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The Constitution explicitly assigned the president the power to sign or veto legislation, command the armed forces, ask for the written opinion of the Cabinet, convene or adjourn Congress, grant reprieves and pardons, and receive ambassadors. The president may make treaties which need to be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate. The president may also appoint Article III judges and some officers with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.” Wiki on the US Presidency

US media figures are in the habit of referring to the president of the United States as the “Commander in Chief of the United States”

People who do that badly misunderstand the structure of US government as described in the Constitution of the United States. This misunderstanding may have been caused by the disappearance of “Civics” (government) from state mandated high school curricula over the last few decades.

In fact, the president “wears two hats,” hats that are separate in function and scope of authority.

The constitution makes it clear that the president is commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States. As such the armed forces are subject to his orders. The only limits on his authority over the armed forces are those established by federal law. Some examples of acts beyond his power would be controls over methods of acquisition of materiel and the weak restrictions placed on his powers by the War Powers Act. Nevertheless, in general, the president orders the armed forces to act and they then act.

Wearing his other, civilian, “hat,” the president is the head of the Executive Branch of the federal government. The other two branches are the Congress and the Federal Courts. The president, as president, cannot order the Federal Courts or the Congress to do anything. Rather than commanding them he or she must proceed by persuasion, cajoling and support for re-election efforts. This last is always a primary consideration for members of Congress.

In other words the president’s two roles are essentially unrelated and should not be conflated. To confuse these two roles is to imply the possibility of dictatorial rule. The United States has the government that exists because the learned men who drafted the constitution feared the re-creation over time of government that concentrated too much power in a small number of hands.

I have long been an originalist strict construction libertarian, believing as did Mr. Jefferson that “the best government is the least possible.” The problem has always been to discern what the least possible might be.

Nevertheless, I find what is being widely said in the media advocating very narrow limits of presidential power to be disturbing. Among the various themes;

1. That the Attorney General and the Department of Justice are not really subordinates of the president and that they are somehow exempt from his control. This, in spite of the fact that the AG is appointed by the president, is a “line” subordinate and serves “at his pleasure.” That means that the president can fire an AG at any time, for any reason or for no reason although the political costs may be high.

2. It is said with a pious air of violated rectitude that Trump fired all the US Attorneys across the country. For those who do not know, these are the federal prosecutors in each federal court district. They are politically appointed employees of the Justice Department, not of the federal courts, and it is a normal practice to replace them all in a new administration.

3. John Brennan, James Clapper and Admiral Rogers stage-managed a paper in January, 2017 that asserted that the Intelligence Community believed various things about Russian government tinkering with the US election (much as the US does in other countries’ elections). The paper was represented to be an IC wide opinion (like an NIE). In fact the paper was the work product of two of Brennan’s analysts. Clapper gave it his imprimatur as Director of National Intelligence but Admiral Rogers at the National Security Agency could not get his people to express more than limited confidence in the document. DIA, State Department INR, the Army, Navy, Air Force and other agencies were either not consulted or did not deign to “sign on.” Donald J Trump thinks this is a “rum deal,” a phony politically motivated procedure run by a group of “hacks”. Why would he not think that? The reaction of the Left is to excoriate him for his lack of “respect”, for the people who “cooked up” this document. We should remember that the people who “cooked” the document have no legal or constitutional existence outside the framework of the Executive Branch. Any president, in any circumstance could dismiss them all at will. No president is under any obligation at all to accept their opinion or that of anyone in the Executive Branch on anything. They are his advisers and subordinates, tools in his kit box, and that is all they are.

The US federal government is not a parliamentary government. The president of the United States is not “first among equals” as the Prime Minister in a parliamentary government often is.

The president’s powers are limited by law and the constitution but not by custom, tradition or opinions.

Trump’s opponents in “the Resistance” should consider how much they will not want the idea of an shrinking presidency to be applied when next they win the White House. But then, they will have the media behind them.


“Were we right or were we wrong?” This was Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) George Tenet’s central question in his 2004 talk to the faculty and students of his alma mater, Georgetown University. What he was talking about, of course, was the critical political issue of whether or not the Intelligence Community (IC) of which he was the titular head “got it right” in telling the American people and their government that Iraq was a clear danger to the United States, as opposed to being a threat to regional states, and if that danger was substantial enough to serve as a justifiable basis for war, invasion and occupation. In Tenet’s address there was much of self-protection and an implicit warning that neither he nor the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would accept to be “scapegoated” in a search for the roots of misadventure in Iraq. His words establish a claim to blamelessness for the CIA and the larger Intelligence Community in the decisions leading up to the Iraq campaign and a related claim to have done as well as could fairly have been expected. In other words, he wished to be thought innocent in this matter. Is that reasonable? Is it fair to expect American citizens and officials to believe that the Intelligence Community did its work well in helping the government of the United States to make sound decisions about Iraq? This is an important question, because if they did not, then why were their judgments so flawed in spite of the incredible amounts of taxpayer money lavished on the agencies of the IC? Why should so much money have been lavished on these agencies if they could do no better?

In spite of the importance of this question, impatience with the performance of the intelligence people ought to be somewhat dependent on the outcome of a national debate as to what should be expected of the process labeled “intelligence.” Reporters sometimes ask rhetorically if decisions should really be made on the basis of intelligence. At first hearing questions like this seem to be both naïve and nonsensical since it is obvious that information is the stuff that decisions must be founded on. Nevertheless, decipherment of these statements leads to an understanding that those who say things like this think that “intelligence” is a form of thinking both esoteric and obscure, a dark art, separate and distinct from the normal way of knowing things and subject to acceptance or rejection by special rules of perception. In other words, they think that it is something like astrology, to be judged by its own “rules.”

In fact, “Intelligence” is simply another word for “information” and in ages gone by the term was used in that way by authorities like Clausewitz or Jomini. There is nothing mystical or mysterious about the process by which information or “intelligence” is collected, collated, analyzed and disseminated. “Intelligence” is scholarship conducted in the service of the state. The great bulk of the information used as data in this scholarship comes out of the huge archival files of the major agencies supplemented by daily “feedings” of; diplomatic chit-chat, aerial and satellite reconnaissance, intercepts of communications and hopefully the products of espionage (clandestine HUMINT). Like any labor of scholarship involving the study of human beings by human beings, the work is nearly always conducted with incomplete and ambiguous information as a basis for the analysis.

This natural phenomenon is aggravated by the desire of the studied group to hide something, usually, that which is under study. When George Tenet said before his Georgetown audience that “We never get things altogether right in the Intelligence business, nor altogether wrong,” he was correct but his statement was irrelevant to a discussion of the utility of the intelligence process since the quality of the analytic product depends on many variables, among them; good information and the quality of the minds brought to bear on the imperfect information. It is both trite and a truism that “intelligence is an art and not a science.” What this means is that human beings may succeed or they may fail in making judgments based on less than complete data and that the skill, intelligence and experience of those involved is the most important factor in determining the outcome. To say that “Intelligence” is a flawed process is simply meaningless in a discussion of the effectiveness of the state in making decisions. If the “Intelligence Community” as it now exists were abolished, some other group would have to assume the burden of performing the same functions for the benefit of the state. What would they be called? Perhaps it might be, “The Agency for Special Planning?”

The issue of the effectiveness and efficiency of the existing Intelligence Community is a separate but linked question from that of knowing whether or not the elected or appointed officials of the Bush Administration may have intruded themselves inappropriately into the deliberations of the Intelligence Community in a way that led to distortions in the estimates of Iraq’s significance that were presented to the president and the Congress. It is widely believed now that this occurred but that is not the subject of this essay.

The question under examination here is simple. Premise: “The Intelligence Community produced poor quality intelligence on Iraq.” Therefore, one asks – Are there imbedded structural defects in the present United States Intelligence Community that contributed either directly or indirectly to the production of estimates that were unsound and which failed the nation? And, moreover, are there characteristics in the present intelligence community of the United States which now prevent and will prevent it from “reforming” itself? It is clear that the inability of the Intelligence Community to forecast or estimate Iraq’s true condition was a major failure. Why did this happen, and how can the defects in the “community” be repaired? What “limits” are there in the psychology and structure of the government that may prevent “repair” of the system?

The author’s conclusion after a working lifetime of studying the flaws in the system from within the community and from the evidence of continuing contacts with old colleagues and new friends in the intelligence agencies is that there are a multitude of problems in the intelligence forces of the United states and that most of them have grown up over a very long time, are now “built into” the system and are unlikely to be resolved without outside intervention by the Congress of the United States. It is impossible to consider them all but a few of the most important are so intractable as to be worth discussing here:

-Leadership. There is a natural tendency in the general public to believe that the upper levels of the Intelligence Community are filled with learned, avuncular and sensitive people somehow reminiscent of “George Smiley,” the wonderful British spy and spymaster whose presence fills the earlier novels of John Le Carre. The character, “Smiley” is wise, sadly pessimistic, a profound student of mankind and devoted to his “people.” He has a deeply empathic nature, is widely read, speaks several languages and is so dedicated to his craft and its ethic that he fears nothing and will take any risk either to protect his own “people” or to “launch” operations that, if they fail may destroy him. What a marvelous conception this man is!


I worked with and conducted liaison with The Israel Defense Force (IDF) for many years. This activity occurred as part of my regular duties as a US Army officer and later as a civilian executive of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). Since my retirement from US government service I have had many business or religious occasions to visit Israel and to watch the IDF in action against various groups of Palestinians all over the West Bank. I have many friends who are retired or reserve members of the IDF. My observations concerning the IDF are based on that experience.

I write here of the ground force. The air force and navy are unknown to me from personal experience except that I know some of their officers from their service in joint (inter-service) assignments like general staff intelligence.

In my opinion, the IDF is an army built to very specifically suit Israel’s individual circumstances, needs, and philosophy. It is in some ways, a singular force. It actually more closely resembles the Swiss military establishment than it does a large standing force backed by reserve units in the way that the US Army is built.

The IDF ground force is essentially a reserve or militia army that keeps most of its forces in inactive status while maintaining a handful of units on active duty as a training base and a force in being to meet short term contingencies.

In this essay I am writing of the “line” of the ground forces as represented by armor, infantry, paratroop and artillery units at brigade level and below, i.e., battalion and company.

The special operations forces are a small part of Israeli capabilities and are manned and maintained on a very different basis. In many ways they are more like a “SWAT” team than a military force.

To understand the IDF ground forces as an institution, there are certain things that must be understood in order to “see” clearly the actual capabilities of this army:

– Because of the heavy reliance on reserve units filled with older, part time soldiers, any mobilization of a large number of ground force units for considerable periods of time places a heavy burden on the Israeli national economy. Mobilized reservists are lost to their jobs. Israeli soldiers are among the strongest and most skilled members of their society. They are typically well employed in the civilian world. When they are gone in military service the economy suffers. This automatically limits the scale and duration of reserve mobilizations.

– Older reserve soldiers serve in units made up almost entirely of similar reservists. These units are hard to maintain at a high level of training and readiness. Only limited amounts of training time and money are available for this necessity. As a result units are often unready for deployment into combat in an emergency. On a number of occasions this problem has caused IDF troops to be committed to combat in a less than “ready” status. In other words, troops have gone into combat with equipment not properly maintained and with insufficient unit training. It must be said that they have typically been lucky in their enemies and that if they had faced more serious enemies, they would have had a much different experience than the ones they had. In the Golan Heights the Syrians gave them a very difficult time in 1973 and in the same war their victory against Egypt featured a renewal of offensive activity under the cover a cease fire which they had accepted.

– There are no career ground force sergeants except as technicians. Unless the system has changed very recently, the IDF ground forces typically do not have career NCOs in the LINE of the combat arms. This is a structural tradition that derives originally from the Russian tsar’s army and which came to Palestine through Russian and Polish Zionist immigrants. This tradition of organization passed through the Hagenah into the IDF. The IDF “line” conscripts what amount to yearly classes of recruits and selects from them more promising soldiers who are given NCO level command responsibilities as; infantry leaders, tank commanders, artillery gun captains, etc. The IDF does have career NCOs but they are typically found in jobs of a more technical nature rather than junior combat command at the squad or platoon (section) level. As a result, junior officers (company grade) are required to perform duties that in more traditionally organized armies would be performed by sergeants. Leading a small combat or reconnaissance patrol would be an example. As a result, a non-reserve infantry or tank company in the field consists of people who are all about the same age (19-22) and commanded by a captain in his mid-20s. What is missing in this scene is the voice of grown up counsel provided by sergeants in their 30s and 40s telling these young people what it is that would be wise to do based on real experience and mature judgment. In contrast a 22 year old American platoon leader would have a mature platoon sergeant as his assistant and counselor.

– As a result of this system of manning, the IDF’s ground force is more unpredictable and volatile at the tactical (company) level than might be the case otherwise. The national government has a hard time knowing whether or not specific policies will be followed in the field. For example, the Israeli government’s policy in the present action in the Gaza Strip has been to avoid fatal shootings whenever possible. Based on personal experience of the behavior of IDF conscripts toward Palestinian civilians, I would say that the Israeli government has little control over what individual groups of these young Israeli soldiers may when given the chance to pick their own targets.

In the Christian Beit Sueur village outside Bethlehem, I have seen IDF troops shoot at Palestinian women hanging out laundry in their gardens. This was done with tank turret coaxial machine guns from within a dirt walled fort a couple of hundred yards away, and evidently just for the fun of it. In Bethlehem itself a lieutenant told me that he would have had his men shoot me in the street during a demonstration that I happened to get caught in, but that he had not because he thought I might not be a Palestinian and that if I were not the incident would have caused him some trouble. I have seen a lot of things like that.

One might say that in war, bad things happen but is the Gaza massacre actually war by any standard. Such behavior is indicative of an army that is not well disciplined and not a completely reliably instrument of state policy. In my travels in the West Bank, it has been noticeable that the behavior towards Palestinian civilians of IDF troops at roadblocks is reminiscent of that of any group of post-adolescents given guns and allowed to bully the helpless in order to look tough for each other. I think the IDF would be well advised to grow some real sergeants.

All in all, I think the IDF ground forces can best be described as a specialized tool that reflects 20th century Zionist socialist and nationalist ideals, and which have military traditions that are in no way reflective of those of the United States. They can also be justly said to have been fortunate in their enemies. The Jordanians gave them a run for their money in 1948-49. Hezbollah delivered a hint of the inherent limits in such a socio-military system in 2006 and now we are seeing whatever it is that we will see at Gaza.


The US Government claims that 100% of the 100 plus cruise missiles launched by the coalition it heads reached their targets on Syrian government chemical warfare connected sites.

The Syrian and Russian governments state that 75% of these missiles did not reach their targets.

Who should we believe?

The extreme nature of the US claim should inspire caution. No system functions at 100% efficiency and effectiveness. None. A very senior civilian colleague in DIA once asked me why sophisticated weapons so often malfunction or are otherwise defeated. I told her that it was simply a fact of life that in actual warfare “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” She resolutely stated that this should not be. “The manufacturers guarantee that they will work as advertised,” she insisted. “They lie,” I told her. “That’s business.” She was not happy with that answer, but it was the truth. There is no such thing as a perfectly functioning weapon system.

System malfunctions are only one of the many things that can and will go wrong in war.

Complex air defense systems like that in Syria should not be thought of as merely a collection of Surface to Air Missiles (SAM), air defense guns, radars and Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) jammers for use against the cruise missiles from ships or air launched missiles from aircraft.


These tools are not successfully used separately. In a well-designed system they are employed holistically as integrated parts of a whole linked together electronically with centralized air defense computers coordinating their effects. The radars detect their incoming targets, the jammers disrupt the navigation systems of the missiles and in many Russian systems then give the missiles a new and harmless target. The SAMS and Anti-Aircraft guns are tasked by the air defense computers and the hope on the defense side is that one does not run out of SAMS and ammunition before the attackers run out of missiles. In bygone years the Syrians were unable to integrate all these various systems to defeat their great enemy, Israel. That time has now passed and the Russo-Syrian air defense has become one integrated whole functioning according to the standards and discipline brought by the Russians even though the best of the Russian equipment present in Syria has not yet been committed to the fight.

It has been noted that a lot of the SAM systems presently in the hands of the Syrians are old Soviet era materiel. This is largely irrelevant. Such weapons systems are subject to repeated product improvement projects that essentially make them into new and more modern instruments of war.

This takes place in the supply chain of every military equipment manufacturing country in the world. If they do not do that, their equipment will have a short service life and is not worth buying when others do better. Good examples of product improvements are the service cycle of warships. These are repeatedly programmed for a year or so in a shipyard being modernized. Another is the venerable US B-52 heavy bomber. Named for the year they first went into service (1952) they continue to “soldier on” having been repeatedly made into modern aircraft through re-fits. On that model of design the Russo-Syrian air defense force should not be thought of as backward at all.

Russia has dedicated a lot of its limited industrial resources to refining old Soviet systems and developing many new ones. These have a great export potential as we have seen in Iran, Turkey and India so it is easy to justify the expenditure of so much in these projects,

The US has been committed to global war for seventeen years. This has been a special kind of war waged against Islamist guerrillas and terrorists worldwide. Such a war often demands equipment quite different from that used against states, especially a peer state. In that context relatively scarce funds have not been devoted to product improvement on things like TLAM (Tomahawk). Instead the funds available have been devoted to UAVs (drones) and the incredible costs of large ground forces in the absence of conscription. The Obama Administration liked to use the armed forces but did not think of them with anything like the high priority it gave to its social programs. The resulting sequester of defense funding played a role in the decline of US equipment efficacy against that of the Russians. There will be a change in that funding.

So what happened?

I am told by several foreign sources with access to the information needed to make a valid judgment that the Russians are correct. These people are friendly to the United States as are their governments. Over two thirds of the US coalition missiles failed to reach their targets. Why? All the reasons cited above must have played a role in this aerial defeat. Obsolescent weapons, a fully integrated air defense and skill brought to the fight.

There is an ongoing investigation to determine what is to be done to rectify the situation.

At the same time it is clear that there was an understanding between the governments to insure that Russian red lines were not crossed. The evidence for the Douma gas attack is non-existent. The film evidence has now been thoroughly de-bunked as part of the information operations (propaganda) of the White Helmets scheme funded by the Saudis and largely conducted by the UK info warriors of 77 Regiment. It seems clear that US DoD was not privy to that IO project and for that Reason SECDEF Mattis was blind-sided by the deception. The struck targets (successful or not) have long been known to the US IC as facilities of the former Syrian Government chemical warfare programs. The Russians were told to stay out of those areas and so a reasonable compromise was made with a president easily fooled by social media and under heavy pressure by a population equally easy to deceive.

Nevertheless, most of the missiles failed and that failure must be dealt with.


In 2004 I published an article in the journal, Middle East Policy that was entitled “Drinking the Koolaid.” The article reviewed the process by which the neocon element in the Bush Administration seized control of the process of policy formation and drove the United States in the direction of invasion of Iraq and the destruction of the apparatus of the Iraqi state. They did this through manipulation of the collective mental image Americans had of Iraq and the supposed menace posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Not all the people who participated in this process were neocon in their allegiance but there were enough of them in the Bush Administration to dominate the process. Neoconism as it has evolved in American politics is a close approximation of the imperialist political faction that existed in the time of President William McKinley and the Spanish-American War. Barbara Tuchman described this faction well in “The Proud Tower.”

Such people, then and now, fervently believe in the Manifest Destiny of the United States as mankind’s best hope of a utopian future and concomitantly in the responsibility of the United States to lead mankind toward that future. Neocons believe that inside every Iraqi, Filipino or Syrian there is an American waiting to be freed from the bonds of tradition, local culture and general backwardness. For people with this mindset the explanation for the continuance of old ways lies in the oppressive and exploitative nature of rulers who block the “progress” that is needed. The solution for the imperialists and neocons is simple. Local rulers must be removed as the principal obstacle to popular emulation of Western and especially American culture and political forms. In the run up to the invasion of Iraq I was often told by leading neocon figures that the Muslims and particularly the Iraqis had no culture worth keeping and that once we had created new facts, (a Karl Rove quote) these people would quickly abandon their old ways and beliefs as they sought to become something like Americans. This notion has one major flaw. It is not necessarily correct. Often the natives are willing to fight you long and hard to retain their own ways. In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War the US acquired the Philippine Islands and sought to make the islands American in all things. The result was a terrible war against Filipino nationalists who did not want to follow the example of the “shining city on a hill.” No, the “poor fools” wanted to go their own way in their own way. The same thing happened in Iraq after 2003. The Iraqis rejected occupation and American “reform” of their country and a long and bloody war ensued.

The neocons believe so strongly that America must lead the world and mankind forward that they accept the idea that the achievement of human progress justifies any means needed to advance that goal. In the case of the Iraq invasion the American people were lectured endlessly about the bestialities of Saddam’s government. The bestialities were impressive but the constant media display of these horrors was not enough to persuade the American people to accept war. From the bestialities meme the neocons moved on to the WMD meme. The Iraqi government had a nuclear weapons program before the First Gulf War but that program had been thoroughly destroyed in the inspection regime that followed Iraq’s defeat and surrender. This was widely known in the US government because US intelligence agencies had cooperated fully with the international inspectors in Iraq and in fact had sent the inspectors to a long list of locations at which the inspectors destroyed the program. I was instrumental in that process.

After 9/11 the US government knew without any doubt that the Iraqi government did not have a nuclear weapons program, but that mattered not at all to the neocons. As Paul Wolfowitz infamously told the US Senate “we chose to use the fear of nuclear weapons because we knew that would sell.” Once that decision was made an endless parade of administration shills appeared on television hyping the supposed menace of Iraqi nuclear weapons. Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were merely the most elevated in position of the many vendors of the image of the “mushroom shaped cloud.”

And now we have the case of Syria and its supposed chemical weapons and attacks. After the putative East Gouta chemical attack of 2013, an OPCW program removed all the chemical weapons to be found in Syria and stated its belief that there were no more in the country. In April of 2017 the US-Russian de-confliction process was used to reach agreement on a Syrian Air Force strike in the area of Khan Sheikoon in southern Idlib Province. This was a conventional weapons attack and the USAF had an unarmed reconnaissance drone in the area to watch the strike go in against a storage area. The rebel run media in the area then claimed the government had attacked with the nerve gas Sarin, but no proof was ever offered except film clips broadcast on social media. Some of the film clips from the scene were ludicrous. Municipal public health people were filmed at the supposed scene standing around what was said to be a bomb crater from the “sarin attack.” Two public health men were filmed sitting on the lip of the crater with their feet in the hole. If there had been sarin residue in the hole they would have quickly succumbed to the gas. No impartial inspection of the site was ever done, but the Khan Sheikoon “gas attack” has become through endless repetition a “given” in the lore of the “constant Syrian government gas attacks against their own civilians.”

On the 4th of April it is claimed that the Syrian Government, then in the process of capturing the town of Douma caused chlorine gas to be dropped on the town killing and wounding many. Chlorine is not much of a war gas. It is usually thought of as an industrial chemical, so evidently to make the story more potent it is now suggested that perhaps sarin was also used.

No proof that such an attack occurred has been made public. None! The Syrian and Russian governments state that they want the site inspected. On the 15th of April US Senator Angus King (I) of Maine told Jake Tapper on SOTU that as of that date the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence had not been given any proof by the IC or Trump Administration that such an attack had occurred. “They have asserted that it did” he said.

The US, France and the UK struck Syria with over a hundred cruise missiles in retaliation for this supposed attack but the Administration has not yet provided any proof that the Syrian attack took place.

I am told that the old neocon crew argued as hard as possible for a disabling massive air and missile campaign intended to destroy the Syrian government’s ability to fight the mostly jihadi rebels. John Bolton, General (ret.) Jack Keane and many other neocons argued strongly for this campaign as a way to reverse the outcome of the civil war. James Mattis managed to obtain President Trump’s approval for a much more limited and largely symbolic strike but Trump was clearly inclined to the neocon side of the argument. What will happen next time?

Colonel W. Patrick Lang is a retired senior officer of U.S. Military Intelligence and U.S. Army Special Forces (The Green Berets). He served in the Department of Defense both as a serving officer and then as a member of the Defense Senior Executive Service for many years

The Shaping Event of Our Modern World
Becker update V1.3.2