Monday, August 29, 2011

Shock and Awe and Daylight Precision Bull Roar

30 Aug. 2011

by Jeff Huber

Parts I and II of “Post-Clasuwitzean Bebop in the New American Century” outlined the pathetic state of today’s American military intellect.  Part III describes how Shock and Awe and Network-Centric Warfare evolved from fundamentally flawed air power theory.   

COIN (aka counterinsurgency) is the latest in a panorama of war dogmas that promise a new and better way to fight armed conflicts.  But COIN is actually a degenerative development in warfare philosophies, a return to manpower-intensive operations that high-dollar gizmos of destruction were supposed to have made obsolete. 

The collision between soldier-centric and gadget-driven conflicts began in the American Civil War and reached critical mass during World War I.  Napoleonic infantry tactics designed to break through lines of sword and musket defenders withered in the face of machine gun fire.  More than 10 million military personnel were killed in World War I and total military casualties topped 38 million, an unimaginable horror to Europeans who thought their races were far to civilized to ever allow such carnage to occur.  Little did they know at the time that they’d only seen a preliminary bout—total World War II deaths alone exceeded 60 million.    

The birth of air power theory.
World War I was combat airpower’s debutante ball.  Much ado was made (and still is) of the magnificent men in their flying machines derring that do that they did so well in the skies above the pathetic mud knockers slogging it out below.  But as a a senior U.S. Air Force officer once confessed to his airpower elective seminar at the U.S. Naval War College, “World War I did more for air power than air power did for World War I.”  What ended the trench war of attrition stalemate in that conflict was the late influx of American bodies that ensured the Central Powers would bleed white before Allied Powers did.  The flying circuses were sideshow performers. 

Interwar air power advocates like Billy Mitchell, Giulio Duhet and Hugh Trenchard pandered the “strategic bombing” doctrine that advocated use of bomber aircraft to defeat enemy states by destroying their economic infrastructure and their publics’ will to wage war rather than battling their armies and navies.  To this day the goal of air power psychopathy is to make all other forms of warfare obsolete and to redirect the budgets of armies and navies into air services’ coffers. 

Strategic bombing theory suffered from a number of famously flawed assumptions.  First among them is the dictum that “the bomber will always get through,” a maniacal mantra first mouthed by Sir Stanley Baldwin in the late 1920s that promised bombers would always be able to defeat air defenses and destroy enemy cities.  That philosophy alone had sufficient holes to guarantee that air power would never live up to its hype.  

Let's make that, "The bomber will sometimes
get through."
The 8th Air Force bombing campaigns in Europe gave us a veritable entertainment franchise chronicling the adventures of bomber crews shot down over Nazi Germany who spent the duration of the war trying to escape from a Luft Stalag.  What would post-modern life be without our fond memories of Steve McQueen bouncing his baseball against the wall of the “cooler,” or of William Holden organizing mouse races, or of Bob Crane threatening to pull some stunt that would get Werner Klemperer transferred to the Russian front? 

The preponderance of Allied air casualties came about as a result of the daylight precision bombing concept, which was itself flawed in multiple respects.  The most incongruous of these flaws was the assumption that heavily armed B-17 flying fortresses would be as able to defend themselves against enemy fighters during the day as well as they could at night, a notion spawned in an era when fighter aircraft were strictly visual combatants and did not fly at night.  Daylight precision bombing also assumed that the B-17s’ super-duper Norden bombsights could consistently put bombs on their assigned targets.  That assumption blithely ignored easily anticipated probabilities like changes in wind direction between the bomber and the target, clouds and fog and haze obscuring the targets, bombardiers not recognizing the target, and so on. 

The public's will to wage war.
“Conventional” strategic bombing did manage to destroy cities in World War II, Dresden and Tokyo being two of the most horrifying examples.  But this type of bombing—also called “terror bombing”—failed to destroy the publics’ will to wage war.  In fact, the publics’ will is seldom a factor in totalitarian nations like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, or even in so-called liberal democracies like today’s America where state-of-the-art propaganda distributed through the mass media has seduced the public into a state of bovine torpor.  The only known instances of successful terror bombing were the 9/11 attacks that goaded malleable Americans into going along with ill-advised invasions of countries that had nothing to do with the attacks. 

Asserting that nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki won the war in the Pacific is like saying that Julius Caesar died from a massive injection of tetanus bacteria.  The Japanese had already been defeated through a years-long series of horrible land and naval campaigns.  A very good argument, and one that I subscribe to, says that Hirohito would have forced his government to surrender without the need for atomic operations if we had communicated to him via back channels that he could stick around as emperor, which was what we apparently planned to do all along.  (Please note that the argument over whether the nuclear option was necessary with Japan is a separate issue from whether or not nuking the two Japanese cities was moral or legal.  If I'd been in President Truman’s shoes and thought that dropping the nukes would save a single G.I.'s life, I would have dropped them too.)

Air power made its greatest contribution to the war in Europe when General Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, supreme commander of the European Theater of Operations, ordered the 8th Air Force to switch its priorities from strategic bombing to operational support of the Normandy Invasion and the subsequent land offensives that led to the defeat of the Wehrmacht, which Ike correctly identified as the German’s center of gravity.   

In instance after instance since World War II, airpower’s useful contributions have consisted not of independent, strategic bombing but of strikes in support of ground and naval operations.  We’ve seen that as recently as our Libyan lark; strikes against infrastructure and regime “target sets” had little impact.  It was only when air power was used in support of rebel offensives that balls started dropping into pockets.

Shock and Awe and Network-Centric Warfare are little more than a 21st century take on strategic bombing theory.  GPS guided munitions replace the Norden bombsight and computers replace the bombardiers, but the strategic effect remains nil. 

Next: A COINfederacy of Dunces

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is author of the critically lauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance. 

Reports of my demise...

...are as accurate as the hysteria the media created and continue to fan about Tropical Punch Irene. I'm posting from Starbucks. Tomorrow's column may be a bit late.

Here's something I submitted to the Vagina-Pilot this morning:

"After days of media manufactured hysteria, Irene was a tropical storm at worst by the time she reached Hampton Roads.  Yet Irene caused our three-ring power company to leave upwards of a half-million of us in the dark for extended periods.  My densely populated Virginia Beach neighborhood was without power until the wee hours of Monday morning.

"You’re doing a heck of a job, Dominion.  Will a single head roll over our power giant’s dismal failure during a weather event that should barely have stressed it? Probably not.  The exec responsible for this fiasco is no doubt the same character who’s in charge of implementing our next rate hike.

"There is, of course, plenty of shame to go around in Irene’s wake. As of sunrise on Monday, Cox Communication still hadn’t restored communication to my neighborhood.

 "Don’t you just love monopolies?"


Monday, August 22, 2011

All that Clausewitz Jazz

23 August 2011

by Jeff Huber

Part two of “Post-Clausewitzean Bebop in the New American Century” reprises themes from some of my older foreign policy routines.  Lamentably, if you’re old enough to read this, their pertinence will persist through your lifetime and probably your grandchildren’s as well.

War Wizards
If you think that what generals and war wags say in the media only sounds like gibberish to you because you have no military experience, you’re wrong.  It sounds like gibberish because it is gibberish. 

Analysts, scholars, old soldiers who won’t fade away and other gee-wizards who claim to be versed in the military arts and sciences agree on the importance of the Clausewitzean center of gravity concept, but none of them agree on what a center of gravity is.  An Air Force pilot will tell you the center of gravity is anything he can drop a bomb on, so you need to buy him a lot of $2 billion bombers so he can bomb all the centers of gravity.  A naval aviator will tell you the center of gravity is always the aircraft carrier; a Navy SEAL will tell you the center of gravity is always him.  A Marine major will tell you there can only be one center of gravity but that’s because Marines can only remember one thing at a time.  An intelligence officer will tell you the center of gravity is a secret, and if you ask an Army general what a center of gravity is he’ll start breathing through his mouth.

The center of gravity concept is a lot simpler than Pavlov's dogs of war would like you to believe.  “The point against which all our energies should be directed,” as Clausewitz described it, should be directly tied to our objective, the prime determinant of all acts of war.  Without a clearly defined objective, war is loosely orchestrated but pointless violence—a description that, not surprisingly, precisely defines our present armed shenanigans in Libya, Iraq, the Bananastans and elsewhere.   

Our center of gravity is the thing that can achieve our objective and the enemy’s center of gravity will be the thing that can thwart us from achieving it.  The purpose of tying what we call centers of gravity to objectives is what keeps us focused on the objective.  When we start prosecuting “centers of gravity” that don’t directly relate to our purpose we get in big trouble.

Will the real center of gravity please stand up?
Not surprisingly, “floating” centers of gravity, and a printer’s plethora of them, have become a trademark of our Long War on Ism.  Since 9/11, centers of gravity identified by America’s war wisenheimers have included Saddam Hussein, his Republican Guard, his air defense system, his command and control system, Baghdad, his sons (Hoodoo and Voodoo? I forget), his weapons of mass destruction that didn’t exist, his ties to al Qaeda that didn’t exist either, al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in Pakistan, al Qaeda in Yemen, al Qaeda in general, Shiite militias, Sunni militias, militia leaders, militia leaders’ followers, the Iraqi people, the Afghan people, the American people, the Pakistani people, the supply lines that run through Pakistan, Pakistan itself, Iran, the news media, world opinion, Congress and the poppy crop.  

You don't need to be an expert in all that Clausewitz jazz to figure that centers of gravity are like priorities; if everything is a priority there really are no priorities.  Warfare wisenheimers who tell you otherwise are whistling out their fat dumb toot chutes.  A good 90 percent of the people you see pawning themselves off in the media as experts on the art of war don’t know a center of gravity from their elbows and, more horribly, the tank thinkers who actually cook up our war fighting doctrines don’t either.  All any of these yahooligans know of Clausewitz consists of bite-size buzz phraseology passed down from one generation of clueless combat theorist to the next, and most of them think Sun Tzu’s prime directive is to “Baffle them with bullroar.” 

Our New American Century’s strategic brain trust has produced three major post-modern military doctrines: Shock and Awe, Network Centric Warfare and COIN (aka “counterinsurgency”).  Shock and Awe and Network Centric Warfare are related military “transformation” dogmas that promise to scare and/or confuse the enemy into submission with a top-dollar concoction of Buck Rogers gadgetry and magical mystery mantras like “full spectrum dominance” and “rapid dominance” and “information dominance” and “dominant battlefield awareness” and “dominant maneuvers” and the “net-centric collaboration” of a “self-synchronized” and robust  "network of networks" that produces a “shared situational awareness” as a systemic element of its “organizational behavior.” 

Fred Kagan can't stomach
Shock and Awe, but COIN?
Shock and Awe and Network-Centric Warfare were the cornerstones of our blitz on Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom lo those many years ago.  All they netted us were sticker shock and a good-old-boy network-of-networks that still knocks down big war bucks selling us fecal weapons systems that have proven utterly ineffective at promoting the national security.  Even neocon warlord Fauntleroy Fred Kagan, bastard stepfather of the Iraq surge, admits that these two space-age “warfare theories” have succeeded in combat but failed in war.  In an August 2003 Policy Review article titled “War and Aftermath” Freddie warned us to “beware technology that disconnects war from politics” and confessed that neither Network-Centric Warfare nor Shock and Awe  “provides a reliable recipe for translating the destruction of the enemy’s ability to continue to fight into the accomplishment of the political objectives of the conflict.”   

It was mighty big of Freddie to tell us that the Pentagon had screwed up the great idea he and his fellow neocon-men had to invade Iraq, but he actually had a hidden agenda: namely, to further engulf us in ever-deepening quagmires through the a counter revolution in military affairs dogma called COIN, which has proven to be the biggest lie that martial masterminds have told us since they said air power would make war itself obsolete. 

Next: Warlord Fauntleroy, King Rat and the Desert Ox.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is author of the critically lauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Post-Clausewitzean Bebop in the New American Century

16 Aug. 2011

by Jeff Huber

This is the first part of an extended essay on post-modern American imperialism. 

A 21st century sound bite summarizing the work of 19th century Prussian philosopher Carl von Clausewitz says that war is the pursuit of policy goals through violence.  And the nutshell version of the ancient Chinese martial sage Sun Tzu admonishes us to charge downhill, not uphill.  How ironic it is, then, that in the neoconservative age, history’s most powerful nation pursues a policy of persistent violence for no reason that one could imagine a rational nation might pursue, and does so with strategies that consistently charge uphill when downhill alternatives abound.  Even more of a wry puzzle is that the nation that spends more on weaponry and its supporting gizmology than the rest of the world combined is locked in a seemingly eternal stalemate with adversaries who have no defense budget whatsoever.

Let them eat merde.
History is rife with examples of empires that became footnotes in later empires’ histories because they lacked the wisdom to understand that the might of arms that brought them to glory was insufficient alone to sustain them, and that the inability to adeptly exercise other forms of power would turn their military prowess into the vulnerability that would prove their downfall.

To deliberately misquote Mark Twain, history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes mighty often.  The present point in our American saga resonates of the sick wet sound of imperial titans of yore flopping belly first on their own swords.  Two of the most pertinent case studies in this regard are the Napoleonic and Roman Empires.      

From 1789 to 1799 the French staged a bloody revolution to establish a republic and free themselves of an oppressive absolute monarchy that had reigned for centuries.  Within five years they had placed themselves under the rule of a warlord emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte.  In the name of preserving the French democracy he had already snuffed, Napoleon set about conquering all of Europe.  Napoleon ruled his extended domain with brass-knuckled brutality, imposing draconian economic sanctions and other “soft power” measures designed, it seems in retrospect, to compel his satellite states to revolt against him and his puppets. 

Napoleon made a Théâtre de l'Absurde display of diplomatic attempts to keep things going the way he liked, but he wasn’t any good at it.  As a Naval War College professor once put it, Napoleon liked to do what he was good at, which was shoot all the horses and then put on his lead boots and start kicking.  Napoleon kept kicking until his dead ponies finally reached up and bit him in the âne.  The universal animus held against the French is a direct result of Napoleon’s fist-first foreign policies; to this day the French make the Germans seem cuddly in comparison. 

As empire builders are wont to do, Napoleon over reached his financial and military limits.  Casual history buffs know of his final defeat in 1815 by Britain’s Duke of Wellington at Waterloo. But what really undermined Napoleon’s hegemony was the Peninsular War (1807-1814), the counterinsurgency quagmire he stumbled into on The Iberian Peninsula.  With help from Britain, Spain and Portugal were able to conduct a guerilla warfare campaign against French occupation that eroded Napoleon’s resources and led to his ultimate downfall. 

12 years of Napoleonic Wars left an unstable Europe, and a France that was long on arrogance but short on anything to be arrogant about and that would need to be bailed out of two world wars by an upstart nation on another continent.

The ancient Romans punted away their republic for a “dictator in perpetuity” named Julius Caesar, a self-promoting wartime general whose victories had made Rome a global power.  Caesar met an untimely end when he collided with a legislature’s worth of vintage Italian cutlery, but his adopted son Augustus carried on the line of “unitary executives” and the Romans continued to live by the sword until they died from it.  Rome’s military, especially the Praetorian Guard, became the empire’s predominant political faction.  As renaissance political scientist Niccolò Machiavelli noted, the Praetorians became “insolent and formidable, not only to the senate but to the emperors themselves.”

No emperor could survive, much less rule, without the allegiance and support of the Praetorian Guard and the Legions.  If the Guard didn't like an emperor, they whacked the guy.  Though the Senate continued to be an equal branch of government in name it was really just a vehicle through which emperors exercised an autocratic power that was, in fact, the bidding of the military.

Dick Cheney institutionalizes
American "cement shoes"
The military’s financial shenanigans wrecked Rome’s economy, and infighting among segments of the Guard and Legions led to the break-up of the empire.  By Machiavelli’s day, Italy was a surly collection of warring principalities whose exploits resembled, not altogether surprisingly, a season summary of The Sopranos.  Lack of political unity and the unholy meddling of the Catholic Church in state affairs transformed once mighty Italy into the court jester of the international stage.  Upon learning that Italy had thrown in with Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill quipped, “It’s only fair.  We had to have them in the last war.” 

The New American Centurions, the neoconservatives, aim to ensure U.S. domination of the world through military occupation and persistent low-level armed conflict.  They manipulate the support of a largely passive population through a combination of fear of the ubiquitous “them,” myopic patriotism and religious fervor—a propaganda cocktail of stars-and-stripes-and-Jesus-versus-the-evildoers-forever.  Our legislature has ceded virtually every one of its powers—except the ones that allow its members to draw salaries, benefits and retirements—to a unitary executive, and the conservatively slanted Supreme Court is all too happy to help construct a post-modern America that is a republic in name only, a thinly disguised autocracy in which the executives are every bit the handmaiden of their country's warmonger as Roman emperors were.  

Our lavish martial expenditures—by some credible analyses total military related spending accounts for more than half of the federal budget—have our world’s largest economy heading nose first for the bottom of the pool.  What little diplomacy we practice is of the “make them an offer they can’t accept” variety.  We insist on negotiating conditions that no one in their right minds would accept, then we say we tried diplomacy and it didn’t work and we revert back to Plan A. 

Neocon military strategist
Fred Kagan
Armed force is the only foreign policy tool we know how to use, and its effectiveness has diminished through the vanishing point and emerged on the counterproductive scale.  Our military endeavors not only can’t defeat our enemies, they actually create more enemies.  We conduct our wars according to doctrines like Shock and Awe and Network-Centric Warfare and COIN (aka Counterinsurgency) that can best described as post-Clausewitzean bebop theory, strategies so convoluted and self-contradicting that the lysergically inspired brainiacs who conjured them up can’t even explain them to each other.  Today’s American cannons of armed conflict are guidelines not to win wars, but to insure that then never end.

If America avoids fading away into history’s appendix of asterisk items, it will only be because the rest of the world realizes that we are too big to fail: If we perish from the face of the earth, who will buy everybody else’s exports?

Next: All that Clausewitz Jazz

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is author of the critically lauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance. 

Monday, August 08, 2011

Bumbling in Bananastan

9 Aug 2011

by Jeff Huber

The combat deaths of 30 special operations troops on 6 August should have told the country loud and clear that our woebegone Long War on whatever and whomever it is we're fighting is a travesty that needs to end now.  Unfortunately, in today's polluted information environment, the incident is being used to peddle the Pentarchy's agenda for Orwellian persistent conflict.  

A team of Army Rangers dropped into some remote Palookaville to snatch some alleged low-level Taliban im-potentate, and they ran into resistance their intelligence officer probably forgot to tell them to expect.  Forty minutes or so into the firefight a Chinook helicopter carrying Navy Seals flew in to bail their Ranger pals out of a jam and somebody the intelligence officer probably didn’t know about popped shot down the Chinook with a rocket grenade, killing the all of the SEALs and the aircrew as well.  

Ranger and Seal outfits are highly trained and custom-armed units of young Adonises genetically disposed to war.  Unleashed in a village someplace to run amok and do something you can brag about and/or have to cover up later, these war dogs are fierce, they are dazzling, they are undefeatable.  Piled into a helicopter they become a low/slow flying duck begging to get bagged by turban togged rock rancher armed with a weapon that the poorest people on earth can afford to own.  (36 percent of Afghans live below the poverty line, and we’re not talking about the U.S. poverty line.  Afghanistan’s per capita GDP is $900.  That’s right: nine hundred dollars.  Per person.  Per year.  Those people couldn’t buy a bag of potato chips at a Junior Market in Detroit.)

The 6 August incident shouldn’t have surprised anybody, even the intelligence weenies.  The first time We the People heard about troopers in helicopters getting whacked in Bananastan by bottle-rocket technology was back in 2002.  We heard about it again in 2005, and in 2007, and in 2008, and in 2009, and in 2010.  The only greater threat to troops in helicopters than rocket propelled grenades are the helicopters themselves, which have a penchant for shooting themselves down due to mechanical failures, weather, pilot error, and the animus of the gremlins that inhabit them.  Incredibly, we’re now hearing that subsequent to the 6 August incident, the Pentagon brass is examining the wisdom of landing helicopters like the Chinook in battle zones.  Why do you reckon the Pentagon brass is just now scratching its collective hat on the subject?  Maybe the Pentagon intelligence officers weren’t briefing them on all those other shoot downs over the years.  Tsk, tsk.   

Worse than the insanity of continuing to pursue a proven failed tactic is that said tactic—vertical assault on targets chosen by the most inept intelligence apparatus in the history of warfare—is the cornerstone of an even more profoundly failed grand strategy.  As Jonathan S. Landay and Hashim Shukoor of McClatchy report, the SEALS who died on 6 August were operating in a valley where frequent U.S.-led night raids like the one the SEALS were reinforcing are driving the locals into the arms of the Taliban.  No strategy can be more self-defeating than one in which attacks against enemies provide them with aid and comfort.  

Lamentably, McClatchy is just about the last of the mainstream news outlets willing to tell the ugly truth about our disingenuous wars.  The rest of big media is scrambling to see who can put the most pro-war spin on the affair.  A 6 August New York Times story by ace Pentagon echo chamberlain Thom Shanker noted that the Taliban claimed responsibility for the “attack,” and that the “attack” came during a “surge of violence” that has “accompanied the beginning of a drawdown of American and NATO troops.”  That’s a remarkable statement considering that we were the ones doing the attacking in this scenario, and that the only “surge of violence” it seems to have been part of is the one in which we’re using commando units to blow the smithereens out of remote villages in hopes of bagging Taliban non-coms who are as important to the insurgent war effort as The Good Soldier Schweik was to Kaiser Wilhelm’s general staff. 

NBC's Jack Jacobs says elite combat
units are too valuable to risk in combat.
On 8 August, NBC Nightly News spokesmodel Brian Williams trotted out Retired Colonel War Hero who questioned why high command used “tier one” troops on a target that wasn't that important.  I guess Colonel Hero figures if we’re going to throw troops away on paltry missions we should throw away the everyday, disposable troops, not the high-price ones we keep for special company.  Then Embedded NBC echo chamberlain Richard Engel slipped in the money mantra about how Afghanistan is getting more dangerous because we’re drawing down (we aren’t yet, actually) and the Afghans aren’t ready to take over (they never will be). 

Then Williams brought on NBC’s senior Pentagon bobblehead Jim Mxyzptlk who repeated the five or so words his Pentagon handlers wrote specially for Jim so he could repeat them verbatim on camera.  (I can’t see Jim on NBC Nightly News without flashing on John Cleese as a footballer in the Monty Python sketch where he tells interviewer Eric Idle, “Hello, Brian, I’m openin’ a boutique!”). 
Repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell
provides opportunity to form
disposable combat teams.

I thought Jim's one-line soliloquy would be the end of the torture, but it was just getting started.  Next came video of the Monday morning’s Today freak show featuring the wife of one of the guys who got killed, crying about how her SEAL loved his country.  Mother Mary at the foot of the cross, man.  Remember when the rabid right had a fit over how insensitive PBS was being when it ran a roster of that week’s war dead against a backdrop of silence?  I beseech the craven idol I worship to someday locate my mitts across the trachea of the Chief of Naval Information (aka CHINFO) cretin who arranged to put that SEAL’s widow on national television days after her husband was killed in action.

But making a spectacle of the warrior’s wailing widow for propaganda purposes was a ray of decorum compared to the obscenity NBC and the other networks committed by running footage of our newly inserted defense secretary Leon Panetta’s public statement on the affair.  At the Special Operations Command ceremony in Florida, Panetta said of the latest commando casualties that we, “must pledge to them and to their families that we will never cease fighting for the cause for which they gave their lives, the cause of a secure and safer America."
NBC's Brian Williams
and Jim Miklasewski.

Holy peyote, Uncle Leo.  Even Don Rumsfeld knew that our War on Evil was making more evildoers, not a secure and safer America.  What the 30 special ops troopers gave their lives for on 6 August was the continued creation of conditions that ensure perpetual low-level conflict in support of the neoconservative goal of world domination through military force.

Now let’s see some CHINFO bull feather merchant get that widow back on the Today show and have her tell us how proud she is that her husband died for the cause of putting American combat boots on every square inch of the globe from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the summit of Mt. Everest. 

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is author of the critically lauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance. 

Monday, August 01, 2011

Saturday Night Libya

2 August 2011

by Jeff Huber

Operation Unified Protector, our woebegone war in Libya, has become the only major undertaking of the developed world worse conceived and executed than the present manifestation of Saturday Night Live.  OUP and SNL both consist of a large number of people combining misdirected efforts to produce an abysmal farce.  SNL, however, has a couple of things going for it: it is not responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people, and even thought it is a major pollutant of the information environment, its very existence is not illegal. 

The latest news of our burlesque in North Africa comes to us by way of a 30 July New York Times story titled, “NATO Strikes at Libyan State TV.”  Insider knowledge gives me a unique perspective from which to appreciate the monumental absurdity of that headline, but the eyebrows of even the most casual observers are likely to collide as they wonder to themselves, You mean they’re just now getting around to doing that?  

Air Marshall Lord Basil Fawlty scrubs
tomorrow's Unified Protector target list.
It was clear back in May, already months into young Mr. Obama’s “days not weeks” Libyan lark, that his euro-stooge NATO commanders announced they were “broadening” their target list to include Libya’s infrastructure.  Otherwise, claimed Britain’s Sir General David “Harrumph” Richards, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi would “cling to power.”  Before directing air strikes at infrastructure, NATO had already bombed Qaddafi’s “command and control” centers. 

Every air war gets run by a different set of air-power theorists called “targeteers” who are trained, among other things, in how to choose what kinds of targets to bomb in order to achieve a campaign’s strategic and political goals.  When Unified Protector was still just “Odyssey Dawn,” a thou-shalt-not-fly zone you probably heard about and a naval blockade nobody cared about, the only legitimate targets were stuff like surface-to-air missile sites and navy bases.  That was when the only stated goal was to protect the freedom-loving people of Libya from their freedom-hating dictator.  Then, in April 2011, Obama for all practical purposes admitted that regime change had been the objective all along, at which point the target list should have broadened exponentially. 

There is no such thing as uniformity in military jargon.  Depending on when any given set of any given air operation’s targeteers went to any given target college, different kinds of targets and missions will be called different things.  One war’s “interdiction” is another war’s “strategic strike,” just as “command and control” targets can fold into the “infrastructure” target set and then morph into “regime” targets.

But whatever you want to call a regime’s mother-effing state-controlled television and radio stations, the mother-effing mother-effers doing the mother-effing targeteering should bomb the mother-effing monkey mucous out of them in the first fifteen mother-effing minutes of the mother-effing war.  It’s next to impossible to believe that these mother-effers were too mother-effing dumb to do that.  Talk about theater of the absurd meets film noir.  They ought to call the talking chimps running this one-buttock operation The Gang that Couldn’t Bomb Straight.

We’re justified to a certain extent in snickering up our sleeves at the French fire drill our little NATO buddies have created.  But we have to remember that NATO actually stands for “The United States and a handful of mostly white schmoes who speak in Romance and Germanic tongues.”  The top military commander of NATO is always a U.S. four-star who only takes legal orders from two dudes: America’s secretary of defense and its president.  Accountability for this fiasco rolls all the way to the top of the pile. 

Of course, it’s comical to invoke the term “legal” in any discussion of our Libyan involvement.  In waging it without so much as a by-your-wink-and-nod from Congress, Bombardier Barry has flushed both the Constitution and its freckled stepchild, the War Powers Resolution of 1973, clear down the Potomac, out the Chesapeake Bay and into the Atlantic.  Progressive popinjay Juan Cole says the Libyan sock-hop is legit because it’s mandated by a UN resolution, an aegis that he characterizes as the “gold standard for military intervention.”  Jesus in a G-string, where do we find such eggheads?

Fops like Cole argue that because the Senate ratified the U.N. Charter it became, as per Article VI of the Constitution, the “supreme law of the land.”  Such assertions leave the law-of-the-land clause out of context; it actually appears at the end of a litany that reads “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the…”  One can easily show that this order conveys an intended precedence hierarchy: in cases where any of the three may conflict, the Constitution trumps the laws of the United States, which in turn trump treaties.  To suggest otherwise is to declare the Constitution an instrument of March hare insanity, a legal framework that says the legislature can legally pass laws that demolish the very framework that legitimizes the legislature and makes its laws legal. 

Article I of the Constitution clearly assigns the preponderance of foreign policy powers to the legislature: the powers to ratify treaties, to confirm ambassadors, to regulate international commerce and the military, and to declare war.  And it is the legislature, not the executive branch, that the Constitution grants powers to “repel invasion.”  So everybody who talks about a president’s “constitutional prerogative” to conduct foreign policy or defend the country is feeding you a line of bull roar.  Claims of unitary presidential powers you typically hear from Rolex-sporting prevaricators with degrees in jurisprudence stem from the Federalist Papers, documents that are not the Constitution, nor an amendment to the Constitution, nor an annex nor an addendum nor an attachment to it. 

The Federalist Papers were written by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Monroe, three landed cats who didn’t believe democratic government was such a keen idea and who wanted the president to be a sort of dress-down Friday king that they could easily control, which is pretty much what today’s Federalists want.  Federalist notions on the subject of presidential powers contrast sharply with those of Founders like Jefferson and Washington and Adams.

The UN charter itself has numerous codicils regarding nations going to war on the Security Council’s say so, most notably its numerous references to “special agreements” that essentially grant that no country has to go to war for the UN unless it really, really wants to.  Moreover, since the U.S. is a permanent member of the Security Council, we can veto any resolution that calls for war, so the UN isn’t going to ask us to fight a war unless it’s a war we crammed down the UN’s throat the way we did with the present cluster bomb in Libya. 

So what Cole and fools like him are asserting when they call a UN resolution for war the “gold standard” is that warmongering lunatics like John Bolton and Susie Rice can vote us into any old conflict anytime they want to and the rest of us have to go along with it because the Constitution says we do.

That respected American intellectuals actually think that way and are taken seriously could be the basis of a wholly hilarious SNL sketch if it weren’t so utterly terrifying.  I think that we might have, in a decade or so, grown back the toes we shot off with our antics in Iraq and the Bananastans.  But I’m afraid this Libya business will prove to be the whimper our republic went out with. 

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) is author of the critically lauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance.