Free Men Bear Arms

Herschel Smith · 15 Dec 2014 · 3 Comments

Mike Vanderboegh: You know the Founders were as suspicious of unrestrained democracy as they were of absolute monarchy. Both can be tyrannical. Both can be deadly. Both are threats to life and liberty and property. This is why they crafted a constitutional republic. The Founders knew that the mob could be manipulated by cynical elites to rob other citizens of their liberty, their property and their lives – cynical elites, wealthy men, powerful men, with unceasing appetites for more and more…… [read more]

A Middle East Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 1 month ago

After watching the third and final presidential debate on Monday night, I was disturbed to hear the two candidates talk about foreign policy with such lack of focus or context.   Admittedly, Obama was intent on baiting Romney into a game-changing gaffe and Romney was intent on not committing any, such error.   Presidential debates, ironically enough, are the last place to hear what a candidate actually thinks about any particular subject.

Both candidates, for example, endorsed the comic notion that the Afghan Army will be able to take over the fight against the Taliban by 2014 as the precursor to an American retreat.  Both candidates vowed that Iran will not be allowed to field a nuclear weapon (Romney actually drew the line at “nuclear capability” which is better), but neither one mentioned that the deeper problem with Iran is its current, Islamist government and not their pursuit of nuclear weapons per se.    So, for instance, Romney seemed to accept the continuation of the Iranian Regime so long as it did not have nukes.

Reflecting on this event further I am reminded of  a post by Walter Russel Mead which is an excellent springboard, summarizing all that is wrong with the current American approach to the Middle East:

The anti-American riots that have been rocking the Muslim world since 9/11 have shaken the establishment out of its complacency. Increasingly, even those who sympathize with the basic elements of the administration’s Middle East policy are connecting the dots. What they are seeing isn’t pretty. It’s not just that the US remains widely disliked and distrusted in the region. It’s not just that the radicals and the jihadis have demonstrated more political sophistication and a greater ability to organize and strike than expected and that the struggle against radical terror looks longer lasting and more dangerous than thought; it’s that the strategic underpinnings of the administration’s Middle East policy seem to be falling apart. A series of crises is sweeping through the region, and the US does not—at least not yet—seem to have a clue what to do.

***

The Israeli-Palestinian problem, for example, cannot be settled quickly; the consequence of the region’s lack of democratic traditions and liberal institutions cannot be overcome in four or eight years; the underdevelopment and mass unemployment afflicting so many countries has no known cure; the ethnic and sectarian hatreds that poison the region will not soon be tamed; the deep sense of grievance and injustice that shapes the attitudes of so many toward the Christian or post-Christian West will not soon fade away; the radical and terror groups now roaming the region cannot be easily stopped or mollified; the resource curse will continue to corrupt and poison large parts of the region; the resurgence of Islam, even in less radical forms, inevitably heightens a sense of confrontation with the US and its western allies; and Iran’s ambitions are hard to tame and impossible to accept.

Mr. Mead challenged both Obama and Mitt Romney to articulate a policy or at least initiatives that might address these problems.  Neither has done so.

At the risk of being what Mr. Mead terms “an armchair strategist” offering simple solutions, I believe that the U.S. needs to fundamentally reconsider its approach to foreign policy and the methods and tools used to pursue that policy.

First, it is not enough, unfortunately, for the United States to be in favor of “democracy” or “freedom” for those around the world.  These terms are simply too amorphous and chameleon to be useful in building a coherent foreign policy.   Instead, the U.S. should be an ardent advocate for the foundations of civil society:  respect for individual rights;  free exercise of religion; freedom of speech; respect for the rule of law rather than resort to rioting and violence; the orderly transition of political power free from intimidation.   This is a sampling of the bedrock, Anglo-American traditions that are prerequisites  for a democratic republic.    As Mark Levin argues in his latest book, Ameritopia, you cannot hope to have a real democracy without the foundations of a civil society.

The Middle East is bereft of genuine democracies (with the notable exception of Israel) because it is bereft of the foundational traditions of a civil society.   That is why it was unforgivably foolish of George W. Bush to insist on the hasty installation of a “democracy” in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Neither of these societies had the foundations needed for democracy to take root.   Yes, Iraq and Afghanistan may have the outer trappings of democracy with parliaments and elections, but form is not substance.  Iraq is headed back towards civil war as the ethnic and sectarian factions escalate violence against one another.   Afghanistan is a cardboard cut-out of democracy propped up with billions of dollars of U.S. aid and military assistance.   Once the props are removed in 2014 (or sooner), the facade will collapse.

So then, it is a tragic and self-defeating mistake for the U.S. to blindly push for elections.   In Gaza, for example, such elections mean nothing.    They mean less than nothing since they serve to legitimate blood-thirsty ideologues, putting the U.S. in the untenable position of undermining what we previously declared to be a “freely elected” government.    No matter that said government throws its political opponents off of rooftops.

Rather, the U.S. must be very specific, unapologetic and insistent about the type of democracy and “freedom” we are talking about– an Anglo-American civil society that can support the pressures of representative government and tolerate religious diversity and dissenting opinions.

Furthermore, the U.S. must take a hard look at the nations as they are and not how we wish them to be.   It took hundreds of years for civil traditions to develop in the West.   It may take much longer in the Middle East, burdened as it is with Islamic notions of subjugation, subservience and nihilism.

As an example of this, consider this piece by Robert Kagan in The Washington Post.   Kagan argues in favor of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt mainly because it was “democratically” elected:

The Obama administration has not been wrong to reach out to the popularly elected government in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood won that election, and no one doubts that it did so fairly. We either support democracy or we don’t. But the administration has not been forthright enough in making clear, publicly as well as privately, what it expects of that government.  (Emphasis added)

First, it is not beyond dispute that the Muslim Brotherhood won the election “fairly” when it is essentially the only, organized political party in the country.   There is evidence that a sizable number of Egyptians do not support the Muslim Brotherhood but no, unified opposition party could be organized in the relatively short time allowed before the vote.    In any event, to say that an Islamist party received the most number of votes in an election does not lead ineluctably to the conclusion that it is a “democracy” that we are obligated to support.   In fact, Kagan goes on to point out that the U.S. must make it clear what a “democracy” entails:

Out of fear of making the United States the issue in Egyptian politics, the Obama administration, like past administrations, has been too reticent about stating clearly the expectations that we and the democratic world have for Egyptian democracy: a sound constitution that protects the rights of all individuals, an open press, a free and vital opposition, an independent judiciary and a thriving civil society. President Obama owes it to the Egyptian people to stand up for these principles. Congress needs to support democracy in Egypt by providing aid that ensures it advances those principles and, therefore, U.S. interests.

I would differ with Kagan to the extent that U.S. aid money is provided directly and up front to an Egyptian government that is showing every indication that it intends to implement its Islamist beliefs.  Egyptians must see that voting in an Islamist government will have certain and severe consequences.   In any event, the United States cannot be in the business of funding our enemies and, regardless of Kagan’s view that the Muslim Brotherhood is not clearly against us, a weak or failing Islamist regime in Egypt is better than one that is buying up the latest weapons systems (e.g., German submarines for example) with U.S. tax dollars.   Kagan and those like him are desperate to see a civil society where none exists and, so, are easily taken in by democratic happy talk that Egyptian President Morsi (and other Islamists in the region) are all too adept at feeding to willing dupes.

The second, radical change to U.S. foreign policy must be to view everything in terms of U.S. national interests and the tactics and lines of effort that best advance those interests.

For example, for the better part of four years, the Obama Administration has confused the agenda of the United Nations with that of the United States of America.   While it would be hoped that the international body that the U.S. founded at the end of World War II and funds disproportionately would be at least sympathetic to U.S. national interests, this is decidedly not the case.  The U.N. has largely been subverted and overrun by authoritarian member states with interests that directly conflict with those of the U.S.   In an ideal world, the U.S. would explicitly repudiate the U.N., evict it from its expensive quarters in Manhattan and rent out the space to a new organization made up of democratic U.S. allies.   Alas, the best we can hope for is to limit the damage of the U.N. by ignoring it, working around it and forging coalitions of allies to negate the U.N.’s malign influence in the world.

In the Middle East and around the globe, the U.S. needs to re-evaluate its position in the light of our national interest.  We must, for example, reconsider our relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of their unrelenting funding of Salafist and Wahhabist ideologies directly hostile to the U.S. and the West in general.   We cannot elevate the Saudis to the high status of ally or even “friend” when they are bankrolling our enemies.   This need not mean open conflict with them, but it surely must mean a reduction in relations.  (The fact that the U.S. is set to soon surpass the Saudis as the world’s largest oil producer should translate into tangible, state leverage).

Syria is another example where the U.S. must evaluate the opportunities and risks for involvement based primarily upon national interest rather than the threat of a “humanitarian crisis” or “instability.”  Even a Syria riven by civil war and instability will stalemate Iran’s ability to fund and support Hezbollah and bring greater opportunities for U.S. influence in the region as a whole.   The U.S. has been at war with Iran since 1979 and rarely have we had an opportunity to deal the regime in Tehran such a critical blow as exists in Syria.

Throughout the Middle East U.S. policy is plagued by a lack of a driving force.  The U.S. intervened in Libya under the pretext of potential civilian casualties but recoils from Syria with actual casualties.    The U.S. dithers over supporting former President Mubarak in Egypt while supporting the  no-less tyrannical Saudi royal family.   The U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars on a corrupt government in Kabul but argues whether to pull funding from Israel if it does not halt new housing settlements or show enough “flexibility” on Arab demands for land.   It is high time to clarify who our friends and enemies are and why.  Israel is not merely a kindred democracy, for example.   They are a vital ally because they directly serve U.S. interests in the region as a bulwark against Islamists.  There is, perhaps, no greater return on U.S. investments than Israel given the plethora of hostile, Islamist states in the region.   But here again, the U.S. policy is to adopt the hectoring, self-righteous tone of the international community, treating Israel and the Palestinians on equal terms for no good reason.

It is my hope that Mitt Romney wins the election and does so in convincing fashion.   The next four years could be pivotal as a showdown with Iran cannot be delayed beyond the next term in office.  War is everywhere in the Middle East and the next President will need to have a clear-eyed view of what America’s interests are and how to achieve them.   The last 11 years have certainly taught us that “nation building” and “elections” are not effective tools of American power.   May President Romney absorb the lessons and chart a better course in 2013.

Mark Steyn and the Perfect Summary of 21st Century American Frustration

BY Glen Tschirgi
3 years, 6 months ago

For anyone who is not acquainted with the work of Mark Steyn, you have an awful lot of catching up to do on a treasure trove of witty, insightful and provocative reading.

I have been a huge fan of Steyn for years but this piece, originally appearing in National Review, is, perhaps, his best, at least in regards to the current predicament of America in the 21st Century.

What predicament?

For any American who is knowledgeable about the extraordinary capabilities of the U.S. military, it is a constant source of frustration to contemplate the consistently mediocre results we get from employing those forces.   It is a classic case of underpeformance.   It is like, well, the Miami Heat:  stocked with arguably the NBA’s best talent, they cannot manage to roll over the Dallas Mavericks in the recent NBA championship series.    This was the team that was supposed to dominate like the Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan era.

But, to be fair to the Miami Heat, this is a poor analogy.   A more accurate one would be to imagine the College Football National Champion Auburn Tigers going up against the Rec League, Ellicott City Patriots B-Team.  Comprised of 11-year olds.   That’s how stark the difference is between the U.S. military and the kind of adversaries we have been going up against since the end of World War II.  When the Auburn Tigers can’t seem to put away the Patriots’ B-Team and it is dragging into overtime and a possible tie-game, the Auburn fans are understandably frustrated.

Or as Steyn puts it:

Why can’t America win wars? It’s been two-thirds of a century since we saw (as President Obama vividly put it) “Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur.” And, if that’s not quite how you remember it, forget the formal guest list, forget the long-form surrender certificate, and try to think of “winning” in a more basic sense.

After summarizing Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, he remarks:

According to partisan taste, one can blame the trio of current morasses on Bush or Obama, but in the bigger picture they’re part of a pattern of behavior that predates either man, stretching back through non-victories great and small — Somalia, Gulf War One, Vietnam, Korea. On the more conclusive side of the ledger, we have . . . well, lemme see: Grenada, 1983. And, given that that was a bit of post-colonial housekeeping Britain should have taken care of but declined to, one could argue that even that lone bright spot supports a broader narrative of Western enfeeblement. At any rate, America’s only unambiguous military triumph since 1945 is a small Caribbean island with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. For 43 percent of global military expenditure, that’s not much bang for the buck.

Inconclusive interventionism has consequences. Korea led to Norks with nukes. The downed helicopters in the Iranian desert led to mullahs with nukes. Gulf War One led to Gulf War Two. Somalia led to 9/11. Vietnam led to everything, in the sense that its trauma penetrated so deep into the American psyche that it corroded the ability to think clearly about war as a tool of national purpose.

Steyn exactly identifies the source of the problem.   It is not that our military is incapable of decisive victory, the problem lies with our national leadership.  To return to the sports analogy, it is as if the Auburn coaches decided that it would not look good to grind those 11-year olds into the dirt, so the Tigers go to unbelievable lengths to not win but not lose either. That may be fine when it is simply a game of  football, but when it involves a deadly contest where Americans are being killed or maimed, handicapping yourself in such a way is criminal.   Or as Steyn puts it:

But in the nuclear age, all-out war — war with real nations, with serious militaries — was too terrible to contemplate, so even in proxy squabbles in Third World backwaters the overriding concern was to tamp things down, even at the price of victory. And, by the time the Cold War ended, such thinking had become ingrained. A U.S.–Soviet nuclear standoff of mutual deterrence decayed into a unipolar world of U.S. auto-deterrence. Were it not for the brave passengers of Flight 93 and the vagaries of the Oval Office social calendar, the fourth plane on 9/11 might have succeeded in hitting the White House, decapitating the regime, leaving a smoking ruin in the heart of the capital and delivering the republic unto a Robert C. Byrd administration or some other whimsy of presidential succession. Yet, in allowing his toxic backwater to be used as the launch pad for the deadliest foreign assault on the U.S. mainland in two centuries, Mullah Omar either discounted the possibility of total devastating destruction against his country, or didn’t care.

If it was the former, he was surely right. After the battle of Omdurman, Hilaire Belloc offered a pithy summation of technological advantage:

Whatever happens
We have got
The Maxim gun
And they have not.

But suppose they know you’ll never use the Maxim gun? At a certain level, credible deterrence depends on a credible enemy. The Soviet Union disintegrated, but the surviving superpower’s instinct to de-escalate intensified: In Kirkuk as in Kandahar, every Lilliputian warlord quickly grasped that you could provoke the infidel Gulliver with relative impunity. Mutually Assured Destruction had curdled into Massively Applied Desultoriness.

Here I part company somewhat from my National Review colleagues who are concerned about inevitable cuts to the defense budget. Clearly, if one nation is responsible for near half the world’s military budget, a lot of others aren’t pulling their weight. The Pentagon outspends the Chinese, British, French, Russian, Japanese, German, Saudi, Indian, Italian, South Korean, Brazilian, Canadian, Australian, Spanish, Turkish, and Israeli militaries combined. So why doesn’t it feel like that?

Well, for exactly that reason: If you outspend every serious rival combined, you’re obviously something other than the soldiery of a conventional nation state. But what exactly? In the Nineties, the French liked to complain that “globalization” was a euphemism for “Americanization.” But one can just as easily invert the formulation: “Americanization” is a euphemism for “globalization,” in which the geopolitical sugar daddy is so busy picking up the tab for the global order he loses all sense of national interest. Just as Hollywood now makes films for the world, so the Pentagon now makes war for the world. Readers will be wearily familiar with the tendency of long-established pop-culture icons to go all transnational on us: Only the other week Superman took to the podium of the U.N. to renounce his U.S. citizenship on the grounds that “truth, justice, and the American way” no longer does it for him. My favorite in recent years was the attempted reinvention of good ol’ G.I. Joe as a Brussels-based multilateral acronym — the Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity. I believe they’re running the Libyan operation.

This is it precisely.   The U.S. has, for whatever reason, decided that winning is unacceptable.  This is Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign stating that he does not like to use the word victory.   For all practical purposes, the U.S. has unilaterally disarmed.  Sure, we still have all those weapons and sophisticated arsenals of death lying around, and we may parade them about and fly them over the heads of Taliban fighters to try to put a good scare into them, but we have decided that actually using those weapons in the way that they were designed to be used, in the national interest of the U.S., is unacceptable.

Instead, Steyn points out, the U.S. has given in to what he terms, “Transnational do-gooding.”

Transnational do-gooding is political correctness on tour. It takes the relativist assumptions of the multiculti varsity and applies them geopolitically: The white man’s burden meets liberal guilt. No wealthy developed nation should have a national interest, because a national interest is a selfish interest. Afghanistan started out selfishly — a daringly original military campaign, brilliantly executed, to remove your enemies from power and kill as many of the bad guys as possible. Then America sobered up and gradually brought a freakish exception into compliance with the rule. In Libya as in Kosovo, war is legitimate only if you have no conceivable national interest in whatever conflict you’re fighting. The fact that you have no stake in it justifies your getting into it. The principal rationale is that there’s no rationale, and who could object to that? Applied globally, political correctness obliges us to forswear sovereignty. And, once you do that, then, as Country Joe and the Fish famously enquired, it’s one-two-three, what are we fighting for?

When you’re responsible for half the planet’s military spending, and 80 percent of its military R&D, certain things can be said with confidence: No one is going to get into a nuclear war with the United States, or a large-scale tank battle, or even a dogfight. You’re the Microsoft, the Standard Oil of conventional warfare: Were they interested in competing in this field, second-tier military powers would probably have filed an antitrust suit with the Department of Justice by now. When you’re the only guy in town with a tennis racket, don’t be surprised if no one wants to join you on center court — or that provocateurs look for other fields on which to play. In the early stages of this century’s wars, IEDs were detonated by cell phones and even garage-door openers. So the Pentagon jammed them. The enemy downgraded to more primitive detonators: You can’t jam string. Last year, it was reported that the Taliban had developed metal-free IEDs, which made them all but undetectable: Instead of two hacksaw blades and artillery shells, they began using graphite blades and ammonium nitrate. If you’ve got uniformed infantrymen and tanks and battleships and jet fighters, you’re too weak to take on the hyperpower. But, if you’ve got illiterate goatherds with string and hacksaws and fertilizer, you can tie him down for a decade. An IED is an “improvised” explosive device. Can we still improvise? Or does the planet’s most lavishly funded military assume it has the luxury of declining to adapt to the world it’s living in?

In the spring of 2003, on the deserted highway between the Jordanian border and the town of Rutba, I came across my first burnt-out Iraqi tank — a charred wreck shoved over to the shoulder. I parked, walked around it, and pondered the fate of the men inside. It seemed somehow pathetic that, facing invasion by the United States, these Iraqi conscripts had even bothered to climb in and point the thing to wherever they were heading when death rained down from the stars, or Diego Garcia, or Missouri. Yet even then I remembered the words of the great strategist of armored warfare, Basil Liddell Hart: “The destruction of the enemy’s armed forces is but a means — and not necessarily an inevitable or infallible one — to the attainment of the real objective.” The object of war, wrote Liddell Hart, is not to destroy the enemy’s tanks but to destroy his will.

Instead, America has fallen for the Thomas Friedman thesis, promulgated by the New York Times’ great thinker in January 2002: “For all the talk about the vaunted Afghan fighters, this was a war between the Jetsons and the Flintstones — and the Jetsons won and the Flintstones know it.”

But they didn’t. They didn’t know they were beaten. Because they weren’t. Because we hadn’t destroyed their will — as we did to the Germans and Japanese two-thirds of a century ago, and as we surely would not do if we were fighting World War II today. That’s not an argument for nuking or carpet bombing, so much as for cool clear-sightedness. Asked how he would react if the British army invaded Germany, Bismarck said he would dispatch the local police force to arrest them: a clever Teuton sneer at the modest size of Her Britannic Majesty’s forces. But that’s the point: The British accomplished much with little; at the height of empire, an insignificant number of Anglo-Celts controlled the entire Indian subcontinent. A confident culture can dominate far larger numbers of people, as England did for much of modern history. By contrast, in an era of Massively Applied Desultoriness, we spend a fortune going to war with one hand tied behind our back. The Forty-Three Percent Global Operating Industrial Military Complex isn’t too big to fail, but it is perhaps too big to win — as our enemies understand.

So on we stagger, with Cold War institutions, transnational sensibilities, politically correct solicitousness, fraudulent preening pseudo–nation building, expensive gizmos, little will, and no war aims . . . but real American lives. “These Colors Don’t Run,” says the T-shirt. But, bereft of national purpose, they bleed away to a grey blur on a distant horizon. Sixty-six years after V-J Day, the American way of war needs top-to-toe reinvention.

The worst news, however, is that we are such a divided nation in our sense of national purpose that I do not see any way that “the American way of war” will get anything like a “reinvention” as Steyn prescribes.   The American people are living in a fantasy world where we can continue to lavish entitlement spending on ourselves (and heap more on top of that with Obamacare) while contemplating a substantially reduced military, as if evil does not exist and America will never be threatened (and anyone who raises that specter is simply trying to scare the public for the benefit of the military-industrial complex).

But we know how these things end.    The Dot Com Bubble was created by the fantasy that internet companies with no revenues were, nonetheless, worth ridiculous share prices.   That Bubble burst.    The Housing Bubble grew from the fantasy that trillions of dollars could be lent to persons with bad credit and little prospect for repayment.   That Bubble burst.    The current fantasy about the nature of the world and America’s invulnerability will end, too.   And when it does we will finally regain the will to win.   I pray that we will still have the means.


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