Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Trick or Treat or Syria

by Jeff Huber

The war party continues to retreat; its skirmishers trail behind the main body to burn bridges, set booby traps, and otherwise harass the advancing Obama phalanx. The Syrian shenanigan is the latest tactical move in the neoconservative right's fight-another-day strategy, both in the fact of it and in the way it has been covered in our polluted mainstream media.

The story broke on October 26. The UK Telegraph reported that "Media reports gave conflicting accounts" of an air strike apparently conducted by U.S. military helicopters on Syrian civilians. The Times article first cited Syrian state television as saying an attack took place "near the Syrian border town of Abu Kamal."

Then it quoted a private Syrian TV channel saying nine people had been killed and 14 wounded when an unknown number of American helicopters attacked the village of Al-Sukkiraya.

Then it referenced and AP story that said seven people were killed and five others wounded when two American helicopters carrying U.S. soldiers raided the village of Hwijeh.

Then it cited a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Sergeant Brooke Murphy, as saying that commanders were investigating the reports.

The narrative got confusing after that.

I Didn't Tell You This, But…

On October 27 the BBC cited the official Syrian news agency Sana as reporting that four American helicopters had attacked in Sukkiraya--which is presumably the same place as Al-Sukkiraya—killing eight people including four children. The Beeb said that an unidentified "U.S. military spokesman was unable to confirm or deny the reports, saying it was a 'developing situation'." One might reasonably infer that this anonymous military spokesman was senior enough to Sergeant Murphy to know better than to allow his name to be used.

But the Beeb also reported that "later the Associated Press news agency quoted an unnamed US military official in Washington as saying that American special forces had attacked foreign fighters linked to al-Qaeda."

The Beeb also reported that Syria had condemned the strike as a "serious violation" of its territory.

On October 28, Rupert Murdoch's laughably right wing Sky News gave a somewhat different account of Syria's attitude toward the U.S. attack on its soil. The way Sky News told it, Syria secretly gave the "green light" for the raid. Sky based this remarkable interpretation of events on the testimony of a single source: Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, who has for years been trying to goad the Bush administration into attacking Iran.

Sky News partly cited an interview Bergman gave to the Israeli tabloid Yediot Ahronoth in which he said that the Syrians told the Americans, "If you want to do this, do it. We are going to give you a corridor and carte blanche. We will not harm your troops." You may not be surprised to learn that Bergman's sources were two unnamed "senior American officials." If we graciously assume these senior officials had first hand knowledge of what the Syrians said (and they probably didn't), the Sky News story is anonymously sourced fifth hand hearsay at best.

Before you form the impression that Sky News was the media leper with the least fingers on this story, though, let's take a look at what the newspaper of record had to say.

"American officials" told the New York Times that the raid was carried out by Special Operations forces who "killed an Iraqi militant responsible for running weapons, money and foreign fighters across the border into Iraq." There's no telling if these American officials are the same American officials that supposedly told Bergman the Syrians said it was okay to attack them.

And there's no way to tell if any of the aforementioned American officials are the same ones who told the NYT that "the Bush administration was determined to operate under an expansive definition of self-defense that provided a rationale for strikes on militant targets in sovereign nations without those countries’ consent." Nor can we know which American officials "declined to say whether the emerging application of self-defense could lead to strikes against camps inside Iran."

God only knows which American officials "said the mission had been mounted rapidly over the weekend on orders from the Central Intelligence Agency," or if of one of those American officials was the "United States official" who described the target, Abu Ghadiya, as "Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s 'most prominent' smuggler of foreign operatives crossing the Syrian border into Iraq."

And only the Almighty has a clue whether Abu Ghadiya was actually in whatever village it was that U.S. Special Forces apparently attacked for the C.I.A., or if he's really a smuggler, prominent or otherwise, of foreign operatives, or if, as yet another (or perhaps the same) American official said, he died in his tent or after he had been taken into custody, or if he died or was taken into custody at all, or if he ever even existed.

But we can be pretty clear about one thing: This monkey business with Syria was the opening volley in young Mr. Bush's third illegal war. Like the cockamamie strikes and raids he's been pulling in Pakistan and Somalia, the attack on Syria was not conducted in accordance with the letter or spirit of the War Powers Act of 1973 or of the Constitution, both of which require a president to get permission from Congress to start a foreign war. Nor was it in keeping with the Standing Rules of Engagement for U.S. Forces, which authorizes pursuit across international borders to "engage hostile forces" only if they "continue to commit hostile acts or exhibit hostile intent."

Retired Army Colonel Pat Lang, author of the celebrated 2004 essay "Drinking the Kool-Aid," said of the Syria raid, "I have a sneaking suspicion that the authority to do this came right out of the White House." I have a sneaking suspicion the authority to raid Syria came straight from the Office of the Vice President.

The Central Command billet has been gapped since March when Admiral William Fallon told young Mr. Bush to take the job and shove it, so there's been no adult influence to keep the spooks and snake eaters from running amok on order of Lord Cheney from Egypt to Kyrgyzstan. A four-star will finally take command on October 31, but the four-star will be David Petraeus, so it looks like it will be trick-or-treat in Southwest Asia from now until January.

Scary, huh kids?

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.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Johnny and the Warmongers Forever

by Jeff Huber

Parts I, II and III of "Johnny and the Warmongers" described John McCain's intimate relationships with the neoconservatives and the military/industrial complex. The fourth and final essay in the series discusses how, even with a Barack Obama presidency, militarism will continue to be the single greatest threat to America's security.

John McCain's policy positions reflect the same formula for disaster that America has followed throughout the past eight years.

According to his campaign web site, "John McCain believes we must enlarge the size of our armed forces to meet new challenges to our security." What are these new challenges? "The global war on terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, threats from rogue states like Iran and North Korea, and the rise of potential strategic competitors like China and Russia." That sounds like the same old set of boogeymen the neoconservative Bush administration has been making scare noise about, and the "threat" they pose doesn’t sound any more credible coming from the mouth of John McCain.

Opinion from respected authorities and reports by leading defense analysis organizations like the Rand Corporation overwhelmingly agree that application of military force is the wrong means for fighting terrorism, that indeed, use of the military toward that purpose is counterproductive.

Iraq has invited us leave and Pakistan has invited us to stay out, and there's consensus among sentient observers that pursuit of victory in Afghanistan is a losing proposition.

The Bush administration has grown fond of telling us—over and over and over and over—that no nation on earth presents a greater challenge to us than Iran, but has yet to explain why that is. Our own Intelligence agencies avow that Iran has no nuclear weapons program. For years the administration and its yes men generals like David Petraeus have accused Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq, but has failed to credibly support any of those allegations. If anything, Iran's mediation between warring Iraqi Shiite factions is responsible for most of the reduced violence that the main stream media has so compliantly credited to Petraeus and the "surge" stratagem.

Iran's defense budget is less than one percent the size of ours. North Korea's entire gross domestic product is less than ten percent of our defense budget. It has a brace of nuclear weapons, but it can't afford to feed its people in the winter. If the North Koreans ever use their nukes on us or on one of our allies, we could bomb them back to the Stone Age in the blink of an eye. They're barely out of the Stone Age as it is.

Russia and China each spend ten percent or less on defense than we do. The Russians already lost the part they sit with trying to run with us in an arms race. The Chinese had sufficient ancient wisdom to learn from Russia's mistake rather than make it themselves. They're both so far behind now they'd never catch up, and they know it. They won't bleed themselves white economically trying to do the impossible.

We spend more money on defense than the rest of the world combined. We don't need a larger military. We don't need the one we have now. We don't need half of it.

Yet John McCain and the war oligarchs he fronts for would have us continue to buy $330 million fighter jets to dogfight rogue airliners, and $2 billion bombers to do the job of $600,000 cruise missiles, and $8 billion dollar aircraft carriers to chase pirates around the Indian Ocean, and a $63 billion missile defense system that couldn't shoot down a butterfly.

John McCain has some interesting ideas about how we can afford to continue our military adventurism. "The McCain administration would reserve all savings from victory in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations in the fight against Islamic extremists for reducing the deficit," according to Jobs for America: The McCain Economic Plan. "Since all their costs were financed with deficit spending, all their savings must go to deficit reduction."

Thus McCain reveals three major facets of the insanity behind his neoconservative core policies: He believes a) that there is something one can describe as "victory" to be had in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the "war" on terror, b) that he can save money through further deficit spending and c) that he can then make the debt go away merely by cutting up the credit cards.

It would be nice to think we're about to leave the lunacy of the last eight years in the rear view mirror, but it's not prudent to expect fairy tale narratives from real life. Call them what you like—mongers, hawks, neocons, Pavlov's dogs of war—they've been among us since apes first used sticks and bones to take food from other apes by force. This latest batch, Bill Kristol's gorillas, won't let a McCain loss on Election Day defeat their grand purpose. They'll skulk off and hunker down in the right wing media, think tank and academia sanctuaries and execute a Fabian strategy. They've already covered their retreat route with booby traps: Iraq, Iran, the Bananastans, Somalia, Palestine, Lebanon, North Korea, Russia, and now this monkey business in Syria, all of it is designed to distract attention and resources from our real security challenges involving the economy, education, health, the environment, infrastructure and so on.

They'll pressure the Obama administration to adopt their military-centric policies, employing media hypnosis to tell America, "You were winning when we left power," and setting the stage for a counteroffensive, for a great GOP hope like retired general David Petraeus to sweep in from the wings in 2012 and get things back to business as usual, the nourishment and maintenance of armed conflict and war profits everlasting.

We already won World War II and the Cold War, and we already lost Vietnam. We don't need to do those things again.

It's time to move on to new business.

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.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Johnny and the Warmongers Part III

by Jeff Huber

Parts I and II described John McCain's position in the neoconservative daisy chain. Part III discusses McCain's tireless fundraising efforts on behalf of the Military Industrial Complex of America.

Among John McCain's more preposterous campaign promises is that he'll reduce federal spending by cutting back on non-discretionary outlays except for defense and veterans benefits. That's about as pound-foolish as an American politician can get.

For starters, discretionary spending is less than 40 percent of the entire federal budget. Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, interest on the national debt and other mandatory spending accounts for the rest. In fiscal year 2008, discretionary spending was $1.13 trillion, 38 percent of the total federal pie. $654 billion of that went for what the president's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) calls "security spending," which includes money spent on the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and on the "war on terror."

The other $476 billion in discretionary funds went to Health and Human Services, Education, Housing and Urban Development, State, and Veterans Affairs. If you count the portions of all executive branch department budgets that also go toward security related items, and count all of Veteran's Affairs (about $40 billion in 2008) as payment on past wars, you have to conclude that "security" spending sucks up the lion's share of the available tax dollar. I've seen plausible estimates that say if you also figure in the interest we're paying on debt run up by deficit security spending, the real 2009 defense nut will come to almost $1.45 trillion, 54 percent of all federal spending.

McCain wants to cut health and housing and education and things that actually provide useful services to Americans. If you look at the way our security apparatus defended us on 9/11, and how well it's promoting our interests overseas, you have to wonder what kind of cost/benefit equation McCain's economic advisers are using.

Sticker Shock and Awe

Back in July 2008 McCain promised he would start "giving major speeches about the need for defense acquisition reform." It's nice, I guess, to hear McCain plans to get serious about the need to cut the lard out of the defense budget, but why is he just now getting around to it? He's the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; he's been on the committee since 1987. McCain's web site says that "throughout his career," he "has fought pork-barrel defense spending," but it doesn't give any specific examples of how he did that. Maybe he got the cost of those $400 toilet seats knocked down to $385, but he sure hasn't put a dent in any of the big-ticket boondoggles.

It was John McCain's hand in the war till that delivered unto us the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, which at $330 million a pop should have been nicknamed "The Rapture." The F-22's vaunted success in air-to-air exercises came not as a result of its high cost stealthy airframe, but from its sensors, communications systems and missiles, all of which can be fitted onto the $18 million per copy F-16 Viper. More importantly, the Viper is perfectly capable of performing the Raptor's primary mission, which involves shooting down airliners armed with suicidal lunatics.

The first "training" mishap of a $2 billion B-2 bomber finally occurred in Guam in February 2008. The two-man crew ejected safely, but the aircraft was a complete loss. The B-2's price tag was driven by its latest generation stealth technology designed to make it impervious to enemy air defenses. The Guam B-2 was shot down by moisture that gathered on one of its flight instrument sensors. The latest generation land attack cruise missiles, also designed to evade enemy air defenses, cost under $600,000 apiece. A fistful of cruise missiles can do the same amount of damage to a Muslim wedding as a B-2 can, and when a cruise missile crashes, it's okay. Cruise missiles are supposed to crash, every time they fly.

McCain also presided over the launch of a new class of nuclear aircraft carriers to be named after—no kidding, I promise—Gerald R. Ford. According to the Navy, Ford class carriers will cost about $8 billion per copy to make. That's as opposed to the $4.5 billion price tag of the old Nimitz class nuclear carriers. If you're wondering why the Navy needs a new class of $8 billion nuclear carriers to chase pirates around off the coast of Somalia, you're in good company. What do we do with them after they defeat the pirates? Sic them on evildoing mermaids? And if they can't beat the pirates, what do we do then? Build a class of $16 billion dollar carriers and name them after Warren G. Harding?

Buck for the Bang

A companion piece of humbuggery to the Ford class carriers is the Navy Unmanned Combat Airborne System (N-UCAS). As envisioned, the N-UCAS could launch from the deck of a carrier as it leaves its pier in San Diego, fly to the Formosa Strait, and drop bombs on China persons trying to invade Taiwan. There are a few flaws in all this gee wizardry. If the N-UCAS can take off from a carrier leaving Naval Air Station North Island, it can also just take off from Naval Air Station North Island and cut out the middleman. That would make it a land-based strategic bomber, though, and we already have the aforementioned B-2 Billion that can reach China all the way from Missouri.

Theoretically, the N-UCAS could eliminate the need for both the $2 billion bomber and the $8 billion aircraft carrier. As soon as somebody lets that out, the aerospace industry will shoot the N-UCAS out of the sky like a squadron of B-17s on a daylight raid over Germany. Don't feel bad for the N-UCAS contractor Northrop Grumman, though. According to a company official, the government has already sunk $1 billion into the project, which to date has yielded a prototype that has not flown yet and a 260-page point paper.

But a billion clams for a static display and a masters thesis is nothing compared to the more than $13 billion we've spilled into the program to come up with a countermeasure to improvised explosive devices, which cost about $100 each to make and are still killing our troops in Southwest Asia.

Perhaps the biggest piece of crack pottery in American arms acquisition is missile defense, a legacy we've been stuck with since Ronald Reagan could remember his middle name. Development cost during the young Mr. Bush administration alone will run to $62.9 billion, and it still doesn’t work. Critics of the system correctly call it "a theology, not a technology," and say it is no match for the deterrence inherent in America's existing nuclear arsenal. The conceptual, theoretical and practical weaknesses of the missile defense system are legion, but first among them is the system's reliance on surface-to-air missiles that are easy to decoy. Richard Garwin, a member of the National Commission on Ballistic Missile Proliferation headed by Donald Rumsfeld in 1998, told Congress recently that, "Should a state be so misguided as to attempt to deliver nuclear weapons by ICBM, they could be guaranteed against intercept in mid-course by the use of appropriate countermeasures."

Lieutenant General Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, says otherwise. Sort of. "There's a misconception that we cannot handle countermeasures," Obering says. "We cannot handle very complex countermeasures. I won't go into what that means."

I'll go into exactly what that means. It means that any ICBM any misguided state might ever throw our way would contain the very complex kind of countermeasures that our interceptor missiles can't handle.

And what does Johnny "Defense Acquisition Reform" McCain have to say about all this? According to his web site, "John McCain strongly supports the development and deployment of theater and national missile defenses."

Next: Johnny and the Grand Illusion Strategy

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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Johnny and the Warmongers Part II

by Jeff Huber

Part I describes how John McCain became indebted to the neoconservative cabal when he gained their support by endorsing the Iraq surge stratagem. Part II examines McCain's taste in bedfellows.

The thing I dread most about a John McCain presidency is that he gets that phone call at three in the morning and actually wakes up to answer it. McCain best illustrated the sound judgment he claims to have when he voted to invade Iraq, followed by his echoing Dick Cheney's line that "the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators.” Then there's his choice of running mates.

I've heard the excuse that, well, Sarah Palin wasn't McCain's pick of prospective veeps, that his advisors pushed her on him. If that's true, it only goes to show how bad McCain's judgment in choosing advisers is and his utter inability to judge when he's getting bad advice. In the foreign policy realm, McCain has shown the same misplaced trust in the same woebegone wonks that young Mr. Bush listened to.

Bill Kristol, editor of the right wing Weekly Standard, son of the "godfather of neoconservatism" Irving Kristol, founder of the infamous Project for the New American Century, signer of the 1997 letter urging Bill Clinton to invade Iraq, co-author of the September 2000 neocon manifesto Rebuilding America's Defenses that said the U.S. military should conquer and occupy the entire planet but that only "a new Pearl Harbor" would convince the American public to go along with anything that crazy, who has said that America should join Israel in a war against Islam, and who has persistently tried to goad young Mr. Bush into bombing the camel snot out of Iran, and who was a leading proponent of the Iraq surge stratagem, that Bill Kristol is one of John McCain's key foreign policy advisers.

In an October 13 editorial, Kristol allowed as how the McCain campaign "is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional," but lauded McCain's "sound judgment and strong leadership." What Kristol likes about McCain's judgment and leadership is his sound decision to let Kristol lead him around by the nose.

As 2007 dawned, McCain was down in the poles and his campaign organization was going through its second or third out-and-out dysfunction. When he threw out a lifeline, the Kristol Gang was happy to haul him aboard. On January 5 of that year, when Kristol henchmen Fred Kagan and Jack Keane rolled out their surge strategy at the American Enterprise Institute headquarters, John McCain was there to endorse it, as was his frequent dinner companion Joe Lieberman. Lindsay Graham, McCain's other paramour, didn't attend. I'm sure he had a superb excuse.


From that point on, McCain was a made guy in the neocon mafia. Robert Kagan, Kristol's Weekly Standard collaborator, co-founder of the Project for the New American Century and brother of Fred Kagan, is credited with having crafted McCain's foreign policy platform. Bob Kagan is a proponent of a looming second confrontation between western democracies and their old nemeses, Russia and China. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration's policies, particularly its insistence on shunning diplomatic approaches to Iran, have put the world on a direct vector for Cold War II. It took America about half a century to win the first Cold War; the neocons hope start the next one in less than half that time.

McCain's foreign policy team also includes Dick Armitage, Max Boot, Ralph Peters, Gary Schmitt and James Woolsey, all neocon luminaries who lobbied for the invasion of Iraq.

McCain's national security platform, available at his campaign web site, is a Readers Digest condensation of Rebuilding America's Defenses. McCain champions a missile defense program, a larger military, and the fielding of more esoteric and costly weapon systems. McCain insists on pursuing something he calls "victory" in Iraq, yet he proposes an end game that looks like the occupation that followed the Korean War, which was hardly a stunning American victory. (It was, at best, a tie. In fact, the Korean War has never been formally ended.) McCain will protect Israel from Iran, but he will not talk to Iran about Israel or anything else. As to nuclear proliferation, well, he'll fix that just like he'll fix the economy and social security and Osama bin Laden's rear end if you just give him a chance. I don't know how he's going to fix anything, but he knows. At least he says he does. Take his word for it at your peril.

Sport the Troops

"John McCain has worked tirelessly to protect increased benefits for America's veterans," his web site boasts. McCain's campaign also avows that, "America must never leave its military retirees in any doubt that it will keep its commitments to them for their many years of faithful service" and that "John McCain has fought for improved military pay and benefits, and an improved quality of life for military families."

One has to wonder how the McCain campaign squares those statements with how veterans' groups rate of their candidate on veteran and active duty personnel related issues.

The Disabled American Veterans gave McCain a veterans issue support rating of 20 on a scale of zero to 100 (Barack Obama received a grade of 80). Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) recently gave McCain a veterans support grade of "D" (they gave Obama a "B").

In response to IAVA's congressional report card, Vets for Freedom (VFF), a neoconservative front group, released its own Senate analysis scorecard. The VFF gave every Democrat in the Senate a grade of "F." 38 Republicans earned an A+. McCain received an A-. One supposes VFF was trying not to look like it was too much in the tank for McCain, but they aren't likely to fool anyone except, well, fools. It's symptomatic of the McCain camp and of the neoconservative worldview that they would so persistently strive to create a perception that is in such diametric contrast with reality.

McCain has shown his "support" by voting against funds for additional body armor and PTSD screening and treatment, by voting against funding for veterans benefits and health care, by voting to underfund the Department of Veterans Affairs, by opposing Jim Webb's 21st Century GI bill that would give better education benefits to veterans… the list of McCain's votes against the troops and veterans extends beyond the horizon.

It's remarkable how willing the American warmongery is willing to steer the country into wars that amount to little more than manhood measuring contests, as long as it's someone else's manhood that's on the line. Warmongers who have seen combat are the worst of the lot. Their rationale seems to be that if they had to fight a stupid war for their country, so does everyone else.

Next: Johnny Warbucks

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.

Not So Fast...

I woke up with a touch of the flu and canceled the trip to D.C. I'm sure it will be much nicer in the spring anyway. At least, I hope so.

Part II of "Johnny and the Warmongers" will be up by tomorrow morning.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Operational Pause for the Cause

I suppose it was my wildest dream that the GOP would permanently end its tenure as a ruling party by playing the "jigaboo" card at the end of this election. I can hardly believe they're actually doing it, but since they are, I say goody! Let's have the media rebroadcast every bigoted rant by Rush and that owlish twit George Will and the rest of the right wingery, and keep playing them and keep playing them and keep playing them until there's no question left in the mind of anyone on the planet what exactly American conservatism is really about.

Let's also have nonstop replays of Joe the Plumber explaining his vision of 'Merika and companion spots of McCain and Palin talking about how Joe represents their "base."

Most importantly, let's not leave any doubt in the mind of anyone who wants to vote these cretins out of office that it's a done deal and there's no reason to bother going to the polls. It's time for American electorate to make a decisive statement to the dark side of our country: never again. Get out and vote and crush these bastards.

Ahem. Well, I'm off for a few days of sightseeing in Washington D.C. I plan to hit the Library of Congress, and will let you know if the Constitution is still on display there.

Here's a preview of the next part of "Johnny and the Warmongers," I should have the rest online by Saturday.



Johnny and the Warmongers Part II

The thing I dread most about a John McCain presidency is that he gets that phone call at three in the morning and actually wakes up answer it. McCain best illustrated the sound judgment he claims to have when he voted to invade Iraq, followed by his echo Dick Cheney's line that that "the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators.” Then there's his choice of running mates.

I've heard the excuse that, well, Sarah Palin wasn't McCain's choice of running mates, that his advisors pushed her on him. If that's true, it only goes to show how bad McCain's judgment in choosing advisers is and his utter inability to judge when he's getting bad advice. In the foreign policy realm, McCain has shown the same misplaced trust in the same woebegone wonks that young Mr. Bush listened to.

Bill Kristol, editor of the right wing Weekly Standard, son of the "godfather of neoconservatism" Irving Kristol, founder of the infamous Project for the New American Century, signer of the 1997 letter urging Bill Clinton to invade Iraq, co-author of the September 2000 neocon manifesto Rebuilding America's Defenses that said the U.S. military should conquer and occupy the entire planet but that only "a new Pearl Harbor" would convince the American public to go along with anything that crazy, who has said that America should join Israel in a war against Islam, and who has persistently tried to goad young Mr. Bush into attacking Iran, and who was a leading proponent of the Iraq surge stratagem, and all around prominent member of the American warmongery, that Bill Kristol has been one of John McCain's key foreign policy advisers.

In an October 13 editorial, Kristol allowed as how the McCain campaign "is now close to being out-and-out dysfunctional," but lauded McCain's "sound judgment and strong leadership." What Kristol likes about McCain's judgment and leadership is his decision to follow Kristol's counsel.

In early 2007, McCain was down in the poles and his campaign organization was a disaster. When it came time for Kristol sideman Fred Kagan to roll out his surge strategy at the American Enterprise Institute headquarters, John McCain was there to endorse it, as was his frequent date Joe Lieberman. Lindsay Graham, McCain's other paramour, didn't attend. I'm sure he had a good excuse.

Read the rest of "Johnny and the Warmongers Part II" on Saturday.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Johnny and the Warmongers

by Jeff Huber

This is the first installment of a pre-election series of essays on John McCain and American militarism.

Having based his presidential candidacy on his prowess in national security affairs, John McCain needed a running mate who wouldn't show him up by understanding more about the subject than he did. This left his vice presidential search committee with a Herculean task, and one that they performed dutifully, but make no mistake. The top bimbo on the GOP ticket is not Sarah Palin. In the area where McCain claims to possess the most competence, he couldn't find his proverbial rear end if Joe Lieberman held the map for him and Lindsey Graham worked the compass.

To paraphrase Voltaire, witticisms can be the best way to make a point but they never prove anything. So while a couple of satisfying one-liners may illustrate the chasm between McCain's perception of his national security credentials and the stark reality of his fecklessness, it is vital that we examine the specific ways in which, as commander in chief of the United States military, McCain would be the most dangerous man in world history.

It's vital that we take this journey, even if it turns out that Colin Powell left McCain and his number two without a pot to go number one in. Every president for the foreseeable future will have to deal with the threat to U.S. security interests that McCain personifies: parasitic, malignant militarism.

McMega Dittos

At the October 15 presidential debate McCain declared, "I am not President Bush," but when it comes to military and foreign policy matters, he's close enough to Bush for government work.

McCain has been in lockstep with Bush, Cheney and the rest of the neoconservative cabal on the woebegone war in Iraq from the outset. On March 20, 2003, the day Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced, he echoed Dick Cheney's mantra that "the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators.” Eight months later, he described the initial invasion as having been "spectacularly successful," and as late as December of 2005 he said, "Progress is being made in a lot of Iraq."

Not until early 2007, after the so-called "surge" strategy had been unveiled and McCain came out in favor of it did he insist that he had been "… the greatest critic of the initial four years" of the Iraq war, and only in Summer of 2007 did he jump on the scapegoat bandwagon and blame Donald Rumsfeld for everything that had gone wrong up to the time of the surge, saying that Rummy would go down as "one of the worst secretaries of Defense in history."

Once onboard the surge express, McCain was committed to riding it all the way, supporting it in any manner he could, including acting as a key component of the strategy's integrated disinformation campaign. The most egregious example was his participation in the April 2007 shopping spree that General David Petraeus staged in an outdoor Baghdad market for McCain and a congressional entourage that included Graham, who later gushed to reporters that he'd managed to buy five hand woven carpets for five dollars. McCain's party likened the escapade to spending the day at "a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime." The next day, however, a different narrative emerged. It turned out that over 100 heavily armed U.S. soldiers and multiple Blackhawk helicopters had provided security for the propaganda event. One Iraqi merchant said of McCain and his shopping demonstration, "He is just using this visit for publicity. He is just using it for himself. They'll just take a photo of him at our market and they will just show it in the United States. He will win in America, and we will have nothing."

Straight Talk, No Chaser

McCain continues to tout his support of the surge as proof that he can win in Iraq, but that rosy forecast is contraindicated by the cautious rhetoric of Petraeus and his successor as top U.S. General in Iraq, Ray Odierno, both of whom, along with Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, caution that the "gains" made in Iraq are "fragile and reversible."

Petraeus and Odierno have good reason to be cautious; they know better than anyone how they manufactured the illusion of the surge stratagem's success. The measure of effectiveness by which Sarah Palin declared that "the surge worked"—reduction of attacks to a mere 25 per day in a country with the size and population of California—would not be lauded as a sign of success in any other conflict in U.S. history. Further, not only is the "reduced" violence statistic hollow, it was achieved by problematic means.

First among them was Petreaus's recruitment of Sunni Militias. Petraeus rented their loyalty with guns and money for the supposed purpose of fighting al Qaeda in Iraq. No one has ever determined exactly how many al Qaeda in Iraqi members there ever were, but in late 2006 the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank often criticized for supporting Bush administration positions, estimated the total number of foreign fighters in Iraq at between 800 and 2000, a range that would include almost the entirety of al Qaeda in Iraq. It's worth noting that after years of being targeted by the U.S. and coalition militaries, and Iraq's security forces, and the Sunni militias, and the Shiite militias, tiny al Qaeda in Iraq, according to Petraeus himself, is still not defeated and is capable of launching lethal attacks.

Those al Qaeda in Iraq guys must be gosh darn good, huh?

On the Shiite front, the Iranians—at whom Petraeus and the administration consistently level unsubstantiated charges of fomenting violence in Iraq—were responsible for brokering a peace agreement between Mahdi Army chief Muqtada al Sadr and Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki.

There's not a drop of glue holding this house of cards together. The Sunni militiamen are going to need real jobs when they can no longer take bribes from us for a living, they don't have any marketable skills except ones that involve shooting people and blowing things up, and the Shiites who run Iraq's security forces don't feel at all secure about hiring on a whole lot of Sunnis. The Sunnis then, are quite likely to go back to the mattresses with the Shiites, and the Shiites, who put their guns down but remember where they put them, aren't likely to roll over and play dead.

Oh, yeah, the third party in this circle recreation, the Iraqi Kurds, are in a full-blown state of war with Turkey.

As for hopes of a political solution in Iraq, Mariam Karouny of Reuters tells us Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish politicians talked to her of "bad news" ahead, of deep political divisions and assassinations to come as the provincial elections in January approach. One senior Sunni official warned Karouny that despite appearances of improvement in Baghdad, "Nothing has really changed."

Rudy Guliani and other McCain advocates maintain that their candidate's support of the surge was a principled stand, that McCain was willing to stick by what he believed in even if it cost him the GOP nomination. Giuliani and others neglect to mention that in early 2007 when McCain came out in favor of the surge, he was behind Giuliani in the poles, and the trinity of McCain, Mike Huckabee and Fred Thompson were in a desperate race to out-messiah each other, McCain and Huckabee as jeebus surrogates in their Christmas TV spots, and Thompson as the second coming of Ronald Reagan. His campaign organization was also in disarray and broke.

McCain was looking for a devil to sell his soul to, and the neocons, searching for their next model/spokesperson, were more than happy to stroke a deal with him.

Next: Pavlov's Dogs of McWar

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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Arms for the Poor

by Jeff Huber

Those poor kids at the Pentagon. They receive more funding than the rest of the world's military establishments combined, but it's just not enough. Pentagon officials have prepared a new defense spending estimate—one they plan to spring on us just before young Mr. Bush slinks out of office—that projects a requirement for $450 billion more over the next five years than previously announced.

Whoa, you might be thinking. We already spend well over a half trillion a year on defense, and what do we get in return? The Pentagon did such a lousy job defending the homeland on 9/11 that we had to buy a whole separate agency to take that job over, and only neocons and other lunatics would say our military is protecting our national interests overseas.

You ignorant bedwetting liberal. Don't you see? The half trillion plus a year only buys you history's best equipped, best trained military and a few wars for them to fight in. If you want your armed forces to do what you pay them to do, that will cost extra.

Battle Budget Galactica

It's hard to tell exactly how much everybody spends on defense. America's fiscal year 2008 defense budget request was $623 billion. The Chinese, the nearest thing we have to a peer military competitor, say they spend about $25 billion a year on defense, roughly four percent of what we spend. The American warmongery, ever eager to create scary phantasms, claims that China spends a lot more on defense than it admits to. Critics of the Pentagon say they Chinese can't possibly lie more about their defense spending than we do. Our official defense budget doesn't include things like defense related spending by other departments, the Homeland Security budget, some veterans' care expenses, the ubiquitous "supplemental allotments" that never make it into the regular budget but always get through Congress, the ultra secret "black" budget, and other hush-and-slush funding.

Some say the Chinese spend up to three times on defense what they claim to spend. If so, they're still spending a half-trillion a year less than our official budget. Many claim that we spend twice as much on defense as the official budget total. If that's true, we're spending over a trillion dollars a year more than three times what the Chinese say they spend. Either way we're spending a bunch load more money on defense than the Chinese are. Half a trillion dollars a year will buy you very many $400 toilet seats. A trillion will buy you twice that amount.

Much of what China spends on defense goes to update its arsenal. Admiral Tim Keating, head of U.S. Pacific Command, says the Chinese admit to being "25 years behind us." I say that's another thing the Chinese are fudging facts about. The majority of their combat jets are J-7s and J-8s, fighters copied from the Soviet Mig-21 that first flew more than a half century ago.

However much the Chinese are lying about their defense spending, Russia spends somewhat less than they do, and however much we're lying, Iran's defense spending is less than one percent of ours and only about 70 percent of Mexico's, and those evildoing terrorists could hide their defense budget under a tic egg.

So at this point in the New American Century, whatever two-war strategy we're arming ourselves to fight must involve simultaneous conflicts with the Klingons and the Borg.

Force Plan 9 From Outer Space

As best we can tell, the 2009 defense budget only carries $520 million for space weapons research, which sounds like a trifling amount until you consider that we've signed on to a treaty that prohibit putting weapons in space. Don't feel too bad for space though; the Pentagon isn't neglecting it. In fact, the U.S. military is so heavily invested in space that it cannot navigate, communicate or hit a target without it. Without space, esoteric air breathing systems like the ultra stealthy, $2 billion a pop B-2 strategic bomber would be, well, worthless.

Maybe that's why the Air Force is looking to replace it by the year 2018. Originally called (cleverly enough) the "2018 Bomber," the Air Force now refers to the B-2's replacement as the NGB (New Generation Bomber). It's anybody's guess what they'll be calling it when 2018 rolls around. The NGB will be "super stealthy," which I reckon means it will have a smaller radar signature than a flying carpet. But the NGB does not represent the end of strategic bomber evolution. It's merely an interim weapon designed to fill the gap until the 2035 Bomber comes along. Nobody knows for sure what the 2035 Bomber will look like, or what they'll call it in 2035. Some say it will be a "system of systems." It sounds like it will cost enough to qualify as a self-contained economic system.

The B-2's tactical stealth buddy, the F-22 Raptor air-to-air fighter, isn't faring so well. As best anybody can tell, the Raptor costs $339 million per copy, as opposed to the less than $85 million unit cost of the other stealth fighter, the F-35 Lightning II. The F-22's predecessor, the F-15 Eagle, cost under $30 million per unit. The F-16 Falcon, still in production, costs less than $20 million a copy and carries the same state-of-the-art air-to-air missiles as the F-22 and the F-35 and the F-15.

Congress has limited the F-22 buy to 183 airframes; the Air Force says that isn't sufficient to cover all of its missions, which now include, believe it or not, homeland security. The U.S. Air Force is the only armed service in the world arrogant enough to argue that it needs a fleet of $339 million fighters to shoot down commercial airliners armed with box cutters. But seeing as how the only congress the Air Force has to bamboozle with that argument is the U.S. Congress, they may get away with it.

The Navy tried to kill its DDG-1000 project after only two copies were made, but Congress apparently wouldn't let them, and included money to build a third hull in the 2009 budget. The Navy's estimated unit cost for the DDG-1000 is $3.3 billion, but the Government Accounting Office expects the cost to be higher. So a DDG-1000 costs somewhere in the neighborhood of two B-2 bombers, but not nearly so much as the new class of nuclear aircraft carriers will cost.

The new class of aircraft carrier is estimated to cost about $8 billion per copy. It will feature the latest in automation technology that the Navy says will reduce the cost of the future carriers. That's an interesting statement for the Navy to make, considering that the older class of Nimitz class aircraft carriers are said to have only cost $4.5 billion apiece.

In that light, it is perhaps fitting that the new class of American flagships will bear the name of Gerald R. Ford, the only U.S. president who was not elected to either the office of president or vice president.

It's also fitting that the most pressing maritime mission these multi-billion dollar juggernauts will perform any time soon involves war at sea with Somali pirates, whose vessels are comparable, capability and cost-wise, to Jack Kennedy's PT-109.

Reports from respected military analysts like the Rand Corporation say that the best approach to the war on terror is "a light U.S. military footprint or none at all," yet it seems all but inevitable that Congress will increase the size of our land forces. Part of the justification for the expansion is that the Army and Marine Corps are "stretched to the breaking point" after seven years of overseas deployments in support of the war on terror. Yet, incredibly, a combat unit from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division has just been assigned to U.S. Northern Command to quell "civil unrest" and conduct "crowd control" inside the United States.

In other words, an active duty Army combat unit has been pulled from action in ongoing foreign wars to suppress insurrection by American citizens at home.

And all this time I though violating Americans' right to protest was Homeland Security's job.

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.

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.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Baffle Them with Warfare

by Jeff Huber

John McCain…knows how to win a war.

--Sarah Palin

My matriculation at the United States Naval War College left me with an indelible regard for the wisdom of Ernie Pyle's admonition that in war "nobody really knows what he's doing." As a scholarly discipline, war doesn’t even have a coherent vocabulary. Almost everyone agrees that "center of gravity" is a vital concept, and that it must always be the object of our efforts, but almost nobody agrees on what a center of gravity is.

If you ask a Marine Corps warfare expert, he'll tell you there can only be one center of gravity, but that's only because Marines can't remember more than one. If you ask a naval aviator, he'll say the center of gravity is always an aircraft carrier. An Air Force general will tell you that a center of gravity is anything he can bomb, which is just about everything, so you better buy him a whole lot of expensive bombers so he can bomb all the centers of gravity and a whole lot of expensive fighters to keep the expensive bombers from getting shot down. If you ask any Army general who's been involved in running the Iraq war what a center of gravity is, he'll start breathing through his mouth, and if you ask John McCain he'll tell you the story about the prison guard who drew a crucifix in the dirt with his toe.

If you ask me*, I'll tell you that centers or gravity are related to warfare's objectives, and that grasping the center of gravity concept is essential to understanding why military force cannot achieve the goals of the kind of war we're supposedly fighting right now.

Staying Centered

Centers of gravity may vary across the different levels of war, which are commonly labeled the tactical, operational and strategic levels. Simple Simon would tell you that the tactical level is where combat takes place, that the strategic level is where military actions achieve (or don't achieve) the political aims of war (as per Clausewitz), and the operational level is where the commander and his staff coordinate tactical actions in order to achieve the strategic requirements. Centers of gravity may also change over space and time, but those factors are a bit too esoteric for Simon to explain, so we'll skip over them for now.

Whatever the place, time or level, your center of gravity is that part of your assets and resources that will accomplish your objective(s), and the enemy's center of gravity is that part of his assets that can thwart your aims. At the tactical and operational levels, centers of gravity are always some unit or collection of military force. If Simon is skipper of the U-29 and wants to sink an allied supply convoy, the center of gravity he must defeat is the convoy's destroyer escort.

At the strategic level, in my very strong opinion, the center of gravity is always political leadership. Some will argue that strategic centers of gravity include things like economy and public opinion, but those things are more accurately described as critical factors: strengths, weaknesses and critical vulnerabilities. Failed economies and lack of public support may influence the political leadership's behavior, but it may not. It's often asserted that totalitarian leaders are less vulnerable to failed economies and loss of popular backing than leaders of democratic societies, but look at our young Mr. Bush; a shipwrecked economy and record low poll numbers haven't deterred him from pursuing a tyrannical agenda. At the end of the day, your strategic objective is to coerce your enemy into a political behavior of some sort, and the only the enemy's political leadership can effect that.

That, in large part, is why going to war with the goal of regime change is so foolish: once you lop off the political coherence of your adversary, you're left with an angry mob on your hands, and as we've seen so clearly in the last five years and change, an angry mob is an ugly thing.

Herding Cats

Centers of gravity can be concentrated (massed) or dispersed; most lie somewhere on the spectrum in between. Before he died and was still in charge of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was a stellar example of a concentrated strategic center of gravity. The guy was a tsar class autocrat, and when he wanted to make something happen in his country, he didn't wait for anybody to tell him "Simon says." At the opposite end of the spectrum is what we've had for an Iraqi government since our Army staged the toppling of Hussein's statue in Baghdad. The body politic is a field of factions tangled like a goat rope, tied in a Gordian knot and wrapped in a Mobius strip, and that's just the official central government. The real power still lies with mullahs and tribal leaders.

Neocons will argue that what we have now is better that dealing with Hussein, but they're daft; Hussein had already complied with our stated political aim for the invasion—he'd abandoned his weapons of mass destruction program—before we even invaded him. Now that our true aim of establishing a permanent robust military footprint in Iraq has become apparent, the closest thing Iraq has to a head of state—Nuri al Maliki—is telling us to pack our caissons and hit the dusty trail, and it doesn't sound like he's just saying that to impress some girl he met last month on MySpace.

As for operation and strategic centers of gravity, we scattered them far and wide when we told the Iraqi army to go home. Now the "enemy's" combat power is so dispersed that it no longer presents a center of gravity that can be decisively beaten. Our forces are trapped in a cat rodeo; they'll never get the adversaries back in the corral because they multiply faster than our cowboys can rope them or run them over with lawn mowers.

Lack of an operational center of gravity to attack is the defining characteristic of counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, low intensity conflict, etc. Superpowers who fight these kinds of adversaries never come out smelling floral. As co-creator of the Fourth Generation Warfare concept William Lind wrote recently, "invaders and occupiers have almost never won against a guerrilla-style war of national liberation. Not even the best counterinsurgency techniques make much difference."

How Terrorist Groups End, a recent Rand Corporation report authored by Seth G. Jones and Martin C. Libicki, studied 648 groups that existed between 1968 and 2006 and analyzed how their terror activities terminated. Only seven percent desisted because of military force applied against them. 83 percent of the success against terror organizations came from policing and political actions. "Against most terror groups," the report states, "military force is usually too blunt an instrument." It notes that "even precision weapons have been of limited use against terrorist groups," and that the "use of substantial U.S. military power against terrorist groups also runs a significant risk of turning the local population against the government by killing civilians." Regarding use of American troops overseas to combat al Qaeda, the report says the best approach is "a light U.S. military footprint or none at all."

"Our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism," Jones and Libicki write. They also admonish that "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."

Many of us had arrived at these conclusions long before the Rand report hit the streets; but backed by the aegis of Rand analysis, those conclusions should have grabbed the attention of top level decision makers like, say for example, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who aspires to be commander in chief and who consistently reminds us how smart and experienced he is on foreign policy matters. But no, John McCain blithely continues to tout military force as the key to conquering al Qaeda and its evildoing cohorts.

A popular adage says that generals always plan for the last war. American generals and their supporting warmongery always plan for the last world war; we've been training and equipping our military to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan since we defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, nations who had the kind of political structures and war making machinery that conventional military forces were designed to defeat. If John McCain knows how to win a war it's World War II, and that doesn’t do him or the rest of us a whole lot of good.

Plus, John McCain was five years old when World War II started and he'd only just turned nine when it ended, so he may not even remember how he won it.

* Most of my warfare theories are heavily based on the work of Professor Milan Vego of the U.S. Naval War College.

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.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Mission Accomplished Forever

by Jeff Huber

Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq…the surge worked.

--Sarah Palin

Like so many neoconservatives, Sarah Palin has an odd notion of what winning and losing wars means when you're history's first global hegemon.

"Surrender" in Iraq would consist of all of our troops dropping their weapons and raising their hands, and allowing the evildoers to take them to one of Saddam Hussein's old prisons and strip their clothes off, and put ladies' panties on their heads, and threaten to allow German Shepherds to attack them, and make them form human pyramids, and hook electrodes to their genitals and then rape them with chemical light sticks, and then chain a couple of them from the ceiling by their wrists and beat them to death, and if anybody gives the evildoers any guff about their treatment of prisoners, they blame it on a few bad apples and get away with it. And when our soldiers ask to appeal their imprisonment in a court of law, the evildoers tell them they don't have any legal rights because the evildoers have unilaterally declared them illegal.

That, fellow citizens, is what "surrender" in Iraq would consist of, and I want to go on record as saying I'm foursquare against it. I won't presume to speak for Barak Obama or Joe Biden specifically or of the Democratic Party in general, but I think it's a safe bet that they're against that sort of thing too, so that gosh darn Sarah Palin really ought to quit talking like they aren't.

Like her prospective boss John McCain, Sarah speaks of "victory" in Iraq, and says it's "within sight," which is another way of saying "just around the corner."

Here's what would qualify as a victory in Iraq: Saddam Hussein meets young Mr. Bush on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, and sits at a table in front of the ship's island, under the sign that says "Mission Accomplished," and writes his name on a bunch of papers that say the U.S. can establish permanent military bases in his country and take all the oil there and our soldiers and mercenaries and civilian contractors can pull any kind of shenanigans they want and the puppet Iraqi government we set up can't do anything about it.

Unfortunately that can't happen because Saddam Hussein is dead. Too bad none of the war experts at neocon central thought about that little detail of needing somebody to surrender to us when we went off half-cocked and did that regime change stuff. Or maybe somebody at neocon central did think of that and didn't say anything. Too bad either way, huh?

Oh, well, no use crying over spilled, uh, milk. All those soldiers of ours who got killed over there, they would have died in traffic accidents anyway, right? As to how many Iraqis have died because of our ill-advised and flimsily justified invasion of their country, some say the number is over a million, but it's impossible to say for sure, so don't worry your pretty head about it.

We can't go back in time and reset the problem, so there's no way for us to win in Iraq, but that's not an impediment to John McCain. He's still trying to win in Vietnam; once he pulls that off, winning in Iraq should be a piece of cake.

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fumble

Like beauty, success exists in the eye of its beholder, and that's fortunate for those like Sarah Palin who profess to believe that the surge in Iraq has "worked." It has worked so well that Mr. Bush has extended it into the regime of whoever winds up succeeding him.

The measure of success most often cited as proof that the surge has "worked" is the decrease in violence. As General David Petraeus boasted shortly before he turned over command of U.S. forces in Iraq in early September, "there has been enormous progress. We have gone from a situation where 14-15 months ago there were 180 attacks a day in Iraq. Now there are on average about 25 attacks a day." Iraq has roughly the size and population of California. Imagine the reaction Petraeus would generate if he said that thanks to his "enormous progress," San Diego Catholics and Los Angeles Lutherans were only bombing each other 25 times a day.

Not only are Petraeus's results other than stellar, the process by which he achieved them were, to put it politely, nefarious. Petraeus's modus has been consistent throughout his tours in Iraq, as commander in Mosul, as officer in charge of training Iraqi security forces and as commander of the Iraq theater. He gives a lot of guns to militiamen then bribes the militiamen not to use the guns on anyone he doesn't want them to use them on, then he makes unsupported accusations against Iran of arming and funding Iraqi militias.

Upon assuming command of the Iraq theater of operations form Petraeus, General Ray Odierno cautioned that the "gains" made in Iraq are "fragile and reversible." The Pentagon's latest quarterly report on the Iraq environment echoes Odierno's sentiments almost verbatim, saying that while "political, security, economic, and diplomatic trends in Iraq" are positive, "they remain fragile, reversible, and uneven." It's interesting how the guys who write those reports always say the same things the generals say. I'll never figure out how that works, will you?

In keeping with the good news/bad news theme, the report says that "While security has improved dramatically, the fundamental character of the conflict in Iraq remains unchanged—a communal struggle for power and resources."

At the core of this communal struggle are those militias we spoke of a moment ago. The Sons of Iraq or the Awakening or the Concerned Local Citizens or whatever we're calling the Sunni Civic League and Gun Club this week is getting restless. They still don't have jobs. The U.S. wants the Shiite controlled government to hire them on with the Iraqi security forces but the Shiite government doesn't want to do that because they want to hire Shiite militants, not Sunni militants. But if the Sunni militants don't have jobs then they'll likely go back to fighting the Shiite militias and the Shiite security forces that the Shiite government won't let them join. That's the "fundamental character" of the Iraq environment that isn't going to change until Mr. Spock and the Vulcans reveal themselves and share their matter/antimatter technology with us.

Hence, thanks to the way Petraeus conducted the surge, we'll need to stay in Iraq for a virtual eternity to keep a lid on things. That dovetails neatly with the neocons' prime directive, which all along has been to establish a permanent military footprint in the heart of the Middle East. Anything short of that would amount to failure, or defeat, or waving a white flag of surrender; and in that light, Sarah Palin is correct: the surge worked perfectly.

Hey, would John McCain be dumb enough to pick a running mate who didn't know what she was talking about?

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.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Fibber McCain

by Jeff Huber
Doublethink: The power…to tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them.

--George Orwell, 1984
When I think about how they must be preparing Sarah Palin for the vice presidential debate on Thursday night, I flash on the scene in A Clockwork Orange where they have Malcolm McDowell strapped into a chair and thingamabobs hooked on his eyelids to keep him from blinking. Sarah has a challenge ahead of her all right, but I think a lot of folks are overestimating her opponent.

Joe Biden is downright McCainian in a number of ways; an hallucinatory self-image is among the two men's most notable similarities, and neither of them could get his facts straight if his country's survival depended on it. Quotable Joe's recent placement of the Franklin Roosevelt presidency and television in the year 1929 was a standard Biden shenanigan, and if he tries to phone in the debate, Hockey Mom's liable to show up with two or three hard facts memorized and hip check him over the boards, even if she wears a low cut blouse and shows us her bimbage.

Barack Obama too shows signs of McCain magnitude ego inflation. One wonders if Obama knows that when people call him the "first black Kennedy" they're making fun of him. Obama, though, is more or less in possession of the facts, as well as they can be determined in the Rovewellian age, and he seldom stretches them to the point of opaqueness. Biden's departures from the known provide an unpleasant view of his polished heinie, but seldom do more harm than that. Sarah just repeats what she's been told to say; she wouldn't know the truth if it crawled up her skirt and opened a Halibut House there.

But McCain, now, he's quite a different case, and what you call somebody like McCain is what Joe Klein of Time just called him: a liar.

Straight Talk, No Chaser

I rejected McCain's claims to "character" credentials for good last Christmas when he engaged Mike Huckabee in that Jeebus impersonator contest. Huckabee did the TV spot that projected him against a gleaming bookshelf crucifix; McCain responded with the POW story ad that showed him in a hospital bed, looking like they just took him down from the cross. The Christmas Carol he told about the Hanoi Hilton was eerily identical to one I read in one of my grandma's Maryknoll magazines in the 60s when I was a child. In the Maryknoll version, the prisoner was a Catholic missionary and the guard was a Red Chinese soldier who formed the crucifix from two broom straws instead of drawing it in the dirt with his toe like the Vietnamese guard in McCain's version did.

That sort of thing is more accurately described as humbug than as a lie, but McCain has done a dollop of the latter. Klein describes the McCampaign as having been "a ceaseless assault on his opponent's character and policies, featuring a consistent—and witting—disdain for the truth." You can read Klein's litany of "annoying to sleazy" examples for yourself. The outright lie—and a rather clever one—that annoyed the bejeebus out of me was the May 2008 New York Times story that described how McCain turned down an admiral's star so he could take up politics. Howgash. The path to flag rank for carrier aviators like McCain includes major command at sea, which in McCain's day meant command of an aircraft carrier, which required previous command of a carrier aircraft squadron, and a carrier air wing, and "deep draft" command of some other sort of ship, usually a supply ship, and McCain hadn't commanded any of those things. In the article, former Navy Secretary John Lehman supported the McCain camp's claims about the rosy prospects of its boss's naval career. If Lehman had cut some sort of dope deal to give McCain a single star, it would have involved something on the order of transferring him to the supply corps. More likely, though, McCain campaign adviser Lehman simply opted to lie in support of what he considered a good cause and, as usual, the New York Times took stenography.

Embellishing on McCain's POW experience like that in an attempt to make him seem more commander-in-chiefly was unseemly; his narrative reversal on the "surge" in Iraq was out and out shameful. In 2007, after he came out in support of the surge, McCain told CNN that "…I was the greatest critic of the initial four years, three and a half years." The truth is that McCain was one of the biggest supporters of the initial four years, three and a half years of the war. It wasn't until after the GOP's drubbing in the 2006 election that McCain began searching for a new tune to whistle. He and his echo chamberlains describe his subscription to the neoconservatives' "surge" proposal as a "principled stand," and that McCain considered backing the strategy worth the risk of losing the GOP nomination. In fact, in January 2007 when the surge was announced, McCain was behind Rudy Giuliani in the polls, and Fred Thompson was lurking in the wings, waiting for the right moment to sweep onstage and out-Jeebus McCain and Huckabee combined.

Once in for a penny on the escalation, McCain became one of its most aggressive—and deceitful—sales representatives. A singularly egregious instance of McCain's guile in support of the surge was the April 2007 shopping spree in the outdoor market in Baghdad that General David Petraeus threw for McCain and his date Lindsey Graham (Look, Honey, five hand-woven rugs for five dollars! Can you believe it?). McCain and his congressional entourage tried to portray the outing as identical to a normal day in an Indiana town, but a day or so later we discovered that their idea of "normal" involved a hundred heavily armed guards and four or five helicopter gunships flying cover overhead.

An even worse mendacity in this vein is McCain's oft repeated mantra about how the troops come up to him on his trips to Iraq and say, "Let us win." That parable rings as authentic as a blue dollar bill; it's about as hard to find a corporal who will tell McCain what he wants to hear as it is to find a private who will let General Petraeus beat him in a one-arm pushup contest.

You can go for miles listing Fibber McCain's dualities: he's the supporter of the troops and veterans who has time and again kicked them in the ribcage. He's the maverick whose campaign staff includes no fewer than 83 professional lobbyists. He's the foreign policy expert who realized the Iraq strategy wasn't going to work more than a year after it was obvious to everyone else that it hadn't. A little discussed aspect of his choice in running mates is that he had to search far and wide to find a politician who was both a Republican and who understood even less about foreign policy than he does. (Lindsey Graham didn't qualify in the second criterion because he knows how to read a map.)

John McCain is a 72 year-old personality disorder that wants to be head of state of the most powerful nation in history. What makes him such a stupendous pathological liar is a combination of Orwellian doublethink and a variation on the ends-justify-means principle: What's good for John McCain is good for America, for the world, for the solar system, for the galaxy, etc., etc., etc., which is the rationalization behind virtually every evil act of humanity.

The last thing you need to remember about McCain is that his advisors include not only include lobbyists for the very banking industry we're about to borrow more money from China to bail out, his foreign policy team includes neocons like Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan, the very folks who duped us into the Iraq quagmire. His foreign policy group also contains his "friend for 35 years" Henry Kissinger. McCain was shot down in 1967. Richard Nixon took office in 1969 on the promise of ending the Vietnam War. Four years later, the war ended and McCain was released from the Hanoi Hilton. The man most responsible for dragging the war out those four extra years was Nixon's National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

Do you suppose foreign policy genius McCain is ever going to figure that one out? Probably not: he's still trying to figure out how to win in Vietnam.

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.