Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Court-martialed for Defending the Constitution

On October 10, 1995, the 1/15 Battalion of the 3rd infantry Division of the U.S. Army came to attention at 0900 in Schweinfurt, Germany. All but one of the 550 soldiers were wearing a sky-blue baseball-style cap with a United Nations insignia on the front. One was wearing the olive-drab flat cap that is authorized to be worn with the Battle Dress Uniform. With this simple act of disobeying a direct order, Spc. 4 Michael New set the stage for a legal battle that has profound implications for the future of American soldiers into service of the United Nations without the constitutional permission of Congress.

The case of Specialist Michael New is sad and frustrating. His unit was selected to fall under then-President Clinton's plan to remove an Army unit from the US chain of command, and place it entirely under the control of a UN general. Ordered to surrender his US military ID card and to alter his Army uniform (an act that can be authorized only by Congress) Spc 4 New requested the legal justification. He suspected that compliance would be illegal, and, aware that "I was just following orders," is no excuse, he wanted to protect himself from participating in an illegal act. More importantly, he wanted to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, as he swore to do when he enlisted.

Rather than provide him with the legal justification for the order, his chain of command tried to intimidate him into silence. When it became clear that no justification was forthcoming, he volunteered to take on any other duty. He would have preferred assuming an unpopular or dangerous duty to insisting on making a point, but his request was denied. He was ordered, without satisfaction that the order was legal, to report with his unit to be transferred to the command of a foreign power.

There is a difference between what was being required in this case, and the combined operations in which US forces sometimes are employed. It is important to understand that this is the first time US forces, which are sworn to defend the US Constitution, would be removed entirely from that task, and placed under the complete authority of a foreign command, one which, it is worth noting, owes no allegiance to the principles that established our republic.

It has also been suggested that altering the US Army uniform and surrendering the US military ID cards, (otherwise known as the Geneva Conventions ID card) would remove US soldiers from the protection of the Geneva Conventions, and place them in the category of mercenaries. Should one of them be captured in that status, it remained to be seen whether Geneva Conventions regarding their treatment would have applied. Nor had it been established whether, if a soldier in that status were to be killed in the line of duty, any benefits would have been extended to his family, seeing as he had been removed from the chain of command.

With all these questions unresolved, it would seem a foregone conclusion that the officers in New's chain of command would seek clarification before enforcing the order. It would also seem obvious that concern would be wide-spread. Nothing could have been further from the case. Specialist New was the only soldier to decline to obey the order. He was court-martialed and received a bad conduct discharge as a result.

The legality of the order was never established, neither at that court martial, nor in the appeals that followed. The only question that was considered was whether or not he refused to obey an order.

The legality of the order hinged on President Clinton's explanation, which was classified in Presidential Decision Directive 25. In PDD 25, President Clinton explained the rationale by which he had taken upon himself the authority to take the extra-constitutional step of deploying US troops outside the US chain of command. He justified his order based on the UN Participation Act of 1945. This explanation might have been helpful to the discussion, but President Clinton classified the directive so highly that nobody was allowed to read it; not even Representative Bob Dornan, chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the National Security Committee.

Now, 16 years after the fact, PDD 25 has been declassified, and readers are shocked (or not) to discover that far from being justified under the UN Participation Act of 1945, President Clinton's order actually contradicted it. In other words, there was no justification, neither under the US Constitution, nor under the UNPA, for the President to issue the order to which Specialist New objected.

Michael's father has fought to clear his son's name since the beginning of this debacle. Now that the PDD has been declassified, he finally has the documentation he needs to prove his son, far from disobeying the law, upheld it against tremendous pressure from everyone in his chain of command, all the way up to the Commander In Chief. He and his team are considering filing a motion of coram nobis, to set aside an erroneous judgment that resulted from an error of fact in the proceeding. I don't know anything about how these things work, but wouldn't it be wonderful if, after all this time, Specialist New received a reward, rather than punishment, for defending the Constitution?

I'll Never be in Fashion

pic stolen from the Drudgereport.
Damn.  First it was the mohawk.  My parents wouldn't let me.  Then it was the mullet, but by then I'd already joined the Air Force, and they frowned on that sort of thing.

UK Daily Mail
 Now, apparently, the combover is all the rage, and once again, I find myself behind the fashion curve.  I have the necessary sparsity, but not the required length, and I'm certain that by the time my hair grew long enough, the trend will have shifted. 

from politico.com
 I know, you're saying, "If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?"  I understand the logic, but even so, I find myself wondering, why can't I ever be like the cool kids?

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Staunch Ally" besieges US Ambassador

According to the Yemen Times  (hat tip Jane Novak) an armed mob hundreds strong besieged US, EU, and UK Ambassadors Sunday, preventing their depature from the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Yemen.  They had met there to discuss initiatives related to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's promised resignation, a promise he unsurprisingly, failed to keep.  The ambassadors were trapped for over six hours, and had to be extracted by helicopter.  The State Department, which confirmed the situation, expressed outrage at the action, and called on  President Saleh to live up to his obligations to safeguard the lives of diplomats working in his country.

The question behind all this is how Saleh, who was described by the administration as our "staunch ally" in the war on terror, can have so quickly changed from ally to threat.

The answer, as I have indicated in earlier posts, is that he has never been an ally.  Only now, as pressure mounts against him, are his true motivations made obvious even to those who have steadfastly insisted on his good will.

Why Can't We End Wars Anymore?

Because we don't begin them:

Lately there has been a significant shift in US defense doctrine. Just as it used to be fashionable to talk about the "Revolution in Military Affairs," defense experts and analysts are now talking about how "Counter Insurgency" is the new way of waging war. Large force engagements, we are expected to believe, are relics of a bygone era. Now, instead of preparing ourselves to win wars, we have accepted the premise that victory is a foregone conclusion, but that victory will be attended by endless insurgencies such as we see in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I reject this premise. Firstly because I interpret America's current trajectory as an invitation to large-scale war. Secondly, and this is what I want to talk about right now, I reject the premise because we are mistaken if we accept the notion that we must address insurgencies at their own level. This is a trap, the result of which is to cede the initiative to the insurgents, and to be drawn into a battle that obviates our strengths and highlights our weaknesses.

The mainspring of this trap is our unwillingness to declare wars. Fail to call it war, and you can be certain that neither Congress, nor the US population, nor the strategic levels of our military will be prepared to fight it as one. War, we know, is supposed to be Hell, but contingency operations and nation building shouldn't be. So when the IEDs start going off we are unprepared. We are surprised because we have failed to recognize a basic fact of life: "Insurgency is nature's way of telling you that you're not done with major combat operations."

Which leads me to the second thing we do wrong. Having failed to declare war, we fail to fight it like a war. With one hand we try to destroy (as we should) but with the other, we try to build simultaneously. This does not work. Counter Insurgency doctrine calls for civil efforts to separate the population from the insurgents, but this is foolishness. We must convince populations that harboring insurgents is too costly and too dangerous, and the only way to do that is to inflict a lot of pain. My southern relations have no love for Sherman, but even they would agree that he was right about one thing. To end a war quickly, you have to burn your own path to the sea, and much of what you burn through will be civilian infrastructure.

If you do not wage war in a manner that is sufficiently brutal, you will undoubtedly fail to press what remains of the enemy's leadership for a public, complete, and unconditional surrender. This is deeply unfortunate, because nothing else will work to give the population permission to cease its resistance. In the Second World War, we expected tremendous resistance in the Japanese homeland, and when resistance failed, we expected wholesale suicides. We had neither, because we had the presence of mind to make a public ceremony of the Japanese surrender, and because the emperor himself addressed the Japanese people by radio, and told them the war was over. More recently, we have made war (or none-war, if you please) on people who have suffered for years under brutal dictators. Despite the hardening effects of that suffering on their societies, we expected them to give up after only a few hours of battle. We thought that Iraqis, who for years feared crossing the street without permission from Saddam Hussein, would suddenly shift their support to us when he went into hiding. Then we expected it would happen when he died. We're still wondering why we don't enjoy broader support from Iraqis. It's because, no matter how much they feared their leader, he was still THEIR leader, and absent an official surrender from him, they were left without orders to stop fighting. To put it into Oprah-speak, they have no closure. Without closure, without permission to stop being what they've been for 40 years, or, in the case of the Japanese, for centuries, they find it very difficult to make the psychological leap.

We're of no help to them in making that leap if, while we're trying to destroy insurgents, we're building schools and digging wells. We should be doing nothing of the kind. Suffering is what is needed to make the population shift its perspective, and alleviating the suffering at the same time we're administering it does not help. The Japanese people went from preferring suicide to laying down their arms and accepting occupation because they had suffered grievously first, which made the surrender acceptable and meaningful. If we had been passing out lead suits and airdropping food at the same time we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our message would have been seriously muddled. It's no different in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As MacArthur demonstrated, there is plenty of time for magnanimity after the surrender. After the surrender, kindness means something. It's appreciated. How else can we account for MacArthur's popularity in Japan after the war? Before the surrender though, these well-intended gestures are seen as a sign of weakness, and they are skillfully exploited.

If our presidents returned to the practice of calling upon Congress to declare war, we could have a national debate before we committed our military to "kinetic" actions. If Congress declines to honor the President's request, then the endeavor should be shelved. And if an effort is too insignificant to merit a declaration, then it is most likely not serious enough to warrant the loss of American lives. If, however, Congress consents to declare war, that declaration will have a galvanizing effect on the population, just as it should have a sobering effect on the leadership. Failure to subject ourselves to this process deprives us of these effects, and leaves us ill-prepared politically and emotionally for the brutality that awaits us. It is this ill-preparedness, rather than a shift in the fundamental nature of warfare that leaves us unable to end our current wars.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Aqueduct over Alcantara Valley

This aqueduct was one of the systems built to bring water to Lisbon.  It began carrying water in 1748, and remained standing through the great earthquake and tidal wave that destroyed most of the city in 1755.  Prior to the quake, builders had been excoriated for what was seen as excessive use of iron in the construction, which added considerably to the cost.  After the earthquake, nobody seemed to mind.

In addition to carrying water, the structure provided a pedestrian bridge over the Alcantara Valley, which runs down to the Tagus River Estuary on the western side of the city.  It was this capacity that provided a hunting ground for what may be Portugal's first serial killer.  Diogo Alves, a Spaniard, managed to acquire a key to the interior of the aqueduct, where he would conceal himself until unsuspecting victims happened by.  He would spring upon them, rob them, and throw their bodies over the side.  He killed 76 people in the summer of 1837, 4 of them from a single family.  Authorities first thought they were confronted by an extraordinary number of suicides, but eventually they caught on.  Alves was hanged in 1841, and his head is preserved in a jar in the Museum of Medicine in Lisbon.

Jeronimos Monastery, Lisbon

Back in the days of discovery, Portuguese explorers would spend their last night in Portugal at the Jeronimos Monastery in Lisbon.  They would stay awake, praying for a safe and successful voyage.  In the morning, they would set sail.  As vessels returned, laden with the spices that made Portugal wealthy, a portion of that wealth would be returned to the Monastery as a sign of gratitude.  Over the years, what had once been a humble building became a grand edifice, a reflection of Portugal's wealth and power.  That wealth and power may have faded, but the monastery remains, a reminder of how things used to be.

Note to Newt

Dear Newt,

Hang it up. Go home. Your ego is showing, and it’s not pretty. You had a chance to do something all those years ago and you squandered it. Now you’re just pathetic.

And let me assure you, I’m nowhere near membership in any “elite Beltway cocktail party circuit.” Nor am I among the “literati” or their “minions,” or any of the other groups you to whom you attribute any and all criticism. I’m just a guy who knows an empty suit when he sees one.

Maybe you and David Brooks can form a club or something.

TSA Officer Stole from Suitcases?

This just in; 31 year old Ryan Driscoll, a Transportation Safety Administration official, was arrested on felony theft charges for stealing from a traveler's suitcase at Los Angeles International Airport. 

One can't help wondering whether the pat-down he got from LA's finest was anywhere near as invasive as those his colleagues administer to travelers.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, and Kim Jong Il protest New York Times

Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, and Kim Jong Il protest New York Times

The New York Times no doubt expected to take some flak for its publication Monday of an Op-ed piece by terrorist Mahmoud Abbas, but one doubts whether this was what they had in mind. On Tuesday, spokesmen for despotic ruler of Zimbabwe and platinum-earning rap artist Robert (Kronic) Mugabe issued a statement decrying the publication in light of the fact that the Old Gray Lady has rejected every one of Mugabe’s numerous submissions, despite the fact they were all written in rhyme. “In Zimbabwe,” the spokesman said, “we have eradicated the oppression of the white man, but it’s clear that the same cannot be said for the New York Times.”

On the same day, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran and “Mo” of Mugabe’s globally popular rap group, “Kronic Mo-Go,” made his own protest known, asserting that the ‘Times was not only racist, but Islama-phobic as well. “There can be no question,” Mo said, “that if I were a Jew, my letters to the editors would all have been published, instead of being shamelessly suppressed. Likewise with my cartoons.”

Today saw the third strike against the paper. Leader of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Il, posted a video on You Tube, in which he excoriated the Times for its failure to share his enlightenment with the impoverished people of the decadent western world. Kim, who appeared to be naked in the clip, rolled in pans of bright pigments before flinging himself onto large sheets of rice paper, creating art which, he said, “demonstrated the virtue and energy of the people of the Peoples’ Republic,” while reciting free verse that questioned the intelligence and lineage of New York Times’ publisher “Pinch” Sulzberger.

I Agree with Hillary on This One.

I never thought I'd say these words, but I agree with Hillary Clinton.

When asked whether she would take a meeting with has-been President, Useful idiot, and self-aggrandizing tool Jimmy Carter, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declined

Carter, recently returned from a trip as a self-appointed, unauthorized envoy to North Korea (whose leaders wouldn't meet with him either) made the ridiculous assertion that failing to provide further food aid to North Korea was a violation of that country's human rights.

Laughable.  Assinine.  Bone-headed.  First of all, nations are not endowed with human rights; individuals are.  Second of all, North Korean has long been known to divert food aid to its military, while its civilian populace suffers malnutrition.  Yes, that would be the same military that regulary distinguishes itself by such hijinks as bombarding South Korean islands with artillery, sinking South Korean vessels with torpedoes, and infiltrating South Korea with spies and saboteurs.  Just across the water, the Japanese people are suffering the effects of earthquakes and tidal waves.  They are among a long list of people more deserving of our aid. 

All this goes a long way toward explaining the reaction of Ms Clinton when asked if she would meet with The Jimmy, the reaction that finds me most unaccustomedly in agreement.  "No," she said.  "Hell no."


Is it just me, or is Jimmy Carter (center) beginning to look a lot like

Mr. Magoo? 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Business as Usual in Yemen, our "staunch ally in the War On Terror"

Some things never change.  After holding them in prison for only two years, including time served awaiting trial, the Yemeni government is releasing Saddam Hussein al-Rimi and Rami Hermel Hans.  Al-Rimi and Hans, who is originally from Germany, were convicted of carrying out terrorist attacks on behalf of al-Qaeda, one of which was a bombing that resulted in the deaths of eight Spanish tourists in 2007.

This is standard operating procedure for the Yemeni government.  Nearly every arrest of al-Qaeda members in Yemen has been followed by either a quiet release or a prison escape on a scale so large that it had to have been an inside job.  Even when the Yemeni government claims to have killed major al-Qaeda figures, those same men are often featured as dramatic arrests in news releases several months later.  Either resurrections are fairly commonplace in Yemen, or it is a matter of routine for the government to claim counter terror credit to which it is not entitled.  In spite of all this, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been referred to repeatedly by the US government as an ally in the war on terror.  In an exceptionally naive assessment of the strength of this allegiance, the US and other western nations have provided weapons and training to Yemeni counter terrorism forces, with the assurances of President Saleh that none would be used for purposes other than suppressing al Qaeda. 

Surprise!  Almost immediately after receiving their diplomas, one of the first groups of Counter Terror experts was deployed by Saleh to the north of Yemen, where they were thrown into battle against the Houthi rebels.  This mission, which was regime protection, not counter terrorism, was directly counter to Saleh's promise.  Not surprisingly, because the CT forces were trained for completely different conditions, they suffered embarrassing losses.

Not to let mendacity spoil a good thing, nations like the US and the UK redoubled their efforts in Yemen, contributing more weapons and training in the hopes that Yemen, against all historical evidence to the contrary, would dedicate itself to the eradication of al-Qaeda.  Instead, CT weapons and trainees were used to suppress peaceful protests aimed at forcing President Saleh out of office.

America seems to have gotten the message.  As pointed out by Yemen expert Jane Novak, recently released documents suggest that the US suspended weapons shipments in February, when it became clear that the regime was murdering its citizens as they protested. 

Better late than never, but why have we dallied with Saleh at all?  It is an open secret that his regime has long enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with al-Qaeda; there is no veracity to claims that he is an ally in any sense of the word.  Neither is he any boon to his own people.  When he should have been preparing his economy for the impending collapse of his oil reserves, he and his cronies have been systematically stripping everything of worth from the country, pocketing foreign aid, and leaving his nation destitute.  Anyone who has the nerve to protest is either bought off or beaten down. 

Other regimes, like that of Hosni Mubarak, former President of Egypt, at least gave us something for our contributions.  We may have sullied our name by supporting him in his thugishness, but for all his problems, he at least maintained peace with Israel.  In Yemen though, our aid has bought us nothing more than illusions, while forming in the minds of Yemenis a lasting impression of our association with a criminal regime.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Cry Me a River

Pakistan's so-called leader Pervez Musharraf is vexed

He's upset - not that his nation remains an example for third-world nations of how not to conduct their affairs, and not because his country is a cesspool of corruption and inefficiency.  He's embarrassed - not because he can't account for the millions of dollars in foreign aid his nation has received, and not because his intelligence agencies can't seem to figure out what side they're on, and have been revealed as having helped hide the recently departed Osama bin Laden.

He's not bothered by any of these problems, but he's peeved that American troops violated the sovereignty of Pakistan in conducting the raid that killed the world's most wanted terrorist.  He has been overheard whimpering:

It would have been far better if Pakistani special services group had operated and conducted the mission.
To which one must reply - yes, it certainly would have.  But they didn't.  Instead, the government of Pakistan provided aid and shelter to the man they should have killed or captured.  Here's an important message for Mr. Musharraf - If you harbor men like Bin Laden, your sovereignty means nothing to me.  You forfeit your right to whine about the sanctity of your borders when you harbor within them transnational terrorists. 

Deal with it.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Bin Laden in Hell

Bin Laden has been killed in a firefight with US troops in, of all places, Pakistan.  Who would have thought? 
As of this writing, the degree to which Pakistan participated in or allowed the attack does not seem to be known.  Whether the Pakistani government supported US efforts there or not, they can be expected to act shocked - Shocked, I tell you! - that Bin Laden was found in their back yard. 

Bin Laden, if he believed in what he sent so many others to die for, ought to have been glad to perish in battle.  Instead, he reportedly used a woman as a shield during the fight.  She was also killed. 

Bin Laden was reportedly dispatched by a shot in the head.  Not, we can hope, before he had plenty of time to think about what was happening to him.

The White House announced that Bin Laden's body will be handled in accordance with Islamic practices.  Does that mean it'll be dragged through the streets, as our soldiers' bodies were in Somalia?  Or does it mean it'll be partially dismembered and hanged from a bridge, as was done to US contractors in Iraq?  Maybe it'll be incinerated, as were so many of the bodies of those who died in the Twin Towers.  Perhaps it will be filled with broken glass and crushed under a heavy weight, as happened to the people who died in the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.