Everyone Has Lost Their God Damned Minds

I’m convinced:

People with a history of “self-mutilation,” bipolar disorder, depression and drug and alcohol abuse can now seek waivers to join the Army under an unannounced policy enacted in August, according to documents obtained by USA TODAY.

The decision to open Army recruiting to those with mental health conditions comes as the service faces the challenging goal of recruiting 80,000 new soldiers through September 2018. To meet last year’s goal of 69,000, the Army accepted more recruits who fared poorly on aptitude tests, increased the number of waivers granted for marijuana use and offered hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses.

Bowe Bergdahl had a waver to join the Army after washing out of the Coast Guard. That worked out well.








Veterans Day 2017

As Veterans Day 2017 draws to a close it is important to recognize that this has been a strange day in presidential-veteran relations.

This is a graphic of the departmental crests for the agencies that make up the US intelligence community.

(Figure 1: The US Intelligence Community)

You’ll notice that nine of these agencies are military. Of the remaining eight, one is the US Coast Guard, which while now in the Department of Homeland Security is one of the uniformed Services of the United States. Moreover, a significant number of the civilian personnel serving in the civilian portions of the US Intelligence Community are veterans, reservists, and/or members of the National Guard. This doesn’t make them infallible. It doesn’t make what they do and how they do it unquestionable. However, the President, by publicly disparaging the US Intelligence Community, is publicly disparaging a very large number of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and veterans no longer serving in uniform while siding with the dictatorial leader of a hostile foreign power. Everyone cheering the President on in doing so is also disparaging the troops while purposefully ignoring that the President is siding with the dictatorial leader of a hostile foreign power!

Now back to our regularly scheduled Veterans Day post.

There is a significant body of military history developing that convincingly argues that World War I did not actually end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. Rather, the interstate war phase ended and a series of smaller insurgencies, asymmetric and irregular, and sub-regional wars continued. These low intensity wars among the winners and losers of World War I eventually reignited into another interstate war – World War II. As a result, World War I and World War II are more properly understood as phases of a longer, ongoing conflict akin to the Thirty Years War. I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of this revision within military history, but it is an important scholarly developmental in what it teaches us about battlefield termination, war, peace, and securing the peace. Especially because if we’re not careful we run the risk of having to live through a similar dynamic in the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa in the ongoing fight against terrorism and violent extremism.

We end with music. First the Dropkick Murphy’s covering Eric Bogle’s The Green Fields of France.

Interestingly enough a folk singer named Stephen Suffet wrote a reply from the Willie McBride that Bogle sings about to Bogle. It uses the same melody as Bogle’s original.

And for our Australian and New Zealand readers, here’s Bogle doing The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.

Open thread!

PS: Confederate Soldiers and Sailors are not considered to be US veterans, no matter what your crazy uncle emails you!

Many in the Georgia legislature may have differed with McKinley regarding the treatment of veterans and the place of the national cemeteries in society, as no disabled Confederate veteran was eligible to live in a federal soldier’s home, receive a pension, or, when they died, be buried in a national cemetery. However, it is certain that the president’s Atlanta speech began a process culminating eight years later in legislation creating the Commission for Marking Graves of Confederate Dead.66

66 Robert Louis Clark, Lee Allen Craig, and Jack Wilson, A History of Public Sector Pensions in the United States, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2003, p. 146; and Neff, Honoring the Civil War Dead, Commemoration and the Problem of Reconciliation, University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, Kansas, 2005, pp. 222–226.



The Muhammad bin Salman Gambit: Jockeying for Control and Hegemony Within and Without the Kingdom

While we wait for the Friday evening breaking news, I thought I’d take a minute and focus a bit on what is going on in Saudi Arabia in regard to both domestic and regional activities. Let’s take things one at a time.

1) The Saudi anti-corruption campaign: Muhammad bin Salman (MBS) has used the slogan anti-corruption to try to further solidify his position as Crown Prince. From his perspective he’s 32 and the Crown Prince. His father is 80 and in poor health. If he can solidify his position, then he can essentially rule Saudi for five or six decades. I think that this is what a good part of what we saw last week is about. Another portion is that it is a financial shakedown. Muhammad bin Salman is using the anti-corruption label to fine those he’s detained and/or to just strip them of vast sums of wealth. He needs capital to do what he wants, yet because of the price of oil for the past decade and the emergence of alternative energy options becoming competitive as the tech gets better, Saudi’s treasury is in bad shape. Funding a proxy war for regional hegemony against Iran hasn’t helped budgetary matters either.

What I think MBS would really like to do is change the governance dynamic within the Kingdom and these actions are all geared towards this goal. What he wants is not the familial/kinship/tribal style of rule of his predecessors where the Saudi king runs the kingdom like it is one big tribe with a bunch of smaller affiliated tribes in the mix. Rather MBS wants to turn Saudi into a proper, pre 20th century style absolute monarchy. I think we’ll have a better idea if he’s successful within the next 30 to 60 days. His coup proofing and wealth shakedown under cover of anti corruption is either going to be acquiesced to or there will be push back. It would not surprise me if he succeeds. It would also not surprise me if he is dead within two months. Or there is at least a credible attempt on his life. My long term impression of Saudi royal family politics is that it is quite opaque to any but the best informed outside observers who are given at least partial access to the Kingdom and the royal family. I think Saudi royal family internal politics can best be described as being like a bucket of crabs where each crab is trying to escape the bucket by crawling over the other crabs and by grabbing the crabs above them and pulling them down.

2) The Saudi campaign in Yemen: This is absolutely strategically stupid! The Houthis are Zaydis (Fivers), not Ithna Ashari (Twelvers) Shi’a. They had no long standing or historic alliance with Iran until the Saudis decided that there was an Iranian conspiracy against them in Yemen that leveraged the Houthis. So who did the Houthis turn to for supplies when they had no other options? The Iranians. The Saudis made the mess that is Yemen worse. And specifically Muhammad bin Salman did. This is his baby. What we’re watching with the Saudi actions in Yemen are that MBS is a terrible strategist, he’s also a terrible tactician, and what many have long observed is true: the Saudi military is good for parades and presentations and not very good if you need it to fight. They can’t and don’t do joint operations despite long term training programs to teach them to do so.

The only competent military service in Saudi is the National Guard, which is both a praetorian guard like force to protect the royal family (which MBS will now try to remake into protecting MBS since he’s arrested his cousin who ran the Guard) and the descendants of ibn Saud’s desert warriors, the Ikhwan, who were the first and some of the most fanatical converts to ibn Wahhab’s teachings of radical and extreme tawheed.* The Saudi campaign in Yemen has also created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. The conditions in Yemen are horrible and abysmal. It is going to cost billions if not trillions to fix the mess Saudi created and by any measure should require prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

3) This leads us to the Saudi led blockade of Qatar. There are some long term issues in regard to who the Amir of Qatar provides financial support to, but what MBS did, in conjunction with his friend and mentor Muhammad bin Zayed the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, was also strategically stupid. The US has over 10,000 personnel at al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. Those folks can’t just be relocated. Additionally, by putting the blockade in place it created the opportunity for Iran to expand its influence by offering to relieve Qatari food and other shortages created by the blockade, which it did. So here too Muhammad bin Salman’s strategic ineptitude is visible. Instead of checking Iranian influence, he created the conditions to expand it. And the Iranians took the opportunity.

4) Lebanon: This is a mess. Hariri’s party and his family are treating this as a Saudi driven plot. They’ve actually accused the Saudis of kidnapping Harriri, holding him against his will, and forcing him to do this. Regardless it only empowers Hezbullah in regard to Lebanon’s government. And Hezbullah, which is not exactly an ally of Hariri’s, is also now claiming he has been taken hostage by the Saudis. All Hariri’s resignation and flight to Saudi Arabia has done is create another new opportunity for Iran to expand its influence in Lebanon. Here too Muhammad bin Salman’s failure as a strategist is clearly evident. His actions have achieved the opposite effect from that he desired.

5) All of this is part of the larger, regional Saudi-Iranian proxy war for regional hegemony. Saudi seeks to be the hegemon and the protector of Sunni Islam. Iran seeks a Shia sphere of influence and near abroad. The difference is that the Iranians have, perhaps, the best strategist in the region – MG Suleimani, while the Saudis are being run by a 32 year old with delusions of grandeur.

As it always does with Saudi, some of this comes back to ibn Wahhab’s radical and extreme version of tawheed (the radical unity of the Deity). As Ahmad Moussalli wrote in Wahhabism, Salafism, and Islamism: Who is the Enemy:

the Wahhabi muwaheedun have been arguing for over 200 years that they are the true defenders of Sunni Islam, while at the same time being in direct and active opposition to 90% of Sunni Islam.

This also includes ibn Wahhab’s conceptualization of Sunni/Shi’a relations as good versus evil, which leads the Saudis to take an almost religiocidal approach to dealing with the Shi’a as ibn Wahhab’s teachings state the Shi’a must be killed wherever they can be found. This is contributing to the Saudi created mess in Yemen. 

Muhammad bin Salman has indicated that he wants to reform the version of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia. Specifically he wants to modernize and moderate it. That’s great. But a modernized and moderated radically extreme theology is still just a more pleasantly packaged radically extreme theology. The danger of ibn Wahhab’s radical concept of tawheed is that it is not jurisprudence.** It has no madhab (school of Islamic jurisprudence). Despite attempts to claim it is an extension of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, it isn’t just a more severe Hanbalism. It is not ijtihad (Islamic jurisprudence and legal reasoning). Rather it is theology and doctrine. And theology and doctrine can spread and infect any of the four Sunni madhads. This is what has made it so dangerous because as radical and extreme as ibn Wahhab’s teachings were, they can be further refined. Which is what bin Laden and Zawahiri did for al Qaeda and what Zarqawi and Badghdadi have done with ISIS. And why first AQ’s and now ISIS’s even more extreme versions of ibn Wahhab’s tawheed have been able to spread. They aren’t madhab dependent, so they can travel throughout the Sunni Muslim world influencing theology and doctrine.

6) Finally, and one that is not Saudi specific, the US led coalition has reduced the physical caliphate, but all the conditions and drivers that made the Levant and the Middle East and the Maghreb and parts of Africa and Central Asia a powder keg haven’t been addressed, let alone resolved. There is still a long term regional drought, which was a major driver of both the Syrian Civil War and Iraqi sectarian violence. The proxy war between Saudi and Iran with Turkey trying to edge itself in is still ongoing.  Sectarian issues haven’t been resolved. The Kurds still don’t have independence and now the Barzani faction is angry and seeking support from Russia. Russia is not only determined to keep its warm water port in Latakia, but is trying to put a land route in through the Caucasus to another warm water port in Iran. ISIS may not have much physical territory left, but they’ve got plenty of cyber presence. The Netanyahu government and no one in his coalition has any real desire to resolve the dispute with the Palestinians, let alone allow for the creation of a Palestinian state. The US and NATO led train, advise, and assist mission in Afghanistan has just entered its sixteenth year, or rather we’ve started year one for the sixteenth time again in Afghanistan. As ISIS loses its physical territory, we’ve done nothing to resolve the underlying conditions and drivers that allowed for them to come in to being and to take and hold so much territory to begin with. And we’ve certainly not resolved the problems that make them attractive in parts of the Maghreb, east and west Africa, and southeast Asia.

* Please see chapters 3 and 4.

** Please see chapters 2, 5, and 6.



Bergdahl Sentenced

Dishonorable discharge, no jail time:

Bowe Bergdahl received a dishonorable discharge from the US Army but will avoid prison time for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after abandoning his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009, a military judge ruled Friday.
The judge also ruled that Bergdahl’s rank be reduced from sergeant to private. Additionally, he will be required to pay a $1,000 fine from his salary for the next 10 months.

“Sgt. Bergdahl has looked forward to today for a long time,” Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s civilian attorney, said at a news conference after the sentence was announced.

“As everyone knows he was a captive of the Taliban for nearly five years, and three more years have elapsed while the legal process unfolded. He has lost nearly a decade of his life.”
The sentence is effective immediately, except for the dishonorable discharge, which Bergdahl is appealing, according to Fidell.

And, of course, Twitler played a role in the sentencing:

One of the mitigating factors in his sentencing were disparaging comments by President Trump as a candidate and while in office. Nance ruled Monday that while Bergdahl can get a fair trial despite the remarks, he would consider them in his sentencing.

As a candidate, Trump denounced Bergdahl and the Obama administration’s agreement to get him back from the Taliban. On Oct. 16, 2015, for example, Trump called him “a rotten traitor” and suggested he should be shot or dropped from an airplane.

“In the old days he’d get shot for treason,” the president told a crowd of supporters. “If I win, I might just have him floating right in the middle of that place and drop him, boom. Let ’em have him. … I mean, that’s cheaper than a bullet.”

More recently, Trump declined to comment on Bergdahl’s case, telling reporters, “I think people have heard my comments in the past.”

Even those comments were seen by Nance as “unlawful command influence,” writing in his ruling, “The plain meaning of the president’s words to any reasonable hearer could be that in spite of knowing that he should not comment on the pending sentencing in this case, he wanted to make sure that everyone remembered what he really thinks should happen to the accused.”

The most pressing issue for me regarding this is who in command is going to pay the price for allowing a guy who washed out of the Coast Guard into an Airborne unit with a waiver to enter the Army and then deployed him despite knowing that he should not be deployed. Because that’s a big damned problem, and also exposes a key flaw in the all volunteer Army- when you need to ramp up the number of soldiers quickly, quality control gets thrown out the damned window.








“The Widow” Versus the Dolt-in-Chief


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It’s not going to get any better. He’s only going to get worse, and so is the news out of Niger.



Medal of Honor Award Ceremony Live Stream

The President will be awarding a long overdue Medal of Honor today. The recipient, Gary Michael Rose, was an 18D (Green Beret “shooting medic”) during the events he is finally being recognized for.

Rose, who was a Green Beret, was given the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest medal for valor, four months after the mission in 1971. Monday’s Medal of Honor is considered an upgrade of that award.

The honors recognized Rose’s valiant efforts in Vietnam as he traveled with the unit, which was called the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group, or MACSOG. He suffered wounds from bullets and rockets as well as a helicopter crash.

He is credited with saving more than 100 comrades during the mission.

Rose was the only medic among 16 Green Berets and 120 Vietnamese tribal fighters known as Montagnards traveling in the covert unit. They were dropped in the Laotian jungle Sept. 11 for the mission known as Operation Tailwind. As they moved into enemy territory to a North Vietnamese encampment, they almost immediately came under heavy fire and the force took multiple casualties.

In several cases, Rose used his own body as a human shield to protect members of his unit, even as he was wounded, and continued to treat others. “My focus was to take care of the guys who were hurt,” Rose recalled. “You just got to do your job and keep moving down the road.”

In the end, every soldier would be wounded, three Montagnards were killed and three helicopters crashed.

On Friday, Rose reiterated the medal will belong to his MACSOG unit, others who fought at that time and recognizes the efforts of the troops who did and didn’t make it back from the mission.

“This medal, I consider a collective medal,” Rose said. “For all of us who fought on the ground, in the Air Force and the Marines on Operation Tailwind. In a greater sense, it also honors the Special Forces during this time frame.”

What is so interesting about this award is its connection to one of the largest Vietnam War conspiracy theories. In 1998 CNN debuted a new new’s magazine show in conjunction with Time Magazine. The first episode dealt with Operation Tailwind. But not the actual Operation Tailwind. Rather it focused on what turned out to be an elaborate conspiracy theory created around the myth that the US government deliberately stranded Soldiers in Vietnam. Essentially making them missing in action. The story quickly fell apart and did major damage to CNN’s reputation. The whole thing is detailed in an excellent book by Professor Jerry Lembcke: CNN’s Tailwind Tale: Inside Vietnam’s Last Great Myth.

Here’s the live stream so you can see if the President can stay on script or whether he compounds last week’s unforced errors with some new ones.

Open thread!

 



The Civilian-Military Divide: General Kelly is a Canary in the Coal Mine

One portion of Gen Kelly’s remarks yesterday have gotten some notice, but I think it is important to highlight them and discuss their import.

Josh Marshall identified this portion of Gen Kelly’s remarks as specifically worrisome:

We don’t look down upon those of you who that haven’t served. In fact, in a way we’re a little bit sorry because you’ll have never have experienced the wonderful joy you get in your heart when you do the kinds of things our service men and women do — not for any other reason than they love this country. So just think of that.

Marshall goes on to provide his interpretation of this portion of Gen Kelly’s statement:

Kelly made a similar point when he refused to take questions from any reporter who was not either from a Gold Star family themselves or personally knew someone who was. You may not even deserve your civic freedoms, the right to talk, to ask question, unless you are near to military sacrifice.

On the other side of the political spectrum, David Frum made a similar observation.

And despite all the correct concern and condemnation over further upsetting a grieving family, as well as the subsequent disparagement of a member of the House of Representatives, which when debunked, was doubled down on, there is a larger issue buried in all the noise, smoke, and fire: the civilian-military divide.

GEN Dempsey, when he was the Commanding General of Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) commissioned a study of the Army as profession after a decade of war. GEN Dempsey was concerned, as were a number of subject matter experts in military professional ethics, that after a decade of persistent conflict the profession was at risk of being degraded by the corrosive effects of war. This project became known as the US Army Profession of Arms Study*. A white paper was compiled and issued, followed up by a lot of staff work, and then the final report. The Profession of Arms is defined as:

The Army is an American Profession of Arms, a vocation comprised of experts certified in the ethical application of land combat power, serving under civilian authority, entrusted to defend the Constitution and the rights and interests of the American people.

In the “Our Ethic” section of the study is the following description (emphasis mine):

The nature of military professional ethics. As the Army moves forward into future conflict, it will continue to rely on an all volunteer force. The framework of the Army Ethic must provide a consistent theory of military ethics that grounds the martial virtues in more general moral concepts and lessens any gap between the Army and the society it serves and which provides its recruits.

Gen Kelly’s unfortunate remarks about service and how those who have served view those who haven’t run counter to how the Profession of Arms defines its own professional ethic. More importantly it provides a flashing warning sign of the potential for a civilian-military divide that separates those who have chosen to join the All Volunteer Force (for whatever reason) and those who haven’t. Including those who have undertaken other forms of public service. While we’ve seen this type of divide emphasized in the discussion over policing and the use of force by law enforcement, Gen Kelly’s statements yesterday were, perhaps, the most explicit example of the civilian-military divide I’ve seen or heard in the past decade.

One of the most important discussions we had in the my seminar’s seminar room at USAWC, which we also engaged in within the USAWC team assigned to work on the Profession of Arms study, was the discussion of how an All Volunteer Force during a time of extended war and conflict relates to the vastly larger society of civilians. There was great concern that if a gap was allowed to develop, grow, and harden that the All Volunteer Force, especially those who make a career of their military service, will grow so estranged from the rest of American society as to not just become a distinct sub-culture, but one that threatens the very state and society it is sworn to defend.

And this isn’t just some hyperbolic concern. We often joked that the US military is America’s largest set of centrally planned and run gated communities. While a lot of military personnel, especially as they achieve higher ranks throughout their career arc, will choose to live off post (on the economy), it is quite possible to live, work, shop, socialize, and play on post while never leaving it. While few who serve do this, there is a tendency to associate within the profession as one’s coworkers and colleagues become one’s friends through shared work and experiences. Including combat.

This is also not a recent or new concern. In 2011 Time dedicated its cover and the bulk of an issue to the civilian-military divide.

The U.S. military and American society are drifting apart. It’s tough inside the civilian world to discern the drift. But troops in all the military services sense it, smell it — and talk about it. So do their superiors. We have a professional military of volunteers that has been stoically at war for more than a decade. But as the wars have droned on, the troops waging them are increasingly an Army apart.

The civilian-military gap has taken on an edge recently, driven by the lack of sacrifice — either in blood or treasure — demanded of the rest of us compared to what the troops are giving.

Military leaders know the gap is widening, which leads to important questions: is this a bad thing? If it is, should we care? And if we should care, what can be done to reverse it? “I have this deep existential angst about a military organization within a democratic society that’s as isolated from the rest of that society as our military is becoming,” says Michael Desch, a political scientist and military expert at Notre Dame. “The gap can make civilian control of the military harder to achieve.”

That may be a reach, but senior officers sense the parting. “I have been struck in my travels at the lack of what I would call in-depth understanding of what we’ve been through,” Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told Time before he retired last month after 43 years in uniform. It’s almost like the American Foreign Legion. “We come from fewer and fewer places — we’ve BRAC’ed our way out of significant portions of the country,” Mullen said, referring to the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission process that has shuttered hundreds of military posts across wide swaths of the nation. “Long term, if the military drifts away from its people in this country, that is a catastrophic outcome we as a country can’t tolerate.”

Click across and read the whole thing, it is really worth the few minutes.

This has been an ugly week in the US. It started with a needless, self inflicted wound by a President who does not speak well off the cuff and does not seem able to accept responsibility or tolerate being questioned. It got uglier when the President, feeling goaded into responding, responded in a way that deepened the injury. Including to not only the bereaved family he called, but also several others. And it moved well into I cannot believe this is happening in the US in 2017 territory with Gen Kelly’s attempt at damage control.

Despite all the ugliness some good can come of the week. Gen Kelly’s remarks yesterday are a canary in the civilian-military coal mine. War is corrosive to a military and a self governing republic. It eats away morale and effectiveness. And it drives a wedge between those who have chosen to serve, or if there’s a draft those chosen to serve by the state, and the non-serving in uniform citizenry who they are protecting and defending through their service to the Constitution. If any good can come from this week, perhaps it is a renewed discussion of civilian-military relations. As well as the nature of voluntary military service in a self governing republic. And a long overdue debate about if the US is indeed facing existential threats from al Qaeda or ISIS or the DPRK or Iran, then perhaps we need to actually declare war and actually mobilize the citizenry to fight the declared war.

* I was a contributor to the Profession of Arms study as part of the USAWC team assigned to look at the strategic issues of the profession. My specific responsibilities were to assist the USAWC Team Lead with conceptualizing the cultural aspects of what a profession is, what it means to be a member of a profession and how the norms and values of a profession are transmitted, taught, and learned.