Category Archives: Military

Moving Account of Combat in Iraq

This is a very moving first-hand description of combat in Iraq. It was difficult to selectively excerpt from it, because it is all worth reading. Nonetheless, here are some rather extensive excerpts:

Q: What experiences turned you against the war and made you leave the Marines?

A: I was in charge of a platoon that consists of machine gunners and missile men. Our job was to go into certain areas of the towns and secure the roadways. There was this one particular incident – and there’s many more – the one that really pushed me over the edge. It involved a car with Iraqi civilians. From all the intelligence reports we were getting, the cars were loaded down with suicide bombs or material. That’s the rhetoric we received from intelligence. They came upon our checkpoint. We fired some warning shots. They didn’t slow down. So we lit them up.

Q: Lit up? You mean you fired machine guns?

A: Right. Every car that we lit up we were expecting ammunition to go off. But we never heard any. Well, this particular vehicle we didn’t destroy completely, and one gentleman looked up at me and said: “Why did you kill my brother? We didn’t do anything wrong.” That hit me like a ton of bricks.

Q: Who gave the order to wipe the demonstrators out?

A: Higher command. We were told to be on the lookout for the civilians because a lot of the Fedayeen and the Republican Guards had tossed away uniforms and put on civilian clothes and were mounting terrorist attacks on American soldiers. The intelligence reports that were given to us were basically known by every member of the chain of command. The rank structure that was implemented in Iraq by the chain of command was evident to every Marine in Iraq. The order to shoot the demonstrators, I believe, came from senior government officials, including intelligence communities within the military and the U.S. government.

Q: What kind of firepower was employed?

A: M-16s, 50-cal. machine guns.

Q: You fired into six or ten kids? Were they all taken out?

A: Oh, yeah. Well, I had a “mercy” on one guy. When we rolled up, he was hiding behind a concrete pillar. I saw him and raised my weapon up, and he put up his hands. He ran off. I told everybody, “Don’t shoot.” Half of his foot was trailing behind him. So he was running with half of his foot cut off.

Q: After you lit up the demonstration, how long before the next incident?

A: Probably about one or two hours. This is another thing, too. I am so glad I am talking with you, because I suppressed all of this.

Q: Well, I appreciate you giving me the information, as hard as it must be to recall the painful details.

A: That’s all right. It’s kind of therapy for me. Because it’s something that I had repressed for a long time.

Q: And the incident?

A: There was an incident with one of the cars. We shot an individual with his hands up. He got out of the car. He was badly shot. We lit him up. I don’t know who started shooting first. One of the Marines came running over to where we were and said: “You all just shot a guy with his hands up.” Man, I forgot about this.

A: Oh, yeah. They [cluster bombs] were everywhere.

Q: Dropped from the air?

A: From the air as well as artillery.

Q: Are they dropped far away from cities, or inside the cities?

A: They are used everywhere. Now if you talked to a Marine artillery officer, he would give you the runaround, the politically correct answer. But for an average grunt, they’re everywhere.

Q: Including inside the towns and cities?

A: Yes, if you were going into a city, you knew there were going to be ICBMs [cluster bombs].

Q: Cluster bombs are anti-personnel weapons. They are not precise. They don’t injure buildings, or hurt tanks. Only people and living things. There are a lot of undetonated duds and they go off after the battles are over.

A: Once the round leaves the tube, the cluster bomb has a mind of its own. There’s always human error. I’m going to tell you: The armed forces are in a tight spot over there. It’s starting to leak out about the civilian casualties that are taking place. The Iraqis know. I keep hearing reports from my Marine buddies inside that there were 200-something civilians killed in Fallujah. The military is scrambling right now to keep the raps on that. My understanding is Fallujah is just littered with civilian bodies.

Nick Berg Jailed by US

Nick Berg, a 26-yr-old American, was detained–thrown in prison–for over two weeks by the American military authorities, who released him the day he was kidnapped.

We’re jailing Americans now?

(Via Randi Rhodes)

Abu Ghraib …

by John McKay

… and I see that Mick just beat me to it with a much more thoughtful post. Oh well, below is what I had to say (and read Sy Hersh, who is excellent as always):

The recent story about torture of Iraqi prisoners is presented as if it is an anomaly – six or so soldiers who got out of hand. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Seymour Hersh reports that (as any reasonably well informed person knew) this stuff happens all the time; it’s SOP for intelligence officers in and out of the military.

As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Taguba’s report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.

Reports of the US employing torture in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay are nothing new; this time was different because photos actually got out and mainstream US media actually gave it a little coverage.

Saying “we’re the good guy” doesn’t make us the good guy – not even if we repeat it over and over again. The rest of the world knows it, and it’s time for Americans to figure it out too.

No Choice: We Have To Get Out

About a month ago, I wrote in “Gitmo Commander Taking Over Irag Prisons”:

Gitmo is a legal travesty. Prisoners have been badly mistreated (torture is routine), lawyer-client conversations are bugged by authorities (when prisoners are allowed to see lawyers at all), most of the 600 inmates are being held without charge and without opportunity for bail, and not one conviction for any “crime” has been obtained. The only inmate charged with wrong-doing, Jimmy Yee, was recently released for lack of evidence after almost two years’ incarceration, and nobody even apologized. The whole operation is disgraceful, an exercise in extrajudicial revenge that is in direct violation of the Geneva Convention.So what do the Bushies do? Why, promote the man in charge, of course.

I fully expected that Maj Gen Geoffrey Miller in his new assignment as head of the whole Iraq prison system would bring his award-winning techniques with him and turn the prisons of Iraq into the hellish nightmare that Gitmo is. Little did I know he was bringing nothing new to the table, just taking over a going concern.

Today, in what may be the Irony of Ironies, Maj Gen Miller, who has never admitted to much less apologized for the atrocities committed under his command in Cuba, stepped before the cameras to do just that over Abu Ghraib.

“I would like to apologize for our nation and for our military for the small number of soldiers who committed illegal or unauthorized acts here at Abu Ghraib,” Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller told Arab and Western reporters taken on a military tour of the prison.”These are violations not only of our national policy but of how we conduct ourselves as members of the international community,” Miller said.

“It has brought a cloud over all the efforts of all of our soldiers and we will work our hardest to re-establish the trust that Iraqis feel for the coalition and the confidence people in American have in their military.

Uh-huh. The ring of sincerity is palpable, isn’t it? Can’t you feel the love?

I was getting concerned about the potential for atrocities in Iraq and had planned to do a post on it soon. Our troops are way overextended, morale is low, many of them haven’t been trained for the jobs they’ve been assigned to for too long, and–worst–they weren’t prepared for the wearing grind of a long war before they came by their “leaders”, who told them it would be an easy in-out: knock out Saddam, be strewn with roses by grateful Iraqis at the Victory Parade a few days later, and then home to hoopla and hosannas. It’s a classic scenario.

But I thought it would come as My Lai came or the depredations of Tiger Force–in gonzo attacks on Iraqis in the field. I expected Fallujah might very likely be that moment. Marines storming into a beleagured city where you can’t tell the enemy from the friendlies and mowing down everything in sight without fear or favor. It’s still possible, don’t kid yourself. The troops are exhausted, angry, betrayed by their own commanders (anybody remember “fragging”?) and by the President who lied to get them there and then put them in the position of jail-keepers, only the jail they have to watch over is an entire country. It is hard enough to control an army when it believes in its mission; it is almost impossible when it doesn’t.

I’m not making excuses for those involved, only trying to put what’s happened into the context of the reality they are now facing, a reality most of us–lucky us!–will never have to face. If you ask young men and women to die for you in the name of some great humanitarian cause and it turns out to be a crock, it turns out that you’ve asked them to die for some cock-eyed dream of empire or the piling up of your personal wealth or the fortunes of yourself and your family–and in this case, your contributors–you have turned those young men and women into mercenaries, Hessians. You have made them not a force of liberation but a force of occupation, not liberators but oppressors, and don’t think they don’t know it. Their rage, depression, and growing sense that everything they’ve just done was pointless, worthless, a sham, has to go somewhere.

And so we have not seen the end of this, oh no. There is more to come, and worse. Just ask Napoleon, if you don’t believe me. There are costs to Empire, and this is one of them when the Empire turns greedy (which this one didn’t have to “turn into” as it was that way from the beginning) and the greed makes it blind. It is illogical and unrealistic to expect anything else.

The revelations from Abu Ghraib–and it doesn’t matter that the perps were mostly military intelligence types from the School of the Americas, and mercs trained by the jolly guys who used to run South Africa’s anti-apatheid prisons–mean we no longer have a choice: Kerry has to get us out of Iraq. Armageddon is on the horizon. The Arab world hates us now with a virulent passion formerly reserved only for Israel; we have deadly enemies everywhere, even in the ones that pretend to be our friends. The nature of the tortures at Abu Ghraib has convinced them that America has launched a religious war on them. There is no way to alter that perception short of leaving. Iraq must be turned over to the Iraqis without conditions whether Bechtel and Halliburton like it or not.

Yes, chaos will ensue. Yes, the new Iraqi govt may be Islamic, may be dictatorial, may be corrupt and there won’t be much we can do about any of it. But as bad as all that is, it’s better than the alternative: a Holy War that engulfs the entire region in flames and blood, a Holy War that could easily, almost without our noticing it, become WW III in a NY minute. That may be what Junior wants (I think it is; I think he sees himself as God’s Warrior, the man chosen to bring about the Biblical Prophecies of Armageddon that prepare the way for the Second Coming), but it isn’t what you want. It isn’t what they want, either, except for fanatics like bin Laden whose attack on 9/11 produced exactly the response he hoped it would, a response that all but guarantees a wide-spread jihad. Every day we play deeper into his hands, give him more of what he needs to enflame the Arab World. Abu Ghraib is a powerful weapon, and he will use it cheerfully.

We’re sunk. We have to get out. It’s our only hope–maybe the only hope for the whole world.

Gitmo Commander Taking Over Iraq Prisons

Gitmo is a legal travesty. Prisoners have been badly mistreated (torture is routine), lawyer-client conversations are bugged by authorities (when prisoners are allowed to see lawyers at all), most of the 600 inmates are being held without charge and without opportunity for bail, and not one conviction for any “crime” has been obtained. The only inmate charged with wrong-doing, Jimmy Yee, was recently released for lack of evidence after almost two years’ incarceration, and nobody even apologized. The whole operation is disgraceful, an exercise in extrajudicial revenge that is in direct violation of the Geneva Convention.

So what do the Bushies do? Why, promote the man in charge, of course.

MIAMI — The Army general in charge of the prisoner operation at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been reassigned to oversee prisoner detention operations in Iraq, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.For the last 18 months, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller has commanded the joint task force at Guantanamo that holds 600 foreign terrorism suspects, most of them captured during the war in Afghanistan. He will become deputy commander for detainee operations for the U.S.-led forces in Iraq, officials said.

Tom Engelhardt makes a case that this “temporary” prison system is about to become permanent, creating what he calls a “career ladder” in the military.

In Guantanamo, Cuba, and in occupied Iraq, in other words, we now have two black holes of injustice; and once you have two of anything that needs to be managed, you can always imagine one of them as more important than the other and you immediately have a career ladder.******************************

With remarkably little attention from our media, and deep in the shadows, the Bush administration is creating what Neal Katyal, chief counsel to the military defense lawyers in the Guantanamo case pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, calls a “legal Frankenstein.” Or maybe it’s just a Frankenstein.

In other words, the Bush Administration is about to replicate Gitmo in Iraq, presumably with its contempt for justice and legal procedures intact. Way to win their hearts and minds, guys.

One of the outstanding characteristics of all radcons is that they just loooooove enemies. Enemies justify their whole world-view; enemies excuse their greed, their nascent fascistic impulses, and their irritation with democratic principles. Enemies are, in fact, a requirement of radcons: without a passle of enemies, their policies have no reason to exist and their goals are meaningless. So if no enemies happen to be around, they create them.

This is, of course, in the finest Bush Family tradition. No sooner had the wall fallen in ’89 than Poppy was casting around for a new bad-guy. He found what he was looking for in Saddam. Randi pointed out in her show yesterday that before Hussein invaded Kuwait, he called us and, bassically, asked if it was OK? He was told that “the US government takes no position in Arab-to-Arab conflicts.” In other words, “Don’t worry about it, we won’t stop you.”

That wasn’t just a lie, it was a trick to justify announcing a new enemy to replace the one we’d just lost. And so the First Gulf War was born amid fanciful tales of Iraqi soldiers murdering incubator babies and eating them that was cooked up by an ambitious Publican PR flack who, like most Publicans these sad days, wasn’t overly concerned with facts, let alone truth, and the seeds of the Second Gulf War were sown to set up the second Imperial round.

One of the biggest necessities of all imperial govts is a prison system to house all its enemies and keep the satellite states in line. So we’re making one. The fact that prison systems are fertile ground for private companies like Blackwater is just a bonus.

The New Pentagon Papers

A week or so ago I wrote about an interview with outspoken BA critic Karen Kwiatkowski. Today, reader Seattle informs us of a long article Kwiatkowski wrote for Salon and even supplies a link to a reprint in Common Dreams so you don’t have to go through the ad to read it. In the piece, Karen pulls together a lot of the inside history and observations of her time with NESA and the OSP.

From May 2002 until February 2003, I observed firsthand the formation of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans and watched the latter stages of the neoconservative capture of the policy-intelligence nexus in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. This seizure of the reins of U.S. Middle East policy was directly visible to many of us working in the Near East South Asia policy office, and yet there seemed to be little any of us could do about it.I saw a narrow and deeply flawed policy favored by some executive appointees in the Pentagon used to manipulate and pressurize the traditional relationship between policymakers in the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies.

I witnessed neoconservative agenda bearers within OSP usurp measured and carefully considered assessments, and through suppression and distortion of intelligence analysis promulgate what were in fact falsehoods to both Congress and the executive office of the president.

I hate to say it twice in a row, but it’s true: this is another Must-Read, an incredibly important document in the history of the Iraq war. Seattle calls it “The New Pentagon Pepers”, and I’m not sure but what he’s right. Don’t let this get by you.

Hail to the Turkey

American Soldiers Refused Thanksgiving Dinner If They Didn’t First Sign a Statement in Support of BushPhaedrus links to an interview in Intervention Magazine with an American soldier serving in Iraq who has some startling things to say. Here’s a taste:

What did you think about President Bush’s Thanksgiving visit to Iraq?I was there when President Bush came to the [Baghdad] airport. The day before, you had to fill out a questionnaire and answer questions, that would determine whether they would allow you in the room with the President.

What was on the questionnaire?

“Do you support the president?”

Really!

Yes.

Members of the military were asked whether they support the president politically?

Yes. And if the answer was not a gung-ho, A-1, 100 percent yes, then you were not allowed into the cafeteria. You were not allowed to eat the Thanksgiving meal that day. You had an MRE.

What’s an MRE?

Meals ready to eat. We also call them “meals refused by Ethiopians.”

About this questionnaire, it raises a serious question about whether military personnel, or civil servants for that matter, should ever be asked questions by their supervisors about their political beliefs. It also raises the whole question of freedom of speech. In particular, the circumstances under which members of the military have freedom of speech.

There is none.

Is a soldier free, for example, to speak to the media if it is in support of the president and his policies, but not free to do so if in opposition or if raising uncomfortable questions?

If you are spouting good things about the president, you are allowed to speak. If you are saying anything negative, you are not allowed to speak.

There’s a lot more and it’s must-reading. You don’t want to miss this. Scroll down to the post titled “Support The Troops! Or Give ’em Lip Service, Anyway” and read it for Phaedrus’ comments, then go read the whole interview. It’s a mind-boggler.

Privatizing the Military

A Dutch journalist named Peter Speetjens writes in the Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper, that private military forces are a much bigger segment of the world’s armies than ever before, and he estimates that as many as 10% of the US forces in Iraq are civilians.

According to Peter Singer, author of the book Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, there are some 90 companies worldwide offering military services and expertise to an overall security market worth upward of $100 billion. The reasons for this spectacular expansion are, on the one hand, the post-Cold War trimming of national armies (as a consequence of which there are some 7 million fewer soldiers under arms today than in 1989); and on the other, the fact that the world seems far less of a safe place, particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.The post-Cold War gap between supply and demand has been quickly filled by private military companies, most of which are based in the US, England, South Africa, Russia and the Ukraine, where laid-off soldiers are abundant. The firms operate anywhere in the world to secure people and assets. Yet by far their most lucrative market today is Iraq. According to Singer, 10 percent of US soldiers in Iraq are civilians, which is ten times more than during the Gulf war of 1991. This makes the invasion of Iraq, and its aftermath, the most privatized conflict in the last 250 years.

One’s initial reaction is liable to be, “Well, they’re probably just providing support services, running mess halls, washing uniforms, transporting real soldiers from one place to another, that sort of thing.” But one would be wrong.

Apart from offering military support services, thousands of civilians, most of whom have a military past, operate Predator spy planes, maintain B-2 Stealth bombers, de-mine, destroy enemy ammunition and, last but not least, protect individuals and companies active in the reconstruction of Iraq.

In the last job of which they have actually seen combat. Eight of these private soldiers have been killed in military actions since the start of the Occupation. Viceroy Paul Bremer, in fact, is not protected by Army troops or Marines “but by a contingent of Ghurkas and former SAS commandos working for the British firm Global Risk International.”

This trend is growing, and Speetjens thinks the reasons are simple enough: advocates claim it’s cheaper to outsource the kinds of tasks they take on. Whether it is or not is debatable.

Dyncorp, an American company founded by former Los Angeles police officers, won a contract worth $50 million to train the Iraqi police force. The company needs 1,500 former policemen to do the job and offers an average tax-free salary of $150,000 a year. Likewise, the British-American firm Armorgroup recently paid an ex-Special Forces soldier $150,000 a year to protect a senior member of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Compare this to the average salary of a regular American or British soldier.

Mercs used to crawl around on the fringes of military society. Now, under Bush/Cheney/Halliburton, they are moving centerstage. This is a troubling development on many fronts, not the least of which is the growing identification of these corporate armies with corporate rather than public goals.

The links between private military companies that benefit from insecurity, instability and warfare, and a political establishment tightly linked to the corporate world, can be disturbing. Take KBR: In 1992, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney commissioned the firm to research (at a cost of $3.9 million) the privatization of US Army logistics. KBR concluded that privatization would be much cheaper than allowing the armed forces to carry the task out themselves. Subsequently, Cheney granted the firm a contract to implement its own recommendations, mainly in overseas US operations.As KBR followed the US Army around the world, Cheney became chief executive of Halliburton in 1995, remaining in the post until he became the US vice-president in 2000, when he was paid a bonus of $35 million. Cheney was one of the main advocates of war in Iraq and the fact that both KBR and Halliburton have profited hugely from its aftermath raises serious questions about the possible conflicts of interest involved.

As one surveys the close links between private military companies, the corporate world and political establishments, the image that comes to mind is not so much that of an individual gun-for-hire like Denard, but that of the British East India Company and its Dutch equivalent in Indonesia, both of which controlled large armies. Jan Coen, the former governing general of the Dutch colonial empire, put it succinctly: “There’s no trade without war; no war without trade.”

Explains a lot, don’t it?

Step 1: Cheney commissions a firm to “research” military privatization.

Step 2: The firm (surprise! surprise!) concludes that privatization would be cheaper.

Step 3: Cheney hires said subsidiary to carry out its own recommendations and promptly becomes CEO of the parent company, keeping all the money nicely in-house.

Step 4: As Veep, Cheney vigorously supports a war that will keep that subsidiary very busy.

Step 5: Cheney sees to it that that subsidiary is awarded fat contracts in a no-bid process that totally eliminates the possibility that said subsidiary will face competition.

Neat, huh? A closed loop that begins–and ends–with Cheney and his (sort of) ex-company. Given the total lack of legitimate rationale for the Iraq War, isn’t it at least possible that between the oil, the reconstruction contracts, and the “security” business, Bush/Cheney and Co took us into this thing because it was good for their bottom lines? It wouldn’t be the first time. The British East India Company was finally dissolved because of its willing use of force in backing company interests that were in direct conflict with the interests of the British govt. Corporations have their own agendas, and democracy isn’t even on the list. Do we really want them brandishing their own private armies?

(Thanks to Major Barbara for the link)

Ducking Viet Nam, Bush-Style

I don’t know if you’ve been following the ins-and-outs of the debate over Junior’s service–or lack of it–in the National Guard, but most of it is swirling around whether or not Bush lied about showing up and ignored orders to report for duty, why he missed his flight exam (Press Office Director Dan Bartlett says it was because “he had moved temporarily to Alabama and was going to perform his duty in nonflying status” which is pretty much beside the point–an annual flight physical was required for Bush to fulfill his TANG obligations), and why he was given an honorable discharge despite not having completed his service. According to some of the documents in the Friday-night dump, the ANG has a point system that determines what constututes a “satisfactory year” (56 pts) and Bush had only 40 pts for the year in question.

Now, that’s all well and good, even important because it cuts to the heart of the ludicrous image Karl has built up around him that he was “a hero”, a major girder in the construction of the COP. But I think it’s time to put the reasons behind his NG service on the table and call a spade a spade: he joined TANG to avoid having to fight in Nam, and he insisted on being a pilot because it would look good on his resume when he ran for political office later on.

What we have here, in microcosm, is the heart of George W Bush’s real personality, the one they’ve been trying to hide under all the smoke-and-mirrors of the folksy country-boy who always calls his mansion in Texas a “ranch” even though it’s no such thing. This is George W Bush revealed for what he is, a spoiled son of privilege who used his family’s connections to duck out of a war and bragged about how much he could get away with because he was somehow…special.

Those who encountered Bush in Alabama remember him as an affable social drinker who acted younger than his 26 years. Referred to as George Bush, Jr. by newspapers in those days, sources say he also tended to show up late every day, around noon or one, at Blount’s campaign headquarters in Montgomery. They say Bush would prop his cowboy boots on a desk and brag about how much he drank the night before. They also remember Bush’s stories about how the New Haven, Connecticut police always let him go, after he told them his name, when they stopped him “all the time” for driving drunk as a student at Yale in the late 1960s. Bush told this story to others working in the campaign “what seemed like a hundred times,” says Red Blount’s nephew C. Murphy Archibald, now an attorney in Charlotte, N.C., who also worked on the Blount campaign and said he had “vivid memories” of that time.

“He would laugh uproariously as though there was something funny about this. To me, that was pretty memorable, because here he is, a number of years out of college, talking about this to people he doesn’t know,” Archibald said. “He just struck me as a guy who really had an idea of himself as very much a child of privilege, that he wasn’t operating by the same rules.”

This little vignette (which comes by way of Body and Soul) is enormously telling. It describes a rich, connected, arrogant frat-boy who knew he could get away with almost anything because of who his family was and bragged about it to anyone who would listen and some who didn’t care. He wanted people to know just how special he was and how much influence he represented and how unafraid he was to use it. Precisely the sort of guy who wouldn’t have a hard time believing that God had singled him out or that he was meant to rule over lesser men. IOW, the pesident we have come to know over the past three years hasn’t changed all that much; his “conversion” seems to have been little more than an excuse for more arrogance–on top of his wealth, position, and influence, he is also one of the Elect.

I wouldn’t blame him for using whatever tools he had available to him to keep from going to Nam if he had ever shown the slightest understanding or compassion for other, less privileged men who had done the same by leaving their families behind forever and fleeing to Canada, or going to jail to avoid fighting in a war that should never and likely would never have been fought at all were it not for Johnson’s fear of harming “America’s credibility.” But he hasn’t. I wouldn’t condemn what he did if he had been against the war on philosophiocal, political or ethical grounds, but he wasn’t. He got out of serving in Nam for no more glorious reason than to save his own skin and let other, less privileged, men die in a war he supported from the safety of his stateside NG base.

I may need to remind some of you who are not old enough to remember it that in those days, there was a draft–the NG were never rotated to Nam, never required to serve in combat of any kind. As a result, the Guard was often used as a place of refuge for the sons of the rich and influential–what Junior did was far from unusual; it was, in fact, common. It’s ironic (what isn’t in BushAmerica?) that Junior started a war under rules that would have required him to serve in combat if they had been in force 40 years ago.

But make no bones about it: whatever the specifics of whether or not Junior had so little respect for his NG sinecure that he deliberately blew off his duties to it, the only reason he was in the Guard in the first place was to avoid fighting in a war he claims to have supported. Like the other sons of rich and influential men, he protected himself and let the sons of less rich and influential men do his fighting for him. If he’s proud of this, he doesn’t deserve to be president of the PTA, let alone president of the US.

Liberalism and the Military Aren’t Mutual Antagonists

There were a couple of things I wanted to cover today, but then I ran across this brilliant essay in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and it drove everything else out of my mind.

It was written by a woman named Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, and it ought to be required reading. (One of the reasons I like the SPI is that it has a real nose for good writers who aren’t journalists–or even writers, to speak of–but have something important to say, and SPI is willing to let them say it.) As an Army wife (her husband is serving in Iraq), she makes a persuasive case for melding left-wing strengths with military goals:

I do a lot of things other Army wives do. I watch the news obsessively or not at all. I pray a lot more than I used to, and I try to be nonchalant about the danger my husband is in. Sometimes I cry in the middle of the day. When someone else’s soldier dies, I am relieved, then guilty for being relieved and then not guilty or relieved, just sad. The grief is something we carry as a group. And while the “No Iraq War” signs in my neighborhood comfort me, so do the American flags.”Do I contradict myself?” Walt Whitman once wrote. “Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes.”

Whitmans’ quote describes all the interesting people I know; all the great books, the worthwhile movies, the inspiring leaders. It also describes the essential element of our national character. For better or worse, this country is racially, economically, culturally and philosophically diverse. So if we are going to be the Johnny Appleseed of democracy, we need to give our military the benefit of our national diversity.

We need to give Army uniforms to hippies.

OK, maybe not all the hippies. But there’s a big chunk of Leftish America that could contribute to the military and the military could gain by having them.

As a liberal married to the Army, I believe the separation between the political left and the military is maintained at great peril. And that peril comes not just to those two groups, but to the nation and global security as a whole.

Nation building is the primary objective of our foreign policy, and it will be for some time. While most Americans, including the president, fear the “entangling alliances” of nation building, too bad. Nations must be rebuilt because broken nations are dangerous. And the United States has to do it because a) we have the most to lose, and b) we’re the only ones who can.

It’s also inevitable that the military will continue to be the first and largest American presence in any broken country. In order to show the world a kinder American face, the left must seize the opportunity to help create security in places where there has only been tyranny and oppression.

The Pentagon has long tried to avoid such missions, with the plea that “We’re not trained to nation-build.” But there are people trained to do exactly that, and the Pentagon should start finding ways to recruit them and put them to work.

There’s a lot more. It’s beautifully-written, thought-provoking, and passionately eloquent. Read the whole thing. Spend some time thinking about what she says. It will be time better spent than it might be pondering my clumsier and less penetrating chickenfeed.

We could all stand to learn the lesson she teaches here.

Judy Miller Takes a Holiday…and Works

Judith Miller, who earned a reputation as a BushCo shill by trumpeting Ahmad Chalabi’s fantasies on behalf of Perle and Wolfowitz in the months leading up to the Second Gulf War, hasn’t been seen much in the NYT since the blogosphere blew the whistle on her. When she has appeared, it has been as the junior member of a team. The Times apparently felt it necessary to re-train her as an actual journalist. Smart of them. I would have canned her sorry ass.

But now she’s back and writing on her own again, only not in the news section; in Arts: she’s reviewing a book by Sir John Keegan, a British military historian.

Keegan’s book, which seems to rely heavily on the 19th century (Britain’s Golden Days of Empire), advances the idea that intelligence isn’t really all that important in warfare, at least not compared to overwhelming military force:

“War is ultimately about doing, not thinking,” writes Sir John, the author of 16 other books about war and military tactics, including the instant classic, “The Face of Battle.” In his latest offering, “Intelligence in War” (Alfred A. Knopf), he insists again and again, “Only force finally counts.””Decision in war is always the result of a fight, and in combat willpower always counts for more than foreknowledge,” he argues. “Let those who disagree show otherwise.”

A thesis like that would seem tailor-made for a Bushie to use as justification for the pre-emptive war in Iraq, but surprisingly Miller doesn’t take the bait this time. She actually does her homework (something she consistently failed to do when reporting the neocon/Chalabi version of history previously) and talks to more up-to-date experts for a bit of balance:

Bruce Hoffman, director of RAND’s Washington office and a terrorism analyst, said that although Sir John analyzed the role of intelligence in countering Al Qaeda, most of his examples were drawn from 18th- to 20th-century wars rather than 21st-century conflicts. “Keegan is largely right on the role of intelligence in conventional wars,” Mr. Hoffman said, “but he is not right about counterinsurgencies in any century, when intelligence is the sine qua non of success.” Modern wars, he argued, are not fought only with military tools. “So intelligence has a very different role today. You can no longer fight, much less win them just with military strength.”Mr. Hoffman maintained, for instance, that poor intelligence on the radical jihadists and pro-Saddam Hussein loyalists who are killing both Iraqis and American soldiers today “is one of our major problems in Iraq.”

Roger Cressey, the former chief of staff to President Bush’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and a former director for transnational threats at the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton, agrees, noting that America is being forced to fight modern wars under far greater constraints than ever before. “Intelligence isn’t particularly important if you have a scorched-earth policy or are spending a lot of time in the Soviet archives,” Mr. Cressey said. “But if you are trying to win hearts and minds by killing as few civilians as possible, good intelligence on, say, where insurgents, as opposed to noncombatants, are located, is hugely important.”

Good point.

Sir John is concerned about the Western reliance on high-tech intel-gathering, and while his suggestion that it can be dispensed with entirely may be a bit loopy, he isn’t wrong about its weaknesses:

In the war against terrorism, good intelligence may be extremely hard to obtain, particularly against Al Qaeda. A “coalition of like-minded but separate groups” despite its name, which in Arabic means “the base,” Al Qaeda is a diffuse target, and one that has thus far been fairly resistant to America’s high-tech, electronic surveillance prowess, he says. The United States, he warns, will have to rely on old-fashioned spies rather than gadgets. But in this regard the America he so obviously admires is decidedly weak.On this point Edward N. Luttwak, a maverick defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, shares Sir John’s concern. For all its electronic surveillance wizardry, the “humint” or human intelligence needed to combat Al Qaeda’s terrorism is not America’s strength, Mr. Luttwak argues. “Overhead technical means of collection do you no good,” he said. “And Al Qaeda members have learned how to evade intercepts. Humint over the past years has yielded virtually nothing. It doesn’t suit Americans.”

“To be a case officer you have to be a poet,” he continued. “You need to romance and seduce. You need to be able to learn Urdu in six months.” Woefully short of language skills, many American intelligence officials, “can’t even ask for a cup of coffee.”

Some of us have been saying for years that the official preference for gadgets and the corresponding starvation of programs aimed at training intel agents for running on-the-ground networks was a huge mistake. Noticing the flaws of high-tech intel-gathering isn’t new outside the higher levels of the IC, but inside those levels raising these questions has just begun for almost the first time since the days of the U-2 spy planes. Satellites and wireless interceptions are fine as aides, but they’re of little use in penetrating the minds of enemies who don’t have armies to shift around and who may be smart enough to either encrypt their communications or use low-tech means that aren’t subject to electronic eaves-dropping.

Most of this one-note-Johnny dependence on electronics is the result of an even more basic mistake: the concentration of resources on the Soviet Union and Cuba to the exclusion of all other considerations during the Cold War. That concentration gutted our intel capabilities in every other area of the globe for so long that networks in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America simply faded away for lack of attention. Efforts in those regions tended to circle around the identification of “Communist” insurgencies (which were often not Communist at all but populist uprisings as in Chile and Nicaragua) and the propagation of pro-American or pro-govt propaganda (which rarely had any effect at all on the populations at which they were aimed, good, bad or indifferent).

We relied on the Israelis for our Middle East intel, on our connections with Latin American dictatorships for intel in that area, and on military juntas in Asia. Our concentration on the Soviets didn’t allow either the time or the money to develop our own intel resources, which left us at the mercy of the private agendas of “allies” whose interests were not always synonymous with our own. They fed us what they wanted us to know, and we based our policy decisions on that totally skewed information.

It isn’t all that much better now, but if we’re beginning to re-examine our assumptions about the efficacy of electronics, this can only be good.

And for a change, Ms Miller may actually have helped that discussion. Will wonders never cease?

Troop Redeployment in South Korea

Phil Carter at INTELDUMP quotes an interesting article by Chris Cooper in the WSJ on the South Korean troop redeployment (Carter has a link but you need to be a subscriber, which I ain’t). Cooper argues that while the Pentagon claims that it’s merely “restructuring” its forces in order to reduce their size (from 37K to 27K), the North Koreans will almost certainly not take it as a peaceful, nonthreatening move (gee, I wonder why not?):

…such a move would appear likely to lessen tensions. Instead, North Korea brands the plan an “arms buildup” and a prelude to an invasion. Already courting a crisis by threatening to detonate a nuclear bomb, North Korea promises to protect itself.******

The confusion over U.S. intentions lies in the nature of the troops it plans to pull back. Since the Korean War ended, American and South Korean troops have arrayed themselves along the border region between the North and South to serve as a “tripwire” — an early warning of a North Korean invasion. The 19 camps between Seoul and the border house about 15,000 U.S. tripwire troops.

Because many of these troops likely would die in a surprise attack by North Korea, their presence serves to assure both sides that the U.S. would be fully committed if war broke out.
* * *
Pyongyang sees the plan as a strategic move to get American troops out of the North’s artillery range, making it easier for the U.S. to launch a pre-emptive attack and disrupting the current military balance.

Not that our relations with NKorea have ever been all that close, still, this has to be seen as the first fruits of the Bush Doctrine as applied to Iraq: nobody trusts our word any more. They watched Junior lying to Hussein with a promise that if he let the inspectors into Iraq the US would be satisfied and stand down from war; and they continued to watch as Hussein let the inspectors in, as requested, only to have the US invade anyway. NKorea doubtless knows it’s on Wolfie’s “Invade” List, and Bush named NKorea as one of the “axis of evil” states, along with Iraq. As paranoid as we know the NKorean leadership is, it seems clear that the Bush Administration’s subsequent refusal (for more than 2 years) to agree to substantive talks on the nuclear question is likely the proximate cause for NK’s jump-starting their nuke program again: they want the US to know that we won’t be able to roll over them as easily as we rolled over Iraq, that there will be penalties assessed. Nuclear penalties.

This is the sort of potentially dire consequence some of us were warning of when Bush was playing his Iraq game with a stacked deck. He virtually put states like NK on notice that they were in the crosshairs and had nothing to lose by going rogue. We can talk to Japan and SKorea and even China all we want; it won’t cut much ice with NK. George insisting he doesn’t want to invade likewise won’t cut it: the fact that he not only lied to Hussein about the inspectors, he lied to his own people to get support for the Second Gulf War and is even now still defending those rationalizations months after they were proved to be false, only convinces the NKoreans that nothing he says to them can be trusted either.

Carter doesn’t seem to get this:

Analysis: A lot has been made of the President’s statement that the U.S. has “no intention of invading North Korea”. (Query: was the word ‘invading’ chosen over ‘attacking’ to preserve the option of a pre-emptive airstrike?) Presumably, this statement was offered as a carrot to induce North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons program. I think this pledge moves the ball forward in negotiations with North Korea, and hopefully, that it will de-escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula. The sooner we can re-engage the North Koreans with diplomacy, economic contacts, and trade, the better.

He’s still talking as if this were the world pre-Second Gulf War and assuming that Bush’s credibility is intact. It isn’t. A President who lied, misled, and manipulated his own people in order to launch the first pre-emptive war in the nation’s history has forfeited any claim to have his promises taken seriously. If we are in denial about this, the rest of the world is not. (Turkey wanted the money Bush promised them upfront before they would agree to back the invasion.) Maybe Junior genuinely meant his statement to move things forward, but having blown his credibility all over Baghdad, his assurances are predictably having the opposite effect.

Bush is playing with dynamite here, and once again he doesn’t seem to have a clue what he’s up against. Cooper’s right: NK isn’t going see any change as massive as this one is as innocent of ulterior motives, and unlike the past, this time they have lots of recent justification for their paranoia: the Bush Admin has made it clear several times that they’re out to get NK. Sotto voce, they still are.

Indeed, some hawks in the Bush administration privately see the move as expanding its military options by separating the U.S. and South Korean forces and unwinding the joint structure of the current configuration. “If we were to discuss the need to perform pre-emptive strikes on North Korea, under the current configuration, we’d need South Korean approval,” said one such administration hawk. “Under the new configuration, we wouldn’t need that approval so much.”

So NK may not be so far off the mark in their suspicions after all.

Carter’s preliminary analysis of the situation comes down on the side of supporting the Pentagon’s decision to redeploy those troops, but it’s a cautious support:

I agree with the Pentagon plan. I think we need to move our soldiers off the DMZ both to make them more efficient and to make them more survivable in the event of a North Korean attack. But also [I] think this is an extraordinarily complex situation. Our moves in Korea will have repercussions for the South Korean political and economic situation that need to be mitigated. The secondary and tertiary consequences of our moves in Korea could affect the rest of East Asia — China, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, and others. Our forward-deployed 2nd Infantry Division is not just a “tripwire” to give early warning; it’s what has maintained an uneasy peace for more than 50 years. We should be very careful about giving up this posture.

I agree with the last part. Emphatically. And add that we’re not just playing with de-stabilization here, we’re playing with a potential nuclear war. I believe that–this time–NKorea genuinely fears an invasion. This time, they’re not bluffing. If the Neocon Wonder Boys mistake the NKorean buildup for some kind of gamesmanship and try to force a “regime change” in Pyongyang, millions could die.