Category Archives: Unconventional Warfare

Damon Linker, No Deep Thinker

Damon Linker isn’t particularly special today, he’s just an illustration of an immutable law: the more time you spend in the Acela Corridor, the more you see the Outside World through a glass, darkly. This makes most Washington and New York pundits entertaining to read on the subject of war: they can always be counted on to reverse cause and effect, creating what the late Michael Crichton called “‘Wet streets cause rain’ stories”; and they often miss very large beams that are clouded by the motes of partisanship and self-regard that multiply in their eyes, like some sort of virus, lofted in the foul air of their coastal enclaves.

See if you can guess what very large beam is missing from this emphatic statement by Linker (the elisions are for brevity and do not alter his argument, as you can see at the link):

Both … nominees, [and] journalists …avoid talking about the fact that the United States is waging war in at least five countries simultaneously: Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia.

Anything missing there? We have a hint, and we still have ineradicable 15-year-old dust from the place on some of our gear: Afghanistan. The word does not exist in his essay. And that’s only one. Despite the current tensions the gormless incumbents of both Presidencies have produced, US Forces have been working intimately with Filipino forces in tamping down the Abu Sayyaf insurgency there, a process that occasionally goes to Bulletsville and more occasionally racks up a US casualty, who used to be, at least, counted as an OEF casualty alongside his Afghan brothers.

So it’s seven wars. Not counting the ones we’re not counting, and believe me, they’re there: Damon Linker doesn’t know about them because the Times and the Post don’t know about them, because most of their international bureaux are closed or are staffed by host nation stringers with their own agendas. And because one of the markers of the speciation of Homo acelaicus is his distance from and revulsion by Homo combativus. 

It’s a safe bet that nobody in the Linker bloodline has suited up for combat in the 45 years since Nixon ended the draft (or in the years before that, where an array of deferments spawned for the convenience of the children of Homo acelaicus kept them out of harm’s way). The whole point of having an aristocracy is hereditary rule, dissociated from standards or merit, for the benefit of the aristocrats. 

Linker is critical of the press in his article, but only because they’re not dumbing things down enough for the real retards, the American people. You see, wars are complicated, and journalists, well:

…journalists have no faith … in the American people to process and evaluate that information in a responsible way.

Well, when the public doesn’t trust the press, and when Damon Freakin’ Linker is the guy who’s going to heal this rift, maybe he’s got the arrow of causation characteristically ass-backwards. Who is it that mistrusts whom, here?

…the press actively contributes to making our politics stupider. Instead of enlightening members of the general public, it entertains them.

Of course, his idea of “enlightening” involves socializing them to Acela Corridor values, so he’s doomed to failure outside of his coastal Echoplex. And then he whines that, this election year:

…the media has come in for unprecedented hostility and abuse….

Perhaps it deserves it? When a guy pontificating about all the wars we’re in elides the fact that his boy and his girl are responsible for many of the new theaters of war in which this one conflict is being conducted, by abandoning Iraq and Afghanistan initially, and then fomenting new wars in Libya, Syria, and even Egypt? When a guy pontificating about the wars forgets about Afghanistan?

Almost everyone I know has been to Afghanistan. To fight. Only to return to the dripping contempt of the Damon Linkers of the world, the sunken, shriveled,  fans in the press box, to whom everything that is good and holy emanates from their beloved political sports-teams.

We’re not ready to lynch reporters here, not even Damon Linker, but we would vote “not guilty” if put on the jury of someone who did.

Terrorism: Economy of Force

ISIL flagOne of the consequences of our contretemps with the Russians is that we’re experiencing a Great Relearning of things they learned in long conflict with Chechen and other Islamists. One of them is this: attacking terrorist funding and logistics only goes so far, because compared to national armies or security services, terrorism runs on a shoestring budget. It is by its very nature an economy of force operation.

Recent analysis of high-profile terror attacks inspired by ISIL in France bears this out. We have edited the excerpt below: we have inserted values in $USD based on today’s rounded exchange rate ($1.22=£1), further rounded to the nearest $500 or so.

The string of attacks in France, which have killed more than 200 people in less than two years, were funded by jihadis selling cheap ‘made in China’ clothes and accessories on the black market, as well as insecure consumer loans.

Researchers at the Centre for the Analysis of Terrorism in Paris combed the bank accounts of bloodthirsty jihadis behind the Charlie Hebdo, Bataclan and Nice attacks.

The perpetrators of the January 2015 attacks, which targeted Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket – Amedy Coulibaly and brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi – spent a combined total of £23,000 ($28,000).

More than £18,000 ($23,000) was used to buy a range of heavy weapons, including two sub-machine guns and two semi-automatic pistols, and a rocket launcher.

Heavy weapons? Well, it’s an English paper. If they looked in many of our readers’ gun rooms or safes, they’d go up like Guy Fawkes. FOOM!

Between them, Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers killed 17 people: 12 people were killed in the attack on the Charlie Hebdo newsroom, and four people were killed in the attack on a Jewish supermarket. A female police officer was also shot dead by Mr Coulibaly.

The November 13 Paris attacks – when shootings at the Bataclan theatre and bomb blasts left 130 people dead and hundreds more wounded – were the most “expensive and complex” said the CAT researchers, and cost the radical Islamists a total of £73,000 ($89,000).

According to French weekly le Journal du Dimanche, where the study was published, ISIS chiefs gave each terrorist £2,600 ($3,000) to spend on the attacks – the rest they paid for themselves.

Two of the attackers, brothers Salah and Brahim Abdeslam, ran a bar in Molenbeek, Belgium, and took money directly from the till.

Hasna Aitboulahcen, the cousin of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the ringleader behind the Paris massacre, gave the terrorists £3,500 ($4,500) before blowing herself up.

The extremists spent £24,000 ($30,000) on travel, £17,000 ($21,000) on secret hideouts, and £14,000 ($17,000) on suicide vests and guns, including six AK-47 rifles.

In addition, the ISIS executioners spent £10,000 ($12,000) on rental cars, and £7,000 ($8,500) on phones and fake ID.

The Nice attack, which took place on July 14 whilst crowds were busy celebrating Bastille Day, the French ‘Independence Day’, was the least expensive, and cost ISIS fanatic Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel no more than £2,200 ($2,500).

Mr Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, who has been described as a “sex-obsessed, pork-eating alcoholic”, used the money to buy a gun and to rent the 19-tonne lorry he used to plough through the Bastille Day crowds. The ISIS convert killed 86 people during the attack, including 30 Muslims.

CAT researchers also said that suspected terrorists’ bank accounts should be checked on a regular basis, as keeping an eye on their financial transactions could help prevent future attacks.

via How European ISIS terror attacks cost just £2,000 | World | News | Daily Express.

You should be reassured that, while the Diverse Vibrancy coming to a refugee shelter near you could very well kill you, at least they won’t be profligate spendthrifts whilst doing you, and they will dispatch you in a practical, economical manner.

The linked article says that surveillance of the suspected jihadis’ bank accounts might help to expose them — a few paragraphs where it describes how several of them scammed the necessary money off of cash businesses and thefts. That’s what passes for deep thinking in Journalistan.

Jamming their money up, or watching their money, is not going to be effective when they need very little money. It’s reminiscent of the great extremes and risks our special operations forces and airmen took to bust trucks on the Ho Chi Minh trail, when the while North Vietnamese combat effort in South Vietnam needed only 4,000 to 6,000 pounds of supplies of all classes daily. It sounds like a lot, but consider this: you not only had to bust trucks, you basically had to bust all of them, because the enemy ran his whole war on less than 2-3 trucks a day. But MacNamara never thought that one all the way through. (Show us your shocked face, on a screwup by Mac?)

The Lawrence of Alaska: Muktuk Marston

major-marstonWhat a lot of people don’t know about the National Guard is that, while today it is run entirely on a top-down basis, many units have their own histories and legends, and predate the National Guard. (Some units in the East track back directly to specific Colonial militia units, and predate the United States. The senior regiments in the Army are Guard regiments). But it’s doubtful that any Guard unit anywhere has a foundational story quite as unusual as Alaska’s.

In World War II, Alaska, purchased from a cash-hungry Russia in 1867, was still a Territory. For our foreign and I-hated-history readers, a Territory is an area that is not sufficiently mature in population or civilization to be a State (or to be set free as an independent nation). Most of the states west of the Original 13 Colonies spent times a Territories before being admitted to the Union as States. The last two Territories with statehood potential were Alaska and Hawaii, both of which got their star on the American flag within living memory — in 1959. The remaining Territories are various islands that are essentially welfare dependencies, uninterested in the responsibilities attendant on either Statehood or statehood.

But as a large, remote, resource-rich but population-poor area, Alaska was essentially undefended until the Second World War. There were no garrisons, no fortifications, no coast artillery. (There was so much coastline that the very idea of defending it overloads the military mind). Communications were poor, with many tiny hamlets connected only by seasonal transport like boats and dogsleds, or by spindly bush planes. There had never been a foreign power interested in seizing it — the Russians sold it willingly in part because they had their own resource-rich and population-poor area in Siberia, Canada was a Dominion of friendly England, and the other Pacific powers were too weak to be a threat — before the rise of Japan.

What Alaska did have was a population of indigenous natives who were as patriotic as any other American, and who needed only to be armed and subordinated to military authority to provide a skilled and gifted reconnaissance and presence patrol capability. What Alaska didn’t have was a military man who could see that. Prior to Pearl Harbor… let’s hear from Ernest Gruening, Territorial Governor during this period:

The Army and Navy high brass were as unimpressed by Billy Mitchell’s 1935 signallizing of the strategic importance of Alaska — in his last public appearance — as they were hostile to his previous forthright foresightedness concerning the value of air power in war.

As late as November 1937, General Malin Craig, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, rejected Alaska Delegate Anthony J. Dimond’s written plea for endorsement of an Army air base in Alaska “for the reason that the mainland of Alaska is so remote from the strategic areas of the Pacific that it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which air operations therefrom would contribute materially to the national defense.”

The same unimaginative mentality prevented the start of the Alaska Highway until Pearl Harbor had brought a rude awakening.


Even today, a lot of these villages are not accessible by year-round road. Dogsled, boat, airstrip are your choices, depending on season and weather (all of the small pictures here embiggen with a click).

Gruening organized an Alaska National Guard, led by white Army veterans, only to find it Federalized as the 297th Infantry Regiment and shipped out in August, 1941, leaving him, again, without home defense. This caused him to seek a Plan B.

The strategic importance of Alaska arose from its position on the Pacific Rim, its extractive industries, and its utility in the flow of Lend-Lease aircraft and air-delivered supplies to our Soviet allies. This caused the Army to, belatedly, send a lot of troops under the able Simon Bolivar Buckner to build a railroad and highway, and garrison the populated, by which the Army meant the white-populated, parts of the Territory. The Alaskan forts and air bases date originally from this period.

Along with bulldozers, graders, lots of rifles, and camp followers, the Army also brought its own culture. Heavy with officers from the Jim Crow South — Buckner was one — it was a segregated Army. To Buckner and men like him, men of great ability, there was one blind spot: they could see no merit in anyone who was not white, and as far as they were concerned, the difference between Eskimo and black man was a lot less than the difference between either and whites. A strict system of racial segregation operated on and off base. This applied to the Alaska natives as much as it did to the many black soldiers who had been brought in to labor on construction projects. The idea of arming and training Eskimos, to a man of Buckner’s generation, was at best a waste of arms, and more probably the creation of a dangerous rear area threat. You never gave firesticks to the Indians!

To be sure, Buckner did not always couch his objections in racialist terms. Frequently he had military objections to the idea of integrating the Alaskan natives in the military. He wasn’t a bad man, although Hollywood would certainly write him as one, if they were to make a movie of this: he was just a product of his own culture and caged by his own frame of reference.

Enter Major Marvin R. Marston. A lanky man who looked a bit like John Wayne would look if he had a more prominent nose, Marston was an embarrassment to the Army: someone had made him a Major in the Air Corps based on his World War I service and postwar education and experience. “He’s no damn good!” was a commonly-expressed opinion from his superiors. The Army and the Air Corps violently expelled him from the lower 48 and sent him to the rude camp that would one day be Elmendorf Air Force Base, where he was given a do-nothing job — until Gruening, himself an eccentric’s eccentric, asked the Army for a couple of military aides. Seeing an opportunity to get rid of the major they had doing a corporal’s job, they foisted him, and another disliked officer, Captain Carl Scheibner, off on the governor, and called it a good day’s work.

Marston had come to love and admire the Eskimos, and when modern Army trucks and planes failed him, he found that their millennia of adaptation to the tundra gave him a way to get around. He and his guide, Eskimo Sammy Mogg, made one 680-mile dogsled trip to recruit Eskimo men. He earned the name “Muktuk” by besting an Eskimo champion in an eating contest, and while they may not have made an Eskimo out of him, they knew they had made a friend. For all that the Army hated Marston, Gruening formed a different opinion, as Marston brought one village after the next’s Territorial Guard online.

I had already gathered that Marston’s offense was that he wanted action, that he was not an apple-polisher, and that in cutting corners to achieve desirable objectives, such as building a Kashim, or enlisted men’s clubhouse, on the base, he had found it necessary to cut red tape and occasionally step on a few toes.

Gruening knew the Eskimo citizens and knew what they could do, and Marston and Scheibner became the men who made it happen — especially Marston, who dealt with the western area of Alaska, the area where the threat was greatest. They raised an Alaska Territorial Guard, ATG, of patriotic Eskimos that would later become the fabled Eskimo Scouts. Buckner and the conventional Army officers did everything they could to undermine the mission. When they were finally ordered to provide weapons — Gruening had connections, too, and was not shy about going over Buckner’s head — they went out of their way to find old 1917 Enfields, stored since 1918.

This famous painting hangs in the Pentagon, showing Marston issuing arms to recruits.

This famous painting hangs in the Pentagon, showing Marston issuing arms to recruits in a remote village.

With different lettering, the same poster was used to sell war bonds. Note the M1917s. One man is Eskimo, one white, and one Alaskan Indian.

With different lettering, the same poster was used to sell war bonds. Note the M1917s. One man is Eskimo, one white, and one Alaskan Indian. (It embiggens).

The Eskimo guardsmen didn’t care. They cherished and loved those Enfields, and learned to shoot them. (It was an excellent weapon; the Springfield was preferred solely because it was the product of the Ordnance Department’s own arsenals). The Enfield was featured on a famous ATG poster, painted by an ATG officer himself.

The Territorial Guard was the first time that members of many different Eskimo tribes had worked together — the Guard comprised 6,000-plus men, and a few women, of every tribe and race in the Territory. They provided defense, reconnaissance, countered Japanese reconnaissance and the quixotic Japanese balloon-bomb operation, rescue and recovery of downed airmen and of lost ground parties.

The scouts of the Alaska Territorial Guard were mostly too young, too old, or medically disqualified from the draft, which applied to Eskimos as much as it did to the men in the lower 48. The Territorial Guard were all-volunteer in the truest sense of the word: apart from a couple dozen full-time staffers, they drew no pay, and the Government didn’t even recognize them as veterans until 2000.


These rifles, too, are M1917 Enfields.

After the war, Marston was a delegate to the state’s Constitutional Convention, and a businessman and developer, and he did his part to ensure that Alaska’s natives got proper credit for being the first-class citizens he had always known them to be.

Territorial Guards at rifle practice.

Territorial Guards at rifle practice.

It would be nice to write that the Army recognized him for his achievement, but they didn’t. He left the service as he came in — a major. Buckner seems to have been sufficiently irritated by the white man who treated natives as equals that he blackballed Marston’s promotion.

Marston may be one of the most interesting characters of World War II to have never had a full biography, even though he left extensive papers (as did Gruening and Buckner).

And how does this tie in to the Alaska National Guard? Well, that regiment that went off in 1941 was filled with draftees and lost its Alaskan character. When a new National Guard stood up in the 1950s, the cadre included quite a number of former ATG soldiers — and the Alaska Guardsmen today recognize the civilian irregulars that Marston organized as among their founders.


The Gruening quotes are from his introduction to Marston’s postwar book, Men of the Tundra: Alaska Eskimos at War, and are among the excerpts available at this link:

History of the Alaska Territorial Guard

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: JSOU Press Publications

jsou_libraryHere is a fine example of Your Tax Dollars in Action (for our international readers, Some Other Guys’ Tax Dollars in Action), being returned to the public in the form of freely downloadable publications, all related in some way to Special Operations: The Joint Special Operations University Publications.

Is that whirring we hear the sound of hard drives spooling up? Be our guest. You’ve paid for the knowledge and expertise contained in these documents. They are yours to learn from.

In 2016 alone, JSOU published nine numbered Papers, a fistful of Occasional Papers, and some themed collections of articles. They’re all here. They cover subjects like: unconventional warfare doctrine, the history of how one 7th Group battalion task force took down an al-Qaeda underground/auxiliary network in Iraq, and an evaluation of how better to meet SOF language and human domain knowledge needs. Some of it is aimed more at the academic than the practitioner, but it’s all useful stuff.

For example, at this writing the most recent of them is The Evolution of the Global SOF Enterprise from a Partner Perspective, by Lieutenant Colonel Asbjørn Lysgård, Norwegian Army. (The .pdf is here, also). LTC Lysgård is a Norwegian Military Academy graduate and longtime veteran of an element we foreigners aggregate with all other Norwegian SOF as NORSOF, but that the Norwegian services know as NORASOC. In fact, each Norwegian SOF element has its own history and skillset, and each can reach back to earlier Norwegian SOF that were formed in close collaboration with British and American SO elements in World War II.

Norwegian SOF in training.

Norwegian SOF in training.

Norway, however, following the Second World War, disbanded all its SOF units to prioritize a larger conventional force structure to meet the Soviet threat. The legacy of OSS and SOE was still present though, especially in the reserves and the Norwegian Home Guard. Finally, almost a decade after the war, Norwegian Defense Forces started to reinvest in SOF. In 1953, the Navy established the first teams of Frogmen and, in 1962, the Army established Hærens Fallskjermjegerskole (HFJS), the Army’s Commando School, to train long-range reconnaissance units for parachute insertion behind enemy lines. During the Cold War, U.S. SOF worked closely with HFJS to shape the battlefield, fighting off a potential threat from the East. Throughout the Balkan wars and the Kosovo crisis, Norwegian SOF became an expeditionary strategic deployable force, which later developed into Hærens Jegerskole/Forsvarets Spesialkommando, the predecessor of the current strategic command.

The Norwegian Special Operations Command (NORSOCOM) was established on 1 January 2014, when its first commander, Rear Admiral Nils Johan Holte, took command of the two tactical Norwegian SOF units, Forsvarets Spesialkommando (FSK), and the Navy SOF unit Marinejegerkommandoen. Since that time, the NORSOCOM commander and his staff have strengthened the long-established relations between the different SOF units around the world.

LTC Lysgård explains, from the point of view of an Allied officer, what it’s like to be one of the over two dozen partner nations in the Global SOF Network, a functional and technical means of coordination and cooperation.

In reading his paper, we learned a thing or three about the current status of interoperation among friendly SOF, and in fact it goes quite a bit further than we thought it did. If you’re interested in such things, it’s a thought-provoking read.

And if you’re not? Keep looking around the JSOU Library. You’ll find something that’s more to your taste.

Artillery in Iraq, August 2016

artillery-02They came out of the sky in the night, using tactics invented in Vietnam and honed by generations of artillerymen since. Mobile warfare demands mobile fire support; overnight, a barren scrap of desert becomes a counter in the Game of War, a temporary home to a battery of M777 lightweight howitzers.

The Army describes a recent (August) mission involving the establishment of a forward firebase, and execution of multiple fire missions.

“Do you have eyes on?” Joseph radios to the CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilots as they approach. Given the affirmative, he watches as they float toward the landing zone. With a dull thud and a cloud of dust the guns are released onto the ground and the CH-47s turn off into the night.

The 101st is known for air assault operations and Fort Campbell, the home of the unit, is where the Sabalauski Air Assault School resides. For the team on the ground, this operation is business as usual.

“Let’s go, let’s get a move on,” Joseph says to the gun crews. Working under the lime-green hue of their night vision goggles, they move their guns and begin setting up the systems, ensuring they are prepared to execute their upcoming fire missions.

The Soldiers work through the night, and by first light they’re ready to fire.


Staff Sgt. James Johnson, the fire direction chief for Battery C, sits in the back of his fire direction center truck looking intently at his radio, waiting for a call for fire.

“This is where the magic happens,” Johnson says as he concentrates on his console.

Observers, which can consist of assets from the ISF, unmanned aerial vehicles and other aircraft, acquire targets they need hit. Once the battalion headquarters located miles away in the tactical operations receives the data, they push it to Johnson and his team at the FDC.

“We process data,” says Johnson. “They [the artillerymen on the gun line] proceed to shoot.”

A few hundred feet away from the FDC, gun crews are moving around their guns in full kit, checking and rechecking minute details, making small adjustments, waiting to spring into action once the FDC sends a message.

Just then the radio crackles and Johnson grabs his hand mic, listening to the data. He then begins his battle drill, one he’s done many times before. Johnson sends a message to the gun line, “Gun 2, fire mission.”

Down at Gun 2, the crew, led by Staff Sgt. Johnathan Walker, springs up as the radio beeps; in seconds they are at the firing position going through their crew drill.

“Come on,” Walker yells to the crew as they prepare rounds and take their positions. “Let’s make money!”

The crew members look through the sites and adjust the gun as Walker yells the fire data. Attention to detail is critical during this mission; he must remember the data for each round his crew is going to fire.

“Fire!” yells the crew chief, and a Soldier gives the firing lanyard a slight tug. The gun responds to this small motion, shaking the earth around the position as a high explosive shell is launched.


The next gun fires soon after and the race is on between the two gun sections, a little company competition to see who can fire rounds the fastest and most proficiently. Even working in temperatures that exceed 100 degrees, the teams are driven.

“Let’s get through this!” Walker yells as he calls off the quadrant — up and down — and deflection — left and right — for the next round. Driven by their chief, the Soldiers move faster as the mission continues.

The dash endures for a while as the guns launch round after round. Dust hangs in the air after each round is fired and sweat stings the Soldiers’ eyes. The ammo carriers are running rounds weighing over 90 pounds from the holding point to the gun, heaving the shells into the firing tube. Walker’s voice grows hoarse as he yells adjustments and commands.

Finally, the last round is reached.

“Last round,” the ammo bearer says as he walks up to Walker. With a nod, Walker gets ready for his last command of the mission.


via The gun raid: US artillerymen support Iraqi advance on ISIL | Article | The United States Army.

And that was that. After taking fire missions from a variety of sources, the redlegs secured their guns and called the Chinooks. Where did they go?  Was it to another hasty and temporary firing position? Was it back to the FOB to rest and refit?


There are some members of ISIL who would like to know the answers to those question. And other, former, members, who are beyond knowing.

Is artillery useful in an unconventional war? Sometimes. Sometimes it’s not just useful, but indispensable.

Two Views of Declining US-Russian Relations

Are the bear and the eagle at it again? (Image from teh sculptor's website).

Are the bear and the eagle at it again? (Image from the sculptor’s website).

There’s the Acela Corridor blob model, competently marshaled into a thumbsucker in the New York Times by Neil MacFarquhar. Referring to “the implosion of relations between the Kremlin and the West,” MacFarquhar hits some high points (very condensed here):

…the United States distanced itself from cooperation on Syria and suggested that Russia should be investigated for war crimes.

And that’s what caused the breach, because in the Times, it’s always America’s fault.

Putin instantly unplugged several nuclear accords…formulated a list of unattainable economic and legal demands… deployed sophisticated antiaircraft weapons to Syria … redeployed long-range ballistic missiles to Russia’s Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad…

That would be Occupied Königsberg, in one way of thinking… one of many victims of ethnic cleansing over the years. The Serbs invented the term, but the practice is centuries old, and almost every Russian government back to Ivan the Terrible has tried their hand at it somewhere. (Right now, it’s coming back to the hapless Crimean Tatars, in fact).

… canceled a scheduled trip to Paris… weigh[ed] reopening military bases in Cuba and Vietnam dispatch[ed] 5,000 paratroopers to participate in military maneuvers in Egypt

Canc’d the trip to Paris. Quel horreur! And Egypt, well, let us put one reminder in your head: formal US foreign policy been hostile to the al-Sissi military government, and openly agitated for the returned of the elected Moslem Brotherhood anti-american regime. (That doesn’t mean Islamists can’t chum up to Putin, too, as Erdogan is doing — one of the Russian advances MacFarquhar missed, or perhaps cut to fit space). Then there’s the nuclear saber-rattling.

…40 million Russians, 200,000 rescue workers and 50,000 specialized vehicles took part in civil defense exercises. The Kremlin’s bellwether weekly news program also repeated its stark reminder, first rolled out two years ago, that Russia retained the ability to turn the United States into radioactive dust.

Well, they wouldn’t if we’d built the missile defenses that were canceled in 2009. Canceled, we might add, in part in trade for the demilitarization of Occupied Königsberg. Turns out another administration policy triumph came with an expiration date.

MacFarquhar suggests that none of this is what it appears to be, and instead it is a political game, aimed in part at US electoral politics, but mostly at Russian domestic consumption. He uses the classic Times “analysts say…” locution to turn the supposed report into a vehicle for his own opinon, which is that Vladimir Vladimirovich is….

…positioning himself to make maximum demands of the next American president and to pursue his perennial goal of getting other world leaders to treat him as an equal.

raising the stakes for the anticipated resumption of negotiations over Syria…[but, mostly] to distract attention from gaping holes in the federal budget and the painful, politically unpopular steps needed to close them.

President Putin poses for a portrait with President Obama.

President Putin poses for a portrait with President Obama.

And there’s the contrarian view, expressed by dependably contrarian John Schindler in The Observer, that he’s simply taking advantage of the long-running foreign-policy power vacuum in the United States, with a President who doesn’t understand much (and doesn’t care), a Secretary of State who is a cretinous stuffed-shirt out of Gilbert and Sullivan.

There is one certainty that even Yogi Berra could predict about an uncertain future: anything Putin does between now and the inauguration of the next president is guaranteed to be unresisted by a supine Washington. Quoth Schindler:

As I told you on Friday, the Kremlin’s deployment of Iskander missiles, what NATO calls SS-26s, into Kaliningrad is a direct challenge to the Atlantic Alliance, since it puts all of Poland and the Baltic republics into range for a sudden nuclear strike. An Iskander’s flight time from Kaliningrad to Warsaw is just two minutes, so NATO would functionally have no warning.

In military terms, this is a game-changer for the Baltic region. Politically, it’s deeply destabilizing too. It’s nothing less than a regional version of the Cuban Missile Crisis, with Moscow placing nuclear missiles close to the Western camp for strategic advantage. Why Putin would do this when Obama has just three months left in the White House is the key question—and answering it reveals disturbing truths. As I said on Friday:

This constitutes a direct challenge to Washington by Moscow—and by Vladimir Putin to Barack Obama, personally. The KGB officer in the Kremlin is seeking to get in one last, grand strategic humiliation for our president before he leaves office. And why not? Such reckless antics have worked well for the Russians so far, given Obama’s preference to avert eyes and hope for the best whenever Moscow misbehaves.

Vladimir Vladimirovich knows he has a doormat in DC right now. Who knows what he’ll have in January? Has DC done anything to make him think he faces a worthy opponent across his geopolitical chessboard?


Indeed, four days into Putin’s Cuban Missile Crisis on the Baltic Sea, our president remains invisible. There has been no public statement…. the lack of any public support or demonstrations of NATO solidarity by Washington right now is deeply troubling to our allies in Eastern Europe, most of whom had minimal confidence in Obama’s courage even before his latest no-show.

…Barack Obama seems to think that letting the Kremlin do whatever it wishes will bring peace and stability. Ukraine and Syria tragically demonstrate that Obama’s laissez-faire attitude towards Putin beings anything but peace, yet it seems highly unlikely that our president will grow a backbone with just three months left in office.

We are in a dangerous period between now and January 20, when the Russian bear feels—not unreasonably—that he can get away with whatever he wants, without consequence. That’s not true, of course. Privately, President Obama has expressed to our NATO allies facing Russia exactly where his “redlines” are vis-à-vis the Kremlin.

Our allies, however, scarcely believe Obama, and who can blame them?

And the key question is not whether, say, Poland and Lithuania believe President Obama’s statements, but whether Vladimir Vladimirovich does.

If he did, would the Iskanders be in Occupied Königsberg?

What Sank MacArthur

General Douglas MacArthur with Pipe in MouthEvery student of warfare has an opinion about Douglas MacArthur, the vain but largely successful World War II general, and most people understand the broad strokes of his career.

He was the son of a Civil War hero and general, an Academy graduate, who served as Army Chief of Staff before retiring to organize an army in the American image for the Phillipines, which were being prepared for independence. Caught flatfooted by the Japanese attacks of 8 Dec 41, MacArthur rallied his defenders, controversially escaped to Australia, pledged to return and did, in the van of an army of conquerors and liberators. Occupying Japan, he helped the Japanese reform a civil government, before the Korean war, in which he saved US and Korean forces from certain defeat, and was relieved by President Harry Truman for insubordination.

People have strong opinions on whether Truman did the right thing (not on whether Truman had the right to do that thing; as President he absolutely did). Just for one example, at one time, you could get binned on the board after otherwise completing selection to a certain special operations unit, if you answered the Truman vs. MacArthur question “wrong.” (The “right” answer was Mac).

Comes H.W. Brands in a book entitled The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, to argue the opposite side of the proposition. In an excerpt published at, Brands argues that redacted testimony from Senate hearings makes MacArthur the odd man out in the Washington of 1951.

The MacArthur firing prompted the Democratic-led Congress to invite the general to address a joint session, which MacArthur moved to applause and tears when he declared that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” Among Republicans, there were murmurs of support for a MacArthur candidacy for president. The Senate’s Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committes held joint hearings, at which MacArthur detailed his disagreement with the president and claimed the backing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for his position.

The Joint Chiefs contradicted him. The Senate hearings were closed to the public, but a transcript was released each day including all but the most sensitive comments. Omar Bradley, the chairman of the joint chiefs, flatly rejected MacArthur’s call for a wider war. “In the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this strategy would involve us in the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time and with the wrong enemy,” he said.

Bradley’s categorical conclusion proved the most compelling public statement by any official at the committee hearings. For a soldier of Bradley’s stature, with no history of politics, to contradict MacArthur so completely caused even the most ardent of MacArthur’s supporters to pause and reconsider.

Yet it was the statements that were not made public that did the real damage to MacArthur.

Brands details some of those statements, so you’ll want to Read The Whole Thing™. But the upshot was that even MacArthur’s greatest admirers in Congress…

…no longer looked to MacArthur as a credible alternative to Truman on military strategy or in politics. They eased away from the general, and because the testimony was sealed, they never said why.

And MacArthur never found out.

For a man who played at the center of politics and policy for thirty years, MacArthur never found out a lot of things. One of the problems he was blind to, thanks to his considerable loyalty down, was just how badly he was served by some of the characters that manned his G-2 shop. But that’s another story.

Was he right, or was Truman right? Consider this MacArthur quote:


The end result of his dismissal was an armistice, without a permanent peace, in Korea, in 1953. That has led to the state of prolonged indecision that has lasted from then until now — 63 years, and counting.

Why did Truman fear victory? Perhaps because neither Mac, nor any of his other generals, could give him a convincing estimate of the cost of that victory. And perhaps because they couldn’t promise him that the ensuing victory would be ours.

Hate Modern Art? Blame the CIA!

This may be a Jackson Pollock, plucked from the walls of a museum. Or it may be a Jackie Polkowsky, plucked from the first grade art class recycle bin. How to tell?

This may be a Jackson Pollock, plucked from the walls of a museum. Or it may be a Jackie Polkowsky, plucked from the first grade art class recycle bin. How can you tell?

Now, the CIA gets blamed for a lot of stuff they didn’t ever do, like invent AIDS and whack JFK. They probably don’t get blamed enough for stuff they do do, like leak like the post-berg Titanic. And they certainly don’t get blamed enough for stuff they don’t do, like give leaders usable information, instead of the CYA on-the-other-other-hand pablum that the gigantic self-licking ice cream cone that is the bloated HQ produces.

But according to the British Independent, there’s something that they deserve blame for: modern art. If you ever suspected that Jackson Pollock was a no-talent parvenu, celebrated far beyond his kindergarten abilities, well, nothing in here is going to change your mind.

And if you thought Jack the Dripper was just an example of sui generis talent, that rose to the top in the endless (but fair!) tournament that is the art world? Think he was a real bang-tail gone cat? Daddy-o, you got played. Thoroughly.

The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world.

The next key step came in 1950, when the International Organisations Division (IOD) was set up under Tom Braden. It was this office which subsidised the animated version of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which sponsored American jazz artists, opera recitals, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s international touring programme. Its agents were placed in the film industry, in publishing houses, even as travel writers for the celebrated Fodor guides. And, we now know, it promoted America’s anarchic avant-garde movement, Abstract Expressionism.

Initially, more open attempts were made to support the new American art. In 1947 the State Department organised and paid for a touring international exhibition entitled “Advancing American Art”, with the aim of rebutting Soviet suggestions that America was a cultural desert. But the show caused outrage at home, prompting Truman to make his Hottentot remark and one bitter congressman to declare: “I am just a dumb American who pays taxes for this kind of trash.” The tour had to be cancelled.

Willem de Kooning (here Interchange, 1955) was another artist whose market was made by the agency.

Willem de Kooning (here Interchange, 1955, sold for $300 million last year) was another artist whose market was made by the agency.

The Truman comment was, “If that’s art, I’m a Hottentot.” As his fellow tribesmen, we’re all bemused that the CIA was subsidizing this stuff, but subsidizing it they were — in part, to put a stick in Stalin’s and later Khrushchev’s eye, and in part, because they were inbred enough to like this kind of art. (Best appreciated with Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, “Bird” Parker, or John Coltrane on the Hi-Fi).

At this time the new agency, staffed mainly by Yale and Harvard graduates, many of whom collected art and wrote novels in their spare time, was a haven of liberalism when compared with a political world dominated by McCarthy or with J Edgar Hoover’s FBI. If any official institution was in a position to celebrate the collection of Leninists, Trotskyites and heavy drinkers that made up the New York School, it was the CIA.

Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it.

“Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I’d love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!” he joked. “But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.

“In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another.”

The irony was, of course, that many of the very artists whose exhibitions and gallery sales were secretly being propped up by the national black budget, were bitter opponents of the US and all it stood for, and stalwart soldiers of scientific socialism, always ready to wave the Red Banner as long as they didn’t have to leave the benighted capitalist land of philistinism and go live there. So there was a complex system of cut-outs and covers to ensure that the artists never learned who their secret patrons really were. This was called the “long leash.”

Do Read The Whole Thing™. Somewhat bemused to see one of the panjandrums of the whole thing is now….

…in his eighties, Mr Braden lives in Woodbridge, Virginia, in a house packed with Abstract Expressionist works and guarded by enormous Alsatians.

Ah, an art collection picked up on the public dime, perhaps? Wouldn’t be the first Beltway nabob to do very well indeed by doing good. Still, he’s a dog guy, he can’t be all bad.

And us? Well, what do we know? We’re Hottentots.

Guerrilla Recruitment Lessons from Greece in WWII

This bridge sabotage on the Gorgopotamos closed the one rail route to Greek ports for six weeks in 1942. The resistance was not directly involved, but afterward, the saboteurs stayed in Greece to form a British liaison mission.

This bridge sabotage on the Gorgopotamos closed the one rail route to Greek ports for six weeks in 1942. The resistance was not directly involved, but afterward, the saboteurs stayed in Greece to form a British liaison mission to the Free Greek underground.

In World War II, there was a moderately effective resistence in Greece, which we’ve discussed here before, and which is the subject of a 1960 monograph (then) sponsored by Special Forces, and now available online at

The resistance supported attacks by infiltrated British parties on German lines of communication to the Afrika Korps, may have tied down German and Italian forces (it’s hard to say; the Axis would have had to guard this flank of their Eastern front anyway), killed some thousands of Axis troops, and harassed the Germans particularly, both in situ and on the point of their withdrawal.

The Allied support to the resistance served several military and political purposes; one of Britain’s most careful balancing acts was fighting the Germans without giving the strongest element of the Resistance, the Communist EAM/ELAS (from its Greek acronyms), enough power to overthrow the country postwar. This was a near-run thing; in the late 1940s, the Communists fought a cruel civil war for control of the ancient land, but were defeated.

This modern picture of the bridge shows how effective a target it was.

This modern picture of the bridge shows how effective a target it was.

ELAS Communist Resistance Unit

ELAS Communist Resistance Unit

Why were the Communists the most effective guerrillas? Their experience underground was one factor, as was their skill at forming coalitions that appeared to be broad, but in which the non-Communists were window dressing or cannon fodder. (Think the Popular Front of the Spanish Civil War, or the similarly-named French government of Leon Blum).

The Communists were effective at recruiting guerrillas, and some interesting lessons were taken away by American scholars studying this war in retrospect (p.19 in the book).

The appeals used by EAM/ELAS to attract persons into its underground apparatus were based on its desire to create the broadest possible underground support structure.

  1. EAM/ELAS utilized the symbol of universal hatred: the occupiers of Greece.
  2. It suggested positive action against the symbol of hatred: resistance to the occupiers.
  3. It completely identified itself with national aims and accused all other groups of being unpatriotic, if not treasonable.
  4. It took in and gave prestige to repressed elements in the Greek population: in a patriarchal society, women and young people were low on the social totem pole. In the underground of EAM/ ELAS, both groups were welcomed.
  5. At the same time, the role of men and elders was also upheld, so that the offense to these groups from d above, was held to a minimum.
  6. Where persuasion alone did not work, EAM/ELAS did not hesitate to use force. Surprisingly enough, persons upon whom force was used appear to have often become faithful supporters of EAM/ELAS.

Let’s look at some of those points in isolation.

1-3. Symbol, Action, Aims

EAM/ELAS was well advised to dissemble about its ultimate aims. It didn’t need fighters for Communism in 1942, it needed fighters against occupation. There would be time to bring them around to Communism later. Anybody who has a political identity toxic to some of the people he needs is well advised to seek a common denominator (and the most effective common denominators are markers of racial, ethnic and national identity). Guerrillas and underground personnel tend to be young risk takers; they will rally to the standard of action, and not the banner of caution. And in defining your war aims, keep your muzzle on the 50 meter targets. Fidel Castro was always a Communist but he didn’t say so until after he won. Why? Because the Communists, too, learned from their defeat in the Greek Civil War.

Cretan resistance Andantes. The SOE used weapons supplies as a tool to maintain balance between ELAS and EDES resistance groups. Weapons are United Defense UD42 9mm SMGs.

Cretan resistance Andantes. The SOE used weapons supplies as a tool to maintain balance between ELAS and EDES resistance groups. But interrupting weapons flows for political reasons could cause bad blood. Weapons are United Defense UD42 9mm SMGs.

4-5. Recruitment of Shunned Minorities. This is classic SF doctrine, as used in Vietnam (recruiting the Montagnards, Nungs, Hoa Hao and other minorities) and, effectively, in the early period of US opposition to the Taliban (recruiting people from the non-Pathan/Pushtun majority of Afghans). There is always a backlash, as the rural Greeks had to the use of women and youth: in Vietnam, ethnic Vietnamese were alarmed by the USSF taking direct control of units of national minorities, outside RVN military and political control. And in Afghanistan, the coalition of minorities nature of the allied-with-USA Norther Alliance stirred resentment among the nation’s plurality Pushtuns and invited comparison with the Pushtun Taliban.

6. Even forced recruits could become faithful.

That last comment is very interesting and has been borne out time and again in studies of other underground groups, including insurgencies as well as criminal networks. Consider that combatants as disparate as Patty Hearst of  the Symbionese Liberation Army, most Local Force Viet Cong, and the vast numbers of Chinese “Volunteers” who threw their lives away against the final protective fires of United Nations troops in Korea, were all impressed, not volunteers. The sailors of the days in which the Royal Navy ruled the waves were largely press-ganged. Consider, even, the performance of units of originally-reluctant draftees at most of the battles since the French conceived the levée en masse as a form of military recruitment.

There’s more happening here than Stockholm Syndrome. In fact, even someone badly used by an organization and opposed to it philosophically can be turned to its ends. (This is very, very often done in espionage, and doing it is the subject of extensive recruitment tradecraft). It is better done by psychological manipulation than by any combination of carrots and sticks, but the carrots and sticks are still useful, just not primary.

Another Anti-Material Shooting?

Here’s an interesting bit of news that we ran into today — SpaceX has not ruled out a far-out potential cause of this rocket explosion: sabotage. Indeed, it’s possible the rocket was shot with an anti-material rifle during fueling.


SpaceX investigators reviewing video heard what SpaceX honcho Elon Musk described in a tweet:

They also saw something suspicious on the roof of a building elsewhere in the complex. The investigators were denied entry to the building, although later, Air Force officials were allowed escorted and controlled access, and found nothing.

Why would someone do this? First, if what they saw and what the audio recorded was a rifle firing, it may have been fired from the roof of a competitor’s building. Because the building with the suspicious activity belonged to the United Launch Alliance, a crony-capitalist former launch monopoly. That’s certainly the implication that this CNBC story wants to leave with readers.

There’s a more detailed article (primary source of the CNBC story) here at the Washington Post. It includes some of the backstory that explains the bad blood between SpaceX and ULA, and hints that ULA has bought a number of Republican congressmen to try to recover their monopoly status. (No doubt they have, but not just Republicans, probably. After all, they’re all crooks).

But there’s another reason someone might want to sabotage this particular ULA launch.

The rocket was carrying a satellite for a partnership between Facebook and Eutelsat to provide internet access to Africa. The Amos-6 satellite was owned by Israeli company Spacecom and estimated to be worth around $285 million.

Two extremely wealthy nations, both of whom have former citizens working at both SpaceX and ULA, would be very interested in the destruction of this satellite, even if its only capabilities were the ones publicly reported. Those are Iran, and Saudi Arabia, both of whom are no strangers to sponsoring attacks on United States and Israeli interests. There are other nations that have lesser interests in the destruction of the satellite, but who surely have the capability to mount such an attack.

Two other Falcon 9 launches scheduled for this month are postponed, but SpaceX intends to resume flying in November. The satellite and booster loss was insured.

Now, while sabotage must be considered as a possibility (until it can be ruled out), we personally think, while a rifle attack is plausible, it’s not probable. For one thing, a rifle leaves a distinct signature (as do explosives). The wreckage of the Falcon 9 booster will certainly tell investigators if a bullet from outside struck any part of the booster, especially the helium tank, whose failure seems to have been the initial failure in the cascade above.

Finally, sabotage itself is a low-probability cause. Space flight is inherently complex, difficult, and risky, and there are many reasons for a launch to go bad that don’t involve the machinations of some Boris Badenov and Natasha behind the scenes.

Still, if somebody did do a rifle attack, doing it from atop a ULA building would be a marvelous act of misdirection.

(PS, the site US Launch Report videos all the Canaveral rocket launches, and it’s a disabled vet’s business, that uses DVs as reporters. Check it out, and throw ’em a donation if you can; we sent ’em one).