Archive for the 'The Long Game' Category

Jan 10 2014

Going down a sinkhole…….

Is still a bad thing-no matter how many times you do it.

The usual suspects have come out, and seized upon Robert Gates’ new book to criticize the effort to get the US out of the worthless hellhole that is Afghanistan, and to rewrite the history of the US fiasco in Iraq.  I find the tenor of the comments interesting, if more than a little bit predictable.

First, I think it is most important that the specific quote be examined in the context of the text around them. Gates was and is a person who moves deliberately, does not waste words, and I like to think of him as a consummate professional. Certainly he made a far better SECDEF than his worthless predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld-who ranks right down there with McNamara in terms of overall mediocrity.

Furthermore, it is particularly important to remember who is out there fronting for these criticisms right now: Bob Woodward and William “The Bloody” Kristol, neither of whom can be consider to be exactly “objective” observers. As Charles Pierce notes:

I mean, is there any possible reason to criticize the president because he injured the rather peripatetic fee-fee of Saint David Petraeus, or to find it unprecedented that a president might wonder whether or not a war he inherited — and, yes, supported, as a candidate — wasn't ultimately a futile proposition, or whether his generals were giving him the straight dope. I guarantee you, back in the 1860's, Woodward would have been the go-to stenographer for all those incompetent generals who Lincoln fired. (George McClellan would have loved him.) In the 1950's, Woodward would have been MacArthur's first phone call after Harry Truman canned his ass.

The other important thing to remember about Bob Gates is that a Democratic president thought keeping him on as Secretary of Defense would be a smart, centrist, bipartisan move that would be applauded on the op-ed pages, and by important people. Like, one supposes, Bob Woodward, who now occupies as space in the dingbatosphere far beyond mere journalism.

And, no matter how professional Gates is-he is still a Republican. Who has served a series of Republican presidents and made more than a couple of mistakes himself.

Or does no one remember Iran Contra anymore?

When Obama came into office-he was committed to getting us out of the hell hole that is Iraq. (Which was just as well since there was no prospect that an American troop presence would ever have resulted in social peace there) He had campaigned on the idea that Iraq was a colossal mistake and it diverted resources from the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  DOD was supposed to give him a menu of options for pursuing “victory”. In the end they only gave him the same tired old formula. A plan for a troop escalation of 40,000 and an open-ended big war to “prove” David Petraeus’s theories of counter-insurgency. Petraeus’ sexual proclivities were as yet unknown-so he still enjoyed sainthood status.  This even though, in Iraq, he was part of the problem long before he became the solution. And when examined in detail-the surge did nothing that it was supposed to have done. ( As is being proved every day now in that useless nation). So what he said carried a lot of weight-and going against them was not a politically expedient move.

Now, even Gates’ critics acknowledge that on the whole, he was a very positive force at the Pentagon and for the nation. He appears to have helped prevent Dick Cheney and the Neocons from attacking Iran. He warned against the seductive character of drone warfare, and wants a court to sign off on drone strikes. He said he thought any military commander who wanted to take US troops into another big ground war should have his head examined. And he tried to rein in the Pentagon’s off the rail procurement processes, which have led to such fiascos as the Little Crappy Ship.

Plus, these criticisms are more than a little self-serving. They seek to completely ignore the fact that by 2009, in general, the public had had it with war without end, and was tired of the wars in general, and Iraq in particular.  As is typical for your fan of Bush’s peculiar brand of liberation theology, it ignores the real people who were causing the failure of said policy, namely the people of Afghanistan themselves. Andrew Bacevich quite correctly pointed out that there was a distance between “American actions and America's interests is becoming increasingly difficult to discern. The fundamental incoherence of U.S. strategy becomes ever more apparent. Worst of all, there is no end in sight.”. It appears to me, at first glance (and I will need to read the book), that contrary to what the neocon apologists say, it is probably Obama that got the assessment right. He understood the public mood and had no real reason to trust the folks giving him advice-especially since they had a vested interest in seeing the wars continue. “It is further understandable that Obama entertained the severest doubts about the feasibility of Petraeus’s big counter-insurgency push. At best, he was willing to give it a try.”

Events have proven the naysayers correct-the Afghans excelled at screwing away opportunities presented to them. Petreaus is gone into obscurity, and Afghanistan has increasingly become synonymous with the overall failure of the so called “War on Terror”.  Public opinion, rightfully so, wants us out-and the sooner we get out,  the better for America. Probably not for Afghanistan, but they made their choice. Now they should have to live with it.

You have to conclude that Gates resents Obama for outmaneuvering him and some of the more gung ho officers. Obama didn’t intend to go on fighting and nation-building in Afghanistan forever. Indeed, US forces are no longer in the lead in military operations and soon they’ll be gone or be little more than troop trainers.

If anything, Obama could be faulted for giving the COIN (“counter-insurgency”) officers the benefit of the doubt and playing along with their completely unrealistic plans. He should have listened to Joe Biden, who has long experience in foreign policy and is most often right (unlike Gates). If Gates is right and Obama distrusted the generals pitching them and was skeptical of the strategy itself, it has to increase your estimation of Obama. Our estimation of Gates, in contrast, can only fall because of his disloyalty and his naive approach to Afghanistan.

 

 

One response so far

Jan 01 2014

And so it begins…..

Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out , 2013.

For me, 2013 was, in the aggregate, something of a depressing year. For both personal and national reasons which I will explain in this post. It is my sincere hope that 2014 can turn both categories around dramatically, but I'd be lying if I said I was optimistic.

From a personal standpoint, 2013 saw for yet another year, the frustration of my ongoing desire to return to Asia to live on a permanent basis. Sadly too, I was stymied even in my modest efforts to get back for a short duration visit-a situation I hope to rectify this year. For the long term, my hopes were dashed rather repeatedly. I did make the short list twice for positions that would have taken me back to the right side of the international date line, but when the decision was made, they went with another candidate. I also had a chance to get on with a major US company in Istanbul, but in what can only be a case of age discrimination, they went with a younger and more MBA credentialed candidate, so that door also slammed abruptly in my face. Thanks to some rather bone headed policy decisions by current employer, that were not in effect when I took my current position-it would appear that window of opportunity for a return to paradise is rapidly closing, with scant chance of reopening.  Hope springs eternal, however, and I will keep throwing out lines of effort-hoping to use what ever bait I can to lure a prospective Asian employer my way.

I have to. Thanks to the utterly reckless and considerably stupid decisions being made by the increasingly classless generation of military leadership  that is moving up within the ranks of the American defense industry, the rather productive and likeable team I enjoyed working with was sucked into a vacuum bag of uselessness. And as I expected, the selfish man at the heart of the conspiracy remains clueless to the effects of evil machinations on those who must actually do the work. There are still a host of unsolved issues as a result of this stupid merger-and no one is making a serious effort to resolve them.

The words, "I told you this would happen, you pompous twit!", just don't quite say it completely enough right now.

There were other lesser disappointments, which should best be discussed elsewhere, but which center on the tyranny of different needs and expectations. "A little less conversation,  a lot more action please!" in 2014.

On the national front, I am more than a little pessimistic at the future of the great nation I have given my entire adult life to the service of. The country has become infected by a sickness of selfishness combined with apathy-enabled a by a group of charlatans who sow the seeds of national destruction, while trying to dress their effort up as some sort of "victory march". The infected cohort has not reached a critical mass yet-but I fear that if not cured soon- it will consume the body politic of the nation. In its most extreme form, its victims try to dress their selfishness up as the desire the Deity-even when it is clearly at odds with His teachings. If their attitudes are the result of the direction of the Deity, then He must me a rather vindictive and unfair sort at that. I'd like to believe not. Unfairness and vindictiveness are not values of a divine being. I do take some spark of hope at the efforts Pope Francis is undertaking to identify and shame these worthless hypocrites, and in that effort I wish him well. He is making all the right people very uncomfortable. Nonetheless, you are fooling yourself, if you don't think there is a group afoot that seeks to undermine the very fabric what made the United States, well, United. Which is just what their corporate masters want. 

Now there are those who try to console me with the idea that the country has seen worse and got through it, most notably citing the example of the Civil War. I would remind you that in that little fracas more men died than in any other US conflict, and it corrupted US politics for a 100 years. Now in an interconnected, rapidly rising multi-polar world, the potential to inflict real and lasting damage to the nation of my birth is accelerated. This is the source of my pessimism. 

Because too many people are ignoring the brick wall that Ronald Reagan built. And George Bush, refurbished and dramatically strengthened:

The brick wall, of course, is the concentration of wealth and power among the top 0.01%. That's what has sucked all the money out of our economy, and that's what needs to be reversed before our economy will work well again. That's why the young nurse cannot earn enough to pay her rent, feed her family, and pay back her student loans and must instead send her babies to live with their grandparents thousands of miles away. That's why so many must work multiple part-time jobs with unpredictable schedules, wrecking their ability to obtain safe child care or maintain a healthy relationship with their kids.   



None these problems can be solved without reversing the concentration of wealth we've allowed for the past 40 years.

Any competent look at the economics of the last 14 years, clearly shows that the threads of a strong middle class are being wiped out. As one of those folks in the path of this bulldozer-I will remain more than just casually concerned. It used to be that both sides agreed about the core goals, and simply differed on the right pathways to get there. What troubles me deeply is that this is no longer true. Now you have a group who is arguing out loud, ideas that should not even be thought in ones head, much less uttered in any company whatsoever-polite or otherwise. "Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable."

This scares me for the future makes me very worried. Carried to its logical conclusion it will replicate the class struggles of many centuries before. I would remind you that this the year of the 100th anniversary of World War I, a manifest catastrophe, which set the seeds of unimaginable suffering.

So I view the New Year, 2014 with cautious hope and a strong desire for real change, for both myself and for the country that I will always love, even if I don't always like it. But its going to have to be a watchful caution, because there are real predators out and about in the woods of my existence. And they seek to do me harm. So prudent caution must remain the word of the day.

Happy New Year.

18 responses so far

Nov 24 2013

The chance of precipitation just went up.

Not rain falling, but bombs. Dropped from Israeli planes.

The western powers signed an interim agreement with Iran last night. As expected a certain, rather stubborn group of folks is not happy about that one bit:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu characterized the agreement signed with Iran early Sunday morning as a historic mistake.

Directly contrasting US President Barack Obama who praised the agreement as opening a "new path toward a world that is more secure,"  Netanyahu – speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting — said the world has become more dangerous as a result.

"What was agreed last night in Geneva is not a historic agreement, it is a historic mistake," he said. "Today the world has become much more dangerous because the most dangerous regime in the world took a significant step to getting the most dangerous weapon in the world."

For the first time, he said, the leading powers of the world agreed to uranium enrichment in Iran, while removing sanctions that it has taken years to build up in exchange for "cosmetic Iranian concession that are possible to do away with in a matter of weeks."

Netanyahu said the consequences of this deal threaten many countries, including Israel. He reiterated what he has said in the past, that Israel is not obligated by the agreement.(emphasis mine)

That last sentence is the key one. The whole last week I was on travel, the Israeli press was having kittens over the idea that the west might do anything less than bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran. Which never made much sense to me. For one thing-Iran is the size of Europe, its a big country, and the chances that the Israeli Air Force can get all the things it needs to in one strike ( which is all they would realistically get) are low indeed. Secondly the idea of getting us to do the dirty work for them is full of traps and problems for the US.  Not to mention that starting a 4TH war in over a decade is just plain stupid. Thanks GWB, Thanks a lot. Because of your stupid wars-we are in this mess to begin with.

The interests of the US and Israel do not always align. This is going to be one of those times. And Israel will just have to accept that fact.

But I am convinced they won't. They will continue to push and prod to get their way. That's how they do business.

"And by the way, we still expect our over 4 Billion dollars in US aid next year. Got that?"

The apocalyptic rhetoric started in Israel almost immediately:

The deputy speaker of parliament, Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, said on Saturday the interim agreement signed between Iran and the Western powers was tantamount to the Munich Agreement of the late 1930s.

“Like Czechoslovakia at that time, which was not party to the discussions that effectively sentenced it to death, Israel today watches from the sidelines how its existential interest is being sacrificed by the Western powers,” Feiglin said.

“Any rational person understands that we are in the midst of a process leads to a nuclear-armed Iran,” he said. “For years I have warned about the dangers of the strategy adopted by Israel towards the Iranian nuclear threat.”

Feiglin said that entrusting foreign powers to secure Israel’s defense interests is “disastrous” and “much worse than that which led to the Yom Kippur War.”

The lawmaker called on the Israeli government to declare an immediate end to all contacts with the West over the Iranian question and to make clear that it would not be bound by the agreement signed.

I can't wait to see what our group of AIPAC funded  whores Congressional stooges has to say about it on Monday.

Some problems are just tough-and there are no easy solutions, especially military ones-and its even tougher when over 60 years of stupidity has gone into the problem of relations with Iran, who are not Arabs.

I will say this again, two things actually. First, one can admire and respect Israel and its citizens-and give them support-without agreeing with everything they ask for. And that leads to my second point, most Americans do not understand Israel at all. They think they do-and they think its a transplanted version of America in the Levant. Trust me,  its not-its a different society. They use language and view their situation in a very different way than we do. And they always will. Furthermore-Israel is indeed a melting pot of cultures-and not all of those cultural traditions are ones we would like if we knew the details. That still does not stop us from being supportive-but supportive does not mean, contrary to what Rev Hagee and the members of AIPAC believe, a blank check.

So buckle up boys and girls, 2014 is going to be an up and down ride.

"The Lord is our Shepherd says the psalm, but just in case, its Iran we gotta bomb!"

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3 responses so far

Sep 17 2013

Random thoughts.

When I think of yesterday's events.

First of all, I hate it when someone prescribes, based on their own social conventions and biases, how exactly I am supposed to feel and react to such a horrific event. My values are not your values. So you will forgive me if I don't react in exactly the manner you-or the thousands like you think I should react.

How do I react to an event like yesterday's as an American? Fear, disgust, despair and anger.

Fear because when you look at the names of the victims-one quickly realizes that there is nothing to distinguish them from you. The went to work-to do their jobs-never expecting it would be the end. They had plans, families, dreams, a life. And it was all ended senselessly. Consider:

  • Michael Arnold, 59.
  • Sylvia Frasier, 53.
  • Kathy Gaarde, 62.
  • John Roger Johnson, 73.
  • Frank Kohler, 50.
  • Bernard Proctor, 46.
  • Vishnu Pandit, 61.

 

 

They have a lot in common with you-and with me. I don't know their individual stories but I'll bet a couple were prior Navy or otherwise prior service. They just wanted to do their jobs. These are hardly the "moochers" that government workers are portrayed as daily in the halls of Congress and in supposedly "smart" political circles. If I had taken a job in DC ( or LA , or Washington State, or Pittsburgh, or Charlotte) -it could have been me.

Which leads to a second point. I don't understand those who say they were targeted because they were Navy. That they were Navy is actually a secondary consideration. This was a workplace shooting. Nothing more, nothing less. If they had been working for Honeywell, General Dynamics, Merrill Lynch, the Department of State-would their deaths somehow have been less tragic? The Navy was their corporation. They were randomly targeted because the shooter objected to something that had occurred connected with the corporation. This work place had extra security to be sure-but the shooter still got through.

It's disgusting to me that this happened in my own country. Its also less than thrilling to realize that in the grand scheme of things in the world-it is just a drop of water in the sea of violence that engulfs our planet. Consider, in the 24 hours of yesterday:

41 people died in Mexico yesterday due to flooding.

8 People died in Colorado for the same reason.

No one knows how many people died in Syria yesterday.

The most senior police woman in Afghanistan died in as a result of shooting injuries.

36 people died in Iraq over the weekend.

3 people died in Japan on the 16th-as a result of a Typhoon.

64 people died in the Philippines as a result of fighting in Zamboanga.

And the list goes on.

Its here that anger can and should kick in. Its all tragic. Its all unnecessary. Its all fundamentally unfair. Yet we daily see events such as these pass us by and pay no mind to it. We become numb to it-unless it happens to someone we know.

I've been a bystander to a couple of instances of work place violence. During my time as a squadron XO, a Sailor in a sister squadron, after getting a career ending piece of paper, injured another Sailor and shot himself. On another occasion a fellow officer went AWOL and committed suicide. When I was in college-a Freshman refused to come home from leave. So he shot his family in their beds.

The cycle of violence goes on.

Those who survived and were spared, in the sheer joy of being alive, attributed the fact that they did so-because "God was with them". Are we then to surmise that God was not with the dead and wounded? That's hardly fair….or just. What kind of a God just lets random, senseless acts of violence roll on unabated because its some kind of "divine plan"? If it is a plan-its not divine nor is it much of one. Its pretty goddamn twisted and unfair if you ask me.  I'm not getting into the problem of why evil exists. Or how believing people reconcile themselves with the fact that God lets bad things happen to good people. I certainly do not know the answer.

However,  I do know its unfair-that unfairness undercuts His attempts to draw people unto himself.

And, while we’re discussing things that are unfair, here’s another: how the owner of the contracting firm that hired the shooter got so damn rich. Or how he has the balls to blame what happened yesterday on the sequester. Sorry pal-as the purveyor of a product, sequester or no, you still had an obligation to do due diligence. There is more here than meets the eye-and hopefully it will come out.

And if you are not mad about that-then perhaps you should be.

There's a lot more to be angry about-and I have a right to show my anger.  Its the primary feeling I had yesterday-especially since I was pretty sure from the start it was a disgruntled employee and not a terrorist attack-and it appears I was right.

I'm going to start drinking now because here is where the despair kicks in.

Because nothing is going to change.

Oh sure there will be tighter security-and background investigations for non deluded, non shooting, non messed up people are going to get really painful. Despair that dickheads like Joe Wilson can spout off nonsense. And never get called on it. A year will come and go and he will still be Joe fucking Wilson.

Despair that the clock is ticking till the next place of workplace violence appears-because rather than do the best thing one could do to honor their memories,-namely find a way to keep that next event from happening-the country will slump back into its pit of doing nothing and accepting this kind of mindless violence as the "cost of doing business".

And of course the same government employees now being praised will be screwed when the Congress shuts the government down next month.And it will only be a matter of time until some asshole Congressman tells us that clearly, only more sequestration, more budget cuts, more tax cuts,  can make our troops safe.

Because you know….we can't make any real changes. That benefit someone besides rich people.

As I said-I have a right to be angry. 

 

One response so far

Aug 30 2013

Worth two hours of your time.

Published by under The Long Game

Contrary to popular belief in America, there is something more important in the world than whether Ben Affleck will play Batman or Miley Cyrus' performance at the video awards.

This 2+ hour video from C-span is worth your time. Yesterday was a bad day for David Cameron-but it was a great day for democracy. Its also a good primer on the issues in Syria.

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/CommonsDeb

If you are pressed for time just watch David Cameron's speech and Ed Milibrand's at the begining.

 

One response so far

Aug 29 2013

No upside-only down sides.

To attacking Syria. All the usual suspects are lining up telling us how we have to "do something" in Syria. I really don't understand why. Apparently a lot of other Americans don't understand why either, judging by polls that say a majority of Americans are opposed to any intervention in Syria.

It may be tragic and a lot of Syrians are being killed-but that is their problem not ours. Foreign Policy has to be about a narrow and ruthless focus on what is in America's long term strategic interest.

What I'm most bothered by (aside from the rapid pace of escalation), is I can't, looking at a map of Syria, figure out what the hell anyone advocating for [military action] thinks will be the strategic benefit.

Syria is surrounded by unstable states. Egypt, Iraq, Iran, even Turkey. To the South, you have Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

When we entered Iraq 10 years ago, [as recommended by] the Project for a New American Century, we were facing a series of relatively stable dictatorships and despots. The PNAC wanted to remake the Middle East in favor of American interests. Those were likely to be the best conditions to enter a confrontation, because at the least, these were at the time, allied despots and their countries were, again, relatively under control.

Looking at Syria now, what is to be gained? We prop up an opposition movement that has no capacity to actually hold its country. That's the best case scenario. But even if we do this, what happens in the rest of the region? Our allies are put into further peril because the conflict while perhaps never reaching our borders, will reach theirs. That means, for the sake of [averting] calamity in one region, we will not be able to contain it reaching Jordan or Israel or Saudi Arabia.

Further, where exactly do we plan to be stationed once we [are drawn into] to a major confrontation? What allied nation will we expose, in the midst of this instability, to bear a brunt not just put forward by Syria or Iran, but very possibly by Russian forces, or at the least, Russian armaments. What exactly is the hope here, that former Soviet States will volunteer as shipping stations and endanger their current relationship with Russia? That Russia and Iran won't get involved? That this will be an isolated incident? That there will be no Assad loyalists after a few precision campaigns? That we will bomb for show of force and then just leave regardless?

I mean, let's say our worry was stability, we would actually be propping up Assad, not his opposition, because Assad has a better chance of maintaining long-term control than they do.

So, we're not after stability. We're not, I'm assuming, [trying for] a winnable war unless someone can explain to me how the United States by giving limited assistant to the rebels will not only topple the government but ensure the complete irrelevance of the loyalists…. Are we going to commit ground troops when things get worse and Assad isn't gone?… Even if everything somehow magically goes according to a plan that no one even has yet, then what? Syria's opposition becomes what, exactly? Syria is a stable state? How?

There is a rush to go to war now being advocated by people who are ready to play with the ripped and shaken up pieces of a jigsaw puzzles as though they were flat and in place. But these men aren't gods and they don't see all the angles they think they do.

I also agree with James Fallows, Obama should be doing more to get Congress on board before he does anything. He's not Ronald Reagan and does not have the same type of Congress Reagan had in 1986-nor is this the same type of situation as the Libya strikes. The President has time-and he sure as hell does not need to hand the House of Representatives, some of whose members are just chomping at the bit to impeach him, anything that looks like an excuse. Sometimes a tragedy is just a tragedy, but we have to be more cold heartedly focused on our own interests. And unless we are prepared to go in full bore and take down Assad and destroy the nation of Syria, we have no business striking there at all.

And for the Galtian overlords who are advocating striking Syria while at the same time telling me how the debt is "crushing our children". Go and politely fuck yourself.

I mention this only because, well, Congressman Tom Marino is very sorry, Grandma, but you'll be eating some Fancy Feast for Thanksgiving.

"It's going to take two decades – even if we start now – to try to eliminate this debt," he said. "Folks, we do not have the money. The revenue is not there. How are you going to pay for it?"

But $30 million to blow stuff up? Absolutely. We're like a drunk on payday.

 

4 responses so far

Jul 09 2013

The best favor we could do for ourselves.

Get the hell out of Afghanistan-as fast as we can.

I would love to see that happen. If we can't afford to pay our employees their full salary, can't afford to buy the things the nation needs, can't afford to do the things the nation should be doing-then we don't have the money to pursue stupid wars for people won't change no matter what we do.

Not-going-to-happen. But still a man can dream, can't he?

Increasingly frustrated by his dealings with President Hamid Karzai, President Obama is giving serious consideration to speeding up the withdrawal of United States forces from Afghanistan and to a “zero option” that would leave no American troops there after next year, according to American and European officials.

Mr. Obama is committed to ending America’s military involvement in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and Obama administration officials have been negotiating with Afghan officials about leaving a small “residual force” behind. But his relationship with Mr. Karzai has been slowly unraveling, and reached a new low after an effort last month by the United States to begin peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar

I think this is a trial balloon-probably designed to send a message to Karzai to get with the program. But it sure would be nice if it were true.

The wars are a costly drain on American resources-and as I have repeatedly maintained and I still believe-just about all of our current problems can be directly or in directly traced to the wars, Especially our massive mis-adventure in Iraq. Furthermore our objectives in accomplishing retribution for 9-11 were accomplished a long time ago. Every day we stay, accomplishes nothing in the national interest of the United States-and accelerates the decline of the United States as a global super power.

Contrary to the opinions of some, the wars-especially the war in Iraq-were not noble causes. And in both Afghanistan "victory" has very different meanings depending on who you talk to. The real issue though,  is that "victory" no matter how you define it,  is unattainable. Primarily because the Iraqi and the Afghan people themselves remain mired in a pit of ancient rivalaries and misgudied beliefs that had no place in the 17th century-much less the 21st. Since they refuse to change-then leave them to their beliefs. Cut them lose and lets get back to taking care of ourselves.

Problem is Obama won't take that kind of bold step. Because he doesn't have the political capital to do it for one thing-there are too many surgeaholics like Linsey Graham and William "The Bloody" Kristol around. He could stand up to them -but he won't.

And secondly-bold change is not Obama's style. The last three years have been proof of that, which is one reason we are stuck in the tea party hell of our current politics.

Ah but if only! Lets get hell out of Afghanistan and go home.

 

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Jul 07 2013

Even when they are right, they somehow get it wrong.

Published by under The Long Game

I swung a golf club today for the first time in 2 years. Actually had some good shots- all things considered. Its like riding a bike, it all comes back. ( Including the hooks and slices).

It was a great weekend. The S.O. had to work for most of it-which gave me hours and hours to enjoy the peace and quiet, without her whining. As she gets older-it seems to be getting worse and worse ( as well as her libidio seems to be drying up and going away. :-(   )

ANYWAY.

I have been watching the news in Egypt with a lot of interest. From my sojourns to Israel, I feel pretty confident that the Israelis are crying no salt tears over Morsi’s departure. What they will be worried about is whether the Egyptian military can gain-and keep control. That remains to be seen.

Nonetheless, it  is quite amusing to read the reaction of the conservative media and blogosphere to the coup. As  my Canadian Counterpart took note of:

I carry no water for the Muslim Brotherhood, but there’s no shortage of supposedly conservative nonsense out there that begs responding to. Fox News Republicans and their moronic fellow travelers in the idiot blogosphere have managed over the last year, and especially in the last 24 hours, to be both hypocritical and hysterical. And like most bitches with the vapors, they need to be sent to their fainting couches for a good long time.

Although I thought it would have something to do with a change in foreign policy toward Israel, I predicted that the Egyptian military would depose Mohammed Morsi since he was first elected. Most of my freedom loving friends thought me a knave, a fool, or both. Y’know, because Obama.

The unmitigated balls of some of these people, talking about freedom in the Middle East! The simple fact is that the single greatest retarding factor for democracy in the Muslim world has been American foreign policy. But lets look at places where “freedom” has been imposed at gunpoint, specifically Iraq and Afghanistan. Are things looking good in either country? I think the consensus is that they are not. Any country that requires a massive foreign military presence to sustain its “freedom,” absent third-party aggression, is ultimately doomed.

Don’t believe him that the conservative media is being stupid? Then clearly you are reading Chunky Bobo or the Wall Street Journal. They both have come out with some of the most reprehensible sentiments expressed in public since Paul Ryan offered to gas his own grandmother.

Let’s start with the Journal shall we? They pine for the glorious days of Augusto Pinochet:

Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.

Oh, really? And tell me again how long it took? Oh yea just over 17 years. And when it happened it was not because Pinochet wanted it, or started it. There are two main problems with this line of thought:

1) It ignores the general desire of the Egyptian people not to become Iran. People tend to forget that Egypt has Western roots in many ways-not the least of which was the influence of that now despised creation that served many nations well, the British Empire.  Most Egyptians don’t want to turn back the clock. Or become Iran.

2) These folks and the rest of their neo-con ilk ignore the fact that contrary to what they believe, NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY MATTERS. This was the key flaw in the thinking about Iraq- the dangerous demon George W. Bush allowed to be loosed-”preventive war”. The transition of the Egyptian government is a problem-but its not our problem.  Plus  they appear to be sanctioning  jettisoning voting, tossing ballot boxes over the  shoulder as they strive toward some point about the difference between democratic “process” and “substance.” “Process” means holding and respecting free elections. Substance means making the results of elections hold.

It places too little faith in the Egyptian citizenry:

Voters can recognize when they are cheated. On the same opinion page as Brooks’s column was one by Shadi Hamid, who argued that the coup undid the hard work of persuading Islamists throughout the region to give up violence for electoral politics: “To limit the fallout from this week’s events, Egypt’s new government must ensure that the Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party are reincorporated into the political process and free to contest—and win—parliamentary and presidential elections.” Brooks-wise, that would be cause for a whole new coup.

And that is a big problem. The Muslim Brotherhood is not going away-no matter how misguided they are. The choices are co-opting them, or executing them. Historically, option 2 never works out well. Just ask Mr. Pinochet.

Chunky Bobo is right when he wrote is column about “It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition.  It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.

Well, yes-that is sort of true-Arabs do tend to fuck up every good deal given to them. But its not because they don’t know how to do it-its that they won’t take the initiative to dispense with the things that hold them back.

Like Islam.

The track record of Arab failure is long and not distinguished. Algeria. Lebanon. Syria. Libya. 4 Arab defeats in 4 wars. Iraq-which was given an incredible gift, only to punt it away in their stupid tribalism and endemic laziness. Yemen.

However the problem is, that the United States, if it really means what it says about principles of self determination-cannot pre-ordain a better result. It has to enable the Egyptians to find it on its own.

And that’s what conservative commentators hate. They hate the idea of not being able to pull the strings. The idea of just waiting it out and focusing on our own issues just grates them to their very core.

But like it or not, that is the only prudent course right now.  We did the same in Turkey in the 70′s.

Morsi failed. The best favor we can do his followers is not to cheer too loudly for that failure.

UPDATE! Regarding the Wall Street Journal, Charles Pierce is quite quotable in highlighting the hypocrisy in Murdoch land:

There are great reporters doing great journalism at the WSJ. Then, there are the authoritarian whackadoos on its editorial page, pining for the blood-dimmed days in which 3000 Chileans died “midwifing a transition to” democracy, just as the followers of Charles Manson once “midwifed a transition” to thoracic surgery. The operation of the newspaper is altogether like finding an artist colony thriving in the upper floors of Bedlam.

4 responses so far

May 17 2013

Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Published by under Military,The Long Game

In recent days the military journals have run stories of how Congress wants to strip commanders of their authorities to confirm or overturn the results of courts martial. This due to several high profile cases where folks did not agree with the final decision of the convening authority.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced legislation Thursday taking top commanders out of the process of deciding whether a sexual misconduct case goes to trial. For sexual offenses with authorized sentences of more than one year in confinement — akin to felonies in the civilian judicial system — that decision would rest instead with officers at ranks as low as colonel who are seasoned trial counsels with prosecutorial experience.

“‘What we need to do is change the system so victims know that they can receive justice,” Gillibrand said Thursday on CBS “This Morning.”

Let me state it clearly, to do this is a huge mistake. Commanders who have court martial authority HAVE to have the ability to decide how cases are to be prosecuted and the ability to affirm or reject the conclusions of the judicial proceedings.

There are fundamental differences between the civilian criminal justice system and the military justice system. Yet far too many people fail to understand those differences and the rationale for them.

It is important to remember that in a military proceeding there is no standing court -it has to be created. And because the commander is still trusted with the responsibility to maintain good order and discipline-he or she has to be quite careful not to create a stampede to make an example out of someone. That is a big difference between the military and civilian systems. The civilian court system is more removed from the proceedings after they occur. Not so in the military.

The specific case that prompted the desire for this change was one involving the 3rd Air Force commander overturning the conviction of a Lt Col accused of sexual assault. He had been convicted by court martial. LTG Franklin made the decision to overturn the decision, throwing out the sex assault conviction.

I don't know the details of the case-but I do know that the general, in making his decision,  did not make it lightly. He knew full well how particularly sensitive these types of cases are and how much visibility anything with the "sex" word attached to it gets right now. So I am convinced that he must have had access to some pretty good mitigating information to make the very serious decision that he made. We will never know that-but I am confident he would not have made the decision flippantly. Overturning a conviction happens very rarely.

And it should be his decision to make. If he made the wrong decision-then fine. Fire him and find a new 3 star. But don't take away the commander's ability to fully exercise his authority. That in the long run is a big mistake and is setting the stage for some innocent person to be wrongly convicted and railroaded for the rest of his life. Court Martial do make mistakes.

We claim that we want to enforce a culture of accountability. And then we turn around and deny commanding officers the tools they need to exercise their authority and lead their subordinates in fairness. That's not smart.

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Apr 16 2013

Bring out the usual suspects.

Published by under The Long Game

I was on the computer last night, surfing, when the S.O. ran into tell me the news was on with pictures of Boston. That it was all horrific-goes without saying.

All I could think about was two things-one, how truly awful it must have been with flying metal all around and very little places to go. And two, how soon would it be before someone linked it to some Arab or Islamic group somewhere.  As I told the S.O. at the time-this will get really ugly.

And of course, true to form, we have the first folks already doing exactly that. Even though-as far as I know-there is no definitive proof. All speculation about who did this is premature and pointless. We would do well to remember, that the last US bombing of a sports event came from a right wing extremist.

However people who stand on their pedestals and point out that "We are at war, there will be more bombings, and not just by Islamic terrorists." are both correct-and naive in the extreme. We are not at war-except in the places we chose to execute military action. However,  we are always fighting criminal elements. Regardless of who set yesterday's bombs-they are nothing but criminals and will be hunted down and treated as such. If there is one lesson we should have learned from the past 11 years-is not overreact. We did that in the early years of the decade, and where did it get us? Nowhere, except older, poorer, and more behind the rest of the world.

Criminals are always with us-and I can't help but wonder if the criminal who did this was "home grown" vice being imported from abroad. We don't-really-know.

But as the Atlantic points out these types of incidents are not the rule:

 

Remember after 9/11 when people predicted we'd see these sorts of attacks every few months? That never happened, and it wasn't because the TSAconfiscated knives and snow globes at airports. Give the FBI credit for rolling up terrorist networks and interdicting terrorist funding, but we also exaggerated the threat. We get our ideas about how easy it is to blow things up from television and the movies. It turns out that terrorism is much harder than most people think. It's hard to find willing terrorists, it's hard to put a plot together, it's hard to get materials, and it's hard to execute a workable plan. As a collective group, terrorists are dumb, and they make dumb mistakes; criminal masterminds are another myth from movies and comic books. 

Even the 9/11 terrorists got lucky. 

If it's hard for us to keep this in perspective, it will be even harder for our leaders. They'll be afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism — or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity — they will be branded as "soft on terror." And they'll be afraid that Americans might vote them out of office. Perhaps they're right, but where are the leaders who aren't afraid? What has happened to "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"? 

Terrorism, even the terrorism of radical Islamists and right-wing extremists and lone actors all put together, is not an "existential threat" against our nation. Even the events of 9/11, as horrific as they were, didn't do existential damage to our nation. Our society is more robust than it might seem from watching the news. We need to start acting that way. 
My prayers and sympathies go out to the city of Boston. But please, spare me the hyperbole, and stop looking for Muslims under every carpet. Extremists are everywhere-not just under the guise of Mohammed. 

17 responses so far

Dec 17 2012

Will anything change?

The events in Connecticut are so horrific-it is just painful still to think about. 20 children-CHILDREN-and six adults all of whom got up and went to the Sandy Hook school thinking it was just another day.

Now if the world were just, we as a nation would come together and craft a means to stop the possibilities of sick twisted people getting a hold of weapons.

But we won't.

Even now-morons like John Fund are already hard at work writing rationalizations as to why gun control does not work. And Uncle Dumbo is hard at work slandering anyone who believes we should do things differently.

Probably the best analysis I have read comes not from an American publication,  but a British one:

Switching to red-blooded conservative talk radio, I found two hosts offering a “move along, nothing to see here” defense of the status quo. One suggested that listeners should not torment themselves trying to understand “craziness”, though it would, the pair agreed, be understandable if some parents were tempted to remove their children from public education and homeschool them.

To that debate, all I can offer is the perspective of someone who has lived and worked in different corners of the world, with different gun laws………

The first time that I was posted to Washington, DC some years ago, the capital and suburbs endured a frightening few days at the hands of a pair of snipers, who took to killing people at random from a shooting position they had established in the boot of a car. I remember meeting a couple of White House correspondents from American papers, and hearing one say: but the strange thing is that Maryland (where most of the killings were taking place) has really strict gun laws. And I remember thinking: from the British perspective, those aren’t strict gun laws. Strict laws involve having no guns.

After a couple of horrible mass shootings in Britain, handguns and automatic weapons have been effectively banned. It is possible to own shotguns, and rifles if you can demonstrate to the police that you have a good reason to own one, such as target shooting at a gun club, or deer stalking, say. The firearms-ownership rules are onerous, involving hours of paperwork. You must provide a referee who has to answer nosy questions about the applicant's mental state, home life (including family or domestic tensions) and their attitude towards guns. In addition to criminal-record checks, the police talk to applicants’ family doctors and ask about any histories of alcohol or drug abuse or personality disorders.

Vitally, it is also very hard to get hold of ammunition. Just before leaving Britain in the summer, I had lunch with a member of parliament whose constituency is plagued with gang violence and drug gangs. She told me of a shooting, and how it had not led to a death, because the gang had had to make its own bullets, which did not work well, and how this was very common, according to her local police commander. Even hardened criminals willing to pay for a handgun in Britain are often getting only an illegally modified starter’s pistol turned into a single-shot weapon.

And, to be crude, having few guns does mean that few people get shot. In 2008-2009, there were 39 fatal injuries from crimes involving firearms in England and Wales, with a population about one sixth the size of America’s. In America, there were 12,000 gun-related homicides in 2008.

The numbers don't lie-and countries with very strict gun laws like Britain and Japan experience far lesser amounts of gun crime. It does exist of course, but not in the volumes that exist here. The easy way out for many Americans is to pretend that guns are not the problem-"its the society".

Well that may be-but easy access to weaponry makes the consequences of madness far, far greater than should have to be endured.

Probably the argument put forth that is the silliest one,  is the idea that somehow, the Founding Fathers intended the 2nd Amendment to be some sort of check and balance on the government. They never intended anything of the sort-the only reason the amendment was there was to form a militia. A well regulated militia. I remain firmly convinced that were the Founders drafting the bill of rights today-the 2nd Amendment would not be there. Its a very narcissistic expression of a "courage" that simply does not exist.

 

I would also say, to stick my neck out a bit further, that I find many of the arguments advanced for private gun ownership in America a bit unconvincing, and tinged with a blend of excessive self-confidence and faulty risk perception.

I am willing to believe that some householders, in some cases, have defended their families from attack because they have been armed. But I also imagine that lots of ordinary adults, if woken in the night by an armed intruder, lack the skill to wake, find their weapon, keep hold of their weapon, use it correctly and avoid shooting the wrong person. And my hunch is that the model found in places like Japan or Britain—no guns in homes at all, or almost none—is on balance safer.

As for the National Rifle Association bumper stickers arguing that only an armed citizenry can prevent tyranny, I wonder if that isn’t a form of narcissism, involving the belief that lone, heroic individuals will have the ability to identify tyranny as it descends, recognize it for what it is, and fight back. There is also the small matter that I don’t think America is remotely close to becoming a tyranny, and to suggest that it is is both irrational and a bit offensive to people who actually do live under tyrannical rule.

Nor is it the case that the British are relaxed about being subjects of a monarch, or are less fussed about freedoms. A conservative law professor was recently quoted in the papers saying he did not want to live in a country where the police were armed and the citizens not. I fear in Britain, at least, native gun-distrust goes even deeper than that: the British don’t even like their police to be armed (though more of them are than in the past).

But the problem remains-American politics are anything but rational. And as Tom Levenson pointed out, "An armed society may be a polite one. But it’s not one that is free. It is not one in which a civic life in any meaningful sense of the term can take place. Guns kill liberty."

And too many Americans can't or won't think rationally on the subject of guns. So we will remain stuck right where we are today and have been for some 50 years in both this and the previous violent centuries.

But here is the thing. The American gun debate takes place in America, not Britain or Japan. And banning all guns is not about to happen (and good luck collecting all 300m guns currently in circulation, should such a law be passed). It would also not be democratic. I personally dislike guns. I think the private ownership of guns is a tragic mistake. But a majority of Americans disagree with me, some of them very strongly. And at a certain point, when very large majorities disagree with you, a bit of deference is in order.

So in short I am not sure that tinkering with gun control will stop horrible massacres like today’s. And I am pretty sure that the sort of gun control that would work—banning all guns—is not going to happen. So I have a feeling that even a more courageous debate than has been heard for some time, with Mr Obama proposing gun-control laws that would have been unthinkable in his first term, will not change very much at all. Hence the gloom.

Thus the editors of the Economist are right. We Americans are simply going through the motions. Since we, collectively, have no intention of fixing the root problem-we, collectively, have no rights to "mourn" the helpless children and their teachers. "It's our fault, and until we evince some remorse for our actions or intention to reform ourselves, the idea that we consider ourselves entitled to "mourn" the victims of our own barbaric policies is frankly disgusting.".

12 responses so far

Sep 24 2012

Don’t think they are getting the point here.

 I want write about the abomination that is the Romney campaign-and the failed dirt digging that is the Liars Club and their reaction to a reasonable statement. John Cole framed it well when he voiced the same sentiment I have:

 

What a crazy position for an American President to take- to actually focus on American security concerns and American foreign policy goals. It’s almost like Obama understands we are not an Israeli client state.

Call me an anti-Semite, but I guess I just have no problem with my President looking out for US foreign policy goals. Crazy, that.

 

Five trips to Israel in the last year have convinced me of a couple of things: 1) Israel is a vital ally of the United States and will remain so, and nothing this President has done has effectively denied that fact. In fact he's worked steadily and privately to strengthen the United States support for Israel. 2) Israelis are among the most obstinate and unreasonable people on the earth. I know that will offend some people-but its the truth. Yes there is a historical background for it-but time has marched on, and despite what the religious right believes, Jerusalem is not at the center of the world vortex right now.  Americans, as a whole, do not understand what Israel is really like-rather they have a preconceived idea of what they think it is like.

Finally, Israel's interests and ours are not in complete alignment. No nations is-but particularly the interest of a nation that is founded, rightly or wrongly, as a religious state. Or the secular representation of a particular religion. It is natural, that in the course of events-Israel and the US will disagree.  That does not make the US any less of a friend nor does it make the Israeli whining about certain matters nothing more than noise on particular issues. The President was right to say that and the folks over at the Weekly Standard can just go suck eggs. There is more to foreign policy than the views of AIPAC.

William Kristol and Benjamin Netenyahu should both realize that.

There! I feel better for having gotten that off of my chest. There are others who agree with me.

And here we see the perils of believing your own hype — apparently Bibi and friends actuallybelieved the idea of the all-powerful Israel Lobby. Whether through Romney's bald-faced pandering to that perceived lobby with his ugly comments about the cultural inferiority of Palestinians or, more shockingly, through Netanyahu's decision to take sides in the 2012 presidential campaign, they seem to think that if they can portray Obama as "weak on Israel" they will materially advance their own causes. It's worth noting, of course, that those interests are different. For Romney, the approach only works if it undermines Obama in key states, notably Florida. For Netanyahu, it would work if the fear of losing Jewish support pushed Obama to get visibly tougher on Iran, to accept, for example, the Israeli leader's call for clearly demarked and more aggressive "red lines" with Iran.

3 responses so far

Jun 28 2012

Well count me among the surprised ones.

The Supreme Court actually got it right for once-but the fact it was a 5-4 decision is troublesome for many reasons. This should have been a no brainer for the Court. Of course to do that-you need high caliber Justices.

The Supreme Court led by Chief JusticeJohn G. Roberts Jr. upheld the heart of President Obama's healthcare law Thursday, ruling that the government may impose tax penalties on those who do not have health insurance.

 

The decision came on a 5-4 vote, with the court's four liberal justices joining with the chief justice.

On one hand, Roberts agreed with the law's conservative critics who said Congress does not have the power to mandate the purchase of a private product such as health insurance.

But the Affordable Care Act does not impose a true legal mandate on Americans, he said. It simply requires those who do not have health insurance by 2014 to pay a tax penalty.

And that is constitutional, Roberts said. "The federal government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance," he wrote in the majority opinion. "The federal government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance," he added.

The mandate is expected to raise about $4 billion a year to help pay for healthcare coverage.

The opinion by the chief justice is likely to surprise his liberal critics and his conservative admirers. He played the decisive role in rejecting the Republican-led legal challenge to theDemocrats’ most ambitious social legislation in decades.

Thanks be to God! Now the ruling is going to have to be parsed for some days to come.

Women in particular should pop the champagne and celebrate. Of those millions of uninsured, 19 million are women.

Justice Ginsburg (joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) agreed with the Chief Justice’s bottom line – that the mandate is constitutional under Congress’s ability to tax – even while disagreeing with his Commerce Clause conclusion; those four Justices would have held that Congress could use its power to regulate commerce to pass the mandate.  With five votes to uphold the mandate, it will survive, and the Court did not need to consider the “severability” issue — that is, what other parts of the law would have to go if the mandate were unconstitutional.

And so-by a very narrow majority the Court did the right thing. 

I tried to watch the US news about this when I got home. Because I have Sky Satellite all I get is Fox News. I lasted all of 40 seconds watching Lindsay Graham prove what a worthless piece of shit he is by whining about the decison. It took me that long to flip a bird at the TV and tell him to go fuck himself. Then I switched to Bloomberg for much more rational news.

Unexpected though it may be- A great day for America.

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Feb 25 2012

What would John do?

The folks over at Foreign Policy Magazine have a pretty interesting article up-pointing out that in a lot of ways, the current situation Vis a Vis Iran is similar to that which John Adams faced: A foreign power creating headaches for American policy and a distinct segment of the US population clamoring for a war. Adams faced the latter group down-albeit at great political cost to himself-and in so doing may have saved the young Republic from real disaster.

In the summer of 1798, U.S. President John Adams faced the gravest crisis of his time in office. Hostilities with the revolutionary, expansionist regime in France had been rising since his election, with French privateers seizing American merchant ships off the Atlantic coast. Adams's effort at diplomacy had backfired. The envoys he had sent to France had been met with extortionate and insulting demands; the publication of their dispatches, in what came to be known as the XYZ Affair, had provoked a firestorm of outrage and war fever, the likes of which the young republic had never before known. The public, led by Adams's own Federalist Party, was demanding a declaration of war. Adams himself had stoked those public passions. But now, in the summer, he hesitated between belligerence and yet more diplomacy.


The United States is now locked in conflict with Iran, another revolutionary, expansionist power. It is not yet summer 1798, but it's getting close. Today's president, Barack Obama, as firmly committed to the principle of engagement as Adams was to the principle of neutrality, is still giving diplomacy a chance. But the bugles are sounding. Israeli officials openly and urgently talk about the need for military action; Iran has apparently responded with a barrage of assassination attempts abroad; and polls show that a majority of Americans are prepared to use force to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The president is under pressure, not from his own party, but from his adversaries, to issue an ultimatum to Iran. We may be only one stupid mistake away from the point where an attack becomes unavoidable.

Just like the lies being spread around Washington in the present day-so too were lies spread about Adams by his political opposition. Adams well understood the threat, just as Obama does now. However Adams also knew that a war would be a disaster for the new Republic.

 

Unlike Bush, however, Adams did not want war, and neither, it turned out, did France. Once Charles M. de Talleyrand, France's foreign minister, saw that the United States was preparing for war, he began authorizing intermediaries to tell influential Americans that France had no wish for hostilities and would accept a new envoy with none of the onerous conditions (including the payment of adouceur, or bribe, to himself) imposed on the previous mission. Adams began hearing from private citizens and diplomats, including his son John Quincy, then minister in Berlin, that France wanted peace. None of this was publicly known, and opinion remained no less inflamed. But Adams concluded he had to take a risk on Talleyrand's bona fides. In February 1799, he appointed his minister to the Netherlands as envoy to France. And in October 1800, the two sides signed a peace treaty known as the Convention of 1800.

Of course there are some very big differences. 1) Adams did not have the albatross of Israel draped around his neck-which Obama does. Iran may not want war with the US ( I firmly believe the Iranians are not that stupid-what they want is regional dominance, but not national suicide), but they haven't come to terms with Israel's existence yet and that's a problem. They also have not grasped the true ability of Israel to retaliate against them-nor the commitment that the United States has to Israel. 2) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  can hardly be considered a rational actor-unlike France's Talleyrand. 3) There is the wild card of Iranian leadership's commitment to the apostate religion of Islam-whereas in 1798 religion was in its proper place, on the sidelines. And Adams had time and distance on his side-Obama doesn't,  thanks to the march of technology.

Kind of sad, really. The people of Iran have great potential. However they are being led to the trough through accidents of history and a revolution gone badly wrong. One might hope that eventually there will be a reckoning with the Mullahs. But don't kid yourself that's not happening anytime soon. " It may be, in short, that Iran will stop at nothing to reach at least the capacity to build a bomb. And then Obama or his successor will have to choose, not between war and diplomacy, but between war and containment. And in that case, it will take much more political courage to stick to a policy of patience and restraint."

2 responses so far

Dec 29 2011

Reflecting on the year past ( and the time ahead).

Published by under The Long Game

As is the norm for many a writer at year’s end-I have been doing a lot of thinking about the year past-and since the coming year will celebrate the 55th anniversary of my birth ( God willing), a heck of a lot of time is also being devoted to the years ahead-which most probably do not outnumber  the years behind. (In and of itself a cause for great depression and thought).

This past year has been a tumultuous one for me-what with observing up close the mean-spiritedness of a government agencies attempt to screw people in the guise of “saving money” ( when it was later admitted that no money was saved at all) to executing a move across the ocean from the New World to the Old World, and dragging a more than reluctant S.O. with me, from a warm house with a yard, to a not so warm house with very little yard-but a great view. Balanced out by slow reponse to the need for utilities and digging out from boxes and boxes and boxes.

I think most of us get to a certain point in life where we outgrow our ambition. I know I certainly have-and I cringe when I think back to my 38 and 39 year old self motivated by the desires to advance and compete. I knowingly smile now, as I work among a group of similar 38-45 year olds, some of whom are already “preferred customers” and others are striving to become one of them. Others still, have seen that any path to advancement is not going to come through their first chose of profession and will have to make the same transition as I did –in mid life-from a career they dearly loved to simply a career/income stream they dearly need.

Now mind you, I’m not whining. I made some choices and they are mine and mine alone. My current place of employ is actually very satisfying and the location where I am living is fascinating to be in and to observe. Symbolically it is a lot closer to where I wish to be, and it my days are not filled with hearing the futility and outright stupidity that constitutes the daily political news cycle of the land of my birth.

And yet-there are times I wonder if this really the best I can be doing. For myself and for my fellow humanity. I have been thinking a lot recently about the parade of history that is represented by the places I pass by each day now, and the parade of history represented by my current place of employ. I think a lot about the warning words from former President Eisenhower about the rise of the military industrial complex. He uttered those words when I was 4 years old. They appear to have become appallingly true in my life time.  Is the really the best I can do?

I chose the military profession with the idealism of a 18 year old-without a long term vision,  really. I simply wanted to fly and to see the world. The Navy made good on both promises I am proud to say, and the military has continued to be an enabler of the high flying lifestyle that I deeply enjoy. It’s enabled me to live overseas where I doubt any other profession would have-given my background and lack of commercial career skills.  It also gave me a lifetime of vivid experiences that simple “office work” would never have provided. That alone made it worth the price of admission.

But at the same time-the passing of this last decade have started to give me pause. Because in the work that I and literally tens of thousands of others do-we produce nothing of value. Nothing of long term benefit to the human race as a whole. Do PowerPoint presentations on missile arcs of the missiles belonging to our adversaries do one thing towards providing a cure for cancer? Do they improve the lot in life of the 2/3 of the world’s population who live on less than $2100 dollars a year.

I can hear the response to that statement now-and the comments to come: “It prevents those missiles from being fired”,  you may say,  we keep the peace through our strength.” Perhaps it does-but does that strength really come from a staff of over 1000 who do nothing in the way of maintaining or sailing with those weapons of deterrence? Just directing and coordinating their employment-and passing around taskers like so much toilet tissue.  And for that matter-does deterrence really deter anymore?

Deterrence did not prevent the colossal waste of the Iraq War, where-as Thomas Ricks and Daniel Drezner have pointed out-we have precious little to show for our efforts.

The continent I am living on has a 2000 year violent and bloody history of fighting-imagine what could have been accomplished if they had fixed their borders and put the manpower and money to more productive pursuits. Imagine what the 600 billion the United States will spend on defense and defense related spending could accomplish if we did not live in such a violent and un-peaceful world.  As I mentioned earlier-in this one week alone, I have three times stood in front of memorials to the Gefallene.  Unlike our war memorials, German ones are not so pretentious as to state that they died "for humanity." I don't think so.

At least when I was on active duty and I had such thoughts-they could always be easily offset by the little victories one could accomplish for your Sailors. Helping someone get the orders they wanted, helping them get over a financial or emotional scrape-stretching the rules just enough to give them the time they needed to work things out themselves. Those things outweighed the inability to influence major decisions. At the time it seemed enough. Receiving the occasional “thank you’ from someone you helped, was worth more than all the gold in South Africa. Post retirement-those days don’t happen anymore. As a contractor, you are reviled for being greedy. ( Thank you for that Mr. O’Reilly) and as a government employee you are reviled for being a part of the national deficit-undeserving of more money, benefits or thanks. And you certainly don’t have the direct ability to impact the lives of others, even though you want to. The bureaucratic straight jacket sees to that.

There are times I envy doctors, or for that matter car designers. They at least get to see the product at the end of the line. Doctors get to help people feel better (I like to think their victories outnumber their defeats at the hands of the reaper). Car designers see their product take form and life. Even computer technicians get to make people happy for a short while-by fixing a hard problem. But purveyors of the Power Point? They have no such satisfaction.

Its not about the what at this point-its about the where.”, I tell myself. And for the most part-at this point in my life-that statement sums up my view towards the professions anymore. Money is not the most important thing or even the second most important thing. To be able to live comfortably, in the place you want-seems sufficient.

Or it only seems to. What I would really like to see for the New Year is the end of the cycle of violence. The bitter hatreds and conflicts that are getting simple people killed for absolutely nothing. People who for the most part are pretty much the same-they want food on the table, a warm roof over their head and a warm attractive body to love them physically and emotionally. That’s a new year’s wish I am pretty certain will go unfulfilled this year.

But the bills are going to pay themselves you know. So off to work each morning I shall go. Ein Gluckliche Neues Jahr.

Maybe.

 

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