2-27: Farewell

To all who have expressed a kind word for this blog, thank you. I have particularly enjoyed and benefitted from feedback from kith, kin, and friends I haven’t met yet.

As long as wars exist, PTSD will linger, lurk, and lunge. And it doesn’t go away. And wars aren’t going away. And the cycle never ends.

The “International” page (A4) of Friday’s New York Times bears witness to the unrelenting bellicosity of the world we inhabit … and by extension to the countless victims of those wars who will suffer all the days of their lives. The piece covers a weapons show in the heart of the Mid-East in the same manner in which a local newspaper would cover a boat show or an RV show.

At a ‘Defense’ Expo, an Antiseptic World of Weaponry

By Ben Hubbard

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates—Serbia showed off armored vehicles, rockets and rifles, and drew in passers by with a video showing soldiers shooting targets to action movie music.

Pakistan had glass cases full of bullets, mortars, grenades, and guns, including a gold-plated AK-47.

And Sudan displayed an antiaircraft missile and its launcher….

More than 1,200 military technology companies and contractors convened to hawk their wares….

[The exhibition] provided a visual layout of the global arms trade, which is at its most active since the end of the Cold War …

Never to be upstaged,

The United States had the most floor space, befitting its status as the world’s largest arms exporter. More than 100 American companies were present, with elaborate displays showing everything from handguns to armored vehicles to drones….

Many at the show noted the size of the Chinese display, where eight state-run companies advertised boats, tanks, missiles, and other items….

Many of the marketing slogans made sense only if you knew what the product did.

[For example,] “Sees without being seen,” boasted an ad for a Czech-made radar system….

No End in Sight

To state the obvious, war is big business. There is no incentive for weapons makers to retool their manufacturing lines, not while their cash cows continue to lactate lucrative lethal bile. Other headlines from Friday’s NYT include the following:

(A3) Iraqi Forces Capture Most of Mosul Airport: Bloody Fight Expected after Milestone in Effort to Drive ISIS from City

(A6) Four Are Dead in Kashmir after Ambush

(A8) For Syrian Refugees Fearing for Safety, There Is No Going Home: Those in Lebanon Wary of Return

(A10) Nerve Agent Killed North Korean Leader’s Half Brother, Police Say

(A11) Bosnian Seeks to Reopen Serbian Genocide Case

(A18) U.S. to Keep Private Prisons, Scrapping an Obama Plan

(A22) Once Home to Masses, A Standing Rock Camp Is Emptied and Razed

Quotation of the Day

The Times chose this ominous quote as emblematic of the news of the day. It is attributed to Khaled Khodor, a soldier who defected from the Syrian Army and spent four days in a Lebanese jail for sneaking across the border.

“If the Lebanese president would offer me the choice of staying in prison forever here and going back to Syria now, I would choose prison.”

End

2-23: VA Secretary Appointed

We have a new Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. David J. Shulkin. His acceptance speech, recorded on the VA’s official website, appears below in its entirety.

Message from VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin

I am grateful to President Trump and to members of Congress for entrusting me with the privilege of serving Veterans and the dedicated employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs as your secretary. It is my highest professional honor.

Together, we’ll ensure our nation’s obligation to provide care and benefits to those “who shall have borne the battle” and fulfill our institutional I CARE Values: integrity, commitment, advocacy, respect and excellence.

That obligation and those values are sacred to me, first, as an American – a beneficiary of the service and sacrifices of Veterans and their families who defend our uniquely American freedoms and opportunities. They’re also sacred to me because my father served the nation as an Army psychiatrist, and both my grandfathers were Army Veterans. My paternal grandfather served as chief pharmacist at the VA hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, and as a young doctor, I trained in VA hospitals. So, serving the nation and serving Veterans is a family tradition.

It was a privilege to serve as VA’s Under Secretary for Health over the past year and a half. Now, I look forward to continuing our collective efforts across the department and our country to deliver the care and services our Veterans need and deserve. Among many critical efforts already underway, we will continue building on significant progress increasing access for Veterans, preventing suicide, addressing unique needs of women Veterans, supporting Veterans’ families and caregivers, continuing to drive down the disability backlog and Veteran homelessness, and pursuing necessary legislation to reform the outdated appeals process and for other critical legislative priorities.

With the support of the president, Congress, Veterans, their service organizations, and the American people, we – the dedicated employees of VA – will continue to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise.

There is no nobler mission. There is no higher calling for any American. I am humbled and proud to serve with you.

End

Release the tax returns!

[I write about politics in this blog because of the direct link I see between the words and actions of politicians and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. America’s political class manipulates our military as though they were pawns in a global game of chess. To them, PTSD is merely an unfortunate cost of war.]

2-22: Flynn out, McMaster in

My ownership of this domain is running out. Please let me know if you would like me to renew it and continue writing this blog. Thank you. –paul

*****

In the wake of the Michael Flynn debacle as President Donald Trump’s defunct National Security Adviser, the president has since appointed Army Lt. General H.R. McMaster in his stead. Yesterday antiwar.com ran this ominous headline:

The US Military’s Limited Critique of Itself Ensures Future Disasters

The article depicts McMaster as “a ‘warrior’ and a true believer in military power, applied intelligently, that is. He [McMaster] has been highly critical of political power brokers in Washington, DC, and wrote a book on the mishandling of the military during the Vietnam War.”

In order to gain some perspective on McMaster’s worldview, seen through his eyes as a career military man, consider the article below from William J. Astore.

From July 26, 2013:

In the New York Times on July 20 [2013], Major General H.R. McMaster penned a revealing essay on “The Pipe Dream of Easy War.” McMaster made three points about America’s recent wars and military interventions:

  1. In stressing new technology as being transformative, the American military neglected the political side of war. They forgot their Clausewitz in a celebration of their own prowess, only to be brought back to earth by messy political dynamics in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
  2. Related to (1), the US military neglected human/cultural aspects of war and therefore misunderstood Iraqi and Afghan culture. Cultural misunderstandings transformed initial battlefield victories into costly political stalemates.
  3. Related to (1) and (2), war is uncertain and unpredictable. Enemies can and will adapt.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these points, or in the general’s broad lesson that “American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments. Wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq cannot be waged remotely.”

The last sentence is a dig at the Air Force and an argument for the continuing relevance of ground forces, which is unsurprising coming from an Army general who commands Fort Benning in Georgia.

But the sum total of McMaster’s argument is remarkably banal. Yes, war is political, human, and chaotic. Did our military professionals and civilian experts really forget this before making their flawed decisions to go to war after 9/11?

McMaster ends his critique with a few words of praise for the US military’s adaptability. The usual refrain: We messed up, but we learned from our mistakes, and are ready to take on new challenges, as long as the department of defense remains fully funded, and as long as America puts its faith in men like McMaster and not in machines/technology.

Here comes the other foot.

If those are the primary lessons our country should have learned since 9/11, we’re in big, big trouble.

So, here are three of my own “lessons” in response to McMaster’s. They may not be popular, but that’s because they’re a little more critical of our military – and a lot more critical of America.

  1. Big mistakes by our military are inevitable because the American empire is simply too big, and American forces are simply too spread out globally, often in countries where the “ordinary” people don’t want us. To decrease our mistakes, we must radically downsize our empire.
  2. The constant use of deadly force to police and control our empire is already sowing the deadly seeds of blowback. Collateral damage and death of innocents via drones and other “kinetic” attacks is making America less safe rather than more.

Like the Romans before us, as Tacitus said, we create a desert with our firepower and call it “peace.” But it’s not peace to those on the receiving end of American firepower. Their vows of vengeance perpetuate the cycle of violence. Add to this our special forces raids, our drone strikes, and other meddling and what you get is a perpetual war machine that only we can stop. But we can’t stop it because like McMaster we keep repeating, “This next war, we’ll get it right.”

3.  We can’t defeat the enemy when it is us. Put differently, what’s the sense in defeating the enemies of freedom overseas at the same time as our militarized government is waging a domestic crackdown on dissent (otherwise known as freedom of speech) in the “homeland”?

Articles like McMaster’s suggest that our military can always win future wars, mainly by fighting more intelligently. These articles never question the wisdom of American militarization, nor do they draw any attention to the overweening size and ambition of the department of defense and its domination of American foreign policy.

Indeed, articles like McMaster’s, in reassuring us that the military will do better in the next round of fighting, ensure that we will fight again – probably achieving nothing better than stalemate while wasting plenty of young American (and foreign) lives.

Is it possible that the best way to win future wars is to avoid them altogether? As simple as that question is, you will rarely hear it asked in the halls of power in Washington.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

Placed in perspective …

It is not unpatriotic to question our military, the defense budget, or American presence and actions in other countries. Astore refers to “the Romans before us.” Two millennia ago it was good to be a Roman citizen carrying all the rights and privileges of the Pax Romana, Roman Peace. As long as other countries paid tribute to Rome–in the form of taxes, soldiers, blue and no-collar workers, food and other supplies–the Roman Army would not annihilate them.

Adherents to the “my country, right or wrong” philosophy may want to read one of these books:

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon

The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire: Life, Liberty, and the Death of the Republic, Barry Linton

Spoiler Alert: They don’t end well.

End

Release the tax returns!

[I write about politics in this blog because of the direct link I see between the words and actions of politicians and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. America’s political class manipulates our military as though they were pawns in a global game of chess. To them, PTSD is merely an unfortunate cost of war.]

2-21: News Beefs

My ownership of this domain is running out. Please let me know if you would like me to renew it and continue writing this blog. Thank you. –paul

What Passes for News These Days Is Driving Me Crazy

Two issues struck me as I listened to the radio during the day Monday. First, President Donald Trump is “walking back” his lunatic rant/Tweet about a terrorist attack in Sweden. Second, the hagiographic description of Michael Flynn I listened to was sickening.

No Terrorist Attack in Sweden

Because he says it doesn’t make it true. In a desperate, fear-mongering attempt to bolster his claims of worldwide acts of terrorism, Trump claimed over the weekend that we should “look at what happened in Sweden.” Well, apparently the Swedes looked at one another all around the country and wondered aloud, “Huh?” Nothing of the sort happened.

This prompted Swedish officials to contact the White House asking for an explanation. Realizing he was caught in a hyperbolic public display of disgrace, POTUS defended his dire warning by claiming that he had heard this information on Fox News.

So, what he said during the campaign turns out to be true. 1) He doesn’t take daily intelligence briefings because he doesn’t need them. 2) He gets his news from television. I have written this before, folks: This is scary.

Michael Flynn, Hero

I tuned in to conservative talk show host Michael Savage. For nearly an hour he bemoaned the fact that Michael Flynn, Trump’s erstwhile National Security Adviser, was pilloried by the liberal media and that is what forced him out of office. Make up your own mind on that, I have another fish to fry.

Savage referred repeatedly to Flynn as a hero, saying multiple times that he had served with the 82nd Airborne and jumped out of airplanes directly into harm’s way. I will not denigrate another veteran’s record. From everything I have seen, heard, and read Lieutenant General Michael Flynn (Ret.) served his country with honor and distinction.

But here is where Savage gets it wrong and I draw the line. When pictured in full dress uniform, including, ribbons, Flynn does not have a Combat Infantryman Badge. Keep your eye out for it when you view any member of the U.S. Army in uniform. The CIB sits atop all other awards. All of them. It indicates that the wearer—who must be an Army infantryman—has been in combat, hot combat, under fire combat, boots on the ground combat. The real deal.

Flynn wears a Ranger patch, which means he trained as a Ranger; it does not mean that he fought as a Ranger. He served with the 82nd Airborne, which means he jumped out of airplanes; it does not mean that he landed in combat zones. Fresh out of college in 1981, Flynn began his military career as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 82nd. That would have made him, at most, a platoon leader when President Ronald Reagan unleashed Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of Grenada. The 82nd was there.

Fun fact for military history buffs: more medals were awarded for that operation than the number of men and women who participated in it. Another fun fact: during this glorified field exercise the Department of Defense discovered that the various branches of service—Army, Navy, Air Force—could not communicate with each other. Their technology purchases had not been coordinated (they are now) and so they could not talk among themselves, so to speak.

When all is said and done,

Let’s urge our leaders—and ourselves—to consume news from various sources, not just the ones that flatter our already held positions. Evil does exist, that’s a fact. But hiding from it won’t make it go away. And let’s stop sanctifying all soldiers. I, for one, am grateful for and respectful of their service. Each and every one of them. But they are not all powerful, nor should they be, and they are not all wise.

There is a reason our commander-in-chief is a civilian. Think about it.

End

Release the tax returns!

[I write about politics in this blog because of the direct link I see between the words and actions of politicians and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. America’s political class manipulates our military as though they were pawns in a global game of chess. To them, PTSD is merely an unfortunate cost of war.]

2-20: Hoover-Haunted America

Hoover Hovers

Names on buildings matter. Ask Donald Trump. Which is why I resent—and remain totally befuddled by—the continuance of the FBI building in Washington, D.C. still bearing the name of the reprehensible J. Edgar Hoover. Unless FBI really stands for Federal Blackmail Institute.

Hoover reigned unchecked over his personal clandestine empire for half a century. While his tough talk about gangsters, communists, and Nazis garnered blissful praise among his countrymen, his well-known and well-documented hatred for Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, among many others, was overlooked, if not out-right forgiven. J. Edgar Hoover was a patriot, the lazy wanted to believe.

For anyone who holds dear the notions that America is a republic, a democracy, and a nation of law, the tyrannical power Hoover wielded must be abhorred. J. Edgar Hoover was a bum.

Rumors abound that Hoover remained in power untethered because he held “dirt” on politicians, up to and including presidents. He threatened them, one after the other. He degraded the mighty and manipulated the masses. We survived Hoover, but as a nation we did not come out unscathed. His life is an historical blot. Only Death was able to end his monomaniacal ruthlessness. Why is his name still on that building?

Today, a new crisis has arisen.

Lefty that I am, Trump is not my guy; but he is our president. I accept that. I don’t like his cabinet appointments, I believe he is eroding our standing in the world even worse than “W” did, and I fear that he will eviscerate the commonweal by sledgehammering the Affordable Care Act, Social Security, and other government programs that reflect our empathetic nature as a people. That said …

The Constitution does confer broad powers to the president. Scary, maybe, but there you have it. The assumption John Q. Citizen hopes to be true is that, when POTUS acts in our name, he does so having pondered deeply the exhaustive information provided to him by subject matter experts.

Therein lies the rub.

President Trump can’t be bothered reading. He has all but declared open warfare with “Intelligence.” Because he has said that he does not trust the many agencies that gather, report, and summarize sensitive information for him, their prime consumer, they have allegedly decided to withhold information from him. I agree 100% with the career professionals who believe that Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner do not belong anywhere near national security briefings. But, alas, I do not have a say in the matter.

I don’t trust Donald Trump to “do the right thing” ever. But my opinion really doesn’t matter. Nor do I trust our Big Brother organizations to decide independently which data bits they will provide to, or withhold from, the president. Is this a Constitutional crisis? I don’t know.

I do know that I do not want federal employees, avowed agents of the government, making unfettered, unilateral decisions about the manner in which they choose to perform their jobs. Hoover is dead. Long live democracy!

End

Release the tax returns!

[I write about politics in this blog because of the direct link I see between the words and actions of politicians and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. America’s political class manipulates our military as though they were pawns in a global game of chess. To them, PTSD is merely an unfortunate cost of war.]

2-17: The Russians Are Coming

Leaker: Pssst! Hey, buddy. You a news guy?

News Guy: Yeah. Whatchyugot?

Leaker: Ruskies. All over the place. This town is full of them.

News Guy: That’s not news. It’s a free country. What are they doing? Who are they talking to?

Leaker: They’re infiltrating the government. They’re everywhere.

News Guy: Give me a for instance.

Leaker: For instance, the media stinks with them: reporters, editors, you name it. They are in town halls and state houses. They’re right here in D.C., getting ready to overthrow the very core of our democracy. Heck, they’re even crawling around Hollywood, making movies designed to pollute American minds.

News Guy: Names. I need names.

Leaker: I have so many names you wouldn’t believe. They have spies. I have my own informants. Reliable sources.

News Guy: How do I know you are not simply trying to scare the public?

Leaker: Scare! You want scare? I’ll give you scare. There are many, many commies, today, in all branches of the military. That includes generals as well as privates. Does that scare you?

News Guy: I am finding this entire conversation extremely hard to believe. You haven’t given me a single lead worth following.

Leaker: Hmm. You don’t trust me. You don’t believe me.

News Guy: Not until you give me something substantial.

Senate Page: Paging the honorable Mr. McCarthy. Paging the honorable Mr. McCarthy.

Leaker: Have to go. See ya.

End

[I write about politics in this blog because of the direct link I see between the words and actions of politicians and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. America’s political class manipulates our military as though they were pawns in a global game of chess. To them, PTSD is merely an unfortunate cost of war.]

2-16: 306 Electoral College Votes

Nothing Else Matters.

I have been trying my darnedest to avoid writing about, much less attacking, the 45th President of the United States. I truly have. But to even mention that his narcissism dominates every news cycle is understatement. There is simply no escaping his ego.

Donald Trump demonstrates over and over again that he cannot focus on anything, or anyone, other than himself. He believes, I’m sure, the universe revolves around him. So tremendous. Unbelievable.

Toss away the Protocol.

I was driving along midday Wednesday. News report: President Trump is greeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Nothing special in this innocuous gesture … except there was. The public—nay, the world—knew this meeting was scheduled. The President, uncharacteristically for a president, greeted the Prime Minister’s motorcade personally. Okay, a bit ostentatious, but okay.

The real curve ball came with what happened next. Trump and Netanyahu held a press conference before their meeting. Odd.

Remember, I’m driving, so the road has most of my attention. Each man praised the other almost dotingly, noting how they had known each other for many years.

Diplomacy by Association

Then things got weird. A reporter asked Trump if he would comment on incidents of anti-Semitism in America. He would. He prefaced his reply with a reminder of how proud and honored he was to have received 306 electoral votes. More to the point … Trump noted that his son-in-law is a Jew, his daughter is a Jew, and he has Jewish grandchildren. Anti-Semitism? Not in the Trump family, the center of …

It gets weirder. Another reporter asked about Trump’s views on the Israel-Palestine issue. Well, he said (paraphrasing here, no quotes), I used to be for a two-state solution, now I think one state is alright. Whatever they decide.

Then, as if the hole needed to be deeper, he ribbed “Bibi” just as little. You’re going to stop building over there for a little while, right? I didn’t hear a response from Netanyahu. So rude.

Press conference over. Can’t wait to hear how the meeting went.

Buckle your seat belts. Tighten your crash helmets. We’re in for a bumpy ride.

End

[I write about politics in this blog because of the direct link I see between the words and actions of politicians and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. America’s political class manipulates our military as though they were pawns in a global game of chess. To them, PTSD is merely an unfortunate cost of war.]

2-14: Conflicts of Interest

Random Conversation Heard in D.C. Hall Yesterday

Johnny on the Spot: So, Mitch, big news today, right?

Mitchell: What’s that?

John: You know, Flynn got the boot. What do you think about that?

Mitch: Every president gets to choose …

John: Yeah, yeah. But looks like he chose wrong on this one.

Mitch: There would be no hullabaloo about this if the media didn’t leak damaging information.

John: You’re kidding. You have to be kidding.

Mitch: It’s the media’s fault. They set out to undermine this president. The general is a good man. I’ve known him for 20 years. He did not deserve this public humiliation.

John: He got too cozy with our enemy of, oh, some 70 years or so. He played big man on the block with them way before we changed administrations. He lied to the vice president. He played the mouthpieces for fools.

Mitch: None of that is against the law.

John: The Logan Act?

Mitch: Never been enforced.

John: So, do you think Congress should investigate Flynn’s actions?

Mitch: No.

John: No?

Mitch: No. And that’s the end of it.

John: Benghazi. How many hearings? E-mails. How many hearings?

Mitch: Not the point. We have a new president, a new administration. We should be doing the people’s work. We need to get rid of Obamacare. We need to cut taxes. We need to protect everyone’s right to own a gun. The people’s work. We control all branches of government. We have a mandate to put this country back on track.

John: Oh, my. On a lighter note, how is the misses?

Mitch: She’s fine, thank you.

John: All settled in at her new office? The president appointed her Secretary of …

Mitch: Uh, look at the time. Sorry. Got to go.

End

[I write about politics in this blog because of the direct link I see between the words and actions of politicians and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. America’s political class manipulates our military as though they were pawns in a global game of chess. To them, PTSD is merely an unfortunate cost of war.]

2-14: Separation of Powers

Most U.S. citizens, it seems, need a refresher course in civics whenever our vaunted peaceful transfer of power occurs. The current ultra-partisanship that permeates the land and polarizes—not quite paralyzes—us is really nothing new. Heck, when George Washington was president, he had Federalist Alexander Hamilton barking in one ear while Republican Thomas Jefferson yelped in the other. When the bickering ebbed, however, all agreed that the Constitution reigned supreme. And it has ever been so.

The website

usgovinfo.about.com

provides a useful summation, authored by Robert Longley, of the respective roles of the three branches of our government.

A System of Checks and Balances

The framers of the U.S. Constitution built a system of “separation of powers” through “checks and balances” into the document to ensure that no single person or branch of the new government could ever become too powerful.

Men like James Madison knew all too well from hard experience the dangers of things like despotic kings. Or as Madison himself put it, “The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted.”

Madison and his fellow framers believed that in creating any government administered by humans over humans, “You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.”

Three Branches, Separate But Equal

In the provision of the three branches of governmental power legislative, executive, and judicial—into the Constitution, the framers built their vision of a stable federal government as assured by a system of separation of powers with checks and balances.

Madison wrote … “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judicial in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self–appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”

Checks and Balances in the U.S. Government

In both theory and practice, the power of each branch of American government is held in check by the powers of the other two in several ways. For example, while the President of the United States (executive branch) can veto laws passed by Congress (legislative branch), Congress can override presidential vetoes with a two-thirds vote of both houses.

Similarly, the Supreme Court (judicial branch) can nullify laws passed by Congress by ruling them to be unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court’s power is balanced by the fact that its presiding judges must be appointed by the president with the approval of the Senate.

But Are the Branches Truly Equal?

Some people argue that there are more checks or limitations on the power of the legislative branch than over the other two branches. For example, both the executive and judicial branches can override or nullify the laws it passes. While they are basically correct, it is how the Founding Fathers intended.

Our system of separation of powers through checks and balances reflects the Founders’ interpretation of a republican form of government in which the legislative or lawmaking branch, as the most powerful branch, must also be the most restrained. The Founders believed this because the Constitution grants “We the People” the power to govern ourselves through the very laws we demand of the representatives we elect to the legislative branch.

Fallible But Durable

The authors of the Constitution ignored the peculiar institution of slavery. Although an expedient omission at the time, that was a huge mistake. Nonetheless, the document has only been amended 27 times. It has withstood the ravages of time and remains the centerpiece of our “nation of laws.”

Members of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government, We the People are watching you.

End

[I write about politics in this blog because of the direct link I see between the words and actions of politicians and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. America’s political class manipulates our military as though they were pawns in a global game of chess. To them, PTSD is merely an unfortunate cost of war.]