Friday, September 3

On the need to replace Washington's defense hawks with defense Peregrines

This is nothing against hawks -- or humming birds. But when a raptor takes on the qualities of a humming bird, which sustains itself by flitting from flower to flower, this is a problem and in one sentence this is the problem with Washington's approach to war. The wide scope of the Cold War bred a defense establishment in Washington that while ostensibly hawkish in outlook is incapable of concentrating on any one task. Thus the bizarre mutation, the humming hawk.

And thus the Afghanistan War has dragged on for close to a decade as increasingly perplexed Afghans note that the Taliban are easy for the U.S. military to dispatch. The American war journalist Ann Marlowe reported last week to John Batchelor's audience that U.S. failure to achieve victory over the Taliban had caused many Afghans to suspect Americans have ulterior motives for being in the country. The Afghans can stand in line with their complaint. Consider:

> There cannot be rapprochement between North and South Korea not because there's no route to reunification but because a united Korea would mean the U.S. would lose a foothold on the Korean Peninsula, and that can't happen because the humming hawks want troops there in case of a flare-up between Taiwan and China. However, the U.S. is deeply in debt to China and must factor that into every defense posture toward the country.

> While it's been clear for many months that the Mexican government's military approach to dealing with the drug cartels has failed, the humming hawks continue to back the approach with weapons and training because of their concerns that Venezuela is a growing threat to Mexico and the United States. However, the U.S. continues to purchase oil from Venezuela because the humming hawks are concerned that shutting off that means of revenue will further destabilize the country.

> After years snubbing Russia's offers of help in Afghanistan because they wanted to trim Russia's sails in Eastern Europe, the humming hawks have finally turned to Russia for help. This was after admitting that Pakistan is not their friend in Afghanistan. However, they don't want to let go of Pakistan because they refuse to accept they bought a lemon and so they keep trying to find a use for it -- if not against Russia, then maybe against Iran or maybe China, or maybe as a counterbalance to India in case India gets cozy with Iran.

> However, India and Iran could be a useful wedge against Pakistan's military, although on the other hand, the U.S. getting too close to India could alarm China more than humming hawks want at this time. And cooperating with Iran any more than the U.S. is already doing with drug shipment interdictions would alarm Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states and interfere with the U.S. defense posture against Iran.

I'll halt the litany before you reach for the Dramamine but the above is just the short list. Laid end to end, the instances of Washington's inability to focus on a task at hand would surely circle the globe.

Several reasons can be offered to explain the enduring power of Washington's humming hawks even after the Soviet Union dissolved; among them: the great influence of foreign lobbies on Congress, which jerk the priorities of legislators in a thousand directions; lobbies for the U.S. weapons industry, which exercise a similar jerking motion on the Pentagon's attention span; and the academic culture underpinning modern U.S. defense policy, which has elevated the prosaic task of writing a term paper into an industry sustaining thousands of PhDs, and which can find in the wheeze of an asthmatic rat a U.S. security concern.

Humming hawks have long defended their scattered approach to warfare by calling themselves hawks and pointing to the difference between hawks and doves; i.e., those who are more inclined to use military force than those who prefer the exercise diplomacy over war. This is a false argument when one considers there's a world of difference between waging a war and winning it; the latter a feat well nigh impossible to accomplish without the ability to focus on winning.

To put all this another way, when a country's domestic medium of payment is also the world's reserve currency its government can perpetually stave off being instructed by failure. The downside is that failure's lessons are Nature's last-ditch warning to revise course or tactics. The warning not heeded can produce situations such as the Janus-faced horror of today's Pakistan and Washington's refusal to halt the murder of its own troops by Pakistan's military.

As to whether Washington can voluntarily change its ways, I don't know. I've become increasingly concerned that the U.S. Department of State, which played an integral part in the U.S. counterinsurgency in Iraq, is trying to build on that success by redefining war to mean counterinsurgency. State needs to be escorted, nudged or shoved back to their side of the line -- not an easy task because the department acquired great expertise at line crossing during the Cold War.

But the journey of a thousand miles starts with naming a thing for what it is. The term "hawk" is worked so deeply into the defense lexicon that I think it would have no effect to ask the defense establishment to stop giving hawks a bad name. I prefer to make a clean break and call for those people who evince more the qualities of a Peregrine Falcon to step up to the task of directing U.S. defense policy.

Why the Peregrine? The most immediately striking characteristic of that particular raptor is its speed during the hunt. It's considered the world's fastest creature, although some argue Peregrines don't deserve the title because they achieve their amazing speeds during dives or 'stoops' with the help of gravity.

The argument doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned. The stoop involves the bird soaring to a great height and then diving steeply at speeds that can exceed 200 mph. Of all living creatures only the Peregrine Falcon is built to survive sustained motion at such high speeds. The holes on either side of the bird's beak act as baffles to slow incoming air so it can breathe during high-speed descent. The fastest recorded time for a Peregrine stoop was clocked in 2005 at 242 mph. Yet according to Wikipedia's article:
A study testing the flight physics of an "ideal falcon" found a theoretical speed limit at 400 km/h (250 mph) for low altitude flight and 625 km/h (390 mph) for high altitude flight.
(See this video to witness a stoop.) Peregrines deserve the title of the world's fastest creature, even though the Swift's horizontal flight, at 106 mph, beats their 90 mph cruising speed.

(Although it's a convention to refer to both the male and female falcon as a Peregrine, technically only the females are accorded the honor because they're much larger and thus, faster in dives, than the males.) 

There is another notable quality about the Peregrine and that's the one I'd like to emphasize: her powers of concentration. During the hunt the Peregrine performs mid-air maneuvers that require the mental focus of a professional stunt driver staging a high-speed car crash. She aims to either stun or disable the in-flight prey by breaking one of its wings, but done with a glancing blow from her body so as not to injure herself from full impact at high speed with the prey. Then she has brake her speed  while adjusting course and catch the prey in her beak as it plummets.

I can attest to the concentrative powers of those birds. Once I came almost nose to beak with one when I leaned over a rooftop ledge and looked down. There was a Peregrine right under the ledge on the building face. The unexpected sight of the bird so close to my face caused me to start in surprise. My sudden appearance at close quarters must have been just as surprising to the bird but she didn't flinch a muscle, blink an eye or ruffle a feather. Instead she studied me with such unwavering focus that later I remembered the All-Seeing Eye of Horus, the falcon-headed god of the ancient Egyptians, the lord of the sky, war and hunting. I could appreciate why the gaze of a falcon had inspired a symbol of omniscience. (See a depiction of the all-seeing eye, above.)

It's not necessary for Washington's defense establishment to acquire the Zen-like focus of a Peregrine. But I venture the idea during war is to settle near midpoint on the concentrative scale between the Mexican jumping bean and the lord of the hunt.



Get metaphysics said...

The biggest tit on the governmental cow is defense. Humming birds survive by flying from flower to flower. Humming hawks survive by flying from war to war. If they won the wars the wars would end. At that point humming hawks would have to find some other way to feed themselves. Ike was right. The problem is the military industrial complex. It needs perpetual war in order to survive.

Anonymous said...

We were warned as Eisenhower sounded the warning about the military industrial complex.