As counterinsurgency (COIN) marches into the expanding ranks of failed U.S. military doctrines, the military-industrial-congressional complex casts about for a new raison d’être. Since manpower-centric, generational occupations of broken countries we can’t fix have finally fallen out of favor as our foreign policy tool of choice, the American warmongery is back to championing a high-price, high-tech force posture reminiscent of the Cold War days.
The “China Shop,” my label for an ad hoc cell within the neoconservative think-tankery, is consuming swaths of bandwidth in an attempt to make Americans believe an expanded, modernized Chinese navy is about to grab control of the world’s oceans and make us all work in laundries and restaurants for sub-minimum wages or something equally implausible but nonetheless horrifying to the rank and file of the insentient Right. A May 20 article by Human Events columnist Robert McGinnis warns us of “China’s High Seas Aggression.” A Wall Street Journal op-ed piece from the same date by Michael Auslin of the infamous American Enterprise Institute sends chills up our spine with haunting tales of “Asia’s Troubled Waters.” An ad placeholder at Military.com’s Defense Tech blubbers, “It’s Springtime for China’s Blue Water Navy.” Swim away! Swim away!
At the heart of this latest wave of Sinophobia is a pair of recent articles by U.S. Navy Commander James Kraska, a judge advocate general (AKA “lawyer”) who frames himself as the next coming of Ray Spruance. Kraska is a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), one of the oldest right-wing think-tanks in the country. Contributors to FPRI publications constitute a pogues gallery of neoconservatism: Max Boot, Eliot Cohen, Donald and Fred Kagan, James Woolsey, and more. Kraska is also on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College, which is a de facto neocon think-tank. (Professor Mackubin Thomas Owens, an associate dean of academics at the college, was co-author of the neocon manifesto Rebuilding America’s Defenses. Heis a regular National Reviewonline contributor and is also, by sheer coincidence I’m sure, a senior fellow at FPRI.)
Kraska follows the playbook used by nearly all pseudo-intellectual war peddlers, which prescribes specious emotional arguments based on flimsy premises and propped up with false assumptions, facetious analogies, contrived facts, and references to the unsupported claims of one’s neo-cronies.
In “China Set for Naval Hegemony,” a May 6 article for The Diplomat, Kraska blames China’s maritime force buildup on Bill Clinton, blames the Chinese navy for something two commercial cargo ships did, and infers that China spends more on its navy than we spend on our Navy when in fact China’s entire defense budget is roughly 10 percent of ours at the very most. But Kraska saved his wackiest shenanigans for an article in the winter 2010 edition of FPRI’s Orbis magazine (which just happens to be edited by Mackubin Thomas Owens) titled “How the United States Lost the Naval War of 2015.”
In this hallucinatory glimpse at a bizarro future war, Kraska fractures history to an extent that the head of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth would balk at. “Over the past five hundred years all of the world’s foremost powers achieved their position of leadership through reliance on unsurpassed naval capabilities,” Kraska claims. Even “Russia reached the apex of its standing on the global stage through naval power.”
Author Kraska and editor Owens, both instructors in an accredited, graduate-level program of military theory and history, should know that all three of those statements are bunkum of the nth magnitude. Neither Napoleon nor Fredrick the Great nor Adolf Hitler had any naval power worth writing Mom about. Russia became a superpower when the Red Army repelled Nazi Germany’s Heer in World War II. Cold War Soviet naval forces were never designed to do more than intercept U.S. carrier forces a maximum of 1,000 miles from the Russian coasts, and their consistently abysmal material readiness made even that modest goal unrealistic.
This is pure parochial tall-tale telling, but it goes over big with Kreska’s bosses at the Naval War College, so it’s full blurt ahead and damn the realities.
It’s in that vein that Kraska asserts the Army can fail “as it did in Vietnam” and America will survive, but the Navy can “never fail.” News flash, Jim Bob: America’s reign as global hegemon is taking a jackknife into an empty pool because the Army has failed to defeat a foe that doesn’t even have an army, yet the Navy is failing to defeat a fistful of teenage pirates from Somalia and nobody is batting an eye patch.
Kraska’s crowning achievement is his description of how the Chinese manage to sink the carrier USS George Washington with a ballistic missile and make it look like theGW put itself on the bottom by accident. Nobody believes incontrovertible evidence that the Chinese sank the carrier, which is somehow Colin Powell’s fault, and the whole affair comes about as a result of globalization and environmentalists and (again) Bill Clinton, and the usual assortment of hand-wringing sheet soakers who have “forgotten that the history of international security and freedom of the seas was a story intimately woven into the material of world politics, forming the basis for an Anglo-American world order.” He really said that. Seriously. Not in the middle of the piece where you might accidentally skip over it, but at the very end where nobody could miss it.
Kraska’s scenario reflects an abject ignorance, even for a JAG officer, of air and naval combat capabilities, and it sketches a political-strategic plotline that wouldn’t even be plausible in one of those young-adult fiction books Tom Clancy writes.
Lamentably, as laughable as the likes of Kraska and Owens are, movers and shakers in our capital take them seriously. These two highbrow hooligans teach at the nation’s most prestigious war college (the only one that confers a master of arts degree). They and entirely too many like them play influential advisory roles in the highest levels of our executive and legislative branches, yet the only thing they really know is how to ingratiate themselves in the halls of power. When called upon to provide expert opinion on whatever subjects they pretend to have mastery of, they seldom know what the hell they’re talking about, but that’s okay because the people posing the questions never know what the hell they’re asking about.
And so it is that when our nation’s decision-makers dredge the Capital’s intellectual sewers to discover what American needs to keep itself safe, Kraska and Owens and Boot and Cohen and the rest of them will say we need more naval carrier strike groups because the 10 we have are stretched thin by too many global commitments.
The truth is that 10 carriers are more than we really need. Eight would be more than sufficient. Two could begin putting the Chinese navy on the bottom right after lunch and be done in plenty of time for midrats. If the Navy is stretched thin it’s because it keeps signing on for missions it isn’t really designed to perform (like helping the Air Force and the CIA bomb the bejeebus out of Muslim weddings) to justify its bloated budget to Congress.
Giving the Navy more ships would merely be giving it more ships to get sunk. What the Navy needs are systems capable of defending the ships it already has from mines and torpedoes and anti-ship missiles, relatively low-tech weapons they been vulnerable to for decades.
But Congress won’t hear that message from ideology-driven fools like Commander James Kraska.
The tea leaves tell me we’re about to experience a seismic event that will produce the next collapse of our five-sided House of Usher, the Pentagon.
The last time we saw a temblor of that magnitude was in November 2006. Just before the mid-term election, young Mr. Bush assured us that then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would stick around long enough to “get the job done.” The day after the Democrats regained control of Congress, Bush announced that Rummy would receive a Purple Heart for the bruise he got where the door hit him on his way out. Robert Gates got the top Defense slot, the Iraq Study Group got a bruise in the same place Rummy got his, “King David” Petraeus got command of the Iraq surge, and the rest is historical fiction, especially the parts about how the Iraq surge was a success and how Stan the Man McChrystal was going to repeat that success in the Bananastans.*
The Bush administration announced its intention to escalate the Iraq fiasco in January 2007. The surge has been a dismal flop. Iraq’s government and security forces are congenitally corrupt, incompetent, and ineffective, and we will never fix that. Results of the country’s latest purple-finger poll have been rejected by both major candidates for the prime minister slot, violence is on the uptick, and the Obama administration is once again stuttering into the microphone about how American troops may not be able to withdraw from Iraq on schedule. Ray “Desert Ox” Odierno has been making that kind of boo noise since he took command in Iraq in September 2008. In February 2009, Petraeus hagiographer Tom Ricks quoted Odie as saying he wanted to see 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq until 2014 or so.
AfPak is going to Helmand in a handbag. Banana Stan’s Marjah offensive, the “test” of his strategy (Obama’s strategy, according to the Pentagon’s bull-feather merchants), went over like a lead zeppelin. The only thing McChrystal has done well in command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is what he did well for five years as head assassin of the Joint Special Operations Command: kill a lot of civilians in the process of hunting down “suspected” terrorists. Even McChrystal knows he’s knocking up the puppy. On May 13, he told Jeffrey Brown of PBS Newshour, “Well, I think that, in the last year, we have made a lot of progress,” but “I think I would be prepared to say nobody is winning, at this point.” Shades of the Great Decider. Days before the 2006 election, Bush proclaimed, “Absolutely, we’re winning in Iraq.” Shortly after he put Rummy through the uprights, Bush allowed as how “We’re not winning” but “we’re not losing.”
When you’re the world’s sole superpower, and you’ve been bogged down for eight years by pismire adversaries who don’t have an air force or a navy or an army or even a defense budget, you’re not breaking even, you’re getting your heinie handed to you on a plate with a generous helping of grilled crow on the side. What could better symbolize our humiliating defeat than the recent spectacle of Barack Obama and Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton kissing up in public to Afghan sleaze peddler Hamid Karzai? (What a revolting development. In February 2008, then-Senator Biden stormed out of a formal dinner Karzai was giving in his honor. President Obama has called Karzai “unreliable” and “ineffective,” and Hillary has said that Karzai presides over a “narco-state.”)
And at long last, the people in charge of our militaristic Christian oligarchy are starting to realize that our armed excursions overseas are about to torpedo our ship of state, and all the power rangers are scrambling to the rat lines to avoid sharing an ocean-bottom tomb with Bush, Rummy, and Tommy Franks, the first chain of command in American history to both win and lose not one but two separate wars.
McChrystal, as witnessed by his performance on Newshour, is startling to look like a deer wondering what that red dot halfway up his muzzle might be. He’s the prime candidate for being the guy without a place to sit when the music stops. As journalist Gareth Porter points out, the recent Pentagon report indicates that Washington brass hats have “serious doubts” about McChrystal’s plan for Bananastan. In a May 9 piece for the Washington Post, David Ignatius quotes a “senior military official” calling Marjah a “mixed bag” and saying “we [i.e. McChrystal and Obama] don’t have a plan yet” for reconciling the disparate political entities in Afghanistan.
Ignatius doesn’t name the senior military official, but there’s a darn good chance he’s talking about the senior military official, a guy who learned how to leak messages through his pals in the media from his father, who was a high-rolling Hollywood publicity agent. Whoever Ignatius’ unnamed senior military official actually is, the senior military official named Mike Mullen undoubtedly hopes that nobody remembers he soundly endorsed McChrystal’s nomination to take charge in AfPak, and that he urged not one but two escalations in support of McChrystal’s strategy. Mullen likely also prays that nobody mentions too loudly about how he was against the Iraq surge as chief of naval operations but foursquare behind it when he became the Joint Chiefs chairman (and probably a little before that, one would imagine).
“Teflon General” Petraeus has been keeping a low profile of late as the counterinsurgency doctrine he supposedly wrote goes down in flames. Gates is beginning to agree with tank-thinkers like Andrew Exum of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, who says, “I think everyone realizes counterinsurgency is a losing proposition for U.S. combat troops.” (Get out! Really?) Gates says we “can’t afford” another Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s funny how when Gates took over we could afford to surge in Iraq and later to re-re-surge in Afghanistan.
Newsweek’s Johnathan Alter has a new book out that says in the first week of October 2009, Obama, unhappy about being “boxed-in” by his military, called Gates and Mullen into his office and gave them “a presidential dressing-down unlike any in the United States in more than half a century.” One can’t help wonder how the administration spin merchant who fed that story to Alter came by such intimate knowledge of the last 50 years of presidential dressing-downs. It’s nice to think that Obama actually ran a cheese grater across his generals’ faces at one point, but he should have transferred them to civilian command when he took office, and he should have transferred them to Fort Palooka when they couldn’t describe an end game in Afghanistan, and he should have transferred them to Fort Leavenworth when they used the media to extort him into going along with the AfPak escalations.
Were irony were still among us, it would have chortled with glee at the “ridiculous spectacle” of Obama in the Rose Garden last Friday, angrily denouncing the oil executives who pointed fingers at each other over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill while he and his generals play the same shameful blame game over our woebegone war on -ism.
* The Bananastans are Afghanistan and Pakistan, our Central Asian banana republics.
The New York Times, the “Gray Lady” that abetted the efforts of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to dupe America into supporting the Iraq invasion, is still the willing echo chambermaid of the warmongery. The most egregious piece of covert propaganda the NYT ran during the run-up to Gulf War II was the Sept. 8, 2002, article by its access-poisoned reporters Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller that heralded “HUSSEIN INTENSIFIES QUEST FOR A-BOMB PARTS.”
We now know that the article was part of the elaborate Nigergate hoax, and that Gordon and Miller were establishing a practice that would become the NYT’s standard disinformation tactic for years and perhaps decades to come. In presenting the case that Hussein was pursuing nuclear weapons capability from Niger, Gordon and Miller cited unnamed administration officials, American officials, senior officials, intelligence officials, government officials, United Nations officials and plain old generic “officials” a walloping 28 times.
In May 2004, the NYT’s editorial board gave a smirking apology that allowed as how it “found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been” in its pre-invasion reporting. Nonetheless, the editors maintained that in most cases “what we reported was an accurate reflection of the state of our knowledge at the time, much of it painstakingly extracted” from sources that were “themselves dependent on sketchy information.” And these sources passing along sketchy information were who? “Administration officials” who “now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation.” Poppycock. Those officials fell for the misinformation they wanted to hear, and they had no qualms about passing it along to the unsuspecting public.
If the NYT had been sincerely contrite about leading us down a primrose path to quagmire, it would have stopped allowing faceless officials to make baseless assertions about the threats posed by presumed “enemies.” NYT’s editors weren’t a smidgen rueful, or course, and only an industrial-strength case of Orwellian doublethink could have led them to believe their sources were unaware that the information they were passing along was as genuine as a round dollar bill.
Don’t think for a moment that the 2008 election brought about a change in the NYT’s pro-war position; it will exploit any flimsy excuse to help keep the public scared witless. Stanley McChrystal canonizer Dexter Filkins is but one of the many NYTreporters whose noses are permanently embedded up the COINdinistas‘ tent flap.
I wasn’t a bit surprised to see the story frequent Filkins collaborators Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane filed on May 5 that evoked phantom-sourced tales of the evildoers’ latest act of evil derring-do. “Evidence Mounts for Taliban Role in Bomb Plot” the headline blared. Hmm.
Who do you suppose is trying to beat up support to stay the course in the Bananastans*, and maybe re-re-re-escalate the reindeer games there? Why, “American officials,” of course. They tell the NYT it is “very likely” that the Pakistani Taliban, “once thought unable to attack the United States” helped “inspire and train” Faisal Shahzad, the naturalized U.S. citizen (immigrant!) under arrest for allegedly attempting to bomb Times Square on May 1.
The NYT says information about the Shahzad-Taliban connection comes from interrogations of Shahzad, which in turn comes from the aforementioned unnamed officials, who say unnamed “investigators” have “accumulated other evidence that they would not disclose,” and in fact, somewhere down around paragraph six, Filkins and Mazzetti admit that the officials, who only spoke with Filkins and Mazzetti on the condition they could stay anonymous (of course), “gave few details about what Mr. Shahzad had told investigators.” Just enough, apparently, for the NYT to run a front-page story with a headline that says the Taliban were behind the Times Square bombing.
The Filkins-Mazzetti story contains a pile of other trash about how the Times Square attempt ties in with other terror attempts and other terror groups, and how it’s President Obama’s drone attacks that are getting all these terrorizers riled up at us, and how some officials think Obama has “not taken the Pakistani Taliban threat seriously,” an eye-watering claim considering that we’re fighting the Taliban in a stupid, seemingly endless war half a world away.
I can’t speak with any authority about what motivated the Mazzetti-Shane article, but the piece has the earmarks of being part of an effort by team McChrystal – most notably by his information warfare officer, Rear Adm. Greg Smith – to ward off the oncoming bus that the Obama administration and a senior element within the five-sided hunker bunker are preparing to throw Banana Stan under subsequent to his failure-in-a-box Marjah offensive.
And all this hoopla is over another terrorkind who was an even bigger screw-up than the panty bomber. Shahzad built a bomb that couldn’t have caused a large explosion even if it had gone off. He locked the keys in both the car bomb car and the getaway car so he had to take a subway car home and beg his landlord to let him into his apartment. He got caught because the number in the memory of a cell phone he left in the car bomb car matched one he’d given customs authorities earlier. When officials arrested him on an aircraft about to take off for Dubai, Shahzad said, “I was expecting you.” He should have said, “What took you bozos so long?”
On May 8, the NYT’s Jane Perlez reported that anonymous officials say the locked-car bombing attempt came “amid increasing debate within the administration about how to expand the American military’s influence – and even a boots-on-the-ground presence – on Pakistani soil.” One of the officials says we’re telling Pakistan, “Sorry, if there is a successful attack, we will have to act,” by further escalating our presence in that country.
Lost in the NYT-generated hoopla is reporting by the Associated Press from May 5 – the same day the Mazzetti-Shane fright piece hit the streets – that authorities don’t believe there are any other suspects in the plot and that several arrests in Pakistan in the past two days were not related. The Pakistani Talibani have denied any connection with Shahzad, and even McChrystal’s mentor “King David” Petraeus admits that Shahzad was a “lone wolf.”
The New York Times continues to set unprecedented sub-standards in printing third-hand innuendo and framing it as cold fact. Imagine what this country would be like if the NYT took its “newspaper of record” buzz-label seriously and not as license to get away with journalistic murder, literal murder of both our troops and of civilians in the countries they occupy.
* The Bananastans are Pakistan and Afghanistan, our Central Asian banana republics.
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