Friday, May 22, 2009

One Ricks Makes a Wrong

Thomas E. Ricks, erstwhile journalist and author of The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, has become the embodiment of the warmongery’s moral and intellectual duplicity.

Ricks’s most recent 15 minutes of fame involved an appearance at a Firedoglake book forum. In reply to a commenter who asked if “more deaths in Iraq are worth it,” Ricks said, “I think staying in Iraq is immoral. But I think that leaving Iraq is even more immoral.” In a nutshell, Ricks framed the core fallacy in the long war philosophy: that two wrongs can make a right. This theme dominates Rick’s work these days. The Gamble and the media blitz that accompanied its debut were dazzling examples of what Voltaire was talking about when he said, "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

Ricks continues to exalt General David Petraeus, who he has known since Petraeus was a colonel or a light colonel (Ricks says he can’t remember which). Ricks became King David’s chief legend maker when the Iraq surge began in January 2007. In a radio interview that month on WNYC in New York, Ricks described Petraeus as a “fascinating character” and “just about the best general in the Army.” He specifically cited Petraeus’s “very successful first tour” as commander in Mosul after the fall of Baghdad, but made little mention that the general tamed the city by handing out guns and bribes, and that months after Petraeus left Mosul the chief of police defected and the place went up for grabs again. (Mosul remains a major trouble spot to this day, and Petraeus is still arming and bribing militants.)

By August 2007 Ricks was waxing giddy over Petraeus’s persona. On NPR he called the general “a force of nature,” and gushed as he described the sight of Petraeus engaging in pushup contests with privates less than half his age. A veteran Pentagon reporter like Ricks should have seen the pushup prank for the used chicken feed it was, but by then Ricks was already sleeping in the general’s field cot.

Freud would have a field day with some of Ricks’s latest disclosures. In The Gamble, Ricks flat out admits that Petraeus deceived Congress (and betrayed the country) by telling the House Foreign Affairs committee he aimed to create “conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage." Petraeus’s plan all along, Ricks confesses, was “not to bring the war to a close, but simply to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer.” How does Ricks view this Promethean abuse of power and trust? “"The surge was the right step to take,” He says. It was “the least wrong move in a misconceived war.”

The “least wrong move” mantra might carry Petraeus’s water if Ricks backed it up with a sound argument, but his justifications are a logic lizard that consumes itself from the tail forward. Ricks warns that if we leave Iraq, things will almost certainly go back to the way they were under Saddam Hussein. But he also asserts that things are worse in Iraq then than they were before we invaded because “Saddam was kind of an aging, toothless tiger” and “wasn‘t a threat to anybody.” So we have to stay to keep things from getting better.

Ricks also echoes the ghost story that if we leave Iraq, a regional war is a “live possibility.” None of the countries in that region are capable of projecting conventional force much beyond their own borders, and the only nation in that part of the world capable of nuking anyone else is Israel. Terrorists organizations are already in place and we’ve seen what they can do, which is nothing compared to the havoc we have wrought with our preemptive delusions.

Ricks judges that it was “quite noble” of surge proponents like Ambassador Ray Crocker who “allegedly opposed the initial invasion of Iraq” to “step into something they thought was a mistake.” As if deliberately perpetuating a mistake could ever be a noble thing.

Ricks has evolved into such an incorrigible bull feather merchant he’s taken to lashing out at anyone who presents a viewpoint different from the one he and his masters are shilling. He decries refutations of his rhetoric as “personal” attacks, and harangues his critics with angry emails. At the Firedoglake forum, a guest asked Ricks to comment about criticisms of Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our new commander in the Bananastans, made recently by my colleague Gareth Porter. Ricks replied, “If Gareth Porter is reporting it, then it’s probably wrong. ‘Nuff said?” (“’Nuff said” is one of those macho expressions guys like Ricks use when they want to sound like Ralph Peters.)

I am familiar enough with Porter’s methods to know he practices sound journalism. Ricks, on the other hand, has succumbed to the access poisoning that has plagues most of the mainstream Washington media. He spent decades courting inside sources. They have now become the movers and shakers of the American hegemony, and he is their court stenographer. The most blatant example of this was his “transformation” of General Ray Odierno from the raging ox whose incompetence was the main cause of the insurgency to the genius who “conceived and executed” the surge strategy “by himself in Baghdad.” The sources of this revelation were Odierno’s subordinates and mentors and Odierno himself.

In response to an piece criticizing Ricks and his colleagues at the Center for a New American Security, Ricks growled: “This is what happens when someone writes about an area about which they know absolutely freaking nothing.” What Thomas E. Ricks knows about national defense he learned from a flock of and tank thinkers and Pentagon desk rangers who don’t know their centers of gravity from their elbows. If Ricks limits himself to writing what he knows about, we’ll never hear from him again.

Let’s hope that happens real soon.

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.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fort Palooka

The recent announcement of General David McKiernan’s permanent transfer to Fort Palooka is the latest punch line in our Bananastan farce. Defense secretary Robert Gates claims that McKiernan’s relief as commander in Afghanistan merely reflected a need for “fresh thinking,” but even the war mongrels on the rabid right can see it was a stratagem to make McKiernan the fall guy for all the collateral damage caused by the air strikes that President Obama authorized.

Ironically, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, McKiernan’s replacement, has a proven record of executing just the kinds of strikes McKiernan got fired for. On top of that, Obama still intends to send the 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan that McKiernan requested for no apparent reason. (When Obama asked him how he’d use the extra troops, McKiernan made the sound of sandbags forming a levee.)

So we’re on track to escalate a war for which the administration admits there is no military solution and continuing to employ attrition tactics that make more new bad guys than they attrite. It's enough to make Clausewitz claw at his coffin lid.

Here’s how you’re supposed to plan and execute a military strategy. You look at a situation and you decide what kind of political end state you want to achieve. Then you decide if you can formulate a feasible military objective that can accomplish the policy aim. Next you determine the adversary’s center of gravity, which is the thing (or collection of things) he can use to thwart your military plan, and the thing you have to defeat. Only when you’ve done those things do you begin to calculate how many troops you need to accomplish the mission, and after that you start working details like logistics.

But with our Bananastan strategy, we started with logistics and worked our way backwards. In January 2009, the Washington Post reported that the Army was already building $1.1 billion worth of Fort Palookas in Afghanistan to accommodate additional troops, and planned to begin spending an additional $1.3 billion on construction in 2010. That money started queuing up at the hopper well before McKiernan’s request for 30,000 additional troops became public. It’s a cherished military stratagem: throw bad seed money at whatever hooliganism you want; then Congress has to throw good money after it or be labeled as “weak on national security.”

Gates’s bull feather merchants had been making a show of working on a Bananastan strategy when they decided to let the stink roll uphill for a change. As the Post reported, they began “looking for Obama to resolve critical internal debates.” That’s a traditional military leadership technique known in the trenches as “the buck stops there.”

The White House national security team—laughably described by Robert Dreyfus in a recent Rolling Stone article as “Obama’s chess masters”—unveiled a white paper describing its new Bananastan strategy in late March. National Security Adviser James Jones and the rest of the chess club based their plan on “realistic and achievable” objectives that are fantastic and unattainable. We cannot, as they suggest, make stable governments in Afghanistan or Pakistan. “Increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces” is a pipe dream that, even if it comes true, would simply give us one more armed outfit in the region that we can’t control. Their initiative for “involving the international community” makes one wonder if they’ve been paying attention at all. To hear Gates tell it, everything that’s gone wrong in the Bananastans is NATO’s fault, so why would we want more international involvement?

The most delusional aspect of the new strategy is its “core goal,” which is to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its safe havens.” Modern terrorists need safe havens like dolphins need power tools. The only sanctuary they need to plan and coordinate their operations is a pocket large enough to conceal an iPhone.

The white paper makes no mention of centers of gravity, critical strengths and vulnerabilities, measures of effectiveness, decisive points, courses of action, lines of operations, or any other term that belongs in a proper strategy involving military action. It contains a host of trendy platitudes about a “new way of thinking” and “building a clear consensus.” The paper even has talk of bringing non-military forms of power to bear, as if that’s something new. Information, diplomacy and economy were key elements of warfare long before Thucydides and Sun Tsu wrote on the subject around 400 BCE. And make no mistake; when a foreign policy action involves shooting people and blowing things up, it’s not “economic assistance” or “education and training.” It’s “war.”

When a strategy’s aphorisms morph into non-sequiturs, you know none of the think tankers involved with the project was doing any thinking, new or otherwise. “A strategic communications program must be created, made more effective, and resourced,” the chess set tells us in its white paper. I wonder which they’ll do first: create the program or make it more effective.

I’ve said before that in order to put an end to the American security state, Obama needs to order every military officer from the full bird level up to retire. It is now clear that he also needs to purge the defense apparatus of its thundering flock of foreign policy wonks. It may be that the generals and tank thinkers driving our ship of state will drop dead from brain hemorrhage before they make America the latest superpower to embalm itself in Afghanistan, but don't count on it.

I doubt if Obama will do what needs to be done. Look on the bright side, though. Athens produced most of the art and philosophy that defined western civilization only after it lost its wars with Persia and Sparta, so maybe America can still become Ronald Reagan's "shining city upon a hill.”

If we do, we’ll need a new generation of strategists who know that it’s better to charge down a hill than up one.

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.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Anchors A-waste

The U.S. Navy is fumbling a blue and golden opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of its maritime global reach capability (and justify its phony baloney budget) in the age of fourth generation warfare. Admiral Gary Roughead, who as Chief of Naval Operations is the service’s senior officer, says sea power is not sufficient to combat the Somali pirate threat. "Pirates don't live at sea,” he recently told reporters at a Navy League conference. “They live ashore. They move their money ashore. You can't have a discussion about eradicating piracy without having a discussion about the shore dimension."

A mind that astute could only have been shaped at the United States Naval Academy. Yeah, Gary: all of Yamamoto’s people lived ashore too, but you didn’t get to bomb their homeland until you sank their fleet.

In an April 18 NPR interview, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the pirate problem “It’s not just a military solution here.” As you’d probably guess, Mullen is also a USNA grad. It’s never just a military solution, Mike. Even World War II involved economy, diplomacy, information and other forms of soft power.

The Navy will never again have a peer competitor like the Imperial Japanese Fleet to contend with for control of the great oceans, and it has been so desperate to play a role in the war on ism that it plucked career aviators out of shore duty assignments to deploy to Iraq as part of Army counter-explosive teams. Yet, incredibly, when faced with the prospect of having to counter the only maritime threat in existence—teenage pirates—the top naval officers in our land flip their palms skyward and whine, “It’s not our job.”

It’s time to start asking why we have a navy.

Only once in a month of blue moons do I rest an argument on my expertise and authority. But as I’ve said before, two carrier strike groups—with their self-contained airborne early warning, fixed wing surface search, rotary wing lift, special forces, surface combatant and command and control capabilities—could, properly employed, shut down the pirate pranks faster than you can say Arr, Jim Boy. Anybody who tells you otherwise is wrong.

Using carrier strike groups to battle teenage pirates sounds like overkill, but what better things have the carriers got to do? Blow the smithereens out of Afghan civilians? Do manly air-to-air combat with Taliban MiGs? Oh, that’s right…the Taliban doesn’t have any MiGs. It doesn’t have an air force at all, or a navy, for that matter. It can barely be said to have an army, even though it’s doing a pretty good job of mopping up in Pakistan.

The argument that carriers are too expensive to use against teenage pirates is specious. We always have at least two carrier groups deployed, peacetime or wartime. They’ll cost just as much chasing pirates as they do drilling holes in the sea and sky.

Emblematic of our national security state is that even though aircraft carriers presently contribute goose eggs to our national security, Congress has approved the purchase of a new class of aircraft carrier that will cost twice as much to make as the old class. The Navy justifies the additional up front cost with the promise of future savings in operating and maintenance costs. When the future arrives, of course, the savings will have will have vanished like the apple pies on Aunt Polly’s windowsill. To make things even more preposterous, the new class of carriers will be named after Gerald R. Ford. What, they had to settle for Ford because Mad magazine wouldn’t give up the copyright to Alfred E. Neuman? I suppose if they ever get their cockamamie flying submarine off the drawing board they’ll name it after Joe Lieberman.

Events at sea are only relevant as they affect events on land; but Broadhead, Mullen and those who think like them are asserting that we need to send force ashore to affect events at sea. An April 13 Bloomberg story reported that the U.S. military was considering “attacks on Somali pirates’ land bases.” Neocon tank thinker James Carafano says, “There really isn’t a silver-bullet solution other than going into Somalia and rooting out the bases.”

The problem with all this talk of rooting out pirate bases with silver bullets is that modern pirates need “bases” like modern terrorists need “sanctuary.” Today’s evildoers, fanatic or piratical, can plan, direct and finance their operations from an iPhone. Good luck rooting out all those things with preemptive deterrence.

Exploiting an opportunity to resolve a national security issue at sea avoids a host of difficulties associated with use of force in a sovereign nation. Navies have an inherent right to occupy international waters, whereas armies have to jump through a jungle of legal and moral hoops to pitch tents in somebody else’s campground. Invading another nation requires a declaration (or capitulation) some sort from Congress and it’s a good idea to get a mandate from the U.N. too. Laws are already in place for combating piracy.

You don’t need to get the New York Times to print a phony baloney reason why it’s important to fight pirates. It doesn’t matter if pirates were or weren’t involved in 9/11 or what they are or aren’t up to with their nuclear program. You can whack them just because they’re pirates committing piracy. There’s a very low risk of collateral damage from a Navy sniper shooting a handful of pirates in a dingy. Compare that to the risks involved when you carpet bomb a Somali village on the chance that the head assistant evil one you’re targeting showed up for the wedding like your bad intelligence said he was going to.

Of course, the top brass may not consider teenage pirates much of a threat to national security after all. Mullen says it’s up to merchants to pay for their own protection, but they don’t want to do that "because it costs them too much money." If they don’t want to hire Blackwater to guard their ships, let ‘em go fish, eh Mikey?

That makes a certain amount of sense except that Mullen also says “it's about what the international community is going to do with respect to Somalia. So Mullen wants to have a sort of Global War on Piracy (GWOP), I guess. Funny how we go it alone when we want to but it takes a global village when we don’t.

And if Mullen doesn’t give a sailor’s first night in port whether we deal with the teenage pirate threat or not, how come he told the pod people who host ABC’s Good Morning America that the military has initiated a review to look "broadly and widely and deeply" at the pirate problem. "We've actually been focused on this issue for some period of time and set up a task force out in that part of the world last fall," he told the pod people. "We've had a focus on it,” he said. The pod people nodded. “There are many, many people working on it right now,” he said. The pod people smiled.

I wonder if Mullen’s nose popped out of joint when Smart Power poster girl Hillary Clinton announced that she too had been broadly and widely and deeply looking at this issue for some period of time, and that many, many people in her State Department were also working on it. Between DoD and DoS, it sounds like many, many, people indeed are focusing on a solution to what Hillary, old salt that she is, calls the “scourge of piracy.”

A committee that size is guaranteed to come up with a counter-piracy strategy that looks like something along the lines of a seagoing giraffe.

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.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Dumb Like a Maliki?

Remember when we all thought Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Malachi was just another Ahmed Pyle fresh off the bus from Palookadad? Now look at him: he’s a Machiavelli-class political operative, the head of a propped up state who just told his masters to drive it up their exit ramps by demanding that they honor the Status of Forces Agreement whether they like it or not.

Keep in mind, though, that in 1980 Saddam Hussein sentenced Maliki to death. Now Saddam Hussein has been sentenced to death and executed, and Maliki has his job. How about them apples? Maliki is so powerful today, in fact, that he may be the only political figure who can help Barack Obama—the head of state of the most powerful nation in history—out of the crack he’s wiggled himself into.

The warmongery that controls the Pentagon and Congress never did take any of that Iraq withdrawal timeline jive seriously. Defense secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen, National Security Adviser James Jones, “King David” Petraeus and Ray “Desert Ox” Odierno are all on record as having said withdrawal timelines are a bad idea. Odierno has, through Petraeus publicist Tom Ricks, broadly expressed his desire to see 35,000 or more troops in Iraq through 2015, Status of Forces Agreement and Obama campaign promises be damned. Early in April, Odierno put out the word that he might ignore the June 30 deadline for U.S. troops to leave Iraqi cities, and it looked like another domino was about to drop in the Pentagon’s “hell no, we won’t go” strategy. Then Maliki said “not so fast,” and told Babe Odierno to have his troops out of Mosul and the rest of the cities by the end of June and that they couldn’t go back without a hall pass.

Two aspects of this event should shock every American. First is that Odierno, who is four levels down in the chain of command (under Obama, Gates and Petraeus) announced he might unilaterally abrogate an occupation arrangement agreed to at a level higher than his. Second, and perhaps more alarming, is that the only guy who threw the bull plop flag about it was the prime minister of the occupied country. Nobody in the White House or Congress did anything but put palm prints on the seats of their pants. The military’s take over of America is now so complete that the Buck Turgidsons and Jack D. Rippers can do whatever they want and the rest of the body politic demurs as if it’s the Pentagon’s Constitutional right to dictate policy to the executive and the legislature.

There’s one political journalist, though, who’s willing to pretend the Obama administration hasn’t been rolled flat by the military industrial cash caisson. With his article in the May 14 edition of Rolling Stone, Robert Dreyfus has become for Team Obama what Tom Ricks is for Team Petraeus and what Joseph Goebbels was for you-know-who. “Obama’s Chess Masters” is as a stunning a piece of White House propaganda as anything Dick Cheney’s minions ever filtered through the New York Times. “The president has assembled a trusted circle of advisers to oversee all aspects of national security from the White House,” Dreyfus blares in the lede. “It’s the most centralized decision-making I’ve ever seen,” one source tells him. G.W. Bush let Cheney and Rummy run the show and make all the decisions, Dreyfus reports, but not Obama. No sir. Obama is the, uh…decider in this administration.

Dreyfus manages to make Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller of the New York Times look like real journalists in comparison. His sources include “a well-connected defense and intelligence consultant,” “a senior Capitol Hill staffer,” “an insider,” “several insiders,” “one veteran of both the State Department and the Pentagon” and—perhaps the most credible voice in the article—“the Washington rumor mill.”

The piece’s named sources are so blatantly sleeping in the commander in chief’s tent that Dreyfus might as well have just asked Michelle who she thought was running the show. Leslie Gelb, who hasn’t been right about a single aspect of U.S. foreign policy from Vietnam on, avows that, “They’re making decisions there, at the White House. On everything.” Dreyfus paints National Security Adviser Jones as the kind of hard-boiled hawk the neocons better not mess with. “He’s pro nuclear” Dreyfus relates. “He likes oil drilling.” As if those right wing crackers credentials weren’t sufficiently malignant, Dreyfus throws in “He was on the boards of Boeing and Chevron.” Shudder.

William Cohen, whose chief accomplishment as Bill Clinton’s defense secretary was to hide in his office while his generals cocked up the Kosovo War, testifies that during his tenure he wanted James Jones on his team because “he knew where the bodies were buried, and I wanted to make sure that mine wasn’t among them.” It sounds like Cohen is still afraid enough of Jones to play ball with Obama’s spin merchants and make the guy sound like a Cheney-class leg breaker. Scary, huh kids?

From Dreyfus himself (supposedly) we hear that “The foreign policy vision that animates Obama and his team might be described best as a ‘Goldilocks’ approach: not too hot, not too cold. It’s a just-right philosophy.” Jesus, Larry and Curly. Do you think they had to waterboard Dreyfus to get him to paste that piffle into the article?

All this smoke about Obama’s national security team being large and in charge would be well and good except that they’ve already revealed themselves to be a team of bus riding Bozos. Their most spectacular pratfall has been their mumbling, bumbling, tumbling, fumbling Bananastan strategy. Get this:

During the campaign, Obama screws up and says that whatever success the surge in Iraq might have had (it really had none), it got in the way of putting enough troops into Afghanistan to “get the job done.” The Pentagon’s long war mafia chortles with glee, and the next thing you know, David McKiernan, the general in charge of the Bananastan bungle, says he needs at least 30,000 more troops for five more years or so. Gates and Mullen and the Joint Chiefs say, Yeah, yeah, he really, really needs those troops, give them to him, okay? So Obama asks the Joint Chiefs what they see as the “end game” in Afghanistan and they start staring at something a thousand yards behind Obama’s head. Obama calls McKiernan in Afghanistan and asks him what he plans to do with the 30,000 extra troops and McKiernan says, “Hey, somebody’s at the door.”

Then Obama hunkers down with his chess club, and they decide that the best compromise between doing nothing to doing something stupid is doing something half-baked. Obama agrees to send McKiernan a little over half the troops he wants—17,000—and tells his team to come up with a strategy for the generals who are apparently so busy fighting wars they can’t be bothered with planning them.

On March 17, Obama’s national security team releases the new strategy for the Bananastans; it’s an eye-watering compendium of fog, friction and humbug. It features an array of “realistic and achievable objectives,” none of which are realistic or achievable or particularly connected to national security.

The New York Times quoted “A dozen officials who were involved in the debate” as saying the new strategy does not involve nation building, even though its aims include things like “promoting a more capable, accountable, and effective government in Afghanistan” and “developing increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces” and “assisting efforts to enhance civilian control and stable constitutional government in Pakistan.” You know—nation building. The strategy also speaks of denying al Qaeda and other Islamofabulists “sanctuary” from which they can launch terror attacks. The notion that evildoers need a physical sanctuary is quainter than a tea cozy. Given the global proliferation of cheap communication equipment and even cheaper extremists eager to blow themselves to smithereens, the top terror guys can plan and execute attacks from a bleacher seat in the Himalayas or the Cannes Film Festival or the far side of the moon.

As Obama transitions from his 100-day honeymoon into his permanent bubble, I can’t help but wonder whether he knows he’s surrounded by fools and fanatics or if he’s been in the puzzle palace long enough now to have become as puzzled as everyone else in it.

Does he take what his loonies say seriously? I really want to think he puts on an elaborate show of listening to what they say, then shoos them out of the office, and calls up guys like al Maliki and says, “Listen, I need you to do me a favor.”

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.