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Posts Tagged ‘IRAQ’

GETTING HELP FROM YOUR ENEMIES

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on February 18, 2015 at 2:58 am

Sometimes your worst enemies aid you in ways you could never help yourself.

From July 10 to October 31, 1940, hundreds of badly-outnumbered pilots of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) fought off relentless attacks by Germany’s feared Luftwaffe.

But Adolf Hitler wasn’t prepared to give up.  He believed he could so terrorize Britons that they would demand that their government submit to German surrender demands.

From September 7, 1940 to May 21, 1941, the Luftwaffe subjected England–and especially London–to a ruthless bombing campaign that became known as The Blitz.

The undamaged St. Paul’s Cathredal, December, 1940

More than 100 tons of high explosives were dropped on 16 British cities.  During 267 days (almost 37 weeks):

  • London was attacked 71 times;
  • Birmingham, Plymouth and Liverpool were attacked eight times;
  • Bristol was attacked six times; Glasgow, five; Southampton four; and
  • There was also at least one large raid on another eight cities.

Between 40,000 and 43,000 British civilians were killed.  About 139,000 others were wounded.

Clearly, what Great Britain desperately needed most was a miracle.

Exactly that happened on June 22, 1941.

With 134 Divisions at full fighting strength and 73 more divisions for deployment behind the front, the German Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union.

German tank commander

Joseph Stalin, the longtime Soviet dictator, was stunned.  The invasion had come less than two years after Germany had signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union.

Now they were locked in a fight to the death.

People in England were also surprised–but also suddenly hopeful.   Britain now had an ally whose resources might tip the balance against Hitler.

Fast-forward to 2015.

On February 18, news reports surfaced that members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) may have burned to death 45 people in the western Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi.

Al-Baghdadi lies just five miles from an air base stafffed by several hundred U.S. Marines.  The victims might have included members of the security forces that clashed with ISIS for control of the town.

This latest atrocity comes only days after ISIS released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya.

And still earlier this month–on February 3–ISIS released a a video showing the barbaric “execution” of a captured Jordanian fighter pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kasaesbeh.

Al Kasaesbeh, locked in a steel cage like an animal, could only watch stoically as an ISIS member ignited a trail of flammable liquid leading directly to him.  The pilot stood upright throughout the ordeal until the flames at last consumed him.

In response to the beheadings of the 21 Egyptians, Egypt carried out a series of airstrikes against ISIS militants in Libya.

And two days after the murder of its pilot, Jordanian fighter jets launched airstrikes against ISIS training centers, arms and ammunition depots.

“This is just the beginning and you shall know who the Jordanians are,” the armed forces said in a statement on state TV.

Today–just as England was saved by the misjudgment of Nazi Germany in attacking the Soviet Union–  the United States faces just such an opportunity.

The Islamic world–which has been at war with the United States for 36 years–is now at war with itself.

In Syria, it’s Hezbollah (Party of God) vs. Al-Qaeda (The Base).

United Nations officials estimate that more than 191,000 people have died in Syria’s civil war since conflict began on March 15, 2011.  The trigger: Protests demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.  A sworn enemy of Israel, it has  kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hezbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.  It is intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Al-Qaeda has attacked the mosques and gatherings of liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other non-Sunnis.   Examples of sectarian attacks include the Sadr City bombings, the 2004 Ashoura massacre and the April, 2007 Baghdad bombings.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

While Islamic nations wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources–and incentive–to launch attacks against the United States.

Every dead Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda member makes the United States that much safer. 

Every dead supporter of Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda makes the United States that much safer.

Every dead ISIS member makes the United States that much safer.  

And every ISIS victim stirs up greater hate against ISIS.

No American could instill such hatred against Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah or ISIS.  This is entirely a war of religious and sectarian hatred.  A war where each fighter is convinced that “Allah is on my side.”

These conflicts could easily become the Islamic equivalent of “the Hundred Years’ War” that raged from 1337 to 1453 between England and France.

When Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, then-Senator Harry Truman said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”

As Congress and President Obama move ever closer to committing American forces to yet another Middle East conflict, it’s well to remember Truman’s words.

That should be America’s view whenever its sworn enemies start killing off each other.  Americans should welcome such self-slaughters, not become entrapped in them.

TRUTHS ABOUT “AMERICAN SNIPER” AND THE MILITARY

In Entertainment, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 27, 2015 at 1:50 am

Clint Eastwood’s latest movie, American Sniper, has become the most controversial film now being considered for Best Picture at the upcoming Oscars.

The Academy Awards telecast is scheduled for February 22.

Clint Eastwood

The criticism is coming from the Left, and this has triggered outrage on the Right. Some of this criticism is correct and fair, but some of it isn’t.

CHARGE:  The film implies that the Iraq was was in response to 9/11.

There’s a scene where Kyle (Bradley Cooper) and his wife, Taya (Sienna Miller) are watching TV as the World Tradd Center crashes.  Then the scene cuts to him serving in Iraq.

FACT:  The movie is a biography of Kyle, who became the deadliest sniper in American history, not a documentary on the Iraq war.  And, in fact, Kyle did his service in Iraq.

Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle in American Sniper

CHARGE:  The movie depicts a terrorist sniper who becomes Kyle’s nemesis.

Named “Mustafa,” he is portrayed as a Syrian Olympics champion marksman.  In a furious mano-a-mano duel with Kyle, he almost nails the SEAL sniper. But in the climax of the movie, he meets his end with a well-placed bullet from Kyle’s rifle.

FACT:  Mustafa is mentioned in a single–and short–paragraph in Kyle’s autobiography.  Writes Kyle: “I never saw him, but the other snipers later killed an Iraqi sniper we thought was him.”

So the climatic duel never happened. But Eastwood clearly thought he needed the duel to make a dramatic and satisfying finish for his movie.  This is what’s known as “dramatic license” in moviemaking.

CHARGE: The movie portrays Chris Kyle as tormented by his rising casualty rate among Iraqis.

During his fourth tour of duty in Iraq, as depicted in the film, he agonizes over his possible need to shoot a child who’s about to pick up a rocket launcher. “Don’t pick it up,” he mutters, and when the child drops it and runs off, Kyle is visibly relieved.

FACT:   Throughout his autobiography–on which the film is based–he refers to Iraqis as “savages.”  He brags of telling a military investigator: “I don’t shoot people with Korans.  I’d like to, but I don’t.”

And having been credited with 160 confirmed kills, he writes: “I only wish I had killed more….I believe the world is a better place without savages out there taking American lives.”

CHARGE:  Chris Kyle was a hate-filled killer, but the movie turns him into a hero.  

FACT:  It’s entirely natural for soldiers to hate their enemies.  They know that they–or their comrades–can be blown away at any moment.  So they fear and hate those intent on their destruction.

The toughening-up process starts in boot camp, where the restraints of individuality and pacifism are shattered.  The purpose of boot camp is to turn “boys” into “fighting men,” and this must be done in a matter of weeks.  So the process is shockingly brutal.

Soldiers who aren’t toughened up in boot camp are by the battlefield.  As General George S. Patton famously warned: “When you put your hand into a bunch of goo, that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do.”

General George S. Patton

During the Indian wars, soldiers called Indians “Red niggers.”  In World War II–“the Good War”–America’s servicemen fought “Japs” and “Krauts.”  During the Vietnam war, Vietnamese became “gooks” and “dinks.”

Today our servicemen and women refer (unofficially) to their Islamic enemies as “ragheads” and “sand niggers.”

CHARGE:  “In Kyle’s version of the Iraq war, the parties consisted of Americans, who were good by virtue of being Americans, and fanatic Muslims, whose ‘savage, despicable evil’ led them to want to kill Americans simply because they are Christian.”  –Laura Miller, in Salon

FACT:  British military historian B.H. Liddell Hart noted in his introduction to the memoirs of World War II German General Heinz Guderian, the creator of the Blitzkreig theory:

Heinz Guderian

“[Guderian] did not question the cause which he and his troops were serving, or the duty of fighting for their country.  It was sufficient for him that she was at war and thus in danger, however it had come about.

“As a dutiful soldier, he had to assume that his country’s cause was just, and that she was defending herself against would-be conquerors.”

What proved true for Guderian proved equally true for Kyle–and for soldiers in armies throughout the world.

Moreover, every great war movie tells its story from a given viewpoint–such as American, German, Russian or British. Audiences are invited to identify with the leading character.

In All Quiet on the Western Front, the narrator is a young, idealistic German soldier who becomes disallusioned with the horrors of war.  When he dies at the end of the movie, we feel saddened by his loss, even though he served in the ranks of America’s adversaries.

Similarly, when we learn, at the end of American Sniper, that Chris Kyle was killed while trying to help a fellow veteran, we feel a similar loss.

In the end, a historical or biographical movie can tell only so much.  Its audience must then decide its meaning–and whether to learn more about the subjec through their own researches.

A WARNING FROM HISTORY–AND FILM

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 26, 2015 at 12:37 am

January 26, 2015, marks the 130th anniversary of the fall of Khartoum, the Sudanese city that sits on the banks of the White Nile and the Blue Nile.

The siege and fall of Khartoum is one of the truly epic stories of military history.

Khartoum in the 1800s

From March 18, 1884 to January 26, 1885, the charisma and military genius of one man–British General Charles George Gordon–held at bay an army of thousands of fanatical Islamists intent on slaughtering everyone in the city.

At stake were the lives of Khartoum’s 30,000 residents.

By comparison:The defenders of the Alamo–a far better-known battle, in 1836–numbered no more than 250.  And the siege of the San Antonio mission lasted only 13 days against an army of about 2,000 Mexicans.

The Alamo

Gordon’s story may seen antiquated.  But it bears close inspection as Republicans press the Obama Administration to commit ground forces to “freeing” Syria of its longtime dicator, “President” Bashar al Assad.

The neocons of the George W. Bush administration plunged the United States into an unprovoked war against Iraq in 2003.  After Baghdad quickly fell, Americans cheered, thinking the war was over and the troops would soon return home.

Suddenly, American soldiers found themselves waging a two-front war in the same country: Fighting an Iraqi insurgency to throw them out, while trying to suppress growing sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shia Muslims.

And now, with Syria, Americans are being urged to plunge headfirst into a conflict they know nothing about–and in which they have absolutely no stake.

Consider the combatants:

On the one side, is the Ba’ath regime of Bashir al-Assad, supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government. Hizbollah is comprised of Shiite Muslims, who form a minority of Islamics.

A sworn enemy of Israel, it has kidnapped scores of Americans suicidal enough to visit Lebanon and truck-bombed the Marine Barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 299 Americans.

Flag of Hizbollah

Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, is made up of Sunni Muslims, who form the majority of that religion.

It is intolerent of non-Sunni Muslims and has instigated violence against them.  It denounces them as “takfirs”–heretics–and thus worthy of extermination.

Flag of Al-Qaeda

In short, it’s a Muslim-vs.-Muslim “holy war.”

It’s all very reminiscent of events in the 1966 epic film, “Khartoum,” starring Charlton Heston as British General Charles George Gordon.

Charlton Heston (left); Charles George Gordon (right)

In 1884, the British Government sends Gordon, a real-life hero of the Victorian era, to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum.

Mohammed Achmed, a previously anonymous Sudanese, has proclaimed himself “The Madhi”  (The Expected One) and raised the cry of jihad.

Laurence Oliver (left); Mohammed Achmed (“The Madhi”)

The Madhi (played by Laurence Oliver) intends to drive all foreigners (of which the English are the largest group) out of Sudan, and exterminate all those Muslims who did not practice his “pure” version of Islam.

Movie poster for “Khartoum”

Gordon arrives in Khartoum to find he’s not fighting a rag-tag army of peasants.  Instead, the Madhi is a highly intelligent military strategist.

And Gordon, an evangelical Christian, also underestimates the Madhi’s religious fanaticism: “I seem to have suffered from the delusion that I had a monopoly on God.”

A surprised Gordon finds himself and 30,000 Sudanese trapped in Khartoum when the Madhi’s forces suddenly appear.  He sends off messengers and telegrams to the British Government, begging for a military relief force.

But the British Government wants nothing to do with the Sudan.  It had sent Gordon there as a sop to British public opion that “something” had to be done to quell the Madhist uprising.

The siege continues and tightens.

In Britain, the public hails Gordon as a Christian hero and demands that the Government send a relilef expedition to save him.

Prime Minister William Gladstone finally sends a token force–which arrives in Khartoum two days after the city has fallen to the Madhi’s forces.

Gordon, standing at the top of a staircase and coolly facing down his dervish enemies, is speared to death.

George W. Joy’s famous–and romanticized–painting of “The Death of Gordon”

(Actually, the best historical evidence indicates that Gordon fought to the last with pistol and sword before being overwhelmed by his dervish enemies.)

When the news reaches England, Britons mourn–and then demand vengeance for the death of their hero.

The Government, which had sought to wash its hands of the poor, militarily unimportant Sudan, suddenly has to send an army to avenge Gordon.

As the narrator of “Khartoum” intones at the close of the film:“For 15 years, the British paid the price with shame and war.”

There is a blunt lesson for Americans to learn from this episode–and from the 1966 movie, “Khartoum” itself.

Americans have been fighting in the Middle East since 2001–first in Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda, and then in Iraq, to pursue George W. Bush’s vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

The United States faces a crumbling infastructure, record high unemployment and trillions of dollars in debt.

It’s time for Americans to clean up their own house before worrying about the messes in other nations–especially those wholly alien to American values.

JAMES BOND GONE WRONG

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 12, 2015 at 12:23 am

James Bond, the legendary creation of novelist Ian Fleming, routinely bedded femme fatales–and sometimes killed them. But he never faced indictment for romancing them.

That’s the difference between Bond and David Petraeus, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Movie poster for Thunderball (1965)

The Justice Department is deciding whether to bring criminal charges against Petraeus.  The FBI  alleges that, as CIA director, he shared classified information with his then-mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell.

FBI agents found classified information on a personal computer Broadwell used–and determined that Petraeus had supplied it.

As an Army General, Petraeus had successfully led U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq and was thought to be a potential candidate for president.

In 2011, he won appointment to CIA director–which ended abruptly in 2012 with the revelation of his extramarital affair with Broadwell.

Petraeus is one of the most highly educated men in the United States:

  • Alumnus of the United States Military Academy at West Point–graduating among the top 5% of his 1974 class.
  • General George C. Marshall Award winner as the top graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College class of 1983.
  • Earned an M.P.A. in 1985 and a Ph.D. in International Relations in 1987 from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University.
  • Served as Assistant Professor of International Relations at the United States Military Academy

David Petraeus

And Paula Broadwell is one of the most highly educated women in the United States:

  • Graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1995, majoring in political geography.
  • Earned a master’s degree in international security from the University of Denver’s Joseph Korbel School of International Studies in 2006.
  • Earned a Master of Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 2008.
  • A Research Associate in the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership Fellows.

Paula Broadwell

In addition, Petraeus, as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, knew the importance of secrecy in keeping clandestine affairs (military and personal) out of sight.

So did Broadwell, having earned a reputation as an expert on counterterrorism.

Yet they both violated the most basic rules of security.

They exchanged emails using a cyber trick known to both terrorists and teenagers: Sharing a private email account, or “dropbox.”

In this they composed drafts to each other in order not to directly transmit messages to one another.  Each could log onto the same account and read the draft emails there.

By doing so, they flagrantly left a cyber-trail of their infidelities. (Broadwell was also married.)

It was Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science, who warned: If you don’t want it known, don’t write it down.

More than 500 years ago, in his masterwork, The Discourses, he warned:

Niccolo Machiavelli

I have heard many wise men say that you may talk freely with any one man about everything, for unless you have committed yourself in writing, the “Yes” of one man is worth as much as the “No” of another. 

And therefore one should guard most carefully against writing, as against a dangerous rock, for nothing will convict you quicker than your own handwriting….

You may escape, then, from the accusation of a single individual, unless you are convicted by some writing or other pledge, which you should be careful never to give.

Nor were Petraeus and Broadwell the only ones guilty of thumbing their noses at this most basic of precautions.

General John Allen, the top American commander in Afghanistan, exchanged thousands of emails  with Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite.

Although charged with directing American military efforts against the Taliban, Allen found time to exchange 20,000 to 30,000 pages’ worth of emails with Kelley between 2010 and 2012.

The scandal began when Kelley began receiving harassing emails from an unidentified woman.  So she complained to the FBI.

The emails allegedly came from Broadwell, who thought that Kelley was trying to move in on “her man”–Petraeus.  Apparently, Broadwell didn’t feel similarly threatened by Holly, Petraeus’ wife.)

The FBI investigation ultimately led to the discovery of the Petraeus/Broadwell affair.

There are several lessons to be learned from this behavior by Petraeus, Broadwell, Allen and Kelley:

  • They believed they were so privileged–by education, status and/or wealth–that conventional rules of morality didn’t apply to them.
  • They believed they were so clever they could violate the most basic rule of security and common sense–and get away with  it.
  • They were so caught up in their illicit passions that they threw caution to the winds.
  • David Petraeus, a highly disciplined man, clearly expected Paula Broadwell to behave in a similarly disciplined manner–and do nothing to compromise their lives.
  • Petraeus felt so confident about the secrecy of his affair he had his wife and mistress present when he appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2011 to become CIA director.

General David Petraeus’ CIA confirmation hearings. His wife, Holly (in white) and mistress, Paula Broadwell (in black).

  • Petraeus didn’t imagine that Broadwell suspected another of his admirers–Jill Kelley–of having romantic designs on him.
  • And he was utterly surprised when her harassing emails to Kelley led the FBI to uncover his illicit relationship.

Thus does hubris meet its punishment in Nemesis.

TEN REASONS WHY THE U.S. SHOULDN’T ATTACK SYRIA

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on September 19, 2014 at 12:40 am

Here are ten excellent reasons for not sending American soldiers to bomb and/or invade Syria.

1. The United States just disengaged from Iraq.

On Dec. 15, 2011, the American military formally ended its mission there. The war–begun in 2003–had killed 4,487 service members and wounded another 32,226.

2. The United States is still fighting a brutal war in Afghanistan.

By early 2012, the United States had about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by the fall.

No schedule has been set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that all are to be out by the end of 2016.

The initial goal of this war was to destroy Al Qaeda–especially its leader, Osama Bin Laden.

But, over time, Washington policy-makers embarked on a “nation-building” effort.  That meant trying to turn primitive, xenophobic Afghans into a modern-day, right-supporting people.

American soldiers in Afghanistan

So the American military wound up occupying the country for the next ten years.  This increasingly brought them into conflict with the local population.

A series of murderous attacks on American soldiers by their supposed Afghan comrades-in-arms led to the inevitable result:  American forces no longer trust their Afghan “allies” to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them against the Taliban.

3. The war in Iraq fell victim to the law of unintended consequences.

The Bush administration invaded Iraq to turn it into a base–from which to intimidate its neighboring states: Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria and Iran.

This demanded the quick pacification of Iraq. But the Iraqi insurgency totally undermined that goal, forcing U.S. troops to focus all their efforts inward.

Another unintended result of the war: Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had been a counter-weight to the regional ambitions of Iran.  The destruction of the Iraqi military created a power-vacumn.

Into this–eagerly–stepped the Iranian mullahs.

4. Intervening in Syria could produce similar unintended consequences for American forces–and make the United States a target for more Islamic terrorism.

American bombs or missiles could land on one or more sites containing stockpiles of chemical weapons.  Imagine the international outrage that will result if the release of those weapons kills hundreds or thousands of Syrians.

U.S. warship firing Tomahawk Cruise missile

Within the Islamic world, the United States will be seen as waging a war against Islam, and not simply another Islamic dictator.

Almost certainly, an American military strike on Syria would lead its dictator, Bashar al-Assad, to attack Israel–perhaps even with chemical weapons.

Assad could do this simply because he hates Jews–or to lure Israel into attacking Syria.

If that happened, the Islamic world–which lusts to destroy Israel more than anything else–would rally to Syria against the United States, Israel’s chief ally.

5.  Since 1979, Syria has been listed by the U.S. State Department as a sponsor of terrorism.

Among the terrorist groups it supports are Hizbollah and Hamas. For years, Syria provided a safe-house in Damascus to Ilich Ramírez Sánchez–the notorious terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal.

There are no “good Syrians” for the United States to support–only murderers who have long served a tyrant and now wish to become the next tyrant.

6.  The United States doesn’t know what it wants to do in Syria, other than “send a message.”

Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist, wrote: “War is the continuation of state policy by other means.”  But President Barack Obama hasn’t stated what he intends gain by attacking Syria.

Obama has said he’s “not after regime-change.”  If true, that would leave Assad in power–and free to go on killing those who resist his rule.

So it appears that Obama’s “message” is: “You can continue killing your own people–so long as you don’t use weapons that upset American TV viewers.”

7. The Assad regime is backed by–among others–the Iranian-supported terrorist group, Hizbollah (Party of God).  Its enemies include another terrorist group–Al Qaeda.

When your enemies are intent on killing each other, it’s best to stand aside and let them do it.

8.  China and Russia are fully supporting the Assad dictatorship–and the brutalities it commits against its own citizens.

This reflects badly on them–not the United States.

9.  The United States could find itself in a shooting war with Russia and/or China.

The Russians have sent two warships to Syria, in direct response to President Obama’s threat to “punish” Assad for using chemical weapons against unsurgents.

What happens if American and Russian warships start trading salvos?  Or if Russian President Vladimir Putin orders an attack on Israel, in return for America’s attack on Russia’s ally, Syria?

It was exactly that scenario–Great Powers going to war over conflicts between their small-state allies–that triggered World War l.

10.  While Islamic nations like Syria and Egypt wage war within their own borders, they will lack the resources to launch attacks against the United States.

When Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, then-Senator Harry Truman said: “I hope the Russians kill lots of Nazis and vice versa.”

That should be America’s view whenever its sworn enemies start killing themselves off.   Americans should welcome such self-slaughters, not become entrapped in them.

THE ALAMO COMES TO BAGHDAD

In Entertainment, History, Military, Politics on June 19, 2014 at 11:08 am

President Barack Obama has notified Congress that he will send up to 275 troops to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the American Embassy in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the insurgent army known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is clearly on the military ascendency.  Its blitzkreig has thrown the American-trained Iraqi Army into a panic, with soldiers dropping their rifles and running for their lives.

And it has steamrolled virtually unopposed from northern Iraq to towns only about 50 miles from Baghdad.

As a result, this situation recalls two scenes from the 2004 Disney remake of The Alamo.

The first scene comes with the arrival of the Mexican army–about 2,000 strong–in San Antonio de Bexar.

There are about 200 men in the Alamo, and they are awestruck at the seemingly endless columns of men who threaten to overwhelm them.  One of the defenders is David Crockett (played by Billy Bob Thornton).

Suddenly, the full weight of his decision to enter the doomed old mission strikes him.  He turns to William B. Travis (Patrick Wilson) the fort’s commander, and says: “We’re gonna need a lot more men.”

It’s the understatement of the movie.

Congressman David Crockett and Lt. Col. William Travis

David Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) and William B. Travis (Patrick Wilson)

The second relevant scene from The Alamo takes place in the headquarters of Mexican dictator, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

He’s beseiged the Alamo for almost two weeks, and he’s impatient.  Not to attack–but for the arrival of large numbers of Texan reinforcements.

Santa Anna knows the Alamo is a death-trap.  He hopes to lure Sam Houston–the commander of the Texan army–to “come and be a big American hero” by reinforcing the garrison.

That way, Santa Anna has to fight only one battle–one that will become a massacre of his enemies.

But Houston also knows the Alamo is a death-trap.  And as much as we, the movie viewers, want him to ride to the rescue of the trapped garrison, we know that he won’t.

He will save his army to fight another day, on ground of his–not Santa Anna’s–choosing.

Finally, Santa Anna launches an all-out assault on the Alamo in the pre-dawn hours of March 6, 1836.  All of its defenders are slaughtered.

Poster for  The Alamo (2004)

But the movie isn’t over.  Instead, it quickly lays out the military strategy Sam Houston used to win Texas its freedom as a republic.

He orders a retreat before Santa Anna, burning abandoned towns in his wake.  He’s waiting for his enemy to make a mistake.

And, in time, Santa Anna makes it.  He sets up camp in a densely-wooded area, knowing Houston’s army is close by.  And then he and most of his army settle down for a siesta!

Screaming “Remember the Alamo!” the Texans charge into the camp.  In 18 minutes, they kill about 650 Mexicans and capture the rest.

The next day, Santa Anna, who had tried to escape in the uniform of a private, is captured.  Threatened with death, he is forced to sign a treaty guaranteeing Texan independence from Mexico.

Now, fast forward to present-day Iraq.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s army, like Santa Anna’s, is clearly on the offensive.  And just as Texas seemed about to be overrun by his army, Iraq appears on the brink of becoming an Islamic terror-state.

And just as a handful of stubborn Texans decided to stand, at the Alamo, against a far larger force, President Obama appears ready to order such a last-ditch stand at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

But there the similarities end.

First, the Texans had to defeat only one Mexican dictator.

In Iraq, countless numbers of Jihadists are constantly scheming and murdering to become the Islamic version of Numero Uno.

Second, American settlers in Texas passionately embraced the republican form of government for which their fathers and grandfathers had fought.

That was, in fact, a principle gripe of the Mexican government: “They all go about with their [U.S.] Constitution in their pocket, demanding their rights.”

There is no tradition of individual freedom in Iraq–or in any other part of the Islamic world  Thus, there is no incentive for Iraqis to retain it.

Third, Texas won its independence from Mexico in one battle–at San jacinto.

Iraq is filled with religious fanatics who are determined to enforce their version of Islam on others in a never-ending jihad.

* * * * *

The United States tried, for 10 years, to impose democracy–or at least order–on Iraq.

That experiment has failed dismally.  Democracy can’t be forced onto people whose lives have been warped by centuries of repression.

And a modern state cannot be forged out of a pseudo-nation that’s essentially three feuding tribes–Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs and Kurds.

Stationing 187,900 American soldiers in Iraq in 2008 failed to create a stable country.  So sending 275 soldiers to defend the American Embassy will prove equally futile.

If the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad becomes a second Alamo, it will prove a heroic sacrifice to a worthless cause.

GOOD INTENSIONS, DISASTROUS RESULTS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 9, 2014 at 9:38 am

In December, 1992, 25,000 American soldiers entered Somalia to distribute food to its starving people.

At first, all seemed to be going well.

In the beginning, it was U.S. policy to avoid taking sides in the civil war or picking fights with Somali warlords. The Somalis believed the American troops were neutral and welcomed them everywhere.

But then what began as a humanitarian mission turned into a nation-building one.

Mohammed Farrah Aidid, the most powerful of Somalia’s warlords, had ruled Mogadishu, its capital, before the Marines arrived.

Mohammed Farrah Aidid

Aidid waited until the Marines withdrew–in April, 1993–and then declared war on the small remaining force of United Nations (U.N.) peacekeepers.

In June, his militia ambushed and butchered 24 U.N. peacekeepers.  Soon afterward, they began targeting American personnel.

On June 12, U.S. troops started attacking targets in Mogadishu in hopes of finding Aidid.

On August 26th, a U.S. Army task force flew into Mogadishu.  It consisted of 440 elite troops from Army Rangers and the super-secret anti-terrorist Delta Force.

On October 3rd, 17 helicopters took off from their base at the Mogadishu airport–into the heart of Aidid’s territory. An intelligence tip claimed that Aidid would meet with 20 of his top lieutenants at the nearby Olympic Hotel.

Their mission: Capture Aidid.

The force of 115 men expected the operation to last 90 minutes.  They would not return for 17 hours.

After roping down from their helicopters, the Rangers sealed off the streets around the Olympic Hotel.

A 12-truck convoy arrived to drive them and their prisoners back to base.  Delta Force soldiers led 20 of Aidid’s lieutenants out of the target building.

But Aidid was not among them.

Suddenly, one of the Black Hawk helicopters circling overheard was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, spun out of control and crashed.

Not long after, a second Black Hawk was shot down. More men were sent in to secure the crash sites and get the soldiers out. But the rescue team itself got pinned down.

For about 18 hours, outnumbered elite U.S. soldiers were pinned down in a hail of gunfire by thousands of Somali militia and civilians.

Helicopters flew in fresh ammunition and strafed Somali gunmen.  Meanwhile, 70 vehicles–including tanks and armored personnel carriers–raced to the trapped men.

The vehicles arrived and the Rangers and Delta Force soldiers climbed aboard.

The Red Cross later estimated that 1,000 Somalis had been killed.

As for American casualties: 18 were dead; more than 80 were wounded; one was temporarily taken prisoner.

In 2001, the film, Black Hawk Down, would vividly depict this nightmarish catastrophe..

For most Americans watching TV from the safety of their homes, the worst loss was this: Seeing the body of an American soldier dragged by cheering Somalis through the streets of Mogadishu.

It was the worst land battle for American troops since the Vietnam War.  And it had immediate consequences.

Within days, President Bill Clinton decided to withdraw troops from Somalia and abandon the hunt for Aidid.  Most humiliating of all, American representatives were sent to resume negotiations with the warlord.

Today, almost 21 years after the disaster in Somalia, a conflict exists between gung-ho interventionist American policymakers and their war-weary–and wary–populace.

Republicans have been especially hawkish.  They have demanded that President Barack Obama send “boots on the ground” to

  • Iraq (as if America’s 10-year debacle there wasn’t long enough)
  • Afghanistan (where its nominal president, Hamid Karzai, insists on the right to try American soldiers in Islamic courts of law)
  • Syria (where a civil war now pits two of America’s greatest enemies–Al Qaeda and Hizbollah–against each other); and
  • Ukraine (where a confrontation between American and Russian military forces could easily trigger a third world war between nuclear-armed superpowers)

A May 2 exchange between Judy Woodruff and Mark Shields on the PBS Newshour captures this division in philosophies:

 JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one of the other things the Democrats are worried about… is the administration, the president’s standing on foreign policy….

And the president himself, Mark, held a news conference overseas in the last few days and talked about the criticism and said, what do they want me to do?

You know, we have been in these wars and are they saying, we should do more? And they say no. Well, what should we do?

MARK SHIELDS: The fact is that we’re operating in a reality of the last decade of this country, in the sense that the majority of Americans believing that we were deceived and misled into war in Iraq, that whatever one calls our experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, they will not be seen as successes.

And they are not viewed that way, and, at the same time, an American people who were essentially spared any involvement in that war, any of those wars, who have just really sort of soured on American involvement in the world.

* * * * *

Right now, many Americans feel good that “we’re doing something” about the abduction of Nigerian teenagers.

But elation will quickly turn to outrage if American soldiers once again become needless casualties in yet another avoidable conflict with yet another ruthless African warlord.

GOOD INTENTIONS, DISASTROUS RESULTS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

“Bring back our girls!”

It’s become a rallying cry among Nigerians–and among do-gooder Americans.

On April 15, nearly 300 teenage girls were kidnapped from a Nigerian school by Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group that has ties to Al Qaeda.

Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, claimed responsibility for the abudctions and threatened to sell the girls.

He also warned that Boko Haram would attack other schools and kidnap more girls.

Boko Haram means: “Western education is sinful.”

Abubakar Shekau

Fifty-three of the girls managed to escape; 276 remain in captivity.

It didn’t take long for Americans to thrust themselves into yet another role as World Policeman:

  • The United States Senate passed a bipartisan resolution demanding the girls’ safe and immediate return.
  • Several lawmakers observed a moment of silence on the Capitol steps.
  • Dozens of people protested outside the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
  • All 20 female United States Senators urged President Barack Obama to pursue severe international sanctions against Boko Haram.
  • Another group of Senators urged Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to tackle the causes of unrest in his country.

Protest at Nigerian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

  • The United States repeatedly offered assistance.  But Nigeria refused to respond until Secretary of State John Kerry telephoned Jonathan as international outrage grew over the fate of the missing girls.
  • Inerviewed by NBC’s Today, President Obama said: “In the short term our goal is obviously to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies.”
  • Obama further noted: “But we’re also going to have to deal with the broader problem of organizations   like [Boko Haram] that can cause such havoc in people’s day-to-day lives.”
  • White House Press Secretary Jay Carney announced that the United States would send military and law enforcement personnel skilled in investigations, hostage negotiation, Intelligence and victim assistance to Nigeria.
  • Carney said that the United States would not send fighting units to Nigeria.

Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, didn’t waste time reacting.

On May 5, in a clip released online, he declared war on the West.

Echoing President George W. Bush’s famous statement–“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”–Shekau warned:

“Either you are with us … or you are with Obama! [French President] Francois Hollande! George Bush. Bush! Clinton!”

Pausing briefly, he added: “Abraham Lincoln!”

Most Americans have little interest in foreign affairs–and thus short memories for international events.  So few now remember another well-intentioned effort that failed miserably in Africa almost 21 years ago.

Like the “Save our girls!” affair, it, too, started as a humanitarian gesture.

In 1992, civil war and famine gripped Somalia, resulting in over 300,000 civilian deaths.

Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, was the most dangerous city in the world.

Fourteen armed militas, each led by its own warlord, were fighting to dominate Somalia.  Teenage gunmen, high on a narcotic called quat, spread terror in their “technicals”–pick-up trucks equipped with heavy machine guns.

“I was overwhelmed. I’d never seen anything like it,” recalled Khalil Dale, a Red Cross worker. “There were bodies of people who had died of starvation.

“There were people with gunshot wounds. There were young children, women, just lying, waiting to die, really emaciated. and there would be mounds of dead bodies waiting to be buried. We were doing 300 or 400 a day.”

In late 1992, President George H.W. Bush launched a massive humanitarian mission to help feed the starving people of Somalia.

He ordered 25,000 troops into Somalia to carry out Operation Restore Hope.

Bush had been defeated for a second term by former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.  Sending Americans into Somalia was the last major effort of his Presidency.

Addressing the American people from the Oval Office, Bush declared:

“Every American has seen the shocking images from Somalia. The scope of suffering there is hard to imagine.

“Only the United States has the global reach to place a large security force on the ground in such a distant place quickly and efficiently and thus save thousands of innocents from death.”

President George H.W. Bush addressing the nation

Americans–who like to think of themselves as international saviors instead of aggressors–applauded Bush’s action.

Then they turned their attention to more immediate concerns–such as the failing economy.

At first, all seemed to be going well

But then what began as a humanitarian mission turned into a nation-building one.

On January 20, 1993, Bill Clinton took office as President.

Mohammed Farrah Aidid, the most powerful of Somalia’s warlords, ruled Mogadishu.  At Somali ports, his militias seized international food shipments intended to relieve starvation.

Food became his weapon–to be doled out to his supporters, and denied to everyone else.

A force of 20,000 United States Marines backed up the United Nations relief effort.  Somalis started receiving food and a sense of order was restored.

Aidid waited until the Marines withdrew–in April, 1993–and then declared war on the small remaining force of U.N. peacekeepers.

THE DOOM OF MEN

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 21, 2014 at 12:35 am

In  ”Excalibur,” director John Boorman’s brilliant 1981 telling of the King Arthur legends, Merlin warns Arthur’s knights–and us: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Not so Steven Pressfield, who repeatedly holds up the past as a mirror to our present.  Case in point: His 2006 novel, The Afghan Campaign.

By 2006, Americans had been fighting in Afghanistan for five years.  And today, almost ten years into the same war, there remains no clear end in sight–to our victory or withdrawal.

Pressfield’s novel, although set 2,000 years into the past, has much to teach us about what are soldiers are facing today in that same alien, unforgiving land.

Matthias, a young Greek seeking glory and opportunity, joins the army of Alexander the Great.  But the Persian Empire has fallen, and the days of conventional, set-piece battles–where you can easily tell friend from foe–are over.

Alexander next plans to conquer India, but first he must pacify its gateway–Afghanistan. Here that the Macedonians meet a new–and deadly–kind of enemy.

“Here the foe does not meet us in pitched battle,” warns Alexander. “Even when we defeat him, he will no accept our dominion.

“He comes back again and again. He hates us with a passion whose depth is exceeded only by his patience and his capacity for suffering.”

Matthias learns this early.  In his first raid on an Afghan village, he’s ordered to execute a helpless prisoner.  When he hesitates, he’s brutalized until he strikes out with his sword–and botches the job.

But, soon, exposed to an unending series of atrocities–committed by himself and his comrades,  as  well as the enemy–he finds himself transformed.

And he hates it.  He agonizes over the gap between the ideals he embraced when he became a soldier–and the brutalities that have drained him of everything but a grim determination to survive at any cost.

Pressfield, a former Marine himself, repeatedly contrasts how civilians see war as a kind of “glorious” child’s-play with how soldiers actually experience it.

He creates an extraordinary exchange between Costas, an ancient-world version of a CNN war correspondent, and Lucas, a soldier whose morality is outraged at how Costas and his ilk routinely prettify  the indescribable.

And we know the truth of this exchange immediately. For we know there are doubtless brutalities inflicted by our troops on the enemy–and atrocities inflicted by the enemy upon them–that never make the headlines, let alone the TV cameras.

We also know that, decades  from now, thousands of our former soldiers will carry horrific memories to their graves.

These memories will remain sealed from public view, allowing their fellow but unblooded Americans to sleep peacefully, unaware of  the terrible price that others have paid on their behalf.

Like the Macedonians (who call themselves  ”Macks”), our own soldiers find themselves serving in an all-but-forgotten land among a populace whose values could not be more alien from our own if they came from Mars.

Instincitvely, they turn to one another–not only for physical security but to preserve their last vestiges of humanity. As the war-weary veteran, Lucas, advises:

“Never tell anyone except your mates. Only you don’t need to tell them. They know. They know you.  Better than a man knows his wife, better than he knows himself.

“They’re bound to you and you to them, like wolves  in  a  pack. It’s  not you and them. You are them. The unit is indivisible. One dies, we all die.”

Put conversely: One lives, we all live.

Pressfield has reached into the past to reveal fundamental truths about the present that most of us could probably not accept if contained in a modern-day memoir.

These truths take on an immediate poignancy owing to our own current war in Afghanistan.  But they will remain just as relevant decades from now, when our now-young soldiers are old and retired.

This book has been described as a sequel to Pressfield’s The Virtues of War: A  Novel  of Alexander the Great, which appeared in 2004. But it isn’t.

Virtues showcased the brilliant and luminous (if increasingly dark and explosive) personality of Alexander the Great, whose Bush-like, good-vs.-evil rhetoric inspired men to hurl themselves into countless battles on his behalf.

But Afghan thrusts us directly into the flesh-and-blood realities created by that rhetoric: The horrors of men traumatized by an often unseen but always menacing enemy, and the horrors they must inflict in return if they are to survive in a hostile and alien world.

HISTORY LESSONS FROM HOLLYWOOD

In History, Military, Politics on January 29, 2014 at 12:30 am

January 26, 2014 marked the 129th anniversary of the fall of the Sudanese city of Khartoum to the dervish hordes of a fanatical Muslim leader.

Mohammed Achmed had proclaimed himself “The Madhi”–the “Expected One.”  He had raised an army and sworn to sweep the Islamic world clean of “unbelievers.”

Standing in his path: The 30,000 citizens of Khartoum, led by the famous British general, Charles George Gordon.

In 1966, this clash of historical personalities was vividly depicted in the movie, “Khartoum,” starring Charlton Heston as Gordon and Laurence Oliver as The Madhi.

It’s a film still loaded with drama and meaning–and lessons for the possible intervention of the United States in the lethal mess that is Syria.

What began as a popular revolt against a brutal and ossified dictatorship, Syria has now degenerated into a bloody civil war.

On the one side, is the Shiite Ba’ath regime, headed by “President” Bashar al Assad and supported by Russia, Iran, Hizbullah, and elements in the Iraqi government.

Opposing them Syrians–including defectors from the armed forces and others who have formed private militias–and thousands of foreign Sunni fighters (including elements of al Qaeda).

The neocons of the George W. Bush administration plunged the United States into an unprovoked war against Iraq in 2003.  After Baghdad quickly fell, Americans cheered, thinking the war was over and the troops would soon return home.

They didn’t count on Iraq’s descending into massive inter-religious strife, with Shia Muslims (who comprise 65% of the population) squaring off against Sunni ones (who make up 35%).

Suddenly, American soldiers found themselves fighting a two-front war in the same country: Fighting an Iraqi insurgency to throw them out, while trying to suppress growing sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shia.

Today, American politicians such as U.S. Senator John McCain are urging President Obama to militarily intervene in the Syrian civil war.

Once again, Americans are being urged to plunge headfirst into a conflict they know nothing about–and in which they have absolutely no stake.

Which brings us back to the lessons to be found in “Khartoum.”

In 1884, the British Government sends Gordon, a real-life hero of the Victorian era, to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum.  Mohammed Achmed, a previously anonymous Sudanese, has proclaimed himself “The Madhi”  (The Expected One) and raised the cry of jihad.

The Madhi (played by Laurence Oliver) intends to drive all foreigners (of which the English are the largest group) out of Sudan, and exterminate all those Muslims who did not practice his “pure” version os Islam.

Movie poster for “Khartoum”

Gordon arrives in Khartoum to find he’s not fighting a rag-tag army of peasants.  Instead, the Madhi is a highly intelligent military strategist.

And Gordon, an evangelical Christian, also underestimates the Madhi’s religious fanaticism: “I seem to have suffered from the delusion that I had a monopoly on God.”

A surprised Gordon finds himself and 30,000 Sudanese trapped in Khartoum when the Madhi’s forces suddenly appear.  He sends off messengers and telegrams to the British Government, begging for a military relief force.

But the British Government wants nothing to do with the Sudan.  It had sent Gordon there as a sop to British public opion that “something” had to be done to quell the Madhist uprising.

The siege continues and tightens.

In Britain, the public hails Gordon as a Christian hero and demands that the Government send a relilef expedition to save him.  Prime Minister William Gladstone finally sends a token force–which arrives in Khartoum two days after the city has fallen to the Madhi’s forces.

Gordon, standing at the top of a staircase and coolly facing down his dervish enemies, is speared to death.

When the news reaches England, Britons mourn–and then demand vengeance for the death of their hero.

The Government, which had sought to wash its hands of the poor, militarily unimportant Sudan, suddenly has to send an army to avenge Gordon.

As the narrator of “Khartoum” intones at the close of the film: “For 15 years, the British paid the price with shame and war.”

Americans have been fighting in the Middle East since 2001–first in Afghanistan to destroy Al Qaeda, and then in Iraq, to pursue George W. Bush’s vendetta against Saddam Hussein.

The United States faces a crumbling infastructure, record high unemployment and trillions of dollars in debt.  It’s time for Americans to clean up their own house before worrying about the messes in other nations–especially those wholly alien to American values.

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