Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

August 26, 2013


Filed under: Op-eds,Politics,War — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:21 am

Hang on to your hats, here we go round again.

President Obama has asked the military to “prepare options for all contingencies” in Syria, according to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

The immediate cause was compelling evidence a lot of civilians, estimates differ so widely I’m just going to say “a lot,” were killed by poison gas attacks recently in Syria’s civil war.

The gas presumably came from the nonexistent stockpiles Saddam Hussein didn’t have when George “Bush lied thousands died” Bush invaded Iraq.

I’m going to pause for a moment and crow bitterly. I think U.S. forces discovered evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq during the first week of the invasion and CNN showed them for all the world to see.

Coalition forces found an underground storage facility in the desert full of 55 gallon drums. A week later Al Jazeera triumphantly announced they were insecticides.

I noted that insecticides are in fact the chemical precursors of some nasty nerve agents. That’s what the Aum Shinrikyo cult used to make sarin gas for the Tokyo subway attacks in 1995.

I haven’t been able to get anyone of importance to acknowledge this in 10 years.

So now there’s a humanitarian disaster in Syria, and we’re on the verge of rushing in to “fix” it like we fixed Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. Because our president’s bluff has been called once too many times and he’s got to show the world he’s got a pair after all.

I just wish that before we spent another trillion dollars or so we’d pause and ask a few questions first.

Starting with, what’s in it for us?

As in, does Syria have any significant amount of oil for example?

Iraq does – and we wound up not getting much of it anyway. So much for “No blood for oil.”

Will we significantly hurt Al-Queda?

They’re talking about intervening on the side of Al-Queda for God’s sake!

So all that aside, chaos in the Middle East is bad for our interests because…?

But people are dying!

Sure are, a lot more than died when Syria was merely ruled by a ruthless but sane tyrant.

OK, I’ll stop sugar coating this and get to the point.

The Middle East is a basket case as far as civilization goes. Wars and revolutions are going to break out regular as clockwork for a long time to come. People will be killing each other over reasons incomprehensible to us, and whatever happens they’re going to blame it all on 1) America, 2) the Jews.

The only solution we could impose is one we’re not even willing to talk about – empire.

As in occupy the place, establish an imperial civil service, and hold it with a corps of professional soldiers like the French Foreign Legion composed of tough, smart, and ruthless men we don’t like very much at home, because they’re going to die a lot. Do it for two generations minimum. To pay for it, levy taxes on the population.

You didn’t want to hear that, did you? Nobody does.

We all know imperialism is always and forever a Bad Thing of course. So how many former possessions of the British Empire have a higher standard of living now? How many have more security of person and property? How many are freer?

Some to be sure – but how many?

And now the British Empire is no more, is the world a safer place?

America does not do empire, in spite of all the cant about “American imperialism.” Which is in some ways a pity, because our few historical experiments with it in the Philippines and various Pacific islands shows we’re rather good at it when we put our minds to it.

But if we’re not willing to go that route, I’d say stay the heck out of crummy situations where we have no compelling national interest. Half measures are expensive for us and don’t do them any favors in the long run.

Note: This is my weekly op-ed.

August 15, 2013

In the Black Hills

Filed under: Op-eds,Personal — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:46 am

KEYSTONE, SD. It’s morning in the Black Hills of South Dakota and it’s cold and damp.

In the mountains the suns come up over the rim of the narrow gorges and daylight creeps down the opposite side at a snails pace. Heavy dew forms early in the night and may never burn off entirely if the day is cloudy.

The tent has a heavy layer of beaded raindrops from yesterday’s shower and the inside walls are damp with condensate. If the clouds don’t part and allow the sun to dry it, we’ll have to shake it out when we break camp and put it away damp.

I envy the people who live here.

There is nothing quite like driving along the winding roads built through the narrow valleys walled by steep tree-covered hills. Perhaps your destination is within those hills, as ours was, or perhaps you’re on your way to someplace on the other side of them. But when you leave them you’ll dream about the the low clouds entangled in the tree tops for the rest of your life.

We’re camped outside of Keystone, a town of about 300 permanent residents and it seems like tens of thousands of transients. We set up at Kemp’s Camp, a delightful campground just a couple miles outside of town on a side canyon.

I’ve been here several times before, the last time with my children in a happier time. I brought them back with me to make new memories.

We have a guest with us, a young lady from Poland who is thinking about studying in the United States. With a limited time left on her visit we thought about taking her to see something really spectacular within a reasonable driving distance.

The Black Hills are home to two of three examples of American mountain sculpture, Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument, the latter still a work in progress.

Gutzon Borglum, the sculptor of Mt. Rushmore, wanted to build a gigantic monument to the men who made America that could not easily or conveniently be pulled down by later generations, as has been the fate of so many throughout history. Most recently the twin Buddahs blown to bits by the Taliban barbarians in Afghanistan.

Korszak Ziolkowski’s family are engaged in a generations-long project to memorialize a great chief of the first nations of America, defeated but not conquered by the new American nation.

It is entirely fitting that the two monuments should be located close to each other. Just as it is entirely fitting that the great bas relief carved into the side of Stone Mountain, Georgia should honor the heroes of the Confederacy.

We are what our history has made us. If we did not honor the courage of those whose defeat led us to become what we are, we would be a petty people without honor.

And what have we become, what will we become as a nation?

In a short while we will break camp and decide where we will go and what we will see next.

Wherever we decide to go, we’ll start out across highways carved through mountains, covering distances in a day that used to take months for the first pioneers.

That’s what we have become, perhaps along the way we’ll get a hint of what we will become.

August 5, 2013

News of the World

Filed under: News commentary,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 9:30 am

Note: This is cross-posted on my professional blog at the Marshall Independent.

This past Sunday 22 American embassies and consulates across the Muslim parts of the world were closed down due to fears of terrorist attacks. At the time of writing it had not been revealed how long they are expected to be closed, but at least until Saturday.

British, French and German embassies in Yemen were also closed.

The embassies are closed because of “chatter.” In intelligence terminology this means a surge in intercepted communications, transfers of funds and movement of suspicious individuals combined with on-the-ground intelligence.

Add to this the recent well-coordinated jail breaks in nine countries of hundreds of prisoners linked to Al-Queda.

The problem with taking action based on chatter is, we may suspect very strongly that something is going to happen soon but have no idea what or where.

So we are presented with a choice of going on heightened alert, super-heightened alert, or doing nothing.

That would seem to be a no-brainer. Trouble is if we go to full-tilt-batten-down-the-hatches alert and nothing happens – well you know about the boy who cried “Wolf!”

The action is said to have been taken at the urging of National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who is still stinging from the utter failure of the administration to take the Benghazi assault seriously until Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were dead.

Coincidentally on Saturday I had a conversation with an acquaintance who is a consultant on personal security and court certified witness on violence issues.

The conversation was among other things, about anthropology. He has a degree in psychology but had taken a cultural anthropology class. I have a master’s degree in the discipline.

What we talked about was, as much as we’d learned from our studies of social science, social scientists can be unbelievably obtuse. They all too frequently become so wedded to a pet theory they become blind and deaf to anything that contradicts their conviction of how the world works.

I’ve never worked as an academic social scientist, though I don’t regret my studies. After graduation I took off for odd parts of the world for the next 13 years.

This was an eye-opener to be sure. Intellectually we know that other parts of the world are different from America, but until you spend significant time away from this fat, happy country you don’t really comprehend how different.

My friend… has seen a lot of the seamy side of life from an early age. He does applied social science outside of academia and makes a living at it. (That’s the frustrating thing for social scientists – much of the best work is done by amateurs.)

So I asked him if when trying to tell people what he’d learned from experience if it didn’t often seem like he was speaking a foreign language to people without the same kind of experience.

He answered with a hearty “Amen!”

If I had to boil down the insight gained from experience we were talking about to one principle, it might be: the world is a dangerous place.

That’s another thing we may realize intellectually without really comprehending how different.

Could you imagine growing up with the idea that you have a “hereditary enemy”? That the people over there are your enemies from birth and always will be?

Do you believe we can share a world in peace with people who commonly murder their sisters and daughters for the crime of being seen with a man not a male relative, or refusing to marry a man their father has picked for them?

Can you imagine what it would be like for a boy to grow up assuming he had at least an even chance of dying by violence? Could you imagine being his mother?

There’s a lot of scary people in the world who don’t like us much for whatever reason. That I can live with.

There’s also a lot of people in our country who believe we can fix that with our overflowing good will. Some of them hold high office.

And that really scares me.

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