Friday, May 16, 2008

Conflating counterinsurgency with counterterrorism

Chet Richards, writing at the Defense and National Interest web site, recommends a book from the Cato Institute. He includes this excerpt:

By insisting that Iraq was ours to remake were it not for the Bush administration’s mismanagement, we ignore the limits on our power that the war exposes and in the process risk repeating our mistake …

More excerpts:

The experts who say more American planning would have saved Iraq confuse the power to conquer foreign countries with the power to run them.


In attempting to build foreign nations, the United States is unable to impose a national idea, and our liberalism, thankfully, limits our willingness to run foreign states through sheer terror.

Here's an example of the limits of our willingness to run foreign states through sheer terror:

Clifton Hicks and his comrade, Steve Casey, are giving testimony about their experience in a "free-fire zone" because there were "no friendlies." According to a numbers cruncher later on, their company had killed between 700 and 800 enemy combatants, however, Hicks and Casey never saw any enemy combatants. In November of 2003, according to Hicks, an AC-130 gunship opened fire on an apartment complex. There was prior-notice given to the company, according to Hicks, by a Lieutenant Colonel about "putting on a show" for the boys. Later, the apartment was annihilated as Casey and his comrades watched and cheered from the roof of a nearby building. Casey states that he never thought about it at the time, but now the loss of so much civilian life truly bothers him.

Hicks is testifying that this building demolition was the most destructive act he's seen in his entire life, and it was not a legitimate military target. A sniper team could have neutralized the enemy sporadically firing from that location, but leadership instead chose to destroy the entire building and the civilians inside.

Abu Grahib, another example of such limits.

The final reason that American will not master counter-insurgency and state building is that we do not have to. Winning small wars has never been essential to American security. ... the attempt to establish control of hostile societies is a source of insecurity.


These ideas conflate counterterrorism with counterinsurgency. Counterterrorism is best accomplished by police intelligence operatives and special operation forces. We can hunt and capture or kill the small minority of jihadists who seek to attack Americans ... but we need not establish control over foreign states in order to do so.

Occupations convert extremists who would otherwise concern themselves with resisting their own governments into international terrorists interested in killing Americans.

Hidden costs of the war

Justin C. Cliburn live-blogged the Winter Soldier Hearings. He had these observations about the hidden costs of the war:

I want to [say] this about the cost of the war at home: I deployed to Iraq with 150 men, not all of them were married. Since we've returned, 60 have been divorced ... over half of the married men.

[Kris] Goldsmith knew that he wanted to get out and go to college. He was about to get out of the military when George W. Bush announced "The Surge", which put 20,000-30,000 troops on Stop Loss, including Kris. The day before Kris was supposed to deploy back to Iraq, he attempted suicide with prescription pills and alcohol. After spending a week in a mental health ward, Goldsmith was discharged. reports 80,000 soldiers are on Stop Loss right now.

On Kris' DD 214, it says MISCONDUCT: SERIOUS OFFENSE. The serious offense? A suicide attempt due to mental illness.

The Stop Loss program is killing our troops, physically and emotionally. These men and women lived up to their side of the bargain; it's time for the military to do the same.

The breakdown of the military
includes those who got out of the military because of a matter of conscience.

As an institution, the VA has still not implemented a single recommendation from the 1980s VA report of PTSD. We won't find Jeffrey Lucie on any list of OIF/OEF casualties, but he and others like him are the forgotten veterans and forgotten casualties. 120 veterans take their lives per week while the government does one study after another without any real change.

Kevin asks, "Where is the rage?" When are we going to truly honor and support our veterans? How can we support our troops when funding for PTSD was stricken from the 2005 supplementary budget?

U.S. weakness apparent to casual observers

Karen Kwiatkowski makes some very good points in her article, The Art(ifice) of War

Sun Tzu would have us feign weakness in the face of an enemy that impresses us, in order to confuse and mislead him. Instead, we boast – as recently relieved CENTCOM commander Fallon suggested – that we will crush our insignificant enemy like ants. One wonders towards whom such language is directed. I suspect our logistic, financial, tactical, strategic and moral weakness is apparent to the most casual observer throughout the Middle East and the world. Only the American heartland waits anxiously for the latest pump-me-up story from Washington.

No. The Americans in the heartland await and pray anxiously every day for the safe return of their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, serving in the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The blood costs of this war are all to visible in communities across the country.

This artifice of war, cherished by neoconservatives and the other moral dimwits in Washington and New York, must be turned upside down. Remember – it’s not war! To understand what it is, and it is indeed complex, one must avoid the New York Times and check out Winter Soldier, held in DC this past weekend. Listen to IVAW member and Winter Soldier participant Geoff Millard, interviewed here by Scott Horton before the event, and by me just afterwards.

Sun Tzu wrote of war as an art – but Iraq today isn’t war in a Sun Tzu sense. Sun Tzu understood war as extremely expensive, extremely deadly, and an existential threat for the initiating emperor. Truly, our fun and games in Iraq meet these criteria. But wise strategists view war as a serious national decision – not a weekend blockbuster, measured by tickets sold, budgets exceeded and stars showcased.

From Majesty to Hedge Fund Dust

In an Asia Times Online article, Julian Delasantellis chronicles the demise on Sears & Roebuck, concluding:

... [T] he sorry saga of Sears illustrates just how far distorted American ethics and values have become from exposure to the great credit and money carnival of the past few years. "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned," Karl Marx wrote in 1848. In this case, nobody thought twice, nobody blinked an eye, when Wall Street took a truly unique American institution, Sears, and turned it from a fine, respected American society matron into a common streetwalker reduced to pimping through the night for Eddie Lampert.

Last year, the New York Times' Gretchen Morgenson noted that more American national income was produced by financial engineers, people like Lampert who manipulate the amorphous abstraction called money, than by the mechanical engineers who manipulate actual physical realities such as steel, concrete, mortar and oil. In his new book Bad Money (reviewed May 10 by Joe Costello), Kevin Phillips notes that "By 2004-6, financial services represented 20 to 21 percent of gross domestic product, manufacturing just 12 to 13 percent."

Somewhere along the line, America got the idea that the buck generated from financial services, from manipulating money, from passing it from hand to hand, was equivalent, or even superior to (after all, you come home with a lot better smelling clothes after a day on the trading floor compared to a day at the steel mill) the same buck made actually making and sustaining something - such as the great brand Sears once was.

Here is the actual core of the current crisis of American overconsumption. The music has stopped, the dance is over, the great credit and money creation machine of the past few years has shut down. As the dust settles, we see that, for all the money, and supposed wealth, created over the past few years, very little of actual value, of real worth remains. As does now Lampert's, as does now America's, and its dream of endless wealth created through little or no actual work, phantasms still dance into and out of our world with the pages of a calendar, and only the very foolish mistake their ever-vertiginous presence with reality.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The long suicide

Reading through some comments on a Fabius Maximus piece, I came across this arresting thought from oldskeptic

The “Long War” might be more accurately called the “Long Suicide” … though it might not be so long.

Some Russian commentators were recently saying that the Putin Government thinks the US is in a death spiral. I have nightmares that they might be right.

To which Fabius Maximus replied, in part,

... it does look a bit depressing, but we have pulled ourselves out from worse holes. At some point it comes down to faith in the American People. Without that, the only alternative is to choose a Patron.

I'd suggest that by "the American People", the author means a movement, or combination of movements, quite a bit greater than a President, or a Political Party.

I'd further suggest that for the American People to do "the right thing" will entail a great level of internal turmoil and and conflicts of interest.

The question, "what kind of a nation do 'we' wish 'ours' to be" must be addressed. Most assuredly, the leaders we elect reflect tellingly on 'our' answer to that question.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Blistering honesty from the American Conservative

Note: this post was modified with some additional thoughts italicized towards the end.

In the April 21, 2008 issue of The American Conservative, Andrew
Bacevich has an article entitled Surging to Defeat which notes the following:

Although violence in Iraq has decreased over the past year, attacks on coalition and Iraqi security forces continue to occur at an average rate of 500 per week. This is clearly unacceptable. The likelihood that further U.S. efforts will reduce violence to an acceptable level—however one might define that term—appears remote.

Bacevich also points out that the "reduction" in violence (which started increasing in April) can be attributed to factors other than The Surge.

Furthermore, recent improvements in security are highly contingent. The Shiite militias, Sunni insurgents, and tribal leaders who have agreed to refrain from violence in return for arms, money, and other concessions have by no means bought into the American vision for the future of Iraq. Their interests do not coincide with our own, and we should not delude ourselves by pretending otherwise.

With a blistering honesty encountered seldom in the so-called MSM, Bacevich details the initial stated purpose of the surge:

Unfortunately, partial success in reducing the level of violence has not translated into any substantial political gains. Recall that the purpose of the surge was not to win the war in a military sense. Gen. David Petraeus never promised victory. He and any number of other senior officers have assessed the war as militarily unwinnable. On this point, the architects of the surge were quite clear: the object of the exercise was not to impose our will on the enemy but to facilitate political reconciliation among Iraqis.

A year later, signs of genuine reconciliation are few. In an interview with the Washington Post less than a month ago, General Petraeus said that “no one” in the U.S. government “feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation.”


Iraq today qualifies only nominally as a sovereign nation-state. It has become a dependency of the United States, unable to manage its own affairs or to provide for the well-being of its own people. As recent events in Basra have affirmed, the Iraqi army, a black hole into which the Pentagon has poured some $22 billion in aid and assistance, still cannot hold its own against armed militias.

This Iraqi army is NOT the Iraqi army that dissipated in the face of U.S. armed forced march to Baghdad. That army elected to not fight. And then was disbanded, leaving it's soldiers, many of whom had fought the dreaded Iranian army to a standstill (albeit with plenty of U.S. aid, munitions, chemical weapons, and satellite intelligence) with no income and plenty of incentive to join and help train militias.

The U.S. military victory in Iraq was swift. I hope that when the war colleges do their what went wrong analysis, they acknowledge that when a military victory leaving no one with whom to negotiate terms of surrender means a political stalemate (and continuing hell on earth for the people of Iraq and the troops in occupation there).

Repeat. The U.S. military victory in Iraq was swift. We rid the country of a despotic dictator. We eliminated the despotic dictator and destroyed the non-existent weapons of mass destruction. Our military is quite efficient at killing and destroying stuff. Lots of fire power. Lots of bombs. Lots of planes. Huge ships. Many computers and computer visuals. Should have proclaimed "Mission Accomplished" and returned home.

But this is not like the so-called "great wars". Of course not. The U.S. INVADED Iraq, and OCCUPIES the country. Millions of Iraqis have been displaced, died, or dispersed out of their country. And they blame us. Only willful blindness can prevent anyone from seeing why we are blamed, or for concluding that the U.S. decision to invade and occupy Iraq is the root cause of turning Iraq into a hell on earth for the Iraqi people.

Bacevich estimates the present day costs in treasury and in blood. The longer term costs will be even more substantial.

The costs to the United States of sustaining this dependency are difficult to calculate with precision, but figures such as $3 billion per week and 30 to 40 American lives per month provide a good approximation.

And then asks the single question that supporters of the war don't want to answer or even address:

What can we expect to gain in return for this investment? The Bush administration was counting on the Iraq War to demonstrate the viability of its Freedom Agenda and to affirm the efficacy of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war.

The Bush "Freedom Agenda" was never about freedom for human beings. Of course, Americans are for freedom. It's an American value, after all. Land of the free, etc. But "Freedom Agenda" is just a catchy phrase, buzz word palliatives for something entirely different agenda, as noted in an Open Democracy article by Bob Burnett:

The focus of the freedom agenda wasn't repressive regimes, but rather closed markets.

The neocon dialectic

On 6 June 2007, during Bush's trip to the G8 summit, he reaffirmed the freedom agenda in a speech in Prague. Behind his noble words was the president's unwavering insistence on open markets. Patricia Cohen reported that Bush told G8 leaders "political liberty is the natural byproduct of economic openness." He expressed the dogmatic neo-conservatism that guides his administration: "open your markets and democracy will surely follow."

The mechanical, neo-conservative nostrum that unrestrained capitalism gives rise to democracy has guided Bush administration foreign policy in Iraq, the middle east, and the rest of the world; and has had a powerful impact on US domestic policy. Unfortunately, the Bush doctrine has failed everywhere it's been applied. Open markets didn't produce democracy in Iraq, because the American-led occupation neglected to provide for the prerequisites of democracy: namely, a viable institutional infrastructure enabling civil society to operate effectively.

Interestingly, what Burnett refers to as a "neo-conservative nostrum", Immanuel Wallerstein calls Neoliberal Globalization -- a program led by Reagan in the U.S. and Thatcher in England and abetted by the IMF and the World Bank; a program also referred to as the Washington Consensus.

Wallerstein notes the political successes of the Washington Consensus: the fall of Communists regimes in eastern Europe and the former U.S.S.R. and China adopting market-friendly policies.

But Wallerstein also remarks on a conundrum. Economic success (of the policies of privatizing industries, reducing trade restrictions, and cutting back on the welfare state) failed to follow. The surge of stock markets everywhere based mostly on speculation rather than profits from production. Furthermore, while the rich got richer, especially the very rich, real income fell for much of the rest of the world.

So "neoliberal globalization" is a "neoconservative nostrum." Makes for difficulties in separating liberals from conservatives.

Per Bacevich, the military was used to "imprint liberal values". Again, this makes for difficulties in separating liberals from conservatives.

the war has long since failed. Rather than showcasing our ability to transform the Greater Middle East, Operation Iraqi Freedom has demonstrated just the opposite. Using military power as an instrument for imprinting liberal values in this part of the world has produced a failed state while fostering widespread antipathy toward the United States.

Rather than demonstrating our ability to eliminate emerging threats swiftly, decisively, and economically—Saddam Hussein’s removal providing an object lesson to other tyrants tempted to contest our presence in the Middle East—the Iraq War has revealed the limits of U.S. power and called into question American competence. The Bush Doctrine hasn’t worked. Saddam is long gone, but we’re stuck. Rather than delivering decisive victory, preventive war has landed us in a quagmire.

The abject failure of the Freedom Agenda and the Bush Doctrine has robbed the Iraq War of any strategic rationale. The war continues in large part because of our refusal to acknowledge and confront this loss of strategic purpose.

The war also continues because our politicians do not have the will to end it. This scenario has played out before, in Vietnam. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon all knew that war could not be won. But to withdraw the troops, to pull out, would be perceived as a military defeat, and no President wants to to preside over a U.S. military defeat. The recriminations would be vitriolic. Such a defeat could only happen from sabotage from within: traitors to blame. The traitors would of course be, the political party in office at the time of the eventual withdrawal, and all who opposed the war in the first place. The traitors, the internal enemy. The commies, the pinkos, the dirty hippies -- pacifists, intellectuals, liberals, women. The usual suspects plus immigrants, and certain liberal protestant denominations.

For, how can the world's largest military super-power, a nation that spends more money on the military and national defense than all the rest of the world combined, how can such a military force lose to a guerrilla insurgency?

One simple answer is this: to utilize an efficient killing and destructive machine to gain a political end will highlight your efficiency at killing and destroying, not your ability to compromise or negotiate. It will demonstrate your cruelty and callous indifference, not your strength. And ultimately your weakness, both politically, and militarily.

Is it a liberal, or a conservative value to use war to implement a geopolitical goal?

Answer. It is neither. It is a warmonger's value to use war to implement a geopolitical goal.

And such wars are crimes, for all the world to see; for all the world to judge.

Will America ever have leaders of such integrity?

Writing for the Asia Times Online, Sami Moubayed relates a telling story of Syria's first President Hashem al-Atasi.

Of Atasi's scrupulous integrity and character wikipedia says:

"amid the confusion and violence that often formed the background of Syrian republican history, he stood out as a man of sound principles dedicated to constitutional methods of government."

He was clearly a devout Muslim, inspired by the example of the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Sami Moubayed's article begins as follows:

In 1936, a senior aid approached Syria's new president Hashem al-Atasi, explaining the presidential budget which had a special clause for "classified activities". This was a special amount allocated by parliament for the president to distribute at will, without presenting receipts, or explaining himself to the legislative branch.

Fuming, Atasi crossed off the amount and angrily snapped, "This is incorrect! A president should not have money to distribute freely without being checked by parliament. It is not his right and it is not his money." The late Syrian leader returned the money untouched - every single year - to the Syrian treasury during his
tenure, 1936-1939, 1949-1951 and 1954-1955.

Then, "classified activities" were relatively simple; they included paying Lebanese newspapers to refrain from criticizing Syria and distributing gifts to certain Arab leaders.

Atasi reasoned that this "classified activity" was being funded by Syrian tax money and that the average Syrian had a right to know where his taxes were being spent. As long as this money was not being used to improve the livelihood of ordinary Syrians, then it was a crime for any leader to spend it on political or clandestine activities.

How many of the current U.S. Presidential Candidates would we expect to follow such an example?

And yet, in a democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people, why should we the people expect anything less?