Sunday, October 11, 2015

October 11 2015. Well, if we ignore all this, perhaps it will go away—or become another president’s problem.


This idiocy has been going on since the Korean War (which ended—kind-of—in  1953)

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." -Albert Einstein



Worse, the cancer is metastasizing—clearly, visibly, and at speed.

Actions have consequences—and the U.S. carries a great deal of blame for the current mess in what I was brought up to regard as ‘The Middle East.’ 

The U.S. military have their own quaint geographical name for this area—South West Asia. The latter term makes my skin crawl for some weird reason. I guess I must have some traditionalist blood in me.

What can I say! When I was at boarding school in England (a long time ago, when the moon was blood, and figs grew without thorns), the maps were still half-pink to denote part of the British Empire, and our education was largely geared around producing public servants—military or civilian—to keep the empire safe.

“You are being trained to be leaders of men,” we were told during one memorable lecture. It was particularly memorable because the speech was preceded by a burst of machine-gun fire from a Bren gun to get our attention.

In the confined space of the theater, where we were, it certainly did that! The noise was shattering!

A Bren gun, as of course, you know, is a light machine-gun much favored by the British for many years. The magazine, as you can see, is inserted from the top. It looks weird, but works well. Gravity ensures that the ammunition feed rarely gives trouble. Damnably ingenious!


We did military training twice a week. The cheerful context was a backdrop of rebellions against the British empire breaking out all over the place. There were communist terrorists in Malaya, the Mau Mau in Kenya, and EOKA in Cyprus. These were all bad people who did such and such, and so and so.

But, one person’s terrorist, was another person’s freedom fighter. Still is.

The Egyptians grabbed the Suez canal. After all, they said, it is in Egypt. The veracity of that statement was undeniable, but the remark was not well received.

An invasion by the British and French reversed the situation in short order—and the Israelis got in on the game too—but then the Americans made the British and French withdraw. The Israelis retreated also, but prepared for a re-match.

If anyone was to have an empire in the future, he would be an American—and the word ‘'empire” would not be used. U.S. troops would defend freedom and safeguard American interests. They would bombard, destroy, maim, and kill on an industrial scale—and they would occupy—but they would not colonize. They weren’t after crude personal gain—or corporate gain, for that matter.

They were protecting democracy—even if they had to destroy it in order to save it. 

Same difference, nonetheless. 

All in all, it seemed highly likely that after graduation, we’d be shot at—or shooting people (our preferred option). Thus motivated, it seemed a good idea to pay attention to our instructors. Who knew what gem of wisdom might save our lives.

My favorite came from Sergeant-Major Hennessy—Brigade of Guards, needless to say—who told us, with a straight face, that the first thing his unit did after storming the beaches on D-Day wasn’t to kill Germans. It was to polish their boots—and generally smarten up.

Apparently, you kill better if your trousers have a crease. Who knew!

It was not to be as far as we were concerned. The winds of change were blowing with a vengeance. National Service (conscription) was done away with.

I never did get to run India. Damn shame!

Public schools in the UK are private and expensive. The ‘public’ stands for public service.

You can debate whether setting up Israel was a good idea or not. If natural justice had been involved, Israel would have been established in part of Germany—probably with a slice of Austria thrown in—but the case for Israel, itself, was a relatively strong one—the Holocaust survivors wanted it, and nowhere else, so it’s location was more or less inevitable. After all, Jerusalem wasn’t in Germany.

It was the least we could do—many thought—and guilt undoubtedly played a role. The Holocaust was not inevitable. All too many countries turned a blind eye—or two. 

Nonetheless, it was bound to have a de-stabilizing impact—and has certainly done just that.

That said, the Jews have done an impressive job with Israel—whatever you feel about their treatment of the Palestinians.

I have long been a supporter of Israel for both emotional and pragmatic reasons. I was brought up seeing all too many newsreels which covered the aftermath of the Holocaust—and the oft-repeated images, together with the corresponding explanations, left an indelible impression on me. In addition, I just admire what they have done.

They have literally taken the desert and made it bloom—taken the sea and made it potable—and then have made the country flourish both intellectually and creatively.

Israel is now one of the most innovative countries in the world. And it is also one of the strongest and most effective military powers. The Israeli’s have had to fight so often, it is in their DNA. You can debate some of their policies, but they fight intelligently, effectively, and with great courage.

The Jews of Israel have made Israel work remarkably well, in defiance of the odds—and if the Arab nations had done as well, the region could well be stable despite Israel’s existence. Prosperous democracies—subject to the odd exception—prefer not to go to war. They have too much to lose.

The issue of Israel apart, it is a simple historical fact that the U.S. has meddled in the region virtually continuously since WW II—largely because of oil, Israel, and anti-communism—and, apart from overthrowing the occasional legally elected democracy (Iran comes to mind inevitably) has frequently allied itself with some decidedly dubious rulers. In fact, backing absolute rulers (the kind of dictators that some would call thugs) has been the norm. And the practice continues.

For instance, right now the U.S. is backing a de-facto military dictatorship in Egypt—and Saudi Arabia is about as un-democratic as can be imagined. And one could run through most of the Middle East and find a similar situation—though Tunisia, to its great credit, stands out. In short, U.S. Middle Eastern policy is continuing pretty much as usual—or if the policy has changed, the pattern of behavior hasn’t.

Administrations come and go. The various institutions of the U.S. (the State Department, the Department of Defense, the CIA, the Cat’s Cradle of other intelligence agencies—have the inertia of a supertanker—and turning the wheel at the beginning of an administration doesn’t necessary result in a great deal of change of direction at the end of two presidential terms—whatever the sound and fury made by the various secretaries.

Large institutions have their own ways of doing things—and positively excel at resisting change.

It is not so much that they have their own agendas—though some do—as that they they tend to evolve to a state whereby their primary mission is seen as the survival of the institution being the dominant goal—as opposed to any other purpose. They exist to exist. Very Zen.

President George W. Bush did succeed in waking up the bureaucracies a little (not that they changed their ways much) but invading Iraq—for no good cause—and then compounding the mess by dismissing the entire Iraqi Army—will almost certainly go down as two of the most boneheaded decisions in U.S. history (and maybe in history as a whole).

They are on a par with Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union. Napoleon, at least, had some excuse (though I am damned if I can remember what it was).

Hitler was just being petulant.  If he was blocked in one place, he tended to try and compensate by invading somewhere else. If you add them up, he invaded a truly astonishing number of countries. It didn’t work out too well.

Unless you are prepared to be as ruthless as the Romans—difficult in this media-centric world of ours, though not if you are ISIS (in which case it adds to your appeal)—invasions rarely work out too well these days. People just don’t like being invaded or occupied. They never have.

Not enough people seem to know that. It’s one of these hidden truths!

 The U.S. seems obsessed with occupying other nations—while denying doing anything of the sort—to the point where it now has a military presence in most countries of the world (albeit some—both forces and countries—are  very small).

It has, reportedly, over 800 foreign military bases—most large enough to be costly, but not substantial enough to be militarily effective—and a truly unsurpassed talent for dissipating its military resources. In fact, the Secretary of the Army once told me that 10 percent of the U.A. Army was rendered ineffective through being in transit at any one time.

This is crazy. Does no one in the U.S, military understand the principle of concentration of effort?

It would appear not.

It is hard not to come to the conclusion that the Military Industrial Congressional Complex (MICC) seems more concerned to construct a profitable and pleasant way of life for those involved (with plenty of foreign travel—and access to excellent golf course) than anything else. They have made a spectacular success of it—as a way of life.

It seems to be a military way of life without effective military purpose because the U.S. rarely wins its wars these days—or even ends them. They just drag on, and on, and on—with only the identities of the deployed changing—to the point where no one quite knows the purpose of the mission, and absolutely no one can be made accountable.

Apart from keeping the money flowing—the one area where the MICC are impressively successful—the main (entirely predictable) effect of this staggeringly wasteful mélange of overseas occupations is to provoke resentment and hostility. These result in a sufficient quantity of aggressive reactions to justify continuing occupations (while actually inflicting minimal casualties).

Occupations provoke the terrorism that justify occupations. Jesus wept!

The U.S. military (the Pentagon, if you will) excels at breaking things and killing people—and some of its units are spectacularly good tactically—but it has got into some very bad habits. Let me summarize them (even if it means repeating myself a little).

The Pentagon:

  • Has forgotten its original purpose. It exists to exist—and, through the MICC, as a financially rewarding way of life.
  • Seems incapable of ending wars, let alone of winning them.
  • Lacks intellectual honesty, is decidedly short on integrity, and is prepared to say anything to defend its position (and does).
  • Has raised lack of accountability to a high art. Because postings are short, and there are so many command levels, it is extremely hard to know who is really accountable for what.
  • Invariably chooses the most expensive way to do anything.
  • Has made careerism integral to its culture.
  • Has politicized weapons procurement to the point where it can now take over two decades to field a new weapons system.
  • Is surprisingly reluctant to experiment where the results might threaten a vested interest.
  • Ignores, or over-rides, evidence concerning weapons effectiveness to the point where Operational Testing and Evaluation has been largely neutralized.
  • Seem to actively encourage conflicts of interest.
  • Almost invariably uses too many people to do anything.
  • Has absolutely no interest in telling truth to power—even if knows what the truth is.
  • Is obsessed with foreign bases, occupying, and generally dissipating its resources.
  • Has an excessive civilian overhead.
  • Is consistently predictable.
  • Despite its foreign bases, is disturbingly slow and expensive when it comes to deploying troops.
  • Fails to understand the principle of cost effectiveness.
  • Wastes significant resources on inter-service rivalry.
  • Subject to some notable exceptions (Korea, Japan, for instance), has an appalling track record when it comes to training foreign troops—particularly when the fight has to be continued by those troops. Examples here include the South Vietnamese Army, and, more recently, both the Iraqi and Afghanistan military.
  • Has no talent for, or interest in, the art of expeditionary warfare—where lessons were inflicted, but expensive occupations resisted. The British largely ran their empire that way—on a shoestring by American standards.
  • Seem to have no knowledge of, nor interest in, the many lessons of history.
  • Is positively abysmal at nation-building.
  • Is incapable of being audited—and likes it that way.
  • Is largely unaccountable. Theoretically, it is supervised by Congress—but since members of Congress are paid off through jobs in their districts, and the donations of weapons contractors—so have been largely coopted into the MICC to the point of being complicit—there is no supervision except by the Commander-in-chief, the President.

Here, the weird and somewhat unsettling thing is that the President rarely takes on the Pentagon in the fundamental way that is needed. Theoretically, he has the power, but is constrained by a number of factors.

  • The public conflates the fighting troops with the MICC. As a consequence, despite the most egregious extravagances, the military are the most trusted people institutionally—so the President puts himself in some political jeopardy by challenging them.
  • The President needs the Pentagon to do his bidding so doesn’t want to demotivate those concerned by rocking the boat.
  • The President has limited time and many competing priorities.
  • A lack of a real understanding of the Pentagon.

I raise the issue of lack of understanding of the Pentagon somewhat tentatively. It seems to me that the issues are self-evident and the track record speaks for itself.

On the other hand, I have been studying the military for over 60 years, have had military training myself (limited but enough to make me familiar with the mindset), have spent considerable time with military units of many nationalities, have numerous military connections, and have actually worked for the Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army—so perhaps I see things that others do not.

Here, I simply don’t know the answer. I just look at what is going on—at the appalling waste and ineffectiveness of so much of it—and have to wonder why so little is done. And the fundamental flaws have existed for decades and seem set to continue indefinitely.

This is a truly frightening thought because the U.S. is being bled dry by this humungous overhead—and there are all too many other adverse consequences.

Where President Obama is concerned, he doesn’t seem to operate with the necessary depth of understanding that is required. He seems to be more a competent technician than a thinker. His motives seem to be honorable—albeit excessively political (scarcely a surprise) but he doesn’t seem to have a feel for the situation.

  • He has no effort at all to deal with the fundamental, and extremely serious, issues that undermine the potential effectiveness of the Pentagon.
  • He doesn’t seem to realize—or chooses not to concern himself with the fact—that only the President, as Commander-In-chief—has the necessary authority to deal with the ills of the military.
  • He seems to have no clear strategy in relation to Iraq—or the importance of regaining the psychological high ground from ISIS.
  • He has dithered over Syria while Putin has acted.
  • He doesn’t seem to have grasped that the moment he expressed his intention of withdrawing U.S. troops completely from Afghanistan, he virtually guaranteed the continuation of the Taliban. They were not slow to grasp the obvious fact that all they had to do was wait matters out.
  • He seems overly content with more of the same—without adequately assessing effectiveness, or the consequences.
  • He seems to fail to understand that one of the most important principles of any fight is never to be predictable.

Militarily, as matters stand, the U.S. is disturbingly predictable—as are the adverse consequences.

 U.S. behavior is currently ISIS’s greatest resource. They, ISIS, are the under-dogs fighting this cruel and clumsy giant—and they merely have to survive in some form or other to appear to be winning. And they have religion on their side.

They have become a cause and a religion in themselves—and they excel at propaganda.

Ironically, they are almost certainly at their weakest militarily. That is their bubble.

Bombing them, alone, is not the way to prick it.

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