Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Measures of Ineffectiveness

Like most sound tenets of military art, the concepts of "objective" and "measures of effectiveness" have been corrupted by America’s present military leadership.

At his Senate confirmation hearing in June 2009, then-Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal promised the Armed Services Committee he would execute a "holistic" strategy in Afghanistan, and that “the measure of effectiveness will not be the number of enemy killed, it will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence.” In the first three months of 2010, deaths of Afghan civilians at the hands of NATO troops more than doubled over the record posted during the same period last year by Gen. David McKiernan, who was unceremoniously transferred to Fort Palooka to make room for "King David" Petraeus protégé McChrystal.

McChrystal also stated at his Senate hearing that his definition of "success" would be "a complete elimination of al-Qaeda" from Afghanistan and Pakistan. In October 2009, National Security Adviser James Jones said that al-Qaeda in Afghanistan had been contained and that fewer than 100 members remained in the country. You’d think that, with all his air strikes and night commando raids that have been "accidentally" killing all these civilians, McChrystal could have eliminated 100 contained bad guys by now, but he hasn’t. According to U.S. military intelligence, there are fewer than 300 al-Qaediers in Pakistan. Between us and our little buddies in the Afghan and Pakistani security forces, we outnumber al-Qaeda exponentially, yet we can’t put them away: They’re harder to kill off than Freddy Krueger.

Much of the problem, of course, lies in the aforementioned "little buddies." The AfPak strategy that President Obama’s "chess masters" belched out in March 2009 delineated "realistic and achievable objectives" of manufacturing stable, legitimate governments and competent, trustworthy security forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ensuing year has proven that these goals were neither realistic nor achievable, and that they never will be. Yet we continue to pursue them.

The objective of our Iraq surge, when we launched it in January 2007, was to create asecure environment that would allow for political reconciliation among Iraq’s religious and ethnic factions. King David realized he couldn’t possibly effect reconciliation among people who had hated each other for generations, so he pulled a new twist on the oldVietnam body-count ploy. Instead of using increasing numbers of the enemy casualties as a measure of effectiveness, he reported decreasing numbers of U.S. and Iraqi civilian casualties, statistics he created the old-fashioned way: by manipulating them and lying about them. Months after Iraq’s latest purple-finger folly, the country still resembles an earthquake at a theme park. We may never extract ourselves from that quicksand dune.

Not surprisingly, our land power services don’t have a monopoly on the Pentagon’s pretzel-logic strategies.

Since its establishment in 1954, the Air Force has been on the tip of the sword at selling itself some space-age contraption or other that will revolutionize warfare and make land and sea power obsolete. Their latest Han Solo gizmo is something called Prompt Global Strike, a proposed addition to its conventional shock-and-awe tool kit that promises to reach any target on earth in 30 minutes. The Air Force says this trinket would greatly diminish our reliance on our nuclear arsenal, but it doesn’t say how, which isn’t surprising. A supersonic global-reach missile without a nuke on its nose is little more than a multi-billion dollar bottle rocket. There’s buck for your bang, huh?

Packaging Prompt Global Strike as a counterterrorism weapon, Pentagon bull-feather merchants also tell us it would be so freaking cool to have if we got, like, good intelligence on where Osama bin Laden is, you know? And then we could whack him real fast. Never mind that we haven’t had good intelligence on where Osama bin Laden is in about a decade. The only thing Prompt Global Strike is likely to do in the counter-terror realm is blow up Muslim weddings that our intelligence weenies mistake for evildoer reunions, and heck, the stuff we have in the arsenal now is already doing a damn fine job of that.

Air Force Gen. Kevin P. Chilton, head of U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), says we can presently bomb a Muslim wedding within "several hours" of a president’s decision to do so, but he doesn’t think that’s fast enough. Well, the Air Force has always been about dropping bombs on meaningless targets or the wrong ones, so Prompt Global Strike proponents are at least being consistent with their service’s cherished traditions.

The Navy, on the other hand, whose traditional role is control of the seas, doesn’t care to do that job anymore.

After yo-ho-hoing to high heaven about how tough it is at fighting teenage Somali pirates– a poster prominently displayed on naval bases these days boasts "Sea piracy is alive but not exactly well" – the Navy now says buccaneer-spanking is too big a job for it to handle.Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, the top naval commander for Europe and Africa, says, "I don’t think we can sustain the level of operation." The Navy has 10 ships working the operation at any given time. Now I’m here to tell you: the U.S. Navy has a boatload more ships than 10. The Navy only has 10 aircraft carriers, but none of them are one of the 10 ships chasing baby pirates around the Indian Ocean.

A single carrier and its air wing and escorts, with their fixed-wing surveillance, vertical lift, special operations, logistics, and communications capabilities, could shut down Indian Ocean piracy faster than you can say, "Arr, Jim, boy!" If the tactical gurus on active duty now can’t figure out how to do that, I’ll be happy to show them for a nominal consulting fee.*

Half of the carriers are in the yards for repair at any give time (more buck for the bang), but we’ve had two or three of the beastly things deployed as part of the "peacetime" deployment rotation since my first skipper was an ensign. Why can’t one of them work the pirate problem? Fitzgerald, who somewhat resembles Gen. Jack D. Ripper in Doctor Strangelove, explains that such a move would "deprive the global fleet of precious resources." What our precious global aircraft carriers are doing Fitzgerald didn’t say, but I will: They’re helping the Air Force bomb Muslim weddings.

The only national security threat from any theater our forces are operating in now is thepoppy crop in Afghanistan, but our troops there have been ordered not to destroy it for fear of upsetting locals like President Hamid Karzai’s drug lord brother Ahmed.

At the rate it’s going, the only way the Department of Defense will ever deliver an effective bang for the bloated buck we feed it is if it turns over all its personnel and assets to the Department of the Interior to fix our national infrastructure.

How soon do you reckon that will happen?

*As partial consideration, a certain admiral would have to kiss my bare bottom in broad daylight on the corner of Coronado Avenue and 1st Street where the Mexican Village restaurant used to be and give me 20 minutes to draw a crowd.

Originally posted @ Antiwar.com.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Heart of McDarkness

"We must incinerate them."

-- Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now

The latest bunker mentality bunk to emanate from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, is that he has too many civilian contractors hoofing around on his turf. Back in June 2009, a "civilian surge" was a key component of his strategy. What made him change his mind?

Maybe his attitude adjustment has something to do with the recent announcement that five former Blackwater employees, including former president Gary Jackson and former vice-presidents William M. Mathews Jr. and Ana Bundy, have been indicted on charges of illegally obtaining automatic weapons and then lying about it. Also indicted was former Blackwater general counsel Andrew Howell. Some general counsel he turned out to be: Your honor, my clients maintain that the weapons in question only become automatic after their triggers are held in the firing position for a specified interval, therefore…

Mercenary icon Blackwater has been in legal extremis for some time. The five Blackwater Barts who went to trial in a U.S. district court for slaughtering Iraqi civilians in a 2007 incident recently got off, but only on a technicality; the prosecutor, Kenneth Kohl, did a header from the high board into the canvas by basing his case on evidence he knew would be thrown out.

Blackwater’s Afghanistan rap sheet is equally abysmal. As reported in March by Tim McGlone of the Tidewater Virginian Pilot, recently released documents show the company’s employees and their supervisors in Afghanistan are "running amok – drinking heavily, using weapons without permission, and ignoring Army protocol. " This dysfunctional environment led to the shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians by a pair of Blackwater "workers" who, prior to becoming freelance gunslingers, received other-than-honorable discharges from the U.S. military (which answers the eternal question "where do we find such men?").

Blackwater co-founder Erik Prince is a one-man rogues’ gallery. A born again self-styled soldier of fortune and son of a wealthy and influential Republican, Prince has become the G. Gordon Liddy of his generation. He has redefined "conflict of interest," acting as a participant in a CIA assassination program even as his company provided the CIA with rent-a-goons to pull jobs too dirty for even the CIA to touch.

Former Blackwater employees have filed sworn statements in federal court alleging Prince’s involvement in a host of other sinfulness: money laundering, tax evasion, using his private airplanes to run illegal guns, deceiving the State Department and other federal agencies, destroying evidence, involvement with murdering Blackwater employees who planned to provide authorities with incriminating evidence against him, and making threats of death and violence against anyone else who might be thinking about ratting him out. The affidavits assert that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." Allegations also include Prince of running wife-swapping and child-prostitution rings. That Blackwater is accused of bribing Iraqi officials hardly seems worth mentioning.

It is worth noting that Blackwater is hardly the only mercenary outfit knocking down a piece of our woebegone war on -ism, although the company has scammed so many government contracts through paper subsidiaries that it’s difficult to tell which Murder Inc. is attached to Blackwater and which isn’t.

Blackwater’s importance is that it has been at the center of an off-the-books, outside-the-chain-of-command, and outright illegal slaughter-for-dollars operation. What’s more vital to understand, though, is that McChrystal, who now acts shocked, shocked to discover we have so many civilian contractors in his theater of operations, has been thick as a tick with all of them for a long freaking time. He was freaking commander of the freaking Joint Special Operations Command from 2003 to 2008, for five freaking years, and he didn’t just bump into the freaking mercenary hooligans from time to time, he was in freaking charge of them, and he used them to blow people away on the say-so of Dick Freaking Cheney. McChrystal is Col. Kurtz come to life and promoted to a four-star level of monstrosity.

McChrystal has also recently cried another river of crocodile tears about those poor Afghan and Pakistani kids and their moms who keep getting collaterally damaged by all the air strikes and ninja raids he’s been ordering. McChrystal has been blowing the "measure of effectiveness is civilians protected" ditty out his kazoo since his Senate confirmation hearing in June 2009, yet the most visible thing he’s done as commander in AfPak is kill civilians. Despite Pentagon rhetoric that says the key to success in Afghanistan is winning the hearts and minds of the locals, the number of Afghan civilians killed by NATO troops has doubled this year (that’s according to NATO’s own statistics, by the way).

Every time civilian casualty counts spike, McChrystal makes a Muppet show of doing something about it. He says he’s going to throttle back on the air strikes but really doesn’t, then he says he’s going to clamp down on the night raids but really doesn’t do that either. Now, he says he’s going to "review" the rules of engagement, which won’t do a pig’s moo worth of good. No matter how thoroughly he reviews the ROE, he can’t change the part that not only allows but demands that our troops defend themselves, and when the other guys start shooting, the only way for our guys to defend themselves is to shoot back.

I keep wondering how long McChrystal is going to get away with talking out both sides of his mouth, and then I remember: he’s the handpicked general of the current war president and the protégé of "King David" Petraeus, the handpicked general of the previous war president. Then I flash on Bill Murray as "Big Ernie" McCracken at the end of the film Kingpin as he maniacally shrieks, "I can do anything I want… Big Ern is above the law… what do I care?"

Lamentably, fellow citizens, the war in Afghanistan is the center of gravity of U.S. foreign policy and will be for entirely too long. "Stan the Man" McChrystal is our national heart of darkness, and his vacant, gaunt smirk is the face – or rather the two faces – of America itself.

Originally posted @ Antiwar.com

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

COIN of the Realm

The short version of an old joke about U.S. defense spending goes like this:

An overweight nuclear submarine skipper baffles the congressional defense appropriations subcommittees with a line of technical gobbledygook Einstein wouldn’t understand, and the subcommittees give the Navy whatever it wants. A short, bald fighter pilot feeds the subcommittees a ration of dwarfed egotism and threatens to defile their daughters, and the subcommittees give the Air Force whatever it wants. Then a fit, ruggedly handsome infantry officer tells the subcommittees in modest, straightforward language what he needs to win the wars they send him off to fight, and the subcommittees give the Army nothing.

That was back before counterinsurgency became the (ahem) COIN of the realm.

In the good old days, the Cold War days, the Army’s main function was to get slaughtered in the Fulda Gap while the Navy and Air Force deep struck the Soviets into surrendering. The "blue" services dominated the defense budget with high tech, big-ticket weapons designed to defeat the Soviets’ maritime forces and air defenses. That the Soviets’ maritime forces and air defenses didn’t work worth a pig’s wings didn’t matter; their mere existence served as a sufficient stratagem to keep us in a wartime economy for over a half century.

When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down in 1989, Pentagon brass began scrambling for a way to protect their phony-baloney jobs. The next year, Air Force stealth bombers and Navy land-attack cruise missiles stole the show in Operation Desert Storm. By the time the "red" services (Army and Marine Corps) began the ground operation, the war was virtually over. Big Daddy Bush declared the peace dividend and the inter-service budget rivalry kicked into high gear – between the Navy and the Air Force, that is. Land power became such a rusty barrel in the nation’s arsenal that by the time of the Kosovo War (1998-1999) it was wholly irrelevant. The Kosovo War was the first American armed conflict commanded by an Army general (Wesley Clark) that was won with naval and air power alone – sort of.

Including naval power in the equation may be a tad kind. The Bad Guy’s navy stayed tied to the pier, and for good reason; it was a collection of rust buckets that would have sunk from natural causes before they made it out of port. Our Navy’s contribution in Kosovo was to augment the coalition’s air power effort with carrier-based sorties and cruise missile strikes launched from cruisers, destroyers, and submarines.

To call the termination of the Kosovo War a "victory" for us is to waterboard the English language. Bad Guy didn’t give up until he had slaughtered as much of his ethnic population as he felt like, and keeping him from doing that was our flimsy excuse for going to war against him, so what did we actually win?

The strategic objective became moot, however, once the campaign got underway and the real goal became to see which service could "service" (i.e., blow the bejeezus out of) the most targets in the most economical, friendly-casualty minimized manner, and who could get the most favorable coverage from the foreign and domestic news media.

The budget wars between the blue services raged on while the red (land power) branches skulked into the sunset. The Air Force and Navy came up with Madison Avenue-sounding doctrines to make themselves seem even sexier than they already were. Network-Centric Warfare and Shock and Awe became the cornerstones of the Defense Department’s Revolution in Military Affairs, a murky dogma that insisted the future of American security relied upon an array of big-ticket gizmology.

Everything was smooth sailing for the military-industrial juggernaut, and then… We invaded Iraq and young Mr. Bush declared "mission accomplished" and everything turned into net-eccentric shuck and jive. First the Pentagon and its neoconservative masters claimed there was no insurgency in Iraq, then they allowed as how there might be an insurgency but it certainly wasn’t a civil war, a damn fool thing to say considering that it takes a platoon of mercenary philologists to distinguish a civil war from an insurgency.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld continued to insist his high-tech, low-footprint approach to the Iraq war had been correct (you go to war with a fraction of the Army you have, heh heh). But behind Rummy’s back, the REMFs (rear-echelon master finaglers) at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., began work on a new doctrine that would that would snatch the strategic rug out from under the space-age services and from Rummy himself.

In 2004, Dr. Conrad Crane led a collaboration that updated the Army’s 20-year-old field manual on counterinsurgency, even as Gen. David Petraeus, then in charge of training Iraqi security forces, was allowing upward of 200,000 AK-47 rifles and pistols to fall into the hands of militants, thus fueling the very insurgency he would later be falsely credited with defeating. When the final version of the "new" field manual hit the streets in December 2006, Petraeus’ publicity staff ensured he received credit for being the man who "wrote the book" on counterinsurgency, even though the only part of the manual he actually wrote was his signature at the bottom of the endorsing letter (and it wouldn’t surprise me if a forgery expert said the signature was as phony as everything else about Petraeus).

In January 2007, Petraeus took command in Iraq and of the "surge" strategy that would implement the born-again counterinsurgency doctrine. Marshaling his media minions in and out of uniform, "King David" managed to persuade most of America that the surge was a success by artificially lowering violence statistics through buying off the insurgents and cooking the figures. Petraeus hand-picked Special Operations assassination-ring leader Stanley McChrystal to repeat the success of the surge in Iraq, and Stan the Man has done exactly that – to disastrous consequence.

Three years and change after the surge began, Iraq still looks like a zoo after an earthquake. Its government and security forces are rife with laziness, incompetence, graft, cronyism, and nepotism. Violence levels in Iraq would be considered horrific if they existed in any Western country (Petraeus boasts that things have improved because there are only about 20 attacks on U.S. troops per day). The Kurdish issue will likely never be resolved, nor will the matter of oil revenues. Despite our efforts to keep Iran from becoming a regional superpower, its influence on Iraq will handily eclipse ours (it may already have). Iraqi democracy is a sham; Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears to be trying to steal back the recent election by pretending it was stolen from him.

U.S. commander in Iraq Ray "Desert Ox" Odierno considers these problems to be mere "tactical considerations" and says the election was "very much a success," but he’s still making boo noise about how we may not be able to stick to our withdrawal timeline. (Odie wants to see 30,000 or 35,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq through 2014 or so.)

Afghanistan is a blazing saddle that’s about to fry our national backside to a crisp. After brazenly stealing an election that we fecklessly stamped with our seal of approval, President Hamid Karzai has thrown us under the Hummer, accusing us of having been the ones who tried to rig the election against him. He now says that if we don’t stop interfering in Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgency will become a "legitimate resistance" movement.

In response, Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, our Bobbleheads of Defense and State respectively, went on the April 11 Sunday gab-athons to defend Karzai. Clinton said Karzai’s "outlandish claims" were "really unfortunate" but, she said that Karzai is under "enormous pressure" and that she sometimes wonders how "anybody can cope with the relentless stress" the poor, poor boy has been under.

Gates called Karzai’s remarks "troubling" but reassured us that "McChrystal gets very good cooperation out of President Karzai.” Sweet mother of pearl. What kind of cooperation is it when your ally calls your enemy a "legitimate resistance movement"?

Shock and Awe and Network-Centric Warfare gave us the false promise of easy conquest through gadgetry. COIN promises us nothing but a Long War foreign policy as concocted and conducted by fools and fanatics like Gates, Clinton, Petraeus, McChrystal, and Odierno.

Why do we follow such people?

A better question: why does the man we elected to be commander in chief tolerate them?

Originally posted @ Antiwar.com

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


To amend a line made immortal by Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip Pogo, we have met the evildoers and they are us. It would be nice to think that we managed to change the vector of American foreign policy with the 2008 elections, but the New American Century is still afloat and running full steam ahead. All we’ve done is trade Rumsfeldian arrogance for McChrystalline oiliness.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld derided his critics as "Henny Pennys" who saw the sky falling every time they pulled their heads out of their heinies. Rumsfeld was, of course, an abject disaster, a micromanaging bully who single-handedly ensured the Iraq excursion would turn into a cluster bomb by threatening, according to Brig. Gen. Mark Scheid, who was one of the original Iraqi Freedom planners, to "fire the next person" who suggested the military needed to plan an endgame for the war. As obvious a calamity as he was from the outset to discerning observers, Rummy managed to hang on to the SecDef slot for nearly six years, partly by surrounding himself with sycophants and cronies, partly by bullying the wimpy mainstream media, but mainly through the sponsorship of the then most powerful public figure on earth, his old pal Dick Cheney. Rumsfeld was so firmly entrenched in the top Pentagon spot that he only tasted Kiwi Parade Gloss after the GOP took a paddling in the 2006 election.

Rummy’s collision with the doorknob that hit him on the way out supposedly marked the end of the bad old days. The generals who told young Mr. Bush what he wanted to hear when he wanted to hear that we had enough troops in Iraq transferred along with Rummy to Platinum Parachute Command. A new crop of generals lined up behind "King David" Petraeus, who told young Bush the new thing he wanted to hear, which was that the Iraq war could be won if we sent more troops there.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, hand-picked by Petraeus to take over the war in Af-Pak, is a galaxy-class survivor who has managed to thrive under both Rumsfeld and his successor, Robert Gates. During the Rummy regime, McChrystal commanded the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a secretive outfit that journalist Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker described as an "executive assassination ring" that reported "directly to the Cheney office." JSOC’s functions, as Hersh put it, involved "going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them." McChrystal’s JSOC hijinks also involved extensive torture, murky connections with mercenary outfits like Blackwater, and use of questionable intelligence gained by private interests who gained government contracts through their connections with Defense Department official Michael D. Furlong.

Whether any of McChrystal’s whack ops killed or even targeted an actual terrorist is moot. We never seem to quite know for sure if our air attacks or night ground raids actually get the suspected terrorist they were going after, and we have little idea at all whether the suspect was actually a terrorist. Suspects wind up on the list based on the say-so of locals who are as suspect as the characters they finger; nobody on either side of the equation would pass for a solid citizen. We’re even iffy on just what the accuser said about the accused, because you can count the number of people who speak both Pashto and English and are brave or stupid enough to work for us on the fingers and teeth of a mockingbird.

McChrystal is singularly responsible for a significant slice of civilian casualties created by our Long War, which has accounted for exponentially more human suffering, death, and privation than did the 9/11 attacks. Moreover, McChrystal’s machinations over the four-and-a-half-years of his tenure at SOCOM were every bit as illegal and unsanctioned as any terrorist acts. Neither Dick Cheney nor any other vice president of the United States has any constitutional or legal role in the military chain of command whatsoever. If you think it’s remotely possible that McChrystal didn’t understand this, rethink. The guy’s had a law firm’s worth of JAG officers working for him since he was a measly one-star. If they were unaware of the illegality of the JSOC’s actions, they belong in the same prison cell McChrystal should be locked up in.

Then again, Stan the Man only eats one meal a day and only sleeps a few hours a night – his public relations team made sure the major media told us all about that – so maybe his lawyers told him that what he was doing was illegal, but he was so hungry and sleep-deprived he forgot. He may have an even better excuse than that. James Petras, the widely published professor emeritus of sociology at Bingham University, describes McChrystal as "the most notorious of the psychopaths" in Delta Force, which is saying something. The Army’s elite special ops outfit is a veritable mental-case assembly line. I’m inclined to agree with Petras’ assessment, though I’m not certain how it distinguishes McManiac from the vast majority of the rest of our generals and admirals.

Another talent McChrystal shares with most of his fellow brass hats is his ability to talk out both sides of his mouth. At his confirmation hearing in June 2009 he told the Senate that "the measure of effectiveness will not be enemy killed. It will be the number of Afghans shielded from violence." Then, in his first act as commander of the Af-Pak theater of operations, he launched an offensive designed to kill the enemy. Ever since, he and his propaganda directorate have fed us the same line about trying to limit civilian casualties even as he orders strikes and offensives that have proven to be surefire formulas for wreaking death and destruction on civilian populations.

Even Rumsfeld, as bull-goose loony as he was, recognized at some level, if even only dimly, that our tactics and strategy were creating more terrorists than they were killing. It’s hard to say if McChrystal is aware of that, dimly or otherwise, or of any other aspect of reality, to be frank about it.

At a March video conference with troops in the field, McChrystal flat out admitted, "We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat." I’d love to have seen the McSmirk he had on his face when he said that.

Ultimately, whether he qualifies for a section 8 discharge or is merely an amoral leader of the world’s best-funded death squad, he’s ensuring that David Petraeus’ Long Warkeeps getting longer by creating an endless supply of enemy soldiers, and supposedly responsible, sane people in charge of the mightiest nation in the history of humanity – including the commander in chief who promised he would change things – are perfectly happy to sit by and let him do it. What’s more, the American public hasn’t risen en masse to demand an end to this madness, and there’s no sign it’s going to.

How McCrackers is that?

Catch the rest @ Antiwar.com.