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Monthly Archives: April 2011

“So you had it right!”

It was the spirit of my late friend, James Jesus Angleton, long-time head of CIA’s counterintelligence outfit, and after the usual initial difficulties I’d tracked him down — wherever he “lives” — via the newly rehabbed ouija board, smelling vaguely of coconut oil (the ouija board, not Angleton’s spirit).

He was talking about the announcement that Leon Panetta would replace Bob Gates as Secretary of Defense (SecDef in Washington-speak), and General David Petraeus would move from commander of the Afghan campaign to run CIA.  I’d predicted that a few weeks ago in these pages.

ML:  “Kind of you to remember.”

JJA:  “Great call by you.  How did you know?”

ML:  “Sources and methods, I can’t reveal them…you know about that.”

JJA:  “I’m cleared!”

ML:  “Really?  Who holds your clearances?”

JJA:  “Sorry, I can’t tell you.  You’re not cleared here.”

ML:  “Let’s just say I heard it from a well-informed person who holds a sensitive position in the Administration.  But the question is not where the information came from, but what you think about it.  That’s why I reached out to you.”

JJA:  “Obviously, the most interesting aspect for me is the CIA billet to Petraeus.  I suspect he’s known this was coming, and so his recent complaints about the quality of our intelligence become significant.”

ML:  “Yeah, but everybody complains about intelligence…”

JJA:  “To be sure, to be sure…we used to say that the public only hears about our failures and never about our successes.  That’s still pretty much accurate.”

ML:  “Even in the Wikileaks era?”

JJA:  “Oh yes, absolutely.  In fact, a lot of the Wikileaks documents are barely classified, and lots of others are raw reporting, much of which might very well have been rejected upon analysis.  Anyone who relies on Wikileaks is likely to end up badly misled.  Just like anyone who relies on Wikipedia…”

ML:  “So what about the Panetta/Petraeus two-step?”

JJA:  “I think Panetta has done well at CIA, and I think he likes it there, and I also think that they like him at Langley.  DoD is probably too big for anyone to effectively manage, and it’s even tougher in a time of budget-cutting, which is now, obviously.  Plus there’s a huge culture shift;  CIA professionals tend to look down on the military (not so often Ivy League grads, like the Agency types), and DoD traditionally thinks that the Agency people are soft, risk-averse intellectuals, not warriors.”

ML:  “And Petraeus will encounter the same culture shift, except in reverse.”

JJA:  “You bet.  But he knows more about CIA than Panetta knows about the military.  Petraeus has been reading Agency reports for years, and he’s worked with some agents who are anything but risk-averse.  On the contrary.”

ML:  “In fact, many of those guys are military, aren’t they?”

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The Marines

April 23rd, 2011 - 3:25 pm

(thanks to Dewey Clarridge for forwarding this).  I’ll have a couple of comments at the bottom, but I thought this was worth sharing, especially at the confluence of two major holidays that celebrate both freedom and sacrifice.  Here you go:

April 2011,  Posted By Captain Alexander Martin, USMC, Naval Institute

Esquire Magazine’s monthly column ‘What I’ve Learned’ is an excellently composed editorial on the meaning of life from the perspective of some of the world’s most intriguing statesmen, artists, and philosophers.  I am neither statesman, nor artist, nor philosopher (and if you ask any woman who has ever dated me, hardly intriguing) but I am a Marine who just left active duty service.  After 11 years since having first raised my right hand, and in the spirit of Esquire’s eminent feature, I spent the first day of my terminal leave reflecting…on what it is I’ve learned.

On Life. (in general)

Life’s much easier when you read wonderful books and stare at inconceivable art and listen to transcendent music and watch inspiring movies.  When you allow the great authors and poets and filmmakers and musicians and artists to help sort things out for you, life just becomes easier, I think.  Perhaps this is because you realize you are not the first person that has ever felt that he had no clue what’s going on, or what’s to come.  You realize you are not alone.  And you say to yourself humble things like, “how small I am.”  And you become stronger.

But even with the nod of the greats, it’s important we each tell our own story in our own way.  It’s therapy, for one.  But it also preserves the memory.  I never want to forget any of the Marines I ever walked alongside.  They are my heroes.

Chapters. (and why a father is always right)

On the last afternoon of my active duty service I met my old man for a drink.  We sat in deep couches in a familiar bar and ordered the old fashioned.  We first toasted the great naval service of which we had both served, and next the adventure that I had just lived.  We sat in that bar for hours and told stories of the great men we knew back then and how I wish the VA would cover the Propecia prescription for my hair loss and finally did what it is a father and a son do after one has come back from war and the other had already been, which is change the subject and talk about mom.

And at some point that afternoon, I can’t be sure exactly at which time, I looked at my dad, who had flown three tours in Vietnam and whose one Marine son had fought in Afghanistan and whose other in Iraq, and asked him what he was thinking about just then.  He told me he was thinking about life’s chapters and how important it is to recognize when they start and when they finish.  He told me to enjoy this moment.

And that was all he said.

My dad’s lesson was simple that afternoon: It’s essential to sincerely differentiate between “time” and “moments” because life’s shade, import and value are defined by moments and time is just what we have left.

My father the Scotsman was right.  But then again, it’s been my experience that a father is always right.

On Love.  (swimming in the ocean, shakespeare and everything else)

Pool workouts are straightforward, comfortable and humdrum.  But working out in the water is about heart and when you swim in the ocean you have the environment to compete with and the climate and God.  And so I prefer to do my swim workouts in the open ocean.

This weekend I did my usual La Jolla Cove to La Jolla Shores and back swim.  The water was cold and the sand sharks off the Shores, harmless though they are, did their best to frighten me (but how I love that they take 30 seconds off my 500 meter split).  The only difference between this swim and the countless others I’ve done these past few years is that this was the first ocean swim I’d done since being off active duty.

For the first time this workout was about me wanting to look and feel good, instead of about preparation for training (or not wanting to fall behind my Force Recon Marines during a swim exercise) and, quite frankly, I hated that feeling.

My mind was everywhere during the swim.  But at around the 1,000 meter mark it settled on one thing: how much I love the Marine Corps.

It came to me out there that my experience in the Marine Corps was the most wonderful, transformative, rich experience a man could ever hope to have.

And this is what I learned…

The Marine Corps taught me the sort of practical things that all men should know but don’t these days like how to shoot a weapon, survive in the wilderness, navigate by compass and map, and take care of your feet.

The Marine Corps taught me the true meaning of words I had only before read about in Shakespeare: honor, obligation, courage, fidelity and sacrifice.  These were no longer merely a part of some story from an epic script on war, but real memories about real men in war.

In the Marine Corps I learned what it means to be truly happy and what it feels like to be truly sad.  And I realized neither had anything to do with me but both had everything to do with the unit and the definition of a meaningful life.

In my travels I learned that life isn’t very easy for most people in this world.  And that we are blessed to have won life’s lottery and to have been born in this country.

I learned that freedom is impossible without sacrifice and neither matters very much without love.

I learned that it’s not what’s on your chest that counts, but what’s in your chest.

I learned that standards matter.  I was taught the importance of discipline.  And of letting go from time to time.

I learned that all it takes is all you got.

I learned a good NCO is worth his weight in gold…a good Staff NCO is absolutely priceless.

I learned it is important to write letters to yourself along the way because the details will escape you.

I learned there is a difference between regret and remorse.

Phase lines help you eat an elephant.  Which is true with so much in life I suppose.

I learned that apathy is the evil cousin of delegation.

The Marine Corps taught me about physical courage, team work, the absolute virtue of a human being’s great adventure and that all men fall.

With respect to tactics, I’ve found it most critical to never say never, and never say always.

I learned the importance of a good story shared among friends.  Or a good glass of scotch enjoyed in solitude.  Or of the importance of sailing away until you cannot see the coastline anymore…and then coming home, a better man.

I learned that faith matters.  And that aside from the importance of believing the universe is so much bigger than any one man could ever comprehend, I learned that I truly believe in the power of a great bottle of wine, the courage of the enlisted Marine and the tenets of maneuver warfare.

I discovered my morality.

I learned how to fight in the Marine Corps…and my time in bars with my brother-Marines has taught me that contrary to our own self-perpetuated mythology, not all blood that Marines shed together is on the battlefield.

The Marine Corps taught me how to think aggressively.  How to respond under pressure.  How to perform.  How to live excellently and that nothing is more important than the mission or the Marine.

The Marine Corps taught me how to laugh – deeper than I ever thought imaginable – and how to cry.  And that a warrior’s tears reflect his soul.

Finally, the Marine Corps did more for me than I could have ever done for it…it gave me an extraordinary adventure to live that is mine and that I will never for the rest of my life forget.

And then there’s this last irony…

That I would have the honor of spending these years studying and practicing the discipline of warfighting alongside the wonderful modern Marine-hoplite only to realize that what I learned had so much less to do with war and so much more to do with love.

How do I feel in the 72 hours since I’ve left the Marine Corps?

I miss it already.

ML:  We have two Marines.  One has completed active duty, the second will deploy later this year.  Our experience has been counter-intuitive, and this man explains why:  it turns out that being a Marine officer deepens your humanity.  Yeah, they foster the image of men with antifreeze in their arteries, but what makes them great is their passion and commitment:  to the mission, to the Corps, to their comrades-in-arms.

Being a Marine dad is an intense mixture of pride and anxiety, as you can easily imagine–especially when your daughter keeps running around battlefields even when the sons are back on base–and we’ve come to spend a lot of time around Marines, from the enlisted men up to some famous officers.  We’re very impressed, and I wish some of our leaders (we have very few who have ever served in the military) had a clue.

Our military is the finest institution we have right now.  I think this little essay explains a lot of the why.

Happy Easter.  Chag Sameach.

You can barely see it in the popular press, but the global insurrection is going great guns, despite the fecklessness of the so-called Western world.  And it’s going great guns in our enemies’ countries, not just in those of our (at least erstwhile) friends.

In Syria, for example, the anti-Assad demonstrations are getting bigger and are explicitly calling for regime change.  In Iran, there are ongoing strikes, violent anti-regime demonstrations in the oil regions in the west, adjoining Iraq (think Basra), and continued sabotage of the country’s gas pipelines.

The destinies of the Damascus and Tehran tyrannies are closely linked, which is why the Iranians have been sending some of their top experts to Syria, to aid the Baathists in putting down the insurrection.  The mullahs have delivered between 350 and 400 cameras that are hidden in traffic signals, in order to identify the activists, and more than 42 censors to shut down foreign radio and tv broadcasts.  And there are many Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollahis in Damascus, along with Iranian-trained Arabs, nearly two thousand strong as of the 11th, to show the Syrian security forces how it’s done.

In other words, it’s an attempt to replay the Iranian repression on Syrian soil.

It’s not working very well, as you can see by reading the latest updates from the Reform Party of Syria, including this stunning video of Army defectors leading a crowd in Dara’a and shooting their guns in the air.  Crowds in Damascus and Latakia on Friday were very large, certainly tens of thousands of people, and maybe more.  And the revolt is spreading to new towns and cities every day.

There’s a paucity of reportage — another parallel with Iran — and the last reliable figures I have are from the 11th.  As of that date, there had been uprisings in 9 cities, 229 persons had been murdered and more than 1,000 were injured, and roughly 2,700 had been arrested.

For the moment, Assad is combining the mailed fist with acts of appeasement (sporadic prisoner releases, including the hated Kurds, promises to cancel the “Emergency Law” that has enabled any and all violence by the regime ever since 1963), which is the worst of all possible strategies (the crackdown further enrages people, while the appeasement is taken as a sign of weakness).  The Iranians are telling him to buy time, organize a truly effective repression, and then act forcefully.  But the Iranian model is probably not a winning play, to judge by recent events there:

–Iranian Arabs in the Ahwaz oil region have risen up, first on Friday’s “Day of Rage” in which at least nine protesters were killed by the regime’s security forces, and then again on Saturday, about which there are only very early reports as I write on Saturday afternoon.  The regime doesn’t want the world to know about these protests, both because it suggests the vulnerability of the country’s major source of income, and because it shows once again that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad have failed to impose their will on a population that wants an end to the regime itself.  Thus foreign “observers” have been forbidden to travel to Ahwaz, and the disinformation mavens in Tehran staged their own “demonstrations,” claiming that the population was protesting the treatment of Shi’ites in Bahrain.  Nobody was fooled, least of all the (mostly Sunni) Ahwaz Arabs.

–The systematic sabotage of the petrochemical industry and the nation’s vital pipelines — to which I have so often referred — continues apace.  On March 15th, the Azerbaijan Movement for Democracy and Integrity in Iran claimed credit for the fiery conflagration of the big Tabriz refinery.  The facility was totally shut down for three days, and more than 100 fire-fighting vehicles took 11 hours to get the blaze under control.   The government declared a state of emergency and the security forces sealed off the area in a massive manhunt.  But no arrests were made.

–Strikes, of varying duration, in the oil sector, ranging from the big petrochemical plant at Bandar Imam to the Abadan refinery and oil fields.

–The relentless destruction of the country’s gas pipelines, which run from the southern refineries to the Turkish border.  Three major pipelines come together south of Tehran, just outside the holy city of Qom, and they were all blown up on February 11th.  After they were patched up, there was another blast on April 8th, which was branded a “terrorist attack” (nobody was prepared to believe the fairy tale about yet another accidental explosion, even though the regime’s capacity for failure and self-destruction is incomparable in the modern world).

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Gaia Joins the Global Mob

April 13th, 2011 - 6:18 am

Mafias hate free markets and free societies;  it’s bad for their “business.”  So it’s only logical that the world’s greatest criminal enterprise (aka the United Nations) should provide the setting for a fanciful scheme to destroy free enterprise.  It will come in the form of a Bolivian-sponsored global treaty promoting the “rights” of “Mother Earth.”  According to a report in Postmedia News, the Bolivian proposal will be a global version of the country’s new Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, which created a Ministry of Mother Earth in order to give Mother equal status with humans.

The new treaty reflects the long-standing efforts of the country’s leader, Evo Morales, to “save the planet” from human depredations.  To that end, Morales has proposed 10 “commandments,”  the first of which, predictably enough, is “to end capitalism.”

So Gaia’s back–although the Bolivian earth goddess goes under her local name, Pachamama–and she’s preaching statism wrapped in pseudo-religious lingo.  It’s a natural for the UN, which wants to run the planet from the banks of the East River (so long as its diplomats don’t have to pay parking tickets to the corrupt infidels of Manhattan).  It should not surprise anyone to learn that Bolivia’s main allies are members of the new tyrants’ club south of the Rio Grande:  Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua.  As luck would have it, they are also close allies of Iran and Syria.

It’s long been obvious that radical environmentalism has provided cover for statism, just as radical political movements in the modern world have substituted for traditional religion, and the Bolivian scheme elevates the cause of religious statism to planetary status.  It gives the local godfathers power akin to the Divine Rights of Kings, and, just as the Barzinis, the Corleones and their cinematic allies would sometimes gather around a conference table to draft a war plan against the Feds, the UN Treaty places the negotiating room at the end of a divine corridor of ultimate power.

It’s a glorious opportunity for an historic press conference, needless to say.  When Morales launches his Treaty, some enterprising journalist ought to ask him if Pachamama’s commandments are etched in marble.  And if so, which rapacious monster tore the tablets from  Her bleeding bosom…

The New, Improved War Cabinet

April 10th, 2011 - 8:50 pm

The president is going to have to make some policy decisions pretty soon.  About foreign and national security policy.  They will take the form of personnel changes at the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Department of Defense, but since personnel=policy, the new (or reshuffled) lineup will perhaps tell us if Mr. Obama has actually learned anything about the way the world works and America’s role in it.

Since his public statements can be used to prove most anything you wish — he’s been on virtually all sides of many crucial issues — the personnel moves will likely be enlightening, or at least helpful to those trying to figure him out.

Gates is retiring “soon,” sometime “this summer.”  So that’s one open slot.  And Mullen, the current chairman of the JCS is term-limited and must leave in September.  So that makes two.  If you believe the Washington insiders, you will bet that Leon Panetta, the current CIA director, will move to the Pentagon, that General David Petraeus, the current commander of the Afghanistan war effort, will replace Panetta in Langley, and that General “Hoss” Cartiright, Mullen’s deputy at the moment, will move up one rung.

The Cartright move is the least likely, in part because there is considerable opposition within the top military ranks.  Moreover, the JCS job is apparently Petraeus’s for the asking.  He’s certainly qualified, and although, Washington being what it is and human nature being what IT is, there are those who are less than unqualified admirers, no one will mount a campaign against him.  As against that, Petraeus doesn’t have a warm cuddly relationship with the president and with Thomas Donilon, the powerful national security adviser, while Cartright apparently does.

Indeed, one of the insiders’ favorite subplots is that Obama fears Petraeus as a political rival, whether within the system or as a Republican presidential candidate next year.  If he were at JCS, the general would have a very visible podium, but if he were at CIA he’d have to be quiet.  So it would make political sense for the president to send Petraeus to Langley and reward his buddy Cartright with the chairman’s seat at JCS.  Furthermore, the loyal Panetta would ensure that the chiefs sing from the Obama hymnal.

If you were Petraeus, what would you do?  I can’t answer that question, since I don’t know if he wants to run for public office.  He’s certainly a very political animal, and a master of public relations.  Does he fancy a run for the White House or some other such job?  If so, he’d be ill-advised to go to the CIA, where Panetta has done a splendid job protecting Obama’s back from the sort of murderous assaults that the spooks unleashed against W.  He hasn’t turned the Agency into a first-class organization, but I don’t think anyone can do that.  You can find folks close to Petraeus who believe that he might make the CIA much better, and that he might take the job because it’s so important for the future of the country.  If true, and if he goes to Langley, I would expect Petraeus to have a very difficult and unpleasant tenure.  Those guys might not know what they’re supposed to about Iran, Syria and Libya, but they know a great deal about Washington, and they have lots of willing co-conspirators in the media.

How would Panetta do at DoD?  He’s very close to Obama — which would give him at least as much leverage over policy as the cautious Gates has had — but he doesn’t seem to be a particularly vigorous policy advocate.  So what would the leverage be used for?  The most likely answer is that it would be used in reverse, in a campaign to cut the defense budget and weaken the services.  Good for Obama, bad for the country, you might say.  But he’s the president, and he’s going to head in that direction, and I would expect him to want “his guy” to manage it.

If Petraeus, acting out of character, says it’s either JCS or he’ll consider his options as a private citizen, Obama might have to find a different CIA director, and he’d likely want someone in the Panetta mold: a loyal pol.  And that’s easy, those people are all over Washington, and lots of them would love to be head of CIA, even in its diminished status under the thumb of the director of national intelligence.

What does all this tell us about policy?  What we knew in the first place:  that there isn’t anything approaching a coherent policy in this administration, and so Obama is likely to look for a War Cabinet whose members will do his bidding, whatever that might be. There’s not a single name on the list that is associated with a definable global vision, even if you expand the list to include the likes of Senator Reed, or General Odierno.  It’s all about himself, about his reelection campaign, and thus about tactical decisions with no strategic goals aside from looking cool.

Yes, they are “talented men.”  They do their jobs well.  But we’re at war and Obama isn’t very comfortable around warriors.  Which is why he seemingly wants Petraeus in internal exile.  I don’t know if he’s right about that, it’s what comes out of this little world inside the Beltway, and most of the time that stuff is wrong.

So we’ll get a bit of change, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to get reason for hope that we’re going to take the war seriously.