Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Learning War

Why would anyone entertain the idea of going to war if they didn’t have to do so?

Consider: a tad beyond ¾ of a century ago, soldiers of the Imperial Japanese army opened the first identifiable warfighting front of what would eventually become World War II. At the time (1931), few U.S. “foreign affairs specialists” other than State Department desk officers could name the countries that fell under even partial occupation.

As is the case for crude oil today for the United States, Japan’s motivation for war in the 1930s was economic – how to fuel its growing need for vital raw materials that were scarce (phosphate, oil, iron ore, copper and rubber ) or that were effectively non-existent. Only in coal was Japan self-sufficient – and even that could not be counted on forever.

Today, and as the world moves further into the 21st century, the many tomorrows of the century will see a steady decline in the availability of mineral and other resources that world economies need to keep going. And, as happened in the early 1930s, countries will be tempted more and more to seize what they deem is their “fair share” – or even more than their share.

Some countries will not be inclined to war for resources. Costa Rica, for example, has no army to send. Article 9 of the American-dictated post-World War II Japanese constitution forbids the Japanese government from using warfare as an instrument of the nation’s foreign policy.
And although there have been trial balloons about revising or even eliminating Article 9 altogether, there seems to be continuing reluctance to do so.

This suggests that warfare per se is a learned behavior. As a people, prior to the 7th century CE, arguably the most feared warriors in Asia were from Tibet. Moreover, the two countries that produced a formally recognized warrior class were Japan (samurai) and India (kshatriya). Perhaps the nearest European equivalent were the condottiere, but these were mercenaries.

The point of these musings? What is learned and practiced in one generation can be unlearned. The Japanese seem to be holding the line against war; Tibetans took some three centuries to abandon war. The U.S., however, would seem not to have taken even the first step away from war.

Consider: the first words that the U.S. negotiator says when sitting down to negotiate with an antagonist is “nothing is off the table” – code for military action.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Third Party Candidates for President

Well here we are again: 100 days (and nights) until the election for president of the United States, a position held by either the Republican or Democratic party since 1860, when what was to become the Grand Old Party (GOP) of today completed the eclipse of the Whig as a main-stream party.

But there are a number of third or minority issue or independent parties.
Some are perennials – Libertarian, Green, Independent, Conservative, and Socialist. Among these are names that people would recognize: Former U.S. Representatives Cynthia McKinney (Green) and Bob Barr (Libertarian), Ralph Nader (Independent), and perhaps less well-known, Chuck Baldwin (Conservative), and Brian Moore (Socialist).

Then there are the parties that rise from time to time – sometimes for a long time – and field a nominal candidate for president and vice-president. These this year are: Prohibition Party, Reform Party, Socialist Workers Party, and Party of Socialism and Liberation.

Beyond these are two more categories: candidates who have met at least one state’s requirements to be listed on the ballot come November election day – one source lists five names – and a large amorphous group who have “announced” their candidacy but have not met any state’s threshold for being listed on the ballot.

The most colorful third party undoubtedly was Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party. William Howard Taft, the sitting president, lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson because Bull Moose split the Republican vote.

This year’s winner of the “colorful” award is – I kid you not – The Boston Tea Party whose presidential candidate, Charles Jay, hails not from Boston or even Massachusetts but from Florida – an area that wasn’t even part of the original English settlements.

Go figure.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fighting the Wrong War

War is undoubtedly the most prolific human activity about which its practitioners, observers, and critics have created a separate body of sayings, excuses, and justifications for why battles and campaigns were won or lost. “Serious” tomes as well as more light-hearted fare have been collected, repackaged, and reissued – with a new copyright date that “protects” the “originality” of the assembler/editor.

Sometimes – just sometimes – such a gem that has been around for decades if not centuries will come back into prominence. As chance would have it, my roommate during plebe year at West Point, the now-former Secretary of the Air Force Mike Wynne, recently noted that “the military is almost always accused of preparing to fight the last war.” Well, that “almost” finally has been found its sponsor in the person of General Sir Rupert Smith, a British Army general who retired in 2002 after 40 years uniformed service.

Sir Rupert rejects the notion that the generals and admirals always prepare to fight the last war. Instead, he accuses them of always preparing to fight the wrong war because that is the direction and the spending priorities they are given by the politicians – most of whom do not understand the changing context of war and whose education is the responsibility of the generals.

Perhaps the most important point about that context is that it never discards anything. This means that a country or a sub-national or trans-national group is able to cut into the experience of war, locate the historical activities of groups that fought oppressors or invaders or occupying armies, and draw lessons applicable to today.

But today’s dominant military powers do not look at history for equivalent conditions because – precisely as they are dominant – they assume they will remain so as long as they continue along the same path regardless of changes in context. Over time, doctrine, organizations, and equipment become less and less relevant to what others are doing until their entire structure bears little resemblance to actual conditions.

Thus as in Iraq, the “dominant” military may indeed defeat the obvious opposing structure (the Iraqi army), but that is not the real enemy or the real war – the war the generals should have warned the politicians to avoid.

But then, this would seem to make every war the "wrong war." Not a bad idea.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Will the National Guard Pay the Price for Afghanistan?

It is generally admitted that the Bush administration abandoned Afghanistan when it went after Saddam Hussein.

So there was something amiss – logically – in the July16, 2008 Defense Department Operational Update Briefing by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen.

Gates opened with the announcement of the nomination of LTGen Craig McKinley to be the next head of the National Guard Bureau (NGB) and the elevation of that position to a four star (full general) billet. Gates also nominated the departing Chief of the Bureau, LTGen Steve Blum, to be the first Guardsman to occupy the position of Deputy Commander of Northern Command, created after September 11 to coordinate, inter alia, DoD’s contribution to homeland defense. This also is a four star billet.

Next subject was Admiral Mullen’s recent visit to Iraq and Afghanistan. On Iraq, should the improved security achievements hold (he too was able to walk openly in the Jamila Market in Sadr City), Mullen said he would feel comfortable recommending a further reduction of U.S. forces.

On Afghanistan, he called for greater effort by U.S., other NATO countries, Afghan and Pakistan armed forces and other security organizations to cut the large-scale infiltration from the training camps in Pakistan into Afghanistan.

Consider also that U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have publicly called for more U.S. and NATO troops to counter the influx of better trained Taliban loyalists, insurgents, muhajadeen, and terrorists. Admiral Mullen has countered that he doesn’t have any more forces and won’t have until troop levels fall in Iraq.

There had been much discussion about raising the NGB Chief to four stars, and the change was authorized in the FY2008 legislation. Putting a NG general into the Deputy’s slot in Northern Command also makes sense as the primary force structure responding to another terror incident will be NG units.

But, if Admiral Mullen doesn’t have troops to send to Afghanistan now, and should the pace of fighting in Iraq not diminish so that he can make a recommendation to reduce troop levels there, the only source of additional troop strength is – once again – the NG, and once again to the detriment of their missions within their states.

Moreover, the most effective troops for the missions along the Afghan-Pakistan border are not going to be NG units but Special Forces. But the president has given the Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command the lead role in combating al-Qaeda and fighting the “Global War on Terror.” And always in the background is the constant murmuring echo that still emanates from the neo-cons – something to the effect of “bomb bomb Iran.”

It all sounds so familiar as in "we've been here before" when the NG was sent on repeated tours to Iraq because there were not enough troops to respond to Bush's wars.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bloodless War -- No Longer an Oxymoron

Magister Ludi, Hermann Hesse’s last novel (completed in 1943) is a critique of a rarified intellectual, technologically constrained fictional province of Central Europe whose favored inhabitants seem to do little that is “productive” in the normal sense of that word.

Adults, whether chosen in later life or recognized in childhood as potential members the elite order, have but two duties, First, to aid in the education of the youths among them, probing constantly for weakness of intellect, undeveloped character (as defined by the masters), and unreserved devotion to the quest that is the focus of their existence and the Second duty: to strive to become Magister Ludi, “Master of the Game,” the “Glass Bead Game” (the literal translation of the German title of the book).

The problem with this life, as the protagonist Joseph Knecht, the current Magister Ludi, comes to realize, is that the lives of the privileged order are utterly cut off from all concrete reality. Even the “glass beads” that formed the “scoring” methodology of the original game, were no longer used. Everything in the game, like everything in the game that is life, was in and of the mind – and as such was lifeless, loveless, and ultimately sterile. It was the reason why the masters were constantly having to go into the surrounding provinces to find “new blood.”

I was reminded of all the above last week as I read about the U.S. Air Force officers who live near Los Angeles with their families, get up each morning and commute – like so many others in that part of California – to work driving their own autos.

But unlike their fellow commuters, these officers go into air conditioned trailers and “fly” unmanned but highly lethal drones across the skies of Afghanistan and Iraq some 7,500 miles away. Using real time images of the terrain below the drones, they search for terrorists planting bombs in the roads or insurgents attacking U.S., Iraqi or Afghan forces, or troops of other coalition countries. When they confirm a target, the homing guidance drops the munitions on target. The process is repeated until the munitions are expended or the drone is finally forced back into “safe areas” where it can be refueled and rearmed.

Eventually, their “shift” over, the officers near Los Angeles get back in their autos, drive home, and do what thousands of others do in that part of California.

It’s a sterile, emotionless war—if it can even be considered “war.” For sure, on that part of the world where the munitions fall, it is quite real, quite concrete, and quite lifeless.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cluster Munitions “Free Zone” (Nearly): Is an Old Bellwether Setting a New Pace?

First a quick quiz:

At the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1864), what state’s XX regiment held off repeated Confederate Army efforts to seize the critical terrain complex known as Big and Little Round Tops?

Which State has as its the motto, “I lead”?

Which of the current Atlantic Ocean states whose land mass was part of the British North American Empire did not rebel against King George III?

Wait! Amend that third question to read: “What state took the lead as the first in the nation to have all members – Republican and Democrat, senators and representatives – of its congressional delegation (endorse the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2007 (S.519) in defiance of President George Bush II?”

(The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2007 prohibits the use, sale, or other transfer of these weapons unless the functional rate of the submunition is 99 percent or higher. The proposed legislation, sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (not of Maine), also requires recipients of these weapons to agree that the munitions “will only be used against clearly defined military targets and will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.”

The U.S. was not among the 111 countries that met in Dublin earlier this year and agreed on the need for a treaty banning cluster munitions. Nor will it be present when the draft treaty is reviewed and opened for signatures in December in Oslo.

But the first crack in the resistance to abolishing this weapon has appeared in the U.S. in Maine (the answer to the quiz). Once before we were asked to “Remember the Maine,” which became the rallying cry of the pro-war political faction seeking to dislodge the Spanish from Cuba.

Well, now we have another reason to “Remember Maine” and to note also that for 19 of the 26 presidential election years between 1832and 1932, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.” (During this period, Maine held elections for governor and other state-wide offices in September when the weather was milder. The party that captured the statehouse generally also won the White House in November.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Incredibly Shrinking Freedom of Information Act

The Pentagon, at long last, has inked a bilateral agreement that some in Washington feared might never materialize.

Indeed, the Pentagon’s poor record of late in securing the cooperation of others had introduced a note of pessimism into press briefings and discussions. After agreeing to accept 10 U.S. ballistic missile interceptors on Poland’s soil, the Polish prime minister to buckled under heavy Russian pressure and, on July 5th, announced there was no deal – at least. Just over a week later, July 13th, the media carried articles quoting negotiators to the effect that the U.S.-Iraq “long-term security pact” would not be completed during Bush’s term in office (which ends January 20, 2009).

Compared to Iraq, the talks between the Czech Republic and the Bush administration on siting a missile defense tracking radar on Czech soil went smoothly. For one thing, the U.S. acknowledged in the agreement’s preliminary paragraphs that the Czech parliament had to approve the plan – a quite different stance from Iraq where parliament is involved in the discussions to make sure Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki doesn’t sell the farm.

But something else of equal if not greater concern than missile defense in Europe has been included in this agreement. Ever since it became law in 1966, the Freedom of Information Act has been a burr under the saddle of proponents of maximum secrecy in government. This battle was rejoined almost with glee at the beginning of George W. Bush’s first term in office when Vice-President Dick Cheney held closed sessions with U.S. oil executives, ostensibly to develop a new energy policy for the country.

Having won head-on in the courts, it may be that the administration is trying to undermine the foundation of the law. the right of the people to know what government does in its name. The vehicle for this latest assault on open government is not energy but missile defense – the “Agreement Between the Czech Republic and the United States of America On Establishing a United States Ballistic Missile Defense Radar Site in the Czech Republic.” Here is the possible sequence:

(1) Article I paragraph 7 of the agreement defines “controlled unclassified information” as unclassified information to which access or distribution have been applied in accordance with applicable national laws. Such information could include information that has been declassified but remains controlled.)

(2) Article X paragraph 11 calls for “timely exchange of relevant information” between the U.S. and the Czech Republic.

Article XII, titled “Controlled Unclassified Information” provides that:
(a) Such information shall be used only for the purposes authorized by the originating party;

(b) Access to such information shall be limited to personnel whose access is necessary for authorized use.

(c) The recipient shall not release controlled unclassified information to any third party without prior written consent of the originating party.

(d) Each party shall take all lawful steps, which may include national classification, to keep controlled unclassified information free from further disclosure (including requests under any applicable domestic legislation), except as provided for in paragraph 1(b) above, unless the originating Party agrees to such disclosure….”

There’s a bit more, but this is that “magic point” again where unclassified material – unclassified, that is, before being collected and after being collected (otherwise it would not be controlled unclassified information) – suddenly becomes classified and therefore not accessible by the public.

This is an open invitation to take all unclassified material that has been collected from any source that could even remotely be tied to missile defense anywhere in the world or to the Czech government anywhere in the world on any subject, turn it over to Prague for classification as per their domestic security laws, at which time it becomes “free from further disclosure” to any one not properly cleared – you and me.

Guess what that does to the Freedom of Information Act.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Did the President Really Say That?

The question is not “What was George Bush thinking?” Rather it is “Why wasn’t George Bush thinking?”

After all, it had only been three days, and the last gathering had just ended. Leaders of the G8 – the group of the world’s most highly industrialized countries (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Russian Federation, and the United States) – seemed satisfied with their discussions and with their meetings with representatives of India and the People’s Republic of China on global warming.

This G8 summit hosted by Japan at Hokkaido had been about the environment. Two major issue clusters were on the agenda: global warming-energy sources-pollution, and the effects of the growing diversion of food harvests to biomass for use in fuel on the cost and availability of food to meet the needs of people living in drought or flooded environments.

For a Texas “oil man,” none of these was particularly exciting. Only when new sources of oil were brought up (possible new profits) or cutting back emissions (costing industry money for filters) would the president evince interest. Bush’s answer to the energy problem has always been to expand off-shore drilling and open the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for “exploration” (read “exploitation”). And I doubt he ever heard a proposal for generating electricity by burning more coal and extracting oil from shale for transportation – two resources the U.S. has in abundance – that he could not support.

When discussions turned to pollution and greenhouse gases, one could easily imagine Bush’s eyes simply glazing over. In fact, if you closed your eyes and concentrated just a bit, it is possible to imagine Bush morphing into MAD magazine’s Alfred E. Newman, saying “What me worry?”

The last day, the last meetings, the last words of this G8 meeting were history. Then, as Bush emerged from a private discussion, he said clearly and audibly (no hidden microphones needed here): “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter,” followed by a hand and arm signal normally interpreted as “So there too—I’m through with this (BLEEP) subject.”

I would normally characterize such adolescent behavior as pre-meditated, except that would imply deliberate planning on the president’s part. He might have been bored; he may not believe the environment is deeply troubled by human activity. But as the president representing the United States, whatever disdain he might feel for the issues and the people concerned with these issues, he ought to be in sufficient control of himself to wait until out of the public eye to express his view.

But this also rekindles previous allegations about Bush when he was in the Texas Air National Guard: he doesn’t finish what he starts. As a fighter pilot, all he had to do was land safely and taxi to the ramp. It’s more complicated if you are president of the United States; you cannot just simply wake up one morning and decide you are going to do something else. .

It’s going to be a harrowing six more months.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

HConRes362: A Potential New War

If you have not already done so, walk – do not run (so you won’t trip, fall, and knock yourself out) – to your computer.

Open your Internet access and type in (or hyperlink to) the Library of Congress website

This will bring up the THOMAS home page, in the middle of which is a dialogue box, “Legislation in Current Congress.” In the Search box, type HConRes 362, flip the source from Word/Phrase to Bill Number, hit return, and you should have the text of the inelegantly named – and extremely dangerous – proposed law: “Expressing the sense of Congress regarding the threat posed to international peace, stability in the Middle East, and the vital national security interests of the United States by Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and regional hegemony, and for other purposes.”

Introduced May 22, HConRes 362 purportedly would tighten U.S. economic sanctions on Iran and increase Iran’s financial and diplomatic isolation for its refusal to end work on developing a uranium enrichment cascade. But the congressional legislation, were it to pass both Houses of Congress and be signed by the president, would be tantamount to a statutory declaration of war on Iran.

Under the last paragraph – the “resolved” section – section three reads:” [Congress demands] that the President initiate an international effort to immediately and dramatically increase the economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on Iran to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment activities by, inter alia, prohibiting the export to Iran of all refined petroleum products; imposing stringent inspection requirements on all persons, vehicles, ships, planes, trains, and cargo entering or departing Iran; and prohibiting the international movement of all Iranian officials not involved in negotiating the suspension of Iran's nuclear program.”

Now I do not normally troll through resolutions pending before the Congress, but I do not recall ever reading in other bills that Congress “demands” the president do something. I have frequently decried the theory of the unitary executive propounded by the current occupant of the White House. A “unitary Congress” (an oxymoron on its surface) that "demands" a co-equal branch of government something would be 435 times worse.

That is not the real danger this proposed legislation poses. The real danger is that implementing this section is tantamount to imposing a blockade – although the term is not used – which is an act of war. (This omission reminds me of the Cuban missile crisis when President Kennedy substituted “quarantine” for "blockade.")

HConRes 362's formulation seems to be following the administration’s 2003 effort, the “Proliferation Security Initiative” (PSI), to do an end-run around the Law of the Sea Convention. Under the 1982 Convention, a ship used exclusively by a government for non-commercial purposes that is flagged by the same government generally cannot be stopped and boarded by a warship of another country. The exceptions are if the ship is "reasonably" believed to be carrying contraband, is engaged in piracy or the slave trade, or is engaged in unauthorized broadcasting.

The weakness of the PSI was that North Korea – not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime – was not breaking any treaty or international law in transporting missiles and missile parts to Middle East countries because these items were not contraband.

PSI, although never challenged in an international court, was “enforced” by a U.S. –led “coalition of the willing.” After a few errors and embarrassing "mistakes” by countries whose navies stopped, boarded, and searched North Korea’s ships on the high seas, PSI fell moribund. And a second end run the U.S. tried -- "helping" countries ajacent to naval "choke points" police these areas -- was soundly rejected by the coastal countries involved.

Whether this is all old news or not, please go to FCNL’s website ( to read more. Contact your representative, find out whether she or he has even read the bill, and point out what this proposed legislation does should it become law.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Afghanistan in July

Its summer in Afghanistan, but the temperature as measured with the old reliable (but toxic) sealed mercury thermometer is not the kind of heat I mean. Neither is it a reference to land used to cultivate poppies for the world’s illegal heroin trade—literally “hot property.”

But there is something heating up in the background; what remains unclear -- hazy as is a mirage, and potentially as dangerous.

For months the U.S.-led coalition consisting primarily of 40,000 NATO troops has alternated between predicting the Taliban were set to launch a new offensive across all of southern and eastern Afghanistan and admitting that no assault was imminent – only to hoist the warning flags again and then pull them back once more.

Last month the same pattern played out in Kandahar. A brazen Taliban daytime jailbreak saw some 400 Taliban, al-Qaeda, and common criminals suddenly back on the streets. Within a few days there were rumors of a major Taliban offensive that could well put Kandahar back in the militant’s column. A few more days and even this prediction disappeared.

Afghan Army and coalition forces did report one or two encounters in which three dozen or more militants were killed. But these numbers should not have derailed the Taliban’s purported plans unless the original estimates of their available fighting strength were grossly overestimated. If so, the few battles that have occurred might be enough to have upset the militants’ plans to directly take on the coalition troops and instead cultivate the population.

After all, the loyalty and support of the people are the prize, and at this point, both the Taliban and the Kabul government have an equal chance at the brass ring.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Telling George to Go Fly a Kite

As we celebrate the July 4th Independence Day holiday, pause for a moment and think. In Iraq right now U.S. government representatives are pressing the Iraqi government to cede fundamental points of national sovereignty -- that is, INDEPENDENCE -- to the U.S. military, including the right to arrest, detain, and interrogate Iraqi citizens arrested during U.S. operations in Iraq.

Didn't the Founding Fathers tell King George this was one of the reasons they were in rebellion?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Another Quarter Trillion -- But Who's Counting?

The headlines yesterday focused on the “new” money – $165.4 billion – for fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that were part of the 2008 Supplemental appropriations bill (H.R. 2642) that President Bush signed into law on June 30. (The actual money going to the Pentagon after recession of funds previously appropriated but not obligated – $3.6 billion – came to $161.8 billion.) But when you added everything uo, the total was $257 billion.

The new money is divided between the remaining months of Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 – $99.5 billion and $65.9 billion to run through June of FY2009, that is, through the first three quarters of FY2009. Obviously, the Democrats are anticipating that they will control both the executive and legislative branches after January 20, 2009 and that the costs of the wars will taper off quickly. But don’t forget that when the request for supplemental appropriations for FY2008 arrived on the Hill, the President was asking for $108 billion for the wars. In the end, the Democratic Congress gave Bush 92 percent of what he requested – and Bush will control the FY2009 war spending for almost four of the 12 months of FY2009.

On the domestic scene, Congress succeeded in wearing down White House resistance to non-battlefield spending, starting with an additional $897 million to provide continuing assistance for Hurricane Katrina victims and another $5.7 billion to rebuild levees destroyed by the hurricane. As for the current disaster in the Mississippi River basin, $2.7 billion is directed to assist the new victims of floods in the Mississippi River basin. Relief program completed so it can deal with this year’s problem: the heavy amounts of rainfall across the water catchment basin of the upper Mississippi River.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have additional repercussions. Included in the Supplemental is a provision that doubles the amount of aid a soldier can receive to further her educati9on from $40,000 over four years to $90,000.

Military construction (but no “permanent bases) receives $5.6 billion while the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and foreign agricultural; programs garnered $10,1 billion over the next two years. Congress also doubled to $90,000 the maximum government assistance to service members who wore the uniform for tree years. This benefit, with estimates of the cost as high as $8 billion, is one that can be passed on to a spouse or child.

Finally, there are the grim June statistics from the battle zones
Iraq Afghanistan
June 2008 June 2008
U.S. Killed 29 (up 10 from May) U.S. KIA 27
UK Killed 1 UK KIA 12
Other 1 (Azerbaijani) Canadians 2
Others 3

Iraqis Killed U.S. KIA 2008 66
Security Forces 77 UK KIA 2008 24
Non-combatants 373 Canadian KIA 2008 11
Others KIA 2008 22

Total US fatalities 4,113 Total U.S. KIA 541
Total UK KIA 176 Total UK 110
Total Others KIA 138 Canadians 85
Total Others KIA 136

US Wounded 29,978

Estimated US costs $650 Brillion $200 Brillion

For the second month in a row, U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan almost equaled fatalities in Iraq, Overall coalition fatalities for June in Afghanistan DID exceed the coalition deaths in Iraq – again for the second straight month.