Monday Wake Up Call – Veterans Day 2018

The Daily Escape:

“Sands of Remembrance” sand sculpture, Normandy, FR – done for D-Day, 2004

Wrongo still thinks of Veterans Day as Armistice Day, probably because he’s old enough to remember when we celebrated it as the ending of WWI. Now, Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans—living or dead—but especially gives thanks to living veterans. President Eisenhower officially changed the name of the holiday from Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954.

Let’s focus today on the closing hours of WWI, and then add a few thoughts about Vietnam.

First, WWI: In the eleven hours of that final November day, the different countries of the Allies were still launching attacks even though they knew that the cease-fire was set for 11 am. In fact, the French commander, Marshall Foch, refused to agree to a cease-fire. The American generals also wanted to make a point with the Germans, and that day, about 3,000 Americans were killed and wounded.

There was a Congressional Hearing after the War about the 3,000 Americans casualties, but they never published the results, because it would have made the American Generals look bad.

In the many centuries of European history up to 1945, an army crossed the Rhine on average once every 30 years. War was historically what the major nations of Europe did. In the 73 years since WWII, they’ve decided not to do that to each other, an astonishing and humbling fact.

On Saturday and Sunday, we saw the strong expressions of unity between France’s Macron and Germany’s Merkel, along with Merkel appearing on Sunday morning in London. These were mere symbols for peace, but it mattered very much for the world to see them, even if they are immaterial to the current US president:

On Vietnam: Few know that there are eight American women listed on the Wall. Each are nurses, who dedicated themselves to taking care of our wounded and dying. They were part of the more than 265,000 American women who served during the Vietnam era. Approximately 11,000 served in Southeast Asia. Close to 99% were nurses.

A small number of women served in civilian capacities, such as with the American Red Cross and the USO. More than 50 civilian American women died in Vietnam.  Others worked as physicians, air traffic controllers, intelligence officers, clerks and in other capacities.

It wasn’t until November, 1993 that the patriotic service of all women was honored in the nation’s capital at the dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

Every holiday offers the opportunity to remind ourselves of who we want to be as a nation. The day after every holiday gives the opportunity to start down the path of doing something about that.

As Fabius Maximus says:

We ask our men and women in uniform to fight for us. The right or wrong of the conflicts – the responsibility for them – lies on us, the citizens at home who elect our leaders, not on those who carry out our orders. On this day we celebrate their service, without which the Republic would not have survived.

Since every “Support the Troops!” celebration inevitably becomes a “Support the War!” celebration, it’s curious how a celebration about the end of a war has gotten so twisted in America. There is no better way to support our active and veteran service members than to make sure we never commit to war, unless absolutely necessary.

So wake up America! Here’s what we have to do, starting today:

Stop under-funding care for veterans. Every month, we hear about active duty military and veterans suffering poor medical care, or having to wait years for the care they need. The military can always find funding for big-ticket weapons, but not for our veterans.

Here in America, we will say anything to support our troops, but we won’t fully fund the Veterans’ Administration. We won’t provide truly first-class aftercare to the wounded and maimed. And we won’t ensure that widowed spouses and children are cared for adequately.

Stop Congress from giving Presidents a blank check to conduct military operations that are not purely defensive in nature. Rewrite the AUMF. Put Congress back into its long-abandoned Constitutional role of approving wars that are recommended by the president.

With a Democratic majority in the House, these two things are possible.

Since its Monday, tell your Congresscritter to get busy on them right away.

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Are We Using The Special Forces Too Much?

The Daily Escape:

Tuscany – photo by satorifoto

From TomDispatch: (brackets and emphasis by the Wrongologist)

If you want a number, try 194. That’s how many countries there are on planet Earth (give or take one or two). [Here is another]…number that should boggle your mind: at least 137 of those countries, or 70% of them…have something in common…They share the experience of having American Special Operations forces (SOF) deployed to their territory.

TomDispatch’s managing editor, Nick Turse, provides additional perspective:

In the waning days of George W. Bush’s administration, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed to about 60 nations around the world. By 2011, under President Barack Obama, that number had swelled to 120. During this first half-year of the Trump administration, US commandos have already been sent to 137 countries, with elite troops now enmeshed in conflicts from Africa to Asia. 

Now, SOF units are not deployed in 137 countries continuously. According to General Raymond Thomas, the chief of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), about 8,000 are deployed overseas at a given time. But, our commitment to SOF has grown from a few thousand troops in the 1980s to about 70,000 at present, a force larger than the armies of several nations.

We use these troops as the tip of the spear, so if a conflict is intensifying anywhere, the SOF will be front and center. We also have adopted a convenient blind spot: The American public does not consider the SOF operating in a foreign country to be “troops on the ground”, so politicians pay no price politically for deploying them.

As an example, one year ago in Syria there were about 50 special operators helping anti-ISIS forces. Now, as our proxies move to take the ISIS “capital” of Raqqa, that number is 500 (or higher). 

We used the SOF to great effect in Afghanistan right after 9/11. After their initial tactical success, America didn’t declare victory and go home, but stayed and added regular military forces alongside our special operators. And for the past 16 years, we have been raiding homes, calling in air strikes, training local forces, and waging war against a growing list of terror groups in that country. 

For all those efforts, the General in charge in Afghanistan says the war is now a “stalemate.”

Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent and the author of Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State, observes:

Whereas on 9/11 al-Qaeda had a few hundred members, almost all of them based in a single country, today it enjoys multiple safe havens across the world.

In fact, he points out, the terror group has become stronger since bin Laden’s death. Our thinking has been that “if we can take out this warlord, or disrupt this one guerrilla mission, the insurgency will crumble”. That’s why we use the SOF, and yet, the insurgencies just continue.

Think about Obama’s drone war taking out terrorist warlord after terrorist warlord. It has achieved little more than offering upward mobility to the careers of ISIS and al Qaeda’s middle management.

Of course, the SOF does many good and heroic things under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Near Mosul, a US special operations medical unit and its ICU prop up allied proxy forces that have limited medical capabilities. An Air Force Special Operations Surgical Team recently spent eight weeks treating 750 war-injured patients there. 

The failure to win these localized proxy wars should be blamed on the White House and Congress, who confuse tactics with strategy. That isn’t the fault of the special operations commanders. They live in a tactical world. Washington has consistently failed to even ask hard questions about the strategic utility of America’s Special Operations forces. Turse concludes:

These deployment levels and a lack of meaningful strategic results from them have not, however, led Washington to raise fundamental questions about the ways the US employs its elite forces, much less about SOCOM’s raison d’être.  

General Thomas told members of the House Armed Services Committee last month:

We are a command at war and will remain so for the foreseeable future…

And not one Congressperson asked why, or to what end. 

You need a little music. James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” series is always fun. Here he is with Elton John:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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The US/Russian Confrontation in Syria

The Daily Escape:

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park, 2016 – photo by Wrongo

They told Wrongo that if he voted for Hillary, we’d be at war in Syria. He voted for Hillary, and sure enough, looks like we could get into a war with Syria! Particularly after this:

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet from Carrier Air Wing 8 on board the USS George Bush shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 ground attack aircraft near Raqqa, Syria after the aircraft struck ground troops in Ja-Din, south of Tabqah, near Raqqa.

According to most sources it is the first time a U.S. combat aircraft has shot down a manned enemy aircraft in aerial combat in nine years.

The pro-Assad regime Syrian Su-22 that was downed had attacked Syrian Democratic Forces aligned with the U.S. led coalition and inflicted casualties on the friendly forces as they were driving south of Tabqah before it was intercepted.

Russia was displeased. They announced that they could possibly shoot down any US air craft operating in western Syria:

In the combat mission zones of the Russian aviation in the air space of Syria, all kinds of airborne vehicles, including aircraft and UAVs of the international coalition detected to the west of the Euphrates River will be tracked by the Russian SAM systems as air targets.

Treating US and allied planes as “targets” does not mean the Russians will shoot at them. What they’re saying is that they will track the planes as they would track any target, they will send their own planes to observe the targets, and possibly escort the targets out of the area.

This gets tricky: what happens if the “target” refuses to be escorted away? Do the Russians then shoot at the target? They haven’t said. But until they do start shooting, we’re not in a hot war. We’ve just moved a step closer to one possibly occurring soon.

And this would be the most dangerous confrontation between the US and Russia since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Wrongo remembers the Cuban Missile Crisis very well. He was in college. We sat around thinking that DC (where we lived) would be taken out by nuclear missiles launched by the Russkies.

This is one outcome of Trump’s outsourcing full control of military action on the ground to the generals.

One miscalculation, and Trump’s generals are making new foreign policy. Clemenceau was correct when he said that “war is too important to be left to the generals”. Who we decide to fight is one of our most important national decisions. From the American Conservative:

There has never been a Congressional vote authorizing US military operations in Syria against anyone, and there has been scant debate over any of the goals that the US claims to be pursuing there. The US launches attacks inside Syria with no legal authority from the UN or Congress, and it strains credulity that any of these operations have anything to do with individual or collective self-defense.

The US says we are in Syria to fight ISIS and evict them from Raqqa. But we have also been arming the Syrian opposition for at least three years. And we have been a party to the Syrian civil war for at least a year before that. But the underlying assumption, that it is in our interest to be fighting in Syria, has not been seriously questioned by most members of Congress.

Americans are so accustomed to fighting wars on foreign soil that we barely notice that the policy has never really been debated or put to a vote. If this Syrian confrontation leads us into a larger conflict with Russia, will it finally be time to notice what’s happening?  

Shooting down a Syrian jet shows the dangers that come from conducting a foreign policy unmoored from both the national interest and representative government.

It was shot down because it was threatening rebels opposed to the Syrian government, and the US supports those rebels, apparently up to and including destroying Syrian regime forces that attack them. We say we are there to fight ISIS. That has sufficient support by the people and the Congress. If we are also fighting to oust Assad, we are doing something that requires a full debate.

Without that debate, when we shoot down a Syrian plane inside its own country, we have committed an act of war against another state.

A bit of music. Here is Paramore with “Hard Times”:

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

Takeaway Lyric:

All that I want Is to wake up fine
Tell me that I’m alright
That I ain’t gonna die
All that I want
Is a hole in the ground
You can tell me when it’s alright
For me to come out

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Congress Can’t Get Its Responsibilities Right

It is always good to know why and how we got where we are. Here is a little history about our military position in the Middle East. From Steve Coll in the New Yorker:

In 1967, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson gave up on the remnants of Pax Britannica. His Labour Government pulled British forces from Malaysia, Singapore, Yemen, Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, and other Persian Gulf emirates.

At the time, Denis Healey, the British Defense Secretary, said England should not:

Become mercenaries for people who would like to have a few British troops around.

And since nature doesn’t tolerate a vacuum, the US decided to leave a few American troops stationed permanently in the Gulf.

Now, 49 years later, American warships still patrol the Middle East. US fighter jets fly from a massive base in Qatar. Over the decades, Republican and Democratic administrations (and Congresses) have colluded to give a blank-check to successive presidents, keeping our troops deeply involved in the ME.

Andrew Bacevich has a new book, “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History,” which highlights the inexplicable passivity of Congress in our ME wars. He points out that from the end of World War II until 1980, virtually no American soldiers were killed in action while serving in the Middle East, while since 1990, virtually no American soldiers have been killed in action anywhere except the ME.

After the Cold War wound down in the 1980s, the US began what Bacevich calls the “War for the Greater Middle East”. As this new war unfolded, hostilities became persistent: From the Balkans to the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, US forces embarked upon a seemingly endless series of campaigns in the Islamic world, without conclusive success.

Actions undertaken with expectations of promoting peace and stability produced just the opposite. As a consequence, phrases like “war on terrorism,” “permanent war” and “open-ended war” have become part of our everyday politics. When it came to the ME, despite Congress having the Constitutional duty to declare war, they stopped offering any check or balance to America’s continuing ME wars.

It wasn’t always that way.

In 1964, Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. The Congress urged President Lyndon Johnson “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression” across the length and breadth of Southeast Asia.  LBJ used it as legal cover to ramp up in Vietnam, as well as in Cambodia and Laos.

Fast forward to 2001, and Congress passed the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). We can consider it to be the grandchild of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.  This directed President George W. Bush:

To use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations, or persons.

In plain language, it was a blank check. Now, nearly 15 years later, the AUMF remains operative, and has become the basis for military actions against innumerable individuals, organizations, and nations with no involvement whatsoever with the events of September 11, 2001.

And in 2015, when Obama asked Congress for a new AUMF addressing the specific threat posed by ISIS, asking that they rubber-stamp what he had already launched in Syria and Iraq,  Senator Mitch McConnell worried that a new AUMF might constrain his successor.  The Majority Leader remarked that the next president will:

Have to clean up this mess, created by all of this passivity over the last eight years…an authorization to use military force that ties the president’s hands behind his back is not something I would want to do.

So, Republicans think the proper role for Congress was to give this commander-in-chief carte blanche so that the next one would enjoy similar unlimited prerogatives. The GOP-controlled Congress thereby has transformed the post-9/11 AUMF into what has now become, in effect, permission for permanent armed conflict.

The illogic astounds: On ME warfare, Republicans collaborate with a president they despise, implicitly concurring with Obama’s claim that “existing statutes [already] provide me with the authority I need” to make war on ISIS.

Something that is at best, extra-Constitutional.

Yet, when Obama is clearly acting in accordance with the Constitution, nominating a new Justice to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, they spare no effort to thwart him, concocting bizarre arguments to justify their obstructionism.

How does Congress square shirking its responsibilities in our ME war with its activism against Merrick Gardner?

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – February 15, 2015

Big week, what with Cease Fire #2 in Ukraine, or as Moon of Alabama calls it, Minsk 2.0. Mr. Obama is bombarded by advice about how to move forward, most of it in favor of providing military aid to the government in Kiev. He is trying to balance that advice against the cornerstone of his foreign policy: “Don’t do stupid stuff.” Like some other Obama principles, this has a very high Wimp Factor, particularly if compared to GW Bush’s “bring it on”.

Then there is Mr. Obama’s strategy on Syria and dealing with ISIS. This week, he asked for a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), a mere six months after we began bombing them. So, a few Democrats criticized the proposal as too broad and too vague. They say it could leave the next president with enormous war-making latitude. Republicans want to go bigger.

Obama’s AUMF proposal is an invitation to Congress to offer its own expansive view of the president’s war-making authority. Can Congress do better?

Mr. Obama’s Ukraine dilemma:

COW Water or Gas

 

Congressional chicken hawks debate the “enduring” war:

COW AUMF

In other words, The AUMF, after Congress gets through with it, could be a disaster waiting to happen. The entire situation could devolve into another decade plus of ground war in the Middle East.

So, here in the middle of cartoons, is the anti-war song “Highwire”, by the Rolling Stones from their 1991 album, “Flashpoint”. Remember 1991, that was Gulf War 1.0. There´s only ONE reason for more war: Mo money. That’s the bottom line. Is this song on Obama’s iPhone? It should be. Lindsay, and John, this song’s for you:

Sample Lyric:
We sell ’em missiles, We sell ’em tanks
We give ’em credit, You can call up the bank
It’s just a business, You can pay us in crude
(That’s oil you know…)
You’ll love these toys, just go play out your feuds
We got no pride, don’t know whose boots to lick
We act so greedy, makes me sick sick sick

We walk the highwire;
Sending the men up to the front line;
Hoping they don’t catch the hell fire;
With hot guns,
And cold, cold lies.

In other news, some guy killed 3 Muslims, but nobody thinks it’s a big deal:

COW Arm Muslims

 

State’s rights vs. Gay Rights is back on the table for those who think it never left:

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

Jon Stewart says he’s out:

COW Jon Stewart

 

Finally, Valentine’s day covered for a lot of feelings:

COW Valentine

 

 

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