Thursday, November 29, 2007

Iraq: The Gift Bush Keeps On Giving

Mr. Bush doesn't appear to be worried about the effect the Iraq war will have on his legacy. In fact, he seems downright determined to ensure his Mesopotamia Mistake never makes the transition from current event to historical case study.

Monday, during a videoconference, Mr. Bush and Nuri al-Maliki separately signed a "declaration of principles" that calls for one more year of U.S. occupation of Iraq by U.N. mandate to be followed with a more permanent arrangement under sanction of a bilateral treaty.

Mr. Bush, you'll recall, is the beleaguered president of the United States. His second term ends in January of 2008, and rumor has it that he may actually step down then. If he does, that might well be his first and last constitutional exercise of presidential power.

Nuri al-Maliki is the beleaguered prime minister of Iraq. Just over a week before Maliki signed the declaration, not surprisingly, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) threatened to introduce legislature that would provide an "alternative" to Maliki's government, and he later said that he would be "looking at ways to invest our money into groups that can deliver" if Maliki can't make more political progress by January.

You know Bush was serious about getting this permanent occupation agreement signed because every time he really, really wants Maliki to do something, he has Huckleberry make scare noise about poop-canning the guy.

"War Czar" Lieutenant General Douglas Lute said at a White House briefing on Monday that the declaration of principles was an agreement to hold talks next year to determine what missions U.S. forces in Iraq will pursue, whether or not there will be permanent U.S. bases, and what sorts of immunity will be granted to private security firms like Blackwater. The talks will also explore what kinds of preferential treatment the Iraqi government will give U.S. oil companies like Halliburton. The goal of the talks will be to have all these issues and more resolved by the end of July 2008, comfortably before Bush leaves office and any Democrat can step in and fend off whatever further cluster bombs Bush manages to drop on us.

A Tale of Two Constitutions

Not everybody in Iraq is hats and hooters about this new declaration their boy Maliki just signed on to. As Joshua Holland and Raed Jarrar of AlterNet reported on November 7th, Maliki has taken a Bush-like attitude toward his country's constitution. In 2006, Maliki requested an extension of the U.N. occupation mandate without getting approval of his parliament as required by his constitution's article 58, which states that parliament must ratify "international treaties and agreements by a two thirds majority." (Does any of this sound familiar yet?) Maliki argued that the U.N. mandate didn't qualify as an international treaty or agreement. The U.N. Security Council bought Maliki's argument and extended the mandate.

In June of 2007, Iraq's parliament passed a binding resolution that specifically guaranteed them an opportunity to block any further extensions of the U.N. mandate. Maliki did not veto the law. This "principles" deal he just signed on to with Bush will involve yet another end run around his parliament to extend the U.N. mandate, and then another one to establish a two-way treaty with the U.S.

Meanwhile, back at the other constitutional crisis…

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) was completely out of sorts about the principle pact. "President Bush's agreement with the Iraqi government confirms his willingness to leave office with a U.S. Army tied down in Iraq and stretched to the breaking point, with no clear exit strategy from Iraq," she said.

Well, that's true. In fact, Bush isn't just out to leave his successor with no exit strategy; he's determined to seal the exit behind him altogether. But what's Pelosi going to do about it? Article II of the U.S. Constitution says that treaties must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, not the House. And what's the Senate going to do about blocking whatever deal Bush makes with Maliki?

Nothing, if the White House gets its way. According to War Czar Lute, the declaration is not a "treaty," per se. It's "a set of principles from which to begin formal negotiations."

Well, yeah, Lute-ster, almost all agreements between nations start out as a set of principles for negotiations. But eventually, when those negotiations reach their conclusion, they generally need to become a treaty. The problem for the Bush gang is that if they subject the agreement to the treaty process, that will play into the ix-nay authority of the Democratically controlled Senate, which would negate the whole purpose behind getting the dope deal cut before a Democrat moves into the White House.

The leaders of the Democratically controlled Senate ought to be yelling, "Bloody hell no, Bush won't enter us into an international agreement without our approval," but Hillary Clinton, presently the Senate's most visible Democratic leader, has let herself get drawn off by a decoy issue.

On Tuesday, she warned Mr. Bush that a pact with Iraq on extending the troop presence there would be "dangerous," and "To be clear, attempts to establish permanent bases in Iraq would damage US interests in Iraq and the broader region, and I will continue to strongly oppose such efforts."

For the love of Mike, Hillary, wake up and smell the airplane glue. We've been hearing news of over a dozen "enduring bases" being built in Iraq since September of 2004. In 2005 and 2006, Congress--the Congress Hillary was a part of at the time--authorized or proposed almost $1 billion for military construction in Iraq.

The permanent bases are already there, Hillary!. You need to jump off that horse and start swimming downstream toward July, because if you wait until then to start asserting the Senate's prerogative to approve or disapprove treaties, you'll get slapped across the forehead with accusations that you, specifically, are trying to obstruct the good work Mr. Bush is doing to secure Iraq so you can make points with the voters on the lunatic left fringe while all those good and true GOP candidates--including and especially old "the troops want a chance to win" John McCain --are foursquare behind our commander in chief at the moment of his decisive victory in Iraq.

The administration's Rovewellian propaganda campaign for July victory in the Iraq treaty battle has already commenced. Uncle Karl himself fired the first salvo the day before Thanksgiving when he told PBS's Charlie Rose that Congress pushed Bush into invading Iraq.

You can't shrug this confrontation off, Democrats, and Atlas isn't going to come along and do it for you.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008. Visit here to listen to Jeff's recent conversation with Karen Kwiatkowski on National Forum.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Krauthammer Versus Clausewitz

"Policy is the guiding intelligence and war only the instrument, not vice versa."

-- Carl von Clausewitz

There ought to be a law of American journalism that says pundits who write and talk about war should have at least a passing familiarity with the work of 19th century Prussian general and philosopher Carl von Clausewitz.

Granted, Clausewitz is not easy to absorb. Reading Clausewitz is a bit like reading Proust backwards. Even the best translation of On War is taken from manuscripts written in ponderous 19th century German, much of which even Clausewitz admitted was "a rather formless mass that must be thoroughly reworked once more." Nonetheless, as the folks at
so aptly put it, "Carl von Clausewitz is widely acknowledged as the most important of the major strategic theorists. Even though he's been dead for over a century and a half, he remains the most frequently cited, the most controversial, and in many respects the most modern."

And yet, most of today's "experts" on the situation in the Middle East wouldn't know Clausewitz from their elbows. This is especially true of the neoconservative talking heads like Charles Krauthammer, who not only continue to support our Mesopotamian misadventure, but are the characters who talked us into it in the first place.

In a recent column titled "On Iraq, a State of Denial," Krauthammer shows a complete ignorance--or disregard--for what is probably Clausewitz's primary tenet of armed conflict: that all engagements in war should directly support the war's strategic purposes and political aims. But in his rush to chant hosannas over the recent "good news" about "declining violence" in Iraq, Krauthammer asserts that our stated political goals aren't even worth pursuing.

Like most of the neocons, Krauthammer shamelessly overplays the success of their pet surge strategy, describing the violence in Iraq as being "dramatically reduced" and celebrating the "revival of ordinary life in many cities." The closest thing to "ordinary life" we've seen is the woman in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood who is "thrilled and relieved" when her son and husband manage to make it home from work at night without getting themselves killed. Please don't ask me to speculate as to how Krauthammer justifies classifying that sort of scenario as a "revival" or "ordinary."

Krauthammer has ridicule galore for Democrats like Nancy Pelosi who complain that "we have not achieved political benchmarks." That's just crybaby language for left wing losers whose limp-wristed, hand-wringing positions on the war only vary "in how precipitous to make the retreat" as far as he's concerned.

Sure, there's no "top down" political solution attainable as of yet, Krauthammer admits. But, he asks, should that "invalidate our hard-won gains?" Moreover, "Why does this [lack of political progress] mean that we cannot achieve success by other means?"

Well, Doctor K., had you studied a little bit about war before you began telling everyone where and how and when to fight one, you might have run across this rather pertinent Clausewitz quote:
"If we do not learn to regard a war, and the separate campaigns of which it is composed, as a chain of linked engagements each leading to the next, but instead succumb to the idea that the capture of certain geographical points or the seizure of undefended provinces are of value in themselves, we are liable to regard them as windfall profits."

What Krauthammer and his fellow mongers want so desperately to conceal from the American public is that their grand scheme for controlling the world's energy market by invading Iraq has gone up in fumes.

A New York Times article--posted, not surprisingly, two days after Krauthammer's column appeared--announced: "U.S. Scales Back Political Goals for Iraqi Unity." According to reporters Steven Lee Myers and Alissa J. Rubin, "The Bush administration has lowered its expectation of quickly achieving major steps toward unifying the country, including passage of a long-stymied plan to share oil revenues and holding regional elections." In case you hadn't already guessed, the oil revenues bill and regional elections were the two things Krauthammer identified as not making any difference to the success of our Iraq strategy. The Bush administration just said they were important goals before they realized they couldn't achieve them because, well, that’s the sort of thing the Bush administration does to keep its war going. Plus, they figure they can get away with that kind of nonsense as long as they have pals like Krauthammer to cover their tracks with bull feathers.

I wish I could make every American visit and browse the site for five minutes, or even just three minutes. Heck, if you just stare at the home page for twenty seconds, you'll know more about warfare than Charles Krauthammer and all of the distinguished "scholars and fellows" in the Project for the New American Century and the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution and the rest of the neoconservative think tanks combined.

And maybe, unlike Charles Krauthammer, you'll think twice when a hundred or so of your best ideologue friends ask you to help them talk your country into undertaking a stupid war.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention…

A story in the November 25 Washington Post states that, "A White House assessment of the war in Afghanistan has concluded that wide-ranging strategic goals that the Bush administration set for 2007 have not been met, even as U.S. and NATO forces have scored significant combat successes against resurgent Taliban fighters."

Isn't that just a heck of a thing?


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available April 1, 2008. Visit here to listen to Jeff's recent conversation with Karen Kwiatkowski on National Forum.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Drive By Radio Opportunity

I had a great time Monday night talking with Karen Kwiatkowski on National Forum. Karen, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, was one of the first folks to blow the whistle on Dick Cheney's Office of Special Plans and their scheme to cook the intelligence on Iraq.

You can catch a replay of the broadcast here.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

I'll be on the road to the Carolinas today. Don't get eat too much, stay safe if you travel.

See you next week.



Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hillary Hearts Hegemons?

"…Having been in Iraq, you know that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has assisted the militias and others in killing our Americans and in maiming them."

-- Hillary Clinton, to an Iraq War veteran at the Democratic presidential candidates' debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 16, 2007

As an ex-military man, I regard the '08 presidential race, to a large extent, as a cattle call audition for the role of commander in chief of America's military. Since the GOP shows no sign of purging itself of the neoconservative influence, voting for a Republican would be an exercise in redefining insanity. So I've been watching the Democratic race with great interest, and found the November 16 debate in Vegas most interesting.

False Bravado

Many thought Hillary came out as the big winner in Vegas, but barring some sort of epiphany on her part, she's lost my confidence for good. She went out of her way to slip in that line about Iran's Revolutionary Guard having had a hand in killing American troops--she'd already answered the young veteran's question.

As historian and journalist Gareth Porter decisively argued in September 2007, "The administration has not come forward with a single piece of concrete evidence to support the claim that the Iranian government has been involved in the training, arming or advising of Iraqi Shiite militias." And as he illustrated more recently, the U.S. tactic of detaining Iranians in Iraq on "suspicion of carrying out or planning attacks against Iraqi security forces" then releasing them when they prove to be "of no continuing intelligence value" has become yet another political embarrassment of the administration's preposterous Gulf region policies and strategies.

Why Hillary is so willing to go along with the administration's Iran fable is something of a mystery. She either knows something she's not telling us, or she's fallen for the disinformation racket Dick Cheney's Iranian Directorate gang has been running, or she's willing to grab onto any fiction that gives the perception she's strong on security. If she's that secretive and/or that gullible and/or that insecure in her ability inspire confidence in America's defenses, there's very little difference between her and George W. Bush.

Hillary was not, however, the only Democratic candidate at the Vegas debate who sounded like a George W. Bush wannabe.

False Assumptions, False Facts, False Choices

Roughly halfway through the debate, CNN's Campbell Brown introduced the subject of President Pervez Musharraf suspending Pakistan's constitution on the premise that it was necessary to preserve his country. She then asked Joe Biden, "Is it your view that there are times when the security of the United States is more important than the way a key ally, like Musharraf, disregards freedom and disregards democracy?"

Biden launched into one of his signature diatribes. He made sure everyone knew he had personally spoken with Musharraf, and that Musharraf had called Biden, not the other way around, that's how important Biden is, and if you didn't think that made Biden important enough, Biden had also talked to Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and here's what he'd do with the Pakistan policy if he were president of the U.S. of A,, and blah, blah, blah…

He finally wrapped up his response with, "…I know there's more to say, Campbell. I appreciate you asking me the question, and I'm sorry I answered it. I know you're not supposed to questions based on what I..."

At that point, mercifully, Wolf Blitzer cut him off, but Biden had already performed his standard act in entirety: indulged in shameless self-aggrandizement, said something dumb, tried to blame a journalist for his own ineptness, and set new standards in political irony by apologizing for answering a question that he never came close to answering. In all, Biden managed to sound even more like Bush than Hillary did, but the piece of resistance in Bush apery came from Chris Dodd.

Dodd accurately observed that the Bush administration has ""has stepped all over our own constitutional processes," but in addressing the question of security versus constitutionality, he revealed a major flaw in his own cognitive processes.

"Obviously, national security, keeping the country safe," comes first, he said. He might have been okay if he'd stopped there, but he continued. "When you take the oath of office on January 20, you promise to do two things, and that is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and protect our country against enemies both foreign and domestic. The security of the country is number one, obviously."

The presidential oath is contained in Article II of the United States Constitution. Here's how it actually reads in its entirety:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Period. Exclamation point. End of sentence. End of oath. That business about protecting and defending against foreign and domestic evildoers is in the military enlistment oaths, and the president is a civilian, remember Senator Dodd?

Dodd seems like an honest guy. He probably just got the oaths confused in his head--he did, after all, serve in the Army Reserve. But he's also a lawyer; one who says that as president, the FIRST thing he'll do after being sworn into office is "restore the Constitution." How's he going to restore the constitution if he can't keep straight what the damn thing says? What's he going to do, hire another lawyer to read the Constitution for him? As it is, Dodd appears to already be in the mindset of basing his constitutional authority and priorities on things that don't appear anywhere in the Constitution, and we've had more than enough of that recently.

Of the other candidates who got a chance to speak on the security versus constitutionality issue, the best responder was Barak Obama. When Blitzer asked, "Is human rights more important than American national security" Obama replied, "The concepts are not contradictory, Wolf."

Jesus, Larry, and Curly; why didn't all the candidates give that answer?

Can anyone other than George W. Bush and his merry madmen imagine any possible reason why the head of the mightiest nation in the history of mankind, a nation that spends more on defense and spy gizmos and homeland bureaucracy paraphernalia than the rest of the world combined, should have to choose between protecting his country's security and its cherished founding principles?

And is Barak Obama really the only presidential candidate who realizes that's a choice he doesn't need to make?


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available April 1, 2008.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Iraq: The Sleight of Hand Surge

To beg from a favorite expression of my grandmother's, I don't know whether to laugh or cry over the latest "good news" from Iraq. As we begin the twelve-month countdown to next November's election, friends of the Bush administration are once again declaring "mission accomplished" in Iraq.

An editorial in the November 12th Los Angeles Times by David B. Rivkin Jr., a former Bush II policy aide (and Donald Rumsfeld apologist), stated, "By every objective measure of military performance, the United States' surge of military forces into Iraq has been a great success." The next morning, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough squealed, "The surge has worked." On November 19th, Kimberly Kagan, wife of surge architect Frederick Kagan, wrote in a Weekly Standard article titled "How They Did It" that "With violence falling sharply, Iraqis are no longer mobilizing for full-scale civil war."

All this right wing hoopla conveniently ignores the Baby Ruth floating in the punch bowl: 2007, the year of the surge, has seen the largest annual toll of U.S. troop deaths (854) in the history of this woebegone war, and we have the rest of November and December left to go.

Well, all right, not everybody in the administration has ignored this. Colonel Steven Boylan, General David Petraeus's personal public affairs officer, says, "We knew going into this that with the new strategy there was a potential for more casualties." In other words, we knew more troops were going to die so it's okay that they did. See how neat that works?

And nobody in the Bush camp too seems upset about how many troops died this year because not very many of the troops who died this year died in the last three months, and according to administration echo chamberlain Richard Benedetto, the last three months are all that really matter in the killed in action department, and bad on the darn old liberal media for not bringing that to everybody's attention. Sure, it's tough about all those other troops who got killed four or more months ago, but war is hell, haven't you heard? Plus, when you get right down to it, the troops who were killed in the last three months really shouldn't count either, according to Benedetto's reasoning, because there were so darn few of them. Relatively speaking, that is.

The neocons are making hay out of the reduced number of roadside bomb attacks, despite that fact that on November 12th four American soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. That same day, an American soldier was killed while conducting combat operations in Anbar, but that didn't stop the neocons from continuing to chortle how well things are going in that province. You'll also hear congratulatory rumblings about how well Iraq's security forces are progressing, despite six Iraqi policemen in a town outside Mosul being gunned down in front of their own police station recently. The gunmen? They got away, of course. How's that for police work?

To call what's now happening in Iraq a "great success" because bad things have happened less in the last three months than in the previous several months is exactly like saying losing one leg to a roadside bomb is preferable to losing two legs to a roadside bomb. That's true in a Rovewellian sort of way, but the only thing in this analogy I'd consider a "great success" is losing zero legs to a roadside bomb.

But however great, small or in between you care to measure the military performance of late in Iraq, the surge's successes have been at the tactical level, and we're long past the point in this war where tactical victories can be touted as signs of strategic progress. The surge's stated aim was to provide breathing space for Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki's unity government to get its act together, and there's no sign of that happening. As Thomas E. Ricks of the Washington Post wrote recently, "Senior military commanders here now portray the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government as the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq." Even Kimberly Kagan confesses that "Whether the political developments that were always the ultimate objective of the surge can be brought to fruition remains to be seen."

What's more, the region is less stable than ever. Increasing talk of establishing separate autonomous regions for the Sunnis, Shias and Kurds ups the odds that our "ally" Turkey, historically fearful of Kurdish nationalism, will invade Iraq from the north. Our other ally, Pakistan, has become what the administration tells us we should be afraid that Iran might turn into: a Muslim country with nuclear weapons that could fall into the hands of terrorists.

Whatever you do, don't fall for any stated or implied message that the surge's overwhelming triumph is the thing that's allowing planned reductions of U.S. troop levels in Iraq. The coming drawdown, if one can call it that, was an integral part of the surge from the beginning, and it had nothing to do with projected success or failure. It had to do with how long a force already stretched opaque could sustain an escalation. The surge had to begin its ebb around New Year's, and was fated to putt out in the summer of 2008. Even so, the current plan to reduce the 167,000 troop level presently in Iraq to 140,000-145,000 by July will leave 10,000-15,000 more troops in country than were there when the surge began. Some drawdown.

One tends to wonder why the administration still expends so much effort spinning the war in lieu of winning it, until one considers that this latest propaganda operation may benefit a GOP presidential candidate who came out foursquare behind the surge back in January, and one doesn't need help from one's mommy to figure out who that candidate might be.

Post Script

A November 20th New York Times story titled "Baghdad Starts to Exhale as Security Improves" tells of enhanced conditions in the capital city. "Days now pass without a car bomb" and "The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about 5 a day." Baghdad "only" saw 15 suicide bombings in October.

Librarian Suhaila al-Aasan and her family recently returned to their apartment in the Dora neighborhood of southern Baghdad. So far, her family is the only one that has returned to the apartment building. Her part of Dora "still looks as desolate as a condemned tenement." On most days, Iraqi soldiers are the only "neighbors" Mrs. Aasan sees.

What's her number one piece of "good news?"
Mrs. Aasan said she was thrilled and relieved just a few days ago, when her college-aged son got stuck at work after dark and his father managed to pick him up and drive home without being killed.

Thrilled and relieved that her son and husband weren't killed while driving home.

If that's "great success," Marlboroughs are a cure for lung cancer.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Breakfast of Veterans

I picked up Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions to re-read over the Veterans' Day weekend. It's one of those books I try to read every four or five years. I was a freshman in college when I read it the first time. I remembered it being a quick read. I didn't remember, though, that the story takes place over Veterans' Day weekend.

Here's what Vonnegut says in the book about Veterans' Day:
I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy…all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.

My grandmother remembered World War I well. She worked in an ammunition factory in Illinois during that war, having just graduated from high school. When I was very young, before America's involvement in Vietnam began, Grandma used to take me to visit her brother, my great uncle, who had fought in World War I. He was in a trench when the Germans attacked him and his buddies with mustard gas.

He got injured in that attack. I'm not sure if they called injuries from gas attacks "wounds" in World War I, since that wasn't the kind of injury that showed on the outside like a shrapnel wound or a missing arm or leg, or having part of your face or skull shot off.

My grandfather was too young to fight in World War I and too old to fight in World War II. About ten million men were just the right age to die fighting in World War I, and another ten million civilians of all ages died too. My grandmother and my great uncle said that they and everyone they knew thought World War I was the worst thing to ever happen in the history of mankind, and that they all thought that way until World War II came along. Almost 70 million people died in World War II, which made it roughly three and a half times more deadly than World War I.

Mr. Bush, the current president of the United States, says that if Iran gets the nuclear bomb, we'll have a World War III. Iran says it has no interest in getting a bomb, and Mr. Bush has yet to prove Iran is lying, which is more than we can say of Mr. Bush. I'd guess that Mr. Bush wants some of us to think that if there's a World War III, it will be 3.5 times as deadly as World War II, just like World War two was 3.5 times deadlier than World War I. Wow, that would mean almost 245 million people would die in World War III. I find that concept quite frightening. I wonder if Mr. Bush meant to scare me like that, with all that talk about World War III.

Fortunately for me, I'm too old to fight in World War III, just like I was too young to fight in Vietnam. The wars I fought in were against Iraq and Kosovo. Very few Americans died in those wars, and not all that many of our enemies died in those wars either, I mean, if you compare those wars to World War I and World War II. I'm also a decorated veteran of the war on drugs, I'll have you know. These days I take several drugs, but they're the kind doctors make you take to remind you you're no spring chicken any more.

My dad was just barely young enough so he didn't have to fight in Korea. He got drafted, and he and all his pals thought they were headed for war as soon as they finished boot camp, but both sides agreed to a cease-fire before that happened, so my dad got to spend two years with my mom in Germany instead. That's why I was born in Germany, instead of America where natural born Americans are supposed to be born. Because I was born of American parents in an American military hospital, I'm one of the very few citizens born overseas who can still become the president of the United States, but that privilege is pretty much wasted on me since I don't want the job. As an adult, I've tended to not think very highly of the people who've held it.

I'm a disabled veteran, though you wouldn't know it to look at me. My disability involves my back and my hip, conditions aggravated by many years of sitting in ejection-style seats while flying in Navy aircraft. So my injuries don't show, unless it’s a real bad day for me and I limp a little when I walk. Heh, my injuries, like my great uncle's, are on the inside.

A lot of present day veterans, veterans of Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, are suffering from wounds on the inside of the kind we now call post-traumatic stress syndrome, or PTSD. In World War I they called that sort of thing "shell shock," and it was around World War II time frame that they started calling it "combat fatigue." I know a lot of people these days who think veterans who say they have PTSD are sissies, or worse yet, that they're faking it.

And you know, the people who say that about veterans with PTSD are veterans themselves. Many of them are veterans of Vietnam, a war in which 50,000 American troops died.

Some of these veterans scoff when they hear the killed in action figures for the present war in Iraq. Heck, more people of that age group get killed in highway accidents at home, they'll say. What's the point of all the hand wringing over that few kids getting killed in Iraq?

I ask if they mean that it's okay about the kids killed in Iraq because they would have died in highway accidents anyway, is that how they're saying it works? Are they saying getting killed in a war doesn't count unless tens of millions of other people get killed in the war too?

No, they mutter, that's not what they're saying, I know what they mean, don't I? And I tell them that no, I don't know what they mean. After that they usually start talking to somebody else.

These war veterans and the people they talk to after they're uncomfortable talking with me any more are still big supporters of Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney, who both went quite a ways out of their ways to avoid being war veterans.

I have this little veterans' memorial along the edge of my yard. It's where I put in some new plants early in the fall, so they'd be established when winter came and then bloom when spring rolls around. Puttering around the garage while I was in the middle of this yard project, I found a miniature U.S. flag on a small stick, one of those things you see real estate agents plant a million of in everybody's yard on the Fourth of July. I'd saved this one from the Fourth, for some reason. Anyway, there it was on a shelf in my garage, and I picked it up and took it out where I'd just put all the new plants and stuck it in the ground, where it has stayed 24/7 ever since.

I think of this little plot as my memorial to everyone I personally knew who died in uniform. None of them died in combat. Most of them died in "training accidents," mainly aviation related, things like disappearing into the side of a mountain or flying to the bottom of the ocean.

I keep thinking someone who thinks he's really, really patriotic will come along someday when I'm in the yard playing with my dogs or something and tell me how I'm not treating the flag properly, that I should know better than to leave it outside day and night, rain or shine, what with me being a veteran and all.

I can't wait to see the look on that person's face when I say what I have to say in reply to that. It should be pretty comical, the look on the face of that person who thinks he's so all fired patriotic.

That person might look like he just heard the Voice of God.

Kurt Vonnegut, in case you didn't know, was a veteran of World War II, and saw his fair share of the 70 million people who died in that conflict. He was an infantry soldier who was taken prisoner by the Germans along with some of his buddies, and was in Dresden when the allies bombed the snot out of it and burned it to a crisp. He wrote about that experience in another novel of his called Slaughterhouse Five. If Kurt Vonnegut came down from heaven and pitched me a ration of guff about that little flag in my yard, I'd probably stay calm and listen to what he had to say, and even thank him for stopping by.

Anybody else who wants to give me a hard time about that flag, though…


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Kucinich and Paul: The Mice that Roared

In order to regain its status as the respected leader of the world's nations, America must eradicate the neoconservative movement from its body politic, and the only '08 presidential candidates committed to that goal appear to be Democrat Dennis Kucinich and Republican Ron Paul. If you think the neoconservatives packed up shop subsequent to their Mesopotamia mistake, think again. The neocons not only didn't learn anything from Iraq, they're betting large that nobody else did either--and that's a bet they stand a good chance of winning.

As Kucinich said in April, when he first introduced Articles of Impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney, "…this vice president, who was a driving force for taking the United States into a war against Iraq under false pretenses, is once again rattling the sabers of war against Iran with the same intent to drive America into another war, again based on false pretenses."

And as Paul states in the foreign policy section of his campaign web site:
The war in Iraq was sold to us with false information. The area is more dangerous now than when we entered it. We destroyed a regime hated by our direct enemies, the jihadists, and created thousands of new recruits for them. This war has cost more than 3,000 American lives, thousands of seriously wounded, and hundreds of billions of dollars. We must have new leadership in the White House to ensure this never happens again.

The top tier candidates from both parties talk of new approaches to the Iraq problem, but none of them--with the possible exception of Barack Obama--offer anything realistic that's substantively different from "stay the course." And though Kucinich and Paul touch on the essential task that lies ahead in setting the course of U.S. foreign policy, the mainstream information gatekeepers continue to treat them like pipsqueaks.

Is it possible that, under the surface, all of America's national profile politicians have crawled into the neocons' pockets?

Once and Future King Makers

The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) established itself in June of 1997, when it established four major goals for its vision of American foreign policy:
• we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;

• we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;

• we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;

• we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.

With the exception of significantly increasing America's defense spending, the neocons' dreams of U.S. global dominance have dashed themselves against the shoals of reality. Today, though we spend more than the rest of the world combined on defense, friends and enemies alike shun us. We have to kiss up to countries like Turkey and Pakistan while the greatest threats to our national security are backwater outfits like Iran and North Korea, all states whose economies and defense budgets are less than five percent of ours and none of whom would amount to a pimple on our posterior if we hadn't let the neocons persuade us to stick said posterior into the crack its in now. Moreover, our security, prosperity and principles are more in peril than they have been since the beginning of World War II, and as recent events in Pakistan illustrate, our efforts to promote political freedom abroad have been dismal failures.

Make no mistake; as the neocons' paper trail starkly reveals, an American invasion of Iraq for the purpose of creating a larger military footprint in the Middle East with which to put a chokehold (if you will) on the flow of oil from the region was the neocons' primary objective. While Saddam Hussein provided the "immediate justification" for sending U.S. forces to capture the strategic center of the Gulf region, he was really just a convenient excuse to launch Plan A, and the 9/11 attacks were the "new Pearl Harbor" catalyst they needed.

If America were still a true republic, the neocons would have been ridden out of town two years ago at the latest; they don't have enough tar, feathers or rails in Washington D.C. to give those characters the kind of send off they deserve. But they're still around and reeking havoc. Dick Cheney still lurks in undisclosed locations in between appearances at GOP fundraising and warmongering functions. Cheney side buoys like David Addington continue to infest the White House. Backyard variety chicken hawks such as John Bolton, Fred Kagan, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Newt Gingrich hang out in the Scholars and Fellows lounge of the influential neoconservative think tank American Enterprise Institute.

To ensure there's a next generation of Yankee imperialists, an impressive array of neoconservatives teach at some of our most prestigious universities. Doug Feith, former chief of the infamous Office of Special Plans, lectures at Columbia University. John Yoo, godfather of the plenary (absolute) executive powers theory, is a professor of law at University of California, Berkley. PNAC founder and editor of The Weekly Standard Bill Kristol is on the faculty at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Mackubin Thomas Owens, co-author of the PNAC manifesto Rebuilding America's Defenses is an Associate Dean of Academics at the U.S. Naval War College. Condoleeza Rice, perhaps the most feckless luminary in the neo-constellation, wants to go back to Stanford and teach political science, despite concerted efforts by the student body and faculty to make it clear she's as welcome as a case of herpes.

And of course, to ensure a constant stream of Rovewellian brainwash reaches the hoi polloi, there will always be right-wing talk radio and Fox News.

So it's important that bottom rung Ron Paul was able to raise $4.2 million in a recent one-day internet fund raising campaign. It tells GOP leadership types that they may lose their rank and file if they don't show the neocons the door.

It's even more important that Dennis Kucinich is making Herculean efforts to hold Dick Cheney's feet to the inferno. If we let Cheney skate away without so much as slap on the wrist, we'll send a clear signal to thousands of young Lord Vader wannabes that they can pull whatever Machiavellian shenanigans they want and get away with them.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Pakistan and U.S.: Pots and Kettles and Constitutions

"Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities"

-- Voltaire

From the "Irony Is Still Dead" files:

Over the weekend, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for a "quick return to constitutional law." Lamentably, she wasn't talking about a return to constitutional law in the United States. She was talking about Pakistan.

Rice's remark about constitutional law was prompted by the state of emergency President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan declared in his country Saturday night. Musharraf has not said how long the emergency will be in effect. This is not to be confused with the state of emergency Mr. Bush declared in his country on September 14, 2001 that is still in effect and will be for the indefinite future. These two states of emergency are completely different, of course. Mr. Bush declared an emergency because terrorists attacked two major cities in his country. Mr. Musharraf declared an emergency because terrorists threatened to take control of his country.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has accused Musharraf of using the specter of terror to maintain his hold on power. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore has accused Bush of using the specter of terror to commit "a gross and excessive power grab."

Musharraf's suspension of Pakistan's constitution defied strong warnings from the United States. On November 1, Condi Rice broadcast the message that “…it would be quite obvious that the United States wouldn’t be supportive of extra-constitutional means.” Musharraf apparently didn't take her seriously.

Who can blame him?

It is not, of course, like Pakistan and America are wholly identical when it comes to their heads of state practicing absolute executive powers. Well, yeah, Messrs. Bush and Musharraf did first take power under unsavory circumstances at about the same time (Musharraf in 1999, Bush in 2000). But hey, at least the division of powers works differently in the two countries. Pakistan's Supreme Court was considering a ruling that would put Mr. Musharraf out of office. America's Supreme Court, on the other hand, made a ruling that put Mr. Bush in office. And Musharraf fired the high court justices who wouldn't go along with his "provisional constitutional order," whereas Mr. Bush merely fired the U.S. Attorneys who wouldn't play ball with his political agenda.

Here are a couple more differences. America is the first true global hegemon in the history of humanity. Pakistan is not and never will be. America has the largest economy of the world's nations, posting an estimated gross domestic product of over $13 trillion in 2006. Pakistan's 2006 economy, at just under $438 billion, was 26th among the world's countries and less than four percent the size of America's.

And yet, amazingly, Pakistan can get whatever it wants from America while America can't get anything it wants from Pakistan (see, I told you the two countries were different!). Condi Rice is reviewing whether or not we should try to make Musharraf behave by cutting off his allowance, but as Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware) has noted, our "hands are tied" from withholding Pakistan's foreign aid because, despite Condi's assertions to the contrary, the Bush administration has in fact put "all its chips" in Pakistan on Musharraf.

That brings up a couple more differences between America and Pakistan. If Musharraf falls from power, Pakistan's nuclear weapons might fall under the control of dangerous ideologues, while America's nuclear weapons are already under the control of dangerous ideologues.

And while America stands alone in the world diplomatically, Pakistan has joined with Turkey and Iran to form an "Axis of Weasels," a loose confederation of middle eastern countries whose economies and defense budgets are well under five percent those of the United States, yet who manage to lead America on a seemingly endless foreign policy goose chase.

And who do we have to handle this situation? Condoleezza Rice and her department full of career diplomats who don't want to deploy to Iraq, the invasion of which created the foreign policy pickle barrel we now find ourselves in.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, bless this bed that we lie on…


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Too Few Good Men

Lieutenant Colonel Colby Vokey recently announced his decision to retire from the U.S. Marines. As a Judge Advocate General officer, Vokey served the last four years as head of all Marine Corps defense lawyers in the western United States. He has decided to leave the Corps because he's "fed up" with the military justice system, a system that military commanders manipulate to achieve their desired verdicts, and one that Vokey alternately describes as "horrific," "disgraceful," and a "sham."

Retired Colonel Jane Siegal, former chief of all Marine defense counselors, says of Vokey that, "Integrity almost seems like a word too small to describe him." Lamentably, integrity seems like too inappropriate a word to apply to many senior U.S. military officers these days.

The Business of Saving Lies

Retired Lieutenant General and former top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq Ricardo Sanchez appears to feel he's a victim of injustice, but his disgruntlement is of a different kind from Casey Vokey's. The Abu Ghraib torture affair happened on Sanchez's watch. Well, it didn't just "happen." Many argue that he helped set the conditions for prisoner abuse with his September 2003 memo that authorized, among other interrogation techniques, "emotional love," "pride and ego down" and "stress positions" that some prison guards apparently took to mean they should handcuff prisoners, shove them to the floor, and stick inanimate objects up their behinds.

In April 2005, special counsel for Human Rights Watch Reed Brody said, “General Sanchez gave the troops at Abu Ghraib the green light to use dogs to terrorize detainees, and they did, and we know what happened. And while mayhem went on under his nose for three months, Sanchez didn’t step in to halt it.” Human Rights Group called for a special prosecutor to investigate the culpability of Sanchez and others in cases of crimes against prisoners.

The military was kinder to Sanchez. An Army Inspector General finding absolved Sanchez of wrongdoing in the Abu Ghraib affair. Sanchez did not become head of U.S. Southern Command as he expected, however, and retired without pinning on a fourth star. As the doorknob hit him on his way out, Sanchez complained that his career had been a casualty of Abu Ghraib.

Retiring from the military as a three-star general is a tough thing; almost as tough as the three years in military prison Lynndie England got for being the private at the bottom of the Abu Ghraib food chain who was feckless enough to let her picture be taken while she helped her married boyfriend abuse Iraqi prisoners. Lynndie's three years are up, but she doesn’t have a three-star general's retirement pay and benefits. I've been unable to discover whether she ever got back her old job at a West Virginia chicken factory, but it's a sure bet she isn't knocking down big bucks as prison security consultant with Blackwater USA.

You Can't Panhandle the Truth

I could have forgiven and forgotten Sanchez forever if he'd taken his retirement parachute and a high dollar gig with General Dynamics or some phony baloney national security think tank and kept mum, but no.

At an October 12th conference for military reporters outside Washington D.C., Sanchez said of the situation in Iraq, "“There is no question America is living a nightmare with no end in sight” and that “There is nothing going on today that would give us hope.” These are sentiments I wholly agree with, and I would have applauded Sanchez if he'd quit talking while he was ahead, but he then proceeded to castigate the administration and the media for everything that went wrong in Iraq and with his military career. Here's how Army Times reporter Kelly Kennedy described the scene:
Jaws dropped as Sanchez glared out at the room, and then eyes rolled as he spent an hour blaming everyone but himself. Most of what he said about the military has been said before: There’s no grand strategy, the Iraqi Army should not have been disbanded, there was no planning for stabilization or recovery past the initial invasion and, “the administration has failed.”

When asked about his accountability as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Sanchez replied that by the time he took over it was too late for him to do anything. I guess it was too late for him to say anything either, too late to do anything but keep his mouth shut and take the job and hope it led to the four-star command he wanted.

It wasn't too late for Colby Vokey to speak up when he perceived that the Corps was trying to railroad eight Marines accused of massacring unarmed civilians in Haditha, Iraq. The Corps put together one of the largest legal teams in history to prosecute the eight men and told Vokey he'd have to defend them with a much smaller team. Vokey had to take the fight up the chain of command to the general level to get the defense team he needed. Vokey also went to bat for a teenage Guantanamo detainee whose confession to murdering an American soldier in Afghanistan was obtained, according to the detainee, through torture methods FBI agents have reported seeing practiced at the Guantanamo facility. Vokey has also been an active supporter of Marines who come home from Iraq and Afghanistan with stress disorders. Vokey will retire on May 1, 2008 as an O-5.

Judging the moral worth of men is well above my pay grade, but if I had a son, I'd want him to grow up to be a lot like Colby Vokey and not one bit like Ricardo Sanchez.

And it's a sad state of affairs that the admirals' and generals' club is jam packed with men like Sanchez, but men like Vokey are seldom let in.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.