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Monthly Archives: November 2007

Elections Down Under

November 24th, 2007 - 4:51 pm

I’m in Australia, and watched the election returns last night, bringing the sad news that John Howard, arguably the greatest Western leader of the past decade, was defeated by the Labor Party’s Kevin Rudd.

This does not seem to have been an ideological campaign, but rather a “competence” battle, the major slogans being the aussie equivalent of “time for a change” and “stay with the proven winners.” The electorate was bored with Howard, who had been in office for nearly twelve years, and went with Rudd, who basically echoed Howard on most questions, but who is deeply indebted to the unions. We’ll see soon enough how he intends to govern. He’s got a solid majority, and as of this writing it seems Howard may have even lost his own seat. In any event Howard’s political career is over and he will be succeeded by Peter Costello, who has been Treasury Minister for many years, and is very capable.

For an American, the campaign was notable for the near-total absence of foreign policy themes. In his victory speech last night–easily the most wooden, hollow, substanceless victory speech I’ve heard in a very long time–Rudd had only a couple of passing references to “national security.” The words “Iraq” and “Afghanistan” did not appear, so far as I can recall. Rudd has said he will be withdrawing the 1,500 troops from Iraq but increasing the aussie contingent in Afghanistan. He’s a good friend of the United States,knows us well, and will no doubt follow Howard’s lead on how to manage relations with Washington.

I think the basic reason for these results is boredom, the most underrated force in world affairs. This election reminds me of the day (or was it the night?) when the British Tories overthrew Margaret Thatcher in favor of David Major.

Can you imagine?

Let’s hope this election doesn’t leave us with the same sinking feeling…

OOOPS! Another mullah confession

November 12th, 2007 - 10:52 pm

Remember Ahmadi-Nezhad’s boast at Columbia University that there were no gays in Iran? Well, it turns out that at a recent “peace” conference, Mohsen Yahyavi let it slip that, while there might be none, if the regime laid its hands on a homosexual, they killed him/her/it.

Homosexuals deserve to be executed or tortured and possibly both, an Iranian leader told British MPs during a private meeting at a peace conference, The Times has learnt.

Mohsen Yahyavi is the highest-ranked politician to admit that Iran believes in the death penalty for homosexuality after a spate of reports that gay youths were being hanged.

I don’t expect this story to make headlines, but hey, it’s in the London “Times” so you never know. Let’s hope. It is one of those dazzling statements that, so to speak, tears the veil away from the illusion the mullahs try to cultivate in Western circles.

Marines’ Birthday

November 10th, 2007 - 10:12 am

The Marines have taken on mythic dimensions, not just in America, but all over the world. Mao instructed his generals to allocate more than four divisions to defeat 2 Marine battalions, which pretty much sums up the awe…

Today is the Marines’ birthday. 232 years ago the Marine Corps was created in a bar, and we who celebrate them are called upon to drink (at least) a bottle of beer.

Here’s a fine essay about the “expeditionary” Marine tradition, written by a reader of this blog, David Barrow, and published in the Marine Gazette (which requires a paid subscription; Mr. Barrow was kind enough to send me a Word file). I hope you enjoy it.

I think it well captures what Thomas Smith calls “the magic of the marines,” something which the terrorists of al Qaeda and Hezbollah understand very well. “Perhaps impossible to define,” Smith wrote a year ago, “this magic may be expressed in the words of a frantic terrorist whose radio transmission was intercepted by U.S. forces during the assault on Fallujah in 2004: ‘We are fighting, but the Marines keep coming. We are shooting, but the Marines won’t stop’.”

All of which sometimes reminds me of Patton’s great line, in the opening speech of his movie, when he says “I really feel sorry for those poor Hun bastards.” From time to time, I feel the same way about our enemies in this war.

June 17, 2000


The trucks pulled into the perimeter of Hagaru-ri with shot-out windshields and windows, many with more bullet holes than Bonnie & Clyde’s car, hauling ALL of the wounded and most of the dead. The survivors of the rifle companies of the 5th and 7th Marines “fit for duty” (a very elastic term in Nov.-Dec. 1950, Korea) were more than occupied clearing and protecting the high ground around the only main supply route leading to safety. But the Chinese were good at slipping raiding parties down to the road, so the trucks and their precious cargo had to be protected by the walking and not-so-able-
to-walk wounded. The trucks were only for serious gut wounds and likely amputees. The rest of the wounded were told to fix bayonets, lock and load, and “stand by to repel boarders.” If they couldn’t walk, they “rode shotgun” on the fenders; steadying the wounded strapped across the engines with one hand while they fired carbines with the other.
All Marines are riflemen. The cooks, artillerymen, headquarters staff and rear echelon types were filling in the thinning ranks clearing the enemy from the hills, in cold dropping to twenty degrees below zero. The First Marine Division had been atritted to half-strength, as much by frostbite as from enemy fire. B Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, for example, would end this campaign with 27 men out of 300. Yet the guardian angels of the trucks entered Hagaru-ri IN CADENCE, arms right-shouldered, grimy faces held high. In “attacking in another direction” the withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir destroyed six Chinese Communist divisions, and the “Chosin Few” would live to see their actions listed with likes of Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima.
Though perhaps the most dramatic, the Chosin was only one of several Korean War actions, from the Pusan perimeter, through the Inchon landing and the Punchbowl to the cease fire line, that put on display the finest traditions of the United States Marine Corps.
On June 29, 1950 Commandant Clifton B. Cates volunteered a regiment for immediate deployment to Korea, before President Truman had even decided to commit ground troops there. A “heads up” was given the First Division at Camp Pendleton, the day before MacArthur requested the regiment from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The First Marine Brigade set sail for Korea less than a week after it was formed. Its arrival was critical in stopping the North Korean advance outside Pusan. Joining the rest of the division it went ashore at Inchon on September 15, smashing its way through to liberate Seoul by the 29th. Despite the actions of the post World War II political economizers, the Marine Corps proved, as it would time and time again, that it was truly a force in readiness; able to rapidly respond to America’s defense needs in an increasingly complex and fluid world.
Marine units were unique in both appearance and structure. Camouflage covers on the helmets, dungaree shirts with the stenciled “USMC” on the pocket, and the distinctive leggings set the Marine apart from other infantry. Koreans on both sides soon learned a special respect for the elite “yellow legs.” The Marines operated under the simple principle that in the fog of war it is extremely difficult to directly command more than three men. The platoon leader commanded three squad leaders. Each squad leader commanded three fire team leaders, who in turn commanded three men. Army platoons were not broken down into fire teams. Another difference was firepower. Army platoons carried three Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs); one per squad. Since each Marine fire team was built around a BAR, each platoon had nine of them. This weapon could fire bursts of a devastating ball cartridge to a range of over two miles. The strength of the Chinese armies they opposed obviously lay in overwhelming manpower. Running into the range of several well-placed chattering BARs could quickly even the odds during a firefight. Each Marine had more live-fire time and training with his weapons than the average Army infantryman. And, of course, there was the ever present Marine tradition of exquisite marksmanship.
The Marine adopts fast to changing circumstances, and the extreme cold of the Korean winter taught harsh lessons. Air-tight footpacks collected sweat, which then froze, causing a nasty case of frostbite. “Wiggle toes” was an order heard more often than “tenshun!” Like Jesus at the Last Supper, caring platoon commanders paid close attention to their men’s bare feet, inspecting them each day for signs that could cost a toe or even a foot if left unattended.
The Chinese and the North Koreans often preferred the night assault; when the temperature was the lowest. Marines learned that hair tonic poured on gun bolts made good antifreeze. If the cold still jammed a machine gun, a Marine would slam it with his rifle butt. If that didn’t work, he urinated on it. The Navy Corpsman learned to put the vials of morphine in his mouth to keep them from freezing, and to thaw his hands in blood and intestines for a moment to keep his fingers working.
Some of the officers and NCO’s adjusted the firing mechanisms on their carbines to fire full auto, until M2 carbines were issued with this option built in. Many taped two magazines together; one up, one down, for rapid reloading. If he could swipe two banana magazines from some “dogface” (as usual for some unfathomable reason the Army got these first)he would have a quick sixty rounds at the ready.
Close coordination of various arms is another hallmark of Marine doctrine developed and exhibited in Korea. Corsair pilots were regularly rotated into ground units to serve as air strike coordinators, thus gaining a thorough understanding of the challenges faced by front line Marines, and the most effective methods of assisting them with close-in air support. Marine tanks, artillery and mortars were not kept in large massed batteries, and often were dispersed at company and battalion level. In one instance, as the Marines drove towards the Chosin, a Soviet made T34 tank occupied by North Koreans dug in to block the advance up the narrow road. Big mistake. Although it startled the point men, after a few moments (and some radio communication) the tank was almost simultaneously hit by a 75 mil. recoilless rifle, a 3-5 tube, and a rocket from a corsair. Responsibility for the smoldering, shattered hulk had to be shared.
The comparison between the 1st Marine Division’s advance up to and along the west side of the Chosin and the 8th Army’s advance up the east side highlights the advantages of the Marine concept of a relatively independent command. The army units were under constant pressure from MacArthur’s headquarters in Tokyo to pick up the pace in the race to the Yalu River. Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith, commanding the Marines, ignored such pressure. He took time to secure defensive positions along the high ground, establish supply caches, and even built a small airfield to bring in supplies and take out the wounded, if necessary. Marine commanders are not generally known for such an abundance of caution, simply because the delays required to procure them can often cost more than they are worth. In this case, however, Gen. Smith correctly surmised from the tactics of the enemy that he was deliberately being drawn in, to be followed by an attempted cut off. He was offered only token resistance and delaying actions, despite intelligence reports indicating the enemy’s capacity for strong defense and massive counterattack. The Chinese, whom MacArthur and his staff refused to believe even existed, were obviously biding their time. Smith couldn’t disobey orders, but he could damn well make sure to bring out as many Marines as he possibly could, while knowing full well what was coming. Army officers were not allowed the luxury of interpreting their orders in light of what they knew to be the case in the field. As a result, when the all-out Chinese assault came, the advance elements of the 8th Army were cut to pieces; their unit cohesion destroyed. The survivors that escaped across the frozen reservoir or who otherwise broke through to the south were “turned into Marines” and fed into the lines as replacements. Exhaustion and fever overtook Gen. Smith himself, until he was revived by the sounds he received five-by-five coming from the frozen Marines in the warming tent next to his: “From the Halls of Montezuma…”
In a larger historical perspective, there was much about the development of Marie doctrine in Korea that seems borrowed from Napoleon. Korea provided extremes of tropical heat and arctic cold; amphibious assault and mountain warfare. Flexibility and adaptability were crucial elements of Marine success. Napoleon was fond of saying “Je n’ai jamais eu un plan d’operations.” (I never had a plan of operations.) He also once said “I see only one thing, namely the enemy’s main body. I try to crush it, confident that secondary matters will then settle themselves.” Strong concurrence with this philosophy was behind much of the frustration Marines felt when Korea degenerated into static World War I type action in its latter stages. Unlike his contemporaries, Napoleon fused the maneuver, the march, the battle and the pursuit into one continuous process, and his most useful tool was the corps d’armee system. This small but self contained independent unit had its own infantry, cavalry, artillery and support, and could hold off a much larger force until other nearby corps could arrive. An enemy attacking one of these deceptively small units would, in a few hours, feel as though they had poked a hornet’s nest. The Chinese and the North Koreans learned the hard way that Marine units could suddenly appear in support of their brothers, often hitting the enemy’s flank or rear.
If the central Pacific offensive of World War II perfected Marine amphibious doctrine, then Korea secured the Corp’s political foundations. As a direct result of its shining performance, both in terms of response speed and combat effectiveness, on June 28, 1952 the Douglas-Mansfield Act was signed by President Truman into law. The Marine Corps was granted a standing strength of three divisions and three airwings, with a peacetime ceiling of 400,000. This size allowed the Corps to meet modern world contingencies, yet was still small enough to preserve its elite character. Furthermore, the Commandant would henceforth sit permanently on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, be allowed to vote on all matters concerning the Corps, and would enjoy co-equal status with the Chief of Naval Operations.
When the flag went up on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, in 1945 then Secretary of the Navy, James V. Forrestal had promised “..a Marine Corps for the next 500 years.” Korea not only preserved this legacy but enhanced it. The Korean War put the world on notice: The fences of freedom are guarded by junkyard devildogs, wearing tags that read “USMC”.

Tribes Trump Religion?

November 8th, 2007 - 5:50 pm

Have you ever read this before?

The structure of Iraqi tribes overlaps sectarian divisions in Iraq…Certain powerful tribes in Anbar for example have their largest following among Iraqi Shiites. Shiites and Sunnis can be members of the same tribe and fight under its banner and vow allegiance to the same tribal chieftain regardless of sect.

I think it’s news to me (at my age, I can’t remember all this stuff), but Azzaman makes it quite understandable. Have a look. He talks about the latest trend in Iraq: ecumenism. Of course you’ve seen Mike Yon’s fabulous photo, right? You haven’t? Feast your eyes on it.

And give thanks.

I think it’s God’s riotous sense of humor, to put a Jew in command of the USS Truman, now headed to the Gulf. He sounds just fine: calm, smart, informed, and quite ready to do his job. But don’t you just love the fact that the “Truman”–named after the president who recognized the state of Israel–is commanded by a serious Jewish captain?

Have a look.

You probably didn’t notice. Hardly anyone here did. The Brits, as usual, paid more attention.

He was a Polish Jew, born Victor Spielman, which he changed to Victor Grayevsky after he found that “Spielman” was just too Jewish for an ambitious young Pole. He went to school in Kazakhstan, then returned to Poland at the end of the war, where he joined the Communist Party and made a bit of a name for himself as a journalist. In the mid-fifties he followed his parents and sister to Israel, where he ran a lot of the broadcasting to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

And so? And so, he was arguably one of the most important men of the twentieth century, for he was the person who obtained the advance text of Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, the one delivered in February, 1956, the one that laid out the crimes of Stalin for the leaders of the Soviet Communist Party. That text was a turning point in the Cold War. Grayevsky gave it to the Israeli Embassy, where it was copied and sent to Israel. The Shin Bet intelligence service delivered it by courier to James Jesus Angleton, the head of CIA counterintelligence (and the CIA’s liaison with the Israelis), who gave it to CIA chief Allen Dulles, who gave it to President Eisenhower.

The speech made headlines around the world, and Khrushchev’s revelations were vigorously exploited by the United States, shocking the Communist faithful. But even more importantly, the speech provided a clear window into the world of Soviet Communism for American analysts both in and outside the government. Until then, it was possible for intelligence analysts and foreign service officers to believe that the Soviet system wasn’t all that horrible. The speech put paid to that delusion.

In keeping with the general rule that the most important information about the Soviet Union invariably came from “walk-ins,” and not from “agents” recruited by CIA, Grayevsky performed his world-changing act solely out of personal conviction. He had recently visited Israel to be with his dying father, and he had become a Zionist, secretly determined to emigrate to Israel as soon as he could manage it. But he was not working for the Israeli Government, or indeed any Western country.

It was only after his move to Israel shortly thereafter that Victor Grayevsky become involved in the world of espionage. The KGB recruited him, and for decades thereafter he pretended to be their man in Tel Aviv, while actually working as an Israeli double agent. He did his work so effectively that the Soviets awarded him the Lenin Medal.

But perhaps the most telling fact about Grayevsky came just a few years ago, after he retired. He decided to tell his story at long last, and wrote a memoir about his amazing life. You might have thought it would become an instant world-wide bestseller, but in fact he couldn’t find a publisher anywhere. By then, no editor was interested, and so far as I know his book didn’t even appear in Hebrew. It’s just one further example of the self-imposed ignorance that so afflicts us in this day and age.

If you Google “Victor Grayevsky,” you’ll find some articles from Australia, Italy and of course Israel, in addition to the Telegraph article linked above. But I haven’t seen anything in the big American papers or on the tube. A couple of bloggers noticed (Lucianne, for example), but nothing like the attention he deserved.

Sometimes you have to die before people notice how important you were. Maybe some serious publisher will now scratch his head and decide to permit Victor to tell his story.

Booze Back in Baghdad

November 3rd, 2007 - 6:36 pm

Good news, obviously, this time from the LA Times (no doubt grateful) guy in the big city.

Probably enough to make the Supreme Leader, across the border, gnash his teeth. In his house, opium is reportedly the narcotic of choice.