Never forget September 11, 2001

Sixteen years.  That’s how long it’s been since the worst terrorist attack in American history.  A total of 2,996 people dead or never accounted for.  Symbols of American power struck without warning: both World Trade center towers and the Pentagon.  The actions of informed passengers on a fourth plane likely averted a strike on the White House or Congress.

An entire generation had horrifying visions of previously unimaginable events happening in their own nation, with memories firmly etched into their minds.

They say time heals all wounds. And for the families of those lost that day I hope there is some measure of truth in it. But there is a flip side: such events fade in the public consciousness, such that they no longer inform or shape how the nation acts. To quote the opening of the movie “The Fellowship of the Ring,”

“…some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth…” (click “continue reading” below to continue)

Continue reading

Advertisements

As I’ve been saying…

this fellow also says it well (emphasis added by me):

War is and always will be an ugly business.

That knowledge should lead Western governments to use their technological and economic advantages to avoid getting into wars with the barbarians on the edge of civilization. Instead, they start wars they never intend to win, so they can preen and pose about their virtue and morality, when something terrible inevitably happens…

The point of war is to kill the enemy and break up their stuff. The hope is they quit before you kill all of them and break all of their stuff, but you plan otherwise. If the Afghans knew all along that helping Osama bin Laden was most likely going to mean their cities and large towns would be flattened, they would have chose differently. Let’s assume they played it the same and Bush had firebombed Kabul, what would have been the result?

Yeah, there would have been a lot of hand-wringing and pearl clutching in Washington, but every other nutjob in the Middle East would have been re-calibrating his plans. A lot less death and destruction would have come as a result.

Not long after it became clear we were in both Afghanistan and Iraq for an extended engagement, I told a fellow Airman our country was making a huge mistake.  Rather than just strike and leave, our country was arrogant enough to believe we could “make democracy bloom” in a soil that has never yet produced it on its own.  Americans today have no stomach for the kind of occupation (both scope and duration) it would take to create that level of change in the region.  To put it bluntly, unless we’re willing to seal off and occupy the countries until we’ve educated a couple new generations, it ain’t happening (and probably wouldn’t then, either).  I said at the time we’d have been better off after 9/11 by turning the Taliban and Kabul into the world’s largest man-made crater as a warning to others, then leaving everyone in literal shock and awe (“Who else wants some of that?  Any takers?”).  Instead, our half-hearted wars of choice over the last decade and a half have eroded the respect and fear (not to mention the capability) our military once commanded.

You’re not powerful just because you’re throwing military forces around.  You’re powerful when nobody dares challenge you, even indirectly, for fear of the deathstroke you’re expected to deliver.  That’s the difference between deterrence and playing expensive whack-a-mole all over the earth.

“To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”  – Sun Tzu

But failing that,

“The will to conquer is the first condition of victory.”  – Marshall Ferdinand Foch

 We as a nation don’t have a will.  We’re too hesitant to be feared, and too reckless abroad to be respected.  And that’s why there’s not a way to win.  Trying to fight a war at the level of a low and long simmer is about as sensible as a doctor trying to operate without losing any blood.  Either America has the will to fight — including responsibility for the inevitable horrors — or it doesn’t.  Either there’s a reason to break things and kill people, or there’s not.  If there is, let it be done quickly, relentlessly and efficiently until a better future is secured (that’s Just War theory, by the way).

If, however, there isn’t will or a reason, the families of more than 8,300 Americans deserve to know why their loved one were sent to die.  Tens of thousands of scarred Americans also deserve to know what their sacrifices were for.

And this is the thanks they get

At the height of the war in Iraq, the military offered large bonuses for experienced troops who chose to stay in despite the grueling deployment tempo, the risk to life and limb, and the effects on their families.

But Uncle Sam always reserves the right to change the terms of the deal whenever he wants:

Nearly 10,000 California National Guard soldiers have been ordered to repay huge enlistment bonuses a decade after signing up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, a newspaper reported Saturday…

A federal investigation in 2010 found thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were improperly doled out to California Guard soldiers. About 9,700 current and retired soldiers received notices to repay some or all of their bonuses with more than $22 million recovered so far.

Soldiers said they feel betrayed at having to repay the money.  ((Editor’s note: THEY WERE!))

These bonuses were used to keep people in,” said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart. “People like me just got screwed.”

The government breaks its promises to We the People on a regular basis.  But this is an unusually egregious case.  To entice a veteran to stay in uniform during increasingly unpopular (and poorly managed) wars, have some of them wounded, crippled or killed, then wait a decade and say “now you have to pay it all back” is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE.

Why isn’t the government of California on the hook for “overpaying” its National Guard?  Why should these soldiers suffer because someone made a promise that was not theirs to make?  Which bureaucrats will lose their jobs over fraudulently recruiting?  (I know… I’m not holding my breath.)  Why is it there’s always money and favors to give to illegal immigrants or foreign terror regimes, but never any to take care of Americans?

There have been too many broken promises, too much corruption, too many of our politicians on the take, and nothing for the average, law-abiding citizen of this nation.  Our self-appointed elites are so stupid that now they’re bashing thousands of combat veterans who may be wondering which way to point the rifle next time.  That’s just one of dozens of reasons why I’m convinced the United States is a dead country walking, and will soon collapse with a heartrending crash.  Why would anyone defend it, when this is the thanks those defenders get for putting their lives on the line?

For what little good it may do, there is an online petition to the White House asking to forgive these ‘debts’ that should never have been levied.  You can add your name here.

This-n-that

This may be the best brief summary of the Iraq War I’ve read to date:

First, the American government did not find what it had been looking for at the war’s outset, then it failed to prepare its troops and medical corps for the aged weapons it did find.

Be sure to read the entire linked story, because those chemical weapons didn’t just get there by themselves… or only at the Iraqi government’s behest.  This is but one blatant example of our nation’s blundering about in the world coming back to bite our own.

****

Speaking of holding back information

****

And then you have grossly inappropriate government requests for information, which should be forcefully ignored.  If churches will now be harassed for opposing city ordinances that would deny businesses the ability to require that men use the men’s room, and ladies the ladies’ room, then it’s safe to say freedom of speech AND religion are both dead.

****

Why is it so hard to understand that one of the best ways to prevent the global spread of Ebola is to deny it jet-assisted travel?  And why was/is our government so persistent in allowing unfettered travel from the affected countries in Africa?  Cui bono from this determined inaction?

***

Facing death:  a contrast in worldviews

The power of one…

…or, “why America can’t use military force effectively anymore.”  I was recently asked my take on the resumption of airstrikes in Iraq, this time on ISIS forces.  I wish to put my thoughts–such as they are–in a broader context of how we decide to fight.

“The President is right to provide humanitarian relief to the Iraqi civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar and to authorize military strikes against ISIS forces that are threatening them, our Kurdish allies, and our own personnel in northern Iraq. However, these actions are far from sufficient to meet the growing threat that ISIS poses. We need a strategic approach, not just a humanitarian one,” [Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham] said in a statement. ““We need to get beyond a policy of half measures. The President needs to devise a comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIS.”

The article quoted above (the entirety of which I recommend for your consideration) points out that even before World War II, presidents committed American forces to a series of “small wars” in many nations.  That doesn’t mean they were right (or had the right) to do so.  Those same ‘small wars’ were the backdrop that drove Marine Major General Smedley Butler, a two-time recipient of the Medal of Honor, to conclude in 1935 that “war is a racket.”  I would argue that our tendency for overseas meddling has only grown since 1945, as has a highly unconstitutional–and dangerous–deference to the President’s role as “Commander in Chief.”  That role is an executive one, not a legislative one.  No one person should be able to commit the nation to a war of choice.  It is one thing to repel an invasion (something else we seem to be having trouble with these days).  It’s quite another to launch one.  Consider the fact that President Obama is the fourth president in a row to commence a new round of military actions in Iraq!

As currently conducted by the United States, I have to conclude Smedley Butler has a key point about war.  And as much as I highly disdain the tendency of McCain and Graham to cheerlead overseas adventurism they, too, make a point: that America does not pursue long-term strategy.  Instead, we as a nation tend to knee-jerk our way through the violent side of foreign policy, from “firing a $2 million missile at a $10 tent” to “hit a camel in the butt,” to targeted “regime change actions” (Libya, 2011), to full-scale invasions of other countries (Afghanistan, 2001; Iraq, 2003).  In these cases, Congress either stood by or unconstitutionally deferred its powers to the President to commit the nation to force without a solid understanding, much less discussion or public acknowledgement of what is required of the full range of national power in order to achieve sustained results worth the cost in lives, material and national reputation.

In short, we’re really good at “release the hounds.”  We have lost the ability, however, to tie that choice of violence and death to long-term gains in national security.  America has lost much of its moral standing in the world because of this.  The makers of those $2 million missiles, or the enormously expensive platforms used to deliver them, are the real winners in this chaos.  They need not worry about whether the use of their product results in a more just peace.  Quite the opposite — they benefit most when things are kept at a slow boil, requiring a relatively stable demand of such gadgets.  What’s not to like about the business model?  The public gets to cheer at the 6 o’clock news that “America is doing something;” military and civilian leaders get to look “strong;” the defense contractors earn more money, and life goes on.

Except for those who have to live with the realities our policies create.

I’m not an America-hater or a pacifist–in fact, I’m as far from them as one can be.  What I am is extremely distressed by our casual approach to war, as though it were some sort of professional spectator sport that happens to be covered by Fox and CNN instead of ESPN.  Because of that, what I’m about to say next will take a moment to digest.  Stay with me.  It’s simply this:

Commit or quit.

What do I mean by that?  I mean our nation needs to have a serious, broad discussion about what we see as our role in the world and what we’re willing to do to perform it.  And we  need to pay attention to the issues for a longer period than that required by NFL Sunday Ticket.  Stop looking only at the individual instances of marketplaces being shelled (Yugoslavia, 1990s), the constant eruptions of ethnic and religious groups abusing and killing each other, or other emotionally heartbreaking headlines.  These evil events are endemic to the fallen human nature–they have raged since the beginning of time, and will do so until the end of it.  That means any nation has to pick and choose its battles.  What is the desired result of getting involved in a particular issue?  Are we committed to pay the price to see things through to that conclusion?  For instance, did the American people decide for themselves that defending Taiwan against mainland China is worth the potential loss of American cities?  If so, by what process was that decision reached?  Before you say “Congress,” ask yourself: if push comes to shove, will the American people back the defense guarantees “Congress” has handed out like candy to countries around the world?  Many potential adversaries are starting to ask that very question.

This isn’t a game, people.  We spent eight years in Iraq.  Are they better off?  Are we?  It seems we had just enough national will to make both countries miserable, but not enough commitment to see something productive result from that mess.  If we go all “Rolling Thunder” on ISIS now, what will be the impact after the news has turned its attention to whatever Miley Cyrus or the Kardashians are doing these days?  Given our short attention span it’s not unlikely that, after dropping bombs for a couple weeks (and more importantly, ordering replacements), we’ll declare success, go home, and ignore a more slow-motion slaughter of the same people we originally said we’d intervened to protect.  On top of that, what is the long-term outlook for that small percentage of Americans called upon to do the fighting and dying in these situations, for policies that are increasingly incoherent?

Until and unless we as a people decide what is worth killing and dying for, and our leaders devise full visions (including defined end states) for how to pursue those agreed-upon objectives, we need to reign in our trigger-happy fingers.  Given the effects of decades of massive immigration from all over the world, multiculturalism and a dumbing down of the citizenry’s understanding of the world and its history, I’m not sure we can even have that conversation, much less reach a consensus.

Regardless, we definitely need–right now–to constrain the ability of any one person, regardless of their party affiliation, to ‘send in the troops’ first and consult Congress later.

That’s the mark of an Empire, not a Republic.  Sadly, it’s not the only mark evident these days.  And remember, it was the bumbling, colliding ambitions of several Empires–British, German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman–that brought on the insanity of the First World War.  Do we really think, only a century later, that we’re so much smarter?

THIS is why “they” hate us

It’s safe to say President Obama has been a polarizing figure on the American scene.  Consider the last few years: proliferating scandals, uneasy citizens purchasing firearms at record rates, while increasing numbers are renouncing their citizenship — ‘leaving the club.’  Not pretty.

But how would Americans of all persuasions react if another world power, or “willing coalition of powers” decided “it’s time for Obama to go,” and set out to make that a reality, with or without America’s consent?  Frankly, it might be a good thing for the country as people here rallied together to tell the rest of the world to butt out.

So why do we have the arrogance to believe other nations don’t have similar reactions to our pronouncements about how things should be?

The United States, which withdrew its troops from Iraq in 2011, has said Baghdad must take steps toward sectarian reconciliation before Obama will decide on any military action against the insurgency led by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), an al Qaeda splinter group.

Maliki has so far shown little willingness to create a more inclusive administration.

“The Maliki government, candidly, has got to go if you want any reconciliation,” said U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Republican Senator John McCain, speaking in the Senate, called for the use of American air power in Iraq, but also urged Obama to “make it make very clear to Maliki that his time is up.”

How much more blood, sweat and treasure (both American and Iraqi) will our elites spend attempting to hold together what has always been an artificial state imposed by outsiders, with ethnic and religious fault lines 20140616_iaqthe size of the Grand Canyon?  Maliki’s time *is* up… in the Sunni areas his policies have repeatedly offended.  Since the fall of (Sunni-affiliated) Saddam, the majority Shiites in Iraq have been reasserting power, and in some cases playing the game of “payback’s a *****.”  As should be expected, this plays well with Shiite audiences; not so much with Sunnis and Kurds (who just want to be left alone in their own Kurdistan anyway).  The sudden‘ gains by ISIS in Iraq are in no small part facilitated by Maliki’s alienation of the ‘out of power’ groups.

That doesn’t mean the U.S. needs to meddle further.  Trying to hit ‘reset’ by replacing one Western-sponsored leader with another just prolongs the slow separation (and the violence that accompanies it).  If more than one ‘state’ replaces what used to be Iraq on the map, so be it.  Trying to prevent such a development was likely always a fool’s errand.  The Bush administration used to say the desired result there was a “united, stable and democratic Iraq.”  Plenty of regional experts have long held that was a menu, not a mission statement, and in reality it was “pick any two of the above.”   We need to give Iraq space to figure out for themselves how they want to structure their society, or it will never know anything but the sectarian violence now occurring.  Far too many regions in the world could do a credible rendition of the villains from Scooby Do:  “…and we’d have made it work, if it wasn’t for those meddling Americans…”

As a coda, it’s worth noting the mix of Sunni, Shia and Kurd in Iraq makes it, by definition, the highly promoted  ‘multicultural society.’  Doesn’t seem to be working out as peace, love and harmony, does it?  Something to consider, as many Western nations–including America–rapidly become even more hodgepodge in their ethnic, religious and political makeups.  Over the last 30-plus years only two things have worked to unite Iraqis: first, strongman rule by Saddam Hussein (including a disastrous war with Iran the U.S. had a hand in prolonging), and then after his fall, a common hatred of occupation by the U.S. and its partners.

Do we really want to create a demographic diversity dilemma here at home that leads to such outcomes?  Would-be strongmen grooming their white horses certainly do…

 

Expensive, ineffective,* dangerous… unaccountable?

If you’ve been watching or reading news the past few days, you know that Iraq is falling apart at what Spaceballs would refer to as “ludicrous speed.”  This has left a lot of people scratching their heads, wondering where all this renewed insurgency potential came from.  And it led the journal Foreign Policy to ask a darn good question:

First Crimea, now Iraq.  Why does America’s $50 billion intelligence community keep getting taken by surprise?”

Let’s be fair up front: the world is a very complex place.  No agency, regardless of funding or complete freedom of action, will have omniscience on future developments.  But the journal could have added a few more examples to their headline:  the fall of the Soviet Union.  9/11.  For all it seems we’re intent on meddling in every part of the world, we sure don’t seem to have a good system for staying abreast of the tea leaves.

And let’s be honest: the exasperation in the above question has more to do with recent revelations of questionable information gathering by the U.S. government than it does with the price tag (although that’s not chump change, either).  To rephrase it: “you mean you collect everybody’s cell phone metadata, intercept computers and install back doors, generally ignore the spirit of the 4th Amendment, and you STILL don’t see this stuff coming?”

I have to admit a certain agreement with Vox on this subject (to whom I owe a hat tip, having first read this article via his blog).  Our intelligence community is far too involved with domestic law enforcement, and has blurred the lines between being an external watchdog and an internal busybody/Big Brother.  Indeed, it has become very effective in that latter area (hence the asterisk in the post title).  For all the talk of ‘fusion centers’ and one hand knowing what the other is doing after 9/11, the effect has been to increase government power at home, not vision abroad.

Is that really what we want?  If not, what will it take to reign it in?