Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Neo Colonialism

Rainer Hachfeld, Neues Deutschland

The obscure we see eventually.

The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer

--Edward R. Murrow

are never deceived; we deceive ourselves

Quick decisions are unsafe decisions


For I have sworn thee fair,

and thought thee bright,

who art as black as hell,

as dark as night

--Sonnet 147
, Shakespeare


A recent New York Times feature discussed Infantry and combat soldiers getting pedicures because their boots are so harsh on their feet.

Imagine that! Soldiers now train and run in running shoes, versus my generation which did everything to include physical training in our boots. When was the last time someone ran in combat in running shoes?

Anyway, the pedicures started Ranger thinking about comparisons between counterinsurgency, then (Vietnam) and now. (He is wearing his Special Forces cap while making the comparisons.)

In Vietnam -- as in Iraq and Afghanistan -- there were serious disconnects between COIN as practiced by SF units versus that practiced by maneuver units. The advisers of Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) shared the SF experience and deserve to be called Special Ops since they actually lived, fought and died serving VN units as embedded advisers.

In the Vietnam war, SF types lived, worked and stood side-by-side with the Vietnamese and indigenous troops. We knew them as soldiers and friends and knew their families, attending weddings, funerals and celebrations. We were invited into their homes, we ate and drank together, played and had personal realtionships.

Many say disapraging things about the RVN's ability to fight, but Ranger served with RVN soldiers that fought at Dien B
ien Phu and were combat-hardened and wise. They were at DBP, but they were Viet Minh, and crossed to the South after the Communist takeover of the North. They had forgotten more about fighting than most U.S. officers knew.

Most of the VN/SF officers were educated and westernized and spoke both French and English. Most were Catholic. Yet despite all of this, we still lost. [But there is a karmic gain, as we now have Asian nail salons in every mall in America and on the bases in the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) to tend to the soldier's rough paws.]

But seriously: though COIN strategy in RVN was solid and institutional, it could not change the reality of the war.
That reality was that colonialism of any form was longer acceptable. Any government government was more acceptable to the VN than one imposed from external sources. That is one lesson from COIN in VN we still have not gotten.

Soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan can describe their own experiences implementing COIN, but Ranger cautions them to sweep aside the rhetoric and see what is real. What is real is not U.S. combat power alone. Tom Ricks
The Gamble explains why Iraq is a political failure, even as it seems The Surge was a military success.

Ricks says violence went down for a number of reasons, including the U.S. shift to protecting the Iraqis by functioning more like soldiers on the beat. But the troops are not cops. Policing should be the function of the Iraqi Army and police.

Iraqi interpreters are back to wearing face masks to conceal their identity (
Iraqi Interpreters May Wear Masks.) That says something about the U.S. reception seven years on.


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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Eternal Return

“When planning a military expedition into Pashtun
tribal areas, the first thing you must plan is your retreat.
All expeditions into this area sooner or later end
in retreat under fire.”
--General Andrew Skeen (early 1900's),
in NYT Op-Ed, Caution: Taliban Crossing (11/28/07)

Most Profound Man in Iraq:
an unidentified farmer in a fairly remote area who, after
being asked by Reconnaissance Marines if he had seen
any foreign
fighters in the area replied, "Yes, you."
"Secret Letter Form Iraq," Time (10/06/06)

Dirty little secrets
Dirty little lies
We got our dirty little fingers in everybody's pie
--Dirty Laundry, Don Henley

Arthur Schlesinger's journals were recently published (posthumously) showing among other things, uncanny parallels between the quagmire Richard Nixon faced in Vietnam, and the current Iraq and Afghanistan quagmire of George W. Bush's making. Walter Pincus in the WaPo writes:

"How many times has President Bush
used such phrases as "precipitous withdrawal" and remarked that only Americans can defeat the U.S. military effort in Iraq? Last April, for example, Bush said: "Precipitous withdrawal from Iraq is not a plan to bring peace to the region or to make our people safer at home. Instead, it would embolden our enemies and confirm their belief that America is weak."

"In a journal entry for Dec. 8, 1969, Schlesinger noted that President Richard M. Nixon, who was elected in 1968 having promised to end the fighting in Vietnam, had just given a speech announcing a plan to support the anti-communist regime in Saigon until it was capable of defending itself. Schlesinger correctly described that as "a policy doomed to futility and failure.

"He quoted Nixon as saying, "We really have only two choices open to us," which he described as Nixon's "own plan and precipitate withdrawal." Schlesinger wrote that Nixon's simplistic choice "plainly misrepresents the situation and misleads the country."

Ranger adds:

[1] The South Vietnamese government faced an insurgency that was largely defeated in the 1972 time frame. The threat to SVN's existence came from an external threat (North Vietnam) that could be addressed via military means, as the dispute was between two sovereign nations.
NVN's goals was to destroy SVN and to unite the country in a communist state. The political goal was implemented through force of arms. Plain and simple.

[2] In Iraq and Afghanistan,
the threat is not external, and cannot realistically be addressed by building armies. Armies that exist to control the citizenry of the country are hallmarks of tyrannical governments.

Armies are not police forces. Armies fight battles, and should not be internally-focused. Of course, that is only if democracy is the objective of the fight.
The Iraq and Afghan armies are farcical enterprises, since there is no external threat to either country -- unless, of course, one views U.S. forces as an external threat.

Another quote Schlesinger noted from Nixon's speech is echoed by Bush today. "Let us understand: North Vietnam cannot defeat or humiliate the United States. Only Americans can do that," Nixon said.

Nixon was referring to the anti-war coalition within the U.S. The situation has reversed today, for how can ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan humiliate the U.S.? Precipitous withdrawal is a fine solution that Ranger heartily endorses.
Withdrawing from these areas is preferable to torture, excessive and unjustified U.S. casualties, diminution of U.S. citizen's rights, and all the rest of it.

From the inception, Ranger has not given one rat's ass for Iraq or Afghanistan, nor do I feel their welfare or existence as nation-states is a concern of America. If Iraqis and Afghanis kill each other off at prodigious rates, this is a U.N. concern and an internal problem for address by the Arab League. If there was one lesson of Vietnam it was this: The U.S. is not the policeman of the world.

The U.S. doesn't have a horse in either race. The oil is not ours. The ignorance demonstrated in both wars is palpable and self-destructive to U.S. interests.

The U.S. fought a brutal Civil War without foreign interference, and Iraq and Afghanistan should have the same opportunity. Equilibrium cannot be forced upon a closed, tribal society. Vietnam again proves instructive.

No one could keep NVN from uniting the country. It was their game and France, Britain and the U.S. were simply playing out their prospective colonial aspirations. The SVN government was never democratic, much the same as the puppet governments of Iraq and Afghanistan are not. All three entities are historically unsustainable due to this intractable fact.

The article mentions the leaked Pentagon Papers published June '71 as having no parallel today, and that is so, as everything is now a state secret and kept under strictest lock-and-key from the taxpayers. Secret courts, secret prisons and secret electronic warrantless surveillance do not bode well for a democratic future for America.

"Why anyone ever supposed that Vietnam so involved the American national interest or so threatened the security of the United States as to justify the frightful slaughter and destruction we have brought to this remote and alien country And what it also displays, at interminable length, is the frightening combination of certitude, misjudgment and ignorance that went into the making of decisions. . . . It is not a record of wickedness or criminality; it is rather a record of glibness, illusion and intellectual mediocrity."

Just substitute Iraq for Vietnam. Same-same.

The only change Ranger might make is adding "intellectual dishonesty and bankruptcy" to the mediocrity point. "Moral turpitude," more to the point.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Cut and Paste

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future's not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
--Que Sera, Sera, Livingston and Evans

Those who cannot remember the past
are condemned to repeat it
--George Santayana

What's past is prologue
--The Tempest (II, i), Shakespeare

Wouldn't it be nice if we could wake up
In the morning when the day is new
--Wouldn't It Be Nice, Beach Boys

Part the third of Ranger's nostalgia series:

Let's pretend for the purposes of argument that the U.S. and allied powers Britain and France actually intended to implement the Atlantic Charter, thereby eliminating and ending colonialism in the post WW II world. Let's pretend, because that didn't happen, though it sure sounded good.

Let us pretend that British troops did not enter French Indochina immediately after their surrender. Let's pretend the French weren't given control of the Indochina region immediately after WW II ended. But that didn't happen.

Let's pretend that after the French were expelled from the area, that America did not enter into the mix. This means that we must further pretend that nationalists, Buddhists, armed criminal gangs, monarchists, religious armies, government forces and the Communists would have to resolve their situation internally within their borders, and in a manner politically acceptable to their society at large.

Then we must further pretend that U.S. forces didn't enter the picture and help the government (SVN) to defeat and neutralize all the groups that were a counterbalance to the Vietnamese Communists. This is hard to pretend, since it didn't happen.

Let's further pretend that the U.S. military did not kill, maim or wound 20% of the VN population in an effort to show them the glories of Capitalism and Democracy. Again, hard to pretend, since it did happen.

If we pretend the U.S. didn't enter the fray, and the various elements of Vietnamese society had to resolve their own political future, perhaps they could have done so with all of the elements we destroyed with our intervention still intact. Perhaps they could have countered the communist threat. But of course, that didn't happen, as the intervention of our war machine destroyed the balance of their society.

Let's pretend that 58,000 Americans didn't die trying to defend a country in which our policies defeated the nationalists, criminal gangs, religious armies, Buddhists, landowners and monarchists.

Let's further pretend that one of the 58,000 would live to be a president. This is hard to pretend since it didn't happen.

This article can be re-written substituting Iraq or Afghanistan for the RVN. This is up to the reader, since Rangers have difficulty with complex concepts.