Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Summer Reads

Two of the best that I am reading so far this summer, one just published this year, and one published 63 years ago.   Both have ramifications for the current conflicts in the Ukraine and Iraq.  

The new one was just published in June, Prit Buttar’s 'Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914'.  Published by Osprey it is the first in a trilogy akin to Atkinson’s three volume opus.

It has very fine reviews at goodreads and more by Amazon customers so I won’t go into any detail here.  The reason I bring it up is because of the account of the campaigns in Galicia and the Carpathian Mountains by Generals Ruzsky  and Brusilov.  It was a war of movement rather than the more familiar trenches familiar to the West.  Part of that area is now the western Ukraine where they have been trying to get out from under the Russian thumb for a century. After WW1 was the Ukrainian-Soviet War of 1919, which the Soviets won.  But the Poles under Marshal Pilsudski occupied parts of the western Ukraine during the confusion.  So many western Ukrainians joined Pilsudski and his Ukrainian ally Simon Petliura in the Polish-Soviet War, where the Poles fought and beat the Red Army in 1921 but could not hold the Ukraine. Just 20 years later some of those western Ukrainians joined with the Nazis in their war against the Soviets.  For example: Stepan Bandera who was born in Austro-Hungarian Galicia in 1909 and as a boy probably witnessed Russian troops invading his homeland.

My only initial disappointment with the book was that the WW1 incursions into Turkey and Persia by Russian and Armenian Armies were not covered.  But probably rightly so as they were in a completely different theater and 480+ pages in one book is enough.  However, there is a chapter that covers the fighting in the Serbian Theater.  One reviewer cried about the maps, but there were more than a dozen good high level ones and I wonder if even the participants at the time had good large scale maps showing the detail of terrain and troop movement.  

I await the author's future volume of the Brusilov Offensive of 1916 where a certain Lance-Sergeant Zhukov made his bones.

Buttar is a medical doctor and does not have a PhD in History.  But his work seems well researched, he speaks and reads German and Russian and has all the research facilities of Osprey behind him.  His daughter is a student at Oxford and he is quoted as saying that he has been dreadfully waiting for one of her Oxford history profs to lambaste his work as amateurish, but it has not happened yet.

The older book, which I am rereading is 'Strange Lands and Friendly People'.  Written by a Supreme Court Justice, mountaineer, conservationist, and favorite whipping boy of Wall Street, Weyerhauser, and the John Birch Society: William O. Douglas. 

Published 60+ years ago it tells of trips by Douglas and his son through Iraq, Iran, Syria and other countries in the Mid East.  The friendly people he writes about are not the Arabs and the Persians, although he does not say anything against them.  He is mainly visiting and writing about the minorities in those countries: Qashquais, Kurds, Lurs, Bakhtiaris, Armenians, Druze, Assyrians, Azeris.  During those travels he and his son backpack and horse-pack throughout the Zagros Mountains along the borders of Iraq/Iran/USSR/Turkey. They visited Bakhtiari and Armenian villages in the valley of Oregon (Boroujen?) in Iran. They also went to Lur villages where he is told the stories of Reza Shah’s 'Butcher of Luristan', Ahmad Amir-Ahmadi and massacres by Reza Shah's Persian Cossack Brigade

 They visited the former Republic of Mahabad, where by the way Masoud Barzani, current President of the Kurdistan Regional Government was born and where Douglas tells the story of Masoud’s father Mustafa Barzaniand his struggles against both Iraq and Iran.   And they visited Maku in what has been called the Kurdish Bermuda Triangle area bordering the Turkish-Iranian-Soviet border where absentee landlords in Tehran kept the locals starving which incited more Kurdish and Azeri militancy.  And where even in this decade Iran is executing activists for being what they call mohareeb or 'enemies of God'.  

His main purpose in these trips was to see for himself those countries just south of the Soviet Union where the West was propping up dictatorships in order to keep out communism.  His key quote sixty years old but still germane:  "...we must give up the idea that the world can or ought to be standardized to American specifications".

So what is next on the reading list?  

I'm leaning towards Robert Farley's 'Grounded' about doing away with the Air Force and reverting back to pre-1947 with just Army and Naval air arms.  

Not sure I agree with the premise but I want to hear what he has to say.  

Any tips on some good reads of yours that I can start on in August?   I need a few good books to relax with while I enjoy the El Nino weather.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

FDChief has a great post on the Graphic Firing Table blog of his time as a young <i>paracaidista</i> jumping into Panamanian cattle country and doing the porcupine dance.

Check it out at:  The Army I Knew: Panama, Part 3, Police, Parachutes and The Porcupine Dance

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nationally Interesting

Poked my head in a little while ago to see what was going on and noted that the bulk of the commentatorship appears to be feeding one of the usual "OMFG taxation is theft!!!" trolls, which in my biased opinion is like try to teach German irregular verbs to a cat. The effort is infuriating and the cat has no intention of doing anything but licking its ass.

If you think that your government is "wasting" your tax dollars you seriously need to spend a year or two working for a national corporation. Fraud, waste, and abuse? Those people pretty much invented the notion. Not to mention greed, vanity, short-sightedness, venality, nepotism, and credulous stupidity.

Just sayin'.

Anyway, I wanted to offer up another topic for discussion. Specifically:

"If the United States had some concrete "national interests", what would you consider them to be?"

For example, in the previous post, jim asks several questions along the lines of:
"Do U.S. and Saudi interests intersect? Did they ever?", "Has Saudi Arabia split off from U.S. policy by supporting an invasion army in Iraq? If so, how does this differ from previous U.S. actions which sought to create buffer zones a la the Monroe Doctrine?", and "Why does the U.S. need allies like S.A., Pakistan and all the rest of the jokers we call "NATO allies"?
All worthwhile questions, IMO, but still short of the larger question which would be;

"What are these 'national interests' of the United States, and how would acting towards them look (fill in the blank; in the U.S., in Eastern Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East)?"

Let me offer up just one example of something I think falls under this question.

One of the most salient features of the United States that I grew up in - that is, the U.S. of the Sixties and Seventies - was the widespread availability of semi-middle class/living-wage jobs that didn't require 1) an advanced degree or similar specialized training, or 2) some sort of personal "pull" or nepotism. This had the effect of producing a fairly broad swathe of Americans that lived as, thought of themselves as, and voted as "middle class". A shit-ton of government programs like the GI Bill and similar educational loans, and the mortgage-interest deduction helped that happen, too.

And, I should add, so did some fairly hefty tariffs. For most of U.S. history tariff rates have averaged in the teens, with highs as much as 44% (1870) and lows in the high single digits (about 8% in 1917 and 1946). Since 1970 tariffs on imported goods have fallen off the table - the average tariff rate in 2010 was 1.3%. my unscientific, openly biased opinion it is in the U.S.'s best interest to have widespread economic "comfort"; that is, that the bulk of the citizenry should be neither so massively wealthy so as to become in essence a nation in themselves nor so poor as to be economically and socially fraught 24/7. IMO the political system set up in the late 18th Century doesn't work well with a small elite and a vast peasantry.

So it would seem to me that this, in turn would dictate some fairly obvious economic and social policies for the U.S. to further this "interest". Limit capital mobility so that corporations cannot flee overseas. Ameliorate techological change so as to find work for people unemployed when buggy whips become obsolescent. Provide tax and tariff incentives to prevent the destruction of domestic industries.

And that, in turn, leads to some - to me, at least - foreign policy imperatives. Don't provide incentives for foreign trade partners to undercut U.S. business. Don't subsidize subsidized foreign industries (i.e. China's...). Don't blunder around knocking over foreign governments and destabilizing other parts of the world, creating refugees (who become cheap labor pools for foreign competition) and impoverishing those who remain behind (ditto).

And that's just me, and that's just one issue.

So; here's the question for the readership.

What, in your opinion, should are U.S.' (or the EU, or whatever your polity of choice is - mine's the U.S. just because I live here...) "national interests"? And, given them (or the one you choose) what sorts of actual national behaviors, economic, political, and social acts should that polity take to address them.

Remember; we're talking purely about broad interests here, not those of any particular group. And we're also talking interests and not fantasies, interests and not dogmas; the teahadis may not believe in "anthropogenic global warming" or that "taxes are the price we pay for civilization" but that's beside the point - I don't believe in "arena football" and, yet, there it is.

So; let's talk about "national interests". What are they? What sorts of things could or should nations do to further those interests? Are there some that conflict with others? Which are "big" interests central to a people's welfare and which can be negotiated or compromised or amended?

Have at it, ladies and gentlemen.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Out on the OP-LP: Comfortably Numb

--Moderne Terrorisme 

--cryptic ending to, "MS. Found in a Chinese Fortune Cookie,
C. M. Kornbluth 

There's more to life than a little money, you know.
Don'tcha know that?
And here ya are, and it's a beautiful day.
Well. I just don't understand it 
--Fargo (1996) 

Property. The whole fucking thing's about property 
--The Thin Red Line (1998)

Being an American today is an overwhelming and frightful reality.

However, tune into the 6 o'clock news and you will see a fusillade of "news" to the contrary: one heavy lead story of the "world out there" will be followed by a bevy of distractions showing you how your fellow Americans are bucking up when their food trucks explode or a tornado snatches the family dog, followed by the final "feel good" conclusion.

Then you are free to follow your usual evening of diversionary programming, numbing you off into sleep. 

We think we are a democracy, but the events of our daily and national lives are beyond our control. When was the last time you, as a citizen, influenced the actions of government through your vote? Here we are in a war on terror, living in a security state of the first order, yet this contradiction escapes us. Life is a text, Tweet or Facebook entry and we think all is good to go.

We are entertained by the story of returning Prisoner of War Bowe Berghdahl, and what kind of a nutcase is he, yet never ask why Qatar was instrumental in facilitating this prisoner swap.

We watch the "civil war" unfold in Iraq, yet never ask the hard questions:

1) What is the Saudi role in Iraq? Ditto Qatar. Since both support the rebels in Syria, does it not follow that they support the Sunni fighters in Iraq?
2) Is Saudi Arabia really a U.S. ally? Do U.S. and Saudi interests intersect? Did they ever?
3) Has Saudi Arabia split off from U.S. policy by supporting an invasion army in Iraq? If so, how does this differ from previous U.S. actions which sought to create buffer zones a la the Monroe Doctrine? U.S. foreign policy has followed its principles since 1945, making the whole world our buffer zone.
The new Sunni caliphate zone being established in Iraq by Sunni fighters of unknown provenance sure looks like the Saudis establishing a buffer zone from the Shia Iraqi state -- understandable, if not justifiable.

Further, the current incursion into Iraq is being peddled as a "civil war", yet for the previous decade the U.S. has denied that descriptor. So -- is this a civil war, or an invasion? Without reliable facts, how do we know the make-up of the anti-government fighters?

If they are foreign fighters, then it is incorrect to call them insurgents, as they are not Iraqis. So who are they?

And more questions:
4) To those who favor bombing Syrian government forces: by adding U.S. air power to the battlefield, we enable the Sunni groups to pull more fighters out of that front and transform to the Iraqi theatre -- how does this benefit Iraq or the U.S.?
5) Is the fight in Iraq really a Sunni - Shia event of a religious nature, or is it an oil - money event?
6) Are the Russians really the bad guys in the Ukraine, and in the Syrian scenario? Ditto Iran.
7) If S.A. can establish a buffer zone in Iraq, why can't Russia establish one in Ukraine? Why does S.A. get carte blanche, while Russia does not?
8) Doesn't the Russian - Syrian - Iranian nexus stand in direct opposition to Saudi and Qatar oil interests regarding pipeline projections to Europe?
9) Why does the U.S. need allies like S.A., Pakistan and all the rest of the jokers we call "NATO allies"?

Sleep well.

[cross-posted @ rangeragainstwar.]

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bomb, bomb, bomb...bomb, bomb Iraq?

I'm going to throw this out as a topic for discussion.

What is the general opinion around this joint about the idea of using the USAF/USN to provide air support for the Iraqi Army?

What I'm talking about isn't some sort of shock-and-awe/bombs-over-Baghdad/Libyan bomb-for-peace sort of air campaign. The sort of thing I'm thinking about is something like Operation Deliberate Force in 1995 only with the Sunni ISIL/ISIS guys in the role of the Bosnian Serbs and the IA as the Croats.

No nonsense about using airpower for some sort of airy-fairy geopolitical sparkle pony magical appearance of happy rainbows and peace unicorns. Straightforward use of aerial munitions to kill people to enable a proxy army to achieve tactical objectives.

Would it solve the clusterfuck that is Iraq?


But these ISIS/ISIL guys seem to be genuine hardcases even by Middle Eastern standards; the precepts of the organization appear to be the need to have a religious war in the muslim world to eliminate the Shia heretics. These guys are, apparently, a sort of Sunni Inquisition only with technicals.

So preventing these guys from establishing any sort of power base in the Tigris region seems worth considering.

This might also enable the U.S. to begin a working relationship with Iran, something that is long overdue given that nation's position as regional power in the Gulf. We don't have to like them, but the present position of the U.S. in the Middle East as a sort of client state of Saudi Arabia seems highly counterproductive, so if air-ground cooperation with their military in Iraq means being able to work with them in the long run? That would seem like a positive side-effect.

I'm not saying this is a good idea. I'm not saying I think the U.S. should do it. I'm saying that I can think of some reasons it might not be a BAD idea and I'm looking for some of the readership to give me their take on it to help me figure out whether it would be on balance a useful tool in the Iraqi box.

Would it fulfill the Geopolitical Prime Directive, "Primum Non Nocere" (First, Do No Harm)? Other than the usual "bombing muslims makes the survivors mad at you" what other possible blowback might there be? Are there any real genuine positive outcomes it might facilitate?

Have at it, ladies and gentlemen.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I guess you really CAN'T go home again...

Well, between us mike and I can't get this place looking like it used to. The old header and format are back but I can't find the old template or anything like it, and of the "classic" templates the colors are all like this - simple and grim - or garish and idiotic. Either way I'm not sure that this is an improvement on the new "magazine"-type look, as busy as that is.

I guess my thought is that this isn't really a good solution. If there's any real strong objections or a good alternative idea we'll back off and try a third approach. But unless there is I'm leaning towards going back to the old-"new" magazine format and just carry on from there. How about that, folks? Thoughts?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Tings Bruk Down

In an utterly shocking, completely-unforeseeable development, the shambolic "government" that United States animated in Iraq, its rent-a-goon Army, and its paramiliary police force are washing away like sand before the incoming tide of angry Sunnis.

What the hell is there to say, really? Other than what I've said over and over again?
"...that sucker was shot in the head eight years ago, when a clown-car full of rage-drunk idiots and cynical thieves tried to sneak into a foreign land and steal it on the cheap, justifying their theft with lies and evasions, muffing the thievery with ignorance and arrogance, and then taking years and years to accept that they couldn't change thousands of years of human history and hundreds of years of poverty, misgovernment, sectarian hatred, and Ottoman incompetence by their pure will alone. The entire mess was doomed from the start, it just took eight years for the fantasists in D.C. to recognize it was walking dead, and the only beneficiaries of its zombie progress since then have been the various outfits that have made millions looting the Occupation and the Malikist strain of Iraqi Shia who now stand to consolidate their kleptocracy with the help of the pals to the northeast.

It's not "over" for the ordinary Iraqi, mind you. The mess that Dubya and Dick created when they knocked over the Baathist toybox in the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates won't be "over" for years, or decades. The social, economic, and political disaster that the idiots who truly believed that they "made their own reality" will haunt the poor bastards that live in that haunted land for generations."
One thing that the usual idiots and the reliable-liars-of-the-Right are saying that makes my jaw drop is that it's time to get our war back on to go shovel this water, again, like somehow it's going to work out any better than it did the last time.

To which I have no better reply than to quote the section of Zee Edgell's work Beka Lamb that pretty much sums up in 131 words what happens to those who have tried to hustle the Valley of the Tigris and Euphrates since the Fall of the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258:

"I know. But nothin' lasts here, Beka. Tings bruk down."

Her Gran leaned the fork carefully against the frying pan, pushed the window over the back stairs and propped it open with a long pole. Then she said:

"I don't know why, Beka. But one time, when I was a young girl like you, a circus come to town. I can't remember where it was from and don't ask me what happened to it afta. The circus had a fluffy polar bear - a ting Belize people never see befo'. It died up at Barracks Green, Beka. The ice factory broke down the second day the circus was here."

Beka's Granny Ivy was crying. Her apron tail was over her face, and she said again and again,

"It died, Beka. It died."