Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Editors' Note: Coming Soon, the Best Combat Commanders in the WWII US Armed Forces

In keeping with our expose` on the best combat commanders out of the all the main combatants of WWII, our second installment proudly showcases the great leaders who fought for the flag of the USA. This four-part series will begin later this week with a brief synopsis of the storied, WWII accomplishments of the US Army's finest field commanders; shortly to follow with weekly articles covering the US Navy, the US Marines and the USAAF. 

Our first installment covered the armed forces of Nazi Germany, which can be read in our archives from September to November of 2014. Look for additional installments covering the great commanders from the British Empire and the Soviet Union in the coming months.

 We greatly appreciate our many devoted readers and growing audience and look forward to your continued interest in keeping the history of civilization's greatest conflict enduring and available to readers and students everywhere and in keeping the memories of the great leaders and veterans who fought and died in that epic clash forever enmeshed in our hearts and minds for eternity. Remember, every single day an additional 20,000 WWII veterans are taken from us throughout the world and with each and every one of those losses goes another intimate piece of history and another definitive portrait of the people who lived through humanity's greatest challenge!

Thank you from the staff at von Clausewitz' Wit.

Friday, March 6, 2015

If I Could Change the World....Prewar Reflections

Dr. Amon Stiels

The most pertinent issues in the world today are usually the ones we wish would go away tomorrow. Yet day after day they continue to consume us and encumber us from thinking of the things we’d rather be thinking about but no longer have the time to contemplate. This is decidedly the reason why governments are so cumbersome and seemingly detached from the people they claim to represent. They tend to dispense their most perplexing problems to an ever-increasing number of experts, aces, specialists and a bevy of skilled professionals specifically selected to master each decisive issue. I on the other hand have no such access to such reliable and erudite counsel, which is just as well since I haven’t the tact or patience to be consistently overruled and persuaded from my numerous, trustworthy prejudices. I like my issues quaint and straightforward and prefer the solutions to be tethered in logic and beholden to indisputable reason and clarity. And although I always welcome a healthy rebuttal I’m inclined to set parameters for how long the debate should last. I unlike the problem-solvers in government or in the private sector can only deal with three issues at a time since anything more will only deprive me of the time needed to think about the things I’d rather be thinking about, yet can never find the time to do so. Here now are three things I had to think about yet probably wished I didn’t.          

The Netanyahu Factor

Correct me if I’m wrong but other than the visit made by Winston Churchill to the US Congress on the eve of American involvement in WWII, I can’t seem to recall any other instance where a foreign leader was invited to dispute American foreign policy in an attempt to alter or malign the political forces involved in shaping and imposing that policy. This is an unwelcome precedent not only for the future setting of American foreign policy in general and the ability of America’s executive branch to act independently and exclusively in the American people’s best interests but it is a contemptible overreach by the legislative branch to destroy the last vestige of political bipartisanship left in the collective shaping of American policy by the White House and Capitol Hill. Lost in the public fervor over the Israeli prime minister’s contentious discourse was the permanent scar Netanyahu’s invitation implanted in America’s legislative branch by eagerly kowtowing to the narrow agenda of the special interest group at the expense of the American people.  No Sen. Cruz, Israel's best interests are not always America's best interest!

This is a perfect example of partisan politics thriving to score political points by frustrating the executive branch’s ability to set long-term goals for the country and the career professionals in the foreign service who implement that policy. And politics in the USA has gotten so ugly that none of the party bigwigs on either side of the aisle seem the least bit concerned about sacrificing the nation’s grand strategy if it gives them a chance to score political points from the undecided center or in the arena of party politics. But the legislators are wrong to tie all their fortunes to one basket and by propping up the state of Israel as the glorious exemplar for which all future American policy should be guided is at best, na├»ve and foolish but in the worst case it might be downright counter-productive and dangerous. 

What is good for Israel is not necessarily acceptable to the USA’s long-term interests. Israel exists today in a virtual siege perimeter surrounded by radical and eminently hostile neighbors and collective bodies of religious and ethnic antagonists. Thus they tend to look at policy matters in a way that satisfies their defensive needs first and foremost. There is no room for long-term arrangements among Israeli policy-makers because the volatility of Middle East power politics can change quite suddenly and drastically. As a result Israel tends to only embrace short-term solutions that will benefit their strategic situation strictly through defensive-oriented initiatives. Israel cannot afford to look outside the box because its very existence has still not been accepted by its most threatening adversaries. It exists today just as much as it did when it first came into being back in 1948; in a virtual state of war with the whole Arab world.  

On the other hand, the USA today is the most dominant political and military superpower in the world. Its long-term grand strategy is essential to maintaining that status and by extension, its ability to influence policy among all states, friend or foe, whose interests might overlap or interfere with America’s economic and military prerogatives. Those prerogatives should not, but more importantly, cannot be constrained by binding them too closely to the interests of any one nation. America cannot expect to hold its status as the world’s premier arbitrator of diplomatic disputes nor can it assume to be able to influence states whose motives might not always be peaceful in nature if it blindly favors one nation over another. The USA has many nations it has afforded close ally status to but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it must commit itself lock, step and barrel to those nations’ political policies, just as well as it shouldn’t expect blind subservience to the policies enacted from Washington D.C.

Obviously Israel views the regime in Teheran as an imminent threat to their security, which would be considerably amplified should Iran acquire the means to build their own nuclear weapons. Consequently, Prime Minister Netanyahu believes that it would be folly for the USA to come to an agreement with Teheran that would inhibit their pursuit of such weapons of mass destruction if it is determined that such an agreement would only postpone or delay Iran’s eventual admission to the nuclear weapons club. If that was indeed the case than Israel’s suspicions would be valid yet they shouldn’t be allowed to derail more than two years of difficult negotiations because they anticipate an unfavorable outcome. However I sincerely doubt that this was the sole reason why Netanyahu chose to make his speech in front of the US Congress and it probably has more to do with the prime minister eliciting political support for Israel should they elect to move unilaterally against Teheran if an international agreement cannot be reached? 

Taken from the Israeli perspective, Netanyahu has every right in the world to be concerned with an agreement that may leave Iran in control of their own means to produce nuclear weapons. Thus he should find no fault in seeking out a sympathetic ear from his ideologically-cozy allies in the US Congress. But the stakes for America’s continuing influence across the politically volatile Persian Gulf are far more pervasive and consist of many different variables that could bring either long-term rewards or immediate dangers to the present status quo in American foreign policy in the Middle East; not the least of which would be the addition of a potentially powerful partner in the fight to halt the spread of radical, Sunni Islamic fundamentalism in the Persian Gulf and beyond. And Israel’s whole standing in the world community could be permanently maligned if they were to shut the door completely to any agreement that had the potential of eliminating Iran from the list of international pariah states that sponsor terrorism or proliferate the ideology of militant, rogue states such as North Korea, Sudan and Somalia.  

The real problem here is not only the uncompromising sway Washington’s pro-Israel lobby has over the policy-makers in the Republican Party but more significantly it is the GOP’s failure to grasp that Washington’s diplomatic tact is considerably hamstrung by being permanently cast as indiscriminately aligned toward Israeli sensitivities. If indeed this was the case than the GOP certainly deserves to be called out for putting foreign interests above and beyond the interests of the American people but deep down inside I believe there are more ulterior and sadly, malicious motives for the GOP’s invitation to have Netanyahu speak in front of both bodies of the US Congress. I say this not because of any stalwart devotion to the GOP’s political opponents, as you’ll certainly see farther down in this article, but more so because it has become so incontrovertibly clear that the GOP’s hatred for this American president transcends the usual degree of political differences that are usually at the root cause of normal political partisanship. This hatred is so deep that it has effectively blinded the GOP leadership to the long-term damage it has unwittingly unleashed in the setting of America’s grand strategic goals by undermining the constitutional duties of the executive branch to formulate foreign policy free from the interference of political intransigence.

The GOP has now resigned itself to disputing the president’s decisions not necessarily over ideological differences but simply for hostility’s sake. That they could be so eager to humiliate and throw their own president under the bus to present a political point goes far beyond the norms of acceptable partisan behavior and should call into question the party’s ability to put the interests of their own nation above the political prerogatives of foreign nationals and free-spending lobbyists. They may have hoisted Netanyahu on a pedestal simply to accentuate their opposition to the president’s Iranian disarmament initiative but in doing so they have officially declared their intention to sabotage the delicate negotiations by whatever cost, including the costly hit on American prestige the country is sure to take from the world community, and more importantly from just our military allies’ alone, for promptly abandoning their incentives and their initiatives at the behest of the Israeli premier. However that excuse would have been much more genuine if they had voiced their fervent opposition to the two-year proceedings at the beginning of negotiations rather than just weeks before their widely anticipated conclusions. 

The whole affair literally reeks of political brinkmanship, with hints of political treachery not seen on the international stage since the 1956 Suez Crisis. If it has come across so devious and foul-smelling it’s probably because the only point Netanyahu and the GOP made is the extent that they will go to in order to discredit, defame and unashamedly vilify their political opponents to advance their own narrow agendas. Perhaps a bit more respect could have been shown by the Israelis’ toward the White House since that institution has consistently been Israel’s foremost and sometimes only formal advocate on the world stage and has continuously done so while purposely shielding and refuting Israel’s undeclared possession of nuclear weapons from those that most aspire and thrive to possess a few of their own. It does nothing for Israel’s standing in American public opinion if their premier’s sole intention in speaking before the US Congress was to further polarize America’s already fractured and dysfunctional legislative bodies while enticing the American public to partake in a dangerous ‘us against them’ referendum that won’t be as predictable as their GOP lackeys. I think ‘Bibi’ would have best served his country’s interests if he did his political campaigning in Israel and I know more than a few Israelis’ who feel the same way.

The Putin Dilemma

Any hope the rest of the world may have had that Vladimir Putin was ready to rejoin the international community of statesmen that rebuke totalitarian oppression and political violence was promptly thrown out the window with his duplicitous involvement in the state-sanctioned murder of his chief political rival, Boris Nemtsov. Everything about this senseless assassination reeks of Kremlin complicity and Putin’s unswerving hold over Russia’s Federal Security Service, the dreaded FSB; conceptual cousins and predecessor of the infamous KGB. Nemtsov was conveniently murdered only days before he was scheduled to lead a national opposition rally on the streets of Moscow to protest economic conditions and Russia’s illegal involvement and occupation of Eastern Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, all the electronic surveillance cameras within a five-kilometer radius of the killing were conveniently turned off for “routine maintenance”, so it is highly unlikely the perpetrator will ever be caught; that is, a perpetrator in the body and shape of anything but a scapegoat.  

What this means is that the Kremlin ‘don’ and his oligarchic partners-in-crime will stop at nothing to squelch Russia’s dwindling and increasingly marginalized opposition movement just as surely and swiftly as Joe Stalin eliminated the remaining opponents of the Bolshevik revolution back in the late 1920’s. There are now barely a handful of Russian political opponents with the international backing and prestige to warrant a plausible political threat to Putin’s position in the Kremlin but it is now looking more than ever likely that the Kremlin kingpin’s downfall will have to come from within his inner sanctum rather than through the rigged ballot boxes of Russia’s short-lived experimentation with capitalist democracy. Certainly this presents a welcome eventuality since it is only fitting that the leader who chooses to live by the sword must eventually fall by the sword but I wouldn’t hold my breath in anticipation of Russia’s disenfranchised masses suddenly rising up to halt the progression of Putin’s revitalized Soviet Union. 

As this site has mentioned before, Putin’s undisputed hold over Russian mass media was the first step in transforming Russia’s burgeoning democracy back to the autocratic days of Soviet yore; followed closely by a period of political assassinations to eliminate popular opposition to the regime, which would herald the next phase in Putin’s climb to absolute power. Putin’s hasty jump to the next phase of Russia’s political transformation can only mean one of two things. Either he is concerned that his audacious foray into Eastern Ukraine lacks a comfortable majority of public appeal thus must be fought more ruthlessly on the domestic front, or he has decided to move more hurriedly against his opponents because he seeks a more decisive path of confrontation with his neighbors and needs to eliminate his domestic challengers before their prophetic message takes shape. Since I believe Russia’s military presence in Ukraine is there to stay it’s probably a good bet to sanction the latter scenario as the more likely course that Putin is prepared to take in resurrecting the Soviet Union. 

Let’s face it; the only factor that keeps the blossoming pariah state of Mother Russia permanently on the world stage is their abundant collection of nuclear weapons and other weapons of war that her trigger-happy generals are just dying to make use of. And for the last year “Don” Putin has continued to whip up the rhetoric preparing Russia’s suffering masses to boldly follow the Kremlin Kingpin back in time to the glory days of Soviet greatness. If this isn’t the Cold War already than posterity has yet to give it a functional name or title but you can bet the mothballed bomber barons’ underneath Cheyenne Mountain and at Offutt Air Force Base have cleaned all the dust off their old strike manuals and are back to running daily launch exercises with the button pushers down in the silos. But no one should confuse Putin with a trigger-happy, megalomaniacal madman. He is more of a calm, cool and collective, megalomaniacal madman who will pick his targets more diligently and deviously.

Eastern Ukraine—for all intents and purposes—is now figuratively and geographically, Russia’s newest western province and it will stay that way in perpetuity just as the Crimea changed hands not long before. In fact, there’s still the thorny issue of carving out a land route from the vast Russian steppe down to their expanding naval bases on the Crimean Peninsula; another bold land-grab meant to dismember Ukraine’s sovereign landmass. And Putin will continue to buy time by participating in more meaningless cease-fire conferences with his nervous European colleagues until he swallows up all of Ukraine up to the Dnieper River. Only then will the European peacemakers collectively announce an ultimatum for which the massive Russian behemoth dare not venture beyond. But by the time peacekeeping troops are set down to broker the cease-fire along the Dnieper, Putin’s fifth columnists will already being wreaking havoc in the Baltic States and Moldavia or Armenia and Bulgaria.

Only one thing is certain when dealing with a revitalized and increasingly warlike Russian leadership. They will continue to prod and test their regional adversaries in a multitude of ways to incite and sway them into a military conflict they can’t possibly win. However, the Russian military are not gracious gamblers. They like a marked deck when it comes to bullying their often defenseless neighbors and firmly follow the ‘might is right’ axiom to intimidate and cajole their quarries; when you are as big and powerful as the Russian armed forces most every other country in the world only can field an army opponent with barely a quarter of the resources that the Kremlin spends on its army. Sooner or later those brave armies will concede defeat and their distraught political leaders will be forced to accept the fait accompli that the international community swore would never happen. This same scenario has more or less occurred in Georgia, the Crimea and now the Eastern Ukraine and I hardly believe there is an intelligence analyst within the free world who is willing to assert that the Russians have finished their territorial feeding frenzy.

But history has consistently shown that mighty Russia’s only battlefield defeats have come in the form of multinational military coalitions that are reluctantly sewn together when the international community finally tires of Russian bellicosity. They usually come into existence when the Russians’ have reached what Clausewitz refers to as “the culminating point of victory”; the point at which military success can often tilt toward strategic defeat. As of right now no such coalition exists so Putin remains empowered to strike out however and wherever he sees fit. The weak and ineffective war of words and threats will continue unabated and of course, will do nothing to thwart or impede the Kremlin’s ambitions. It is only through the formation of a firm and determined, multinational military coalition aimed exclusively and decisively at the Russian armed forces that we can expect the Kremlin to alter or shrink from its confrontational course and return to the community of civilized nations that strictly adhere to the rule of law which has governed the world’s political order for more than two centuries. 

There is no doubt that NATO—by political default—looks increasingly like the coalition which will be called upon to put a halt to Putin’s madness, after the west finally realizes the futility of their baseless threats and shameful proclivity to cede land for promises and political guarantees. Yet it would behoove its membership and the long-term integrity and cohesion of the alliance itself, if just several of its politically assertive and militarily powerful members stepped up in collective defense of its smaller and more threatened partners in the east, to serve as a stopgap measure in the perennial carrot-and-stick approach before the more deadly hardware is introduced. The introduction of a smaller yet tactically decisive military force within the NATO alliance with a mandate which would permit it unlimited access to roam freely between NATO’s easternmost member-states might go a long way in testing the resolve of Russia’s military vanguard before they ultimately trigger a next world war. 

ISIS and the Fate of the UN

One of the first responsibilities the infant UN organization collectively tackled was its attempt to define, avert and punish the act of genocide throughout the world. In December of 1948 the UN convened its first major conference on this most heinous of human behaviors, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which culminated with the passage of the General Assembly’s Resolution 260; the first international law universally accepted and designed to prevent genocide from ever happening again. Since then more than 140 member-states have dutifully signed on to its basically tacit but preventative provisions. Unfortunately, the law seems just as toothless today as it was when it was first introduced with such placating aplomb back in 1948. In the nearly seven-decade interval since the resolution’s first enactment no less than five major cases of state-sponsored genocide have been investigated and judged credible enough to warrant punitive measures against its chief perpetrators. Yet none of these cases could be prevented since most of the evidence was ascertained after the crimes had been committed.

The 1971 Bangladeshi genocide as well as the genocidal acts committed during the Rwandan Civil War and the Bosnian-Serb conflict were all cases where the international crimes against humanity were committed in the context of an ongoing war or civil war, thus could not be instantly corroborated until the major fighting had ended. In these instances the massacre of innocent civilians was virtually impossible to prevent since very few on the outside were discernably aware of the perpetrators’ intentions beforehand. This also held true in the case of the Khmer Rouge-instigated genocide in Cambodia during the latter half of the 1970’s, since it was equally difficult for outsiders to investigate claims of government sponsored mass murder in such a closed and politically oppressive society. As a result, preventing genocide has become infinitely more difficult than proving the act and punishing the perpetrators once access is given to the crime scenes. Seldom is the civilized world given a chance to act before the cyclical bloodletting is allowed to spread and engulf whole communities of unwitting victims.

That is until now! For the past two years the world has borne eyewitness to a near daily profusion of senseless and diabolical acts of mass murders, summary executions, televised beheadings and countless other acts of sociopathic depravity committed by the militant, Islamic group known as ISIS. This is a group that is now decidedly committed to the job of challenging the internationally-accepted rule of law by openly engaging and inciting its members to murder at will anybody or any group that defies or contests its own despicable and inherently warped version of socio-religious dogma. It is a group committed wholeheartedly to the destruction of every man, woman and child that does not spiritually embrace their pseudo-religious creed and they have targeted every other religious persuasion for reprisal which does not conform to their primitive beliefs and violent canons. They have made it their overriding goal to challenge and dismantle the international conventions that have governed civilized society for more than two millennium and their swiftly expanding scope threatens or will soon impose a serious threat to every religious, social and cultural group on every continent on the planet. 

If the blood-soaked hands of ISIS does not already fit the criteria of a group actively engaged in and in pursuit of a policy of genocide than the law as we know it is due for a major revision. ISIS today represents the most stunning example of the genocidal group that the UN’s 1948 resolution was exclusively enacted to prevent and punish. The group has firmly proclaimed its intention to destroy any religious or ethnic group that does not surrender to its hideous, spiritual beliefs and it has actively engaged in destroying the religious communities of every group that has unwittingly fell under its sway; including the Yazidi and Kurdish communities of Northern Iraq, the Christian Assyrian enclaves of central Iraq and Syria, the Shia and Alawite people of Syria and even their own Sunni brethren who refuse to pay homage to their often convoluted, religious diktats. If ever there was a more palpable case to invoke the prescribed clauses in Resolution 260 for the prevention of genocide than ISIS more than fits the bill.

Yet here we are more than two years later and ISIS is not only still a viable threat to the Iraqis and Syrians but they are still actively engaged in genocide and mass murder and more importantly, they are still growing and expanding their base of operations throughout the Levant, Northern Africa and the Persian Gulf. This in itself is quite hard to believe, especially when the whole free world has the logistical means to contain the group right where it is and the military firepower to snuff it out and prevent it from ever rearing its ugly head again. Yet today’s leader of the free world has chosen to take a back seat in the fighting by empowering others to do his bidding for him and he seems to have rested his laurels on a wait-and-see approach in the hope that this unprecedented threat simply goes away before he is compelled to actively take on the job of Commander-in-Chief that his constitutional powers clearly dictate him to do in such contingencies. And when the leader of the free world resigns himself to act out of necessity, than usually most others will follow if the cause seems noble and the threat is genuine. This is probably why the fight to contain ISIS has been entrusted to perhaps a thousand pilots who can only chip away at the enemy’s infrastructure whereas 20,000 ground troops might be just enough to end their reign permanently. And if the leader of the free world freely offers up 20,000 ground troops, there's probably a good chance 30,000 more ground troops will follow from America's second-tier partners.

Of course, the fight to contain ISIS is not and should not be solely an American problem. Based on the provisions of Resolution 260 every UN member has a responsibility to prevent what is happening today in Iraq and Syria by actively donating their time and resources to assist the world body in preventing any further massacres from happening again. The Secretary-General of the UN has the first obligation to expose and consider every case of genocide that comes before the General Assembly and from that point on recommendations on courses of action can be contemplated and prepared and ultimately relayed to a UN military force ultimately charged with halting the impending massacre. However those are guidelines reserved only for an international governing body in a perfect world. Conversely, we no longer live in a perfect world and our far-from-perfect UN institution is just one example of that sad reality. But the sorriest part of that sad reality is that the fight against ISIS presents the clearest case of a cause that completely warrants the full attention of the UN body and all the multinational resources it has at its disposal. A UN fight to destroy ISIS would more than substantiate its claim to be the all-embracing, benevolent defender of international law and order that its founding fathers always intended it to be. In one fell swoop it could instantly bring back its long-lost credibility and exorcise once and for all the demons that made possible the horrendous reality of genocide in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia.

Not surprisingly, the UN once again has missed the bus by failing to prevent the acts of genocide it was always meant to defend against. So inevitably it must fall to individual world leaders like the USA to wield the torch in defense of the laws and principles that the UN was sworn to uphold yet never seemed so interested in actively pursuing. However today’s American president seems rather hesitant to wield the powers he has been so magnanimously entrusted with and even seems reluctant to consider the most viable options he still has available. By holding diligently to his decision to fight ISIS strictly from afar President Obama has relegated his most potent weapon to the sidelines because he either fails to realize the magnitude of the threat or simply refuses to commit military ground forces into the equation. What he should be doing is garnering support for an international coalition among all the regional, Arab leaders and the various countries in Europe which have seen sizeable numbers of their citizens voluntarily join the ISIS armies and begin preparing a multinational, coalition army to bring the fight directly onto the militant’s doorsteps. 

The present day situation in Iraq and Syria presents an opportune time to strike out at ISIS under conditions that greatly favor the US military, or any other military force with the means and resolve to hit ISIS in the open ground from which they have hoisted their flag. You see the one decisive variable that separates ISIS from their radical cousins in Al Qaeda or any other terrorist group for that matter, is their practical possession of land; from which all their considerable revenues and rich resources are derived from and which allows them to rule by decree, as well as exploit and expand just like any other governing entity. It is also the one geographical constant that can buttress their claims to be the institutional upholders of a potentially vast, Islamic caliphate. Without the land there is no caliphate and without the caliphate ISIS shrinks back to the loathsome, regional terrorist group it originally was. But in order to take, possess and hold land one must be physically afoot on the surface of that land. Consequently one cannot expect to take possession of land if they are flying 20,000 feet above it, no matter how large and imposing your array of aerial weapons might be.  

President Obama has held firmly to his belief that ISIS is primarily an Iraqi problem thus must be fought predominantly by Iraqi troops. He is content with supplying them the arms needed to give those armies a decisive advantage in the field and to give them powerful air support from which to sustain their mission to the bitter end. He has recently provided them with a good chunk of our brightest and most experienced, combat advisers from the exclusive pool of special forces, commando squads of our Special Ops Command. Yet at that rate the world can expect to see ISIS on the world stage for at least a further decade. The president would be better served by listening to advisers who advocate him spending less time attempting to appease Moslem sensitivities and helping him prod the Islamic leaders across the Mideast to work more diligently to halt the hemorrhaging of Moslem youth to these militant terrorist factories that parade under the guise of Islamic religious schools. He can then open his ears more attentively to his military counsels rather than have them second-guessed by a bevy of self-taught, omniscient amateurs and pacifist upstarts, sympathetic to everyone but the soldiers called upon to solve the most challenging problems. Perhaps then he might get around to relieving the UN from their unwanted duties and arranging the military coalition that is surely needed if he wants to end the threat of ISIS before his term in office ends.