UAVs, Navy, Satellites, Battle Stars

This post, which I want to keep pretty short, feeds off my post on re-orienting national security priorities.

I read a fascinating paper provocatively entitled “How the US Lost the Naval War of 2015” (PDF), by James Kraska.

It takes a look at what is happening now as the US Navy flounders and the Chinese Navy quickly ramps up, and then suggests what might happen if China decided to sink the USS George Washington in 2015.

What fascinates me about this is that US Navy dominance is sort of seen as a given these days, something not worth worrying about, but naval supremacy has always been a significant factor behind any superpower’s reign of world affairs.  The US gladly took over the mantle of naval superiority and its positive externalities for world security after the United Kingdom found it in their best interest to ally with the US.  The Royal Navy’s battleship-style fleet did not transition well into the age of submarines and aircraft carriers.  The loss of the Suez Canal was a significant barrier, as well.

So the US took over after World War 2 and has since controlled the oceans.  This has enabled it to push an era of free trade and open water travel that has made it cheaper to ship resources than even to fly them, so much that the cost is almost negligent.  In terms of protecting capitalism, having the US superpower in control of the oceans has been incredibly successful.

Now the US focuses more on satellite/overhead imagery, and more recently, on asymmetric warfare.  Which has left several gaps in the American strategic security worldview.

The paper suggests that China could destroy a US carrier, which would have a psychological effect on Americans perhaps bigger than a physical effect, although with a Chinese contractor shutting down the Suez for “repairs” and China throwing up other roadblocks, this could delay the US in appropriately responding its massive, yet diffused fleet into the Pacific.  Control of the Pacific would shift as China’s neighbors, by sheer proximity, would be reluctant to move to counter China’s naval aggression.  What would the US be able to do?

It’s a fascinating paper although obviously it only looks at an American military perspective and not all the other factors:  economic, cultural, etc.

But it also makes me wonder why the US is so focused on a small group of jihadists when there are bigger fish to fry for continued American dominance.

1) It is in the US interest to ensure continued and unfettered control of the oceans, to ensure open trade, safe shipping lines, and access to necessary strategic hold-points like Guam, Hawai’i, Okinawa, Europe, and other navy bases.

Robert Kaplan is associated with the neo-cons but he is an excellent security historian.  What he says about US naval moves against China is that we should focus on building our presence so enmeshed with Pacific interests that China will be more inclined to ally with us than to try to displace us.  This is a strategy akin to the UK realizing it had to partner with the US after WW2, and akin to the argument that alienating Japan before WW2 would push them to attack the US for control of the Pacific.

Some quotes:

“None of this will change our need for basing rights in the Pacific, of course. The more access to bases we have, the more flexibility we’ll have—to support unmanned flights, to allow aerial refueling, and perhaps most important, to force the Chinese military to concentrate on a host of problems rather than just a few. Never provide your adversary with only a few problems to solve (finding and hitting a carrier, for example), because if you do, he’ll solve them.

“Andersen Air Force Base, on Guam’s northern tip, rep- resents the future of U.S. strategy in the Pacific. It is the most potent platform anywhere in the world for the projection of American military power. Landing there recently in a military aircraft, I beheld long lines of B-52 bombers, C-17 Globemasters, F/A-18 Hornets, and E-2 Hawkeye surveillance planes, among others. Andersen’s 10,000-foot runways can handle any plane in the Air Force’s arsenal, and could accommodate the space shuttle should it need to make an emergency landing. The sprawl of runways and taxiways is so vast that when I arrived, I barely noticed a carrier air wing from the USS Kitty Hawk, which was making live practice bombing runs that it could not make from its home port in Japan. I saw a truck filled with cruise missiles on one of the runways. No other Air Force base in the Pacific stores as much weaponry as Andersen: some 100,000 bombs and missiles at any one time. Andersen also stores 66 million gallons of jet fuel, making it the Air Force’s biggest strategic gas-and-go in the world.

“Guam, which is also home to a submarine squadron and an expanding naval base, is significant because of its location. From the island an Air Force equivalent of a Marine or Army division can cover almost all of PACOM’s area of responsibility. Flying to North Korea from the West Coast of the United States takes thirteen hours; from Guam it takes four.

“”This is not like Okinawa,” Major General Dennis Larsen, the Air Force commander there at the time of my visit, told me. “This is American soil in the midst of the Pacific. Guam is a U.S. territory.” The United States can do anything it wants here, and make huge investments without fear of being thrown out. Indeed, what struck me about Andersen was how great the space was for expansion to the south and west of the current perimeters. Hundreds of millions of dollars of construction funds were being allocated. This little island, close to China, has the potential to become the hub in the wheel of a new, worldwide constellation of bases that will move the locus of U.S. power from Europe to Asia. In the event of a conflict with Taiwan, if we had a carrier battle group at Guam we would force the Chinese either to attack it in port—thereby launching an assault on sovereign U.S. territory, and instantly becoming the aggressor in the eyes of the world—or to let it sail, in which case the carrier group could arrive off the coast of Taiwan only two days later.

“During the Cold War the Navy had a specific infrastructure for a specific threat: war with the Soviet Union. But now the threat is multiple and uncertain: we need to be prepared at any time to fight, say, a conventional war against North Korea or an unconventional counterinsurgency battle against a Chinese-backed rogue island-state. This requires a more agile Navy presence on the island, which in turn means outsourcing services to the civilian community on Guam so that the Navy can concentrate on military matters. One Navy captain I met with had grown up all over the Pacific Rim. He told me of the Navy’s plans to expand the waterfront, build more bachelors’ quarters, and harden the electrical-power system by putting it underground. “The fact that we have lots of space today is meaningless,” he said. “The question is, How would we handle the surge requirement necessitated by a full-scale war?”

“There could be a problem with all of this. By making Guam a Hawaii of the western Pacific, we make life simple for the Chinese, because we give them just one problem to solve: how to threaten or intimidate Guam. The way to counter them will be not by concentration but by dispersion. So how will we prevent Guam from becoming too big?

“In a number of ways. We may build up Palau, an archipelago of 20,000 inhabitants between Mindanao, in the Philippines, and the Federated States of Micronesia, whose financial aid is contingent on a defense agreement with us. We will keep up our bases in Central Asia, close to western China—among them Karshi-Khanabad, in Uzbekistan, and Manas, in Kyrgyzstan, which were developed and expanded for the invasion of Afghanistan. And we will establish what are known as cooperative security locations.

“A cooperative security location can be a tucked-away corner of a host country’s civilian airport, or a dirt runway somewhere with fuel and mechanical help nearby, or a military airport in a friendly country with which we have no formal basing agreement but, rather, an informal arrangement with private contractors acting as go-betweens. Because the CSL concept is built on subtle relationships, it’s where the war-fighting ability of the Pentagon and the diplomacy of the State Department coincide—or should. The problem with big bases in, say, Turkey—as we learned on the eve of the invasion of Iraq—is that they are an intrusive, intimidating symbol of American power, and the only power left to a host country is the power to deny us use of such bases. In the future, therefore, we will want unobtrusive bases that benefit the host country much more obviously than they benefit us. Allowing us the use of such a base would ramp up power for a country rather than humiliating it.

“I have visited a number of CSLs in East Africa and Asia. Here is how they work. The United States provides aid to upgrade maintenance facilities, thereby helping the host country to better project its own air and naval power in the region. At the same time, we hold periodic exercises with the host country’s military, in which the base is a focus. We also offer humanitarian help to the surrounding area. Such civil-affairs projects garner positive publicity for our military in the local media—and they long preceded the response to the tsunami, which marked the first time that many in the world media paid attention to the humanitarian work done all over the world, all the time, by the U.S. military. The result is a positive diplomatic context for getting the host country’s approval for use of the base when and if we need it.

“The first part of the twenty-first century will be not nearly as stable as the second half of the twentieth, because the world will be not nearly as bipolar as it was during the Cold War. The fight between Beijing and Washington over the Pacific will not dominate all of world politics, but it will be the most important of several regional struggles. Yet it will be the organizing focus for the U.S. defense posture abroad. If we are smart, this should lead us back into concert with Europe. No matter how successfully our military adapts to the rise of China, it is clear that our current dominance in the Pacific will not last. The Asia expert Mark Helprin has argued that while we pursue our democratization efforts in the Middle East, increasingly befriending only those states whose internal systems resemble our own, China is poised to reap the substantial benefits of pursuing its interests amorally—what the United States did during the Cold War. The Chinese surely hope, for example, that our chilly attitude toward the brutal Uzbek dictator, Islam Karimov, becomes even chillier; this would open up the possibility of more pipeline and other deals with him, and might persuade him to deny us use of the air base at Karshi-Khanabad. Were Karimov to be toppled in an uprising like the one in Kyrgyzstan, we would immediately have to stabilize the new regime or risk losing sections of the country to Chinese influence.”

2) To reinforce naval supremacy will require control of the skies and space.  Orbital satellites provide significant communications for all American forces and commercial interests, and a satellite war would cripple American capabilities.

3) Protecting satellites and increasing outer space security will require something akin to George Friedman’s (CEO of STRATFOR) battle stars (read “The Next 100 Years”), large manned orbital stations that provide armaments and increased surveillance for protecting satellites, providing imagery and comms to the ground, and even shooting down rockets, planes, or attacking ground targets.  Friedman suggests 3 battle stars could be required, orbiting continually in line with the earth’s orbit to always provide overhead support in certain regions.

Says John Reilly in a fair review (read the rest) of George Friedman’s book:

“The section on the Third World War allows the author to wax techno-thrillerish on the matter of mid-21st- century weaponry. We learn a great deal about hypersonic weapons and their ability to blow up unsatisfactory objects anywhere on Earth in a matter of minutes. He has plainly thought a great deal about the military applications of space which, again, he views as an extension of Mahan’s strategy of controlling the world’s trade routes. We get a description of geosynchronous Battle Star observation-and-command stations. (He adopts the term “Battle Star,” without noting the implications of that term for his optimistic view of the military and civilian applications of robots of all kinds.) We also get an excursion to bases on the Moon that sounds not altogether unlike Robert Heinlein’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.””

4) UAVs will continue to improve in sophistication and lethality, and are already providing extra eyes for American border security (see San Diego), Afghanistan/Pakistan targets, and eventually everywhere.  They are rapidly getting improved optics, more dangerous armaments, higher altitudes, and more time overhead (like these UAVs that can hover instead of do racetracks).  UAVs will probably be complementing increasingly robotic android armies, taking humans off the front lines to be replaced with dispensable robots to do war-fighting and perimeter security.

These seem like very far-off strategic priorities but these must be driven by intentional funding, innovative projects, and understanding by the citizenry of their importance.  I am far more in favor of continued intelligence dominance by the US than I am of attempting to do neo-colonial counter-insurgency and nation-building abroad, when domestic security and international respect for governments would suffice in building networks against terrorist plots.

There are plenty of other questions, too, such as whether it would be bad for China to compete with us or take over the seas.  Or what the impact would be of increased naval presence in the Pacific (see below the long comment about Guam).  Or whether alternatives are viable (building floating bases instead of using land).  I’d like to see more discussion on all of that below, if you could take the time.

Recruitment

I was having lunch with a couple buddies of mine, one of whom took Michael Scheuer’s “Al-Qaeda and the Global Jihad” class with me.  He reminded me of one of Professor Scheuer’s best points made during the semester.

I might have forgotten some of the details, so I apologize, but I hope to capture the main crux of his argument.

Scheuer was in the Agency during the days of the Cold War, and so recruitment of Soviets was of course a large priority.

Scheuer drew a large circle with a much smaller circle in the middle of it.  The large circle represented all the Soviet military members.  The smaller one was the top brass, the tight inner circle.

He said that the higher a servicemember got in the hierarchy within the Soviet system, the easier he was to recruit.  The reason for this was that he had more access and could see the faults with the system, how flawed it was and how vaporous it was.  The grand promises extolled by the privates and the junior servicemembers were never delivered, and after promotions and receiving more responsibilities, it became an alienating experience.

Thus the US could recruit them, no doubt in part because the US had a healthy economic and political model to confront the Communist model with.

But Al-Qaeda and the mujaheddin movement is something else entirely.  The US can’t find defectors or agents in the same way.

Scheuer used the same diagram, and then explained that it was in fact those on the periphery of the mujaheddin movement who were easiest to pick off, because they were the least indoctrinated and the most conflicted about trying to earn money versus taking up the jihad against injustice, anti-Muslim policies, etc.

Once people had been through the training camps and had seen how the senior leaders lived and led by example, eschewing comfort and wealth and the pride and glory of the world of the infidels, they in fact became even more hardened.  The inner circle of the mujaheddin are even more devout, even more disciplined in their worship of Islam, even more devoted to their cause.  They are tied together by common suffering and hardship in the camps.  They become even more incorruptible by outside attempts of recruitment.

For more, read Omar Nasiri’s “Inside the Jihad”.

How Bush and Obama Have Shaped My Last Eight Years

Thankfully, the eight years of Bush rule are almost over.  It has been a dark period for the American soul, spirit, and Dream.  Here is a synopsis of the Bush presidency years as seen through my life, documented through my web site and blog.

Pre-Dubya

In 2000, my mind certainly wasn’t thinking about international terrorism, financial crises, gas prices, or the like.  According to my site’s news archives from 2000, when I was 22, the most important topics in my life at that point were Napster and the dotcom bubble.  The bubble had not yet burst, although it started having some rough days.  Oil was hovering around $25-40/barrel.  I had just graduated from college and went to Italy with my dad, and France with my mom.  The dollar was strong and the Euro would continue to get weaker until about 2002, facilitating American travel abroad.  I would daytrade the market for another year and a half.

Read More »

Bob Baer on "Fresh Air"

My mom and a classmate recommended that I listen to Baer speak on NPR. It’s a long interview, but well worth it. Listen here.

He talks mainly about Iran but it has implications in a lot of different areas. A lot of what Baer said challenged what I thought about what’s going on in the Middle East, and I thought I had a good handle on things! Here’s some things that I didn’t know/agree with before he explained it:

Arabs and Persians have transcended their racial differences: Sadr (Mahdi Army in Iraq) and Nasrullah (Hezbollah in Lebanon) under Iranian influence. Iran wants the US to leave completely from Iraq (hence it disagrees with the US leaving bases in Iraq) because it has Maliki in its pocket. Iraq will have to go to Iran for permission to act. In my opinion, this is still contrary to the intentionally false intel that Iran is supporting terror in Iraq — Iran wants stability in Iraq because otherwise war destabilizes Iraq.

Bin Laden is dead. He asks, “Where is he?” Never has anyone disappeared off the face of the map. Bin Laden wouldn’t dye his hair (this is true, he’s very pious). No DVDs recently?

Other points:

Says Iran is unique in history as a virtual empire: pulling strings with Shi’a in Iraq and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Says we need a Manhattan Project for alternative energy. (also a term used in the debate) Fuck yes. Argues that Iran will light the Persian Gulf on fire and attack oil infrastructure if provoked.

Says Iran is not looking for war with Israel or the US; it can’t afford it. We should talk to the true leaders in Iran, not Ahmadinejad, to see what they’re serious about doing.

Sunni fundamentalism (such as Salafism) is dangerous and can’t be dealt with. Shi’ite fundamentalism is open to a deal. (true, Salafists refuse any modification to Islam, which blocks reform)

Ahmadinejad is as irrelevant as McCarthy was.

Olmert wants to give up West Bank and east Jerusalem. Iran sees itself as a rising star with a weakened US, no enemy in Iraq, weakened Taliban in Afghanistan.

Iranians are more likely to go up against Saudi than Israel — and if they get nukes, so will Saudi. (could Iran help us broker a deal in the Palestine?)

There’s a theory that Israel might try an attack on Iran, but probably only after the US election with a weakened Bush. But Israel doesn’t really want all-out war, Baer says.

The Debate on Pakistan

Last night I watched the presidential debate.  Whatever.  But one part that really pissed me off was when Obama and McCain talked about Pakistan (here’s a transcript).

First off, McCain mispronounced or did not know the new Pakistani president’s name, Zardari, as “Kadari”.  While McCain knew a lot of past leaders in the old NATO playground of eastern Europe, his flub on Zardari falls in a long line of flubs by senior American leaders on Muslim names.  As an Arabic linguist, I know that there is only one conclusion:  complete ignorance of Muslim culture.  But I guess we knew that already.

Second, McCain claimed that Pakistan was a failed state before General Musharraf (yes, “General”…) took over.  What a fantastic piece of revisionism.  Pakistan was enjoying a rather democratic period in its history with Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, who were not altogether uncorrupt but who are now (after Musharraf’s ouster) still prominent figures of Pakistani democracy.

So what McCain was saying was that Pakistan was a failed state until General Musharraf undertook a coup d’état and would later try to arrest a Supreme Court judge, tease along a dog-like US eager for bin Laden’s head, and try to obtain lifetime rule.

When people criticize the US for speaking about democracy but undertaking and espousing anti-democratic views of other nations, this is what they are referring to!

A last note on McCain.  I can’t confirm this but I’m pretty sure McCain falsely claimed that he traveled to Waziristan.  Waziristan, as you might know, is an area in northwestern Pakistan outside of the government’s control and firmly Talibanized, lawless, and incredibly dangerous not only for any white man but for any foreigners.  I can’t imagine McCain went to Waziristan in any shape or fashion.  If he did, he was part of the greatest covert operation ever, involving a wonderful disguise of his skin color, clothing, linguistic abilities, religious belief, etc.  The only way Americans get into Waziristan is with massive special operations escort.

Obama on the other hand was better, but disappointing.  He wants to send more troops to Afghanistan (and I imagine McCain does too).  Afghanistan will not be contained by American forces, no matter how many we send in.  What is the historical precedent?  What are we going to do there?  Wall off Kandahar and Kabul?

It’s veterans like me who will have to fill the slots to go to war there.  What will we accomplish?  Iraq is a dismal failure, despite McCain’s promises that it’s wildly successful, and it will be even worse in Afghanistan, the home of mujahed legend, where population density is sparse and economic activity is even lower.  That Obama and McCain do not recognize that Waziristan is outside of Pakistani control (read NYTimes’ recent article on the subject), even after very bloody and humiliating attempts by the Pakistani military to contain it, is haunting.  Our politicians are trying to remain “strong” on terror but they have no long-term focus, or even one that takes into account international relations theory.  But then again, even the Pakistani experts are wrong on this issue.

What we should do in fact is withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, and during the logistical flight mess, attack Waziristan and FATA.  It might even be worth doing so while troops are still in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We should withdraw funding to Pakistan (and Israel, and Iraq, and…).  My logic is that we know that bin Laden and Zawahiri are in FATA somewhere.  We have set up a large martial law-like apparatus in airports worldwide, which should have been a temporary move instead of a permanent one.

If we were to use our offensive military advantage in FATA, we could disrupt and flush out long-entrenched senior leaders.  They know they are perfectly safe there for now, even while we put clamps down on the rest of the world.  But if they are forced to move, we will generate intelligence and have better leads on them, especially if they attempt to flee to potential future havens like Yemen.

But this must be combined with withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.  This will drain the mujahed solidarity more than you might think.  It’s counter-intuitive.  Yes, they will celebrate another “victory”, but it will not collapse the US like it did the Soviet Union.  I hope.  The financial crisis here at home has made that less clear.

One problem in Pakistan is that it’s a nuclear state.  Destabilizing the government could cause nuclear weapons to get in the hands of Al-Qaeda, which does indeed desire to use nuclear weapons against its enemies.  But wouldn’t its arsenal be fairly centralized and easy to protect?  Couldn’t we (or China, going by that Wiki article above) help to secure those arms and thus have an avenue to cooperate with Pakistan while going into FATA?  I understand the concern on this issue but don’t think it’s a deal-killer.

But they will lose incentive for arms flows (the US is flooding Muslim nations with weapons), ease of access to killing Americans, ease of training and impact evaluation for missions, public support for jihad.  The US can shore up its domestic support, re-tool its military, and stop draining its coffers.  Regionally, neighbors of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq will have to close their borders.  Up till now, they’ve had a strong incentive to open their borders:  they’ve been able to release their extremists and send them to fight the jihad in other countries, increasing their security by ridding themselves of problem people.  With an outside enemy gone, they will have to return to their pre-Iraq postures.

I believe in sovereignty and self-determinism and all that, but I do believe that we have a very simple mission:  kill bin Laden and Zawahiri.  Even the dumbest soldier understands that mission.  But we have failed for about seven years in this mission.  That is unconscionable.  Critics would say that the mission has changed, or that bin Laden’s death will not end jihad.  No, it will not end the jihad, but killing or capturing key leaders of insurgencies substantially reduces the institutional capacity of an organization.  It is also an incredibly simple metric for governments to pursue.

And to be honest, how politically unpopular would it be to say that we will go balls-to-the-wall to kill bin Laden in his safe haven, regardless of Pakistani “sovereignty”?  They don’t control FATA, and we have history on our side when we almost got bin Laden in Tora Bora.

This scenario won’t happen.  We may get lucky and nab bin Laden and Zawahiri.  Both parties will claim success.  I guess the last question I should leave you with is, “If we’re not going into FATA, then whose interests would it be in to make sure we never do?”

Quotes from "Inside the Jihad"

I’m reading an excellent book, Omar Nasiri’s “Inside the Jihad:  My Life with Al-Qaeda”, for Michael Scheuer’s class about a guy from Morocco who ends up being a spy within a mujaheddin cell in Belgium and then goes through terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and other terrorist hotspots, finally writing a book about the dilemmas and moral quandaries he finds himself in as a Muslim disgusted with radicals.  Did I tell you I love this class?  I should also ask, “Is this book fake?”  The story is almost too good.

Here are some early quotes:

“Every boy has a dream — to be a fireman or an astronaut or a president, to be something fantastic.  Of course, most boys will never fulfill their childhood dream, but that’s not the point.  As a boy grows up and becomes a man, he gradually lets the dream go, although it may still linger in the form of nostalgia.  But if his dream is destroyed at a very young age, the boy will either be destroyed totally along with it, or he will become strong.  He will become strong because he no longer has anything to lose.  He will give up on the future.  A boy without a dream is dangerous.” (p. 12)

“His eyes flickered for a moment, and I knew I had him.  There are guys like this all over the world:  they drink, they smoke, they snort coke, they are complete infidels in the eyes of real Muslims.  But at the first mention of the words umma or jihad they suddenly reconnect with Islam.  I think this is particularly true in Europe, where young men are so far from everything, from the Muslim land.  Jihad is nothing to them, nothing real.  But it is also everything.” (p. 28)

“Only one thing really bothered me about my new career:  the Uzis.  It made me sad to see all of them — Hakim, Yasin, Amin — prattle on about umma and jihad while they spent thousands on Israeli guns and Russian bullets.  This is the problem of modern Islam in a nutshell.  We are totally dependent on the West — for our dishwashers, our clothes, our cars, our education, everything.  It is humiliating, and every Muslim feels it.  I felt it every time I thought about the Uzis.  I was disappointed with Amin and Yasin for their hypocrisy, but even more disappointed in the Muslim world.  Once we had accomplished so much — in science, mathematics, medicine, philosophy.  For centuries we ran far ahead of the West.  We were the most sophisticated civilization in the world.  Now we are backward.  We can’t even fight our wars without our enemies’ weapons.” (p. 38)

“‘Your battle against the terrorists.  You’ve already lost your battle.’  Gilles was curious and asked me why I said that.  I told him that Muslims everywhere were rebelling against the dictators they lived under.  In Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, and all over the Middle East, Muslims knew that their governments were being propped up by France, England, or the United States.  It was bad enough to live under these repressive regimes, but far worse knowing that these regimes were just the playthings of Zionist and Christian nations.  It enraged Muslims and made them hate the West.  And it made them distrust democracy, because they saw how antidemocratic Western countries could be when it served their interests.  There would always be violence, I told him, as long as Western powers continued to manipulate the Muslim world.” (p.53)

At the Movies: Munich

I went to go see Munich. I had to drive down to Nashville to catch it at the big movie theater, since the local one was no longer playing it. I remember reading in Iraq how Munich was being called the movie of the year and all this stuff. I was skeptical — Spielburg’s most recent films have been questionable to me, ever since A.I. (I perhaps inappropriately defend A.I. I admit it). I didn’t like Catch Me If You Can very much. It seemed overly indulgent (and a waste of what was awesome material, a kid who’s encouraged by his father to be a con man), and so did the next Tom Hanksathon, The Terminal. War of the Worlds was, well, not fun. It was stupid. Who makes an alien invasion a subplot to yet another retarded broken family story?

It seemed to me like Spielburg’s just forgotten how to make fun movies that thrive off the energy of the screenplay or story.

Golda Meir

So Munich, about a fictional hit squad unleashed by the Israeli Mossad to execute facilitators of the Olympic hostage disaster, should have a badass storyline to work with. I mean, fucking political intrigue with Golda Meir! Evil terrorists! Underground assassins! Regret, repugnance, death, and despair! Right?

Munich seemed to me like Spielburg was trying too hard to make an important film. There’s something extremely visceral about the Muslim radicals in the way that they devote themselves to a cause and love their families and think that they are doing the right thing, going through with crazy schemes to get closer to paradise. And the Israelis (particularly the Mossad) live day-in and day-out with the subconscious idea that they’re fighting for their survival. They’re surrounded by the enemy constantly. They are told to do anything to ensure their safety.

Spielburg muddled the film with stupid scenes that were supposed to parallel or haunt both the hit squad’s actions and the hostage crisis. For instance, I don’t get why Eric Bana sees flashes of the hostages dying as he fucks his wife. “Honey, you turn me on so much it’s like a helo full of Jewish hostages getting shot as a terrorist freaks out!”

While I’m on the subject, I hate when we’re supposed to see something through someone’s eyes, yet what we actually see is a third-party view. What, is that fucker like able to live out of his body or something? So much effort is spent on getting into the mind of a character, but we can’t even see important flashbacks through their eyes?

Anyway. It seemed like Spielburg compromised his integrity by trying to pay homage to his Jewish heritage. It’s just totally not interesting. And he shows the “human” side of the evil Arabs being successful people in non-Arab countries. Are they just normal hard-working people with extremist leanings? Or are they trying to blend in to avoid danger? I have no clue. And the whole thing with his wife is just confusing. There’s no relationship there, it’s just some woman who makes cameos every once in a while. “Oh, my husband disappears for months at a time and is doing all this secret stuff…that’s really neat! Hee hee! PLOP! Out comes a baby!”

Spielburg brings in the idea that blood only brings more blood at the end but this too is just more boring moralizing. I mean, do we fucking care? Is movie-watching supposed to be didactic?

Can you imagine if in the Indiana Jones movies, he spent half an hour showing how maybe the Nazis were more human, deeper than we give them credit for, instead of leaving them as the comical, absurdly strict and humorless German kraut Nazi goose-steppers we’ve come to know and hate? Can you imagine if Indiana Jones developed a guilty conscience?

(edit: My buddy MonkeyPope reminded me that Spielburg directed Schindler’s List. I’d forgotten that. I am not sure why that movie turned out so good and this one turned out so bad. Maybe we just know the German Nazi better than we know the Muslim extremist.)

Quite frankly I just don’t understand how I can be so bored and turned off by this movie when I am so intensely fascinated by the Israeli intelligence services and by the call to jihad of the Muslim terrorists. It’s as if I had a naked supermodel grinding in my lap and was like, “Boy, I could really play some Freecell right about now.”

On a brighter note, before Munich, there was a trailer for what looks to be an awesome movie: Why We Fight. It’s a documentary about the effects of contracting in the militaristic culture of the U.S. government. About how defense contractors are capitalizing on the Global War on Terrorism which no one else seems to be benefitting from. This war is hot money, and not only that, the worst kind of hot money, that of opaque, no-bid, nepotistic contracts.

Here is the trailer.

So, yeah, hurray for us! Go USA!

Quote of the Day: Mar. 1, 2006

Poem by Osama bin Laden, in response to his son, Hamza, in June 2003:

What can I say if we are living in a world of laziness and discontent?
What can I say to a world that is blind in both sight and perception?
Nations are sold and bought like hooves.

Pardon me, my son, but I can only see a very steep path ahead.
A decade has gone by in vagrancy and travel.
What are you asking me about?
About people who are sedated?

Here we are in our tragedy.
Security has gone but danger remains.
It is a world of crimes in which children are slaughtered like cows.
Zion is killing our brothers, and the Arabs are holding a conference.

Iraq, December 2005

[old; written in December obviously]

It is now December of 2005, a week before another election of Iraqi officials takes place. The Administration has begun making concessions towards removing troops from Iraq — other countries are planning on withdrawing from the mission soon if they haven’t already. There’s nothing for most other countries to do except provide interior, or rarely, perimeter, security. The American presence in Iraq is in its third year. There’s been an election and a constitutional referendum. Saddam Hussein is boycotting his current trial and getting himself in the papers daily with his theatrics.

Over 2,000 American military servicemembers have died. Countless others have been severely wounded. Explosive attacks have grown more powerful, more directed in their damage but more indiscriminate in their targets, which anti-coalition forces have been directing towards large groups of Shi’ites or police recruits or sometimes just large groups of Iraqis. The Marines have attempted to seal off Al-Anbar and the Syrian border to stop the influx of stolen vehicles for VBIEDs and foreign fighters.

Iraq’s GDP and GNP have risen sharply, along with cellular phone usage. Other figures such as crude oil production and hours of electricity per day have fallen dramatically with a spiralling loss of security instead of improving, as it should show after Bush’s claims that security for the infrastructure is the primary concern.

The Democrats have tried — and failed — to begin impeachment proceedings for the President in relation to faulty intelligence leading to the Iraq invasion. Scooter Libby is on the chopping block for being accused of ratting out an undercover CIA employee in response to bad intelligence used as justification for the invasion. The CIA is trying to hide the evidence of secret prisons and torture in Europe and other places near the Middle East. Jack Abramoff is in trouble for skimming off lobbying fees. All of this has gotten a lot of media attention but there remains a likely possibility that this will all slide off the Administration’s back in the eyes of the people.

Anti-war proponents have been gaining a foothold in the debate lately, along with assault from people like House Representative Murtha, former military, who argued for removing the troops. Murtha’s efforts are hard to counter because of his status as a Vietnam vet, but as Kerry showed, that’s no guarantee of invulnerability.

Since 9/11, Bali, London, Spain, and other countries have been hit with terrorist attacks. The U.S. has avoided further attacks. Bush claims this is because of stricter domestic security but I think it’s because Al-Qaeda has accomplished as much as it wanted out of provoking the U.S. at this point in time.

ORIGINAL PREMISE FOR WAR

The most reliable sources stated that the embargo, no-fly zones, weapons inspectors, and Hussein’s own paranoia had led to both a strangling of Iraq’s people and an inability to continue WMD research. While certainly removing Hussein would lift embargos which were killing and starving Iraqis, citing WMDs as a main reason for war was not sound. The only people saying there were WMDs were people who had no business stating their opinion on the matter, whether they be Democrat or Republican or foreign intelligence service. And since they all get their intel from the same places, of course they agreed.

Banksy's Happy Chopper

Hussein was a brutal dictator, yes. There are many brutal dictators currently in power around the world right now. Terrorist funding was non-existent, or at the very least, minimal compared to other countries in the Middle East. In terms of risk vs. reward in invading Iraq, removing Hussein’s Ba’ath government for these reasons seems stupid.

No one anticipated the insurgency. Just like no one anticipated the effect Al-Qaeda would have, even after 9/11. The only people warning of what might happen were regional experts, who were obviously ignored.

TRAINING IRAQIS

Most people would agree that the Iraqis need a suitable police and military force before the U.S. can exit Iraq. However, trust is hard to find. Anyone who’s worked with the Iraqis know they rely heavily on the Americans. The Iraqis have no heavy weapons, no heavy armor, no air support, little strategic or planning ability. To say that we are close to letting them loose is ignorant. You cannot warp a third-world technology country into the 21st century of American technological warfare overnight when there’s no underlying economy or cultural basis in Iraq to support it. We will have to invest in better equipment for them and I am sure everyone from politicians to American citizens to soldiers are hesitant to arm Arabs. Prejudice is alive and well. Sure there are some officers who are willing to cross the culture boundary but most military folks hate Arabs, hate Islam, won’t share food or shelter or touch Iraqis. They are convinced Arabs are dirty and will give them tuberculosis or something. Most military folks hate being in the Middle East. They hate the culture. I have dined with Iraqis, been given gifts by Iraqis, been called “brother” by Iraqis.

War and Peace

It is a segregated environment entirely, despite the Iraqis being very friendly and generous. The Iraqis are nervous because they know the rug can be pulled out at any time from under their feet and they will be out-gunned by the terrorists.

Iraqis don’t have the assets to plan effective missions yet. Moreover a lot of what they need to do needs to be done by a police force, not a military. The police need to patrol the streets, maintain a presence. They need SWAT teams, not military brigades, amongst the people.

Everyone says that Iraqis need to have a trained force, but no one wants to commit towards achieving that.

A significant risk is that the security fabric of the nation will tear apart, leaving anti-American sentiment, more distrust (after a snubbed rebellion after Desert Storm), and tens of thousands of ex-soldiers trained by the U.S. in (admittedly insufficient) mission-planning, targeting, urban tactics, and most importantly, rifle marksmanship. They might turn into this generation’s American-trained and -funded Afghan mujaheddin.

Pressure has made limping out of Iraq the most likely outcome for the U.S. Of course the terrorists will claim a victory and the Republicans will claim that the Democrats caused us to lose Iraq. The important thing is that Iraq will slip into a vacuum again unless it fights back against its extremist infiltrators. Iraq has little going for it in the long run, like other poor, war-ravaged countries in the Middle East. It’s no Vietnam.

TERRORISTS

Al-Qaeda has a long-term plan that involves the entire western world, not just the U.S. This has been shown by its attempts to attack multiple countries widely scattered across the globe. It has not hit targets repeatedly. It’s inciting the masses. It wants to appear as though the jihad exists everywhere. It wants to hold traitors accountable. Anti-coalition forces are now working on hitting oil lines, oil convoys, police recruits, public works. I think these attacks may be counter to Al-Qaeda’s vision — it does not want a poor, disadvantaged Middle East. It just wants a pure Muslim one. Keeping Muslims and Arabs in destitution is not the Al-Qaeda modus operandi. It is more Zarqawi’s style, and he is the primary influence among the most violent in Iraq. Zarqawi has finally managed to execute a foreign attack with the Jordan hotel bombing. His career as a terrorist has been marred by many embarrassing failures trying to attack other countries. Maybe his men are more sophisticated now.

The U.S. and world continue to ignore what the terrorists are plainly telling them. Thus each side is arguing things in its own terms, and the two are not going to resolve any differences until someone gets a clue. Which isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

TROOP MORALE

The Administration says that Americans must support the troops by supporting the war. There is no alternative. Bringing the troops home is akin to dishonoring their memories, and ruining the wishes of the soldiers who protect their memories also. What kind of argument is this? This is a defeatist argument to me.

CPL Matthew Conley

We have to STAY in Iraq no matter what the cost in order to honor the fallen? This seems like a vicious cycle to me. More soldiers will die, more Americans will be emotionally invested in staying there. We must intervene in this cycle that destroys our nation’s psyche. Let’s get things straight here. The military follows orders of the Commander-in-Chief, whatever those orders may be. The military achieves honor by doing this, and only this. We cannot expect the military to “win” a “war” of hearts and minds and Sunni/Salafist/Wahhabi extremist conversion to the “good” side. It’s not going to happen no matter how many soldiers we have. The military can at best maintain security (something a police force should be doing) and train Iraqis (something Special Forces and police force contractors should be doing). The military is made to create and destroy, and facilitating creating and destroying. That primary focus is not what the military is doing now. The military is waiting to go home. Soldiers have missed several Christmas’s in a row, or several of their children’s birthdays in a row. The military is tired. It performed an awesome job of taking control of Iraq in little time at all. Now it is dug in, fit with movie theaters and PX’s and swimming pools and biding time until they can go home. Yes, a lot of missions are being run still but let’s face it, all the top leaders of extremist organizations realized long ago that we’d be in Iraq for a while, and they’re hiding out in other countries, just like the Viet Cong did in Vietnam.

The extremists have more to win by us needing to honor the fallen, no matter which way it turns out. If we stay longer, we wear out our welcome, and create more martyrs. If we cut out, they will claim victory in their own ignorant way, as if it was their actions that led to our leaving. That people are afraid of the terrorists claiming victory if we leave is defeatist. The terrorists will ALWAYS claim victory. They have to rally people to the cause just like we do, but they have to make more noise about it.

If you want to honor the soldiers, know when and how long and why to use them. Plan in advance what role they will play, play to their strengths, don’t exceed their limits. Honoring the soldiers is bringing them home if it’s correct or more beneficial to do so. Honoring the soldiers is supporting them to kick fucking ass if it’s correct or more beneficial to destroy things. The soldiers are always ready to fight but that doesn’t mean that they SHOULD fight.

DEMOCRAT VOTE

The Democrats are now apologizing for voting for the war. It’s about damn time. Clearly they never should’ve voted for it in the first place. I think they probably did it so they didn’t look to be intervening in the way of freedom, or to win bi-partisan points, or perhaps just naive optimism that removing a secular dictator of thirty years would not leave a power vacuum in Iraq. It shows that none of them had any balls. Then again, they’re not necessarily supposed to have balls, just the ear of their constituency.

What really kills me is that the Republicans are calling the Democrats on changing their votes, as if to say, “Oh no, if we’re going to be involved in this mess, you’re going to be involved with us.” It’s really THAT sickening.

Furthermore, while more and more service-members die, many people are profiting off of the perpetual war. But hey, war is cool! War is America!

iPod Art Spoof for Well-Known Iraq Photos

Final note: watch this Frontline report on the insurgency’s development, from February 21, 2006.