• Reuters

    Bombs Away

    Thank Goodness for Perpetual War

    We’ve finally got a plan. We need plans and everyone like them, they put as at ease and it feels good to be at ease. Now let’s get on with the bombing and war.

    On September 11th Eve, or—excuse me—Patriot Day’s Eve, the President announced a new plan, a campaign to “degrade and ultimately destroy the ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorist strategy.” To me it sounds much like the last plan to degrade and destroy the terrorists and the plan before that, but, then again, I’m not a plan maker. I do like plans though. I like them very much. Conservatives like them. Liberals like them. Jihadists like them. Buddhists like them. Most everybody does. No one wants to go through life in a state of moral and existential ambiguity. We vote a man (or woman) into office to make plans for us to follow. For all the faults of the last President, he at least had the intelligence enough to know Americans like plans and to give them to us at regular intervals.

    Orwell’s Big Brother had a plan too. The plan—which everyone who has been to high school in the United States understands and everyone who writes takes much pleasure in referencing—required perpetual war to be effective. Oceania had to be at war with someone otherwise they would begin to see what the world around them lacked. But what people who claim to be experts on 1984 don’t understand is that O’Brien only gives the people of Oceania what they want. O’Brien is the victim here, one of circumstance and fear. The people need war as much as war needs people. O’Brien tries to explain to Winston that this was what the people wanted, not him, and he simply provides them happiness, which is really just another word for fear. Does this make him a criminal? Giving people exactly what they most desire? He offers his people peace with his plan of war. He makes them fall in love with Big Brother, and in the end they do. The people cheer the bombs. And why wouldn’t they? The bombs hurt no one but those they don’t know. They lead to nothing but the elimination of their unease. They are imminently necessary given geo-political conditions. They do not use them; they simply stand back as the bombs do what they need to do.

  • Reuters

    A History of Military Ultimatums

    We run through some important modern ultimatums to show why governments make them, and what—if anything—they accomplish.

    What’s an ultimatum? It’s a thousand different things, depending on who’s making it—but it’s generally something like a threat attached to a set of demands.

    “There will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine” President Obama said in a speech on Friday, though he did not specify what the costs to the Russians would be, or how they would be exacted.

  • An image taken from a video uploaded to YouTube by the Local Committee of Arbeen on August 21, 2013 allegedly shows a mass grave containing bodies of victims that Syrian rebels claim were killed in a toxic gas attack by pro-government forces in eastern Ghouta and Zamalka, on the outskirts of Damascus. (DSK/AFP/Getty)

    Call to Action

    A Vet’s Case for Striking Syria

    Our Security depends on it. Army veteran Mark Jacobson makes the case for a U.S. strike in Syria.

    This article is part of an ongoing Hero Project series offering veteran’s perspectives on the conflict in Syria and the prospect of a U.S. military intervention. Click here to read the last installment, where Brian Van Reet, an Army veteran who earned a Bronze Star with Valor in Iraq, argues against attacking Syria.

    I have spent most of my career in the policymaking arena, where struggles and skirmishes were bureaucratic, but I also served in uniform for 20 years as a soldier and an officer. I mobilized to Bosnia, helping to end a civil war that claimed 350,000 lives and threatened the stability of Southeast Europe. In 2006 I deployed to Afghanistan, joining the tens of thousands of other service members who have worked to keep the Afghan people safe from extremists and free from oppression so they could have the opportunity to shape their nation’s future. I believe that the Syrian government’s crimes are contemptible and pose a national security threat to the United States. Though there is now some chance of a diplomatic resolution based on the Russian response to Senator Kerry’s statement that the U.S. would back down if Syria turned over its full stock of chemical weapons, this outcome remains unlikely. If a peaceful solution to Syria’s aggression does fail, an American military response will be necessary and I would serve again there if called upon.

  • Brad and Rachelle Palmer's home where they hung a gold star for their enlisted son. (John Kael Weston)

    War Is the New Peace

    As Obama pushes for the U.S. to attack Syria, vets gather to talk about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. John Kael Weston, who spent years in both, reflects on what another war would mean after the folly of the last two.

    War is like poker.

    Once statesmen, such as the irreverent and irreplaceable Richard C. Holbrooke, R.I.P., and generals array themselves around its cursed table, all become trapped. Good or bad luck—not smarts or skill—determines outcomes. As Napoleon remarked, “I would rather have a general who was lucky than one who was good.” Even a bluffing superpower can be forced to ante up ... or perhaps fold as casualties mount and treasury accounts go bust. Old men talking. Young men dying. Anyone who has seen war up close knows as much. It is deadly, costly, and to be avoided whenever possible. Just ask U.S. troops, who survived Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States’ two longest-ever wars.

  • U.S. Marines evacuate a colleague wounded in a mortar attack on a base south of Baghdad November 29, 2004. (Thaier Al-Sudani / Reuters, © Thaier Al-Sudani / Reuters)

    Not Again

    A Veteran’s Case Against Attacking

    No to Syria. Army veteran Brian Van Reet argues against intervention.

    On an absentee ballot mailed from Camp War Eagle, I voted John Kerry for president in 2004. I had been in Baghdad about eight months. Over that time I had come to believe that the army’s strategy—if you could call harassing Iraqi men, passing out soccer balls to their kids, building bigger and better chow halls on our FOBs, and driving the highway looking for bombs, a strategy—was headed for dismal failure.

    President Bush pleaded with the country to stay the course. Meanwhile, I cast a ballot for the other guy.

  • A Syrian rebel tries on a gas mask seized from a Syrian army factory in the northwestern province of Idlib on July 18, 2013. Western countries say they have handed over evidence to the UN that Bashar al-Assad's forces have used chemical arms in the two-year conflict. (AFP/Getty, AFP)

    No Guarantees

    Taking Out Syrian Chemical Weapons

    Former Army chemical specialist Chris Miller on options for targeting Syrian weapons and the risks involved.

    It is now clear that the Syrian government used sarin nerve gas to attack suspected rebel forces in Damascus on August 21. There is no doubt that the “red line” was breached. With the American public delivering a clear consensus against committing ground forces, the Obama administration will almost certainly limit any intervention to remote attacks. In the best circumstances, destroying chemical weapons is a dangerous and intensive task, but trying to destroy them from the air without spreading their deadly agents makes it even more difficult.

    Drawing from my experience serving 9 years in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense (CBRND) for the U.S. Army, here is a rundown of the options available for destroying chemical weapons with a look at the feasibility of different methods and the complications that each entails.

  • A Syrian man reacts while standing on the rubble of his house while others look for survivors and bodies in the Tariq al-Bab district of the northern city of Aleppo on February 23, 2013. (AFP)

    Syrian Soldier

    My Part in This War

    A former Syrian soldier describes the awful reality of the Assad regime’s war to Andrew Slater.

    The following is the second part of an interview conducted with a former Syrian army sergeant, “Heen,” whose name and identifying details have been altered to protect his identity. The interview, which has been edited for length and to preserve the voice of Heen, is a testimony to the evolution of events in Syria. Click here to read the first part of the interview where Heen describes his unit's role in Dara'a, where the protests started and the war began, and the events that led to his arrest.

    In this final part, Heen describes his arrest and imprisonment for disobeying orders to shoot at civilians and his eventual flight to Iraq, where he settled in a refugee camp.

  • Syrian government forces patrol the Khalidiyah neighborhood in the central city of Homs on July 28, 2013. (AFP/Getty)


    Interview With a Syrian Soldier

    A former Syrian soldier describes the awful reality of the Assad regime’s war to Andrew Slater.

    In the coming days the United States and other countries will make a decision on the use of military force against Syria. The consequences of this decision will affect not only the Assad regime loyalists but also the foot soldiers manning bunkers, barracks, and installations across the country. For the vast majority of Syria’s conscripted soldiers, military service amounts to a brutal prison sentence of unknown length now that the war has extended service periods indefinitely. Though the Syrian army does contain true believers who believe that it’s their duty to defeat the rebels and any means justifies this end, many are draftees with no ideological sympathy for the regime and are merely following orders to survive.

    Faced with certain death for desertion, and possible retaliation against their families, many conscripts have been put in the nightmarish situation of choosing between committing war crimes or being killed for trying to flee from a war effort they don’t support.

  • Simon Lewis/AP


    How to Use Special Ops In Syria

    Special Forces on the ground, the only way to fight in Syria, writes Andrew Slater, former Special Forces officer.

    Amidst all the recent discussion of an American military response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons against rebel forces, there lies a second, less-discussed red line: under what conditions would the White House employ U.S. ground forces, as opposed to a purely airpower-based campaign, in Syria, and what role would they play?

    Putting aside political considerations for the moment, it is still reasonable to presume that the scale and nature of our involvement in Syria would less resemble Iraq or Afghanistan than Libya or Kosovo. But while a colossal operation like the invasion of Iraq is thankfully unimaginable, it is possible that the White House may decide to place special operations forces (SOF) on the ground in Syria. Conventional wisdom would view this as an escalation over a "bombs only" approach to U.S. involvement, but considering a limited, special operations ground force could inject sanity, clarity, and urgency to the policy debate and serve as a counterweight to the prevailing drone war logic and its false sterility.