Tuesday, September 29, 2009

McChrystal's Myth

There is no such thing a "victory" in the kinds of wars we’re fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The best one can hope for in these types of conflicts – counterinsurgency efforts in far-flung corners of the globe with fuzzy objectives and vague necessity – is to not be seen as having "lost." For that to happen, unfortunately, you have to stick around for so long and fade away so gradually that, by the time you leave, nobody notices you’re gone.

The neoconservative apparatus that got us into Iraq for reasons we still haven’t decided on threatens to keep us in Afghanistan indefinitely for reasons yet to be determined. Everything we’re doing in Central and Southwest Asia supposedly has something to do with eradicating al-Qaeda, yet there is no sign of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The argument for persisting in Afghanistan says that we have to make sure al-Qaeda doesn’t go back there, yet as former CIA officer Philip Giraldi recently noted, credible assessments suggest that "Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda has likely been reduced to a core group of eight to ten terrorists who are on the run more often than not."

For the sake of keeping fewer than a dozen evildoers out of Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his legion of supporters in the Pentagon, Congress, and the media insist we need to bring increase U.S. troop levels to over 100,000, and the overall coalition force level to a half-million, the number of troops we had on the ground at one point in Vietnam.

The half-million figure comes from the counterinsurgency field manual (FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency [.pdf]), which calls for 20 to 25 counterinsurgent forces per every 1,000 locals, and Afghanistan contain a tad over 28 million locals. Your cat can do the math from there. What your cat can’t tell you is the thought process behind the conclusion that it makes sense to pit a half-million persons under arms against a force of eight or ten persons who aren’t in the vicinity of where you plan to place your half-million armed people.

That’s because your cat’s thought process isn’t as short-circuited as the cognitive quagmire going on in the minds of McChrystal and the people backing him.

The short version of this loopy logic equation goes like this: you put McChrystal in charge and he’s asking for what an official doctrine manual says he should ask for, so you have to give it to him. This skips over a trail of false assumptions that, lined up end to end, would span the Khyber Pass.

The requirement for a half-million to ten superiority ratio should have been laughed out of the discussion the moment it was mentioned. The counterinsurgency manual’s dictum that we must "convince the people of the government’s legitimacy" contains two dismal flaws in the context of Afghanistan (and Iraq as well). There is no convincing the Afghan people of the legitimacy of the Hamad Karzai government or any other government we replace it with.

The biggest flaw in the pro-McChrystal plan argument is that the counterinsurgency manual reflects tried-and-true tactics and strategy. There has never been such a thing as a triumphant counterinsurgency conflict. These types of wars have all been indecisive and draining quagmires; the sorts of conflicts that Sun Tzu warned us about over two thousand years ago when he said "No nation ever profited from a long war."

Yet it is that the military-industrial-congressional complex has adopted the "long war" concept, a gem of tank thinkery straight out of Orwell designed to keep America on a permanent wartime economy and in an endless state of fear and loathing of enemies vaguely defined and overly demonized.

Lacking a peer military adversary since the end of the Cold War, the American war mafia, headed by Bill Kristol’s Israeli-centric neoconservative cabal, casts about desperately for a "new Pearl Harbor" to justify its existence. The 9/11 attacks gave them the "catalyst" they needed to justify the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. It remains to be seen if we’ll be able to pull out of the flat spin they have flown us into.

The greatest fallacy in the counterinsurgency doctrine is the notion that we can partner with the host nation to establish order and security. As U.S. Army Col. Timothy Reese recently observed, our years of effort at establishing a competent and reliable government and security apparatus in Iraq have come to naught. The "ineffectiveness and corruption" of Iraq’s government, he wrote in a recent memorandum, "is the stuff of legend." Of Iraq’s security forces, he wrote, "corruption among officers is widespread."

Laziness is "endemic," Reese said, and "Lack of initiative is legion." These and other compelling reasons are why Reese recommended that it’s time to "declare victory" in Iraq and go home.

To think we can do better than this in Afghanistan is the epitome of delusion. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which we backed in a long war against Iran during the 1980s, was a real country with a real army and real institutions and infrastructure. Afghanistan has always been a fourth-world wasteland. When it comes to Afghanistan, our counterinsurgency manual amounts to little more than a ream of latrine linen.

The only reason we’re still playing political patty-cake about what to do in Afghanistan – or anywhere else in that part of the world – is to determine who gets the blame for "losing." A popular adage of war says it’s the losers who determine when they’re over. So, the logic goes, as long as we don’t quit, we can’t lose. Hence the "long war."

It’s all about seeing who gets the blame for failing to do the impossible.

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.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Has Iran Stopped Beating Its Wife Yet?

The world is witnessing a contest to see who can act more stupidly: the Iranians or us. The sides are evenly matched. Iran has Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a president and we have Hillary Clinton for a Secretary of State. Hillary doesn’t seem to know a nuclear weapon from a nuclear reactor; Ahmadinejad doesn’t seem to know his sitting part from his elbow.

The sound and fury over Iran’s supposedly “secret reactor” has shut of the oxygen flow to the logic of the upcoming UN 5+1 powers (U.S., China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany) with Iran on a variety of issues, but mainly about Iran’s nuclear program, which Iran says is only for peaceful, energy purposes. Ahmadinejad’s most recent holocaust denial was hardly the sort of thing to inspire confidence in Iran’s claims that it has no interest in developing nuclear weapons. Iran’s latest missile tests did little to inspire confidence in its peaceful intentions either. Ballistic missiles don’t pack much punch if they don’t contain something atomic in their nose cones. Bugs and gas and dynamite aren’t worth the trouble of sending to your adversaries via missile. It’s far more cost effective to send those payloads via parcel post.

On the other hand, Iran’s secret reactor at Qom was about as secret as Bill Clinton’s indiscretions. We’ve known about it for years, and that knowledge hasn’t affected our intelligence agencies determination that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program. Moreover, Iran revealed the existence of the Qom site to the International Atomic Energy Agency before it was required to.

The narrative gets cloudy. According to an AP report by Pamela Hess, the Obama administration had intended to “confront the Iranians about the secret site later this year, but Tehran's sudden disclosure forced their hand.”

Wait. We were going to expose it later but had to expose it sooner because Iran exposed it sooner than we did? ¡Ay carumba!

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, like presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, lives in mortal fear that the neocons and the rest of the American warmonger will call her an empty pantsuit if she doesn’t talk tough about security every chance she gets. She’s been yacking wacky about Iran for quite a while now, and doesn’t seem ready to stop. One of her latest rants threatened that America would extend its “defense umbrella” across the Middle East to defend its friends from Iran. We’ve had a defense umbrella across the entire planet since the 1950s called nuclear deterrence.

It’s anyone’s guess as to who gulled President Obama into making a federal issue out of the Qom reactor. Maybe he figured he’s sucked up to the Pentagon so much it was time he threw a treat or two to Hillary’s pack. Whatever the case, the mishandling of the Qom reactor non-issue has been an embarrassment that makes us look as fringy-unhingy as Ahmadinejad.

I hope all this sound and fury is taking us where we really need to go with Iran. As I’ve said many times, Iran is not a military threat to its neighbors or to Israel, which is geographically so distant from Iran as to be out of its reach. Iran’s maritime forces might embarrass us in the Gulf if we preemptively attack it for no good reason, but there’s an easy way to avoid that: we don’t attack Iran for no reason.

The proper approach to softening relations with the Iranians is to impress upon them that if they want to be treated like a grown-up nation, they have to act like a grow-up nation. But, as Bill Cosby might say, if we want our children to behave like adults, we have to behave like adults ourselves. Behaving irrationally as the world’s superpower encourages emerging nations like Iran to behave the same way.

Having a nuclear weapons program would paint a bull’s eye on Iran’s back. Iran knows it, and everyone else knows it too. The solution we need from Iran is total transparency of their nuclear program in return for allowing them to have a nuclear program.

Here’s hoping that both Hillary and Ahmadinijad step back from the diplomatic process and let adults handle things.

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.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Velvet Junta

Time magazine’s Joe Klein observes that the leak of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s report on Afghanistan to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post was “a serious breach of conduct by someone, possibly in the military (or a supporter the military's position). This was an effort to lobby a quick decision on troop strength.”

It wasn’t a breach of conduct exactly; it was a sanctioned leak. As journalist Gareth Porter notes, the fact that the copy of the report published online by the Post was heavily redacted indicates it was specially prepared to release to the press.

The document’s release was merely the latest volley in the Pentagon’s unrestricted information warfare campaign to coerce its new commander in chief into supporting a never-ending “long war.” A showdown between President Obama and the Pentagon has been coming for some time, and it looks like high noon is upon us.

George W. Bush gave Gen. David Petraeus and the rest of the four-stars who signed on to support the Iraq surge (Adm. Mike Mullen, Gen. Ray Odierno, Gen. George Casey, etc.) virtual control of U.S. foreign policy in April 2008 when he announced that Petraeus would make the call on troop levels in Iraq. John McCain would have given them the same latitude if elected, but when it became clear he probably wouldn’t win, the Pentagon and its supporters in Congress and the media began a drumbeat that signaled they expected the incoming Democrat to continue letting them run the show.

The long war mafia made clear its opposition to candidate Obama’s campaign promise to establish a timeline to draw down the Iraq war. Even after Obama had assumed office, Odierno, commander in Iraq, stated publicly (through Petraeus’s hagiographer Tom Ricks) that he expected to keep 30,000 more troops in Iraq through 2014 or 2015, well after the December 2011 exit deadline called for in the Status of Forces Agreement.

Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, has been a leading chanter of the mantra that says we must stay committed in Afghanistan. In a recent Joint Force Quarterly article, Mullen wrote, “The most common questions that I get in Pakistan and Afghanistan are: ‘Will you really stay with us this time?’ ‘Can we really count on you?’ I tell them that we will and that they can.”

In a recent appearance on Al Jazeera, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "both Afghanistan and Pakistan can count on us for the long term."

Every American should be stunned that our top military leadership made these kinds of foreign policy commitments without so much as a by-your-leave from the president or Congress. This is a velvet-fisted version of the kind of military junta we’d expect to see in a banana republic.

The warmongery’s information campaign against Obama heated up in a Sept. 18 McClatchy article titled “Military growing impatient with Obama on Afghanistan.” The article said the military is complaining that, “the Obama administration is sending mixed signals about its objectives there and how many troops are needed to achieve them.” McClatchy’s information came from unnamed “officials” and “senior officers” in Kabul and Washington, who hinted that McChrystal might resign if he doesn’t get his way on additional troops. If you haven’t caught on by now, “unnamed officials” are not, for the most part, whistle blowers. They’re information operatives whose job it is to trickle propaganda into the media and make it sound like “news.”

Woodward’s Sept. 21 Post article led with McChrystal’s warning that without further troops, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure." This appeared on the heels of Obama’s Sept. 20 Sunday telethon during which he said, “I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or . . . sending a message that America is here for the duration."

Congressional hawks joined the attack on the commander in chief. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that "any failure to act decisively in response to General McChrystal's request could serve to undermine the other good decisions the president has made.”

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement that he was "deeply troubled . . . by reports that the White House is delaying action on the General's request for more troops" because “the longer we wait the more we put our troops at risk."

John McCain told CBS’s Early Show that the longer it takes to send more troops to Afghanistan, "the more Americans will be put at risk." (Do you think maybe these guys get their talking points from the same neoconservative think tank?)

It never occurs to the likes of McConnell, Boehner and McCain that the best way to put American troops at risk is to commit more of them to combat without thinking about why you’re doing it.

Obama said that he would only approve another escalation if he has "absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be." McChrystal’s report is incoherent on the subject of strategy.

It says, “We must conduct classic counterinsurgency operations” and states that success depends not on “seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces” but on “gaining the support of the people.” That’s laughable in light of the fact that classic clear-hold-build counterinsurgency operations involve seizing terrain and destroying the insurgent forces that occupy it.

The notion that we can separate the Afghan people from the insurgents is as ludicrous as the idea of invading Mexico to separate the Hispanics from the Latinos. Nor can we pretend to be the good guys when the Karzai government we prop up is as bad or worse than the insurgents. McChrystal admits that Afghans have “little reason to support their government.”

McChrystal says he sees no sign of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. So, his argument goes, in order to disrupt al-Qaeda terror network, we need 45,000 more troops to occupy a country al Qaeda is not in to make sure it doesn’t come back. And what exactly is this al-Qaeda juggernaut we’ve come to quake in fear of? As former CIA officer Philip Giraldi recently noted, “An assessment by France’s highly regarded Paris Institute of Political Studies [suggests that] Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda has likely been reduced to a core group of eight to ten terrorists who are on the run more often than not.”

If McChrystal and his allies get their way, we’ll have deployed over 135,000 troops to Afghanistan—on top of the roughly 130,000 troops still in Iraq—for the purpose of rounding up fewer than a dozen bad guys. Daffy Duck and Wiley Coyote could come up with a better strategy than that. Our military leadership and its supporters are a thundering herd of buffoons whose only real objective is to keep the cash caissons rolling and the gravy ships afloat and the wild blue budget sky high.

Now that Petraeus and Mullen have officially endorsed McChrystal’s re-escalation strategy, the pro-war echo chamber will kick into warp drive. If Obama can stand up to America’s militaristic madness, he’ll be the first president to successfully do so since Dwight David Eisenhower, who ended Douglas MacArthur’s botched Korean War and who warned us in his 1961 farewell speech against “the disastrous rise of misplaced power” that our military industrial complex would create.

Here’s hoping Barry turns out to be a lot like Ike.

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.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Obama’s High Noon

Recent events indicate that President Barack Obama is considering cutting the Pentagon’s “long war” short.

First came his decision to drop the Bush administration policy of demanding that Iran cede its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes as a precondition to diplomatic talks. Then he cancelled Bush’s pledge to deploy a missile defense system that doesn’t work in the Czech Republic and Poland, and promised to replace it with a missile defense system that does work. Pro-war legislators John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Joe Lieberman, John Boehner and others howled like a coven of wicked witches. (What a world! What a world!)

Now it looks like Obama may be seeing the forest among the trees with regard to his Afghanistan policy. As Jason Ditz of Antiwar.com noted on September 20, Obama is looking at Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s request for 40,000 additional troops in Afghanistan with skepticism. The Afghanistan question looks to be shaping up as the ultimate confrontation between Obama and the long war mafia headed by Gen. David Petraeus and his lieutenants: Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Iraq commander Gen. Ray Odierno and McChrystal.

The long warriors were openly skeptical of candidate Obama’s promise to end U.S. presence in Iraq. When their allies in Congress and the right-wing media slammed Obama for having voted against the Iraq surge as a Senator, Obama replied that the Iraq surge had drawn attention and resources from Afghanistan. Ever since, the warlords have used their echo chamber to stuff Obama’s words back in his face.

Afghanistan is President Obama’s war, they tell us. He’s the one who sent us there; he’s the one who gave us the strategy. He’s the one, the implication goes, who is making us quit in Iraq so he better let us stay the course in Afghanistan. Republican Senator from Kentucky Mitch McConnell said that Petraeus “did a great job with the surge in Iraq. I think he knows what he's doing. Gen. McChrystal is a part of that. We have a lot of confidence in those two generals. I think the president does as well."

Piffle. Petraeus knows what he’s doing all right; he’s setting himself up to be the GOP’s great white hope come 2012 or 2016. By any real measure, the Iraq surge has been a spectacular failure. Iraq’s government and security forces are corrupt and incompetent, Sunni reconciliation is still a pipe dream and no progress has been made on the Kurdish issue. If McChrystal is a part of that, all the more reason to distrust him as much as we should distrust Petraeus (or Mullen or Gates or Odierno, who referred to the surge’s strategic malfunctions as mere “tactical issues.” That’s a perfect illustration of why I call Odierno the “Desert Ox.” Odierno, by the way, is the point man on pressuring Obama into keeping U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the December 2011 deadline dictated by the Status of Forces Agreement. Thanks to Petraeus hagiographer Tom Ricks, Odie is on record as wanting to see 30,000 to 35,000 troops in Iraq until at least 2015).

McChrystal has become the point man in the Pentagon mob’s unrestricted information warfare campaign against its commander in chief. According to a September 21 Washington Post article by Bob Woodward, McChrystal’s 66-page assessment of the Afghanistan situation “bluntly states” that “without more forces, the eight-year conflict ‘will likely result in failure.’”

McChrystal assessment states that "failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months)—while Afghan security capacity matures—risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

Defeating insurgencies is never possible. The only folks who ever win an insurgency war own a majority share in the local gene pool. For us to “succeed” in Afghanistan would require at least ten percent of us to move there permanently—something that might just happen, come to think of it, if Obama continues to accede to the Pentagon’s demand for escalations.

And there’s plenty of pressure for him to do so. Petraeus says "I don't think anyone can guarantee that it will work out even if we apply a lot more resources. But it won't work out if we don't." That’s a lovely piece of obscuration; we should apply more resources, but don’t blame me when it doesn’t work out.

A September 18 McClatchy piece says that the military is “growing impatient with Obama on Afghanistan” and complaining that “the Obama administration is sending mixed signals about its objectives there and how many troops are needed to achieve them.” This information comes from unnamed “officials” and “senior officers” in Kabul and Washington, who hint that McChrystal might resign if he doesn’t get his way on additional troops.

The McClatchy article reports that “some [unnamed] members of McChrystal’s staff” said they “don't understand why Obama called Afghanistan a ‘war of necessity’ but still hasn't given them the resources they need to turn things around quickly.” I bet you a shiny new Illinois quarter that these members of McChrystal’s staff included his personal public affairs officer, Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, who is one of the Pentagon’s leading propaganda operatives.

McChrystal reports that the Afghan government is riddled with corruption, the same situation that we have in Iraq and the same situation we had in Vietnam. "The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials…have given Afghans little reason to support their government," McChrystal says. Those aren’t the kinds of things we can fix.

During his talk show telethon last Sunday, Obama said, “I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or . . . sending a message that America is here for the duration."

That’s a direct answering shot to the Pentagon’s chief propaganda point: that in order to succeed in Afghanistan, we must promise the Afghan people to stay there forever and then do it. That doesn’t do the Afghan people a whole lot of good—they got along just fine before we showed up—but it gives the Pentagon a never-ending excuse to exist.

It might just be that Obama can reverse the insane tide of self-destructive militarism that Dwight David Eisenhower warned us about during his 1961 farewell speech. “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” Ike said. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Maybe, just maybe, Obama has the political skill and will to put our malignant obsession with war into remission. I sure hope so.

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.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Polish Missile Joke Revisited

This Polish missile defense system walks into a bar at noon and says, “Give me six shots of Vodka.”

“How can you afford to get drunk in the middle of a business day?” the bartender asks.

“Easy,” the Polish missile defense system replies. “I don’t work.”

There’s a good reason nobody ever accused John McCain of being overly bright. His reaction to the Obama administration’s decision to cancel the Polish missile defense system that doesn’t work was proof positive that McCain, as well as the rest of the right-wing warmongery, is dumber than a quarry.

Representative Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said “The president has disgraced this nation by breaking his word to loyal and courageous allies in the Czech Republic and Poland.” Obama didn’t break his word. The missile defense deal with the Czechs and the Poles came from George W. Bush, and it was a bad idea.

John Boehner, the insentient Republican Representative from Ohio’s eighth district, said “Scrapping the U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic does little more than empower Russia and Iran at the expense of our allies in Europe.”

McCain said the decision “calls into question the security and diplomatic commitments the United States has made to Poland and the Czech Republic.” The Obama decision actually gives far more diplomatic and security commitment to the Czechoslovakia and Poland than the half-baked Bush plan.

The scheme originally planned for the Eastern European countries was the mid-course interceptor system, one that genuine experts (as opposed to Franks and McCain) say will never work. Philip Coyle, who used to oversee weapons testing at the Pentagon and is now a specialist with the Center for Defense Information, told a congressional panel that "National missile defense has become a theology in the United States, not a technology. As a result, U.S. missile defenses are being deployed without well-established operational criteria."

Dr. Richard Garwin, a physicist who has been a longtime adviser to the government on nuclear weapons, told Congress that "Should a state be so misguided as to attempt to deliver nuclear weapons by ICBM, they could be guaranteed against intercept in mid-course by the use of appropriate countermeasures."

The system Bush promised to the Poles and Czechs was theoretically designed to protect us, not the Poles and the Czechs, from Iranian ballistic missiles. Our intelligence has recently confirmed that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, and it doesn’t have an intercontinental ballistic missile program either. But if Iran did have nuclear-tipped ICBMs, the mid-course interceptor system wouldn’t have protected anybody from them, so why should Poland and Czechoslovakia want us to dump our junk in their backyards?

The Obama administration has instead offered Poland and Czechoslovakia the SM-3 missile system, which is designed to kill a ballistic missile in its terminal flight phase. This is the missile system that defense contractor Raytheon is developing for sale to Israel. The SM-3 could reasonably be expected to protect much of Europe from missiles launched by Iran. The SM-3 substitute is the smartest move the Obama administration could possibly have made.

That’s assuming that Iran actually has missiles it will put nuclear warheads on and launch at Europe, which is a baldly false assumption. Iran would never launch nukes at a major power or a friend of the U.S. if they had the nukes to launch (which they don’t have and most likely never will have).

Obama has, in fact, made good on the bad promise made to the Czechs and Poles by George W. Bush, even though it’s a promise nobody had to make.

Now, hopefully, Obama will be able to undo the damage the Bushniks did in our relationship with Iran. Dick Cheney’s mob accused Iran of everything from arming Shiite militias in Iraq to seeking nuclear weapons to destroy Israel. They never proved any of these allegations, yet they managed to pollute the information environment so thoroughly that many Americans actually believe that poor Iran, a nation whose defense budget is less than one percent of ours, is the country that presents our greatest “challenge.” We should all have such challenges.

In 2003, shortly after the staged fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue, a two-page fax arrived at the State Department. As the Washington Post reported, “It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table—including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.”

The Bush administration blew the proposal off, then established the “make them an offer they can’t accept” policy by demanding that Iran cease all uranium refinement before talks could take place. The U.N. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes as an “inalienable right.” Iran will not give up the right, nor should they. Developing and independent nuclear energy industry is just the strategic move they need to make to emerge as a regional Middle Eastern power in the post-peak oil age.

The Obama administration has, at long last, dropped the ludicrous pre-condition to direct talks with Iran, and a summit will take place with the Persian country and the six-nation U.N. group of France, Britain, Russia, China, the United States and Germany. Foreign policy chief of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Bagheri says the package involves “settling problems such as terrorism, drug trafficking and environmental concerns." The package also proposes to address nuclear proliferation issues.

It’s a shame that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is such a knot head. I can’t tell if he was trying to look tough to the Muslim world or just had a craving for the taste of his foot, but he timing of his latest holocaust denial was the kind of political stupidity one grew to expect from George W. Bush. Here’s hoping the major powers can cope with Ahmadinejad better than they coped with Bush, and will be able to inject some sanity into the Iran situation come October.

Russia has harshly criticized Ahmadinejad’s holocaust denial and announced that it will scrap plans to deploy Iskander missiles near the Polish border. Since the Iskandersonly is a short to medium range missile that would only have been threat to Poland, Obama’s decision to reverse Bush’s misguided committment actually makes Poland safer. Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin called Obama’s decision a ''victory of reason over ambitions.''

It was indeed a victory of reason. I’m starting to think that Obama may yet get America’s rabid militarism under control and end the madness spawned by the Bush/Cheney administration.

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, September 18, 2009

Mission Creepy

This just in from the Times of London: the Obama administration has set objectives for Afghanistan and Pakistan. The bad news: they’re the same objectives the Obama administration set in March, and they suck just as bad now as they did then. In a nutshell, we’re going to disrupt terrorist networks, make real countries out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and get the international community involved in making all that happen.

Same poppycock, different day.

FOX News reports that General Stanley McChrystal is “privately requesting” 30,000 to 40,000 more troops for Afghanistan. That would bring the total to around 100,000, nearly triple the number of troops that were in Afghanistan when Mr. Obama took office.

The New York Times relates that the Obama administration has delivered to Congress “about 50 measures to determine whether a broad military and nation-building campaign to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan was succeeding.” Senator Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, says “It’s really important that they have a clearly articulated, understandable policy that has an endpoint in military terms that everyone can understand. I don’t think they’re there yet.” They’re not even in the ballpark of “there,” Jim.

An unidentified senior administration official, who couldn’t be identified because the White House insisted, said of the measures that “This will be an honest effort to grade ourselves.”

I find it fascinating that the White House is the source of these measures, and that the measures are a method of grading the White House as opposed to grading the Pentagon. Maybe it’s a good sign. The Bush administration always pushed responsibility off to the Pentagon, shirking responsibility to the point where “King David” Petraeus was in de facto charge of U.S. foreign policy.

Measures of effectiveness are a critical aspect of the art of war (operational art), but they’re meaningless in the kinds of wars we’re fighting now. They’re meant to measure how well our forces are accomplishing our objectives, and as I’ve noted many times over the past few years, the objectives of our current Asian wars are as slippery as the reasons we started them. (You haven’t lately heard anyone say we’re going after Osama bin Laden, have you?)

To review the bidding: McChrystal himself says there are no signs of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The connection between Afghanistan and the 9/11 attacks is dicey at best. "Mastermind" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was operating in the Philippines when he first presented the attack plan to bin Laden in 1996. The six hijackers who controlled the airplanes received their flight training in the U.S., and the "muscle hijackers" came from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The long war mafia argues that if we leave Afghanistan its government will fail and the country will fall into chaos. How would we know the difference between a failed Afghanistan and the one we have now?

The warmongery also asserts that if Afghanistan fails then Pakistan will fail. There’s no reason to believe that. Pakistan isn’t exactly a real country either, but it has nukes. I find it difficult to believe those nukes would actually work if somebody set them off, but if we’re really concerned about them, we can sic our worthless B-2 bombers on them. The pilots could have breakfast with their families in Missouri, accomplish the mission in Asia by teatime and be home in time for supper. (How was school today, Sweetie?)

There’s no sane reason for us to continue escalating the Bananastan conflict, just as there is no reason to linger in Iraq. Those, however, are the two variables in Obama’s foreign policy equation. Candidate Obama promised to pull the plug on Iraq in order to open the spigot on Afghanistan. For Obama to stand tall on Iraq and stoop small on Afghanistan would be politically untenable. Look at how the warmongery squealed over Obama’s decision not to equip Poland with a missile defense system that doesn’t work (it’s a theology, not a technology, according to weapons expert Philip Coyle). John McCain said the decision “has the potential to undermine perceived American leadership in Eastern Europe.”

That leaves us with an insane strategy for Afghanistan: to continue throwing good money after bad, to honor our war dead by adding to their number for no good reason, and to re-escalate in order to justify the previous escalations. It’s beyond mission creep; it’s mission creepy.

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, September 16, 2009

The Iran Whisperers

As journalist Robert Dreyfuss recently remarked, “The hawks, neoconservatives, and Israeli hardliners are squealing” over the fact that we’re going to have high-level talks with Iran. Neocon poster-child Bill Kristol calls the arrangement “Obama’s message of weakness.” It’s actually a show of strength on Obama’s part; this marks the first time he’s stood up to the American warmongery. Kristol and crew never saw a war they didn’t like though, so they’ll continue to accuse Obama of “appeasing” Iran.

The notion that talking to Iran constitutes appeasement is among the looniest assertions in the neocon bin. The analogy, of course, is Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler in the late 1930s, and as with so much of the war mafia’s thinking, it’s an inapt comparison. Hitler had the best army in the world at the time. Today, American spends as much or more on defense as the rest of the world combined, and Iran’s defense budget is less than one percent of America’s. We don’t appease when we offer to talk to nations weaker than we are; we display enlightened exercise of power, which in the pre-Glen Beck era was considered a virtue.

Despite what the Kristol mob would have you believe, neither U.S. intelligence nor the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found any evidence that Iran presently has an active nuclear weapons program. Reports to the contrary generally come from sources in the Israeli government who lie like other people blink and who, like Kristol, have entirely too much influence on U.S. foreign policy. Rumors in both the mainstream and right-wing press that Iran already knows how to make a nuclear weapon and is just waiting for go-ahead from Grand Ayatollah Kahmeni to slap one together also originated in Israel and they’re bunk. Accusations that Iran is not cooperating with the IAEA are specious as well.

As I’ve said many times, the Iranians would be foolish to acquire a nuclear weapon. It would be tantamount to painting a bull’s eye on their backs. The Israelis (and we) would have a perfect excuse to blow their entire nuclear industry to smithereens. And as I’ve also said many times, with peak oil either here or just around the corner, it’s the energy, not a weapon, that makes Iran’s nuclear program worth having.

Iran’s army can’t operate more than a few miles beyond its borders, its navy can’t do much outside the Persian Gulf and its air force doesn’t have enough spare parts to launch more than a few aircraft at a time.

The Bush administration never proved a single one of its countless accusations that Iran was arming Shiite militias in Iraq. The person single-handedly responsible for arming both sides of the civil war was “Teflon General” David Petraeus.

And oh, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never said that "Israel must be wiped off the map."

Militarily, Iran isn’t a threat to anyone, and certainly not to Israel, which is too far away from it. Iran’s naval forces might embarrass us in the Gulf if we strike them preemptively for no good reason, but there’s an easy way to avoid that; we don’t strike them preemptively for no good reason. See how simple it is to get along?

The only thing Iran threatens is the big western oil companies’ control of how the world makes its energy transition when the wells run dry. An Iran that can lead the Muslim nations to a new economic paradigm is the scariest thing Dick Cheney’s buddies at Exxon/Mobil and Shell and BP can imagine. The best way to keep energy transition under control is to woo Iran away from Russia and China and make the good old U.S. of A. its new biggest, best-est energy buddy.

A cozy relationship between the U.S. and Iran, however, was not in the best interests of Cheney’s buddies in Israel and the American neoconservative cabal. That’s why Cheney and his minions like John Bolton practiced “make them an offer they can’t accept” diplomacy with Iran. Insisting that Iran stop refining uranium for use in nuclear power plants as a precondition to talks ensured talks would not take place. The Iranians would be insane to agree to such an arrangement.

Their “inalienable right” to develop nuclear technology is guaranteed by their participation in the UN nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Asking them to waive that right in order to negotiate was like telling a poker player he has to hand over his only chip before he can sit at the table. Telling them they can have a nuclear energy industry without refining their own uranium is like telling them they can have an oil industry as long as they use our oil.

Up to now, the Obama administration has stupidly clung to the “zero option” demand. Our Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has turned out to be every bit the neoconservative handmaiden that Condi Rice was, poured salt on the sore by threatening to extend our “defense umbrella” to protect our friends in the region if Iran didn’t agree to our outrageous pre-conditions. Now it appears that someone in our foreign policy structure has managed to inject a dose of sanity into our foreign policy.

Unfortunately, we’ll need to keep our talks with Iran at a whisper level lest the tea party right threatens to string up them Persian appeasers.

The talks can only be meaningful if the zero option issue goes the way of bellbottom jeans. The Iranians will never agree to it, and as we have discussed, they never should. The real goal of these talks should be to convince the Iranians that they should allow complete transparency of their nuclear energy program that would involve allowing the IAEA and us gynecological access to their nuclear program and, indeed, their entire country.

That level of intimacy will come at a price. Part of that price will be technical support, an offer to become Iran’s nuclear energy sponsor. That’s actually a good deal for us, as it allows us to elbow Russia and China out of the action and brings business to American industries.

The other part of the tab will be a hard bill to fill. If Iran turns slut puppy for us, it will justifiably want security guarantees. We’ll need to extend our defense umbrella not over the rest of the Middle East, but over Iran, and that means chaining Israel to a fire hydrant.

That’s guaranteed to make the hawks, neoconservatives and Israeli hardliners squeal even louder, but tough. It’s high time we stopped letting the piggies drive our foreign policy.

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, September 13, 2009

Death by Bananastan

I keep finding further proof that our ever increasing but directionless escalation of the Bananastan* conflict is the maddest military misadventure in human history. A former colleague recently sent me information regarding the newly formed Pakistan Afghanistan Coordination Cell (PACC). From the looks of things, PACC intends to defeat the Taliban through the U.S. military’s most effective tactic: Death by PowerPoint.

Nobody in the Department of Defense writes particularly well or particularly likes to read. That in part is why the new counterinsurgency field manual General David Petraeus supposedly “wrote” is little more than a cobbling together of plagiarized passages from previous manuals. In the early nineties, shortly after Microsoft Windows hit the scene, all the illiterates became computer literate and discovered PowerPoint (which Bill Gates had plagiarized from the Aldus program “Persuasion”).

From then on, everybody could write because nobody had to know how to write a complete sentence; they could just write bullets that left out whatever parts of speech they didn’t understand. More importantly, nobody had to actually read the incomprehensible bullets because they were accompanied by indecipherable diagrams.

Neither the bullets nor the diagrams mattered though, because they were just something to stare at while somebody stood next to the projection screen and babbled incoherently. Eventually, the head of everyone in the audience imploded and nobody understood or remembered anything they’d seen and heard.

The advent of the worldwide web cut the talking head out of the process. PowerPoint presentations could be promulgated to every person on the planet, who could choose to view them or not. In either case, the results were that same as before. Nobody could understand or remember anything contained in a PowerPoint presentation.

Thus it is that the most significant product of PACC, which was established on 22 May 2009, is a PowerPoint presentation dated 27 August 2009. It is quite possibly the most beautiful piece of military humbuggery I have ever seen.

First and foremost, it’s a discombobulating confluence of acronyms. PACC was created to recruit the best available TTPs who understand COIN to support CDRUSCENTCOM and the COMISAF of AFPAK. Its core task is to form teams across DOD/IA. It’s a new construct that operates under authority of POTUS, SECDEF, CJCS, DJS and VDJS, and it coordinates with ISAF, COCOMs, SRAP, OSD, CIA, DOJ, DNI and OTHRS.

The key to PACC’s ability to provide all this omniscience is its “Afghan Hands Program.” AF/PAK Hands will be selected from throughout the government based on their ability to know everything about everything and communicate it perfectly to everyone all the time in Pashtu and Dari. (Linguists will be able to learn both of these languages in 16 weeks. When they do, they’ll become “leaders” who are “strategic game changers”).

AF/PAK Hands will be selected, focused, and experienced people who form enduring relationships and make repetitive rotations. Their organization will be networked, feature continuity and relationships, and connect with NATO/Coalition forces and interagency agencies. They will understand the problem, develop shared situational awareness and inform key decision makers. Most importantly, AF/PAK hands will spend most of their government careers in PACC and be guaranteed promotion paths in which they will not have to compete against anyone.

PACC has the look and feel of an idea cooked up by a bunch of REMFs (Reservists Evading Meaningful Function) who want to create a full time job for themselves and make bird colonel without having to work hard at it. The manner in the PACCers present themselves is laughable, and what they claim to be able to accomplish is impossible. Nonetheless, PACC enjoys the aegis of Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, General David Petraeus of Central Command and General Stanley McChrystal, our man in Bananastan.

A Department of Defense press release says McChrystal is the one who came up with the PACC concept. The release states, “Three weeks after the PACC began standing up within the bowels of the Pentagon, cell members say they’re already seeing evidence that it’s making a difference.” It’s difficult to say what kind of difference it’s making considering the situation in Bananastan continues to deteriorate. Moreover, it’s telling that a press release would cite evidence of the PACC cell’s success to anonymous sources in the cell. A direct quote saying, “We can be the catalyst. We can be the accelerant,” is credited to “an official.”

Neocon thug Max Boot heartily approves of PACC. In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, her refers to it as part of “General McChrystal’s new way of war” and says that PACC “could wind up changing how the entire military does business.” PACC is actually military business as usual: form a committee, make a PowerPoint presentation about it, release propaganda about how it will fix everything that’s wrong, and sweep it under the carpet when it turns out to be a bust.

PACC is frightening, however, in the aspect that the Pentagon expects to offer people 20 to 30-year careers as facilitators of the Bananastan conflict, on which the war mafia has hung its hope for a long war. It is just another example of how the Pentagon and its supporters (like Max Boot and the rest of the neocon punditry) are entrenching themselves as deeply into Bananastan as they are able while the country is distracted by the economy, health insurance reform and the opening of the NFL’s regular season.

By the time the body politic wakes up to what the warmongery has done behind its back, the country will be hairline deep in Bananastan; so deep, the argument will go, that we need to keep digging until we come out on the other side of the planet be because that’s the shorter exit strategy.

By then, the fact that we entangled ourselves foolishly will be moot. The only good reason (good sounding, anyway) the Obaman’s have given us for escalating in Afghanistan is to “disrupt terror networks,” and that argument is specious at best. McChrystal himself confesses that he sees no signs of a major al-Qaida presence in the country.

Counterinsurgency guru David Kilcullen, a former adviser to Petraeus who is about to become an adviser to McChrystal, says that counterterrorism isn’t a particularly important reason to stay committed to the Bananastan conflict. He’s more interested in preserving NATO, a military alliance that, like the U.S. military, has been trawling for an excuse to justify its existence since the Berlin Wall came tumbling down 20 years ago. `

But as with Iraq, the Bananastan war cry will be that we have to honor our war dead by adding to their number, and that we can fix our past mistakes by making even more of them. I can’t wait to see the PowerPoint presentation that explains how that works.

*Pakistan and Afghanistan, our banana republic-style quagmires in Central Asia.

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.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bananas in Bananastan

The long war just got longer, by fiat of Minister of Peace Robert Gates. In an interview with al Jazeera’s Abderrahim Foukara, Gates said, "both Afghanistan and Pakistan can count on us for the long term." To paraphrase the punch line to a joke about asylum inmates, we’re freaking nuts and we’re never getting out of there.

The long warriors have won. They have their everlasting conflict that will eternally justify the existence of a bloated U.S. military, and they suckered a Democrat into doing it for them. "I do not believe that President Obama would have made the commitment he has made if he did not believe we could achieve our objectives in Afghanistan," Gates told Al Jazeera.

It seems more certain by the day that Mr. Obama has, in fact, signed off on an open-ended involvement in the Bananastans*. Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen have been on message of late about their boss’s "war of necessity" and of the need to promise the two countries involved that we will never abandon them. It is a singular symptom of America’s diseased strategic thinking that our top military leaders seek to reassure people in foreign countries who want nothing more than for us to go away by telling them that we never will.

Another leading symptom is Bananastan NATO commanderGeneral Stan McChrystal saying that "We are operating in a way that is truly protecting the Afghan people from all threats" as he surveys the damage from a NATO drone strike that killed Afghan people. Also indicative is that McChrystal was sold to the Senate as a counterinsurgency expert when, in fact, his main experience in Central Command had been as head assassin of Donald Rumsfeld’s Joint Special Operations Command hit squad, a rogue unit that operated outside of the formal chain of command.

As journalist Gareth Porter noted in May 2009, McChrystal’s nomination to become director of the Joint Staff in May 2008 was held up for months while the Senate investigated abuse of detainees by military personnel under his command. Sixty-four service personnel assigned or attached to Stan the Man’s Special Operations units were disciplined for detainee abuse between early 2004 and the end of 2007.

Gaunt and steely-eyed, McChrystal was also sold to Congress for his ascetic habits; he supposedly only eats one meal a day and sleeps only a few hours a night. Which is crazier: that those are his habits or that those habits are supposed to be considered suitable in an officer expected to make sane decisions on matters of national strategy? (Hungry and sleep deprived? Sure, he’s the guy we want calling the shots.)

McChrystal recently submitted a classified report on the Bananastan situation that apparently asks for a new strategy. It would replace the strategy Obama’s White House war wonks whipped together in March which was no strategy at all, but rather a cut-and-paste job that kluged together the most deranged think tank talking points from the last nine years. Gates says the March strategy hasn’t had time to work. So it looks like we’ll do what we always do when we don’t know what to do: escalate. If that doesn’t work, we’ll escalate again (strategy to follow).

A number of models exist that define the elements of strategy. One of my favorites is ends-ways-means-risk. Ends are the objectives, ways are the methods or tactics, means are the amount and type of resources needed and risk considers costs, necessity and consequences. This is the calculus most of use, at least subconsciously, for virtually every decision we make (I want to own expensive, sinful and fattening thing X. How do I afford it? Would the consequences of taking another job be worth whatever sin or fat thing X will give me? Do I really want to be sinful, fat and broke?) The way our military works now, we say "Just go buy thing X and we’ll figure out the rest later, maybe."

Obama says he wants to "finish the job" in Afghanistan, but nobody in his national security brain trust can tell him what the end game is so there’s no way of telling when the job is finished. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke’s remark that the United States had to be "clear about what our national interests are," but success can only be defined as something we’ll know "when we see it." If we can’t define it, we can always say we can’t see it yet but it’s just around the corner.

The New York Times reported that National Security Adviser James Jones approved a July 17 policy document "setting out nine broad objectives for metrics to guide the administration’s policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan." Metrics, or measures of effectiveness, are things you use to determine if you’re meeting your objectives. I have no idea what "objectives for metrics" are, and probably never will because the policy memo is classified. Gates and Mullen say that some of the metrics will remain classified. So we’ll have secret measures to determine whether a rudderless escalation is succeeding. When they tell us they’re making progress, we’ll just have to take their word for it, like we took Dick Cheney’s word for everything.

Every time we ask how long we’ll be embroiled in Bananastan, we hear that time is running out. Time has been running out for almost eight years now. If time keeps running out for as long as it looks like we’re going to stay, it will never run out.

If the war brass sound to you like they’re the maddest hares at the tea party, it’s because they are. Folks who spend time around the five-sided puzzle palace quickly become as puzzled as the rest of the inmates, and the puzzle masters have been around so long that it all makes perfect sense to them.

Everything about the Bananastan scenario is bananas. Petraeus, Mullen, McChrystal, Odierno and the rest of the cockamamie cast are straight out of Gilbert and Sullivan (they are the perfect models of the modern crazy general), and they’re about to embalm this country on the far side of the Khyber Pass.

President Obama fell into this trap when, as a candidate, he deflected criticism that he voted against the Iraq surge by saying it took focus away from the "war of necessity" in Afghanistan. If you’ve noticed, the war mafia constantly refers to "Obama’s war" and "President Obama’s strategy" and the "mission the commander in chief has given us." In a recent open letter, neoconservative icon Bill Kristol and his Foreign Policy Initiative loonies reminded Obama that he has "called Afghanistan an ‘international security challenge of the highest order,’ and stated that ‘the safety of people around the world is at stake.’" And, of course, they invoked 9/11.

That’s all quackery of course. None of the 9/11 hijackers came from Afghanistan. Afghanistan has never and will never successfully invade another nation. The safety of the world would be better served by keeping its strongest nation from squandering its military and economic might in a country still trapped in the middle ages.

But Obama has made an undeniable commitment, one that he can only reverse by showing the set of baby-makers he displayed when he slapped down the demented right during his health care speech.

*Pakistan and Afghanistan, our banana republic-style quagmires in Central Asia.

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.