Thursday, September 20, 2007

Excellent Op-Ed from General Clark

I don't usually reprint articles in their entirety but I feel strongly about this one. Interestingly, two of my and Fireheart's teachers, Marten and Kaerith told us repeatedly years before the invasion of Iraq, that the U.S. military was going to be in trouble in the next war because it would likely be fought in places where cruise missiles couldn't go and solders would have to.

From the Washington Post as reprinted in the Concord Monitor:

Testifying before Congress last week, Gen. David Petraeus appeared commanding, smart and alive to the challenges that his soldiers face in Iraq. But he also embodied what the Iraq conflict has come to represent: an embattled, able, courageous military at war, struggling to maintain its authority and credibility after 4 ½ years of a "cakewalk" gone wrong.

Petraeus will not be the last general to find himself explaining how a military intervention has misfired and urging skeptical lawmakers to believe that the mission can still be accomplished. The next war is always looming, and so is the urgent question of whether the U.S. military can adapt in time to win it.

Today, the most likely next conflict will be with Iran, a radical state that America has tried to isolate for almost 30 years and that now threatens to further destabilize the Middle East through its expansionist aims, backing of terrorist proxies such as the Lebanese group Hezbollah and even Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, and far-reaching support for radical Shiite militias in Iraq. As Iran seems to draw closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, almost every U.S. leader - and would-be president - has said that it simply won't be permitted to reach that goal.

On to Iran?

Think another war can't happen? Think again. Unchastened by the Iraq fiasco, hawks in Vice President Cheney's office have been pushing the use of force. It isn't hard to foresee the range of military options that policymakers face.

The next war would begin with an intense air and naval campaign. Let's say you're planning the conflict as part of the staff of the Joint Chiefs. Your list of targets isn't that long - only a few dozen nuclear sites - but you can't risk retaliation from Tehran. So you allow 21 days for the bombardment, to be safe; you'd aim to strike every command-and-control facility, radar site, missile site, storage site, airfield, ship and base in Iran. To prevent world oil prices from soaring, you'd have to try to protect every oil and gas rig, and the big ports and load points. You'd need to use B-2s and lots of missiles up front, plus many small amphibious task forces to take out particularly tough targets along the coast, with manned and unmanned air reconnaissance. And don't forget the Special Forces, to penetrate deep inside Iran, call in airstrikes and drag the evidence of Tehran's nuclear ambitions out into the open for a world that's understandably skeptical of U.S. assertions that yet another Gulf rogue is on the brink of getting the bomb.

But if it's clear how a war with Iran would start, it's far less clear how it would end. How might Iran strike back? Would it unleash Hezbollah cells across Europe and the Middle East, or perhaps even inside the United States? Would Tehran goad Iraq's Shiites to rise up against their U.S. occupiers? And what would we do with Iran after the bombs stopped falling? We certainly could not occupy the nation with the limited ground forces we have left. So what would it be: Iran as a chastened, more tractable government? As a chaotic failed state? Or as a hardened and embittered foe?

What about China?

Iran is not the only country where the next war with the United States might erupt. Consider the emergence of a new superpower (or at least a close competitor with the United States). China's shoot-down of an old Chinese satellite in January was a wake-up call about the risks inherent in America's reliance on space. The next war could also come from somewhere unexpected; if you'd told most Americans in August 2001 that the United States would be invading Afghanistan within weeks, they'd have called you crazy.

Any future U.S. wars will undoubtedly be shaped by the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, however painful that might be. Every military re-fights the last war, but good militaries learn lessons from the past. We'd better get them right, and soon. Here, the lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan couldn't be more clear: Don't ever, ever go to war unless you can describe and create a more desirable end state. And doing so takes a whole lot more than just the use of force.

The lessons from past conflicts aren't always obvious. After the demoralizing loss in Vietnam, the United States went high-tech, developing whole classes of new tanks, ships and fighter planes and new operational techniques to defeat then-enemy no. 1 - the Soviets. We also junked the doctrine of counterinsurgency warfare, which we're trying to relearn in Iraq.

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. military embarked upon another wave of high-tech modernization - and paid for it by cutting ground forces, which were being repeatedly deployed to peacekeeping operations in places such as Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. Instead of preparing for more likely, low-intensity conflicts, we were still spoiling for the "big fight," focusing on such large conventional targets as Kim Jong Il's North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq - and now we lack adequate ground forces. Bulking up these forces, perhaps by as many as 100,000 more active troops, and refitting and recovering from Iraq could cost $70 billion to $100 billion.

Somehow, in the past decade or two, we began to think of ourselves as "warriors." There was an elemental purity to this mindset, a kill-or-be-killed simplicity that drove U.S. commanders to create a leaner force based on more basic skills - the kind that some generals thought were lacking in Vietnam and in the early years of the all-volunteer military. Now, in an age when losing hearts and minds can mean losing a war, we find ourselves struggling in Iraq and Afghanistan to impart the sort of cultural sensitivities that were second nature to an earlier generation of troops trained to eat nuoc mam with everything and sit on the floor in preparation for their tours in Vietnam.

One of the most important lessons from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - and Vietnam, for that matter - is that we need to safeguard our troops. The U.S. public is more likely to sour on a conflict when it sees the military losing blood, not treasure. So to keep up our staying power, our skill in hunting and killing our foes has to be matched by our care in concealing and protecting our troops. Three particularly obvious requirements are body armor, mine-resistant vehicles, and telescopic and night sights for every weapon. But these things are expensive for a military that has historically been enamored of big-ticket items such as fighter planes, ships and missiles. Many of us career officers understood these requirements after Vietnam, but we couldn't shift the Pentagon's priorities enough to save the lives of forces sent to Iraq years later.

Grad school for generals

That brings us to the military's leaders. We need generals who are well-educated, flexible and culturally adept men and women - not just warriors, not just technicians. Why aren't more military leaders sent to top schools such as Princeton, the way Petraeus was, or given opportunities to earn PhDs, as did Defense Secretary Robert Gates' military assistant, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli?

For years, Congress has whacked away at military-education budgets, thereby driving gifted officers from the top-flight graduate schools where they could have honed their analytical skills and cultural awareness.

Still, let's not be too hard on ourselves. As an institution, the U.S. Armed Forces stands head and shoulders above any other military in skill, equipment and compassion, and its leaders are able, conscientious and loyal.

But shame on political leaders who would hide behind their top generals. It was hard not to catch a whiff of that during last week's hearings. The Constitution, however, is not ambivalent about where the responsibility for command lies - the president is the commander in chief.

Surely here is where some of the most salient lessons from recent wars lie: in forcing civilian leaders to shoulder their burdens of ultimate responsibility and in demanding that generals unflinchingly offer their toughest, most seasoned, advice. Gen. Tommy Franks embarked on the 2001 Afghanistan operation without a clear road map for success, or even a definition of what victory would look like. Somehow, that was good enough for him and his bosses. So Osama bin Laden slunk away, the Taliban was allowed to regroup, and Afghanistan is now mired deep in trouble and sinking fast.

In Iraq, President Bush approved war-fighting plans that hadn't incorporated any of the vital 1990s lessons from Haiti, Bosnia or Kosovo; worse, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld fought doing so. Nation-building, however ideologically repulsive some may find it, is a capability that a superpower sometimes needs.

At the same time, the United States' top generals must understand that their duty is to win, not just to get along. They must have the insight and character to demand the resources necessary to succeed - and have the guts to either obtain what they need or to resign. If they get their way and still don't emerge victorious, they must be replaced. That is the lot they accepted when they pinned on those four shiny silver stars.

Above all else, we Americans must understand that the goal of war is to achieve a specific purpose for the nation. In this respect, the military is simply a tool of statecraft, one that must work in tandem with diplomacy, economic suasion, intelligence and other instruments of U.S. power. How tragic it is to see old men who are unwilling to talk to potential adversaries but seem ready to dispatch young people to fight and die.

So, steady as we go. We need to tweak our force structure, hone our leadership and learn everything we can about how to do everything better. But the big lesson is simply this: War is the last, last, last resort. It always brings tragedy and rarely brings glory. Take it from a general who won: The best war is the one that doesn't have to be fought, and the best military is the one capable and versatile enough to deter the next war in the first place.

(Wesley K. Clark, the former supreme commander of NATO, led alliance military forces in the Kosovo war in 1999. He is the author, most recently, of A Time to Lead: For Duty, Honor and Country.)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Design on a.......Pentagram?

I rarely write anything about my other “professional” job in the pages of Barking Shaman. The use of the term “professional” rather than “mundane” is not an accident. While my training is in the design of assistive and consumer products, most of the money that the company has made in the past year has been in the design (both physical and magical design) and creation of custom, unique, sacred tools.

I’ve wondered of late why this work hasn’t found its way into BS before. I think the biggest reason is that people in the pagan community tend not to really understand what it is that I do. In my interactions with other pagans and magical folks I am often referred to as a “craftsperson.” I have deep respect for those I consider to be “craftspeople.” That is one reason why the term makes me uncomfortable. I am not a “craftsperson.” I think part of me would like to be, but I’m not.

I am a product designer. Both in my magical and material work, design is the primary focus. As a metal worker, I am certainly adequate. And there are not all that many people making sacred tools with access to a TIG welder or a Bridgeport vertical milling machine, which adds an element of uniqueness to what the company can offer. These things are not the reason someone hires me though.

When you give a craftsperson your money, you do so because they can make something that you can’t. A key tool in my magical and shamanic working is a soul-bonded sword made by Daniel Watson of Angel Sword for instance. Even if I had a limitless amount of money (and no demanding goddess breathing down my neck or family for that matter) so I could devote my life to the art of sword making I don’t know if I could ever produce something so lovely. This is why Mr. Watson can charge over $20,000 for his finest work (which is very fine indeed).

While my company does fabrication work and to a high standard, fabrication is not really what we are paid for. When someone hires us, especially in the case of mundane design rather than sacred tools, what we are being paid for is to think. I am not trying to say that my clients are unintelligent, or that I am more so. Rather, I spent years (perhaps as many as Mr. Watson had by this point in his business) training in a specific way of thinking and looking at the world.

Training in design strongly influenced my and Fire’s way of doing magic as well. We are often referred to as good “energy technicians” by people in the pagan community. It’s true that our way of doing magic is quite technical. We approached the study of magic much the way we approached design and our methodology and symbol system for spell construction owes far more to the Lemelson Design Center than to Llewellyn Publishing.

However, I’d say that there is a difference between energy “technician” and energy “designer.” I see a magical technician as someone who has perfect form in their magic, so nothing is wasted or out of place, whereas, a magical designer is someone who creates something new on a regular basis, especially to solve a new problem. I try to be both. I have known good “technicians” who don’t create new magic, and people who are brilliant at coming up with new ideas and spells but who have sloppy technique.

My main focus in the business at the moment is a sacred tools project that involves very little magic at all. However, the client’s needs are myriad and the challenge of meeting all of them has been surprisingly daunting. It has been the worst kind of design process. At our first meeting when the client described their needs, I believed that the design would flow smoothly and quickly. My first impression was mistaken, and I have had to fight to keep the slow destruction of that beautiful mirage from getting me too down on the project. Weeks of work (although with my health, I don’t exactly get to put in full days) and the design is finally taking shape in the computer. Like any good design, magical or mundane, when it is finished most people will look at it a think “well, that doesn’t look too hard to figure out.”

This is a problem for us as designers, fabricators, magicians, people who sell a service and now sometimes sell a product. At the top of BarkingShaman in the “about me” section is a picture of a CAD design of a product we produced for a client. It was a specialized ordeal tool designed to be worn on the head. Influenced by the Kavadi ritual, the “crown” had twelve surgical steel spikes that were fully adjustable but could be removed for sharpening or autoclaving without loosing the adjustment. Made from scratch, it also incorporated extensive magic to open the crown chakra in a dramatic, yet controlled way, and provide a structure and containment to the opening, leading to greater safety in use compared to other, less controlled chakra opening aides. The design process on the crown was extensive for both the physical and magical design. The fabrication ran about forty hours. The client for the crown was a major figure in the pagan demographic.

Although our client was quite happy with the results, the few other people who had expressed interest were turned off by the amount of money we were asking to produce another crown. One offer was %12 of the actual cost.

Like Clan Tashlin, with our unusual magical system and nameless Lady, the company is struggling to find a place in a broader community that doesn’t really “get” what we do. As I was sitting with the client whose project I am currently working on, I realized that there may quite literally be no one else in the world that can do exactly what we do. That is to say, how many people or companies have a shaman and more that one magician to address the spiritual needs of the client’s design but also have the training to identify and solve the myriad technical problems posed by the design’s necessary criteria? Finally, we have the resources of an industry CAD program, a small but capable fabrication shop, and cultivated contacts in both the magical/pagan and design worlds.

Our biggest problem in magic, sacred tool work and in presenting Clan Tashlin is that what we offer seems to come from a different place than many people in the pagan demographic. Our approach has at times turned people off or created interpersonal conflicts. In a community where “intent” and feelings are often seen as being paramount, a technical approach to magic, a Lady who doesn’t tell her name, and sacred tools designed in SolidWorks CAD are not always an easy fit.