Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Big Schmooze in the Hormuz

I said a few weeks ago that the January 6 incident between U.S. and Iranian naval forces in the Strait of Hormuz might tell us more about the nature of today's news reporting than about the prospects for war and peace in the Middle East. It's now apparent that the affair was emblematic of America's post-modern Orwellian (Rovewellian) information environment.

Unreliable Sources

Initial media reports of the encounter were enough to make you wish you'd salted away an extra month's worth of beef jerky in the backyard fallout shelter.

A senior military correspondent with the Associated Press said that "an Iranian fleet of boats" had "charged at and threatened to blow up a three-ship U.S. Navy convoy" transiting the Strait of Hormuz. According to the senior correspondent, Fifth Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Kevin Cosgriff said in a January 7 press teleconference that the Iranian fleet "fled as American commanders were preparing to open fire."

A Rupert Murdoch newspaper reported that an unnamed "Pentagon official said that US forces were 'literally' on the verge of firing on the Iranian boats," and that another Pentagon official (or maybe the same one) said "It is the most serious provocation of this sort that we’ve seen yet."

An echo chamberlain with the Big Brother News Network squalled, "Was this a mistake not to blow these other Iranian speedboats out of the water? […] Why did we not destroy these speedboats? [...] We had an opportunity to send a message to a nation that has been needling us for 20 years."

Subsequent saner accounts revealed that the "Iranian fleet" consisted of five speedboats of the size that haul sunburned water skiers across American lakes in the summer. The official transcript of the Cosgriff press conference showed that the admiral had not said that American commanders were preparing to open fire, but that he had heard that story reported "on the news."

We discovered that the threats to blow up the U.S. ships broadcast over a VHF bridge-to-bridge radio circuit had almost certainly been part of the standard heckling from untraceable sources that American combatant vessels have heard in the Persian Gulf for more than two decades. The skipper of one of the U.S. ships involved said, “We gave them the opportunity to break off, so that we didn’t have to go the ultimate, which would have been deadly force.” That's a far cry from "preparing to open fire."

Something worth noticing happened between our Navy and the Iranians in the Gulf, all right, but it was merely an upsmanship shenanigan of the kind that has occurred in those waters many times since the Tanker War ended in 1988, and was hardly "the most serious provocation of this sort that we’ve seen yet."

So where did all the alarmist disinformation come from?

Minister of Truth

On January 15, investigative historian Gareth Porter blew the lid off the mystery of who had "disassembled" about the Hormuz incident. Bryan Whitman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, had held a separate briefing for the Pentagon press corps. Most of what he said was off the record, meaning he could not be directly quoted (when you read quotes from an "unnamed official" in a news story, it's generally propaganda that the initiators don't want traced back to their bosses). In an apparent slip up, a reporter for one major outlet revealed Whitman as the source of the "about to fire" rhetoric.

That the story of the Hormuz incident got "cooked" at the Pentagon reminds one of the Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) established under then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shortly after September 11 in order to support the war on terror through information operations, including disinformation and other forms of black propaganda. Officially, Rumsfeld shut down the OSI amid outrage over the news that it would feed false stories to the foreign press, but in a November 2002 media briefing, he made it clear that it would live on in function if not form, saying " if you want to savage this thing fine I'll give you the corpse. There's the name. You can have the name, but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have."

War Is Sell

The Pentagon and the right wing media weren't the only ones who spun the Hormuz incident all across the information highway.

The military affairs fictioneer with the big online magazine generated a Chariot-of-the-Gods argument to explain why the U.S. and Iranian videotapes of the encounter were so different—they were tapes of two separate events! (The term "Chariot-of-the-Gods argument" derives from the book by Erich von Daniken that says since we can't easily explain who made all those weird giant patterns out in the desert, it must have been ancient astronauts.)

The fictioneer credited his counterpart with the blog of the newspaper that once actually guarded the Constitution from unitary executives like Richard Nixon for inspiring the "two tapes" theory. The counterpart accused the Iranians of "mendacity" without making any attempt to prove that they were actually lying about anything.

The old gray mare (she ain't what she used to be) that gave us Judith Miller and the Niger yellowcake hoax ran an article that compared the Hormuz affair to an incident that happened during a fictional 2002 war game that was mainly conducted by imaginary forces on battlefields in cyberspace in which Iranian small boats notionally sank an entire U.S. naval task force in the Persian Gulf. To make the analogy even more preposterous, in the game, the U.S. and Iran were in a state of declared conflict, which they are not in the real world despite the best efforts of Dick Cheney and his Iranian Directorate.

The same big eastern paper ran an unsolicited editorial by a Marine Corps reservist and Pentagon employee who suggested that a proper step to take against Iranian to deter small boat harassment might be to bomb two Iranian islands in the Gulf. The author is not part of a larger propaganda machine; he was simply relating his own experiences and opinions. But the fact that an opinion piece from an obscure government employee ran in the paper of record as well as other national and international news outlets gives you an idea how willing the major media are to whip Pavlov's Dogs of War into a slathering bloodlust.

The neoconservative mind control program has evolved far beyond anything the old Office of Strategic Influence could have achieved. It is as ubiquitous and dispersed as al Qaeda. It has spread past its original base of truth ministries like the ISO and the Iranian Directorate, think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, private propaganda contractors like Lincoln Group and the Rendon Group, media savvy American Caesars like General David Petraeus and unabashed media proponents of American military hegemony like William Kristol's Weekly Standard.

The neocons have successfully recruited the able services of mainstream media publishers and producers who have pillaged the truth for the sake of ever increasing plunder margins, journalists who gleefully trade their integrity for access to the halls of power, dime store strategists who write pro-war letters to editors who are eager to print them, and full time Pentagon correspondents who would more gainfully be employed as gossip columnists.


Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Schmooze in Hormuz

I've been studying the incident in the Strait of Hormuz of early January between U.S. and Iranian naval forces, and am more convinced than ever that it was blown out of proportion by an administration friendly media with urging from the remnants of Donald Rumsfeld's Office of Strategic Influence (aka Ministry of Truth).

Later this week, I'll have some thoughts on how I think the executive branch's disinformation network operates today, how the Hormuz affair fits into the grand strategy, and what all of it portends for whoever succeeds young Mr. Bush in the Oval Office.



Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Who Wants To Be a Commander in Chief?

All you have to do to sound smart in a right wing bar is start every sentence with "Neal Boortz says…" and all it takes to be a political wit is to say "Hillary" out loud.

I for one am fatigued of hearing earnest discussion by the professional and sandlot punditry alike about whether or not Hillary forgave Bill for Monica because it was a good career move, or if she faked crying like a girl on camera, or if she can take it like a man, and of hearing her blamed for every societal ill from inflation to illegal immigration to fluoridation (Ice cream, Mandrake. Children's ice cream!) and just about everything else. I'd really like the discussion about Hillary to focus on whether or not she'd make a good president.

I happen to think she wouldn't make a good president at all, but not because I'm afraid she might show a little too much cleavage at her inauguration. I'm convinced she would make a wholly inadequate commander in chief of our military, and after two terms of Bush the younger, that's something we simply cannot endure.


As I said a few weeks ago, I view our current presidential race as a cattle call audition for the role of commander in chief. The trick to wading through a slate of candidates the size of this one is to begin by eliminating everyone who's obviously not right for the part.

From the top, I can scratch the leading GOP hopefuls, the holy trinity of theocons who hope to exploit misdirected religious fervor to support their neoconservative foreign policies. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee were conspicuous Christian Soldiers from the get go. John McCain joined their ranks when he aired the Christmas ad that Mel Gibson could have directed, the one showing young Lieutenant McCain, tortured prisoner of war, looking like You-Know-Who after they pulled Him down off the you-know-what.

But even if we take the Messiah handle away from him, McCain comes up short in the CINC department. Yes, he's been on the Senate Armed Services Committee forever, but being on the SASC doesn’t make one competent on security matters. Joe Lieberman has been on the committee for donkey's years too, and what he understands about military art you wouldn't notice if he stuck it under your right eyelid. Moreover, everyone must (or at least should) admire and respect McCain's heroism in the service of our country, but let's face it; being a prisoner of war doesn’t teach anybody how to run one.

But McCain's chief flaw as a prospective war chief is that he was foursquare in favor of Mr. Bush's Iraq surge strategy, and what's more, he thinks it's working. That makes him an even poorer choice for commander in chief than Hillary.

Clausewitz 101

Based on her January 13 appearance on Meet the Press, Hillary (or one of her staffers) seems to understand Clausewitz's admonition that "The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and the means can never be considered in isolation from their purposes." I'm not convinced, though, that a cursory understanding of On War will be sufficient for Hillary to keep Pavlov's Dogs of War in their cages. I'm especially uncertain whether she has what it takes to get Trumanesque with a MacArthur class American Caesar like General David Petraeus, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq.

In the December 13th interview, Tim Russert posed a hypothetical: If Petraeus reports to Congress in March and "says the surge is working, that reconciliation started in a big way yesterday when the Iraqi parliament said that former members of the Saddam government can participate in new government, don't pull 35,000 troops out now, keep them there for at least the remainder of the year, would you be open to that?"

Hillary shot back, "No, and here's why, Tim." She continued strongly for a time, asserting that the surge was "explained and rationalized as giving the Iraqi government space and time to make the hard decisions that they needed to make." But then she wobbled off into kinda/sorta country, mentioning how 2007 was the "deadliest year for American troops" and "that the large part of the reason that we're seeing the Iraqi government do anything is because time is running out" and yada, yada, blah, blah, wimp, wimp, wimp.

What she should have done immediately was mulch Russert from his hairline to his Adam's apple for asking such a stupid question, and told him the issue of extending the surge was irrelevant because the 35.000 extra troops will be all home by this summer come hell or Hezbollah. That was in the plan when the surge began in January 2007. It can't last any longer without doing seed corn damage to the Army.

Then she should have ripped Russert a new exit ramp for suggesting that allowing minor government clerks to go back to work constituted a "big way" toward political reconciliation.

Last but not least, she should have told Russert—and the rest of the world—that as president she wouldn’t let David Petraeus dictate Iraq policy any more than Harry Truman let Douglas MacArthur call the shots in Korea.

But she didn't do any of those things. What's more, when Russert challenged her on her 2002 vote approving the Iraq invasion, Clinton gave her standard non-answer: "I made it very clear that my vote was not a vote for preemptive war. I said that on the floor, I said it consistently after that. It was a vote to put inspectors back in to determine what threat Saddam Hussein did in fact pose."

Let's take a look at what the bill actually said. Its title was "Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq. Do you think it's possible Hillary didn't read that part of it, or that she misread it, and thought it said "Resolution to Authorize Putting Inspectors Back In?"

Then there's the part of the bill called "authorization" that says "The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq."

How on earth does Hillary think she didn't vote for the war? Was it a matter of what her definition of "authorize" was? If so, that goes beyond Clintonesque. It's downright Bushwacky.

No matter how vehemently she denies it, Hillary bought the Bush team's narrative on Iraq back in 2002, and now she's vested in their Iran fable.

At the November 2007 Democratic candidates' debate in Las Vegas, she tried to bully a young Iraq War veteran into agreeing that "the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has assisted the militias and others in killing our Americans and in maiming them." In a February 2007 address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), she echoed the administration's boo noise about Iran's nuclear program, and emphasized the "urgency to the necessity to doing everything we can to deny nuclear weapons to Iran."

The claims about Iranian culpability in attacks on American G.I.s started about the same time as the surge, and the administration has yet to provide a stick of credible proof to back those accusations. And we don't need to do anything at all to deny nuclear weapons to Iran because, as we all know now thanks to the latest National Intelligence Estimate, it denied them to itself.

One can only conclude that Hillary is a closet neocon or that she's so afraid of being cast as weak on security that she'll give them whatever they want to keep them from calling her a girly girl on AM radio and Fox News.

In either case, I'm sorry, Senator, but you didn't pass the audition. Next Democrat, please, and remember everyone, we're only seeing singing CINCs today. If you're a dancing CINC, you need to come back tomorrow.


Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Dogs of Holy War

Balboa found the Pacific, and on the trail one day
He met some friendly Indians whom he was told were gay
He had them torn apart by dogs on religious grounds they say
The great nations of Europe were quite holy in their way

--Randy Newman, "The Great Nations of Europe"

I managed to catch just enough of a replay of the recent ABC GOP presidential debate to hear Fred Thompson say that we won in Afghanistan. I made the sound of one jaw dropping: not so much over what Thompson said, but because not one of the other candidates batted an eyelash.

They didn't contradict Thompson, or take him to task for being senile, or roll their eyes and make one of those "Grandpa smells funny again" faces. I have to conclude that they all think we won in Afghanistan, or that they know better but don't want to admit that we're actually still there and still losing. In either case, this episode illustrates one of the major reasons we don't want any of the Republicans currently running for president as our next commander in chief. They're either disconnected from foreign policy realities or they refuse to recognize the ones they don't like.

We've had enough of that sort of thing.

Another thing we don't need any more of is faith based foreign policy, and it looks more and more as if that's what the GOP front-runners plan on if they grab the brass ring.

God Is My National Security Adviser

Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee says God intervened in the race on his behalf. Then again, Huck also swears on a stack of you-know-whats that the crucifix appearing behind his head in his Christmas ad just happened by accident, so you can pretty much figure anything Huck says is jive.

The New Hampshire victor and "Comeback Codger" John McCain ran a Christmas ad that dramatized the oft-told story about the guard at the Hanoi Hilton who stood next to a battered Lieutenant McCain on Christmas morning and etched a cross in the dirt with his toe. Taken out of its political context, this story is about bravery, cruelty and compassion. As a piece of pandering to the pre-sentient segment of the religious right, its message is slightly subtler but as unmistakable as Huckabee's: Like Christ, John McCain too was tortured.

Mitt Romney, who took the silver in both Iowa and New Hampshire, gave a pre-Christmas speech on December 6 in which he told America that "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." Mitt's grasp of history is as firm as his issue positions are consistent. Freedom and religion have often been practiced independently of each other. Think of how many societies have sought solace from tyranny in their religions (e.g., "Render unto Caesar…").

Mitt said that, "It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions." Apparently, to Mitt's analytical mind, those moral convictions aren't contained in "the creed of conversion by conquest" practiced by "radical Islamists [who] do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood."

Mitt doesn’t mention, and possibly isn't aware, that the shedding of blood in our present nightmare in the Middle East was caused by a messianic Evangelical Christian who invaded another country halfway across the world because God told him to.

It's important to point out here that while Mitt pointed his finger at "radical" Islamists, there is really no distinction in neoconservative dogma between radical Islam and any other sort of Islam. Listen to talk radio luminary Neal Boortz wax wacky on the subject some time. He'll remind you of the insane Colonel Kurtz, rotting in his lair at the mouth of the Nung River, gasping, "Kill them all." Deriding any effort to separate Islam the religion from global terrism is one of Big Brother Media's major initiatives, as a recent Washington Times piece written by Diana West illustrates. The article, titled "Foul Play," ridicules initiatives in the Pentagon to parse "Islam" from "jihad" as politically correct appeasement. West makes the standard weekly comparison of the Muslim evil doers to Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, blithely skipping over the kind-of-critical detail about how the Nazis and Soviets were honest to goodness peer competitors, whereas today's evil ones don't have a formal army or an air force or a navy or a country or a gross domestic product or even a pot to plant in.

Onward Christian Soldiers

If you think nobody who matters is taking this fear and loathing of Islam talk seriously, think again. Boortz, who refers to Islam as "a deadly virus," has one of the most loyal fan bases in the broadcast media. (If you want to go highbrow in a political debate at a right wing bar, you cite Neal Boortz instead of Rush Limbaugh.) Evangelist Jerry Falwell says the prophet Muhammad was a terrorist. Pat Robertson of 700 Club fame denies that Islam is a religion at all. Rather, "It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world. And it is meant to subjugate all people under Islamic law." So make no mistake; the message says that history is leading up to an apocalyptic showdown with the Jews and Christians on one side and the Muslims on the other, and the talk radio/Fox News crowd is eating it up like hotcakes.

One member of this hate speech audience is a retired Army officer I've been acquainted with for some years. Norm (we'll call him) is the kind of Christian conservative who makes an annual production number out of condemning the War on Christmas but who probably hasn't seen the inside of a church since the Cuban Missile Crisis. A couple of Christmases ago, while holding court in one of his favorite watering holes and discussing the war on terror, Norm offered the considered opinion that if we had to slaughter every man, woman and child of the Muslim persuasion to keep America safe, he was sure Jesus Christ would approve. A lot of heads at the bar nodded in agreement.

We can't simply dismiss yahooligans like this because they vote. They get to vote, of course, because they, like the children of some of them there immigrants they don't like, were born here.

The Dogs of Holy War

It's sad to say, but the history of humanity is largely the history of its wars, and the armed conflicts of western civilization more often than not involved clashes of religious ideologies.

The Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC) that ended Greece's reign as a hegemon pitted a society of Athena's followers against a cult of Ares worshipers. The Crusades waged by Christian Europe against Muslims, pagans, Orthodox Christians, Gnostics, Shamanists, Buddhists, Hussites, political enemies of the pope, etc. drug on for centuries. Subsequent conflicts among the great nations of Europe involved Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and Orthodox Christians crashing into each other and/or persecuting Jews and/or buggering heathens in the third world. This led to World Wars I and II, and then the Cold War, which was an ideological struggle between the Judeo/Christian west and the Evil Empire of Godless Communists complete with proxy wars that featured more buggering of third world heathens.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution insisted on separation of church and state for a number of reasons. Premier among them was to prevent a self-proclaimed unitary executive from exploiting misplaced religious fervor to wage unnecessary and ill-advised wars. That the leading candidates of what has become America's War Party would fall all over each other invoking God and Islamo-fabulism as the pillars of their foreign policy platforms is not unexpected, but it is disheartening to watch the country Abraham Lincoln called mankind's "last best hope" devolve into a postmodern incarnation of the old world at its worst (Excuse me, great nations coming through…).

If we're not very careful, our politicians will deliver unto us a brave new world of war everlasting with victory just around the corner forever and ever, amen. And if you really think more theo-conservative doctrine can solve our present cornucopia of foreign policy fiascos, please consider this: mankind has been praying for peace for as long as it has been fighting wars, which is about as long as there has been a mankind.

All that praying for peace hasn't done a fat lot of good, has it?


Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Iran Aweigh (Again)

The story of the incident between U.S. and Iranian naval forces in the Strait of Hormuz Monday morning may tell us more about the nature of today's news reporting than about the prospects for war and peace in the Middle East.

Veteran military reporter Robert Burns's account of the incident for the Associated Press opened with a bang:
An Iranian fleet of boats charged at and threatened to blow up a three-ship U.S. Navy convoy passing near Iranian waters and then fled as American commanders were preparing to open fire.

The lead paragraph by Andrew Grey of Reuters sounded eerily similar:
Iranian boats aggressively approached three U.S. Naval ships in the Strait of Hormuz, a main shipping route for Gulf oil, at the weekend and threatened that the ships would explode, U.S. officials said on Monday.

Even more alarming was the top of the article in The Australian:
A Pentagon official said that US forces were "literally" on the verge of firing on the Iranian boats as they passed through the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and had moved to man their guns when the Iranians turned and sped away.

A Confederacy of Dissemblers

What we know of the incident so far comes from official and mostly unnamed sources who were nowhere in the vicinity of the Strait, and comes filtered through journalists who often don't seem to know what they're talking about. Much of the reportage is also conspicuously contradictory.

The Australian's statement that "U.S. forces were 'literally' on the verge of firing on the Iranian boats" and "had moved to man their guns when the Iranians turned and sped away" is a prime example of every flaw in the narrative. If U.S. forces were just then moving to man their guns as the Iranians turned and sped away, they were closer to the verge of sleep than of firing on anybody. Those guns, almost certainly 50 caliber machine guns placed on the American ships' weather decks, were either manned when the ships set condition Zebra prior to entering the Strait or those skippers will be handing their command pins over to the three-star in command of Fifth Fleet by the end of next week. It's disheartening but not unexpected that the reporter didn't know that, that some source in the Navy told him the story that way, and that despite the deliberate artificial tension in the narrative, nobody in the scenario was on the verge of firing on anybody else: literally, figuratively or conceivably.

That consideration certainly should have crossed the mind of an experienced hand like Robert Burns, but his comment that the Iranians "fled as American commanders were preparing to open fire" was on the same order of disingenuousness. Burns attributed the remark to Vice Admiral Kevin J. Cosgriff, the Fifth Fleet commander, but he doesn't quote Cosgriff directly, which gives him a license to (ahem) dramatize a bit. Speaking of drama, Burns's term "Iranian fleet" is hardly anything anyone with the least experience of naval matters would use to describe what the Iranians actually sent into the Strait, which was a squadron of five speedboats.

And when I say "speedboat," folks, I'm not talking about a small frigate, or even something the size of PT 109. I'm talking about the kind of boat you see on American lakes every summer pulling sunburned water skiers around. These Iranian boats are typically armed with a single high caliber machine gun, which is, to put it placidly, a darn sight less weaponry than U.S. combatant ships carry. It sounds to me like the "white box-like objects" the speedboats dropped into the water were Little Rascals technology simulations of mines, painted a bright color for the express purpose of ensuring the Americans saw them and steered around them.

Scary, Huh Kids?

The Australian quotes an unnamed "Pentagon official" as saying that "It is the most serious provocation of this sort that we’ve seen yet." The paper recounts the claim of a "Pentagon spokesman" that the Iranian boats were operating at "distances and speeds that showed reckless and dangerous intent – reckless, dangerous and potentially hostile intent". The Australian identified the spokesman as one Bryan Whitman, but it didn't mention what Bryan Whitman does in the Pentagon or how he came to be a spokesman for it.

It happens that one Bryan Whitman is the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, which makes him part of the Office of Strategic Influence (AKA Ministry of Truth) apparatus that Donald Rumsfeld established to support his wars through misinformation, disinformation, and psychological operations. One of Whitman's most notable contributions to the cause was his attempted whitewashing of the Pentagon's Jessica Lynch hoax.

And from whom are we getting the cockamamie account of the U.S. ships preparing to fire just as the Iranians turned and high tailed it? Reuters' Andrew Gray pretty much coughed up a confession: "Pentagon officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said after the Iranian threats a U.S. captain was in the process of ordering sailors to open fire when the Iranian boats moved away."

Pentagon officials speaking on the condition of anonymity. Jesus, Larry and Curly. How long will the big media allow these yahooligans to use it as a propaganda venue?

According to Burns, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini played down the incident, calling it, "…something normal that takes place every now and then for each party." And Defense Secretary Robert Gates allowed as how there had been two or three similar incidents—"maybe not quite as dramatic"—over the past year, but he offered no details.

So who knows what exactly happened in the Strait Monday morning? I sure don't, but I'll tell you something I do know. U.S. and Iranian naval units have been playing patty cake in the Strait and the Persian Gulf with each other since the tanker wars of the 1980s. I can't count offhand how many times I ran the Strait of Hormuz scenario during the 90s, in tabletop experiments, computer simulations, live play exercises and real world operations. The skippers and crews of the American warships had to have been prepared for what they saw on Monday. Granted, when it's really you transiting the real Straits with five real Iranian speedboats making a run at you, that's a bona fide pucker patrol; and it appears that the U.S. crews conducted every step of the operation by the letter.

Still, back in my day, we called that sort of thing "free training." After all the helmets and fire hoses were put away, we reckoned we'd had a jolly old time, trading love taps with gloves and headgear on, and suspected that the other guys considered the whole thing to be good clean fun too.

So like Bhutto's assassination, the Turks bombing of the Kurds, and other recent fiascos, Monday's incident in the Strait of Hormuz was worth noting as yet another example of how far American policy has run adrift under the Bush administration's stewardship.

But it was nothing to take to your backyard fallout shelter over.


Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) will be available April 1, 2008.

" A profane and hilarious parody of the post–Cold War navy…Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served." -- Publishers Weekly

"A witty, wacky, wildly outrageous novel that skewers just about anything you’d care to name…a remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." -- Booklist