Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Torture Troops à la Bush

Only GW Bush and VEEP Cheney are clumsy enough to fail even at torture. Can you imagine any serious high-ranking world leader requiring a legal memorandum to authorize putting an insect into a captive's cell to force him to talk? Well, that is just what our former leaders did. As the GW Bush's torture regime unfolds before the world, despite its hideous trajectory, its amateur absurdity alone makes it surreal.

Bush's torture menu was drawn up for him by quack lawyers who included an array of choices. On this list the pièce de résistance, of course, was water boarding used through the centuries by tyrants to force confessions from religious heretics or to find where a victim buried his loot or pot of gold. In all fairness, there was a limit to this Bush depravity – no electrodes attached to soft tissues, no power drills to the skulls and no blow torches to toast body parts. But rendition was used and what happened in those foreign countries where it occurred is unknown.

Still, two prisoners were water boarded for a total of over two hundred times. This frenzy of inflected pain goes well beyond any pretense of interrogation – it is a form of sadism or revenge. We have psychos receiving federal paychecks.

What makes this physical torture more confounding as a tool of interrogation is that information received is notoriously unreliable and very seldom timely. Top military, CIA and FBI officials are on record confirming this; in some cases they have refused to involve their organizations in the process. So why was this moronic course of action embraced by Bush?

Best guess is that torture as a tool stemmed from desperation. Bush and his neocons needed to justify the invasion of Iraq. With no weapons of mass destruction discovered, the administration figured that a link between Saddam and al Qaeda would serve as sufficient reason for the war. Its panic was such that Bush concluded that the spurious and unreliable information gleaned by torture would be better than nothing. At minimum such data, as corrupt as it was, would be used to blunt criticism of the war.

This backfired. The US has been branded for torturing with little proof that the its efforts made the US safer. Military operations in Afghanistan turned sour; Pakistan is now in turmoil and bin Laden still plays CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. Meanwhile the torture policy enraged even moderate Muslims and complicated US policy. Good will toward the US generated by 9/11 just dissipated as the US tortured.

After the denial that US tortured proved to be false, Bush fell back to the line that torture protected the US from attack. So far, he has not made his case. It is just more cynical spin. This defense sardonically overlooks the facts that torture was immoral and illegal.

President Obama has decided he does not wish to legally pursue the Bush torture troopers; he figures the process would shift his administration's energy to the past rather than the present – he wants to turn the page. He is prepared to give a free pass for what possibly amounts to war crimes.

My view is that Obama has the obligation to clean up the Bush mess. CIA operators who were just following orders should be dismissed at a minimum; quack lawyers who provided legal justification should be disbarred. Policy makers who devised the torture regimes should be investigated and tried if legal violations are confirmed.

Afterwards Obama could exercise his pardon powers if he chooses. The torture issue must be addressed head on or it will continue to fester and undermine Obama's credibility.

Historically, the interrogator extraordinaire was a German Army soldier on the Russian front during WWII. He knew only three words in Russian: bymaga (paper), karandash (pencil) and pesat (write). A captured Soviet soldier would be brought before him in the field. By this time the Russian was half-frozen, half-starved and stuck by a bayonets a few times. The Russian was seated at a camp table and told in Russian: PAPER, PENCIL, WRITE.

The Soviet soldier was so over indoctrinated by his unit political commissars of what not to divulge that he knew exactly what to write. He compulsively provided Soviet order of battle information without prompting or beating. Now that was an interrogation. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dogs & Dirty Dogs

It is a dog's world. Most delightful scene last week was to witness the Obama family on the White House lawn cope with their new pooch. Most disgusting event was to witness Dirty-Dog Republicans fumble an attempt to turn a nation-wide tax protest into an anti Obama jamboree.

But the Best of the Show, top Blue Ribbon Dumb Dog Prize, was awarded to Texas governor Rick Perry who threatened to have Texas secede from the union if Washington failed to please him. Along with the Perry's use of the word secession, permit me to toss out the words, sedition or treason.

It was quite a show at the White House when Bo, the six-month old Portuguese water dog pet, made his debut as first dog. As a dog fancier myself, an owner, partial to spirited Manchester Terriers, I watched closely as the Obama family, the President his two young daughters and wife, all dressed to the tees, were mercilessly pulled around the grounds by the delightfully rambunctious dog. It was apparent that none in this quartet knew much about dogs.

It was also obvious at this point, that Bo by far represented the dominant species. I think it will be sometime before we witness the Obamas and Bo placidly walk down the ramp of Air Force 1. More power to them – Bo will enrich their lives, certainly bring another dimension to their routines.

The Republicans staged a national level Tea Party allegedly to protest taxation. Nat Silver, the celebrated statistician, estimated a total of 300-400 thousand total people participated nation wide. This was indeed an underwhelming number. Silver also made the point that the highest density was in rural areas – God, guns and evangelicals. Without these fervid loyalists, there is no grass roots for the Republicans; with it, the party is doomed as a Southern regional party.

The Tea Party demonstrations were promoted unabashedly by right wing Fox News. It scattered its TV host celebrities all over the country to cover a non-news event. Fox crossed the integrity red line – it tried to create news and then rushed to report it – PROPAGANDISTS OF THE WORLD UNITE.

The Tea Parties quickly turned ugly. Obama was characterized by Dirty Dog demonstrators as a Hitler and Lenin – as fascist and socialist. They challenged his place of birth and pictured him deeply bowing before a Saudi King; these demonstrations turned out to be hate rallies. But when the issues get too complicated that is to what the foolish turn. Dirty Dog Republicans are experts in this.

There are already plenty of Obama failures over which to get angry: bailout of bankers but no help to small business; failure to end Iraq war; borders left unprotected; unemployment soaring; free passes to Bush officials who sponsored torture policies; continued blind US support of Israeli aggressive policies; selected weak and morally challenged political appointees; and, one-sided free trade agreements favoring foreign countries.

Governor Rick Perry's threat to secede was absurd but inflammatory. Texas cannot legally secede any more than Alaska. Both have secessionist movements and both have goofy governors. Texas’ Tom Delay, who left Congress under a cloud of moral turpitude, tried to defend Perry on Hardball MSNBC by arguing that Perry was just asserting. Texas sovereignty. Perry and Delay are two reasons there are more horses asses than horses in the world. Six hundred thousand Americans wearing blue and grey died in a Civil War to settle the last secessionist fracas.

Mondo Cane was a an Italian documentary film made in 1962. It documented brutalities of various cultures and won a academy award nomination. It is also a low-grade Italian curse. The only other curse involving dogs I know is in Polish. A CURSE OF DOGS BLOOD AND CHOLERA UPON YOU... As the Democrats figure out how to respond to the Tea-Bag sliming of Obama by the Dirty Dog Republicans, they are welcome to these curses. More likely they will turn the other cheek and recite, STICKS AND STONES CAN BREAK MY BONES BUT NAMES WILL NEVER HARM ME.

As far as Bo-The-First-Dog, suggest a choker chain for training. Further, Michele Obama should use it, as President Obama seems to be adverse to pulling chains. He certainly missed a recent opportunity with the arrogant Frenchman Nicolas Sarkozy. It is with great anticipation we await his meeting with the Israeli belligerent bully, Netanyahu. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Who is afraid of the US Navy?

Who is afraid of the US Navy? Neither the Somali Pirates nor the Iranians apparently are intimidated by the USN. These folks should be if they had sense, but what does sense have to do with either of these nations – Somalia has been a certified anarchy since 1991 and Iran is a theocracy controlled by religious zealots. To deal with these Somali criminals or frenzied Iranian ayatollahs, you carry a big stick and talk loudly to get their attention.

The other rule is to stay out of their backyard where they can concentrate their forces. In the case of Iran, the US has options. Deploying US warships in the Persian Gulf subjects them to attack by surface-to-sea and land-based aircraft with standoff air-to-ship missiles. Combine this threat with Iranian high speed kamikaze surface speed boats loaded with explosives, and the US is expected lose serious naval tonnage in a conflict.

So questions persist on why Admiral Mullen, Chief of the Joint of Chiefs of Staff, appears addicted to deploying carrier task forces into the Persian Gulf. Mullen's maneuver room there is further constricted by the Straits of Hormuz choke point and the small size of the gulf. Nearly the full area of the gulf is needed to turn an aircraft carrier around. Admirals are quirky people who confound by sometimes sending their fleets to the bottom of the oceans – remember Admiral Kimmel at Pearl Harbor or the Spanish Armada or the Imperial Russian Fleet at Tushima or the French Navy at Trafalgar.

In the case of the Somali pirates, the US Navy has fewer serious threats, but to keep the sea lanes open around the Horn of Africa requires full-time naval deployment. The US Navy prefers to avoid picket duty or long term surface patrolling; it even managed to avoid serious integration into the Strategic Missile Defense System for that reason.

This patrolling is costly, time consuming and not cost effective strategically since ship owners appear too willingly prepared to pay ransoms as the price of doing business. You will note that no one appears eager to take on the pirates... It is further complicated by the fact that there are only about 150 ships under the US flag. Even at this, most of these crews are not American. Blowing off the Somali pirates as a low priority issue by the US ended a few days ago with the seizure of an American merchant captain from a US ship in the Bay of Aden by Somali pirates.

The American merchant captain is named Richard Phillips. He is a brave, gutsy guy who managed to trade himself as a hostage to save his ship and crew; he was held in a covered life boat at sea controlled by four Somali pirates.

The boat was under the surveillance of three US warships. Phillips incredibly jumped from the lifeboat to swim toward one US ship, the USS Bainbridge, but returned to the life boat when fired on by the pirates. Why the US ship just stood by during this episode is unknown. Finally, the life boat was attacked by US SEAL snipers. Phillips was rescued; three pirates were killed and one captured. Bravo Zulu! It is a real morale boost to witness a clean, successful military operation when all the right people were killed.

As this incident developed over five days, it became apparent the US decision making process was becoming contorted. There were many nervous officials and lots of what-if-ers. There were even some misplaced sympathies with the pirates. There were also concerns over retaliation by the pirates.

We know there was a piracy task force at the White House. We know the FBI had hostage negotiators involved. We know interpreters were used and Somali warlords on land were directly involved. We know the American ship owner had his own communications and was prepared to pay ransom for his captain's return. There is no doubt there were 100 lawyers participating for every SEAL on the scene.

Though Hillary made a pro forma statement generally deploring piracy, President Obama significantly had not made a peep. All options were open. The right one was selected and there is no argument with success.

The US Navy remains an awesome force. With its submarine launched MIRV missiles and nuclear armed carrier aircraft, it is a strong leg in the US strategic TRIAD; its Marine Corps constitute the best shock force in the world; its attack submarines and surface Navy control sea lanes at will, and can oppose any other surface navy. Its SEAL force is deadly as the Somali pirates just learned. Let us hope the Naval brigs still have the bread and water menu for our Somali pirate captive.

Apart from naming warships after blighted politicians, of all the services, Navy is by far the most parochial and subject to least political pressure and whims. That is okay with me as long as it wins wars. Too bad the US Army, with its politically rattled leadership, has seemed to have lost that skill. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Obama the Magic President

In near history, the temptation is to compare the current president to super-flake GW Bush. Obama's rave reviews from his first overseas adventure as President is a case in point. Whether Obama accomplished much on his extended trip is intentionally over-looked by the fact that he did not embarrass the nation as GWB ritually did on his junkets.

Let us make it clear that expectations for these presidential oversea trips are low. Nearly all signed and joint statements are pre-negotiated. The ensuing press circuses are at best publicity stunts when events go right or, an embarrassing showcase for ineptitude as they were for eight years of Bush. GW Bush was like unstable wine: he did not travel well.

Frankly, the effusive positive press coverage of Obama's trip made me cringe. Those pundits or reporters who correctly pointed out that Obama failed to have the Europeans pony up to his idea of an international stimulus package or put more bayonets on the ground in Afghanistan were batted down on the spot. There was almost a cabal of SPEAK NO EVIL OF OBAMA.

There was a sharp exchange between CNN reporters, one English and the other American, over whether the G-20 final document contained language that could eventually lead to international regulation of US markets; the language existed, open to interpretation, but the American refused to discuss the issue as the Englishman continued to tweak him. Apparently for the American journalist, reality was not permitted to enter Obama's magic kingdom. My sense is that international regulation of off-shore bank deposits, tax havens and hedge funds are on the way.

Obama's press conferences and speeches were adroit performances. Other international leaders were equally as skilled, but not as over exposed. But when it came to charisma, Obama had no peers.

I was particularly surprised that Obama put himself through the town meeting at Strasbourg. It seemed unnecessary; he was hoarse and appeared fatigued. The audience did not seem to follow the proceedings in the arena and most questions were asinine

If there was one underlying theme to Obama's demeanor and public appearances, it was PLEASE LIKE ME; sure, he was searching for respect, but there was a cloying quality to his presentations that too willingly accepted self criticism of America's past to ingratiate himself with them in the future. As he matures in his job, he will discover that his opponents will magnify the evil in his confessions, but deny him goodwill for his candor.

His initial goofy, over-the-top, and failed pursuit of bipartisanship with the Republicans in Congress should have shocked some sense into him and curbed the later exuberance in the self incrimination of his country on the world stage... Good intentions are twisted by enemies.

Domestically Obama's bailouts, stimulus packages and now, his massive budget authorization has caused him to run out of runway for an economic takeoff; he still has banks that will not lend money, but pay executive bonuses and stock and bond holders with federal funds. His latest ploy is to fire private management to force changes. This is an empty threat as these people receive million dollar severance packages. He cannot blame Bush for his latest misfires on the economy.

He still can blame Bush internationally for the economic crises and misguided wars, but his failed domestic economic policies and his recent approaches on Iraq and Afghanistan will make this international trip the last time he can do this – these wars now belong to Obama. Without cutting expenditures for these wars, he is locked into future high inflation and steep devaluation of the dollar.

At least Obama talks a good game and has a public relations advantage based on his speaking ability, and on hope that constrasts significantly to the lack of other realistic alternatives by the Republicans. This advantage may be working more overseas, but at home it is wearing thin. His magic tricks are over. He says, WORDS HAVE CONSEQUENCES. Is that so, Mr. President? Prove it. Start by ending the occupation of Iraq. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Obama Into the Hindu Kush

Before Obama’s recent proclamations on the war in Afghanistan, there was little difference between GW Bush's national security and economic policies than those of the new president. Sure, there were major contrasts in style such as Obama's coherence vs. GW Bush’s gibberish and Obama's faculty lounge demeanor vs. GW Bush’s barnyard rompin’ stompin’. But once the dust settled, it all ended up with the same result. Obama's recent Afghan War stance struck the cord of change, but sometimes change does not always auger an improved situation.

The US War in Iraq is not over. It still devours 12 billion USD used per month. Additionally, with forces committed in the field there, the attrition rate on exposed military hardware is nearly a 100% per year. The 140,000 - 150,000 US troops still there act as a cork in a bottle. No one really knows what to expect when this cork gets pulled. Our troop commander General Ordinerno, believes he knows and argues tooth and nail for the troop level to remain high as long as possible. Thus far Obama has responded to him, YES BOSS.

So any change in the Afghan war strategy has to be made in the context of the ongoing military situation in Iraq; they are not mutually exclusive. As Obama unrolled his new approach to Afghanistan, almost all commentary avoided the connection to the un-ended war in Iraq. Welcome to Obama's dreamworld.

Obama has ordered 21,000 more US troops to Afghanistan; 17,000 are combat troops and 4,000 troops will be used to train Afghan security forces. They are in fact, all combat troops since the forward edge of the battlefield in Afghanistan is where you plant the soldiers’ feet. This is to be augmented by a large civilian corps of nation builders... You know... there to build roads, school houses, prisons, hospitals, and sports stadiums. This approach never worked in Vietnam or Iraq so success is problematic. These US troops are part of the integrated forces of NATO under US command. From a command/control standpoint, it is like herding cats. This recent addition of troops by the US makes the war even more American.

The cash crop in Afghanistan is King Poppy; i.e.: opium. There is almost no effort to eradicate it. Sales fuel the insurgency as well massive corruption. What passes as a central government really is a narco-state. The Pashtun tribe, that favors the Taliban, is located in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obama realistically has officially widened the war to include Pakistan, but whether he commits troops to a ground war in Pakistan is an open question.

His weapons of choice are drones with Hellfire missiles. These are indiscriminate killers – sometimes they kill the right people... sometimes the innocent – and this inadvertent killing is called collateral damage; it mostly spawns new enemies as the US desperately tries to slaughter the old ones. Karzai, the Afghan Chieftain, blames his failed popularity on this NATO practice of random killing by these weapons or its mistakes, like bombing local wedding parties.

In Obama's new plan there is a promise to pay Pakistan 1.5 billion USD a year for five years if the Paks meet US benchmarks. Looks to me like an invitation for more corruption. This stuff never works; just look at failed projects in Vietnam and Iraq. There is no exit plan for these latest expanded military operations. Taliban tribal chiefs on both sides of the border have recently united to oppose the new US efforts. Pakistan's main national security concern is against India; doubt US bribes will change this priority any more than it has done in the past.

In its befuddled wisdom, the US has sent their diplomat Ambassador Holbrooke to coordinate the US Afghan Pakistan relations. Holbrooke has Jewish American ethnic ties and, however talented, should be used in offices where he is not called on to negotiate with blood-in-your-eye Islamic leaders. This whole country team approach put together by Obama with nearly every cabinet post somehow involved has a girl scout outing twinge to it. The Hindu Kush is not Yellowstone National Park.

Obama’s approach to the Afghan war has always been linked to an expanded war there while he withdrew from Iraq. Despite his smoke and mirrors, he is still pointlessly up to his ears in Iraq and now foolishly has expanded the US ground war in Asia. Even with the heads of bin Laden and Omar on the end of a pike, the Jihadist fanaticism will continue. Big war is not the solution. Savage small unit special operations is the way to go – no nation building. That is, unless you are authorizing another stimulus package. (AKA, War profiteering)

As a matter of fact, response to Jihadist attacks on the US from Afghanistan should have started with the destruction of the poppy crop... then, the bridges... then, the Hydroelectric stations built by the Soviets. And finally, crater all airfields... NATO members would have a stroke, but so what ? We are not playing Tiddlywinks.

Obama had clear choices to make on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both cases he made the wrong ones and has extended both wars which he cannot win. The Neocons are over-joyed at his foolishness. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret

* Photo: Oil painting on canvas Afghan by Vasily V. Vereshchagin