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October 13, 2007

The General Speaks
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 03:40 PM *

Will Congress listen?

The drumbeat of retired generals who don’t think much of Mr. Bush’s War continues.

While still on active duty, speaking disrespectfully of the Commander in Chief is a crime punishable by jail time. After they’ve retired….

LGEN Ricardo Sanchez, coalition commander, 2003/2004, (quoted at CNN):

Sanchez pointed to what he said was “neglect and incompetence at the National Security Council level” which has put the U.S. military into “an intractable situation” in Iraq.

“While the politicians espouse a rhetoric designed to preserve their reputations and their political power, our soldiers die,” he said.

The administration, he said, has ignored messages from field commanders that warned repeatedly that “our military alone could not achieve victory” without corresponding help from the State Department.

“Our National leadership ignored the lessons of World War Two as we entered into this war and to this day continue to believe that victory can be achieved through the application of military power alone,” he said.

“From a catastrophically flawed, unrealistically optimistic war plan, to the administration’s latest surge strategy, this administration has failed to employ and synchronize its political, economical and military power,” he said.

Sanchez said the current strategy, which included a “surge” of troops into Iraq, was “a desperate attempt by the administration that has not accepted the political and economic realities of this war and they have definitely not been able to communicate effectively that reality to the American people.”

“Too often, our politicians have been distracted and they have chosen loyalty to their political parties above loyalty to the Constitution because of their lust for power,” he said.

Listen up, Congress. Do your flippin’ job….

Comments on The General Speaks:
#1 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 04:10 PM:


More, please.

#3 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 04:40 PM:

If I had a dollar for every time I've written to a congressperson, I'd be buying a burger every week.
They'd still not be doing their jobs, though.
(Well, some of them are trying to do their jobs. But ten or twenty out of five hundred is a really miserable ratio.)

#4 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 05:23 PM:

Is there any good reason (other than fear, not that that's a good reason) for these guys not speaking up a little sooner? The troops under their command and the Iraqis who are the supposed beneficiaries of their presence all relied on the prudent but firm exercise of power. Instead we got Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, and Blackwater. I'm glad these guys are finally speaking up but my joy is decidedly mixed at the cost of their silence up to now.

#5 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 05:48 PM:

paul @ 4

If they spoke up before retiring, they'd be punished.

#6 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 06:14 PM:

Paul, #4: I'm getting the impression that a lot of them are retiring so that they can speak. They're muzzled while on active duty.

#7 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 06:22 PM:

Via ThinkProgress, another related story: At an Army School, Blunt Talk on Iraq:

Much of the debate at Leavenworth has centered on a scathing article, “A Failure in Generalship,” written last May for Armed Forces Journal by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq veteran and deputy commander of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment who holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago. “If the general remains silent while the statesman commits a nation to war with insufficient means, he shares culpability for the results,” Colonel Yingling wrote.

#8 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 06:58 PM:

I'm afraid to ask what Congress thinks their job is.

#9 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 08:11 PM:

Paul@#4: I'm glad these guys are finally speaking up but my joy is decidedly mixed at the cost of their silence up to now.

I was waiting for someone to raise that issue, because I knew in my heart of hearts that someone would. Let me attempt to explain -- or, rather, to essay a bit of cultural translation, because if someone isn't military (or at least fairly conversant with military-as-a-second-language), then they're going to miss a good bit of what's going on.

Point one is that speaking disrespectfully of the Commander in Chief is, as Macdonald points out, simply not done. It is, in fact, explicitly not allowed. This is not simply because military types are mindless lovers of authority; it's because the military, as an institution, depends upon rank and structure and carefully delineated areas of responsibility in order to maintain its functionality even under extreme stress and in chaotic and unpredictable conditions. When rank and structure and carefully delineated areas of responsibility fail or are broken, Very Bad Things Indeed can start happening -- indeed, the present mess in Iraq has furnished us with multiple examples of same.

Point two is that the US military has a strong cultural bias against getting involved in politics. This bias springs not from institutional apathy, but from a strong regard, inculcated over time, for the principle of civilian control of the military. A standing army is a dangerous tool to keep lying around, and not a tool you want to see using itself rather than letting itself be used. (This goes all the way back to George Washington in the days of the Articles of Confederation. When his former officers attempted to convince him to lead a military coup against the then-government, he firmly declined. So any military officer since then, when contemplating such an action, first has to look at himself in the mirror and ask, "Do you, personally, think that you're a better man than General Washington?" -- and so far not even Douglas MacArthur has had the temerity to say "yes" to than one.)

What these points add up to, taken together, is that someone in the military who disapproves of or disagrees with the policy of the civilian government has, essentially, only two choices: stay in, obey, and keep silent, or get out and speak his or her mind. This is not as simple a decision as it sounds. Not only do they have to throw away however many years and however much work they have invested in a presumably-satisfying career, quite possibly taking a considerable financial hit in the process, they also have to leave their comrades-in-arms behind in what they are admitting by their own actions is an extremely bad situation. And this is another thing against which the military -- for what should be obvious reasons -- has a strong cultural bias.

That we are seeing so many senior officers retiring and then giving highly critical interviews almost before the ink is dry on their mustering-out papers is a bad sign. It means that things are severely fucked up. (I don't have statistics on the number of junior officers who are bailing out while they still can, but I'll bet it's not a happy number either.)

The language that Lieutenant General Sanchez uses in his statement is important. He says of the leadership in Washington that "they have chosen loyalty to their political parties above loyalty to the Constitution." In the language of the American military, this is a strong indictment -- upon commissioning, officers swear their primary loyalty not to any individual political figure or governing party, but to the Constitution itself. Even more damning, however, is this, speaking of the national political leadership: "They have unquestionably been derelict in in the performance of their duty." It's hard to explain to someone outside the community just how incredibly strong and absolute a condemnation this is; think "sin against the Holy Ghost" and you won't be too far off.

#10 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 08:25 PM:

Debra Doyle @ 9

Well, I've started thinking of the government - especially the elected part - as 'those @#$%^&* #$%^&* @#$%^&* in DC'. Or, if you want it with dashes, 'g—d— m—f— c—s— in DC'. (And my congresscritter is one of the better ones, although I can't say that for both of my senators.)

#11 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 09:21 PM:

If I'm remembering right, Ricardo Sanchez might not have exactly been on the side of the angels, back in 2003 and 2004. See here, where it suggests that Sanchez authorized the "Enhanced Measures" for interrogating prisoners that Brigadier General Janis Karpinski wound up taking the fall for. Didn't Sanchez have access to the Taguba report and decide to ignore it?

#12 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 09:52 PM:

Lenny, I believe you're right. But at this point, I think it behooves us to make alliances where we can. Sanchez may have f***ked up but he's saying the right stuff now, and I'm delighted. Should he have behaved otherwise in the matters of Abu Gharaib? Probably. And Al Gore should have been President in 2000.

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 10:20 PM:

Naahhhh, must be one of those phony generals.

Anyway, this speech is so vague and unspecific that it's open to interpretation. Really, what are we supposed to make of “While the politicians espouse a rhetoric designed to preserve their reputations and their political power, our soldiers die." He probably meant that as a dig against Al Gore, right?

Seriously, this speech should be on the Extended Edition of Why We Fight.

Strike that, he should be on the Sunday talk shows for the next month, starting tomorrow. He should be on 60 Minutes, and The Daily Show for good measure.

But even after that, you'll still have a solid 30% of the populace with their heads so firmly wedged in their ostrich head-holes that they won't notice. I think it's time to start being upset by these fools and start feeling sorry for them. Openly, loudly, sarcastically sorry for them.

#14 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 10:49 PM:

"I'm afraid to ask what Congress thinks their job is."

You shouldn't be afraid to ask. The answer, however, is very frightening. AFAICT, actually protecting the American populace, whether from attack, disaster, tyranny, or anything else, is simply not in the program. Indeed, they are methodically destroying every American strength, resource, power, and authority which could possibly limit or interfere with their own power.

#15 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 10:58 PM:

David, it seems to me that Congress has opted for very little actual power. Rather, they have influence and access to corporate money and the feeling of being important. They have ceded political power to Bush and the executive branch, while making sure that they themselves are personally comfortable.


#16 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 11:05 PM:

"I grew up in Europe, where the history comes from. And, uh … oh yes. You tear your history down, man! Thirty years old, let's smash it to the floor and put a car park here!
There was a spirit of ex-empire, this thing of "things can't be done", whereas in America, I thought there was a spirit of "can be done!", the pioneer thing. "Go do it, what do you want to do?" "I want to put babies on spikes." "Go, then! Go! What a wonderful idea. It's the American Dream!"
"Hi! I'm Crazy Eddie! I put babies on spikes. Do you want a rack of babies? We've got babies on racks! Mmm, they taste of chicken!" They do! Babies taste of chicken! Cannibals say that human flesh tastes of chicken, so babies must taste of chicken. And chicken tastes of humans. Good, I'm glad you're coming with me on that.
"You killed a hundred thousand people? You must get up very early in the morning! I can't even get down the gym. Your diary must look odd: 'Get up in the morning, Death, Death, Death, Death, Death, Death, Lunch, Death, Death, Death, Afternoon Tea, Death, Death, Death, Quick shower …'"
Japan and Germany should be the peacekeepers of the world. They should be parachuted in whenever something breaks out. Parachute Germans and Japanese in. They go, "Look, we've done this before, we've done the killing. Hello? Take it from us. Just chill, chill out!" And then they organise peace really efficiently: "Peace, peace, peace – peace is organized!"
-Eddie Izzard, Dress to Kill 1999

#17 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 11:25 PM:

I've heard that the tastiest bit of long pig is the chunk of meat between the thumb and forefinger: one more advantage for opposable thumbs!

#18 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: October 13, 2007, 11:45 PM:

I find it very interesting (though not entirely unexpected) that the press reports of General Sanchez's speech have somehow failed to mention that half the whole thing was about the press.

Read the whole transcript.

#19 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 12:08 AM:

Here's what jumped out at me from the speech.


Sorry about the caps, that's how the text is printed on the linked-to page.

I suspect Ricardo Sanchez and I are not, and would not be, soul-mates. Nevertheless, he is speaking truth to power here. Note what people he is talking to: a luncheon crowd of military editors and reporters. He rakes them over the coals, as Tony points out in post 18, for their biases and lack of professionalism, before going on to speak clearly and harshly about the civilian leadership. I respect his decision to speak.

#20 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 01:15 AM:

#13: Naahhhh, must be one of those phony generals.

I wasn't going to say anything else, but since you mention it: maybe like Colin Powell: one of those "fail a moral test and try to save face Generals."

Not that I'm claiming *I* would have been been stronger and more courageous, if I'd found myself in the same uniform. But reality is what it is.

In the meantime, an enemy of an enemy can be a political ally, despite possibly having deserved dismissal or court martial for failure to maintain a firm line between interrogation and torture in the U.S. Army when he had the chance to do so.

#21 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 01:38 AM:

Debra Doyle @ 9

Thanks for that articulate explanation. One of the drawbacks of a military which is encouraged to keep its distance from the levers of power is that it's not well understood by those not in the military. This leads to stereotyping and villainization by those opposed to specific wars who don't understand that, at least here in the US, the military doesn't get to choose its targets.

The original idea of a citizen army was that most citizens would have an understanding of the military by being in it for awhile; this hasn't worked well for some time because even the citizens who have enlisted for a term aren't in the same position as career soldiers and often never do get to understand them*. That's one reason the Guard, the Reserves, and the Regular Army have never gotten along very well. Now, of course, you can't tell the difference between them without a scorecard; they've all been in the barrel together. I have hopes this means that the current generation of new citizens will understand the problems better, and not let the next bunch of political leaders strut around like they earned their uniforms and they know what they're doing.

Everyone, please listen to what Macdonald and Doyle are saying here. The military may sound like an alien world to those who've not been in it, but who better to understand aliens than the Fluorosphere? And understand we all must, if we are to have any chance of finding a way out of the hole our government** is digging for us.

* Or want to: "Who cares about a bunch of lifers?"
** Not just the bushite administration; Congress has been busy with the shovels, too.

#22 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 01:56 AM:

I know the top military leadership will never say a word against the Commander-in-Chief while still on duty, but I would love to be able to read their minds. Or be privy to a late-night confab after the liquor has started to flow.

#23 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 01:57 AM:

I actually have a fair amount of sympathy for those officers who have - so far - attempted, with little complaint, to carry out their orders. I can even understand how they might regard Gen. Sanchez as a traitor for saying these things.

"At the time of France's surrender in 1940 the officers who remained in the Army had accepted the position and the orders of their government and had given up the fight. From their point of view, if the course chosen by De Gaulle was correct, then every French officer who obeyed the orders of his government was a poltroon. If De Gaulle was a loyal Frenchman, they had to regard themselves as cowards. Naturally the officers did not choose to think of themselves in this light; rather they considered themselves as loyal Frenchmen carrying out the orders of constituted civilian authority, and it followed that they officially and personally regarded De Gaulle as a deserter."

- Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe.

The boot is on the other foot, here, of course, but something like the same reflections must occur to every soldier prosecuting the war in Iraq. If Sanchez is right, and they have been given orders that are manifestly impossible to carry out, then the only honourable option is protest, and to carry that protest to the point of resigning their commissions. If they do not, then they have placed their personal benefits and military careers ahead of their oaths and their duty to the troops they command; and it must follow that they must regard themselves as poltroons.

Of course, Sanchez did not choose to resign either, which rather weakens his position now. But nevertheless.

#24 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 02:07 AM:

FungiFromYoggoth @ 7

Col. Yingling is a highly respected military officer and scholar. As such, he's worked with colleagues of Gen. David Petraeus*, which resulted in Petraeus defending him publically (albeit somewhat lukewarmly, IMO) when that article came out and the inevitable feco-ventilatory event occurred.

Yingling** said publically that, in the two or three days after the article was published, he received several hundred emails from US military officers, and none of them was negative about the points he'd made. My sense is that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the current state of the general officer corps among field grade officers just now, so the discontent is not just among generals approaching retirement.

Regrettably, I don't have any contacts among junior officers these days; I get the impression from news reports I've heard on the academies that there is a significant and vocal minority of cadets and newly-commissioned officers who see the changes wrought by the administration as a way to move the military back into the mainstream of US politics, which is a scary notion.

* Principally, Col. John Nagl, who was one of the authors of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, for which Petraeus wrote the foreword.

** Scholars of Norse culture and mythology will please forgive me for wanting to spell that "Yngling".

#25 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 02:16 AM:

Lenny Bailes @ 20

Colin Powell was not universally respected as a general by other soldiers. There's a derogatory term that was used for him, "political general". In part it reflects the feelings about a soldier who breaks with the cultural bias against politics that Debra Doyle described; in part it indicates a suspicion that the general so described is not so much a soldier whose primary motivations are honor, loyalty, and duty, as a climber of the greasy pole, whose motivation is ambition.

#26 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 03:47 AM:

Powell had a fair bit of respect until the UN speech.

Yingling has a lot more support than most outside the services would think.

You might want to be at one of those let your hair down sessions. You might not. I can say, with some authority, you'd miss most of it. A lot of it would be in shorthands of culture more dense, and in-group than the explication Debra so kindly gave.

Peter Pace managed to upbraid Rumsfeld in a way which the press didn't get, but every Marine and Soldier (and probably most of the Navy and Air Force) understood.

In public, without any way for him to respond, he pulled Rummy's pants down and spanked him.

The sense of the service is strange right now.

I'll have more when I finish reading my present book, "In the company of soldiers".

It's the first book I've read about the present war. It's, for me, some easy reading, and heavy lifting.

I am way late to bed, as I have a PT test in 6 hours, so that's all I can spare the time to say now.

#27 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 07:22 AM:

Bruce Cohen, #21: "The original idea of a citizen army was that most citizens would have an understanding of the military by being in it for awhile; this hasn't worked well for some time because even the citizens who have enlisted for a term aren't in the same position as career soldiers and often never do get to understand them."

Is your first premise true? According to this history hosted at the US Army's own site, in the original thirteen colonies during the years of the Revolution, roughly 200,000 to 250,000 men were of military age, and of those, "less than half of them, or about 100,000, actually bore arms, frequently under repeated enlistments." And that was during an actual war. This doesn't sound like a world in which "most citizens would have an understanding of the military by being in it for awhile."

#28 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 08:45 AM:

I can see I have to complete my post on the origin of the standing army (the origin of Executive Privilege is part of that same story). It involves the worst defeat under arms that the US Army ever suffered, and a nifty song.

#29 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 10:01 AM:

When I think of the military not getting involved in politics, I think of Jimmy Carter's 1992 book , Turning Point. At some point, he recounts his days in the Navy and his once asking his CO if he could attend a political rally. His CO didn't outright say no, but asked if he intended to make a career of being in the Navy.

When did things change?

(By the way, I met Carter that year during his book-signing tour. What I remember the most vividly was that, when a woman introduced her 10-year-old daughter to him, his smile turned into a real one, truly lighting his face up.)

#30 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 10:02 AM:

#23 : the only honourable option is protest, and to carry that protest to the point of resigning their commissions. If they do not, then they have placed their personal benefits and military careers ahead of their oaths and their duty to the troops they command

Perhaps. If the price of honour is (contradictorily) a dishonourable discharge, losing pension and benefits, and for good measure getting endless hassle every time you meet government bureaucracy, such as never being allowed on a plane (supposing you could still afford the fare) without being strip-searched and having the contents of your bags dumped out on the floor, then being honourable has a price that anyone might be forgiven for not paying.

#31 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 10:05 AM:

Lizzy L @#15: David, it seems to me that Congress has opted for very little actual power. Rather, they have influence and access to corporate money and the feeling of being important.

Rather, I'd say that they have opted for very little formal power, precisely because the formal powers of their position come with formal restraints that they don't want to accept.

The methodical looting of the Treasury is more of the same: "oh, we can't afford to fix those problems...". Likewise the use of "state's rights" as a figleaf for refusing to restrain state and local abuses, "personal responsibility" for gutting social programs, and many other tactics of the ShrubCo Administration.

If you'll forgive yet another Sandman reference, this is like Gaiman's Lucifer and the "triumvirate" -- it gives him deniability ("Sorry, I'm not actually in charge anymore, so I can't help you..."), when in fact, his power has nothing to do with formal titles. And notice how when Lucifer abdicates, he doesn't just hand over the whole shebang to Beelzebub or whoever, he methodically dismantles everything and locks it up, then drops the resulting mess in his current enemy's lap. Now that's evil....

#32 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 10:09 AM:

Generals (and all servicepeople) everywhere are not supposed to speak out against their political masters, but there seems to be a particular problem in the USofA with the political, partisan president also being commander-in-chief. As I understand it, in the UK the army's ultimate loyalty is to the Queen - that is, to the nation as a whole - rather than to the politicians, despite the fact that it's the politicians who actually give the orders. How does it work in other countries?

#34 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 10:20 AM:

David Harmon @ 31... Off-topic, but since you brought up Lucifer... Have you ever seen 1995's Prophecy? It's about a Second War of the Angels, but led by Gabriel. Lucifer is staying out of that one though, and he prefers running a nightclub in Los Angeles. I was amused to realize a few years later that Lucifer was played by Viggo Mortensen.

#35 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 10:21 AM:

With regard to the Pace speech that Terry Karney mentions above: pay particular attention to the frequency-of-use and distribution of the word "sir." In normal military conversation, "sir" goes at either the beginning or the end of an exchange, and is most often used only once and then assumed thereafter. Using it more than once adds emphasis, and not usually of the good kind, either; placing it anywhere other than at the beginning or end of a sentence -- and in particular, placing it between a main clause and a subordinate clause (as in “If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it”) -- is as direct a rebuke as a slap across the face.

#36 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 10:46 AM:

Serge @#34: Haven't seen it, but I'll keep an eye out, thanks!

#37 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 11:11 AM:

John Stanning @#30 - thanks for providing an opportunity to segue to yesterday's story (via of what happened to the man who tried to stop Pakistan from getting the bomb.

Rich Barlow idles outside his silver trailer on a remote campsite in Montana - itinerant and unemployed, with only his hunting dogs and a borrowed computer for company. He dips into a pouch of American Spirit tobacco to roll another cigarette. It is hard to imagine that he was once a covert operative at the CIA, the recognised, much lauded expert in the trade in Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

He prepared briefs for Dick Cheney, when Cheney was at the Pentagon, for the upper echelons of the CIA and even for the Oval Office. But when he uncovered a political scandal - a conspiracy to enable a rogue nation to get the nuclear bomb - he found himself a marked man.

Even though this story supports my long-held "Reagan holed America under the waterline" theory, I kind of hope the story is an exaggeration because it's just too depressing otherwise.

On that note, I think it's important to realize that not every member of the general staff is just waiting to retire and tell the world how badly the war was run. There are Rush-listening, Fox News-watching, right-wing talking-point spouting members of the general staff, and I fear they're a considerable group.

#38 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 11:54 AM:

FungiFromYuggoth #37: There are Rush-listening, Fox News-watching, right-wing talking-point spouting members of the general staff, and I fear they're a considerable group.

That's just warped natural selection, with normal evolutionary pressures due to pure merit having been systematically suppressed by intense politicization of the promotion process.

#39 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 12:25 PM:

John Stanning #30. My point exactly.

#40 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 02:46 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ 27

I may not have expressed myself clearly. I think that having a strong citizen presence in the military was an idea that some of the founders took with them into the design of the Constitution; I don't think it worked out as well as they hoped. And I think it's been working less well over time.

To some extent what's important is not the actual numbers involved but the general feeling about service in the military among the general population. When military service is seen as either a normal part of life, or an important part of some career paths (especially politics), then there's a tendency among those eligible to be interested in the signs and symbols of the military and to be curious about the experience of being in the military. This was the situation in the middle of the 20th Century, when conscription was active and society as a whole was engaged in the conduct of war, both during WW2 and the early parts of the Cold War.

Later, particularly after conscription was halted and the Vietnam War ended so messily, society in general turned away from the military, and those in service came to be considered odd, perhaps antisocial and unsocial.* Those civilians interested in the military included a large proportion of fetishists, who made totems and sexual symbols of military objects and practices.

This feeling about the military is why I've talked about the questions of conscription and service. I do not believe that military conscriptions is either a moral or practical way to fill the ranks, but I am afraid that gulf between military and civilian populations could eventually destroy the firewall we've built between the military and political power.

* Geeks, of a sort.

#41 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 02:57 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 21, Patrick @ 27: Could the statement "The original idea of a citizen army was that most citizens would have an understanding of the military by being in it for awhile; this hasn't worked well for some time because even the citizens who have enlisted for a term aren't in the same position as career soldiers and often never do get to understand them" be related to the facts "100,000 enlisted soldiers out of 250,000 available men" be related by the ratio of how many men you would have in your circle of close acquaintances who have any experience of military life?

I'm thinking here that in a population of 250,000 where 100,000 have such experience, then if you have 25 acquaintances who you might consider 'close', 10 of them would have experience in the military. Compare the current numbers: a population of 165 million men (or so) and a standing army of... what? 2 million? Five million? It certainly isn't anywhere close to 66 million.

Yes, I'm ignoring women in the military. No, I am not a mathematician, but I can wave my hands in the air and pretend. It's kind of fun.

#42 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 03:00 PM:

Debra Doyle #35: I've noticed Keith Olbermann uses "Sir" that way, to great effect.

#43 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 03:03 PM:

Earl Cooley & FungiFromYoggoth

There are also a lot of "company men" in the general officer corps, people who will go with the program in order to keep or increase their position on the greasy pole*. BushCo have been selectively replacing the soldierly and reflective generals and admirals like Pace with these company types for as long as they've been in office.

David Brin has posted a series of articles on his blog in the last few weeks on what he calls "the war of the GOP against the military". I'm not at all sure I agree with many of his conclusions, but it makes some scary reading.

* I love this image; it so captures the combination of greed, fear, adrenaline, and desperation that I've seen in people climbing it.

#44 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 03:17 PM:

Renee @ 41

Yes, certainly, that's a large part of what I'm talking about. You may have missed seeing my #40 in response to Patrick, which talks about the need for the population to be familiar with the military as a way of life.

The numbers you mention are an indicator of the problem; I wonder if we couldn't make it more rigorous using network theory. In qualitative terms, network theory says that some nodes in a network (individual people in this case) are better connected* than others, and so have a larger affect on the communication channels and traffic flow in the network. In most theoretical approaches the connectivity is assumed to be some random function of time or space, weighted by previous connectivity**, in society I would treat it as an evolutionary function. In times of little contact between the general population and the military, few well-connected people in the population are also connected to the military, and there is little evolutionary selection pressure for those who are so connected to increase their general connection. The danger I'm warning against is that eventually the connections become so tenuous that the military and civilian populations and cultures act as if they were completely disconnected.

* "have more arcs" in the sense of graph theory
** the "Them as gots shall get" principle

#45 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 03:24 PM:

For a cautionary (and darkly comic) tale about the dangers of an unconnected military, read Walter Jon Williams' short story "Dinosaurs".

#46 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 03:49 PM:

Sorry for the breakdown in link physics; here's the correct wormhole dialing address: Dinosaurs

#47 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 05:30 PM:

Lizzie L @ #15 writes: "They have ceded political power to Bush and the executive branch..."

I'm in Chapter 3 of Takeover, Charlie Savage's 2007 Pulitzer-winning book about exactly that. It's enlightening and terrifying at the same time.

Savage is the reporter who first broke the story about Bush's signing statements.

#48 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 05:56 PM:

John Stanning (#32): In the US armed forces, the enlistment or commissioning oath is to defend the Constitution. (Against, I may note, "all enemies foreign and domestic".) The enlistment oath also includes "I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice"; the commissioning oath does not.

#49 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 11:03 PM:

Christopher, despite differences in wording between enlisted and commissioning oaths you will find that officers, even retired ones are subject to the laws of the UCMJ.
Being that is the case, any retired officer speaking against the president may be subject to several/ articles/and then / some.

All personnel, officers included also sign a page 11 (13?); Statement of Understanding, regarding the UCMJ. (though I doubt few people in the military have actually read the UCMJ --- much less the very Constitution which they are defending)

#50 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: October 14, 2007, 11:44 PM:

#44 Bruce Cohen "The danger I'm warning against is that eventually the connections become so tenuous that the military and civilian populations and cultures act as if they were completely disconnected."

I have to agree here. This is the crux of the concept of the "civilian soldier." It was to purposefully break with the tradition of the "warrior caste." It was meant to tie the military to the people (not so much the people to the military as Bruce said in his first comment). Then add in the civilian government control of the military and you effectively diffuse the impulse of a military coup.

The last thing holding the military back from a potential backlash against the civilian control would be professionalism and their individual (innoculated culture of) honor, duty and sense of service. This is the third leg that prevents military coups (the founding fathers were big on three legs/pillars).

#51 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 12:02 AM:

The only article that you'd really find useful is Art. 88. (I don't see how Art. 99 could apply at all, and the rest (including Conduct Unbecoming) would be a real stretch.

I think you'll find that most military members are very familiar with the UCMJ (particularly the punitive articles), and the Constitution.

One important note about the Constitution is that the Bill of Rights doesn't apply to the military. They fall under a different section entirely.

#52 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 12:45 AM:

JKRichard: There are very few members who are not moderately familiar with, at least, the punitive articles.

Further, the nature of the beast is such that the subjectivity is complicated by the fact that to enforce it the person must be recalled to active duty to face the charge. In the case of a general officer that probably requires the acquiesence of Congress (since it would, technically, affect the number of general officers, which is in their direct purview).

No matter how you did it, it would make a bigger stink than the speaches of those officers. Since the traditions of the nation, and the services, are such that the speaking out of retired officers is normal; getting a conviction would be damned near impossible (because of the way a "jury of one's peers" is interpreted in the USMJ).

#53 ::: JKRichard ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 12:54 AM:

Jim (and I say Jim with all due respect sir), my experience from service is that the UCMJ was stretched to cover many NJPs.

In my second day of Naval Basic Training I was assigned as EPO (Educational Petty Officer) and asked to conduct an last minute night-study before taps (that's nighty night time for the non mil-spec crowd). I gave a speach (borrowed from my father (who served proudly for 26 years) about the Navy Core Values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. When I hit Commitment I talked about the Oath of Enlistment and asked for a show of hands as to who had actually read the Constitution. Zero hands raised.
I believe you would be correct in saying most Senior NCOs and commissioned officers have a formal and familiar understanding...but give the bell curve of population by rank --- I'd say most of the military serving today have only a vague understanding of what they are defending.
"I signed up for the college benefits."

#54 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 01:06 AM:

Dave@23: If Sanchez is right, and they have been given orders that are manifestly impossible to carry out, then the only honourable option is protest, and to carry that protest to the point of resigning their commissions.

I'm not certain, but I don't think "impossible to carry out" orders are, by default, dishonorable orders. You could be ordered to defend a position against an incoming soviet tank division and defend it with nothing more than a shovel, because that's all you've got left that works, and that wouldn't neccessarily be a dishonorable order. If you swear to uphold the constitution and if you swear to follow the ucmj, then the only thing that is dishonorable is any order that breaks those two oaths.

Which isn't to say that there haven't been instances in Iraq that were in violation of the UCMJ, or the constitution, or basic human rights, and therefore dishonorable.

But by itself, an impossible order, isn't neccessarily a dishonorable one.

#55 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 02:18 AM:

Steve Buchheit @ 50

Obviously I don't know what was in the Founders' minds*, but I think the citizen army works in both directions, and that both are equally important. The military must feel a duty and a loyalty to the society they protect**, but the citizenry must also feel a need for and a gratitude to the military. Otherwise it's easy for the military to become marginalized, stereotyped, and scapegoated, and that pushes it away from its loyalty and sense of duty. It's a two-edged sword.†

* Unlike some people who seem to be sure that they're channeling them.
** Hence the oath to the constitution, not the general, the president, or even the government as a whole.
† Aren't they all?

#56 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 06:53 AM:

Bruce #55 :
It's a two-edged sword.†
† Aren't they all?

Not necessarily, depending on what counts as a sword. For example, AFAIR sabres and cutlasses are usually single-edged. I have a Burmese (I think) curved, double-pointed sword with the edge on the inside of the curve.

#57 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 07:21 AM:

> It's a two-edged sword.
> Aren't they all?

You mean literally? No.

#58 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 08:38 AM:

Not to mention the möbius swords.

#59 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 09:39 AM:

Never take a möbius blade to a klein gun fight.

#60 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 09:42 AM:

JKRichard #53

It doesn't surprise me at all that boot recruits on their second day of basic don't know anything about anything.

"I do too! Shinola is a shoe polish!"

#61 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 09:55 AM:

Well, I didn't mean literal swords, but yes, there are a lot of single-edge types. Sabers can be either*; some cavalry sabers had no edge, being sharpened only at the point.

* In the American Civil War Confederates favored the single-edge cavalry saber as being more "modern", Union officers used the two-edge version, considering it the traditional weapon of the officer and gentleman. Personally, I agree with the cavalrymen who used a carbine; God is usually on the side of the most guns.**

** except for counterinsurgencies.

#62 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 10:11 AM:

Jim, and others with military experience:

I have the impression that the current administration is not "supporting the troops" OFF the battlefield to nearly the previously expected extent (e.g. provisions made for returning home; pay and benefits; medical care for veterans; acknowledgement and appropriate treatment of PTSD). Do you think this is true? If so, do you think it contributes to the retired generals' willingness to criticize the administration publicly? And finally, if this impression is true, why hasn't there been more of a stink raised, either by the press or by military families?

#63 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 10:55 AM:

Is it even theoretically possible to bring peace & stability to a region characterized by theocratic governments?

#64 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 10:59 AM:

On the subject of the increasing disconnect between military officers and the civilian population, there was a cover article in the Washington Post magazine July 22, 2007 entitled "Their War" discussing this. My web skills aren't up to posting the link, but googling turns it up readily. May be behind a subscription wall. It's multifaceted and to me - with no military background and limited interest in politics - quite thought-provoking. Mentions the low number of active duty troops as a percentage of the population and therefore the fewer civilians who know them personally, the rise in military leaders who attended service academies rather than ROTC programs where they would have encountered future civilian leaders (and vice versa), and other factors.

#65 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 12:22 PM:

Steve C. #63 : How many theocratic governments - countries ruled by priests or equivalents - are there anywhere?
Iran, yes. Although Ahmedinejad is elected, Ayatollah Khamenei the "Supreme Leader" can over-rule him.
Saudi Arabia, semi-theocratic - although it's a monarchy, with the King having absolute power, he has to tread carefully with Mecca and Medina being in his kingdom.
But apart from those two, I can't think of any theocratic governments (Vatican City, maybe?).

Certainly Iraq under Saddam Hussein wasn't a theocracy.

Being a Muslim country doesn't make it a theocracy, and is no bar to being stable and peaceful. Look at Oman under Sultan Qaboos; also, for example, Kuwait and Malaysia.

#66 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 12:22 PM:

Lila @ 62, there's nothing unusual about not supporting the returned vetrans; I remember a study that was done about ten years out from the fall of Saigon that showed Viet Nam vets were the largest single demographic among users of homeless services, and even further back, there was the Bonus Army.

#67 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 01:27 PM:

Jim Macdonald @28:

Would it be Sinclair's defeat you're thinking of, as related in Martha Keller's "Retreat Along the Wabash?"

Tell the truth to a man you trust,
The truth to a man you fear,
Lie to woman because you must,
But since whatever you do or say
He'll never believe you anyway--
Lie, lie, lie to the General, lie to the Brigadier...

#68 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 01:39 PM:

Lila @ 62, JESR @ 66

It's been SOP for as long as I know about (as far back as the Civil War at least) for the government, and often for the common citizens, to ignore or actively discriminate against returning veterans. Certainly there's documentation of this after WW2 and Vietnam; I think the lack of interest in Korea when studying or talking about history speaks for itself. And the treatment of WW1 veterans was one of the most shameful episodes in the history of our country; the president ordered a demonstration trying to get the benefits the veterans had been promised fired upon by active army troops.

#69 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 02:00 PM:

John Stanning @ 65

Tibet, at least before the Chinese started colonizing. Bhutan, too, I think, though I'm ignorant of recent (after about 1970) history there. There are also countries where, at least in living memory, the ruler was anointed as a religious leader or even a semi-divinity: Ethiopia under Hailie Sellasie and Japan.

All of these countries under these regimes were highly stable internally; their problems came from outside.

#70 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 02:02 PM:

Lila@#62, JESR@#66, Bruce@#68: The neglect-of-returning-veterans problem has been around long enough that there's an entire subcategory of "poor boy rescues princess, achieves prosperity" folktales that begin "Once upon a time there was a poor soldier returning home from the wars...."

#71 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 02:03 PM:

#61 Lori --

That would indeed be St. Clair's Defeat. The other, older, song begins:

'Twas November the Fourth in the year of '91
We had a strong engagement near to Fort Jefferson
St. Clair was our commander, as it may remembered be,
For we left nine hundred lying in that curséd territory.

In one morning General Arthur St. Clair lost, not just 90% of his own command, but 60% of all the men then under arms in the service of the United States.

#72 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 02:14 PM:

Seeing the date in the poem Jim cites in #71 caused me to Google; I've never known of a momentous event in history which occurred on my birthdate.

St. Clair's Defeat.

It occurred on the Wabash River in Ohio on, sure enough, November 4.

#73 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 02:18 PM:

Linkmeister @ 72

You've been around since 1781? [snicker]

(My father's b-day was 4 Nov also.)

#74 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 02:22 PM:

John Stanning at 65:

Tibet; the Dalai Lama.

#75 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 02:24 PM:

#71 Jim --

Cool -- the only song I knew was the one that Juanita sings on "Rifles and Rhymes," a bunch of Keller poems set to music. Stands to reason that there would have been others written much earlier.

I've learned more American history from filks than I ever did in school. Would you believe that St. Clair's Defeat is NOT taught in Ohio history classes?

#76 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 03:55 PM:

PJ @ #73, Why, yes. I'm the role model RAH used for Lazarus Long. It's always been an irritant that I was never mentioned in any of his acknowledgements.

#77 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 04:06 PM:

They called us out and put in us their trust.
A force whose strength and skill would hold at bay
the unexpected terror that came on that day,
the dark 'gainst which our light and might would thrust.
Then off we went to fight in Iraq's dust,
to bring to heel Saddam, to make him pay
for all the horror, torture, and decay
he had inflicted with a rule unjust.
We brought him down as all had known we must,
but left the country deep in disarray,
with services and law thrown down to rust.
Now violence stalks the souk and leaves behind
the bodies of the ones who could not flee.
Our comrades pay the price of leaders' greed.
The ones who live lose limbs or minds, are blind,
and being no more use, discarded like debris.
We wonder now the meaning of "succeed".

#78 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 04:11 PM:

Linkmeister @ 76

Didn't think you'd be willing to cop to that. How are you and your mother getting along these days?

#79 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 04:28 PM:

Bruce, he, um, expanded that relationship beyond what was factual.

#80 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 04:55 PM:

NelC: Never take a möbius blade to a klein gun fight.

Now that's why I read Making Light.

#81 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 05:19 PM:

I suspect that theocracies tend to be more internally stable because they present an obvious central organizing point for the country. Bets are off, of course, where there are rival sects/religions within the same region.

#82 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 05:22 PM:

Doesn't the whole citizen-soldier thing in the USA trace back to the notion of the military being based in the militia?

#83 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 05:25 PM:

Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) #77:

That, sir, is sheer brilliance. If I had a hat I'd doff it to you.

#84 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 05:35 PM:

Fragano @ 83

Thank you.

#85 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 05:52 PM:

There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four!

They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."

They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.

They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,
"You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.
An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;
For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an, we thought we'd call an' tell.

"No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write
A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.

O thirty million English that babble of England's might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made-"
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

-- Rudyard Kipling (1891)

#86 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 06:05 PM:

The US WW I vets' Bonus Army didn't have a spokesman with the eloquence of Kipling, but its action did seem to result in passage of the GI Bill of Rights after WW II.

#87 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 08:10 PM:

I'm out of step with the rum tum tum of the military drum.

God bless the good soldiers. Yes, let's pay them decently and take care of them during and after their term of service. Let's hope Sanchez's diatribe spurs Congress to investigate and document just how horribly the good soldiers have been betrayed by their civilian Commander-in- Chief.

But I'm not so much into the subtext of how much better it would have been if only our invasion had been run properly, by good soldiers. I want poems that remind us the Iraq invasion was immoral from its inception, and an abomination that's destroyed our honor as a nation while it's destroyed the lives of its victims.

This was written with the American Civil War in mind, but I think it also speaks to the aftermath of the last five years. Patrick and Teresa will recognize that I've cited that link before. They, Jim, and the rest of you should free to tell me if I'm being annoying by citing that, again. Particularly, I'm aware of my proclivity to feel I've accomplished something by citing dramatic poetry instead of making more phone calls to Congress and donating money to candidates likely to stop the horrors being inflicted in our name.

#88 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 08:26 PM:

Lenny Bailes @ 87

I agree with you. That poem was about the soldiers, told from their point of view. Sometimes you have to just get down to where the injustice is happening and see it from the point of view of the shaftee, which is what I was trying to do. Remember not to assume that the views expressed in fiction or poetry are precisely those of the author; I tend to write from other points of view, especially in my poetry. So that's not a political subtext, it's intended to make it even more poignant that these soldiers believed in what they were doing, and don't anymore.

#89 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 08:50 PM:

Lenny@#87: It should be intuitively obvious -- but, unfortunately, it never seems to be -- that one of the many possible ways for a civilian government to shaft its standing army is to order it into unwinnable or unjust wars.

#90 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 10:26 PM:

The GI Bill of Rights has been gutted, then gutted again, since WWII.

#91 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 10:40 PM:

James D. Macdonald @ 90

The educational part of it has been especially bureaucratic as well. My son served a reserve enlistment and then used the GI Bill for grad school; he spent most of his time waiting around for the payments, and had to get loans to pay off the school while waiting for the GI money to come in; when he asked the VA what was going on they would routinely lie and say the money had been sent already, or that they'd lost the records and couldn't verify that he was owed money.

#92 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2007, 11:40 PM:

Lila, #62, the WashPost has a continuing investigation on how soldiers were treated at Walter Reed.

#93 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 12:13 AM:

Forget Walter Reed.

A Wife's Battle

Me, I had to stop reading "In the company of Soldiers". Maybe in a few more years.

#94 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 02:22 AM:

When I used the GI Bill it was very well run and very straightforward. Serve 180 days or more, get four years of assistance to be used within ten years of your End of Obligation.

My first time around I got $270/month for three months, then left school. The next time around, three years later, I got $311/month for about twenty months and finished the BS degree with about six years left on the meter. Then I went to work fulltime and didn't have time or inclination to use up what I had left before time ran out in 1984.

As I understand it, since then it's been made into a system of matching contributions which don't get made until the servicemember puts in some time or money first.

#95 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 02:34 AM:

Linkmeister @ 94

That's correct; it appears that at least some uncivil servants have been using that as a way to procrastinate on the payments; they say the paperwork documenting the money hasn't arrived and so they can't authorize the payment. This is probably not a universal thing by any means, but it went on for almost the entire 6 years of my son's PhD program. And it's consistent with the fun I used to have with the DOD over other matters.*

* I'm not going to get into the hilarity my draft board visited upon me; that's bureaucracy of a whole other order, for which the only solution is exorcism.

#96 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 03:12 AM:

Debra Doyle @ 70

The treatment of veterans in Russia, especially under the Tsars, was so bad that folk tales are full of those stories. Many of them got started after Napolean's invasion was broken by the Russian winter; what many people don't know is that while the French lost that war, the Russians didn't really win it, the winter did, and many Russian soldiers were casualties.

Also, the Russian Empire, and a lot of other states in Europe, had a bad habit* of conscripting ethnic minorities, equipping them poorly, if at all, and using them as cannon fodder. Those that survived usually got no veterans benefits at all; in fact they'd usually lost the possessions they'd had to their ethnic majority neighbors when they were conscripted.

A great-uncle of mine was conscripted that way during WW1. He was given a broomstick in lieu of a rifle and marched off to (what the Germans called) the Eastern Front. Given the stories about him**, I've always wondered if he hadn't met Jaroslav Hašek at some point during the war and became a model for one of the characters in "The Good Soldier Švejk".

* Bad from the soldiers' point of view.
** It's said that he fell asleep in the basement of a town that was in Russian hands, and woke up after it had been taken by Germans and the basement turned into a field hospital. When he woke up, he tried to surrender, but because he spoke no German, they thought he was demanding their surrender, so they gave it to him, which is how he captured an entire town full of Germans. Oddly, this did not endear him to his superiors; I think they thought of him as a "smart-aleck Jew".

#97 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 07:33 AM:

It's one thing that the military is bound by law to not criticize (or, heaven forbid, rebel against) the President...

Then why does Congress also seem to follow the same law? Someone told me that it's a cultural thing; a tendency to treat the President as some kind of king, in a nation that never had kings.

But the USA is not a monarchy. (Yet.)

#98 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 08:40 AM:

Yngve #97:

My guess (not joking) is that this has a lot to do with all those (very important for national security) warrantless wiretaps, national security letters, data mining done to "profile terrorists," etc. Those sources of information must give a huge advantage to anyone using them in a political contest. Think how useful it is to know about your opponents' gay flings, extramarital affair, weird financial dealings, dope-smoking teenage son, etc.

This started long before Bush (J Edgar Hoover's FBI apparently had extensive files on all important congressmen). The Clinton administration had a major scandal involving this, with Clinton's political people being given access to FBI files of prominent Republicans. (Back then, Republicans' deep commitment to principle led them to protest these abuses of power, while Democrats' deep commitment to principle led them to explain that these were innocent mistakes.)

There is a large, fundamental shift happening in terms of how much privacy a normal human being has from his government. Hardly anyone really understands what this looks like, how big the impact is, or how much power it hands to people with the right access to information. It changes the balance of power in a democracy, in favor of the currently-powerful and the people running those programs. It's been developing for a long time, and 9/11 and the Bush administration have only sped it along, not brought it about. There seems to me to be almost no chance that anyone will get elected who will stop this progression.

#99 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 09:39 AM:

Terry @ #93, I don't have any experience with PTSD, but I've worked with TBI patients. If it's true that the VA is grossly undertreating TBI, they are setting up a huge avalanche of problems for thousands of people--not just the patients, not just their families, but pretty much anyone they come in contact with. And not just in the short term.

(This article in Army Times about undertreatment of PTSD estimates that 10% of the wounded have TBI. Given that most of the casualties are caused by explosions, that seems way low to me.)

#100 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 10:48 AM:

Thanks to OtterB for the "Their War" article reference, great reading.

> It's a two-edged sword.
> Aren't they all?

Well, time to take the old taoist blade-less sword out of it's empty sheath, I guess.

albatross (#98): There is a large, fundamental shift happening in terms of how much privacy a normal human being has from his government.

There is a large, fundamental shift happening in terms of how much privacy a normal human being has, period. Or even, more profoundly, a shift in what is considered to be privacy.
People are now having private, and by that I mean private conversations on their headset phones in crowded public areas not caring one bit. They enter into "fidelity programs" of, say, supermarket chains, and do not care that they're basicaly selling part of their private lives to the highest bidders. Not to talk about some of the aspects the blogging and myspace culture have somehow taken (please do not hit me, I'm not equating one for the other).

#101 ::: Nangleator ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 10:50 AM:

Excellent and scary point, albatross. Even if we do remove the tools for the sitting president to use to hamstring his opponents, they can be put back in place within a few weeks of any horrific attack against us little people. We'll insist on it, out of anger.

No future leader, no matter how clueless, can ever be ignorant to the fact that a large tragedy, manufactured or not, only serves to increase the leader's power.

We live in interesting times, don't we?

#102 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 11:02 AM:

Lila @ 99

The thing that really gripes me about undertreatment of veterans for any disability is that, even though our society has tried to ignore it after every conflict, we have 40 years of documentation on the negative consequences: there are lots of Vietnam veterans who ended up homeless or otherwise socially and economically incapacitated, and behind each one is a group of family, friends, and loved ones who lost somebody. Oh, wait, I forgot, that was because of the moral laxity of my generation.

#103 ::: Leslie in CA ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 12:02 PM:

Twelve former Army captains have joined the generals (and the seven sergeants) in speaking out about Iraq. Their conclusion: institute a draft, or get out - now.

#104 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 12:40 PM:

Leslie @ #103, that link takes me to a blog post about Arabic slang.

#105 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 01:49 PM:

12 Captains

#106 ::: Leslie in CA ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 03:39 PM:

Lila, my apologies - I thought I'd copied the proper link. Thanks to Earl Cooley III for supplying the correct one.

#107 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 03:49 PM:

From Spencer Ackerman at The American Prospect:

Contrary to its billing, this was no mere attack on the administration. Sanchez's speech is perfectly positioned to accelerate the stabbed-in-the-back myth of explaining the war now emerging on the right. That corrosive idea, revived most recently by revisionist Vietnam historian Mark Moyar, holds that sybaritic and feckless civilians recklessly squander the hard-won gains of the military.

#108 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 05:52 PM:

Well, actually, "sybaritic and feckless" seems to me to be a pretty accurate description of the Bush administration....

#109 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 05:58 PM:

OK -- try this: The sybaritic and feckless Bush Administration recklessly squandered the troops they committed to a mission which could never be accomplished.

(And hurrah! Iraq's government just grew a pair, they're ordering Blackwater to leave.)

#110 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 06:11 PM:

If Iraq's government really grew a pair, they'd declare Coalition Provisional Authority Order #17 null and void, and say "Effective immediately all civilians in Iraq fall under Iraqi law."

#111 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 07:47 PM:

James D. Macdonald @ 110

Given the current situation vis a vis Turkey, maybe the Iraqi government's first "stand-up-on-two-hind-legs" moment ought to be a statement that if a nation supposedly allied with the Coalition nations invades Iraq that all concessions and affordances made to the Coalition are automatically void. It might leave them in a nasty position if US forces aren't allowed off their bases, for instance, but having a few divisions of Turkish troops running around Kurdish country sounds to me like opening up a second front on a an already bloody civil war.

#112 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 16, 2007, 10:51 PM:

If speaking disrespectfully of POTUS can get jail time, why was nothing done about the general who encouraged his troops to hold Clinton in contempt?
Shinseki didn't get jail time either; he was treated shabbily for telling the truth, but that's not the same. When has a general ever been jailed for speaking?

A commander in chief cannot take as an excuse for his mistakes in warfare an order given by his minister or his sovereign, when the person giving the order is absent from the field of operations and is imperfectly aware or wholly unaware of the lateest state of affairs. It follows that any command in chief who undertakes to carry out a plan which he considers defective is at fault; he must put forward his reasons, insist on the plan being changed, and finally tender his resignation rather than be the instrument of his army's downfall. Napoleon, Military Maxims and Thoughts, quoted in Townsend, Up the Organization

Bruce: how many Iraqi Arabs do you think are rooting for the Turks to weaken the Kurds? Every supporter of a unified Iraq is probably having visions of a de-facto independent polity crying "Mummy!" and creeping back into the fold, and many of the rest are interested in a bigger share of Kirkuk oil.

#113 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2007, 06:43 AM:

#110 "Effective immediately all civilians in Iraq fall under Iraqi law."

Is there any reason a military force shouldn't fall under the law of the country they are in just as much as civilians do? I mean, assuming we aren't talking about a hostile invading/occupying power?

#114 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2007, 06:47 AM:


Precisely so. I think the origin of the term is the German word Dolchthfuss (sp?), which was popularised by the far right in 1920s Germany, that the German Army only lost WWI because it was 'betrayed' by the politicians.

The same story has circulated about Vietnam. It's conveniently forgotten for example that Senator Barry Goldwater led a Republican caucus which voted against giving more aid to South Vietnam in 1974-75.

Go back further, the Strategic Airpower types ('shock and awe') have published books that say the Christmas 1972 strikes were decisive (Linebacker II) and that it was Macnamara and Johnson's squeamishness and political interference that prevented the Rolling Thunder strikes (1965-68) from defeating North Vietnam.

Once again you have institutional agendas. There is no evidence the North Vietnamese would have given up, just because the US dropped more and bigger bombs on them.

The right will claim the left and the media 'lost' a winnable war in Iraq.

is a pretty good summary of where we really are in Iraq.

summarises the Administration's political strategy on Iraq quite brilliantly. Both pieces written by a professional historian at the Naval War College.

#115 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2007, 06:50 AM:

Valuethinker: 'Dolchstoss' or 'Dolchstoß', lit. 'dagger-thrust'. Interestingly, I've only ever seen it used negatively as 'Dolchstosslegende'; I don't know how it was actually used when complaining about the supposed betrayal.

#116 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2007, 09:21 AM:

#115 Jakob: dolchstoss + legende, then? I suppose the rhetorical trope of claiming the German Army didn't really lost the war was used so often that it rated its own label.

Wikipedia has an article on dolchstosslegende with a section on the origin of the term, which appears to have good sourcing.

#117 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2007, 09:42 AM:

gives a good summary of what we are in for. Dolchstoss indeed.

#118 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2007, 11:26 AM:

Lori @ 109:

"(And hurrah! Iraq's government just grew a pair, they're ordering Blackwater to leave.)"

Except the leader of Blackwater is refusing to recognize Iraq's ruler's authority to tell his men to do anything:

#119 ::: marcum ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2007, 01:42 PM:

looks like CNN lost this in the edit:


panties in a bunch?

#120 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2007, 02:27 PM:

CHip @ 112

You are undoubtedly right, which makes them all fools. The more of Iraq and the minority groups their neighbors carve off, either through invasion or subversion, the less stability they're likely to have. And the Kurds are the only minority group outside the Arab Moslem sects who have enough influence and land to make a difference to the rest of the country. Three large groups might be able to stabilize the situation; the Sunnis and Shiites by themselves are guaranteed to turn Iraq into a wasteland presided over by outsiders.

#121 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2007, 04:20 PM:

Bruce #111:

I keep wondering whether there's a connection between the (hopefully stalled) rush to start a war with Iran, the push to get rid of/reign in the contractors with guns, and the ramp up of tensions with Turkey. Among other things, it seems to me that:

a. Everyone seems to openly say that we can't maintain ourselves in Iraq without mercenaries. (The fact that FBI agents investigating wrongdoing by mercenaries are guarded by mercenaries is kind of striking, to me. Call me a reactionary, but shouldn't US government assets in a war zone be guarded by US or allied soldiers?) If it becomes unworkable to have mercenaries there, our position in Iraq seems to become even more precarious.

b. The Kurdish part of Iraq has been the most stable part of Iraq for several years. The combination of allegations from Turkey that we're giving the Kurds weapons (we probably are, though surely not to shoot at the Turks), and p--sing off the Turks by correctly calling their mass murder of Armenians mass murder, seems like it sets us up to lose that stable part of Iraq, or at least to have to spend resources trying to keep the shooting between Turks and Kurds from getting out of control and spilling across the border.

c. If we start a war with Iran, that may turn out to be just the time for Turkey to go into Iraqi Kurdistan and clear things out. This seems to kind of tie our hands w.r.t. Iran, though just because invading Iran is a guaranteed disaster doesn't mean W won't order it done....

#122 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 17, 2007, 10:39 PM:

albatross @ 121

Some cynical cluster of neurons in my brain came up with a really nasty theory when I read your comment. Suppose the NeoBarbs, fools that they are, have finally realized that we just don't have anything to invade Iran with. Suppose further, that they've also finally realized that, despite their fondest wish-fulfillment fantasies, not only is Iraq unwinnable, our position there is rapidly becoming undefendable with resources we're going to have there after the next batch of troops rotates out. And let's say for the sake of arguement that they'd rather kick the crap out of Iran than make sure Iraq doesn't fall apart on them before they have the Democrats in office to blame for it.

So, if I were a NeoBarb with that load on my brain, I'd want to get out of Iraq very rapidly, redeploy as soon as possible, and head for Iran. If I have to pull the mercenaries out of Iraq because they're persona non grata, I get to use them to help set up the deployment infrastructure for the Iran invasion. If Turkey invades Kurdistan, I get to say, "We can't be shooting at our allies, so we'll pull back and let them handle as much of Iraq as they want," and pull more troops out. And maybe then I get to make nice to the Turks by asking them to take over large parts of the Coalition job, while skimming whatever they want off the top, and knocking the Kurds back into the 13th Century.

It's win-win-win, right? So maybe some or all of this is happening because they want it to and have worked towards that end. Now please tell me why I can't possibly be right.

#123 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 07:16 AM:

120 Bruce Cohen

The answer may be here: it may really *be* about oil, after all. Because no other 'logical' explanation for US actions really fits, and Bush and Cheney are oilmen by trade. If you knit in warnings about Peak Oil (which the Administration publicly rejects) then you really can have a viable conspiracy theory.

Invade Iraq. Cripple it as an organised state. Do oil deals with surviving fragments. Control Iraqi oil forever. Then turn on Iran.

If you read Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker, who has been sounding the alarm on Iran for over 2 years, then it looks like Iran will be one giant series of air raids, with a goal of destroying the Revolutionary Guard infrastructure, and fatally weakening the regime. The only ground troops involved will be some special forces.

On this model, the recent Israeli strike against Syria was a dry run, possibly to warn the US that if the US doesn't hit Iran, Israel will.

Speaking From Experience, Part II: Former CIA official expects war with Iran
DEPARTMENT Washington Babylon
BY Ken Silverstein

The reality is, of course, it will have the exact opposite effect on Iranian politics, just as bombing the Texas Rangers would strengthen the position of President Bush, not weaken it.

Right now the Iranian regime is heavily discredited due to internal economic and social issues. Drop one bomb, and their popularity will soar and the Persian people will rally around their leaders.

#124 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 07:43 AM:

Good summary of where thinking is re Iran war:

People who track logistics (eg shipping container hire, cargo ship hire, air traffic cargo hire) knew that the US would invade Iraq 12 months before it actually did. The political manoeuvring, UN Resolutions etc. were just for political show-- once you start an Army that big deploying, you can't really stop it (as Kaiser Wilhelm found when he tried to stop WWI-- his generals basically told him that once the mobilisation order had been given, there was no way to stop it).

There are numerous signs that the same is now true of Iran. This will be an Air Force/ USN mission, but again there is lots of evidence that the resources have been deployed and the the munitions are being moved (an air war is hugely munitions intensive, you need to replenish the aircraft carriers arsenals every 2-3 days at least).

See also stockpiles of aviation kerosene.

Once all the resources are in place (which would be sometime in the next 2-3 months from what these reports are saying) then the President is in position to greenlight the mission.

I can't remember off hand when Ramadan ends (13th October from google) but I would judge the period between that and the next muslim holiday (Christmas) is an area of danger, and ditto after the Islamic New Year (9th January).

The long winter nights are also a considerable advantage to US operations, given US night fighting capabilities, in terms of infiltrating and exfiltrating Special Forces. However moisture is not good for Bomb Damage Assessment, necessarily.

#125 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 08:03 AM:

Alan Braggins@113

My understanding is that usually when the US has a long term military presence in another country, an agreement is negotiated that outlines (among other things) when US troops will be subject to military justice and when they will be subject to the court system of the host country.

(As far as I know, no such agreement has been signed with Iraq.)

#126 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 08:13 AM:

Valuethinker@124 I can't remember off hand when Ramadan ends (13th October from google) but I would judge the period between that and the next muslim holiday (Christmas) is an area of danger, and ditto after the Islamic New Year (9th January).

If you want to narrow it down a little more, look for a new-moon during those periods. Used to be that you attacked during high tide so the amphibous landing craft could get on the beach. Now, you attack during a new moon, so you don't have a full moon silhouetting your stealth aircraft in the night, and making them a big fat, visual target.

#127 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 09:34 AM:

#122 Bruce:

I guess it's possible, but I just haven't seen much evidence that this group can carry off even fairly straightforward but hard things (like pacifying an occupied country). It's kind-of hard for me to see them managing some kind of complicated Machiavellian plot like this. I mean, they might try, but it will somehow end up with an even bigger disaster.

At any rate, though I'll admit this is way out of my area of expertise, I don't think there's any way for the mercenaries to successfully invade Iran. This isn't keeping down some local rabble, it's fighting against an organized army with tanks and missiles, and we'd have to furnish the mercenaries with that equipment to stand much of a chance, right?

And I don't see any way for the neocons to avoid responsibility for Iraq upon pulling out. I know Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the American Pravda crowd will say the smoldering ruins of Baghdad are all Hillary Clinton's fault if they're told to, but even the fringe wackos on the right won't believe them till they've heard that big lie retold for a couple decades.

Nor do I see an invasion/occupation of Iran working out at all. If the congress deserved its pay, we'd see a vote on impeachment as soon as it seriously looked like we were going to invade. But by now, I don't expect that--whether it's gutlessness in the face of Fox News and Rove's attack dogs, mistaken belief that the neocons really have some idea what they're doing, or the effect of really juicy blackmail photos on all the congressmen, these guys just don't seem willing to stand up to the White House on anything.

We need to clean house in Nov 2008. It's a pity we can't sweep both the Republicans and the Democrats out and put decent people in, but we'll have to settle for putting Democrats in, in the hopes that whatever hold the Administration has had on them in the past, it won't last past having a big Democratic majority in congress and a Democrat in the white house.

#128 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 09:49 AM:

Valuethinker #124: It sure seems like we've had lots of warnings that this may be in the offing, and recent stuff like the Putin visit which may be an attempt to head off the invasion. I can even imagine the Turkish movements being a part of that attempt.

The quoted snippet from W about his veto of the S-CHIP bill was absolutely chilling, to me. This is his way of staying relevant. That's not the decisionmaking process of a guy who's trying to do what's best for an ungrateful nation (I can imagine him thinking of himself in that light, as I think Nixon did until the end). It's a guy trying to hold onto power a bit longer, trying to maybe make one big hail-Mary play to salvage his reputation. Where's Al Haig when we need him?

I'm getting increasingly worried about W's decisionmaking. He's a law unto himself, he has little left to lose, and he's somehow convinced his party to literally commit suicide to follow him. Those are the stakes, right? If we do some kind of wacko thing in Iran and it goes badly, with the Republicans stonewalling to keep W from impeachment, there might not *be* a Republican party in ten years, or they may take a bigger hit than they did after Watergate.

#129 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 10:29 AM:

Seeing GWB's photo op with the Dalai Lama, I kept wishing the DL could reach out and zap him with some instant karma, leaving no trace behind. But that's another type of religion....

#130 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 10:29 AM:

albatross #127: but I just haven't seen much evidence that this group can carry off even fairly straightforward but hard things (like pacifying an occupied country). It's kind-of hard for me to see them managing some kind of complicated Machiavellian plot like this.

See, I look at the same evidence and see a group that is very good at achieving a state of eternal war, with the intention of getting richer and richer off of war profiteering forever. Hell, if they were just bumbling around not knowing what they were doing, surely something would have gone at least slightly right at some point. When every single decision is catastrophically wrong, I can't help but think it's on purpose.

#131 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 10:48 AM:

126 Greg London - thanks I hadn't thought of that. New moon it would be. 'We own the night' as the slogan for the USAF group that flies for the Special Forces goes.

The F117 and B2 Stealths would go first, and then the navy air. Figure at least 3,000 sorties (I think that was the level the Israelis hit Hizbollah with). From what Sy Hersh has said, the focus has shifted from Iranian nuclear capabilities (which are not as developed as was thought, and in any case there are too many dispersed and unknown targets) towards Revolutionary Guard infrastructure and alleged training camps of Iraqis.


I don't think a mercenary invasion of a country with 80 million people, who fought Saddam Hussein to a standstill, and were winning until he used nerve gas, is likely.

Something similar was proposed in 2000 against Saddam Hussein, and dubbed in the Pentagon 'a Bay of Goats'. The Bay of Pigs looms large in institutional memory-- I can't see either the CIA or the Pentagon signing on for it.

One is reminded of the Abwehr (German intelligence)'s Brandenburger Corps, who wore civilian clothes. A group of them dressed up as Polish soldiers and attacked a German radio station in September 1939, the bodies of convicts were produced as evidence of their perfidy. I am sure the Pentagon has a similar Special Operations group buried in there somewhere. But I think that really leans towards the paranoid.

Still find one Iranian who was involved in an ambush of a US Army convoy, and we have casus belli. Remember that Kuwaiti nurse (later proven to be a member of the Royal Family) who testified about Iraqis dumping babies from incubators onto the desert sands?


Bush thinks he is another Truman. Reviled in his time, leaving office with the lowest popularity of any American president (no thanks, General Macarthur), but later seen to be right about the big things.

He and Cheney feel they have nothing to lose, and even a future Republican President would not have the same latitude and freedom of action to deal with Iraq. So his instincts must be to do something *now*.

Remember the 'Axis of Evil'? The only one not dealt with is Iran.

It's blatantly clear from all the off-the-record briefings etc, the 'Iranian made IEDs' etc. that we are being briefed and primed for a strike against Iran. The Israeli attack on Hizbollah, and the recent bombing of Syria, Iran's 2 closest allies in the Middle East, were phase 1 of that: a warning to both that they will not be able to retaliate against Israel if the US hits Iran, on behalf of Iran.

The next 4 months are the danger point: long winter nights, US electoral cycle not in full gear, Bush looking to make his mark on history.

The surprising thing in the short term will be how little Iran can do in retaliation. Their formal military power just isn't that great, even though apparently they have kept a squadron of F14s flying.

The surprising thing in the long term will be how much damage they can do to the US and US interests. These people have the best intelligence and special forces in the Middle East, and they have been playing this game against western opponents for much of the last 2500 years.

I think they bagged that Pan Am flight over Lockerbie in response to the shoot down by the Vincennes of their Airbus, (the conviction of the Libyan has now been re-opened), and possibly to kill the senior CIA special ops guy on that plane (who was planning a rescue mission in the Bekka Valley of American hostages). They also hit the synagogue in Argentina, and the US Embassy (twice) in Beirut, and the US Marines barracks.

And US forces are deployed all around them, open and vulnerable, with long supply lines.

And the oil producing province of Saudi Arabia has a Shia majority. So does Bahrein.

#132 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 11:14 AM:


Albatross. One other thought.

It's abundantly clear there are many people, all the way up to SECDEF, who are appalled at the thought that the US might enter into a no-exit war with Iran, and are trying desperately to stop the momentum to war.

Hence the very public leaks to people like Seymour Hersh. By senior intelligence and military people, putting their careers on the line.

The man who stands between US and new war

Last Updated: 1:50am BST 10/10/2007

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, has taken charge of the forces in the American government opposed to a US military attack on Iran, writes Tim Shipman.

Pentagon and State Department officials say Mr Gates has set himself up as chief rival to Dick Cheney in a bid to thwart the vice president's desire to bomb the Islamic state.

#133 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 11:29 AM:

If Bush does initiate a bombing war against Iran, he has no f*#)ing idea what their response would be. It certainly won't be "lie down and take it"; with their geographical location to both the Persian Gulf and Iraq they have all sorts of options available to them, ranging from attacking tankers and other shipping interests right up to a full scale attack on our troops in Iraq, in addition to guerilla/terrorist attacks worldwide. Can't rule out missile attacks against Israel either.

Then there's the worldwide uproar over such actions; it wouldn't be limited to Muslim nations either.

Bush has said he believed his Presidency would be remembered down through history for his actions; if he does attack/invade Iran he'll get his wish, just not in the way he thinks.

#134 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 12:29 PM:

John L

Uncertainty won't prevent Bush from acting. Iraq and Afghanistan have both gone badly wrong, but we see little sign of re-evaluation or chagrin. This isn't an Administration that learns from its mistakes.

The Heritage Foundation published a report saying the economic costs would be minimal-- they were probably put up to writing that report by insiders.

The usual neocon suspects, plus assorted Iranian exiles, are promulgating the theory that the Iranian government is deeply unpopular (true), and will fall will one good shove from the US (false).

The spectre of Reagan's 1986 strikes against Ghaddafi in Libya will also be invoked, as successful uses of US airpower which forced Libya back into line.

The Navy and the Air Force will be saying they can keep the Gulf open. The US fought with Iran before during the 'Tanker War' that caused the USS Vincennes to bag that civilian Airbus, and they stopped the Revolutionary Guard from attacking shipping. They will do so again.

Israel has had missile hits before. They don't kill many people. If Israel has carte blanche to go after Hamas and Hizbollah, out of this, then it's worth the sacrifice to them. Finish off Hamas for once and for all maybe. Remember if Ohmert cannot convince the electorate he is a tough guy, then he is political toast and Binni Netanyahu (who makes Olmert look like Ralph Nader) is back in power.

The Army and the Marines will be howling, because their guys are exposed to the counterattack.

But as with all military people, when they are told to jump, they ask 'how high, Sir!' That is known as the Chain of Command.

No US conservative is too worried about how the Saudis or some mealy-mouthed wheeny Euro-liberals think about something. In fact, it's a feature not a design bug if Europe is pissed off. The Saudis will of course toe the line in private, whatever they say in public.

Bush sees 'the big picture'-- he's never been too obsessed with the details. And of course his place in history, as the man who neutralised the 'Axis of Evil'. And Cheney thinks this is a mission that has to be done.

Keep an eye on the selected leaks of Iranian intelligence activity in support of Shia paramilitaries in Iraq. Casus belli is being established.

#135 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2007, 01:50 PM:

Oh I agree the Iran War Drums are being slowly, subtly being beaten. I'm just dismayed that, having started (but not ended) two wars already, Bush is now apparently contemplating starting a war with yet a third (larger, more populous) country, and hasn't learned anything from either one.

Bush is rapidly approaching the historical level of Worst President Ever, which will definitely give him a place in the history books.

#136 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 12:52 AM:

albatross @ 127

Let me be clear that I don't think Bush is capable of pulling off something of the magnitude or difficulty we're talking about, but I think there's a lot of precedent and evidence to believe that he doesn't realize that.

As for the blame for Iraq, that's what got me thinking in this paranoid way to begin with. If Turkey invades the north and the whole country turns into a fire-ant hill poked by a stick, Bush can pull troops out and say it's all Turkey's fault.

ValueThinker @ 131

I don't think a mercenary invasion of a country with 80 million people, who fought Saddam Hussein to a standstill, and were winning until he used nerve gas, is likely.

Nor do I, but using mercenaries as backup, support, and logistics for a force of special ops or Ranger troops might happen. They might be able to put together one or two brigades of reasonably-ready shock troops whose job would be to go in behind a "shock and awe" strike that destroys all Iranian air and anti-air capability, and pins down their armor so the invading troops can go around it. What their mission would be is a mystery to me, but I think they want something more than just a blitz from the air.

even though apparently they have kept a squadron of F14s flying.

I was under the impression that wear and tear and not being able to get new parts except under the table in very small quantities had left more than half that squadron as hangar queens. And their pilots haven't been able to get enough air time to be well-qualified, especially against superior aircraft (those are very old planes). If the B-2s catch them on the ground, they're history anyway.

#137 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 05:14 AM:

136 Bruce Cohen

The consensus was a strike against nuclear facilities. Then you needed boots on the ground to make sure the underground facilities were really destroyed.

Now the consensus is that it will be airstrikes a la Kosovo and Libya (and against the Iranian naval installations during the Tanker War), to destroy the Revolutionary Guard infrastructure and prevent training and aid to Shi'ite militias in Iraq.

'mission creep' to say the least, and a specific, defined goal, with some international justification (the destruction of nuclear capabilities), abandoned and replaced with an amorphous goal with undefined end points-- very much like the first Rolling Thunder Strikes after the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in 1965.

As to your '2 brigade invasion', there have been (non official non US mil) wargames with up to 6 brigades, driving on Tehran. The goal was 'regime change'. However the problem is Baghdad 10-fold. Once you get to Tehran, what do you do? It is mountainous, it has 10 million people, there is no 'centre of government', the revolutionary mullahs are in every neighbourhood. The Prime Minister certainly doesn't control the country or the government apparatus: there are the intelligence services and the revolutionary courts, the mullahs and the religious courts, etc.

It would be as if 2 brigades of Canadians air dropped on Dallas Fort Worth, with a view to restoring Queen Elizabeth as the rightful ruler of America. By the time every second Texan had exercised his or her gun rights, the remnants of the invasion force might have made it downtown from the airport, and would surrender from their base at City Hall. Heh wasn't there a movie about this, Red Dawn? ;-).

On the F14s the Iranians originally had 80 in 1979. Despite the embargo on spare parts (which the Israelis and others may have done an end run around in the 80s) the Iranians kept them flying in the first Gulf War (you know, the one where Saddam was on our side ;-) and used them as AWACS (airborne radar and interception control) against the Iraqis.

What has been reported recently was a squadron (12) still flying in formation, tracked on radar. Which is amazing, if true. F4 Phantom parts are a little easier to come by, ditto F5, so it's likely there will be a few of these flying around, and some late model Soviet/Russian MIGs. None will last more than a few hours, unless they are literally buried inside mountains.

Otherwise the Iranians will have the latest Russian air defence technology around Natanz and a couple of the other nuclear sites. But the Israelis already cracked this in Syria, provoking a furore in the international arms community, with the customer demanding to know from the Russians what went wrong. I don't think the USAF will have too much trouble, and in fact the Israeli strike in Syria may have had exactly that 'dry run' purpose.

The big threat will be Iranian coastal installations: hypersonic torpedoes (sound travels slower under water) and advanced cruise missiles, plus mines and speedboats. Not sure if the Iranians still have submarines: they would be a big threat in coastal waters as they are virtually undetectable, but once they loose their torps, they can be found and killed. Mine Counter Measures is a Royal Navy mission within the NATO framework, as someone said 'when you see what are the equivalent of cabin cruisers, being deployed to the Gulf, you know this is serious'.

My bet is other than the nuclear installations, a big portion of the USN strikes will be on Iranian coastal installations, especially Revolutionary Guard.

We know from last winter in Pravda that the US has been flying drones over Iranian bases. The Russians were called in by reports of 'UFOs' and this is what was concluded. As an Iranian Air Force general said at the time 'they want us to turn on our radars so they can locate them. This is standard US doctrine. However they forget that we all trained at Colorado Springs in the 1970s'.

The problem will be the politico-military aftermath. The initial Iranian response will be pretty ineffectual: they don't have the hardware to counter the might of the world's best air force and best naval air force.

It's the longterm outlook that is a worry. Everyone in the world who has ever had a contretemps with the US (I include countries like Brazil, Indonesia, India etc.) will be thinking 'we need the nuclear bomb. The US is not a rational actor, when there is a crazy in the room, I want the bomb'.

Meanwhile Iranian special forces and intelligence will be planning operations that take years to come to fruition. But they will count every dead Iranian, and ensure a vengeance against Americans which is at least proportionate. Suicide attacks against American embassies and tourists. Infrastructure attacks against the US homeland (you don't even want to think about what an attack on a chemical plant might achieve). Shia militias attacking US supply lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. Covert support for Al Quaida. Attacks on Saudi oil installations. Bomb attacks on synagogues and Jewish schools all over the world. Bombs built into aircraft parts?

Patience and deviousness are Iranian national characteristics (they even have a word for saying the opposite of what you intend 'tarouf' I think). They make great intelligence operatives, and they are very strategic in their thinking.

It's quite possible for Iran to scheme to eject Israel and the US from the Middle East, on a 20 year time horizon. War with Iran will give those factions in the Iranian government the impetus they need to win those policy debates.

The effect on American society will be just as disturbing. Compared even to Spain, France, the UK, Israel, the US is still a pretty open society. Levels of camera surveillance are low, there are not counter terrorist units at every government building, you can walk into a museum or post office without having your bag searched. there are still privacy laws. All of this could be swept away, in the need to secure Americans against the horrific attacks that small groups of determined individuals with advanced technology can achieve. The term in Israel that has been coined is 'Likudinisation', a perpetual obsession with security, distorting every aspect of public debate, and (aha!) the emergence of political parties that constantly exploit that feeling of insecurity.

#138 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 08:44 AM:

ISTR that the Iranians have three diesel subs, small ones useful for coastal patrolling, laying mines and firing cruise missiles. They've also got a squadron of modern Soviet attack fighters and their multi-Mach antishipping missiles that go with them.

Basically though, if the USAF/USN goes after Iran their airforce won't last very long. The subs might last a bit longer but once detected they'll be dealt with harshly. It's the more covert resistance that would be more effective; the mining, terrorist attacks, missile attacks, special forces, etc.

That and the worldwide reaction to us going it alone vs yet another (Muslim) country.

#139 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 09:10 AM:

138 john L

Thanks for the data. Yes I think that is a fair reflection of Iranian nav-air capabilities. They'll probably hide their aircraft under mountains rather than send them up to get shot down. The subs they will wait for the 'golden shot' against a US carrier or cruiser. Probably US intel has already spent a lot of time finding out where those subs are, and working out ways to disable them covertly or overtly.

We will have achieved the salient achievement of getting Sunni and Shia allied together against us. I could even see another oil embargo although I don't think it would be enforceable. Heritage Foundation produced a report saying the economic disruption would be minimal: one wonders what planet these people live on.

In the long run, attacking Iran might sound the death knell for Israel, by dividing Turkish loyalties and by empowering the government of Iran, the one enemy in the Middle East who has Israeli-potential capabilities.

#140 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 10:25 AM:

ISTR also that the Iranians purchased a factory from the Soviets to manufacture T-80 MBT's, complete with reactive armor and self guided SAM/anti-helicopter missiles. Whether they actually have T-80's in their army yet or not is unknown, but they've had a healthy interest in all of the modern Soviet hardware for some time now.

Amazing what you can buy when you've got plenty of oil and the seller is holding a fire sale on everything in the country.

#141 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 10:31 AM:

Valuethinker @ 137

there have been (non official non US mil) wargames with up to 6 brigades

Where would we get six combat-ready, fully armed and munitioned brigades? I think I'm stretching it with 2, 6 seems impossible.

I'd heard they had a few F-4s; I'd expect them to remain running, since a lot of countries use them and there are parts all over. Also, I think they're a little less finicky than the new generations of fighters; IIRC an F-14 engine has to be rebuilt every 25 flight hours. That's what, typically 15 sorties, more or less? OK for restricted schedule training; not going to cut it against a full-on attack by real late-20th Century warcraft. You can get just as dead from an engine flameout as from an enemy missle.

(sound travels slower under water)
I don't believe that's correct. Sound travels faster in a denser medium; sonic speed in water is about 1500 m/s at 25°, at the same temp in air it's about 340 m/s.

The US is not a rational actor, when there is a crazy in the room, I want the bomb'
Yes, that's the really scary part. And a bunch of very shady characters are going to come out of the woodwork offering to sell bombs, fissionables, and bomb-making technology to anyone with enough money. Some of them will even have them to sell.

#142 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 11:21 AM:

Another likely target in Iran is the oil production facilities. Destroying them has a number of perceived benefits to the bottom line of BushCo:

Denying a strategic material to the Russians. Yes, I know Bush has looked into Putin's soul. I think when he did that he lost his saving throw vs. madness.

Denying incoming hard currency that the Iranian government could use for arming and running covert or subversive ops.

Improving the bottom line of our new Saudi mast — er allies.

Improving the bottom line of Texas oil companies and blind trusts holding stock in them for top-level politicians.

#143 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 11:36 AM:


Bruce. The exercises were done in 2003-04. My guess is there were more brigades available at that point, this was 'pre Surge'. What you could do would be to move National Guard brigades into the current roles (eg Korea) and free up strategic reserves. I think also you could pull brigades out of the US that are on rest & retraining. What you really need are the 101st Airmobile and some cavalry, and possibly the 82nd (if you are going to seize Tehran Airport). The Marines are also configured for this kind of war.

You could also take brigades out of Iraq (in fact you'd have to). Scott Ritter has speculated there would be a drive south on Tehran from Kazhakstan (big airlift to do it, but you could do it: one C5 flight per M1 tank) as well as across from Iraq.

I don't think any of this is in prospect. The logistics alone would be nightmarish and the Zagros Mountains would give any military planner the shivers.

But I suspect if we reran the British/Russian invasion of Iran in 1941, the one General Slim (of 14th Army fame) was in, we might find a few tips about how it would be done. What is different now is that the British didn't have to contend with mullahs carrying RPG launchers and planting IEDs all along your supply routes.

Agree on the F14s. If they are flying them, that is amazing enough. What was useful for the Iranians in the 80s was the radars which were about as advanced as anything flying. But of course the US will have the jamming codes. The F14 (and the F4) are also pretty big, smokey targest in the sky.

Thanks for the correction of my (dumb) mistake re torpedoes. There was a piece in Scientific American about these things, I think they travel at 300 knots (ie subsonic). An American businessman was arrested in Russia, trying to buy the plans for one. The Iranians have demonstrated one.

It won't even be people wanting to sell nuclear technology. It will be countries that have the science, and the reactors, and have never seen the need for nuclear arms. The US will have signalled to the rest of the world that it is a 'certifiable crazy'. Obviously if you are Syria or Cuba you are going to be very scared. But if you are any country that sees its longterm interests coming up against the USA, you are also going to be scared. And once Brazil has the bomb, Argentina and then Chile will want one too, and so on.

I feel all the 'off the record' briefings about Iranian-sponsored attacks on American troops, the arrests of Iranian diplomats, the demos of allegedly Iranian made IEDs (aka copper bowls and garage remote openers) are all part of a well-orchestrated campaign to create casus belli, a Reichstag fire or a Polish attack on the radio station if you will.

(to be fair to the US, the Iranians are undoubtedly backing, and training, militia groups which are attacking US/British forces-- I don't mean to defend the Iranian secret services in this)

Since US doesn't have intelligence credibility on Iranian nuclear plans (which ironically are far more real than Saddam's) they are stretching and altering the mission, to justify their war. It will also be 'leaked' that the US did this to forestall the Israelis doing it (as if the Israelis would really be forestalled if they thought it had to be done).

And so we sleepwalk into another war.

What worries me most is the 10th level Reality Denial Field around policy makers in the White House. They are going to present the next President with a fait accompli in the Muddle East.

#144 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 11:59 AM:

140 John L

I think the Soviets were also adept arms salesmen, when hard cash was in discussion.

I'm not sure the T80s would make much difference: US A10s would still crack them open like nuts.

The problem for the US military is not a symmetric foe. A symmetric enemy the US can defeat: any symmetric enemy except, perhaps, the Israelis.

It is the asymmetric nature of the enemy's response which is both difficult to anticipate, and hard to defeat.

#145 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 12:15 PM:

What you could do would be to move National Guard brigades into the current roles (eg Korea) and free up strategic reserves.

Do we have any of either? ISTR that most of the Guard is either in Iraq, just back from Iraq (and in serious need of rest and resupply), or scheduled back to Iraq far too soon for its own wellbeing.

I also seem to recall that Iran has some very useful Chinese military equipment.

#146 ::: Clark E. Myers ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 12:55 PM:

On the general subject of criticizing POTUS - we sometimes confuse the roles of Head of State and Head of Government - it's been said Reagan was a fine choice for Head of State less so for Head of Government - so that criticism of the government can be deliberately misconstrued as criticism of the state and be less useful than it perhaps ought to be. This may lead to a reluctance to speak out and a confusion on specifics. With a nod to those present who didn't like the man I am reminded of the Chappie James story - You will honor the uniform and salute the hat if I have to hold it at arms length.

There is perhaps a Catch 22 with some educational benefits - I have no current knowledge but some Vietnam era service left folks in poor shape to use their educational benefits until after the calendar had run - appeals could be made but AFAIK were not generally successful. A trip wire veteran walks out of the bush Rip Van Winkle style and discovers time passed in the outside world. Later individual contributions might be lost and so applied to others in at least an accounting fashion - so an incentive to deny.

Finally the USN couldn't affort to maintain the electronics - including especially a very large number of analog cards - on the F14 and so is forced to use what IMHO amounts to a less capable aircraft for the air defense role in the Super Hornet (that's a story for another time as a strike fighter the Super Hornet lacks only range and load but does a beautiful targeting job even with dumb bombs). I'd guess that Iran would have less success than the USN in keeping the F14 in fighting trim - which probably doesn't matter given the lifespan and supply of air to air missiles.

#147 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 01:32 PM:

145 PJ Evans

I haven't looked into this in detail. What my understanding is is that it takes 12-15 months from activation to build a National Guards brigade into full fighting fit.

But you could take a risk, and activate those units, and move them to Korea etc, and train them there etc. That frees up your regulars to go to Iraq, including regulars who are just back from Iraq.

Like Lyndon Johnson before him, Bush has held back from full mobilisation of the Guard and the Army Reserve, both because of the economic effects and also the political repercussions.

I am reminded of the Wehrmacht in 1944/45, there was always another unit somewhere which could be magicked up.

However this was all laid out pre Surge, when there were the brigades to spare (which are now in Iraq), and to do something more desperate now would completely telegraphy the US' moves and lose any strategic element of surprise.

The original scenarios Sam Gardiner, Scott Ritter and so on were talking about involved using brigades that were already mostly in theatre, and could be switched rapidly from patrolling Iraq and Afghanistan to attacking Iran. That's obviously not possible now.

And there was always this vagueness. What do you actually do when you get to Tehran? Drive downtown, occupy the Hilton and the Parliament, and wait, surrounded by 10 million hostile people?

Even Natanz is not anywhere convenient. Iran is a country of mountains and harsh deserts. The parts that are decent are also heavily populated. And Shia Islam has a tradition of martyrdom in a cause.

It'll be an air strike, with special forces.

#148 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2007, 08:34 PM:

Admiral Crowe died yesterday. Now there's a good leader.

#149 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 04:13 PM:

An acquaintance is an artilleryman in the US Army.

He's training for Iraq, apparently as infantry. I joked that when he came back, he'd call an M109 a tank.

He doesn't think it'll be quite that bad.

The point is, a lot of non-infantry soldiers are getting short on training in their primary role. Can the US Army put together the sort of force which invaded Iraq?

#150 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 04:19 PM:


The US can absolutely not perform another Iraq-sized mission on the ground. And probably won't be able to for 2-3 years after forces in Iraq are drawn down to a minimal level.

However it can stage an air war against Iran.

The problem is the US strategists are thinking 'we'll bomb Iran, take out the terrorist infrastructure in Iran, and we're done'. Believe it or not, there are apparently those in the Pentagon who think Israel's little war with Hizbollah last summer was a *success* for Israel.

And the US Army and Marine guys are thinking 'and then we have the mother of all nightmares security situation in Afghanistan and Iraq'.

You will note John Bolton was interviewed in the FT magazine at the weekend. This is the former US ambassador to the UN, only left at Christmas, and he predicted that the US will attack Iran before Bush and Cheney leave office.

The fix is in, and the guys at the American Enterprise Institute know it.

#151 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 04:46 PM:

Dave Bell @ 149

The point is, a lot of non-infantry soldiers are getting short on training in their primary role. Can the US Army put together the sort of force which invaded Iraq?

There are two issues here; the short training one is really scary, because that's exactly what you do (and what the Army did do in Vietnam) when you have a need for a very large number of troops, and you don't expect them to get involved in classic warfare. The artillery has little to do in counter-insurgency operations unless you've decided to screw your relations with the native population and consider "counter-fire" to be taking out whatever exists at the coordinates used to fire at you*. The reason it's scary is that it doesn't sound like the operation of a command structure planning for large drawdowns. If they don't start in the next few months, we're going to have units in the field not only without proper armor and vehicles, but without sufficient ammunition, and short in the T/O besides. And then we're going to start seeing the casualty rates rise.

The other issue is that, we're all agreed, and from what I hear, all of the generals with a shred of professionalism agree, that a ground invasion of Iran with the forces the US could muster in the next 2 years would be suicidal. I am not yet convinced that Bush and Cheney really believe them, nor do I believe that if they are strongly motivated, they won't simply sack generals until they find one who'll put his career before his troops and his country. Not that his career will last long after Bush blames him for the resulting debacle.

* read: local towns

#152 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 04:58 PM:

Bruce @ 151

USAF. They have nuts in high places who would believe it's their duty to bomb Iran because it's full of those eevil scary Muslims; it would be relatively easy for Bush and Cheney to find one who'd go along with their plans. At least for long enough.

Hard on the rest of us, though.

#153 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2007, 05:42 PM:

And VPOTUS Speaks Back or how much clearer do they have to make it before everybody gets that they're going to war with Iran, no matter what. Do you suppose if we all chipped in and bought Cheney one of those penis-enlarging products that he'd finally be happy and shut up about the damn war already?

#154 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 05:55 AM:

153 PJ Evans

The nature of military command is thus. You can express your opinion, when asked, and you can fight your corner for as long as, and has hard as, you can do (within the constraints of any organisational career).

I have no doubt the Admiral in charge of Centcom (Fallon) is expressing in loud and no uncertain terms his objections to an air raid on Iran.

However when your Commanding Officer then says 'we have decided. Jump.' you ask 'how high, sir?'.

If GWB gave the order tomorrow to attack Iran, Admiral Fallon would go back to his map table, coordinate with SAC (or its successor) and go.

That chain of command would be replicated all the way from the Joint Chiefs down to the lowliest maintenance tech on board the Nimitz or at the B2 base in Missouri. Some or all of the JCS might resign, but the mission would be done, in accordance with the orders of the duly appointed Commander in Chief.

That is how military organisations work in a democracy.

Your only grounds for refusing that order are that 1). you believe that your commander is not duly appointed 2). you believe that the order is illegal. If 2 you can, AFAIK, discuss the situation with the senior legal officer available to you, but not to the detriment of the operation in timing. But failing 1 or 2, you will carry out that order to the best of your abilities.

The religious motivations, or not, of various generals and senior officers would matter not a jot.

Bureaucracies tend to see things in their own frame. Army people see boots on the ground, Air Force people see sortie rates. Navy people look down on everyone. Sub people think aircraft carriers are just big floating targets, naval air people think the rest of the Navy exists as a supply chain for them (they are probably right). Sub people claim victory over Japan by economic warfare, Naval air people remember Midway and the Marianas Turkey Shoot. All 4 services tend to denigrate the role of the others. Maybe the Marines have the most integrated view (but they've blown their own face off with the V22 Osprey).

But chain of command prevails.

#155 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 06:09 AM:

151 Bruce Cohen

The general who takes that order will execute it. Not just for careerism, but because it is his duty. Don't underestimate the commitment of military men to their duty: British generals have been fighting wars for 30 years with too few troops, ancient equipment and too little backup, because it was their duty.

But I am sure a significant land invasion of Iran is not in prospect. Special forces, yes, of course. But not a land invasion. The logistics are mindbending, the only forces that could do it are the in-theatre troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are not configured for it. You'd need 1000 helicopters, plus mobile armoured cavalry regiments, etc. You'd lose any chance of surprise by building up for it.

There's a reason the Army didn't go into Kosovo. They couldn't. Task Force Hawk would have been eaten up by 50 cal machine guns sitting on hilltops, firing *down* at the Apaches. See also the destruction of Vampire 12 in the early days of the Iraq war: 2 Apaches shot down, 18 severely damaged. And there was no highway from the ports to Kosovo. Iran would be this problem, only 10 times worse-- thin highways through the Zagros Mountains, which could be closed by 10 guys with some dynamite. Every town a potential Fallujah.

What is in prospect is a repeat of Lebanon last summer: 2-3 weeks of intense aerial bombardment. Maybe 3000 sorties? (sortie rates fall dramatically during a 'surge': after 2-3 days you have pilot exhaustion, maintenance overhaul, munitions shortages, etc.).

On declining training standards for US troops. Yes, it looks pretty scary, and precisely the same situation in 1968 and later in Vietnam led to increased US casualties (the 12 months after the March '68 Tet Offensive were actually the bloodiest 12 months of the whole war, from a US perspective: the Marines got caught in a trench battle north of Da Nang, so unheralded that I can't remember the name, and they lost more men there than in any other single engagement in the war, even Hue. See Ronald Spector's book 'The Year after Tet'.

From what I understand US replacements were going into Vietnam with 7 weeks of basic training. The ex US Marine sergeant who played the sergeant in Full Metal Jacket said he was so tough on his recruits because he only had 7 weeks to train them.

However I also suspect a move to 'Creighton Abrams' strategy in Iraq is in prospect. Concentrate (fewer) US troops on larger bases, and do less patrolling. Just as the British have done in Basra, pulling out of the city and concentrating on the airbase (memorably described as 'Rorke's Drift with air cover').

This will mean lower casualties. At least until the next Republican president has been elected. To which I give at least a 50/50 chance. McCain, Romney or Giuliani against Clinton seems to me to be at best 50/50 for the Democrats.

What I have read is we are going to get another wave of 'loose male member' stories re former President Clinton, but these will come out in the main election campaign, not before. The media has the details and the bodies, it's just a matter of when the buttons are pushed. This will undoubtedly further damage Mrs. Clinton with 'moral values' voters in places like Ohio, West Virginia etc.

#156 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 09:52 AM:

Valuethinker @ 155

But I am sure a significant land invasion of Iran is not in prospect.

Depends on what you mean by "significant". I agree that an invasion like either Gulf War I or II is not on the menu. What I smell in the wind is an attempt at a blitz strike with 1 or 2 brigades at some "strategic" target, with heavy air supression of Republican Guard armor and no attempt to hold large areas or pacify mountainous areas*. I say this because I believe that Cheney doesn't believe in Rumsfeld's "hi-tech" war; he wants to see boots smashing in faces, oops, wrong dystopia, or anyway ensuring the complete destruction of the targets on the ground, and the clear message that "we can stand on your soil whenever we like".

Task Force Hawk would have been eaten up by 50 cal machine guns sitting on hilltops, firing *down* at the Apaches.

Just goes to show that some people could learn from the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan, and others are condemned to repeat it.

What is in prospect is a repeat of Lebanon last summer:

Which was such a resounding success it should go into summer stock. /sarcasm

Can there really be military officers in the Pentagon who didn't understand what happened there? The Israeli military proved that it could not prevail decisively, or any other way, against a well-armed and well-dug-in force of insurgents. Hizbollah proved it could sustain heavy casualties and use up a large percentage of its munitions without losing combat effectiveness or the level of CCC capability it needed to keep fighting. And, no matter what the UN or the Lebanese government says, it left Hizbollah more entrenched in Lebanon than before, and with a major PR victory that is winning friends and money all over the Arab world, Sunni and Shi'a alike.

From what I understand US replacements were going into Vietnam with 7 weeks of basic training.

Correct. I went in shortly before that, and got 9 weeks**. My duty posting in Vietnam was at a fixed base, where I never got to see who was shooting at me, so training was mostly moot, but I knew several soldiers who get the same sort of training I got who spent a good part of their time in the boonies in squad-size units. They learned fast on the job, but if they hadn't, they wouldn't have lived long enough for me to meet them.

However I also suspect a move to 'Creighton Abrams' strategy in Iraq is in prospect.
That's certainly consistent with what Petraeus has been saying. But it will take some time to implement such a strategy, and even once implemented, it's vulnerable to indirect fire weapons, which are being used more and more by the insurgents. And not just piddly 81mm mortars like the VC had, or even Katyushas that have trouble hitting the ground, let alone the target. Before the occupation of Iraq is over the insurgents are going to be getting fairly modern short-range tactical rockets. Anybody want to bet a lot of them won't come from Pakistan?

McCain, Romney or Giuliani against Clinton seems to me to be at best 50/50 for the Democrats.

This is going to be a much more complex election than the last two. At this point, I don't think McCain or Romney has much of a chance to get the nomination. Giuliani looks good for that, but will push the "value voters" away from the polls. I give the Republicans not much more than a 40% chance in this one because both the moderate and the right-wing extremists are angry at the party leadership. 40% may not be enough for voter fraud to make up the difference this time.

* Bush won't care about any of that, and the generals aren't insane.
** Still too short for someone who isn't going to get Advanced Infantry Training but is going to an insurgent war zone.

#157 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 22, 2007, 10:57 AM:


My gut is the Army will veto a ground operation of significant size. They are too overstretched as it is, and 2 brigades could get trapped or cut off (at least in a logistic sense, if not direct aerial). I am reminded, vaguely, of Operation Lan Song 719, the invasion of Laos by the ARVN (which failed so dismally).

One exception: the Marines have been planning for, and training for, an operation like this (against Iranian naval installations), probably since 1979. Maybe a Marine Expeditionary Force (1 reinforced regiment?) near the Straits of Hormuz?

But I don't really know, of course! Another possibility would be an incursion into Iranian Kurdistan to 'liberate' that part of Iran. I keep hearing that deadly phrase 'Bay of Goats'.

If they really want to do Natanz right they will need boots on the ground.

Your friends who survived in Vietnam on so little basic training were the lucky ones. It takes 17 weeks to create a Royal Marine Commando, and I think about 13 weeks to create an Israeli soldier. And they have the best raw material there is. I cannot see how anyone else can do it in any less?

I take the point re remote shelling/ long range missiles, although my understanding is that this normally doesn't kill too many people (just wrecks people's nerves).

The VC had 81mm, and those stovepipe rockets? The NVA had 130mm guns in mountain caves, and I don't think the US (or the French before them) ever really found a solution to those.

When the South Africans invaded Angola in 1974, the Cuban 130mm shocked the hell out of them: outranged them. They responded by creating that wheeled 155mm with rocket boosted shells, and that in turn led the designer (the Canadian bod, who was gunned down on a Belgian street) into his dealings with Saddam Hussein to create the supergun.

And that in turn led to the Matrix Churchill case and the Scott Inquiry, where they tried to send a group of British businessmen (who had cooperated with MI6 in spying on Saddam) to prison (one of them died during the trial from the stress).

Full circle ;-).

A residual point is what to do about the US Embassy in the Green Zone (2,000 people or so)? In an environment like that, I would argue US civilian personnel aren't safe if there isn't an armoured brigade within screaming distance.

Interesting you see Romney flaming out. The Mormon thing?

If the US were a 'reasonable' democracy, then the election front runners would be Dodd, Richardson on the one hand, and Huckabee on the other (maybe Romney) and probably Schwarzenneger. I don't stand for much Huckabee stands for, but I think he is the real deal, a thoughtful conservative, from a state which has swung blue/red in its time. Of course when I think 'reasonable' democracy, I don't mean a far right party in Switzerland getting 30% of the vote ;-).

I would agree with your handicapping *but* the Clinton factor is out there. If anything can mobilise the Republican base, it is that name.

I had dinner with a (gay) Republican businessman from Oklahoma, recently. What was clear to me was how much he hated Hilary Clinton: the vitriol, and the absolute unshakeable belief that she was corrupt.

#158 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 01:19 AM:

Valuethinker @ 157

That may have been a confusing sentence; the VC didn't use Katyushas to my knowledge; I don't think the Russians or the Chinese were giving them out back then. But they had 81's; I had a couple dropped on me; and an emplacement aimed at our base was discovered in the elephant grass beyond our perimeter before it could be used.

I would argue US civilian personnel aren't safe if there isn't an armoured brigade within screaming distance.

And at least a dozen gunships. Helicopters are the only thing that saved a lot of people in Vietnam, large bases have only gotten more dependent on them since then. Arguably the American forces in Vietnam could have been almost totally crippled for a significant amount of time if the VC or NVA had been able to mount a sustained mortar/rocket attack on Tan Son Nhut airbase, especially if they'd caught the F4s on the ground. That was the primary channel for incoming materiel and troops, as well as being one of the three major comm centers in-country. American forces in Iraq aren't quite as centralized, but trashing the green zone would be a major propaganda victory.

Re the 2008 election.
My take on Romney is that the Republican leadership won't have him. They want to use the Christian right as a voting bloc, but they don't want them in office or in power within the party. His Mormonism is just another strike against him: Mormons are not well liked in California, and the Republicans can't afford to write California off.

Schwarzenegger isn't eligible to run for President; the Constitution requires native birth. In a moderate Republican administration he might end up Secretary of the Treasury or some such, but that's the best he can hope for.

Clinton is a problem for the Democrats, no question. The power in the Democratic Party is not as centralized as in the Republican, so she will probably be able to overwhelm any internal resistance. And her ability to get money and political experience exceed Obama's considerably. He's the only other Democrat with a chance to beat her in the primaries, and I don't see that happening.

OTOH, I suspect that the really rabid Clinton haters are going to have a problem with who to vote for. Many of them may not thrilled with the Republican candidate, whoever he is.

#159 ::: Valuethinker ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 03:15 AM:

158 Bruce

When I said 'reasonable' I should have qualified it that some of the odder parts of your Constitution would be modified (it's much easier just not to have one ;-) especially the one that blocks Schwarzenneger.

In each of those individuals cited, I was looking for a guy with 1). real policy and governmental experience 2). representative of the core values of his party 3). possessed of interesting ideas and thoughtful analysis particularly re nasty problems like North Korea 4). coming from a state that plays a part in the likely electoral map of a victor 5). showed a capacity to reach across to the other side at some policy level (OK you can get me on Huckabee, but damnit, for a conservative, he is more *credibly* conservative than the others-- Mike Huckabee genuinely seems to believe this Christian love stuff, you know, helping out in Africa, worrying about income disparities).

That would be a 'reasonable' European style selection of party leaders: quintessential insiders with long track records. Running the ex President's wife is almost Argentine (not to mention the ex President's son, the incumbent). A mayor whose main claim to fame is he stole the credit for other peoples' policies, and looked tough on the day of a disaster he did nothing to prevent (Rudy). 3 one term senators (Clinton, Obama, Edwards). A long term Senator with no experience in executive authority (McCain).

In contrast to you, I think Republicans have written California off: at least from a presidential point of view. *however* there might be a Senate seat to pick up, or some Congressional seats to claw back eg Richard Pombo's seat from Jerry Mcnirney (sp?). Mcnirney is a really interesting guy (wind power executive), but he is in trouble with the netroots for supporting one of the President's Iraq resolutions, and he represents a rural/exurban right wing constituency. Pombo of course had one of the worst environmental records of any Congressman, and was Chair of a key committee in that area.

One of my concerns with running H. Clinton is that it will bring out the Republican roots, who might otherwise have absented themselves from the polls on election day. On those marginal Senate and House races, that could be decisive. This factor is apparently much stronger west of the Mississippi, where the pundits really don't go.

In some ways, never has an election mattered so much (in my lifetime) other than Nixon/Humphrey '68, and yet the likely American reaction to the candidates will be distaste. I think the US is at a foreign and domestic policy crossroads, and the wrong person could turn the last 8 years into a mere preamble for disaster.

On helicopters, I admit their necessity, but I think the worm has turned. The bad guys have learned from Vietnam and in particular from Laos, and learned how to concentrate small arms fire, RPGs etc. (plus some pretty nasty guided weapons) to bring them down.

This is what happened with Vampire 12 (Apache Regiment strike against the Revolutionary Guard) and it has sent shockwaves through the helicopter mafia.

Tan Son Nhut. The David Drake novel 'Rolling Hot' is really about the relief of Tan Son Nhut in March/April 1968, set in the Hammer's Slammers universe. If the VC had successfully captured that ARVN armoured unit, they might have been able to attack TSN.

I hadn't realised it was so central to US operations. Thank you.

When the PT76s light tanks attacked the Special Forces at Lang Vei (outside of Khe Sanh), the first NVA use of tanks in that war (my mind still boggles at the idea of getting a T54 down the Ho Chi Minh Trail), there was a Special Forces major who charged the tanks with a .45 and a hand grenade. He lived, incredibly. Military Intelligence had (of course) discounted reports by Montagnard scouts of tank-like sounds.

History says you always want to have tanks somewhere to hand. Even the M1, which can be crippled by blowing the bridges or cutting the fuel supply. No one argues with a Main Battle Tank.

#160 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2007, 03:32 AM:

The Republicans have written off winning California, but they've started up a campaign to have California go to proportional representation of electors instead of winner-take-all. If that goes through, they've just taken away about 20 electoral votes.

I'm not against proportional representation on principle, but I don't see any fair way to put it in place piecemeal, nor any legal way short of a Constitutional amendment (yeah, right) to put it in place all-at-once.

And I damn sure don't want to see my state adopt it in this coming Presidential election.

#161 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: October 24, 2007, 02:24 AM:

Valuethinker @ 159

No one argues with a Main Battle Tank.

This is very true, and I've been trying to figure out why for a long time. At least in theory it should be possible now to build a smart anti-tank munition that doesn't point back to the launcher, and that has enough bang to take out anything but reactive armor with one shot. Reactive armor you just have to hit several times. The basic design would be a scaled-down cruise missle, using a small turbojet and a terrain-following guidance system. Build 'em from off-the-shelf parts for 100K each or less. Even 50 of those have got to be cheaper than an A-10.

But every attempt at this has been a failure AFAIK. I don't know if it's just because everybody "knows" it's not possible. Oh, you can take out a tank with IED underneath it if you're lucky, and it the right terrain you can funnel them into traps or make them fall off ledges, but in large-scale combat tanks have largely triumphed, from the Yom Kippur War on down. But remember, everybody "knew" that the bigger the warship the better, until the Falklands War. And Exocets weren't even the best available missle for that job then, just one of the cheapest.

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