Current Events

As longer time readers know, this blog – like my writing – cycles back and fourth between events of the Cold War and more contemporary matters, in particular the current state of America’s involvement in both shadow warfare and more overt combat against the radical jihadi movement.  That sort of scope gets very challenging.  Right now my editor and I are working on the last six chapters of Surprise Attack, which moves us through the attacks of 2001, the challenges of international diplomatic involvement and Benghazi, right up to the reemergence of a new confrontation with a resurgent nationalist movement and the return of the nuclear card to Geo-politics.

While that’s all well and good,  I continue to be appalled at the tremendous lack of knowledge exists in Washington DC in regard to the evolving jihadi war – the fact that nobody has coined a good name for it (its certainly not as simple as a  war on terror and) only illustrates the dramatic lack of national strategy to deal with it. It’s particularly galling to see the degree of ignorance expressed in the political positions of virtually all the declared 2016 Presidential candidates, or those with enough nerve to actually express their beliefs.  About the best that can be said is that the dysfunction in DC has prevented us from making the sort of abysmal strategic mistake we made in invading Iraq.  OK, if by now you haven’t figure out this is an “opinion piece” I suppose that made it pretty clear.

While I’m still satisfied with the treatment we gave to the emergence of the jihadi war in Shadow Warfare, and with our treatment of what worked and didn’t during the early days of Afghanistan and the later days in Iraq, I’ve been searching for some source that I feel really understands the intelligence and true tactical issues of what went on there and how it evolved into the current combat across the Middle East.  I have not really been satisfied with the mainstream journalists, some of whom push their own political world view on the subject and some who have a good strategic sense but insufficient field background.  The good news is that I finally found somebody who I think has the sort of pragmatic insights needed to drive a national strategy – but who has no chance of ever making it in DC – he talks too straight.  So in that regard, let me introduce you to him with the following article….and I encourage you to read the threads and commentary that follows it where he responds to questions.  This guy is the real deal IMHO.  But way to real for Washington I’m afraid.






JFK’s First Crisis

The more historical research I do the more I’m surprised by the reality of the decades I’ve lived through. Perhaps that’s not exactly right, what I’m surprised by is reality as compared to what is often discussed and assumed to have been true about different events and personalities. As an example, the research we did for Shadow Warfare revealed that a career military officer such as President Eisenhower was perhaps the most avid believer in covert operations and CIA regime change activities. Yet President Bush Sr., a former CIA Director, virtually abandoned covert action in pursuit of very overt, conventional military action. Perhaps more consistently, President Eisenhower was much more rigorous in actually defining the legal limits the President as Commander in Chief than President Johnson, who assumed his authority to have no limit and inserted himself into an operational role in military command with no regard for either limits or involvement of experienced military advisers. If you think that’s a little strong, read some of what we currently know about Johnson’s personal command of the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign against North Vietnam and see what you think the families of those air crews lost in the campaign would have thought if they had known who was defining the missions and rules of engagement.
Researching and writing Surprise Attack has taken me into the same deep waters and the book will challenge a good number the popular images that have evolved over the years. As an example, the Carter Administration actually devoted a great deal of attention to plans and practice for nuclear war fighting on a limited scale. There were assumptions that even with a strategic nuclear parity with the Soviets (emerging only in the 1970’s) that escalation could be controlled and actually managed following an initial nuclear exchange. That attitude set the stage for what emerged as actual Soviet panic early in the Reagan Administration – bringing the world as close as it ever had been to a preemptive Soviet nuclear strike, in the early 1980’s.
In more contemporary terms, today we find Russian Federation military and covert action programs in Eastern Europe forcing a re-invigoration of ground forces in Europe. There is little talk of nuclear weapons from the West, especially given that the huge inventories of tactical nukes once held in NATO service are long gone. In contrast, the Russians seem to be compelled to routinely bring up the nuclear option and tout their renewed focus on nuclear weaponry. Of course from different perspectives it’s all coming about because either NATO provoked Putin or because Obama is “weak” and Putin is taking advantage of him. Such simplistic views are hardly ever correct but sometimes it takes decades to see what is really happening.

As an illustration, you often read that the Cuban missile crisis was partially due to Khrushchev’s view of Kennedy as being “weak” and not willing to escalate confrontations – as somehow illustrated by matters in Berlin. A deeper study of affairs, especially now that we have access to highly secret memoranda and communications reveals a totally different story.  I go into it in detail in Surprise Attack but in short, the Kennedy Administration’s first major military confrontation with the Soviets did involve the ultimate risk of either a limited nuclear exchange or of a Soviet surprise attack. In June 1961, during a meeting between President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev, the Soviet premier threatened to sign a peace treaty with East Germany. Khrushchev further stated he would end all previous Allied access agreements regarding Berlin. The American’s, British and French responded that no such treaty would abrogate their rights of access to Berlin. In turn Khrushchev issued an ultimate for Western bloc forces to withdraw from the city by the end of 1961.
With a potential crisis developing over Berlin, President Kennedy addressed the nation via television on July 25, stating that he was willing to begin new talks on Berlin, but that while the United States wanted peace, it would not surrender to the Soviets in regard to Berlin. Kennedy also requested an additional $3.25 billion dollars in military spending and called for the addition of six new Army divisions and two new Marine divisions. As the confrontation continued, JFK ordered 148,000 National Guard and Reserve personnel to active duty on August 30. The mobilization included 18 tactical fighter squadrons, 4 tactical reconnaissance squadrons, and 6 tactical air transport squadrons. During November, three more Air National Guard fighter squadrons were mobilized.
From late October into November, eight of the tactical fighter units, with 216 aircraft, moved to Europe in operation Stair Step. Beyond those overt military moves, Kennedy and his staff began a detailed planning process for a series of steps which were to guide the evolving confrontation; the planning was highly secret and was conducted under the code names Poodle Blanket and Pony Blanket. Kennedy’s guidance outlined a series of stages beginning with non-nuclear air action, non-nuclear ground action, worldwide maritime control and blockade – but as a very last resort, first selective “demonstration” nuclear attacks and limited tactical use of nuclear weapons.
JFK was highly focused on directing initial military action towards conventional forces. His intent was to sufficiently increase conventional Western forces to the point that he Soviets would be deterred before any combat began. One of his early problems was that for various reasons, American’s European allies were much more willing to move towards early use of tactical atomic weapons than to rush into conventional force build ups.
With what we know now, it can be argued that President Kennedy, with a full knowledge of American strategic nuclear superiority, carefully leveraged that advantage in a controlled, incremental response to the Berlin crisis. He focused on conventional options, fully knowing that the Soviets were well aware of the extent of their strategic weakness. In turn, Khrushchev was fully aware of the American nuclear advantage – including the numerous tactical atomic weapons available for use in Europe. Most recently a number of historians have come to conclude that the Kennedy Administration viewed Khrushchev’s decision not to force the Berlin issue not only to Kennedy’s wiliness to negotiate but to his full appreciation of the “correlation of forces”. Khrushchev might have felt he had been able to browbeat JFK in their first personal meeting, but Kennedy’s determination to leverage the full weight of American strategic military superiority was a strong dose of reality for the Soviet premier.
His perception of American strength, not weakness would force the premier into his high risk gamble in Cuba…but that of course is another story we only fully understand at this distance from events.

Killing King

As many of you know, I and my friend and fellow researcher Stu Wexler have spent a great deal of time on the assassinations of Dr. King and of Robert Kennedy.  Unfortunately, while we think we may have developed significant new details of the conspiracy in the RFK murder, the total failure of the LAPD and the FBI in their investigations – including the LAPD’s provable effort to obfuscate the case – and our inability to connect with Sandra Serrano has left us hanging with our RFK research.  Fortunately we had a great deal more success in pursuing the King assassination, we were able to extend a good deal of the original 1968 investigation and to detail a series of attempts  to kill Dr. King. The level of detail in those attempts allow us to derive a concrete pattern in the assassination efforts – a pattern involving a very specific network of individuals.  We were fortunate enough to locate, connect with and re-interview a number of key individuals from that network as well as individuals in the original 1968 inquiries. Beyond that we were also able to locate an individual who had initially been involved with a bounty offer to kill Dr. King and ultimately had been used to carry funds to be used in the bounty payment. We were able to connect James Earl Ray to that same offer, although only circumstantially and not absolutely.  Extensive FOIA research also allowed us to  reexamine and raise issues with the evidence offered in both Ray’s criminal and civil trials – as well as to spell out specific holes in the criminal investigation.

We described that work and our conclusions in The Awful Grace of God.  But as many researchers know, the FOIA process grinds slowly, especially when you are challenging release decisions. Fortunately Stu is a stubborn guy and quite able to pursue FOIA work with an energy far beyond me.  Now, after several years in the King inquiry,  he has been able to expand our original work and update it in a new electronic edition of our book titled Killing King.  That work is now available on Amazon:

Fortunately we were also able to get some international press attention to the subject – the US media seems to consider it old news, over and done – and for that I would refer you to the following Daily Mail article:

Our MLK work has been challenging, not only because of the normal barriers in conspiracy research, but because the conspiracy we are tracking and writing about is not the one that many people want it to be.  As we have found in the past, when you come up with what people want to believe they consider you are doing great work and must be pretty smarty.  When you come up with a contrary view, its a far different story.




Border Wars

The Shan Stated of Burma – now Myanmar – have a long history of conflict, and an even longer history of opium production. Indeed the border areas in one region which includes Thailand and Laos are commonly referred to as the Golden Triangle – one the primary regions of global drug production. Equally important, the Shan states also border with southern China.
While enormous amounts of attention has been given to the history of drug traffic in the region, most people do not know that it was one of the very first venues for CIA operations at the very beginning of the Cold War. Actually those operations had little to do with the nation of Burma (which adamantly opposed them) and everything to do with the Republic of China (ROC) and Thailand. In contrast to more well-known CIA operations, the operation (in support of ROC forces in the region) supported a series of actual land incursions into southern China and was intended to divert Chinese Army forces.
The incursions were an embarrassing military failure and an international public relations disaster at the newly formed United Nations; the Eisenhower Administration abandoned them relatively quickly, turning the CIA’s attention to first Iran and then Guatemala. The net result was that armed ROC formations and various rebel groups were left to their own devices for funding, turned increasingly to drug sales, and leveraging new modes of transportation which had been used to carry in weapons and supplies for the Chinese incursions. Among the new options were small air fields and Taiwanese based aircraft. Over the years new air routes developed over both Thailand and Laos.We detail that early CIA operation in Shadow Warfare, and go on to trace its impact in the growth of Golden Triangle drug trafficking though the 1960’s. That legacy involved the movement of the ROC forces from point to point, at times attacked by the Burmese and at other times by Chinese forces invited in by Burma. Ultimately it led into Laos and to huge escalation in shipments during the fighting across SE Asia.
All that is interesting in a historical context but certain contemporary news recently brought it to my attention. Readers of Shadow Warfare may be interested to follow the Shan State story into today’s headlines. The crux of the matter is that as in many nations, the remote Shan States have always been neglected by the Central Government (very similar to the situation in several African nations today, particularly in Nigeria) and that neglect has led to decades of distrust, rebellion and hostility. The rebel groups involved always need to raise money, if drugs are available they have the weapons and organization to assume control over established drug traffic. If drugs are not available, they often turn to human trafficking – from kidnap and ransom to slave sales (as we see in Nigeria). And while CIA operations have often provided a multiplication factor by dramatically improving local logistics and transport options (in Afghanistan that first involved large quantities of small pickups shipped in to rebel groups through Pakistan), the rebellions and the trades continue, with or without American involvement.
Back in the early 1950’s, following the CIA’s short lived activity, Burma actually invited the Red Chinese Army across its borders to engage the ROC formations. In 2015 Myanmar is taking a different approach, using its own military assets and making mistakes which are increasingly annoying the Chinese. If you want to follow the history in Shadow Warfare into current events you can find more details here:
View story at


Surprise Attack

I’ve mentioned my forthcoming book, Surprise Attack, a few times but since it is now available for pre-order I wanted to give it a bit more formal introduction.  In researching and writing Shadow Warfare, I became intrigued with the fact of how much new historical information has become available over the past decade or so. That includes not only government document releases and a huge amount of oral history but records from non-traditional sources ranging from professional and historical journals.  Deep internet searches have made a range of sources visible which previously were only known to specialists in certain areas  – my recent blog posts in regard to new findings in regard to the Navy and Joint Chiefs role in regard to the Trinidad and Zapata plans for landings in Cuba are an example. The first clue to that was an article in a very special interest naval history journal.   As it turns out military unit histories and unit journals are a prime source of information generally not visible or used in past works.

The other thing that jumped out at me in the Shadow Warfare research, was how much information accepted as “common knowledge” in regard to events of the last few decades is called into question by the facts now available – or can be seen to represent political worldviews or agendas rather than real history.  It’s clear that to some extent talk radio and TV as well as internet social media have fueled  that situation – if only there were built in “fact checkers” for  such things the world might be a saner place. My own experience suggests that over 90% of the “news” emails I get via social media have an agenda and are either only partially true or totally false.  Another aspect of the problem is that “contemporary” books often come into the market weeks or months after current events. Given that the full history of virtually any significant event – especially one with political ramifications – takes years and sometimes decades to become truly visible (since the real primary sources remain protected either by national security classification, legal concerns or just simple CYA) such books are at best “first cuts” at real history.  Problem is, that those books remain on the market for years and continue to have an impact long after new information is available.

Stu Wexler and I went to great lengths in Shadow Warfare to use as many of the very latest sources available and to be as balanced as possible about historical events, issues and activities which are politically sensitive. This gained us some attention from reviewers who noted that such balance is not necessarily found in much of what goes into print these days – but much less in the way of attention or plaudits from media folks who want something truly sensational or something that is playing to a particular “base” and therefore guarantees immediate viewers, listeners, acceptance and endorsement.   In any event, when we finished with Shadow Warfare, which addresses the covert and clandestine history of the last 60 years, I decided I would take a deep breath and begin to dig into the more conventional side of America’s military history.  I’ve long been immersed in Cold War history, but given what we had found in looking at the new data on the covert/clandestine side, it seemed that a fresh look might offer some new and potentially different insights.

The result of that effort will be available in early fall.  Surprise Attack delves into the evolution of  threat and warnings intelligence, of planning and preparedness against conventional, nuclear and terror attacks and most especially into a study of how well everything works under the stress of actual attacks and crises. It devotes considerable attention to the performance of the upper levels of both military and civilian command, especially the evolution and effectiveness of what is known as national command authority.  And while I try to maintain the same degree of “balance” as in Shadow Warfare, readers will find much which will be considered controversial and not necessarily comfortable.  Which of course is what good history tries to do, it doesn’t sell as many books as certain other approaches but that’s just the way it goes.

If any of this piques your interest, be the first person on  your block to pre-order Surprise Attack, it won’t cost you anything now and it would make my publisher really happy.  Just check out my web site for the appropriate links:




Return of the Nukes

While the strategic (megaton class) nuclear weapons never went away, for a short and hopeful time following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it appeared that the era of integrating nuclear weaponry into combined military formations was ending – as were the concepts of “limited” nuclear exchanges and “controlled” nuclear war fighting (concepts discussed and even “war gamed” during both the Clinton and Reagan Administrations). We were moving back to the basics of mutual assured destruction – which had actually worked for the U.S. and Russia and appeared to be working for newer nuclear powers such as India and Pakistan. The “nuclear option” was being left to politics in Washington and not bandied about during regional military confrontations.
As far as the United States was concerned, it turned its attention to precision guided munitions, and highly explosive but conventional cruise missiles. Tactical nukes and even intermediate range nuclear missiles began to be taken out of the arsenal. Things had come a long way from the “Pentomic” Army divisions of the 1950’s or from the atomic IRBM’s of the 1980’s – which had convinced the Soviets the West was preparing for a preemptive, decapitation strike. That sort of thing has been a Soviet concern since the US placed IRBM’s in Turkey in the early 1960’s, within range of their command centers and Khrushchev’s vacation dacha.
Of course more modem talks about American “global strike” hypersonic missiles sounds a bit too similar, but such precision weapons would not have nearly the decapitation potential of the earlier high kiloton and megaton class IRBM’s. Unfortunately, as of 2015, it appears that under President Putin, Russia is in the process of returning to yesteryear, when strategic (read nuclear capable) weapons systems are routinely deployed in Russian military exercises and Putin himself talks blithely about going on nuclear alert for confrontations such as in the Crimea. Specifically Putin said that he was prepared to put the entire Russian nuclear force on alert to respond as needed to any challenged to the annexation of the Crimea.

Now given that the Ukraine has no nukes (they gave them up based on Russian assurances of non-intervention) and that there was no chance in the world NATO or anyone else was going to intervene with conventional forces, much less nukes – what was the man thinking? Moving his strategic forces to alert would have likely forced the US to move up its defense condition and at that point accidents can begin to happen. It’s tempting to view his remarks as typical Putin hardball (I don’t think the man postures; it’s his true nature) but if we take a look at the massive Russian military maneuvers going on as I write, it appears that he has moved to routinely deploy strategic (nuclear) platforms in them all.
In a very real sense, Putin is now using his forces in much the same way that Reagan did early in his administration – to the point that Russian strike aircraft are openly staging mock attacks in Europe and against American Naval forces in multiple locations. In the 1980’s the Russians began to worry if Reagan himself was stable or if he was trying to provoke a controlled exchange which he felt the American’s could win, ending the “evil empire”. We now know that the early 80’s were a far scarier time that we ever knew at the time.
Unfortunately, the same thing may be going on now. There are clear signs that the Russians are cheating on nuclear arms treaties, with the implications that they are restoring their ability (which had gone away with an earlier class of IRBM’s) to effectively neutralize Western Europe with intermediate range atomic cruise missiles and to deploy entirely new types of highly flexible strategic weapons systems.
And President Putin has no hesitation to talk constantly about foreign enemies, enemies constantly attempting to literally destroy Russia with all sorts of plots and conspiracies. He talks not of just political jockeying on his borders (which might not be totally untrue) but thrusts at the heart of the nation itself. Russian sovereignty itself is touted as being at risk.
For those of us who grew up at the height of the cold war, there is an eerie familiarity to all of this. While it didn’t mean disaster then, there was always an elevated risk – and if nothing else nuclear posturing certainly elevates the stress levels in international relationships. There is some good evidence to think that President Reagan may not have fully appreciated the impact certain of his remarks and even jokes about “pressing the button” may have had. On the other hand, President Putin seems to rather enjoy the impact of his remarks. I’m pretty sure neither is a good thing.


A prominent American Senator suggests that the possession of a single atomic bomb by Iran would be a bigger threat to the United States and the world than ISIS/Daesh and the international jihadi insurgency. The Republican Congress appears to agree with him and in an almost unprecedented move rather than simply waiting to vote down any international arms restriction treaty with Iran – the traditional approach – Congress has now directly inserted itself into the negotiations aimed towards at least limiting Iran’s atomic weapons development.

At the same time a respected international security analyst presents details of the ongoing escalation of global jihadi revolutionary activity and focuses on the fact that the America Congress will most likely push for an expanded Authorization of Military Force that targets groups affiliated with ISIS beyond Syria and Iraq. Of course Congress has failed to act on any such authorization for over half a year, but if they do it appears that it will be expansive.

While that is going on the President of Russia, immersed in a huge military buildup, admits that he lied about the Crimea and personally orchestrated the covert military action which led to Russia retaking that territory from the Ukraine. There also seems little doubt that with his success, Putin will be tempted towards similar covert actions against numerous small nations on Russia’s western borders, nations that were well entrenched within the Soviet Union, a relationship that he clearly wants to restore.

Inside Russia Putin continues to be roundly applauded for his actions and after decades of losing allies and being embarrassed by rebuffs from its former client states from Serbia in 1999, to Georgia, to Iraq and Syria, the Russia popular attitude towards the U.S. is seen as worse than at almost any time during the Cold War – “We don’t like the Americans, and it’s because they’re pushy, they think they’re unique and they have had no regard for anyone else.” No doubt the Russian attitude will not be improved if America does begin providing lethal aid to the Ukraine.

At first blush that Russian view sounds awfully harsh – but then you remember that at some recent American political events it’s been expressed that any candidate that does not campaign on a platform of America being unique and exceptional should not even be considered for election.

And while ISIS, Russia and America are taking all the headlines, China is pursuing an extremely pragmatic, subtle and effective international diplomatic initiative. Unlike the United States, its focus has not been on military allies and coordination – as illustrated in huge exercise such as RIMPAC – but on financial ties, what China describes as economic partnerships rather than alliances. That approach has been increasingly successful across Africa and Latin America.

In fact Beijing’s pragmatism illustrates the extent to which the U.S. is actually in a “unique” (if not exceptional) position. While the U.S. has routinely felt compelled to organize multi-nation coalitions to deal with what it sees as moral imperatives or true security threats – the invasion of Kuwait, the Bosnian genocide, the revolution in Libya, the Syrian brutalities, the rise of ISIS – both Beijing and Moscow have used veto power at the United Nations to block UN military action (such as in Korea) and continue to coordinate and support each other; China’s decision to escalate its business deals with Russia despite Western economic sanctions is one example, as are there mutual trade and military relations with Iran. Both Russia and China remain heavily focused on increasing their military capability to deal with their borders and buffer zones and on pragmatic international alliances which tend to mitigate American initiatives and what they see as dominance.

So where am I going with all this other than to depress you on a Monday? The answer is that in a somewhat oblique way it introduces a concept called “mirroring” that I explore extensively in my upcoming book Surprise Attack. While I’ve made it clear in earlier posts that I tend to be a bit on the “hawkish” side, it’s obvious over the longer term that if one nation becomes too “dominant”, despite all its intentions (even if they are good ones) it creates a growing “push back”, an urge to craft effective military or economic deterrence. That push back is in turn mirrored by the dominant nation and what ensues is mutual escalation….not a good thing. It’s a concept that deserves a lot of thought and a lot of discussion but one that needs to be proved in before I go much further than this…and that will need to wait for the book to actually come out.

National Security Disconnects

With virtually no media attention, we are seeing what is either a watershed moment or at least a significant disconnect in the manner in which national security is being treated in American politics. At least for the past century, the national security “card” had always served as a powerful device to rally political support – to cast the opponent as being “weak” or inattentive to security concerns. That has played out regardless of party, JFK used Cuban security issues as a major issue in his election campaign, LBJ used the Tonkin Gulf incident and his response to position himself against a Goldwater security initiative in their presidential contest. A focus on issues of national security have also been a frequent tactic in Republican political efforts against Democratic Administrations, especially those giving priority to domestic and social issues.

As a corollary, Shadow Warfare deals with the ongoing issue of Presidents balancing the political risks of overtly dealing overtly and publically with what they perceive to be national security threats with a lack of domestic support – and choosing covert and clandestine action as an alternative. That has led to periodic Congressional chastisement of President’s and at least minimal efforts to ensure that the Commander in Chief obtains Congressional approval for overseas military actions.

In short, national security issues and threats have been a foundation for political positioning, with all parties trying to claim the high ground of being most sensitive to threats and most directly involved with actions, legislation and spending to deal with them. The greatest risk to a sitting President has often been seen as not being aggressive enough on national security – or on occasion – being seen as dismissive of Congress by independently pursuing their own security initiatives.

Yet as we enter 2015, we see calls from a Democratic administration for more military spending – and a call for congressional legislation on expanded military authorization and budgets to deal with jihadi terrorism movements such as ISIS. We even see requests for military spending to address a resurgent Russian nationalism and President Putin’s obvious ability to convince his nation to endure whatever privation is necessary to fully fund a major Russian military buildup.

On the Republican side, we see constant warnings on the threat of ISIS, on the risk of terrorism on American soil, demands to provide lethal military support to the Ukraine – yet no legislation to address any of those issues and no response to Presidential proposals on each of them. Instead we see a Republican effort to actually defund Homeland Security – based on concerns over purely domestic issues such as immigration and healthcare. The Republicans appear to have abandoned national security as a primary issue and the Democrats are left with it by default – yet they show no particular enthusiasm for using it in the manner of times past.

In a dramatic contrast, President Putin of Russia has revived the national security card in a comprehensive and literally overwhelming fashion. His strident message of a growing threat to Russia and the need for patriotism as a primary and driving national requirement appears have served him and his power base in an exceptionally successful fashion. In fact it has worked so well for that he has been able to deploy internal Russian media with the sort of blunt propaganda messages not often seen from a major power since Joseph Stalin – or Adolph Hitler. And by all accounts, according to Russian public polling, even the most outrageous messages are proving quite effective.

It may not be that the world has actually turned upside down, it is far too early to tell. However if you are a social studies, political science or history teacher, you certainly have a great deal of current events material to stimulate discussion in your classes – the only problem is that few of those classes are a priority for the standardized testing which will receive all your student’s attention at this point in time. Still, it might be good for a couple of minutes of student attention.

Oh, and if you thought I was being a bit harsh in regard to President Putin, you might want to actually search and read some of the statements and articles appearing in the Russian media over the last few months….or seriously think about the history of Putin regimes with their critics, a brief history of that is available at:



The Same Old Mistakes


The threat was real and fundamental. The believers showed no sign of allowing any group or state to pursue self-determination – just the opposite, its world view demanded that all must share its beliefs and those who did not must be swept into the dustbin of history. In a number of instances that translated to mass murder on the order of genocide. It was truly ruthless in imposing its views on any territories which it occupied and its reach was global. Clearly its intent was world domination, that was inherent it its leaders world views and their followers were seen to be fanatic in pursuit of their leader’s orders. The immediate risk was that they would dominate most of the Middle East, much of SW Asia and would then look towards Europe. What was equally frightening was their ability to project influence and advance their agenda in territories removed from its own direct military control. There appeared to be no way to stop them and the crisis seemed overwhelming.

All that sounds frighteningly contemporary, yet that verbiage is not about jihadi terrorism, radical Islam or ISIS. It is all excerpted from a very insightful book, The National Security, written by Norman Graebner and his book describes America’s earliest view of the international Communist conspiracy, sponsored by the Soviet Union in the years immediately following World War II – Grabner was writing about remarks actually made at the highest circles of American leadership circa 1945-1948. .

And here we are in 2015, debating the source and causes of a brand new threat – which sounds in many ways virtually identical. The risk is that we will once again commit the same errors we made so often during the Cold War, which meant treating every area of confrontation the same – and assuming it all has a single root cause. Of course there is a common mantra in play, all today’s jihadi militants are happy to wave the black flag – to posture for psychological impact and in pursuit of obtaining weapons and money from ISIS, al Qaeda or wealthy pan-national, Islamists of any stripe.

The same could be said of many of the Communist movements during the decades of the Cold War. Play the “International”, wave the red flag, focus on the brotherhood of the struggle – and look from money and support from Moscow or later from Red China. It was great for recruiting and its claim to moral superiority allowed an outreach to the most progressive and liberal elements in all the Western nations; just as today many of ISIS recruits are middle class, professionals or children of very well to do parents, the same was true for many of the recruits of World Communism.

Of course in many instances it was all just a gambit, where leaders could twist the ideology to their own purposes of local political power, nationalism, anti-colonialism, revolution against the established classes, etc. There were instances in which the leaders were truly fanatic, that produced the most violence and ongoing massacres – whether it was Stalin’s or Mao’s purges, or the raw lust for killing seen with the Simba’s in the Congo, Shining Path in Peru, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Those groups all recited the Communist class mantra while on the rampage.

The point of all this is that we show no signs of applying our history with this type of threat to today’s violence. Some of it is most definitely about religious fanaticism on the order of “we are coming to kill and enslave non-believers”. Calling those individuals “terrorists” is off the mark, thinking of them as driven by economic deprivation is as well. Fanaticism exists on its own terms and needs to be recognized and dealt with as such it demands extreme measures. However, there certainly are local ethnic, political, economic and governance issues driving the jihadi movement, especially across much of Africa. And we are not likely to effectively deal with it all in the short term of a single AUMF – especially if we cannot differentiate between all the different groups visibly waving the black flag. Some of it is absolutely about religion and domination, much of it is simply skilled opportunism for the fanatics. And, sorry Mr. President, none of it is about “terrorism”, terrorism is a tool, a tactic – in my view it should be used as a verb, not a noun. It tells us what groups or individuals are capable of but that is as in “terror of the deed”.  We need a finer level of differentiation when we are talking about the nature and motives of the different groups – it appears that a large number of the atrocities in Iraq are done under the black flag but really are the settling of old personal and ethic grudges among Arabs or between Arabs and Kurds.  In that case ISIS is an enabler for long term problems in the region, which are not going to be settled by our simplistic support of a central government in Baghdad. Perhaps the first step for all our leaders is to grasp that distinction and to begin using the right words. Words are powerful things and if you are using the wrong ones you have a very fundamental problem.

For those that want to take this further and read an experienced view of the subject, I recommend the following:


Use of Force AUMF 2015

Readers of Shadow Warfare will recall that we extensively explored the initial Authorization of Military Force following 9/11which created what appeared to be an open ended military authorization for the President to use any and all military means to engage and eliminate the terror groups which had conducted or enabled the attacks on America of 2001. We also delved into the actual legislative rework of the initial legislation which constrained in well beyond the point that President GWB had initially requested. That sort of background is really critical in following American’s “anti-terror” efforts since 2001 and to appreciating the arguments that are following President Obama’s request for additional legislation to focus resource constrained and time limited military action in a fight against ISIS.
I’ve noticed that a few reporters really have caught on and are highlighting the point that President Obama already has the authority for a military campaign against ISIS in context of the previous AUMF – as long as you consider ISIS an al Qaeda derivative or demonstrate that any of the former generation of terrorists are involved with or supporting ISIS. Essentially this new legislation would give Congress an opportunity to at least show its official support for military action against ISIS – since following their outcry for the same last fall, they have done nothing at all on their own the issue which they declared an national security emergency months ago.
So, let’s make it clear that this is primarily a political exercise and secondarily, an example of temptation to middle with military action in the worst tradition of combat micromanagement. Some will note that for a good while the Obama Administration and in particular its NSC have gotten a lot of heat for micromanagement combat against ISIS – in my opinion deservedly so. But now, Congress is going to spend its time on arguing limits on military action in the AUMF – which of course amount to another type of political management of war fighting.
It pains me to sound more and more hawkish but as a Vietnam era vet (not a Vietnam vet, just of that time frame) I’m very sensitive to the fact that you do not win wars through political management. If you want a good lesson on how to win wars, study up on the relationship between FDR and his generals. So I’m back to the proposition that AUMF’s really are a political exercise but have the potential for constraining the war fighting in a fashion which will either prolong it or very possibly obstruct it. Another AUMF just continues to dump all the decisions on the President so Congress has no skin in the game – they take a pass on their real responsibility (which constitutionally is that of declaring war) and just toss the ball to somebody else. Or in this case it’s President Obama’s effort to at least get Congress to put some legislation in place rather than just shooting off its mouth.
All of this maneuvering allows all parties to avoid two basic issues. First, you should not be fighting at all unless you declare war. Second, the thought of a time limited AUMF simply targeting ISIS ignores all the larger strategic implications of jihadi political/geographic movements throughout the Middle East and Africa. We are still tackling that piecemeal, group by group, country by country, with JSOC and military assistance programs. More fundamentally, it appears that neither the administration nor Congress wants to dig far enough to address the core issues of opposing jihadi territorial expansion in the fashion that the U.S. Opposed Communist regime territorial expansion during the Cold War.
Of course if you have read Shadow Warfare you know my view of that decades long effort is pretty critical – primarily since America was often unable to differentiate nationalism from a communist manifesto nor separate populist movements from truly brutal communist regimes such as the Khmer Rouge – the folks who operated on a genocidal level (unfortunately some of the dictatorships that America supported operated on a level of murder that equated to class based genocide). If we don’t really study the current trends in Africa, we may be cursed by the same lack of clarity and the same mistaken interventions.
My view is that the President’s request to Congress will produce immense debate and media dialog. And that will allow all parties to avoid the much harder issues that should be discussed.