Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tit for Tat

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return 
 --September 1, 1939,
W. H. Auden

Everyone is in agreement that ISIS must be destroyed. Everyone except Ranger.

To be clear, this is no apologia for the Islamic State. Rather, it is a down-and-dirty perspective on why the United States should not set its sights on destroying the group. The reason for this lies in the group's genesis.

The origin can be traced to the Battle of Fallujah, an action which was more punitive than military. There, the U.S. wanted to prove a point to the Sunnis: U.S. forces can destroy the city anytime they want to.

Then the U.S. left the theatre.

Enter the new Iraqi leadership which alienated the Sunnis from influence in the Shia-dominated government. Add in the Iranian influence and the Kurds and the Sunnis were left with few options. The logical result? The disaffected Sunnis formed their own power structure, ISIS. When your back is against the wall, there is little to lose; possibly, there is gain.

The U.S. totally ignored its usual pretensions to being culturally sensitive and politically correct in almost all actions taken. Going in with no clear mandate other than retribution, we were left to fumble for one. Nation-building, American style, against which the disaffected said, "No thanks".

Not being stupid (if not atrocious), ISIS marshaled all resources at hand. NGO's swanning about the wreckage?  "News people" sniffing about to satisfy our need for salacious images? Contractors with a myriad of agendas and loyalties? All fair game for ISIS target practice, and their OWN shot at media platform fame.

You want gore (they correctly divine)? We got gore (they say). In fact, they say, we will out-gore you (a pretty tall order against The World's Biggest Military.) Orange is the new black, and Leni Riefenstahl could not have scripted ISIS's images any better.

ISIS may seem rusticated to our refined sensibilities, but they have television. They see our Guantanamo Bay prisoners (= "themselves") in orange jumpsuits, so they put their prisoners in the  same. As Wilde wrote, "The vilest deeds like poison weeds / Bloom well in prison-air."

They play the great Mohammedan warrior swathed in black, the ur-Outsider in our Bad Guy-Good Guy construction. They are the outsiders and the outlaws. It is Hollywood perfection, and George Lucas could not have done better.

In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the black-clad Darth Vadar tells white-clad Luke, "I am your father." In a nutshell, that is this morality play, and the players may swap costumes. Destruction breeds destruction, ad infinitum.

Ask yourself: if you were a Sunni in Fallujah, what good options would you have? ISIS became a militia that became an army that everybody swore to destroy.

The U.S. has bombed them, assassinated their leadership and killed 26,000 of them. Then we wonder why they conduct operations in Europe.

Every action has a reaction. This is all perfectly understandable.

Yet every night before the news we pull a disingenuous Captain Renault."Shocked!", we collectively mumble, as we consume voraciously the snuff films before us. (No one even need risk jail time for watching these state-sanctioned violence porn grotesqueries presented to us on the evening news with the furrowed brow of the news person trying really hard to convey a personal sense of gravitas.)

Shocked, we are . . .


--Jim and Lisa

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Ranger Haiku: Beauty and The Beast

--Matsuo Basho,
17th cen. Haiku master

 Lisa thought our readers might enjoy this prototypical email exchange shared between RAW writers one recent rainy day.

Not that either of us conformed to correct syllabification, but it shows a good-faith effort at externalizing our internal thoughts:

Dear Jim,

I am enjoying the silence of the rain (which has it's own sound.) Evey day there is a weed whacker or leaf blower shouting from some part of the neighborhood.

But then, I just heard what sounded like a buzz saw starting up.  Then I realized it was the squeal of a city truck wheezing and whining down the road.

I am motivated to compose a Haiku:

The rain quiets human noise
Now the city truck
Bird song and rain reclaim space



To which Ranger replied less than a minute later, simply:

And a well placed grenade
In seconds silences all

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Sign of Hope, II

We don’t submit to terror.
We make the terror 
--House of Cards

The sailors and pilots
The soldiers and the law
The pay offs and the rip offs
And the things nobody saw 
--The Smuggler's Blues, 
Glenn Frey

As a follow-on to the previous piece on Medal of Honor (MOH) recipient Clinton Romesha, Ranger asks, "Why such a paucity of MOH's to living recipients from the wars of the last 13 years?"

In comparison, the United States awarded 20 MOH's to living recipients for the small 1890 engagement the Army called "The Battle of Wounded Knee" (or, "The Massacre of Wounded Knee"), more than have been awarded in the entire War on Terror.

Why have more awards not been issued to non-elite type units? They, too, carried this war on their backs. Since so many Reserve and National Guard units have also fought to the legal standard, why have they gone unrecognized?

The MOH is a symbolic award that serves to ennoble and revitalize the institution. Without such recognition, the fighting and dying seems paltry and trite. Does the National Command Authority understand this military nuance?

The institution needs these medal recipients, yet they are saluting smartly and route-stepping into history. That many of the living recipients of this highest service recognition have chosen to leave the active service is a curious phenomenon, considering the institutional deification that is traditionally accorded these recipients.

But that is a topic for its own study and one would have to dialog with these men to understand their decision. Ranger imagines that their turning away is an indictment and rejection of the stated goals of the wars.

Does anyone else wonder why?

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Monday, May 16, 2016

A Sign of Hope: Clinton Romesha

--Medal of Honor recipient 
SSG Clinton Romesha

Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha was interviewed recently on CBS Sunday Morning. He spoke about the action at Fire Base Keating for which he earned the honor, and about which he has recently written a book (A Medal of Honor Recipient's Ongoing Burden.)

SSG Romesha has openly expressed the futility of Command Outpost Keating where his action took place; like some of his fellow MOH recipients, he has since left the Army. But what struck Ranger during the interview was Sergeant Romesha's deep authenticity and sorrow as he spoke from his heart.

He shed tears as he humbly spoke of his fellow soldiers that were killed in action. Romesha stated clearly stated that every soldier killed and wounded at COP Keating also deserved and passed the bar to have been awarded the MOH.

Romesha said that he didn't do anything any other soldier would not have done:

"I think you could have replaced me with any other red-blooded American soldier," Sgt. Romesha said. "There would have been another one that would have stepped up and done the same thing."

No doubt, this is true. That is what United States soldiers do when the cards are down. It is called "fellowship" and "loyalty", and it speaks of respect for one's self and one's fellows. It is rejuvenating to hear a soldier express this.

The soldiers at COP Keating were not Special Operators, and did not necessarily claim to be warriors. Romesha did not beat his sword upon his shield.

He showed the true humility of soldiers, and Ranger's heart overflows with pride to witness such honesty.

Our soldiers deserve the best we can offer them. To watch Mr. Romesha one can see his soul is damaged and that trauma is his companion. However, he shows, too, that his humanity is intact.

The coda to the interview: "After the battle, all of the soldiers were ordered to abandon Keating, and the outpost they had fought so desperately to defend was leveled by American bombs."

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Cleveland and the RNC, 2016

The ocean is a desert with it's life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love 
--A Horse With No Name, 
  You take your world
and I'll take mine 
--On the Road

When they're beset and besieged
The folk not noblessly obliged
However do they manage to shed their weary lot?
Oh, what do simple folk do, that we do not? 
--What Do Simple Folk Do? 

Why is the Republican party holding its convention in Cleveland, a former staunchly working middle-class, pro-union city (when there were factories in which unions could operate)? Née "Best Location in the Nation", may she R.I.P.

Dare any delegates walk the inner cities to meet-and-greet the locals on their home turf, a dicey proposition by day, a free-fire zone at night? The Cleveland of Ranger's youth is gone (though walking many streets still required carrying a baseball bat even then, if one were smart about it.) But life has proceeded well beyond those halcyon days.

Ranger reckons the contingent won't venture beyond the Green Zone, i.e., a highly-secured convention center. Despite peeps of "gentrification" not everyone's feeling the craft food and beer boom outside of that cordon; not by a long chalk.

There's still no groceries or urban-sized chain stores downtown as there are in other gentrifying areas, the true signs of a living urban area. The cameras will show a few blocks of Tower City, and mostly before dark, and they'll call it all good.

However, if one Googles the search words "safe" + "Cleveland", one won't gain much heart. The best advice is to stay at The Renaissance, from which you can go to Tower City "and you don't even have to go outside." 

The winner for most optimistic online comment was, "Cleveland is much safer than Detroit". Well okay, then.

The water is poor, but surely the conventioneers will be drinking only bottled from their room bar. And on this account Ranger would add his own hopeful slogan, "Cleveland -- at least we're not Flint." So there's that.

Does either party have a plan to renovate and reinvigorate this once-proud, now decaying Rust Belt city? Will the indigenous be a protest presence? Probably not, knowing the history of trigger-happy police, and the enervated condition of too many in the blighted zones who begin drinking their morning Ripple out of bags on their sagging front porches before noon.

If Ranger were to operate as presumptive nominee Trump's George Stephanopoulis, he would suggest the following as must-do's, cameras in tow:
Secure some armored-up Humvees from party diehards and enter those off-limit zones, the neighborhoods of Ranger's young adulthood. Have Mr.Trump flanked by both locals with concealed-carry permits and a police escort, but have the latter be as inconspicuous as possible.
Mr. Trump should breach the forward operating bases (FOBs) of the city, the places where your talking heads will not. He should wear a Kevlar vest, not because he is a white Republican male, but simply because he is a human moving target.
For some down-home feel-good moments, the Trump party should stop at the Slovenian Home on 185th in honor of his wife's heritage.  Moreover, since he missed a lot on his recent trip to the Old Country, he should eat some cabbage rolls at the American-Croation Lodge on Lakeshore Blvd.

After a good meal, the cortege could re-enter The Zone (any zone) and disburse needful things like Pampers, bottled water and Apple Jack as a goodwill gesture. A sort of Clintonian, "I feel your pain" (a la monsieur, not madame.)
A la Reagan to Gorbachev, Ranger says, "Leave that Green Zone, Mr. Trump, and offer something real and constructive." Please highlight the results of 60 years of robust Civil Rights legislation. 

Anything will be a start.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

From Prussia, With Love

 --Emad Hajjaj (Jordan) 

We'll sign some trashy treaties
And protocols galore,
(They won't make any difference
If I decide for war)  
--Stuff and Nonsense: A Book of War Verses, 
Sir Ian Malcolm

If I listened long enough to you
I'd find a way to believe that it's all true 
--Reason to Believe,
Rod Stewart

The first assumption of United States' nation-building protocol is to build up an army and a militarized police force as the basis for establishing the nation we wish to create. The idea is, the government will fall into place if backed by sufficient force.

As a recent New Yorker piece on the Sykes-Picot treaty observed: "[Iraq and Syria] trained plenty of men in uniform. But both had weak public institutions, teeny civil societies, shady and iniquitous economies, and meaningless laws. Both countries were wracked by coups and instability . . . (t)he glue that held both countries together was repressive rule and fear."

But the balled-up belief in democracy issuing from force is echoed all 'round. Lieutenant General (ret'd) James M. Dubik allowed in a recent BBC America interview that Iraq was terribly off-balance, but stated that the army would not hold if the government falls.

We need only look back 40+ years to Vietnam, the modern prototype for counterinsurgency warfare, to see the failure of  this approach. And since this model failed so spectacularly in the Republic of Vietnam, why do we think it would work in Iraq or Afghanistan today?

The U.S. operates in bad faith, as though armies buy freedom, but the shallowest tour of history debunks that theory. In the most charitable reading, we optimistically operate on that misbegotten template because the Continental Army was created by fiat to expulse the British army and create a new democratic union.

In contradiction, the armies the U.S. creates in Iraq and all of the other oil countries exist simply to quell internal threats. They subdue their citizens and don't even pretend to be democratic. When an army is habitually used to suppress its citizens, this defines a totalitarian regime. 

The late, great Prussia serves as a cautionary example of a state which existed for the benefit of its army. This attitude is the opposite of democratic thought, and since the U.S. fought Prussia in two World Wars, it could be inferred that we opposed the construct.

Sadly, 21st century U.S. thought has devolved to the Prussian template: the U.S. invades, destroys, then nation-builds upon the assumption that out of strong armies and police will grow a democratic  nation. Not.

While this is the statehood pattern followed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, et al., there is no reason to believe that the equation will endure when the state is placed under extreme stress. An army plus militarized police do not ensure statehood, and especially not when they are simply uniformed militias dedicated to a sect opposed to the concept of nation statehood.

The state does not exist for the army; the army exists to defend the state. When the U.S. builds strong armies and police in foreign ventures, it is creating the conditions for repression, not democracy.

Could somebody remind our leaders why we fought two world wars, and why conventional wisdom warns against secret and entangling alliances?

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Monday, May 02, 2016

Naughty Boyz

 Bad bad, bad, bad boy,
you make me feel so good
You naughty, bad, bad, bad, bad boy 
--Bad Boy, Gloria Estefan

 A bad little kid
Moved into my neighborhood
He won't do nothing right
Just a sitting got to look so good 
--Bad Boy, the Beatles

 Bad guy (slang) n.:
a morally bad person or character. 
A villain
 --Merriam-Webster online  

Welcome to hell  
--Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Three bona fide terrorism subject matter experts speaking in a recent Charley Rose round table all referred to the Islamic State as the "Bad Guys", reflecting the general consensus of United State's government and military leaders. So this is what the Phony War on Terror (PWOT©) has devolved to -- getting bad guys.

You know what Ranger is going to say: in what code book, Hague Convention or United Nation guidelines is "bad guys" defined? When did being a Bad Guy earn you a death sentence?

"Since August, 2014, the United States has invested more than eleven million dollars a day in military operations, including almost nine thousand airstrikes on Iraq and more than five thousand on Syria" (How the Curse of Sykes-Picot Still Haunts the Middle East). The U.S. is dropping bombs faster than they can make 'em, hoping that we will hit a bad guy in the bursting radius.

The problem with "Bad Guys" is that the descriptor depends on which side of the fence you house your goats. To some people, President George W. Bush is a very Bad Guy -- war crime sort of bad. To others, he is a hero. Go figure.

How do you define Bad Guy? Is he a fundamentalist who likes terrorism? Is he a guy who will torture someone whom his government calls a Bad Guy, with nary a qualm of conscience? Do they trade in oil and deceit? Are they the arms dealers represented by U.S. interests?

Know this: the fundies and terrorists of ISIS would not exist without a U.S. foreign policy that affects oil and arms in the region. 

What color is your bad? 

When the objectives of war are the killing of bad guys, we have entered a vague moral ground and left a legal, political or military one. Bad guys is a concept a religious person can utter with certainty: "bad" or "evil" is something which is not them. Moreover, it must be destroyed. The problem is, only gods do battle with amorphous concepts like evil. 

When secular states like the U.S. kill on the basis of eradicating "badness" or "evil", we should recognize the futility of the mission. All of the evil in the world cannot be bombed into submission or non-existence. 

Know this, too: we are playing the devil's game, and there will be hell to pay.

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