Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Microsoft Scapegoat 1.0

The Pentagon’s lame-excuse directorate has a new reason why we’re not winning our woeful war on -ism.
The “Blame Cell,” in its various ad hoc and formal manifestations, has been successfully warding off culpability for the Defense Department’s failures since the Korean War. Our services’ graduate-level war college programs wax operatic about the brilliance of Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur’s amphibious invasion of the Inchon Peninsula that cut off the North Koreans’ lines of communication and forced them to retreat back above the 38th parallel.
But nobody at our citadels of war knowledge dares mention that El Supremo swiftly afterward snatched oops from the jaws of hurray by continuing to push up the peninsula and scaring the Chinese into joining in on the fun. Nor do our war scholars dwell on how many American boys were ground into hamburger in the ensuing trench warfare that went on for three years before the warring sides agreed to call it a draw. And no one responsible for preserving the military’s mythos openly discusses how Dugout Doug spent most of World War II sitting on his sharply creased rear end in Australia and then took the credit for winning the war in the Pacific that rightly belonged to Adm. Chester Nimitz.
Even more Orwellian is the crying noise the five-sided playpen and its military-industrial-congressional complex allies make to this day about Vietnam. We could have won in Vietnam, the narrative goes, if only the liberal media and the long-haired freaky people had given the military brass more time and more resources. Never mind that we gave military brass over a decade and, at one point, a surge of over a half-million troops to “get the job done.”
The bull feather merchants are maintaining the same traditions in their campaign to shirk accountability for the dismal state of our conflicts in Iraq and the Bananastans. Like MacArthur before him, “King David” Petraeus is lionized as a military genius and considered a potential GOP candidate for president, this despite the fact that his generalship has transformed the western half of Asia into a perpetual exploding cigar. The myth that the Iraq surge accomplished anything persists like the villain in a horror flick franchise, and even after two troop escalations, Pavlov’s dogs of warcontinue to claim our hunting trip in Afghanistan can only be won if it’s properly resourced.
Our mainstream media, the once mighty fourth estate that helped end the Vietnam disaster, doesn’t dare press the Pentagon too hard on its Iraq and Af-Pak shenanigans for fear of being accused of losing another war. It was in this light that the New York Times, the paper so complicit in helping Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld sell the invasion of Iraq with disinformation and covert propaganda, published an April 26 story by the round-heeled Elisabeth Bumiller titled “We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint.”
Marine Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, says that “PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Bumiller reports. Brig. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who secured the northern Iraqi city Tal Afar in 2005, tells Bumiller that PowerPoint amounts to a “dangerous” internal threat because “it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control.”
Hapless Bumiller asserts, “No one is suggesting that PowerPoint is to blame for mistakes in the current war.” Heavens to Murgatroyd, Betsy. Stupidity and illusions of understanding and control are precisely what have caused our mistakes in Iraq and Af-Pak, and if two high-visibility generals say PowerPoint makes us stupid and delusional, then they’re blaming PowerPoint for the stupid mistakes in our current stupid war.
But for the generals to blame PowerPoint for our stupidity and delusions is, well, stupid and delusional.
McMaster told Bumiller, “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.” While that’s true, the same sorts of problems tend not to be essay-sizable or even book-lengthable. Let’s take, for example, the cornerstone document of our Iraq and Af-Pak strategies, the “new” field manual on counterinsurgency (FM 3-24) that Petraeus supposedly wrote.
No piece of literature can convey much if nobody can absorb it. Language is a subjective art, and levels of literacy are hard to define, but I regularly read the likes of Proust, Joyce, Faulkner, and even Clausewitz, and after 15 minutes of perusing the counterinsurgency manual I need surgical tweezers to pick the fine shards of broken glass from my eyeballs. The manual’s critical weakness, though, is what it actually says once you take a fire hose to its dense, prolix jargon. To conduct a successful counterinsurgency operation, the manual insists, requires the host nation to have a reliable and legitimate government, security force, and intelligence apparatus. We’ll never see any of those things in Iraq or the Bananastans, at least not as long as we’re there. But the crux of the counterinsurgency doctrine’s March hare mentality lies in a core tenet of political science that says if your host nation has a reliable and legitimate government, security force, and intelligence apparatus, it doesn’t have an insurgency on its hands and you don’t need to be there.
Nothing so clearly illustrates the intellectual and moral bankruptcy that produced the likes of MacArthur and Petraeus as the Bumiller-echoed complaints by our top generals that their inanity and lack of connection with reality are the fault of presentation software.
If anything, bullet-izing military issues is in keeping with a sound principle of warfare that the Pentagon seems to have ignored for over half a decade: simplicity. The April 2010 report to Congress on Afghanistan prepared by unidentified henchmen of Gen. Stanley McChrystal is 150 pages of gobbledygook that could have been far better stated with a single elegant PowerPoint slide:
  •  Our Objectives Are Unachievable
  •  Our Strategy Is Hallucinatory
  •  This War Has Nothing to Do With National Security Whatsoever
  •  Find and Execute Face-Saving Exit Plan ASAP!!!
Originally posted @ Antiwar.com.


  1. I'd never heard of the Bumiller person before reading about her today. She sounds lovely - so clear headed and rational. PowerPoint is obviously the problem here. And here was me thinking that it was only used to put people to sleep during staff meetings and presentations.

    Do the "-ists" know about this?

    But listening to McChrystal or reading what he's said leaves me with that shards-of-glass-in-the-eyeballs feeling, too. Chomsky would have a field day with his misuse of words and destruction of the language. The only conclusion I can come to is that he thinks that way, too. That's really frightening.

    (Sleep deprivation? Low blood sugar? Toxic buildup of the waste products from muscle breakdown due to overexercise? All of the above? Would that look better bulleted on a PP slide?)

    Meanwhile, the 143rd Canadian soldier was just killed in an explosion near Kandahar.

    "Petty Officer Second Class Craig Blake, 37, serving with the Fleet Diving Unit Atlantic, based in Halifax, had recently arrived in Afghanistan to serve as part of a team that defuses IEDs, the Taliban’s weapon of choice against foreign soldiers."

    So, they sent an underwater explosives expert to Afghanistan. He'd just dismantled one IED but was blown up on his way back by another one. Must be a lot of them around since McChrystal announced his "first we take Marjah then we take Kandahar" strategy several months ago. Gives them plenty of time to get ready.

    He had a wife and two kids. All that, and for what?

    And our Department of Defence doesn't say how many are injured in each explosion or firefight any more. It might give the impression that things are going badly. The injured are relegated to a statistic given out at the end of the year. Unless they die. Then we hear about it.

    As Andrew Bacevich said on Bill Moyers a couple of weeks ago:

    "It is the longest war in American history. And it is a war for which there is no end in sight. And to my mind, it is a war that is utterly devoid of strategic purpose. And the fact that that gets so little attention from our political leaders, from the press or from our fellow citizens, I think is simply appalling, especially when you consider the amount of money we're spending over there and the lives that are being lost whether American or Afghan."

    Or Canadian. Damn.

    Sorry for going on and on. I'm lousy on Twitter.

  2. They might as well blame Microsoft Excel for all the money they've pissed away.

    Great stuff, as usual, but I have to ask, why does an exit plan *require* a face-saving component? Why can't they just say something like, "Well, it looks like this isn't working out, and it's too expensive to boot, so let's bail." Clean up the mines, strew the land with Hershey's kisses, and air-drop some pallets of that free Chinese money by way of reparations. (Then run like hell.)

    Are Americans really such children that they can't face the prospect of failure? Or do our leaders just assume that? If they'd just talk to us like adults for once, they might be surprised at the reception.

  3. Excellent Excel joke, JP!

    As to the question are Americans such children...

    Look at photos of the Teabagger rallies.

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  9. Anonymous9:09 PM

    Curtis Le May won the Pacific Theater.

    The Navy merely made amphibious warfare an expensive tribute to a photographer on Iwo Jima and the carrier battles were as important to winning as Trafalgar was to bringnig about Waterloo.

    Now, setting Le May up on Tinian was a good job for the Navy, so the Air Corps and Oppenheimer's little gems could win the war.

    Le May also had the Reds on the ropes in Europe so that NATO and reconstruction could set up the now bankrupt EU.

    Air Corps all the way!

  10. He won the Cold War too, didn't he?

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  12. Yeah, well, it's too bad it is just a joke. The preponderance of the budgetary evidence strongly suggests that no one in the Pentagon has ever seen a spreadsheet, much less used one.

  13. Anonymous6:50 PM


    Lots of people see spreadsheets,

    The last time I asked if anything on the spreadsheet was true I was counselled for no being ateam player.

    They know spreadsheets are things to make lies look real.

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