Thursday, May 29, 2008

Another False Iran Alarm

So this guy with an odd name writes an article in the Asia Times that says Bush plans to run an air strike on Iran by August. Do we ignore it or do we start squirreling away canned pears in the family fallout shelter?

Self described “former broadcast news producer” Muhammad Cohen writes in a May 28 article that “The George W. Bush administration plans to launch an air strike against Iran within the next two months.” This is according to something “an informed source tells Asia Times Online.” We can be reasonably certain that “Asia Times Online” is Mr. Cohen. The identity of the “informed source” is somewhat less scrutable.

The “source,” according to Cohen, is “a retired U.S. career diplomat and former assistant secretary of state still active in the foreign affairs community, speaking anonymously.” What seems to make the source so reliable, in Cohen’s estimation, is that he or she is “echoing other reports that have surfaced in the media in the United States recently.”

Hence, what the source told Cohen seems reliable because it sounds like the noise the rest of the echo chamber is making. That’s the new journalistic litmus test for veracity all right, but Cohen’s the first writer I’ve heard come right out and admit it.

The anonymous former assistant secretary of state, assuming that’s a genuine credential, has to be one of oh, twenty or thirty people, so one has to wonder why he or she felt the need to cling to anonymity. I’m starting to think it’s a status thing in Washington now to be cited anonymously about something electrifying as long as everybody inside the beltway knows the anonymous source was you.

Cohen says the former assistant secretary told him that details of the planned strike “raised alarm bells on Capitol Hill.”

“After receiving secret briefings on the planned air strike,” Cohen writes, “Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, and Senator Richard Lugar, Republican of Indiana, said they would write a New York Times op-ed piece ‘within days.’”

Cohen didn’t bother to confirm any of that with Feinstein or Lugar because “Senate offices were closed for the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, so Feinstein and Lugar were not available for comment.”

Senate offices were open on Wednesday the 28th, the day Cohen’s story hit the Asia Times web site, so I called Feinstein and Lugar’s offices. Both senators’ press secretaries said the story was untrue: neither senator had been given a briefing on a strike on Iran, secret or otherwise, and neither senator intended to write a New York Times op-ed piece about the brief they hadn’t received “within days” or any time after that.


All we know for certain about the former assistant secretary is that whomever he, she or it may be they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. On Muhammad Cohen we have a bit more granularity.

The first thing I noted when visiting on May 28 was the banner at the top of the page that read “Muhammad Cohne.” Cohen tells us that he’s an alumnus of Yale and Stanford; apparently the criteria for graduating from those bastions of higher learning don’t include knowing how to spell your own name. (Heck, Bush graduated from Yale and Condi Rice taught at Stanford, so the standards can’t be all that high at either place.) Neither, evidently, is spelling one’s name a talent required to be a cable news producer. Cohen worked for CNN and he moved to Hong Kong in 1995 to help start CNBC Asia. Cohen is presently promoting his book Hong Kong on Air which is, as you may have guessed, fiction.

Oh, about the name… Native New Yorker Eliot Cohen married a Muslim woman in 2002 and changed his first name to prove, according to one of his press releases, “that the ‘Muhammads’ and the ‘Cohens’ are not all that different. Can’t we all just get along?” A praiseworthy sentiment to be sure, but for the net effect his name change had Cohen might as well call himself Gary Goof.

I hope his goofiness helps him sell a lot of books, but I sure wish he hadn’t written his stupid article on Iran for Asia Times, and I wish his editor buddy at Asia Times had said, “Interesting, but we can’t use this just now. I’m sure you can find other ways to promote your novel.”

Thanks to legitimate investigative efforts by serious journalists like Gareth Porter and Larisa Alexandrovna and Seymour Hersh, we know about the efforts of Dick Cheney and the “crazies” in his Iranian Directorate to sell young Mr. Bush and the American public on a war with Iran the way they peddled the invasion of Iraq. We also (thankfully) hear more and more voices in the information sphere pointing out how the Cheney Gang broadcasts unfounded allegations against the Iranians through compliant media conduits like Michael R. “Anonymous Officials Say” Gordon of the New York Times.

But every time a yahooligan like Muhammad Cohen writes something alarming about the impending assault on Iran that turns out to be as genuine as a blue dollar bill, it makes everybody who’s making responsible efforts to keep Cheney’s crew in check sound like a kook too. The more the public hears false alarms, the more likely it is to ignore the warning when the wolf is really at the door.

Most of these sky-is-falling-on-Tehran stories involve a “revelation” that someone is planning a military action of some kind on Iran. Everybody needs to understand that there are probably more than 10 thousand people on active duty whose full time job it is to plan operations. When they don’t have any new operations to plan they pull out old plans and re-plan them. I’m not shocked that there’s a plan for any and every conceivable kind of operation against Iran. I’d be shocked if there weren’t.

If you’re shocked that we have standing war plans for Iran, it’s a good thing you don’t know about all the other military operations we have in the can. You’d be so scared you’d never get up off the toilet.

Don’t worry too much, though, there’s good news in all this. When I visited around noon on the 29th, “Cohen” was spelled correctly. The guy’s former assistant secretary pal must have tipped him off.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) is on sale now.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day: War and Peace and Hegemons

A regular visitor at Pen and Sword posited last week that a naval blockade of Iran wouldn’t be an act of war if the UN sanctioned it. I replied that no, acts of war aren’t defined by whether or not the UN or any other international organization sanction them. Dropping a nuke on Tehran would be an act of war even if the UN, the Catholic Church and Oprah Winfrey combined sanctioned it.

That led me to thinking that Memorial Day 2008 would be a good time for a short study of war in the age of American hegemony. War can be a dry subject, but I’ll do my best to keep the discourse lively. I would promise you that the next several hundred words will be more entertaining by far than any lecture you’d ever hear from any professor at any war college in the country, but that promise is so easy to keep it’s not worth the trouble of making.

You and Whose Army?

I read and listened to a lot of horse whinny in the course of pursuing my master’s degree in war more than a decade ago. Today, Jeff Huber’s essential laws of armed conflict are few and simple. First is that, like it or not, the history of humanity is the history of its wars, and the fundamental nature of war (and possibly humanity) hasn’t changed since smart apes first used sticks and bones to beat the monkey snot out of other apes and take their food away from them.

Second, all you really need to remember about the law of armed conflict is that Herman Goering and his pals wouldn’t have stood trial at Nuremburg if Germany had won World War II. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas cooked up the notion of “just war” which essentially stated it was okay to kill people in a war unless the pope said different. In the 21st century, a “legal war” is whatever George W. Bush’s attorney general says it is.

I stole the third and final law from whoever first said that all wars are the same and they’re all different. Anybody who tells you that we’re fighting a totally new kind of war today needs a good long stay in rehab. There’s nothing about any of America’s wars—from our revolution to our world wars to our woebegone war on terrorism—that Thucydides didn’t cover when he wrote The History of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC, and nothing he wrote about was new then either.

Even so, General Thucydides would consider an exploding arrow shot from a mechanical bird controlled by a man sitting in a room on the opposite side of the world to be a miraculous feat that even his gods could never perform.

From those three laws we can reliably define the nature of the war powers inherent in the office of the president of the United States. The only extra-constitutional powers U.S. Presidents have in wartime—or in peacetime or anytime—are the ones the rest of us let them take.

To make things even more unfathomable, these days we can’t agree on what is or isn’t an actual war.

By Any Other Name

We have a war on drugs and a war on poverty and a war on an ism, yet for many years we called the little misunderstandings we had in Korea and Vietnam “conflicts” and even “police actions.” Congress doesn’t declare war any more; it grants the president the “authorization for use of armed force.” If Congress won’t give this president authorization to send troops into combat, Mr. Bush just has one of his lawyers write up a “finding” for war and signs it, or he has the CIA fight the war in secret, or he just orders U.S. forces to start bombing things right out in the open—like he’s doing presently in Pakistan and Somalia—and dares anybody to say boo about it.

Clausewitz famously said that war is “a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means." Today, however, it’s difficult to identify where other political activities end and war begins.

Under the younger Bush’s stewardship, the Department of Defense has hijacked most of the State Department’s foreign policy functions, leaving our diplomatic force in charge of little more than bureaucratic matters like issuing visas and passports. The Pentagon calls the shots in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to address long standing issues on the African continent, the Bush administration established not a new diplomatic organization, but a new regional military command. In November 2007, The Nation published an article by Danny Glover and Nicole C. Lee that called AFRICOM an “alarming step forward in the militarization of the African continent” and “a dangerous continuation of US military expansion around the globe.”

Nations have traditionally used methods of leverage other than war to impose their will on other nations. Sometimes other means can lead to war; trade wars, for example, can lead to shoves and then to blows rather handily. Nonetheless, a “trade war” is not really a war, mainly because neither nation in a bi-lateral trade war is a) using physical force to impose its will on the other nation or b) violating the other nation’s sovereignty. National sovereignty does not include the inalienable right to make someone else trade with you, just as individual sovereignty doesn’t mean the other kids have to give you their lunch money.

“Use of physical force” can be a nebulous concept. In our definition of hegemon era war, “use” of force includes the imminent and real threat of using it. A naval blockade, for example, may turn out to be effective without the imposing naval forces ever having to stop and board a vessel or fire upon it, especially if the target nation chooses not to challenge the blockade. But if you’re conducting a blockade and the time comes to shoot at another vessel, you need to shoot; otherwise you’ve just shot yourself in the sex organ.

A blockade also infringes on the other nation’s sovereignty in ways that aren’t as obvious as the way invasions or air strikes do. A comprehensive diagram of the logic behind sovereignty theory would involve more wire than it takes to light up Manhattan. Let’s just say that national sovereignty derives from individual sovereignty and it’s about granting autonomy and social compacts and everybody’s right to exist and pursue their self-interests as long as they don’t forget how to play nice and so on. Part of national sovereignty allows you to have access to international waters, and when I deny you that access, I’m committing an act of war against you.

The tricky part of this sovereignty distinction between war and peace in the American hegemon age is that the sovereignty model is crumbling. That phenomenon has been the same in previous hegemonic eras. When one nation decisively dominates all others, balance of power moderations erode and individual as well as national sovereignty (of nations other than the hegemon, of course) become quaint notions, and as liberal republics approach hegemony, they also become tyrannical. The Roman Empire and Napoleon’s France are two of the more obvious examples of this.

American hegemony has followed a similar pattern. The neoconservative Bush executive branch has displayed an increasing disregard for international laws and treaty agreements and consistently resists any check on executive power by the legislative and judicial branches. Individual rights of U.S. citizens have been summarily dismissed in the name of what should be a global police action against the crime of terrorism that the administration chooses to call a war. As America’s relationships with other nations have taken an increasingly “my way or the highway” tone, even tools of statecraft like diplomacy, information sharing and economic leverage take on the nature of warlike measures.

One fervently hopes that a change of regime come November can reverse America’s vector toward Orwellian dystopia, but one must also keep in mind Jeff Huber’s one and only law of American politics:

Lord John Acton did not say that, “Absolute power tends to corrupt Republicans.”

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books) is on sale now.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Olmert to U.S.: Let's You and Iran Fight

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported on May 21 that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has proposed to speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi that “a naval blockade be imposed on Iran as one of several ways to pressure Iran into stopping its uranium enrichment program.”

Hmm. By whom did Olmert propose this naval blockade be imposed, I wonder? Israel’s navy could no sooner get to the Persian Gulf than Iran’s navy could charge up the Red Sea to assault the Israeli naval base at Haifa. Both maritime forces would sink of natural causes before they got anywhere close to each other.

The concept of this story is laughable enough, but the way the once respectable Haaretz told it is enough to make you spit your martini across the room.

Bad Examples

Judith Miller and Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times set the brave new world standard for government toadying journalism when they wrote the infamous Nigergate article in September 2002. The piece supported the claims of Dick Cheney’s cabal that Saddam Hussein was actively seeking nuclear weapons by citing anonymous “officials” an astounding 30 times. In some passages, they went so far as to indirectly quote what unreliable anonymous third parties told unnamed officials (Iraqi defectors who once worked for the nuclear weapons establishment have told American officials that…), which amounts to triple secret hearsay.

Haaretz managed to outdo Miller and Gordon in their “Let’s you and them fight” piece.

Right after it implied that Olmert and Pelosi had agreed between the two of them on the best way to start World War III, the piece said that the White House “denied a published report that U.S. President George W. Bush intends to attack Iran before the end of his term in January.” It quickly added, though, that the Bush administration “is said not to have ruled out entirely the possibility of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.”

The “published report” was “A story in the Jerusalem Post,” and the possibly of an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities was said by “an unidentified official as claiming that a ‘senior member’ of Bush's entourage to Israel last week made the statement about attacking Iran in a closed meeting.”

So we’ve got the so-called moderate Israeli paper quoting the Israeli neocon/likudnik rag (the 2003 Jerusalem Post Man of the Year was Paul Wolfowitz) paraphrasing what faceless Thing A claimed faceless Thing B said about attacking Iran in a meeting that, for all we know, was so closed that no one was at it except Thing A and Thing B. You have to wonder why Thing B didn’t allow himself to be anonymously paraphrased directly. Maybe he’s just shy, huh?

It gets better. The person at the White House who said the neocon/likudnik rag article about what Thing A said that Thing B said was "not worth the paper it's written on" was White House press secretary Dana Perino. (Dana Perino said the administration prefers to deal with Iran through diplomatic means, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more!)

AND… “Israelis who spoke to Bush and his entourage while they were in Israel last week said they had the impression that the military option ‘is on the table,’ and that the president felt a sense of deep obligation to overcome the Iranian threat.”

What Israelis who spoke to Bush? Jerusalem school kids? Hookers from Haifa? What did Bush do or say that gave them the impression that the military option is on the table and made them feel a deep sense of the deep sense of obligation Bush feels?

Bad Company

The schwerpunkt of the Haaretz piece, though, is its characterization of the meeting between Olmert and Pelosi in Israel. "The present economic sanctions on Iran have exhausted themselves," Haaretz said Olmert told Pelosi. I guess we can take Olmert’s word for that. He’s been right about everything so far, especially that woebegone war he got his army in with Hezbollah that Dick Cheney goaded him into.

Haaretz also said that Olmert told Pelosi “there was a great deal of space between the present sanctions and military action” and that, as Haaretz paraphrased, “Aggressive action could be taken that was not violent.” I’d guess that aggressive action that isn’t violent would fall under young Mr. Bush’s notion of “appeasement.” Maybe that’s why Olmert told Pelosi about it instead of Bush.

Olmert proposed two kinds of non-violent aggressive action to “isolate the Iranian regime.” First is the naval blockade, which Olmert admitted would have to be performed by the U.S. fleet. For the record, a naval blockade is not a non-violent measure. It is an act of war that denies the target nation its inalienable right to access international waters. A blockade only works if when it comes time to shoot, you shoot. If the time to shoot comes and you don’t shoot, you’ll spend years and maybe decades squeezing the egg out of your nose pores.

The other non-violent measure Olmert wants according to Haaretz is “limitations on Iranian aircraft.” "Iranian businesspeople who would not be able to land anywhere in the world would pressure the regime," Olmert said.

There are only two sure ways to keep business air travelers from reaching their destinations: shoot them down or bomb them before they get on the airplane.

The real objective of the article, though, was to frame Olmert’s crack talk as something he “told Pelosi,” as if they were carrying on an intimate conversation even though, if you read the story closely enough, there were at least a dozen if not scores of other people in the room at the time. The bottom line message is that if the U.S. goes along with Olmert’s bull goose Iran strategy, it was Nancy Pelosi who agreed to it, not Dick Cheney. And if America ignores Olmert’s wishes and something bad happens to Israel, it’s Pelosi’s fault, not Olmert’s.

Either way, now that Olmert has touched Pelosi in a public forum, it’s just a matter of time before her nose and fingers fall off.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword .

"So we can play war…"

"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 remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

View the trailer here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Sky in Tom Friedman's Flat World

Tom Friedman of the New York Times thinks we’re in a cold war with Iran. He’s correct that we’re in a cold war, but he’s two Friedman units and change late coming to that conclusion, and he’s got the enemy country wrong. We’re no more in a cold war with Iran than we were in a cold war for 50 years with Belarus.

There are, nonetheless, a few similarities between that cold war and this one.

How Cold Was It?

In his May 14 column, Friedman posits that “the Bush team has been so incompetent vis-à-vis Iran.” I’m not so sure about that. Friedman assumes the Bush team’s aim is a peaceful, stable Middle East, which in my estimation is an egregiously false assumption. The surest sign the Bush administration wants no part of normalized relations with Iran is its insistence that Iran give up its ability to refine uranium as a precondition to direct negotiations. The U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which both Iran and the U.S. have ratified, guarantees that all parties to the treaty have an “inalienable right” to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Iran’s leadership is unlikely to ever agree to America’s demands; that’s why Dick Cheney’s stooges demanded them.

The neoconservatives in the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) have apparently decided to erase much of their paper trail by neglecting to pay the rent on their website, but those familiar with their fabled letters and policy statements and their September 2000 manifesto Rebuilding America’s Defenses know of their goal to vastly expand the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East while preserving the Cold War I enclaves in Europe and the Pacific. Saddam Hussein was their convenient excuse, and 9/11 was the “new Pearl Harbor” they needed to get the American public to support their ambitions.

Invading Iraq was their “camel’s nose in the tent,” so to speak. Whether the regime change went well or poorly in Iraq, though, the neocons would need a viable pretext to keep a large military presence there, and that’s where Iran came in. The problem with Iran as the next big global boogeyman is that it just isn’t big enough to boogey globally, and as soon as the Tom Friedman’s of the nattering class get over being giddy about the possibility of a major strike on Iran, they’ll figure that out. It may take them a while longer, though, to realize that our real opponents in the new cold war are the same ones we had in the old cold war.

Cold Shoulder

Before he got the ax as head of U.S. Central Command for trying to put Dick Cheney and his “crazies” back in their box, Admiral William Fallon aptly described Iran’s standing among the world’s powers. "These guys are ants,” he said in a March 2008 interview with Esquire magazine. “When the time comes, you crush them.”

In March 2006, Condoleezza Rice stated during testimony before the Senate that “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran.” That exact phrase found its way into the 2006 National Security Strategy. Funny how that worked, huh? Today, John McCain, the Bush administration’s designated crown prince, castigated his presumptive presidential opponent Barack Obama for having the temerity to say Iran is not as big a threat to us as the Soviet Union was.

McCain has never been celebrated for his keen sense of perspective, but where exactly does Iran lie on the scale between anthill and evil empire?

Cold Light of Day

Iran’s economy is slightly more than six percent the size of America’s. The gap between the two countries’ defense budgets is similar.

Iran has fought one war since its establishment as a nation in 1935. The Iran-Iraq War lasted from 1980 to 1988. It began when Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Iran. The U.S. backed Hussein in that war.

Iran has a potentially effective sea denial navy, but it is not capable of operating beyond the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Caspian Sea. Iran’s army has never operated more than a few miles beyond its border, and that was two decades ago during the World War I-style trench warfare with Iraq. The top-of-the line fighter jet in Iran’s air force is the F-14 Tomcat, built in America for the U.S. Navy. The Navy no longer flies the Tomcat, and Iran is the only country the U.S. sold it to. Now that we’ve finally stopped selling Iran spare parts for the Tomcat, they have nowhere else to buy them.

Iran might—I repeat “might”—be able to coerce Iraq’s Shiite militias into action against our ground forces if we attack Iran, but the worst they can probably do to our troops is to chase them off the streets and back into our “enduring bases” for a while. The militias aren’t likely dumb enough to throw themselves against the fence ala the Viet Cong, but if they are, they’ll be one less thing we have to worry about.

Iran’s ballistic missiles, if they work, can reach Israel, but ballistic missiles, as we saw in our first war with Hussein, are little more than incredibly expensive mortar rounds unless they have nuclear warheads, and the Iranians don’t have any nuclear warheads to put on theirs. If Iran ever does possess nukes, it won’t dare use them; it would not survive the retaliation. If terrorists want someone to steal a nuclear warhead from, they don’t need to bother with Iran. Pakistan has plenty of the little boogers, and its government is far less stable than Iran’s is ever likely to be. Iran’s leaders have consistently said they have no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons. Some people say they’re lying, but the people saying that are the likes of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, whose relationship with the truth has been on the rocks for many years.

The real threat Iran’s nuclear program poses is the very good possibility that it will grow into a viable, self-sustaining nuclear energy industry. If that happens, the big losers will be Dick and Dubya’s buddies with Exxon/Mobil and in the Sunni oil producing nations who will have lost control of the evolution of the global energy market. The big winners will be Iran’s sponsor nations, Russia and China.

Thus, in the grand scheme of the new cold war, Iran is more of a pest than a juggernaut. It is, if anything, a post-Soviet era equivalent of East Germany: a prize, not a peer adversary. Aside from continuing to goad us into sustaining an eternal arms race with ourselves, Russia and China won’t try to compete with us militarily this time around. That puts us at a distinct disadvantage, because by this point we’ve grown so used to getting what we want by kicking the door down that we don’t really know any other form of statecraft.

Tom Friedman and the rest of our fourth estate analysts may realize all this eventually, but I’m not holding my breath. In his May 4 column Friedman referred to Lebanon as “one of the last corners of decency, pluralism and openness in the Arab world.”

Jeepers, huh? I have no idea what he was smoking when he wrote that—Lebanon’s been a zoo since its civil war broke out in 1975—but I’d love to know what color the sky is in that flat world of his.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword .

"So we can play war…"

"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 remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

View the trailer here.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

MSM Fumbles Iran Narrative Again

The story that most likely would have knocked the bottom out of the Bush administration’s case for war with Iran occurred more than a week ago, and the mainstream media still haven't reported it.

While flipping through channels on the evening of May 12, I accidentally heard Keith Olberman referencing a story from the LA Times that told how the U.S. military was all ready to show the American press enclave in Iraq the big cache of Iranian arms that Iraqi security forces had captured from Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army during the recent fighting in the Iraqi cities of Basra and Karbala.

The arms, in theory, would have proven once and for all the administration’s assertions that Iran is arming Sadr’s Shiite militiamen. There was just one glitch; when U.S. inspectors went in to inspect the captured arms, they said that none of the weapons or ammunition could be reliably traced to Iran.

Olberman ended the segment with “You do realize they are making this up about Iran?” Yes, I do, Keith, I thought. I realized it two years and change ago.

But hooray, I thought, it looks like the mainstream media has finally caught up, and I ran over to the computer to see what other major news outlets were covering the story. All Google came up with was the LA Times story Olberman had referred to. It wasn’t even an LA Times story, exactly. It was an item in the paper’s blog section, posted by Tina Susman in Baghdad on May 8, four days before Olberman talked about it. The paper itself did not run the article.

I went to the New York Times web site and searched for stories in the prior 30 days containing “iran iraq weapons basra karbala.” Zip. I did the same search at the Washington Post site. Squat. I tried again at the Boston Herald. Nada, and I also got jack at the Chicago Tribune.

I discussed the issue briefly with policy analyst Gareth Porter on the evening of the 12th. I mentioned Susman’s story in a May 13 column about the Pentagon’s Office of Strategic Influence and its progeny. On May 14, Porter put the Iranian-weapons-that-weren’t-from-Iran story in context.

“Top Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus had plotted a sequence of events that would build domestic U.S. political support for a possible strike against Iran,” Porter wrote. Admiral Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told the press on April 25 that Petraeus was preparing a briefing that would provide detailed evidence of how far Iran was provoking events in Iraq. The core of Petraeus’s briefing would be the claim that arms captured in Basra bore 2008 manufacturing dates. The briefing document was to surface after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government endorsed it and used it to accuse the Iranians.

U.S. officials planned to show the captured weapons to reporters. Petraeus' staff alerted U.S. media to a major news event in which the captured Iranian arms in Karbala would be displayed and then destroyed. “That sequence of media events would fill the airwaves with spectacular news framing Iran as the culprit in Iraq for several days,” Porter noted, “aimed at breaking down Congressional and public resistance to the idea that Iranian bases supporting the meddling would have to be attacked.”

But things went awry.

Mice and Men and David Petraeus

Two wrenches intruded the cogs of Petraeus’s propaganda machinery. After an Iraqi delegation returned from meetings in Iran with evidence Iran had not armed Iraqi militias, al-Maliki formed his own committee to investigate U.S. claims about Iran.

On top of that, when American arms inspectors took a look at the “Iranian” arms captured in Karbala, they determined than none of them had come from Iran. The U.S. military told reporters there had been a “misunderstanding” and cancelled the demonstration.

Porter noted that among the arms determined not to be from Iran were explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) designed to penetrate vehicle armor that the U.S. command once claimed could only have come from Iran because facilities required to manufacture them did not exist in Iraq.

It was back in January 2007, about the time the administration unveiled its surge strategy, that then U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad promised America would provide evidence of Iran’s “meddling” in Iran. (Khalilzad, keep in mind, was one of the Project for the New American Century neocons who called for an Iraq invasion in 1998.) The February 2007 briefing given to reporters in Baghdad in which the “proof” was presented was largely discredited. Throughout his tenure as U.S. commander in Iraq, David Petraeus has accused Iran of arming Iraqi militias, though the largest known supplier of arms to Iraqi militias is David Petraeus himself.

This recent “misunderstanding” about the Iranian weapons that weren’t from Iran and the refusal of the administration’s lap dog Maliki to go along with the administration’s grim fairy tale should have shut the trash talk on Iran down for good, and it might well have if Big Media (other than Keith Olberman, whose program many people mistakenly equate with John Stewart’s Daily Show) had reported it.

But Big Media said nothing. On March 17 searched Googled “iran iraq weapons basra karbala” again. Porter’s story had made it into the Asia Times and AlterNet, and was referenced in countless progressive blogs. Tina Susman’s original blog post had migrated to That’s something, I guess, but the search string still fetched 0 relevant results at the New York Times and Washington Post web sites. You can bet your sweet bippy that if American inspectors had found so much as a slingshot with Farsi markings on it, you would have heard more about it overnight than you’ve heard about Britney Spears in the last six months.

I don’t know if everyone in the mainstream media is in the tank for Bush now or if they all just suck or what, but something smells to high heaven like a big honking pile of fresh laid, pure unadulterated monkey business.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword .

"So we can play war…"

"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 remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

View the trailer here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Radio Free Pentagon

Donald Rumsfeld’s short lived Office of Strategic Influence spawned a termites’ nest of truth ministries; the Office of Special Plans, the Information Operations Task Force and the Iran Directorate are just a few of the ones we know about.

The Pentagon’s latest information warfare effort involves a network of foreign language web sites that promote U.S. interests. I doubt whether anyone at the Pentagon seriously thinks foreign language web sites are going to win over any foreign hearts and minds, but foreign language web sites could be neat placea to plant covert propaganda that can migrate into the domestic press without anyone knowing it originated at the Pentagon, huh?

According to USA Today, “Journalism groups say the sites are deceptive and easily could be mistaken for independent news.”

Great. Caesar’s. Ghost. The time for journalism groups to get concerned about Pentagon propaganda being mistaken for independent news was several years ago.

How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up?

I’m frankly surprised that any journalism group in America would still refer to such a thing as “independent news.” Like George Orwell’s hapless 1984 protagonist Winston Smith, we are awash in a sea of political messages, and these days most of those messages seem to emanate from the Pentagon. America in the time of Bush the younger has become, above all else, a militaristic oligarchy, and the Department of Defense is the ruling government agency. Who better than the DoD then to take charge of the Big Brother Broadcast?

The Pentagon has plenty of allies in its information campaign against the American public. By now there’s barely a commercial news organization in the country that isn’t a habitual accomplice.

At one end of the bandwidth we have conservative talk radio, FOX News and periodicals like Bill Kristol’s Weekly Standard. These outlets target the segment of the American right that given the question “Nose is to face as blank is to foot” will skip over “toe,” “arch,” and “heel” and answer “shoe.” Sean and Rush and Bill K. and Bill O. aren’t the Pentagon’s only exho chamberlains, though, and the analogically challenged aren’t the only ones buying the message.

For evidence that the so called “liberal” mainstream press that helped Dick Cheney’s White House Information Group sell the invasion of Iraq is still a vital venue of covert propaganda, one need look no further than the fact that Michael R. Gordon, Judith Miller’s Nigergate partner in crime, still writes for the New York Times. It doesn’t help that supposedly seasoned military correspondents get goose bumps every time they write about watching General David Petraeus challenge buck privates to one-arm push up contests, or that news editors have granted administration “officials” unrestricted license to spike the public information system with brainwash behind a mask of anonymity. And I keep wondering how much longer big media will continue to report on the air strikes Mr. Bush has been conducting in Somalia and Pakistan before they start asking when and how Congress gave him permission to do that.

The alternative press has brought important revelations to public attention like Dick Cheney’s attempts at fomenting war with Iran and Admiral William Fallon’s attempts to put Cheney and his neocon “crazies” back in their box. On May 7, the administration once again failed to deliver on its promise to show proof that Iran is arming Iraqi militants when none of the huge cache of “Iranian” weapons captured in Basra and Karbala turned out to have come from Iran. That story should have been shouted from rooftops for days, but the only item I could find about it on the web was a piece in the LA Times blog section posted by Tina Susman in Baghdad. The New York Times and Washington Post didn’t run a single word on the story.

Can anyone make a compelling argument that the mainstream press isn’t totally immersed in the Bush tank?

Unfortunately, the alternative press also at times takes the sins of the establishment to new sub-standards. I am predisposed to believe a story that begins, “Dick Cheney practices ritual Satan Worship” until I get to the part that reads “according to those familiar with his evil.” Thus, I was highly critical of a recent CounterPunch article by Andrew Cockburn that described a finding by Mr. Bush that would escalate covert actions against Iran that “according to those familiar according to those familiar with its contents, [is] ‘unprecedented in its scope.’" I can’t help but wonder if all of “those familiar” with the finding used the exact words "unprecedented in its scope" when they told Cockburn about it.

The American Conservative, perhaps best described as the voice of the alternative right, ran a related piece on May 9 titled “War With Iran Might Be Closer Than You Think” by former CIA agent Philip Giraldi. Giraldi says “There is considerable speculation and buzz in Washington today suggesting that the National Security Council has agreed in principle to proceed with plans to attack an Iranian al-Qods-run camp that is believed to be training Iraqi militants.”

We’d be living in a much different world if all the speculation and buzz in Washington came true. For one thing, Karl Rove would be doing time for perjury and obstruction of justice instead of knocking down major mammon as a political analyst on FOX.

Pardon my skepticism, but I can’t help but wonder if the sources for these kinds of stories are the D.C. Generation Y types who color the PowerPoint slides and run the 4-in-1 printer. I also wonder if those kiddies aren’t being fed a load of tripe to regurgitate to their pals in the alternative press so they’ll put it on the info highway and make themselves sound like they hang out in belfries after work.

Don’t get me wrong. Like my friend Larisa Alexandrovna of Raw Story and at Largely, I’m “convinced that the Cheney-side of the Bush-Cheney administration will take a scorch and burn policy on their way out.” In fact, I fully expect Cheney to try to torch the entire planet earth before he moves on to the number two spot in hell. I’m just not wholly certain that the exit strategy includes a full bull military strike on Iran.

Making everyone think the administration will pull the dreaded October Surprise might just be a ruse to keep everyone from focusing on the administration’s real goal. I’m quite sure that goal is to transform the Middle East into a neo-incarnation of Cold War Europe in which the neoconservative cabal can keep America entangled in a low intensity but expensive armed conflict of convenience that can endure for a a hundred, a thousand or a million years (whatever it takes!).

It may require a strike on Iran to achieve that; it may not. Truly diabolical strategies can succeed in many ways.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword .

"So we can play war…"

"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 remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

View the trailer here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

CounterProductive CounterPunch Story on Iran

At least one high profile war critic sounds alarmed by a recent revelation that Mr. Bush signed a “secret finding” against “the Iranian regime” six weeks ago. I’m frankly less than agog about it.

In a May 2 CounterPunch article, Andrew Cockburn wrote that Bush has launched a “covert offensive” on Iran that is "unprecedented in its scope." The “directive covers actions across a huge geographic area – from Lebanon to Afghanistan.” The directive, according to Cockburn, also permits an expanded range of actions, “up to and including the assassination of targeted officials.”

Wow, I thought as I read it. That’s some scary sounding stuff. Then, out of habit, I rescanned the piece to note who Cockburn’s sources on the secret finding were, and here’s what I found: “those familiar with its contents.”

Great. Caesar’s. Ghost. Credibility wise, that kind of thing puts Cockburn and CounterPunch on an even footing with Michael R. Gordon and the New York Times.

Lie, Lie Again

Judith Miller, Michael R. Gordon and others at the NYT helped the Bush administration spread the disinformation that sold the Iraq invasion to the American public by citing “facts” certified by anonymous “officials.” On September 8, 2002, NYT ran the infamous Nigergate story that heralded “Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.” To substantiate this explosive assertion, Miller and Gordon directly or indirectly quoted unnamed officials more than 25 times. We now know, of course, how tragically wrong those officials were.

One would think that America’s newspaper of record, the bastion of the so called “liberal” press, would have learned its lesson about allowing the Bush administration to use is at a black propaganda platform, but no. In February 2007, Gordon began citing “proof” certified by anonymous officials that Iran was directly involved in operations directed against American troops in Iraq. Those assertions have yet to be validated by hard evidence, but as recently as April 26, 2008, NYT reiterated the entire laundry list of Bush administration allegations against Iran supported by an eye-watering 30 citations of unidentified officials.

By now the rest of the mainstream media has followed NYT’s lead. Anonymous propaganda placement in the “news” has become the accepted standard, and the traditional fourth pillar that once protected our access to the truth is now the largest and most resilient wall in big brother Bush’s Rovewellian echo chamber.

It’s a tragedy of our era that so much of the alternative media, handed a golden opportunity to pick up the baton that the establishment has so callously dropped, has chosen instead to adopt the standards of check out line tabloids.

Monkey Do

As a reasonably discerning consumer of news who is somewhat knowledgeable in national security matters and has been following and writing about the Iran issue for years, I’m predisposed to accept the kind of information Andrew Cockburn presented. Thanks to the way he presented it, however, I’m now inclined to reexamine every assumption I have regarding Bush and Cheney’s long-standing strategem to entangle America in open hostilities with Iran.

For starters, I don’t know what “covert offensive” means exactly, and I strongly suspect that neither Cockburn nor “those familiar” with it know exactly what it means either. Whatever it means, I don’t see how its scope could be all that “unprecedented.” All that covert stuff Matt Helm and Smiley’s people did against the Soviets for a half-century was a robust precedent to go about trying to exceed.

I would be shocked to learn that we aren’t already conducting covert operations of one kind or another from Lebanon to Afghanistan, and I don’t know how much more covert operating we can do in that part of the world. Our satellites are already in space, and they don’t have much else important to do than spy on brown people. All of our special force types and undercover Arabic and Persian speakers are already gainfully employed by now I’d guess, and folks like that don’t grow on beanstalks.

Cockburn seems to want us to get excited that this Lebanon-to-Afghanistan offensive may involve assassination. H.G. Wells’ bells, fellow citizens, we’re already assassinating people in Somalia with freaking cruise missiles. We’re doing the same thing in Pakistan with Hellfire missiles fired from pilotless spy planes; the folks who pickle off the missles are dweebs sitting at consoles in an Air Force base in Nevada.

The door to this barn has been open for a long, long time. That the horses are gone shouldn’t be news to anybody.

Cockburn also says that during the January naval confrontation in the Strait of Hormuz, the American on scene commander “was about to open fire” on Iranian speed boats, and only “desisted” when “Fallon personally and explicitly ordered him not to shoot.” His source for this bombshell was “CENTCOM staff officers.”

A lot of officers work on the CENTCOM staff. If the ones who told Cockburn about the hold fire order were Navy captains who were directly involved with the operation, they probably knew what they were talking about. If they were the Army captains who pinned the stars on Fallon’s collars and shined his shoes every morning, they probably didn’t. Call me cynical, but I have a preconceived notion about which kind of captains talked to Cockburn about the Hormuz incident and which kind wouldn’t give him the time of day if he bought them a pitcher of beer.

As with the term “covert offensive,” I don’t know what Cockburn means by “was about to open fire.” If he means that the commander had his weapons loaded and manned, big deal. I can’t imagine a U.S. warship transiting Hormuz any other way these days.

It’s a huge story if Fallon told the commander not to shoot even in self-defense; that would violate the core tenet of U.S. rules of engagement that defines self-defense as both an inherent right and responsibility of the unit commander. It would mean Fallon committed a George W. Bush class overreach of his legal authority.

If on the other hand Fallon simply reminded the commander that he had no supplemental ROE or mission tasking that required him to fire except in self-defense, Fallon was acting in a wholly prudent and suitable manner.

But I can’t tell from Cockburn’s story what was really going and neither can anyone else because it’s questionable whether his sources know their facts from their elbows and it’s darn near certain that Cockburn doesn’t know his.

That’s a shame, because there’s probably something to Cockburn’s story, but he way he told it—incendiary allegations accompanied by murky sourcing and rail thin amplifying details—makes it sound like tinfoil conspiracy theory and cable news sensationalism.

Cockburn’s piece reflects poorly on the entire anti-war movement and the earnest work of investigative journalists who are unearthing credible information about the abuses of power practiced by the Bush administration.

If this is the best he’s got, he should just zip it.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword .

"So we can play war…"

"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 remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

View the trailer here.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Springtime in Somalia

It looks like we’re still using U.S. Navy warships to assassinate suspected terrorists in Somalia. The New York Times said, “at least four Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from a Navy ship or submarine off the Somali coast had slammed into a small compound of single-story buildings in Dusa Marreb.”

The NYT’s source for that information was an “American military official in Washington, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the operation.” Notice how operations these days are “sensitive” as opposed to “classified” or “secret.” One has to wonder how they arrived at a world like “sensitive” to describe things like cruise missile attacks that kill people. Then again, so many of these missile strikes kill people other than the people they were intended to kill that yeah, I guess American military officials in Washington might get sensitive about that aspect. The NYT reported that 10 to 30 people other than the intended target were killed this time, and we can be pretty sure that part of the story is mostly true because the NYT didn’t get it from an anonymous American military official.

The Associated Press actually got two of its sources to agree to be identified. Captain Jamie Graybeal, a Central Command spokesman, confirmed that there was, in fact, a U.S. airstrike on the Somali town. I’m thinking Captain Graybeal must be a navy captain, which is like an army bird colonel, which means an older guy with lots of experience and credibility. If Graybeal is an army captain, that makes him like a navy lieutenant, which means he’s a guy in his twenties who wouldn’t have the experience of a navy captain or a bird colonel, and not a whole lot of credibility either. It doesn’t seem like Central Command would have a spokesman who was just an army captain, but you can’t tell for sure.

AP identified the other “U.S. military spokesman” as a guy named Bob Prucha, who said that the attack was against a "known al-Qaida target and militia leader in Somalia." Interestingly enough, AP didn’t mention military spokesman Bob Prucha’s rank, which makes me think he either hasvery little of it or none at all. How much if any rank Graybeal and Prucha actually have will probably remain a mystery, but maybe that’s not too important because “Both declined to provide further details.” How convenient.

Later in the article AP said that “another U.S. defense official” confirmed that the strike targeted Aden Hashi Ayro, who later still in the article AP identified as the leader of a militia called “al-Shabab” which, as you probably noticed, is spelled differently than “al-Qaeda.” AP didn’t explain how Ayro went from being part of al-Qaeda toward the beginning of the story to being part of al-Shabab toward the end, or if there is a connection between the two that more or less makes them the same thing.

The BBC’s version of the story stated “The U.S. says al-Shabab is part of the al-Qaeda network, although correspondents say it is impossible to accurately establish those links,” and “Al-Shabab leaders say it is a purely Somali movement and they deny any involvement with al-Qaeda.” The BBC didn’t identify the correspondents who say it’s impossible to accurately establish links between al-Shabab and al-Qaeda, so we’re caught between the say so of the U.S. on one hand and what al-Shabab leaders say on the other. Like me at this point in our woebegone war on terror, you might be inclined to grant “al-Shabab leaders” more credibility than “The U.S.” but for now, unfortunately, whatever relationship may or may not exist between al-Shabab and al-Qaeda will remain as big a mystery as what military ranks Captain Graybeal and Mr. Prucha may or may not possess.

It may also be important to note that the aforementioned “another U.S. defense official” who confirmed that Ayro was the strike’s target “sought anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record” which is Rovewellian for “this source is authorized to plant disinformation anonymously.”

Who Are Those Guys?

The AP story said that U.S. missiles “destroyed” Ayro’s house, “killing him and 10 others.” The NYT story said that the strike “apparently killed” Ayro, and that the sensitive American military official in Washington and “two American intelligence officials” stated that “all indications were that Mr. Ayro was killed” but that “the attack was still being assessed.”

A Dusamareeb resident told AP that the "The bodies were beyond recognition” and a local doctor said identifying the dead would prove difficult as the al-Shabab villa and surrounding area were now scorched earth, so unless Somalia’s dental record keeping system is a lot more advanced than I suspect it is, I don’t see how those two American intelligence officials are going to do any further assessing of whether or not the strike killed Ayro.

I could find no further clarity on whether a “Navy ship or submarine” fired the cruise missiles that maybe did and maybe didn’t kill Ayro. Actually, we know it was a ship because the Navy calls its submarines “ships” these days. The real question is whether the ship was one of three classes of active Navy submarines or a surface combatant. Today’s surface combatants cost less than submarines because the surface combatants don’t have nuclear power plants and they don’t operate underwater unless something goes real wrong. But whichever kind of ship it was, it cost a ridiculous amount of money to be doing something like assassinating a terrorist, especially if it failed to kill the terrorist it was trying to assassinate, so you can rest easy that you once again got maximum buck for the bang on your defense dollar.

You can also be assured that whether the strike whacked Ayro or not, it did more harm than good. Al-Shabab spokesman Mukhtar Robow Adumansur (the Shababs apparently haven’t learned about anonymous sourcing yet) says his group will conduct revenge attacks, and “analysts” say the air raid could put the kibosh on pending U.N. sponsored peace talks.

What’s more, be reasonably confident that whether the ship that shot the cruise missiles was the kind of ship that sails underwater or not, shooting those missiles into Somalia was as legal as a blue dollar bill. As is the case with Pakistan, Mr. Bush has an agreement with the puppet government of Somalia that allows him to run air strikes in that country. The trouble is, the U.S. Constitution and laws don’t authorize foreign governments, puppet or otherwise, to allow presidents to order troops into combat, and Mr. Bush still doesn’t have a declaration of war or Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to be ordering air strikes in either Pakistan or Somalia like he’s supposed to according to the War Powers Resolution of 1973. You’d think our elected officials in Congress would be all het up about that, but the press isn’t saying anything about it, so they’re not.

To sum up: we’re executing counterterrorism tactics that are exorbitant and counterproductive, Mr. Bush is behaving like a dictator, Congress is letting him get away with it, and our guarantors of freedom in the fourth estate are too busy courting anonymous officials to do much of anything else.

In other words, don’t panic. Everything is business as usual.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword .

"So we can play war…"

"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 remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

View the trailer here.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Losing Vietnam All Over Again

“To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past.” -- Walter Cronkite, February 27, 1968

The most delusional meme of post-modern U.S. military culture is that America lost the Vietnam War on the home front. Nothing could be further, quite literally, from the truth. America lost Vietnam half a world away from the home front—in Southeast Asia, where it fought what has become the template for superpower entanglement in third world wars.

Yet many of Operation Iraqi Freedom’s most avid backers believe—or claim to believe—that America’s military can somehow achieve the “victory” in Iraq that eluded it in Vietnam if only the public gives it enough opportunity. These true believers have asked us for a seemingly endless string of six-month extensions, chances to get it right this time, until they sound like sulky children at bedtime who just want “five more minutes, Mom.”

False Hopes and Friedman Units

In a recent New York Times article titled “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand,” David Barstow noted that some retired officers who covertly echoed the administration’s pro-Iraq war propaganda on the broadcast news networks “shared with Mr. Bush’s national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nation’s will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war.”

This was especially true of Paul E. Vallely, a retired Army two-star who was a FOX News military analyst from 2001 to 2007. A former commander of the 7th Psychological Operations Group, Vallely co-wrote a paper in 1980 that introduced the MindWar concept (.pdf available here). According to Vallely, the failure in Vietnam was caused by the effectiveness of enemy psychological operations (PSYOP) and because “our PSYOP failed.” Vallely said that American PSYOP was insufficient to “defend the U.S. populace at home against the propaganda of the enemy,” and that, “Furthermore the enemy PSYOP was so strong that it—not bigger armies or better weapons—overcame all of the COBRAs and Spookys and ACAVs and B-52s we fielded.” In short, according to Vallely, “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out-PSYOPed.”

Vallely and those who share his views are quite wrong. We were outfought in Vietnam, by a low tech, horizontally organized foe with a de-centralized center of gravity that fought smarter than we did. PSYOP didn’t defeat our COBRAs and B-52s and other modern machines of war; it was our military and political leaders’ inability to understand they had gotten us into the kind of war that our gizmology couldn’t win for us. They had also gotten us into a war that was, in the main, a counterinsurgency campaign, and as co-creator of the Fourth Generation Warfare theory William Lind wrote recently, “Not even the best counter-insurgency techniques make much difference, because neither a foreign occupier nor any puppet government he installs can gain legitimacy.”

To this day, I hear bitter Vietnam veterans say, “If we’d only had another eighteen months…” Another eighteen months? We were militarily involved in Vietnam for well over a decade. By late 1966 the war was costing $2 billion per month, and by the end of 1968 troop levels in Vietnam had risen to over a half million. The military had all the time, personnel and materiel resources for Vietnam it could possibly have wanted, and yet some would have us believe it could have won if it could only have had another eighteen months, or six months, or three months, or maybe just five more minutes.

Poppycock. The likes of Walter Cronkite did not lose Vietnam. The likes of men named Johnson and McNamara and Nixon and Kissinger and Westmoreland lost it. And if the likes of Paul Vallely had their way, and had been able to use the media to bolster our “national will to victory,” we’d be losing in Vietnam still today.

A Hole to China

I’m a few years older than Osama bin Laden, so I didn’t really know him at King Abdul-Aziz University. We don’t attend the same church and our kids don’t play on the same soccer team. I don’t need to know much about the guy, though, to realize that he is probably the greatest strategist of the 21st century. I don’t have to be a world class strategist myself to have a pretty good idea what he wants to do or to figure out that he has access to the same information I have access to, and given those two things I can certainly imagine what I would think and do if I were in his position.

If I wanted to take down the United States but didn’t have an air force or navy or army to do it with, I’d find a way to get it entangled in another disaster like Vietnam. In September of 2000, I would have read the neoconservative manifesto Rebuilding America’s Defenses (I would have downloaded the .pdf file here) by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and understood that if they gained power in the U.S. they would invade and occupy Iraq on any pretense. When their hand-picked candidate won the 2000 election on a technicality, I’d put the wheels in place to give them the “new Pearl Harbor” they were looking for, and come September 11, 2001 I’d have told my people “Let’s make magic happen.”

Then I’d sit in the countryside in prayerful meditation and watch as the American people bought their leaders’ Vietnam guilt trip in six-month installments and squandered their country’s might and wealth into a sand dune until it was all gone.

And I’d hope it never occurred to Americans that thinking they lost in Vietnam because Walter Cronkite said they were losing is akin to believing that lemmings behave the way they do because they’re called “lemmings.”

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword .

"So we can play war…"

"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 remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist

View the trailer here.