." Sounds like these ant guys need to straighten up and fly right on the wing of their biggest, bestest buddy Fox Fallon, doesn't it?

"I'm not the chief diplomat of this country, and certainly not the secretary of state," Fallon just happens to say one night in Pakistan within earshot of Barnett. But pages later, when Barnett is again around to bear witness, Fallon eviscerates the U.S. embassy deputy chief of mission for not knowing about one of a provincial governor's long standing problems. No, Fallon is not the chief diplomat in these parts. He is far more. Douglas McArthur, Dwight Eisenhower and Chester Nimitz each served a wartime tour of duty as commander of a theater of operations. Fox Fallon is on his second such tour. He is God.

Here's the piece of resistance. Shortly after Barnett's story hit the web, Fallon got on the horn to Tom Ricks at the Washington Post and cried like a girl about how what everyone else described as a "glowing" and "admiring" profile of him was "poison pen stuff" that was "really disrespectful and ugly."

What kind of shit do you call that, huh? I mean, what sort of animal's rear end did that busload of whiff drop out of?

The only things in Barnett's article Fallon might possibly have to complain about are the pictures of him that make him look like the title character in a 50s horror flick. At first glance, you'd guess that Esquire Photoshopped a couple of his official photos. But they're both credited to Peter Yang, a high profile photographer who shoots rock stars and other cool people. The second picture appears to show Fallon sitting on a stool and relaxing for a moment, suggesting that Fallon sat for Yang in a studio and approved of the bizarre lighting effects. Hence, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Fallon, for reasons we may appreciate but never fully understand, wanted to look like a monster.

Whatever went on with the Barnett article, it was a lot more than meets the eye. It's difficult to imagine that Barnett got the kind of access to Fallon he had without granting Fallon a major say about what got hung on the clothesline. Fallon's never been one to hog the media spotlight, but he didn't get where he is by being a dip shit about handling the press.

To be honest though, I mostly agree with Barnett's fawning assessment of Fallon. The Fox may well be the most brilliant strategic thinker and player of the 21st century, and we should probably thank our Maker that the right guy is in the right place at the right time to keep our civilian leaders from turning the disaster they've created into an even bigger one.

On the other hand, it scares the living shit out of me that an admiral who's supposed to be a general is most likely dictating foreign policy to elected officials in our executive and legislative branches who are supposed to dictate foreign policy to him. You expect squirrelly shit like that to go on in one of Fallon's bananastans, but it's not supposed to happen in the United States of America.

"So we can play war…"

"Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served." — Publishers Weekly

"A remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist