Friday, January 30, 2009

Ministry of Truth and Peace (Part II)

Part I described how the Pentagon's use of retired military media analysts to funnel propaganda through the mainstream media fit into a larger operation aimed at rewriting history as it happened.

On January 16, the Friday before Barack Obama's inauguration, the Defense Department inspector general released the report of an investigation of the Pentagon's Retired Military Analyst program. The report stated that, "the evidence in this case was insufficient to conclude" that the program had "violated statutory prohibitions on publicity or propaganda," because "the definition of propaganda in this context remains unclear."

Miriam-Webster OnLine defines propaganda as "the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person." In April 2008, an in-depth investigation by the New York Times revealed that the RMA program had employed retired military officers in a "campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance."

So all that really remains unclear in this context is why the I.G. didn't look up the definition of "propaganda." Maybe that was outside the scope of his investigation.

Sock Puppets

"Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand," by David Barstow was a watershed story for the New York Times, the paper that, more than any other mainstream media outlet, had allowed the Bush administration to use it as a conduit for the false propaganda that convinced the country of the need to invade Iraq. Where Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller cited unnamed "officials" nearly 30 times in their September 2002 article that fraudulently asserted Saddam Hussein was pursuing nuclear weapons technology, Barstow's investigative report was an exemplar of cold fact and attributed testimony.

Retired Army colonel Ken Allard, an NBC analyst, called the RMA program a sophisticated information operation. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he told Barstow.

Barstow referenced internal Pentagon documents that "repeatedly refer to the military analysts as 'message force multipliers' or 'surrogates' who could be counted on to deliver administration 'themes and messages' to millions of Americans 'in the form of their own opinions.'"

Don Myer, aide to assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Torie Clarke, told Barstow that a strategic decision was made in 2002 to use the analysts as the main focus of the public relations push to argue the case for war with Iraq. Another Clarke aid, Brent T. Krueger, said the idea was to have the analysts be in effect “writing the op-ed” for the war.

In all, the program recruited more than 75 retired officers, all of them cleared by Donald Rumsfeld, the largest contingent of whom, not surprisingly, worked for FOX News.

“You could see that they were messaging,” Krueger told Barstow. “You could see they were taking verbatim what the secretary was saying or what the technical specialists were saying. And they were saying it over and over and over… You’d look at them and say, ‘This is working.’ ”

The Pentagon "armed its analysts with talking points" and expected to hear them echoed in the media. Former Green Beret and FOX News analyst Robert S. Bevelacqua admitted, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you,’ ”

Ironically, White House spokesmodel Brian Whitman told Barstow it is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department.”

It would have been incredible to think that in another American century, but not in this one. Up until the very end of the Rumsfeld reign, the Pentagon kept its analysts on a short leash the same way it manipulated the rest of the media, by granting access to those who played ball and denying access to those who refused to.

I Cannot Tell a Lie, Unless…

Retired army general and FOX News commentator Paul E. Vallely confessed to Barstow that when the Pentagon flew him and other retired military analysts to Iraq in 2003, he immediately saw that "things were going south." On returning home, however, Vallely told Fox anchor Alan Colmes "You can't believe the progress."

Vallely's mendacity was in part motivated by his belief in the hallucination that the U.S. lost the Vietnam War because of unfavorable press coverage. Vallely and others of his generation have ingrained this mantra on younger military personnel to the point where it is now an indelible part of the American military ethos; it never occurs to any of them that with deployments of up to a half million troops and all the material support a force could possibly want over a span of more than a decade, the country couldn’t have supported the war any more than it did, and that it wasn’t bad press that caused the war to be lost, it was the lost war that caused the bad press.

Delusional as he is, we might grant Vallely virtue points for sincerity. Other analysts, though, were in the game for the money, a lot more money than the per-appearance fees they got from the news networks. Most of them were connected to military contractors and stood to profit from the war they were promoting.

Part III will describe how the Retired Military Analyst program served as a confluence of Big War, Big Message, Big Bucks, Big Brother and the Big Schmooze.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ministry of Truth and Peace

It's fitting that as young Mr. Bush exited the world stage, the military pardoned itself for lying about his woebegone wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. A report released on January 16 by the Pentagon's inspector general stated, "we found the evidence insufficient to conclude that RMA (retired military analysts) outreach activities were improper," and concluded that further investigation into the matter "was not warranted."

The RMA program flew under the radar until an April 2008 New York Times article revealed that the Pentagon had recruited media military analysts for a "campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance." The article discomfited the Pentagon I.G. office into launching an investigation of the RMA program—nearly six years after it had been initiated. The I.G. report, posted on the Pentagon's web site the Friday before the inauguration so everyone would be sure to notice it, explained, "the evidence in this case was insufficient to conclude" that RMA activities "violated statutory prohibitions on publicity or propaganda," but conceded that the judgment had been difficult to arrive at because "the definition of propaganda in this context remains unclear."

So it all depends what your definition of "propaganda" is. I feel the I.G.'s pain, don't you?

Rewriting Military History

I first started hearing the expression "we're losing the public affairs war" about the time of Desert Storm, when the Air Force was grabbing the headlines for winning the air battle and Navy carrier participation got piddled into the footnotes.

Time passed. During the 1999 Kosovo War, my ship, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, entertained more members of the foreign press than the number of combat sorties she launched. As a wartime operations officer of a U.S. Navy flagship, my number one concern was to make sure each and every one of those reporters got on and off the ship safely and received a triple dose of gee whiz by watching flight operations from Vulture's Row high atop the ship's island.

What the air wing did over the beach didn't matter; the targets they bombed were mainly plywood decoys. I didn't have to worry about defending the ship, either. Bad Guy's Navy was sinking at the pier. We never did accomplish our original objective, which had something to do with keeping Bad Guy Milosevic from cleansing his ethnics, who were the good guys in this particular war because then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said they were. Milosevic cleansed as many ethnics as he wanted to before he quit and everyone left him alone, a technique the Israelis later exploited to great effect in Lebanon and Gaza. None of our guys got killed in combat. In fact, the biggest friendly casualties of the war were the careers of most of the flag and general officers involved, some of whom retired in disgust, and some who just got caught taking their pants off in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong company, a trait they shared with their commander in chief, who unlike them managed to keep his job for a few more years.

In all, the Kosovo Conflict was a perfect play war to end the 20th century with.

Boondoggle or no, we came home to heroes' welcomes, and our carrier was hailed as a keystone of the greatest naval and air victory ever won under the command of a clueless Army general. The carrier Navy held onto its slab of the defense budget, and lived to play war in a new American century.

Bull Feather Merchants

The Kosovo War was a watershed conflict in that it illustrated—or should have illustrated—that the efficacy of American military power was nearing the terminus of its collision course with a brick wall. No one could really say the Kosovo War had defended America or had protected its interests overseas or had even protected innocents abroad because the good guys in the conflict were no better than the bad guys. At that point in history, the military's full time mission shifted to self-preservation, and the purpose of the relatively new "information warfare" specialty went from supporting armed conflicts to fabricating convincing arguments for having them.

Shortly after 9/11, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld established the Office of Strategic Influence, an information warfare directorate with "a broad mission ranging from 'black' campaigns that use[d] disinformation and other covert activities to 'white' public affairs that rely on truthful news releases," according to its chief, Air Force one star Simon P. Worden. Protests arose when the Pentagon announced that the OSI would "provide news items, possibly even false ones." Rumsfeld shut down OSI to quell the controversy. Well, he sort of shut it down. "You can have the [OSI] name," he said at a press conference, "but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have."

Before it skulked out the servants' door, OSI spawned a number of truth sub-ministries within DoD, one of which was the Retired Military Analyst program.

Part II will analyze RMA as a microcosm of the Pentagon's propaganda campaign to protect and defend the military industrial complex.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obama's Strategic Wasteland

In December 2008, Joe Klein of Time magazine called the war in Afghanistan an "aimless absurdity." Our new president is onboard with committing 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, despite the fact that the Pentagon isn't certain what to tell the additional troops to do there or even what kind of troops it wants to send. According to the Washington Post, "the incoming administration does not anticipate that the Iraq-like 'surge' of forces will significantly change the direction of a conflict that has steadily deteriorated over the past seven years."

So why are they executing an Iraq-like "surge" of forces?

No, After You…

One senior U.S. military commander told the Post "We have no strategic plan. We never had one." He was referring to the Bush administration's Afghanistan program, but he might as well have been talking about Iraq and Iran and every other tentacle of Bush era foreign policy. The senior commander also said that Obama's first order of business will be to "explain to the American people what the mission is" in Afghanistan. Obama will be hard pressed to explain what the mission is if he doesn't have a strategy.

A December New York Times article stated that "Taking a page from the successful experiment in Iraq, American commanders and Afghan leaders are preparing to arm local militias to help in the fight against a resurgent Taliban." Arming local militias was only part of the "successful" experiment in Iraq. The larger part of the experiment involved bribing militias not to use the arms we gave them, a course of action that has further cemented the ostensible necessity for U.S. troops to stay in that country well beyond Obama's promised 16 month deadline. The surge has been so successful that, after two years, it's still in effect; we have several thousand more troops in Iraq than we did when the surge began in January 2007, and it still hasn't produced its stated purpose of political unification. Maybe that's okay. Objectives seem to have gone the way of the foreign policies of yesteryear.

The hero of the Iraq surge, General David Petraeus, is now in charge of Central Command, the area of responsibility that encompasses Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In a November press conference at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, Petraeus said that, "an overall effort is essential," but declined to give details on what the effort might consist of.

Antonio Giustozzi, an Afghanistan expert at the London School of Economics, puts it bluntly: "In the end, I believe it will boil down to bribing people into joining militias." He cautions, "How military effective [this is] going to be remains to be seen."

Bribing militias to fight the Taliban won't be effective at all if the Pentagon decides not to fight the Taliban. As analyst Gareth Porter notes, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his rear echelon military functionaries have already had months to develop a new strategy, and the bottle is still spinning. Some officers have suggested we shift from killing the Taliban to protecting the population (from the Taliban, I'm guessing). Other proposed strategies include offering the Taliban protection from international forces in Afghanistan if they agree to undertake peace negotiations, and many believe the only solution is to offer a share of political power to the Taliban, in which case—arguably, at least—we might not want to kill them at all.

Then, as in Iraq, we'll have to stick around forever to make sure the militias we paid to kill the Taliban don't kill them or turn on us. Of course, they probably won't kill the Taliban if we don't pay them to, and they pretty much can't kill the Taliban if we don't arm them, and they can't turn on us if we leave; but what kind of strategy would that be?

Throw Soldiers at It

For all the machinations of the Bush administration, its standard operating procedure was quite simple, more of a tactic than a strategy. The closest analogy to it I can think of is ice hockey's dump-and-chase play. Hockey teams with overwhelming speed and size don't bother with coordinated maneuvers; they simply sling the puck into the opponent's zone, skate after it, knock the other guys into the boards and try to slide the puck to an open teammate in front of the net. If the tactic doesn't work, they just do it again, and again, and again. If the opponent scores, the dump-and-chase team shakes it off and goes back to dumping and chasing and never stops doing it.

It's not long before all the dump-and-chase team knows how to do is dump and chase, and after a time it's too late for them to relearn how to skate and pass and play as a team. The U.S. has been playing dump-and-chase since the end of World War II. The stronger and bigger and faster we got relative to everyone else, the more we played dump-and-chase, and the less effective armed force became as a tool of foreign policy. Rather than reexamine the efficacy of our methods, we merely invested in an ever more powerful but increasingly impotent military.

So it is that we invaded Iraq on fuzzy pretexts with no idea of what we'd do after we "won," without even a way of determining we'd accomplished our mission other than hanging a sign behind our commander in chief that said we had.

We're about to escalate yet another enigmatic war with no particular purpose in mind. Mr. Obama says Afghanistan is now the "central front on terror." The central front has moved from Afghanistan to Iraq to Iran to Syria to North Korea to Pakistan and back to Afghanistan again. That's a boatload of central fronts for a war that doesn't have any front lines. I can't wait to hear who Obama says the latest incarnation of Hitler is.

Obama says he wants to make sure Afghanistan "cannot be used as a base to launch attacks against the United States." Nobody can actually launch an attack on much of anything from the mountains of Afghanistan. You can plan an attack from there, but you can plan an attack on the United States from a picnic blanket spread out in front of the Lincoln Memorial. And oh yeah, the Taliban, whether we decide to kill them or not, had nothing to do with 9/11, and have no interest in being party to a second one, and wouldn't be fighting us if we hadn't pitched a tent city in their front yard.

I hope young Mr. Obama thinks good and hard before he decides to send more G.I.s to risk life and limb in a third world wasteland for no coherent reason. I grew sick from watching the last commander in chief treat our troops like hockey pucks.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Farewell Follies

In a parting gesture, young Mr. Bush gave us the opportunity to laugh him off the world stage, perhaps the only fitting way to celebrate the end of his tragic reign of pratfalls. On January 12, Shuckin' and jivin' and smirkin' and quirkin', Bush gave his farewell press conference. Part sulk, part self-affirmation, part psychotic outburst, his antics before the White House press corps were high farce that could have been penned by Moliere or Aristophanes.

The only mistake he made with Hurricane Katrina was not landing Air Force One in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. He's thought "long and hard" about that one, and when asked what has be done about Katrina's aftermath three and a half years after the fact, he replied, "Well, more people need to get in their houses."

Bush's only flub with Iraq was hanging the "Mission Accomplished" sign from the aircraft carrier. Some of his rhetoric, he admitted, "has been a mistake." Everything else that went wrong on his watch was the fault of Congress, or of "certain quarters in Europe" that blame "every Middle Eastern problem on Israel" (as opposed to Iran), and that try to be popular by "joining the International Criminal Court" and "accepting Kyoto." Mr. Bush felt Kyoto was a "flawed treaty," presumably every bit as flawed as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other treaties that people in certain quarters join in order to be popular. Our moral standing, says Mr. Bush, "may be damaged amongst some of the elite," but for the likes of Joe the Plumber, America still provides "great hope."

Did I Mention 9/11?

Though more tightly scripted than the press conference, Mr. Bush's formal farewell address on January 15 was every bit as absurd. The opening remarks included "gratitude" for Dick Cheney, a sentiment both hilarious and horrifying. Once the throat clearing was out of the way, Bush cut to the chase: His thoughts returned "to the first night I addressed you from this house—September the 11th, 2001. That morning, terrorists took nearly 3,000 lives in the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor."

Ah, yes, the "new Pearl Harbor" young Bush's neoconservative masters needed in order to justify an invasion of Iraq.

Mr. Bush evoked vignettes of himself standing tall as our leader after the terrorist attacks: with rescue workers in the rubble of the World Trade Center, with "brave souls who charged through smoke-filled corridors at the Pentagon" and with "husbands and wives whose loved ones became heroes aboard Flight 93."

My unforgettable image of Bush after 9/11 is his "What, me president?" moment, sitting in a classroom among small children, making the sound of one jaw dropping and holding My Pet Goat in his lap.

"As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11." But not Mr. Bush: he had to spend seven grueling years finding someone else to blame it on, and recruiting scapegoats for the two disastrous wars he recklessly led us into.

Mr. Bush intoned his single tangible achievement: "America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil." This, in Mr. Bush's mind, is the point defense of his legacy, the sole irrefutable fact of his efforts "to do everything in my power to keep us safe."

That we haven't been attacked again is most probably the result of a regulation change for the people who serve in acronym and tri-graph agencies like NORAD, JFCOM, FAA, FBI, NSA and the other domestic security agencies whose job it was to prevent 9/11 from happening in the first place—they now have to drink coffee while on duty and sleep on their own time.

That the 9/11 attacks occurred at all was a breathtaking study in institutional Onanism, a compendium of dysfunctional leadership, organization and communication. Nobody taking a paycheck to defend this country needed a whole new cabinet department or a Patriot Act or illegal wiretapping to prevent 9/11. They just needed to do their jobs like they were supposed to, something that was, and has continued to be, all but impossible during the crony-driven Bush regime.

Mr. Bush thinks he has "taken the fight to the terrorists" in Iraq and Afghanistan, that he's done so "with strong allies" at his side, and that his two campaigns have been successful. Almost without exception, the adversaries we have created during our expeditions in the Middle East had nothing to do with 9/11 and wouldn't be fighting us at all if we hadn't pitched a tent in their back yard. The closest thing we have to allies now are the European countries that contributed troops to the effort to bail us out in Afghanistan, and they only did that as a last gasp effort to save NATO, whose reason for existance crumbled along with the Berlin Wall.

Mr. Bush's victorious surge in Iraq has left us with a dead man's switch in our hands. His "main man," General David Petraeus, bought an uneasy peace by bribing militiamen not to use the weapons he gave them. Now we have to stick around forever to make sure the payola gets to the right warlords or the country will go up for grabs again. And we're about to embark on Son of Surge, deploying 30,000 additional troops to "repeat the success" and pay off crooked Afghan chieftains.

"Our nation is safer than it was seven years ago," according to Mr. Bush, but global terror has skyrocketed since 9/11, and as Bush himself admits, "the gravest threat to our people remains another terrorist attack."

Mr. Bush took "decisive measures to safeguard our economy" in the closing days of his regime, but it was the interminable days before them that doubled our national debt as we pursued self-defeating wars that were entirely avoidable.

There has been "no higher honor" for Mr. Bush than serving as our military's commander in chief, but there has been no greater shame than the way in which he abused his stewardship of our troops: sending them into appalling wars, neglecting them when they came home wounded, and exploiting them for his own political gain.

At his press conference, Mr. Bush said that the thing he worried about most was "the Constitution of the United States." Thanks to him, the rest of us have to worry whether it will ever be restored.

Throughout his tenure as president, Mr. Bush had "the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right."

Bush's conscience is that of a spoiled, rich ne'er do well whose daddy bought him a set of values in the person of Billy Graham for his 40th birthday. People like Bush never have to pass a test they can't cheat on or commit a sin they can't make someone else burn for. Bush and his kind make moral decisions by paying someone to tell them whatever they did was the right thing.

And so Mr. Bush—part Macbeth, part Richard III, part Lear, but all fool—has taken his curtain call.

It's too bad we didn't give him the hook a long, long time ago.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Making Israel Pretty

We'll never have a clearer demonstration of the Israel Lobby's unwarranted influence over the U.S. media. Israel, backed and armed by the world's sole superpower, is committing atrocities against Palestinians in Gaza, an ethnic group, confined to a tiny strip of land, that Israel has attempted to starve into submission for over a year and a half. Defending the ethnic group is Hamas, an irregular force armed largely with makeshift weapons like rockets it manufactures from steel tubes and fertilizer.

Yet to hear America's newspaper of record tell the story, Israeli forces face a "war full of traps and trickery." According to a January 10 New York Times story by Steven Erlanger, Hamas, "with training from Iran and Hezbollah" (of course), has turned Gaza "into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs."

Ah, yes: all failed Middle East policies lead to Iran. It's funny how Iran, a country whose entire gross domestic product is less than what America has spent on its woebegone wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, can call all the shots in the region. Even more astounding is how, merely by showing an oppressed people how to dig tunnels and make weapons out of scrap materials, Iran can run rings around a global hegemon that spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined.

Maybe it helps that Hamas fighters are, as the NYT says, "Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open." That statement contains two glaring absurdities. First is the notion that guerilla fighters would dream of fighting "in the open" like a conventional army. Second is the inference that Israel's army had any expectation of catching Hamas out in the open. They know all about how guerillas fight from watching us shoot ourselves in the baby makers in Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan. Erlanger makes a point of noting that "Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms." Jesus, Larry and Curly. If Hamas fighters bothered to wear uniforms, they might as well simply huddle together in a parking lot, paint Day-Glo bulls' eyes on their chests, and slap neon signs on their backs that say "KILL ME!"

Erlanger relates grisly tales of Hamas's underhanded tactics; all of them sourced to anonymous "Israeli intelligence officials," "Israeli officials," and "Israelis." One such story appears at first blush to be an eyewitness account from an imbedded Israeli reporter, but on second reading it's clearly hearsay relayed from "Israeli soldiers." The NYT perfected this covert propaganda technique back in 2002, when Judith Miller and Michael R. Gordon cited unnamed "officials" more than twenty times to sell Dick Cheny's Nigergate hoax to an American public still reeling from the 9/11 attacks.

In one passage, Erlinger says that the name of the commander of an Israeli engineering unit "cannot be published under censorship rules." He's talking about Israeli censorship rules, which appear to be the keystone of the NYT's journalistic standards.

Industry Standard

Erlanger makes sure we know what Israeli forces are doing to "minimize collateral damage," like warning civilians "by leaflets, loudspeakers and telephone calls to evacuate battle areas." Erlanger doesn't explain that even if Israelis send Palestinian civilians candy-grams, they won't have any place to evacuate to. Erlanger also writes about a "small-diameter smart bomb" the Israelis use to "minimize" damage in an urban area, and a missile that doesn’t explode at all, but he offers no word of explanation from the Israelis on why they found it necessary to fire bomb Gaza City with white phosphorous for several days before they attempted to enter the city.

Erlanger cites Israeli officials echoing the propaganda mantra that "Hamas is using civilians as human shields," which is a malevolently disingenuous way of describing what's really going on; Hamas is defending the Palestinian people on their home turf.

Ironically, though Erlanger lets Israeli officials accuse Hamas of hiding behind women and children and refusing to fight in the open, he also cites them describing how their troops move "only behind tanks and armored bulldozers, riding in armored personnel carriers, spending as little time in the open as possible."

You have to wonder how that one slipped past the unnamed Israeli censors.

In a 2002 article for The Nation, journalist Michael Massing says the "main obstacle" to U.S. media standing up to the influence of Israel Lobby groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is "fear." In The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Professors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard note: "The Lobby's perspective on Israel is widely reflected in the mainstream media because most American commentators are pro-Israel."

The professors quote the late Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley as saying, "Shamir, Sharon, Bibi—whatever those guys want is pretty much fine by me." Mearsheimer and Walt further cite the memoir of former New York Times executive editor Max Frankel who confesses that he "wrote most of our Middle East commentaries…from a pro-Israel perspective."

They also detail how the Israel Lobby influences news reporting through letter campaigns, boycotting, demonstrations, and pressure from Congress where, as journalist Ari Berman puts it, "unconditional support for Israel" is "an accepted cost of doing business."

The coverage of the Gaza monstrosity by Bill Kristol and the rest of the Big Brother Broadcast has been atrocious enough, but "mainstream" reporting, like the Erlanger article, has been little better. One has to reach to the "alternative" press to grasp the key truths about Israel's invasion of Gaza:

Hamas did not, as Condi Rice claims, stage an "illegal coup" in Gaza. It won political power in open elections in January 2006, at which time the Bush administration launched machinations to reverse the results of the election. Hamas did not violate the ceasefire; Israel violated it when it sent troops into Gaza in November 2008, and Hamas did not refuse to extend the ceasefire in December. Hamas offered to renew the peace agreement and Israel spurned the offer.

I doubt even George Orwell expected that a great western nation's information environment could become as utterly corrupted as America's is today. Here we are, almost a decade into the 21st century, proving the veracity of 18th satirist Voltaire's admonition that "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gaza's Eyes to Cry With

"Leave them nothing but their eyes to cry with."

-- Attributed to a Union colonel of the Civil War serving as an adviser to the Prussian General Staff during the Franco-Prussian War.

The United Nations has called for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza strip. Pope Benedict XVI has also called for a ceasefire, and senior Vatican official Cardinal Renato Martino describes Gaza as "a big concentration camp."

The Senate and the House of Representatives have passed resolutions endorsing the assault on Gaza by what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi describes as our "friend and democratic ally."

There you have the difference between the U.N., the Catholic Church and the United States Congress; the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) doesn't own the U.N. or the Catholic Church.

And isn't it striking that there can be two presidents at a time when it comes to the economy but not when it comes to foreign policy? Barack Obama is hot to ram an economic recovery bill of uncertain merit past Congress's tonsils, but when asked at a recent press conference why he has remained silent about Israeli atrocities in Gaza, Obama explained that his "silence is not a consequence of lack of concern," giving the Palestinians in Gaza a bird's eye view of the veins between his wrist and knuckles.

Let's Play Hard Bull

Our Secretary of State Condi Rice told reporters on January 9 that "it's hard" for Israeli forces to avoid killing civilians in Gaza because Hamas is using them as human shields. Maybe that's why Israel didn't bother to even try to avoid killing civilians in Gaza, and went ahead and firebombed it.

I was hesitant to buy into the stories of Israeli forces using white phosphorus on civilians until I saw the AP picture of the incendiary airburst over Gaza City at the Voice of America website, and The Times confirmed that it had identified Israeli stockpiles of U.S. made white phosphorous rounds on the Israeli-Gaza border. White phosphorous and other incendiary munitions can create night illumination and smoke, but their main purpose is to burn things, like Tokyo and Dresden, and now Gaza City.

Condi also told reporters that she was "encouraged that Prime Minister (Ehud) Olmert, after an extensive conversation we had, agreed to open a new humanitarian corridor." Condi didn't mention if she encouraged Olmert to have his troops open fire on Red Cross trucks as they attempted to use the "humanitarian" corridor, a gambit that forced the Red Cross to suspend relief efforts. Nor did Condi offer a guess as to whether Israel forcing the Red Cross to cease operations had anything to do with its relief workers finding four starving children next to their mothers' corpses in a Gaza City neighborhood that Israel had denied the Red Cross access to for days.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel says the suffering in Gaza was "brought on by Hamas." Somebody needs to tell Scott that even if Hamas had incendiary bombs like those, they probably wouldn't explode them above Gaza City like the Israelis have. If they had artillery equipment like the Israelis have, Hamas also probably wouldn't herd 100 or so Palestinian civilians into a "shelter" and then shell them, like the Israelis did, and if Hamas had a tank, they most likely would not, like the Israelis did, use it to demolish a school that nobody was shooting at them from.

Stanzel also said the present troubles began because Hamas refused to extend the ceasefire. Thanks to historian and journalist Gareth Porter, we know that Hamas made an offer to renew the ceasefire in December, and Israel shunned it.

Those cabinet secretaries and White House spokesmodels really should get the facts straight before they make up new ones, shouldn't they?

And maybe creatures like Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NV) ought to get their ducks in a line before they call criticism of Israel "anti-Semitism."

Nothing but Their Eyes to Cry With

The purpose of strategy in war is to focus the violence on a tangible policy aim. Not surprisingly, Israel's Ambassador to the United States Sallai Meridor freely admitted in a recent lecture at George Washington University that, "we have no grand political scheme" in Gaza.

That means our "friend and democratic ally," with the endorsement of our executive and legislative branches of government and with the tacit approval of our president elect, are conducting slaughter for the sake of slaughter. This is also known as total war, and war of annihilation, and genocide.

What a crying shame it is that the land of the free and the home of the brave should sanction such monstrosity.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The Unchosen People

Thanks to investigative journalist Gareth Porter we know that in January 2006, when Hamas won a 56 percent majority in the Palestinian parliamentary election, the Bush administration initiated actions to overturn the election results. It coerced the UN, the European Union and Russia into demanding that Hamas "disarm" before a political solution could be reached between Palestine and Israel.

This is a signal characteristic of administration's behavior in foreign affairs: require the target to cede its bargaining chips as a precondition of negotiations. In the case of Iran, the "offer they must refuse" is the demand that they give up their UN guaranteed "inalienable right" to peaceful nuclear development. The administration gave Hamas an ultimatum to bare its throat to an armed and U.S. backed Israel, a move that would have been suicidal. Given the overwhelming preponderance of the Israelis' actions and rhetoric over the past three years, I see no way to avoid the conclusion that they consider genocide of a defenseless adversary to be a perfectly legitimate course of action.

And it looks like they can get away with it for at least as long as George W. Bush is in office.

Beggars and Choosers

In September 2006, both U.S. Secretary of State Condi Rice and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni declared that they would not accept a Palestinian government that included the newly elected Hamas majority. The Bush administration brought pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the Hamas government and Rice talked Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates into providing covert funds and training to the militant branch of the corrupt Palestinian Fatah party that been voted out of power.

Push came to shove, shove came to biff, Hamas ran Fatah out of Gaza, Israel slapped a blockade on Hamas and the rest is front page news. Israel's latest talk of agreeing to ceasefire proposal "principles" sounds like a stall stratagem. Condi says the U.S. doesn't want a ceasefire that will restore a "status quo," which means the administration wants Hamas even more outgunned than it was before. Israel is equipped to spank the militaries of three neighboring countries. Hamas is armed with rockets that it makes from steel tubes and fertilizer. Israel says that any ceasefire it agrees to will have to include a "working" arms embargo. I guess that means Gaza farmers will have to adopt closed loop fertilizing; a fitting analog of what Israel, with help from the rest of the world, has been forcing the Palestinians to do for generations.

Israel is supposedly allowing a three-hour daily window for food and other supplies to get into Gaza via "humanitarian corridors." Who do they think they're kidding? Gaza was in a long-standing crisis situation before began its aerial assault. Three hours of humanitarianism in the middle of an all out invasion won't amount to a sand ant's breakfast.

Israel will go on pounding Gaza and Condi will make sure the get to do so as long as they want to, just like she provided high cover for them during the Lebanon travesty. How long Israel keeps this up is a matter of what it hopes to accomplish.

I googled "eliminate hamas" and got 774,000 hits. A lot of people out there are rooting for the best bloodbath ever. Uber-Likudnik Benjamin Netanyahu thinks Israel "ultimately" needs to remove the Hamas government from in Gaza, but doesn't know if it can be done "right now." Uh, huh. That sounds like a new entry in the Brave New World Dictionary: ul-ti-mate-ly (adverb) before January 20, 2009. Maybe.

"Eliminate Hamas" is code for something far more sinister; in the present context, it means pretty much the same as "eliminate Democrats and Republicans."

There is no wiggle space for crazy talk like "We're here to liberate the freedom loving people of Gaza from their Hamas oppressors" in this scenario. The people of Gaza put Hamas in power to free themselves from the oppression of Israel toadying Fatah. The Gaza Strip covers less than 140 square miles, and almost a million and a half Palestinians live in it. You can't separate combatants from non-combatants in that kind of situation. The canard about how Hamas "uses women and children as human shields" is the most preposterous mantra in the history of war propaganda. Hamas fighters are defending their homes from within them, and unlike some people, they can't pack mommy and the kids off to stay with relatives in Florida.

Burn, Babies, Burn!

There's also no such thing as a "precision" weapon in a theater of war like Gaza. Maybe that's why the Israelis aren't being coy about their use of cluster munitions and incendiaries.

I've witnessed dozens of debates in the past few days over whether or not these weapons are legal, and I refuse to participate. You can argue laws of armed conflict until the return of the Jedi, and it won't make a bit of difference. The Israelis are using them whether they're legal or not. The pertinent question is what the Israelis are trying to accomplish with them.

Like many weapons, clusters and incendiaries have multiple applications, but they were designed with one thing in mind. Bomblet dispensing cluster weapons are for killing people. They're okay for certain types of dispersed soft targets like fighter jets parked on a flight line, but the "AP" in APAM stands for "anti-personnel," and Hamas doesn't have any fighter jets.

Cluster munitions work great against large infantry units moving across open ground, but if the Hamas fighters were dumb enough to move across open ground in large numbers against the Israelis, the fighting would have ended really, really fast. Someone suggested to me that the Israelis may be using clusters to clear minefields. That might clear a few mines I suppose, but the unexploded munitions would create an even denser minefield than the one they were trying to clear. International organizations are still trying to clean up the cluster munitions Israel used in Lebanon and the ones we dropped on Afghanistan. Millions of the things are lolling around the world today, waiting for some kids and a mommy and a dog and a picnic basket to come along. The Israelis will leave tens of thousands of them behind for the Palestinians to remember them by.

Incendiaries are designed to start fires, like the ones they started in Dresden and Tokyo during World War II. Incendiary bombs provide night illumination and daytime smoke screens as a side effect, but seriously folks. If you're a modern army like the Israeli Defense Force and you plan a major operation for months like the IDF planned this one, and all you want to do is turn day into night and vice versa, you use non-exploding flares and emission type smoke rounds, not incendiaries; just like you don't pop off a couple of tactical nukes because you "forgot" batteries for the flashlights.

From the looks of things, Israel aims to leave the Palestinians in Gaza with what a Union colonel of the Civil War depicted as "nothing but their eyes to cry with."

America is inertly watching a nation that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls our "friend and democratic ally" conduct a war of annihilation. Pressed about his lack of comment on the Gaza debacle at a January 7 news conference, President-elect Obama said that his "silence is not a consequence of lack of concern."

If I threw my dogs a bone like that they wouldn't get up to sniff at it.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Children of a Lesser Allah

I don't know if there's a good guy in the Gaza Strip travesty; if there is one, it sure isn't young Mr. Bush, or Lord Cheney, or Keystone Kondi Rice, or, lamentably, Barack Obama, and it sure as h-e-double hockey sticks isn't Israel.

Speaking of perdition, somebody needs to throw another handful of clean coal in the brazier under Yasser Arafat, and hopefully someone has confirmed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's reservation for the spot next to Arafat's. Bush and Kondi and Lord Cheney and Bad Will Ambassador John Bolton must be looking forward to occupying adjoining rooms with a view of the inferno in the LBJ Hilton, because they appear bent on squeezing in as much last minute evil as they can before a house drops on them.

Never tired of watching its own horror show, the Bush team is reprising the scenario it ran in Lebanon: Cheney goads Bush into giving tacit approval for Israel to launch a military offensive against a group of sand colored people who, in terms of relative firepower, amount to an ant colony. Kondi does her hair up like a fright wig and drags out the ceasefire process until Israel a) has killed all the sand colored people it wants to kill or b) starts getting its tohkes kicked by the sand colored people and wants mommy to make them stop it.

Take Two

Dick Cheney says Israel didn't seek "U.S. approval" to begin the ground attack into Gaza. Heh. They didn't seek "U.S. approval" before they attacked Lebanon, either. They sought Dick Cheney's approval, and he gave it to them. Dick Cheney isn't the "U.S." He's just the vice president, and the president of the Senate. He's not in the military chain of command at all, and according to him he doesn't even work in the executive branch of government.

No word yet on whether Israel got Dick's permission to use cluster munitions on the sand colored people, this time or last time. Israel's Haareetz says the Israeli Defense Force is aiming the cluster ammunition at "open areas." I have trouble imagining Hamas placing suitable cluster bomb targets in the open. You might shell an open area to set off mines that could be buried there, but if you use cluster bombs to do that you'll create another minefield on top of the one you're trying to clear. Cluster bombs are made for killing people. Maybe the IDF is shelling open areas with cluster bombs as a humanitarian gesture, something to remind the Palestinians to stay in the closed areas where it's safer, but I doubt it. Journalist Jamal Dajani of Link TV, posting from the Israel-Gaza border, judges Israel's self described "surgical strikes" to be "as surgical as shooting chickens in a coop with a shot gun."

Mr. Bush blames the Gaza debacle on Hamas, saying it has "once again shown its true colors as a terrorist organization" with attacks on Israel. Bush didn't mention that Israel broke the ceasefire in November when it sent ground troops into Gaza. Cheney probably didn't let anybody tell Bush that part. Maybe it's a moot issue; Israel has had Gaza under a blockade since January 2008, six months before the ceasefire went into effect. Since a blockade is an act of war imposed by armed force, one has to marvel at how even the most adroit Rovewellian can say with a straight face that a ceasefire exists within a blockade.

But then logic has never been a requirement of Bush administration rhetoric. Kondi says that, "Hamas has held the people of Gaza hostage ever since their illegal coup against the forces of (Palestinian Authority) President Mahmoud Abbas." The "illegal coup" she refers to was the January 2006 election in which Hamas won a large majority of Palestinian Parliament and ousted the corrupt, self-serving Fatah party. Fatah, you may recall, was the political organization of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who built a personal nest egg of $1 billion and $3 billion out of public funds.

Kondi says that she won't settle for a ceasefire that allows Hamas to keep its rockets to defend itself with. Hamas makes the Qassam rockets themselves, since they can't afford to buy weapons from anybody. The rockets are simple steel filled tubes with no guidance system. The fuel is a mixture of sugar and fertilizer, and the warhead contains fertilizer and scavenged TNT. Qassam rockets are worthless against the F-16 fighter-bombers we gave the Israelis.

FOX News put fear and loathing merchant John Bolton on the air to say the Israelis has a right to use those F-16s to "eliminate" Hamas. After that, Bolton said, Israel should use the F-16s to attack Iran for us.

Bush neocons aren't the only U.S. politicos lifting their skirts for Israel. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "When Israel is attacked, the United States must continue to stand strongly with its friend and democratic ally." Dick Cheney must not have let anybody tell her that Israel attacked first either. On Meet the Press last Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid prattled on about how generous the Israelis were when they gave the Palestinians control of the Gaza Strip in 2003. He didn't mention that Israel was giving back land the UN parceled to the Palestinian Arabs in 1947 when it established Israel.

It's too bad for the Palestinians they can't afford to set up a lobbying group like the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and to buy all of our politicians and our media like the Israelis have done.

Lonely at the Bottom

The Armistice Agreements that ended the 1948 Arab-Israeli War eliminated Palestine as a defined territory. The land not ceded to Israel was distributed to Egypt, Syria and Jordan, who essentially told their Palestinian Arab pals to go fish in a sand dune. In early December 2008, Egyptian president Mubarak blocked the Iranian Red Crescent from delivering food to Gaza to relieve Palestinians who had been reduced to eating grass. I reckon Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni hadn't heard about the grass eating business when she said, “There is no humanitarian crisis” in Gaza. Or maybe she doesn't think Palestinians eating grass constitutes a humanitarian crisis.

The Telegraph describes how the U.S. blocked the UN Security Council from passing a statement urging an immediate ceasefire on both sides on Saturday. Historian and journalist Gareth Porter exposes how the George W. Bush administration provoked Hamas to seize power in Gaza by forcing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to attempt to dissolve the democratically elected Hamas government."

I once had the audacity to hope that my country would become that shining city on a hill, a champion of the oppressed and abandoned everywhere. Human societies don't get much more oppressed or abandoned than the Palestinians are, but political regimes don't come any more malignant than the Bush administration has been.

It would be nice to believe that change is just around the corner, but the ear-splitting silence from Barack Obama, on a holiday surfing safari as the Gaza debacle unfolded, has me wondering whether the Israelis now own U.S. foreign policy trigger, stock and barrel regardless of who the American public puts in power. I don't buy Obama's "one president at a time" excuse. Bush, Cheney and the neocons have gotten away with atrocity after atrocity after atrocity for eight merciless years because people who could have stopped them didn’t want to speak out of turn.

I'd also like to believe that Barack Obama is more concerned with doing the right thing than with what the John Boltons and Sean Hannitys of this world have to say about him.

But just now, I'm more inclined to believe in Scientology.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.