- Commenting Rules. Read these before you comment. Really. I'm not kidding.
- Sharing material from Stonekettle Station. Read this if you're thinking about reposting, linking, quoting, or just plain stealing material from Stonekettle Station. Seriously, read this before sharing, otherwise I will unleash the badgers.

- Stonekettle Station's Greatest Hits: The good stuff, it's in here!
- Reader Links: Sites recommended by readers, pimp your site today!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Victory In Iraq And The Real Questions We Should Be Asking

The Wikipedia says that the US invasion of Iraq began at 05:34 on March 20th, 2003. 

That’s incorrect. 

It also says that “Polish commandos captured the oil platforms near the port [of Umm Qasr], preventing their destruction.

That’s also incorrect

Or rather, that second bit is only partly correct.  I certainly wouldn’t want to diminish the role of the GROM, the Polish special forces, but they were only part of the story. A significant part to be sure, and a proud historic moment for the GROM who had not fired a shot in anger since the early 1940’s. I had the privilege to serve with a few of them and they are fine soldiers, but they were only part of the story and a small  part at that. The inaccuracies in the Wikipedia article do great disservice to those other forces who were there in the coastal oil terminals of Southern Iraq on the night the war began. 

Whoever wrote that bit obviously wasn’t there and didn’t bother to do any actual research.

How do I know the writer wasn’t there?

Because I was.

I was there on the night it all began, 2300 hours local time, March 19th, 2003 in the Northern Arabian Gulf.

Honestly though, it began long before that night. 

We, those of us in the military, knew what was coming. Of course we did. War is our profession. It is our business to know. In 2003, the images of 9/11 were still fresh and raw in our vision and America was thirsting to make somebody pay. We’d been fighting in Afghanistan for a year and we were winning, but Afghanistan was like chasing chickens in a barnyard.  A vocal majority of the American people wanted revenge and a real enemy and a standup fight, not a bunch of raggedy-assed terrorist shitheads hiding in mountain caves.  Oh sure, nowadays, nobody admits that they wanted war, but back then a lot of people did.  President Bush had the support of a nearly unanimous Congress and an overwhelmingly large majority of the citizenry. 

I know it’s hard to believe now, but back then George W. Bush’s popularity was off the scale.

And in a way, Saddam Hussein was just asking for it.

By 2003, Saddam had painted himself into a fatal corner. 

He had been playing a very, very dangerous game since the end of the Tanker War, what most people nowadays call the Iran-Iraq Conflict, which kicked off on September 22, 1980 when Iraq invaded Iran.  That was a hell of brutal conflict, more than half a million soldiers died in trenches like a rehash of First World War France, complete with poison gas attacks and suicidal bayonet charges.  The war went on for eight years and left wreckage strewn from the Straits of Hormuz all the way to Turkey. When it was over, there was no victory, not for either side. Mostly the war just petered out in a sullen fog of lingering hatred and hostility – and it has stayed that way ever since.

Of course, the sullen peace lasted only a couple of years, then Iraq invaded Kuwait and ended up fighting America and her allies in what became known as the Gulf War.  You might have heard of it.  The opening engagements of the current conflict were fought back in 90 and 91.  A lot of folks thought we should have gone on up the Highway of Death right into Baghdad and gotten rid of that son of bitch Saddam Hussein back then, instead of stopping at the Kuwaiti border.  Woulda shoulda coulda.  It was what it was. And so we, the US Navy, stayed when the Army and Marines shipped out for home.  And we’ve been patrolling the waters of the Persian Gulf ever since, enforcing the UN sanctions, interdicting, boarding, searching, and seizing suspect vessels bound to and from Iraq.  Chasing pirates and smugglers and shitheads.  It was, and is, dangerous as hell, we lost a number of good people doing it.  The Air Force stuck around too, flying out of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Turkey enforcing the no-fly zones, they lost people along the way too.

And so, there was Saddam. Two disastrous wars in less than a decade – surrounded by mortal enemies (enemies of his own making, but enemies nonetheless).  

Now, here’s the thing so pay attention, Saddam did, once, have weapons of mass destruction and programs to eventually develop more.  There is no doubt about that whatsoever.  He once had large stores of war gases and he used those weapons against Iran and against his own people.  And Iran remembered, oh yes they did, they still do.  In the Iran-Iraq war, those weapons were used to support Saddam’s army as a force multiplier. Now, at the end of Gulf War, they were even more important – as a threat, as a weapon of Information Warfare.  See, it didn’t matter if Saddam actually still had chemical weapons, or biologicals or even nukes – so long as his enemies, especially Iran, believed that he did.  His army was in shambles, many of his troops dead or fled, his equipment and armor smashed and burned, his war industry and production facilities destroyed.  Iraq was under interdiction, they couldn’t sell the one thing they had plenty of, oil – at least not easily or in large enough quantity to matter, though there was plenty of smuggling.  He couldn’t trade oil for weapons and he didn’t have the cash, not in the amount needed to rearm and rebuild.

Worse, he’d burned all his bridges.

Saddam had no real friends anywhere (including us, oh yes, that’s right. See, back during the Iran-Iraq conflict, we were his pals.  Look up the pictures of one Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam shaking hands and yukking it up in Baghdad following that conflict. But I digress).  If Iran invaded Iraq there would have been absolutely nothing to stop them.  And Iranians remembered Saddam, oh yes they did.

Would Iran have invaded Iraq?

Beats me. But Saddam sure thought so.  And so he walked a tightrope, balanced precariously between bluster and bluff.  He played a very, very dangerous game. He needed those UN weapons inspectors.  He needed Hans Blix to complain loudly and voice suspicions in front of the Security Council but without any out and out proof – at least not enough to goad the UN into action.  He needed Blix and the UN and most especially the United States to convince Iran that he was still armed.  For almost a decade, Saddam played us all.

And it worked. The UN weapons inspectors and the CIA ate it up and danced to Saddam’s little tune.  And it would likely have kept working too, because the only way to call his bluff would have been to invade. And nobody, especially the UN was going to approve that – not with China and Russia and France playing spoiler on the Security council.

 

Then 9/11 happened.

 

9/11 was horrifying for the United States, but it was a disaster for Iraq.

The terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 wounded us, but they killed Saddam Hussein.

Bluffing only works if your adversary doesn’t call – or doesn’t just kick over the table and start shooting.

And so, on the night of 19 March, 2003 I was onboard the finest warship ever to put to sea, the Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser USS Valley Forge, in the Northern Persian Gulf, a hundred yards from the massive Iraqi Mina Al Bakr Oil terminal – commonly called MABOT.  US Navy SEALs operating from Valley Forge and supported by her helicopters, weapons batteries, communications, and intelligence operators, took the terminal in a surprise assault without a shot fired or a life lost on either side.  Simultaneously, several miles away, also supported by Valley Forge’s helicopters, guns and C3I systems, the Polish GROM took the smaller Kwor Abd Almaya terminal (KAAOT), again silently and without casualties.   My part and that of my team is something I can’t talk about, but that operation kicked off the war and opened the way for the Navy amphibs and Marines to reach Iraqi shores without giving Saddam warning that we were coming – and despite being enormously complex and difficult, it may have been the only operation of the war to go down 100% as planned.

Despite all that has transpired since, I am still enormously proud of my role and that of the men I led.   We did what we were ordered to do, and we did it extremely well.

But the reason we went into Iraq was a lie.   We’ve known that for a long time.  It would, of course, be easy to blame George Bush, or Dick Cheney, or that arrogant little pissant prick Rumsfeld, or any of a dozen others.  And certainly that motley cast of characters deserves much of the scorn and derision that’s been heaped upon them these last eight years.  Sure Saddam was playing a dangerous game of information warfare, but the administration had the best intelligence network in the world and it was their job to get at the truth.  Perhaps they lied on purpose. Certainly they did to some extent.  But, saying that Bush wanted war is a massive oversimplification, he already had a justified war – and the kind of invasion we waged in Iraq takes a lot more than just a war maddened President to pull off. The whole nation was in on it.  Personally, from my own experience in Washington D.C. and twenty years in the intelligence community, I think they fell victim to hysteria and politics and the artificial fantasy world that is the self-licking ice cream cone inside the Beltway. If we are to be charitable, they allowed themselves to be fooled, they wanted to be fooled, they wanted a scapegoat for 9/11 and Saddam made an easy target.  Americans needed to hate somebody and Saddam was easy to hate. They figured four weeks to Baghdad and the population would cheer us in the streets. We’d be home victorious by the fourth anniversary of 9/11. 

It would be easy to blame Bush and his cronies for that, and many  of us do, me included (remember, whatever else, it was us who got used as pawns in this idiotic affair). However, reality is always more complex and less emotionally satisfying. Ultimately a lot of people bear responsibility for this war.

Saddam himself bears the lion share of responsibility for the events that led to war – he could have opened his arsenal to the Inspectors. He would have had to bear the consequences of that, but hell, he could have demanded UN protection from Iran.  Of course, he would have then appeared weak to his own people. Such is life. He made the decision to bluff it out.

The UN bears responsibility for not doing a better job.  Russia, China, and France bear responsibility in part creating some of the conditions that led to war, if they had supported the UN sanctions instead of actively helping Saddam to circumvent them, war might have been avoided. Then again, it might not.

Ultimately of course, George W. Bush as president of the United States bears full responsibility for giving the order, for sending us into battle – as do the leaders of our allies who went along and gave their own orders to their own troops.

The American people are responsible in part for keeping it going.  They reelected the president who took us into this conflict, they could have given a vote of no confidence in 2004. They didn’t.  And they elected and reelected the senators and representatives who actively assisted in perpetuating the conflict – as is their right.

The Iraqi people are to some extent responsible for keeping it going.  So are the Iranians.  So are the insurgents, whatever their allegiance.

There’s plenty of responsibility to go around.

The reason we went to war was a lie certainly. And because it was a lie, the objectives for ending it were never defined. The goals kept changing. 

When we went into the oil fields that night, it was in search of weapons of mass destruction, weapons Saddam could sell to terrorists or could use himself to threaten another, worse, 9/11.  Saddam didn’t have those weapons, we didn’t know that then, but we found out in fairly short order.

We achieved the objective of the war as initially stated.  Mission Accomplished.

Then the objective changed. Get rid of Saddam Hussein.   And we did that too. And we turned him over to the Iraqis and they hung him and good riddance.

And then the objective changed.  Suppress the insurgency.  And then again.  Democracy. And then again. And again.

The simple truth of the matter is that there is no objective.  

And without a solid objective, victory becomes a chimera. A shimmering mirage, just out of reach, always shifting, always changing, never clear, never achievable. 

For example, the objective is now defined as a stable Iraqi government (and not be an asshole or anything, but Iraq had a stable government until we blew it up. But I digress). Who defines stable? How do you measure it? What are the parameters, i.e. how much are you willing to spend and how long are you willing to wait? Stable for who, every Iraqi? Or just some of them, and if so, which ones? And so on and so forth.  When Americans think of victory in Iraq, they picture WWII – cheering crowds, victorious troops marching through the streets of Paris, beautiful girls getting kissed in Times Square, streamers, ticker tape parades, and Johnny Comes Marching Home Again. 

That’s the first question we should be asking: what is victory?

Victory? Hell.  You are not going to get that little WWII victory fantasy.  The question is, what can we live with?

The reason for the war was a lie.  The responsibility for that lie was shared by many.  The responsibility for keeping it going is likewise shared by many.

The next question then becomes, how do we end it?

How do we end it when our own government can’t agree to anything?  Not even the simple stuff?

 

The real question is, who will take responsibility for ending it?

Obviously the answer to that particular question is Barack Obama.

And justly so, it was the President who gave the order to attack. It is the responsibility of the president to end it. No other.

 

But I would like to see these questions put to the candidates at the next presidential debate. 

Ron Paul has already answered that question. He says that he would make the same exact decision that Obama just did. End the war. In fact his complaint regarding the withdrawal of our troops from Iraq is that Obama isn’t doing it fast enough.  I suspect Paul fails to grasp the scale of the evolution and the complexity of bringing home 30,000 troops and their gear.  But then I’m still trying to figure out how Paul has managed to disagree with Obama on this matter even though the President did exactly what Paul claims he would do in the same position.

Not surprisingly Paul’s disagreeable agreement with Obama is the minority opinion. The rest of the opposition wants to keep the war going.

Mitt Romney says he opposes withdrawal.  He says he would defer to the military.  A number of things come immediately to mind, 1) Romney assumes that Obama didn’t ask the military. There is no evidence of that.  2) Romney assumes the military would recommend staying. With the exception of certain retired generals, that may very well not be the case.  3) Wait, what? President Romney would abdicate his authority as Commander in Chief to the military? You wanna run that one by me again?  We let the military decide?  Uh, speaking as a retired military officer, bad, bad, bad, bad idea there, Mittens.  There’s a reason why the Constitution didn’t put that power into the hands of the generals.

Michelle Bachmann says we’re being kicked out by the very people we liberated.  She thinks Iraq should pay us back for blowing up their country.   I don’t think she understands how extortion works.  You get the money before you burn down the building.

Two days before Obama announced the end of the war, Gingrich said that we should withdraw.  A day after Obama made the announcement Gingrich said Obama was wrong and we must stay. I don’t know about you, but I think whether or not we continue to wage war should be based on something a little more objective than the Monty Python Argument sketch.

Rick Perry says he would withdraw, but he’d keep it a secret.  He wouldn’t tell the American public or the Iraqis or the soldiers.  I’m not sure that how that would work.  If you’re going to move 40,000 troops and all their equipment in the next two months, you’re going to have to tell somebody – like maybe Congress for starters, so they can maybe plan next year’s budget which is due, oh you know, now.  Seriously, how you keep this a secret is beyond me and it used to be my job to keep secrets. 

Rick Santorum says Obama is responsible for Iran’s influence in Iraq in the first place.  Obama, the magic time travelling Negro, is there no end to his power?

Herman Cain thinks ending the war is just “stupid.”  He didn’t go into specifics.

All the opposition candidates have said or insinuated that withdrawal from Iraq is a defeat. I think their views are best summed up by a Yahoo commenter who said:

USA lost another war. USA lost ALL wars after 1945

Lost?

And so, we’re back to the real questions: what is victory?

These are the questions I want answered by those who would be President:

As president, how would you define victory in Iraq?

Please clearly state the objectives of the mission in measurable terms.  Hand waving and undefined terms are not allowed.  State the objectives of the mission and how you will determine, as President, if they have been met.

As president, would you be willing, now, to end this war?

If not, then how much are you willing to spend on it? Vietnam cost us 54,000 lives, will you spend that much? We’ve got 50,000 to go. If not 54,000, then how many? 30,000? 20? 10? Another thousand? Five hundred? One? How much is your vision of victory worth? In lives, in years, in dollars. Be specific.  Don’t look away, answer the question. How much?

If not where Barack Obama drew the line, then where? How many more of other people’s children are you willing to sacrifice?

Is the only way to prevent Iranian influence in Iraq by occupying Iraq? If so, for how long?  Specifically how long? We stayed in Germany for fifty years after WWII in order to contain the Soviet Union, is fifty years in Iraq a reasonable timetable? Yes or no.  If not, then how long?  Another ten years? Another twenty? 

Here let me make it simple for you: Yes or no, do you believe that Iran should dictate how long we stay in Iraq?

If not Iran, then should Iraq have a say in how long we stay?  You claim you believe in self determination, does that only apply to American states or does it apply to sovereign nations as well? Iraq would have allowed our forces to stay only if they were subject to Iraqi law, perhaps even Sharia law, would you have allowed that to happen or would you have overridden Iraqi sovereignty and self determination by fiat and military force if necessary?

If the answer to the previous question is yes, then as President of the Federal Government could states expect you to exercise the same action against their right of self determination? If not, why not?

If the answer to the previous question is no, then the only options for maintaining troops in Iraq would have been to subject them to Iraqi law, withdraw, or topple the Iraqi government, what would your choice be? Please face the audience and speak directly into the microphone.  Address your answer to the families of the troops.

Now, let us discuss Afghanistan.

 

 

I’m not a candidate for President, but I’ll tell you how I define victory.

Thirty thousand America troops home by Christmas. 

 

The war is over and it’s about goddamned time.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Gadhafi Is Dead And I Feel Fine

Me and Moammar Gadhafi go way back.

I knew him back when we spelled his last name with a “K” in the official government reports.

See, I spent a significant fraction of the mid-1980’s parked on his doorstep.

Hell, to be honest, the old bastard deserves some credit for how my life turned out – which, so far, has been pretty good thank you very much.

Back then, I was a junior intelligence technician in Ronald Reagan’s Navy, stationed in Rota, Spain, and riding warships of the US Sixth Fleet patrolling the azure waters of the Mediterranean. Of course, in those days the Cold War was in full hysteria and the only enemy that mattered was the Soviet Union, AKA The Evil Empire. This was 1985, and nobody was talking about Perestroika or Glasnost (remember when both of those words were used daily on the evening news? What? Both concepts came and went before you were born? Yeah, stick it in your fahrvergnügen). Nowadays, people wonder what all the fuss was about, after all the Russians eat Pizza Hut and dig capitalism and watch Jersey Shore and we buy their oil and old nuclear bombs.  But back then, those filthy Slavic bastards were the enemy.

They hated us and we hated them and like the guy said in Red Dawn, most of us figured it was just a matter of time.

Problem was, they weren’t allowed to shoot us, and we weren’t allowed to shoot them. So we mostly glared at each other over the barrels of our guns and the rails of our missile launchers (yes, in those days ship-borne missiles were fired from rails, not out of vertical launch silos. It was a wondrous, primitive time). Sometimes our planes dumped fuel on their ships when they got too close to the carrier, or we buzzed their superstructure shaking their crappy Russian fillings loose. Upon occasion our ships banged into each other, sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose (it was often hard to tell if the Soviets were just lousy seamen or deliberate shitheads, or both). And sometimes we just mooned them, when our vessels closed to visual range (it’s entirely possible that my own bare white ass decorated the cover of Red Star. See, there was an incident in the Black Sea involving a Russian BE-12 photo reconnaissance plane. But that’s another story). 

Our respective governments would make noises about peace and Détente, limiting strategic weapons and nuclear missiles. They’d sign treaties and everybody would shake hands and smile for the cameras.

Then the politicians would go home and arm us to the teeth and point us at each other.

But as I said, they wouldn’t let us shoot.

Instead, we fought a bunch of idiotic little brushfire conflicts through proxies.

One of which happened to be Libya.

And if these conflicts were like kids in a pushing match, Gadhafi was like the bully’s little sycophant toadie, the one that sneaks around behind your back and kneels down so that when the other guy gives you a shove he’s there to trip you up.

Few adversaries vexed Ronny Rayguns more than the Crazy Colonel. Gadhafi was a burr under the American cowboy’s saddle blanket.  No matter what we did, no matter all our power and military might, he just wouldn’t go away.

Gadhafi was Reagan’s Castro.

Which is how I ended up spending a couple years as a junior analyst in certain aspects of Libyan air defense.

Instead of spending the 80’s lounging around the Costa Del Sol, we kept getting sent down to North Africa to show the flag and put the fear of God into the Libyans. 

Then one day, Gadhafi claimed a chunk of the ocean for himself and we just couldn’t have that.

I was on USS Yorktown when we sailed across his so-called Line of Death into the Gulf of Sitre (back then we spelled it “Sidra” but like Khadafi/Gadhafi, the translations changed over the years, that’s how you know you’ve been around too long) and provoked the Libyan military to a fight. It wasn’t much of a fight in actuality, but it was the best Reagan was going to get.  We spent the next month lobbing missiles at each other.  Well, ok, it was mostly us doing the lobbing and them doing the blowing up – but there were some real tense moments (and some fairly bizarre ones, like the day we watched in utter disbelief as Libyan air defense batteries shot down a Libyan helicopter that was trying to rescue Libyan sailors from a Libyan patrol boat our strike aircraft had sunk. That incident taught me something about perception and hysteria and the fog of war, lessons I remembered many years later when I was in charge of certain combat operations in another war).  Less than a year later I was back, this time onboard USS Ticonderoga, as part of the strike group sent to punish Gadhafi for the Berlin disco bombing and other acts of flagrant terrorism. We struck at the Libyan military bases near Tripoli and Misrata (and “accidentally” dropped a bomb on the French Embassy. Whoops, sorry about that, hold on to your escargot, boys! Liberty in France later that month was a little testy) – and lost two Air Force pilots and their FB-111 in the process – in an operation dubbed Eldorado Canyon.  

Things were quiet after that, we’d taught old Daffy Gadhafi a lesson by George.

For a few days anyway. 

Then Gadhafi sprung his surprise.

He’d gotten himself a couple of SS-N-1’s, the naval variant of the infamous scud missile, from the Soviets.  And one night he launched them straight at the US Fleet – likely with the assistance of Russian “advisors.”  I’m not going to discuss the details because I’m not sure if they’re still classified or not.  Suffice it to say that we didn’t know at the time, as we watched those missiles rise on the radar screen, that they were woefully outdated weapons, with guidance systems that couldn’t hit a barn from the inside and warheads that were unlikely to do much to modern American warships unless they hit dead on – a remote possibility given the aforementioned guidance systems. For very good reason, we thought they were something else. I’ve never been as frightened as I was that night.

But, see, there was this Warrant.

That Warrant set the example.  He was calm and cool and despite the fact that we were all pretty sure we were about to die, he cracked wise and poured himself a cup of good navy coffee and calmly ordered us to our duty. And so we did exactly that, our duty, and waited for the end. At that time I was just a junior petty officer, as green as green can be and had no idea whatsoever what a Navy Chief Warrant Officer even was. But after it was all over, and we lived through it, I realized that he was who I wanted to be.

I’ve never been scared since. Never. Though I’ve been in far worse situations.

Two years later, four days before Christmas, 1988,  I was onboard a US Navy P-3 Orion, flying from Sembach Kaserne in Germany, to Keflavik, Iceland. As chance and air routes would have it, just after dark we flew over Scotland on our way to the North Atlantic.

The P-3,  being a propeller driven Navy patrol craft, had great endurance but it didn’t fly at any great altitude.

And so we had a clear view of the fires burning below as we flew directly over the town of Lockerbie. 

We knew then that we were looking at a horrific disaster – you couldn’t be on that air route and not know.  In the following week we learned that 270 people died that night, 178 of them Americans.  In the month that followed, we learned that Libyans were responsible for a terrible act of terrorism.  We always knew Gadhafi was involved, but it took until 2011 and the defection of a high ranking member of the Libyan government during the height of the Arab Spring before we would learn that Moammar Gadhafi himself had personally ordered the downing of Pan Am Flight 103.

I had always intended to get out of the military after that first tour, but after Lockerbie I re-upped. The world was a dangerous place, bastards like Gadhafi and his friends were killing my countrymen. A life in the military seemed a worthwhile endeavor.

And so it was.

Fifteen years and many, many adventures later, well, I was that Chief Warrant Officer.

So, yeah, maybe in some small way Gadhafi is responsible for where I ended up.

It seems a little weird that he’s not there anymore. Like that bad tooth in the back of your mouth, the one you got in that bar fight in that little town on the French Riviera after your Air Force buddies accidently bombed the wrong building, the one you chew carefully around. It’s not quite bad enough to get fixed and not quite good enough to ignore. Some days it causes you grief, and some days it’s hardly noticeable, but you always know that it’s there, ready to inflict pain for no damned reason at all.

And then one day after decades of this nonsense, you finally get the root canal, and the pain goes away and it’s just weird that it’s not there anymore.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to miss Gadhafi, anymore than I miss a toothache – or the old Soviet Union.

But he’s been such a fixture of my life, it’s weird that we won’t see the Crazy Colonel on TV making some crazy proclamation any more. It’s weird that he’ll never again come to the UN, actually here on the soil of United States – and stay in a tent in Donald Trump’s backyard.  It’s weird that news commentators and intelligence analysts will no longer have to struggle to make sense of his rambling speeches full of fire and hyperbole and wackiness. 

And it’s weird that after all this time, after all the blood and bombs and terrorism, the Cold Wars and the proxy wars, after revolution and Arab Spring, Libya is finally rid of that crazy rat bastard.

It’s as strange to me as the day I watched ordinary people pull down the Berlin Wall.

In the end, it was ordinary Libyans who pulled Gadhafi's miserable ass from a drain pipe and finished him off.

And today, after all this time, the United States of America is spoken of in the streets of Tripoli and Misrata with gratitude again. 

Yes, again. We were friends once, you know, we Americans and the Libyans. We fought side by side against the fascists. And later we were welcome in North Africa when other Western powers were not.  There are still living US Air Force veterans who once flew sorties from Wheelus Air Force Base outside of Tripoli – the same base we bombed in operation Eldorado Canyon. Hell, there were once so many Americans there that Wheelus was informally dubbed “Little America.”

Imagine being friends again. 

No, really, imagine what that means. Imagine what a free Libya means without that madman at the helm. 

Libya has vast wealth in the form of oil reserves and a population long denied freedom and democracy.  The country is intact and so is most of the infrastructure.  They want what we have and they have a means to buy it.  And, and pay close attention here, that oil is not trapped behind the Straits of Hormuz and the Suez Canal – in other words, for those of you not good with geography even after all this time, access to Libyan oil can not be controlled or threatened by Iran.

Oh, the light comes on, does it?

Why do we care about Libya?  Because damned near every other major source of oil on the planet is either in the hands of crazy people, or threatened by powers hostile to the United States and her allies. 

Gadhafi is dead, and today the price of oil per barrel is falling.

Falling.

Falling without a single well having been drilled the Arctic or an American life lost.

There is little that will help restart the world economy faster than lowering the price of energy.  Every American will benefit from having Libya as a friend again.  It is in our best interest, hell it is in the best interest of every human being on the planet, to encourage what is happening in Libya right now.  And it would be even if there was no oil there.  Encouraging the revolution in Libya and the downfall of the dictatorship is the morally correct thing to do. Period.

The President played this one exactly right in every regard.

And whether or not you love him or hate him, Obama deserves full credit for having done so.

He won’t get it of course.

Here’s a sample from the usual source:

You Hussein Obama worshippers are the biggest joke out there. Hussein Obama did nothing but create a power vacuum that radical Islam fascists will fill. But you are all to busy sucking your muzzies dick to see that.

Note that “muzzie” is apparently the new hate word to describe Muslims.  It appears quite commonly in comments on Yahoo, Fox, and Tea Party forums. 

I’ve seen this exact notion expressed in a dozen different places, both from commenters and pundits and politicians.  Better the devil you know, I guess.  I find it hugely ironic that those who so worship the memory of Ronald Reagan rail against the death of a vile dictator, the very gadfly who taunted Reagan himself and generations of American presidents, and who gave the order to kill Americans in the sky over Scotland and in Berlin.  They are loath to cheer the dawning of democracy and freedom for fear that it might, just might, create a so-called “power vacuum.”  

Hell, if they are so frightened that Muslim extremists hostile to the West might take over, then they should be encouraging us to get involved, to render aid and goodwill, and to do every damned thing we can to protect and nurture the fledgling Libyan democracy.  We’ve got a head start, you know, because, you know, turns out Obama did just the right thing.

Korea. Cuba. Vietnam. Iran. Iraq. Afghanistan. Come as advisers or come as invaders. Topple the dictator or prop him up.  Send troops. Kill people. Blow stuff up. Pay for it for the next decade.  We’ve been doing this since before Eisenhower – it’s the basic formula that defines our foreign policy and it’s the reason half the world hates our bleeding guts. 

To paraphrase a certain politician, how’s that gun-boaty diplomacy thing working out for ya? 

This time, this time, we have a chance to do it differently.  Do it right. Because Obama took the proper measured response.

The UN and Nato will never let Africa develop. Period. Libya had the highest human development index on the continent.

Uh, what?  I’m not exactly sure where this guy was getting his data regarding human development on the African continent, unless it was the same Wikipedia entry the aforementioned politician got her Paul Revere background from. However, even if you take this comment at face value, which you most definitely should not, i.e. that Libyans were better off under Gadhafi than on their own, this is the same asinine argument used by those folks who think the slaves were better off living in bondage in the Antebellum South than free in Africa.  It’s such a stupid comment that it doesn’t deserve anything but contempt.

Funny how soon many Americans forget that for the past few years our political relations with [Gadhafi] were actually improving and he was turning into an ally. Then we decided to stab HIM in the back and support muslim terrorists in taking over Libya.

The cognitive dissonance in that comment is as stunningly bizarre as something Gadhafi himself might have said.  Conservatives suggesting that we take Gadhafi at his word? Seriously? Muslim terrorists. As opposed to Moammar al Gadhafi?  For fuck’s sake, I hope this idiot stays home and watches NASCAR on election day.

Anyone who would find this to be good news would be a Obama fan. El Gaddafi was a hero to the Tea Party and GOP for how he fought Obama.

“El” Gadhafi? El? Mexico, Libya. potato, potatoe, fuck it, it’s all the same to me.  Gadhafi fought Obama, he’s a Tea Party hero.  What does it mean that he also squabbled with Reagan, the Bushes Big and Small, Clinton, England, France, Italy, Egypt, Chad, and Israel?  Hello? Is this thing on?

I have no objective info regarding him, only what my country wants me to believe. I'm inclined to think the only reason we keep ousting these dictators is because we want the ensuing unrest as a pretense for more excuses to be over there...

If he could have worked in “New World Order” and the face on Mars he’d really have something there. At least he admits he has no objective information, but then again why should that stop him?

It is to soon to tell if the freeing of Libya if that is what it is will be a benefit or a detriment to the U S. My fear is that they will be another terrorist state we will have to deal with.

Another terrorist state? As opposed to what? Libya? Somebody really, really hasn’t been paying attention.  Since about 1970. 

And finally, there’s this little gem:

I suppose we could credit Stalin for defeating Hitler too.

I can’t even work up a snarky comment.  The level of self righteous jingoistic ignorance is appalling on just so many levels. 

 

The bald truth of the matter is this: Conservatives who today are bemoaning the death of Moammar Gadhafi instead of cheering his richly deserved demise have jumped the goddamned shark.  Their hatred has exceeded all rational bounds.

Ask the relatives of those who died in the sky over Lockerbie if Gadhafi deserved his fate.

Ask the loved ones of those who died in Berlin.

Hell, ask the Libyans.

Moammar Gadhafi is dead, and I feel just fine.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Things That Chap My Ass About Customer Service

Business is bad.

That’s what you hear, everywhere you turn.

The economy is in the crapper, people are out of  work, customers don’t have disposable income, and so on and so forth. Woe, woe is us.

That light at the end of the tunnel? Not only is it an onrushing juggernaut, it’s an overloaded circus train driven by Curly, Moe, Larry, and their idiot cousin, Shemp.

It’s bad, business is. Bad and getting worse.  I’ve written about business before, and specifically things that you shouldn’t have to tell business leaders, but do anyway apparently.

Today, lets focus on customer service.

Now, in this climate, you’d think business would be doing all it can to woo, attract, keep, satisfy, cosset, pamper, spoil, indulge, cater to, humor, dandle, mollycoddle, green stamp, suck up to, appease, mollify, placate, soothe, and otherwise kiss the big bulbous ass of each and every precious customer. In fact, if business wants to see me and my money on a regular basis, it really ought to be coming over to my house and washing my car, raking my leaves, calling me Mr. Selleck and asking if I’ve lost weight. 

And, you know, it sure wouldn’t hurt if business swung by my favorite coffee stand and picked me up a large triple-shot latte on its way over.

Instead business seems hell bent on pissing off just as many customers as is humanly possible.  

As a business model, that’s generally a bad idea.

Especially in this climate.

 

What?

 

Oh, you think that would be obvious?

Well, you are so wrong.

You do have to tell business. You might even have to beat them about the head and shoulders with it.

Whoa, now hold on there, Jim, I hear you say in that contemptuous voice you use when you’re looking down from the 53rd Floor of the BOA Tower and the Occupy Wall Street Rally below finally makes you understand that what people really want is an additional monthly fee to use their own money. Just settle down there, don’t make us get out the pepper spray. This is America, we can do that, you know.

Yes, I know. But the joke’s on you, I’ve been pepper sprayed before.

Several times.

And frankly, there are days where I’d rather be maced than spend my money in your damned store.

Here’s the thing, if your business is so good that you don’t need my money, well, you know that’s your choice. But if you want me as a customer here’s some advice:

Stop trying to be hip.  Seriously.  Just stop it. It’s embarrassing.  It’s midlife crisis gets hair-plugs and a Camaro and cruises past the local High School embarrassing.  You ever see the movie Better Off Dead? Remember that part where Lane’s dad reads the book How To Talk To Your Teenager? You’re really bringing me over, man.  Like that. Exactly like that. That’s what you look like when you try to be groovy.  Look out there. See those people? The hip ones with the black eye shadow and shitty attitudes who smell like a combination of burning rope and ass? Sure they’re hip, but they don’t have any money. They’re unemployed. That’s why they’re hanging out at the mall.

The Sound Track.  I was in three different businesses yesterday:

- The phone store was playing speed metal at high volume, either that or somewhere behind the counter an angry baboon was humping an air raid siren in a rock crusher.  We went in to talk about a billing error.  This particular billing error has been going on for three months despite repeated requests for correction.  It does not surprise me. Because it is utterly impossible for anybody to concentrate on business or perform any cognitive function more complex than imitating an aquatic plant with that noise grinding out from the speakers. 

- In the bookstore they were playing Frank Sinatra at a level that made me want to punch Old Blue Eyes right in the throat and watch him choke to death on his crushed larynx. I came in to look at books not catch a show at the Copacabana.  You know how I feel about modern bookstores anyway, Frank yodeling over my head was the final straw. I went home and in the peace and serenity of my own living room, downloaded the half dozen books I wanted in electronic format from the store’s online competitor.

- The restaurant was playing Air Supply.  There’s a reason why people hated the goddamned 70’s, and no, it wasn’t Nixon or tie dyed jeans or the Ewok Christmas Special. It was Air Supply.  It was Chicago. It was Journey.  It was Abba.  It was disco. Honest to God, man, it’s a restaurant, you’re playing music that causes intestinal cramps.  I mentioned it to the waitress. Yeah, everybody hates this crap she said, everybody complains about it. Duh. Well, let’s just keep it on permanent loop then, why don’t we?

Don’t Let Morons Answer The Phone.  Everybody hates those damned automated answering systems, but you know what’s worse? When you finally do get an actual live person on the phone – and that person is an idiot.  I’m not talking about tech support. I’m not talking about billing or something complicated.  I’m talking about calling a place to find out if they have what I’m looking for and and the toad who answers the phone knows less about your inventory than the aforementioned idiot cousin Shemp.  Gas is five goddamned dollar a gallon, before I drive fifty miles I’d really like to know if you have what I’m looking for or I’m going to order from Amazon and wait a week.  However, to be completely fair, I will come by your place later – for the going out of business sale.

Speaking of the phone, if the person waiting on me stops to answer the phone in the middle of our transaction, you’ve lost me as a customer. This is non-negotiable.

Of course, it doesn’t surprise me that your cashier doesn’t know how to focus on the customer.  It doesn’t surprise me because about half the time the manager is standing next to her discussing something other than keeping me happy.

Free Samples. There is nothing I hate so much as those people who hand out free food samples in the grocery store. No, strike that, I don’t hate those people, I hate the herd of eager bovines clustered in front of the sample cart. It’s a tiny little cup of some crap that you’d never buy, but these people act like they’re handing out free Viagra. It could be liver flavored asbestos coated Brussels sprouts in Satan’s ass sauce and people will get into a shoving match for a free cup of it. Once they’ve got a sample, they wander slowly through the store, elbows resting on their shopping cart, ass sticking out, licking their little wooden sticks and making smacking noises like Homer Simpson, mmm, I love you free sample, nom nom nom. But here’s the thing, nobody ever buys that crap, all you’re doing is blocking the damned aisle. Between the free sample cart and the giant display boxes every three feet and the shelf stocker, it’s a wonder anybody can actually get through the store – and when did we start stocking shelves during business hours anyway?

The help. Ten percent of America is out of work. Ten percent.  There are literally millions looking for employment, and these chowderheads are the only idiots you could find to hire? Look, I have serious doubts regarding the advice offered by your employee when he’s a forty year old guy with a fauxhawk, pieced tongue, and flip-flops. Ditto the gum chewing girl with the bare midriff and a whale tail.  I’m not asking that your people be in tuxedos, but is it too much to ask that they keep their underwear on the inside of their clothing?  Or that they wear underwear at all? Seriously, what’s with the recent outbreak of asscrack? 

Ever go in a place and get the Stink Eye? You know, the place where they follow you around like you’re going to steal something? Boy, that makes me want to come back.

How about the Grumpy Greeter? I’m talking about the mean old guy who meets you at the door.  Hi, welcome to Wal-Mart, Dickhead, don’t steal nothing. Here’s a sticker for your ugly kid. (Ok, I can sort of sympathize with this guy, and, yes, I’ll probably be him some day).

It’s bad enough when you can’t find an employee, but too much help is even worse. I spend a lot of time in hardware stores. I used to love the little hardware stores that you could find on any Main Street in America. There was always a helpful middle aged guy behind the counter, he knew everything there was to know about hardware and knew exactly what you needed before you could even ask. He also knew when to leave you the hell alone.  Unfortunately, those places were all eaten by Big Box stores filled with clueless morons, and you know how I feel about that.

True story: I’m looking at bins full of nuts, bolts, and washers:

1st Guy: Hi! Can I help you?

Me: Thanks. I’ve found what I need.

1st Guy: Ok! Just ask if you need help!

Me: I think I can handle it.

I start counting out bolts.  … nineteen, twenty, twenty-one…

2nd Guy: Hi! Finding everything you need?

Me: I’m good.

2nd Guy: Ok! Just ask if you need help!

Where the hell was I? Twenty? Damn it. One, two, thr…

3rd Guy: Hi! Let’s build something together!

Me: Fuck. Off.

3rd Guy: I think that’s in aisle three, this way!

Grrrr. One, two, three, four…

4th Guy: Hi! How can I help you!

Me: Stand right there.

4th Guy: What?

Me: Stand right there. Shut up. Don’t move. Every time another vest wearing idiot comes along, you wave ‘em off.

4th Guy: I, uh…

Me: You asked how you can help? That’s what I need. Defense.  Stack up a couple of those display boxes and barricade the aisle. 

 

Business is bad.

Frankly, I can’t imagine why.

What chaps your ass about customer service these days?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Consequences

Arabs call it Rub’ al Khali.

The Empty Quarter.

Most Westerners have never heard of this place. 

Few outsiders, very few, ever venture there.

The Rub’ al Khali is a vast, vast forbidding sea of sand and searing brown rock, a desolate lonely place that takes up more than a third of the Arabian Peninsula, including a large part of Saudi Arabia itself,  along with parts of Oman, the UAE, and Yemen.  It is the largest sand desert in the world. During the day temperatures can reach 125°F or more and the ground is so hot that it will literally burn skin and raise blisters. It is as if the sun is somehow closer to surface of the earth here than elsewhere in the world. And then, at night, under a vast milky river of crystalline stars the likes of which are rarely seen anywhere else on earth, you can die shivering of hypothermia.  The air is thin and as dry as the surface of the moon, you can feel it sucking the moisture right out of your body leaving your nose bleeding and your skin cracked and bleached like old leather.

It smells of flint and powered cement.

On the southern edge of the Empty Quarter lies the Yemeni administrative province of al-Jawf.  It’s cooler here and sometimes it even rains,  there are small towns in the central highland desert, dusty places where people still herd camels and tough little goats.  In the wet years there is enough rain to plant crops of wheat and barley and to scratch out a living from the poor soil. During those years, runoff from the crops forms into streams that will evaporate before they reach the sea, leaving behind a crust of salt and a poisonous rime of chemical fertilizer.  The people there have this look, as if they are one and all ancient, raised whole from the hardscrabble by malicious djinni and weathered by wind driven sand, desiccated, carved from beef jerky and left to dry in the sun.

This forsaken place has always been a fairly lawless land, a natural base for pirates, criminals and cutthroats, bandits and pissant warlords. 

It is fitting then, that in recent times al-Jawf, on the edge of the great Rub’ al Khali, has become a hiding place for terrorists.

Last Friday morning, in the desert five miles outside of a small al-Jawfi town called Khashef, a party of men stopped alongside the dusty road.  Muslims, they knelt in the desert and made their mid-morning prayers.  Then, while it was still reasonably cool, they ate breakfast.  Figs perhaps, strong coffee, hard cheese and bread maybe. 

This would turn out to be a mistake.

They should have kept going.

Al-Jawf is a dangerous place, even in the best of times, and lately it’s become even more deadly. New predators patrol the skies alongside the sharp eyed desert hawks. 

Perhaps they heard their death approaching.  The American drones are ghostly silent – sometimes though, if the wind is just right, you can hear their thin keening buzz from a distance.  Or maybe they saw those slim black silhouettes outlined like the grim reaper’s shadow against the blinding blue sky.  Of course they would have been alert for just such an attack.  They were, after all, some of the most wanted men in the world, dangerous and cunning and experienced. They had all been hunted from the sky before.  They would have watched for those deadly raptors the way a desert mouse watches for a hawk.  And so, somehow, they sensed death approaching.

Like the mouse, they ran.

Four of them made it to an SUV and attempted to reach the relative safety of Khashef. 

Another mistake, and the last one they would make. 

The AGM-114 tactical missile is small, comparatively cheap, accurate, and deadly. They’re designated Hellfire – named for the weapon’s original mission: HELicopter launched FIRE-and-forget.  They were designed to kill tanks – later it turned out they worked pretty well against a wide variety of targets, including SUV’s.

Hellfire, if ever there was an appropriate nickname for a weapon, that would be it.

Two of the missiles dropped off of the drones’ munitions hardpoints and streaked towards the fleeing SUV – and the end was inevitable at that point. Once the missiles are locked on, it’s all over but for the bang. 

Four men died in the explosion.

And in that moment, in that hellfire, the world became a measurably better place.

Those men were terrorists, committed, enthusiastic, and unrepentant.  They were terrorists in the purest sense of the word – in that they deliberately created, encouraged, promulgated, and enabled terror.  Terror was not a byproduct of their campaign, it was the very reason for its existence.  It doesn’t matter why.  It doesn’t matter if they felt justified or moral or compelled by God. They were terrorists and they reveled in it.  The only argument is in the details and the degree.

These men were not only the self-proclaimed and sworn enemies of America, they were the nemesis of civilization everywhere, including and especially in Yemen. 

Quite simply, these men declared war on the entire world and thus made themselves the enemies of every single man, woman, and child on the planet.

Two of them, as it happens, were also Americans.

And therein lies the rub.

 

President Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, was once pilloried for saying, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” (often misquoted as “never let a good crisis go to waste”).  Crass? Maybe. Maybe it was just crass to say it so bluntly (Oddly, Emanuel’s enemies are the ones who pride themselves on speaking plainly and who eschew political correctness, perhaps they simply couldn’t abide seeing their own thoughts reflected back at themselves. But I digress).  Crass or not, Emanuel was simply stating a basic tenet of all politics, Left, Right, and other.

Never let a crisis go to waste. 

Here’s the corollary: If there is no crisis, create one. 

And here’s the rest of it: Never, ever, let a victory by your political opposition go unchallenged.

In some cases, it is hard to tell if the pundits and the politicians calling for the impeachment of Barack Obama today truly believe what they are saying. In other cases, the intent, and the astounding hypocrisy, is perfectly clear.

I spent three days reading comments from people across the political spectrum, the general response to the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki seems to fall into four basic categories: A) USA! USA!  B) Ok, but I don’t like how we did it,  C) Boo, we shouldn’t be engaged in targeted killing, period, and D) Al Whosis now?

I think category (A) is self-explanatory. 

Let’s take the rest in reverse order:

D) If you’re an American of draft age or older, don’t suffer from some form of debilitating brain damage, and can eat pudding without help and you don’t know who Anwar al-Awlaki is, you’re a big part of what’s wrong with America today.  Don’t comment, don’t offer an opinion, don’t stand on the corner waving a misspelled sign demanding the resignation of the president, and for God’s sake please don’t vote. Get yourself another fudgesickle out of the freezer, go back to watching SpongeBob and be quiet.

 

C) Targeted killing.  I have never understood the moral objection to this.  Oh don’t get me wrong, sure it’s immoral.  So what?  Killing is killing, you can gussy it up all you like, it’s still killing and it’s all immoral.  That’s the way it is, you’re just arguing over semantics. If you’re on the receiving end, it doesn’t make one good goddamned bit of difference if death finds you from some random bit of shrapnel or if the bullet has your name written on it. Dead’s dead. Trust me on this, I’ve been there.  After a decade of war, so have a hell of a lot of us.  Killing people on the battlefield, zapping them in the electric chair, putting poison into their veins, or dropping hellfire on them from the sky – it’s all killing. Morality has got not one damned thing to do with it.   Frankly I fail to understand how it was more moral or honorable or even economical to let thousands of people die during the revolution in Libya, for example, than to just drop a Tomahawk on Khaddafi on day one. Bang! There, the asshole’s dead. Toss his body over the balcony railing and let the mob use it for a piñata, we brought sticks, no pushing there’s enough for everybody. War’s over. Long live the Arab Spring and don’t forget who your friends are.

How many lives would that have saved? How much good will would that have bought us with the Libyans and the revolutionaries? What kind of message would that have sent to other America-hating, terrorist-sponsoring dictators?

Yes, I know, where does that end? Tehran? Pyongyang? Austin? There need to be boundaries, there needs to be oversight, there needs to be checks and balances and accountability.  There needs to be very clear rules of engagement.  But then this is true of any executive power – including wiretaps and detentions and renditions and no-fly lists. We’ll come back to that.

Yeah, but what about targeted killing of Americans?

We’ll come back to that too.

 

B) The President ordered the killing of an American, that’s unconstitutional, he should be impeached.

The basic argument being The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, to wit:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;

The Americans making this statement fall into two basic categories, those who have only recently discovered that the Constitution has parts other than the Second Amendment, and those that have been sounding the alarm for the past ten years.

If you’re a member of the first group, i.e. if you’ve spent the last decade calling the second group enemies of America and weak on terrorism and limp-wristed sissies, if you’ve spent the last ten years telling us why waterboarding and rendition and naked body scanners and warrantless wiretapping and warrantless property searches and no-fly lists and the secret provisions of the Patriot Act were such spiffy ideas, well, all I can say to you is, welcome to the party.

This is exactly what we’ve been warning you about.  If you give a rightwing conservative Christian America-lovin’ Texas patriot the power, you’ve automatically given his successor, the tofu-eating sissy socialist Muslim Kenyan-born Commie America hating Liberal, the power too.  You’ve got no one to blame but yourself, you stupid silly bastards. What the hell do you think we’ve been telling you? Now? Now, you’re all upset? Now you want a fair trial? (question, say we caught al Awlaki instead of blowing him up, could we have his terrorism trial in your state? Since he’s an American? Hello, is this thing on? Hello?). Now you’re all worried about the Constitution? Now?  Because the President blew up a couple of avowed terrorist shitheads who were trying to kill the rest of us? Seriously?

That’s rich, it really is.

Get yourself a fudgesickle, go sit on the couch and just shut the fuck up.  

Honestly, after a decade of watching Americans give up their rights one after the other, the fact that President Obama dropped the hammer on Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan bothers me about as much as stepping on a couple of cockroaches.

Frankly, I think both of them gave up any claim to Fifth Amendment protection long, long ago – they were no more Americans than Osama bin Laden.  They renounced their membership in our society and pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. They swore to bring down the United States and her allies and to kill as many of us as they could.  Should they have been captured and brought to trial? Sure, in a perfect world.  But in the real world it just wasn’t possible, not without risking even more American lives. And I’m going to remind you right here that the people complaining most bitterly about this are the same folks who complained bitterly about risking the lives of US Navy SEALs to capture bin Laden or rescue Rangers.  How many more of their lives would al Awlaki have been worth to you?

The CIA had a shot and they took it. They liquidated a major terrorist without risking a single soldier’s life. Good on them.

Yeah, but…

There’s always that but, isn’t there?

Something I’d point out to you, this isn’t the first time.

We’ve killed Americans on foreign soil before. You grandfather did it.  In Europe.

That’s right.

Those Americans, the ones we killed, didn’t look like filthy Muslim terrorists either.

In fact they looked just like blond-haired blue-eyed all-American boys, because they were.

They were the American Free Corps, known as the George Washington Brigade – a unit of the Wafen SS

What’s that?  Yes, I see your surprised face. You didn’t know Americans fought for the Nazis, did you?

Some of them came from America of their own free will in answer Hilter’s call for all true Aryans to return to Germany, many others were turncoat American soldiers recruited from POW camps. And some were out and out traitors, like 2nd Lieutenant Martin Monti, an American pilot who defected from the US Army Air Corps by stealing a P-51 Mustang and flying it to Axis territory.  He then joined the Wehrmacht and was commissioned a Lieutenant in the German Officer Corps. He was assigned to make anti-American propaganda broadcasts under the pseudonym Martin Wiethaupt – not at all dissimilar to al-Awlaki or Samir Kahn (except for the fact that Awlaki was much more effective, by most accounts Monti was a shitty propagandist). 

A number of Americans fighting against America for the Axis were killed by Americans, and nobody shed a tear.  Monti? He survived the war, surrendered to the allies, was tried as a deserter and sentenced to serve a hitch in the US Army (I swear I’m not making this up). In 1948 the FBI caught up to him, and he was tried for treason and sentenced to prison, where he remained until 1960.

The simple truth of the matter is that these people, Anwar al-Awlaki, Samir Khan, John Walker Lindh, Martin Monti, the George Washington Brigade, and, hell, the citizens of the Confederate States of America gave up their rights, including any claim on the Fifth Amendment, when they declared war on America. 

Whether or not we give them back those rights is our decision, or rather that of our elected leaders – and if you don’t like that, maybe you should think carefully about who you elect. And maybe, just maybe you should think very, very carefully about the kind of power you want to give them. Just saying.

These men were terrorists, but they were also Americans. That makes them our responsibility. They were hiding in Yemen, and Yemen asked for our help in apprehending these criminals.

Robert Anson Heinlein, American writer, veteran, libertarian, patriot, once wrote: “A man shoots his own dog, he doesn’t farm it out. That doesn’t make it better, it makes it worse.”   He was absolutely right. These were our dogs, and our responsibility.

Bottom line, they could have surrendered. They could have surrendered at anytime, right up until 9:55AM last Friday morning. Even then, they could have faced the Predators, threw down arms and raised their hands and claimed their rights as citizens of the United States of America.

They didn’t.

They chose to die.

They chose to die as martyrs to a cause hostile to their own country. They welcomed it.

They chose to die as terrorists, not as Americans.

They made their choice, let them suffer the consequences.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Everything I Need To Know About Democracy, I Learned From Star Trek

 

You ever watch Star Trek?

Sure you did.

Each Trekkie has their own favorite flavor, from The Awesome Original Series to the excretable Enterprise.

Whenever I think of Star Trek, I think of the Captain James T. “I can’t hear you over the clanging of my enormous testicles” Kirk version, but for the purpose of this discussion any of the various iterations will do. 

Now I love me some Star Trek, I do, but if you watched the show you were forced to accept a lot of outright absurdity: convenient time travel (until it wasn’t), critical equipment that always malfunctioned when you really needed it but otherwise worked without a hitch especially that damned unreliable transporter (Windows Vista is apparently still with us in the 25th Century), physics better suited to a Road Runner cartoon, biology that defied the basic laws of nature including pervasive inter-species breeding resembling the social norm of Appalachian hillbillies (or Scottish sheep herders, depending on which continent you happen to be reading this from), selective causality (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Ensign Redshirt beam down to the planet, guess which one gets his insides liquefied into a thin gruel), miniskirts and fishnet stockings and the Twin Torpedoes Miracle Bra (Who designed the TOS Starfleet Girl Uniform? Hugh Hefner? Of course, that was way better than that “unitard” uniform all the girls in later generations wore. Ugh), the utterly predictable moral failing of the frailer sex (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Ensign Suzy beam over to the Burly Barbarian Ship, guess which one will succumb to her hormones and sell them out), the  techno-babble verging on gibberish disguised by pig Latin, and engineering usually indistinguishable from magic (and not the cool Arthur C. Clarke kind of magic technology either). 

And then there was the Prime Directive – which the heroes managed to boldly disregard with such predictable regularity that you really had to wonder if that wasn’t the whole damned purpose of their five year mission in the first place.

But hell, Trekkies didn’t watch the show for any of that.

See, they say that enjoyment of science fiction stems from the willing suspension of disbelief.  And while Star Trek often stretched that idea to truly ridiculous proportions, it was a great show anyway (well, except for the aforementioned excretable Enterprise).

We watched the show for the characters.  And as a diehard science fiction fan, I could happily suspend my disbelief for an hour each week and the enjoy the show. 

Except for one little thing.

There was always one thing that bugged the ever living green blood out of me.

And that was this: Anybody, and I mean anybody, could relieve the Captain of his command.

Seriously, embarked admirals, Starfleet Commodores, the First Officer, the doctor, Starfleet cadets, visiting politicians, the Computer, random passengers, time travelers, potted plants, anybody, could relieve the Captain of a Federation Starship. Robot Space Janitor 3rd Class Roomba could relieve the Captain whenever it felt like it.  Hell, I’m pretty sure I remember an episode of the excretable Enterprise where Captain Archer was removed from his command by his pet beagle (Just go with me on this. Besides, it could be true, it’s not like anybody actually watched Enterprise anyway).  Every single time the captain did something that somebody didn’t like, he was threatened with being removed from command – but in the end, somehow, he (or she, if you’re one of those weirdo Voyager types) always managed to just squeak through and hold onto the Captaincy.

 

Pithy observation, Nerd Boy, I hear you say in that dubiously apprehensive tone you use when you suddenly find yourself sharing a hotel elevator with a bunch of drunken Appalachian hillbillies dressed up as a Klingon war party. What brings this up?

 

Well, see, I was reminded of that bit of Trek trivia over the last three days as I watched various politicians threaten, yet again, to shut down the US Government.

Honestly, is it just me? Or does it seem government shutdown is the go-to threat these days?

Better do it my way, or I’ll shut down the government! Yes, Sir, I will and don’t think I won’t! I’ll shut it right the hell down, turn off the lights, take my toys and go home.

Seems anybody can threaten a government shutdown. Don’t like the president? We’ll show him, let’s shut down the government!  Don’t want to compromise? It’s my way or I’ll shut down the government!  Need to score some political points? Hey, if I have to shut down the government it’s not my fault, it’s those other guys they made me do it!  Junior Freshman Congressman? Make your mark, get national recognition, become a household name, shut down the government! Running for president and want to grab some free attention? Look at me shutting down the government! Congressional dining room made your roast lamb filet medium-well instead of medium-rare? The filthy Nazi bastards! Shut down the government! Come on, who’s with me? Let’s shut her down!

Shut down the US Government?

Honestly, when did that become an option?

And not only an option, but the option?

Every damned week it’s another threatened government shutdown. Thursday, the media announced with breathless relief that the House had managed to pass another stopgap spending bill. Yay! The government can stay open!

Right.  Big whooptee fucking doo.

The bill managed to avoid shutdown for a whole week. And then? Well, next week lawmakers will have to drag their raggedy asses back from vacation and pass another stopgap bill, or – wait for it, waaaaaaiiiit for it – the government will shut down! 

Oh noes! 

That bill, if it passes, will keep the government clunking along for seven more whole weeks.  And then? Well, then the real show begins, because that’s when next year’s budget is due. And, man, if we can’t pass that, well you know what happens then, right?  

Congress is already making noises about how they might have to shut the government down, oh noes Captain! I dinnae think she can take it! Woop! Woop! Woop! Red Alert!

Frankly, I’m getting more than a little sick of this bullshit.  Since 1977, the House has threatened government shutdown, with varying degrees of will, more than one hundred and fifty times – one hundred and fifty seven times, to be precise, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. That’s an average of four times a year.  In fact, since 1978, Congress has managed to complete and pass the annual appropriates bill, i.e. the federal budget, by the due date only three times

Three times out thirty-three. 

You should be able to do the math in your head, but for those who went to the schools where they teach that cavemen frolicked with dinosaurs, your sworn representatives have managed to meet what is arguably their most important constitutionally mandated obligation a bit less than ten percent of the time.

Honestly, what employer would put up with that kind of  piss-poor performance?

The federal budget has been due in October every single year for more than two centuries – it’s not like it’s a surprise.

Sure it’s complicated.

Sure it’s fraught with partisan passion.

Sure, about half the time you have to compromise with parties and a president you don’t like.

Sure it’s damned hard and it gets harder and more complex and passionate every year. So what? That’s the job. That’s what congress gets paid to do.  That’s why, and I’m just saying here, maybe they ought to get ahead of it, instead of waiting until the last minute, instead of grandstanding and chest beating, instead of threatening us with yet another goddamned government shutdown.

It’s always something. It’s always a crisis.  There’s always a growing national debt or communists or terrorists or a war to be fought or an evil empire to be contained or an election to be won or jobs to be created or a bunch of earmarks in states that don’t deserve them or foreign aid to some blighted place. And, hey, if none of that can be used to threaten government shutdown, well then guaranteed Jesus is pissed off about something or other involving a poor woman’s uterus and healthcare for solar powered gay environmentalist weapons manufactures.  There’s always some goddamned thing Congress can find to fight over instead of getting the job done on time. Honestly, who acts like this?

The issue this time was disaster funding for victims of the recent east coast hurricane. 

Now, to be clear and before we go any further, I do think that we have to get federal spending under control.  I don’t think that we can just keep borrowing money from our kid’s future.  I do think that American taxpayers have every right to be pissed that their hard earned money went to bankrupted companies or industries that don’t, in fact, need the money. I do think that FEMA and other federal agencies should be held accountable.

However, try as I might, I fail to understand how repeatedly threatening to shut down the government accomplishes any of that.

Just like the bit with the Enterprise’s Captain, this shutdown threat has become a trope – something that happens so often that it’s become a predictable cliché.  They have come to the point where they disregard their Prime Directive so often that it’s business as usual. That’s what the US Congress has become, a tired dysfunctional cliché.  With every day that passes, it takes a greater and greater suspension of disbelief to put up with exponentially increasing levels of absurdity. 

Honestly, it’s really starting to look like a recycled science fiction TV show.

Yesterday there was the mirror universe episode, the one where everybody has a Fu Manchu mustache and is the reverse copy of themselves. You know, the one where the sissy liberal gave the orders to zap the terrorists inside the boarders of an allied country and the conservatives rail about the civil rights of Americans and fair trials.

The day before it was the time travel episode, the one where they go back to Earth in the 1960’s and there are missiles in Cuba – and, of course, it all turns out to be an alien plot.

The week before that it was the bizarro world episode where nothing makes sense – like a rich guy demanding to be taxed more and the greedy politicians demanding to see his tax returns because they think he should give them less money. Meanwhile, banks that were bailed out by taxpayers after cutting  30,000 jobs imposed new fees on the same people in kind of a crucifixion and lions bit of irony, charging them to use their own money while giving the rich a free pass along with the same assholes who caused this mess in the first place.  The only thing missing was a large rabbit and the Black Knight.

There was the episode where the smarmy bastard with good hair raises an army of shambling Yahoos with protruding brows in order to overthrow the government, or in this case the Department of Education. My favorite part was the impassioned comment by the Yahoo King where he explained why the masses don’t need no education, “i keep reading ‘republicans don't want education’ i dont think they are the ones who need it, some of you dems do. read this piece and then look at our education levels compaired to the rest of the world. we spend more per child than most and we are producing dummer than most. does this make sence to you, it does not to me. [sic]”  It didn’t make sence to me either, they must have let Shatner direct again.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Star Trek if there wasn’t one of those weird sexual mores episodes – you know, the one where they beam down to planet Santorum  and the entire army is supposed to be celibate, then Riker causes an interstellar incident by boning some nubile Lieutenant.

 

You know, I’d be willing to suspend my disbelief, I really would, if the cast was at least likeable.  Or if they at least advanced the story. But, seriously, the same damned clichéd crap week after week, a disagreeable cast of b-string actors, and a ten percent accomplishment rate?

If this was Star Trek, these childish idiots would have been dumped unceremoniously out the airlock and left on the planet of ravenous flesh eating space zombies long, long ago.

Of course, if it was left up to me, I’d beam a whole bunch of tribbles right into their …

Uh, never mind.