Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Captain Un-America

Although combat takes places half a world away in places like Afghanistan and Iraq the war is with us - it is part of our culture. Since the Vietnam War the left has rejected war and the military as part of our legitimate past and present. The comic book super hero Captain America was born in the dark days of World War Two when the leftists who would reject him as adults marveled at his exploits as children.

In an era when the phrase "flag waving" is used with derision it should come as no surprise that the left views Captain America in much the same way it views America: big, lumbering and jingoistic. The generations who gloried in America's exceptionalism are dying off only to be replaced by multi-cultural minded vanilla beans. Sometimes I wonder how America still produces the millions of young men and women who still want to serve proudly in our armed forces.

Classic Captain America rarely had time to second guess himself and his motives; he was too busy fighting the Nazis and Red Skull. Does anyone believe he will be cracking Jihadi's skulls? Something tells me the newest incarnation of Captain America set to hit the silver screen next year will not be so lucky and neither will we.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Top Guns vs. Mouse Jockeys

The military is in a period of serious transition and transformation. It would be a significant phenomenon even if we were enjoying a period of relative peace. The GWOT has forced decisions to be made in an uncertain prism of war that has created a tug of war between current needs and and future needs. This has had an impact on military organization, training and education, but the most visible impact is the increasing role of technology.

UAVs have almost become a symbol of the reliance on technology in the GWOT to provide force multipliers in an era of flat or shrinking troop levels. This is particularly evident in the Air Force as this service has been at the cutting edge of technology for decades. Many observers believe the F-22 and F-35 fighters will be the last manned fighters built by the U.S. This is doubtful, but we already see the first indications of a split between what I call Top Guns versus Mouse Jockeys. To the chagrin of actual pilots, a subculture of "virtual pilots" are being trained to "pilot" the growing fleet of UAVs. Originally the idea was to retrain pilots for the UAV jobs but the growth in the fleet has made the Air Force rethink the training process and has created a new occupational specialty to accommodate the operators.

The trouble is UAVs are very much a tactical asset similar to artillery support or a gun ship. The Army has cannons and helicopters, but the Reapers and Predators are the property of the Air Force and CIA. The Air Force mouse jockeys sit in a room on a base in the U.S. and "fly" the UAVs. Perhaps these assets could be better utilized if the operators were in theater soldiers instead of airmen who have probably never set foot in Afghanistan or Iraq. Under my plan the UAV fleet as well as Air Force and Marine Corps planes would be reorganized into an Army Air Corps. This could go along way toward erasing costly and inefficient service rivalries and help the air forces come to terms with the idea that tactical air support and logistical support are and will probably continue to be their core missions.

A war of UAVs and A-10 attack planes is a very different war than the one with spectacular dogfights and massive bombing raids the Air Force has been planning and equipping for since World War Two. But this is the war we have drawn and we have to do what is necessary to fight it most effectively without regard for pet weapons and outdated organizations.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Time is it in Kandahar? Part II

According to the way the Kandahar Offensive was sold in the spring it would be a lot like the Marjah Operation, but bigger and better. Now its the middle of August and according to the International Herald Tribune the military is no longer allowed to use the phrase "Kandahar Offensive." Military and civilian spokesmen have walked the whole thing back and are portraying the operation as largely a "civilian surge" with reconstruction taking a front seat to combat operations. An unnamed civilian official was quoted as saying, "...it's not going to be an aggressive military campaign. They've looked at it and realized it wouldn't work."  General McChrystal was still in charge when this was said; is he the "they?" Is it President Obama? President Karzai?

Based on recent statements by General Petraeus regarding sitting down with the Taliban, it seems everyone believes a military solution is no longer the solution.  Instead of spending so much time writing a new COIN manual perhaps General Petraeus should closely study Sri Lanka's dismantling of the Tamil Tigers. What was the point of going ahead with the Bush Administration's intention to send a surge into Afghanistan? I thought the point was to try to repeat the success seen in Iraq, but if the extra troops are not going to be used to shred the hardcore Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters the whole things takes on aimless quality that feeds into the "we're out of here in 2011" message the Americans and Afghans have been getting from the Obama administration.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

War? What War?

This is not intended as a "President Bush did everything right and President Obama is doing everything wrong" diatribe because this is simply not the case. The Bush administration, the DOD and all levels of the national security establishment such as the CIA made more than their share of errors prosecuting the GWOT.

The single biggest achievement of the Bush era was convincing Americans in the wake of 9/11 that we were indeed at war with global jihadists (I use the term militant Islamists) and their terror sponsors. The Bush administration unleashed the military and intelligence agencies to go on the offensive to "root out" the terrorists and "bring them to justice." Sophisticates complained about President Bush's simplistic approach and denounced it as "war mongering."

War is war, mongering aside - what was or is the alternative? The Taliban and al-Qaeda was shattered and driven from Afghanistan, and the Iraq regime was toppled and Saddam captured, tried and executed. Al-Qaeda has been decimated in Iraq and both countries are fledgling democracies in a region of the world where Muslim democracies are almost unknown.

By any standard these are the most significant foreign policy accomplishments since the end of World War Two. The leftist view is that it was all a dark and disastrous imperial adventure and marked the end of Americans' civil liberties. Although the absence of anti-war activists protesting the ongoing troop presence and deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan (with a few exceptions) since President Obama took office tells you all you need to know about the motivations and convictions of the left.

The Bush policies or "doctrine" if there was one was that the U.S. was at war and would not only fight terrorist organizations, but would attack rogue regimes who supported them. This was why the Taliban government and the Iraqi government were targeted and not just al-Qaeda. This was not "taking the eye off the ball" but an attempt to carry out a strategic response instead of a purely tactical tit for tat response that had failed during the Clinton Administration. During his eight years in office there were at least half a dozen attacks, including the first WTC attack, but cruise missiles were the only response.

President Obama is more a caretaker President than a war time President who feels obligated to continue the Bush policies in Iraq and afghanistan in the near term, but with an eye on the exits instead of a commitment to victory. He is essentially presiding over a holding action as he waits to be able to report to his base before the 2012 elections that he has pulled most of the troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Predator drone strikes will not destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban and will not convince them their cause is hopeless. President Obama does not believe the GWOT/overseas contingency operations are really worth fighting. He is more comfortable arguing about where and how captured enemy combatants will be tried and how Gitmo can be shut down or how sanctions will eventually make Iran's mullahs give up their nukes, but what about their ongoing meddling and killing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq? This is not way to fight or to win a war.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fantasy, or all too real?

 In his much discussed article "Al-Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology" Lee Harris essentially argues that 9/11 was not an act of war because that would describe it in too rational a way. He dismisses militant Islamism as a fantasy without rational goals. He makes the mistake he criticizes others for - he makes an inaccurate judgement about an exotic culture. For millions of Muslims throughout 1500 years of history battling infidels and creating a caliphate are Allah's will and completely rational goals as far as they are concerned. In that context 9/11 was an act of war against the "house of war" the part of the world still not under Islam.

 I do think his Hitler/Nazism analogy is weak; National Socialism, at least as it developed under Hitler, was a weird political aberration perhaps even a fantasy. However, even if we dismiss the Koran as one man's dreams, the fact is there are centuries of Muslim history, politics and culture and millions of people who believe it to be the literal word of God. Faith may sometimes be irrational, but pursuing a goal is often quite logical.