Archive for February, 2009

COIN toss

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

In thinking more about the counter-insurgency COIN rubric, several more notions come to mind. First, amusingly enough, it’s probably no accident that the acronym – COIN – hints at the expense of the mission itself and the enormous “costs” in blood and treasure commonly associated with it. And further, isn’t the entire notion of “counterinsurgency” a sort of oxymoron ? Masking the fact that it is itself, a form of insurgency? Who’s mission is to freeze up and lock down the host population and impose another physical, cultural, and political reality upon it. To in effect, provide (through violent force, coercion, and bribery) an alternative reality that denies the people not only their own sovereignty, but to also deny their natural anti-body toward alien invasion and occupation.

Another interesting facet of COIN is that politically, it operates in tandem with a shielded from view dark matter counterbalance. Not unlike its cousin, the usually undefined motives driving actions pertaining to “national interests” – counterinsurgency never reveals its true motives or policy objectives. Unless of course, a meaningless phrase like “pacification” qualifies as as a motive or a policy. This is why even the U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan cannot provide a reasonably concise definition of their policy goals or what their tactics are suppose to accomplish.

The COIN strategy is controversial not so much because it’s methods and objectives are suspect, but because it is so expensive, as the 5 billion per month in Iraq would attest. And it’s expensive because creating alternative new realities is expensive. Normal modes of culture, commerce, and politics need to be replaced with an entirely new set of imposed political/economic structure, rules, regulations, and checkpoints. Walls, barriers, and integrated military presence needs to be erected to re-route the flow of information, commerce and resistance. And of course, boat loads of hard cold cash need to be inflate the new reality; and to flip insurgents, payola the local big shots, bribe the merchants, payout the informants, and maintain the military presence.
COIN works only as long as you’re willing to carry the costs of artificially maintaining the alternative reality at a sustainable level. Because as ( it always will be) the COIN lock down is eventually dissembled, the host nation will usually assume their previous original disposition and demands for redress – as can be seen all over Central and South America recently. Even in supposed COIN success El Salvador, the FMLN has recently gained control of the legislature and looks forward to winning the presidency in March.

COIN is not a solution, and it doesn’t win wars. At best it is a temporary holding action not unlike a prison lock down. Unless of course, keeping an occupation going indefinitely and without purpose is the objective.

change or no change

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

I thought it might be interesting to take inventory of how the left is characterizing Obama’s supposed success’ and his supposed failures. Crooks and Liars obliges by posting Rachel Maddows list of positives:

Announced strict new rules for lobbyists
Paycaps for WH staff

Hillary Clinton confirmed Secretary of State
Signed an Executive Order closing Gitmo and secret CIA prisons overseas
Named George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke Special Envoys to Middle East
Made first agency visit to the State Dept, symbolically reviving diplomacy
Appeared on Arab TV network,
Signed Lily Ledbetter Act,
Eric Holder confirmed;
Signed S-ChIP legislation;
Canceled 77 land leases around Arches National Park;
Signed the Stimulus Bill;
Announced his home foreclosure prevention plan;
Took first foreign trip to Canada;
Banned budget gimmicks, like emergency funding for Iraq;
Met with mayors;
Signed Executive Order for Office of Gulf Coast Recovery.

And Jay McDonough of Newshoggers points out the accumulating negatives:

-  The Obama Administrations decision to withold information in the case of tortured detainee, Binyam Mohamed, citing the “state secrets’ privilege.

-  The continuation of the Bush Administration Afghanistan and Pakistan policies.

-  The Administrations efforts to dismiss lawsuits aimed at forcing the release of Bush era emails.

-  President Obama’s support for Bush Administration position on detainee rights at Bagram prison in Afghanistan.

-  New CIA Director Leon Panetta’s ambiguity over the Administrations policy on rendition and CIA interrogation rules.

-  Supporting the Bush Administrations position and asking a federal judge to set aside a ruling the president can bypass Congress to set up warrantless eavesdropping on Americans.

Just to keep track of all the change comming our way.

flipping the COIN

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

There’s been  a lot of talk lately, about the success of the U.S. military’s COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy in Iraq, and whether that strategy will be operational in Obama’s troop escalation in Afghanistan. Pat Lang has weighed in assertively (in bold faced type, even) on this subject. He claims, rightly I think, that the COIN strategy is nothing new fangled in U.S. military toolbox, and that it has always been a contingent part of how wars are fought, especially wars of occupation. He goes on to say that COIN has been successful in Iraq, as it had been in the Vietnam war (and also in Algeria, for the French). That the reason we may eventually “lose” in Iraq, like we “lost” in Vietnam, was that the political, non-military aspects of COIN -  both  in theater and on the home domestic fronts – were ultimately responsible for the failure of both. And that should the failure on the (critical and neglected) political front, be repeated in Afghanistan, then ultimate failure there, is likely as well.

I think that when we talk about counterinsurgency tactics, as a method of warfare, what we are really talking about is a political method of war on the non-military, but complicit, population of people  that make up the proverbial “sea” where an insurgency may “swim”. In this respect the “oil spot” agenda of COIN is to incrimentally, dry up the “sea” that an insurgent “fishes” swim in. Essentially, this is a multifaceted method of putting a population into a state of physical “lock down”, to both deny resupply to the insurgency, and  to most importantly, set the stage for  political reforms and reconstruction. In Iraq, this has been accomplished in part through, first, the ethnic cleansing of the Sunni population of Baghdad, that led to the “Awakening” program of paying off the former enemies, that in turn led to the stand down of the Shiite (insurgent) Mahdi Army. These “gains” were then held in place through through the establishment of many “mini bases” throughout  neighborhoods and population centers, that were then themselves walled into various cantons, that were policed through the extensive use of military checkpoints. This has worked, insomuch as the population has been successfully put into a static lock down, with AQiI dispatched, the insurgency mollified, and ethnic violence greatly reduced. But this has also been at the expense of 4 million displaced (mostly Sunni) refugees, an utterly dysfunctional economy, a strangled flow of commerce, a chronic lack of  reconstruction hampered by official corruption.  On the political side of the COIN equation there has been little progress in terms of the, equally important (to the military gains) political “benchmarks” that were in place to judge the effectiveness of the overall strategy. No progress on the oil legislation, or ethnic or sectarian reconciliation, the Kirkuk problem, constitutional reform, or de-coupling from Iranian influence But what’s really interesting – if not ironic or downright amusing, from the COIN point of view – is that what factual progress has been made on the Iraqi political front, post provincial elections, the much ballyhooed Iraqi nationalism – has been made only from the universal anticipation that the American occupation will end sooner rather than later, as outlined in the SOFA  agreement. Or as it would seem, the primary political achievement of the twin COIN agenda – political reformation aka “pacification” – is being realized only as a result of the the evidential withdrawal of the COIN forces themselves.

All of which returns us to the political linchpin side of the COIN strategy. The political reforms and reconstitutions that  are suppose to accomplish the ends simple war cannot. Because this is where the political aims of the occupation confront the political aims and aspirations of the indigenous population. So if as in Iraq, the only available option toward political resolution and eventual pacification (success!), is for the host country to not only reject the occupiers political agenda, but to make that rejection the centerpiece of political reform, then I’d guess I’d have to be in favor of it (snark) – not only for Iraq but for Afghanistan.

Update: for some reason the Pat Lang post on COIN has been deleted from his blog. Presumably, by himself?


Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

2008-9, 29″ x 17″ x 2″, oil on wood, (click on image for enlargement)

dog morality

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

This is our dog “Tank”. The wife picked him out from a Pet Protectors litter of pups about seven years ago. She perhaps, loves dogs more than me. And has lavished some significantly greater percentage of attention on him through the years than I have. The dog still likes me, but still, he doesn’t lay in the driveway anxiously waiting for me every time I leave the house (like he does for her) – nor does he nearly pee on the floor with excitement every time I return (I say that because once he really did pee on the floor in excitement).

To make up for this deficit, in my nefarious worldly way, I’ve taken to slipping him some portion of my (largely) meat diet at dinner. It all started when I’d give him my left over pork chop bone, to which I always added the word “meat” to the offering. This strategy has developed into an instant recognition, and an intensely focused (like a laser beam) anticipation every time the word “meat” is mentioned. At first, the success of my strategy showed up in the new attention the dog seemed to be giving me – so what, if it only happened around dinner time. I was playing with his primal instincts, I was making progress and it seemed to be working.

I was offering him, for everybody that knows anything about dogs, the ultimate payola; FOOD, as a form of patronage, in exchange for loyalty. FOOD, after all, for a dog, is a form of wealth (which is of course, why they bury it in the yard when they can’t eat it).

Then yesterday, the wife returned from a day long round trip to Portland. The dog as usual, waited all day long in the driveway, and nearly peed himself when she returned that night. Then I walked out the door to go to the store, and the dog, as usual, barely registered a nod when I walked by him and out the door.

And that was right after the big meat dinner I served him in her absence.

It was about then that it struck me. That even a dog – our dog – could not be bribed into sacrificing his genuine loyalty and comradeship (to the wife) in an unethical exchange for his most base instinctual drive for food.

Then it hit me again. That our dog has a higher moral standard than much of humanity.

(bleeding) heart land

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

2006-8, 18″ x 19″ x 2″ oil on wood, (click on image for enlargement)

iraqi election postscript

Monday, February 9th, 2009

Yesterday, reporter Tom Ricks was on Face the Nation talking about the surge in Iraq and adding some post provincial election commentary. It was a short interview, the nub of which was that he stated that a) the surge while being successful militarily, had failed politically, and b) that we were only half way through with the entirety of the war. The first statement is latest installment of “winning all the battles, but loosing the war”, I suppose – especially if Clausewitz’ dictum “war is politics by other means” is to have any meaning at all – this is an impossible conclusion to reach. But that is where we are, winning wars while at the same time loosing them. Which takes us to statement b), and the hall of mirrors reflections which evidence themselves in the aftermath of the provincial elections, where Ricks sees the glass (depressingly) half empty. The general western press however, has taken the same election account and sees the glass half full (of champaign!), and as such portrays the elections as a big victory for Iraq, characterizing the results as a triumph of secular nationalism over the sectarian violence that’s plagued the country and the occupation ever since Paul Bremmer’s shiny suits and combat boots hit the tarmac in 2003.

While the carnival like media assessment is patently stupid on the obvious merits, such as Maliki’s Da’wa Party, the big winners in the election, remain still a sectarian party dedicated to Islamist law – there is another more interesting slant to the election results, as reported by Juan Cole :

Al-Maliki also spoke about the prospect of electoral alliances or coalitions among the various parties that won seats in the provincial councils. Apparently al-Maliki’s Islamic Mission Party will likely partner with the Sadr Movement.

The USG OSC conveys from Sharqiya Television:

‘ Al-Maliki said that alliances among the winners of the provincial council elections are inevitable in order to make change in the Iraqi governorates. During a joint news conference with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Al-Maliki said that there are talks with the winning lists to form alliances in the governorates where (his list) achieved high percentages.”
— “Amir al-Kinani, head of the Independent Free People Trend, which is backed by the Al-Sadr Trend, revealed that his trend has agreed, in principle, with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, in his capacity as head of the State of Law Coalition, to form an alliance in the governorate councils won by the two lists. Speaking to Al-Hayah newspaper, Al-Kinani said that if any party wishes to join the alliance, it should adhere to the three principles of maintaining Iraq’s unity and preventing any plans to divide it, strengthening the central government, and postponing the discussion over federalism.”‘

If the followers of Shiite cleric Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr actually do form a coalition with al-Maliki’s Islamic Mission Party (Da`wa), that will be ironic. Al-Maliki’s party did so well because he sent his military against the Mahdi Army,the paramilitary of the Sadr Movement. But it may be that the Sadrists who ran for office were not close to the paramilitary wing of the party. Also, the Sadrists are fundamentalist and vehemently anti-American, whereas al-Maliki ran as a lay nationalist and has cooperated with the US. In fact, the Sadrists withdrew from their federal alliance with the Da`wa over al-Maliki’s refusal to snub George W. Bush, and they campaigned against the Status of Forces Agreement concluded by al-Maliki with Washington.

Sawt al-Iraq says that the provincial coalition between Da`wa and the Sadrists is virtually a done deal. The Sadrists asked the PM to have detainees from the party released, and he pledged to look into letting those not accused of serious crimes out. Al-Maliki in his turn urged the Sadrists to strengthen their moderates and to expel from the party those who resorted to violence.

Such a coalition would take Da`wa to 47% of seats in Baghdad province,

This is very revealing. Both about the internal workings and outwardly changes in the Iraqi political scene, and about how the U.S. narrative of whats going on in Iraq continues to be simply clueless as to the actual developments. Because literally moments after the elections , touted as a secular victory, the apparent nationalist winner Maliki jumps right into bed with the also much reviled anti-American radical firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to form a new ruling alliance. It’s been my suspicion for a while, that in spite of the overt pressure Maliki and the U.S. have been exerting on the Sadrists, there has been a tacit if not overt agreement between Maliki and Sadr that plays effectively toward dealing the U.S. completely out of the Iraqi equation as an endgame strategy. This alliance probably took shape in the lead up to the SOFA negotiations whereby Sadr allowed his movement to “sacrificed” as a feint to Maliki’s emerging nationalist credentials, in the eyes of the U.S. authorities, to whom the Sadrists because of their militant anti-occupation stance, could not be allowed to continue growing in influence. Sadr himself acquiesced to the pressure as both a means to cull the (many) members of his organization who used his name for their own criminal enterprises, and as a means to continue his clerical studies in Iran – while at the same time extracting from Maliki his (Sadr’s) primary singular goal of setting the stage to finally end the occupation. In all likely hood, Sadr agreed to “play dead”. This would vindicate the misbegotten U.S. canard that his “Iranian” proxy status had been dismantled, his popular influence was on the wane, along with the strident anti-American anti-occupation sentiment. All this coupled with other developments, especially the “awakening” program in the post ethnic cleansing environment, to create a convincing picture of “surge” success – that eventually strengthened Maliki’s hand in the SOFA negotiations, enabling him to pursue a far more demanding position regarding the U.S. footprint. In many ways Maliki was then able to use the U.S. rhetorical position of nationalism and security achieved to demand a stringent timetable for withdrawal.

So in sum, all of Maliki’s goals are being married with all of Sadr’s goals, of a centrally controlled nationalist (Shiite) Islamist Iraq, without a shred of occupation influence – no doubt on course for Muqtada to re-emerge from Iran as an Ayatollah just about the time Sistani goes to heaven.

p.s. We shouldn’t forget that it was Sadr votes that enabled Maliki to become Prime Minister in the first place, and it was the Mahdi army that worked in tandem with Maliki’s operation Forward Together to ethnically cleans Baghdad, into a predominantly Shiite city that led to the “Awakening” resolution of pushing AQinIraq out of Iraq.

simulation or stimulation?

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Senate Republicans and the Stimulus: Playing Politics When the Economy Burns, by Robert Reich, (again).

Tomorrow’s job report is likely to be awful. January’s job losses could easily top half a million. We’re deep into the most vicious of economic cycles: Consumers are slashing their spending because they’re perilously in debt and worried about keeping their jobs. But as a result, businesses are facing shrinking sales of goods and services, so they’re slashing payrolls, which of course makes consumers even more anxious and further reduces their spending power. Meanwhile, businesses are cutting way back on new investments in equipment, which hurts upstream suppliers, who are now slashing their payrolls. And so it goes, downward. The gap between what the economy could produce if it were running near full capacity and what it’s now producing continues to widen. The shortfall is projected to be over a trillion dollars this year.

How do we get out of this downward plunge?

Regardless of your ideological stripe, you’ve got to see that when consumers and businesses stop spending and investing, there’s only entity left to step into the breach. It’s government. Major increases in government spending are necessary, and the spending must be on a very large scale. In the last several weeks the President has put forward the outlines of a stimulus plan, and has left it to the House and Senate to fill in the details. A tiny portion of the details that made it into the House version should be stripped away because they seem like old-fashioned pork. But most spending in the bill is absolutely appropriate. My worry is there’s not nearly enough of spending to fill the shortfall in overall demand.

Yet at this very moment, Senate Republicans are seeking to strip the President’s stimulus package of many of its spending provisions and substitute tax cuts. Part of this is pure pander: They know tax cuts are more popular with the public than government spending, even though spending is a far more effective way to stimulate the economy (more on this in a moment). Another part is pure partisan politics: Republicans are emboldened by Obama’s willingness to court Republicans (taking three Republicans into his cabinet, bringing Republican leaders into the White House for consultations, putting all those business tax cuts into the stimulus bill in order to gain Republican favor) without getting anything at all back from the GOP. House Republicans snubbed the bill entirely. So, Senate Republicans say to themselves, what’s to lose?

Plenty. Millions more jobs and a full-fledged Depression, for example.

Can we get real for a moment? Take a look at this chart, which comes from calculations by Mark Zandy and his colleagues at You see that each dollar of spending has much more impact than each dollar of tax cut.There are three reasons for this. First, most people who receive a tax cut don’t spend all of it. They use part of it to pay down their debts or they save it. Most of us did one or the other last spring with that tax rebate. From the standpoint of any particular individual, paying down debts or saving may be smart behavior — even commendable. But what’s intelligent for an individual does not necessarily translate into what’s good for the economy as a whole. The only way to get businesses to create or preserve jobs is through additional spending. And unlike tax cuts used to pay down personal debt or add to savings, every dollar of government spending flows directly into the economy and adds to overall demand.

Second, even that portion of a tax cut we might actually spend doesn’t necessarily go into the American economy. It goes all over the world. I have nothing against creating or preserving the jobs of Asians who assemble those flat-panel TVs you see at the mall, for example, but right now we’re trying to create or preserve jobs here in America. Sure, the retail workers at the mall who sell the flat-panel TV’s might benefit, but remember we’re talking about how to get the biggest bang for every dollar. When government spends to repair a highway or build a school or help pay for medical services, the money and the jobs stay here in America.

Finally, those who say cutting taxes on businesses is the best way to create or preserve jobs forget about the demand side. Even with a tax cut, businesses won’t hire workers unless there are customers to buy what those workers produce. A government stimulus that creates jobs is a necessary precondition.

This isn’t a matter of more or less government, however much Republicans and conservatives would like to wedge it in that old ideological box. The issue is how to revive the economy. When consumers and businesses can’t or won’t spend enough to keep the economy going, government has to be the spender of last resort. Period.

more pitchforks please

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Thought I’d pass on this from Obsidian Wings, following the Antifa piece below.

More Pitchforks Please

by publius

A few days ago, a commenter argued that I should stop accusing Republicans of acting in bad faith on economic matters. Instead, I should realize that most conservatives sincerely prefer these policies because they think the policies will ultimately help the country. I’ve been thinking more about it, so here are some additional reasons why I’m still having trouble respecting these arguments.

In last Sunday’s Post, Robert Reich provided a fairly staggering example of extreme wealth concentration. Currently, the top 1% of the country possesses 20% of the nation’s wealth income. (Q. Last time that happened? A. 1928). The top 10% possesses a full half of national income. There’s even a handy chart from the NYT.


A few thoughts on this: First, what really bothers me is that many rank-and-file conservatives fail to acknowledge that their policy preferences lead – in the real world – to massive wealth consolidation. It’s all fine and good to say people spend their money best, and regulations are harmful – in many instances, I fully agree.

But we can’t pretend that millionaires are in the same position as people who make $50,000. They’re not. There are of course different ways to write a tax cut — and different groups to target. But by some weird coincidence, the GOP’s preferred tax cuts always seem to concentrate wealth for the uber-rich. (If you want to cut payroll taxes for poor people, well buddy, that’s just a tax cut too far). I suppose this sounds harsh, but much of the GOP’s tax policies are simply a mirage – wealth redistribution to the very top cloaked in populist language.

The first problem then is that even well-meaning conservatives aren’t acknowledging the reality their economic policies create.

Others, however, are fully aware of the consequences and honestly think that wealth concentration is a good thing – either as a matter of fairness, or because of some “trickle down” theory. I can’t really speak to fairness, though it’s hard to call any policy “fair” that allows 1% of the population to keep 20% of the wealth while poorer people go without health care and decent schools.

But what’s infuriating is how poorly the trickle down theories have performed in practice. It’s not like this is an abstract debate. We’ve seen what happens when we consolidate wealth – and it’s not good. Overall demand drops. The rich blow their money on stupid, externality-creating Ponzi schemes.

That’s why it’s better to try trickle-UP theories, where the money being hoarded at the top is instead used to lift wages, make investments, and help the country as a whole.

In short, it’s just hard to take any of the GOP tax and spending positions seriously as a policy matter – though we have to take them seriously as a political matter because they’ve become accepted dogma among the institutional GOP players and their media arms.

I mean, here we are — quite literally standing on the brink of economic catastrophe — and all they can push for is more tax cuts for rich people. And God forbid we build things the public needs rather than taking that money and giving it to Wall Street. It doesn’t matter how many millions are unemployed, or how wretched our infrastructure has become, the real problem in America is that rich people don’t have enough money.

The Democrats need to get louder about what is happening — and about where the GOP priorities are in the stimulus debate. Whether conservatives intend it or not (some do, some don’t), the Republicans are fighting to redistribute more money to the very rich – it’s as if the last 5 years never happened.

And it’s all they ever fight for – and, in practice – it’s all they really care about.

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