Wednesday, February 29, 2012

‘Act of Valor’: a Different Kind of Reality

One of the manifestations of the Hollywood elite is the standard formula of any movie involving war, particularly those conflicts of the Bush era (either Bush – Three Kings had that anti-military odor to it, that air that soldiers are losers or corrupt cynics, a darker remake of Kelly’s Heroes).  As for recent fare, there have been a rash of critically acclaimed box office bombs like In the Valley of Elah (dehumanized soldiers), Rendition (sure, we like torture), Green Zone (drum up an excuse to invade Iraq), Lions for Lambs (two college students want to change the world by enlisting for Afghanistan, with predictable results – oh, if only they had listened to their professor), The Kingdom (it’s hopeless, why are we even trying?), No End in Sight (Bush personally bungled the war, and it’s a documentary, so it has to be true, right?), Stop Loss (dissent is the highest form of patriotism . . . under a Republican president), Redacted (soldiers rape children), Fahrenheit 9/11 (Michael Moore) – there are more to be sure, following in the dirge-like footsteps of Viet Nam and the egregious Deer Hunter, Coming Home, and (admit it) Apocalypse Now.  Even Avatar couldn’t resist the culture – Pocahontas in blue, with the evil Europeans replaced by a 22nd-century mercenary Marine force hell-bent on destroying Paradise for money.  There are some rare examples of movies where the American soldier gets a decent break – We Were Soldiers, Blackhawk Down, or even Hurt Locker – but these are rare.

Here now is Act of Valor – a different film, in a number of ways, but let me first say that it is one well worth seeing.  (Actually, no – it needs to be seen.)  The main buzz is that the operators in the movie are actual Navy SEALs, with the cast fleshed out by bona fide actors and actresses.  I am already on record for keeping the spotlight off these highly adept professionals, but I simply don’t know another way to portray this story in such realistic terms, and it was done with the blessing and assistance of SOCOM for what they freely admit is a recruiting tool – and a realistic one at that too, showing the sacrifice along with the ‘glory’ that instantly fades under fire; a call to arms for those who need to know what they will be getting into.  All incidents in the movie are recreations – using live fire – of actual incidents that have occurred to Team members.  As a movie qua movie, I’ll be the first to admit that none of the operators are likely to be up for an Academy award, but that kind of award simply doesn’t matter to them.  The cinematography is compelling (night HALO jumps, SWCC boats lighting up a string of narco-terrorist trucks, an overhead of a nuclear sub just below the surface), and so is the storyline – compelling and believable, with the actors turning in good performances on their own.  It is a movie not so much for entertainment as it conveys a message – these operators care in ways far beyond what most civilians can comprehend.  I hope that this sets and extends a trend, and we see some examples of modern Marines and Rangers as well as the ever-suffering grunt.

But the usual Hollywood crowd just can’t leave it alone, and their lock-step reviews are predictable (key word: ‘propaganda’).  Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post conjures the thought of how film-makers can turn themselves so totally over to a film that crosses the line into propaganda, and questions “whether the military should be in the movie business at all”.  Among other blithering examples, she also extols the “Obama era of surgical warfare” – the term being an invention of the State Department, not Defense, with its expectation that the norm in warfare is to somehow always avoid collateral damage.  Or there is Salon and David Sirota, who accuses the filmmakers of wanting us to forget our “imperialist misadventures”.  His review laments the true art of what the movie should be; somehow, the operators never question what they’re doing, which shows that Sirota simply doesn’t get it.  (He does draw a contrast to Charlie Sheen’s 1990 portrayal in Navy SEALs, but I regret to say that his character was based on a real person.)  Other critics parrot the same trend (as an example).

Decide for yourself.  The movie has some artistic flaws, but see if you can watch and understand the reason for the message.  These are real people, who put their lives on the line with no expectation of reward.  You owe it to them and the others like them – even those beyond the known boundaries of the community – to listen to what they say.

Friday, February 24, 2012

US Economic News Today – None of It Good for Obama, or America

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, released this graph today that puts the US per capita debt into perspective.  (Click to enlarge)

Notice how we stack up against countries such as Greece, which is experiencing riots as a result of its austerity measures put into place to curb its economic downward spiral.  This has been done in response to the demands of the EU, particularly Germany – the most powerful and still-solvent country of the economic alliance that controls the monetary systems of the various countries through the Euro.  The other countries have been linked together under the acronym of PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Spain) as a brief collective word for the Euro economies in dire shape, with the French situation thrown in for good measure.

The difference here is that there is a European Union to put the brakes on the profligate spending by these members that has led to this melt-down.  The US has no such mechanism other than the government and the Fed, and we see no inclination to stop.  The answer in the US is not to curb spending, but instead to increase taxes on its own citizens (those who still pay, that is, as opposed to the almost 50% of us who do not) and borrowing from competing nations such as China.

As for total national debt, news today predicts that we should blow past our current debt ceiling of $16.4 trillion before the election next November.  Part of Obama’s budget deal was to put that safely past Election Day.  He will have a lot of explaining to do on that note, whereas he expected to dodge that bullet for campaign season.

The Budget Committee also reveals that within the next ten years, per capita debt is expected to increase to $75,000.  Incidentally, Obama’s own 2013 budget proposal has the national debt standing at $25 trillion by 2021.

In other news, Press Secretary Jay Carney is glad to trumpet how oil drilling is up for each year of the Obama administration, but answers questions of how some control can be put on the quickly upward spiraling gas prices by warning that changes put into effect now can take years.  The administration can’t have it both ways: the oil output seen now is the result of changes put into place under the Bush administration.  The increase in oil production is in spite of, not because of, efforts by Obama.

The Wall Street Journal takes Obama’s word that “the American people aren’t stupid”, and proceeds to explain how that is a problem for him.  For example (to whet your appetite for an article that needs to be read in full):
The reality is that most of the increase in U.S. oil and gas production has come despite the Obama Administration. It is flowing from the shale boom, which is the result of private technological advances and investment. Mr. Obama has seen the energy sun rise and is crowing like a rooster that he made it happen.
Mr. Obama yesterday also repeated his proposal that now is the time to raise taxes on oil and gas companies, as if doing so will make them more likely to drill. He must not believe the economic truism that when you tax something you get less of it, including fewer of the new jobs they've created.
Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said today on Fox News with Megyn Kelly that these increases have been seen on private and state land, not federal.  On federal leases such as the Gulf of Mexico, production is down 30%.  Lease sales in the Rocky Mountains on federal lands are down 70%.  Some 85% of the Atlantic and Pacific continental shelf is off limits.  Only 3% of the available areas under federal control are under production, but North Dakota, using private and state lands, produces some 450,000 barrels per day and has unemployment at 3.3%, the lowest in the country.  With the proven reserves found in the US and Canada, we both could be energy self-sufficient within twelve to fifteen years if we had sufficient political will.

 I certainly hope that Obama's claim that the American people aren't stupid holds true on Election Day next November.

'We Must Fight' -- Ronald Reagan

If you have any feeling at all for the great men and women who sacrifice and strive so hard in the military service of our country, then you owe it to yourself to hear the words of the great Ronald Reagan, a short portion taken from his watershed "Time for Choosing" speech of 27 October 1964.  This production sets in beautiful detail his words that still apply so perfectly today.

And if you feel that these words are timely, then consider them an introduction to his whole speech.  The names and numbers are dated, but the meaning is still eerily á propos, with the data and proportions even larger.  As an exercise, count the problems that he cites that have a direct application to today -- you will probably need a paper and pencil to keep up.

You will note that the 27-minute speech is given without a script and almost entirely without notes (you can see him shuffle a few 3x5 cards at the very beginning), and it is certainly delivered without a teleprompter.

(Sincere thanks for the 'We Must Fight' video to Pte Matthew Worth, Royal Canadian Dragoons)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Trend Continues: Another Aircraft Disturbance without Explanation

The TSA reported an incident aboard Continental Airlines Flight 1113 from Portland, Oregon to Houston Tuesday, when a “Middle Eastern man” (the attached footage in this KHOU-11 report shows him to be somewhere in his twenties), arguing with a flight attendant upon takeoff about not being seated next to a male companion, lit an electronic cigarette despite the permanent ‘no smoking’ sign.

In and of itself, one would not expect that to be an item that would garner much attention from the media, and that would be the apparent hope of the TSA and the airline.
The TSA said the incident was not a security issue.
“Continental Flight 1113, Portland to Houston, returned to Portland when a passenger refused to obey the ‘No Smoking” sign. The passenger and traveling companion were taken off the plane,” Christen David of United/ Continental Corporate Communications said in a released a statement.
Frustratingly, the announcement leaves out the rest of the story: the man started yelling “Allah is great!  Allah is great!”, whereupon a number of nearby male passengers leapt up and quickly subdued the man.  As passenger Mark Foster explained to the KHOU reporter after its arrival in Houston:
Every guy that was in my area was ready to go.  It was not even a thought.  You can tell buckles were off and people were already leaning toward the aisles.
The flight attendant quickly obtained plastic cuffs and the passenger was bound hand and foot.  The flight, only about twenty minutes out, returned to Portland where the passenger and his companion were taken into custody by the FBI.

This continues a series of stories in which Middle Eastern males have committed serious security incidents, or even attacks, yet the media downplays, ignores, or denies the possibility of a terrorist or even Islamic Supremacist connection.  This started with the Flying Imams incident in Minneapolis in 2006, when six imams acted provocatively in the airport and aboard a US Airways flight before takeoff.  When confronted, they refused to leave; when escorted by police off the plane, they were detained and then released, resulting a high-profile lawsuit for religious discrimination.

One can try to excuse incidents such as this as the antics of a mentally (or chemically) unstable person, but it also serves as an excellent feint to check the security reactions of potential targets.

But I never cease to be amazed at the willful ignorance of the media and authorities in their reporting.  In this case, at least KHOU of Houston provided some great statements of eye-witnesses both to the incident and to the excellent reaction of the passengers.  Todd Beamer and the other passengers of United Flight 93 would be proud.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Where Are the Jobs?

A quick note: I ran across a graph that puts our employment plight in quickly understandable terms, from the Republican Study Committee (click to enlarge):

From the release: 
Democrats said their costly plan ($1.2 trillion, including interest) would “save or create” up to 4 million jobs and bring the unemployment rate down to about 6% today. The unemployment rate has not fallen below 8% at any point in the last 36 months. Furthermore, the official unemployment rate does not actually count unemployed people who have given up looking for work. [That would put unemployment at about 15%.]
The figures add up to 36.3% of working-age Americans either don't have a job or have given up looking.

The last time I looked, what Obama claims as a "Do-Nothing Congress" has seen the Republican-controlled House pass over 15 jobs bills, only to see them languish in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ted Cruz for Senate, Continued

W James Antle III (whose name belies his conservative bent) of the American Spectator joins the chorus of those supporting Ted Cruz in his campaign to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchinson as the next US Senator from Texas.  I have already pointed out George Will’s excellent (of course) article about Cruz (must reading on the subject), but is it always good to know that others are piling on to his side as well.

Cruz gets the coveted National Review cover

Whatever happens in the presidential election, someone will need to resist big spending whether it comes from liberal Democrats or leap-year conservatives. . . .
"Texas is too Republican a state to settle for anything less than a conservative leader," Cruz says.  Even casting the right votes and getting high ratings from conservative groups isn't as important as rocking the boat. . . .
Cruz identifies Jim DeMint, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee as examples of what he is talking about (he notes that all three senators have endorsed him in his primary).  He also points to Marco Rubio and Pat Toomey, suggesting that the generation of conservatives who came of age in the Reagan years are ready to make their mark on the party. . . .
He has the backing of FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth,'s Erick Erickson, and the radio talk show host Mark Levin.  George Will, the dean of Washington conservative columnists, opined that for "conservatives seeking reinforcements for Washington's too-limited number of limited-government constitutionalists, it can hardly get better than" Cruz.
A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law (magna cum laude), Cruz displays legal interests quite uncharacteristic of the Ivy League: he believes it is important to limit the federal government to its constitutionally enumerated powers, as the Ninth and Tenth Amendments make clear. . . .
Cruz’ only real competition from the right came from Michael Williams, who has since opted to run instead for one of the congressional seats that are a bone of contention with the latest redistricting plan for Texas.  Williams, an excellent candidate in his own right, is the former Texas Railroad Commissioner (many Texans will understand the huge responsibility of the position, far beyond its simple title).  Former Solicitor General Cruz’ real opponent for the nomination is Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, in the moderate Establishment  mold of the party.

Update:  World Magazine has an extensive write-up of Ted Cruz within its story of how the Republicans can court the culturally conservative Hispanic vote.  "When was the last time you saw a Hispanic panhandler?"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Results Are In: Liberal Social Policies at Work in City Government

Proponents keep proclaiming the virtues of a ‘progressive’ platform in large metropolitan areas, such as
A ‘living wage’ ordinance, far above the federal minimum wage, for all public employees and private [union] contractors.
A school system that spends significantly more per pupil than the national average.
A powerful school employee union that militantly defends the exceptional pay, benefits and job security it has won for its members.
Other government employee unions that do the same for its members.
A tax system that aggressively redistributes income from businesses and the wealthy to the poor and to government bureaucracies.
What city best exemplifies such a potential paradise on earth?  Why, that would be Detroit, Michigan, found in a study to be “the most liberal city in America”.
In 1950, Detroit was the wealthiest city in America on a per capita income basis.  Today, the Census Bureau reports that it is the nation's 2nd poorest major city, just "edging out" Cleveland.
In case you think that this may simply be a case of coincidental correlation, consider the other top liberal contenders, in order: Gary, Indiana; Berkeley, California; Washington, DC; and Oakland, California.

(Conversely, the top conservative city was Provo, Utah, followed by Lubbock, Texas; Abilene, Texas; Hialeah, Florida; and Plano, Texas.)

The report in the Michigan Capitol Confidential’s “Detroit: The Triumph of Progressive Public Policy”, goes into some detail about how the city arrived at its distinction, and concludes with
Tom Bray, former editorial page editor for The Detroit News, has made the following observation:
"Detroit, remember, was going to be the 'Model City' of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, the shining example of what the 'fairness' of the welfare state can produce. Billions of dollars later, Detroit instead has become the model of everything that can go wrong when you hook people on the idea of something for nothing - a once-middle class city of nearly 2 million that is now a poverty-stricken city of less than 900,000."
Today, Detroit is down 25 percent over the past 10 years; to just over 700,000 and dropping fast.

Bin Laden Told His Children: Live in Peace in the West

An interview with Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Zakaria al-Sadah, published in London’s Sunday Times (subscription only), reveals that the world’s most prominent terrorist (until shot to death by US special operations troops in a raid on his Pakistani compound) told his children that they should “not follow him down the road to jihad”, but instead should “go to Europe and America and get a good education”.  Al-Sadah, brother to bin Laden’s youngest wife, said that Osama told his children that “you have to study, live in peace and don’t do what I am doing or what I have done.”

This adds to the sentiment expressed last May in what a Kuwaiti newspaper published as bin Laden’s will.
In it, bin Laden apologized to his children for his absence in their lives, “You, my children, I apologize for giving you so little of my time because I responded to the need for jihad,” he wrote.
He also instructed his offspring not to join al-Qaeda and used precedents from Islamic texts as justification for forbidding his children to engage in “holy warfare.”
Besides the stunning hypocrisy, I find it interesting that up to the moment of this posting, I can find reference to the story in foreign (mostly British newspapers) and even Al-Arabiya, but very little play in US news outlets, other than Yahoo and Fox News.

‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’, but They Can Vote (Update)

Politico reports on a Pew Center nationwide study of voter registration rolls, and the numbers are certainly not encouraging if one is looking for a system that guards against fraud, or even a system that is marginally effective (other studies place the numbers higher).  Briefly:

24 million registrations (one in every eight) are invalid or have “significant inaccuracies”

1.8 million registered voters are dead and have not been removed from the rolls

2.75 million voters are registered in more than one state

12 million records have incorrect addresses

The Politico report seems most disturbed by the finding that 51 million potential voters are not registered.  Registration is important, true, for those who may develop a sudden or even quickly evolving need to vote, but this can fall into the same category as those who would not then go on to actually vote.  Those who fail to vote have exercised their decision: they don’t care.  That is a choice.

The story draws a favorable comparison to Canada’s national system, with its “innovative technology and data matching methods”, but fails to note that Americans have a federal system – states are responsible for voting systems within their boundaries.  The study also did not pay the same compliment to Canada as it did to the US – it made no attempt to track how accurate the Canadian rolls are.  And we have seen how well the federal government does with the postal system, the air traffic control system, airport security, or even illicit arms shipments to drug cartels in Mexico, not to mention the move to the Obamacare system that is already acknowledging that it will end up spending even more money than the present one.  A national (or even a state) computerized registration system is not a reassuring thought to me – if China, for example, is so capable of hacking into any computer system here in the US, apparently at will, then that is not a real solution.  And if it can be hacked from the outside, it is even more subject to manipulation from the inside.

The article also cites an online voter registration system, but like the motor/voter versions, simply making it easier doesn’t make it more secure – likely less so, in fact.  It laments use of “paper-based systems”, but that at least provides some degree of accountability.

I am also struck by this comment:
Still, David Becker, director of Pew’s Election Initiatives, said that the center’s findings did not suggest any kind of voter fraud or voter suppression from these problems, but noted they do “underscore the need for an improved system.”
The findings did not suggest fraud or suppression because the study did not look for fraud or suppression.  It is just as valid to say that there is enormous opportunity for fraud or suppression.

The subject becomes more acute when faced with a ‘vote by mail’ system such as in Oregon, or an absentee ballot practically anywhere.  Once the ballots are mailed from the county clerk’s office, the ballots can wander about with no control until they are returned by way of mail or drop-off box to the county election center.  There are a variety of scenarios about how such a system can be gamed.  Oregon provides the opposite of a secure voter identification system as the voter is completely unseen by a clerk, and providing online registration, with a registrant also unseen by a clerk, makes it even worse.

The conclusions of the article are to leap to a system that is potentially worse.  One also has to wonder that, if Pew can come up with these numbers nation-wide, how difficult would it be for the individual states and counties to track down the same information within their purview?  There is already too much voter fraud that is known, but it is perpetuated by those who likely most benefit from it, those who refuse to clean up the system by making fatuous claims of disenfranchisement of minorities and the poor through requirements of presenting a valid photo identification when voting.  If you have to have an ID to cash a check (or use a credit or debit card according to some merchants), board an airplane, or enter a federal building (and how do you prove who you are to a welfare office), then one should be required to vote.

But cleaning up the rolls of potential fraudulent votes should go hand-in-hand with requirements for voter identification.

Update:  J Christian Adams of PJ Media reports that Florida is attempting to cleanse its rolls of some 53,000 registered voters who are dead, unlike other states who are far less enthusiastic about the effort.  He reports problems in other states like Mississippi, Massachusetts, and -- of course -- Oregon.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Obama Continues Ship-Naming Politics, Using Gabrielle Giffords

The Washington Times posts an editorial that calls out the Obama administration for its ideological bent in naming new ships of the US Navy after political favourites, without regard to tradition and blatantly currying favour from their voting blocs.

The latest announcement, in a hurried Pentagon ceremony, reveals that the new littoral combat ship (LCS 10) will be named the USS Gabrielle Giffords, after the former US Representative from Arizona gravely wounded in an attack by a mentally disturbed constituent last year (though some want to blame the gun).  The Independence-class LCS, after the lead ship of the class (along with its ‘brother’ Freedom class), are all named for US cities, up until now.  Ships named after people are traditionally done after their death, or in some cases for those who are about to pass on, such as the USS Nitze (DDG 94) or the USS Gerald R Ford (CVN-78).  This marks though an unfortunate acceleration of ships named for living people, which started with the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) in 1980, thus belittling the idea of avoidance of aggrandizement or pandering, since a person of honour would not seek fame, only an opportunity to do great things.  This is also the third warship named for a woman, after the USS Higbee (DD 806) and the USS Hopper (DDG 70).

In all cases, ships are typically named for someone who has some tie with the naval service.  But let the editorial explain:
There are many appropriate ways to honor Mrs Giffords, but this is not one of them.
 It’s obvious that generating election-year headlines is the primary motivator here.  Mrs Giffords was not a noted sponsor or co-sponsor of any major legislation related to the LCS in particular or the sea services generally.  The Navy Department said she was known for “advocating for renewable energy and championing border security,” which are not exactly core Navy missions.
[Navy Secretary Ray] Mabus said Mrs Giffords was a source of “great inspiration” who represents “the Navy and Marine Corps qualities of overcoming, adapting and coming out victorious despite great challenges.”  This may be true.  If Mr Mabus visited the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, he could meet many wounded American servicemen who have survived these types of challenges and worse.  Perhaps he could stop by Arlington National Cemetery and talk to the parents and spouses of members of the military who were deployed overseas but did not make it back.  They represented the virtues of the sea services directly through voluntary personal sacrifice.  Their names would serve as more appropriate monikers for U.S. warships.
This is the latest in a series of the Obama administration’s questionable, politically motivated Navy ship namings.  In the past three years, vessels have been named for civil rights activist Medgar Evers, radical migrant labor leader Cesar Chavez and disgraced former Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha.
Senator Roy Blount (R-Missouri) has called for a report about this series of abuses and to “require a report on the policies and practices … for naming the vessels of the Navy.”
Naming a ship after Mrs Giffords may have been a response to this amendment, which only underscores what a cynical game it has become.
What can we next expect?  What popular names appeal to Obama’s base?  Maybe the USS Barney Frank, the USS Ché Guevara, the USS Bernadine Dohrn?  There is always the possibility for the USS John Kerry, like Murtha a former member of the naval service.  He worked hard for his medals and claims that he actually earned them.  (There is nothing so ephemeral as the glory of a man who claims that he is a hero.)

Gabrielle Giffords has shown great fortitude and inspiration in fighting back from this tragedy, but exploiting her shooting and the death of others by linking this to a military icon is just pandering.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Military Strategy in Afghanistan Turns a Corner

Leon Panetta let slip last week (one can hardly call it an announcement) that US troops in Afghanistan would shift from their combat mission into more of a “training, advise and assist role” to the Afghan military, as early as the “mid to latter part of 2013”.  Panetta mentioned the plan aboard an aircraft while enroute to Brussels for a meeting of NATO defense ministers, to discuss that organization’s plans for continued support of Afghanistan.  Some characterize his remarks as a refinement of the previous goal of Obama to have US troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but the curtailing of combat operations so early in that scheme – if that is what he means – comes as a surprise.  Panetta used the word “shift”, vague enough to suggest a wide leeway in how much time that transition would take, and was specific about a “formal combat role” – as opposed to an informal one?

Much like the standard dump of potentially troubling news from the White House on late Friday afternoons, Panetta dropped the news into the hopper and then immediately became unavailable for further comment during the conference.

The reaction is one of surprise and some damage control.  While some officials expressed surprise at an accelerated pace of drawdown, others within the administration are saying that this falls within a timetable for a withdrawal from the country in much the same way as our exit from Iraq.  (Not so: some eighteen months of a training and advisory status does not match the much shorter period seen in Iraq.)  Others are confiding that the news wasn’t supposed to be announced until a NATO ministerial meeting in Chicago next May.  One wonders if the surprise announcement mere days before by Nicolas Sarkozy, with Hamid Karzai at his side, that all French troops would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2013 – a year ahead of schedule – had an influence on Panetta’s timing of his comments.  (Sarkozy went on to recommend that all of NATO also have their troops out by the end of 2013 as well.)

The administration is basically throwing in the towel on a further formal structure of nation building, and this tends to reflect the mood of the public too.  This is to be expected with Obama, who has declared that we should leave Afghanistan despite his earlier portrayal of it as the “good war”, and he has tasked his military commanders to set plans and time-tables to realise that goal but has consistently over-ridden their input in favor of even earlier dates, set with an internal political goal in mind, instead of a military, strategic, or national security goal.  (There are those on both sides of the aisle who would argue the benefits of ‘nation building’, but they fail to recognise the lesson we have learned since World War I that, after invading and defeating an enemy nation, we must leave behind one that is no longer inimical to our interests.  As Colin Powell would put it: “If you break it, you have to fix it.”)  The question then becomes “How much is enough?”

The argument leaves out the element of where we stand in respect to the strategy of prosecuting the war.  As I have argued before, this move together with others has canceled the plan for the ultimate NATO strategy of cleaning up the last redoubt of the Taliban in Afghanistan, but a combination of war weariness (ignorance on the part of the American public due primarily to the severe cut-back of MSM reportage since the election of Obama), Democrat political goals (to ‘end the war’ – no more questions), and the fact that the administration has lost the diplomatic ability to sincerely coordinate with allied elements of the Pakistani government (much like we blew the end game with Iraq) means that Obama wants out on a timetable that benefits him in respect to the upcoming elections.

It would seem that practically the whole population in theatre has been aware of the upcoming American moves, without a small degree of cynicism.  This report by an experienced Army officer doing research in Afghanistan has received a good deal of attention in the blogosphere, as it portrays Afghans who know that the end is near for the Western commitment and are rapidly trying to adjust to the reality that the Taliban will return (exacting, no doubt, some degree of revenge on ‘collaborators’).  They are reticent to cooperate with us, and for good reason.

How can we salvage what we have bought so far with our treasure and our soldier’s lives?  The administration is reverting to the attempts as far back as the 1950s to conduct warfare with a mix of special operations (the highly touted – politically, not militarily – strikes of SEAL Team 6 recently, for example) and modern airpower, both manned and unmanned.  This has an appeal to them because it is popular (ever since the days of the “Ballad of the Green Beret” and now continues with the hype of the administration, despite the misgivings of the actual special operations community) and it is cheap.

Admiral William McRaven, commander of the US Special Operations Command, recently gave a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association which essentially highlights this direction.  He sets the stage for a shift in command of the Afghan theatre to SOCOM, but is explicit about Sec Ops fighting what is essentially a rear-guard action during our withdrawal.

I have no doubt that special operations will be the last to leave Afghanistan. . . . As far as anything beyond that, we’re exploring a lot of options.
Assistant Defense Secretary for Special Operations Michael Sheehan echoed the sentiment:
Could we use a few more years with the US in the lead?  Of course . . . but . . . now is as good a time as ever to push the Afghans out in front.
Translation: we have the word to do it, now we’ll have to figure out how, and we will.  Later would be better, but that’s not an option.

As an aside, the AP story on the meeting included this interesting tidbit:
During McRaven’s remarks at a Washington area hotel, there was an outburst from a retired special operations general who was angry at media coverage of special operations missions, such as last year’s SEAL raid in Pakistan that killed bin Laden, and the recent SEAL rescue of two Western hostages in Somalia.
Retired Lt. Gen. James Vaught shouted at McRaven to “get out of the media.”
McRaven calmly responded that avoiding media coverage was almost impossible in the 24-hour news cycle, and that while he objected to revealing sensitive tactics, the media could be useful, especially when reporting operations gone wrong.
“Having those failures exposed in the media helps us do a better job,” McRaven said.
There was more to this left unsaid, probably due to the benighted reporter.  First, if you’ve been involved with a briefing with General Vaught, an “outburst” is quite the norm, as he tended to subscribe to what can now be described as the Schwartzkopf style of leadership.  But McRaven’s reply takes on more meaning when one realises that Vaught’s primary special operations experience was with the abortive 1980 Desert One raid into Iran to rescue the hostages in the US embassy in Tehran.

As we pull out our more conventional forces then, we can see an increase in the force levels and operational tempo of special operations forces, particularly the Rangers and Marine Special Operations (MARSOC) overall, with SEALs (including DevGru or SEAL Team 6 as it is popularly known) and the Combat Applications Group or CAG (otherwise known as Delta) tailored to attacks on high-value targets.  McRaven leaves open the possibility that not only will they be engaged through the end of 2014, the original end date set by Obama, but possibly further on.  What remains to be seen is the question of basing: with our withdrawal from Afghanistan and an increasingly smaller logistical footprint there, along with what has been a somewhat supportive Pakistan but now potentially more hostile, and a lack of truly allied countries nearby, how would we support this point of a spear that needs a strong logistical tail?  We cannot rely on strictly US naval assets in the Arabian Gulf, and we would have to overfly Pakistan anyway, from a distance that eats into precious reaction time.  Our relations with Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, involving small support bases, are tenuous at best.  That is an important question that has to be answered.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Air Force Pulls Reference to God from Unit Motto

There has been a succession of recent moves to expunge – or perhaps ‘politically cleanse’ would be a better term – any reference to God in general or Christianity in particular from the public square.  Today we see that the Air Force has removed such a reference from the motto of the Rapid Capabilities Office (RCO), a highly placed unit that is directly overseen by a board that includes the Undersecretary of Defense (Acquisitions), the Secretary of the Air Force, and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

The motto on the unit escutcheon used to read Opus Dei Cum Pecunia Alienum Efficemus, meaning “[doing] God’s work from [with] the money of others”.  The words Opus Dei have been replaced with Miraculi, rendering the meaning now to be “[doing] miracles with the money of others”.

The motto is more whimsy than theology, as the meaning has no real reference in scripture.

In keeping with the mission of the unit, this most recent move from the Air Force is in rapid response to a complaint from the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers.  (A quick internet search of the group’s name yields my suspicion that the active component of the ‘association’ is likely not much larger than the spokesman, Jason Torpy.  I am always reminded in these circumstances of the Symbionese Liberation ‘Army’ of the mid-1970s, which probably never numbered more than fourteen.  The British satirical group Monty Python did a good turn on these grandiose titles in The Life of Brian.)

This move has compelled Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Virginia), along with a bipartisan group of some 35 legislators, to write a letter of complaint to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norman Schwartz.  Referring to the deletion of the Latin ‘God’:

Because such alteration certainly was not required by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, we call on you to reverse this troubling decision. . . .
[W]e are deeply concerned that the RCO capitulated to pressure from an outside group that consistently strives to remove references to God and faith from our nation’s military.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits the establishment of religion; however, the mere mention of God does not rise to this level.  The action taken by the RCO suggests that all references to God, regardless of their context, must be removed from the military.  As we are confident that your legal advisors would not suggest that censorship is required for compliance with the First Amendment, we ask that you reverse this perplexing decision.
This is the same Donley and Schwartz to whom Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) wrote when the Air Force removed references to Christian theologians from a class on ethics and Just War theory.  That issue apparently still remains unresolved.

Congressman Forbes earlier introduced a resolution to re-affirm ‘In God We Trust’ as the nation’s motto.  Obama said at the time that the bill was a waste of time, commenting “I trust in God, but God wants to see us help ourselves by putting people back to work.”  Obama here confused scripture with Aesop’s Fables, but it is typical for him to be confused on the topic (such as his statement that Jesus wants us to be our brother’s keeper – that would actually be Cain, not Jesus); or condescending to people of faith (speaking disdainfully about those who ‘cling to religion’); or try to usurp articles of faith through government fiat (some detailed by Scott Johnson in Powerline’s series “Obamacare Against the Church”).

It is an unfortunate continuation of the removal of articles of traditional Christian faith (involving an administration careful about the sensibilities of Islamic Supremacists) in favour of those who express a faith that there is no God.

(H/T to Christian Fighter Pilot)