Category Archives: Military

Will Mattis cross the Rubicon? Or did Trump already do that?

Caesar pauses at the Rubicon, before casting the die.

Caesar pauses at the Rubicon, before casting the die.

It’s been pointed out many times now that the issue of whether to grant a waiver to allow Gen. James Mattis to become Defense secretary goes back to 1950, when Congress granted a one-time exemption to George C. Marshall.

Actually, the issue goes back much, MUCH farther than that, to Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, which signaled the pending demise of the Roman Republic.

In those days — and through much of history — generals tended to have more or less personal armies, filled with soldiers who felt they owed their fealty to the generals themselves at least as much as they did to the larger political entity that the army supposedly served. That proposed a threat to the stability of the Roman Republic, so they had a law — generals had to keep their armies out of Italy.

Julius Caesar broke that rule by taking his legion south of the Rubicon, and sure enough, republicans’ fears were realized.

I’ve always assumed that the reason I had to move around so much growing up as a Navy brat was that the U.S. military wisely keeps its officers from staying with the same unit or in the same community long enough to form those kinds of dangerous relationships — either with their troops or with local political leadership. My exposure early on to the dynamics of military coups in Latin America persuaded me of this.

(Weirdly, if you Google “why do people move so much in the military,” you don’t get that explanation. Which seems weird to me. Can anyone out there confirm whether MY understanding of the reason is correct?)

Anyway, the ironic thing here is that a lot of folks (including me to a certain extent) are painting Trump’s election as a harbinger of the demise of our own republic, as Americans turn to a strongman who promises to solve all our problems, and who has little grounding in the foundational principles of our society.

Some have drawn the comparison to Julius Caesar’s big move on Rome. Over the weekend, I enjoyed reading this piece by a historian, who wrote in The Washington Post to debunk such comparisons:

These comparisons are common. Former Supreme Court justice David Souter has said that embracing an all-powerful figure who promises to solve the nation’s problems is “how the Roman republic fell.” Augustus, Rome’s first emperor, ended democracy “because he promised that he would solve problems that were not being solved,” Souter said in the 2012 quote, which resurfaced during this fall’s campaign. Along those same lines, a Huffington Post headline claimed: “Rome Had Caesar. America Has Trump. The People Were and Are Desperate.”

But such comparisons are light on scholarship. Simply put, most experts believe there is little to compare. Yes, the United States has seen a rise in populism, but it hasn’t experienced a microgram of the violence that accompanied the fall of the Roman republic. The end came only after numerous civil wars over offices and honor , decades of gang violence in the capital, and waves of sanctioned political murder. By that measure, Trump is no Caesar…

That is somewhat reassuring. The historian is saying, I knew Caesar, and you, Mr. Trump, are no Caesar… And perhaps it’s a good thing to debunk such notions. The Secret Service would not want to see a latter-day Brutus and the rest getting ideas. Nor would I, let me say…

The reason the Trump-as-Caesar analogy strikes me as ironic is that the situation with Gen. Mattis offers the closer parallel to the actual principle involved in requiring the legion to stay in Gaul. And frankly, as I expressed earlier, I find the prospect of someone as qualified as Mattis to be a good and promising thing, by comparison with most aspects of the coming administration.

In other words, Mattis crossing the Rubicon might be a small salvation for our republic, or at least might mitigate some of the damage done by Consul Trump, who recently caused the plebeians to rise up…

rubicon2

… and then he goes ahead and crosses it, with the Legio XIII Gemina.

A post in which you can talk about Gen. Mattis

gen_james_n_mattis

Bryan Caskey complains via email, “We gonna talk foreign policy and military stuff on your blog about Mattis, or what?”

Alright, alright, already! Here’s a post about that. And here’s a story about Mattis.

Frankly, I don’t have a strong opinion on this nomination, but here are some thoughts:

  • With a complete ignoramus as commander in chief, it’s more important than ever that there be competent Cabinet members, who can keep the ship of state on some kind of rational course, at least when the White House leaves them alone to do so. This is particularly true on the national security team. And Trump’s decision to make Gen. Michael “Lock Her Up!” Flynn his national security adviser already has us in the hole on that score.
  • Mattis would seem to fit that bill. He’s a guy whose resume demonstrates that he would fully understand the missions of the Defense Department and act accordingly.
  • Then there’s the problem that Congress would have to grant an exemption that it has not granted until it did so for George C. Marshall. The law they’d have to waive arises from concerns about maintaining civilian control of the military. As y’all know, I’m not one of these post-Vietnam liberals who hyperventilate at the sight of a military uniform, fearing a real-life “Seven Days in May.” The Constitution sets the president as commander in chief, and that would seem sufficient. Well, it would under normal circumstances. Having a SecDef who is a recent general and is able to think rings around the president on military matters and foreign affairs could be a cause of concern on the fussy point of civilian control — but I personally would sleep better if I knew Mattis was calling the shots rather than the president-elect.
  • Mattis is far less trusting of Iran than President Obama. I think that is probably a healthy thing, but as Bryan would say, and this post is after all for Bryan, your mileage may vary.
  • I think it’s a very good thing that he has differed in the past from Trump on the idea of our allies getting a “free ride” on the back of U.S. power. He argued with a similar comment from President Obama once.
  • My guys John McCain and Lindsey Graham are on board, which makes me like him better. Graham finds him “an outstanding choice,” and McCain says “He is without a doubt of one of finest military officers of his generation and an extraordinary leader who inspires a rare and special admiration of his troops.”

Your thoughts?

Meanwhile, Iranian-backed rebels fire on U.S. warship

uss_mason_ddg-87

USS Mason, which was fired upon by Houthi rebels.

While the rest of us are busy listening to a tacky, self-absorbed huckster conjugating the verb “to f___,” there are real things going on out in the real world.

Leave it to our own Lindsey Graham to notice:

cubwy_bxeaegvfu

Here’s a news story on the subject.

A thumbs-up from Chuck Yeager!

Chuck Yeager X-1

OK, technically it was Mike Fitts whose Tweet got a “like” from the Man at the Top of that ol’ Pyramid. Not me.

But my name was mentioned!

Mike sent this to my attention this morning:

Which I of course immediately reTweeted. After which I saw this, to my delight:

yeager tweet

All right! I have been in contact, however indirectly, with the man with the most righteous stuff in the Twitterverse

Yeager Twitter

Graham, McCain on Trump and the Khans

Khan

OK, vacation’s over and I’m back in the saddle, and we are in mid-outrage over the latest deeply offensive nonsense from Donald Trump. And, as is so often the case, the most pointed criticism is coming from leading members of the party that nominated him week before last for POTUS:

Already, the party’s leaders in the House and the Senate have distanced themselves from Trump’s remarks, and other Republican figures are attacking their nominee forcefully.
Sen. John McCain issue a very personal statement Mondaay blasting Trump’s comments about the Khans and paying homage to their son Humayun’s sacrifice. McCain noted that his son also served in the Iraq War and the McCains have been serving in the US military for hundreds of years.

“It is time for Donald Trump to set the example for our country and the future of the Republican Party,” McCain said. “While our Party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.

“Lastly, I’d like to say to Mr. and Mrs. Khan: thank you for immigrating to America. We’re a better country because of you. And you are certainly right; your son was the best of America, and the memory of his sacrifice will make us a better nation — and he will never be forgotten.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said in a statement: “This is going to a place where we’ve never gone before, to push back against the families of the fallen. There used to be some things that were sacred in American politics — that you don’t do — like criticizing the parents of a fallen soldier even if they criticize you.”

“If you’re going to be leader of the free world, you have to be able to accept criticism. Mr. Trump can’t,” Graham said. “The problem is, ‘unacceptable’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.”…

As I noted last week (you’ll recall that I did spend most of my evenings blogging despite being on holiday, because I’m just that kinda guy), a lot of the Democratic Convention consisted of fare and themes we normally get from the Republicans — upbeat “Morning in America” patriotism, appeals to fundamental, traditional American values and the like.

Which has to be eating at Sens. McCain and Graham almost as much as anything else. Their values used to be what their party was all about. In recent years, that’s been changing, as ideological loonies have been squeezing them out. It was happening already in 2008, which is why I wrote this column, “Give me that old-time conservatism.” In 2012, the “base” (can an insurgency be called “the base?” Oh, yeah, I guess it can) reluctantly settled for the sane Mitt Romney after spending much of the primary season flitting from one extreme to another.

And this year, of course, it went screaming off the rails, which is why people such as McCain, Graham, Romney, John Kasich and the Bushes did not attend their party’s convention.

What WERE those fighter aircraft that flew over the beach?

F-111 with its wings swept back.

F-111 with its wings swept back.

At midday Monday, I was in the backyard of my parents’ beach house, about to pull the jon boat out of the lake and secure it before driving a couple of my grandchildren back to Columbia. The house is a couple of blocks from the beach at Surfside, on a small man-made pond.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of high-performance jet aircraft, and looked up. As they flashed by between a couple of pine trees, I saw two fighters for a split second. I tried to identify the planes, but could not.

Later, my wife mentioned having seen a freakishly large plane go over, which I assumed was a C-17 from Charleston.

Later, hearing that there was a beach flyover in connection with celebrations of the Fourth, I looked for news stories to learn about what I had seen. What I read wasn’t helpful:

Beachgoers at a packed Coligny Beach on Hilton Head Island were in perfect position take in the annual Salute from the Shore on Monday, July 4, 2016. Two F-16 fighter jets and a C-17 transport plane from Charleston Air Force Base roared over Coligny around 1:45 p.m., with onlookers applauding and waving American flags, saluting the country’s real heroes.

OK, what I saw were not F-16s. Maybe I hallucinated, but I could have sworn that they had variable-sweep wings, and I actually saw the wings on one of the planes sweeping back toward a parallel position with the stabilizers in that split-second.

There are no current serving military aircraft with variable-sweep wings. It that’s what I saw, that makes them either F-14 Tomcats or F-111s. They also seemed to have single tails rather than double, which would count out the F-14. (I’m not certain about the tails. Maybe the angle was bad. I saw them from 3 o’clock low, at a distance of about half a mile. One was yawing slightly, which is why I could see what the wings were doing — if I really saw that.)

The website for the event wasn’t helpful, either:

The bad news is that unfortunately, only three of the eight vintage planes are able to fly today due to mechanical issues…

However, the good news is that the one of the biggest transport planes in the American military will fly today! Charleston AFB and Joint Base Charleston will fly a C-17 on the SC coast in support of the 169th Fighter Wing F-16s and the vintage planes. This year’s Salute promises to the the best yet….

OK, so if “vintage planes” were involved, they could have been 14s or 111s. But what were they?

In the information age, it should be able to answer such a simple question, when thousands of people saw the things.

But the info just doesn’t seem to be available.

I know it’s a small thing, but stuff like this bugs me. Partly because, as a longtime newspaper editor, I’ve had to deal too much with most journalists’ combined ignorance and lack of interest in military hardware and a number of other topics (firearms, religion, science) that tend to hit news media in a numb spot.

If you assume people are interested in these “vintage planes,” whether you are the organizer or a reporter covering the event, why wouldn’t you tell people what they were?

F-14 Tomcat

F-14 Tomcat

General, you might want to spread your troops out a bit

ClevNgYWYAAMQks

Ran across this photo when the U.S. Army Tweeted it out in celebration of National Selfie Day — which apparently is a thing — earlier this week.

It shows Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, posing with some of his troops.

All I could think was that in a combat situation — and the way they’re decked out it certainly looks like a combat situation — a formation like this would be suicidal. One mortar round, and that’s it.

I’d just feel a lot better if they were spread out in a proper skirmish line.

Beyond that, it just looks ridiculous… it sort of cracked me up.

HOW many guys are passing the new Marine fitness test?

'The fitness test? You can't HANDLE the fitness test!'

‘The fitness test? You can’t HANDLE the fitness test!’

I don’t intend to get into the underlying issue of women in the infantry — I’ve intended to ever since that mandate came down from civilian leadership, but I just haven’t felt up to the huge and predictable argument that would lead to — but in reading this I felt motivated to make some remarks on general fitness in the Marines:

New physical standards established so women can compete for combat posts in the Marine Corps have weeded out many of the female hopefuls. But they’re also disqualifying some men, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.

In the last five months, 6 out of 7 female recruits – and 40 out of about 1,500 male recruits – failed to pass the new regimen of pull-ups, ammunition-can lifts, a 3-mile run and combat maneuvers required to move on in training for combat jobs, according to the data.USMC-logo2

The tests, taken about 45 days into basic training, force recruits who fail into other, less physically demanding Marine jobs. And that, the Marine commandant says, is making the Corps stronger.

The high failure rate for women, however, raises questions about how well integration can work, including in Marine infantry units where troops routinely slog for miles carrying packs weighed down with artillery shells and ammunition, and at any moment must be able to scale walls, dig in and fight in close combat.

The new standards are a product of the Pentagon’s decision to allow women to compete for frontline jobs, including infantry, artillery and other combat posts. But Marine leaders say they are having a broader impact by screening out less physically powerful Marines – both men and women.

“I think that’s made everybody better,” Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told the AP in his first in-depth interview on the subject. “We’re trying to raise everybody’s bar a little bit and we’re trying to figure out how to get closer together, because at the end of the day we’re all going to be on the battlefield and we all have to be able to do our job.”…

I have a series of reactions to this:

  • These new standards are only eliminating 40 out of 1,500 male recruits? That doesn’t sound like the Marines to me. They’re supposed to be the few, not the 1,460 out of 1,500. Were the ratios always like this? If so, that sort of tarnishes the image I have in my head of the Marines as an elite force. Even the Army, at the very height of WWII, was rejecting a third of draftees. I really that’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but still — wouldn’t you think more Marine recruits than that would wash out, if standards were what they should be?
  • Assuming for a moment that we’re all in agreement that women should be in foxholes, I don’t think we have any reason to look at 6 out of 7 women washing out of an elite light infantry unit as bad news. Seems to me that the best argument always advanced for letting women in is that we should treat people like individuals — that we shouldn’t say, just because most women lack, say, the upper body strength to keep up with male Marines, that all women should categorically be barred. Shouldn’t we make exceptions for, say, the Lady Briennes of Tarth among us? That always seemed a good argument to me. (I,for one, would not want to be the officer deputed to tell Lady Brienne she was out, especially since Ser Jaime let her keep that Valyrian steel sword). Besides, if six women don’t make it, the more honor to the seventh.
  • What happened to the notion of “every Marine a rifleman?” Should Marines keep the feathermerchants who can’t pass a test that 97 percent of male recruits can pass? What’s this about “other, less physically demanding Marine jobs?” When did the Marines start offering such jobs? I’ve always known the Army had places for the less fit — or at least they did in the days of the draft, when things like food service weren’t outsourced to civilian contractors and you could always put a sad sack to work peeling spuds or policing the area for butts — but since when is that an aspect of the Marines? They’re the point of the spear, are they not? Let the swabbies do the paperwork, right? Every marine is a rifleman.

I should probably stop there before I offend the Air Force, too.

But when I hear that almost all male recruits can pass the new physical requirements, it makes me think that even I, at my age, might have a shot. And I really like to think of the Marines as having higher standards than that…

Guadalcanal: A U.S. Marine patrol crosses the Matanikau River in September 1942.

Guadalcanal: A U.S. Marine patrol crosses the Matanikau River in September 1942.

Micah Caskey, Republican, S.C. House District 89

Micah Caskey

Micah Caskey

The Caskeys and the Warthens have some common history, although it’s from before my time. Remember when I mentioned that my mother was writing her childhood memories, and I was typing them and creating a blog for them? Well she made prominent mention of “Hop” Caskey, who was a teacher and coach at Bennettsville High School in the ’40s, and his wife, “Madam.” They were good friends of my mother’s family — they used to buy season tickets together for Tarheel football so they could go see Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice play.

"Madam" and "Hop" Caskey

“Madam” and “Hop” Caskey

Well, those were Micah Caskey’s great-grandparents. I was happy to be able to share with him recently a picture of them that he’d never seen before. By the way, the photographer in the foreground is Jimmy Covington, who’s been a fixture in Columbia media circles for decades. He was at BHS with my Mom.

Still, I’d never met him until back in March, when he filed to run for Kenny Bingham’s House seat. We had a wide-ranging conversation about values and policies. Unfortunately, if I took notes I can’t find them. At the time, my main aim was to find out whether this was a someone I wanted to run against, so I don’t think I took notes at all. I was looking for an overall impression.

And the overall impression was this: I was reluctant to run against him because dang it, not only is he a Marine combat veteran, but it was eerie how many things we agreed on. Of all the things we talked about, there was one thing we sharply differed on, and now I’ve forgotten what it was.

So for blogging purposes, that was a useless interview (aside from getting the photo above). But fortunately you can find out about him at his website. He lives in Springdale, and he’s an assistant solicitor in the 11th Circuit solicitor’s office (the one Rick Hubbard and Candice Lively are competing to run). I asked him why he didn’t just run for solicitor, and he said others seeking the office had more experience than he did.

The son of a locksmith, he’s the product of Lexington 2 schools and the University of Florida. He describes his military service thusly:

After college, Micah spent the next several years on active duty in the Marine Corps—rising to the rank of Captain. Micah commanded both company and platoon-sized units during his two combat tours of duty in Fallujah and Ramadi, Iraq. Later, in 2009, Micah left law school for a year to continue his service to the country. It was during that year that he commanded a small team of specialized Marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

He obtained his law degree from USC, plus a master’s in international business from the Darla Moore School. He worked as a management consultant in the oil and gas industry for awhile before joining the solicitor’s office.

Here are the issues he’s running on (which are pretty similar to the ones his runoff opponent, Tem Miles, cites):

  • I want to get government working for us. America is at its best when individuals and private businesses are pursuing life, liberty, and happiness — not when wrapped up in bureaucratic red tape.
  • I’ll fight to fix South Carolina’s roads and bridges. I’ll work for meaningful reforms that innovate the way our state government functions. We need accountability and transparency.
  • I will be a voice for public safety. Last October, when the floods came, our first responders answered the call. I’ll help ensure we are ready for the unexpected.
  • I’ll fight to ensure that South Carolina continues to be a friendly place for our military to call home. As a veteran, I know what it means to serve. I want South Carolina to remain a magnet for our military, our servicemembers, and our veterans.

That’s all from his website. One thing you won’t find there (or on his opponent’s site, either) are a lot of details about how he would accomplish the above. He says he’s following political advice on that, which runs against the grain because “I want to just tell people what I think about everything.” But he realizes that unless he has an hour to get into the nuances and layers of each position with each voter, it’s easy to be misunderstood when you get into specifics.MicahCaskey_Logo_v02

(I nodded when he said that. As you know, I am no fan of campaign promises. Tell people who you are, describe your experience and your overall interests in running. But don’t say exactly what you’re going to do, because you don’t know what you’ll be dealing with into office, and you don’t want to trapped by promises into doing something that turns out to be dumb under the circumstances.)

“Taking absolutist positions isn’t useful” because “I’ve seen how layered and complicated things can be.” To take one buzzphrase, he mentions “limited government.”

“What does that mean?” he asks. He prefers to say he likes “smart government,” but even there, you have to do a lot of explaining. For an example, he says, he’d do away with having to go to “15 different offices to start a small business.”

Bottom line,”I think I’m a common-sense candidate, a pragmatist.” He notes that someone called him a “consensus candidate,” a guy who would work with anyone from anywhere on the political spectrum who would help pass sensible legislation.

He accepts service on that.

Being about the age of my kids, he has run on the slogan of “A New Generation of Leadership.” That seems to have served him well over the much-older Bill Banning and Billy Oswald.

Now, he’s up against a contemporary and fellow attorney, Tem Miles. On June 28, GOP runoff voters will decide which young man they want representing them in this relatively new century.

Just to take note of what happened on this date in 1944

Approaching Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.

Approaching Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.

I don’t have anything new to say about it at the moment, but I thought I’d take note of the date.

Today was the day that the United States, Great Britain, Canada and our other allies put 175,000 men onto a hostile shore. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had done everything he could to keep them off of it, and to ensure that if they did land, they would die.

But we managed it anyway. Or rather, our forebears did.

Who were these guys we sent to do this thing? One of the most interesting paragraphs in Stephen Ambrose’s book about the invasion is this one:

GI

Look at this one sentence again: “He was twenty-six years old, five feet eight inches tall, weighed 144 pounds, had a thirty-three-and-a-half-inch chest, and a thirty-one-inch waist.”

These were little guys! Even after they’d bulked up, their chests were 34.5 inches! Today they’d have to go to the boys’ department to buy a sport coat.

But they got the job done.

Allied_Invasion_Force

Memorial Day music: Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers in Arms’

Heard this on the radio this morning, and as usual it shifted me into a different state of consciousness.

It’s not the words or anything obvious like that. It’s just the otherworldly mood that the song creates.

Anyway, it occurred to me after I heard it that maybe it was being played in honor of Memorial Day.

In that spirit, I share it.

I find myself reminded of this other little-known James Taylor song — a song fragment, really — from his “Mud Slide Slim” album, which I’ve always thought had its own mildly hypnotic effect. I was always struck by the sudden shift in tone — from the battle-weary soldiers “with eleven sad stories to tell” to the narrator and his very different reality — after which the song abruptly ends. It was like suddenly awaking from a dream — or, to invoke an obscure reference, like the effect when Don Juan suddenly slapped Carlos Castaneda on the back, sending him into a state of heightened awareness.

It may seem an odd way to mark Memorial Day — these lyrical expressions from pop musicians who never heard a shot fired in anger. But that’s what I have for you today.

Here’s why we have to stay in NATO, Donald

Germany quiz

OK, there are a lot of reasons, but here’s a dumbed-down, grunt-grunt macho one he might actually understand:

We need to make sure Germany stays on our side.

Somehow I missed this news last week, until it turned up on the Slate News Quiz today:

Six NATO countries squared off last week in the Strong Europe Tank Challenge, a two-day competition that pitted some of the alliance’s best tank crews against each another in a series of events centered on armored warfare.

The challenge, which concluded Thursday and was held in Grafenwoehr, Germany, was the first of its kind there since 1991. The competition was designed to foster “military partnership” while showcasing the ability of NATO countries to work together, according to a U.S. Army statement.

Germany took top honors in the competition, followed by Denmark and Poland in second place and third place respectively.

The challenge, co-hosted by U.S. Army Europe and the German Bundeswehr, is a nod to the Cold War era and a tacit acknowledgment that NATO will need well-trained conventional forces if it ever has to go to war with a newly-emboldened Russia….

Back the last time we weren’t on the same team as ze Germans, they had the best tanks (and the Leopard 2A6s they won with this time look, to my untrained eye, creepily like Tigers). But we won by showing up with way MORE of them than they could produce. We tried that this time, too — every other country sent a single tank platoon to the competition, but we sent two. To no avail, as it turned out. They beat us anyway.

Good thing they’re on our side now. We need to keep it that way, despite what Donald Trump says….

German Leopard 2A6M with turret reversed

German Leopard 2A6M with turret reversed

Putinism on the high seas: Su-24s buzz U.S. destroyer

close

Somehow I missed this yesterday, so I thought I’d share the picture and video in case you did, too.

This is Putinist machismo taken to the edge and beyond.

Remember in “Top Gun” when the captain of the U.S. aircraft career refused to tolerate Russian fighters getting within 250 miles of his vessel? Apparently, we’ve gotten a LOT more tolerant of Russian aggression since the Cold War (or, you know, “Top Gun” was B.S.). In fact, you can’t get any more tolerant without them losing a plane and us perhaps losing a ship.

The chief of naval operations gave the captain and crew of USS Donald Cook a big “Bravo Zulu” for “their initiative and toughness in how they handled themselves during this incident.”

Wow, even John Kerry is more hawkish than POTUS

THIS guy's more hawkish than the president?

THIS guy’s more hawkish than the president?

I’m not sure I go along fully with the premise of David Brooks’ most recent column (“Dogs, Cats and Leadership,” March 11), but I was very impressed by the anecdote with which it began:

When he was in the middle of his Syrian peace deal negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry would go to President Obama with a request: Could the U.S. quietly send a few cruise missiles to hit Assad regime targets, just to send a message and maybe move the Syrian president toward a deal.

“Kerry’s looking like a chump with the Russians, because he has no leverage,” a senior administration official told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.

Obama continually said no, and eventually grew impatient. Goldberg asked Kerry if he thought he has more of a bias toward action than Obama. “I do probably,” Kerry responded. “I’d say that I think we’ve had a very symbiotic, synergistic, whatever you call it, relationship which works very effectively. Because I’ll come in with a bias toward ‘Let’s try to do this, let’s try to do that, let’s get this done.’”…

Wow. I mean, I knew President Obama was the most reluctant to act militarily within his administration — as Brooks notes later, “His senior advisers were shocked when he announced” that he would not back up his “red line” in Syria.

But to be so markedly dovish in comparison to John Kerry, whose personal legend is so wrapped up in his antiwar activism?

That’s fascinating. Particularly when you consider the president’s willingness to use drones far more than his predecessor, and to send the SEALs in to get bin Laden (the riskiest of the options, which included simply bombing the compound).

Perhaps this POTUS is a bit of a cat — the deadliest of pets, yet inscrutable…

So what’s next? Photoshopped pictures of them playing with dolls?

I’m reacting to this, which David Frum reTweeted yesterday:

Assuming this is for real and not some right-wing hoax, I’ve gotta say to the Iranians, Really, guys? Don’t you think you’ve wrung enough out of the “humiliating the Great Satan” shtick? Do you really want everybody in this country to hate the nuclear deal?

Iranians take two U.S. Navy vessels; U.S. sailors in custody

U.S. Navy Small Unit Riverine Craft (SURC)

U.S. Navy Small Unit Riverine Craft (SURC)

This is not a promising situation:

Two small U.S. Navy vessels appear to be in Iranian custody but their crews will be released promptly, the Pentagon confirmed Tuesday.

Two U.S. naval craft were en route from Kuwait to Bahrain when they disappeared from the Navy’s scopes. The incident marks the latest run-in between Iranian and U.S. crews. In late December, Iranian gunboats fired unguided missiles almost a 1,000 yards away from the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman.

A U.S. official said that the boats were small riverine variants and may have ran out of gas or had mechanical issues and were believed to have been within 12 nautical miles of Iran when they broke down….

This prompts a number of questions, such as:

  • Two boats broke down at the same time in the same place? Or did Iran do something to cause them to “break down?” Or did one break down and the other was rendering aid? What happened?
  • What kind of boats were these? What’s a “small riverine variant”? Are they like P.B.R.s? Swift boats? P.T. boats? How are they configured and crewed? What are they designed to do? What’s the mission? (UPDATE: Apparently, these were Small Unit Riverine Craft. A picture is posted above.)
  • If our sailors are not released promptly, then what?
  • I missed the news about the Truman incident. What was our response? That is, what did we do after we sank the gunboats? (No, I know we didn’t, or I would have heard about it.)

 

WWII: The experience that everyone shared (and yeah, I know that’s a huge cliche)

Everyone, that is, except me, people around my age and of course, those much younger.

And yeah, I know the ubiquity of the war experience is pretty much a cliche, but I keep getting reminded of it in ways that make the notion seem fresh.

My history classes in school never got around to the war, even when it was right there, near the end of the textbook. I always sort of figured it was a low priority for my teachers because in their minds, well, “we all lived through it, right?” So I had to read about the events that most immediately shaped the world I grew up in on my own.

In typing my mother’s childhood memoirs, I’m reminded yet again of how the war shaped the lives even of those who never went overseas.

So I know all that, and have known it since childhood, but every time I run across by-the-way mentions of the war experiences of various famous people, I’m reminded that, unlike Vietnam and definitely unlike the War on Terror, pretty much everyone who was eligible did go.

61t3in9FBcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Last night, I started reading one of the books I received for Christmas, Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge, by Anthony Beevor. (It was sort of an ironic experience, opening that present and seeing on the cover the beleaguered soldier in the snow — on a Christmas Day in the 70s.)

On the second page, I had another of those “Wow, everybody was in this” experiences. The author was explaining how, in August 1944, things were still unsettled in newly liberated Paris, which is why Eisenhower was pretty much ignoring FDR’s wishes and showing support for de Gaulle, who he believed could stabilize things in his rear while his troops moved on to Germany.

Within that context, I read this, in the middle of a paragraph:

…Together with a comrade, the writer J.D. Salinger, a Counter Intelligence Corps staff sergeant with the 4th Infantry Division, had arrested a suspect in an action close to the Hôtel de Ville, only for the crowd to drag him away and beat him to death in front of their eyes….

I mean, think about it: This guy was a famous recluse my whole life. We all knew two things about Salinger: He wrote The Catcher in the Rye, and he was a recluse. You didn’t see him anywhere. And yet here he is popping up in the middle of things in Paris during the war.

Ex-Sgt. Salinger

Ex-Sgt. Salinger

Months later, in the battle that this book is about, Kurt Vonnegut would be captured, along with my father-in-law — both soldiers in the ill-fated 106th Infantry Division, that new unit of green troops who had been placed at the center of the line, where things were supposed to be quiet.

I’m not a student of Salinger — if I were, I’d be well aware of his extensive experience in the war — but it immediately occurred to me that maybe experiences such as that one in Paris help explain why he turned into such a hermit. And sure enough, I see that he was hospitalized for a few weeks with “combat stress reaction” — although he waited until the Germans were defeated to have his breakdown.

Anyway, it’s just a small thing, a footnote, but such things interest me….

We didn’t have people in Syria ALREADY?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dang, y’all, I wrote this Friday and thought I posted it. But I didn’t. So here it is…

Lindsey Graham, in his role as the hawk on the campaign trail, isn’t about to give POTUS credit for anything these days:

GRAHAM ON PRESIDENT OBAMA SENDING 50 SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES TO SYRIA

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on the news President Obama is willing to send up to fifty Special Operations Forces to Syria.

“President Obama is putting fifty brave Americans at risk without a clear strategy of how to degrade and destroy ISIL.

“ISIL is not going to be intimidated by this move.  In fact, ISIL will see this as yet another sign of President Obama’s weakness.

“ISIL is all-in for their horrific agenda and demented view of the world.  Unfortunately, President Obama is not all in when it comes to degrading and destroying ISIL.  Today’s announcement again reinforces that view.”

#####

If Obama doesn’t send troops, he’s soft on terror. If he does, then he’s doing it without thinking it through. POTUS can’t win.

But the senator does have kind of a point. Even though these are some of our toughest troops, 50 of them aren’t going to tip the balance. So, what is the plan? What’s it gonna be then, eh? Are we in or are we out.

Frankly, I would have hoped that we had at least that many snake-eaters here and there in the country already, on the QT — maintaining contacts with friendlies, advising, and most of all collecting intel for if and when we go in officially. We’re supposedly already doing some training and providing weapons — well, who’s doing that? OK, the CIA. But still — do they not wear boots? Do they not go armed? Perhaps not.

But I guess this represents some sort of departure from what we’ve been doing. Otherwise, there’d be no point in making an announcement about a troop movement this small. What would amount to half a company were they conventional troops. Which of course they’re not.

Bottom line, what’s the plan? What is the difference we intend for these 50 men to make?

This is why readers see media as negative

I couldn’t help reacting this way this morning:

Yeah, I know: The first American soldier killed in Iraq in four years is definitely news. But, of course, the reason no Americans have been killed is that we haven’t had Americans engaged in combat on the ground for four years. I can see how, if we had been conducting successful commando raids in Iraq every week, and this was the first time we’d lost a man, then yeah, that casualty would be the one fact you would choose for your headline if you could only fit in one.

To me, looking at the big picture here, it seems that the main news is that we sent men into ground combat in Iraq for the first time in four years. See it as good news or bad news, that’s the news. That, and the fact that the action was successful. The loss of a man is important, and terrible, but it is a result of the first thing, which is the big news…

And hey, you couldn’t work in that the raid succeeded in saving 70 people who were about to be killed and dumped into mass graves? No, they weren’t exactly the peshmerga fighters we went in to save, but apparently we still saved 70 people from the bad guys.

I honor Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler. He was a great soldier, as I know from the fact that he was with Delta Force. We — and those people he helped save — owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. I am in awe of what he did, and his sacrifice.

But I would not have mentioned his death as the only thing worth noting about that raid.

Let’s take ourselves out of our immediate, narrow, 2015 frame of reference and consider another example, from another time…

Lt. Den Brotheridge was the first Allied soldier killed on D-Day. He is known for that, and honored for it. He was charging a German position across the bridge now known as Pegasus Bridge just minutes after midnight, leading his glider-borne platoon that had just crash-landed a few yards away.

But what we remember is that his British unit, part of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, took that bridge, which was critically important to protecting the landings that would begin on the nearby beaches a few hours later.

We remember Lt. Brotheridge for the way he died. He is not forgotten. But we remember the deed, the feat of arms, and why it mattered, more. Stephen Ambrose’s book about that remarkable coup de main operation is named “Pegasus Bridge,” not “The Death of Den Brotheridge.”

But we don’t look at things that way any more, do we?

‘What dreams are made of:’ Your own, personal flamethrower

Our discussions about gun control go nowhere, so let’s talk about this.

A flamethrower and a BIG ol' tank of gasoline: What could possibly go wrong?

A flamethrower and a BIG ol’ tank of gasoline: What could possibly go wrong?

“You might ast yerself, what is this? Well, ah’m ‘one tell ya. This, my friends, is what dreams are made of,” says the crusty, country-fried Santa in the video above. “Look at that, would ya. Heh-heh, ha-HAAAH! Ah’m talkin’ ’bout get some fer sure. Guys, this is a XM42 personal flamethrower.” When he gets to the word “personal,” he tilts his head forward and peers out knowingly from under his brows, letting each and every one a you red-blooded viewers know that he sees into your innermost desires, and knows this is what you’ve always wanted.

Or, as the boys at Bennettsville High School when I was in the 9th grade would have said had they seen this, “GOT-tawmighty!”

I learned from The Washington Post today that:

Anyone with $899 and an Internet connection can buy one.

No background checks, no permits, and in 48 states, no regulation….

Which are the two states that would presume to stand in the way of your God-given right to burn s__t up at will? Well, California — the ultimate left-coast Nanny state — requires a permit. Maryland outright bans them.

I must confess that — perhaps because the Warthen part of my family tree hails from Maryland — I have, shall we say, reservations about the ready availability of these weapons. I’ve always thought there was something a little unsavory and shall we say unsportsmanlike about them. Oh, I’m sure that if I were a grunt on Iwo Jima or Normandy, I’d welcome them as a way of frying the machine-gunners who’d been killing my buddies from the safety of a concrete pillbox. But in playing a Red Army sniper in Call of Duty: World at War, I always aimed for the Germans with the tanks on their backs first. No one wants to be on the receiving end of one of these things, even in virtual reality.

The political battle lines are drawn. On his first day in office, President Obama signed a three-decade-old U.N. ban on the use of napalm and flamethrowers (some of which use napalm as fuel) on civilians.

Now, civilians can have their very own flamethrowers in most of this country. And as the guy in the video says, “As always, keep up the fight against flamethrower control… and gun control. And remember, Big Daddy loves yuh. Oo-rah!”