31 January 2009

Latest News

To protect operational security, I can't give a lot of specifics, but I will say that I recently sent an article to a professional military publication that got quite a lot of attention, not only in the blogosphere, but also in real life. (Those of you who know me personally can put my name into Google and see what I've written recently).

I've now been quoted in a major website/publication on international relations, so yay me.

Anyway, I'm looking at writing my next piece, due to come out in a few months, regarding comparisons between the organizational cultures of the British Army before WWI (after a long period of peace) and the US Army prior to the onset of 9-11. I'll be looking for some help in the Small Wars Journal Council, if you'd like to join me there.

In other news, it's annual flying evaluation time, and flying in Iraq makes it just a tad bit tricky. For the record, I loathe flying evaluations. But I've had enough of them to have had my fair share of strange and bizarre adventures to come out of them. Stay tuned tomorrow as I fill you in on the amazing aspects of the "check ride".

The problem with Beyonce

Okay, I'm certain that by this time everyone and their grandmother has seen the latest internet meme based on "Single Ladies" by Beyonce.  For those of you who don't live vicariously through Youtube, here you go:

I swear, I think this guy might actually be larger than the Star Wars kid, not only in his size but also in his sheer Internet popularity right now.

This also brings up something I've noticed about Beyonce/Destiny's Child. In their early days, they brought up issues of "Independent Women (Parts I and II)", being a "Survivor" and other self-esteem issues for women. This was popular for a year or two, and then they regressed into songs about simply being bootylicious and whatnot. As Beyonce became more and more famous, she pumped out songs nearly every week with a message of "Hey, I'm hot--give me my gold ring already", etc.

The sad fact of the matter is that the songs have apparently resonated with the ugly section of the female population. Seriously, just drive down the street and look into the cars next to you, I guarantee you'll see some rat-looking girl singing something from Beyonce, and secretly fantasizing that they are, in fact, Beyonce (or Sasha Fierce or whatever she goes by now). How do I know this? Because I actually saw a rat-looking girl singing Beyonce in the car next to me once. What made it even more creepy was that she was singing the lyrics "Oooh boy, you lookin' like you like what you see". No, I don't like what I see. I see a rat girl with far too much sexual confidence, STFU!

Really, for the sake of humanity, Beyonce needs to stop making music.

25 January 2009

New Book

Now that I finally killed the White Whale, it's time to get back to some amusing reading.  

I'll start out by saying that I think the British have long had a jolly good time lampooning inept military leadership.  After all, the British TV show "Black Adder" spent an entire season in the trenches of World War One, where British generals sent Tommies over the top time after time again--a plan so incredibly stupid that the enemy would never suspect that it would happen again. 

Once again, I refer to the penultimate soldier-scholar, T.E. Lawrence, who talks about the inept military leadership that he was saddled with during the First World War, as well as the breath of fresh air that occured when one of the fathers of modern blitzkrieg, General Allenby, took over.  

With that said, a British gentleman by the name of Norman F. Dixon wrote a book sometime in the 70s entitled "On the Psychology of Military Incompetence".  I just opened the book to any page and found this gem.  Let me know if this reminds you of anyone in the military or politics (and our Focus question will be to name these individuals).  If you do know someone like this, what was it like to serve under them?

"Researchers in other parts of the world have been studying what has come to be known as the 'military-industrial personality'--one who is drawn to, and has an emotional investment in, the use of force and the machinery of war to solve world problems.  It has been described as follows:  'The militarist is a relatively prejudiced and authoritarian person.  He is emotionally dependent, socially conformist and religiously orthodox.  His interest in the welfare of others is relatively low.  He is extremely careful of the new and strange'.  Such people are also 'uncreative, unimaginiative, narrow-minded, security-seeking, prestige-oriented, parochial, ultra-masculine, anti-intellectual, extraversive, and severely socialized as children'.   They are lacking in aesthetic appreciation, complexity of thinking, independence, self-expression and altruism, and relatively high in anxiety."

8-Track Flashback

I think all officers, upon commissioning, somehow acquire a copy of the Army Officer's Guide, a book which inadvertently illustrates the vast differences in thinking between the peacetime Army and the wartime Army. 

The conflict between young and old, peacetime Army and wartime Army is nothing new.  The British have long been interested in this subject after the First World War; indeed, T.E. Lawrence was often at odds with his superiors and goes on long diatriabes about standing armies on numerous occasions.  In American culture, this subject was often lampooned by Bill Maudlin in his famous "Willie and Joe" cartoons, and now, I get to lampoon it as well.  

As much as I make fun of this, it actually brings up a good point:  that growing up in the peacetime Army affects an officer's world view, their value system, their education, and their career path.  The peacetime Army of the 1980s was over 50% larger and had about 25% of the actual missions to perform.  It was a time when a month-long rotation to a national training center was a "deployment", and a foreign assignment was a posting in Germany, driving down the Autobahn in a BMW.  It was a time when the Army adopted a host of social services that would have made Sweeden blush and say "that's socialist", in the attempts to largely cater to provide a stable family life.  A time when the largest family crisis was a one year unaccompanied tour to South Korea, which was only a crisis because of all the Soju one could drink away from the watchful eye of one's wife.    

I have to preface this by saying that I don't have the book in front of me, so I have to draw on my recollections of the book.  UPDATE:  I just now found the book on Kindle!  I also need to remark that this was the edition that I picked up at my commissioning in 2002, so maybe this thing has been updated.  Still, just as I make fun of the fads of the 70s, I will now make fun of people in the peacetime Army.

  1. Judging by the Army Officer's Guide, one of the amusing things about the Peacetime Army is that there is an inordinate amount of emphasis placed on dinner parties.  There are literally multiple chapters dedicated to dinner party etiquitte.  Nearly one whole page informs our officers how to change the inflection of their voice when introducting someone in the receiving line.  Another small paragraph introduces our officers to the proper wear of the official US Army cape.  You know, for all those times our new lieutenants will feel the need to wear a cape.    To be honest, I never get invited to dinner parties (for obvious reasons, probably), so I have no idea if this is really importatnt to the officer corps.  Clearly, the author has never been to Honduras, where one's choice of attire at a hail and farewell is between either the toga or the witty T-shirt.  
  2. Under dinner party etiquitte, the author also decides to spend a few paragraphs analyzing what "casual attire" means, and advises the young officer to always have a tie in his pocket just in case.  Still not one word on battle-focused training, or preparing families and personal finances for deployment.  
  3. Even though, in the year 2000, when the book was written, the author feels the need to devote multiple pages to the process of paying Soldiers by checks and dollar bills on payday.  Let that sink in:  in the era of direct deposit, a retired colonel feels that he needs to impart the archaic practice of paying Soldiers with checks and bills on payday.  The only place that has even been seen in the last twenty years was on an episode of M*A*S*H*, and even then, that episode was probably a re-run.  
  4. The Army officer corps is usually a socially conservative bunch, but once again, the author goes on his soap box and condemns the drinking of alcohol and dalliances with multiple women of virtue untrue.  Last I checked, that was typical alpha male behavior--it's like we want our wars being fought by the B team.  Those with no vices typically have no virtues either.
  5. There should be a bullet list of things which will cause a lieutenant to be duct taped to a flagpole by his subordinates.  Bullet point number one is his suggestion that one report to his first duty station in class As, knock on the door and report to the commander.  The way I type that does not fully capture the manner in which the author writes it, as if he's an upper class British woman writing a book on 19th Century etiquitte.  The online version of this should re-direct to his chapter on sycophantism.
  6. The author also likes to use this as a soapbox to rail against women being in combat roles in the military, citing "Saving Private Ryan" as the be-all, do-all discussion ender.  Clearly, he feels passionately about barring women from combat, because he puts it in italics.  The example from Saving Private Ryan is baffling:  I keep having this image of the Germans on Normandy Beach manning the machine guns.  They mow down dozens of male soldiers and then see a female sodlier, and pause:  "See zee voman?  Vee not shoot her, vee have policy memo zat says vee cannot shoot her. "  Yeah, thanks for having no applicability to the current conflict, Mr. Army Officer Guide Writer.
Focus:  Make fun of the silly advice you found in the Army Officer's Guide, or the silly advice you got in ROTC/OCS/USMA.  

22 January 2009

Moby Dick is dead

So I finished Moby Dick a few days ago, and I have to say it's one of the most boring novels I've ever read.  Thank you, Mr. Mehlville, for wasting hours of my time with 19th Century taxonomic descriptions of whales as fish, and anatomical minutiae that adds nothing to the plot.  Seriously, let's look at the table of contents for this book.

Chapter 90:  Arrr, the jawbone of the whale
Chapter 91:  Shiver me timbers, the tail of the whale
Chapter 92:  The color white
Chapter 93:  The blowhole of the whale
Chapter 94:  The sperm of the whale

Gee, thanks for spending dozens of pages talking about the blow-hole on a whale--it's not like I didn't learn about that at Sea World when I was six.  Shouldn't you be saying something more on, say, the human condition by focusing the story on Captain Ahab and his obsession over the whale?  

Oh, and another thing, when referring to the spermaceti, a substance found in the Sperm Whale, for God's sake, don't abbreviate it as "sperm".  Nor should you go on for pages about how much you love sperm, how sweet sperm is, how madly you lust for Mr. Dick, etc.  Really, this has given generations of kids endless amusement at how homo-erotic this novel is--as if the thirty dudes on a ship alone for three years didn't make it enough so.  

"all the morning long, I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules...I was constantly squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally...let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.  Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm forever!"

--An honest-to-God quote from Moby Dick

On a good note, I finally knew the book was at its end when Captain Ahab says the following:  "To the last, I grapple with thee; fromn hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee".  You know how I knew he was going to die when he said this (other than the fact that he says it's his last breath)?  Because Khan said the same damn thing in Star Trek II!  So thanks for ripping off the greatest Star Trek movie in history ever, Herman Mehlville.  

Someone from the Tucker Max Message Board actually made a great point about classic literature in a recent thread:

Newsflash: 90% of what is considered a classic is FUCKING BORING and is irrelevant to modern-day life. Those are the books you mentioned that are forced down people's throats in high school...I think a lot of people who say they like reading this type of book do so because of their desire to be considered an intellectual elite, not because they actually enjoy Tolstoy. I see a lot of my peers reading, but a switch has occurred. I'll sooner see a cover with the name Gladwell or McCarthy on it than Salinger or Hawthorne. Melodrama is gone and it ain't coming back.

20 January 2009

Dave Petraeus added you as a friend on Facebook

We need to confirm that you know General David Petraeus in order for you to be friends on Facebook...  

Yes, I was quite amused when I read Small Wars Journal this morning, and discovered that a recent article in CS Monitor indicated that senior US military leaders are now creating Facebook profiles in order to connect with junior Soldiers.  

General Bill Caldwell IV has thrown a sheep at you.  Throw a sheep back!

Now, on one hand, this is slightly amusing, as I remember there being a running gag on collegehumor.com regarding ones' parents joining Facebook, as well as a recent NY Times article entitled "omg my mom joined facebook".  The fact that generals might suddenly add me as their friend might have that same level of uneasiness.  I was also reminded of this time back in Honduras when some rather mischevious aviators created a Myspace profile for their battalion commander as a joke.   

"Just reminding everyone"

However, all joking aside, this is a great attempt to bridge a growing gap between generations, and more specifically, the growing gap between junior and senior officers in the US military.  With a junior officer corps increasingly connected through Facebook, it's about time the the senior leadership caught on and decided to tap into this network for effective engaged leadership.  Not to mention, it's an important tool in Fourth-Generation Warfare.  For example, a recent Facebook group entitled "One Million Strong Against the FARC" was able to rally over twelve million protesters against the Colombian FARC and caused massive desertions, a result that probably rivals the last twenty years (and billions of dollars) of US foreign and military aid to that country.  

Oh, by the way, in case the generals with Facebook pages are reading this, here's a bit of Facebook etiquitte:  If you "poke" someone, that means you want to have sex.  They don't really tell you that on Facebook, but it's true. So, yeah, don't use the "poke" feature.  SuperPoke is okay, albeit annoying with all the sheep-throwing, but plain poke is just a no-go.  

Get out of the intellectual comfort zone

General David Petraeus mentioned once that attending higher education was one of the most rewarding experiences of his military career, even at a time when officers were somewhat discouraged from taking time away from their careers to obtain their masters and doctorate degrees.

General Petraeus said that being in a civilian educational institution was beneficial, as it took him out of his intellectual comfort zone.  In the military, there might be a debate between whether or not a tracked vehicle or a wheeled vehicle is better, or the advantages of a bore evacuator on a tank's gun, or an autoloader, and differences in these viewpoints are seen as a huge deal.  But in the realm of the civil educational system, the questions become much greater and more difficult--one might have to get up in front of peer students and lay down a compelling case for why the military is involved in this nation or that, why have bases here or there, or why even have a military in the first place.  

It's an intellectual challenge that causes you to question many of the fundamental beliefs that one had in the military.  In many ways, the military can be a sheltered community.  Military bases are self-contained cities that have miltiary-run shopping centers, theaters, schools and parks.  They house people with similar belief systems who may not have much interaction with the world outside of the military.  Simply breaking out of the traditional miltary mold can give any soldier a remarkably fresh approach to the world's problems, and a path to the solutions to win in the world of Fourth and Fifth-Generation Warfare.

I had the opportunity to break out of the traditional mindset when I wound up with a few weeks' notice that I was going to go to Honduras to serve as a battalion operations officer (usually a major's job) in a joint Army/Air Force battalion that specialized in search and rescue operations (which was actually in the news recently), disaster relief, stability, nation-building, and security operations all over Latin America.  I felt uneasy about being out of the cockpit for six months, but they wound up being the best six months of my life.  (And that's not even counting the ungodly amount of alcohol I consumed and my experiences with women with questionable moral values.  If you ever get the opportunity to get stationed there, I highly recommend it.) 

I was forced to learn the things about foreign areas that you can't learn in a book.  What do the  people value in this area?  What is a man's role in society, and what do they value?  What about women?  Where is the money, and how does the money (or lack thereof) affect the culture?  Who has the power, and what is the source of that power?

I learned the things you only learn by doing, for example, how to talk my way out of trouble with the "police" in Spanish, despite never having taken a day of Spanish in my life (hint:  money makes many things possible).

I was forced to work with people from different job fields in the Army, different branches of the military, and with foreign governments.  I got to work for a commander who was publishing a book.

Every day I wished I were back flying air assault missions at Fort Bragg, yet I still knew that I was learning things that few other captains in my career field got to experience, and I was probably better off for it.  The experience truly shaped my worldview as an officer, and gave me a better appreciation for the subtle nuances that define America's "small wars".  I learned something I couldn't have learned flying yet another mission around Fort Bragg.

Focus:  What were those assignments or experiences you had that truly shaped your world-view?  Do you feel that the assignment took you off your "track" in life, or did they help you along your way?  How can we give our junior leaders similar experiences, and truly grow the diverse "Pentathlete" leadership we need to fight the wars of the 21st Century?   

19 January 2009

The battle between small, heavy and hybrid wars rages on...

So the debate is heating up regarding "next-war-itis".  A number of prominent military thinkers have taken sides in this debate which regards the future posture of the US military. 

Representing the counter-insurgency crowd is Lt. Col. (Retired)/Doctor John Nagl, one of the architects of the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, and author of Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife:  Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya to Vietnam.  Representing the conventional force crowd is Col. Gian Gentile, a professor of Military History at West Point.  There is, of course, a third point of view, which stresses that hybrid wars--a mix of the conventional and
 unconventional, as Sun Tzu would call it--may dominate the future, much as the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict of 2006.

Of course, we can always look at building two arms of the military, one with an emphasis on counter-insurgency and light wars, and one with an emphasis on heavy wars, with a massive support structure to enable the two to operate simultaneously.  

For a thought experiment, I'd like to steal some thunder from David Axe at War is Boring, and see if we can't compose a unit of action (I never thought I'd use that term without doubling over in laughter, but I just did) geared towards counter-insurgency.  Hey, if Ralph Peters can simply
 whip out a crayon and re-draw the Middle Eastern borders , (and in the process, enrage much of the Middle East) I figure I can re-create the entire US military.  

So how would you construct a unit dedicated to conducting counter-insurgency?  While the focus is of course the core structure (cultural advisors, ground troops, vehicles, translators, intelligence operatives, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, construction teams, non-governmental organization
 representatives, etc), we can certainly add in the peripheral aviation assets, and combat support assets. 

Understand that every counter-insurgency situation is different and requires a highly specialized skillset, especially in terms of translators and cultural advisors, so a permanent organization that routinely operates together is probably impractical.  Yet, it makes for an interesting thought experiment for winning the types of wars that seem to have dominated the early 21st Century.  

Oh yeah, to attract visitors who will offer advice on the future organization of the US military in a counterinsurgency/hybrid/conventional environment, here's a picture of Megan Fox in a Star Wars t-shirt and an iPhone.  So yes, this is truly a blog on my three favorite subjects:  counterinsurgency, Star Wars, and Megan Fox.  I expect dozens of replies now.  

Megan Fox says:  "You can use the standard Brigade Combat Team structure as a baseline, but do not feel compelled to be restrained by this format, as a successful counterinsurgent must apply all aspects of power, to include diplomatic, economic, military and social power upon the populace, so please design a joint-interoperable organization to facilitate this.  This is simply a thought exercise to determine the future of the US military in a counterinsurgency/small war environment.  Oh, and Grimlock should be in Transformers II."

18 January 2009

More on Women and War (two great topics)

Greg in Mexico is a regular reader of this blog, and he wrote something interesting a year or so ago about the various functions of the US military.  This lends a lot of further credence to the belief that, to avoid a total identity crisis, the US military might need to structure itself for a "small wars" force and a "heavy wars" force.  

One of Greg's great points is a charactarization of the two types of personality types that dominate the thinking in both areas of conflict.  He mentions a miltary geared towards the "big wars", describing it as a "Leviathan Force", or your "Dad's military:  young, male, unmarried, and slightly pissed-off", with a force oriented for counter-insurgency and nation-building, which he describes as "Your Mom's Miltary:  gender-balanced, older, much more educated, married, with children."

The analogy of counter-insurgency as being a more feminine trait is one that I find fitting, as counter-insurgency requires a great deal more strategy to win than conventional war.  Recall that in the days of the Greeks and Romans that it was Athena who ruled over the realm of strategy and Ares who ruled over the clash of battle.  It is said that successful generals prayed to the goddeess Athena before victory, not to Ares.  

Further historical reading links insurgency with feminine wiles, as opposed to conventional war.  T.E. Lawrence, in the extended version of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, had this to say about the Arab insurgency:  

As for lying, [a British Army colonel] was incapable of it, and most of all incapable of practicing the art upon the Arabs, whose wile life passed in a mist of deceits, and whose intuitions were of the finest.  The Arab leaders showed a completeness of instinct, a reliance upon intuition, the something fore-known, which left our centrifugal minds gasping in the distance.  They understood and judged quickly, effortlessly, unreasonably, like women:  it almost seemed as though the Oriental exclusion of women from political activity had conferred her particular gifts upon man-kind:  and some of the speed and secrecy of our victory, and its regularity, might perhaps be ascribed to the fact that from end to end of it thter was nothing female but from our camels in the Arab Movement.  

Strangely enough, in the past years, evolutionary psychologists have written much on the subject of the psychological differences between the sexes--from more serious works like The Red Queen, to more humorous ones like Why Woman Can't Follow Maps and Why Men Don't Ask Directions.  Most of them note that women have a much better ability to read human emotion, and prefer methods of indirect action (a constant mantra of B.H. Liddell Hart), which are actually skills critical to success in counter-insurgency, where direct action often proves counter-productive. 

With that said, I propose the following focus for the guys:  Did adapting to 4GW require a complete reboot of your world-view?  To what extent does counter-insurgency seem anathema to a military used to fighting force-on-force battles that resemble a football game?  Ladies, does counter-insurgency make more sense to you than the guys?  Does my emphasis on the somewhat feminine traits essential to counter-insurgency mean that I have The Notebook on DVD?  (Ladies are invited to drop by and find out the answer to that last one.)  

17 January 2009

Regarding Bird Strikes

So I've been stranded for the last couple of days at another base (maintenance issues), so I've been unable to view Small Wars Journal or any other serious news site recently.  That means that, until I complete reading about 150 entries on my RSS reader, the astute criticism of defense policy will take a back seat to some of my more amusing reflections.

I'm certain all of you have heard of the amazing landing performed by a pilot who had a bird strike, lost both engines, and landed the plane safely in the Hudson River.  What's kind of amusing is that, true to form, the network news agencies have immediately started to sow their typical panic campaigns upon the viewing public by running news specials on how deadly bird strikes are, and how you will eventually die because of a bird strike.  It's as if planes and birds haven't been sharing the same airspace for the last 100 years or so--just now do we need to warn America of bird strikes.

In related news, we've actually had a "Bird Strike Kill Board" for quite some time.  So yeah, we were into the whole bird strike trend before the rest of America was.  

Why aircraft are like women


Aircraft, much like ships, are often referred to in the feminine form. Some might say that this is because pilots have affection for their aircraft like men do for women, but this is not the case. Since the days of Amelia Erhardt, women have been aviators, so it can't be a gender thing.  It must be something else...

The reference to aircraft as women is fitting for a number of reasons, and not simply because an aircraft can weigh tens of thousands of pounds, much like an ex-girlfriend of mine weighs now (hint: chocolate truffles won't fill the hole in your soul). 

Nay, the most fitting similarity between aircraft and women is that when you ask a woman "what's wrong", you'll never really get a straight answer. Much is the same with aircraft.

Currently, I am stuck. I'm replacing a crew that flew the aircraft earlier in the day and experienced a split between the torques of the two engines--one engine read that it was producing very little power, the other that it was producing a lot of power. They landed at a nearby airbase, and I, along with a fresh crew, was shuttled over to pick up the aircraft and fly it back once it got fixed.

This should have been a few hours.

(That was three days ago)

Normal troubleshooting would indicate that the engine that was producing little power was defective. So, after replacing part after part after part on that engine, the extremely gracious maintenance crew (who has catered to our needs exceedingly well here, I must say), was unable to diagnose the problem.  And as far as we can tell, it's quite a complicated one.  

So, now it's been decided that the problem wasn't an engine that was under-performing, but rather, the problem was that an engine was over-performing, and the "weak" engine scaled back the load to accommodate this. So, once again, part after part after part has been replaced on the second engine.

The good news is that our current efforts seem to have fixed fixed the original problem--go figure, as we've practically installed two entirely new engines bit-by-bit.  Even though our hosts have done an incredible job taking care of us and fixing our aircraft, it's about time for us to go back home. 

(By the way, I hear there's a swimming pool here, so if we're still broken, I think I have a plan.)

15 January 2009

KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNN!!!!!!! (And more on Star Trek)

Today I woke up and read the sad news that Ricardo Montalban, the actor who starred in Fantasy Island and played Captain Kirk's nemesis, Khan, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (the best ST film ever) died today. So, in tribute to Ricardo Montalban, I give you the best acting performance ever.


This kind of reminds me of how I read something recently in a great book called The Last Lecture by author Randy Pausch about the leadership style of Captain Kirk. Obviously, I (along with Randy Pausch) find that Kirk is the best captain of the Starship Enterprise, as he has the best style of leadership, and one certainly applicable to our military leaders today.

Kirk's certainly not the most brilliant technical expert on the ship--he has Scotty, Bones and Spock to deal with the majority of the small details. However, he, as a leader, has to have a mission-focus. He has to understand the underlying social dynamics of the crew, understand how to conquer the minds of his enemies (beaming some tribbles into a ship often works wonders) and must understand the greater socio-political aspects of whatever culture or situation he is interacting with. This last aspect not only leads to mission success in nearly every episode, but also results in him hooking up on nearly every single planet. Except that time he fought the guy in the Godzilla suit, but I digress.

Randy Pausch also further talks about his encounter with William Shatner in one chapter of "The Last Lecture". Pausch, diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a few months to live, gets to meet William Shatner, who later sends him a signed picture of him as Captain Kirk, with the words, "I don't believe in the no-win scenario--keep fighting, William Shatner".

Crew Coordination Tip of the Day

The moral of this story apparently is that I'm a woman flier.

Basically, I have a few lessons learned from a flight a little while back. Around 2230 (or 10:30 PM) I found out that I was flying the next day. At five in the morning. Great.

It didn't help that, around midnight, I got a knock on my quarters door from someone reminding me that I had the aforementioned flight the next morning. (Yes, thanks, that's why I was asleep just now). Brain frazzling doesn't exactly make for a great flight.

This played a factor into our landing at a landing zone somewhere in Iraq. Like nearly every single area in this country, it was ringed with all sorts of hazards (wires, towers, etc), not to mention the fact that it's in Iraq and therefore potentially hostile. I was also further surprised to see that there were quite a few helicopters in this landing zone.

My brain processed that I was surprised to see the large number of aircraft in this particular area, which I hadn't expected to see. The brain sent a message to my mouth in an attempt to express this particular sentiment. Unfortunately, after little sleep, it came out like this:

"Holy Shit"

Verily, short final into a landing zone in a hostile country is probaly not one of those occasions on which you would like to utter "holy shit" lightly. Although, truth be told, there are very subtle variations on the term "holy shit", which can express surprise at anything from imminent danger, to the taste of a really good sandwich. Apparently, I failed to communicate the more subtle nuances of the phrase "holy shit", as the other pilot started frantically scanning the ground around him.


He swung his head side to side, scanning for threats: Perhaps this particular permutation of the phrase "holy shit" translated into someone with an RPG, or maybe a set of wires straight ahead of us.

That's when I realized my crew coordination error. "Uh, just kidding. Not really. Never mind", I said.

We touched down and set the brakes.

"What was it?"

"Oh, nothing really, there were just a lot of helicopters here. I wasn't expecting that big of a crowd"

"Jesus Christ, you're just like my wife. Every time I go driving, she'll scream 'Holy Shit' because she left the damn dryer open or something."

"Well, at least I learned something new today."

14 January 2009

Small Wars for the Marines?

The Commandant of the Marine Corps has been vociferously demanding that Marines be diverted away from nation building efforts in Iraq, and towards conventional combat operations in Afghanistan, adding that Marines should go wherever there is fighting, not nation building (with the undertones of counterinsurgency, I would gather).  

Which is actually quite amusing, when you think of it, as the Marine Corps was actually the first organization to draft a manual for small "Banana Wars" and counterinsurgency. 

What's old is new and something like that

When I was a cadet, my instructors had served their entire careers in a peacetime Army.  They often related to me that everything in the military had been done before--it was merely a matter of picking up the right "continuity book" or field manual and simply doing what everyone else had done.  I really never caught on to this idea, and I'm kind of glad I didn't. 

It was great advice for a military whose greatest challenge might have been planning a ball or a change of command, but it's hardly applicable now.  In a world where our military is increasingly being pitted against threats from non-traditional enemies, I often wonder if someone is digging through John Paul Jones' "continuity book" to see how we deal with 21st Century pirates.  

The great thing about lax international copyright laws

The great thing about lax international copyright laws is that you can buy DVDs of movies that were just recently released in the US.  Some may call this bootlegging, but hey, most truths that we cling to depend greatly upon our own point of view.  I was able to snatch up the new 007 movie, Quantum of Solace (just when you thought they'd run out of Fleming titles to turn into movies).  

I went to the Arab market armed with at $20 bill, hoping to purchase two movies.  I thought that I would have to be a shrewd haggler to make this work.  Well, I was wrong.  I picked up both DVDs for $2 each.

I'd been waiting to see Quantum of Solace for a while, not only because I'm a James Bond fan, but also because I need to watch the movie in order to understand what Maddox is complaining about on his most excellent website, The Best Page in the Universe.  

13 January 2009

Someone owes me royalties

Seems Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chariman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has also been preaching about the convergence of American military and diplomatic policy recently--with the miltiary taking up the role of enacting most of America's foreign policy, to include diplomatic, economic and social endeavors.  It's almost as if he stole a line from a great article posted in Small Wars Journal back in October.  (Gotta love shameless self-promotion.  Of course, I also stole many of those ideas from a few other sources, but just overlook that)

Here are some quotes from Admiral Mullen in today's New York Times:

The military is engaged in deep soul-searching over the proper role of the armed forces in foreign policy. The debate has been inspired by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have forced the military to take on responsibilities far beyond combat, including tasks like economic reconstruction and political development that are often described as “nation building.”

“Our military is flexible, well funded, designed to take risk,” Admiral Mullen said in a speech at an evening ceremony of the Nixon Center, a Washington policy institute. “We respond well to orders from civilian authorities.”

Because of those traits, Admiral Mullen said, the military receives vast resources — and then is asked to do even more.

“I believe we should be more willing to break this cycle, and say when armed forces may not always be the best choice to take the lead,” he said. “We must be just as bold in providing options when they don’t involve our participation or our leadership, or even when those options aren’t popular.

Additonally, from the Los Angeles Times:  

Mullen's views are in line with the thinking of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has spoken out many times about the need for the military to work more closely with civilian agencies. 

In a series of speeches, Gates called on Congress to provide more funding for the State Department's foreign service and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

To offset the shift in U.S. approaches, the Pentagon has transferred funding to help the State Department send civilian officials to trouble spots. Pentagon officials also have encouraged military assistance for stabilization efforts.

But Mullen said efforts to shift resources to other agencies were insufficient. He argued that Congress should provide greater flexibility for the military to transfer funding during a crisis.

"As an equal partner in government, I want to be able to transfer resources to my other partners when they need them," Mullen said...

..Mullen said that changes in federal policy would encourage greater civilian risk-taking. Among needed improvements are safeguards such as life insurance and medical care for people serving in volatile regions, he said. 

Mullen said the military has much to learn about how the State Department and other agencies use such power effectively. 

"If we are truly to cut oxygen from the fire of violent extremism," Mullen said, "we must leverage every single aspect of national power -- soft and hard."

With that said, a few focus questions:

1.) To what extent should the military engage in nation-building activities?  

2.) With nation-building being placed on par with traditional warfighting functions (as per the new operations manual), what sorts of training do you see being implemented in our junior soldiers?

3.) How should the military structure itself for these types of conflicts?  Should there be a "small war" force and a "big war" force?  

The question of placing stability and support operations on par with offensive and defensive operations actually leads me to my next article for SWJ, in which I will discuss our military educational system's attempts (or sometimes, lack thereof) to keep up with the latest in military thinking.  

12 January 2009

"Tell Me How This Ends"-Discussion

General Petraeus is often quoted as saying, right after the invasion of 2003, "Tell me how this ends", in reference to the building of a stable democracy in Iraq.  

Tonight I ask the same about the situation in Gaza.  What long-term solution will military action have in Gaza on the security situation in Israel?  What will/could Israel combine with military strength in order to gain some sort of security gain in the Gaza Strip?

11 January 2009

Deep Thoughts...

So after a flight the other day, I had to go to the restroom. While going to the restroom, I noticed that there was one of those ubiquitous "for a good time" messages on the wall. However, I think it's a sign of the times that, more and more, I see an e-mail address attached to the "For a good time" messages instead of a phone number. I think it's only a matter of time before someone starts putting up instant messenger names or Myspace URLs on the bathroom walls.

Focus: Am I the only one who has noticed this?

This of course pales in comparison to a bathroom I went to in Kuwait, where, no kidding, these are actual quotes from the graffiti:

--If God is all powerful, knowing, and good, then why is there so much suffering in the world? Is he powerless to stop it? Is he not all good? --(Reply) This argument was first brought up by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 BCE-270 BCE), who postulated in his work...

Focus 2: Has anyone else seen deep philosophical debates on bathroom walls?

And with all this said about bathroom graffiti, I leave this for you to debate:

09 January 2009

Life Imitates Art

While reading up on Martin van Crewald's paradox, I came across a statement on the Iraqi insurgency which reminded me of something amusing.

While we often refer to "an insurgency" in Iraq, there have actually been multiple insurgent groups, criminal organizations and militias which made up "the insurgency".  Each of these groups had its own political goals, organization, and sometimes even fought against one another.

Yes, much like the People's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Peoples' Liberation Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the dozen or so other Palestinian liberation groups found in the Monty Python movie, The Life of Bryan.  Groups who hate each other even more than they hate the Romans.  

I'm so cultured...

Romani ite domum!

08 January 2009

4GW Links of the Day, (Plus two disturbing ones)

  1. Sic Semper Tyrannis posted a great article which talks about the idocyncracies of the Israeli Army.  Foremost among these is the large reserve force which can be called into action during a crisis, but also comes from a highly productive portion of the Israeli economy.  This, of course means that Isreal cannot afford long conflicts, much like Sun Tzu advised when he wrote that "No country benefits from protracted war".  Additionally, the Israeli Defense Force does not have a non-commissioned officer corps like the US has, instead relegating NCOs to a speciality field, and forcing younger commissioned officers to fill the gap, with results that are less than optimal, as the article claims.
  2. Air power as soft power?  Oh yes, it can.  
  3. Global Guerillas (as well as Greg in Mexico) has shared some thoughts on the issue of increasing economic and criminal chaos in Mexico at the hands of drug cartels, which certainly represents a national security threat, possibly one of the most relevant ones to the US.   
  4. Bizarre links of the Day:  The Internet Twilight Zone--a thread on the Tucker Max message board that links to a message board where one user has over 2,000 posts...and is the only poster on the board.  
  5. In Virginia, a 6-year old boy drives himself to school.  When the police asked where he learned to drive, he answered "Grand Theft Auto".  Yeah, I think this actually surpasses the 8-year old who wrote to me and told me that his favorite movie was Saw III.  

06 January 2009

The Counterinsurgency Field Manual: Afghanistan Edition

Small Wars Journal posted a link to a great article in Foreign Policy Magazine regarding COIN theory in Afghanistan--a strategic situation far more complex than Iraq due to its rural population, vastly more complex ethnic demographics, and thriving opium trade.  Not to mention that Waziristan, a province in Pakistan, serves as what T.E. Lawrence would refer to as an "unassailable base" for the insurgency in that area.  We also have some interesting new developments, such as a split between insurgent groups, with the Taliban separating from Al-Qaeda and suing for peace.

The article features commentary from such high-profile names in strategic thought such as Lt. Col. (Ret) John Nagl and General David H. Petraeus.   It also brings up this gem of counter-insurgency thinking that I actually wrote about in Small Wars Journal back in October regarding risk aversion within the military and diplomatic corps, the design of embassies, and public diplomacy.

(PS--Hey Lt. Col/Dr. Nagl, can I take your place on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart?  That's always been my dream.)

Paradox 2: Sometimes the more you protect your force, the less secure you may be.

2-1. The U.S. military, designed to inflict overwhelming and disproportionate losses on the enemy, tends to equate victory with very few body bags. So does the American public. The new counterinsurgency doctrine upends this perceived immunity from casualties by demanding that manpower replace firepower. Soldiers in Afghanistan must get out among the people, building and staffing joint security stations with Afghan security forces. That is the only way to disconnect the enemy from the civilians. Persistent presence—living among the population in small groups, staying in villages overnight for months at a time—is dangerous, and it will mean more casualties, but it’s the only way to protect the population effectively. And it will make U.S. troops more secure in the long run.

2-2. This imperative to get out among the people extends to U.S. civilians as well. U.S. Embassy staff are almost completely forbidden from moving around Kabul on their own. Diplomacy is, of course, about relationships, and rules that discourage relationships fundamentally limit the ability of American diplomats to do their jobs. The mission in Afghanistan is to stabilize the country, not to secure the embassy.

2-3. Counterinsurgency strategy suggests that victory requires 20 to 25 counterinsurgents for every 1,000 residents. Current troop strength in Afghanistan, including Afghan forces, are about a third of that level. The stark alternatives are to deploy more troops or to change the mission.

05 January 2009


I picked the Internet moniker "Starbuck" based on the drinking, cigar-smoking, womanizing, humorous, yet somewhat responsible and lovable character on the original Battlestar Galactica (and the female Kara "Starbuck" Thrace from the BSG re-make).  I also thought it was appropriate as I hit up Starcuks in the US almost every single day.

But both the character and the coffee company took the name "Starbuck" from a character in the novel Moby Dick, who was Captain Ahab's first mate.  (In The X-Files, Dana Scully is nicknamed "Starbuck" by her father, has a dog she names "Queequeg", and has referred to Mulder as "Captain Ahab").  Based on the number of allusions to this novel I've seen, I decided to read it.  

I was actually expecting a lot more plot in this novel.  Instead, I've been innundated with pages upon pages of detailed taxonomic descriptions of whales, which are based on scientific knowledge that pre-dated Darwin.  Despite the fact that Melville spends an entire chapter claiming that whales are fish, we are now fairly certain that they're actually descended from a family of hooved mammals which gradually returned into the sea and evolved into whales.  Well, except in the state of Kansas, where I'm obliged to say that they magically appeard 6,000 years ago.

More news

It's been a busy week in Iraq.  Not because the US has been chasing down insurgents, but because so many bases are being handed over to the Iraqi Army, it's almost difficult to keep track of them.  Whearas just two years ago, Army helicopters were burning thousands of blade hours taking troops to the battle, now they're scurrying back and forth just to accomodate bases that seem to be closing every day.

Just this past week, we've seen the Green Zone turned over to Iraqi control, as well as bases on the outskirts of Fallujuah, once the heart of the Iraqi insurgency, as well as in Baquabah just yesterday.  (Baquabah was made infamous for being the city in which insurgent leader Al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006).   

03 January 2009

Links of the Day

We've talked about Cyberwarfare before in a previous entry.  Seems that a blogger named Matt Devost has been a virtual Cassandra in the field of Cyberwarfare for over a decade.  The only difference between Mr. Devost and the mythical Cassandra, however, is that people are just now starting to listen to Devost.

Secondly, there was an interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor recently about the difficulty of COIN in Afghanistan.  With over 400 ethnic groups and no democratic tradition, combatting insurgents and establishing a stable, strong democracy are major challenge.  Even General Petraeus has been hesitant to remark on what an effective counterinsurgency plan for Afghanistan would look like, given the vast differences between Afghanistan and Iraq.

Lastly, the London Times posted an article regarding the success of Predator drones in tracking down senior Al-Qaeda leaders in Waziristan.  I was going to say that I found it amusing that a cheap, unmanned drone was making more of a dent in the War on Terror than the ultra-expensive F-22 Raptor (roughly $100 million per copy), until the article revealed that a program to sell Predator drones to Great Britain cost the UK some 500 million pounds.  

Miscellaneous Musings

Life is good.  Why?  Because a Green Beans Coffee shop just opened nearby.  So now I can go back to paying $3.50 for a cappuccino every day just like I did back home.  It actually brings a tear to my eye...

Investigative report will follow in the next few days.  Yes, my friends, your dear Starbuck will yet again make some sort of witty title involving coffee.  

Mail Bag (Sort of)

With Christmas season nearly over, it's time to take a look at some of the Christmas cards that we got.  Students at one elementary school sent us dozens of hand-made Christmas cards.   Most of them say something to the effect of "Dear Soldier, thank you for protecting our country", with varying degrees of proper spelling.  One card, however, stood out among all the rest.  I think I'm going to frame this one...

You may need to click on the picture to get a better view of it, but it says:

Dear Soldier,
My name is [redacted].  My favorite movie is Saw III...

WTF?  Who lets their kid watch Saw III?  More importantly, what kid feels the need to tell a complete stranger that he/she likes Saw III?  I almost hesitated to make fun of this letter, for fear of some psychopathic 8-year-old unleashing a vicious killer mime puppet that was going to hack me up with a buzzsaw.  But then I realized that this is the price I pay for being famous on the Internet, so I went ahead with it.  The story of my life--as warped as it may be--needs to be told, as few people run into sheer level of bizarre I encounter every single day.

01 January 2009

2009 in Iraq

I always thought that being in Iraq would give me a much more heightened awareness of American foreign policy and Middle Eastern politics.  Now, to be certain, I wouldn't have happened across the conversation I had with the Kurds had I been back in the US, but I actually had to work to make that opportunity happen.  I actually had to know a great deal of Middle Eastern history to glean the nugget or two that I did out of that discussion.  

In all actuality, I find myself actually quite far from relevant news in Iraq.  If I didn't have a massive amount of RSS feeds about Iraq on my Google Reader page, and links from CNN and the Wall Street Journal on my home page, I'd be pretty clueless as to what's going on.  One of the strange paradoxes of the US military in a wartime environment can be summed up by a quote from General David Petraeus, who said something along the lines of "officers put their nose to the grindstone so much that they don't take the time to look up".  

Indeed, much is the same about the day-to-day life in Iraq.  Concentrating on one flight or one roadside bomb causes a sense of tunnel vision and limits the focus we, as military professionals, have on the big picture of American foreign policy--a skill very critical to Fourth Generation Warfare. 

And judging by the news stories, there's a lot happening in Iraq right now--much of it positive.  As I walk around, I find that popular opinion seems to have it that the US will remain in many of its bases for decades to come--which is now highly contrary to what is actually happening in the cities of Iraq.

A series of news stories I picked up this morning highlight a drastic improvement in the security situation in 2008, with even greater opportunities for 2009.   One news story comes from the New York Times and it discusses the closure of a Marine base on the outskirts of Fallujah, the center of the insurgency during 2004. 

As part of the reduction of United States troops from Iraq, by Thursday there will be few marines left in or around this mostly Sunni city of about 300,000 people. The closing of Camp Falluja is one of the most prominent symbols yet that America’s presence in the country, which at times had seemed all encompassing, is diminishing.

As recently as a year ago, the base closing was cause for alarm. The calm that seemed to have taken hold here was fragile enough that both Iraqi and American officials feared the potential consequences of the marines’ departure.

Today they look forward to it.

“That will make our job easier,” said Col. Dowad Muhammad Suliyman, commander of the Falluja Police Department. “The existence of the American forces is an excuse for the insurgents to attack. They consider us spies for the Americans.  [ed. note:  And here we find that, by withdrawing troops, we adhere to the COIN principle of giving the host nation legitimacy]

The second article worth reading comes from CNN, and it regards the Iraqification of the Green Zone.

Article three comes from the New York Times again, and it discusses how utterly quiet (relatively) Iraq has gotten.  So quiet, in fact, that news coverage for the Iraq War during the nightly news on the big three networks decreased by almost 75% from 2007 to 2008.  Now, unfortunately for us as Americans, this is also partially due to the fact that the economic woes on Wall Street have a much greater relevance to the average American than the war in Iraq.  The decrease in concern with Iraq is also partially responsible for the fact that only a minority of Americans know that over 4,000 troops have been killed in that country. But, nevertheless, fewer reporters generally means that there's fewer explosions to cover, and that can only be good, right?

Focus:  What are your predictions for Iraq in 2009?  Is the timeline set forth in the SOFA a practical timeline?  Will violence increase or decrease?  How do you see the upcoming Iraqi elections affecting the security situation?