Later On

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Archive for the ‘Military’ Category

Calvin, Man of Action

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Written by Leisureguy

21 September 2021 at 11:36 am

The Battle of Antietam and the endurance of the Confederate ideal

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

One hundred and fifty nine years ago this week, in 1862, 75,000 United States troops and about 38,000 Confederate troops massed along Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland.

After a successful summer of fighting, Confederate general Robert E. Lee had crossed the Potomac River into Maryland to bring the Civil War to the North. He hoped to swing the slave state of Maryland into rebellion and to weaken Lincoln’s war policies in the upcoming 1862 elections. For his part, Union general George McClellan hoped to finish off the southern Army of Northern Virginia that had snaked away from him all summer.

The armies clashed as the sun rose about 5:30 on the clear fall morning of September 17, 159 years ago today. For twelve hours the men slashed at each other. Amid the smoke and fire, soldiers fell. Twelve hours later, more than 2000 U.S. soldiers lay dead and more than 10,000 of their comrades were wounded or missing. Fifteen hundred Confederates had fallen in the battle, and another 9000 or so were wounded or captured. The United States had lost 25% of its fighting force; the Confederates, 31%. The First Texas Infantry lost 82% of its men.

That slaughter was brought home to northern families in a novel way after the battle. Photographer Alexander Gardner, working for the great photographer Matthew Brady, brought his camera to Antietam two days after the guns fell silent. Until Gardner’s field experiment, photography had been limited almost entirely to studios. People sent formal photos home and recorded family images for posterity, as if photographs were portraits.

Taking his camera outside, Gardner recorded seventy images of Antietam for people back home. His stark images showed bridges and famous generals, but they also showed rows of bodies, twisted and bloating in the sun as they awaited burial. By any standards these war photos were horrific, but to a people who had never seen anything like it before, they were earth-shattering.

White southern men had marched off to war in 1861 expecting that they would fight and win a heroic battle or two and that their easy victories over the northerners they dismissed as emasculated shopkeepers would enable them to create a new nation based in white supremacy. In the 1850s, pro-slavery lawmakers had taken over the United States government, but white southerners were a minority and they knew it. When the election of 1860 put into power lawmakers and a president who rejected their worldview, they decided to destroy the nation.

Eager to gain power in the rebellion, pro-secession politicians raced to extremes, assuring their constituencies that they were defending the true nature of a strong new country and that those defending the old version of the United States would never fight effectively.

On March 21, 1861, the future vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, laid out the world he thought white southerners should fight for. He explained that the Founders were wrong to base the government on the principle that humans were inherently equal, and that northerners were behind the times with their adherence to the outdated idea that “the negro is equal, and…entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man.” Confederate leaders had corrected the Founders’ error. They had rested the Confederacy on the “great truth” that “the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

White southern leaders talked easily about a coming war, assuring prospective soldiers that defeating the United States Army would be a matter of a fight or, perhaps, two. South Carolina Senator James Chesnut Jr. assured his neighbors that there would be so few casualties he would be happy to drink all the blood shed in a fight between the South and the North. And so, poorer white southerners marched to war.

The July 1861 Battle of Bull Run put the conceit of an easy victory to rest. Although the Confederates ultimately routed the U.S. soldiers, the southern men were shocked at what they experienced. “Never have I conceived of such a continuous, rushing hailstorm of shot, shell, and musketry as fell around and among us for hours together,” one wrote home. “We who escaped are constantly wondering how we could possibly have come out of the action alive.”

Northerners, too, had initially thought the war against the blustering southerners would be quick and easy, so quick and easy that some congressmen brought picnics to Bull Run to watch the fighting, only to get caught in the rout as soldiers ditched their rucksacks and guns and ran back toward the capital. Those at home, though, could continue to imagine the war as a heroic contest.

They could elevate the carnage, that is, until Matthew Brady exhibited Gardner’s images of Antietam at his studio in New York City. People who saw the placard announcing “The Dead of Antietam” and climbed the stairs up to Brady’s rooms to see the images found that their ideas about war were changed forever.

“The dead of the battle-field come up to us very rarely, even in dreams,” one reporter mused. “We see the list in the morning paper at breakfast, but dismiss its recollection with the coffee. There is a confused mass of names, but they are all strangers; we forget the horrible significance that dwells amid the jumble of type.” But Gardner’s photographs erased the distance between the battlefield and the home front. They brought home the fact that every name on a casualty list “represents a bleeding, mangled corpse.” “If [Gardner] has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it,” the shocked reporter commented.

The horrific images of Antietam showed to those on the home front the real cost of war they had entered with bluster and flippant assurances that it would be bloodless and easy. Southern politicians had promised that white rebels fighting to create a nation whose legal system enshrined white supremacy would easily overcome a mongrel army defending the principle of human equality.

The dead at Antietam’s Bloody Lane and Dunker Church proved they were wrong. The Battle of Antietam was enough of a Union victory to allow President Abraham Lincoln to issue the preliminary emancipation proclamation, warning southern states that on January 1, 1863, “all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State,” where people still fought against the United States, “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the…government of the United States…will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons….”

Lincoln’s proclamation meant that anti-slavery England would not formally enter the war on the side of the Confederates, dashing their hopes of foreign intervention, and in November 1863, Lincoln redefined the war as one not simply to restore the Union, but to protect a nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

To that principle, northerners and Black southerners rallied, despite the grinding horror of the battlefields, and in 1865, they defeated the Confederates.

But they did not defeat the idea the Confederates fought, killed, and died for: a nation in which the law distinguishes among people according to the color of their skin. Today, once again, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 September 2021 at 11:09 am

A look inside The War for Gaul: A New Translation

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The following is an excerpt from The War for Gaul: A New Translation, by Julius Caesar, translated by James J. O’Donnell, professor of history, philosophy, and religious studies and University Librarian at Arizona State University, whose books include PagansThe Ruin of the Roman Empire, and Augustine: A New Biography.

Caesar deserves to be compared with Alexander the Great. No one before or since comes close. Command, conquest, and a lasting legacy set them apart from the likes of mere strivers like Napoleon or Hitler. And the war in Gaul was the making of Caesar.

Isn’t that what you would expect a translator of Caesar to say? It’s all entirely true and many have said as much before. But admiring him without understanding him makes us complicit in his ill-­doing as well. This translation of his account of the war in Gaul will try to restore your objectivity and freedom of judgment. Make of him what you will.

***

Cormac McCarthy should be the one to write the story of Caesar in Gaul. As insensitive and brutal as McCarthy’s Americans afoot in a land of native and Spanish peoples they wrongly took for uncivilized, Caesar’s armies had little excuse for what they did and they preferred not to remember it once done. But Caesar told their story coolly. Though people die in droves, horribly, on these pages, the Latin word for “blood” appears only twice, near the end.

The facts of the story must be made clear. A general with something to prove, a career to make, and plunder to be harvested for financial gain was handed an army and a province and a guarantee he would have both for long enough to make serious mischief. He spent nine years battering his way through his province and the rich and promising lands beyond, bullying allies and brutalizing the resistant. By the time he was through, the lands and peoples that obeyed his commands—and those of his successors for another half millennium—had been vastly increased, and he was poised to make himself master of the world, or at least the world that stretched from the English Channel to Damascus.

He had no business doing any of this. His colleagues admired his chutzpah, knowing that he went far beyond every reasonable moral or legal boundary. His excesses were possible because he was in competition with two other monsters, one of whom fell in battle at the opposite end of the world while Caesar was in Gaul, the other of whom let Caesar go too long, then fought him, then fled, and ended up hacked to death by the minions of a king who thought it prudent to curry favor with Caesar.

But the book Caesar wrote is magnificent: amoral, certainly, but clear, vivid, and dramatic, a thing to be remembered and read for the ages. Books about war often make us sympathize with the wretchedness of the victims. This one forces us to be Romans of the kind its author wanted to be. We read it nervously, cheering for a bullfight we didn’t want to attend and don’t approve of, admiring the grace of the awesome minuet that floods the sand with blood. There is no denying that this is a great work of literature, one of the greatest, and at the same time, there should be no denying that it is a bad man’s book about his own bad deeds. I think it is the best bad man’s book ever written.

But many will resist my saying the plain fact. Because his carven prose depends on a deliberately restrained vocabulary and a terse, correct style, the book has been thought suitable for schoolboys for many generations, until about the time Latin schoolmasters discovered finally that women can read too. Now the book is in disfavor, for the wrong reasons: because it is about war, and because it is too easy. But we all need to read books about war if we are to avoid dying in one, and this book is anything but easy.

The best reasons for not teaching this book to the young are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 September 2021 at 12:49 pm

Final drone strike by US in Afghanistan War kills blameless victims

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Who is the terrorist in this situation? Certainly not the victims. I think it is the US military. 

Read the whole Twitter thread at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2021 at 1:49 pm

The enormous costs and elusive benefits of the war on terror: 20 years, $6 trillion, 900,000 lives

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Dylan Matthews reports in Vox:

On the evening of September 11, 2001, hours after two hijacked airliners had destroyed the World Trade Center towers and a third had hit the Pentagon building, President George W. Bush announced that the country was embarking on a new kind of war.

“America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism,” Bush announced in a televised address to the nation.

It was Bush’s first use of the term that would come to define his presidency and deeply shape those of his three successors. The global war on terror, as the effort came to be known, was one of the most expansive and far-reaching policy initiatives in modern American history, and certainly the biggest of the 2000s.

It saw the US invade and depose the governments of two nations and engage in years- or decades-long occupations of each; the initiation of a new form of warfare via drones spanning thousands of miles of territory from Pakistan to Somalia to the Philippines; the formalization of a system of detention without charge and pervasive torture of accused militants; numerous smaller raids by special forces teams around the world; and major changes to air travel and border security in the US proper.

The “war on terror” is a purposely vague term. President Barack Obama famously rejected it in a 2013 speech — favoring instead “a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists.”

But 9/11 signaled the beginning of a distinct policy regime from the one that preceded it, and a regime that exists in many forms to the present day, even with the US exit from Afghanistan.

Over the past 20 years, the costs of this new policy regime — costs in terms of lives lost, money spent, people and whole communities displaced, bodies tortured — have become clear. It behooves us, then, to try to answer a simple yet vast question: Was it worth it?

A good-faith effort to answer this question — to tally the costs and benefits on the ledger and not just resort to one’s ideological priors — is more challenging than you’d think. That’s largely because it involves quantifying the inherently unquantifiable. If, as proponents argue, the war on terror kept America safe, how do you quantify the psychological value of not being in a state of constant fear of the next attack? What about the damage of increased Islamophobia and violent targeting of Muslims (and those erroneously believed to be Muslims) stoked by the war on terror? There are dozens more unquantifiable purported costs and benefits like these.

But some things can be measured. There have been no 9/11-scale terrorist attacks in the United States in the past 20 years. Meanwhile, according to the most recent estimates from Brown University’s Costs of War Projectat least 897,000 people around the world have died in violence that can be classified as part of the war on terror; at least 38 million people have been displaced due to these wars; and the effort has cost the US at least $5.8 trillion, not including about $2 trillion more needed in health care and disability coverage for veterans in decades to come.

When you lay it all out on paper, an honest accounting of the war on terror yields a dismal conclusion: Even with an incredibly generous view of the war on terror’s benefits, the costs have vastly exceeded them. The past 20 years of war represent a colossal failure by the US government, one it has not begun to reckon with or atone for.

We are now used to the fact that the US government routinely bombs foreign countries with which it is not formally or even informally at war, in the name of killing terrorists. We are used to the fact that the National Security Agency works with companies like Facebook and Google to collect our private information en masse. We are used to the fact that 39 men are sitting in Guantanamo Bay, almost all detained indefinitely without trial.

These realities were not inevitable. They were chosen as part of a policy regime that has done vastly more harm than good.

What America and the world might have gained from the war on terror

Before going further, it’s important to define our terms. . . 

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s a harsh indictment. One of several charts in the article:

After 9/11, a rush of national unity. Then, quickly, more and new divisions.

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Dan Balz had an interesting column in the Washington Post yesterday. (The gift link I used by-passes the paywall.) The column begins:

On Monday, the leaders of Congress are to gather with colleagues at noon for a bipartisan ceremony marking the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It will be reminiscent of the gathering on the night of the attacks, when members of Congress, many holding small American flags, stood on the Capitol steps and spontaneously sang “God Bless America.” But so much has changed.

Twenty years ago, members of Congress were joined in a determined and resilient expression of national unity at an unprecedented moment in the nation’s history, a day that brought deaths and heroism but also shock, fear and confusion. Monday’s ceremony will no doubt be somber in its remembrance of what was lost that day, but it will come not as expression of a united America but simply as a momentary cessation in political wars that rage and have deepened in the years since those attacks.

In a video message to Americans released Friday, President Biden spoke of how 9/11 had united the country and said that moment represented “America at its best.” He called such unity “our greatest strength” while noting it is “all too rare.” The unity that followed the attacks didn’t last long. Americans reverted more quickly than some analysts expected to older patterns of partisanship. With time, new divisions over new issues have emerged, and they make the prospect of a united nation ever more distant.

On a day for somber tribute, the man who was president on 9/11, George W. Bush, spoke most directly of those new divisions — and threats — in a speech in Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 went down on the day of the attacks. Bush warned that dangers to the country now come not only across borders “but from violence that gathers from within.” It was an apparent but obvious reference to the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” he said. “But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.”

The question is often asked: As the United States has plunged deeper into division and discord, is there anything that could spark a change, anything big enough to become a catalyst for greater national unity? But if ­9/11 doesn’t fit that model, what does? And look what happened in the aftermath of that trauma.

For a time, the shock of the attacks did bring the country together. Bush’s approval ratings spiked to 90 percent in a rally-round-the-flag reaction that was typical when the country is faced with external threats or crises.

One notable expression of the unity at the time came from Al Gore, the former vice president who had lost the bitter 2000 election to Bush after a disputed recount in Florida and a controversial Supreme Court decision.

Speaking at a Democratic Party dinner in Iowa less than a month after the attacks, Gore called Bush “my commander in chief,” adding, “We are united behind our president, George W. Bush, behind the effort to seek justice, not revenge, to make sure this will never, ever happen again. And to make sure we have the strongest unity in America that we have ever had.” The Democratic audience rose, applauding and cheering.

Trust in government rose in those days after the attacks. Shortly after 9/11, trust in government jumped to 64 percent, up from 30 percent before the attacks, according to Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican polling firm that was closely tracking public attitudes to the attacks. By the summer of 2002, the firm found that trust had fallen back, to 39 percent.

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Five years after the attacks, then-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), now deceased, was quoted as saying that America was “more divided and more partisan than I’ve ever seen us.” Today, after many contentious elections, political warfare over economic, cultural and social issues and a domestic attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, many Americans would say things have become worse.

As he prepared the U.S. response to the attacks by al-Qaeda in the fall of 2001, Bush made clear the United States would go it alone if necessary, assembling what was called a “coalition of the willing.” He put other nations on notice, saying the United States would hold them accountable in the campaign against the terrorists. “You’re either with us or against us in the fight,” he said.

Bush described the world in Manichaean terms: good vs. evil.

Today’s politics at home is often practiced that way. That phrase — “with us or against us” — could stand as a black-and-white expression of the way in which many Americans approach the political battles: all in with the team, red or blue, or not in at all. If you win, I lose. No middle ground.

Lack of imagination on the part of Americans had helped 9/11 to happen. No one in the upper reaches of government  . . .

Continue reading. No paywall on this one.

Written by Leisureguy

12 September 2021 at 10:35 am

Why Was the Discovery of the Jet Stream Mostly Ignored?

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Rebecca Maksel wrote in Air & Space Magazine in April 2018:

Had Japanese meteorologist Wasaburo Ooishi not been an Esperantist, U.S. scientists during World War II might have been more aware of a national vulnerability. Between 1923 and 1925, Ooishi completed almost 1,300 observations of fierce high-altitude winds, later named the jetstream. The somewhat eccentric Ooishi was not only the director of Japan’s Tateno atmospheric observatory but also the head of the Japan Esperanto Society, proponents of the artificially constructed language, created in the 1870s as a means of international communication. Ooishi announced his discovery of the swift, high-altitude river of air in the Tateno observatory’s annual reports, which he published in Esperanto. Not surprisingly, his research was ignored, and the U.S. military was caught off guard by two consequences of the invisible jetstream.

The first surprise came in 1944 when B-29 pilots flying toward targets in Japan discovered at their cruising altitudes winds as high as 230 mph. The winds caused bombs to miss targets and, as headwinds, required bombers to use far more fuel than expected—so much more that they sometimes ran out on the return trip.

The second surprise, more famous and more tragic, was the bomb that killed Elsie Mitchell and five Sunday school students in May 1945 when they came upon it during an outing near Bly, Oregon. The bomb had been carried by a balloon designed by the Imperial Japanese Army, one of almost 9,000 silken, hydrogen-filled balloons laden with explosives that Japan launched toward North America over a period of eight months, starting in late 1944. They were carried by the west-to-east winds that had been the subject of Ooishi’s research, and about 300 made landfall, according to reports of pieces found. After the 1942 Doolittle Raid shocked the Japanese by striking the home islands, the Ninth Military Technical Research Institute was tasked with finding a means of retaliation. Weapons designers at the institute created the balloons but needed to know how far across the Pacific they could travel. They turned to Hidetoshi Arakawa at Tokyo’s Central Meteorological Observatory, who drew on the work of Wasaburo Ooishi.

When balloon bombs started landing on North America, the idea that they’d been launched from Japan was inconceivable; how could they travel that far? They must have been launched from Japanese submarines near the U.S. west coast, reasoned U.S. Navy investigators. In fact, that was the first strategy Japan considered. On September 9, 1942, a small floatplane dropped incendiaries on Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon to spark a fire, but the Oregon forest was a poor choice: It had just rained there. Eventually, all submarines were needed to battle the U.S. Navy, and the concept was dropped.

Although most of the balloon bombs are thought to have gone down in the Pacific Ocean, a few remain in remote areas of the Pacific Northwest. Two forestry workers discovered one near Lumby, British Columbia, in 2014. A Canadian navy bomb disposal unit arrived and blew it to bits. Use caution when hiking.

Written by Leisureguy

11 September 2021 at 7:00 pm

After 9/11, the U.S. Got Almost Everything Wrong

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In the Atlantic Garrett M. Graff, a journalist, historian, and the author of The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11, lays out the bad decisions after 9/11 — many of which were strongly opposed at the time (for example, many (including yours truly) vociferously opposed the (stupid) invasion of Iraq):

On the friday after 9/11, President George W. Bush visited the New York City site that the world would come to know as Ground Zero. After rescue workers shouted that they couldn’t hear him as he spoke to them through a bullhorn, he turned toward them and ad-libbed. “I can hear you,” he shouted. “The whole world hears you, and when we find these people who knocked these buildings down, they’ll hear all of us soon.” Everybody roared. At a prayer service later that day, he outlined the clear objective of the task ahead: “Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.”

Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press two days later, Vice President Dick Cheney offered his own vengeful promise. “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will,” he told the host, Tim Russert. “We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful.” He added, “That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal.”

In retrospect, Cheney’s comment that morning came to define the U.S. response to the 2001 terrorist attacks over the next two decades, as the United States embraced the “dark side” to fight what was soon dubbed the “Global War on Terror” (the “GWOT” in gov-speak)—an all-encompassing, no-stone-unturned, whole-of-society, and whole-of-government fight against one of history’s great evils.

It was a colossal miscalculation.

The events of September 11, 2001, became the hinge on which all of recent American history would turn, rewriting global alliances, reorganizing the U.S. government, and even changing the feel of daily life, as security checkpoints and magnetometers proliferated inside buildings and protective bollards sprouted like kudzu along America’s streets.

I am the author of an oral history of 9/11. Two of my other books chronicle how that day changed the FBI’s counterterrorism efforts and the government’s doomsday plans. I’ve spent much of this year working on a podcast series about the lingering questions from the attacks. Along the way, I’ve interviewed the Cassandra-like FBI agents who chased Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda before the attacks; first responders and attack survivors in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania; government officials who hid away in bunkers under the White House and in the Virginia countryside as the day unfolded; the passengers aboard Air Force One with the president on 9/11; and the Navy SEALs who killed bin Laden a decade later. I’ve interviewed directors of the CIA, FBI, and national intelligence; the interrogators in CIA black sites; and the men who found Saddam Hussein in that spider hole in Iraq.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11 on Saturday, I cannot escape this sad conclusion: The United States—as both a government and a nation—got nearly everything about our response wrong, on the big issues and the little ones. The GWOT yielded two crucial triumphs: The core al-Qaeda group never again attacked the American homeland, and bin Laden, its leader, was hunted down and killed in a stunningly successful secret mission a decade after the attacks. But the U.S. defined its goals far more expansively, and by almost any other measure, the War on Terror has weakened the nation—leaving Americans more afraid, less free, more morally compromised, and more alone in the world. A day that initially created an unparalleled sense of unity among Americans has become the backdrop for ever-widening political polarization.

The nation’s failures began in the first hours of the attacks and continue to the present day. Seeing how and when we went wrong is easy in hindsight. What’s much harder to understand is how—if at all—we can make things right.

As a society, we succumbed to fear.

The most telling part of September 11, 2001, was the interval between the first plane crash at the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m., and the second, at 9:03. In those 17 minutes, the nation’s sheer innocence was on display.

The aftermath of the first crash was live on the nation’s televisions by 8:49 a.m. Though horrified, many Americans who saw those images still went on about their morning. In New York, the commuter-ferry captain Peter Johansen recalled how, afterward, he docked at the Wall Street Terminal and every single one of his passengers got off and walked into Lower Manhattan, even as papers and debris rained down from the damaged North Tower.

At the White House, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice called Bush, who was in Florida. They discussed the crash and agreed it was strange. But Rice proceeded with her 9 a.m. staff meeting, as previously scheduled, and Bush went into a classroom at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School to promote his No Child Left Behind education agenda. At the FBI, the newly arrived director, Robert Mueller, was actually sitting in a briefing on al-Qaeda and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole when an aide interrupted with news of the first crash; he looked out the window at the bright blue sky and wondered how a plane could have hit the World Trade Center on such a clear day.

Those muted reactions seem inconceivable today but were totally appropriate to the nation that existed that September morning. The conclusion of the Cold War a decade earlier had supposedly ended history. To walk through Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Little Rock today is to marvel at how low-stakes everything in the 1990s seemed.

But after that second crash, and then the subsequent ones at the Pentagon and in the fields outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, our government panicked. There’s really no other way to say it. Fear spread up the chain of command. Cheney, who had been hustled to safety in the minutes after the second crash, reflected later, “In the years since, I’ve heard speculation that I’m a different man after 9/11. I wouldn’t say that. But I’ll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.”

The initial fear seemed well grounded. Experts warned of a potential second wave of attacks and of al-Qaeda sleeper cells across the country. Within weeks, mysterious envelopes of anthrax powder began sickening and killing people in Florida, New York, and Washington. Entire congressional office buildings were sealed off by government officials in hazmat suits.

The world suddenly looked scary to ordinary citizens—and even worse behind the closed doors of intelligence briefings. The careful sifting of intelligence that our nation’s leaders rely on to make decisions fell apart. After the critique that federal law enforcement and spy agencies had “failed to connect the dots” took hold, everyone shared everything—every tip seemed to be treated as fact. James Comey, who served as deputy attorney general during some of the frantic post-9/11 era, told me in 2009 that he had been horrified by the unverified intelligence landing each day on the president’s desk. “When I started, I believed that a giant fire hose of information came in the ground floor of the U.S. government and then, as it went up, floor by floor, was whittled down until at the very top the president could drink from the cool, small stream of a water fountain,” Comey said. “I was shocked to find that after 9/11 the fire hose was just being passed up floor by floor. The fire hose every morning hit the FBI director, the attorney general, and then the president.”

According to one report soon after 9/11, a nuclear bomb that terrorists had managed to smuggle into the country was hidden on a train somewhere between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This tip turned out to have come from an informant who had misheard a conversation between two men in a bathroom in Ukraine—in other words, from a terrible global game of telephone. For weeks after, Bush would ask in briefings, “Is this another Ukrainian urinal incident?”

Even disproved plots added to the impression that the U.S. was under constant attack by a shadowy, relentless, and widespread enemy. Rather than recognizing that an extremist group with an identifiable membership and distinctive ideology had exploited fixable flaws in the American security system to carry out the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched the nation on a vague and ultimately catastrophic quest to rid the world of “terror” and “evil.”

At the time, some commentators politely noted the danger of tilting at such nebulous concepts, but a stunned American public appeared to crave a bold response imbued with a higher purpose. As the journalist Robert Draper writes in To Start a War, his new history of the Bush administration’s lies, obfuscations, and self-delusions that led from Afghanistan into Iraq, “In the after-shocks of 9/11, a reeling America found itself steadied by blunt-talking alpha males whose unflappable, crinkly-eyed certitude seemed the only antidote to nationwide panic.”

he crash of that second plane at 9:03, live on millions of television sets across the country, had revealed a gap in Americans’ understanding of our world, a gap into which anything and everything—caution and paranoia, liberal internationalism and vengeful militarism, a mission to democratize the Middle East and an ever more pointless campaign amid a military stalemate—might be poured in the name of shared national purpose. The depth of our leaders’ panic and the amorphousness of our enemy led to a long succession of tragic choices.

We chose the wrong way to seek justice.

Before 9/11, the United States had a considered, constitutional, and proven playbook for targeting terrorists: They were arrested anywhere in the world they could be caught, tried in regular federal courts, and, if convicted, sent to federal prison. The mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing? Arrested in Pakistan. The 1998 embassy bombers? Caught in Kenya, South Africa, and elsewhere. In Sweden on the very morning of 9/11, FBI agents had arrested an al-Qaeda plotter connected to the attack on the USS Cole. The hunt for the plotters of and accomplices to the new attacks could have been similarly handled in civilian courts, whose civil-liberties protections would have shown the world how even the worst evils met with reasoned justice under the law.

Instead, on November 13, 2001, President Bush announced in an executive order that those rounded up in the War on Terror would be treated not as criminals, or even as prisoners of war, but as part of a murky category that came to be known as “enemy combatants.”

While civil libertarians warned of a dark path ahead, Americans seemed not . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

Meanwhile, for all the original talk of banishing evil from the world, the GWOT’s seemingly exclusive focus on Islamic extremism has led to the neglect of other threats actively killing Americans. In the 20 years since 9/11, thousands of Americans have succumbed to mass killers—just not the ones we went to war against in 2001. The victims have included worshippers in churchessynagogues, and temples; people at shopping mallsmovie theaters, and a Walmart; students and faculty at universities and community colleges; professors at a nursing school; children in elementarymiddle, and high schools; kids at an Amish school and on a Minnesota Native American reservation; nearly 60 concertgoers who were machine-gunned to death from hotel windows in Las Vegas. But none of those massacres were by the Islamic extremists we’d been spending so much time and money to combat. Since 9/11, more Americans have been killed by domestic terrorists than by foreign ones. Political pressure kept national-security officials from refocusing attention and resources on the growing threat from white nationalists, armed militias, and other groups energized by the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim strains of the War on Terror.

FDR was right: the thing to fear is fear itself — fear leads to panic, and panic leads to bad and ill-considered decisions.

Update: But see also David Corn’s article  in Mother Jones: “It’s Not Too Late to Learn the Lessons We Didn’t Learn From 9/11.”

Written by Leisureguy

10 September 2021 at 3:57 pm

What Might Have Been at Tora Bora

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Peggy Noonan writes on her website:

A missed opportunity to get bin Laden set the stage for 20 years of frustrating, painful war in Afghanistan.
The Wall Street Journal: September 1, 2021

“For of all sad words of tongue or pen, / The saddest are these: ‘It might have been!’”
— Maud Muller, by John Greenleaf Whittier

I keep thinking of what happened at Tora Bora. What a richly consequential screw-up it was, and how different the coming years might have been, the whole adventure might have been, if we’d gotten it right.

From the 2009 Senate Foreign Relations Committee report “Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed to Get bin Laden and Why It Matters Today”:

On October 7, 2001, U.S. aircraft began bombing the training bases and strongholds of Al Qaeda and the ruling Taliban across Afghanistan. The leaders who sent murderers to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon less than a month earlier and the rogue government that provided them sanctuary were running for their lives. President George W. Bush’s expression of America’s desire to get Osama bin Laden ‘dead or alive’ seemed about to come true.

The war was to be swift and deadly, with clear objectives: defeat the Taliban, destroy al Qaeda and kill or capture its leader, Osama bin Laden. Already the Taliban had been swept from power, al Qaeda ousted from its havens. American deaths had been kept to a minimum.

But where was bin Laden? By early December 2001 his world “had shrunk to a complex of caves and tunnels carved into a mountainous section” of eastern Afghanistan, Tora Bora. For weeks U.S. aircraft pounded him and his men with as many as 100 strikes a day. “One 15,000-pound bomb, so huge it had to be rolled out the back of a C-130 cargo plane, shook the mountains for miles.”

American commandos were on the scene, fewer than 100, but everyone knew more troops were coming. Bin Laden expected to die. He wrote his last will and testament on Dec. 14.

But calls for reinforcement to launch an assault were rejected, as were calls to block the mountain paths into Pakistan, which bin Laden could use as escape routes. “The vast array of American military power, from sniper teams to the most mobile divisions of the Marine Corps and the Army, was kept on the sidelines.”

Sometime around Dec. 16, bin Laden and his bodyguards made their way out, on foot and horseback, and disappeared into Pakistan’s unregulated tribal area.

How could this have happened? The report puts responsibility on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top commander, Gen. Tommy Franks. Both supported a small-footprint war strategy, and it was a bad political moment for a big bloody fight: Afghanistan’s new president, Hamid Karzai, was about to be inaugurated. “We didn’t want to have U.S. forces fighting before Karzai was in power,” Gen. Franks’s deputy told the committee. “We wanted to create a stable country and that was more important than going after bin Laden at the time.” Washington seemed to want Afghan forces to do the job, but they couldn’t. They didn’t have the capability or fervor.

Gen. Franks took to saying the intelligence was “inconclusive.” They couldn’t be sure Osama was there. But he was there.

Central Intelligence Agency and Delta Force commanders who’d spent weeks at Tora Bora were certain he was there. Afghan villagers who sold food to al Qaeda said he was there. A CIA operative who picked up a radio from a dead al Qaeda fighter found himself with a clear channel into the group’s communications. “Bin Laden’s voice was often picked up.” The official history of the U.S. Special Operations Command determined he was there: “All source reporting corroborated his presence on several days from 9-14 December.”

Bin Laden himself said he was there, in an audiotape released in February 2003. He boasted of surviving the bombardment. “Warplanes continued to fly over us day and night,” he said. “Planes poured their lava on us.”

There were enough U.S. troops in or near Afghanistan to get him, the report said. It would have been a dangerous fight on treacherous terrain in hostile territory. There would have been casualties, maybe a lot. But commanders on the scene said the reward was worth the risk.

In Washington the White House was already turning its attention to Iraq. Late in November, after the fall of Kabul, President George W. Bush asked Rumsfeld about Iraq war plans. Rumsfeld ordered up an assessment. Gen. Franks was working on air support for Afghan units being assembled to push into the mountains around Tora Bora. Now he was told an Iraq plan would have to be drawn up. The report noted that for critics of the Bush administration, “the shift in focus just as Franks and his senior aides were literally working on plans for the attacks on Tora Bora represents a dramatic turning point that allowed a sustained victory in Afghanistan to slip through our fingers.”

It changed the course of the war in Afghanistan. The most wanted man in the world, the reason those poor souls jumped from the high floors of the twin towers, the man whose capture was an integral part of the point and mission of the war was allowed to . . . disappear. The American presence descended into a muddle of shifting strategies, unclear purpose and annual reviews. The guiding military wisdom in Washington—that too many troops might stir up anti-American sentiment and resistance—was defied by the facts of Tora Bora. The unwillingness to be supple, respond to circumstances and deploy the troops to get bin Laden “paved the way for exactly what we hoped to avoid—a protracted insurgency.”

Why didn’t Washington move and get him? Maybe it was simply a mistake—“the fog of war.” Maybe leaders were distracted by Iraq. Maybe it was a lack of imagination: They didn’t know what it would mean to people, their own people, to get the bastard. And maybe this: Maybe they consciously or unconsciously knew that if they got the guy who did 9/11, killed him or brought him to justice, that would leave a lot of Americans satisfied that justice had been done. That might take some steam out of the Iraq push. Maybe they concluded it would be better not to get him, or not right away . . .

Bin Laden was found almost 10 years later, in May 2011, and killed in a daring operation ordered by Barack Obama, who was loudly, justly lauded. He made the decision against the counsel of Vice President Joe Biden.

But what if we’d gotten Tora Bora right?  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 September 2021 at 1:45 pm

“I was a combat interpreter in Afghanistan, where cultural illiteracy led to U.S. failure”

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Baktash Ahadi, who served U.S. and Afghan Special Operations forces as a combat interpreter from 2010 to 2012 and formerly chaired the State Department’s Afghan Familiarization course, writes in the Washington Post:

Like many Afghan Americans, I have spent much of the past few weeks trying to secure safe passage from Afghanistan for family, friends and colleagues, with tragically limited success. I also know that many Americans have been asking: Why is this crazy scramble necessary? How could Afghanistan have collapsed so quickly?

As a former combat interpreter who served alongside U.S. and Afghan Special Operations forces, I can tell you part of the answer — one that’s been missing from the conversation: culture.

When comparing the Taliban with the United States and its Western allies, the vast majority of Afghans have always viewed the Taliban as the lesser of two evils. To many Americans, that may seem an outlandish claim. The coalition, after all, poured billions of dollars into Afghanistan. It built highways. It emancipated Afghan women. It gave millions of people the right to vote for the first time ever.

All true. But the Americans also went straight to building roads, schools and governing institutions — in an effort to “win hearts and minds” — without first figuring out what values animate those hearts and what ideas fill those minds. We thus wound up acting in ways that would ultimately alienate everyday Afghans.

First, almost all representatives of Western governments — military and civilian — were required to stay “inside the wire,” meaning they were confined at all times to Kabul’s fortified Green Zone and well-guarded military bases across the country.

Each of my own trips to visit family in Kabul was a breach for which I could have been disciplined. But I’m glad I broke the rules. If my colleagues had been allowed to enjoy the same experiences — the scent of kebab in Shahr-e Naw, the hustle and bustle of Qala-e Fathullah — they might have developed a much better feel for the country, its people and its culture.

As it was, however, virtually the only contact most Afghans had with the West came via heavily armed and armored combat troops. Americans thus mistook the Afghan countryside for a mere theater of war, rather than as a place where people actually lived. U.S. forces turned villages into battlegrounds, pulverizing mud homes and destroying livelihoods. One could almost hear the Taliban laughing as any sympathy for the West evaporated in bursts of gunfire.

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Sometimes, yes, we built good things — clinics, schools, wells. But when the building was done, we would simply leave. The Taliban would not only destroy those facilities, but also look upon the local community with greater suspicion for having received “gifts” from America.

Second, the front-line troops were given zero training in cultural literacy. The Marines I worked with were shocked, for example, to hear me exchanging favorite Koran verses with my fellow Afghans, mistaking this for extremism rather than shared piety. When talking to Afghan villagers, the Marines would not remove their sunglasses — a clear indication of untrustworthiness in a country that values eye contact. In some cases, they would approach and directly address village women, violating one of rural Afghanistan’s strictest cultural norms.

Faux pas such as these sound almost comically basic, and they are. But multiplied over millions of interactions throughout the United States’ two decades of wheel-spinning in Afghanistan, they cost us dearly in terms of local support.

From the point of view of many Afghans, Americans might as well have been extraterrestrials, descending out of the black sky every few weeks, looking and acting alien, and always bringing disruption, if not outright ruin. We failed to understand what made sense for Afghans time and time again. No wonder the Taliban maintained such sway over the past 20 years.

Before long, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

1 September 2021 at 8:40 pm

The US shows signs of breaking down

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Heather Cox Richardson, an American historian and professor of history at Boston College, where she teaches courses on the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era, writes in her Substack column:

At 3:29 ET on August 30, 2021—early on the morning of August 31 in Afghanistan—the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan ended. It was the longest war in American history.

Among the last to come home were the 13 Americans killed in an ISIS-K attack last Thursday. They arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Sunday morning from Germany. President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, and 8 aides attended the dignified transfer between the plane and a waiting vehicle.

In the last 17 days in Afghanistan, U.S. troops evacuated more than 120,000 people, making up the largest airlift in our history. For comparison, as Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post pointed out, the U.S. evacuated no Americans from the civil war in Yemen in 2015, and only about 167 from Libya in 2011.

While critics have suggested that America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will hurt American credibility abroad, President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have called for combatting terrorism through financial sanctions, bombing, and drone strikes like the one they used to retaliate against ISIS-K for the attack on the Kabul airport that killed more than 160 Afghans and 13 Americans last Friday, and by strengthening democracy at home.

There is plenty of work to do on that last front.

Last week, Peter Wehner, who served in the Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush administrations, pointed out in The Atlantic that the right wing has moved to such extremism that former president Trump, whose behavior seemed so shocking in 2015 and 2016, is now being sidelined by lawmakers and pundits who are even more extreme.

Yesterday, in an event hosted by the Macon County Republican Party, Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) insisted that the January 6 rioters are “political hostages” and said he wanted to “bust them out.” When someone in the audience asked “When are you going to call us to Washington again?” he said, “We are actively working on that one…. We have a few plans in motion that I can’t make public right now.” He called for removing Biden from office under the 25th Amendment and added, “when Kamala Harris inevitably screws up, we will take them down, one at a time.” He concluded by saying: “The Second Amendment was not written so that we can go hunting or we can shoot sporting clays…. The Second Amendment was written so that we can fight against tyranny.”

Increasingly, right-wing agitators are calling for violent overthrow of the government.

Today in Pennsylvania, Steve Lynch, a candidate for Northampton County executive, said: “Forget going into these school boards with freaking data. You go into these school boards to remove them. I’m going in with 20 strong men and I’m gonna give them an option—they can leave or they can be removed.”

At a protest in Santa Monica yesterday before a vote on a mask mandate, a man held a sign with the names and home addresses of each Los Angeles City Council member and said protesters would go to the homes of anyone who voted for the mandate and, if it passed, “Civil War is coming! Get your guns!”

This sort of street-level violence is known for radicalizing individuals as they get swept up in it and then later embrace the larger political arguments behind it. It also forces more reasonable individuals out of government positions as they conclude that their position on a school board, for example,  is not worth threats against their families and their lives.

Far from trying to tamp down this violence, right-wing leaders are egging it on. Tonight, on the Fox News Channel, personality Tucker Carlson told his audience that no leader had apologized for “these terrible decisions” in Afghanistan. “This can’t go on,” he said. “When leaders refuse to hold themselves accountable, over time, people revolt…. We need to change course immediately… or else the consequences will be awful.”

The images on the screen behind Carlson were of President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, Defense Secretary Austin, and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Milley. Carlson often tries to undermine the current leadership of the military, suggesting that he would welcome its replacement by officers he finds less objectionable.

Republican offense may be an attempt at defense.

Today, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, announced that the committee has demanded that 35 major communications companies preserve their records from April 1, 2020, to January 31, 2021, for people involved in the January 5 and January 6 rallies in Washington, D.C., or “potentially involved with discussions” about stopping the electoral vote count on January 6 or otherwise  “potentially involved with discussions” in planning the January 6 insurrection. According to CNN, the companies affected include cell phone giants Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, US Cellular, and Sprint. Social media companies covered under the request include Apple, Google, Facebook, Signal, Slack, YouTube, Twitch, and Twitter.

CNN reports that members of the committee have requested preservation of the records of representatives Cawthorn, Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Jody Hice (R-GA), and Scott Perry (R-PA). They have also asked the companies to preserve the records of former president Trump; those of his children Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump; and those of his daughter-in-law Lara Trump and Don Jr.’s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, who worked on the campaign.

Those determined to regain control of the country from the Democrats also have to contend with continuing good news from Biden’s policies. A new . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s somewhat more comforting.

Written by Leisureguy

31 August 2021 at 1:49 am

Afghanistan: 3 Unlearned Lessons

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Robert Wright writes at Nonzero Newsletter:

. . .  Unlearned Lesson #1: The presence of a foreign army can strengthen the enemy by expanding its popular support.

In Vietnam, the United States underestimated the enemy’s grassroots support by misunderstanding the enemy’s nature. Many American officials saw the Viet Cong as fundamentally an incarnation of Communist ideology—and to some extent as a creation of outside Communist powers. They failed to see that it was in large part an incarnation of nationalism, of longstanding resistance against Western powers—first France and now the United States. So they didn’t appreciate that the presence of American troops was a kind of fuel for the enemy.

This misunderstanding was a central theme of Frances FitzGerald’s 1972 book Fire in the Lake. The book won a Pulitzer Prize and was a New York Times bestseller—which you’d think would be enough to keep FitzGerald’s point circulating for a long time.

Not long enough, apparently. In Afghanistan we again failed to see how a foreign military presence could energize nationalism and expand the enemy’s base. In a way our failure to get this picture is understandable; the Taliban seemed first and foremost a religious organization, and to the extent that it had a secular identity, that identity seemed rooted more in Pashtun ethnicity than in Afghan nationality. But such is the galvanizing power of a foreign army—especially one whose drones occasionally kill civilians—that unlikely carriers of a nationalist torch can wind up carrying it.

I didn’t totally get this until I listened to a recent edition of Aaron Mate’s Pushback podcast. Daniel Sjursen, a retired Army officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and has taught at West Point, told Mate that “we kind of made the Taliban… What we ended up doing by our very presence was forming them into the national resistance organization they always wanted to be.” The Taliban became “the only game in town” for nationalists; the Taliban could say, “I’m a real Afghan. I’m a nationalist Afghan. Those people in Kabul, they’re working with the Americans.”

Sjursen added, “And we never got that. We thought that, well, more militarization will fix the problem of militarization being the problem.”

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 6:47 pm

Biden Deserves Credit, Not Blame, for Afghanistan

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David Rothkopf writes in the Atlantic:

America’s longest war has been by any measure a costly failure, and the errors in managing the conflict deserve scrutiny in the years to come. But Joe Biden doesn’t “own” the mayhem on the ground right now. What we’re seeing is the culmination of 20 years of bad decisions by U.S. political and military leaders. If anything, Americans should feel proud of what the U.S. government and military have accomplished in these past two weeks. President Biden deserves credit, not blame.

Unlike his three immediate predecessors in the Oval Office, all of whom also came to see the futility of the Afghan operation, Biden alone had the political courage to fully end America’s involvement. Although Donald Trump made a plan to end the war, he set a departure date that fell after the end of his first term and created conditions that made the situation Biden inherited more precarious. And despite significant pressure and obstacles, Biden has overseen a military and government that have managed, since the announcement of America’s withdrawal, one of the most extraordinary logistical feats in their recent history. By the time the last American plane lifts off from Hamid Karzai International Airport on August 31, the total number of Americans and Afghan allies extricated from the country may exceed 120,000.

In the days following the fall of Kabul earlier this month—an event that triggered a period of chaos, fear, and grief—critics castigated the Biden administration for its failure to properly coordinate the departure of the last Americans and allies from the country. The White House was indeed surprised by how quickly the Taliban took control, and those early days could have been handled better. But the critics argued that more planning both would have been able to stop the Taliban victory and might have made America’s departure somehow tidier, more like a win or perhaps even a draw. The chaos, many said, was symptomatic of a bigger error. They argued that the United States should stay in Afghanistan, that the cost of remaining was worth the benefits a small force might bring.

Former military officers and intelligence operatives, as well as commentators who had long been advocates of extending America’s presence in Afghanistan, railed against Biden’s artificial deadline. Some critics were former Bush-administration officials or supporters who had gotten the U.S. into the mess in the first place, setting us on the impossible path toward nation building and, effectively, a mission without a clear exit or metric for success. Some were Obama-administration officials or supporters who had doubled down on the investment of personnel in the country and later, when the futility of the war was clear, lacked the political courage to withdraw. Some were Trump-administration officials or supporters who had negotiated with and helped strengthen the Taliban with their concessions in the peace deal and then had punted the ultimate exit from the country to the next administration.

They all conveniently forgot that they were responsible for some of America’s biggest errors in this war and instead were incandescently self-righteous in their invective against the Biden administration. Never mind the fact that the Taliban had been gaining ground since it resumed its military campaign in 2004 and, according to U.S. estimates even four years ago, controlled or contested about a third of Afghanistan. Never mind that the previous administration’s deal with the Taliban included the release of 5,000 fighters from prison and favored an even earlier departure date than the one that Biden embraced. Never mind that Trump had drawn down U.S. troop levels from about 13,000 to 2,500 during his last year in office and had failed to repatriate America’s equipment on the ground. Never mind the delay caused by Trump and his adviser Stephen Miller’s active obstruction of special visas for Afghans who helped us.

Never mind the facts. Never mind the losses. Never mind the lessons. Biden, they felt, was in the wrong.

Despite the criticism, Biden, who had argued unsuccessfully when he was Barack Obama’s vice president to seriously reduce America’s presence in Afghanistan, remained resolute. Rather than view the heartbreaking scenes in Afghanistan in a political light as his opponents did, Biden effectively said, “Politics be damned—we’re going to do what’s right” and ordered his team to stick with the deadline and find a way to make the best of the difficult situation in Kabul.

The Biden administration nimbly adapted its plans, ramping up the airlift and sending additional troops into the country to aid crisis teams and to enhance security. Around-the-clock flights came into and went out of Afghanistan. Giant cargo planes departed, a number of them packed with as many as 600 occupants. Senior administration officials convened regular meetings with U.S. allies to find destinations for those planes to land and places for the refugees to stay. The State Department tracked down Americans in the country, as well as Afghans who had worked with the U.S., to arrange their passage to the airport. The Special Immigrant Visa program that the Trump administration had slowed down was kicked into high gear. Despite years of fighting, the administration and the military spoke with the Taliban many times to coordinate passage of those seeking to depart to the airport, to mitigate risks as best as possible, to discuss their shared interest in meeting the August 31 deadline.

The process was relentless and imperfect and, as we all have seen in the most horrific way, not without huge risks for those staying behind to help. On . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 August 2021 at 4:54 pm

The War in Afghanistan Is What Happens When McKinsey Types Run Everything

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

I had a piece ready to go on Lina Khan’s attempt to break up Facebook, but I think it’s more important to talk about the competence problems revealed by the war in Afghanistan. There are monopoly elements involved, but there is a more basic question at work that keeps coming up, whether it’s the Boeing 737 Max, opioids, Covid mismanagement, or anything else of social importance. Do we have the competence to govern ourselves anymore? There’s also a follow-on question. Will this loss spur genuine reform of our McKinsey-ified elites who failed so spectacularly?

Also:

  • Other People’s Money, or why Wall Street itself is getting ripped off by a monopolist that charges 25 cents to send an email to investors.
  • Other People’s Money, or why does getting an email of your college transcript cost $9?
  • In Texas, hospitals are using Covid to try and suppress nurse wages.
  • What happened when the Centers for Disease Control hired Boston Consulting Group to run their vaccine rollout?
  • Sony builds an anime monopoly.

This is my first newsletter in three weeks. I was on vacation. I won’t normally have absences like this, but honestly, I was burned out. Don’t worry, I’m refreshed, and I have a good issue queued up for early next week, and some fun ideas going forward.

And now…

“The Pervasiveness of Over-Optimism”

In 2017, Netflix put out a satirical movie on the conflict in Afghanistan. It was titled War Machine, and it starred Brad Pitt as an exuberant and deluded U.S. General named Glen McMahon. A fitness fanatic nicknamed ‘the Glanimal’ by his crew of adoring frathouse henchmen, McMahon is modeled on the real-life military leader Stanley McChrystal, who ran the surge in Afghanistan before being fired for saying disparaging things about Obama administration officials (including then VP Biden) on the record to Rolling Stone magazine.

In War Machine, McMahan comes to Afghanistan with a spirited can do attitude and a frat house of hard-partying yes-men, after having ‘kicked Al Qaeda in the sack’ running special operations in Iraq. He is obsessed with inspirational speeches and weird bureaucratic box-ticking, under the amorphous concept of leadership. This kind of leadership, though, isn’t actually working with wisdom and foresight, but is more like management consulting. Prior to arriving in Afghanistan, for instance, McMahan created a system, with the acronym SNORPP to coordinate military assets. At night, he cozies down to read books on management excellence, the kind that Harvard Business Review publishes as sort of Chicken Soup for the Executive’s Soul. He is also the author of a fictional book with the amazing title, “One Leg At a Time: Just Like Everybody Else.”

And yet his mission is unwinnable, which everyone seems to understand except him and his small team. McMahan constantly makes awkward speeches that make no sense, with the tone used by untrusted executives at corporate retreats. “We are here to build, to protect, to support the civilian population,” he told his troops. “To that end, we must avoid killing it at all costs. We cannot help them and kill them at the same time, it just ain’t humanly possible.” His character reflects what the actual government watchdog charged with overseeing the war in Afghanistan called one of the central problems with the U.S. effort, “the pervasiveness of over-optimism:”

If McMahan himself is a naive fool, he is surrounded by cynical bureaucratic opponents. As he seeks support for his new strategy of putting troops in Taliban-held provinces, he is gently ignored by the President of Afghanistan, who is a drug-addicted hypochondriac, and mocked by State Department and national security aparachnicks, who are striving cynics urging McMahon to just falsify numbers to make the war look a little better and not embarrass President Obama. Troops on the ground are demoralized and confused. No one actually believes in the mission, but dammit, McMahon is gonna get it done, whatever ‘it’ is. When McMahon tries to give an inspirational speech to ordinary Afghanis in Taliban-controlled territory about how the U.S. is going to bring them jobs and schools, one responds by saying he like jobs and schools, but please go away so the Taliban won’t retaliate. “The longer you are here the worse for us. Please go.”

It’s a hilarious, and extraordinarily dark movie. It also rang true, because it was based on the work of no-bullshit journalist Michael Hastings, who was perhaps the most honest reporter about the military establishment. And, as life is true to fiction, McChrystal, the general who Hastings profiled in Rolling Stone with an embarrassing story that led to his resignation, is now a management consultant (and board member of defense contractors). He runs inspirational ‘leadership training’ at the McChrystal Group, which is McKinsey with military branding.

In fact, McChrystal and much of our military leadership is tight with consultants like McKinsey, and that whole diseased culture from Harvard Business School of pervasive over-optimism and finance-venture capital monopoly bro-a-thons. McKinsey itself had involvement in Afghanistan, with at least one $18.6 million contract to help the Defense Department define its “strategic focus,” though government watchdogs found that the “only output [they] could find” was a 50-page report about strategic economic development potential in Herat, a province in western Afghanistan.” It turns out that ‘strategic focus’ means an $18.6 million PowerPoint. (There was reporting on this contract because Pete Buttigieg worked on it as a junior analyst at McKinsey, and he has failed upward to run the Transportation Department.)

I bring War Machine up because of today’s debate over Afghanistan. While there is a lot of back and forth about whether intelligence agencies knew that the Taliban would take over, or what would happen if we left, or whether the withdrawal could be done more competently, all you had to do to know that this war was a shitshow based on deception and idiocy at all levels was to turn on Netflix and watch this movie. Or you could read any number of inspector general reports, leaked documents, articles, talk to any number of veterans, or use common sense, which, polling showed, most Americans did. (Marine vet Lucas Kunce gives a nice rundown of the problem in this interview). I mean, it’s not like a major international media outlet printed a multi-part expose, which became a handy book, detailing the fact that everyone running the show knew it was an unwinnable mess nearly a decade ago. Oh, wait

In other words, the war in Afghanistan is like seeing management consultants come to your badly managed software company where everyone knows the problem is the boss’s indecisiveness and cowardice, except it’s violent and people die.

I mean, U.S. military leaders, like bad consultants or executives, lied about Afghanistan to the point it was routine. Here are just a few quotes from generals and DOD spokesmen over the years on the strength of the Afghan military, which collapsed almost instantly after the U.S. left.

In 2011, General David Petraeus stated, “Investments in leader development, literacy, marksmanship and institutions have yielded significant dividends. In fact, in the hard fighting west of Kandahar in late 2010, Afghan forces comprised some 60% of the overall force and they fought with skill and courage.”

In 2015, General John Campbell said that the the Afghan Army had “proven themselves to be increasingly capable,” that they had “grown and matured in less than a decade into a modern, professional force,” and, further, that they had “proven that they can and will take the tactical fight from here.”

In 2017, General John Nicholson stated that Afghan security forces had “prevailed in combat against an externally enabled enemy,” and that the army’s “ability to face simultaneity and complexity on the battlefield signals growth in capability.”

On July 11, 2021, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said that the Afghan army has “much more capacity than they’ve ever had before, much more capability,” and asserted, “they know how to defend their country.”

Basically, look at this photo below, imagine them in camouflage, and that’s the U.S. military leadership. . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

27 August 2021 at 3:33 pm

The evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies is proceeding briskly and effectively

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[Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.), awarded the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919. Image from NARA.]

Heather Cox Richardson has a particularly interesting column tonight, touching on:

• the House investigation of the January 6 attack on the Capitol

The last items the committee asked NARA to produce were: “All documents and communications related to the January 3, 2021, letter from 10 former Defense Secretaries warning of use of the military in election disputes.” 

That letter, which was published in the Washington Post and signed by all ten of the living former defense secretaries, warned that “[e]fforts to involve the U.S. armed forces in resolving election disputes would take us into dangerous, unlawful and unconstitutional territory. Civilian and military officials who direct or carry out such measures would be accountable, including potentially facing criminal penalties, for the grave consequences of their actions on our republic.” The letter reminded then–acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller and his subordinates that they were “each bound by oath, law and precedent to facilitate the entry into office of the incoming administration, and to do so wholeheartedly. They must also refrain from any political actions that undermine the results of the election or hinder the success of the new team.”

It was an extraordinary letter, and its authors thought it was important enough to write it over the holidays, for publication three days before the January 6 electoral count. The driving force behind the letter was former vice president Dick Cheney. 

Cheney’s daughter Liz Cheney (R-WY) sits on the House select committee. 

Trump has threatened to invoke executive privilege to stop the release of the documents. 

• the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies

The first days of the evacuation after the Afghan army crumbled and the Taliban swept into control of the country in nine days were chaotic, indeed, but since August 14, the U.S. has evacuated more than 82,300 people, bringing out 19,000 people yesterday alone.

• the recognition by the US of the bravery and dedication of the Harlem Hellfighters in the Great War

Sent into the field, they stayed out for 191 days, the longest combat deployment of any unit in the war. At the Second Battle of the Marne and Meuse-Argonne, the unit had some of the worst casualties of that mangling war, suffering 144 dead and about 1,000 wounded. “My men never retire, they go forward or they die,” said their commander, Colonel William Hayward. Germans called them the “Bloodthirsty Black Men.” The French called them “hell-fighters.” A month after the armistice, the French government awarded the entire 369th the Croix de Guerre. 

There’s much more in her column, and I recommend reading it.

Written by Leisureguy

25 August 2021 at 10:27 pm

The biggest military evacuation in US history is going pretty well

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Kevin Drum points out some obvious facts that some are ignoring:

I have had it with coverage of the Kabul evacuation. The plain fact is that, under the circumstances, it’s going fairly well. Both Americans and Afghan allies are being flown out safely and bloodshed on the ground is surprisingly limited. Sure, the whole operation is going to take a few weeks, but what did everyone expect?

But you’d never know this thanks to an immense firehose of crap coming from the very people we should least believe. This includes:

  • The hawks who kept the war in Afghanistan going for years with lies and happy talk, and who are now desperate to defend themselves.
  • Republicans who figure this is a great opportunity to sling partisan bullshit. Their favorite is that Biden has destroyed America’s standing in the world, an old chestnut for which there’s no evidence whatsoever.
  • Trumpies trying to avoid blame for the execution of their own plan. It is gobsmacking to hear them complain about slow processing of Afghan allies when they were the ones who deliberately hobbled the visa process in the first place.
  • Democrats who, as usual, are too damn cowardly to defend the withdrawal for fear of—something. It’s not always clear what.
  • Reporters who are sympathetic to all this because they genuinely care about the danger that the withdrawal poses for people they knew in Afghanistan.

The only real mistake the military made in this operation was in not realizing just what a terrible job they had been doing all along. Everything else flows from that. If the Afghan government had been able to hold off the Taliban for even a few weeks, everything would have been fine. But they didn’t even try. Ghani just grabbed a few suitcases of cash and took off.

All by itself, this should tell you how hopeless the situation in Afghanistan has been all along. After 20 years, the Afghan military, even with plenty of warning about when we planned to leave, was unable, and in many cases unwilling, to fight. It’s laughable to think that another few months would have made any difference. It’s equally laughable to hear from the “light footprint” gang, who think that we could have kept a few thousand troops in Afghanistan forever and avoided any kind of fighting even after the Taliban cease-fire was over.

As for all the Americans being airlifted out, I suppose it’s bad form to point out that they were told to leave months ago? If they had a lick of common sense most of them wouldn’t be stuck in Kabul and elsewhere waiting to be rescued.

The sophisticated attitude these days is to say that, of course, we needed to leave Afghanistan, but surely we could have executed the withdrawal more competently? Maybe, but I’d like to hear the plan. The problems we’ve run into were baked into the cake long ago, and the actual evacuation itself has been run with courage and guts. “There’s a whole nother story line that media could follow,” Cheryl Rofer says. “The people who are working to keep the flights running, the people who get on the flights, the people who are helping others to get to the airport, the people who are running the logistics.”

Amen to that. This is by far the biggest military evacuation in US history, and it’s being handled surprisingly well. Maybe that will change tomorrow. Anything could happen. But so far the US media has been suckered into a narrative that’s almost precisely the opposite of the truth. It needs to stop.

See, for example, “Congressman Seeking to Relaunch Afghan War Made Millions in Defense Contracting.”

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 4:02 pm

The Soviet military was a hollow colossus

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Elisabeth Braw has a somewhat long but quite interesting article in Engelsberg Ideas:

After the fall of the Soviet Union, some of its military conscripts from former republics ended up in NATO countries. Their personal stories are not only compelling accounts of recent history – they also offer valuable insights into the former superpower’s ‘five-million man’ martial might and even today’s Russian military.

One day in 1985, an eighteen-year-old named Riho Terras turned up at the Soviet armed forces’ large conscript assessment facility in Tallinn, some two hours from his hometown of Kohtla-Järve in northeastern Estonia. It was not his choice: like all other Soviet men, Terras was obliged to complete military service. But uniquely in modern history, some have ended up not in Russia or its affiliated former Soviet republics – but on the other side, as citizens of NATO member states. Though young when they served as Soviet conscripts, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian men have insights into the Soviet-turned-Russian military that no other Westerners will ever have. Their stories are compelling and insightful accounts of recent history.

On that day in 1985, young Riho didn’t know what to expect. He came from an ordinary Estonian family without any connections. Boys with influential parents, he knew, had a chance of being posted close to home. ‘You had no idea in which service you’d serve, and as a result you didn’t know how long you’d serve,’ Terras told me. He was assigned to the navy, which meant a three-year stint. (Army conscripts served for two years). Soon he was on a train to Kaliningrad for six months of initial training.

Around the same time, a twenty-two-year-old semi-professional basketball player named Maris Riekstins arrived for conscription assessment in his home city of Riga. When Riekstins turned eighteen, the Soviet Union exempted university students from military service, but now, in 1985, Riekstins – who had just graduated from Riga’s Academy of Sports – knew there was no avoiding assessment anymore. ‘Everybody knew that when they got the papers from their local military office it was their turn to serve, but lots of people also tried to get out of it,’ Riekstins said. ‘Some people smoked silk in order to get lung damage. The risk everyone was particularly worried about was being sent to Afghanistan.’ Riekstins decided to attempt to avoid conscription too, by trying to get accepted to SKA Riga, one of the Red Army’s elite basketball teams.

His plan failed. Straight after being assessed, Riekstins was sent to an artillery regiment on the other side of Latvia. Better than East Germany, he thought, and probably better than the Far East too. ‘People say, “oh, that’s excellent, you got to stay close to home,”’ Riekstins told me. ‘Sure, it was better than Siberia, but it didn’t really matter because you were not allowed to go home anyway. And there was always the risk of being sent to Afghanistan after the initial training.’

Riekstins subsequently came to understand that the lack of information was a psychological tool. ‘The system told you that you had no say about your future, that you were nobody,’ he said. ‘You simply don’t know where you will end up. It might be the navy, it might be an airborne division in Afghanistan, it might an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] base in Siberia or a regiment guarding convicts.’ After the Chernobyl nuclear accident some six months after Riekstins’s arrival at his regiment, Soviet authorities started sending soldiers to help with the clean-up. Once again, he had to worry about an exceptionally dangerous assignment.

Around the same time as Riekstins became an artillery soldier, another student in Riga, eighteen-year-old Maris Selga at the Latvian State University, was instructed to turn up for a journey to a military unit, having no idea where he was headed or what he’d be doing. The only thing Selga knew was that he’d be serving in the Red Army. ‘I was hoping to go to Volgograd [the city once known as Stalingrad, located near the Caspian Sea] because I knew they usually sent conscripts far from their home republics and I felt Volgograd was the best I could hope for,’ Selga told me. ‘But that didn’t happen.’ He was sent to Tashkent, the capital of the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan. It was his first time on an aeroplane.

In Tashkent, Selga learnt he’d been assigned to what was known as the interior army, the part of the Red Army guarding domestic installations, ranging from government agencies to prisons. And when he discovered the military base located next to his, he realised two years of military service in Uzbekistan wasn’t so bad: that base trained conscripts headed for Afghanistan, so he surmised he wasn’t destined for the same fate. When the Chernobyl nuclear power plant collapsed, Selga – like Riekstins – knew his unit could be sent to help with the clean-up. But he too was lucky.

The year of 1985 was an eventful one.  . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 2:00 am

Pierre Sprey, Pentagon analyst who battled brass to produce A-10 warplane, dies at 83

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Matt Schudel writes Pierre Sprey’s obituary in the Washington Post:

Pierre Sprey, a 1960s Pentagon “whiz kid” who was a formidable intellectual force in military analysis and weapons development and was sometimes an outspoken critic of Defense Department spending and war plans, died Aug. 5 at his home in Glenn Dale, Md. He was 83.

The cause appeared to be a sudden heart attack, said his son, John Sprey.

The French-born Mr. Sprey (pronounced “spray”) was considered a polymath whose interests encompassed history, engineering and literature. A Baltimore Sun profile declared that he “may well be the most fascinating person you’ve never heard of.”

In later years, he set up a recording studio and jazz record label in a tumbledown house and produced dozens of recordings known for their exquisite high-fidelity audio.

Former colleagues said he applied the same meticulous — and sometimes unconventional — principles to military matters. After working for the Grumman aircraft company early in his career, Mr. Sprey moved to the Pentagon in 1966 as part of a group of analysts and engineers dubbed the “Whiz Kids,” borrowing a term first used to describe then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and his former colleagues at Ford Motor Co.

“Even among McNamara’s Whiz Kids — the highly educated and extraordinarily bright young men brought into the [Pentagon] with the mandate to impose rational thought on both the military and the military budget — Pierre Sprey stood out,” author Robert Coram wrote in a 2002 biography of Mr. Sprey’s onetime Pentagon boss, John Boyd.

It was the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and Mr. Sprey spent his first year working on a study of the Air Force budget and preparations for a potential war in Europe. His report, based on studies of World War II and information from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that the Air Force’s existing plan to bomb bridges and infrastructure was useless and would not prevent Soviet troops from pouring into Europe.

By rejecting a long-held doctrine, Mr. Sprey quickly became persona non grata among top-ranking Air Force brass, many of whom had been fighter or bomber pilots and resented getting advice from a civilian who was barely 30.

“He was one of the most detested people by the United States Air Force,” Tom Christie, who spent decades as a Pentagon analyst, said in an interview, “because he was challenging a lot of sacred programs and strategies.”

Instead, Mr. Sprey advocated a primary mission of “close air support,” with Air Force planes flying low to support Allied ground troops and to attack enemy convoys and armored units. He made the startling assertion that the most important vehicles in warfare were not fighter planes, aircraft carriers or tanks — but ordinary trucks.

“I made myself pretty unpopular by pointing out that trucks were much more important than airplanes,” Mr. Sprey told the Baltimore Sun in 2002. “The tonnages moved by airplanes are tiny. Trucks are what count in the theater of war. Well, that wasn’t very glamorous for all those guys, so I got fired from that job.”

Mr. Sprey, Christie and a few others became part of a small group of analysts under the leadership of Boyd, a former fighter pilot who wanted to bring improved planning and efficiency to the Air Force. They adopted an almost furtive, underground approach, often working late at night, and came to be known as the “fighter mafia.”

In general, the group believed that simpler, cheaper weapons and aircraft worked better than complex, more expensive designs. Airplanes loaded down with electronics and other features, Mr. Sprey argued, were less maneuverable and harder to repair.

Mr. Sprey and his group faced a strong backlash from Pentagon officials and from manufacturers who stood to profit from defense contracts. According to Coram’s book on Boyd, the Air Force assigned a colonel to get Mr. Sprey fired. When the colonel presented doctored statistics to challenge Mr. Sprey’s calculations, Mr. Sprey replied, “Your numbers are a lie.”

The colonel demanded an apology, but Mr. Sprey responded by calling him a “slimy creature” who “oozed mendacity.”

“Unlike many civilians who worked in the Pentagon,” Coram wrote, “Sprey was not intimidated by rank; in fact, he thought there was an inverse relationship between the number of stars on a man’s shoulders and his intelligence.”

He stayed at the Pentagon as part of Boyd’s team and worked on two new airplane designs in the 1970s: one was a lightweight fighter that turned out to be the F-16; the other was a relatively slow, low-flying aircraft that became the A-10.

Mr. Sprey was particularly influential in the development of the A-10, a stubby plane with upright fins on the tail and two jet engines mounted over the body. Its central feature was a nose-mounted 30-mm Gatling gun that could fire 70 rounds a second. The plane could carry missiles and bombs under its wings.

Mr. Sprey insisted that the A-10 be durable and easy to repair. It was covered in a titanium shell that could withstand ground fire. Fuel tanks were insulated with nonflammable material to prevent explosions, and backup systems were in place for various hydraulic and mechanical components. Officially called the Thunderbolt, the A-10 looked so ungainly that pilots affectionately called it the Warthog.

The Pentagon sought repeatedly to kill the A-10 project or relegate the aircraft to the National Guard, even after testing proved that its gun and rockets could easily destroy armor-plated tanks. Mr. Sprey helped rally support for the plane among sympathetic military officials and members of Congress, and the program stayed alive.

During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the A-10 was brutally effective, taking out 1,100 of the 1,500 Iraqi tanks lost during the conflict, plus more than 1,000 pieces of artillery. The A-10 was so rugged that stories and footage began to circulate of badly damaged planes landing safely after combat missions. The A-10 continued to be a useful warplane during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The pilots love them,” Mr. Sprey said in 1999. “Any of our jet fighters can be shot down by a .22-caliber rifle. But you can punch an A-10 full of holes and it will come home with sky showing through the wings.”

Pierre Michel Sprey was born Nov. 22, 1937, in Nice, France. His Jewish parents had fled oppression in Germany in the early 1930s, then came to the United States in 1941, settling in the New York borough of Queens.

His father was a jeweler, and his mother a homemaker. Young Pierre grew up speaking German and sometimes French with his parents, who would discuss classical music at the dinner table.

Mr. Sprey studied engineering and French literature at Yale University, graduating in 1957 at age 19. He later received a master’s degree in systems engineering and statistics from Cornell University.

His eyesight was not sharp enough to allow him to be a fighter pilot, his son said, so he turned to aircraft design. After leaving the Pentagon in the 1970s, he continued to work on defense projects as a consultant for many years afterward.

While growing up in New York, Mr. Sprey often attended jazz clubs, and he began to record musical performances as a hobby. A fellow Pentagon engineer showed him a high-end turntable, spurring Mr. Sprey to take it apart and explore the mechanics of high-fidelity sound.

He devised a homemade recording system that employed extremely thin wires, battery-powered microphones and a two-track Sony reel-to-reel recorder weighted with lead. He had a restored 1911 Steinway piano in the front parlor of an old country house called Mapleshade in Upper Marlboro, Md. He had made amateur recordings of Washington jazz singer Shirley Horn, who came to Mr. Sprey’s house to play his piano.

“One night she was sitting at my piano and fell in love with it,” he told The Washington Post in 1996. “She said, ‘P. baby, I want to do my next album on this piano and I want you to be my engineer’ … I enjoyed recording Shirley so much, I decided to hang out my shingle.”

Mr. Sprey named his record label Mapleshade and recorded primarily jazz and blues musicians, including saxophonists Clifford Jordan and Hamiet Bluiett and pianists Walter Davis Jr., John Hicks and Larry Willis. He placed rubber baffles on the walls and ceiling and turned off all the lights, refrigerators, furnaces and electronic devices to obtain as pure a sound as possible.

“Something important is happening in Upper Marlboro,” a CD Review critic wrote. “To sit down with a small stack of your very first Mapleshades is a revelation.”

A 1997 recording of New York’s Arc Choir singing the gospel tune “Walk With Me” was sampled on Kanye West’s hit . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 1:54 am

Why Did the Afghan Army Evaporate?

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Tim Willasey-Wilsey, a Visiting Professor of War Studies at King’s College, London and a former senior British diplomat, has an interesting analysis that begins:

There are several reasons for the collapse of the Afghan army, but a duplicitous US negotiation with the Taliban was the most potent, and the insurgents exploited the uncertainty brilliantly.

President Joe Biden’s claim that the Afghan army ‘did not have the resolve’ to fight for its own country would seem to be true following its disintegration. But it is as much a misrepresentation of the truth as US and UK ministerial claims in recent days that the collapse came as a complete surprise.

By early June it was already clear that the Afghan army had been ineptly deployed in the wrong places. I wrote for a Washington website, widely read within the Beltway: ‘The Afghan army is spread across the country in piecemeal district centres (often surrounded by Taliban-controlled countryside) and have to be resupplied by air. This is not a sustainable model.’

It also became apparent that the Taliban had embarked on a covert programme to undermine Afghan army morale: ‘Afghan security forces have begun to surrender to the Taliban. The procedure is quick and simple. Tribal elders are used to deliver a stark message to Afghan troops often holding positions in district centres. The message is usually; “The non-believers are leaving Afghanistan. They are defeated. Your leaders are corrupt. You can surrender now and we will protect you; or you can fight and we will kill you.” Recently the Taliban appear to have honoured their promise not to punish Afghan soldiers who surrender. News of this new-found leniency is likely to encourage other units to follow suit and lay down their arms.’

I added: ‘Furthermore, a number of today’s Afghan leaders, officials and military officers have received offers to relocate to the United States, Germany and elsewhere. As the security situation continues to deteriorate, the gradual trickle of departures is likely to gather pace. In such circumstances, the government could implode quite suddenly.’

This should have rung warning bells inside the Pentagon and the UK’s Ministry of Defence. In June 2014 Islamic State insurgents attacked the Iraqi army in Mosul. After only four days of fighting, the 30,000 Iraqi troops of the 2nd Division fled in disarray. It took three years and cost tens of thousands of lives and billions of US dollars to retake Mosul after this catastrophic failure. There have been studies as to why this happened and doubtless the case has been debated at staff colleges worldwide. But have the lessons been learned?

Before we analyse the particular reasons for the Afghan army’s disintegration, we should acknowledge that this phenomenon happens to First World armies too. A classic case was when a British army (including Indian and Australian troops) collapsed after the Japanese invaded Malaya, leading to the humiliating surrender of Singapore in February 1942. One aspect of that defeat which chimes with Afghanistan was the disconcerting speed of the Japanese advance (in their case using bicycles rather than the Taliban’s 125cc motorbikes) and the unease caused to regular troops when an enemy comes between them and their rear supply base.

A paradox is that Afghans are famed for their fighting prowess. However, as Antonio Giustozzi has argued, ‘The real strength of Afghanistan is the armed population not the regular forces’. Indeed, Afghanistan’s traditional expertise has always been asymmetric warfare. Afghan Special Forces, such as Units 333 and 444 – both created and trained by the British since 2001 – have been superb and have built on the Afghans’ natural propensity for irregular warfare. By contrast, the Afghan National Army has a mixed record, as the Soviets also found out. Giustozzi comments that ‘corruption, desertion, drug-taking, ethnic tensions, poor administration, nepotism, occasional collusion with the enemy, and impunity were all factors which the Soviets and NATO both encountered’.

Both the Soviets and NATO built Afghan armies that were far too large. The Soviets tried . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Later in the article:

But the key element that undermined Afghan army morale was the US beginning negotiations with the Taliban behind the back of the elected Afghan government. This clear act of bad faith was not lost on the soldiery, who realised the likelihood of a future Taliban takeover. Donald Trump tweeted on 8 October 2020: ‘We should have the small remaining number of our BRAVE Men and Women serving in Afghanistan home by Christmas!’ Once Trump’s intention (if not the date) had been confirmed by Joe Biden on 13 April 2021, the die was cast. Every Afghan soldier would have been calculating his own safety and that of his family in the likely event of a Taliban takeover.

The US effort in Afghanistan seems shot through with dishonesty from the US government, both to the US public and to the Afghan government.

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2021 at 4:17 pm

A look at Afghanistan in 2009

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I blogged earlier Sarah Chayes’s hard look at the Afghanistan War. Her post today comments on whether anyone had any idea at the time of the nature of the situation. She writes:

A number of people have wondered whether any of the things included in my previous post were being said when it was soon enough to make a difference. They were. I wish I had to hand documents that others wrote or notes of arguments they made. May I assure you: I was not alone.

It is unsightly to witness former officials and current experts arguing about who said what when, and who should be held accountable for the suffering, frustration, and deep disenchantment now unleashed. May I just say that a further parallel between Afghan and U.S. leadership seems to be an imperviousness to the human emotion of shame.

I feel shame. I feel a deep foreboding for what lies in store if American elites refuse to look at the mirror now held out. Afghanistan is a reflection of us.

But just to return to the historical record, the attached PDF was recently sent to me by a British officer with whom I shared it at the time. I had passed it throughout the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force, and to the commander in chief of NATO, for whom I worked at the time, along with the incoming Obama team. Please forgive the wordy style. I hadn’t yet learned succinct military headquarters speak.

Written by Leisureguy

20 August 2021 at 1:46 pm

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