Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Addendum to Clausewitz

by Fred Reed

It's all but official: The war in Iraq is lost. Report after leaked report says so. Everybody in Washington knows it except that draft-dodging ferret in the White House. Politicians scurry to avoid the blame. One day soon people will ask aloud: How did we let 3000 GIs die for the weak ego of a pampered liar and his desperate need to prove he's half the man his father was?

The troops from now on will die for a war that they already know is over. They are dying for politicians. They are dying for nothing. By now they must know it. It happened to us, too, long ago.

The talk among pols now is about finding an "exit strategy." This means a way of pulling out without risking too many seats in Congress. Screw the troops. We must look to the elections. Do we really want an exit strategy? A friend of mine, with two tours in heavy combat in another war, has devised a splendid exit strategy. It consists of five words: "OK. On the plane. Now." Bring your toothbrush. Everything else stays. We're outa here.

It is a workable exit strategy, one with teeth, and comprehensible to all. But we won't use it. We will continue killing our men, calculatedly, cynically, for the benefit of politicians. The important thing, you see, is the place in history of Bush Puppy. Screw the troops.

Face it. The soldiers are being used. They are being suckered. This isn't new. It happened to my generation. Long after we knew that the war in Vietnam was lost, Lyndon Johnson kept it going to fertilize his vanity, and then Nixon spoke of the need to "save face"—at two hundred dead GIs a week. But of course Johnson and Nixon weren't among the dead, or among the GIs.

I saw an interview on television long ago in which the reporter asked an infantryman near Danang, I think, what he thought of Nixon's plan to save face. "His face, our ass," was the reply. Just so, then, and just so now. Screw the troops. What the hell, they breed fast in Kansas anyway.

Soldiers are succinct and do not mince words. This makes them dangerous. We must keep them off-camera to the extent possible. A GI telling the truth could set recruiting back by years.

The truth is that the government doesn't care about its soldiers, and never has. If you think I am being unduly harsh, read the Washington Post. You will find story after story saying that the Democrats don't want to do anything drastic about the war. They fear seeming "soft on national security." In other words, they care more about their electoral prospects in 2008 than they do about the lives of GIs. It's no secret. For them it is a matter of tuning the spin, of covering tracks, of calculating the vector sum of the ardent-patriot vote which may be cooling, deciding which way the liberal wind blows, and staying poised to seem to have supported whoever wins. Screw the troops. Their fathers probably work in factories anyway.

Soldiers do not realize, until too late, the contempt in which they are held by their betters. Here is the psychological foundation of the hobbyist wars of bus-station presidents. If you are, say, a Lance Corporal in some miserable region of Iraq, I have a question for you: Would your commanding general let you date his daughter? I spent my high-school years on a naval base, Dahlgren Naval Proving Ground as it was then called. Dahlgren was heavy with officers, scientists, and engineers. Their daughters, my classmates, were not allowed to associate with sailors. Oh yes, we honor our fighting men. We hold them in endless respect. Yes we do.

For that matter, Lance Corporal, ask how many members of Congress have even served, much less been in combat. Ask how many have children in the armed services. Look around you. Do you see many (any) guys from Harvard? Yale? MIT? Cornell? Exactly. The smart, the well-off, the powerful are not about to risk their irreplaceable sit-parts in combat. Nor are they going to mix with mere high-school graduates, with kids from small towns in Tennessee, with blue-collar riffraff who bowl and drink Bud at places with names like Lenny's Rib Room. One simply doesn't. One has standards.

You are being suckered, gang, just as we were.

It is a science. The government hires slick PR firms and ad agencies in New York. These study what things make a young stud want to be A Soldier: a desire to prove himself, to get laid in foreign places, a craving for adventure, a desire to feel part of something big and powerful and respected, what have you. They know exactly what they are doing. They craft phrases, "Be a Man Among Men," or "A Few Good Men," or, since girls don't like those two, "The Few, The Proud." Join up and be Superman.

Then comes the calculated psychological conditioning. There is for example the sense of power and unity that comes of running to cadence with a platoon of other guys, thump, thump, thump, all shouting to the heady rhythm of boots, "If I die on the Russian front, bury me with a Russian c__t, Lef-rye-lef-rye-lef-rye-lef..." That was Parris Island, August of '66, and doubtless they say something else now, but the principle is the same.

And so you come out in splendid physical shape and feeling no end manly and they tell you how noble it is to Fight for Your Country. This might be true if anyone were invading the country. But since Washington always invades somebody else, you are actually fighting for Big Oil, or Israel, or the defense industry, or the sexual ambiguities who staff National Review, or the vanity of that moral dwarf on Pennsylvania Avenue. You will figure this out years later.

Once you are in the war, you can't get out. We couldn't either. While your commander in chief eats steak in the White House and talks tough, just like a real president, you kill people you have no reason to kill, about whom you know next to nothing—which one day may weigh on your conscience. It does with a lot of guys, but that comes later.

You are being suckered, and so are the social classes that supply the military. Note that the Pentagon cracks down hard on troops who say the wrong things online, that the White House won't allow coffins to be photographed, that the networks never give soldiers a chance to talk unedited about what is happening. Oh no. It is crucial to keep morale up among the rubes. You are the rubes. So, once, were we.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Smoke and Mirrors

A group of military experts consisting of three retired generals and two academics advised Bush not to withdrawal troops from Iraq, yesterday. Wow, what a surprise!
Expecting anybody military to suggest a decrease in troop strength in Iraq is like expecting a race car driver to suggest the best thing for racing is to go slower, it aint gonna happen.

So Bush continues pulling the wool over the eyes of Americans by seeking “advice” from “experts.” These sessions are little more than staged events the outcome of which are determined in advance for the benefit of the emperor. Bush will go before the public and claim that he has listened to the advice of the military and low and behold, withdrawing from Iraq would not be pertinent, the military says so!

In scripted testimony the five agreed, “…the Army and Marine Corps both need to be bigger, and also need bigger budgets.”

White House officials emphasized that although the experts gave a bleak assessment, they still believe the situation in Iraq is "winnable."
"I appreciate the advice I got from those folks in the field," Bush said after emerging from the morning session. "And that advice is . . . an important component of putting together a new way forward in Iraq."
The carefully choreographed meetings are coming on the heels of the release last week of the Iraq Study Group's report, which pronounced the situation in Iraq "grave" and recommended fundamental shifts in how the Bush administration handles the war. To stem the deteriorating situation in Iraq, the report said, the administration should shift the focus of its military mission from direct combat to training Iraqi troops, while pressing harder for a diplomatic solution by engaging Iran and Syria -- something Bush has pointedly refused to do. - Washington Post

What are we to make of these meetings? Simple, when the Iraq Study Group issues it’s report condemning the administration for it’s handling of the war, the White House cobbles together their own panels whose suggestions come out in opposition to what the Baker commission recommends so that it appears that the President is open to differing opinions. In reality it is just political cover for “stay the course.” The faces may have changed but the policy stays the same.


U.S. government debt now tops $9 trillion, before taking into account its unfunded obligations for Social Security and Medicare -- debts that the retiring boomers will soon have their hands out to collect.

After adding in Social Security, Medicare and all the government's other pay-later obligations, the current debt actually comes in at over $60 trillion-an amount so large, not one person in a million has a real sense of it. So let's try to put that number into perspective.

A trillion is 1000 X 1000 X 1000 X 1000, or a million millions. In his first address to Congress, President Reagan, himself a big spender, accurately pointed out that a stack of $1,000 bills four inches high makes you a millionaire, and that a trillion dollars would be a stack 67 miles high!

The U.S. government owes 60 of those sky-piercing stacks of $1,000 bills.

It's a lot of money. And it's not just any kind of money. Amazingly, this unbacked currency of a bankrupt government is still the reserve currency of virtually every nation in the world today. But not, we think, for much longer.

To service its debt and keep the game going, the U.S. government must sell on the order of $2.5 billion per day in new Treasury bills, much of it to foreigners already sitting on something like $6 trillion of U.S. paper.

Absent the foreign buyers of U.S. Treasury securities, the whole scam begins to unravel. And once it begins to unravel in earnest, with wealthy foreigners and then governments rushing to switch out of dollars, the speed and steepness of the monetary collapse will be breathtaking.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Daily Reckoning excerpt

And along the same lines, a dinner companion said on Saturday night,
"What is really driving the U.S. economy is the war in Iraq and the war
against terror."

"They're spending $75 billion per quarter...that's $300 billion a year.
And it's in addition to the regular budget. People think that money goes
to building roads and schools in Iraq. But most of it - all but 15% or so
- is spent in the United States. It goes to contractors for computer
programs, weapons, and supplies. That has a huge impact on the economy.
And that's why there is so little opposition to the war. People know that
when the war stops, the economy goes into recession."

Our friend is a contractor for the Pentagon:

"It is unbelievable how much money is being spent. They are spending
billions right on the Pentagon building itself. And now there's a lot of
argument about where the money is being spent. People in New York are
complaining about spending money in Montana. And they've got a point, of
course. Montana is not exactly the front lines in the war against terror.
But from a defensive point of view, almost all the money is wasted anyway,
so it probably doesn't make much difference. "

What a strange and wonderful war. Rather than tightening our belts, the
war is taken as a pretext to spend more money.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Fine Print in Defense Bill Opens Door to Martial Law

Fine Print in Defense Bill Opens Door to Martial Law
By Jeff Stein, CQ National Security Editor

It’s amazing what you can find if you turn over a few rocks in the anti-terrorism legislation Congress approved during the election season.

Take, for example, the John W. Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2006, named for the longtime Armed Services Committee chairman from Virginia.

Signed by President Bush on Oct. 17, the law (PL 109-364) has a provocative provision called “Use of the Armed Forces in Major Public Emergencies.”

The thrust of it seems to be about giving the federal government a far stronger hand in coordinating responses to Katrina-like disasters.

But on closer inspection, its language also alters the two-centuries-old Insurrection Act, which Congress passed in 1807 to limit the president’s power to deploy troops within the United States.

That law has long allowed the president to mobilize troops only “to suppress, in a State, any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.”

But the amended law takes the cuffs off.

Specifically, the new language adds “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident” to the list of conditions permitting the President to take over local authority — particularly “if domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the State or possession are incapable of maintaining public order.”

Since the administration broadened what constitutes “conspiracy” in its definition of enemy combatants — anyone who “has purposely and materially supported hostilities against the United States,” in the language of the Military Commissions Act (PL 109-366) — critics say it’s a formula for executive branch mischief.

Yet despite such a radical turn, the new law garnered little dissent, or even attention, on the Hill.

One of the few to complain, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., warned that the measure virtually invites the White House to declare federal martial law.

It “subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military’s involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law,” he said in remarks submitted to the Congressional Record on Sept. 29.

“The changes to the Insurrection Act will allow the President to use the military, including the National Guard, to carry out law enforcement activities without the consent of a governor,” he said.

Moreover, he said, it breaks a long, fundamental tradition of federal restraint.

“Using the military for law enforcement goes against one of the founding tenets of our democracy.”

And he criticized the way it was rammed through Congress.

It “was just slipped in the defense bill as a rider with little study,” he fumed. “Other congressional committees with jurisdiction over these matters had no chance to comment, let alone hold hearings on, these proposals.”

No matter: Safely tucked into the $526 billion defense bill, it easily crossed the goal line on the last day of September.

The language doesn’t just brush aside a liberal Democrat slated to take over the Judiciary Committee come January. It also runs over the backs of the governors, 22 of whom are Republicans.

The governors had waved red flags about the measure on Aug. 1, sending letters of protest from their Washington office to the Republican chairs and ranking Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services committees.

No response. So they petitioned the party heads on the Hill — Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Harry Reid, D-Nev., Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and his Democratic opposite, Nancy Pelosi of California.

“This provision was drafted without consultation or input from governors,” said the Aug. 6 letter signed by every member of the National Governors Association, “and represents an unprecedented shift in authority from governors . . .to the federal government.”

“We urge you,” they said, “to drop provisions that would usurp governors’ authority over the National Guard during emergencies from the conference agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act.”

Again, no response from the leadership, said David Quam, the National Governors Association’s director of federal relations.

On Aug. 31, the governors sent another letter to the congressional party leaders, as well as to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who had met quietly with an NGA delegation back in February.

The bill “could encroach on our constitutional authority to protect the citizens of our states,” they protested, complaining again about how the provision had been dumped on a midnight express.

“Any issue that affects the mission of the Guard in the states must be addressed in consultation and coordination with governors,” they demanded.

“The role of the Guard in the states and to the nation as a whole is too important to have major policy decisions made without full debate and input from governors throughout the policy process.”

More silence.

“We did not know until the bill was printed where we stood,” Quam said.

That’s partly the governors’ own fault, said a Republican Senate aide.

“My understanding is that they sent form letters to offices,” she said. “If they really want a piece of legislation considered they should have called offices and pushed the matter. No office can handle the amount of form letters that come in each day.”

Quam disputed that.

“The letter was only the beginning of the conversation,” he said. “The NGA and the governors’ offices reached out across the Hill.”

Looking back at the government’s chaotic response to Katrina, it’s not altogether surprising that the provision drew so little opposition in Congress and attention from the mainstream media.

And of course, it was wrapped in a monster defense bill related to the emergency in Iraq.

But the blogosphere, of course, was all over it.

A close analysis of the bill by Frank Morales, a 58-year-old Episcopal priest in New York who occasionally writes for left-wing publications, spurred a score of liberal and conservative libertarian Web sites to take a look at it.

But a search of The Washington Post and New York Times archives, using the terms “Insurrection Act,” “martial law” and “Congress,” came up empty.

That’s not to say the papers don’t care: There’s just too much going on in the global war on terror to keep up with, much less write about such a seemingly insignificant provision. The martial law section of the Defense Appropriation Act, for example, takes up just a few paragraphs in the 591-page document.

What else is in there? More intriguing stuff, it looks like — and I’m working my way through it.