Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Cowardly vs. The Craven
Cheney & the Democratic Congress

US Main Stream Media just had one of those perfect storm moments with its contrived coverage of former VEEP Cheney and President Obama's almost concurrent address a few days ago. While Cheney, defending torture, concentrated on the defense of his administration’s failed national security policy, Obama focused on his problems closing Guantanamo. The issues were different, but that was dismissed or intentionally overlooked by a media hell bent on making the facts fit a sensationally contorted story line.

I characterize Cheney as a coward because he dodged the Vietnam draft with five deferments while nearly 60,000 of his fellow citizens died in action. I call the members of Congress craven for not voting for funds to dismantle the Guantanamo prison which is clearly in the US interest.

Creepy as it is, Cheney's media blitz has involved his daughter and his wife, using them to justify his actions in office. When analyzing his post election driven conduct, one can assume, given his previous efforts to avoid military service, it is not based on patriotism. So what motivates his frenzy?

His speech opposite Obama's was given at the American Enterprise Institute, a place that harbors and spawns the discredited Neocons. So ideologically, he retreated into the womb of his beliefs. This probably imparted a sense of security, much as a rat dashes for his hole. His Neocon pals were unlikely to throw their Gucci loafers at him; instead, given the audience's pro Israel fixation, if vexed, probably would toss less damaging kosher dill pickles to demonstrate their opposition.

It is understood that Cheney's ubiquitous appearances involve a post de facto defense of Bush policies and effort to avoid investigation and possible prosecution for his role in it. More likely it involves keeping his public flame burning to enhance his demands for a two million dollar advance on a book he plans to write. Republicans have an established record for greed.

Beached Republicans Rove, Condoleezza, Rumsfeld, Matalin, Paulsen, George and Laura all are engaged in book authorship as if this process will provide expiation for their misrule. So that they not fall into despair, there is always room for these Republican misfits at FOX NEWs. If they believe tell-all books will burnish their legacy, they are mistaken; the Sunnis, Kurds, and Shiites in Iraq plus the Taliban and al Qaeda Arabs in Afghanistan/Pakistan will write the final chapter on the GW Bush Administration.

John Milton’s 17th century quotation, A good book is the precious life blood of a master spirit... did not anticipate these scurrilous Republicans who attempt to fend off obscurity by reinventing themselves.

Obama's own Democratic Congress stuck it to him when it stripped out a request of roughly 80 million for closing down Guantanamo out of a 91 billion war supplemental budget. Ostensibly, the Democrats claimed they needed a detailed plan to determine how the money would be spent. The fact that the Congress just robotically authorized 91 billion for war without the foggiest idea of the detailed expenditures, makes this argument absurd.

Backed into a corner, the Democrats fell back to the position that claimed their constituents were frightened by the prospect of releasing terrorists into US zone of the interior. This was equally bogus; there was no chance these prisoners could escape from max security US prisons. The we want torture Republicans grabbed on to this and mounted a campaign to keep Guantanamo open, to politically embarrass Obama and justify Bush's building of the Caribbean concentration camp.

There has to be a better justification for a Democratic Congress to intentionally make Obama look weak. My sense is that it goes to friction between the White House and the Democratic Congress. If Obama was blindsided by the vote, he should blame his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel, self-important and self-absorbed, is also arrogant and a weak link in Obama's White House Staff. It is his duty to make certain legislative relations are sound and the White House is never caught by surprise.

The Democratic vote against the funds was craven, at the least based on the two official reasons provided. So my fellow Americans, take your choice between frightened Democrats or avaricious Republicans to rule you. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret

FYI: Sister Sarah Palin has a book contract on her exploits and unregulated motherhood to be written by a phantom; her side kick, Joe the Plumber, already wrote one no one read. Alas, we have two more candidates for the Republican literary hall of fame.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

On US Military Leadership 2009 – Reflections

Concurrent with the tragic announcement of the murder of five soldiers by their comrade in arms in Baghdad was the shocking statistic that 20% of the 4200 plus US killed in Iraq was not due to enemy action. These roughly eight hundred troops died in accidents, suicide, friendly fire, or were murdered by someone other than the enemy. This situation usually indicates an organizational malaise with the smell of disintegration that occurs when weak military leadership is found at all levels.

Each military leader, whether a corporal or a general, has his own idiosyncratic leadership style that is rooted in his personality, but in military units there are three concepts that are immutable if you expect to lead men under fire: KNOW YOUR MEN – LOYALTY WORKS BOTH WAYS – NO EXCUSE SIR. So let us examine how these 20th century principles have worked at least in the wars that begin in the 21st century.

KNOW YOUR MEN. The military organization reflects the society from which it springs. My observation of the age groups that provide the military manpower is that it is stressed out. This is well before its members are part of a military unit. The reason for it is unclear, but it is a factor that the military establishment must face today when building units and fighting wars.

I was first inadvertently alerted to this so called generation stress factor by my nephew who was a full scholarship student at Cooper-Hewitt college in NYC. He was a computer wizard who hooked himself part time into a Wall Street firm as a trouble shooter. When in NYC, I took him to dinner where he would order Johnny Walker Black scotch, best steak and wine on the menu, and polished it off with a brandy snifter of Remy Martin. It appeared the young man liked living large.

He was maintaining high grades in school while at the same time, making thousands of dollars every week moonlighting. I admired his spunk, dash and audacity, so it stunned me when upon graduation, he packed up, departed NYC and rejected big-money, Wall Street offers.

He ended up in California with a mediocre job. When I finally asked him WTF happened, he said could not stand the stress. Later I learned that this behavior was common in this generation – a generation that prefers to live at home with Mom and Pop after graduation or receiving degrees. Apart from financial considerations, in many cases this reflects insecurity and lack of self confidence to face the world – the generation just cannot cut the apron strings. Admittedly, times have changed.

So it is, that there exist variations of these souls from which the military must forge the forces. Combine this with back-to-back tours in combat zones; the inability to maintain unit integrity by constant unit rotation; the sharp lowering of educational and conduct standards for enlistments; and, you have relentless leadership challenges not apparent in the 20th century.

Solutions are to raise enlistment standards and broaden the man power pool with compulsory service. Or just avoid fighting foolish wars and rest the forces.

LOYALTY WORKS BOTH WAYS. A commander cannot expect loyalty unless he is loyal to his troops. He must demonstrate that he is genuinely interested in the welfare of his men. This means he insures they are well equipped, fed and trained. He must strictly punish the guilty and reward the performers. And he must stick his neck out for his unit when ill-conceived orders are received (doubt you will find this in the leadership training manuel, but anyone who has served in combat knows this is important). Executing flawed orders robotically has killed a lot of brave men historically. e.g. the English light cavalry at Balaclava in the Crimean War, Australians at Gallipoli and German soldiers at Stalingrad in WWII.

Under US military leadership, the war plans for the invasion of Iraq were flawed; too few troops employed opened the country to looting; and, Saddam's ammunition dumps were left unguarded for nearly a year after the invasion and were used by insurgents to rearm and build bombs. Failure to use the Iraq Army and the members of the Baath party in the occupation proved disastrous. Billions of dollars in cash still remain unaccounted.

We know the troops went to war in Iraq without effective body and vehicle armor. As the war went on, lieutenants refused to accept promotions to captain even with 20 thousand dollar bonuses, because they had problems with the integrity of field grade and general officer leadership.

The Abu Gahrib atrocities clearly demonstrated a break down of the chain of command with only a few low-grade enlisted soldiers punished for the crimes. The Army covered up the friendly fire death of ranger Pat Tillman which promoted expediency over honesty. Generals who failed in the field were promoted and given awards. These were just the more apparent facts that eroded troop confidence in their leaders.

Finally it has recently been confirmed that many retired flag officers pimped for the Pentagon, even using issued Defense Department talking points, on the TV networks, promoting pro-war propaganda. It is known that some of same fellas sold out to military contractors using Pentagon connections to promote sales of weapons, private security firms and war goods and supplies. There is even evidence that their compensation would be determined by the length of the wars.

Pulitzer prize winning investigative journalist David Barstow spells it all out in his recently published article in the NYTimes: BEHIND TV ANALYSTS, PENTAGON’S HIDDEN HAND... He names names and provides details.

It was no surprise that many of these high ranking officers were graduates of national service academies. If they are part of the proud Long Grey Line, an asterisk should be placed by their name denoting their sleazy conduct and squalid greed. One suggested footnote is: This United States Military Academy graduate sold his heritage for a mess of pottage.

Net result of these combined factors is to have cast a cynical gloom over the ranks in the field. It has to drive out many patriotically motivated. It has to have a corrosive affect on the military establishment at large.

NO EXCUSE, SIR. The soldier who killed five other soldiers had been tagged with mental problems by the command, disarmed and subsequently escorted to a mental counseling station. He was asked to leave the clinic when he became unruly. He returned to the facility with a weapon that he forcefully took from his escort and committed murder.

You can argue the command acted correctly in accordance to procedures. So What? Five men are pointlessly dead under its nose... under its trust. Rumsfeld's stuff happens may work for civilians as an excuse, but not in military organizations where the society and environment are controlled. Military units are charged with making stuff happen.

Why did it happen? NO EXCUSE, SIR. People involved in the chain of command should be relieved of duty. The traditional rule embedded in command authority, is that the commander is responsible for what his men do or fail to do, and it should be operative in the 21st century... or is it? After only minor disciplinary action occurred from the massive command failure at Abu Gahrib and the cover up in the Tillman case, you must wonder whether this 20th century military ethos is still in effect.

The military profession is not for choir boys. War is organized chaos, but even in the thick of it you still need rules. If there are new 21st century rules, what are they? Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.

* Picture: Painting Friedland, 1807 by Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Changing of the Guard – Republicans’ ABOUT FACE

You can conclude that the guard has changed when the charlatan Reverend Al-The-Felon Sharpton is invited to the White House. He was there with Gingrich and NYC Mayor Bloomberg to discuss education issues with President Obama.

Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa was also invited, but had more pressing duties in LA; he sent his regrets. Too bad, for the Administration missed a chance of putting together a rainbow coalition. Blacks, Jews, and rednecks were represented. The attendance by the LA mayor would have killed two birds with one stone – he is a Catholic and a Latino.

The meeting will not resolve the public education issues that has spanned over 20 years as Democrats cannot improve the system unless they break the grip of the self-promoting teacher unions. So they are stuck with a flawed system, because they will not attack organized labor. Republicans half-heartedly tried to solve the problems with vouchers; this measure is strongly opposed by the teachers’ union and Al Sharpton, because it saps money from public schools.

With Obama trying to fuse a bipartisan national consensus using the Colors of Benetton as a model, the Republicans are self-destructive, explosively ripping themselves apart. After eight years in power, political defeat requires an adjustment that so far the GOP is unable to make.

Who really knows whether Obama's economic programs will produce results, but Republicans are non-cooperative and betting on failure; the press has tagged them as the Party of NO. At the same time, Republicans have eagerly embraced Obama's two wars. My judgement, albeit a long shot, is that Obama’s economic policies have a better chance of success than his continued occupation of Iraq or an expanded war in Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Republicans have been wrong for 8 years, so what is new.

First mistake in the post-election era made by Republicans was the selection of Michael Steele as head of the Republican National Committee. By now most in the party agree that the guy is a super flake who makes more gaffes than even VEEP Biden. Republicans figured they needed a man of color to counter Obama. They persisted in this fixation by promoting Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana who stumbled badly in a national speech intentionally set up for him; simply put, both men are not ready for prime-time.

Face of the Republican party is represented in Congress by Boehner who is oiled up with Man Tan, Cantor who has to ask for permission to go to the bathroom and McConnell who habitually finds wrong answers to issues. His latest farce was letting slippery Senator Arlen Specter slither over to the Democratic caucus.

Ring masters for the Republicans today are radio entertainer Limbaugh and former Veep Cheney. Both of them share a common history as they failed to answer the colors during the Vietnam war. It is more than ironic that the hawkish Republican Party is led today by them.

Limbaugh is a powerful force in what is left of the Republican party. Republican politicians often have apologized to him when they have crossed him. At the same time, he treats his followers with contempt, calling them DITTO HEADS. He is on public record hoping that Obama fails. Recently, at the White House Correspondents Dinner, he was taken on by black comedienne Wanda Sykes who savaged him with sharp sarcasm that included his lack of patriotism. Remains to be seen how Limbaugh reacts to this nation-wide verbal kick in the ass. He will find that black comics, unlike John Kerry Democrats, who respond mealy mouthed to attacks, always go for the jugular vein.

Since the Presidents’ inauguration, former VEEP Cheney has continuously attacked Obama for being soft on terrorism. Best guess is that he is trying to vindicate himself for Bush policies and preserve himself from legal jeopardy as domestic terrorist investigations proceed. Only a DITTO HEAD would believe a guy who brought us the fictions of WMD and links between Saddam and al Qaeda as a pretext for the invasion of Iraq.

Republicans have this over sentimental view of President Reagan's presidency. We know conservatives by nature prefer the past to the present and future. This regression is further fanned by a paranoia regarding change that impels them to always assume worst case outcomes. Theoretically, spokesmen such Limbaugh set up false dichotomies, e.g., dialectic stress between liberals and conservatives. This polarization exists mainly in their minds as a majority of American voters fall in the center. Now you know the rest of story of why only 21% of Americans have sufficient courage to call themselves Republicans. Colonel Robert E Bartos USa Ret.

Picture: Painting Napoleon's Retreat From Moscow by Ernest Meissonier

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Obama’s 100 Days – So What?

The media extravaganza over President Obama's first 100 days of rule was much ado over nothing. There was lot of process, but no results.

Left-wing pundits characterized Obama in exhilarating terms almost as a saint carried forward by a band of angels. On the other hand, the right-wingers portrayed him as a man of hubris, plunging the country into disastrous debt. Meanwhile the centrists and independents took on a blasé attitude. They were blissfully thankful that GWBush was salted away in Texas, raising millions for his presidential library and occupied with removing a cloud on the tile for its intended location at SMU.

Obama's press operations are masterful. They can make you believe good things are happening when they are not; conversely, they make believe bad things that are happening are good. Recent Chrysler bankruptcy and selling out to Fiat is just one example that the president personally projected in glowing terms.

Granted that 100 days is insufficient time to to judge the effectiveness of his economic nostrums, but there is sufficient evidence to support misgivings. The administration is unable to determine how the bailout money was spent; bankers continue to thumb their noses at Obama as they reward themselves with bonuses from federal funds; his budget appears to be funded by inflation; and, his stimulus package now appears too small to do the job as his advisors are hinting at another package to supplement the old 700 billion dollar one.

His national security policies appear in jeopardy. His departure from Iraq amounted to a policy of stall to continue the occupation. Eighteen US troops in Iraq were killed this April. The US Command there now wants to revise the status of forces so US troops can remain the the cities of Baghdad, Mosul and Diyala province beyond the agreed date of departure, 30 June 2009. If anyone believes Obama has a realistic plan for Afghanistan and Pakistan, they should advise those in the Pentagon. They keep killing as many civilians as insurgents. Control of Pakistan's nucs is the first order of business. If CIA and DIA do not know the locations by now, adults should be put in charge. Smiling good fella Leon Panetta is not the man for job.

The posture of Obama's reluctance to pursue the Bush administration's torturers is reminiscent of Bush's stall on the 9/11 investigation. Purpose of his stall is unclear. His reasoning that such investigations would sap vigor from higher administrative priorities is preposterous. We know whom he is protecting, but why? Maybe we have a one-party system after all, with alternating heads.

The 100 days benchmark stems from Napoleon escape from Elba – in that short period Napoleon reconstituted has grand army, chased Louis XVIII from his throne, won several battles; he did make mistakes and lost the last battle at Waterloo. He died in exile on the rocky, intemperate island of St. Helena, and was finally reburied with pomp and circumstances in Paris. Now that is a 100 days of real events, packed with wins, losses, fury and glory. Eat your heart out President Obama with your flimsy events of your first 100 days. Colonel Robert E Bartos USA Ret.