Tag Archives: cia
There are times that is terrifying to be a historian who has specialized in the study of tyrannical regimes. This is the case with me. Even since my undergraduate study working under Dr. Helmut Heussler at California State University Northridge I have studied the transition of society from democracy to dictatorship. While my studies then and ever since focused on the rise of National Socialism in Germany, the fact is that what happened in Germany was not unique, it is a part of the human condition and the people of any country can find themselves under the foot of a dictatorship if the conditions are right. I believe that conditions in the United States have never been more ripe for dictatorship than they are today.
Historian Timothy Snyder wrote:
“The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.”
This is especially frightening since the Republican majority Congress turns a blind eye to his malfeasance and ignores their duty under the Constitution, and his cult like supporters, especially supposedly conservative Christians have become fanatical in their support. The President’s constant encouragement violence and vengeance against any critic by his supports is being being answered by them. The incidents are far too numerous to mention here, and I have been one of them in my own chapel congregation try to get me tried by court martial by lying about what I said in a sermon.
In all truth I believe that the President’s base inclination is that of an authoritarian even if he lacks any underlying ideology, except perhaps the racism that is emblematic of his words and his administrations policies and actions. The demonization of darker skinned people, be they Mexicans and Central Americans, Africans, Arabs and South Asians, and American Blacks. Calling Mexicans “rapists,” equating all Mexicans or Central Americans with a violent gang called MS-13, and referring to refugees as an “infestation.” These are just some of the racist tropes that he like so many tyrants before him and today use to dehumanize their victims and make it that much easier for his supporters, law enforcement officials, and maybe someday military personnel to commit crimes against humanity or war crimes.
As chaos continues to engulf the House of Trump, as investigations regarding Trump’s relations with Russia gain steam, and as his poll numbers crash, I become more concerned that the unthinkable will happen.
I believe that during the past few days we have been witnessing the beginning of the unthinkable. The escalation of the President’s attacks on the First Amendment in his attacks on the Press, and the attacks on career intelligence and law enforcement officials beginning with former CIA Director John Brennan with a host of others in his sight. His actions are unprecedented, they make those of Richard Nixon pale in comparison. The man is already off the reservation and there is no telling what he will do next. Thankfully, many former senior intelligence and military officials are speaking out. I expect many more to add their voices but given the President’s use of lies and propaganda to muddy the waters while both inciting his followers and demoralizing his opponents to inaction I am not sure that their voice will be enough.
I think that first there will be an event that triggers a national emergency whether contrived or coincidental that will result in a Reichstag Fire moment. This will allow the President to use already existing provisions in the Patriot Act or any number of Cold War era Executive Orders to suspend Constitutional rights, and maybe even suspend Congress or cancel elections to claim dictatorial powers. It may be major terrorist attack or a war but it will be enough to either sway some of his opponents into supporting him during the emergency or paralyze the opposition against him based on the fear of what happened.
I believe that if or when one or the other happen that the Trump regime will use it to suspend civil rights and liberties and maybe even suspend Congress and the courts in the name of security. Sadly, I think that in such a case that very few people would resist. Of course the 35-40% of people that would support him as he said, even if he shot someone on 5th Avenue would be at the forefront, but many other people would follow all because they are afraid and desire security more than freedom.
Once that happens there will be a Night of the Long Knives event where troublesome opponents, or even supporters with a different agenda are arrested and killed in an extrajudicial manner.
Now this is not all Trump’s doing. For the last three decades many of those that now support him, especially the leaders of the Religious Right, Fox News, and radio and internet demagogues have prepared the ground for his rise. He merely stepped into a movement that was ready made for his demagoguery.
This is why all Americans, no matter if they are conservative or liberal need to be alert and awake to the times. Even the President’s supporters are not safe should they differ with him or grow a conscience when friends or family are targeted by the President and his administration.
Snyder, warned us in his book On Tyranny. He wrote:
“Be calm when the unthinkable arrives. Modern tyranny is terror management. When the terrorist attack comes, remember that authoritarians exploit such events in order to consolidate power. The sudden disaster that requires the end of checks and balances, the dissolution of political parties, the suspension of freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. DO NOT FALL FOR IT.”
Human beings are the one constant in history, and human nature is very consistent when it comes to how we respond when under attack. One only has to think of the fear that followed the 9-11 attacks and the willingness of people to give the government vast new powers, including an authorization for the use of military for against Al Qaida which has not been updated or supplemented since 2001, despite the fact that many of the places our military are operating in today have nothing to do with Al Qaida.
I believe that the chances of such a think happening have gone up exponentially since the President and the Executive branch have not filled many critical ambassadorships, as well as thousands of key billets in the State Department, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. Likewise, with its callous treatment of our allies and lack of concern about Russian interference in American elections, and in Europe the administration has weakened us at home and abroad making the country vulnerable to cyber attacks on our cities, infrastructure, and election systems, foreign or domestic terrorists, or even direct military action against American military installations or ships overseas, or against our allies.
This is a very dangerous time and every day I wake up wondering if this will be the day that our Republic as we knew it dies. I do not know if this will be the result of a war with North Korea or Iran, or possibly a major terror attack, but as things spiral out of control I cannot shake the feeling that we are going to have our Reichstag Fire moment, and that we will not rise to the challenge. Instead I think that most Americans will give up freedom in the name of security simply because that is human nature and has been demonstrated throughout history on every continent. James Madison noted:
“The means of defence against foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”
Now is a time that we must all be awake and aware of what is going on in our country and the world. The storm clouds are building and we most be cognizant of the times or be engulfed and overwhelmed when the unthinkable arrives. That may not be pleasant to contemplate, but it is necessary.
I would like to believe that I will be proven wrong, and honestly I want to be proven wrong because I do not want our nation to have to endure war, terrorism, and tyrannical despotism.
So, until tomorrow I wish you a good day,
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Today was an exhausting day. Last night I found out that one of the military personnel that I had served with in a previous assignment many years ago was in a bad way. It was already well after midnight but since I didn’t have his phone number I sent him a personal message on a social media site. I asked him to call me and gave him my number. I cannot divulge any details but he was struggling and our conversation lasted a long time. I didn’t get to sleep until almost 3 AM. But the good thing is that he is getting help at the VA and I am sure that he will be okay. But his trust in me was a validation of the work that I do, and will continue to do for the people that I have served with for the rest of my life, long after I retire from the Navy next year.
Unfortunately before I went to bed I found my wife’s car keys in my pants. I decided to go hang them on the key rack downstairs. I was tired and wasn’t paying attention, didn’t keep a grip on the railing and slipped on the second or third stair from bottom and jammed my left leg and less badly my right leg. I hurt like a son of a bitch. I ended up getting less than three hours of very uncomfortable sleep and when I swung my leg out of be was jolted by excruciating pain.
It would be that this morning I had to get up early to cover a number of meetings that lasted until noon. I had to limp to those meetings and in the midst of fighting off the sleep monster and trying to keep myself in a position that my legs didn’t hurt. After my meetings I limped back to my car and the office and handled before driving to the Naval Medical Center ER.
The ER and the radiology techs were great, despite bending me into positions that made me scream. The good thing was that they found no broken bones. I have some bruising on my femur, and have some pulled muscles and sprains and they discovered that I have some arthritis in my knees, hips, and ankles. No doubt from all of my running, athletic injuries, and from lugging around too much gear in criss crossing Al Anbar Province back in 2007-2008, and far too many field exercises in the Army and while serving with the Marines.
That made for a very long day, I left the ER about 5 PM and drove to my favorite local German restaurant, the Bier Garden, in Portsmouth to avoid rush hour and the pain in the ass known getting through the Downtown Tunnel, but I digress…
I usually have the Sauerbraten with a Semmel Knodel and red cabbage or sauerkraut, or sometimes their Bockwurst. Both are great and their rotating beer selections of German, European, and American craft beers is wonderful, But today I had their Ruben on German sourdough bread. I haven’t had that in a long time and and it is still to die for. The wonderful owner and operator of the Bier Garden is a German lady named Hannelore. She is an absolute doll, Judy and I love her to death.
But while I was out I was able to read the comics and check the news only to find that the President had stripped former CIA director’s security clearance and is looking at doing so to others. The interesting thing as that of those he is looking at doing this to none have committed any crimes, they are simply critics. Of course the reason that these men and women retain their clearances is not to give them access to information when they leave the organization, but rather if their expertise is needed that they can be used to help the agencies that they once ran.
The same is true for military personnel who leave the service. It is a pain in the ass to start a new clearance and takes time, that’s why the government allows such men and women to maintain clearances. It was interesting to note that the one person not being looked at to have their clearance revoked was an actual convicted criminal, Trump’s first National Security Advisor, former General Michael Flynn. I find that fascinating, only non-criminal critics are being looked at while an actual criminal is not. This leads me to believe that this unprecedented action was done to silence not just Brennan, but all critics. But then I have recently experienced the kind of fanatical vengeance from a Trump Cultist parishioner that tried to get me tried by court martial for a sermon. So I understand the what John Brennan is going through, but I digress…
Anyway, when I was done with dinner and a couple of marvelous beers, I limped to the car and went home to Judy and the the Papillon puppies and have been binge watching The Blacklist. It may not be much but I am happy. It was a fascinating day,, I got to reflect on the good things that I have been able to do in my career, muse on my current situation, think about what I will say to the congregation that the man who tried to get me tried by court martial this weekend, and be thankful for the people that I now work with, as well as Judy and the our Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre. So I didn’t make Captain or get any of the assignments, except the Staff College that I wanted after I made Commander, but Raymond Reddington once said:
“You can’t do every silly thing you want to in life. You have to make choices and be happy with them.”
I have to say that I am really learning to be happy with those choices, even the ones that were forced upon me and even with the recent experience with my parishioner. So have a great night,
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I am more concerned than ever about the fate of our country and the world. I have written much about the public statements, tweets, and policies of President Trump. I have written much about his lack of character, his relentless lying, his cruel policies, his unrequited racism, his penchant for preferring dictators to democrats (not the American political party but those who abide by its principles) his distain for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the fundamental premise of the Declaration that “All men are created equal.”
I began writing about my concerns in 2015 not long after he announced his candidacy. I have not stopped doing so even though after his inauguration I really did hope that realization of the gravity of his office would at least provoke a bit of change in him. However, that did not happen, instead the power of the office emboldened him to allow his very worst character traits to become even more corrosive and toxic.
If this was merely an argument between Democrats and Republicans on matters of policy, even hard fought and divisive policies it would be one thing, but this is different. It is a blatant denial of his oath of office and by its very nature involves the very real possibility that the President is committing treason before our very eyes. This isn’t about policy or party politics; it is about the President of the United States openly siding with the leader of a hostile power. A leader whose military intelligence agency, the GRU has been identified by every United States intelligence agency and the FBI as being behind multiple attacks at multiple levels on the United States election system. In fact these attacks are ongoing even today and the President defended Putin and attacked U.S. intelligence services as well as Special Prosecutor Robert Muller who last Friday added the indictments of another dozen Russian GRU officers to his tally, which is now up to 26 Russian officers. When questioned about a tweet in which he blamed the United States and especially the Muller investigation for the poor relationship with Russia in which the President said:
Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!
President claimed that Miller’s investigation was “is a disaster for our country.”
Shortly after the President’s defense of Russian President Putin and attacks on U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, the free press, and his domestic political opponents the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats a Republican and former Senator from Indiana who had briefed the President about this before the summit issued the following statement:
“The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers. We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.” https://www.dni.gov/index.php/newsroom/press-releases/itemlist/category/285-press-releases-2018
Former CIA Director John Brennen tweeted today:
“Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin…”
He is correct. The U.S. Constitution, Article III, Section 3 states: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.”
The U.S. Code amplifies Article III. It states:
18 U.S. Code § 2381 – “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”
It could not be clearer. The President’s actions and words over the past two years regarding Russian attack on our election system have left all Americans a choice. By all measures the President is either a completely self-absorbed imbecile who incapable of dealing with facts and in doing so inadvertently aiding the Russians; or he has something to hide and is knowingly working with the and for Russians who he has previously admitted were behind the attacks on our election system.
I don’t know which it is, or even if it is a combination of all of that. All I know as an old Cold Warrior is that the Russians are not our friends and that trampling American institutions and allies to cozy up to them is very close to the definition of treason as it it defined in the Constitution and the U.S. Code. I would say the same of any President who did as this President has done and I wouldn’t give a damn about what party they belonged.
This is very serious and cannot be swept under the rug of the next scandal or diversion by The Administration. It is the responsibility of Congress and the Courts to retrain an unchecked Executive who appears to likely to be committing treason regardless of if it is intentional or not. If they do not they are complicit in that crime and history will judge them accordingly.
General Ludwig Beck who resigned his office as the head of the German Army over Hitler’s plan to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938 and who died in the failed attempt to kill Hitler on July 20th 1944 said:
“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”
I will leave you with that. Until tomorrow,
The Lights Are Going Out: President Trump’s Appointment of War Criminals as Senior Foreign Policy Advisors
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
In her book The March of Folly: From Try to Vietnam historian Barbara Tuchman wrote:
“No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.”
If there is a man who ever embodied the truth of Tuchman’s words it is President Donald Trump.
Over the past two weeks President Trump has removed men from his cabinet who acted to restrain many of his worst instincts and who all were considered the “adults in the room.” The final nail in the coffin for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and National Security Advisor Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster was their condemnation of the actions of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, especially in the killing of Russian dissidents in the United Kingdom. Tillerson and McMaster were also proponents of maintaining the agreement engineered by the Obama Administration and European countries to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions diplomatically and economically. The two had somewhat different approaches to North Korea with Tillerson a proponent of negotiations and deterrence and McMaster more favorable to preventive military actions to stop or delay the North’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs. Additionally Trump’s Chief Economic Advisor, Gary Cohn who has advocated more moderate and
Their removal has resulted in a shake up of the national security team. CIA Director Mike Pompeo was nominated by the President to take Tillerson’s place. Pompeo is considered to be a hawk on Iran and opposed to the current accord who has called for strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities and openly mused about regime change in both Iran and North Korea. Pompeo, a graduate of West Point and a Congressman had never been in an executive position
To replace Popeo at CIA, President Trump nominated the deputy director of the CIA, Gina Haspel who according to Robert Richer who worked with her has no political agenda. That being said after 9-11 she ran an interrogation site in Thailand that engaged in the torture of detainees and recommending that tapes of those interrogations be destroyed. Her defenders state that she was operating within orders because such measures were authorized at the time. However based on precedent of the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials the defense of “just carrying out orders” or defending such actions because they were “legal” at the time is not a defense. At Nuremberg, especially in trials of those who engaged in the torture of military and political prisoners, the tribunals convicted dozens of mid-level and high level functionaries of war crimes for doing the activities and methods used by Haspel and her colleagues.
The problem with Haspel is not her devotion to her service and desire to protect the United States, but in the fact that she was willing to use the rational of present “legality” to use torture in ways that when used against Americans the United States judges to be illegal and immoral. It is no wonder that Senator John McCain who experienced such torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese has his doubts about her. My concern is that since she once engaged in such measures will she do so again if ordered. By the standards of Nuremberg she would have stood trial and probably been convicted as a war criminal, and the President has nominated her to be Director of the CIA. Richer says that he believes that she will abide by the law and speak truth to people in power. If she is confirmed as CIA Director I hope that he is right, but history demonstrates that civil servants, especially professionals in the police and intelligence services are quite adept at adapting to the methods and dictates of whoever is in power in their service to the state. Thus I am concerned.
Finally, the President replaced General McMaster with John Bolton who has since the 1990s advocated preventive war as the primary means to the end of United States national security strategy. He despises alliances, international agreements, international organizations, and any kind of universal justice. He regularly attacks the International Criminal Court, which is the direct descendent of the Nuremberg and Japan war crimes tribunals, both of which were engineered and led by the United States. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who served as the head prosecutor at the major Nuremberg War Crimes Trials noted:
“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”
Bolton rejects that proposition. In his position as President Bush’s under secretary of state for arms control and international security constantly manipulated intelligence to conform to his views and who worked to discredit colleagues and subordinates who attempted to tell the truth. He was one of the most responsible for the decision to attack Iraq which was according to conservative writer George Will was the worst foreign policy disaster “in American history.” Likewise Bolton still defends the decision to go to war against Iraq and washes his hands of the results of that decision, including the nearly 4500 American military personnel killed and over 35,000 wounded and the exponential help it gave to Iran’s desires in the region.
Bolton also would have been a candidate for prosecution at Nuremberg under counts one and two of the indictment;Conspiracy to Wage Aggressive War and Crimes Against Peace.
The President has now nominated or appointed two people (Haslip and Bolton) who are by the definition of the Nuremberg Tribunal “War Criminals” to be senior foreign policy and intelligence advisors, and a third, Pompeo, who expresses many of the same views but until now has never been in the position to exercise those views or influence the President as to implementing them.
The next six to eight weeks leading to the middle of May will be very significant to the future of the United States and the world. The President has said that he would meet with the North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile programs, and the renewal of the multi-national agreement on Iran, which both Trump and Bolton oppose. The actions of the President, guided by Bolton will decide wether the United States goes to war, possibly on multiple fronts with enemies capable of causing great damage to the United States, our allies, and the world economy. Millions of lives could be lost, including tens of thousands of United States military personnel and quite possibly millions of American civilians, not counting the lives of so many innocent people in the Middle East and Northeast Asia.
As I watch these events unfold I am reminded of the Tuchman’s immortal account of Sir Edward Grey and the outbreak of the First World War: “Watching with his failing eyes, the lamps being lit in St. James Park, Grey was heard to remark that “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them again in our lifetime.”
The lamps are going out both in the United States and around the world, and if one has any ability to use reason and think ethically one has to think of how terrible the results of President Trump’s uniformed, historically ignorant, and morally bankrupt decisions will end.
Tonight it one of those rare occasions when I am getting to watch some television that is not associated with baseball or some old movie that I like.
Tonight my favorite new show, Bates Motelwhich is positively creepy and suspenseful is having its season two finale and the classic 24returns as 24 Live Another Day. In this series Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) comes out of hiding to stop a major terrorist operation as his former ally and now President of the United States James Heller (William Devane) has dispatched the CIA to track Bauer, a wanted fugitive down. Many real issues are already being covered in the show including drone attacks, hacking, terrorism and torture conducted by the “good guys” of the CIA, and a President confronting a diagnosis of some kind of dementia.
It promises to be an excellent run as the 24 hours are compressed into 12 episodes. In it a number of familiar characters besides Bauer and Heller return including Chloe O’Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and Bauer’s former flame Audrey Raines (Kim Raver). Chloe is in custody as an Edward Snowden type hacker and Audrey is now married to Heller’s Chief of Staff played by Tate Donovan. Judging from the first hour it portends to be an excelled reprise of the original series with Bauer now on the opposite side of the law but still seeking justice and to protect his country.
As far as Bates Motelwhat might have been a series finale is now a bridge into a new season. No spoilers here as I am only patiently waiting the season finale because I am watching 24.
Since I am pretty tired from my trip to Houston that is all I am going to write about tonight. Expect another Gettysburg article tomorrow unless something trips me up. But tonight I am going to watch some suspenseful and creepy television.
Tonight Judy and I went and saw the movie Argo. I saw it the day it opened here but Judy had not seen it. When the movie began with the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran on November 4th 1979 I looked at Judy and said, “it is the anniversary.” It is hard to believe that 33 years ago was when that event happened. At the time Judy and I were still in the early stages of our courtship and it was then that I decided that I would enter the military.
I enlisted in the Army National Guard and entered Army ROTC after the hostages were released. I had been accepted into the Air Force ROTC program in early 1980 but waited a year and did the Army because I needed the money provided by a summer job that could not be made up in a 4 week Air Force Summer camp before the school year began in 1980. Such is life when you didn’t get any academic scholarships and chose to attend college in a high cost of living area.
The hostage crisis was an event that changed my life and watching the film Argo was a very emotional experience the first time that I saw it and brought tears to my eyes again tonight. It was so well done and having travelled in much of the Middle East and been surrounded by crushing crowds in Bazaars, thankfully without being accosted for taking pictures and going through various Middle Eastern nation airport security checkpoints, as well as numerous other countries in Europe and Asia I could feel a bit of the anxiety rise in me as the film showed the American fugitives from the embassy as they went through the motions of being Canadians. There have been a number of times when traveling alone on official Navy business to countries after 9-11 that I relied on my skills in German to pass a German when accosted in public for being an American in a foreign country rife with anti-American sentiments. Thank God for bad grammar and a Bavarian accent.
So now 33 years later I am still in the military and the United States and Iran are still mortal enemies and if some politicians, pundits and preachers have their way will be at war with each other, for some the sooner the better. I personally don’t understand the mentality of people that have never, or will ever serve in the military who preach a Gospel of war, of pre-emptive war under the guise of “protecting America.” Having seen the effects of the war-mongers that preach “pre-emptive” war in Iraq, both on the people of that unfortunate country and our own troops I cannot fathom yet another pre-emptive war. But there are plenty of politicians, pundits and preachers, the Unholy Trinity of war and pestilence who seek such a war with Iran. Of course should Iran ever attack us that is another matter, but to launch another war after we destroyed the military potential and power of Iran’s natural and traditional enemy Iraq which kept the Iranians at bay is altogether one of the most stupid ideas ever dreamed about, especially when the American military is stretched thin with close to 70,000 troops exposed to disaster in Afghanistan if supply lines are cut and Iran becomes more actively involved.
In January 1980 Jimmy Carter gave final approval to CIA operative Bob Mendez’s operation to bring those 6 Americans out of Iran. Since the publicity could have caused harm or death to the other American hostages held by the Iranians Carter gave the credit to the Canadians. He ordered a military operation to free those hostages which ended in disaster and would go on to lose his re-election to Ronald Reagan in 1980. Back then I did not appreciate anything that Jimmy Carter did but I have to respect the fact that he was willing not to claim credit for something that could have helped his re-election campaign in order to protect the lives of Americans.
Afghanistan is something else that hasn’t changed that much. In December 1979 the Soviets invaded that country and the United States would supply and support the Afghan Mujahideen. Some of these became the nucleus of the Taliban who along with their Arab “foreign fighter” allies under Osama Bin Laden became Al Qaeda. The Reagan administration began a program in 1985 to trade arms to Iran for American hostages with monetary proceeds being used to fund Nicaraguan rebels which resulted in the Iran-Contra affair. Both of funding of the Mujahideen and the Iran-Contra affair have come to cause the United States much grief in both the Middle East and Central and South America.
Both were short term expedient operations conducted without long term though to the results of both for American prestige as well as foreign policy, politics, economics and military operations since.
Hindsight is not a bad thing, but foresight is much better. Perhaps we can learn not to repeat the follies of those that helped create the world that we now live.
Supply Lines in Peril
This weekend there was an altercation on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in which somewhere between 24 and 28 Pakistani soldiers were killed during a NATO airstrike. Afghan military and regional government officials are saying that Afghan soldiers called in for air support after they were attacked from the Pakistani side of the border. The Pakistanis are calling the the strike an “unproved attack.” NATO and Afghan officials note that the border is not very distinguishable and that Taliban forces often will shoot from positions near Pakistani outposts. Unfortunately in Pakistan the only truth that matters is that NATO killed its soldiers and the fact that their country and some agencies specifically the intelligence service actively support the Taliban is irrelevant. The truth is that the only reason that the Pakistani government and military has halfway cooperated with NATO is because of the vast amount of military and economic aid it receives from the United States. The thin veneer of cooperation was broken this weekend and there may be little that anyone can do to reestablish any kind of real trust or cooperation despite the fact that the cooperation of the Pakistanis is a “necessary evil” as long as the US an NATO have over 100.000 troops deployed in “penny packets” around the vast rugged expanse of Afghanistan.
The fact is that depending on whose statistics you look at some 40-50% of NATO’s supplies are transported overland from the Pakistani port of Karachi to Afghanistan. The bulk of these goods are things like fuel and heavy equipment without which the ability of NATO forces in Afghanistan cannot conduct effective operations. The Pakistanis have already demanded that the US pull its CIA drone units from a key Pakistani air base and the Pakistanis are still smarting over the killing of Osama Bin Laden on their soil. The simple truth is that unless the Pakistani military can calm their country our supply lines will be cut off. Unfortunately this same military and government has used any excuse or provocation to stir up their population against the United States and NATO in order to preserve their hold on power. Now it appears that the situation has reached a point that they will not be able to control the passions that they have stirred whenever the need suits them.
If the Pakistani military and government have put themselves and us in a bind. If they appear to be “soft” on NATO in the eyes of their people they risk a popular revolt and more terrorism at home. If they harden their opposition to NATO and the US or use the latest incident to whip up more anti-NATO support they could find themselves in a war with the United States and NATO. Any misstep could be disastrous to all concerned.
Unlike the Iranians the Pakistanis actually have deployable nuclear weapons in addition to a large conventional military force. If they were to decide to stop US and NATO resupply convoys for more than a few days our operations in Afghanistan would be affected and if the impasse were to become long term it could cripple US and NATO operations in that country.
The sad truth is that the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are terribly exposed to dangers that neither they or their commanders control. It is what happens along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border that matters what happens between the United States-Israel and Iran can have a dramatic and even calamitous effect on our deployed forces.
The fact is that it is hard to replace 40-50% of your bulk supplies when they have to come by sea and the only port is in a hostile or at best semi-hostile country. If the Pakistanis were to force the issue the mission in Afghanistan would be untenable. A smaller force tailored to anti-terrorism operations could be sustained by air and via overland routes which pass through former Soviet republics but a heavy force of over 100,000 troops scattered across thousands of square miles of mountainous terrain cannot be sustained unless the supply lines for bulk fuel, water, food and heavy equipment are secure.
Logistics is not sexy but no modern military can do without it. You do not operate heavy mechanized forces in hostile territory without reliable supply lines. Simply ask the Germans in Stalingrad or the French at Dien Bien Phu how well they did when supplies were cut off.
It just doesn’t seem to me that most people especially politicians see the danger that US and NATO troops face in Afghanistan from forces that they cannot control in surrounding countries. This is a dangerous situation and even if the current impasse is resolved the long-term outlook is bleak as long as the Pakistani regime plays both sides of the fence.
If the supply lines were severed for any length of time the mission in Afghanistan would have to be reevaluated and the possibility of military action to reopen them considered. At that point all bets are off and God help us. It would not be good.
Two years ago my group of Individual Augmentees was leaving Ft Jackson South Carolina on the way to Kuwait, which was our final training site before going on to our assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and other locations in the CENTCOM Area of Operations. In the two weeks prior to our departure we received training in a number of areas, especially weapons which I was exempted from as a Chaplain, though I did fire the crew served weapons for the fun of it. I wasn’t always a chaplain and have a hard time not enjoying a Mk 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher, M-240 series machine gun or the classic .50 caliber Machine Gun. Since I used to call in 155mm Artillery fire these are little guns, but still fun to play with. When you are chaplain and are exempted from actual training it does not mean that it is time to go to the Food Court at the Post Exchange to chow down on Pizza and Ice Cream. Ministry abounds if you want to go hang out. One of the fun things about hanging out with Navy guys unfamiliar with small arms is to watch them trying to clean them and get them past an Army armorer in an Arms Room. To see the looks of shock as my fellow sailors brought back their M-16s and M-9s for more cleaning. They had not yet learned the dirty little secret that a good armorer can find things dirty on a weapon that you didn’t even know existed. It was at this point with me calmly pointing out tricks of the trade that a physician who I had gotten to know looked at me and said: “Chaplain, you were in the Army weren’t you?” He looked at me as several others who had just had their weapons rejected stopped what they were doing and waited for my response.
I was kind; I acknowledged that indeed I had served in the Army and that I was not always a Chaplain. I then looked at the physician and said “Give me the weapon.” I took it from him, broke it down and gave a quick lecture on how to clean a weapon of the M-16 series. The dirty secret on these things is that you almost never get your weapon through the inspector on the first try. There are more places for carbon to hide on an M-16 than places you can find Waldo. Thus a good inspector knowing that he has a bunch of novices coming through simply rejects every weapon. I think that it builds character. I showed those around me all the little places where carbon was hiding on this officer’s weapon and how to get it clean to pass inspection. Knowing such things gives you additional “street cred” as a chaplain as you go off to war. It shows that you care about what your guys have to do enough to teach them. This is really vital when your Navy or Air force guys are training with the Army. It opened doors to ministry with these men and women. So if any of my deploying friends need some pointers on the care and feeding of an M-16 let me know.
Additionally, ministry seems to happen when you stay engaged with people. I was blessed that two additional chaplains, Commander Kyle Fauntleroy and Command Dave Rodriguez who were heading off to manage the “Warrior Transition” program in Kuwait. Together we figured out how best to care for our sailors including how we did services as well as counseling. We had a pretty good amount of business. It seems that life and tragedy happens even in training. We had a young hospital corpsman who was diagnosed with Leukemia during our first week there. Both the Navy chain of command and Army trainers expected us, in between and after training to make sure that she and her family were cared for. Other sailors found out that their husbands, wives or significant others were cheating on them. Still others were hurt in training accidents and could not deploy. In every case one or more of us took care of the sailor in question. It was a community of individuals that for a brief two weeks began to gel together despite the fact that when the training was completed we would go separate directions, some for more training at other bases and others directly to the Middle East.
Apart from the young woman with Leukemia the most notable thing that I got to do was baptize a young Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer who had been raised in the Episcopal Church but who’s parents had forgotten to have him baptized…oops. The subject came up when he became engaged to a Catholic girl. He needed to prove that he was a baptized Christian, only problem when he went to his parish they could find no record. So he inquired of his parents when he learned of the “oops we should have done that” situation. I like to baptize people, they way we do it you don’t have to wear hip-waders or make up anything because it is all in the Prayer Book so it’s not that hard. So I did it on our last Sunday morning with his fiancé present. It was really cool. The young officer had the bunk next to me in the barracks so we had gotten to know each other during conversations as we checked or put together equipment, packed gear, washed clothes or went to chow. He was very smart and friends as well as unassuming. When asked what he did in civilian life he simply said that he worked intelligence and foreign policy in DC. I figured as most would infer that the young man was with the CIA or DIA or some other outfit. We saw each other a couple of times as Nelson and I traveled about Al Anbar Province the last time in the Wal-Mart sized chow hall number three at Al Asad as we waited for a flight out west. After I returned and was having my PTSD meltdown I found that the young man was then Senator Barak Obama’s senior National security adviser. We had stayed in touch in the following months but finding out this was a surprise. We have remained in touch and he now serves as Chief of Staff for the National Security Council. I think it’s cool that he is up there working with General Jones on the NSC. He’s a good man who despite his high position remains active in the Naval Reserve. He is doing well in his marriage and remains in contact with guys like me. It makes me even more prayerful for him as he advises the NSC and President. It was one of those moments when I knew that the Deity Herself had placed me in a person’s life that due to his office needs prayer more than we can imagine.
Ministry of all types continued to happen our entire time at Fort Jackson, we dealt with family deaths, birth notifications and medical emergencies. We counseled, prayed and assisted sailors in need and looked out for each other. Nelson was engaged not only receiving training but also giving it having run something like 400 convoys in Afghanistan. He ended up as one of the honor graduates and won a leadership award from the Army staff. It is really great to have an assistant of Nelson’s caliber when you go to war. As we got ready to leave Ft Jackson my young friend went off for more specific training at another base with many of the other Intelligence Officers and specialists. Nelson and I packed up our gear, stacked it and helped load trucks which would take us to our flight.