Elite Dangerous: Alone in Space

I’ve got 1.7 days ahead of me. Right now I’m sitting in my Sidewinder spaceship…christened the ODog 1…and writing this post…also I’m waiting on my death…it looks like I’m gonna run outta fuel before getting to my destination. Straight to the point…Elite Dangerous is a game of little guidance but huge possibilities.

ED has just been released on PS4…before that on XBox…and was originally on PC. Seems ED has been some sort of computer game since the 1980s…a British-made game…a spaceship simulation. It has a cult following and I’m new to the “church service”…and like all cult novices…I gotta pay my dues…which appears to me dying alone in space with a dead on the side of the road spaceship.

What’s the purpose of ED? Learn how to fly, land, and fight your spaceship. It’s that simple…yet that complicated. This post is best read as if it’s my last will & testament…somehow…someway I’ve been able to compose it and post it to the galactic intertubes. Weep not for me because I will have died how I lived…jumping both feet into something that I have no fucking clue about.

I was on a simple mission…transport data from one space station to another one 9.8 light years away…one minor detail I didn’t check out though…could the ODog 1 travel that far on one tank of gas?…the answer should be obvious now…no.

ED gives you about 5 hours of tutorial training…it teaches you rudimentary flying lessons…rudimentary landing lessons…rudimentary combat lessons…and rudimentary mining lessons. Seems being a starship captain is a OTJ gig.

In 8-10 hours of playing I have only successfully landed and refueled twice…and what kind of fucking idiot thinks that’s good enough to jet off 10 light years across the galaxy?…you’re reading the words of that idiot. FYI don’t bump another player/Major Tom when exiting a space station or you’ll end up like me a few hours ago…the ODog 1 riddled with laser cannon holes and careening across the stars…but it is a game…so I got a second chance…and I insured I bumped no one as I exited.

Since starting this post from the ODog 1 cockpit…I have stopped my jump to GD 319…my mission target and convinced it stands for Gawddamnit 319…and have turned around for my start point…some space station in the Dahan system…one tiny problem…my (now new) target is 1.5 hours away (real time) and I only have 1.1 hours of fuel…I’m pretty much fucked.

ED isnt a gamer-friendly game…it’s more of a I-Fucking-Dare-You type game…a game that is completely unashamedly hard…

…and fuuuuccckkk I have had a power failure in deep space and I’ve got 4 minutes of oxygen left…


Well…tell my wife I love her…

Fetish Worship of Generals

“The Bear had once confided to me that Durrell’s ego could fit snugly in the basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome but in very few other public places. This runaway megalomania marked him as a blood member of the fraternity of generals. If looks alone could make generals, Durrell would have been a cinch. He was built lean and slim and dark, like a Doberman. A man of breeding and refrigerated intelligence, he ordered his life like a table of logarithms.” – Pat Conroy, The Lords of Discipline

Unlike Conroy’s Durrell…my general was…unshaven…bare- and white-legged in shorts…grubby t-shirt and slovenly…the typical look of man getting his coffee on a Saturday morning. He had the Washington Post in one hand and two dollars in the other…he ordered a simple coffee. I had watched him tie his dog up outside and then come in the coffee shop. I looked no better…I was in shorts and a t-shirt…standing in line to get my morning coffee too. I knew who he was…he had no fucking clue who I was. General (ret.) William L. Nash…he had been my division commander (1st Armored Division “Old Ironsides”) when we had deployed to Bosnia as part of NATO’s peace Implementation Force (IFOR). For a second I wondered if I should say anything…I was caught off guard by a momentary feeling of awe. This man once commanded me…obviously through a long line of subordinates…but still…this man once was my commander.

Since serving under him, I had left the Army and become a professional academic of the worst type…don’t teach…don’t independently publish…I just conduct national and homeland security policy research for Congress…and in my time since leaving the Army I have met (and studied with at the National War College) and become friends with people who are active-duty generals now. I couldn’t fathom why I felt the need to provide any sort of reverence to this retired general getting coffee some Saturday morning on Capitol Hill, DC.

Maybe it was the lingering aftereffects of being institutionalized by the Army for ten years…once you’ve been indoctrinated into the military…shit lingers…even after you leave the service…even after 15 years. It could have been a lifetime of growing up as an Army brat and then a decade of service in uniform…followed by a professional career that rested on the edge of military institutions and operations. My professional career since leaving the Army had been on the fringes of the military…foreign affairs…national and homeland security…terrorism issues…no way one could work in my field and not…at least…be familiar with the military. Maybe it was the American in me to be awed by a man that used to lead troops in combat…we Americans do love our generals.

Americans love military men in general…and generals, specifically, so much that we have elected a shit-load of them to the presidency. How many presidents were generals you ask?…12

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower;
  • Benjamin Harrison;
  • Chester A. Arthur;
  • James Garfield;
  • Rutherford B. Hayes;
  • Ulysses S. Grant;
  • Andrew Johnson;
  • Franklin Pierce;
  • Zachary Taylor;
  • William Henry Harrison;
  • Andrew Jackson; and
  • George Washington.

Matter of fact, we have elected exactly the same number of former generals as we have the number of men who haven’t served in the military at all…12. If you throw in all the presidents with military service…the number of presidents that once wore a uniform of some type is 33. AND before you start lamenting what seems to be a recent trend in electing men with no military experience…you ought to know this: from William Howard Taft to Franklin D. Roosevelt (that is 5 presidents) there was no single former military service member elected president.

So maybe it is an American thing to have a fetish for generals. However, like all men…and in the words of Crash Davis in Bull Durham…”…he’s as full of shit as anybody…” generals are just mortal men. It’s true…we can hero worship generals all we want…but they are just men. After General Douglas MacArthur was fired by President Harry Truman (Army colonel, WWI)…MacArthur returned home to parades and adulation as if he was a conquering Caesar. Interestingly enough, the definitive biography on General MacArthur was titled American Caesar. MacArthur was fired for making statements to the press about his disagreements with President Truman on how the Korean War should have been fought. General Stanley McChrystal didn’t receive the same adulation after he was fired though…for the same mistake MacArthur made…by President Barack Obama for criticizing the president’s policy in Afghanistan. General Nash too had made a mistake…his career ended sooner than he wanted. General David Petraeus…a scholar-warrior like General (and now SecDef) James Mattis…also fell from grace. It’s easy to cast stones…especially after we have put these men on pedestals. Our fetish for generals is equally matched by our perverse love of seeing ‘great’ men fail.

General Nash ordered his coffee. I got my coffee. General Nash uses about the same amount of sugar as I do…future diabetic amount. Finally I said ‘fuck it’ in my head…

“General Nash, you don’t know me…but I served under you in Bosnia in 1996.”

To my surprise, General Nash didn’t give me a quick “oh yeah, great” response…instead General Nash started asking me questions about my unit, my thoughts on our deployment, and what I did now. When I informed him of my professional career since leaving the Army…General Nash seemed the one more interested in our conversation and preceded to ask a number of questions related to the current affairs associated with terrorism and homeland security policy. He finally ended the conversation when his dog started barking restlessly…he wished me luck and I said the same to him. His last words to me were “when the dog starts barking I know it’s time to go.” I laughed and said I understood.

The conversation over coffee with my former Army commander…my commanding general…was simple and pleasant. I softly scolded myself for the initial reluctance/awe I had when I first recognized him. Like dads…generals are just men…they’re as full of shit as anybody…but they can be good guys to have a quick conversation with over coffee…until the dog lets you know it is time to go.

 

3 Presidents: 3 Homeland Security Definitions

I have testified before Congress on two separate occasions concerning the definition of homeland security.

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Both in front of the House and Senate committees on homeland security…I was specifically asked what was my definition of homeland security…due to my profession…and employer…I jokingly replied both times…well actually…I seriously replied with a shit-eating grin…and said “Homeland security is anything Congress and the Administration(s) want it to be, but if the nation’s homeland security is going to be effective…there has to be an agreed-to consensus on what it is.”

15 years later there is no consensus on what “homeland security” entails or consensus on the nation’s homeland security priorities. Three presidential administrations after the Department of Homeland Security establishment…and we still have no agreement on what “homeland security” means.

W. Bush’s Definition

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush was responsible for establishing the first Office of Homeland Security…which morphed into DHS through congressional action. It was a grab bag of approximately 81 entities…everything from animal and plant inspectors to the US Coast Guard. The five years that W oversaw homeland security were a mix of massive natural disasters and continuous terrorism warnings. Not surprisingly, from FY03-F06…airline security was the largest recipient of “homeland security” funding that wasn’t specifically targeted to a federal agency. Surprisingly though…from FY03-FY14…DHS received only 49% of federal “homeland security” funding…as defined by Office of Management and Budget’s annual circular A-11. The close second was the Department of Defense which received approximately 26% of homeland security funding annually. The whole of government, excluding DHS, received 51%…so when the federal government reported what they spent annually on homeland security activities…you saw a significant amount of money doing “homeland security” things…the only thing these “things” had in common is that they met the criteria of what Bush’s 2002 National Homeland Security Strategy defined as “core homeland security missions.”  Basically this included ‘Intelligence and Warning,’ ‘Critical Infrastructure Protection,’ ‘Federal Security Operations,’ and ‘Law Enforcement and Investigations.’…Bush issued a second homeland security strategy in 2007…but OMB just kept these original core missions…it was easier that way. Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the final years of Bush’s second administration focussed on combining natural disasters with terrorism as a focal point for DHS. In the 2002 strategy, there was no mention of natural disasters being a homeland security priority…even though FEMA was a significant portion of DHS from the beginning. In the 2007 strategy, natural disasters were mentioned in the nation’s homeland security mission and goals. Finally, by the end of Bush’s second term…there had been no overarching DHS authorization…the Homeland Security Act of 2002 had established DHS, and the Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act and the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Act (these two acts were combined in PL 110-53) had addressed parts of DHS (like the annual DHS preparedness grants and disaster response)…but there remained no authorization for all the things DHS did daily…there was no consensus on what DHS was supposed to be or what it was supposed to do.

Obama’s Definition

If you can find any instance where President Obama uses the words “homeland security” and he is not referencing the department or the secretary…I will give you some money. Where Bush loved to use the term “homeland security”…Obama seemed to be almost allergic to it. He just never talked about homeland security as an overarching policy. He talked about DHS missions…immigration, airport security, domestic terrorism, and such…but he didn’t talk about homeland security as a whole. Whereas the Bush administration wanted homeland security to be everything…it seemed Obama wanted it to be nothing. One of the first things he did related to homeland security was to combine the Homeland Security Council and Staff (Bush had established it) with the National Security Council and Staff. Where Bush had issued two national homeland security strategies…Obama issued single national security strategies which included a few paragraphs about homeland security. Congress kept appropriating DHS funding…DHS kept executing its missions…disasters struck…terrorists (both domestic and international) attempted attacks…but the idea that homeland security was a policy area that deserved its own focus was missing. Homeland security was now something we talked about…the media reported on it…we had grown accustomed to it…like the cliche concerning porn…we knew what homeland security was “when we saw it.” Homeland security had gone from being the belle of the ball to the forgotten (and fugly) cousin we took to the prom when no other girl would say yes.

Trump’s Definition

Trump has a single homeland security focus…immigration. Terrorism is only international and it is addressed through unconstitutional travel bans and increased military operations overseas. Trump has to be shamed to address anything related to domestic far-right extremist terrorism…and all other DHS missions are just there to be addressed when necessary. To understand Trump’s definition, all one has to do is look at his FY18 budget request…vast majority of proposed increases to homeland security funding is focussed on immigration…and all the federal assistance given to states and localities are to be cut, reduced, or require matching funds. If it doesn’t address ‘illegal immigrants’ or banning of Muslims…it isn’t worthy of his or DHS’ time. SecDHS Kelly has voiced his support of Trump’s idea that homeland security is one thing and one thing only…homeland security is about border security and border security only.

Congress’ Definition

Congress has a vote as the federal branch that authorizes, appropriates, and conducts oversight on the executive branch…Congress still exerts its authority, annually, by appropriating funds to DHS. As an example…both Bush and Obama at different times in their budget requests had proposed single (and large) homeland security block grants for states and localities. The idea was that states and localities know best what they need to spend on homeland security…they have their individual priorities. Coastal states naturally focus on disasters and large cities like New York focus on terrorism. Congress never approved large homeland security block grants…instead Congress authorized approximately 8-15 different homeland security grant programs…the number varied by fiscal year. Congress repeatedly votes on what is the nation’s “homeland security” definition…there is still no single overarching DHS authorization.

Why This Matters

This matters because 15 years after 9/11 and 12 years after Hurricane Katrina…we still don’t really know what homeland security is…all we know is that the past three presidential administrations define and use homeland security in their own way…which is their prerogative…and Congress keeps appropriating homeland security funds as they see fit. Rarely, if ever, has Congress and a presidential administration agreed on a homeland security definition. It’s not about the words in the definition…but in the policy…and the priorities…and the concept of what it means to “secure the homeland.”

If I were to be asked again about my definition of homeland security…I would repeat that I am in no place to tell you what it should be…but I can tell what it has been, what it is now, and how it has never been agreed-to…and that is still the number one homeland security issue facing this nation. Until “we”…the policymakers and the policy executioners agree on what homeland security is…homeland security is going to continue being nothing more than a name of a department and a concept that everyone thinks they know…but we don’t…no one has a clue.

*No links or sources were harmed in the writing of this blog because I am the source…I have the C-SPAN footage to prove it.

 

Dear America…How To Read A Budget Request

Dear America

I’ve spent the morning looking at a small slice of Trump’s FY2018 budget request…specifically Trump’s budget for the Department of Homeland Security. It may be pretentious of me, but I’m gonna assume that the vast majority of you haven’t read it. I am also going to presume that you will never read it…just like you never read Obama’s or W’s. Reading a budget request…or an actual appropriations bill…requires a lot of patience and practice. The patience of Job comes to mind. Reading and understanding a budget request is an art form that is highly underrated. I imagine you have gotten your information concerning Trump’s budget request through your preferred media source…unfortunately the journalists and talking heads presenting you with budget request information haven’t read it either…any and all information they are conveying is based on summaries provided by other sources…or…if they are lucky…a smart intern that combed through it and wrote a synopsis for their news organization. The further you are away from the source the further you are away from the facts. At best, the information you are receiving is 2 to 3 sources away from the actual budget request. Like the old game of “telephone”…the further down the line you are…the more inaccurate the message becomes.

The reason so few actually read the budget request…or why people like me get paid to read it is because of this:

17 BR

It.Is.Fucking.Huge…and boring. The smaller book is the actual “budget request” and the larger volume is the appendix…which contains the facts and figures that support the information in the smaller volume.

Here is a not-so-quick or easy step-by-step way to read a budget request:

  1. Know the difference between the “budget request” and “appendix”…I explained that already.
  2. Know your timeline for reading it. If you are working on a deadline…and most of us who read budget requests due to our jobs have a deadline…know which part of the budget request pertain to your area of expertise…naturally there is a table of contents.
  3. Know where to find the budget request. The budget request is online…there is no excuse for anyone being ignorant of what is in the budget request because it is publicly available here.
  4. Remember…this is what Trump is requesting…this is not what the government is going to get in FY18…this is just what Trump is requesting.
  5. Know that the budget request is the completed work after ALL federal agencies, departments, and entities have submitted their budget information to Office of Management and Budget…OMB basically takes all their information and then writes the budget request…tailored to the president’s guidance.
  6. Know that all the information you might need MAY NOT be in the budget request…each federal agency, department, and entity has their own supporting documents…called Budget Justifications…these justifications are the foundation of any answer a federal entity is required to provide when asked “why do you need $1 billion for toilet seats?” by congressional appropriators. Those of us who read the budget request also read the justifications that are related to our areas of expertise.
  7. Know that there is never enough time to read the budget request cover-to-cover until you’ve already moved on to reading and reviewing actual appropriations bills…and by then you are basically comparing what Congress actually appropriated last year to the budget request to the proposed appropriations for this year…it’s a never ending cycle.
  8. Know that if there is a delay or issue with Congress appropriating funding…there will be a political kabuki dance of limited funding bills specifically targeted for a single federal department or group of departments OR there will be a continuing resolution that usually results in locking in present fiscal year funding at past fiscal year funding…this gives federal entities heartburn…because it is hard to prioritize and plan actions and programs based on limited or static funding…no one likes a continuing resolution…no one.
  9. Know that in the end you will have spent countless hours reading and researching budget request numbers that will be presented as one total in the actual budget request, a different number in the tables presented in the appendix, and then different numbers in the individual budget justifications…this is where the art of budget request reading comes in…you have to learn why each total in each document is different and how they are eventually reconciled…unfortunately any attempt on my part to explain that reconciliation would be even longer than this blog post…and you’d be considering suicide due to boredom before you are half way through it…trust me there is a reason…and sometimes that reason is “somebody made up a fucking number.”
  10. Make a decision…do you trust the source of your information on the budget request…or do you not really give a shit…because honestly those are the only reasons why you wouldn’t read it. Either you believe what others tell you what is in it or you really don’t care.

It’s not easy…it’s not fun…it’s not worth the effort…UNLESS you feel the need to educate yourself as a citizen…unless you feel the need to see how the present presidential administration prioritizes government funding. The budget request is undoubtedly the number one policy statement a presidential administration can make…all other governmental actions and policies flow out of the budget request. How Congress responds to the president’s budget request is the number one policy statement it makes in response to the President…and THIS is why reading the annual budget request is important…if you actually give a shit…

Bolivian War Crimes Against Llamas: A Review of Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands

“serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict” and “serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in an armed conflict not of an international character” – Rule 156. Definition of War Crimes, International Criminal Court

Oh…I’ve committed war crimes. While deployed to Bolivia as part of a shadowy SpecOps unit (Ghost Recon), I have shot, run over, and thrown grenades at an alarming number of Bolivian civilians and at least 6 llamas. The reason I was in Bolivia and raising hell is because a Mexican drug cartel, Santa Blanca, has become a pseudo-Bolivian government entity…the Bolivian government’s paramilitary forces, Unidad, are working with Santa Blanca. Bolivia is a narco-state in every way except in name. Bolivia is fucked up…and my team and I weren’t there to fix it…we were there to kick ass and take names…we were there to win. To win AG Session’s war on drugs…and avenge the Santa Blanca’s torturing and killing of an undercover DEA agent…my team and I deployed to and royally fucked up Bolivia…

Well this happened in a video game…Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands…and it was fucking glorious. It was glorious because the game is an almost unbelievably large open-world game that seems to be about 50km x 50km and the game makes the country of Bolivia come alive…for the record Bolivians have their cars and trucks blessed by priests because the fucking roads are so dangerous…curving paved roads quickly turn into muddy mountain llama trails. GRW replicates the dangers of Bolivia roads in such a way that I was unable to drive any vehicle no more than 50m before I had hit another car, a llama, a Bolivian civilian walking on the side of the road, a tree, a guard rail, or a dog (I only saw one dog in the game and I, of course, ran it the fuck over…naturally my PS4 controller vibrated and there was a distinct “thud” that all of us who have hit a dog in real life know so horribly well). GRW kinda feels and looks like what you imagine Bolivia is…mountainous…deceptively beautiful…and full of fucking llamas that run amok.

Sunrises, sunsets, rain, thunderstorms, and fog engulf and enrich the game. After the first few hours of game play (where you are basically learning how to play the game), you start slowly recognizing the details of this digital Bolivia…and start being astonished at how perfectly rendered it is. As recent as two years ago, games of this size, or at least games that attempted to be this “big,” would have had significant issues with rendering…distant objects like buildings or mountains would be muted or fuzzy…odd glitches would constantly remind you that you were doing nothing more than playing a video game that teased you with size but only gave you a few hundred meters of detailed “play area.” GRW gives you kilometers of play area. When flying or riding in a hijacked, helicopter…the distant mountains…and fucking power lines…are easily seen but rarely avoided. This game is a feast for the eyes.

Of course, it is a game that has gotten mixed reviews…and of course, the criticism of the game is the same criticism that all games receive that are large and filled with missions that require repeated tasks. “Game play becomes rote.” “After 10 story line missions, all other story line missions become boring and familiar.” Well of course…because it is a giant ass game that requires numerous missions that feel and look the same at times…it’s not fucking real…and the game has a finish line that some players drive for immediately. To get to that finish line, you have to follow the long story line…

But…if you want to really to enjoy GRW…recruit 3 of your best friends…travel to this digital Bolivia…suit up in your favorite private military company attire…arm yourself with your preferred rifle, sub-machine gun, and silenced pistol…and start fucking some shit up.

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This ^ is one of my favorite private military contractor outfits…it is Trinity from The Matrix…and she is a known war criminal with at least 5 llama kills and 15 assassinations (by grenade) of captured Bolivian POWs. You don’t wanna fuck with a woman that doesn’t bat an eye when killing a llama…trust me.

You don’t have to kill every cartel thug or Bolivian soldier you see…you can sneak up (or run up) to them…grab them in a choke hold and then…you can use them as a bullet shield…you can walk around with your own private hostage/POW…you can push their asses into the trunk of a car (after slamming the face into the car’s side-paneling of course)…basically you can do anything you fucking want…short of sodomizing them…but don’t think that my gaming BFFs and I didn’t laugh about doing that. The reward of taking and abusing prisoners vastly outweigh the punishment…which is the game “kills” you…and then you have to start whatever mission you were on…but only after you have killed too many civilians or prisoners. I have no fucking clue what number of wrongfully killed civilians and prisoners is…but I can say that I have only been “killed” for abusing the Bolivian people about 2 or 3 times. Trust me the reward of fucking Bolivia up outweighs some minor setback of having to restart a mission.

This cooperative game play (you know…you and your buddies fucking up Bolivia) is what makes GRW so splendidly stupid and childish. I would be lying if I said that my gaming BFFs and I played GRW in a manner that reflected our actual age…because in reality…we play like we are 12 year-old boys. We cackle, giggle, scream, and curse (like any 12 year-old boy does when he is alone with BFFs)…and all of us are over 40 and all pretty much decent human beings with jobs, families, and responsibility. GRW allows full grown men to act childish…and I guess I have just written a review for a video game that is basically a ringing endorsement for violence and committing war crimes against llamas…and yeah…because the fun in GRW is the violence…and the freedom to exercise that violence with little or no repercussion.

It is a game…we know it is a game…but if you want to bring out your inner Blackwater mercenary, circa 2007 Blackwater merc…then GRW is the game that lets you raise digital hell. GRW lets you shoot llamas in the fucking face…GRW lets you grab drug cartel thugs and kill them in ways that are primarily only limited to your imagination.

Here is a list of the war crimes my gaming BFFs and I have committed in GRW:

  • purposefully run over civilians on and near roads;
  • purposefully shot or threw grenades at civilians both outside and inside vehicles;
  • purposefully captured and executed prisoners with every weapon available;
  • purposefully captured prisoners, placed in a vehicle, and then destroyed the vehicle using grenades and plastic explosives;
  • purposefully captured prisoners, placed in an airplane or helicopter, flown the aircraft to a very high altitude and then jumped out of the aircraft with a parachute and then watched the aircraft fall and crash while still containing the prisoners;
  • purposefully captured prisoners, knocked them unconscious in the middle of the road and then watched the prisoners be run over; and
  • purposefully captured prisoners, knocked them out on a rail road track, and then waited for the train…the train then ran them over.

Like I said…your personal list of Bolivian war crimes is limited only to your imagination. What is unfortunate…like a lot of idiots…we felt the need to document our war crimes.

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The above photographic evidence shows me (in camouflage) and my BFF (code named HappyDingo) knocking out and placing drug cartel thugs and Bolivian military members on train tracks…naturally we hung around to see the train pass by. This is why GRW is a great game…you get to play in a big “sandbox” and do the shit you would never do in real life…war crimes be damned…this is fun.

*Note: The real government of Bolivia formerly protested the making of this game because they felt it depicted their country in a not-so-good way…they’re right.

Dysfunctional Strategy: Trump’s Foreign Policy

Captain Willard [Martin Sheen]: Hey soldier…who’s in charge here?

soldier: ain’t you?

Apocalypse Now

Low hanging fruit is the sustenance of anyone who is either professionally or personally driven to write. The low hanging fruit that has caught my attention over and over…especially in the past couple of weeks…is this growing narrative that Trump may actually be learning a little about international affairs and that his foreign “policy” platform of America First…that he campaigned on heavily…is starting to emerge. Stop…just fucking stop…regardless of those who work on US foreign and national security policy and their almost innate desire to find some sort of pattern within the chaos of Trump’s foreign “policy”…there is no policy…there is no strategy. There is no order in Trump’s foreign “policy”…it is just ever-increasing chaos.

Let’s pretend that you have 15 minutes with Trump to talk foreign policy…you might want to talk about intelligence reports, you might want to point out DoD concerns and studies on threats and near-peer competitors (Russia…China). You might talk about US treaties, trade agreements, and allies. This would be a wasted 15 minutes. If you realize that would be 15 minutes of wasted breath, you may choose to go academic on Trump. You might start talking in pedantic phrases and discuss the national security strategy (NSS) environment and the preferred process in which a NSS is developed, reevaluated, and then amended. Again…you just talked for 15 minutes and Trump is looking at you as if there is a dick growing out of your forehead. If you had 15 minutes and wanted to break foreign policy and NSS down for Trump you might resort to an oversimplification of US national interests…US national interests are the reason why you have to have a foreign policy and a NSS…and then you find yourself talking in simple terms and phrases.

The accepted standard for simplifying why nation-states do the shit they do is based on Terry Deibel’s Foreign Affairs Strategy: Logic for American Statecraft.

The national interests of the United States, indeed of any state, seem to fall naturally into four broad categories. [p.125]

Simply…and specifically…the national interests are:

  • physical security;
  • economic prosperity;
  • value preservation at home; and
  • value projection overseas. [p.126.]

All of these are basic and understandable concepts. Physical security means the nation, its citizens, its interests, its allies, and its infrastructure are secured from physical (and now cyber) attack and destruction. Economic prosperity means that the nation’s economy and the industries and services that provide America’s wealth is protected and nurtured in a manner that ensures profit and prosperity (ideally for all of the nation and not select individuals or industries). Value preservation at home is…and it is a little tricky at first to get…the concept that the governing political body defends and preserves the ideals that we, as a nation, identify as our values…the very things the Declaration of Independence espouses and the Constitution guarantees. Finally, value projection overseas means that we, as a nation, project our values and ideals through interaction with other nations and people…a perfect example is the ideal that the US promotes the concept of democracy abroad.

If you had 15 minutes to educate Trump, explaining why there is a need for a coherent foreign policy and a viable NSS may be the best route. Unfortunately, regardless of your 15 minutes of breaking complex shit into bite-able pieces of shit…Trump would still go forth and be completely tone-deaf on foreign policy and NSS.

Evidence of Trump’s inability to even remotely form a coherent and rational thought on foreign policy begins with the fact that there are individuals…smart foreign policy/NSS individuals that get more than 15 minutes of his time. SecDef Mattis and NSA McMasters are both very-well read and very-well educated on foreign policy and NSS. The mere fact that these two men have had multiple opportunities in the past 100+ of Trump’s administration to educate Trump and that he still fucks up every foreign policy issue is a testament to the horrifying fact that Trump has no fucking clue…and either he is purposefully ignorant or he is mentally unable to grasp foreign policy. A quick summary of some of Trump’s foreign “policy” statements and actions shows idiocy that masquerades as foreign policy.

  • Korea…North and South…Trump swaggers about (as does members of his cabinet) talking about dealing with North Korea if “China doesn’t.” Trump and cabinet make statements about deploying a US aircraft carrier strike group to show the seriousness of US resolve, when in fact, the strike group had not been deployed for that mission at that time. Trump then makes statements about South Korea needs to pay for the US missile defense system that protects it…then Trump meets with China’s president and claims that there is a common understanding…
  • Russia/Syria/NATO…Trump’s administration, campaign, and potentially his personal connection to Russian influence and blackmail is a developing story. Even without this cancerous and ever-growing stain on Trump…US foreign policy right now is a tossed boat among the rising waves close to a rocky shore. Trump says Russia will get out of Crimea and Ukraine…Trump talks about working closely with Russia on the Syria/IS issue…then Trump launches Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase…after informing the Russians of the attack…who in turn informed the Syrians. Within the last 24 hours, Trump has reiterated the idea that the US and Russia should and will start working closely on the Syrian issue. While Trump and his surrogates tell NATO to start paying their bill on defense of Europe…while handing…literally fucking handing…German Chancellor Merkel a fucking bill for what he says is the past and current amount Germany owes. With friends like us, who needs enemies?
  • Iran…Trump rattles his sword at Iran…yet continues to either ignore or accept Russian-Iranian ties…or in other words…Trump and his surrogates either prattle in bellicose terms about Iran and its nuclear weapon ambitions…or it is dead silent.
  • Trade/treaties…what trade deal or what treaty has Trump not promised to renegotiate? At what point did Trump come to the self-aggrandizing conclusion that is midnight musings on the “business” of foreign policy are a perfect substitute for decades of evolving US foreign policy?
  • Regional relations…Mexico pay for the fucking wall! Brazil, please give a good deal on a Trump Tower. Canada…your milk is spoiled and your lumber is full of termites…trade war muthafuckas! Fences make good neighbors as Robert Frost wrote…don’t be surprised when Canada and Mexico build their own fucking wall.

Of course, articles in the Washington Post may talk about Trump’s evolving or learning curve toward the new GOP conservative concept of isolationism and dubbed “America First.” If conservative foreign policy experts and analysts want to believe that Trump is learning how to be a president and that his latest actions are examples of him seeing the light…then I am perfectly fine with watching them fool themselves. If flag-waving, chest-thumping Trump voters want to believe that this jester of a man…this fool…is America’s champion in the post-Cold War world…then fine (but first I want to ask these voters what the fuck “post-Cold War” means…because I’m willing to bet a year of my salary that most cannot articulate the paradigm shift in international relations which was the result of the Soviet Union’s demise and the expanding stature in which the US found itself in the late 90s).

In the end, we will all…every American…be better prepared for a long line of national security crisis after crisis that is happening now and will continue to happen as long as Trump is making the final decision (NATO you’re fired! Russia…wanna try to be our apprentice?…oh you want America to be your apprentice?)…and as long as Trump is shadowed by a US military officer carrying the nuclear football…there will be no peace of mind…there will be no breathing room…there will be no reduction in stress.

Unfortunately, America (with, what is beginning to appear more likely every day, Russian assistance) has elected a complete and utter idiot as its president…a man who cowardly avoided military service…failed…repeatedly…at his life long profession of “business.” At 70+ years, an idiot doesn’t suddenly become a stellar student of international affairs…at 70+…an idiot remains an idiot. Trump is in charge here…he just has no ability to lead or learn how to lead. Don’t hope for anything better and quit believing it might get better…it isn’t going to get better. We.Are.Fucked.

 

War: Presidents? Congress? Who The Fuck Decides?

The Media…Facebook friends…anonymous government officials…conspiracy theorists…bloggers…and your fucking angry uncle are all constitutional law experts when it comes to Trump’s missile strike on Syria. The more microphone and internet space is provided, the more the space is filled with opinions and thoughts. Everyone thinks they know what the fuck they are talking about…and they all say things like: “…the Constitution says…the War Powers Act…blah, blah, blah.”

So here I am filling in my little area of digital space to provide a (somewhat) quick and easy guide to the War Powers Act, some historical context, and the one acronym that isn’t being used too often outside the insider baseball world of national security…AUMF…Authorization for the Use of Force.

War Powers Act

  • The legal mumbo jumbo is P.L. 93-148 (87 STAT. 555), the War Powers Resolution and called the “War Powers Act” was passed by Congress over President Nixon’s veto in 1973. The WPA is codified in US Code in Title 50, Chapter 33, Sections 1541-48;
  • “resolution” is misleading…it is a law;
  • Constitution says President is Commander-in-Chief (Art.II, Sect. 2); and Congress make declarations of war, and to raise and support the armed forces (Art I, Sec.8);
  • Over time the President’s role as CINC and Congress’ role to declare war has caused questions about war and the use of military force;
  • WPA is a direct result of the Vietnam War and addresses the concern that results when the introduction of US military forces abroad could lead to their involvement in armed conflict;
  • WPA is primarily to “insure that the collective judgement of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities,” and that the President can only exercise his CINC responsibilities once Congress has authorized the use of military force;
  • WPA requires the President to consult with Congress before introducing the military into hostilities or situations where hostilities are imminent;
  • WPA establishes a 60 day time limit on the President’s reporting to Congress;
  • WPA requires that the military must be removed from hostilities unless Congress approves the military action OR if Congress is physically unable to meet and deliberate due to a physical attack on the US;

From Nixon to now, Presidents have had serious asshurt about the WPA and say it is unconstitutional (SCOTUS has deemed otherwise). Because of this, the WPA has been controversial…and it is an on-going issue due to the worldwide deployment of the US military. Since its enactment, Presidents have submitted over 120 reports to Congress pursuant to the WPA.

Historical Context

Here are some major examples related to the WPA:

  • 1975 President Ford submitted a report to Congress as a result of his order for the military to retake the Mayaguez, a US merchant vessel which had been seized by Cambodia;
  • 1981 President Reagan deployed military advisers to El Salvador but filed no WPA report to Congress. Congress filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to for Reagan’s compliance with the WPA, but the US District Court hearing the suit declined to be involved when the judge saw a political question…whether US forces were indeed involved in hostilities;
  • 1982-1983 President Reagan sent a unit of Marines to Lebanon to participate in peacekeeping operations. Reagan submitted 3 reports to Congress but didn’t cite the 60 day time limit. Over time the Marines came under enemy fire and some called for the Marines withdrawal. Congress, in an agreement with Reagan, passed P.L.98-119 in 1983 which authorized the Marines to remain in Lebanon for 18 months. Reagan signed the law and was the first time a President signed legislation invoking the WPA. The eventual bombing of the Marines’ barracks in Beirut led to their eventual withdrawal;
  • 1990-1991 President H W Bush sent several reports to Congress regarding military force buildup in Operation Desert Shield. HW Bush took the position that he did not need congressional approval to carry out UN resolutions which authorized member states to use “all necessary means” to eject Iraq from Kuwait; however, he did ask for congressional “support.” Congress passed P.L.102-1 which authorized the President to use force against Iraq if the President reported that diplomatic efforts had failed to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait. HW Bush did so report and initiated Operation Desert Storm;
  • 1993-1999 President Clinton used the US military in various operations, such as air strikes and deployment of peacekeeping forces in the former Yugoslavia. These operations were pursuant to UN resolutions and conducted in conjunction with NATO member states. Clinton issued numerous reports to Congress but never triggered the 60 day limit. Some Members of Congress did not support these operations but were unable to pass legislation that limited the President’s actions. A federal law suit was filed saying the President violated the WPA when the 60 day time limit passed before he ordered air strikes on Kosovo. President Clinton stated that the WPA was constitutionally “defective”. US District Court ruled in the President’s favor and SCOTUS refused to hear the appeal.
  • 2001 In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress enacted P.L. 107-40 which authorized President W Bush to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001…” For the first time, “organizations, or persons” were specified in a congressional authorization to use force pursuant to WPA.
  • 2002 Congress authorized W Bush to use force against Iraq pursuant to WPA, in P.L. 107-243.
  • 2013 The (then) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) introduced legislation that would have authorized President Obama to use military force to intervene in the ongoing Syrian civil war. The bill specifically contained provisions about the use of chemical weapons. The bill did not pass.

AUMF

  • AUMF is “Authorization for the Use of Military Force”;
  • It is the term that means Congress authorizes the President, with their authority under WPA, to deploy and use military forces in hostilities or in areas where hostilities are imminent;
  • AUMF is often the cited phrase used in legal suits and discussions when the constitutionality of a certain military deployment or action happens with or without congressional approval.

Why Any of This Fucking Matters

  • There is NO AUMF for Trump to use force in Syria;
  • There was NO AUMF for President Obama to use force in Syria…even though Obama did order air strikes and military assistance to Syrian opposition groups;
  • Trump never reported to Congress prior to launching cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase;
  • Trump did not report to Congress prior to deploying a Marine unit to Syria earlier this year;
  • Congress COULD file a federal lawsuit demanding the end of all US military operations in Syria, which would require (like other historical military deployments) federal courts (up to, if necessary, SCOTUS) to hear the case;
  • Legal precedent shows that, in the past, federal courts have sided with the President (Balkans, 1990s)…or at least required the President and Congress to reach an agreement on the deployment of military force (Lebanon, early 80s);
  • Many constitutional and WPA experts (I am not one) argue that WPA is now toothless due to congressional inaction or willingness to allow presidential CINC authority (as cited in the Constitution) to supersede congressional declaration of war authority (as cited in the Constitution);
  • Congress, COULD (at a minimum) require Trump to inform Congress of his immediate, short-term, and long-term strategic goals in Syria. Congress COULD require Trump administration officials such as the SecDef and SecState to meet with and testify before about the Trump administration Syrian strategy;
  • FINALLY, congressional inaction may result in it further relinquishing its constitutional authority to declare war, thus further allowing the increase in presidential power as related to war and limiting the enforcement of AUMFs.

Then again…maybe none of this matters…what the fuck do I know?