mm186: War with Iran: Inevitable?

November 6, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The potential catastrophe of Iran just keeps scaling up. William Arkin, the Washington Post‘s excellent commentator on military affairs updated us Nov. 2 in his Early Warning blog:

arkinearlywarning

The presidential campaigns can’t get enough of talk about Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the Bush administration’s eagerness to go to war. Thirty U.S. senators, including Hillary Clinton, sent a letter to President Bush yesterday, reminding him that “no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action in Iran.” Meanwhile, Barack Obama submitted a Senate resolution, also emphasizing that congress must explicitly authorize military action, and that, in regards to Iran, it hasn’t done that so far.

Let me say now, based on my discussions with Pentagon insiders and observers and more than 30 years following the military: We are not going to war with Iran. At least we are not going to start a war now or any time soon. At least not intentionally [emphasis MUDGE].

Can’t help but land hard on that sentence. How much tragedy has the present administration caused, both intentionally and not, over the past nearly seven years?

Way too much, and one can’t help believing that for all of the hidden agendas, the sweetheart procurement deals on a $trillion scale, and the subversion of the workings of government to religious extremism (we’re still talking the U.S. here, folks, we haven’t started in on Iran!), much of the ongoing catastrophe has been the result of inattention and a view of the geopolitical world seemingly so narrow as to be detectable only with an electron microscope.

So, Iran. Maker’s of world class mischief in Syria and Lebanon, interfering almost overtly in Iraq, chief exporter of Islamofascism and terrorism to the western world, and working hard to launch a nuke into Tel Aviv.

It’s symmetry: Now we’re talking about subversion of the Iranian government to religious extremism, a process that the U.S. made inevitable during nearly 30 years of lavish support of the corrupt Shah they illegally put in place. The U.S. has many decades of petrodiplomacy to answer for.

Arkin’s take on the election rhetoric is that the candidates’ words and deeds on the subject of Iran are only making Iran more nervous about U.S. intentions, and that can’t help anything.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Keep It Down – Early Warning

Mr. Arkin, everyone is supposed to quiet down so that we don’t provoke Iran into doing sooner what they seem to have every intention of doing eventually?

Everyone is supposed to quiet down so that the cooler military heads (compared to the raving maniacs of the administration) can remain coolly overwhelmed by the two official wars that the administration has tasked them with?

It’s a great idea but I just don’t see the candidates of either party letting such a juicy rhetorical target go by, with 440 days of 24-hour campaigning still to be filled.

It’s a great idea, but I just don’t know that Iran will wait for a new, somewhat more diplomatic and worldly U.S. administration.

And I have to reluctantly venture the fear that I don’t know whether Israel can afford to wait.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm183: Abolish the Air Force

November 2, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

From the “If it’s the weekend, it must be military” department, we bring you this fascinating analysis from The American Prospect.

Was sent this earlier today by MUDGE‘s ex-Navy son, who was interested, as is his parent, not due to his parochial leanings toward the maritime forces, but rather due to his interest in history, especially military history.

And the thesis here is based, not only on the present straitened circumstances in which the U.S. Air Force finds itself, fighting in conflicts using techniques in which it has little interest, and causing as a result inexcusable amounts of what is delicately called collateral damage.

No, the analysis expertly recounts the troubled history of the Air Force, built from the first on a flawed premise: the value of strategic bombing.

americanprospect

Abolish the Air Force

What it does on its own — strategic bombing — isn’t suited to modern warfare. What it does well — its tactical support missions — could be better managed by the Army and Navy. It’s time to break up the Air Force.

Robert Farley | November 1, 2007

In August of this year, reports emerged that British Army officers in Afghanistan had requested an end to American airstrikes in Helmand Province because the strikes were killing too many civilians there. In Iraq, the Lancet Study of Iraqi civilian casualties of the war suggested that airstrikes have been responsible for roughly 13 percent of those casualties, or somewhere in the range of 50,000 to 100,000 deaths.

This watershed comes at a particularly important time, as the Air Force observed its 60th anniversary this past September.

But it’s time to revisit the 1947 decision to separate the Air Force from the Army. While everyone agrees that the United States military requires air capability, it’s less obvious that we need a bureaucratic entity called the United States Air Force. The independent Air Force privileges airpower to a degree unsupported by the historical record. This bureaucratic structure has proven to be a continual problem in war fighting, in procurement, and in estimates of the costs of armed conflict. Indeed, it would be wrong to say that the USAF is an idea whose time has passed. Rather, it’s a mistake that never should have been made.

As a child of the 50s and 60s MUDGE cut his teeth on Joseph Heller’s Catch 22, which ought to be required reading for all (and which I believe helped make draft dodgers out of huge swathes of the sons of the Greatest Generation, whose Air Force Heller eviscerates).

So I’ve long been suspicious of the value of strategic bombing, which was designed to undermine the enemy’s ability to prosecute war by crippling its industrial base, and as the years have passed, and my reading of history has expanded well beyond the comic novel, my suspicions have become sureties.

Before we continue, I need to stop.

What is written here is meant to cast no aspersions on the competence, courage and loyalty of the personnel in the cockpits and the equally dedicated people who support them on the ground. Indeed the official nephew of Mr. and Mrs. MUDGE is completing his senior year at a major university as a high performing member of Air Force ROTC and we couldn’t be prouder.

This is about the generals and the politicians who coddle them. Strategic and not tactical. I love you gals and guys in the trenches, and the shiny (or anti-reflective stealthy as the case may be) warbirds you fly and you keep in the air. This is only about those who direct you from the air conditioned D.C. offices. Those guys.

Okay, back to the story.

During the first years of the U.S. involvement in the European theater of World War II, strategic bombing was the only way for the U.S. to take the fight to Germany, but was a terribly costly way, and did not provide the overwhelming blow that its then Army Air Force proponents promised.

But, strategic bombing is what the Air Force was selling, and just after the successful end of the war Congress bought it.

Strategic bombing performed by the now independent Air Force did lots of work, but failed to win the wars against North Korea, or North Vietnam.

Arguably, airpower did succeed on its own in bringing victory in the 1999 Kosovo War. For 78 days, the NATO alliance bombed Serbian military and infrastructure targets in order to force Serbia’s withdrawal from the province of Kosovo. After increasingly serious threats of a ground invasion and the end of Russian support, Serbia succumbed to the NATO occupation of Kosovo. Even acknowledging the decisiveness of the airstrikes, however, the ability of a small country to stand against the world’s most powerful military alliance for almost three months does not speak well of the coercive capacity of modern airpower.

And now, strategic bombing seems to have an uncertain place in the type of asymmetric warfare the U.S. is fighting today.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Abolish the Air Force | The American Prospect

There has been something “off” about the Air Force, especially in recent years. The scandals at the Air Force Academy, which as one of the comments to the American Prospect story reminds us, is increasingly fundamentalist Christian in its orientation (anyone recall separation of church and state?) and where sexual harassment (an unfortunate and nasty feature at all of the military academies) has been particularly ugly.

Another aside: During the years the official son of Mr. and Mrs. MUDGE was a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, we were proud members of the local parents organization, so we were in a better position than most to understand the very much harder than hard road that women midshipmen and cadets face at all of the Academies. And now one of those stalwart women, who went on to distinguished service in Japan, the Gulf and Washington, D.C., is now our lovely daughter-in-law. Are we lucky!

A third aside: I remember distinctly learning from a Naval Academy recruiter at one of those parents association meetings in the early 1990s that at the time, due to the post Cold War drawdowns of forces, there were actually more flight berths on offer to graduates of the Naval Academy (remember, all those floating airports, the Navy’s carriers) than for the Air Force.

Off.

Finally, as covered in several posts here recently, the air is increasingly filling with remotely piloted aircraft, the UAVs and UCAVs, most of them flown by enlisted personnel at consoles thousands of miles away. Not exactly Eddie Rickenbacker or Chuck Yeager, is it?

predatora

Did you catch the heart of the argument?

If strategic bombing won independence for the Air Force, yet strategic bombing cannot win wars, it’s unclear why the Air Force should retain its independence.

Indeed.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE

Note!: the link to Amazon.com used above is for the convenience of faithful reader and represents no commercial relationship whatsoever. Left-Handed Complement should be so fortunate as to ever collect remuneration of any kind for this endeavor. I can link, so I link. It’s technology. It’s cool. Deal with it.

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mm173: Legalize all drugs!

October 19, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Earlier this week, the failed U.S. war on drugs was discussed in this space.

Turns out that a high ranking provincial law enforcement officer in Britain believes that the UK’s version is just as pointless as its U.S. cousin’s.

theindependent

By Jonathan Brown and David Langton

Published: 15 October 2007

One of Britain’s most senior police officers is to call for all drugs – including heroin and cocaine – to be legalised and urges the Government to declare an end to the “failed” war on illegal narcotics.

Richard Brunstrom, the Chief Constable of North Wales, advocates an end to UK drug policy based on “prohibition”. His comments come as the Home Office this week ends the process of gathering expert advice looking at the next 10 years of strategy.

In his radical analysis, which he will present to the North Wales Police Authority today, Mr Brunstrom points out that illegal drugs are now cheaper and more plentiful than ever before.

The number of users has soared while drug-related crime is rising with narcotics now supporting a worldwide business empire second only in value to oil. “If policy on drugs is in future to be pragmatic not moralistic, driven by ethics not dogma, then the current prohibitionist stance will have to be swept away as both unworkable and immoral, to be replaced with an evidence-based unified system (specifically including tobacco and alcohol) aimed at minimisation of harms to society,” he will say.

The war on drugs benefits the prison-industrial complex, but not society.

Statistics are useful in this context. In Scotland, for example,

… he notes that figures from the Chief Medical Officer have found that, in Scotland, 13,000 people died from tobacco-related use in 2004 while 2,052 died as a result of alcohol. Illegal drugs, meanwhile, accounted for 356 deaths. The maximum penalty for possessing a class A drug is 14 years in prison while supplying it carries a life term.

The main way that illegal drugs kill is due to the crimes committed in dealing them, or supporting the habit. Decriminalize drugs, and the profit and crime will go away.

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Legalise all drugs: chief constable demands end to ‘immoral laws’ – Independent Online Edition > UK Politics

So here’s a sensible man, neck deep in the problem but still able to see further than most, who says,

* Mr Brunstrom says: “If policy on drugs is in the future to be pragmatic not moralistic, driven by ethics not dogma, then the current prohibitionist stance will have to be swept away as both unworkable and immoral. Such a strategy leads inevitably to the legalisation and regulation of all drugs.”

“Not moralistic” is the key phrase. The U.S. does moralistic all too well, and it buys us nothing but unwinnable wars and the growing disapprobation of a growing percentage of the thinking world.

So, risking repetition, let me invoke our previous judgement. Here’s MUDGE‘s prescription for our drug problem, as endorsed, I would like to think, by the mayor of San Francisco as well as the Chief Constable of North Wales.

Set a price for heroin and cocaine and the like that includes a tax to fund drug abuse treatment programs — I’m guessing the “street” price will still, tax and all, come in at far less than the price available from the Colombian-supplied junkie down that alley.

But, keep a few law enforcement agents around, to throw the book at the creeps who persist in selling to children.

Make medical marijuana freely available at a fair price by prescription, again at the state stores where legal identification can be assured.

Just as organized crime found new things to do in 1933, if you take criminality out of the drug supply industry, drug related crime will dry up just as promptly. Fear not for the poor farmers in Bolivia, Peru and Afghanistan with their poppy fields. They will remain in business, paid though by the U.S. government rather than by criminal cartels.

Of course, there’s always a down side. This program would leave thousands of judges, bailiffs, court clerks, prosecutors, defense attorneys, sheriffs’ deputies, wardens and guards out of work.

Probably an acceptable price for the reduction, even elimination, of the casually violent drive-by shootings that kill innocent 10 year olds.

Use some of that obsolete war on drugs budget to retrain the judges, bailiffs, clerks, lawyers, deputies, and guards.

Teach them web page development and Java. Create something useful.

Maybe we can once again compete with Bengaluru.

Another pointless war we can end. Why not now?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm168: We’re fighting more than one pointless war!

October 12, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The U.S. has always been this very strange dichotomy: a Puritanical streak a mile wide, uneasily coexisting with gaudy decadence.

We prohibited alcohol consumption by Constitutional amendment in 1920. The result: organized crime in this country became an ingrained institution, and every solid citizen knew a bootlegger. The Great Experiment ended with repeal of prohibition in 1933.

Oddly, organized crime is still with us, having survived to evolve toward other more lucrative (i.e., still illegal) venues. Such as gambling, sex, even tobacco.

And drugs.

Gambling had always been an underground phenomenon, save for a couple of pockets (Nevada and Atlantic City). Then, 35 years ago, state sponsored lotteries began to appear on the scene, leading to the next step, the oddly constrained riverboat and tribal casinos that now populate so many parts of the nation.

Gambling, always a pernicious and destructive habit, is now state sanctioned, making it possible for working stiffs and stiffettes who couldn’t raise busfare to an Indian casino to blow half their weekly pay on a one in 12million shot at obscene wealth at their corner mini-mart.

Commercial sex, fully consummated in the form of legal brothels only in several counties of Nevada, has long been available in teaser form (“look but don’t touch — and would you like to buy a ‘private dance’ in the back?”) in nearly every city, of whatever size.

Many of these strip clubs, “gentlemen’s clubs” and the like are run by, you guessed it, organized crime, also still a force in the pornography field, although the liberating effect of the internet has democratized both supply and demand of that particular form of entertainment.

Tobacco is a late addition to the list of proscribed vices, as more municipalities and states (who have long since attempted to control tobacco sales to minors with spotty success) have begun to restrict the ability of citizens to indulge in smoking in public spaces, and have often raised taxes on cigarette purchases so outlandishly that organized crime has been pleased to step into tobacco sales, providing low-priced supplies using stolen or imported stock.

So the U.S. goes both ways: Puritanical (sex, tobacco) and decadence (alcohol, gambling).

And then there are drugs. The Puritans have a firm grasp on this issue, and the law and order establishment has made the enforcement of drug prohibition a very big business indeed.

As rusty manufacturers blow away (to China, mostly), and agribusiness mechanizes and hires cheap immigrant labor for the parts that resist mechanization, rural, mainly white, America has seen the building and staffing of prisons as economic manna.

And what crimes have made prisons such a growth industry? Drug crimes.

MUDGE is prepared argue that there are two classes of drug related crime. The organized crime variety, the one with Glocks and AK47s — those criminals belong in prison — throw away the key.

The other class of “criminals” are the consumers of “recreational chemicals,” whose presence in the criminal justice system has bloated it out of all proportion.

The war on drugs has been the tooth of the drug enforcement tiger, attracting big dollars, big legal establishments and big prison systems, and finds very little distinction between supplier, dealer, and user. The war on drugs’ motto: Put them all away!

Let’s hear what San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom had to say about this issue last week:

cbs5

(CBS 5 / KCBS) SAN FRANCISCO San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom proclaimed the nation’s war on drugs a total failure and insisted the crime rate would go down if the government spent money on treatment as opposed to jailing people with drug problems.

“If you want to get serious, if you want to reduce crime by 70% in this country overnight, end this war on drugs,” he told reporters at City Hall on Thursday. “You want to get serious, seriously serious about crime and violence end this war on drugs.”

The mayor maintained local jails are overcrowded with people incarcerated for drug offenses, taking up room that could be used to hold more violent criminal offenders. He said violent criminals with lengthy felony records are being turned loose, too often.

Unlike alcohol use, unlike even commercial sex, tolerated in all but nine-counties-of-Nevada-form in most localities, we’ve let the Puritans continue to set the agenda on drugs.

The result: flourishing organized crime, brutal and deadly; burgeoning courts with backed up dockets; prisons often overcrowded despite the building boom; and users who rather than getting treatment for their addictive behavior are instead matriculated in crime school — jail.

The war on drugs makes no distinction between “recreational chemicals” and the increasing scientifically documented uses for marijuana for medical purposes.

Of course, Puritans (read: Republicans) don’t have a lot of use for science, unless it’s ridiculous pseudo-science like so-called “creation science.”

And so cancer patients and their doctors have also become criminals. What a waste!

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

cbs5.com – SF Mayor Gavin Newsom: War On Drugs Is A Failure

Now, MUDGE is not recommending total legalization. After all, alcohol was legalized 74 years ago, and while the impact on criminals was dramatic, the impact on addictive individuals, their families, and those unlucky enough to share the highways with them has remained dire. An impact, however, that, except for DUIs, the medical establishment has been deemed most appropriate to handle.

But, when Prohibition ended, so also did the lucrative line of business for criminals.

Several states, mainly in the East, still to this day restrict alcohol sales to state run facilities.

Okay, that sounds like a useful template. Open up state controlled substance stores. Demand six forms of identification if necessary to keep children far away.

Thus, let’s see what happens to drug crimes when to use drugs doesn’t require one to be a criminal.

Prohibition turned an entire nation into criminals, and changed the face of criminal activity in this country. Prohibition finally became unsustainable because the nation came to its senses realizing that even otherwise exemplary citizens had to behave like criminals and break the law to enjoy a drink.

Set a price for heroin and cocaine and the like that includes a tax to fund drug abuse treatment programs — I’m guessing the “street” price will still, tax and all, come in at far less than the price available from the Colombian-supplied junkie down that alley.

But, keep a few law enforcement agents around, to throw the book at the creeps who persist in selling to children.

Make medical marijuana freely available at a fair price by prescription, again at the state stores where legal identification can be assured.

Just as organized crime found new things to do in 1933, if you take criminality out of the drug supply industry, drug related crime will dry up just as promptly. Fear not for the poor farmers in Bolivia, Peru and Afghanistan with their poppy fields. They will remain in business, paid though by the U.S. government rather than by criminal cartels.

Of course, there’s always a down side. This program would leave thousands of judges, bailiffs, court clerks, prosecutors, defense attorneys, sheriffs’ deputies, wardens and guards out of work.

Probably an acceptable price for the reduction, even elimination, of the casually violent drive-by shootings that kill innocent 10 year olds.

Use some of that obsolete war on drugs budget to retrain the judges, bailiffs, clerks, lawyers, deputies, and guards.

Teach them web page development and Java. Create something useful.

Maybe we can once again compete with Bengaluru.

Another pointless war we can end. Why not now?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm163: V-22 Osprey: A Flying Shame

October 6, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The changing face of military aviation

Second in an occasional series

The series so far…

No

Title

Link

1

Go to war — Play videogames

mm155

2

Osprey: A Flying Shame

mm163

As an amateur with an interest in all things aviation, history, technology, and the history of technology, we have followed the Osprey tilt-rotor story with interest and concern for close to 20 years.

Last week, Time magazine eviscerated Osprey, and the ugly industrial-governmental tango that has nursed it from an uncertain birth, a troubled childhood and adolescence into a deadly maturity. And, unfortunately, we don’t mean deadly to an enemy, as Osprey is essentially toothless, and seems mainly dangerous to its hapless crew and passengers.

The U.S. Marine Corps’ goal for the Osprey program has been to harness the flexibility and maneuverability of a helicopter with the straight-ahead point to point cruising speed of a fixed wing aircraft. Nothing wrong with such a goal, in theory.

But when converting theory to realty, execution is everything, and the Osprey has been an ugly example of poor execution in most every way possible during its lifetime, which began during the Reagan administration!

Even in this day of long lead time military programs (due more to Congressional restraints over outrageous costs than technological challenges, although there are always those aplenty), the fact that Osprey is just now, after more than 20 years, taking its place on the front lines, and with many questions still open regarding its utility and reliability, is astonishing.

The “lay” public has only been conscious of the Osprey when it burst onto Headline News via its many fatal crashes during its lengthy run up to service. Time did us a service by more completely detailing its story.

time

by MARK THOMPSON

A V-22 flies over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina. Ted Carlson / Check Six

It’s hard to imagine an American weapons program so fraught with problems that Dick Cheney would try repeatedly to cancel it — hard, that is, until you get to know the Osprey. As Defense Secretary under George H.W. Bush, Cheney tried four times to kill the Marine Corps’s ungainly tilt-rotor aircraft. Four times he failed. Cheney found the arguments for the combat troop carrier unpersuasive and its problems irredeemable. “Given the risk we face from a military standpoint, given the areas where we think the priorities ought to be, the V-22 is not at the top of the list,” he told a Senate committee in 1989. “It came out at the bottom of the list, and for that reason, I decided to terminate it.” But the Osprey proved impossible to kill, thanks to lawmakers who rescued it from Cheney’s ax time and again because of the home-district money that came with it — and to the irresistible notion that American engineers had found a way to improve on another great aviation breakthrough, the helicopter.

Flight Risk for the V-22 Osprey

Now the aircraft that flies like an airplane but takes off and lands like a chopper is about to make its combat debut in Iraq. It has been a long, strange trip: the V-22 has been 25 years in development, more than twice as long as the Apollo program that put men on the moon. V-22 crashes have claimed the lives of 30 men — 10 times the lunar program’s toll — all before the plane has seen combat. The Pentagon has put $20 billion into the Osprey and expects to spend an additional $35 billion before the program is finished. In exchange, the Marines, Navy and Air Force will get 458 aircraft, averaging $119 million per copy.

In this extended cover story, Time takes the time to illustrate some larger truths about how our government works, or not:

The saga of the V-22 — the battles over its future on Capitol Hill, a performance record that is spotty at best, a long, determined quest by the Marines to get what they wanted — demonstrates how Washington works (or, rather, doesn’t). It exposes the compromises that are made when narrow interests collide with common sense. It is a tale that shows how the system fails at its most significant task, by placing in jeopardy those we count on to protect us.

As with any hybrid, Osprey can be both helicopter and fixed wing aircraft, but of course much is compromised in the mix. It’s not a good helicopter (read the Time story about Osprey’s autorotation challenge, and gasp) and for a combat aircraft it’s criminally under-armed.

Osprey was supposed to be equipped with a .50 caliber three-barreled machine gun in its nose, so it could protect its landing zone with a hail of heavy bullets.

But the added weight (1,000 lbs., or 450 kg) and cost ($1.5 million per V-22) ultimately pushed the gun into the indefinite future. … So 10 V-22s are going to war this month, each with just a lone, small 7.62-mm machine gun mounted on its rear ramp. The gun’s rounds are about the same size as a .30-06 hunting rifle’s, and it is capable of firing only where the V-22 has been — not where it’s going — and only when the ramp used by Marines to get on and off the aircraft is lowered.

Read on:

[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

V-22 Osprey: A Flying Shame – TIME

I fear for the Marines as Osprey deploys to the dusty deserts of wartime Iraq. There’s fearless courage (a Marine specialty), but deploying the V-22 into this already futile war seems like a brand new tragedy in the making.

A cliché first coined during my childhood once again proves why it’s so often used:

In many ways, the V-22 is a classic example of how large weapons systems have been built in the U.S. since Dwight Eisenhower warned in 1961 of the “unwarranted influence” of “the military-industrial complex.”

I hope stories like this one in a widely read general interest publication help daylight other high-cost military programs: F-22 Raptor (is it really stealthy at all?); F-35 Lightning II –the Joint Strike Fighter — (how does light and less expensive  equal more capable, exactly?) to name just two.

It would be tragic to wait 20 years to learn the ugly secrets about them.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm142: U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

September 15, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

Got to tell you, like most of us, I have long since developed war fatigue. And I’m nowhere near the front. All I seem to be able to do is wring my hands and whimper, “Get our soldiers out of this!”

But, I have a soft spot for technology, and this is a technology story, about Iraq. But of course, wars are fought by women and men. And this is even more a story about a creative and determined man who took on as his mission to sell a particular technology to the command structure.

So we’ll take a look.

latimes

Greg Harbin saw a way to streamline airstrikes. The solution — and his cause — was the Rover, a device that would one day save his life.

By Julian E. Barnes
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 13, 2007

In the summer of 2003, an Air Force pilot named Greg Harbin was doing desk duty at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia.

Day in and day out, Harbin sat in front of five computer screens, scanning photographs and video sent by unmanned planes flying 1,200 miles away, over Iraq and Afghanistan.

His job was to take that information, along with reports from ground troops, and identify fresh targets — Taliban fighters or Iraqi insurgents.

But one thing puzzled him.

When regular units called for an attack by a Predator drone, the request went to Harbin, and then, if approved by a general, to “pilots” in Nevada, who fired the missile by remote control. The process often took as long as 45 minutes.

By contrast, special operations forces could call in attacks by unmanned Predator aircraft in less than a minute.

The difference, Harbin learned, was that a handful of special ops units were equipped with a device called the Rover, which gave them the same view as the pilots in Nevada. This greatly simplified communications.

Why don’t all American fighting units have the Rover? he asked himself. Then he put the question to his boss, Lt. Gen. Walter E. Buchanan, commander of the Air Force in the Middle East. Buchanan’s reply: Why indeed.

There’s a lot that’s intriguing about this story. The Predator UCAV, symbolic of technology (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) that will one day make human aircraft pilots sitting inside their aircraft an obsolete and quaint artifact of the first century of aviation.

Then there’s the Rover technology.

The Rover, or the Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver, was born in 2002, shortly after the Afghanistan war began.

Christopher Manuel, an Army Special Forces chief warrant officer, had long wanted ground units to see, in real time, the video footage shot by Predators. After serving in Afghanistan, he traveled to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to make his case. Engineers quickly developed a prototype of the Rover system.

Over the next year, it was used exclusively by special operations forces. Harbin’s mission to widen access to the technology began with the 82nd Airborne, the first conventional forces to use the system. His next stop was Mosul, Iraq, and the 101st Airborne Division, which happened to be his brother Eric’s unit.

And then there’s Greg Harbin’s unique story. Take a look at the complete article, along with its embedded video.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Los Angeles Times: U.S. pilot helped clear the fog of war

There’s so much to like here. The Katrina angle.

The life-saving angle (his own!)

The technological evangelist angle (your humble correspondent likes to believe he maintains that role for the technology he represents in his place of employment).

“I am not the guy who invented it. I am not the guy who built it. I am not the only one who believes in it,” Harbin said. “My role was to get it out there.”

But, mainly, it’s about how one person, among millions, has used his creativity, initiative and will to make a difference. It’s Archimedes’ lever.

In the light of Harbin’s example, how much more tragic is it that, as of this writing, 3,781 soldiers have died in Iraq.

Once again, even worse than the trillions Bush has mortgaged and squandered, the human capital lost is even more irreplaceable.

Can’t get that bumper sticker out of my thoughts:

January 20, 2009

Bush’s last day

Congress, do the American people, especially its courageous women and men combatants, have to wait that long?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm141: More false optimism on the Iraq war

September 13, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

So it’s MUDGE‘s hometown paper, the oh so conservative Chicago Tribune.

So, Steve Chapman, also of Reason magazine, is on its editorial board.

So, it’s not your father’s (or grandfather’s or great-great-great-grandfather’s Tribune.

chitrib

Petraeus the latest general with rose-colored glasses

Steve Chapman

September 13, 2007

Gen. David Petraeus says the Iraq war is going well, and I believe him. I believe him the way I believe the coach of a perennial football doormat who, every August, assures fans he expects a winning season. Coaches don’t get paid to admit they’re bound to lose, and generals who are tasked with military missions don’t get paid to announce that they can’t get the job done.

Petraeus is, by all accounts, an experienced, capable and intelligent commander. So when he says that “the security situation in Iraq is improving,” the natural impulse is to trust his battle-seasoned judgment. The Bush administration encourages this notion by suggesting that the opinions of military commanders are the only sound guide to policy.

But if high-ranking military officers are a good barometer of the future, I have a question: Where are the generals who told Americans when things were about to get worse in Iraq, as they have over and over? Which of them warned that insurgent attacks would steadily proliferate in 2005, after elections that were supposed to quell violence? What guy with stars on his shoulders forecast that Iraqi civilian deaths would double over the course of 2006?

Who told us that last year’s military strategy of “clear and hold” would fail — as even the administration admitted afterward that it had? Who predicted that the average number of Americans killed each month this year would be 34 percent higher than last year?

Not the top brass, which has consistently taken an optimistic public stance since the beginning. In November 2003, Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, said achieving victory would require hard work but said “it will be done.” In November 2004, Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler said we had “broken the back of the insurgency.” In March 2006, Abizaid assured us, “We are winning.” Three years ago, Petraeus himself said that “18 months after entering Iraq, I see tangible progress.”

But of course, there’s been no progress, except for Halliburton, and maybe the outfit that supplies the Pentagon with body bags and the guys who furnish Walter Reed with prosthetics. Their business is, I’m sure, over the top.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

More false optimism on the Iraq war — chicagotribune.com

This week’s championship level performances by Petraeus and Crocker fooled very few — except for 535 of our finest citizens who were elected to represent the 300million of us who count on them to get to the truth.

If confident predictions by generals could be taken as gospel, this war would have been over long ago. But the totality of evidence gives no more reason to think we will do any better in the future than in the past. Given the choice, it’s better to have commanders who believe they can overcome any adversity than commanders who are easily discouraged. But sometimes, as we have learned repeatedly in Iraq, optimism is just another word for self-delusion.

Steve Chapman, from his right-of-center point of view, has no trouble seeing through the cock-eyed optimism.

It’s not just the knee-jerk peace-niks who want our young people home. Establishment type Tribune writers want that too.

Saw a bumper sticker the other day:

January 20, 2009

Bush’s last day

Congress, do the American people, especially its courageous women and men combatants, have to wait that long?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm127: Sunni Rule Again in Iraq? – Early Warning

September 4, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

The always dead-on military analyst, William Arkin of the Washington Post has this to say regarding George III’s sudden visit to Iraq on Monday.

arkinearlywarning
Posted at 08:17 AM ET, 09/ 4/2007

President Bush’s surprise eight-hour visit to Iraq yesterday will be read by many Iraqis, and by many others in the Islamic world, as part of a great conspiracy. The conspiracy’s goal? To create an American-Sunni alliance, restore the Sunni minority to power and suppress the Shiite majority.

No one doubts that the intended audience of Bush’s photo op was Congress and the American public. But, as has been typical of Washington’s initiatives in Iraq from Day One, perceptions of the visit — by the Iraqi people and by our potential adversaries — was ignored.

Interesting isn’t it how the president stayed out of Baghdad, in favor of a Sunni stronghold?

For weeks, the administration and the military have been pointing to Anbar as a success. Local Sunni tribal leaders have broken with al-Qaeda in Iraq, the argument goes, throwing in their lot with the United States. The U.S. has responded by arming and training Sunni militias and freelancers. Oh, if the rest of the country could just follow suit, the United States could leave a safe and stable country. (Put aside for a moment what happened to the Iraqi Army and police force in this process. At this point, the United States is clearly ready to accept progress from whatever quarter it can get it.)

So, the U.S. didn’t have a quarrel with all Sunnis, just the one? What an unsettling symbolic visit for anyone who cares about Iraq’s future as a democracy, and for long-term stability in the region. Read on:

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Sunni Rule Again in Iraq? – Early Warning

And whether we civilians are thinking on it or not, the endgame seems to be war with Iran.

Anyone else find this disturbing?

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE


mm124: Michael Vick: Crimes Worse Than The Iraq War | TPM Cafe

September 1, 2007

MUDGE’S Musings

This post was almost going to be MUDGE’s classical music trifecta (I, II) but this terrific post from Talking Points Memo (highly recommended, and an inexplicably late addition to the blogroll) jumped up to the top of MUDGE’s consideration.

tpm

By M.J. Rosenberg | bio

Michael Gerson, the former White House speechwriter, wrote in his Washington Post column yesterday that he and his fellow neocons worried that this was going to be the summer in which opposition to the Iraq war overwhelmed the Bush administration.

It sure looked that way in the spring when Democrats were mobilizing and popular support for the war and Bush dropped to levels reminiscent of LBJ and Vietnam after the Tet offensive.

But now the ship of state has been righted. The President’s popularity has risen a bit. More Americans think the war is succeeding. And the Democrats have lost their zeal about ending it.

section break

As I keep asking: where is the outrage?

This is a country where millions of people can hardly stop weeping, wailing and gnashing their teeth about Michael Vick and those poor animals he tortured and killed.

How many dogs did Vick kill anyway. 25, 50, a hundred. I don’t know. But 3739 Americans have been killed in Iraq and maybe 600,000 Iraqis — not to mention the US destruction of a whole country and society.

Isn’t the above what many of us have been thinking, but haven’t been able to articulate nearly so well?

The rest of the post is terrific, and some of the replies and comments are thoughtful also. Please take a look.

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

Michael Vick: Crimes Worse Than The Iraq War | TPMCafe

So, there’s another element of the Michael Vick story, one that was very clearly articulated by one of MUDGE’s absolute hands down favorite writers, Gregg Easterbrook, writing as ESPN’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback.

Next, I feel sympathy for Vick because there is racial animus in the current turn of events. If Vick really is guilty of cruelty to animals and associating with lowlife gamblers, these things leave him open to a kind of condemnation that has nothing to do with race. But don’t you just sense there are loads of people who are happy to have the chance to condemn the first African-American quarterback who was drafted first overall — via an accusation that has nothing to do with race? That there might be racial animus against Vick is not an excuse; he is responsible for his actions regardless of what others do or think. But suppose everything about the Michael Vick controversy was exactly the same except Vick was a white quarterback from an upper-middle-class family in Winnetka, Ill., Newport Beach, Calif., or Coral Gables, Fla. Can you say with a straight face that the public reaction and government action would the same?

Next, I feel sympathy for Vick because he tripped into a “summer scandal.” Starting around mid-July, legislatures recess, business executives and heads of state go on holiday, Hollywood airheads fly their private jets to Sag Harbor, N.Y., to relax in 10,000-square-foot mansions while complaining about greenhouse gas emissions: The news world slows down. Every summer, there is a scandal that is magnified beyond its inherent importance, owing to lack of other news. The Michael Vick accusations are this year’s summer scandal. His indictment came in late July. Had it come in October or March, far less attention might have been paid.

Note that Easterbrook’s second point above (actually about the fourth in his original post) emphasizes the seasonal factor that M. J. Rosenberg picks up on.

TMQ is always wonderful, in Easterbrook’s fulsome way about much more than professional football. During the season, I relish his columns even more (most years up until the last few) than watching MUDGE’s home town team, the Bears. Finish his Vick reflections and hurry back!

[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]

ESPN Page 2 – Easterbrook: Sympathy for Vick

WIWICWLT! But I can’t, and I’m grateful for your readership despite the inelegance and worse.

Let’s summarize our reasons for outrage: The ongoing tragedy of Iraq should have us storming the bastions to get our representative government to make changes now to literally stop the hemorrhaging. Not happening, in or out of Washington.

And the fact that so many U.S. citizens who aren’t up to the task of activating themselves and their friends and neighbors to get behind ending Bush and the neocons’ military misadventure are happy enough to feel outrage over a wealthy young man’s mistreatment of some dogs.

And, aren’t most of those most upset reacting for only slightly submerged racial reasons? Now, that’s outrageous!

To quote M. J. Rosenberg:

I’ll tell you. If we were sending dogs over to fight this war, and they were dying and being maimed like our soldiers, this war would have ended before it started.

It’s it for now. Thanks,

–MUDGE