Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Supreme Court Takes On the Arizona Immigration Law

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday on the suit by the Justice Department against the Arizona immigration law SB 1070.  Those arguments were presented by Paul Clement (former Solicitor General under President George W Bush), representing Arizona, and current Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, both of whom argued the previous high profile case about Obamacare.  The suit is before the Supreme Court as a result of an appeal by the state after the Ninth Circuit Court struck it down.  The case was heard by eight of the nine justices, since Justice Elena Kagan recused herself, having handled the case in the past when she preceded Mr Verrilli as Solicitor General.  That leaves the possibility of a 4-4 tie, in which case the Ninth Circuit decision will stand.

There are four aspects to the law that are in argument:

·         Section 2(B) requires state police to check the legal status of anyone arrested, and allows them to stop and arrest anyone suspected of being an illegal alien.  (The term ‘alien’ offends the sensibilities of some on the Left, but that is the legal term involved and it was even used by Justice Sotomayor.)

·         Section 3 states that it is a crime to be an immigrant in Arizona without legal immigration papers.

·         Section 5(C) makes it a crime for an illegal alien to apply for a job or work in the state.

·         Section 6 allows warrantless arrests of anyone committing a crime that could lead to deportation, even if committed in another state.

The Supreme Court decision, expected toward the end of June, will affect other states that have passed similar laws: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah.

The federal argument put forth by the Solicitor General is that Arizona does not have the authority to exercise power within the federal responsibility of national immigration.  Arizona holds that it is not creating law in conflict with the federal provisions, only ensuring that the federal law is carried out: once an illegal is apprehended, the police will notify ICE for further processing.  In fact, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 allows and encourages states to participate in immigration enforcement, and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 requires the federal government to respond to queries from states about the immigration status of suspects or persons of interest.

A major contention in Arizona and elsewhere is that the states are being forced by the Feds to expend enormous amounts of their budgets to provide education and welfare to non-tax paying illegal aliens, yet the Feds are blatantly refusing to enforce laws to try to stem the tide of illegal immigration.

The federal case appears comically short to me.  After all, since when is there a sharp distinction as to which sovereign can enforce which laws?  States are expected to assist with enforcement of federal drug laws, for example, and all manner of jurisdictions patrol federal highways to enforce speed laws.  Insistence that a state cannot act in a specific area of law reserved only for the federal government is specious.

In general, it was another embarrassing day for Verrilli, matching his poor performance in arguing for Obamacare (at one point, Justice Ginsburg had to coach him from the bench on how to apply his arguments).  Toward the end of his arguments today, Justice Sotomayor confessed “I’m sorry; I’m terribly confused by your answer.  Your argument – that this systematic cooperation is wrong – is not selling very well.  Why don’t you try to come up with something else?”

A standard critique of the Arizona law from the Left is that it will be used as a convenient excuse for police to harass people in the Hispanic community. That oft-spouted argument has always struck me as absurd, particularly as I was raised in south Texas.  I have had occasion in the last several years of this topic to visit the southern border with Mexico, and each time I make it a point to observe the name tags of the various police officials – local, state, and federal – on those frequent opportunities that have presented themselves. By far the vast majority of the tags that I see involve names such as Rodriguez, Gutierrez, Galvan, Zavala, Esparza, Castillo, Segura . . . well, you get the picture.  In other words, the ethnic demographic of the people involved in law enforcement is practically identical to the ethnic demographic of the population at large.  The Left expects you to believe that the police, by definition, must carry with it the image of some Aryan plot for ethnic cleansing.

At any rate, that line was immediately forestalled when Verrilli, having just begun his arguments, was interrupted by Chief Justice Roberts with “Before you tell us what this case is about, let’s be clear what it isn’t about: no part of your case involves racial or ethnic profiling, right?”  Verrilli replied “No, we do not make that argument.”  Roberts went on to quell another of Verrilli’s points, that a state is seizing a federal law enforcement responsibility: “It is not an effort to enforce federal law.  It is an effort to let you know about violations of federal law.  Whether or not to enforce them is still entirely up to you.”  This would force the hand of the administration in this fiction that it is taking a responsible position on the question of illegal immigration.  They would be forced to incarcerate the illegals in federal facilities, pay the states and local communities to do it for them, or deport them.  The alternative, a catch-and-release programme that is basically happening now, will be more obvious and the administration will be forced to take account for it politically.  As Chief Justice Roberts put it: “It seems to me the federal government just doesn’t want to know who is here illegally.”

The questioning, which went some twenty minutes over the allotted time of one hour, focused to a great degree on Section 2(B) and to a lesser degree on Section 6.  It would seem that the questioning of the Court would indicate that the provisions about Arizona enforcing federal immigration will be looked upon favorably.  The justice most open in his attitude was Justice Scalia, as expected.  After Verrilli tried to make the point that our relations with Mexico would be affected by an Arizona legal focus on Hispanics, Scalia scoffed that we should enforce our immigration laws in ways that are pleasing to Mexico.  When Verrilli argued that mass incarceration of apprehended illegals would be logistically difficult, Scalia replied that the federal government could assist with mass deportations.  Verrilli tried to tie the two together, but Scalia cut him off: “Look, free them from the jails and send them back to the countries that are objecting.  What’s the problem with that?”  I fully expect that Scalia’s attitude holds true with the rest of Verrilli’s point that, simply put, enforcing immigration law is really hard.  Scalia’s reply: try harder.

A 4-4 split that would strike down the law would require a conservative justice to cross over, which is unlikely.  Justice Thomas typically asked no questions, but he is a reliable conservative member on this topic. Justice Alito stepped in during the discussion about how the administration is prioritizing what it considers dangerous offenders: “You seem to be saying that what’s wrong with the Arizona law is that the Arizona legislature is trying to control what its [law enforcement] employees are doing, and they have to be free to disregard the desires of the Arizona legislature for whom they work, and follow the priorities of the federal government, for whom they don’t work,” he said.

Justice Kennedy, who replaced Justice O’Connor as the swing vote, had earlier joined his conservative colleagues in Chamber of Commerce vs Whiting to the effect that Arizona had the right to revoke licenses of employers who knowingly or intentionally employ illegals.   When Verrilli was making his mass incarceration argument, Kennedy snapped “So you’re saying that the government has a legitimate interest in not enforcing its laws?”

Even the liberal Justice Breyer questioned that if “all that happens is a policeman makes a phone call. . . . I’m not clear what your answer is to that.”

I would predict, then, that the Court will uphold (that is, strike down the Ninth Circuit’s decision, as it usually does) at least the provisions of Section 2(B).  It would appear that Section 6, dealing with crimes that can lead to deportation, would be upheld as well since the two provisions can be inter-related.  Section 3 is perhaps less likely – carrying immigration papers is already a federal requirement (8 USC §1304 and §1306) but the question is whether a state can impose its own penalty.  Section 5, which makes it a crime to seek employment or be employed as an illegal, is also unlikely to stand as the Court seems satisfied that the Chamber of Commerce vs Whiting case above sanctions employers rather than employees; and questions in this regard indicated that trying to find a job should not be criminalized.

Update:  The decision has been reached.

Exoskeleton: Be All That You Can Be

Lockheed Martin is bringing us a great new system that doesn't fly:

This idea has been worked on for quite some time – decades, I’m sure, but it looks like it’s starting to take shape.  There is still a ways to go, though: I can imagine trudging 180 pounds up a 20-degree slope in the Shah-i-Kot when an AK round takes out the servo.  I started out in the infantry and I have always retained a Marine’s healthy sense of paranoia about gadgets.  As with most of these time- and labour-saving devices, as long as you have a good back up, which usually involves the same technology available to the XV Roman Legion (Apollinaris), then you will probably pull through.

I am not certain where the idea originated, but a good candidate has to be the great Robert Heinlein, creator of Starship Troopers (the book about the mobile infantry of the future, with its great soliloquies about citizenship, capital punishment, delinquency, and other matters – not the lamentable movie).

But I bet that I know what you are thinking, though.  Am I right?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Fallacy of Thomas Ricks and the End of the All-Volunteer Military

A daft idea from the usual suspects comes from a brief article in the Washington Post by Thomas E Ricks, a think tank pundit who has made a career of being an academically credentialed military observer.  Ricks proposes that the volunteer military should be abolished, precisely because it has worked so well.  I am not making this up:
Since the end of the military draft in 1973, every person joining the U.S. armed forces has done so because he or she asked to be there.  Over the past decade, this all-volunteer force has been put to the test and has succeeded, fighting two sustained foreign wars with troops standing up to multiple combat deployments and extreme stress. 
This is precisely the reason it is time to get rid of the all-volunteer force.  It has been too successful.  Our relatively small and highly adept military has made it all too easy for our nation to go to war – and to ignore the consequences.

He goes on to say that while we have been so unfortunately successful, we should focus instead on the “political and ethical” drawbacks of going to war: by having “one percent” of the population do so well in fighting our wars, the rest of us can “turn our backs” and go shopping; and our enhanced capability encouraged us (well, George W Bush, in an unsaid allusion) to seek military adventures.  He says that Iraq was invaded “recklessly”; Afghanistan was the “right thing to do” but we would have left by mid-2002 or we could have avoided handling it so “negligently” thereafter if a draft had been in effect.  Sure, a draft did not hinder Lyndon Johnson with Viet Nam but it was instrumental with the people taking notice of it.  A draft, he says, would be “good for the nation and ultimately for our military”.

Let me interject, before we get too far into this, that Ricks is a journalist and author of several books, even winning a Pulitzer Prize.  His published oeuvre primarily disparages the US war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush administration (first volume: Fiasco).  For example, he explains in his book The Gamble how the Army finally and begrudgingly “allowed” General Petraeus to use the surge to turn the war in Iraq around, but skips over the fact that it was President Bush who insisted that we shift to the surge, against the advice of practically anyone around him – particularly the striped-pants crowd, in addition to the collective mindset of most of the higher brass.  (He is clear though that Obama lacks leadership in addressing the situation in Afghanistan.)

Ricks had the good fortune to spend his early teenage years in peacetime Afghanistan (1969-1971), the son of a relatively disinterested academic (Ricks would disappear for days by busing around the country, with his parents often having no idea where he was).  His main influence was books and his Yale classmates, and soon discovered the “racket” of being a foreign journalist, having his expenses paid by way of an employer’s credit card.  He lamentably took to heart Evelyn Waugh’s observation of “News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read”, and sought to change it.  He soon found that, as opposed to the State Department, the White House, or intelligence agencies, the military seemed a refreshingly candid culture to investigate, particularly the Marines.  Unfortunately, as with so many such pundits, he felt that mere observation was sufficient to understand the culture, and his interest did not extend so far as to actually ... you know ... join the military for a true experience.  He instead seeks and encourages being embedded with units and finds the younger enlisted a superb source of insight, as they certainly are, but this can lose the greater perspective.  A Berkeley academic praises his approach in avoiding the ember of “military propaganda”, a typical and telling touch that avoids the 'plank-in-your-eye' of liberal academic intellectual incest, or the tailored man-in-the-street fallacy of quoting those with whom you agree, and the whimsy that all the military can be represented by the views of a few PFCs and Lance Corporals.  His choice of fitting in with the Sophisticati of academia reminds me of another of Waugh’s quips: “He was gifted with the sly, sharp instinct for self-preservation that passes for wisdom among the rich.”

Ricks does have a talent for writing and he has a smooth prose, which I discovered in perusing his Making of the Corps.  An example to his approach, though, is his comment about how the Marine morale and quality hit “rock bottom” in the early 1970s due to the Viet Nam experience, but he fails to note or notice the impact of Robert McNamara’s Project 100,000, a major social engineering blunder of Johnson’s Great Society, which I observed first hand.  Ricks’ same blinders about the efficacy of using the military as a social science lab are seen in these comments of his in the Washington Post.

Ricks also fails to make the case of what a ‘fair and equitable’ draft would look like, and more importantly, how we would do it.  Would we draft the yearly cohort along racial lines (where we already have a significant misconception), or socio-economic strata, ensuring that the Best and Brightest actually pull their weight now that the straw man of DADT has been eliminated?  If he had learned anything from his observation of the Marine Corps, he would want to answer how such a successful enterprise, relying on people who want to be there, would change with a return to a collection of modern galley slaves, and what degree of sacrifice in quality would we be forced to accept.

And what of the one percent figure that he presents of the military portion of the population?  That number is expanded over ten years of rotations, unless he expects us to believe that the same warriors are trapped in some kind of Groundhog Day illusion over and over again, and he neglects to note that the number is set by political policy, not a control exercised by the military.

He interjects that a retired general told him that we would not have invaded Iraq if the draft had been in place.  He appeals to an unnamed general who has an authority that Ricks lacks, but this is at least a tacit recognition (whether he fully realizes it or not) that high rank in the military, including good officers and staff NCOs, is earned at each promotion as a result of precise education and hard and sometimes bitter experience, a healthy dose of reality, that a politician or a journalist need not require.  I have worked for and with an interesting collection of flag officers, and now that I am retired from the service, I know a few retired generals too.  They share a wide variety of opinions, and I am not impressed with Ricks quoting of just one of his acquaintance.  This is another indicator that he believes the military culture is one in which all echo the same line, a lock-step society that requires no thought except for that sufficient to obey.  Thus he can quote one PFC and walk away believing that he has the insight into how a war is being fought, or quote one general and have the answer to our grand strategy.

He fails to grasp that the purpose of the military is to fight and win this nation’s wars, not to nurture the cut-and-run attitude of the Left, to cater to the ‘we have to do something’ crowd when faced with the cause de jour (whether necessary or fashionable) until we stumble back out (Ricks holds that we need to learn that winning a war is “getting kicked out” of a country).

He insists that the draft is the “best way to reconnect the people with the armed services”, but I would invite his attention to the fact that the idea of the citizen soldier began with the Founding Fathers and is today nurtured in the Reserves and the National Guard.  Even in this deep blue section of Oregon where I live, the public is very well aware that their relatives, neighbors and co-workers are engaged in a war overseas.  It is not the public connection to the military that he seeks.  He wants a population kept hostage to those who feel that nothing is worth fighting for.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Damned By Faint Praise: GEN Jones and the Obama Approach to Iran

Pardon me if I’m somewhat perplexed about the remarks of former National Security Advisor and former Marine Commandant General James L Jones, as reported in the Washington Times.  His remarks are delivered in the context of the Obama administration’s policy toward Israel and the threat from Iran, and principally lead with the thought that:

General James L Jones, USMC (ret)
The Israelis have been given very, very strong assurances about their security by the United States, and I don’t think the United States has to apologize for anything on that score.
The article goes on to say that he “notes that the U.S. has been able to ‘contain’ other nations that have acquired nuclear weapons.”  He was asked if he believed that Obama would use force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons if other options fail:
I don’t want to speculate on that, although I do believe the president is very serious about the fact that all options are on the table.  But he also is correct in calming the rhetoric down about the necessity to strike Iran while the sanctions are still having a positive effect.
General Jones objected to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comment that the West has not demanded that Iran cease its nuclear enrichment programme:
The notion that somehow we’ve given something away or a ‘freebie’ would indicate Iran has gotten something.  In fact, they’ve got some of the toughest sanctions that they’re going to be facing coming up in just a few months if they don’t take advantage of these talks.
Those sanctions include US action against Iran’s Central Bank that will start to take effect on 28 June (recommended by former presidential candidate Rick Perry no later than November 2011), and an embargo on Iranian oil by the EU that will take effect on 1 July.  A group of representatives from the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany will meet their Iranian counterparts on 23 May in Baghdad to discuss the Iranian nuclear programme.  Jones said that Iran’s willingness to participate in talks is actually a positive sign, that it is “indicative of the fact that the sanctions are having an effect.”  As for the oil embargo, there is nothing to suggest that the oil embargoed from Europe will not be sold instead to China or elsewhere in Asia.

He then goes on to make some astonishing statements about a nuclear-armed Iran:
You would have to think that, on the basis of historical evidence of nation-states once they acquire a [nuclear] capacity, we’ve been able to contain them.  It’s not something that I think you would want to do.  We’d like to see proliferation go the other way.  We don’t want more nuclear-weapons capable countries, and in Iran’s case, it’s particularly problematic because they traditionally export terror.
And the one that takes the cake is:
I’m a little skeptical about their intentions, but maybe one of these days, it will work out, so let’s think good thoughts.
With all due respect to the general, I have to question his reasoning.  First, consider that the Iranians are within range of that purportedly active nuclear-weapons programme (you will recall that in a neck-snapping turnaround, the CIA – increasingly a political animal – declared the programme conveniently extinct at a politically advantageous time in 2007, an embarrassment to the Bush administration and thus a boon to the Democrats in the work-up to the 2008 election; afterward, the CIA quietly put it back on the docket).  Coupled with public threats from Ahmadinejad and others that Israel should be wiped off the map, one has to consider the old wise saying that if someone tells you that he is going to kill you, you should believe him.  Those “very, very strong assurances”, coming from the country that sold out Indochina in 1975 and the Kurds after 1991, and that may well be doing the same with Iraq and Afghanistan, will have to be very tangible indeed.  Jones’ remark about the “options on the table” only cover his opinion that Obama is serious about making promises, nothing about concrete steps to aid Israeli security or assure the end of an Iranian nuclear threat to the region.  For that matter, the only concrete step taken within memory is the announcement by India of the launching of their new Agni-V ICBM, with news that it could strike anywhere within China, and by implication Iran as well.

Jones basically concedes the farm when he talks of our history of containing other nuclear powers, which introduces the idea of a foregone conclusion.  Why speak of containing them if we have no intention of allowing a nuclear Iran in the first place?  At the current pace, Iran won’t be able to announce their achievement until after the election anyway – fortunately for Obama – so is Jones hinting at a future fait accompli by the Iranians?  Is the administration assured that the MSM won’t pursue something like the “Who lost China?” campaign of the early 1950s (unless Romney wins)?

And the “sanctions are having a positive effect”, in that Iran is being forced to participate in talks.  Yes, the sanctions are having an effect, in some cases strong ones, in Iran, and those effects are being felt in practically every area of Iran except the nuclear programme.  Of course Iran is brought to the table, but it will be a political bazaar at which Iran excels, taking their lessons (if they need to) from the decades-old example of North Korea – talk your adversary to a stalemate while pretending to eke out precious concessions, all the while advancing the programme that the West is attempting to shut down: as Hassan Rowhani (Iranian cleric and member of the Supreme National Security Council, chief negotiator to the EU over the nuclear programme) said in 2005, “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan.”  This was during the period that the CIA insisted that Iran had shut down their programme.

As for his concluding comments above, that “we’d like to see proliferation go the other way”, and “let’s think good thoughts”: surely the general need not be reminded that Hope is not a course of action.

The summation of Jones’ comments is really nothing more than wishful thinking.  I would hope that someone in his position would create more assurance about this bleak likelihood.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Black Watch Returns to Scotland

Don’t tell me that you’re not inspired by this small parade in Inverness that marks the return of the Black Watch, one of the more famous military units in the world, to its home at Fort George in Scotland from its most recent deployment to Afghanistan.  The practice of amalgamation, unfortunately, through the continued reduction of the British military, has reduced it to only a battalion and it is now known officially as The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, or 3 SCOTS.

Everything is as it should be.  Led by the pipers of the band (which traditionally serve as the heavy machine gunners) and followed by what appears to be a small horse but is actually a dog – the unit’s mascot.  No one is out of step: it all depends on whether someone is carrying a staff.  According to tradition, since they are returning from battle, they march with fixed bayonets.

The parade rendered honors to Charles, Prince of Wales, (known in Scotland as the Duke of Rothesay) in attendance as the Royal Colonel of the Regiment (though only a battalion now, it still retains the trappings and honoraria of a regiment, in expectation, I would hope, that its full status will one day be restored).

(H/T to Blackfive)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Day One, Year Zero: the Fall of Phnom Penh, 1975

April 17th marks the anniversary of the beginning of one of the great tragedies of history: the fall of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh to the communist Khmer Rouge in 1975. 

 The evacuation of Phnom Penh

The politics of Cambodia were hopelessly doomed by the machinations of its ruler, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who would sell himself to a variety of allies depending on how that might benefit him – capitalist, monarchist, communist; French, American, Chinese – it didn’t matter as long as he saw an opportunity to balance and survive, all in the midst of one of the more heated portions of the Cold War: the Second Indochina War of the late 1950s until 1975.  Most people in the US recognise it as the Viet Nam War, involving US forces in South Viet Nam fighting the insurrection and invasions from North Viet Nam, but it encompassed a much larger area, including particularly Cambodia. 

Sihanouk’s political prostitution contributed significantly to the ever more wildly swinging pendulum of internecine conflict engulfing the country.  In 1970, during an international series of visits that ended in China, he was deposed by his pro-American prime minister, Lon Nol.  Sihanouk then threw in with the Chinese-backed leaders of the Khmer Rouge in exile, then returned to Cambodia to rally troops in the countryside to their cause and fight the civil war which gripped the country from 1970-1975, ending with the fall of the capital.  He remained its titular head and expected to retire as some royal public relations czar after the Khmer Rouge came to power, but managed to escape the country during a state visit overseas in 1979.  As a demonstration that history has no sense of justice, he remains alive to this day in Pyongyang, North Korea. 

The fall of Phnom Penh foreshadowed the more well-known fall of Saigon less than two weeks later (on 30 April), but the results overshadow most of history’s more egregious genocides.  (I do not use the term ‘genocide’ lightly here, as has become the increasingly common use of the word among the Left, who drop such terms as ‘fascist’, ‘racist’, and ‘genocide’ in a knee-jerk way that dilutes the real meaning of the words to practically homeopathic extremes.) 

The leaders of the Cambodian Communists were primarily middle- to upper-class students who had studied in France, picking up the extreme anti-colonial and anti-western vibes of the French Communists, the most disciplined of the western Communist parties.  Leaders such as Pol Pot ( Saloth Sar) wanted to go beyond the worst examples of Communist revolutions, beyond Marx who insisted on a revolution from the workers of a developed economy, beyond Lenin and Stalin who added an agrarian base, beyond Mao Zedong who dropped the revolution to a base of peasants.  Upon the declaration of the Khmer Rouge government, the Angkar – the ruling body of members unknown to the public – began a movement that would result in the devastation of the nation, in a return to a primitive society that they could build up from a base of nothing, starting over with year Zero. 

The cities were totally evacuated, its citizens marched to the countryside for ‘re-education’ and work on farms.  These internal exiles of middle-class, educated and westernized people – in bitter irony the same as the rulers of the Khmer Rouge – were styled the ‘New People’ by the regime, as opposed to the more genuine ‘Old People’ of the uneducated peasants, and were executed or simply worked to death in monumental numbers.  Anyone who spoke foreign languages, had an education, or finally anyone who simply wore glasses, were systematically executed in numbers that demanded increasing efforts to maintain.  There simply wasn’t enough ammunition to handle the numbers, so many of them, already starving and weak, were simply hacked to death with pick-axes.  The estimated number of deaths in this country of then slightly over 7 million vary widely, depending on the chaos of the beginning, the type of death and how specifically deliberate the cause of death (deaths by starvation continued for years in a ripple effect).  Some place a strangely low estimate of 750,000, but the number clearly tops 2 million, and I figure that the number ultimately comes closer to 3 million.  Pol Pot himself put the figure above 800,000, and his deputy Khieu Samphan put it at over 1 million.  Death camps such as Tuol Sleng and Cheung Ek processed untold thousands, and a 5-year joint study of mass graves by the Documentation Center of Cambodia and Yale University estimated that deaths from executions alone totaled 1,386,734 victims.  That same study went on to estimate that executions accounted for between 30% and 50% of the death toll, meaning a total of between 2.5 and 3 million.  This was in keeping with one of the party mottos in reference to the New People: “To keep you is no benefit.  To destroy you is no loss.”

 A memorial to the millions, at Cheung Ek

The numbers and justifications for the purges increased in fervor and frenzy as is usually the case in wholesale massacres like this.  Opponents of the regime, and later suspected opponents, and finally anyone who could become an opponent, were systematically eliminated.  An early example is Hou Yuon, described as an immensely popular, brilliant, and charismatic leader (“truly astounding physical and intellectual strength”), who became an early critic of Pol Pot and the Angkar, foretelling the extremes to come.  (Upon entering Phnom Penh and discovering that the city was being divided in sectors to be run by cadres from different areas of the country, he whimsically remarked “It’s Berlin!”)  He, along with thousands that day, simply vanished shortly thereafter.  One story that demands credence is that he protested the treatment of some of the evacuees and was talking to them sympathetically, when he was shot and his body thrown into the Mekong.

A survivor of the death camps, Dith Pran, went on to write The Killing Fields, made into a movie in 1984 in which the Cambodian actor who portrayed him, Haing Ngor, also a survivor, won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

Americans are commonly criticized by the Sophisticati of the Left for wanting to export the odd and unique idea of freedom to foreign cultures, as if the diverse peoples are incapable of morphing themselves into a reflection of the US government.  They almost deliberately fail to understand that it is not the structure of the American system but the concept of individual liberty that is so important for people world-wide.  How many more Rwandas, Iraqs, Somalias, Bosnias, Chinas, Soviets – Cambodias – are the world to endure before we finally plow over the killing fields?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Afghanistan: Widespread Attack in Kabul and Nearby Provinces Fails; Implications

What has been characterized as a coordinated attack on the US, UK, German, and Russian embassies in Kabul and ISAF headquarters, as well as several government offices including an attack on the parliament building, has mostly ground to a halt with little effective success by the attackers.  The Taliban were quick to claim responsibility for the attacks, but it is apparent that the Haqqani network, which in varying degrees is closely allied with the Taliban, was actually the controlling force.

Most of the attackers have been killed or captured, but there is a resumption of fighting Monday morning (Kabul time) against some hold-outs in a building under construction near the parliament.  US and ISAF spokesmen cite how well the Afghan forces are doing in repulsing the attacks.

Other reports are of attacks in the three provinces to the east and southeast up to the border of Pakistan, in the cities of Jalalabad, Gardez, and Pul-e-Alam, involving attacks on a NATO base, an airport, and police stations.  Another report tells of an attack on a joint Greek/Turkish site on the eastern outskirts of Kabul near the Kabul Military Training Center.  Both Greeks and Turks were responding with “heavy-calibre fire”.  [Aside: I just bet they are.  The fact that they are cooperating at all is a minor miracle, considering the extreme enmity with which they have held each other for centuries.  They have slowly begun to cooperate under the NATO umbrella starting in 2000, and I have to believe – I’ve worked with both, separately, many years ago – that their response to this attack has to include an unstated competition of who can put more steel downrange.  Both militaries have a well-deserved reputation of highly professional ruthlessness against their enemies.]

The attack began some hours after a crowd of “dozens” of militants attacked a prison in Pakistan during the early morning hours and freed nearly 400 inmates, including one who tried to assassinate former President Pervez Musharraf.

A number of commentators are quibbling with the precise structure of the group and the degree to which the Haqqani network is tied to the Taliban of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the Tehrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan, the Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (Hekmatyar), and other such groups.  Considering the nature of tribal inter-warlord politics and struggles that have continued for centuries in Afghanistan, it is likely immaterial how coordinated and cooperative these groups are, other than to understand that they are united in their target of overthrowing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan of Hamid Karzai (assuming he doesn’t strike a deal with them first) and NATO’s ISAF.  If that occurs, then they can descend into the internecine squabbling of what to do afterward.  Nevertheless, a high-level spokesman for the Haqqani insists that the group swears allegiance to al Qaeda and Mullah Omar.

Some sources state that there was evidence indicating an upcoming offensive (there are always those who say so after the fact; one can say the same thing about Pearl Harbor), and that the attacks mark the beginning of the spring offensive.  One could just as easily say that the Taliban have announced the beginning of spring, considering the eventual inevitability of the attack.  What was questioned by the NATO sources was the ability of the Taliban to launch an attack, but to use that as an excuse for the surprise at the simultaneity of the attacks, however ineffective militarily, is just splitting hairs.  The Haqqani network was able to pull it off, but what did they really hope to gain, considering the uniform failure of the attacks?  That would be publicity – the Taliban have done the same thing in the past, such as when we announce that we are shutting down an outpost.  From a military point of view, it can seem useless to attack an outpost that will be soon abandoned (Why fight for something that is about to given to you?), but this has enabled the Taliban to show their audience that the ‘infidels’ abandoned their outposts after they were attacked.  Disingenuous to be sure, but effective in their propaganda programme.

They can also take a page from the US response to the Tet Offensive in Viet Nam in 1968, despite the huge discrepancy in the number of troops committed.  That was also a military disaster for the NVA and Viet Cong (in fact, the Viet Cong ceased to exist as an effective fighting force thereafter, even if the press ignored that fact), but it was an enormous propaganda victory for the North Vietnamese, affecting the anti-war press coverage in the US which accelerated with Nixon as president.  I expect the Taliban and their allies, however reliable or otherwise, are hoping for the same effect, though they do not understand that now we have a Democrat president and the press is not responding in the same way. 

There is also the famous Afghan tradition of harrowing and attacking foreign forces in the country as they extricate themselves, such as the British in 1842 and 1881, and the Soviets in 1988 and 1989.  Expect no less this time.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Army Sgt Felipe Pereira Awarded the Distinguished Service Cross

Sergeant Felipe Pereira of the 101st Airborne Division (AA) received the Distinguished Service Cross, the US Army’s second-highest decoration for valor in combat, on Thursday, 12 April at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky/Tennessee state line, from General Ray Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, for action in combat while in Afghanistan in November 2010.

Then-Specialist Pereira, assigned to A Company, 1-502nd Infantry, was with a squad returning from a patrol near Senjaray, Zhari district, Kandahar province, and were about to enter their compound when a motorcycle-borne suicide bomber drove into the patrol and detonated, killing two instantly (SPC Jonathan Curtis and PFC Andrew Meari) and wounding four others, including his squad leader and fellow team leader.  Pereira sustained wounds to his liver, spleen and lung.  The blast initiated a complex Taliban ambush, firing from seven different fighting positions with small arms and RPGs.

Initially disoriented from the blast, Pereira quickly recovered enough to return fire and direct the others in firing on the enemy positions.  Despite his wounds and with his lung beginning to collapse, he commandeered a small all-terrain vehicle and drove through the enemy gunfire to within 20 meters of his pinned-down comrades, but was unable to provide effective cover.  Still providing suppressive fire and directions, he enabled two of his fellow soldiers to put two of the wounded onto the vehicle, with rounds ricocheting within inches.  Pereira then drove the wounded back into the compound for the medics, but immediately returned to the fight.  He continued to return fire and assist the remaining soldiers out of the ambush and into the post.  He is credited with help in saving the lives of two of his fellow soldiers at the repeated risk of his own, and refused medical care until after the others had received theirs.

SGT Pereira is a native of Brasil who came to the US when he was 17.  After graduating from an ESL course after only one semester, he went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Union College in Nebraska.  He initially prepared for a Masters degree, but became a martial arts instructor in Krav Maga and worked at a small bank.  Pereira then joined the Army in early 2009 and was eventually assigned as an M-240B machine gunner with A/1-502nd.  While still a Brasilian, he also became an American citizen in February 2010.  In addition to the DSC, Pereira’s awards include two Purple Hearts, an Army Commendation Medal, and an Army Achievement Medal.  His first Purple Heart was earned shortly before the noted action, resulting from shrapnel wounds from an enemy grenade.  He was out on patrol four hours after being bandaged.

In remarks at the awards ceremony, SGT Pereira said, “The ultimate sacrifice to me is what defines a hero.  That's why I keep saying I don't think I have done anything beyond my duty.”  He instead asked that those in attendance focus on the sacrifice of SPC Curtis and PFC Meari, and that the DSC represents the actions of the entire squad.  That action resulted in 8 Purple Hearts, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star (V) and 4 Army Commendation Medals (V) for the squad actions.

GEN Odierno said in his remarks, “I am very proud of you.  I want to your parents to know they did a terrific job raising their son with such a sense of duty and ethical values.  God bless you for your esteemed honor, leadership, integrity, personal courage and selfless service.  You have made me appreciate just how fortunate we are as a country to have men and women who not only believe in the values and ideals that this country stands for, but are willing to fight for them.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

North Korean Missile Test Fails

The highly touted launch of the Unha-3 rocket, lauded by North Korea as a symbol of its advanced technology, lived up to its hype by its catastrophic failure after launch at 0739 Friday morning (Korea time), apparently during separation of the first stage at about 90 seconds into its flight.  Unidentified US defense officials reported that US assets, along with other countries in the area including South Korea and Japan, tracked the launch and noted that the “rocket flared brightly and apparently exploded”.  Portions of the rocket barely made it past Jeju (Cheju) Island to the immediate southwest of the South Korean coast.

Don't blink

Kim Jong Un and his generals penuried their people for this enormous boondoggle: $850 million in one of the most destitute (and deliberately so) countries in the world, in what amounted to a gargantuan one-shot firework for the 100th birthday of the half-country's Stalinist founder, Kim Il Sung.

This is a major positive for the Obama administration, which threatened a strongly worded retort in the event of a launch.  They can now return to their normal stance of ignoring the multi-layered threat from the DPRK in other areas. 

There has been no statement yet from the DPRK or Jimmy Carter.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

US Debt Compared to Europe

The Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee is releasing this chart today to illustrate the comparison between the debt of the US compared to the Euro Zone and the UK combined.  (Click to enlarge)

As of the end of December 2011, total US debt exceeds $15.1 trillion, whereas the European side stacks up to $12.7 trillion (all in US dollars).  Since Europe has a larger population (331 million against 313 million here), that means that we have a larger per capita debt ratio as well.

Greece is starting to look pretty good right about now.

(H/T to Roger Simon of PJ Media)

US Marines Increase Deployments to the Philippines

Another shoe has dropped in regard to the US military re-orientation from a focus on the Middle East to the Pacific Rim, countering the rising concern about a rapidly growing Chinese strategic presence.  Adding to the plans to rotate up to 2500 Marines with aircraft deployments to Australia for temporary basing and cross-training with the Australian Defence Forces, Assistant Marine Commandant Joseph Dunford announced that a similar arrangement is being worked out with the Philippines.

The principle US military presence has been by way of the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines (JSOTF-P), focused primarily on the southern islands and primarily based out of Zamboanga at the far western point of Mindanao.  The task force includes rotating elements from 1st Special Forces Group, 2/75th Rangers, Navy Special Warfare Group 1 (primarily SEAL Team 1) and Air Force Special Operations.

The large island of Mindanao has had a population that is substantially Muslim since the 13th century and the natives are what early Spanish settlers called Moros, after the Moors that were expelled from Spain after the multi-century Reconquista that ended in the late 15th century.  The Moros have been fiercely independent, fighting the Spanish colonial government for centuries and the Americans who supplanted them after the Spanish-American War.  Tensions with the Philippine government continue to be high since Philippine independence in 1946 after World War II.  Not surprisingly, the al Qaeda terrorist group Abu Sayyaf is active within the Moro population, and the presence of JSOTF-P is a combined effort with the Armed Forces Philippines to contain and eliminate the terrorist threat.  Abu Sayyaf has conducted extortion, assassinations, bombings and the age-old tradition of kidnappings for ransom since it first came on the scene in the early 1990s.

The Marine schedule of deployments is not yet known, either in frequency or size, and I expect those details are still being worked out, and will involve cross-training and combined exercises with the Philippine Marine Corps.  Like Australia, it is not expected to include US bases being established, only the utilization of host-country military facilities.

Lt Gen Glueck, USMC, CG III MEF and Brig Gen Pereyra, PMC in July 2011

This reflects a significant change in relations between the US and the Philippines, since the US treaty that established independence was not particularly popular due to its initial ‘unfair advantages’ for the Americans.  We maintained two major bases there for years – Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Base – and the Filipino negotiations for the leases typically involved exorbitant fees since they realized their value to the Americans during the Cold War and the warmer Viet Nam War.  After the end of the Viet Nam War, and particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991, they were no longer as valuable to us and the Filipinos lost their bargaining chip.  We pulled out of the deal, particularly after the enormous destruction of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo that same year, and the Filipinos made a show of sovereignty over the issue, making the best of a foregone conclusion.

Australian Military Recruits US Veterans

I am not necessarily recommending this, but it is an interesting idea.

The US military is going through another Reduction In Force (RIF), the third that I have seen in my adult lifetime, under Presidents Carter, Clinton and now Obama: Democrats always looking for that ephemeral Peace Dividend.  Just as we are living off of the financial and economic sacrifices of our children and grandchildren by spending well beyond our means (if we taxed 100% from the incomes of the $100K and above category, it would account for only a few months of the national debt), we are also taxing the lives of those fewer troops we will still retain when we have to go to war again (and we will, we always have), buying time to build up the military we should have kept ready in the first place.

But we are instead turning out otherwise qualified veterans into a stagnant economy (the little growth is quickly overtaken by inflation and growing population), with unemployment well above 8% with little hope of it dropping anytime soon, and that is 8% by the most positive spin of the numbers, not counting the long-term unemployed who have dropped off the charts, and the under- or part-time employed.

What is a highly qualified, well trained and educated, professional military veteran to do?  Besides the gumption that many such veterans show for ‘doing what it takes’ (they wouldn’t otherwise have been in the all-volunteer military in the first place), they have another option added to the list: join the Australian military. 

The Australian Defence Forces have a severe shortage of soldiers, sailors and airmen in specific technical and professional fields (alas, the only Marines that Australia has are our own).  They have even opened more fields to women, including some combat roles.  To help fill the gaps, Australia is looking for “serving or ex-serving foreign military personnel, who can directly transfer their job and life skills to whichever Service they join, with limited training and preparation”.  Due to strong similarities in culture, military structure, equipment, and membership within the Commonwealth, naturally they are focusing primarily on the UK.  But Australia has also had a very strong relationship with the US, particularly since World War II.

These specific fields include special forces vocations (particularly with amphibious and parachute qualifications), submariners, EOD, medical technicians, fighter and multi-engine pilots, surface warfare amphibious and AEGIS experience, and many more.

For the sainted regular readers of this web log, you are aware that I have spent a considerable time with foreign forces, though I have never sworn allegiance to one (despite the UN insistence during my peacekeeping stint).  Other than the very remote possibility of joining the family’s traditional 8th Texas Cavalry should it be remobilized, I foresee a difficulty in risking a renunciation of US citizenship.  Not to worry, quotes one source:

According to the U.S. State Department, the U.S. and Australia each recognize dual citizenship.  Serving in the military of one is not listed as a cause for losing citizenship in the other.  The Australian defense site also notes that security clearances acquired while in the U.S. military are transferable to the Australian military.
That is reassuring but would be more so if it would address this passage from The Australian newspaper:

Applicants must apply for a permanent resident visa before coming to Australia.
They must also give a written undertaking that they will apply for Australian citizenship as soon as they are eligible. This is normally two years after permanent residence is granted, but an exception will be made for these service personnel, who will become eligible after three months' service.
Whichever the answer, it is likely an easier gig to obtain than the Légion étrangèr.

(H/T to Paladin Planet)

Update:  The pay isn't bad at all, though you should consider that the cost of living is somewhat higher in Australia.  Currently, the US and Australian dollar exchange is roughly equivalent (US$1.00 = AU$0.97).  (Thanks to Austin Craig)

Update:  Of course, that includes the Royal Australian Navy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Washington Post “Fact Check” Anything But

If there are a coven of muses of professional American journalism (yes, I’m deliberately using a mythical allusion), then one of the doyennes must be the Washington Post.  It is a crown jewel in the diadem of the main-stream media (MSM) and doggedly pursues and promulgates the post-modern mindset of the political Sophisticati.  It does have its moments wherein a professional attempt at balance, and a focus on analytical clarity and perception, is shown (for example) through its patronage of Charles Krauthammer and George Will.

Today is not one of those times – far from it.

Glenn Kessler’s “Fact Checker” of 10 April headlines “Are Obama’s job policies hurting women?”  The object of its column is the quote from Sharon Day, co-chair of the RNC:
For far too long women have been left behind in Obama’s job market.  Of the 740,000 jobs lost since Obama took office, 683,000 of them were held by women.  That is truly unsustainable.
Kessler wends his way through thirteen paragraphs of ‘Well, it depends on how you look at it” before finishing with this astounding conclusion:
The Pinocchio Test
We cannot fault the RNCs’s math, as the numbers add up.  But at this point the figure doesn’t mean very much.  It may simply a function [sic] of a coincidence of timing – a brief blip that could have little to do with “Obama’s job market.”
If trends hold up over the next few months, then the RNC might have a better case.  But at this point we will give this statistic our rarely used label:
Passing over Kessler’s convoluted attempts to massage and excuse the data in his preceding paragraphs, we need only focus on this conclusion to consider how stunningly perverse is his analysis: the numbers are accurate but have no real meaning at the moment (after 39 months of Obama’s presidency); if the trend continues, then within a few months he may allow that they are correct, though the timing then is just as arbitrary and he still wants to hedge his bet, despite the fact that even more numbers will add up in math that he cannot fault. 

And what to say about “TRUE BUT FALSE”?  Is he taking a cue from the “fake but accurate” desperation of the ‘Rathergate’ scandal?  Does he take solace from NBC editing the 911 Zimmerman tape to “unintentionally” make him sound racist, or ABC covering up Zimmerman’s wound on the back of his head while reporting him uninjured?

How many people just accept these distortions uncritically?  Too many, it would appear, based on the arrogance of the assertions.