Archive for the 'How to really make the world safer' Category

Nov 12 2014

But I thought we lost the war during Obama’s West Point speech?

LTG Daniel Bolger (Citadel Class of 1978) has a very good book out chronicling the truth that a whole lot of people don't want to admit. For them, the wars were lost when the President of the United States decided to :1) not hang US troops out to dry with a worthless Iraqi government when they refused to negotiate on a SOFA treaty and 2) the day Obama gave a speech at West Point that acknowledged what many Americans already knew-that there was a limit to how much we could do for people who over the last 8 years had proven themselves completely worthless and unworthy of the sacrifices being made  on their behalf. And that a lot of Americans were sick of it.

Fortunately for us, there are some military professionals, who actually fought in the war, who know better:

As a senior commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, I lost 80 soldiers. Despite their sacrifices, and those of thousands more, all we have to show for it are two failed wars. This fact eats at me every day, and Veterans Day is tougher than most.

As veterans, we tell ourselves it was all worth it. The grim butchery of war hovers out of sight and out of mind, an unwelcome guest at the dignified ceremonies. Instead, we talk of devotion to duty and noble sacrifice. We salute the soldiers at Omaha Beach, the sailors at Leyte Gulf, the airmen in the skies over Berlin and the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, and we’re not wrong to do so. The military thrives on tales of valor. In our volunteer armed forces, such stirring examples keep bringing young men and women through the recruiters’ door. As we used to say in the First Cavalry Division, they want to “live the legend.” In the military, we love our legends.

Here’s a legend that’s going around these days. In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq and toppled a dictator. We botched the follow-through, and a vicious insurgency erupted. Four years later, we surged in fresh troops, adopted improved counterinsurgency tactics and won the war. And then dithering American politicians squandered the gains. It’s a compelling story. But it’s just that — a story.  (Emphasis mine-SS)

 

 

Clearly this will get many "surgeaholics" riled up. Devotees of the theory of ever continuing warfare, and of never blaming the people of Iraq or Afghanistan themselves for the mistakes they made,  just does not fit the narrative. Troublesome facts are not the things they wish to hear:

We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to “clear/hold/build” even as the “hold” stage stretched for months, and then years, with decades beckoning. We backed ourselves season by season into a long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq, then compounded it by doing likewise in Afghanistan. The American people had never signed up for that. What went wrong in Iraq and in Afghanistan isn’t the stuff of legend. It won’t bring people into the recruiting office, or make for good speeches on Veterans Day. Reserve those honors for the brave men and women who bear the burdens of combat. That said, those who served deserve an accounting from the generals. What happened? How? And, especially, why? It has to be a public assessment, nonpartisan and not left to the military. (We tend to grade ourselves on the curve.) Something along the lines of the 9/11 Commission is in order. We owe that to our veterans and our fellow citizens

Reviews for Bolger's book, Why We Lost, are mixed-I agree with his conclusion- while I agree also with those who think he doesn't place enough strategic blame with our top level civilian leadership. Furthermore, its clear he thinks we had to invade-and that is a conclusion that is not borne out by history. The invasion of Iraq is the biggest Foreign Policy mistake in the last 30 years. Nonetheless he gives an objective and necessary telling of how we far exceeded our original needs and objectives after 9-11 and plunged into a global rat hole. That alone makes it worth the read.

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Jan 06 2014

There was never a chance………..

Phib, in one of his repeated themes, bemoans the fact that we did not give ourselves a chance to "succeed" in Afghanistan. "All it required was about another four-five years of patience. Of course, that 4-5 from now is based on an alternative history where we did not announce our retreat in DEC 09 … but what is, is. District by district "Shape, Clear, Hold, Build" was a solid way to do it – but just as it was getting roots as the surge soaked in, we stopped feeding it. The following results will be sadly predictable."

Complete and total horseshit.

This is a peculiarly American disease where we always place the blame everywhere but where it really lies. This is how we get pundits like William "The Bloody" Kristol- who,  incidentally, could not be bothered to serve one day in his miserable life, but is more than willing to send other people's children to die for his right to earn six figures a year-advocating war with out end in the Middle East.

Didn't give it enough time? We will have been in that Godforsaken country for over 13 years. How much f*cking time do we need? Or more correctly, how many chances do the Afghans get before we tell them to go f*ck themselves?

Two facts here are really important. One, the clock did not stop ticking in Afghanistan just because we invaded Iraq. So the very idea that we could "just pick up where we left off" and somehow, magically we would have a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, by spending ten plus years-losing Americans-to create what? And two, the patience of the American people is not unlimited-and we are long past the point of patience with any of the wars for most reasonable Americans.

A land of people who refuse to help themselves. This, by the way is backed up by over a 100 years of Afghan history. This is what we are getting today, it is what we would have gotten 10 years from now-it will pretty much always be that way as long as the country is saddled with albatross of Islam.

Want to know the day we "lost" Afghanistan? March 19,  2003. That's the day the United States in one of the most stupid moves in its history, foolishly invaded a land that had not attacked it, and in the process metastized what was a essentially a localized disturbance into the world's blood stream. One could even make the point that we could look further back-to the point where a man like George Bush, under the advice of some pretty questionable characters, decided that the United States could somehow accomplish the impossible and eliminate terrorism from the earth. Rather than pursue the vengeance that our public opinion required in the aftermath of 9-11, the grey hair allowed himself to be diverted into what has now quite well been proven, to be a worthless, damn fool ideological crusade.

And what do we have to show for it? Nothing of substance.

Oh sure, Bin Laden is dead, but as it turned out, that had nothing to do with clear, hold, and build. And Al Queda has been disrupted-but again, that happened with out years of counterinsurgency. We have lost over 6000 fine Americans dead and almost 50,000 wounded for the "right" to stay in a backward nation from over a decade, however. What did they suffer for?

Nothing of value Phib. Nothing of value. And that was true in 2009, as assuredly as it is today. Put the blame where it belongs and leave it there-on the Afghan people.

Now that is what I will drink more over. The  tendency on the part of policy makers — and probably a tendency in the part of some Americans — to think that the problems we face are problems that are out there somewhere beyond our borders, and that if we can fix those problems, then we'll be able to continue the American way of life as it has long existed. I think it's fundamentally wrong. Our major problems are at home in the US.

Starting with the idea that we can somehow "fix" people who are unfixable.

 

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Nov 14 2012

The real Petreaus problem.

"The issue at Tailhook is not that we took a few liberties with our female party guests. We did."

Just have to do one more Petraeus post.

And its not to condemn him for slicing off what appears to be a fine hunk of tuna. I don't condemn him for that at all. Actually applaud him for getting laid. And laid well-by all appearances. If American sexual mores were not all screwed up-he'd be getting a pat on the back instead of a kick in the ass.

As my Canadian Counterpart points out:

But there's one important fact that I think everyone is overlooking in this tawdry tale. Paula Broadwell is pretty fucking hot, especially for a 40-year-old Army chick. I'd most assuredly hit it, and I think that's really the most important thing to remember here.

Except…………..

The real problem with Petreaus is not his sexual proclivities. I think I have made it clear that I think there are two sides to every story and until I know the other side I will reserve any judgment on that. However-and long time followers of this blog will know this-I am no fan of King David. The real crimes of General Petreaus happened long before he joined the CIA.

What I’d like to propose, I guess, is that none of these perspectives quite captures reality. That’s the thing about Petraeus. He isn’t some sort of paragon of virtue as people on the right want to claim, nor is he just business as usual in his abuse of power and position as some on the left seem to believe. There is something unique about him and what he’s done, and I just wish people would look at the situation essentially sui generis rather than as confirmation of one worldview or another.

Let me make one more note on the seksytime issue. There is a perception, I think, that general officers are  swinging dick, alpha-males, screwing, boozing, and brawling their way through life. And sure, there are some like that, but in my experience, general officers are about as far from that stereotype as possible. They are usually driven, hard-working, introspective, and bookish. Whether they went to the service academies or ROTC, they rarely had time to party even as undergrads. They often marry young, have kids young, and spend much of their time either deployed or struggling to pay attention to their families when they are home.  They are, in short, often nerds (in a good way), and they are not always well-equipped emotionally to deal with the kind of attention they begin to attract as they rise in rank, and particularly as they pin on stars. General Allen, for instance, has a reputation as a serious, bookish guy. Now maybe he’s a serial cheater, and Jill Kelley was just another actual or potential conquest, but more likely, in my estimation, is that he just didn’t quite know how to handle her attention. I dunno, but I think it worth keeping in mind that possibility.

A good point and it reinforces my current opinion of Navy flags too. The daring do-the guys who led from the front in the cockpit and the bar-those guys have been thrown on the scrap heap a long time ago. What's left is not so great.

But that's not what makes the story of Petreaus so sad. Not at all. What the real problem is with Petreaus started in 2004 if not sooner:

But the warning signs about Petraeus’ core dishonesty have been around for years. Here's a brief summary: We can start with the persistent questions critics have raised about his Bronze Star for Valor. Or that, in 2004, during the middle of a presidential election, Petraeus wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post supporting President Bush and saying that the Iraq policy was working. The policy wasn’t working, but Bush repaid the general’s political advocacy by giving him the top job in the war three years later.

There’s his war record in Iraq, starting when he headed up the Iraqi security force training program in 2004. He’s more or less skated on that, including all the weapons he lost, the insane corruption, and the fact that he essentially armed and trained what later became known as “Iraqi death squads.” On his final Iraq tour, during the so-called "surge," he pulled off what is perhaps the most impressive con job in recent American history. He convinced the entire Washington establishment that we won the war.

He did it by papering over what the surge actually was: We took the Shiites' side in a civil war, armed them to the teeth, and suckered the Sunnis into thinking we’d help them out too. It was a brutal enterprise — over 800 Americans died during the surge, while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives during a sectarian conflict that Petraeus’ policies fueled. Then he popped smoke and left the members of the Sunni Awakening to fend for themselves. A journalist friend told me a story of an Awakening member, exiled in Amman, whom Petraeus personally assured he would never abandon. The former insurgent had a picture of Petraeus on his wall, but was a little hurt that the general no longer returned his calls.

MoveOn may have been ill-advised to attack the general as "Betray Us" in Washington, but there was little doubt that many in the Awakening felt betrayed.

Petraeus was so convincing on Baghdad that he manipulated President Obama into trying the same thing in Kabul. In Afghanistan, he first underhandedly pushed the White House into escalating the war in September 2009 (calling up columnists to “box” the president in) and waged a full-on leak campaign to undermine the White House policy process. Petraeus famously warned his staff that the White House was “fucking” with the wrong guy.

The doomed Afghanistan surge would come back to bite him in the ass, however. A year after getting the war he wanted, P4 got stuck having to fight it himself. After Petraeus frenemy General Stanley McChrystal got fired for trashing the White House in a story I published in Rolling Stone, the warrior-scholar had to deploy yet again.

The Afghan war was a loser, always was, and always would be — Petraeus made horrible deals with guys like Abdul Razzik and the other Afghan gangsters and killed a bunch of people who didn’t need to be killed. And none of it mattered, or made a dent in his reputation. This was the tour where Broadwell joined him at headquarters, and it’s not so shocking that he’d need to find some solace, somewhere, to get that daily horror show out of his mind.

Basically, a 21'st century version of MacArthur. A General who also became a political force. He became the icon of the surge-a holics in 2007, leading the country into an even greater butcher's bill and accomplishing very little for the United States in the long run-except for prolonging our agony in Iraq by almost 5 years.

But Petraeus’ crash is more significant than the latest nonsense sex scandal. As President Obama says, our decade of war is coming to an end. The reputations of the men who were intimately involved in these years of foreign misadventure, where we tortured and supported torture, armed death squads, conducted nightly assassinations, killed innocents, and enabled corruption on an unbelievable scale, lie in tatters. McChrystal, Caldwell, and now Petraeus — the era of the celebrity general is over. Everyone is paying for their sins. (And before we should shed too many tears for the plight of King David and his men, remember, they’ll be taken care of with speaking fees and corporate board memberships, rewarded as instant millionaires by the same defense establishment they served so well.)

 Before Dave fell for Paula, we fell for Dave. He tried to convince us that heroes aren’t human. They are human, like us, and sometimes worse.

An end to the celebrity general? Who can talk an entire nation into a pointless conflict based on a concept that has been adequately discredited? That may be the best service David Petreaus performed for his country.  That we might be able to return to the more normal civil military relationship-along with a long overdue acknowledgement that wars without end are no way to run a foreign policy-the United States might actually start down a long road to recovery.

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Oct 26 2012

The enemy is us

I've been rather busy this week. On travel and next week I will be working some unusual hours. So what that means is posting will continue to be light.

Plus, if the truth is to be told-I am viewing the upcoming election in the United States with increasing pessimism. Primarily because of what the argument says about the average American. If you think American electoral politics paints the country in a good light you are just kidding yourself in the extreme. The face we are presenting to the world is one of stupidity and selfishness in the extreme.

If Obama wins-it will be a good thing, but he will still not be able to govern the country because of the caliber of people in the Congress. If Romney wins-it will be a disaster, if he gets the Congress to approve his draconian proposals. I have no doubt that Romney will enact the Ryan budget, and as I have clearly stated before-his budget and his policy ideas are evil. I despise Ryan personally and politically-Charles Pierce's term "zombie eyed granny starver" is an apt description.

But fundamentally, the reason our politics is fundamentally screwed up has nothing to do with either man. They are simply reacting to the body politic. They speak to the level of education that is becoming apparent. If the US electorate was truly educated-the GOP would be on its way to oblivion, or it would have reformed itself and cast its tea bagger zealots out into the outer darkness. They haven't however-and that should speak volumes about what they REALLY value.

In the macro sense I view this election as one of the capstone events of America not recognizing the changes that have occurred in the world. The changes are going to go forward-the fundamental question is whether  America can adapt to the changes. Increasingly it appears to me that we cannot-or will not adapt to those changes. So we will get passed by. We are already seeing evidence of it-it will get worse. Again, this will happen no matter who wins.

And that's depressing. America needs to fix itself. Don't like the caliber of our leaders? Look in the mirror-you created them. Through your own selfishness and stupidity. As a result you get the politics you deserve. Wake up and grow up.

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Jan 09 2012

Acknowledging the truth that you do not wish to hear.

I have been watching with interest, the mil-blog reaction to the “new” strategy announced by the President and the Secretary of Defense-namely that the US has to know its limitations; and that so long as we choose to not raise enough revenue, then cuts must come to the federal budget. And as much as it pains some people, those cuts have to include the defense budget.

Now that rightly concerns me-since for better or for worse, I have thrown my lot in with DOD-so as to fund and extend the expatriate life style I aspire to. In a proper world-DOD funding would be at Cold War levels with respect to US GDP and the invention of the VTC would be undone-thus necessitating the kinds of frequent travel I desire and crave. But deep in my heart of hearts-as painful for me as it is to admit-making cuts to the defense budget is something the nation will have to do. No matter what the personal costs are to yours truly.

It is not that the United States can no longer afford to be a world power-it has the resources to be one for many years to come. However, as long as the country makes the cutting of taxes a pre-eminent priority, then the die has been cast and the great retrenchment must surely come.

Now Lex would have you believe that this folding of our military tent is not a requirement. It seems that he would rather place the blame-and the burden-on the weakest members our own society. This so we can ensure we remain involved in helping worthless Arabs accomplish nothing-primarily because its in their nature to do so. They are Arabs after all-residing at the bottom of the human evolutionary ladder. They don’t have to stay there of course-but until they discard their apostate religion of Islam-then at the bottom they shall remain. As recent events in Libya and Egypt are proving-Arabs can screw up anything in just a little time. They have made their choice.

And regrettably-so too have we.  As long as the United States chooses not to raise the revenue it needs to raise to take car of its own citizenry, then cuts and retrenchment must surely come. In that regard, I have to sullenly admire Ron Paul, for he-alone among the clown circus that is the current GOP Presidential field-has been forthright in acknowledging the facts: a good deal of our growth in government has come as a result of the wars-and the costs of maintaining the “empire”. ( An empire with none of the perks that come with empire-land to raise our flag over, vestal virgins to be ravished. )

Lex believes its all to rest on the collectors of the results of the social contract:

As has been pointed out in these pages many times, the ongoing financial crisis is not defense driven – we are currently expending a historically low percentage of our Gross Domestic Product on DoD accounts. What has changed is that entitlement programs have mushroomed to hitherto unthinkable levels, and they show no signs of abating. Spending on social services has taken all the oxygen out of the federal budget, even as deficit spending has risen to giddying heights. Slashing defense spending is not the cure, but rather a palliative: The patient is bleeding out, and in response the doctors are surgically removing a leg. True, that will reduce the gross need for blood, at least for a little while. But it does nothing to stanch the bleeding.

 

They’re called “entitlements” because, once the public has been introduced to them, they feel entitled to equal or greater levels of dependency. Rolling them back requires massive expenditures in political capital, and virtually guarantees popular revolt. See also; Greece, Italy.

 

 

In a word-bullshit.

As I have shown in these pages repeatedly-its not a spending problem that we have, it’s a revenue and fairness problem. Just eliminating the Bush tax cuts-while at the same time withdrawing from the foolish wars we have started, would more than halve the current –and projected -deficit. Ezra Klein has adeptly pointed out that most of our financial woes are self-inflicted. We would rather enable the selfish and elite-than do what’s best for the majority of our citizenry. Social Security can be fixed-and maintained or transitioned. And Medicare can be helped by a comprehensive overhaul of all of our health care system. Something we sort of achieved in 20009-but not fully.  Lex conveniently ignores the fact that every other civilized nation on the planet provides universal health care access for its citizens. The United States, however, turns its back on obvious solutions. Or was it just a figment of my imagination that my first doctor’s appointment here in Germany cost me half what my last appointment did here in the United States. Which works out fine for me-because my employer, unlike so many that Lex praises-provides health insurance. And what they didn’t pay-was paid for by one of those pesky entitlements. An entitlement I am entitled to-because I earned it.

So I should be on the same side as Lex-and rooting for holding the line on defense cuts. From a purely selfish standpoint-I can see the point of view. But as I said earlier, in my heart of hearts, I know it’s a fools errand. To quote Lex, “as long as the country has its attitude towards taxation’-then cuts must come. Kind of sad really since-when viewed in the macro perspective-we have the money for both guns and butter. But we would rather make the richest one percent of the US even richer-while a great percentage of the workforce eeks by on 30,000 per year or less. Is this a viewpoint you really want to defend?

A couple of other points. Lex hangs his hat on the fact that percentage wise-defense is a small part of GDP. My response to that is: “So what? That proves nothing. What percentage is it of the Federal budget?” Its 25%.  The U.S. Department of Defense budget accounted in fiscal year 2010 for about 19% of the United States federal budgeted expenditures and 28% of estimated tax revenues. Including non-DOD expenditures, defense spending was approximately 28–38% of budgeted expenditures and 42–57% of estimated tax revenues.  According to the Congressional Budget Office, defense spending grew 9% annually on average from fiscal year 2000–2009. Because of constitutional limitations, military funding is appropriated in a discretionary spending account.   The numbers would go down-if we didn’t have the burden of the wars-wars Bush started and refused to pay for. Percentage quotations of GDP are just a red herring. Its where (some of) the money is.

“But what about all the world’s bad actors?”

What about them? If you want to have a role to play in countering them-then you have to have the resources to do so. We do not. Being a super power costs money-we are choosing not to get the money to pay the bills. The money is there-especially in a country that has rich people making the kinds of obscene sums they do. And-as gruesome as it maybe-some of the killing by the actors is not our affair. The Arabs can kill themselves all they want to-it does not require the presence of Americans to happen. And given a choice-I’d rather an Iraqi to die in Iraq than an American. If nine years of a presence in Iraq have proven one thing-it’s that our being there is not going to stop that.

The Lex’s among us would rather point fingers at Europe and decry their priorities. Europe has its problems as I am learning now first hand-but it’s also made a lot of progress in valuing things that are important and discarding the things that no longer serve the citizenry well. ( It certainly has better food, booze, train service and a better attitude about time off than my homeland).   Perhaps through bitter experience they have learned the value of Herman Wouk’s admonishment: “Either war is finished-or we are.”

Now that’s a hard thing for a guy who grew up and thrived on  adventures due to the cold war to admit. I like being a part of the empire. I want to live my life overseas and in its benefits. However the nation of my birth has chosen to no longer pay for that empire-and so like our British forefathers our empire will probably enter into decline.

And much as it pains me to admit it, maybe it needs to.

 

6 responses so far

May 24 2011

Unrequired hysteria.

I have been watching with considerable interest, the generally unhinged reaction of many prominent mil-blogs and other commentaries about President Obama’s speech last Thursday regarding Israel and the Palestinians. It would be funny, if the consequences were not so serious.

The most unhinged reactions I have read to date-have come from several sources, retired military officers ( many of whom ought to know their history better), hysterical Fox News commentators,  and today’s outraged column in the Wall Street Journal. Obama hates Israel. Obama is picking on poor little beleaguered Israel. The Palestinians are thugs and terrorists and have no right to settle in the holy land of Zion. Why can’t Obama just leave Israel alone?

This of course leads, in the American context, to the not so subtle innuendo’s from all of the usual suspects. Obama must be a Muslim not to support America’s best buddy in the whole world, he’s obviously arrogant, and he’s throwing Israel under the bus.  Israel, in their eyes, has done nothing wrong. Those settlements in the West Bank?  Just good business-not colonization of in support of the goal of Yeretz Israel. Don’t even think about calling it an occupation! Bibi says so.  Israeli-and more specifically Likud obstructionism to any settlement with the Palestinians? Just plain good faith diplomacy.

Now I will put my cards on the table-if I had my way, a third party along the lines of the British (preferably Britain) and their mandate would administer Palestine-just as was done in the years prior to World War II. I base that wish on the fact that for the long term I: 1) Do not believe a Palestinian state is viable along the West Bank and 2) I don’t think that Israel wants or can, come to a long term settlement with Palestinian authority.

Of course that is just nostalgic and wishful thinking on my part. It’s not going to happen-nor is it representative of what the current situation on the ground,  its sheer historical fantasy on my part.

And fantasy is what it seems Americans love to indulge in when it comes to Israel. Commentators over at OPFOR-when they are not attacking anyone who supports Obama’s speech as a raging anti-semite, are indulging in some historical fantasies of their own.

Fantasy #1.

Obama’s statements differ from previous US presidents. Flash traffic sports fans-they don’t.

But on substance, what did we learn yesterday? Certainly not that a Palestinian state must be “based on” the 1967 borders. Why this has been described as some kind of radical betrayal of Israel (“thrown under the bus”, in Mitt Romney’s words), is utterly beyond me. When Bill Clinton pushed the same thing, Aaron David Miller said America was acting as “Israel’s lawyer”. George W. Bush, whom Israelis saw as a staunch supporter, said the same. According to my colleague in Jerusalem, the innovation seems to have been the invocation of “1967″ in so many words. Why this is substantial is a mystery to me.

As the same colleague also mentions, there was an innovation, one not of substance but of sequencing—always close to the heart of these negotiations, since everyone knows what the substance must be. Mr Obama talked about settling borders and security first, and refugees and Jerusalem later. The more intransigent Israelis and their American supporters dislike this; they want a comprehensive settlement or nothing. But it’s not clear to me why this is the best option, even from their point of view. Israel is going to give up most of the West Bank in any settlement, and will and must only do so with security guarantees, as Mr Obama reiterated today. Land-for-peace would be most of what Israel wants. Meanwhile the status quo on refugees and Jerusalem favour Israel, which has its way on both at the moment.

Fantasy#2

The 1967 borders are indefensible. First of all-this statement presumes that Israel will actually end up back at the 67 borders. The odds of that happening are slim to none. For one thing-there is no way on God’s green earth that Israel will ever give up East Jerusalem, and there is no opposing Army that would even have the gumption to try. What part of “mutually agreed land swaps” did you not understand? ( or care to listen to). Since most folks are learning impaired when it comes to Israel, let me show you a visual aid that will show you why the 67 borders have to be the starting point for a final settlement:

If you have ever been to Israel and to the West Bank, as I have, you will know right away why Israel has the land to the East in the West Bank-that’s where the flat farmland is. The territory rises in elevation as you head west towards Jerusalem. Furthermore, the big takeaway from that graphic is that “Palestinian living space”, such as it is-is an archipelago of distinct ghettos. I guess I am the only person who appreciates the irony of a state that was formed as a result of outrage about rounding people up into ghettos and placing movement restrictions on them-doing the same thing to other people 40+ years later. The reason the territory is so chopped up? Jewish settlements that Israel was never supposed to allow in the first place, but did as a way to appease its orthodox population.”The settler movement could put down settlements in much of the sparsely populated south of Israel proper with no problem. Instead, they insist on taking Palestinian land. They are not colonizing the West Bank only to make it more ‘secure’ (they are making it less so), but rather out of greed, ambition, and expansionism. It is not about defense, it is about offense.”  (and water availability).

Those orange spots are not a way to create a viable state-and Netanyahu knows it. And that’s perfectly fine with him. But it shouldn’t be for any thinking American. The 1967 lines dividing Israel from the West Bank and from Gaza have always  been Washington’s point of departure for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But now, for the first time, the four digits have become formal American policy.

Now that position has a pretty firm basis in international law-but this is where the irrational factor comes into play with American supporters of Israel. They don’t care-they just want the Palestinians to go away and die. After all, in the eyes of some wild eyed conservatives-they are all terrorist savages anyway.

There are only a couple of problems I can think of with this line of thinking. 1) They are not going away and dying-they are breeding like rabbits. and 2) they have no place to go. Any chance for them to go someplace else evaporated in 1988 when Jordan ceded its claim to the West Bank to the PLO.  The Oslo accords formalize that by paving the way to a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. That peace treaty recognized the Mandate border between Palestine and Jordan, but specifically makes note that the treaty does no prejudice the status of the territories occupied( there is that pesky word again) by the Israeli military. Don’t forget too, that in 1987, Jordan and Israel actually tried to negotiate giving the West Bank ( but not East Jerusalem) back to Jordan, but the deal was nixed by Yitzak Shamir. So like it or not-Jordan is not a part of this picture anymore.

Fantasy #3

‘Jordan is Palestine’. Good luck with that. King Abdullah is not that stupid-and it also ignores the reason Britain broke Jordan away from the Palestine to begin with.  See Fantasy 2 above.

Fantasy #4

Israel is ringed by enemies on all sides, so it has to take drastic action to defend itself. Oh really? Those peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt don’t mean anything? And last time I checked-the Syrian military is a little busy right now trying to keep Al Asad in power. A better way to describe the situation is “Israel is ringing a lot of really pissed off people with no place to go“. And why not? Half of Palestinians in Gaza are unemployed and Israel will not allow them to export what they produce  and deeply restricts imports.  Restrictions within the West Bank make it difficult for Palestinians to commute to their places of employment and for goods to be transported to where they are needed. This has increased the costs of transportation and has thus led to lower profits for companies operating in the territories. Any wonder they are all pissed off?

It’s probably also a great time to point out that Israel is the only nation in the Levant with nuclear weapons and a military that outclasses any military,  with the sole exception of the United States.

However-Israel’s security rests on achieving a deal with the Palestinians. Because right now they are facing two ticking time bombs they can’t control. One is the “Arab Spring”:

Netanyahu ignored a very important historical reality on Friday in Washington, that Israel’s intractable enemies are always replaced with something worse. The PLO was replaced with Hezbollah in Lebanon and supplanted by Hamas in Gaza. There is a very real possibility that Hamas could be overtaken by an al-Qaeda inspired or affiliated group in the near future. Waiting for a more agreeable negotiating partner is an exercise in folly, if only because one has never appeared before.
On the other hand, I could be wrong. Problematically, that could be even worse for Israel. That would be widespread blooming of democracy in the Arab world. There is no reason to believe that democratic Arab governments would demand anything less than their autocratic ones do now. But they would have a great deal more credibility with the international community generally, and the United States in particular.
It should be remembered that America’s great democratic ally, Iraq, does not recognize Israel, nor does it denounce Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. There is no reason to believe that any other democratic Arab government would behave any differently, but their positions might seem a tad more reasonable when unattached to names like Bashir Assad or Saddam Hussein.
Add to that the possibility that the Palestinians might have learned from their mistakes and come to understand that violent resistance isn’t going to get them anywhere. A peaceful intifada might be an irresistible force in the international community and could very well isolate Israel, especially an Israel with a hardline Likud government. There’s no way of knowing how even Israeli public opinion would react to demonstrations like the ones in Tahrir square, but it’s virtually certain that the American consensus in support of Israel would fracture.
 
 
 

 

The other is, the fact that for a population that hates sex-Palestinians sure seem to f*ck a lot:

The most likely outcome of Israel’s present course is a one state solution, achieved over decades, with much heartbreak and violence and ruined lives in the meantime. The Jews of Israel will likely end up like the Maronite Christians of Lebanon. France created Lebanon in 1920 for a then Christian majority, but Christian out-migration and rapid Muslim population growth reduced the Maronites to only about 22 percent of the population today if we count children. Likewise, Israeli Jews have already lost their majority among first-graders in what was Mandate Palestine in favor of Palestinians and Palestinian-Israelis. Current demographic trends will likely produce an Israel that is a third Arab by 2030 and that is not even counting the Occupied Territories. The instability in the Arab world and the Greater Middle East, which is growing, could well over time increase Jewish out-migration (out of sheer nervousness) so that it outstrips in-migration of Jews. I can’t see a way for Israel to escape this demographic and geopolitical fate and remain viable as a nation-state. Plans on the Israeli right to denaturalize and expel the 1.5 million Palestinian-Israelis are unrealistic and do not reckon with the likely backlash from the Arab world, which won’t remain weak and abject forever.

In summary-a whole lot of Americans would do well to look at Israel as it really is-not as they think it is. It’s not a Jewish version of America. It is a complicated society with some very unique things foisted upon because its foundation based on a religious basis and not a national one. More importantly, Israeli and American interests are not always aligned. None of this is to suggest that Washington should turn its back on the Jewish state. But this is also a time when a more evenhanded position on the conflict is desperately needed. That’s what Obama is trying to do-and if he has to kick Bibi in the nuts to do it-well I won’t cry salt tears. You know who told me that? David Petreaus:

“Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples [in the region].” His statement provoked controversy in Washington, but ask any seasoned Middle East observer and you’d be hard-pressed to find one who disagrees with the general’s assessment. It is not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya which is the greatest source of anti-American attitudes in the Arab world — it is the continued lack of resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the view of many in the region that the United States has its thumb on the scale in favor of Israel.

At some point, you have to ask yourself the legitimate question of who is looking out not for Israel’s interests, but America’s. It certainly wasn’t the slobbering idiots on the floor of the US Congress today.

6 responses so far

Sep 04 2010

They left me, I did not leave them.

The Republican party that is.

This is a serious post-to try to explain why I feel as strongly as I do on several issues and why I feel abandoned by the political party I once considered my home. A post over at the League of Ordinary Gentleman by E.D. Kain and another one by him over at John Cole’s place got me to thinking.

Until the election of 2004, I had voted Republican all my life. I first voted in 1976 for Gerald Ford and voted Republican all the way through 2000 when I held my nose and voted for George Bush -even though I remained appalled at the sleazy way he treated McCain.  In hindsight-I wish I had voted for Gore, perhaps the country might have been spared eight years of misery. In 2004 my vote was a one issue vote-I truly believed ( and I still believe) that the War in Iraq was a huge mistake.  I did not want to lend my support to those who would see us continue to pour lives and effort into that sinkhole. I feel I have been vindicated by the last six -years of the Iraqi experience-which for whatever benefits came, the costs of the effort-in terms of the overall loss to the United States and the contribution of the war to our economic instability far outweighed them. The United States is weaker over all because of this endeavor and the fiasco in Iraq has hastened the rise of nations that are truly not our friends and made the multi-polar world we dislike more of a reality than most Americans realize. ( There is a reason we now rank 11th in all objective measures of national prominence). In 2008, my vote was again motivated primarily by the war(s) and the prospect of more “just let real people suffer and lose ground” economics. So I voted for Obama with a clear conscience-although I did not and still do not consider him to be the best qualified candidate. It was simply that John McCain had foreited any right to that support after choosing someone to appease those who do not deserve such attention. Clearly Obama has made some mistakes ( the gravest being not vetoing the Ominbus Budget bill early on and putting Pelosi in her place-and show the country and the Democrats who is boss). But on a lot of issues I care about-he’s advocated better positions than his opposition. It is clear to me that by 2010-Republicans in general had given up any desire to be concerned with you know, data and facts.

As Kain points out though-during that period, really starting in 1996, the Republican party morphed into something unrecognizable. With the advent of Newt Gingrich and the rise in talk radio and later on Fox News to stoke the propaganda flames, the party slowly, but inexorably abandoned all of the things that made it the reasonable man’s alternative. As Kain points out at Cole’s:

I’m not signing on, carte blanche, to the Democratic party here or to its platform though I am choosing to align myself with that party and with liberalism more broadly. I’m sure I will still find plenty of things the Democrats do that deserve a pox or two. But I did feel as though I was boxing myself in by calling myself a conservative and then finding every way under the sun to undermine that description. My “switch” is not about adopting a brand new pre-packaged ideology. No, I’m much more interested in creating new ways, third ways maybe, alternatives to the accepted left/right divide. But I found myself more and more interested and compelled by the liberal-tarian project. But I’m not a libertarian either, and so perhaps the term ‘liberal’ fits me better. In fact, I’m quite sure it does.

But what Kain pointed out is that it is becoming increasingly difficult-from the perspective of facts to remain allied in support of positions that no compassionate human being can be aligned with. Kain again:

Furthermore, while I think there’s a great deal of merit to competition (one reason I really liked Ron Wyden’s healthcare plan!), free markets, economic liberalism and so forth I find the fetishization of low taxes among the right and among many American libertarians more than a bit silly. I favor investment in public health, public transit and infrastructure, and in the welfare system generally rather than some vague bare-boned state. Sure, there’s problems with all sorts of government programs, with some public sector unions, etc. but at least liberals seem open to tackling these problems. At least within the big tent of liberalism there is room to disagree.

I’ve noted before that I don’t think free markets are sustainable without a broad and sturdy welfare state to support them. Theoretically, sure – anything is possible – but the fact is markets fail and must fail to be effective as a system, and very real people pay the price – not because they are lazy, or because they are lacking enough rugged individualism, but because life can be hard, and it is much harder for those people who lack strong family or community support. Ultimately, the highest price is paid by those who can afford it least. We need to craft a society where that price is not so high – and I think we can use markets and the welfare state to achieve this, much as they have done in northern Europe (though undoubtedly our version will be unique and we can, on the way, learn from their mistakes). I don’t see many conservatives taking these questions seriously, and even the most progressive-minded conservatives out there, I fear, are placing their hopes in the wrong coalition.

The demonization of “moderate” Republicans-leaders who actually put “Country First” ahead of partisan ideology is troublesome to me. And in folks like Palin and Beck I see that trend being carried out to its own serious, destructive, and out right pathological ends.  Furthermore-especially in Palin, there are clear indicators of a crass, selfish, narcissism that will be destructive to both her and the country in the long run if she were to run and win the highest office in the land.

It is not that some of the ideas that conservatives have put forward are not without merit-it is their refusal to accept that the opposite may aslo be true that really troubles me. I agree with Kain when he states:

At the end of the day, I guess I just find very little in common with the right save for a sort of loose commitment to limited government, and even then it becomes more and more apparent that this is only true in a fictional world that bears no resemblance to our own.

Torture, war, mindless obstructionism, a rigid more-conservative-than-thou orthodoxy, the constant parroting of right-wing pundits, and a blatant disregard for civil liberties all lead me to the conclusion that I have no place in the modern American right. Perhaps that makes me a neoliberal or a liberal-tarian or an independent or a lost boy – I have no idea.

As move on into my graying years-I remain distinctly troubled by the fact that collectively-humanity has failed to advance to realize its real potential. We can-and should be- a lot further along in defeating diseases like AIDS and Cancer, and worldwide there should be a greater commitment to at least a baseline quality of life for all of a country’s citizens. The only place I actually see any of this occuring is in Asia-and even then the progress is very uneven. Troubling too,  is the countries that have made the most progress are also the most non-Democratic. (e.g. LKY’s Singapore-nice place to live, could never ever vote there). The colossal waste of what we-the supposedly civilized Western world, spend our resources on is troubling me more than you know. The income divide between the “haves and have nots” is growing and not shrinking-and we are failing to notice that. If you want a real reason for world wide terrorism we should be looking there first.

And at the end of the decade-I am still no safer than I was on Sept 10, 2001.

And so it has come down to this-I cannot, I will not,  ally myself with people who for whatever reason deliberately choose to be stupid and ignore facts and/ or historical precedents. The world is not black and white-it is only grey. But it should be progressing forward. And its not.

And I will not ally myself with those who will not support that.

So yes, I will continue to write passionately against those who advocate positions that are ultimately destructive to the USA as a whole-and who would rather take a selfish short term view -than seek to move ahead for the long term.  I’m sure my one lone, little, under-reported or read voice will not accomplish much. But at least I will be on record in opposition to collective stupidity.

And that is a better place to be than on the Washington Mall last weekend.

12 responses so far

Sep 01 2009

That did not take long……

For the usual suspects to hammer back at George Will

The Fat Boy put down his cheeseburger long enough to weigh in. Bozo the Clown and William the Bloody are also heard from too. I take that as the best sign Mr. Will may actually be on the right track.

Putting aside everything else-and recognizing that we are not leaving, I have just one question:

At what point do the Afghan’s, like the Iraqis, get to shoulder some blame for having repeatedly squandered golden opportunities presented to them by the force of US arms?

 The gang of five’s answer appears to be-"Not yet".

 

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Jul 20 2009

Idle musings on the moon, America-and the death of optimism.

Today is July 20th. Only proper to write about the moon landings, right? Its being written over at plenty of blogs this day-and its is an anniversary of a great achievement. Except-as Tom Wolfe points out in a well written essay, its also the begining of the end of the glory days for NASA and the American space program. Because for me, the key question about today is not: "Celebrating that we went to the moon", but more for being reminded-painfully I hope-of the question that should have been haunting the United States since about 1975:

Why did we stop going there?

Wolfe sums it up: 

It was no ordinary dead-and-be-done-with-it death. It was full-blown purgatory, purgatory being the holding pen for recently deceased but still restless souls awaiting judgment by a Higher Authority.

Like many another youngster at that time, or maybe retro-youngster in my case, I was fascinated by the astronauts after Apollo 11. I even dared to dream of writing a book about them someday. If anyone had told me in July 1969 that the sound of Neil Armstrong’s small step plus mankind’s big one was the shuffle of pallbearers at graveside, I would have averted my eyes and shaken my head in pity. Poor guy’s bucket’s got a hole in it.

Why, putting a man on the Moon was just the beginning, the prelude, the prologue! The Moon was nothing but a little satellite of Earth. The great adventure was going to be the exploration of the planets … Mars first, then Venus, then Pluto. Jupiter, Mercury, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus? NASA would figure out their slots in the schedule in due course. In any case, we Americans wouldn’t stop until we had explored the entire solar system. And after that … the galaxies beyond.

That was certainly the way I felt-especially when I bamboozled my mother into letting me watch 2001, A Space Odyssey by my 12 year old lonesome,  while she went shopping at Kaufman’s and Gimble’s. ( It was a different time).  I was confident by the year 2001 we would have bases on the moon, and space stations rotating high above us in orbit. Man would have been to Mars or would have been shortly getting ready to.  That faster than  the speed of light thing? An inconvenience to be gotten around in due course.

But after 1972, we only went to, wait for it, low earth orbit. And while there is no doubt that they have accomplished some solid scientific work and the program has been a great bridge from super power confrontation in space, to a multi-national effort. All great stuff-but ask yourself: Is this really the best mankind can do?

The answer better be a resounding HELL NO! There is a lot we could be doing-and even if we had two tracked the effort, going to the moon once a year while still working the shuttle, it would have at least kept our ‘hand in the game so to speak.

"But there are so many problems on earth that need looking after.

Yes, there are. And no one has to convince me that there is a horrible mismatch between the things the country -or the world for that matter-is spending money on, vs what it should be spending money on.

As Jesus reminded us, the poor will be with you always,  but Mars only being 56 million miles away, only happens every 60 years or so.

"But we don’t have the money-and Obama is spending whatever money we do have left".

That may or may not be true-but its still all a matter of scale, isn’t it?  NASA’s annual budget is only 17.3 billion dollars a year.  We blow more than that on worthless Arabs in less than three months. Even if  NASA got a plus of up of just one month’s worth of that money-leaving one still 6 billion a month to blow on Arabs-think of what they could do in addition? I’m not even going to mention how much we spend on a whole bunch of other things even closer to home.

Space travel is a bargain actually, compared to the other things we waste money on.And unlike so many other things we are "stimulating" actually creates a ripple wave of jobs.

That is just one reason to support manned space exploration.

I will tell you what, commit the US to going back to the moon before 2012-doable with current technology, ( especially considering that the Ares rocket is nothing more than Apollo on steroids).-and I’ll concede that health care for all may be a bridge too far, this year or any year.

Setting aside the money though-there is a second point that Wolfe makes and its crucial: America lost its will to be optimistic about the future.

Even Ronald Reagan, The Great Communicator, did not spend his persuasive talents on firing America back to the stars. ( Something I never really understood-what a great message about "bringing America back".)

America had a lot of problems in 1969 too-problems that make today’s un-comforts look small in comparison. But we were, as a nation paused and proud of ourselves on this one special day today.

I truly don’t think there has been a moment like it since then. Some have come close-but the slow but sure steady drip, drip, drip, of our descent into a type of national polity where, "You’re wrong, I’m right! Fuck you and fuck the guy you voted for-he’s one step above the anti-Christ!"-that certainly has not helped us get serious about moving mankind away from a time of war to a time of, if not peace, at least a renewed exploration.

I’m not optimistic we can get that back. No matter who’s in Congress or the White House. The damage is just too great.

And the blame for that lies not with Democrats or Republicans. It lies with a death of a national will to achieve. In the end we only have ourselves to blame.  I’m sure I’ll get beat up for that last statement-Jimmy Carter learned the hard way about telling people what they don’t want to hear-but I know in my heart its true. We are capable of doing more-and doing it faster than 40 years.  Regardless of who is office.

We can actually solve a lot of our own problems and lead the world on a great quest-if we would only believe in it.

I won’t live to see the current crisis of confidence resolve itself, I’m afraid. But I sure would like to live long enough to see more footprints on the moon.

 

 

 

No responses yet

Jun 21 2009

I’ll buzz in on that one, Alex.

 "I’ll take stupid neocon fantasies for 400, Alex."

"Ok, Skippy: The answer is:

"one of the reasons there is a substantial reform movement in Iran — particularly among its young people — is because of George W. Bush’s tough policies."

" What is one of the biggest lies Ari Flesicher ever told?"

" Correct, Skippy-you still control the board."

This appears to be the corollary to the "We are not doing enough to help them" line of thought. What better way to salvage a reprobate’s reputation then by linking subsequent events to unintended consequences of a bad decision made by him.

And it seems to be gaining some traction among the usual suspects.

There is, of course, only one problem-it does not tell the whole story.  If Bush wants to take credit for something-how about him taking credit for creating Ahmadinejad in the first place? Because if Iran has gotten more hardline of the  past ten years-guess who helped shove them that way?

The evidence presented for the proposition that Iraq’s nascent democracy (let’s be charitable) influenced what’s happening in Iran is that (a) there’s a nascent democracy in Iraq, (b) Iran is next to Iraq, (c) Iranians make “religious pilgrimages and conduct business” in Iraq and (d) there’s something amazing and hopeful going on in Iran. By contrast, no Iranian … for instance, has mentioned Iraq as an inspiration for the demonstrations, nor has any leader of the opposition cited their Iraqi neighbors as a model or a source of guidance. Instead, they talk about internal, domestic provocations provided by Ahmadinejad and the clerical regime. If we’re going to go by, say, business ties, Iran’s main trading partners are China, India, Germany, South Korea, France, Russia and Italy. Which of those countries inspired the Iranian protests we’re seeing now?

By invading Iraq in 2003-Bush provided defacto evidence to anyone who wanted to use it that the United States was intent on forcibly occupying the region to control its oil resources.  As a result the hard line movement in Iran-which had been experiencing difficulties of its own since 1997-was actually rejuvenated, thanks to fears about US intentions.

I think that the key point to make here is that the reformist candidate won the Iranian presidential election in 1997, and won re-election by a big margin in 2001. Then back in 2003 when a reformist president was actually in office and the Iranian government was looking to improve relations with the United States, the Bush administration chose to strengthen the hand of Iranian hardliners by (a) labeling Iran part of an “axis of evil” (b) refusing to engage in bilateral dialogue with Iran (c) cutting off cooperation on Afghanistan and (d) invading Iraq. We then got Ahmadenijad in the 2005 election, and now we’re watching the 2009 election unfold right before our eyes. The moral of the story is that there’s nothing unusual about a reformist candidate getting strong support from the Iranian voters.

Furthermore, Iranian society has long had western leanings and the Bush probably did more damage to that credibility than anyone since the Shah. Iranians certainly don’t want an Iraq model of government-with an average of 8-10 violent terrorist attacks a day-and a government that blatantly sides with one faction against the other. (Even though most Iranians are Shia’s-its not necessarily apparent that they embrace it he same way Iraqis do). I’ve long believed that most Iranians have never liked their theocratic government. They have been stuck with it-the result of a revolution gone terribly wrong, that was co opted by the wrong kinds of people. ( Ultra-religious Muslims).  Proves the old adage about being careful what you wish for. They may have wanted to the Shah to be gone-but they did not get what they were hoping for.

Iran’s demonstrations in the streets did not start out to be a peoples revolution-but that appears to be what it is turning into. The question the west needs to ask itself is whether it will turn into something that benefits the West. It might not you know-and then where we will be? For the Iranians-the story is about them. For the US, its about how do we get the best deal for what comes out of it?

See, I’m funny that way. I am all about Westerners-in particular Western men-being the preferred customers in the brave new world.  The man Republicans have been tripping over themselves to quote as being an agent provocateur of revolution, Ronald Reagan,was that way too.

No, John McCain, President Reagan did not stand up for the people of Czechoslovakia during the Prague Spring. That happened in 1968, when Mr Reagan was in his first term as governor of California. Nor was Alexander Solzhenitsyn deep in the gulags when Reagan gave his "evil empire" speech. Someone inform Mike Pence. Next will we hear someone credit the release of "Tropic Zone" with forcing an armistice in the Korean War?

This is all very amusing, but Republicans are losing sight of Mr Reagan’s actual foreign policy. His approach toward Iran was brutal realism that resulted in the sale of missiles to the mullahs’ regime. His approach towards South Africa was also pure strategy—support for a racist regime as a way of hurting the Soviets. Many of the anti-communist forces backed by his administration (in Asia, Africa and Latin America) were also hostile to their own people. In other words, he rarely exhibited the woolly-headed, we-support-you idealism that his party is now advocating.

See, one thing Reagan never lost sight of was that US foreign policy is about one group of people only-the US. Its all well and good to see people exhibit normal human empathy towards the demonstrators in Iran-but this "revolution" , if it succeeds may not go where we think it will. Intervene too proactively for a government that has little real desire to go the way the US wants, and we become stuck with it.  Isn’t that the real lesson of the events in Iraq?

A mistake is still a mistake-even if its aftermath later gets set to right.

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Feb 24 2009

Someone had to say it….

I noted with interest the comments of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who safely splash landed a US Airways jet into the Hudson River last month. I don’t know if the Airline Pilots Union put him up to it-but he said some things that truly need to be said:

“I am worried that the airline piloting profession will not be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest,” said Captain Sullenberger, 58. Captain Sullenberger went on to point out that he, like many pilots had been forced to accept some pretty heavy pay cuts over the last few years.

[He] told the House aviation subcommittee that his pay has been cut 40 percent in recent years and his pension has been terminated and replaced with a promise “worth pennies on the dollar” from the federally created Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. These cuts followed a wave of airline bankruptcies after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks compounded by the current recession, he said.

The reduced compensation has placed “pilots and their families in an untenable financial situation,” Sullenberger said. “I do not know a single, professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps.”

When I heard that, I thought of the article I had read in New York Magazine, which I purchased when I saw this cover:

sully090205_150

The article was basically a comparison of the training that produced military aviators of Sully’s generation and the type of training that goes on for aviators today. One of the key points of the article, is that military flying builds a type of aviator that cannot necessarily be replicated in the Flight Safety programs that train commuter pilots-and they also point out that it can both work for good and for ill:

But the truth is, in the years since Sully began flying commercial jets, piloting has become anything but glamorous. Automation has taken much of the actual flying out of the job. The airlines’ business woes have led to longer hours and lower pay. Flying is now governed by enough rules and regulations to fill several encyclopedias. The people attracted to the profession today are different, too. Where the piloting ranks were once made up of former Air Force jocks, many of them combat veterans, they are now filled mainly with civilians for whom flying is less an adventure than a job. “Twenty-five years ago, we were a step below astronauts,” says one veteran pilot. “Now we’re a step above bus drivers. And the bus drivers have a better pension.”

From a passenger’s point of view, that’s mostly a good thing. Each year, hundreds of millions of people fly commercial in the U.S., and fatalities are almost always in the low double digits. In the past two years, there have been absolutely no deaths at all. Changes in the way pilots are recruited and trained are a key reason: In the vast majority of situations, airline-safety experts say, you want the company man, not the cowboy. But then there are the exceptions, the Miracles on the Hudson, the rare moments when it is following the rules, not subverting them, that becomes the riskier course of action. Pilots like Sully who can perform in such circumstances are a dying breed.

Now the article does go on to point out that aircraft are safer than 30 years ago and many great strides, like crew resource management training ( training that focuses on working together as a crew-for the good of the whole flight) have made great improvements in aviation safety. However at the same time, the cuts in the airline industry have made it much less attractive to the military aviator leaving the service. Unlike my generation, who in my humble opinion, was much more focused on the adventure and the excitement-along with camaraderie of a primarily male profession-the current breed understands the economics of the business far better than their elders did.

And because of airline changes, and mismanagement that allowed worthless assholes like Glenn Tilton to walk away with 36 Million and a pension worth at least that much-while stiffing United Employees out of their pensions. That has made the airlines no longer attractive monetarily. Especially when one considers what a military pilot with 8 years and one bonus under his belt has made. This happened while service levels went down hill on United Airlines and other American air carriers.

The full testimony can be watched here.

Now the flip side of the story is that airline pilots don’t work 24 days a month in general-probably closer to 16. However, for better or for worse, they work in a profession filled with a mortal responsibility. Screw up bad, and over a 100 innocent people will pay for that mistake. So working 15 days a month and paying them a decent wage is probably a fair trade.

There once was a time I did not think so.  I always used to hate guys who left the Navy early and went to work for the airlines. I hated the fact that NFO’s never had the same opportunity-my dream job is still: pilot for Cathay Pacific ( based in Hong Kong).  However as I have aged I also realized something else. Many of the guys who left probably did not have much of a future in the Navy. Some did, but a lot did not due to their performance as officers. However, very few of them were what I would call bad pilots. The profession has a tradition of identifying those who cannot perform in the air early and finding other things for them to do. As I used to tell my JO’s, ” If you can perform in the airplane, people will forgive a lot on the ground. However if you can’t get the job done  airborne-there is little slack left that anyone will cut you.” I also used to tell them that being an officer was 90% of their job. ” If the Navy just wanted you to fly, you would be a warrant officer”. That never set well with some folks-but its the truth.

Some took the advice and did well both as aviators and as officers. Others did not, and went a separate path-but the simple truth is they still had a lot of experience and a contribution to make. The nation as a whole is probably better served when the military produces the majority of the nation’s airline pilots.

Better business guys like Glenn Tilton lost sight of that. And if you look at the demographics of today’s pilot population it should make you nervous.   I still maintain that people will pay for higher levels of service-and if anything, we could do with a transportation infrastructure that was not totally dependent upon the airplane-particularly within the Northeast.

Having a trained cadre of good pilots is one of the benefits of investing in military aviation.  Of course, with the changes that are happening within the military these days-sometimes I wonder about that-but there is still no other place to gather a grunch of hours quickly. In 1984 at the end of  my first sea tour I had almost 1400 hours. Those days have come and gone however.

I submit that airlines can offer both service and timely arrival , even if it means a little more money for a ticket.  What the traveling public must understand is that cheap airfares come with a hidden “fee,” and that fee is the cost of not having the right folks in the right places.

Money is tight to be sure-so I’m not sure what the right answer is.

I’ll close with a story about a great pilot I once flew with.  He left the service right in 2000 and got picked up by a major airline. He got furloughed right after 9-11. The thing he used to say about flying with him was that “you are as safe as in your mother’s arms”.  My ability to climb into my trusty War Hummer rested on that belief-and he never let me down. Even when the deck was pitching in the North Atlantic.

Can US Airways tell me the same thing in 10 years?

2 responses so far

Jan 04 2009

Liberation Theology………..

It pains me greatly (I’ve been OD’ing on John Adams DVD’s today) to give pause from my narrow commentary on the various and sundry musing’s on my life-to jump back into the fluid waters of political discussion. Ordinarily, I would have waited till the year was farther along, but when one reads cravenly incorrect diatribe, then like Mr. Adams, I must needs give comment. And context.

One of the things I truly despise about the idea that we somehow invaded Iraq for the purpose of “liberating” its 26 million Arab souls-is the exclusivity and selectiveness of that of liberation.  The jury is still out as to whether Iraq has been truly liberated by the way of invasion, or whether America’s occupation has simply served as a way station for that God forsaken nation on its voyage from one failed government to another to yet another. Being supremely confident as I am in the Iraqi people, I quite confident in their ability to yet again hose up any good deal given unto them.

However for arguments sake, lets just suppose that the underpinnings of this “liberation theology” -the idea that a superpower that believes itself to be unique among the nations, and somehow above the mistakes of other,  lesser powers- are sound.  That these beliefs somehow provide it with a God given duty to invade nations willy nilly to “free” them.

That then begs the question then, namely, ‘Why doesn’t every oppressed nation deserve such consideration?”. Why then, given a moral duty to liberate oppressed people-are we at the same time, indifferent places and nations-and  in certain cases, sometimes blatantly and sometimes obliquely, active participants in the oppression of other “less worthy” peoples through dictatorship?

Eh Jules? Maybe you could cut through your slobbering faith in George Bush as a misunderstood leader of history, and answer that one fundamental question. Except of course,  you can’t.

Because you are an idiot sir-and so are those who believe that the invasion of Iraq was somehow the dawning of a Messianic turn from tyranny inside the Middle East. The leader of Iraq may have changed but the dysfunction of the region as whole will continue long after George W. Bush’s name will have been dissected ad nausem by historians. The reason? Because the fundamental causes of that dysfunction remain: Islam and and an economy dependent on outsiders for its basic labor.

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Jul 12 2008

Driving under the influence

Not me, but that is what it seems the US is doing when it comes to oil.

Actually, as a I think about it, current US energy policy is similar to the crusade of angry mothers, who want to rid the world of the members of DAMM. ( Drunks against mad mothers). Their efforts to change the DUI laws have been long and fierce-but interestingly enough the DUI rate remains about the same-or in some places it has gone up.

The reason? Well, besides the fact that the BAC limit is too low( .10 is the only correct number-but that is for another post) the main reason that all these tough DUI laws don’t work too well is simple:

There is no other way to get your car back from the bar.

E.G. When it comes to transportation, there is no good alternative way to get to the places you want to go.

Now the same is true for energy and drilling for oil. The powers that be can whine all they want about drilling offshore and in ANWAR and it still does not disguise the great fact that the US simply uses too much gasoline. Or as the S.O. says the US is a car society. And like our wayward friend tap dancing in front of the State Trooper, the reason is the same:

We don’t have any other way to get back from the bar.

Please, spare me the lines about taxis and designated drivers-those are all good ideas. But they sure don’t help the guy out there prowling for a pick up by himself. And for taxis to be a real alternative they need to be more plentiful and cheaper. They are not. Trust me, I know. As dedicated member of DAMM, I take a lot of taxis-I don’t want to dance in front of the road nazis. I’m still going to go to the bar.

Because I love bars. And in Tokyo I could go to a lot of bars-and never run afoul of the police. This in a country where the DUI limit is .03. They can do that with a clear conscience because they have decent public transportation.

Taxis are still expensive though. But the busses run on time.

And without viable public transportation alternatives, the US will keep paying higher prices for gasoline. Because the population is still going to go the bar. Or to work, or to school or wherever.

On the way up here to my parents house I marvelled at an e-mail I got from American urging me to sign a petition to urge Congress to go after speculators. Saying they are the problem with gasoline. I think I will pass. If I had the money, I would be a speculator too. Why do commodities traders drive up the price of oil?

Because they can.

It still comes down to a couple of hard truths. Demand is higher because of all those Indians and Chinese who are burning gas they don’t deserve to have. And they want even more.

And second, the war(s) in the Middle East make investors nervous. They make drivers nervous. They make countries nervous. So they stock up. Which further drives up demand.

So I’ve got an idea. Instead of taking all that money for drilling-and for the wars that make everyone nervous, and build some good trains.

And while we are at it, subsidize the taxi services too. So fares are low.

Then the mothers could be really angry-with good reason.

We could get to the bar without breaking the bank.

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Jun 14 2008

Bulldozing the moral high ground.

I must confess, I do not understand all of the right wing “outrage” about the Supreme Court decision concerning the detainees at GTMO. Do people even hear the things they are saying?

In a nutshell, the Court said that Habeas Corpus follows the flag-and if the US chooses to exercise jurisdiction, it has to live by its own laws and legal tradition for better or worse. For some reason that bothers a hell of a lot of people.  Anyone who dares to agree with the fact that the Supreme Court made a decision that erred on the conservative side-and it was a divided decision-is judged in the opinion of one somehow worthy not to serve.

Insert: According to one commenter at the other place, ” I’m damned glad you’re not on active duty.” Well,  I am sad that people who cannot think for themselves are on active duty these days too-so I guess we are about even. However I will point out that I served long and well.  And I’m proud of my service.

Do people even take the time to understand the issues any more? Or listen to what they are saying? I don’t think so. The popular way of doing business is to listen to a commentator, agree with his position, then attack anyone who does not. Fine, that is how commentators and others make their money-it is not a path to rational thought.

And Craig-since I am “naive”, perhaps you could bear with me while I run it through again for both yours and my benefit.

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May 17 2008

Reading between the lines……..

I watch with interest the brouhaa over the remarks of George W. Bush in the Knesset a couple of days ago. ( A legislative body he loves more than his own Congress, I might add). Basically, you can either think he is giving great oration or attacking the other side when he stated:

Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Some people suggest that if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of our enemies, and America rejects it utterly. Israel’s population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because America stands with you.

The media have fixated on the first paragraph-they need to look harder at the second. And people need to read Bush’s whole speech-because when you do you will find that he was speaking, as he often does, in code words for a designated audience both in Israel and the US. Go back and look how he started it:

What followed was more than the establishment of a new country. It was the redemption of an ancient promise given to Abraham and Moses and David — a homeland for the chosen people Eretz Yisrael.

People don’t use those words, Eretz Yisrael, by accident. They do it deliberately and it is designed to warm the hearts of the John Hagee’s and Rev. Dobson’s of the world and also infuriate any Arab within listening distance. He should know better-assuming he wants to be even handed and promote dialogue between Israel and the Arabs.

Except of course, that’s not what Bush really wants. He wants the Temple rebuilt. The Arabs know that by the way.

It is also seems ironic to me-that Bush talks about not negotiating with terrorist groups when the nation he is standing and speaking in was the direct result of a terrorist insurgency.

Whoa! Hold the phone! Israel was formed as a result of the Holocaust.

Ummm…..No.

Israel was born despite the Holocaust. Every visiting foreign dignitary is taken to Yad Vashem, the official Holocaust memorial. The route proceeds from exhibits on the horrors of the death camps to the establishment of the Jewish state. The stress on the Holocaust reflects the emotional trauma that the horror still inflicts on Jews. It also underpins the political message that Jews can only be safe in their own state. But an additional message is that Israel was created as a response to the genocide perpetrated against Jews in Europe. That’s a historical mistake, and promoting it is politically costly for Israel. As an organized political movement, Zionism began in 1897, decades before the Nazis took power in Germany. Modern Jewish migration to Palestine began even earlier, not just from Europe but also from Yemen, Central Asia, and other parts of the Muslim world. Early Zionists did see anti-Semitism as proof that in an age of nation-states, Jews needed one of their own. But they built their plans on Europe’s Jews moving to Palestine. Those numbers would ensure that Jews would grow from a small minority to an overwhelming majority in the country.

In 1939, there were 8.3 million Jews in the territory that would come under Axis rule. Six million were murdered. The Holocaust orphaned the Jewish independence movement, whose largest source of support and immigrants was wiped out. The state that was established was much weaker than it would have been.

When Israel bases its public relations on the Holocaust, it unintentionally lends support to the Arab argument that Palestinians are paying for Europe’s sins, a talking point intended to undercut Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish home and shift Western support to the Palestinians.

Bush also made it clear that Israel is threatened by Iran and he will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. The unspoken implication is that Israel will be destroyed if they get one.

Sounds good but it ignores why Iran wants a bomb-they have nothing in alternative. And it gives them a card they can play, with both Israel and the United States. Bush ignores the real reason that we need to be talking to Iran:

Although all nuclear proliferation is dangerous, the rhetoric ignores the regional power balance. Israel does not normally say it has nuclear arms. But Olmert slipped in 2006, classifying Israel as a nuclear power. Foreign reports sometimes refer to Israel’s presumed second-strike capability, the ability to destroy an enemy even if the enemy were to strike first. Such deterrence kept the Soviet Union and the United States from using nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

A common argument is that deterrence won’t work as it did with the Soviets. Iran’s fundamentalist leaders would supposedly be willing to commit national suicide to fulfill their irrational ideology. Experience shows, however, that Iranian leaders share the Soviets’ caution. Iran agreed to a cease-fire in the war with Iraq once Iraqi missiles began falling on Tehran. The ayatollahs were willing to sacrifice soldiers—but not to pay a higher price. The threat of mushroom clouds will concentrate their thinking about Israel wonderfully.

It’s true that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s extreme anti-Israel rhetoric and Holocaust denials are perfectly pitched to frighten Jews. But when Mohammad Khatami was president of Iran, we were told that his moderation made little difference because real power lay with the ayatollahs. For the same reason, one should avoid overestimating Ahmadinejad’s clout.

Iran’s underlying reason for wanting nukes is nationalist and fairly pragmatic: It seeks to assert its role as a regional power and to deter other nuclear powers. The real risk is that it will set off a regional race for the bomb. The more fingers there are on more buttons, the greater the chance of a mistake. Complacency would be a mistake—but so is panic.”

The partisan political rhetoric also ignores a fundamental fact that has occurred in the last few months. The very government that Bush was resolutly vowing to remain steadfast in front of, has been urging him almost weekly to begin those very negotiations that he eschews.

Like the president who leads it, the Bush administration has been known for holding fast to its views and seeing the world through an ideological lens. That world view explains in part why the administration often has refused to negotiate or even talk with what it considers to be some of the world’s most odious regimes. But, in its twilight, the Bush administration has shown hints of stepping back from its blanket refusal to engage some adversarial regimes and militant groups. The tactical shift, however sporadic, is no doubt a byproduct of the fact that there is now little time left for an administration hungry for foreign-policy victories.

But other factors may have influenced the administration as well. Among them, the advice from some veteran former Israeli security and diplomatic officials who have been making a steady pilgrimage to Washington in recent months to urge officials to reconsider the administration’s ideological position of not engaging with hostile regimes and terrorist groups.

The whole thing about not talking to the US enemies ignores a few other things as well.

1) Sovereign nations talk to each other all the time. The US talks to Saudi Arabia and its government is hardly one that “promotes freedom and democracy”. And I don’t see our embassy in the biggest dictatorship of all, China, closing anytime soon. The US actually maintained an embassy in Nazi Germany until 7 Decemeber 1941. There is a big difference between talk between nations and talk with terrorist groups. Obama has actually been very clear on that point.

2) The US will have to talk with Iran at some point. The only real question is how and to whom. McCain, if he becomes President will probably have some sort of NK like discussions with Iran. Not with the Ackmewhathisname, but with intermediaries just like Bush himself does with the NORKS. It is also important to remember that diplomacy does not happen in a vacuum. It happens in concert with other things-like two CVBG’s steaming through the straits of Hormuz. The important distinction is that you are not getting a lot of Americans killed while pressuring Iran. And it reminds Iran the roof will cave in if they do anything stupid.

While all the while allowing dialogue to move forward. We should also think back to the good old days when we overthrew Iranian governments we did not like-remember Mossagedeh? Akmawhathis name is not as secure politically as he lets on. And he will be standing for some sort of re-election ( a loose term I know). Back in the good old days we made bad guy nations collapse from within.

Like the Russians.

Finally, ask yourself this question. Is the United States-or Israel for that matter-any safer vis a vis Iran than it was in 2000? The answer to that question is no. In fact, it can be argued that if anything , US policy in Iraq created a vacuum that Iran jumped into. Nations act in self interest. Unless the United States really wants to invade all comers-in which case it needs a bigger Armed Forces-the US sometimes has to talk with people we don’t always agree with.

After all, it was not appeasement because Chamberlain talked with Hitler. It was appeasement because he gave him the Sudetenland. No one is talking about doing anything like that here.

So this is good. Perhaps Obama can rally the Dems from their solace and actually debate the Republicans point for point about GWB’s misguided approach on foreign policy. There is more than one way to fuel Europe…………………………………………………. 

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