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Suspense Monday: 24 Live Another Day and Bates Motel

28526624LADgalin22janv2014

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.

bates-motel

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.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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November 4th 1979: The Beginning of the Iranian Hostage Crisis and a New World

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.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The War that No One wants to Fight: Pakistan 2011

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.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Adjusting Strategy to Reality

Taliban Fighters

“The core goal of the U.S. strategy in the Afghanistan and Pakistan theater remains to disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al-Qa’ida in the region and to prevent its return to either country…” US Strategy in Afghanistan for 2011

“The aim of war should be the defeat of the enemy.  But what constitutes defeat?  The conquest of his whole territory is not always necessary, and total occupation of his territory may not be enough.” Carl Von Clausewitz

Strategic goals cannot remain fixed on geographic objectives which have lost their strategic importance because it is no longer the enemy’s center of gravity. On September 11th 2011 the Taliban ruled Afghanistan which harbored Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda terrorist organization became the central front in the new “War on Terrorism.”  For about a year Afghanistan remained the central focus of United States efforts against Al Qaeda until President Bush and his administration changed the primary effort to the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime.

The effect of switching the American strategic focus from Afghanistan where we were making headway despite the limited resources provided to Iraq was a mistake of epic proportions that only became evident when Iraq did not go the way that the Bush administration led by Vice President Dick Cheney. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Bremer the head of the Coalition Provision Authority planned.  Instead of a quick withdraw a series of mistakes and miscalculations turned the majority of the Iraqi people who had welcomed US Forces with open arms against us and an insurgency which claimed over 4000 American military personnel deaths and over 30,000 wounded became our primary focus.  We are still trying to figure out how to end our involvement in that country hoping that Iraq will not sink into another civil war.

Contrary to expectations Iraq became a front which consumed U.S. Forces and limited strategic flexibility in other regions of the world including Afghanistan.  In that country the indigenous Taliban which had been driven from power in 2001 began a gradual and deliberate return to political and military viability which was finally noticed by the United States in 2008 and 2009.  The Taliban were supported by the Pakistani Taliban, elements of the Bin Laden organization and in many cases duplicitous elements within the Pakistani military and intelligence services which were using the situation to support their own strategic goals of gaining influence in Afghanistan while strengthening their position against their perceived mortal enemy India.  Throughout the war the Pakistanis acted in their own interest while placating American demands to do more against the Taliban and Al Qaeda operating in Pakistan proper.

The Obama administration attempted to regain the initiative with a “surge” of 30,000 additional troops which raised the overall commitment of the United States to a force of over 100,000 troops assisted by NATO Allies and the corrupt, ill-trained and often Taliban Afghan Army and Police.  The surge was controversial and marked with controversy was the US Commander General Stanley McCrystal was relieved of command after an article in the Rolling Stone magazine which made it appear that he held the Obama administration in contempt. Since McCrystal recently returned to the Administration in a civilian capacity one wonders if the administration discovered that the article was meant to discredit McCrystal. McCrystal was relieved by his superior CENTCOM Commander General David Petreaus who had helped devise the strategy which in conjunction with the Anbar Awakening turned the tide against Al Qaeda and indigenous Iraqi insurgents in 2007-2008.  It achieved some success but even the United States recognizes that whatever success has been wrought is fragile and could easily be erased.

Unfortunately while the United States and its Allies continue to reinforce the campaign in Afghanistan their efforts are often undercut by the corrupt and duplicitous regime of Mohammed Karzai as well as our supposed Pakistani allies.  The Karzai regime hunkered down in Kabul has little influence outside the Presidential Palace except in its dealing in the Opium trade which helps finance the Taliban. The Pakistanis have over the 10 year duration of the war failed to maintain the security on their side of the border and often have clandestinely supported the Taliban and according to some may have given sanctuary to Al Qaeda.  The most recent setback came today when the Pakistani Chief of the General Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Chief of Intelligence Ahmed Shuja Pasha issued a demand for the US to stop Predator Drone strikes in the border regions, cut Special Forces and CIA Staff and give the Pakistani Intelligence Service, the ISI visibility on CIA operations.  This has been long in the works but came to a head with the arrest of a CIA contractor under the suspicion of murdering two Pakistanis.  The incident created quite a rift in US and Pakistani relations in part brought about by internal Pakistani politics.  Of course the ISI has long been a source of aid to the Taliban so the United States has good reason not to trust the ISI with information that could endanger American lives.

Protests in Bahrain: The Arabian Peninsula as the new Center of Gravity

The fact is without full Pakistani cooperation and substantial Afghani political reform to end corruption and provide real security to Afghani people there is no way to set conditions for a US withdraw that would leave Afghanistan a less dangerous place for its own people and for US and Western security interests. After all no one wants another 9-11 attack.  The US plans to begin withdrawing forces this year but the mission has been extended to at least 2014 at a cost of 119.4 billion dollars per year at the estimated 2011 rate and has increased exponentially since the US involvement began in 2001. The cost of the Afghanistan war in human, material and economic terms has imperiled other strategic priorities and limits the flexibility of the United States in other more vital regions.

Afghanistan is now an expensive sideshow in a larger war where the strategic center of gravity has shifted decisively to the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean where Al Qaeda seeks to use democratic revolts against autocratic despots to further its own ends. The key countries are Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict boiling over.  While all of these crises grow on what seem to be a daily basis the United States and its Allies are mired in Afghanistan reinforcing failure.  Our troops on the ground have not lost a battle but like our brothers in Vietnam could “lose” the war.

This is the point where political and military leaders have to count the cost of the operation and weigh them against our actual strategic interests. The fact is if we withdrew the bulk of our ground combat forces and shifted to a lower footprint special operations and CIA campaign with a goal of ensuring that Al Qaeda cannot operate in Afghanistan with impunity as they did before 9-11 that we would likely be no worse off than we are now and have a greater amount of strategic flexibility to deal with other crises, political, military and humanitarian around the world.

The real crux of the issue is that Afghanistan is much like Stalingrad to the Germans in 1942. It has become a psychological more than a military campaign. We have invested so much in it that we do not believe that we can withdraw even though a scaled back presence would do much to improve our overall strategic situation.  Hitler denuded more important areas to attempt to capture Stalingrad and lost everything. Yes Al Qaeda used Afghanistan as its base to attack us in 2001 but they have moved on and Al Qaeda in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula is a far greater strategic danger simply because of the oil supplies and strategic waterways in the area.

We simply need to look at all components of national strategy and decide where to concentrate.  Sometimes a strategic withdraw is necessary and actually vital to recover the initiative and set the stage for long term success. In Afghanistan this is not an admission of defeat but rather an acknowledgement that the central focus of the war and our strategic interests are elsewhere.  Our enemies would love to have us continue the campaign in Afghanistan in its current form, they know that our commitment drains our military, imperils our overall strategy and bleeds us dry economically all the while providing propaganda grist for them in their war against us.

However despite the cost the political situation in the United States keeps President Obama invested in Afghanistan. If he withdraws his opponents will say that he lost the war. Unfortunately the war in Afghanistan was ceded to the Taliban in 2003 when we decided that Iraq was more important. Now we reap the terrible consequences of that decision.  Now we have to decide how to make something positive out of this unenviable strategic position. But as Napoleon Bonaparte said “In order to govern, the question is not to follow out a more or less valid theory but to build with whatever materials are at hand. The inevitable must be accepted and turned to advantage.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Going to War: Ministry amid Training

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.

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