Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Obama's speech on Christianity

Last week,  Mr. Obama made headlines by giving the world a history lesson as his response to the brutal execution of the Jordanian pilot by Daesh.  Mr. Obama reminded us that before we go to far in condemning Islam, we need to remember that Christians committed equally horrible atrocities during the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition and even slavery in the United States.  His speech was not the impassioned vitriol of King Abdullah II nor the unifying theme of European leaders in response to the Paris massacres.  Instead, Mr. Obama's speech was something you might hear in a classroom at Harvard for graduate students.  In it, I have come to the conclusion that Mr. Obama has yet to figure out how to act like a statesman, much less the President of the United States.

It seems Mr. Obama, like many others before him, ran with great enthusiasm and energy to win the election but never had a game plan for the day after the election.  It takes most US Presidents and few years to hit their particular stride yet I don't see where after six years Mr. Obama has figured out the job.  His speech was even-keeled at a time when emotions were high.  Academically it might appear to be a time for calmer language but burning anyone alive in front of video cameras to incite terror requires something other than a bookish response.

His speech seems even more hollow now that Kayla Mueller, an American held hostage by Daesh, has been murdered.  Mr. Obama wants Congress to authorize him to declare war on Daesh across the world.  One might wonder how the milquetoast speech he gave last week was supposed to generate support for this request?  Now that it has been confirmed that Kayla Mueller has been murdered, will he give another emotionless speech on the historical ramifications of religion or will he simply go golfing again?

As he girds himself to face a Republican controlled House, other events Mr. Obama has ignored continued to percolate.  Mr. Obama has shunned Netanyahu, the major US ally (and only non-Muslim) in the region.  Iran continues to pursue its nuclear technology with relative impunity from the US.  The 300 Nigerian school girls still have yet to be found but Boko Haram has massacred thousands with no end in sight.

Russia continues to maintain an aggressive military footing in Ukraine and now the US is considering sending arms to Ukraine.  Keep in mind that the US had backed the coup in Ukraine whihc led to the Russia annexing Crimea and you begin to see the hypocrisy of arming Ukraine.  Meanwhile, NORAD has reported Russian aircraft continue to show a more aggressive posture along US airspace.

Internally, Mr. Obama's measured response to Daesh has generated increased frustration with Americans who see him has overly sympathetic to Islam.  Three Muslim students were just murdered at the University of North Carolina by an American who had been posting anti-Islamic rhetoric on his Facebook page for weeks.  Americans are beginning to take action into their own hands (as many had already travelled overseas to help the rebels fight against Daesh) but I'm afraid the reluctant man in the White House will not see it as a cry for him to become more of a leader but rather as a need for more intervention by the federal government.

While this confusing foreign policy melodrama plays own, the chief writer of this mess has been laying low.  Hillary has been notable absent from the campaign trail.  The New York Times speculated on this a few weeks ago.  Hillary is showing her inevitability as the Democratic candidate by avoiding unnecessary attention to her speaking fees ($225K according to MSNBC), her involvement in Benghazi, her lack of support for naming Boko Haram a terrorist organization, her support for ousting Syrian President Assad (which led to the rise of Daesh), and most importantly her surprising ability to say stupid shit (such as "we're flat broke) on the campaign trail.  Lest we forget, Hillary suffers from the same symptom as Brian Williams, i.e. ducking under a hail of bullets to board a helicopter in Afghanistan.  The longer Hillary stays out of the public's view, the better her chances for snagging the nomination.

China, Russia and Iran must be beside themselves with delight at the state of the US.  An academic playing at being the President of the United States with a tired, burned-out military and an American public that would much rather worry about what happened on the Grammy Awards than what is going on in the White House.

In another miscalculation, Mr. Obama is seeking $5 million to identify the requirements of the 6th generation fighter (the F-35, which hasn't even become operation yet, is a 5th generation fighter).  While $5 million is a relative drop in the buck on the Hill, what Mr. Obama and his administration have admitted is the F-35 is already obsolete.  Many others have detailed the limitations of the F-35 but let me just add one more thing.

The F-35 is billed as a stealth aircraft, everything about its design and composition as supposed to help it defeat an enemy radar from detecting it.  Sounds good until you realize that stealth is meant to defeat radar beams coming at the aircraft from the front or side aspect.  All of those oblique angles are meant to keep radar energy from returning in a straight line back to the antenna.  But what about radar energy from above?

Over-the-horizon backscatter (OTHB) radar works by aiming radio waves at the ionosphere which are then reflected back down to the ground from above.  In this manner, OTHB allows for the detection of aircraft or ships from thousands of miles away.  Moreover, since the beam is bounced downward and then upward stealth doesn't work.  Granted OTHB is not as precise as other radars but it doesn't have to be.  It's for long range surveillance and because it is looking down, it benefits from the Doppler Shift.  To a normal radar, an incoming aircraft appears relatively stationary as long as it remains on the same heading (azimuth).  But to an OTHB radar, anything moving against the stationary ground shows-up (this is the same principle JSTARS uses for tracking ground vehicles).  OTHB is not a new technology and just last year, an article appeared stating that Iran has this technology.  Oops, so much for our stealthy F-35!  So does China, Russia and most likely North Korea.

Granted, the F-35 shortcomings did not occur under the Obama Administration but the admissions of its shortfalls did at the same time he instituted sequestration.  I wonder what kind of speech he will give this time?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Why good men and women say nothing

First off, Brian Williams….you are a douchebag of the highest magnitude.  But through his self-immolation, we may learn some things about the state of American culture and how it may be accelerating violence in Syria and Iraq (with the potential for North Korea and China to jump in at any time).

In the last 6 months to a year, a new theme has been taking shape in the "post-war" era.  More and more writers are testing the waters, seeing if they can publish pieces questioning the hero-status many Americans attribute to military troops without the authors being targeted for airstrikes.  The articles started out tepid, mild reflections on American glorification of military service and how it blinds one to any flawed military decision.  As time went on, the criticisms of the troops became stronger as these writers felt safer in their challenges of the troops being considered real heroes.  It his a crescendo when "American Sniper" debuted and to the horror of these writers, the movie not glorified military service it set box office records.

There was a part of me that naturally wanted to rebuke the authors who almost inevitably never served in uniform.  Not because their philosophizing in some way attacked my military service but how cavalierly they treated the service of anyone other than a frontline combat troop (who they then equated to a poor, brainwashed sap programmed to kill without regard).  However, there is merit in questioning the decisions of military leaders who too often are isolated from the front lines (even in today's real-time cyber world).  I've seen too many stories of how airmen feel their bosses don't have their best interests at heart and have been meaning to address what I think causes that problem.  It is something that needs to be addressed before we have to get serious with Daesh, Iran, North Korea, Russia or China.

The First World War is a perfect example of military leaders being distanced from their troops and the disastrous consequences it has.  While soldiers on all sides were dying wholesale in trench warfare, the generals and their staffs were miles away from any fighting, relaxing in chateaus.  These embarrassments to military leadership therefore had no qualms with continuing to send company after company into battle with no hope of gaining even one foot of ground.

But today with drones, satellites and all manner of communication one would conclude that such atrocities could not happen again.  Today's military leaders are not sitting in luxury miles away from the battlefield but in a very different way, they are almost as cut off from reality as their World War I counterparts.

The reason for this separation is rooted in how officers, especially in the Air Force, are promoted.  I don't claim to know the promotion system of the other branches but there are certain components that render the effects the same.  Think of a pyramid for a moment.  Junior officers make up the bottom with the highest numbers.  Field grade officers (majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels in the Army, USAF and USMC, lieutenants, lieutenant commanders, and commanders in the USN) make up most of the middle to top and at the very top are flag officers (generals and admirals).  Just like in the pyramid, there is a lot of room at the base and hardly any room at the crown.  Officer promotions are supposed to insure only the best and brightest reach the top in theory but in practice a much different phenomena arises.

In the USAF, somewhere around 90 percent or more of the officers (there are no warrant officers in the USAF) have bachelor's degrees in engineering.  That means 90 percent or more of your brand new 2nd lieutenants are already pre-disposed to systemically solving problems and since most graduated from prestigious engineering programs, they are pretty damn good at it.  Now compound that mentality with being a rated officer who flies a multi-million dollar aircraft which in-turn is support by every wing function, you begin to see why pilots in the Air Force are ready to solve the world's problems.

Very quickly though the USAF officer, rated as well as non-rated, faces promotion boards.  Up to captain, promotions in the USAF are fairly automatic.  But getting promoted to major is the first separating of chaff from the wheat.  It's where the hot shot 7 year captains tend to get their reality checks.

The USAF promotion system has always been based on a particular glide-slope.  Get promoted on-time and stay on the glide-slope.  Fall behind on promotions and not only do you fall off the glide-slope, you may find yourself out of the USAF.  This "up or out" mentality is supposed to insure only the fast-burners (those truly gifted, big-brained officers) make it to the top ranks.  But what the system really does is stifle your forward thinking, young problem solvers.

Keep in mind that glide slope, you have to hit very discreet marks each year such as professional military education (Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College, Air War College), around which you have to plan your assignments (squadron command, staff assignment, joint assignment with another branch), throw in a master's degree for good measure (not officially required but officially encouraged).  If your timing is just off a little and your promotion may not be on-time.  An "above-the-zone" promotion (which actually means a late promotion) creates a cascading effect for all future promotions and assignments.

Now compound this overt system with the subversive world of the "officer performance report" or OPR.  This is supposed to be an objective look at an officer's performance but it too often turns into subjective critique heavily influenced by; a) how much your rater likes or dislikes you and b) how good your rater is at the "promotion-speak" that needs to be in your performance report.  In turn, the rater is also rated on how well the officers assigned to them do in promotions.  The promotion system does not create a system for those who think outside the box to thrive, rather it creates a group-think culture.

If the officer wants to get promoted, they will shut-up and color meaning they will do as they are told and not question the decisions of those above them.  Even if the officer (who remember, is a high functioning problem solver) does speak out, a senior officer above him or her will have to come down on them because they too are on that same glide slope.

Thus the higher up you ascend the promotion ladder, the less inclined you become to take an action that might knock you off of the glide-slope.  In effect, everyone starts talking and thinking alike for fear that if you standout too much you may risk ending your career.

When there was a spate of general officers being found of having had affairs or sexual harassment, the immediate question was how could this have happened?  Easy, their junior officers were inclined to turn a blind eye to the general's inappropriate behavior less they fall of the promotion cycle.  Guess what?  The fear is even greater when it comes to questioning military decisions.  Here is an extreme example that just hit the news;

"Afghan War Hero Stripped of Silver Star"  Army Captain Matt Golsteyn, "Under heavy fire...ran about 150 meters to the trapped MRAP to retrieve a powerful 84mm Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, an anti-tank weapon. While moving under gunfire, he coordinated a medical evacuation for the wounded Afghan soldier and then opened fire with the Carl Gustav.”

Running through the open despite the fact that the Taliban had successfully pinned down the rest of his men, Golsteyn looked like he “was alone fighting 30 enemy fighters out in the poppy fields.” He then coordinated airstrikes from F/A-18 Hornets and a drone, silencing the enemy. The battle lasted four hours."

Captain Golsteyn was awarded the Silver Star which was certainly going to be upgraded to the Distinguished Service Cross (second only to the Medal of Honor).  So why was he stripped of his Silver Star?  According to the author, CPT Golsteyn had been quoted in his book making several critical comments about the American strategy in Afghanistan.  That was enough for the Army to launch a criminal investigation into CPT Golsteyn's actions during the battle.  "The investigation, apparently, had nothing to do with the acts of bravery that earned Golsteyn his medal. Instead, according to the Washington Post, which cited officials familiar with the case, it concerned “an undisclosed violation of the military’s rules of engagement in combat for killing a known enemy fighter and bomb maker.” The investigation stretched on for nearly two years, during which time the Army effectively put Golsteyn’s career on ice. In 2014, Golsteyn and his lawyer were informed that the investigation was finally complete. No charges were filed, but Golsteyn still wasn’t released from administrative limbo." (Free Beacon)

But it gets worse, "Congressman Duncan Hunter wrote last year to John McHugh, the secretary of the Army, asking about the status of Golsteyn’s seemingly endless career freeze. Apparently the secretary did not take kindly to the inquiry, as he responded in a letter last November that not only would he not be upgrading Golsteyn’s Silver Star to a Distinguished Service Cross, but would be revoking Golsteyn’s Silver Star entirely"  Extreme, yes but hardly the only instance of a promising officer having their career stalled by being critical of their higher-ups.

I can't help but feel that whoever torpedoed CPT Golsteyn's medal and career had either never set foot in Afghanistan or was so distanced from the realities of the war that he (and I guarantee it was a he) took personal offense at the captain's remarks.  For all we know, it could have been Secretary McHugh who took exception.  Regardless, this example shows why junior officers either learn to march to the party line or get out.

My synopsis doesn't begin to cover the other huge influence on senior military leaders, no not the current post holders of Washington but the defense industry.  President Eisenhower said in his famous speech on the military-industrial complex, "This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society."  Senior officers, especially generals and admirals, transition as they retire from the military to the defense industry at a rather alarming rate.  Those looking to have a post military career working for a "beltway bandit" are loathe to make decisions that are are odds with the bottom line with their future employers.

When I was a first lieutenant, I was involved with a major software development project for a classified data handling system.  I came across a request from the prime contractor to have a modification to the contract over a completely unnecessary addition.  I did my researched to prove my point and sent my proposal to nix the mod up channel.  Instead of being greeted with saving the USAF money, my second line supervisor took my to task saying I was overstepping my bounds.  Lo and behold if that same supervisor didn't end-up working for the prime contractor the after he retired.

The one-two punch of a bureaucratic promotion cycle producing a group-think environment lead by senior officers who are heavily influenced by the military-industrial complex is actually not new.  Major General Smedley Butler, USMC, identified this same phenomena in his 1933 book "War is a Racket".  The result of an all-volunteer force is it tends to stifle any questioning of decisions by its leadership.

Because of this stifled culture, it is unlikely voices such as CPT Golsteyn's are heard or even valued.  The results are tragedies such as Benghazi or the mealymouthed approached to dealing with Daesh.  First the US wanted to get rid of Assad and but only gave it a half-hearted effort.  Once the US realized the alternative to Assad was Daesh, it was already too late.  The US effort to weaken Assad created the gap Daesh needed to go international.  I'm sure there were military planners that saw it but because of career considerations either they or their superiors said nothing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"I'm not only gonna kill him, but I'm gonna kill his wife, all his friends, and burn his damn house down"

Clint Eastwood, actor, director, sometime crooner of country ballads and most recently, ground zero for the controversy surrounding the life US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.  Unless you've been living under a rock, your pretty much know that "American Sniper" is the highest grossing movie out right now and has caused a furor over the depiction of Kyle's time as a sniper in Iraq.  The movie is based on Kyle's own autobiography and portrays in unflinching realism how the deadliest sniper in the US military was an unapologetic, efficient killer that had no use for the Muslims he hunted.  Conservatives are gushing over his actions, liberals equate his actions tantamount to "coward" (Michael Moore) to "Nazi propaganda" (Seth Rogen).

Should we equate killing of the enemy to heroism (something that has been down since ancient times) or should we be repulsed by a country able to produce such an efficient killer with no remorse for his skills?  I started to write an essay reflecting on this but things have shift as tends to happen when one writes about current events.

Clint Eastwood has no come back into the news for another movie he made back in 1992.  The movie of course was "Unforgiven", the story of agin gunfighter William Muny who is reluctantly draw out of retirement for one last job.  Eastwood wanted "Unforgiven" to be his final Western and to show what life would be like for the characters that had made him famous in the Serigo Leone Westerns as well as his own productions such as "Josey Wales" and "Pale Rider".  Eastwood had felt those movies had glamorized violence without truly showing the consequences, especially to the protagonist.  "Unfogiven" was to be his penance.

But as tends to happen, once an actor of Eastwoods status establishes an archetype, it is difficult to go against type.  Eastwood portrayed Muny with all of his worts, hardly able to mount a horse, and actively avoiding any more killing after having taken so many lives.  Ask anyone though who has seen the movie and they aren't going to wax about the way Eastwood portrayed to aging Muny, no I'm afraid what people remember is this scene.  Muny becomes the killer he once was again to avenge the brutal murder of his partner at the hands of a sadistic sheriff.  After killing the sheriff and his henchman, Muny tries to leave the saloon but knows others are outside waiting for him.  Eastwood then delivers a line which even if you haven't seen the movie, have probably seen in the headlines today.

"All right, I'm coming out. Any man I see out there, I'm gonna shoot him. Any sumbitch takes a shot at me, I'm not only gonna kill him, but I'm gonna kill his wife, all his friends, and burn his damn house down."  (Eastwood as William Muny, Unforgiven)

Now this line and Eastwood have been re-remembered as the battle cry of Jordan's King Abdullah II according to Congressman Duncan Hunter from California (Daily Mail).  King Abdullah's reaction is to the latest horrifying, vile act of violence by Daesh by setting a downed Jordanian pilot on fire and burning him to death on video.  By invoking Eastwood's famous character, Abdullah may be the only world leader that truly gets what its going to take to deal with Daesh.

Daesh has been using beheadings to inflict horror and terror into the minds of Western leaders but when that did not generate the necessary fear, the terrorists have upped the ante by turning to the barbaric custom of burning one's enemy alive.  If this had been an American or even a European pilot, I doubt any of those leaders would have reacted with such raw emotion (much less using a quote from Clint Eastwood).  I take the King at his word and do believe Daesh may have just unleashed hell upon themselves.

Perhaps this will also cause those too quick to criticize and label Chris Kyle as some type of abhorrent, racist monster to see Kyle and those like Kyle are exactly the kind of men you need to send in to deal with Daesh.  Every single one of those blood-thirst pyromaniacs that set fire to that pilot need to be shot, not bombed.  Why?  Because they only thing terrorists understand is terror.  Seeing their colleagues dispatched by a single round will give them many sleepless nights and in turn their fear may give a little comfort to the families of the victims.