Monday, September 30, 2013


Annnnnd - That's a Wrap
The premise, from the very beginning, was that Walt was going to die. His death, ultimately felt not only inevitable, but natural.  There was no other way for it to end for Walt.  The question that needed to be answered was how would Walt die - not so much in the mechanistic terms of the proximate cause of his demise, but rather what path he would take to his death, and what would he leave behind.  There was always a certain tension as you watched him build his empire and become the brutal, murderous Heisenberg, wondering whether he would live long enough to die from the cancer that riddled his body. But mainly, it was about how the man and the quest interacted in the process, and how a plan to leave his family with enough money to live after his death became a plunge into madness and brutality that left everyone around him dead or damaged.

It's interesting that such a dark series had such a 'happy' ending, at least in Breaking Bad terms.  There was no fixing the damage Walt had caused, or regaining the love of his family.  Hank was dead, his son and wife hated him, Jesse was gone, and Todd was running the meth business as only a good-natured psychopath could. But there were things Walt could do, a short term bucket list if you will, things that would settle matters and tie up loose ends for him.  The choices that remained for him were to act against the people who represented a threat to his family, the ones who had killed Hank, taken Jesse and brought about Walt's complete debasement.  THEY were the remains of Walt's to do list in which the last item was 'lay down and die'.

Terrorizing the Schwartzes into laundering the White family fortune was a perfect example of Walt's combination of brilliance and brutality.  In checking the first box on the bucket list, he corrupts them, making them in some way complicit in his crimes in a way they can never quite escape.  Walt knows that as time goes by his plan will become their plan, and accomplishing it will be a kind of success.

Item number two was that pesky ricin. It's been in play for years, and now it comes out.  A brief five minute meeting with Lydia in a coffee shop, followed a day later by a triumphant phone call to let her know that even though she's not dead yet, he had murdered her.  Brutal, as the final admission to Skyler: "I did it for me" was brutal honesty.

Then, in an almost cartoonish climax, the old machine gun in the trunk trick wiped out Jack, Todd and the Nazis.  But it had to be - Jack shot Hank in front of Walt, and Walt was never going to let that stand, no matter how weak and helpless he appeared to be in that cabin in New Hampshire.  But it was key to the actual denouement - the final confrontation with Jesse.  And when Walt implores Jesse to shoot him, and Jesse tosses him the gun saying "do it yourself", we are witnessing the true end of Breaking Bad.  Jesse walks out, free and something approximating whole, and it remains only for Walt to lay down next to the meth lab he built and die.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

This Week in Jihad

Busy week for Jihadis and those that love them.

Respect your enemy - this dude had courage
and commitment
For at least the eighth time, Alabama born rapping jihadi Omar Hammami has been declared dead.  As you might have heard (if you are so pathetic that your life includes paying attention to such things), he had a major falling out with the leader of the al-Shabab organization for which he has previously been a fairly effective field commander in Somalia, and they've been aggressively trying to kill him as part of a purge of “foreign fighters”.  In June he reported via his Twitter account that he had been “shot in the neck” but was, apparently, not dead and he went into hiding immediately afterward.

The FBI had him on its Most Wanted list, which seems somewhat silly as he was fighting in the seemingly endless Somali civil war and not really doing anything the FBI should care deeply about.  For that matter, it certainly seems as if al Shabab head Moktar Ali Zubeyr missed a significant funding opportunity if he simply killed Hammami and buried him in the desert, as has been reported.  The FBI was offering $5 million dollars for him - seems like that would have been a good trade-off for the organization.

At any rate, to whatever extent the world is better off rid of him, I will miss him for the entertainment value he brought to an otherwise mundane on-again off-again African bush war. And while they apparently neither supported nor understood his life’s work, his family misses him too. In his fathers words, "If he indeed died, he died fighting for his principles, whatever they are."

Fighting Jihad with AKs and VHS tapes
since 1988
This was also the week with another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, so that means another audio only missive from the worlds favorite terrorist surgeon, Ayman al-Zawahiri.  Much of core al-Quaeda in the Pakistani hinterlands have been decimated by fighting in Afghanistan and American drone strikes, but Zawahiri just goes on, in sole command of the remaining organization now that his partner Osama bin-Laden has gone to his reward.  

While bin-Laden was fixated on very large, spectacular attacks, from the USS Cole bombing to the African Embassy attacks, culminating in the 9/11 hijackings and attacks on New York and Washington, Zawahiri seems to be more pragmatic, cognizant of the reduced operational and financial resources available after more than a decade of relentless attacks by the global counter-terror forces.  And sure enough, in his message commemorating 9/11 he called for small-scale “lone wolf” attacks within the United States.  His premise, essentially accurate, is that these sorts of attacks, car bombs and random shootings, would have a powerful negative impact on the American economy, making the US weaker as we dedicated more and more resources and stripped away ever more civil rights trying to prevent these kinds of attacks.

Indeed, in light of the Snowden NSA surveillance revelations, al-Quaeda terrorists have to acknowledge that their organizational options are significantly reduced as they must work without cell phones, email and web-based organizing and communication tools.  But ever since 9/11, I have been very surprised that organized Islamic terrorist groups haven’t adopted this kind of tactical doctrine against the United States.  There is no doubt that a steady drumbeat of two widely geographically diverse small-bore attacks a month, even with minimal loss of life, would create an outpouring of insanity in American society that would utterly transform the culture and the economy.  The main reason that Americans are so generally comfortable with waging war around the world is that those wars never happen in our cities and towns - they are always thousands of miles away.  You bring even a low level guerrilla conflict to US soil and things will get ugly and stupid very quickly.

The US must end these drone attacks
immediately. (Wink. Wink)
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the spokesman for the Foreign Office, Aizaz Chaudhry announced that Pakistan will be taking the issue of US drone strikes to the UN.  I’m still quite sceptical.  It’s true that Nawaz Sharif based much of his campaign on resistance to American bombing of Pakistani territory, and it’s also true that Zardari has been willing to play a classic double game of publicly denouncing drone attacks while secretly authorizing and even encouraging them.  But it’s also true that if the Pakistani government and military leadership sees the aerial bombardment of their land as a violations of their sovereignty, they should be using their well developed air defense capability to at least try to prevent the foreign attacks.  As long as they refuse to do so, one can reasonably conclude that they are more interested in keeping the US funds flowing and paying lip service to political realities while permitting the US to bomb targets in the Tribal Areas.

So what does the UN complaint mean?  And what can the UNSC actually do when America holds a veto?  It’s worth recognizing that the drone bombings in Pakistan have very little, if anything to do with terrorism.  At least 90% of these attacks are about force protection in Afghanistan, killing and disrupting fighters that have safe havens in the Pakistani borderlands.  So Obama is unlikely to discontinue the bombing until the American presence in Afghanistan is reduced or ended.  But regardless of the involvement of the UN, the story has the same ending it always had.  If a nation is under aerial attack, and refuses to deploy its air defenses to resist that attack, it’s safe to assume that nation is complicit in those aerial attacks.  Everything else is just a political smokescreen.

Monday, September 2, 2013

American Offensive Power and the "Drive By Shooting"

This is no joke.  Repeat, this is no joke
Just a couple of random, unrelated thoughts about the potential counter-CW strike on Syria.  I've seen a large number of comments from people who, typical of Americans, don't know what it means to be under aerial bombardment - comments to the effect of "Meh. We throw a hundred and fifty cruise missiles at them and call it a day".  The fact is, yeah, this is exactly what we do. The deep disconnect is the misunderstanding of what that means, and what it accomplishes.

First, the problem with the mainstream, as opposed to the more professional discussion of an attack on the Ba'athist Syrian regime is that it casually conflates a response by the international community to the use of Chemical Weapons against a civilian population with an intervention in the Syrian civil war with the goal of producing a favored outcome.  What we're talking about here is an attack intended to deter the use of Sarin as a lethal crowd control solution.  Sarin is a brutally efficient counterinsurgency tool, that can clear entire neighborhoods without damaging them, and those neighborhoods can be repopulated in a matter of hours.

So why would a quick 48 hour 'drive by' attack by US naval forces in the Mediterranean serve to deter a desperate regime from clearing the suburbs of his Capital city with nerve gas?  The key is to understand the combination of factors that make cruise missiles effective.  They are essentially 1000 pound bombs, capable of leveling a large building, and they are pinpoint accurate, using a combination of GPS signalling and terrain maps to actively guide to a very precise predetermined impact point.  A hundred and fifty 1000 pound bombs, placed precisely on the right targets, can change the history of a nation.  So from that standpoint, it's important to understand that the attack being proposed is not a pinprick, nor is it some kind of symbolic statement - a great deal of damage can be done with an attack like this, damage to the most critical infrastructure that al-Assad is using to kill thousands of his people every month.

Regardless of how you feel about American involvement in the Syrian civil war, there are questions here that must be answered.  There is no doubt that there was a release of Sarin gas that killed well over a thousand civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, and you'd have to be pretty blind or dishonest to believe that release was the action of rebel forces.  So the real argument we're having here is 'what is the role of the international community in deterring the use of CW by government forces in internal conflicts"?  If the answer is that the world should not get involved in these matters, that government forces putting down rebellion by any means is nothing more than an internal problem, then you have to acknowledge the kind of world you're willing to live in.  Because, despite their unfortunate conflation with nuclear weapons, chemical toxins are easy to produce and are an ideal solution to a restive population - at least for a brutal dictator with no compunction for taking the lives of thousands of his citizens.

For me, I'd like to see the world respond violently to any CW release anywhere, any time, by anyone.  I don't think humans should be exterminated like bugs - and make no mistake, Sarin is just RAID for humans.  And without a strong reaction from the global community, I believe we're going to see more autocrats use nerve gas as an ultimate crowd control tool when they are confronted with democracy activist protests.  Just think about the massive overuse of tear gas in Turkey this summer and ask yourself, honestly, how far we are from just a little more toxicity to bring the 'terrorists' under control?

I guess in an ideal world we'd be having a discussion of our role in protecting civilians from their own government - a discussion we were not willing to have after Srebrenica, and again after Rwanda.  We found a way to do the right thing over Misrata in the Spring of 2011, but even then, the world wasn't willing to develop a framework for making determinations about when they can contribute to reduce the slaughter, and when a Western military solution has nothing to offer.  But the world can't figure out how to have conversations like that, so we address each new atrocity like it's something new, something we've never seen before.  And more often than not, we bungle it, and a whole lot of people die.  And we should recognize that if we could have prevented that, we own some responsibility for it.