“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Monday, October 26, 2015

"In Washington, freedom has become a euphemism for dominion. Spreading freedom means positioning the United States to call the shots. Seen in this context, Washington’s expected victories in both Afghanistan and Iraq were meant to affirm and broaden its preeminence by incorporating large parts of the Islamic world into the American imperium. "


On building armies (and watching them fail)

Why Washington can’t “stand up” foreign militaries
Le Monde  diplomatique 15 OCTOBER, by Andrew J. Bacevich
First came Fallujah, then Mosul, and later Ramadi in Iraq. Now, there is Kunduz, a provincial capital in northern Afghanistan. In all four places, the same story has played out: in cities that newspaper reporters like to call “strategically important,” security forces trained and equipped by the U.S. military at great expense simply folded, abandoning their posts (and much of their U.S.-supplied weaponry) without even mounting serious resistance. Called upon to fight, they fled. In each case, the defending forces gave way before substantially outnumbered attackers, making the outcomes all the more ignominious.
Together, these setbacks have rendered a verdict on the now more-or-less nameless Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Successive blitzkriegs by ISIS and the Taliban respectively did more than simply breach Iraqi and Afghan defenses. They also punched gaping holes in the strategy to which the United States had reverted in hopes of stemming the further erosion of its position in the Greater Middle East.

Recall that, when the United States launched its GWOT soon after 9/11, it did so pursuant to a grandiose agenda. U.S. forces were going to imprint onto others a specific and exalted set of values. During President George W. Bush’s first term, this “freedom agenda” formed the foundation, or at least the rationale, for U.S. policy.

The shooting would stop, Bush vowed, only when countries like Afghanistan had ceased to harbor anti-American terrorists and countries like Iraq had ceased to encourage them. Achieving this goal meant that the inhabitants of those countries would have to change. Afghans and Iraqis, followed in due course by Syrians, Libyans, Iranians, and sundry others would embrace democracy, respect human rights, and abide by the rule of law, or else. Through the concerted application of American power, they would become different — more like us and therefore more inclined to get along with us. A bit less Mecca and Medina, a bit more “we hold these truths” and “of the people, by the people.”

So Bush and others in his inner circle professed to believe. At least some of them, probably including Bush himself, may actually have done so.

History, at least the bits and pieces to which Americans attend, seemed to endow such expectations with a modicum of plausibility. Had not such a transfer of values occurred after World War II when the defeated Axis Powers had hastily thrown in with the winning side? Had it not recurred as the Cold War was winding down, when previously committed communists succumbed to the allure of consumer goods and quarterly profit statements?
If the appropriate mix of coaching and coercion were administered, Afghans and Iraqis, too, would surely take the path once followed by good Germans and nimble Japanese, and subsequently by Czechs tired of repression and Chinese tired of want. Once liberated, grateful Afghans and Iraqis would align themselves with a conception of modernity that the United States had pioneered and now exemplified. For this transformation to occur, however, the accumulated debris of retrograde social conventions and political arrangements that had long retarded progress would have to be cleared away. This was what the invasions of Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom!) and Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom!) were meant to accomplish in one fell swoop by a military the likes of which had (to hear Washington tell it) never been seen in history. POW!

Standing them up as we stand down

Concealed within that oft-cited “freedom” — the all-purpose justification for deploying American power — were several shades of meaning. The term, in fact, requires decoding. Yet within the upper reaches of the American national security apparatus, one definition takes precedence over all others. In Washington, freedom has become a euphemism for dominion. Spreading freedom means positioning the United States to call the shots. Seen in this context, Washington’s expected victories in both Afghanistan and Iraq were meant to affirm and broaden its preeminence by incorporating large parts of the Islamic world into the American imperium. They would benefit, of course, but to an even greater extent, so would we.

Alas, liberating Afghans and Iraqis turned out to be a tad more complicated than the architects of Bush’s freedom (or dominion) agenda anticipated. Well before Barack Obama succeeded Bush in January 2009, few observers — apart from a handful of ideologues and militarists — clung to the fairy tale of U.S. military might whipping the Greater Middle East into shape. Brutally but efficiently, war had educated the educable. As for the uneducable, they persisted in taking their cues from Fox News and the Weekly Standard.

Yet if the strategy of transformation via invasion and “nation building” had failed, there was a fallback position that seemed to be dictated by the logic of events. Together, Bush and Obama would lower expectations as to what the United States was going to achieve, even as they imposed new demands on the U.S. military, America’s go-to outfit in foreign policy, to get on with the job.

Rather than midwifing fundamental political and cultural change, the Pentagon was instead ordered to ramp up its already gargantuan efforts to create local militaries (and police forces) capable of maintaining order and national unity. President Bush provided a concise formulation of the new strategy: “As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” Under Obama, after his own stab at a “surge,” the dictum applied to Afghanistan as well. Nation-building had flopped. Building armies and police forces able to keep a lid on things now became the prevailing definition of success.

The United States had, of course, attempted this approach once before, with unhappy results. This was in Vietnam. There, efforts to destroy North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces intent on unifying their divided country had exhausted both the U.S. military and the patience of the American people. Responding to the logic of events, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon had a tacitly agreed upon fallback position. As the prospects of American forces successfully eliminating threats to South Vietnamese security faded, the training and equipping of the South Vietnamese to defend themselves became priority number one.

Dubbed “Vietnamization,” this enterprise ended in abject failure with the fall of Saigon in 1975. Yet that failure raised important questions to which members of the national security elite might have attended: Given a weak state with dubious legitimacy, how feasible is it to expect outsiders to invest indigenous forces with genuine fighting power? How do differences in culture or history or religion affect the prospects for doing so? Can skill ever make up for a deficit of will? Can hardware replace cohesion? Above all, if tasked with giving some version of Vietnamization another go, what did U.S. forces need to do differently to ensure a different result?

At the time, with general officers and civilian officials more inclined to forget Vietnam than contemplate its implications, these questions attracted little attention. Instead, military professionals devoted themselves to gearing up for the next fight, which they resolved would be different. No more Vietnams — and therefore no more Vietnamization.
After the Gulf War of 1991, basking in the ostensible success of Operation Desert Storm, the officer corps persuaded itself that it had once and for all banished its Vietnam-induced bad memories. As Commander-in-Chief George H.W. Bush so memorably put it, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”

In short, the Pentagon now had war figured out. Victory had become a foregone conclusion. As it happened, this self-congratulatory evaluation left U.S. troops ill-prepared for the difficulties awaiting them after 9/11 when interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq departed from the expected script, which posited short wars by a force beyond compare ending in decisive victories. What the troops got were two very long wars with no decision whatsoever. It was Vietnam on a smaller scale all over again — times two.

Vietnamization 2.0

For Bush in Iraq and Obama after a brief, half-hearted flirtation with counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, opting for a variant of Vietnamization proved to be a no-brainer. Doing so offered the prospect of an escape from all complexities. True enough, Plan A — we export freedom and democracy — had fallen short. But Plan B — they (with our help) restore some semblance of stability — could enable Washington to salvage at least partial success in both places. With the bar suitably lowered, a version of “Mission Accomplished” might still be within reach.

If Plan A had looked to U.S. troops to vanquish their adversaries outright, Plan B focused on prepping besieged allies to take over the fight. Winning outright was no longer the aim — given the inability of U.S. forces to do so, this was self-evidently not in the cards — but holding the enemy at bay was.

Although allied with the United States, only in the loosest sense did either Iraq or Afghanistan qualify as a nation-state. Only nominally and intermittently did governments in Baghdad and Kabul exercise a writ of authority commanding respect from the people known as Iraqis and Afghans. Yet in the Washington of George Bush and Barack Obama, a willing suspension of disbelief became the basis for policy. In distant lands where the concept of nationhood barely existed, the Pentagon set out to create a full-fledged national security apparatus capable of defending that aspiration as if it represented reality. From day one, this was a faith-based undertaking.

As with any Pentagon project undertaken on a crash basis, this one consumed resources on a gargantuan scale — $25 billion in Iraq and an even more staggering $65 billion in Afghanistan. “Standing up” the requisite forces involved the transfer of vast quantities of equipment and the creation of elaborate U.S. training missions. Iraqi and Afghan forces acquired all the paraphernalia of modern war — attack aircraft or helicopters, artillery and armored vehicles, night vision devices and drones. Needless to say, stateside defense contractors lined upin droves to cash in.

Based on their performance, the security forces on which the Pentagon has lavished years of attention remain visibly not up to the job. Meanwhile, ISIS warriors, without the benefit of expensive third-party mentoring, appear plenty willing to fight and die for their cause. Ditto Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The beneficiaries of U.S. assistance? Not so much. Based on partial but considerable returns, Vietnamization 2.0 seems to be following an eerily familiar trajectory that should remind anyone of Vietnamization 1.0. Meanwhile, the questions that ought to have been addressed back when our South Vietnamese ally went down to defeat have returned with a vengeance.

The most important of those questions challenges the assumption that has informed U.S. policy in the Greater Middle East since the freedom agenda went south: that Washington has a particular knack for organizing, training, equipping, and motivating foreign armies. Based on the evidence piling up before our eyes, that assumption appears largely false. On this score, retired Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, a former military commander and U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, has rendered an authoritative judgment. “Our track record at building [foreign] security forces over the past 15 years is miserable,” he recently told the New York Times. Just so.

Fighting the wrong war

Some might argue that trying harder, investing more billions, sending yet more equipment for perhaps another 15 years will produce more favorable results. But this is akin to believing that, given sufficient time, the fruits of capitalism will ultimately trickle down to benefit the least among us or that the march of technology holds the key to maximizing human happiness. You can believe it if you want, but it’s a mug’s game.

Indeed, the United States would be better served if policymakers abandoned the pretense that the Pentagon possesses any gift whatsoever for “standing up” foreign military forces. Prudence might actually counsel that Washington assume instead, when it comes to organizing, training, equipping, and motivating foreign armies, that the United States is essentially clueless.

Exceptions may exist. For example, U.S. efforts have probably helped boost the fighting power of the Kurdish peshmerga. Yet such exceptions are rare enough to prove the rule. Keep in mind that before American trainers and equipment ever showed up, Iraq’s Kurds already possessed the essential attributes of nationhood. Unlike Afghans and Iraqis, Kurds do not require tutoring in the imperative of collective self-defense.

What are the policy implications of giving up the illusion that the Pentagon knows how to build foreign armies? The largest is this: subletting war no longer figures as a plausible alternative to waging it directly. So where U.S. interests require that fighting be done, like it or not, we’re going to have to do that fighting ourselves. By extension, in circumstances where U.S. forces are demonstrably incapable of winning or where Americans balk at any further expenditure of American blood — today in the Greater Middle East both of these conditions apply — then perhaps we shouldn’t be there. To pretend otherwise is to throw good money after bad or, as a famous American general once put it, to wage (even if indirectly) “the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy." This we have been doing now for several decades across much of the Islamic world.

In American politics, we await the officeholder or candidate willing to state the obvious and confront its implications.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is professor emeritus of history and international relations at Boston University. He is the author of Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, among other works. His new book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East (Random House), is due out in April 2016.



    ... Based on the evidence piling up before our eyes, that assumption appears largely false. On this score, retired Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, a former military commander and U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, has rendered an authoritative judgment. “Our track record at building [foreign] security forces over the past 15 years is miserable,” he recently told the New York Times. Just so.


    WASHINGTON – Russian warplanes sent to Syria to back the regime of Bashar Assad are breaking down at a rapid rate that appears to be affecting their ability to strike targets, according to a senior Defense official.

    Nearly one-third of Russian attack planes and half of its transport aircraft are grounded at any time as the harsh, desert conditions take a toll on equipment and crews, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive intelligence matters.

    The Russians appear to be having difficulty adapting to the dusty conditions, and the number of airstrikes they have conducted seems to have dipped slightly.

    "For deployed forces, that's a hideous rate," said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group, an aerospace consulting firm.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin deployed warplanes, including Russia's advanced Fullback ground-attack jet, helicopters and troops to a base near Latakia, Syria, in September. In addition, at least a dozen transport planes have been stationed there.

    "They could have bad operating procedures, inadequate supplies of spare parts and support crews," Aboulafia said.

    Russia's inexperience deploying forces at some distance, unlike their military actions in bordering countries such as Ukraine and Georgia, could also account for problems keeping planes in the air, he said.

    "An awful lot of expeditionary warfare revolves around logistics," Aboulafia said. "A lot of it comes down to experience. They don't have that much of it."

    For U.S. warplanes, readiness rates of less than 80% would attract attention from top brass, said a senior Air Force commander with multiple combat deployments in the Middle East. The officer was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter. However, the officer noted that planes break, especially in austere, deployed conditions. He characterized mission-readiness rates of less than 80% as a matter of concern, not alarm.

    David Deptula, a retired three-star Air Force general who led planning for the air war in Operation Desert Storm, said the rates for American fighters in combat zones has been above 90%. The readiness rate of 70% for Russian fighters isn't surprising, he said, because they lack experience being deployed and have been flying their jets hard. He called their rates for cargo planes, “pretty low."

    1. .

      Don't know much about maintaining readiness expect what I read occasionally (it's amazing how many hours of maintenance and repair are required for hours flown or advanced planes like the F-22 and F-35 once it starts flying), but the last remark above that 'they have been flying their jets hard' seems notable.

      When compared to the US, the relatively few planes the Russians have deployed have conducted a heck of a lot of missions.


    2. .

      ...maintaining readiness 'except'...


  3. Western-backed rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have rejected an offer of military support from Russia.

    An FSA spokesman told the BBC that Moscow could not be trusted and that its help was not needed.
    Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that Russia was ready to help the rebels if they attacked militants from the Islamic State (IS) group.
    Russia, a key ally of the Syrian government, has carried out air strikes in the country since last month.
    Moscow says the strikes have mainly targeted IS, but Western powers say most have hit the FSA and other factions backed by the West and Gulf states.
    In his offer to the FSA, Mr Lavrov said the Russian air force could support the FSA provided the US shared information about rebel positions.


    President Obama recently announced the U.S. will keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through 2016 and 5,500 in 2017 in a “train and assist” role. But, the death of an American soldier on just such a mission in Iraq last week proves that these troops will not be out of harm’s way.

    Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, a highly decorated Delta Force leader and father of four, was shot dead during a rescue mission on an ISIS-held facility in Iraq. He was one of 30 American special operations soldiers who swept into the facility along with Kurdish troops on five U.S. helicopters. Seventy ISIS-held hostages were freed during an intense firefight, and 20 ISIS militants were killed.

    Wheeler had survived 14 tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it was the "train and assist" mission, a mission that was not supposed to involve U.S. troops in combat, that ultimately took his life. He is the first American to die in combat since the battle against ISIS began last year.

    The train-and-assist mission in Iraq is much the same as the one Obama described for Afghanistan earlier this month, and Wheeler’s death is a sobering reminder that U.S. troops in Afghanistan face grave danger.

  5. Wouldn’t it just be easier to prosecute the Neocons, throw them in jail, hang a few and tabulate the damage caused by them?

    1. First in the dock:


      We all voted for Bush, and McCain as well.

      Look, we wouldn't be in Afghanistan if we had been attacked from Afghanistan.

      The Light Bringer has said it is the war we must not lose, so he is hanging tough.

      One might, actually, be safer in Afghanistan than on some of the streets of Philly, much less Detroit.

      I don't know what to do about this sad situation, and you don't either.

      It doesn't help any to re write history.

  6. The training of foreign troops requires a 'deft' hand.

    The US Army basically abandoned the concept in the 1980's, turning US Special Forces into SWAT teams.
    It was working in Vietnam prior to the massive incursion of US troops, although the government of Vietnam was never in favor of militarizing the Montagnard.

    The training the Iraqi Army received was a 'joke', provided by line troops that had no training, much less any inclination for the project.

    Delta Force has no training in training foreign troops.
    They just don't.
    It was never part of the Delta Force job description.

  7. Another interesting sidebar, from Sodastream ...
    Now trading at $15.40, with a P/E of 39.43

    Someone told us it was undervalued at $29.11 back on 14JUL2014
    At that price the P/E would be north of 70, today.

    Not a good "value" investment, not at a P/E above 70+, nor at a P/E of 39.43.

    Some folks let their emotions rule their decisions.
    They often cannot get a refi on their homes, then they blame the "system" for their poor decision making.

    1. It's tough all around in the Obama Economy these days, and, if the nation goes totally nuts and elects Sanders, it will get much worse.

      What is the smart move in Venezuela for investors ?

      I never have bought stocks, almost the entirety of my life has been spent on paying off land debts.

      I got a place to pitch a tent.

      Cold in the winter to be sure.


      But I don't need the Wall Street Journal, and don't play the dart throwing stock picking game...

    2. Jack HawkinsMon Oct 26, 10:42:00 AM EDT
      Another interesting sidebar, from Sodastream ...
      Now trading at $15.40, with a P/E of 39.43

      Someone told us it was undervalued at $29.11 back on 14JUL2014
      At that price the P/E would be north of 70, today.

      Not a good "value" investment, not at a P/E above 70+, nor at a P/E of 39.43.

      Some folks let their emotions rule their decisions.
      They often cannot get a refi on their homes, then they blame the "system" for their poor decision making.


      Out of prison?

    3. The GOOD news for soda stream?

      They got rid of over 500 palestinian employees that were being paid 3 times the average West Bank wage...

      SodaStream is sill a good investment and a great company...

      Has made MILLION for it's employees in salaries and made MILLION in tax revenue for Israel.

      Prices go up, prices go down, speculating aint investing...

      And you aint an investor...

  8. The US track record in the Middle East is abysmal.
    It is not much better south of the border, in Mexico ...

    The colossal mess and failure of Mérida
    Reforma is reporting the United States has again blocked a portion of funds due to be given to Mexico through the Merida Initiative. The initiative was established to support Mexico in funds and equipment, in its fight against drugs.

    The U.S. with withhold 15% (5M)of the total annual budget allocated, until the State Department issues a certification that Mexico has met the human rights standards.

    The U.S. decided on this action in part based on the Iguala case of the killing and kidnapping of 49 persons on September 26-27, 2014. 43 of the 49, mostly normalistas, are missing and presumed dead, ( the majority of people in Mexico are discounting the official explanation by the Enrique Peña Nieto administration).

    Other cases are of extrajudicial killings such as the 22 in Tlatlaya. And 16 in Apatzingán, Michoacán where police were heard saying “mow them down like dogs” when killing or injuring the unarmed citizens including children. Some photos reveal a few of the citizens, with the only weapon they had in their vehicles, sticks. Citizens reported federal police of planting the few weapons shown in photos.

    The US government significantly strengthened its partnership with Mexico in combating organized crime in 2007 when it announced the Merida Initiative, a multi-year US security assistance package for Mexico. Aside from funds, the U.S. has provided equipment and training.

  9. I am waiting for the building of The Wall.

    Canada is a great country.

    Mexico is the shits.

    What can one say ?

    It has always been the same, my entire life.

    1. Why is that ?

      Everyone knows it.

      Not many wish to immigrate to Mexico, except Quirk, when he has been dreaming of Maria.

      My Niece and her new boyfriend/perhaps husband (I hope they do get married) are thinking of settling in USA, where he has relatives, or perhaps Canada, and they both have wonderful futures.

      Mexico doesn't seem to come up on their wish list.

      So, the opinion of Uncle Bob that Mexico is a shit hole, and Canada a heck of a nice place seems to be shared by folks all over the world.

      Why ?

    2. Cuba ?

      Venezuela ?

      Not on their wish list, either.

      That is for the Sandersnistas Folks, which they are not.

  10. In Mexico, if you are arrested, and you might very well be arrested, you are presumed guilty until you can prove yourself innocent. In the USA and Canada the reverse is true. Given the nature of the Mexican 'criminal justice system' your best move is to have some money, and pay off the police, and the prosecutor.

    My Dad pointed this out to me long ago.

    Mexico is a shit hole, always has been, always will be.......until the Glorious Coming Of The Next Revolution after the last failed two....

    1. Since learning that, I have never really wanted to go there.....

      Costa Rica might be another matter....

    2. Most of Latin America uses The Napoleonic Code. Stay in Idaho.

    3. Excellent advice.

      I shall take it.

    4. Deuce ☂Mon Oct 26, 11:34:00 AM EDT
      Most of Latin America uses The Napoleonic Code. Stay in Idaho.

      Maybe in the abstract.... But in practice?

      Ask your pal Rat how the "The Napoleonic Code" worked with the death squads he trained?

  11. Remember this guy?

    Update on the CEO who made $70,000 minimum wage for all his employees

    In early 2015, Dan Price, the founder of Gravity Systems—a credit card processing company based in Washington—shocked his employees by announcing he was raising his company's minimum wage to $70,000 per year. The story went viral and not surprisingly, conservatives like Rush Limbaugh howled "socialism!"

    "Anyway, he's not tying this to anything other than employment. He's not tying it to performance. He's not tying it to sales. This is pure, unadulterated socialism, which has never worked. That's why I hope this company is a case study in MBA programs on how socialism does not work, because it's gonna fail. My guess is that just like when Solyndra went south, there will not be a story on Gravity Payments succumbing to gravity and going under."

    So how is Gravity doing these days? Incredible:

    Revenue is growing at twice the rate it was before Chief Executive Dan Price made his announcement this spring, according to a report on Profits have doubled. Customer retention is up, despite some who left because they disagreed with the decision or feared service would suffer. (Price said he’d make up the extra cost by cutting his own $1.1 million pay.)

    1. Not only has employee turnover been extremely low, they've attracted new talent:

      Gravity was inundated with résumés -- 4,500 in the first week alone -- including one from a high-powered 52-year-old Yahoo executive named Tammi Kroll, who was so inspired by Price that she quit her job and in September went to work for Gravity at what she insisted would be an 80-85 percent pay cut. "I spent many years chasing the money," she says. "Now I'm looking for something fun and meaningful."

      That's incredible growth. Stay tuned and we'll follow to see if Gravity can continue their rise in years to come.


    2. The whole thing sounds like one big flam to me........

    3. From the SAME article...

      Outsource it all.

      Andrew Alexander Founder, Limitless Academy, Scottsdale, Arizona

      "I pay my people $4 per hour. No, that's not a typo," says Alexander. "My most recent hire is named Mary, and she lives in the Philippines, which annoys a lot of my American friends struggling to get work. This is becoming the new norm for startup entrepreneurs. With limited funding, it's important to get the most as we can out of every dollar.

      "But this goes beyond the money. I've been working with Mary since last September, and she's the hardest-working person I've ever seen. She rotates her sleep schedule around U.S. time, often working in the wee hours of the night.

      "While many people think $4 is not a lot, this is way more than the going rate in other areas of the world. I am happy with their results, my customers are more happy, and she is happy because she is making more money than all of her friends."



  12. "A credit card processing company"


    This sounds quite Quirkian......

    Something is up......or down....

    I'm of the old school, the old school of thought that taught...........'the less credit cards you have in your wallet the richer you are'..........whatever Rush may say.................

    How many credit cards do Hillary and Huma have in their purses........government credit cards no less.......

  13. Ben Carson "used to go after people with rocks, bricks, baseball bats, hammers, . . . . and, of course, many people know about the time when I was 14, and Tried To Stab Someone."


    1. Heck most of Deuce's friends go after Jews with knives and he has no problems with that....

      Rat used to do wet ops....