U.S. Army Recruiting at the Mall with Videogames

You never know who you might run into at the local mall–perhaps even an Army recruiter. At the Franklin Mills shopping mall in Philadelphia the U.S. Army Experience Center has 60 computers with military videogames to ensnare young people. Prospective soldiers can also pretend to fire from a real Humvee or participate in a helicopter raid.

This is certainly contributing to the modern Army’s culture of death that this former Army Ranger just wrote me about:

Dear Dr. Vance,

Today I followed a large pickup bearing an Arizona “Purple Heart”  plate and driven by a youngish type, perhaps in his 30s, a sad  commentary in itself. But worse, it sported a bumper sticker reading,  “Special Forces. If God didn’t want us to kill people, he wouldn’t  have made us so good at it.”

From a culture I’m well familiar with (having completed Ranger  training 37 years ago), such a sentiment would once have been shared  only among practitioners—Rangers, Special Forces, Delta Force—and not  
thought fit for even non-elite infantrymen. Now we’re seeing it openly and casually expressed, as if commenting on the economy. Even a  generation ago soldiers expressed regret about their experiences; now  they want to tell you how proud they are to have killed and, presumably, that they would not hesitate to do it again.

Join the Army, meet interesting people, kill them.

Joe the Plumber Attempts to Cover War, Drowns in Irony

Remember Joe the Plumber? Me either but America (or a subset thereof) was apparently obsessed with this fellow for a week or two there. Unwilling to relinquish the limelight he appears to have lost months ago, Joe donned his reporters cap and went to Israel to cover the war on the Gaza Strip (or a subset thereof).

Upon arriving he chided his “fellow” reporters for being unpatriotic and opined on how fast the average Sderot resident has to take a shower, because, y’know… the rockets. Of course over a third of the Gaza Strip doesn’t even have running water, so I bet their showers are real short. If only we knew a plumber who wasn’t doing anything important, maybe he could fix that.

Joe followed up his war coverage by declaring that people shouldn’t be allowed to cover wars. “I think media should be abolished from, uh, you know, reporting.” Joe says he liked the coverage during WW1 and WW2, though his recollection is likely skewed by the fact that he wasn’t alive for either.

Congress Lines Up for Israel’s War on Gaza

Both houses of Congress lined up in near-unanimous support of Israel’s war on Gaza. Yesterday, the Senate passed their version of the resolution without a single dissenting vote.

Today’s vote in the House produced only 5 “No” votes: Ron Paul (R-TX), Dennis Kuchinich (D-OH), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Nick Rahall (D-WV), and Gwen Moore (D-WI). 22 voted “present” and 16 didn’t vote. See how your Congressmember voted.

The resolution is totally one-sided, blaming only the Palestinians.

Petraeus vs. Ross?

Back in July, I wrote a post on this blog with the title, “Is Petraeus Preparing to Betray the Neo-Cons?” in which I suggested that, given his expanded geographical jurisdiction as CentCom commander, Gen. David Petraeus, like the Joint Chiefs (and candidate Barack Obama for that matter) at the time, would soon see Afghanistan/Pakistan as the “central front on the war on terror” and thus develop a sense of urgency about diverting more U.S. military and related resources from Iraq to Southwest Asia. At that time, neo-cons like Fred Kagan and Max Boot were arguing that Iraq was far more important than Afghanistan and that any diversion of troops eastward could have catastrophic geo-political consequences for the U.S. position in the Gulf and the Middle East.

Since then, of course, Petraeus has occasionally noted the necessity of a regional approach in dealing with Afghanistan/Pakistan, one that would include India to the east, the “Stans” to the north, and Iran to the west, but he has never been as explicit about common U.S. and Iranian interests in the region as he was today in a presentation to the U.S. Institute of Peace (sponsored, incidentally, by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, as well as McDonalds and Coca-Cola). Despite evidence that Tehran has provided some weapons to anti-NATO forces in Afghanistan, he noted, Iran doesn’t “want …to see Afghanistan in the grip of ultra-fundamentalist extremist Sunni forces. Nor do they want to see the narcotics problem get worse. In fact, they want to see it reduced; it’s a huge issue in Iran,” he said, noting again that Iran, like India, could be critical to stabilizing Afghanistan.

Petraeus’ appreciation for the importance of bringing Iran into a regional effort to stabilize Afghanistan — he spoke shortly after former UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan Ibrahim Brahimi told the same conference that Iran was “second perhaps in influence to Pakistan” in Afghanistan and would not hesitate to create problems if it felt its interests there were threatened — may, of course, lead him into conflict not only with the neo-conservatives (as I suggested back in July), but, more importantly, with Dennis Ross and his backers within the Obama administration. Ross, who, according to numerous reports now, appears certain to be made special envoy on all matters pertaining to Iran (and possibly the entire Middle East) has even less expertise on Afghanistan and Southwest Asia than he does on the Islamic Republic. Moreover, his Israel-centric worldview (in which Iran, rather than al Qaeda, represents the greatest regional threat to both the U.S. and Israel) is almost certain to clash with Petraeus’ (and the Pentagon’s) view that Iran’s cooperation — or at least acquiescence — is critical to stabilizing Afghanistan and ultimately Pakistan as well. In other words, a serious conflict is likely to develop between those, like Ross, who see Iran as the greatest threat to U.S. interests and Israel in the region defined as the “Middle East”) and those who believe that al Qaeda and its allies in “Southwest Asia” represent the greatest immediate threat to U.S. security.

Of course, Richard Holbrooke, who will be special envoy on Afghanistan/Pakistan (and India in parenthesis, according to the latest news), generally shares Ross’s views on Iran — they are co-founders, after all, with James Woolsey and Fouad Ajami of a group called United Against Nuclear Iran; see this Wall Street Journal op-ed, for example — and may be expected to back him up in inter-agency debates about how confrontational a policy Obama should pursue toward Iran. But I think Petraeus and the military will have some pretty strong views about how well-positioned Tehran is to make life much more difficult for the U.S. in both Afghanistan and even in Pakistan, not to mention Iraq — and how much easier it could be if some sort of a “grand bargain” — even one that recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium under strict international inspection — with the Islamic Republic could be forged. Perhaps, if things really went well, Iran could even offer NATO a desperately needed new and inexpensive supply route for its troops in Afghanistan…

Senate’s Idiocy on Gaza

So the U.S. Senate on Thursday passed by voice vote a resolution blindly supporting Israeli attacks on Gaza and heaping derision on Hamas.

This craven display should awaken anyone who sanguinely assumed that “everything changed” on November 4.

The resolution contained numerous twists of history, but the most glaring absurdity is the following:

“Whereas Hamas was founded with the stated goal of destroying Israel…”

Perhaps the senators were in a rush to collect campaign contributions, so they did not have time to glance at the history of how Hamas arose to power.

Hamas was created with massive aid from the Israeli government. Following is an excerpt from my Terrorism & Tyranny (2003):

Perhaps the single largest mistake in the history of the Israeli government’s long war on terrorism was its covert financing, cosseting, and arming of Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon denounced Hamas as “the deadliest terrorist group that we have ever had to face.” But the Israeli government is reticent about admitting its role in creating this Frankenstein.

Beginning in the 1970s Israel began pouring money into Islamic organizations —especially the Moslem Brotherhood—hoping that religion would distract the Palestinians from political activism and the radical left-wing Palestinian Liberation Organization. Hamas was a late offspring of the Moslem Brotherhood. Prior to 1988 Moslem Brotherhood activists “had refrained from openly anti-Israel activities.” But with the outbreak of the first Intifada (uprising) in late 1987, the Israeli government was stunned to see how fast Hamas became the primary source of deadly attacks against Israelis.

Anthony Cordesman, a former State Department and Defense Department intelligence officer and currently a scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, stated that the Israeli government “aided Hamas directly—the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO.” A United Press International analysis reported, “According to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.” UPI noted that, according to documents provided by Israeli terrorism experts, “Hamas was legally registered in Israel in 1978 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the movement’s spiritual leader, as an Islamic Association by the name Al-Mujamma al Islami.”

The Jerusalem Post reported on May 29, 1989, that, until the late 1980s, the Moslem Brotherhood “organizations in Gaza and the Islamic University received much encouragement from the [Israeli] military government. . . . The military government believed that their activity would undermine the power of the PLO and of leftist organizations in Gaza. They even supplied some of their activists with weapons, for their protection.” During the first Intifada (uprising), the PLO and Hamas openly clashed over how to resist the Israeli occupation. The Jerusalem Post noted: “The [Israeli] security forces greeted this tension [between Palestinian groups] with satisfaction, in line with the principle of divide and conquer. In several cases, Palestinians noticed that troops stood by quietly during Hamas street activity, but did interfere when PLO activists engaged in the same activity.” The Israeli government assumed that if the PLO could be thwarted, the Palestinian problem would be solved. But Hamas was far more bloodthirsty and radical than the PLO. The PLO effectively recognized Israel’s right to exist in 1988, while Hamas devoted itself to seizing all of Palestine for an Islamic state.