Friday, November 24, 2006

General John Abizaid Walks the Plank

CENTCOM Commanding General John Abizaid recently faced a verbal firing squad by US Senators who wanted to know why he cannot win the war in Iraq. With GW Bush's power squashed in the 2006 midterm elections and SECDEF Rumsfeld tossed overboard, it was General Abizaid who stepped into the Administration's first rank of the phalanx to defend "stay the course policy" in Iraq. And unquestionably he took the hits...

Abizaid has been characterized to me as a good general in the wrong war by those who know him well. This may be true, but we cannot expect to tailor the war to meet the man, unless you are West Point apologist. Frankly, my expectations of the General were high. His grandfather was a Lebanese Christian and the General can speak Arabic; he also lived in Jordan as an adult post graduate student, and has a masters degree in Arabic studies from Harvard. Abizaid is an Arab ethnically, albeit not Islamic, but he certainly can understand the area of operations and has a military record that clearly demonstrates he can think under pressure. He replaced General Tommy Franks, a foul personality who according to most critics, incompetently blew the planning for the invasion of Iraq and seeded the growth of today’s bloody insurgency. Abizaid had no where to go except up. He was Deputy under Franks; he knew the lay of the land and hit the ground running as fast as he could run. Yet, it appears now that Abizaid is part of the problem as he defends the Bush policies without remorse.

But like General Westmoreland in Vietnam, he was doomed to fail from the start. For foolish reasons, since Vietnam, the US appears unable to organize for war. The decisive theater operational weakness in both wars has been the inability to achieve unity of command. Most officers who held combat commands, at least at the battalion level in Vietnam, were debriefed by Army historical cadres, who recorded combat experience and operational lessons learned. Very few of these lessons have appeared to be learned in Iraq. It was obvious to most officers who operated above brigade level that in Divisional area of operations there was little unity of command for American units fighting a centralized Vietcong or North Vietnamese forces. In Divisional areas, all sorts of operations were going on over which the division commander had little control – he was usually happy just to know they were occurring. Army of Vietnam, military advisors, CIA, NSA, ASA, Special Forces, AID, Air Force, Navy and Marines, all conducted operations controlled from Saigon, not from the local army division headquarters that held the main combat force in the area. It was a disunity of command. All was coordinated unsuccessfully by a country team, controlled by a civilian of ambassador’s rank. To jazz up the chaos, Bob Hope would fly in with the donut dollies; presidents and visiting congressional fireman popped in; and the press roamed like buffalos throughout the country. If Vietnam was a setting for BLADE RUNNER, Iraq became BLADE RUNNER plus MAD MAX times five.

Based on faith based intelligence General Franks, eager to please Rumsfeld economy of force concepts, executed his warped war plan to invade Iraq. His slogan was idiotically SPEED KILLS – works on highways, but not in war. Apart from having no post invasion plan, the theater of operations was quickly turned over to Bremer's disastrous coalition government. The chain of command went from Bremer to Rumsfeld while US military forces under General Sanchez went also directly to Rumsfeld. Except for frosty handshakes, no chain of command between the military command and the coalition government existed. As in Vietnam, both military and civilian leadership bumped heads protecting bureaucratic turf. This estrangement became more intense later as Rumsfeld sought to shift blame for Bremer's fiasco to the NSC and State Department, organizations that he had intentionally cut out. But the tangled unity of command was not just confined to the Washington/Baghdad axis. The military had its own wild internal chain of command problems.

There is no Tehran Jane Fonda, but the Neocons did make a gift of slimy Ahmed Chalabi who worked in the same context; and, nearly every bureaucratic entity in some form that operated in Vietnam operates in Iraq. The press, however, was better controlled in Iraq by embedding journalists; this was small compensation for problems that followed because of the inability of the command to integrate all the dogs and cats into a cohesive fighting force to dominate the country. Each of the three sectarian groupings presented different tactical problems, but it took too much time to fit the tactics to the sectarian group. As usual the Marines were doing it their way. After Fallujah II, they too gave up on trying to win by brains and blasted away. Each divisional commander had his own way of trying to conquer. Some used massive arrests; others did more screening of detainees. On this score, there appeared to be very little guidance from Sanchez as detainees flooded Abu Gharib to become playthings for the unsupervised US Army’s sick, hillbilly guards – let's hear it for DELIVERANCE. By the way, 65% of the detainees were not involved in the insurgency – after they are released we’re not so sure.

There were two quantum internal organizational command control differences in Iraq that was not evident in Vietnam. Supervision of logistics and massive reconstruction projects are all run by highly paid civilian contractors. The positive result was, when the troops were not blown apart by IEDs or riddled by gun shots, they did eat well. There are an estimated 70,000 civilian contractors working in Iraq – I have yet to figure out how these highly paid workers are integrated into commands. From time to time they get killed or captured and our low paid soldiers have to rescue them. As far as Iraq goes, it may as well be an intergalactic space station, given the total lack of effective internal military control – this is one of the main reasons the insurgency flourishes and refuses to abate. War is defined as organized chaos. In Iraq we have only chaos.

Unity of command is a hierarchical concept on which military organizations are built. You have to ask Abizaid why he let it unravel in Iraq without protest. Right now it appears he takes orders from the Ambassador, the Pentagon Joint Chiefs, and civilian leadership such as the contractors and the weasely Iraqi government. At the same time you have to wonder to whom his field commander General Casey gives orders. One thing for certain, Abizaid is not General MacArthur or General George Patton – right now he appears to be a Westmoreland Light with a Harvard degree – at least he is qualified to join Kissinger Associates Inc. when his service is completed.

Pounded by the senators questions on what to do in Iraq to win, Abizaid desperately reached into his hat and pulled out the military assistance rabbit: higher density of US military advisors to be assigned to Iraq military and police units. In my day we called it Vietnamization, now it is Iraqization. After inviting our Vietnamese Army counterparts to the Army messes for lunch and they reciprocated by feasting us with a meal of roast dog, this mutual exchange of values quietly ended. Those US military who advised and trained the Vietnamese in an integrated fashion worked hard and dangerously – my close friend Colonel Robert Brownlee was last seen at Kontum trying to rally his broken South Vietnamese division. He was a 6 foot 4 inch one-quarter Iroquois Indian, being chased across the jungle landscape by little yellow men in khaki baggy uniforms. His name is chiseled into the Vietnam War memorial – Vietnamization did not work in Vietnam. Given the tensions and attitudes between Iraqis and Americans, doubt it will work in Iraq.

For starters, you need Arabic interpreters who speak English who really do not exist in sufficient numbers. It took Pasha Glubb 16 years to make the Jordan Arab Legion a reliable Arab fighting force, and that was with English officers and NCOs in the ranks. Abizaid knows this, so why pretend this will fix the problem? So far the only effective troops in the Iraq Army are mainly the integrated Kurdish Peshmerga Militias. They better fight. If the Sunnis or the Shiite win they will be slaughtered like dogs.

You need roughly 5,000 US military advisors and massive amounts of military equipment to stand up the Iraqi Army; if you succeed, and this is doubtful, chances are you have equipped and trained a Shiite fighting force that is a military auxiliary of Iran. This is colossal stupidity. Since Vietnam, the US military still has not learned political reliability is the key to development of foreign forces; and, you cannot get there with search and destroy tactics and carelessly detain the population.

As far as Abizaid winning in Iraq; that is not my expectation. Too many errors in which he participated have been made for him to seize victory in the war. I do expect him to have the courage and integrity to try to end it to save lives. His Arab ethnic background has not aided him toward conquest; he is first a Christian, and to pacify the region, he must help the Iraqi Arabs and Shiites live securely – APOCALYPSE NOW, have seen this film too.

Abizaid is at the end of the plank. Will he jump? Will he be pushed? Or will he walk back? We will soon find out of what the man is really made. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA RET

Friday, November 17, 2006

Gruesome Twosome – Senators McCain and Liebermann

MEET THE PRESS was unable to snag new congressional leadership, Representative Pelosi or Senator Reid, for its Sunday talk show; instead, the public got Senators McCain and Liebermann. Both senators are known as 15 minute senators by TV talk show producers who believe the Senators eagerly will interrupt their schedule, with just 15 minutes notice, for a TV appearance. I was prepared to switch the channel to Looney Tunes, but out of habit stayed tuned anyway; both blowhards at the same time was a kinda historical event, and host Tim Russet usually asks well researched hardball questions.

For the two Senators of mediocre talent to be chasing TV gigs, however, seems to work well in their self promotion. They are both national level figures propelled by cynical media attention, that is always desperate to schedule talking heads of any quality – both senators have successfully gamed the system.

Despite polls to the contrary, it is beyond me how McCain can be taken as a serious presidential candidate in the Republican Party. His military record does not merit it. Sure he was a prisoner of war for nearly six years, beaten and starved and his sacrifice should be appreciated by the American people; his physical and mental heath has to be marked by the experience. While a POW, he signed an air piracy confession for the Communist Vietnamese; he was a prime target for the Vietnamese to break and they succeeded. His father was a naval admiral in charge of the Pacific fleet (CINCPACFLT) at the time, so his capture was considered a propaganda prize. The Vietnamese even built a monument to his capture that still stands outside Hanoi on the Lake of Tranquillity where he was shot down. When offered an early release by his captors, he refused to accept; nothing heroic about that as this is expected in the military code of honor; you do not step to the head of the line to end the suffering even if your daddy is an admiral. McCain understood that. McCain has regretted signing the air piracy statement, but the US Presidency is not the Oprah Winfrey show where salvation comes by saying I am sorry. At the time of McCain’s captivity, Admiral Stockdale was also detained by the Vietnamese. He was the senior US officer in captivity and was beaten unmercifully. He never broke and was awarded the Medal of Honor. Ross Perot selected him as his vice presidential candidate as recognition for a real hero. Stockdale was so battered by his incarceration, he could barely speak. This was witnessed on national TV in the vice presidential debates where Stockdale, bewildered, confessed: "What am I doing here?" Same question for McCain should be asked. What is he doing running for President of the US?

McCain's record as a politician can be characterized as more opportunistic than most. His terms in office are marked by problems. First the Keating Five Scandal and then was crushed by GW Bush in the Republican primaries in 2000. Bush operatives kept shouting at his campaign stops in the Carolinas: “John, put your hands in the air.” The Vietnamese monument depicts in stone a stylized McCain on his knees with his hands in the air. Bush operatives compared McCain's genuine military service to that of the draft dodging GW Bush; now that took hubris. McCain has flip flopped on the his courtship of the religious right. His much ballyhooed campaign reform bill was much ado about nothing. He wants open borders and amnesty for illegal aliens. He has problems supporting ethanol as an alternate fuel, a stand which smells of big oil connections. He loves the Iraq war; his position is to send more troops right now. By most standards he is in the neocon/pro Israeli bag, and he worked hard for the Republicans and Bush in the last campaign. Made over 300 campaign stops crisscrossing the country with no impact. Using Republican talking points, he took the time to stab his old pal Senator Kerry in the back when Kerry recently miscued with his whacko nuances on the Iraq war. Time to give it up John, just fade away. Even his fellow Arizonian, Barry Goldwater, who understood him more than the American public, would not talk to him while he was alive.

Senator Joe Liebermann has reached his pinnacle of power now as the Republican Trojan Horse in the Senate. Has designated himself as an Independent Democrat, even though 70% of the Republicans in Connecticut elected him to the US Senate. Previously, he rose to national attention as Gore's Vice Presidential running mate; he was a drag on the ticket – a deadly bore who fell apart against Cheney in the debates; Cheney wiped the floor with him. Joe is a belt and suspenders guy, and he would not give up his senate seat even when he ran for VEEP. Once beaten in the recent Connecticut Democratic primary, rather than accept party discipline, he switched parties and was elected. Like his biblical counterpart Joseph, Joe has a coat of many colors. He is a non-secular devout Jew; pro Israeli to the core. I wonder if he can keep his priorities straight as he will caucus with the Democrats, and head the powerful Homeland Security Committee in the Senate. Hope we do not hear him say: "What is good for Israel is good for the USA”. He wants the US to stay the course in Iraq – so does Israel. He has leverage with the Democratic Senate because, if he changes parties, the Democrats loose control. Mark my words, he will change parties if he sees an advantage. At this stage he owes the Republicans more than the Democrats, but loyalty is not his strong suit, so the Democrats may hold on to his slippery soul.

Both McCain and Liebermann are cookies laced with arsenic when it comes to ending the Iraq war. People of Arizona and Connecticut voted them into power. Do you think these people would also vote to commit their State National Guards to be nationalized for the duration of the Iraq war while the US pursues victory or success? Or for standing up Iraq security forces, or for democracy in Iraq, or until the shrimps begin to whistle, or, whatever? Doubt it. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA RET

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Democrats to the Rescue?

Democrats finally drew Republican blood on the 7th of November 2006 in the midterm elections; they substantially captured the House of Representatives and took control of the Senate. Up until then, GW Bush held power, albeit under murky circumstances, since the election win decreed by the US Supreme Court in 2000, and corrupt election results in Ohio in 2004, gave the election to Republicans. It was a combination of decent candidates with good field marshals in Dean, Schumer, and Imanuel who showed the way to victory. This, added to GW Bush's dopey antics and disastrous national security policy failures along with Republican greed and corruption, fiercely drove the electorate into the Democrat nets. But do the Democrats have the juice or mojo to bring sanity and direction to the country?

Bush with his holy rollers and pro Israeli neocons were in disarray – the born again had hypocrisy issues – Republican Foley in Congress who could not keep his hands off page boys was protected by Republican leadership, and number one evangelist Haggard demonstrated a proclivity for homosexual muscle man prostitutes, and a taste for crank as he was promoting, at the same time, anti gay marriage initiatives. As a result, it disgusted the independents, moderate Republicans, and born agains; one quarter of whom voted democratic.

Remember when VEEP Cheney celebrated the invasion of Iraq with a quiet dinner at the VEEP residence with superneocons Perle, Wolfowitz and Adelman the evening after the invasion? Cheney was really dancing cheek to cheek with these guys on national security policy. On the eve of the recent midterm elections, Perle and Adelman stabbed Bush in the back publicly by blaming Bush's war fighting ineptitude for the failure of the Iraq adventure. Have not heard publicly from Wolfowitz, but he was promoted to president of the World Bank and awarded the Presidential Freedom Medal, so his silence is paid for by the president.

Democrats will do their socioeconomic progressive programs – minimum wage, health care, tax reform, stem cell research, chase big oil – and maybe some flaccid immigration legislation. They will also investigate suppressed information on 9/11 and the Iraq War. Oversight subpoenas will fly – Halliburton may want build up its legal defense fund. But the flashing lights priority in the room is still Iraq. Initially, the Democrats will stall facing the issues by waiting for the Bipartisan Baker/Hamilton Commission report. Once that report is in, their dilemma will remain.

War in iraq is just one element in the broader Middle East policy problem; in the heat of the campaign Bush blurted out that the US had to control the oil in Iraq otherwise the terrorists will. So let us drop the mask and agree that an uninterrupted oil supply is a major legitimate national security objective; war is just one way to achieve it – an expensive and bloody way. Try paying for it with mutual exploration deals or bribes. In Iraq it seemed to me that the Europeans and Asians were beating us at the game, so we invaded. With that same logic, should we invade Japan as it has beat us silly in the automobile competition. The US now has bases all over the middle East and still wants to garrison Iraq permanently. This is the formula for permanent war with Islam and amounts to long term stupidity.

Another element in the Middle East is the unqualified military support of Israel by the US. Within the last week, direct Israeli tank fire killed women and children while they slept at homes in Gaza – killed by US tank shells; 18 Palestinian civilians also were killed by Israeli artillery shells made in the USA. These are massacres. Palestinians vowed to retaliate against the US and Israel... Condoleezza, come out from wherever you are! This US support of Israel needs reevaluation and perspective; there is no reason for an American to die for Israel. While arming Israel, to date, the US has been unable make Israel behave appropriately with its neighbors, so the US bears the same opprobrium in the region as Israel. Like the US military presence in the region, our continued support of Israel, if left unmodified, will be the basis of continuos Jihadist attacks on the US. It took the American people six years to take the measure of GW Bush. How long will it take to do the same for the Israel Lobby?

Whereas the Democrats can back off the blood for oil policy self righteously, they, like the Republicans, have a hammer lock on their heads by the Israeli lobby and its neocon stooges. Continued US presence in Iraq and a US attack on Iran are the burning items on the Lobby's agenda – and the Democrats will dance to the tune unless there is political bravery which is hard to find in either party. By turning on Bush, the neocons have now positioned themselves to jump on the Democratic band wagon. This influence of Israel is indeed a corrosive aspect in America, especially when you consider two Israel agents are in US prisons and two others currently under indictment for espionage against the US.

SECDEF Rumsfeld’s resignation lances a boil for the Republicans; Democrats, afraid to attack Bush directly on the war, used Rumsfeld as a surrogate. Now that Rumsfeld has been replaced by former CIA chief Bob Gates, all the Democrats and retired TV US generals are in a rapture, but their target is now down. Rumsfeld was a Bush scapegoat. What next? Gates is a very competent quiet man, who may not know the difference between a squad and division; he has no big time business management acumen, but is part of the Bipartisan Baker Commission and the Bush family fan club. So do not look for early troop departure from Iraq from Gates. Gates is a superb faceless bureaucrat who got where he is by quietly moving papers from the in box to the out box and never threatening anyone competitively. The best the Democrats can do is squeeze Gates at confirmation hearings. After that, only threats on the military budget approval can bring him under congressional control.

Despite my misgivings on certain Democratic personalities, the party must be congratulated on a great political victory. Hopefully its acquisition of power will curb the destructive policies of GW Bush and his clique. In this victorious Democratic wave, my fascination is with the newly elected Democratic senator Jim Webb from Virginia.

He is not the typical ass kissing politician; he is a man of substance: an ex Marine officer hero from Vietnam, awarded the navy cross, three silver stars and four purple hearts. Webb has brains, guts and principles. He resigned as Secretary of the Navy when he disagreed with the Reagan administration. His book, FIELDS OF FIRE, on combat in Vietnam is a classic; and, he has written several other books and a produced film script in the military genre. About three months before the invasion of Iraq, his OpEd against the Iraq war was published in the WASHINGTON POST. He had never run for office before and his candidacy against powerful sitting Senator Allen was regarded as politically quixotic. Married three times, Webb certainly believes in the triumph of hope. As the campaign developed, I crossed my fingers hoping he would not slug the smug drug store cowboy Allen, who was at a dude ranch while Webb bled, fighting the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese By all standards he is confrontational. There does not seem to be an ounce of legislative mentality in Webb, but so what? Bravo! Maybe he will scatter the self absorbed, clucking chickens in the senatorial chicken-coop. The people of the Commonwealth of Virginia will be well served by Senator Webb as will be the nation. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA RET

Friday, November 03, 2006

Walpurgis Night

Halloween 2006 has passed, but GW Bush's hair is still on fire. Have you seen him cavorting on the campaign trail? He is leaping and jumping excitedly, urging the American people to die for Iraq, even when the Iraqi security forces rather not. Europeans have another holiday called Walpurgis night – maybe that celebration could be transmutated from May to November 7th 2006 when all the Democratic witches gather on the mountain top with a huge bonfire to burn the evil of the past year.

Big Casino in American national politics occurs when a political party wins both houses of Congress, the presidency, and has a better than even chance to control the Supreme Court. All these factors have been aligned for GW Bush and his Republican Party for most of the past six years, yet the man cannot govern successfully; there is no one to blame except GW Bush and the foolish Americans who elected him and his inept stooges to power.

GW Bush and his sometimes demented sidekick VEEP Cheney, lost their backbones through different ruses; they refused to go war during the the Vietnam War, and now urge others to risk their lives in Iraq for what has become strategic goals that have gone aglimmering. If there was ever a chance for victory or conquest, it melted away rapidly in the hands of flakey GW Bush, his incompetent Secretary of Defense, and his career minded general officers. Old school Americans want victory or at a minimum, kick out those who caused defeat – that would be GW Bush who is leader of the band. But America is woefully stuck with Mr. Bush for a couple more years. His power can be curbed if the American people elect sufficient members of the opposition party to both houses of Congress in the Midterm Election.

When Abe Lincoln was unable to defeat the Confederacy after the failed marches of his selected incompetent Union generals, he chose General US Grant. This choice was opposed by many because Grant’s reputation was as a whiskey soaked drunk and not suitable to pad around effete Washington salons. Grant brutally won the war; his incompetence was only later illuminated when he served as President, but who said he could govern a democratic country?

Bush in Iraq has presided over a created and growing insurgency; an insurgency fueled by incompetent strategy that called for the imposition of democracy with the support of a theocratic dominated Shiite government majority – a fools errand – but that was the onerous advice he accepted from pro-Israeli neocons who figured once they got the US to put troops in the Middle East, they would stay to protect Israel. So far it has worked as Congress does not challenge a policy that is not in the US national interest.

As far as the US generals who are staffing and commanding the Iraq war, they are failures and should be relieved. You can explain their brave resumes and impressive academic credentials ad nauseam, but you can not accept their failures: 1. Failure to secure Saddam’s ammo dumps until after two years into war; 2. Miscalculation on the impact of the ruthless destruction of Fallujah; 3. Lack of command and control at Abu Gahrib, and other military atrocities; 4. Inability to comprehend that standing up Iraqi security forces was creating anti American sectarian forces; 5. Failure to plan for enough troops to prevent looting of hospitals, museums and government offices; 6. Inability to provide security for reconstruction; and most recently, 7. Failure to register weapons and account for the disposition of weapons to the security forces, that instead, ended up in the hands of the insurgency. Maybe the service academies should teach Corruption 101 to bring sense to the military leadership. Although mission, tactics and strategy are in major flux in Iraq, one thing for certain in these times of troubles, is that Bush's creepy congress has appropriated 20 million dollars to celebrate the victory in Iraq. Now that is the power of positive thinking.

Except for the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld Siamese triplets, who are inoperably fused at their skulls, most believe Iraq is slipping fast into chaos – i.e. 105 KIA and 6-7 times that in US casualties in October – we have seen our pre war generals transformed from Doberman Pinchers to into GW Bush Chihuahuas. Case in point was the recently forced lifting of American control check points that isolated Sadr City, a tough Shiite section in Baghdad run by Shiite militias. Al Maliki, the elected Shiite Iraq premier, demanded they be lifted immediately and they were; the Shiite militia celebrated the victory. The American Chihuahuas with stars on their shoulders did not even bark or whimper. Guess they figured it was better to be a well fed chihuahua, comforted warmly inside the tent than a starving Doberman barking outside the tent in the cold. Some kind of military leadership! Let us hope our military command in Iraq is not presently taking operational orders from Iraqi politicians. If that is the case, our generals may as well pack up their perfumed asses and get out of Iraq soonest...

In the Caribbean, I recently asked the uncomplicated lady who raises and sells me exotic, tropical flowers each week, what she did for Halloween. Said she went to a party dressed in black with a veil over her face. When I asked why the costume, she replied: to morn the death of American democracy. Despite Russ Limbo's and Ann Coulter’s relentless, frenetic attacks on liberals, they keep popping up in the damnedest places. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA RET