Remembering Jeff Huber

by , March 13, 2012

The longer we as a nation stay on this neoconservative, post-modern imperialist crazy-train joy ride, the further we’re going to fall when China calls in our debt or the tea baggers turn the country into Zombieland or a space ship lands and a guy who looks like Michael Rennie steps out of it and tells us to pack our bags for a one-way trip to oblivion.” – Jeff Huber, “All Aboard for Zombieland,” 12/5/11

Jeff Huber

Jeff Huber couldn’t be more different from Michael Rennie’s character “Klaatu” in The Day the Earth Stood Still. Where alien Klaatu was stern and dispassionate in his determination to save Planet Earth from its atomic folly, Huber’s piercing, oftentimes sidesplitting wit always belied a white-hot anger with the establishment forces driving his country over a cliff.

Michael Rennie as Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still

But let’s face it, Huber’s mission over the last decade was not far from Klaatu’s in that he was trying desperately to save us from ourselves. Sadly, though he did not fly off in a stylish flying disc for planets unknown, Jeff Huber, 57, has left us. Reports that he died from natural causes in his Virginia Beach home on Jan. 25 shot across the ether last week, rattling his friends and fans and inspiring words of homage and gratitude in seemingly opposed planetoids throughout the blogosphere, like Antiwar.com and Daily Kos, and among retired military who might have served with or knew of him as an iconoclast and a man of great conviction.

Not far from the honored Washingtonian tradition, of the general who leaves command to till the soil, Huber left the Navy after leading an aircraft squadron and serving as the commander of operations on the USS Roosevelt during the Kosovo War, to till what has become our own depleted Republic. He did this by smiting with his pen, not sword, all of its hypocrisies and corruptions, its fools and sycophants, contaminating the soil of our civic culture.

Having been schooled at the U.S. Naval War College, aboard the carrier and at the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center in Nevada, Huber was uniquely positioned to take his rapier to the military industrial complex when he retired. After 9/11, he made it his lifework to eschew and undermine every argument and justification for the Long War and all of its toxic entrapments: the assault on civil liberties and the Constitution, the torture, imprisonment and death of millions overseas, the private war contracting industry, and especially the shenanigans of the pseudo-military intelligentsia in Washington.

He saved his sharpest cuts for the generals and the war planners, not to mention their enablers in Congress, and the think tank mavens who fueled and promoted the war effort through every phase — be it “shock and awe,” the disastrous post-war reconstruction, “the Surge,” or the diminishing COIN era. If words are a weapon, Huber left a lot of blood on the floor, and made no exceptions.

But regular readers of Antiwar.com — for which Huber wrote exclusives from 2009-2010 (previous to that, Antiwar.com reprinted his regular Military.com articles) — the man was extremely, never-endingly funny, lampooning with wicked precision the very leaders we had learned to loathe if not fear as Masters of the Long War: George W. Bush. Dick Cheney, Barack Obama, John McCain, “Uncle Leo” Leon Panetta, “King” David Petraeus, Hillary Clinton, Gen. Ray “Desert Ox” Odierno, Stan “McCrackers” McChrystal.

And there was his special devotion to skewering the “Bullfeather Merchants” or “Pavlov’s Dogs of War,” including the “Pentarchy pliant” Fourth Estate hagiographers like Tom Ricks, E-Ring surrogates like Jack Keane, double dipping retired officers like Barry McCaffrey and think tank “Warlord Fauntleroys” like Fred Kagan.

Huber was so funny, I would literally laugh until the tears came. I have never encountered a military/foreign policy writer who could do that before, nor will I likely again. As I only found out reading his memorial guest book online, he was not only an accomplished stage actor from his college days, but a comedian, too. It makes sense.

For me, living and working through a decade when one year of senseless war plodded numbingly into another, while that “cabal of sandbox generals, bathtub admirals, beltway bandits, AIPAC rats, Warlord Fauntleroys, New American Centurions, post-modern Praetorians, Long War legislators, Dr. Strangeloves, G.I. Joe Six-Packs, Pavlov’s dogs of war, patriotic psychopaths and other oligarchs whose narrow self interests and well-funded efforts have made the long dreamed-of permanent American security state a reality” remain unrestrained, reading Huber was an intensely cathartic experience.

Like anyone who has broken out of a cult, his japes and criticisms were filled with an easy insider’s wisdom and clarity, and the righteous urgency of a man who knew where all the bodies were buried and felt responsible for exposing who put them there. He was angry, too, but it made his aim more veracious. And he wasn’t caustic for comedy’s sake: he was genuinely pissed about dead Afghan children and soldiers doomed to wheelchairs, and a Beltway system that rewarded unscrupulous fops and the “man hunters” who made “blow back” more than just a catchy phrase employed in Foreign Policy comment forums.

Huber had a nose for injustice and, in particular, hypocrisy, which led him to crafting arguments in defense of things one wouldn’t think a tough military guy like himself would waste his time on, like Julian Assange and gays in the military. As evidenced in this excerpt, it was inequity and nepotism that boiled his kettle, making Huber a genuine arbiter of the truth.

From “Code of Military Justice,” 8/2/10:

By rights, McChrystal should be the gaunt, smirking face of American war atrocities, but he is far, far too special to be cast as a villain. Born of military nobility — his father was a two-star general — McChrystal learned early in life how to work his decoder ring and give the secret handshake. West Point Cadet McChrystal made his reputation as a bad boy, but he always knew just how far he could push things and still land on the safety network his father’s connections provided him.

It’s little wonder that he got away with MacArthur-magnitude insubordination when he used his 60 Minutes infomercial and other media tricks to corner Obama into going along with escalating the Bananastans fiasco. And the Rolling Stone escapade was a stroke of passive-aggressive virtuosity. A diamond-studded parachute, it bailed McChrystal out of responsibility for the disaster he had created…

Lynndie England grew up in a trailer park. In grade school she was diagnosed with severe learning disabilities. How she got into the Army Reserve is anyone’s guess. She doesn’t have friends in high places, or anywhere else for that matter. Upon her release from prison, she returned home with her son (by fellow Abu Ghraib felon Charles Graner) to West Virginia, where, according to a March 2009 Associated Press story, she “spends most of her days confined to her home.” She says she suffers from depression and anxiety, a claim one finds easy enough to believe.

She gets by on welfare and help from her parents. In 2007 she landed a spot on her local recreation board, but it was a non-paying position. Though she’s sent out hundreds of resumés, she can’t find a paying job. When one restaurant manager considered hiring her, the other employees threatened to quit…

… She has tried changing her appearance by dying her hair and wearing sunglasses and ball caps. “But it’s my face that’s always recognized,” says England, who never once directly or indirectly or on purpose or by accident caused the death of a single human being.

That's "General Evil" to you. I didn't slaughter my way to the four-star level to be called "Mister Evil."

Huber left Antiwar.com near the end of 2010 and continued writing regular columns on his own weblog, Pen and Sword, as he pursued his second novel, Sandbox Generals, an ambitious follow-up to his 2008 Bathtub Admirals. By all accounts, Sandbox Generals was to push his satirical skills to another level, and according to Huber, he finished the first draft in December. One hopes someone will be able to publish it for him.

Fred Kagan can't stomach Shock and Awe, but COIN? Yummmmmm!

Huber seemed really liberated during this period — he pulled no punches, freely sprinkling clownish nicknames upon his objects of disaffection, comparing Panetta to Uncle Leo from Seinfeld, or Sen. Lindsey Graham to the melodramatic Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. He also developed a real flair for putting together just the right graphics, reminding me of those days I would stand in front of the newsstand at the local Dairy Mart, guffawing over the captions in the now defunct rock ‘n’ roll fanzine Creem.

Uncle Jimbo (left) and Crush of BLACKFIVE say "Baghdad blowed up real good!"

And… well, you can read for yourself:

Huber on the Long War:

How the War Borg managed to tranquilize the American public into an ovine acceptance of never ending, counterproductive armed conflict is something of an enigma. The Pentagon and its allies are hardly Sun Tzu–class strategists. That these fumblers have managed to construct a state of self-perpetuating armed conflict in the American half-century and change since World War II bears testimony that evolution can occur in the absence of intelligent design.

On Democrats and Republicans:

Our quest for the lesser evil has arrived at an impasse. On one hand we have a world-class Doublethinker who expects us to thank him for keeping promises he has vigorously broken and to accept the cynical notion that war is peace. On the other we have a mob of flesh-eating galoots who promise to give us Orwell’s Hate Week 52 weeks a year for as long as it takes them to bring about Armageddon.

On Condi Rice and Iran:

Ghoulish Condi Rice, one of the most persistent political herpes strains gifted to us by the Bush administration, made an appearance on ABC’s This Week to blab about how Team Obama is undoing all the beautiful wickedness she helped Dark Lord Cheney accomplish during the two-term Bush disaster. As ever, Condi’s eyes stubbornly focused on a point somewhere above the camera and far, far away, as if somewhere in the sub-language labyrinth of her cognizance she realizes just how full of used horse lunch she is.

On the Iranian assassination “plot”:

Phase one of Operation Persian Poppycock was a Keystone Kop caper cooked up by the DEA and the FBI that took a drug dealer looking to ditch hard jail time and an alcoholic wife-abusing dead beat and framed them as key conspirators in a Iranian Quds Force scheme to blow a big shot Saudi and an Israeli embassy to smithereens. Even though the warmonger-friendly New York Times and Washington Post did their very best to peddle the pathetic plot to the proletariat, the story was quickly dismissed by the cognizant majority as bunker mentality bunkum.

On Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, aka “Click and Clack”:

Panetta and Mullen are engaged in something I identified in Bathtub Admirals as “play war.” Intelligence weenies tell bathtub admirals and sandbox generals what they want to hear so they can play war, and fight among themselves for control of the toy ships and tanks and airplanes and melting plastic soldiers, and to see who can suck up to the bedroom politicians the most and become master of the known universe (aka “become King David Petraeus”)…

The latest play war toy to surface in the “real world” is something called the “Obama Kills Osama” (aka “OKO”) action figurine. It was supposedly cooked up by some kooks in China to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The figurine is cheesy to the point of obscenity. The keyboard commandos who populate Military.com object to the figurine, but not because of its repellent portrayal of violence. They don’t like it because it gives Obama credit for killing bin Laden, and not SEAL Team Six. The repellent violence part they actually kind of like.

More on “Uncle Leo”:

Buddy Hackett impersonator Leon Panetta, who just stepped into Uncle Bob Gates’ vacated billet in America’s Pentarchy, has set a new benchmark in ethnic humor. He spent his first greet-and-grip trip abroad grinding his heel into his tinkle tool, saying more stupid things per minute of media exposure than George W. Bush ever did, and shrugged it all off in an MSNBC interview with “I’m Italian, what the frick can I tell you?”

On the COIN bible, or FM 3-24:

No piece of literature can convey much if nobody can absorb it. Language is a subjective art, and levels of literacy are hard to define, but I regularly read the likes of Proust, Joyce, Faulkner, and even Clausewitz, and after 15 minutes of perusing the counterinsurgency manual I need surgical tweezers to pick the fine shards of broken glass from my eyeballs. The manual’s critical weakness, though, is what it actually says once you take a fire hose to its dense, prolix jargon. To conduct a successful counterinsurgency operation, the manual insists, requires the host nation to have a reliable and legitimate government, security force, and intelligence apparatus. We’ll never see any of those things in Iraq or the Bananastans, at least not as long as we’re there. But the crux of the counterinsurgency doctrine’s March hare mentality lies in a core tenet of political science that says if your host nation has a reliable and legitimate government, security force, and intelligence apparatus, it doesn’t have an insurgency on its hands and you don’t need to be there.

On David Petraeus:

Petraeus is a bull-feather merchant who gained primacy in the U.S. officer corps through sheer genius for self-promotion and wizardry at public relations…

Bob Woodward’s latest book-length spin surgery, titled Obama’s War, quotes Petraeus as saying “I don’t think you win this war. I think you keep fighting. … This is the kind of fight we’re in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids’ lives.” Petraeus supposedly blurted this and other uncomfortable revelations to Woodward “after a glass of wine on an airplane.” If Petraeus’s tongue can be yanked that loose with a single glass of wine, the guy’s as much of a drinker as he is a general. Maybe that explains a few things, like how the 190,000 AK-47s he handed out to Iraqi security force recruits vanished like a wallet on a New York City sidewalk and wound up in the hands of militants.

If, as prominent warmonger Lindsey Graham suggests, King David Petraeus is “our best hope,” our ship of state is already on a bow-first vector for the ocean floor. Lamentably, the state of American military wisdom is so pitiable that Petraeus may in fact be the sharpest utensil in a drawer otherwise inhabited by spoons.

On extorting the troops:

I was plenty riled when Walgreens tried to shame me into doing my patriotic duty by contributing a dollar to send a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup to one of our troops overseas. “Don’t you want to support the troops?” the McJobette at the cash register asked me.

I’d been waiting in line for several minutes to pay for two dollars and something worth of something or other because all of the people in front me who didn’t believe in the 21st Century who had taken the time to write checks for a few dollars worth of something else, so I was maybe more annoyed than I might otherwise have been. Whatever the case, I decided to use the time I would have taken to write a check for two dollars if I wrote checks and something to give Ms. McJob and the people in line behind me an impromptu lecture on wartime economics.

Since 9/11, I explained, every American who wasn’t either too poor or too rich to pay taxes had “supported” the troops to the tune of well over $5 trillion, and the actual figure was probably closer to $10 trillion. If $5 or $10 trillion wasn’t enough to buy the troops all the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Mars Bars and Gummy Bears and Jujubes they could possibly hold then me kicking in an extra couple of bucks at Walgreens wasn’t going to help to keep their candy cache combat capable.

The McJobstress gave me a baleful look and said, “So you don’t want to support the troops?” Some guy in line behind me wearing a biker T-shirt and a ponytail muttered “f*****g liberal” as he reached for his checkbook.

Huber reserved special rebuke for people still sucking down the hoohah juice, who prefer to surrender to easy-peasy patriotism than to work at being fully informed citizens. “Lying to the troops, and exhorting them to finish wars that cannot be won, and exploiting them for the benefit of war profiteers cannot in any way be defined as ‘supporting’ them,” he wrote. It’s as simple as that.

For many of us, his contributions transcended a cause or a political movement. We didn’t mind that he had little patience for “latter day hippies” or “paleo-conservative libertarians who don’t want to pay for roads,” and Tea Party types — forget it. He saw them as one grade above the reanimated sheeple on AMC’s The Walking Dead.

For all of this, he was especially effective. His military background made him an able spear point when it came to deflating the gasbaggery and grander illusions of the so-called “Borg.” His motivation was the truth, not recognition; he was gentle when it counted, and a bulldog as necessary.

“He was a man of towering strength of character who was admired greatly for his stoic calm and absolute devotion to his values. I miss him,” wrote Gareth Porter, a friend and admirer of Huber’s.

Most of the folks who have shared their thoughts about his passing in various online forums are still shocked. Perhaps it’s easier to think that like Klaatu, he’s just gone away, onto other planetary perils in need of his brave soul.

So Jeff Huber had a mission, and now it is up to us to finish it.

Twitter Vlahos @KelleyBVlahos

Read more by Kelley B. Vlahos