To understand the War on Terror see Tom Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow”

Summary: Every war brings forth a film that captures its special nature. For the American war in Vietnam that was Apocalypse Now, showing the violent purposeless madness that it became. For our post-9/11 interventions (weirdly named the “War on Terror”) that film is Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow. It perfectly captures the repetitive nature of the WOT, with one vital exception.


“Apocalypse Now”: The Do Lung Bridge
The 8 minute summary of the Vietnam War

“Did you find a C.O. captain?”
“There is no commanding officer.”
… “Like this bridge. We build it every night. Charlie blows it right back up again. Just so the generals can say the road’s open.”

Live, Die, Repeat
A fairy-tale version of the War on Terror

Edge of Tomorrow is a Tom Cruise film, so the plot moves from disorder and defeat to order and victory. His character repeats his experiences in battle, but unlike America he learns from them. We live in a dystopian version of this film, repetition without learning.

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The hawks’ weird story about Iran’s seizure of 2 US navy boats

Summary: Iran’s arrest of US sailors in their waters provides opportunity for our hawks to wave a fake bloody shirt, hoping to make the US public fear and despise Iran. That this daft jingoism is considered acceptable, even routine, fare in our newspapers shows how much we’ve adopted Imperial thinking — and abandoned common sense. {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Iraq war becomes the Iran war

Today’s output from the war-monger industry:  “At the Pentagon, General Chaos is in Charge” by Ray Starmann at US Defense Watch (“News, Opinion and Analysis on US Defense issues and politics with a conservative viewpoint”), 26 January 2016 — Opening…

The surrender of two US Navy vessels of war and their crews to the Iranians without firing so much as a shot and the subsequent and sickening apology by the commanding officer, speaks volumes about the current fighting spirit, training and state of readiness of the US military in 2016.

The conduct of the US Navy officer in charge, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was nothing less than a complete and utter disgrace. No doubt the order to surrender came from the Pentagon; and at the Pentagon, General Chaos is in charge.

Typical of the one-sided news we receive, USA Today said {link added}:

“{A}n emerging consensus of U.S. legal experts believe the provocative act was a dangerous violation of international law that has so far gone without repercussions.

“The U.S. riverine boats had the right to pass expeditiously through Iran’s territorial waters under the right of innocent passage without being boarded and arrested so long as they weren’t engaged in a military operation such as spying. Pentagon officials have said the riverine boat crews mistakenly entered Iran’s waters in the Persian Gulf due to a “navigation error” while en route to a refueling.”

… “This should be very concerning for the Navy community,” said James Kraska, a maritime law expert at the U.S. Naval War College. “This says that U.S. vessels don’t have innocent passage and that their sovereign immunity is not respected.”

This is bizarrely biased. The US has attacked Iran — staging the first electronic Pearl Harbor —  a cyberattack that destroyed the infrastructure of another nation, without a declaration of war. The US, or its client state, Israel, has assassinated Iran’s scientists. US political and military leaders routinely advocate bombing Iran. We are past the point at which we can claim a presumption of innocence for military action in Iran’s waters.

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Someone call Nixon’s plumbers. We need them again.

Summary: Marcus Ranum looks to our past — the government’s history of surveillance — to see the future which the government’s vast surveillance machinery makes possible, and perhaps will help bring into being.

We prepare the way for a Leader
We prepare the way for a Leader


The NSA Doppleganger and Enemies

The Nation currently has an excellent piece on some of the history of surveillance in the US. Combine it with reading Tim Weiner’s latest book Enemies, and you have a picture of a government that has always illegally surveilled its citizens (also see Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power).

Occasionally, as today, we are brought to confront that fact, and it’s always instructive because you can tell from the backlash how badly it stung those who enjoy secret power and status. The rule of law is something that you criticize other countries for not following. This amounts to moving from “US Exceptionalism” to exceptionalism for the US power elites.

In the long-term it’s poor strategy because it amounts to building the weapons that will eventually be used against one faction when there’s a disagreement among elites. It’s laying the framework for an eventual takeover of the republic by centralized power. The more you centralize and aggregate power, the worse it is when your Stalin or Bonaparte comes along. As soon as one faction of the power elites realizes they can use the power of the police state to silence internal dissent among the elites, rather than simply controlling the lumpenproletariat, the republican experiment will be conclusively ended.

What the article at The Nation, and Enemies show us is the constant presence and evolution of a society that does double-entry bookkeeping regarding the rule of law. While the US sports the largest prison population in the world thanks to the endless and unwinnable War On Drugs, the elites casually excuse each other for crimes that would result in long jail sentences for the 99%. Indeed the very notion of criminality becomes inverted and corrupted when it’s a greater crime to disclose a crime than it was to commit it in the first place.

The problem with living under a system that is so immoral, Kant would tell us, is that we can only expect its immorality will eventually be turned upon us and we will suffer in turn.

Irony is not the tool for patching leaks

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What can we learn about ourselves from the career of General Petraeus?

Summary: Any leader both reflects and magnifies his followers. That’s doubly so for a star in trouble times like ours. we can learn much about America, about ourselves, from the ascent and crash of General Petraeus. This brief note recaps his career and draws one lesson. Note your conclusions in the comment!

I want your children for my wars!

Historians might use the career of General Petraeus as a microcosm of our America. Our most lionized General is a familiar figure in military history: dashing appearance, charismatic, skillful bureaucratic warfare and public relations — but usually wrong on the battlefield.

The best known in our history is George McClellan (who ran against Lincoln in 1864; Tom Ricks sees him at the 6th worst general in US history). After Korea these became markers of failures in our failed wars. Remember Vietnam: Maxwell Taylor (another scholar-general), William Westmoreland, and Creighton Abrams? Each hailed as Übermensch, until they fell.

As Tom Engelhard shows in ”Petraeus, Falling Upwards — The Petraeus Story“ (TomDispatch, 30 April 2008), Petraeus’ record is largely one of military failure. His early days in Iraq, the COIN manual (now largely discredited), the mostly fake “Iraq Surge” success, the doomed from the start Afghanistan “surge” — Petraeus pops like a milestone along the road of our disastrous wars.

The difference between McClellan and Petraeus is that 19th century American’s made excuses for McClellan’s failures — but saw Petraeus’ failures as successes. An early example of this — our eagerness to be fooled — was in the Petraeus-Crocker hearing: see Congress shows us how our new government works (14 April 2008). Institutional failure all around.

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Are we blind, or just incurious about important news?

The strongest impression I get from reading our major news media is their lack of curiosity.   If they were to see an elephant walking down Constitution Avenue, they would remark briefly about it before returning to more important things.  The latest jokes about Palin’s children, or Michelle Obama’s sleeveless dresses.

One of the most interesting non-stories is the rise of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).  Established in February 2007, it rapidly became a major player in the military policy debate.  What supporters have lifted it so quickly to such prominence?  What does this tell us about Obama’s national security plans?  (Note:  The CNAS website lists the organizations that support it (here), but of course with no indications of the individuals who pull the strings.}

Consider this article about their June conference Striking a Balance:  ”One-Sided COIN – The military-industrial complex surges Washington“, Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, The American Conservative, 1 August 2009.  This is real reporting, preparing the reader to understand future news.  Excerpt:

You know it’s not going to be a typical Washington think-tank event when, upon entering the gilded doors of the Willard InterContinental Hotel, you are greeted by a peppy female soldier in an Army service uniform bedecked with medals. “Welcome, are you here for CNAS?”

For the Center for a New American Security, the June 11 annual meeting was about doing things big — broadcasting to the swelling Washington national-security establishment that CNAS is a major player; that there is but a sliver of daylight between its civilian-policy mission and that of the U.S. military. Both are working symbiotically to make their vision the only remedy for the young Obama administration’s foreign-policy challenges.

Here was a heady mix of Army brass, Navy officers in their starched whites, and soldiers in digital camo networking among the dark suits and smart skirts of the civilian elite. Defense contractors, lobbyists, analysts, journalists, administration reps, Hill staff—1,400 of the “best and brightest,” seeing and being seen.

Gen. David Petraeus—no one could have better sanctified this event save Obama himself—stepped to the dais. He called CNAS “a true force.” … In June 2007, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton stood on the same platform, delivering the keynote speech at CNAS’s glittering launch. There the center planted its first marker and was unofficially identified as Clinton’s national security team in waiting. …

At the top {of CNAS} is retired Lt. Col. John A. Nagl, who served in the Gulf War and Iraq before working directly for Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. … Then there’s the more nuanced but equally ubiquitous David Kilcullen …

That just sets the stage. The real story is the number of CNAS associates in Obama’s national security apparatus, all gung ho for lots of foreign wars. Were you expecting change?  Think about that when reading this list…

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A wonderful discussion about the American Empire

Here is a wonderful discussion of how American security has mutated into an American Empire.  Seldom are actual threats to America discussed.  Threats to American hegemony are presumed to be threats to America.  Most of the threats described are never analyzed, probably because they would be shown to have the substance of Saddam’s WMD’s.

The focus is on making the world a better place.  Commendable, but for two things:

  • we’re borrowing the money for this project, and
  • doing it largely by killing. 

I wonder what our children and grandchildren will think of the results — as they pay the tab. It’s a gamble without precedent in world history, done without explicit discussion before the American people and Congress.  That is, the major public justification for the wars were and are largely lies.  Saddam’s WMD’s and ties to 9-11.  The Tailiban’s major role in 9-11.  The need to occupy Afghanistan to prevent more 9-11’s. 

Perhaps the key assumption is that America has the resources — both in resources and wisdom — to reshape the world.  Our creditors probably doubt the first.  Probably most of the world’s peoples doubt the second.

These are, in a sense, our best and brightest.  Dreamers, most of them, wishing for a better world.  How sad that again we focus our energies on remaking a distant part of the world while critical problems build at home.  If these folks discussed so radically remaking LA or NYC, the Instapundit and conservative websites would condemn their arrogance — and tea parties organize to stop our wealth going down a rathole.

Conference highlights

Summary:  Striking a Balance, a conference the the Center for A New American Security, 11 June 2009 — Here are the transcripts, where available.  At this site are video and audio for all presentations.

(1)  Morning Keynote Address by General David H. Petraeus(Commander, U.S. Central Command)

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Does America have clear vision? Here’s an “eye chart” for our minds.

One symptom of a nation’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (OODA loop) is a disconnect of our national dialog from reality.  IMO this is the strongest evidence of America’s dysfunction.  A broken OODA loop means that we can neither recognize nor prioritize problems.  If uncorrected, we cannot effectively fix those problems that we do see.  We become a blind giant.

Wars magnify social prolbems, making them easier to see.  So it is with our broken OODA loop.  Today’s post discusses one example of this, posing it in question form.

Discussion of counter-insurgency theory has dominated our view of the Iraq War.  The role of well-known military natmes — such as General Petreaus, David Kilcullen, John Nagl — are associated with COIN.  FM 3-24 (see the PDF) was the most-discussed doctrinal change.  Military discussion sites — such as the small wars council — featured vast numbers of papers and comment threads on its intricacies and application.

The key question was seldom asked, and IMO never answered.  Let’s take a crack at it today.

Did COIN — in theory or practice — have any substantial effect on the Iraq War?

Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired), stated what should be considered the null hypothesis:

General Petraeus has abandoned the counterinsurgency manual in favor of the tactics which served us so well in Vietnam: massive firepower on civilian areas, search-and-destroy sweeps, and funding Popular Force militias.

These things are the trinity of counter-insurgency theory, the dirty reality beyond the shiny surface of COIN (or in Vietnam, unconventional warfare).

For details about this trinity at work in Iraq, see this Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant, 6 February 2009. It was obvious even then, and should be more obvious by now.  Please at least glance at this post before commenting.  It provides essential evidence.

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