Send Congress home

Why, exactly, are we bothering to elect Senators and Representatives in the first place now that they have handed hand over control of the money supply to a private bank and war powers to an unholy combination of the executive branch, NATO, and the United Nations? Not only is this not democracy, it’s not even representative democracy, much less in accordance with the Constitution.

In an effort to satisfy those arguing he needs to seek congressional authorization to continue US military activity in accordance with the War Powers Resolution, President Obama wrote a letter to congressional leaders this afternoon suggesting that the role is now so “limited” he does not need to seek congressional approval.

“Since April 4,” the president wrote, “U.S. participation has consisted of: (1) non-kinetic support to the NATO-led operation, including intelligence, logistical support, and search and rescue assistance; (2) aircraft that have assisted in the suppression and destruction of air defenses in support of the no-fly zone; and (3) since April 23, precision strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles against a limited set of clearly defined targets in support of the NATO-led coalition’s efforts.”

A senior administration official told ABC News that the letter is intended to describe “a narrow US effort that is intermittent and principally an effort to support to support the ongoing NATO-led and UN-authorized civilian support mission and no fly zone.”

“The US role is one of support,” the official said, “and the kinetic pieces of that are intermittent.”

From the beginning of the U.S. military intervention in Libya, the Obama administration has cited the 1973 War Powers Act as the legal basis of its ability to conduct military activities for 60 days without first seeking a declaration of war from Congress. The military intervention started on March 19; Congress was notified on March 21. Those 60 days expire today.

One merely wonders how a military target being clearly defined or in support of a coalition effort makes bombing it any less an act of war.

Generals just aren’t that bright

Apparently they’re no longer teaching “never reinforce failure” at West Point.

In his first interview since becoming second in command of the International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf), General James Bucknall told the Guardian “now is not the time to blink”, and pleaded for more patience in the decade-long campaign because progress was being made.

Here’s the first hint that you need to give up on a war. If it is going on longer than it took to wipe out the Axis, it simply is not going to happen. It’s time for Americans to accept the reality that the Taliban are going to win in Afghanistan for one very simple and inevitable reason. They care a hell of a lot more about it than Americans do. And throwing away $100 billion on a foreign hellhole makes absolutely zero sense for a bankrupt nation, especially one that has permitted a 25-year invasion of its borders.

Overestimating the military

Fred presciently cautioned the nation several weeks prior to America’s somewhat exaggerated celebration of its SEALs:

When I was at Parris Island in a previous geological epoch, a large sign in Third Battalion conspicuously said, “The Most Dangerous Weapon in the World: A Marine with his Rifle.” This didn’t rise to the level of nonsense. Few Marines are as dangerous as a hydrogen bomb, and Marines in general are just pretty good light infantry, well-equipped as an expeditionary forces.

But you can’t tell fresh young troops, “You’re maybe a bit above average, but the Afghans are much tougher people, having been raised fighting and living on dried goat-meat, and they know the terrain, whereas you will have no idea where you are and your equipment and tactics are badly unsuited for the region, so it’s going to be hard slogging.” Not optimal for recruiting. More profoundly, men in combat arms want to feel inexorable, deadly, the best. Whether they actually are doesn’t occur to them until the war starts. A satisfying state of mind is what is wanted.

This preference for mood over reality runs through their careers. Constantly they are told that they are “the best trained, best equipped, most powerful and effective fighting force the world has seen.” This is not a statement of fact but of mandatory enthusiasm. The Pentagon’s record since WW II has been a sorry one. Further, effectiveness, training, and so on are relative to a particular situation: a force well-equipped for desert war against aging Iraqi armor is not necessarily equipped to fight guerrillas in Quang Tri or Helmand.

But soldiers, romantics pretending to be realists, do not think in these terms…. In their elevated estimation of their powers, (which is not personal egotism) militaries routinely underestimate the difficulty and duration of their wars.

I have to admit, I have been more than a bit underwhelmed by the supposedly exemplary performance of the strike team that is reported to have killed Osama bin Laden. All of the congratulatory posturing on the part of civilian America strikes me as more than a bit ignorant. While I’m glad there were no American casualties, if you manage to lose a $15.6 million helicopter in exchange for killing a few elderly, unarmed men, it’s not exactly indicative of superlative performance in the mode of Hannibal at Cannae.

What many Americans don’t realize is that many militaries sincerely believe they are the best in the world. The British can’t mention their armed forces without reflexively adding “of course, man for man, the best army in the world.” The Canadians think their air force is the best, the Israelis think that defeating Arab armies some 40 years ago makes theirs the best.

The fact of the matter is that the quality of a military force and its material is significantly less important than how it is utilized. Mahan’s historical treatise on sea power makes it abundantly clear that there were numerous occasions when the French, or the French and the Spanish, had better ships and more of them, but failed to seek battle at the crucial junctures and therefore lost what were eminently winnable wars. Indeed, the French could have easily become the dominant sea power and were well on their way to doing so, but the Sun King, Louis XIV, was fatally distracted by trivial continental endeavors and thereby threw away the formidable naval machine that Colbert had built up for him.

The more military history one reads, the more one realizes that much of the discussion of the spear’s head is virtually beside the point. This isn’t to take anything away from the heroism and the personal sacrifices made by the soldiery, but rather, to point out that such things should not be permitted to go to waste by an overly politicized officer class and politicians who blithely decide to invade foreign countries regardless of the level of the national interest.

And it is impossible to argue with Fred’s observance that the U.S. military is no different than any other in its inability to realistically forecast the difficulty and duration of its engagements.

Who is in charge of the White House?

Is it Valerie Jarrett or Leon Panetta? Either way, Obama doesn’t sound so much over his head as completely disengaged in this description of the evolution of the attack on the compound in Pakistan:

What happened from there is what was described by me as a “masterful manipulation” by Leon Panetta. Panetta indicated to Obama that leaks regarding knowledge of Osama Bin Laden’s location were certain to get out sooner rather than later, and action must be taken by the administration or the public backlash to the president’s inaction would be “…significant to the point of political debilitation.” It was at that time that Obama stated an on-ground campaign would be far more acceptable to him than a bombing raid. This was intended as a stalling tactic, and it had originated from Jarrett. Such a campaign would take both time, and present a far greater risk of failure. The president had been instructed by Jarrett to inform Mr., Panetta that he would have sole discretion to act against the Osama Bin Laden compound. Jarrett believed this would further delay Panetta from acting, as the responsibility for failure would then fall almost entirely on him. What Valerie Jarrett, and the president, did not know is that Leon Panetta had already initiated a program that reported to him –and only him, involving a covert on the ground attack against the compound….

I have been told by more than one source that Leon Panetta was directing the operation with both his own CIA operatives, as well as direct contacts with military – both entities were reporting to Panetta only at this point, and not the President of the United States. There was not going to be another delay as had happened 24 hour earlier. The operation was at this time effectively unknown to President Barack Obama or Valerie Jarrett and it remained that way until AFTER it had already been initiated. President Obama was literally pulled from a golf outing and escorted back to the White House to be informed of the mission. Upon his arrival there was a briefing held which included Bill Daley, John Brennan, and a high ranking member of the military. When Obama emerged from the briefing, he was described as looking “very confused and uncertain.” The president was then placed in the situation room where several of the players in this event had already been watching the operation unfold. Another interesting tidbit regarding this is that the Vice President was already “up to speed” on the operation. A source indicated they believe Hillary Clinton had personally made certain the Vice President was made aware of that day’s events before the president was. The now famous photo released shows the particulars of that of that room and its occupants. What that photo does not communicate directly is that the military personnel present in that room during the operation unfolding, deferred to either Hillary Clinton or Robert Gates. The president’s role was minimal, including their acknowledging of his presence in the room.

This might offer several alternative explanations to the inexplicable decision to immediately get rid of the body, the dithering over the evidence of the corpse’s identity, as well as the bizarre nature of the compliments that the various White House officials were paying Obama after the operation concluded successfully. They struck me more like an uncertain little boy being patted on the head than as soldiers complimenting their commander; no one who has read the deferentially enthusiastic reactions of the English captains to meeting Admiral Nelson before Trafalgar is likely to mistake the various statements from Washington officials with the admiration of warriors for their victorious commander. Nor, in the picture of the temporary situation room, does Obama look like he’s anything more than a passive observer. That means nothing in itself, but it is certainly in line with the perspective provided in the insider’s account.

Obviously, other than checking on the weather patterns on the night of the aborted mission, we have no ability to ascertain the truth of this supposed insider’s account. It could simply be a complete fiction inspired by the photo. But if it is true, it is further support for my contention that Obama is likely going to be replaced by the Democrats next year.

On the placement of elephants

I’m always more than a little amused when people comment that I am wasting my time by posting about Game, or atheism, or [fill in subject of little interest to you]. The fact is that I probably spend more time on pressing things like playing Guitar Hero and wondering why a superlative general like Hannibal would have elected to place his elephants in the center at Zama when he had to know that his cavalry on the wings was outnumbered by the Italian and Numidian cavalries opposing them.

The Romans drew up their forces in three lines, creating an effective reserve in the rear. The maniples however stood in separate formations, not creating a continuous line. The gaps were loosely filled by the velites (skirmishers). The Roman left wing was made up of Italian allied cavalry, while the right wing consisted of the Numidian calvary of Massinissa.

Hannibal meanwhile also aligned his troops in three lines. His mercenaries took the front, the second line was formed by the Carthaginian forces and those of the Carthaginian territories (Liby-Phoenicians). Finally at the rear stood Hannibal’s most reliable troops, the veterans from the campaign in Italy. At the very front of the army Hannibal placed his elephant corps. On his left wing he had his Numidian cavalry and to the right stood the Carthaginian cavalry.

After some initial skirmishes between the cavalry units, the battle began with a charge of the Carthaginian war elephants. They were meant to cause confusion and terrify the enemy. But it was here that Scipio’s preparation in lining up his troops in separate maniples bore fruit. The velites in the gaps now engaged the elephants, drawing them up through the alleys between the main Roman units. Also Scipio had ordered for every trumpeter of the army to blow, creating a startling noise which terrified the nervous beasts. This Roman tactic was largely successful. Most of the elephants simply charged up the alleys between the units, others even turned and collided with their own cavalry. However some did indeed drive into the Roman ranks and caused considerable damage before escaping up the alleys.

Since horses tend to be more skittish than infantry, it seems to me that it would have been significantly more effective to divide the elephant corps in two and attempt to drive off at least one cavalry wing, following the elephant charge up with an immediate cavalry attack while the Roman wings were still in disarray. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but the fact that Africanus had his troops drawn up in columns rather than lines should have been an obvious clue that he planned to permit the elephants to pass through the Roman center.

Anyhow, Ender and I have been playing Hannibal lately and it’s not just an excellent historical wargame, it’s an educational game that tends to inspire this sort of thinking. Now I’m going to have to break out a Zama game and see if I can game out what might have happened if Hannibal had used his elephants as a means of actively defending his wings instead of simply trying to smash the Roman center with them.

And the anomalies begin

May 2, 2011: “Bin Laden — given the code name “Geronimo” by US officials — was found in the compound with one of his young wives, who identified him by name. According to White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, the woman died as she shielded bin Laden. Brennan said it was unclear whether she was attempting to protect the terrorist leader of her own free will, or whether he deliberately placed her in the line of fire. However, defense officials have confirmed that women were deliberately used as human shields to protect the compound’s male inhabitants.”

May 3, 2011: “A woman killed during the raid of Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan was not his wife and was not used as a human shield by the al Qaeda leader before his death, a U.S. official said on Monday, correcting an earlier description. John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top counter- terrorism adviser, told reporters earlier that the slain woman had been one of bin Laden’s wives and had been used — perhaps voluntarily — as a shield during the firefight. However, a different White House official said that account had turned out not to be the case. Bin Laden’s wife was injured but not killed in the assault.”

There would appear to be one piece of the ID evidence gone, along with the body. If she wasn’t his wife and she wasn’t killed while shielding him, we have to assume that she also did not identify him. This leaves DNA and photos, although the DNA evidence may be less conclusive than would be desirable.

I think the best evidence that those of us on the outside have is that the USA was willing to violate Pakistani sovereignty in order to take out the target. I have no doubt that the White House genuinely believed it was Osama in the compound or that they killed someone there, the question is whether they were correct or not. And so far, the evidence they have offered is far from convincing, especially since we know they have the entire thing on video. If the post-mortem pictures are too gruesome to be released, then why not release several stills from the video before he was shot along with a statement from his surviving wife?

UPDATE: The Official Story continues to evolve: “The White House backed away Monday evening from key details in its narrative about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, including claims by senior U.S. officials that the Al Qaeda leader had a weapon and may have fired it during a gun battle with U.S. forces. Officials also retreated from claims that one of bin Laden’s wives was killed in the raid and that bin Laden was using her as a human shield before she was shot by U.S. forces.”

So no body, no photos, no witnesses, and the story is changing despite the report that the White House officials watched the entire raid on video. Conclusion: the tale of bin Laden’s demise is possibly – though not necessarily – a fiction. That someone was killed at the compound by the Navy Seals is not in doubt, only the question of whom. And if it was someone other than bin Laden, one can only hope that the graphic artists at the White House now busily engaged in photoshopping the corpse images are more competent than those who produced the forged birth certificate.

UPDATE II: Good news! The first White House photoshopper appears to be finished with his image of Obama’s demise. Warning, it is very disturbing.

A belated TIA correction

In the chapter entitled “Sam Tzu and the Art of War”, I commented that the major military strategists were, with the sole exception of the incompetent Machiavelli, silent on the subject of religion in war. As it happens, that is not entirely true. Over the last two weeks I have been reading a history written by one of the foremost theoreticians of naval warfare, and in doing so came across the following passage in A.T. Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783.

During the century before the Peace of Westphalia, the extension of family power, and the extension of the religion professed, were the two strongest motives of political action. This was the period of the great religious wars which arrayed nation against nation, principality against principality, and often, in the same nation, faction against faction. Religious persecution caused the revolt of the Protestant Dutch Provinces against Spain, which issued, after eighty years of more or less constant war, in the recognition of their independence. Religious discord, amounting to civil war at times, distracted France during the greater part of the same period, profoundly affecting not only her internal but her external policy. These were the days of St. Bartholomew, of the religious murder of Henry IV., of the siege of La Rochelle, of constant intriguing between Roman Catholic Spain and Roman Catholic Frenchmen. As the religious motive, acting in a sphere to which it did not naturally belong, and in which it had no rightful place, died away, the political necessities and interests of States began to have juster weight; not that they had been wholly lost sight of in the mean time, but the religious animosities had either blinded the eyes, or fettered the action, of statesmen. It was natural that in France, one of the greatest sufferers from religious passions, owing to the number and character of the Protestant minority, this reaction should first and most markedly be seen.

It is hardly news that religion was one of the causes of the Thirty Years War, as it is one of the very small minority of religious wars registered in the historical record, and indeed, is generally the second piece of evidence provided in support of the atheist claim that religion causes war. But while Mahan doesn’t contradict my argument that religion is of no significant strategic or tactical utility in warfare, he does make an interesting point about how religion neither naturally belongs nor has a rightful place in the area of foreign policy.

Now, I would argue that events have shown that Mahan is mistaken about religion not having any place in foreign policy considering the obvious inability to draw a bright line between Islamic religion and Islamic politics; the two are one and the same and as the West is once more learning, one ignores the theology of a religion of the sword at one’s distinct peril. Even so, it is worth noting that on one of the very rare occasions when a military strategist has been moved to comment upon religion, he has done so in a manner that indicates religion is very seldom connected with warfare in any capacity, causal, strategic, or tactical.

Ironically, one of the two men he credits with bringing an end to this unusual period of religious warfare was not only a Christian, but a prince of the Church as well. Mahan credits King Henry IV and Cardinal-Duc de Richelieu with creating a tradition of French statesmanship that reduced religious strife in the name of state unity. Whether this was ultimately to the advantage of the French people or the continent of Europe that eventually lay prostrate under Napoleon’s legions is, of course, entirely debatable.