Sunday, May 27, 2018

Weekend Data Dump

The EPF are small amphibious vessels. So they can move smaller Marine units around and aren't high value targets. Which are useful characteristics in the face of Chinese anti-ship assets and considering all the small islands close to China. But the EPF aren't armed. So we have room for improvement.

Oh good grief, lighten up Francis.

If you aren't allowed in the same room, you aren't their "ally." At best you are a tolerated tribal auxiliary. At worst you are cannon fodder. But these "allies" will take it and like it, I imagine. Hey, maybe the "allies" get to provide the food!

More rebels--this time the ISIL terrorist variety--capitulate to Assad's forces, paving the way to clear more territory around Damascus. Although the government denied a deal and said they plan to crush the terrorists. And they did. Assad and his allies are finally starting to secure core Syria in the west. But I do wonder if enemies of Assad will revert to insurgent tactics after losing control of territory. In that case the war isn't over--just different.

Really, it's okay to defend our borders against vicious gang members. I swear elements of the left have more good things to say about MS-13 gang members (and increasingly, Hamas) than Republicans.

Duterte says the Philippines won't militarily challenge China in the South China Sea. America won't--and shouldn't--challenge China on behalf of the Philippines if the Philippines doesn't stand up for their own territorial interests.

Is a "trade war" with China "on hold" to allow America to wait and see if China helps America solve the North Korea nuclear weapons problem?

Tip to Instapundit.

The US expressed support for Georgia. You may recall the Goons of August War in 2008 when Russia cemented their control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Of course Javelin anti-tank missiles can be used to take territory. I find the offensive versus defensive distinction in weaponry kind of stupid. That is only matched by the stupidity of the Russian complaint that America providing these missiles to Ukraine will encourage the use of force--rather silly given that Ukraine is fully within its rights to liberate Russian-occupied Ukraine. May more Russian tanks blow up and may more body bags go back to Russia.

I've objected to using purchasing power parity when measuring a country's economic weight in the international system. That wrongly inserts a local spending factor into a global measurement. Now, using PPP to weight defense spending that is local as a way to compare different defense budgets? Yeah, that's valid. The American advantage in defense spending isn't nearly as great when you look at it that way. It's complicated.

Is Saudi Arabia's reform effort just a farce? It seems real. But who knows? And I can't rule out that if it is real--as it seems to me--that it will fail; but there is a lot that needs to be reformed and it can only be pushed so fast without provoking a backlash that could be fatal to the reformers.

Is whatever happened to American and Canadian diplomatic staff in Cuba happening in China? Well, if this is the result of Chinese eavesdropping devices, it makes sense that China might take some risks to gain intelligence on what we are doing regarding defense, trade, and North Korea. Or the American staff member might have a problem unrelated to any real or imagined noise.

I am disappointed that under the Trump administration we still haven't had my one question about the September 11, 2012 Benghazi assault answered.

I would not recognize Israeli annexation of Syria's Golan Heights. Israel was right to take it as a buffer zone in 1967 given the threat from Syria--and it came in handy in 1973, to say the least--but the territory should be a bargaining chip for peace between Israel and Syria (and now, the removal of Iranian forces from Syria), and not a conquest. A resolution that would provide the formal opinion of Congress on recognizing Israeli control was defeated in the House.

Some liberals seem very upset that the NFL will require players who are on the field to stand for our national anthem. Liberals like to complain that conservatives think they "own" the American flag. Liberals might make a better case for that complaint if they didn't react to the flag the way vampires react to sunlight and holy water.

That ruling sounds about right. I'm sure it will be obeyed if appeals are lost.

Well that's pretty effing scary, all things considered. It's all fun and games when it is "celebrity" porn. But what happens when a "deepfakes" video is used as a pretext for war? Just imagine Russia publishing a fake video of Ukrainians shooting down MH-17. 

Good grief, Amazon just does stuff like this?

Isn't it odd that despite the introduction of Obamacare (which still exists, if weakened a bit--but not in time to affect the reality through 2017) that 2017 will likely be the third year in a row of declining American life expectancy? Obviously, a lot of reasons go into statistics like this. Cause and effect aren't clear. So I am definitely not saying Obamacare is the cause of the decline. But what I do know is that backers of Obamacare said the massive law would lead us to health Nirvana. Apparently not. Tip to Instapundit.

So America can get Maduro out of Venezuela by working through the OAS? Maybe this will save Venezuela. Maybe multilateral sanctions won't be watered down and maybe Maduro will give in rather than be reassured nobody will come across the border gunning for him. Maybe this can happen in time to matter. Pity America didn't actually unilaterally stage a coup against Hugo 16 years ago. Leftists would have spent 16 years condemning America for preventing socialism from building a great paradise there, but Venezuelans would have been saved.

States and cities go to great lengths to attract rising industries, with tax breaks common. So it amazes me that locations with those industries are willing to make the job of other states easier: "The Silicon Valley cities that are home to Google and Apple Inc. are considering the kind of per-employee tax that Seattle recently drew criticism for imposing."

This seems about right.

The United States and Turkey may have an agreement for how to manage Manbij in northern Syria so it isn't a flashpoint for Turkish-American conflict over the Kurdish issue.

Germany is having a problem introducing its new Sea Lion naval helicopter. For a country that claims it is so guilty about its World War II legacy that it can't actually help defend the West today, isn't it odd that they'd name their helicopter after a Nazi plan to invade Britain?

And don't forget that Russia's interest in building a Baltic Sea gas pipeline from Russia to Germany is all about bypassing Ukraine so Russia can cut of fuel to Ukraine without also cutting off points west of Ukraine, like Germany. And Germany is fine with that. Well, that's a legacy, too.

To our British friends across the pond, how's that unwritten constitution working out for you? I don't know if Tommy Robinson is a good or vile man. But that he would be arrested for talking about what vile people have done is wrong, especially in light of government efforts to keep the vile crimes quiet. What the Hell, you Brits have a trendy new duchess, so what else matters?

There is a question of whether the Turks should get the F-35. The Turks threaten retaliation if they don't get the plane. The Turkish threats of retaliation are interesting. Are they threatening to be a bigger problem than they have already been, which has raised the issue of whether America can trust Turkey with the F-35?  I would not let the Turks have anything but a "monkey" model of the F-35 lacking the stealth and technology that make it a good plane. Can we do that?

Once again, there is a big difference between being "liberal minded" and being "open minded." That purported synonym remains one of the greatest assaults on the English language. Tip to Instapundit.

Not to speak for others, but I find it's more of a burden, really. Tip to Instapundit.

And We'll All Be Dead By the Summer of '88*

I forgot to note that 30 years ago at the beginning of this month I headed off to Fort Leonard Wood for Army basic training. Good times.

*Part of lyrics to marching cadence.

The Image of Control

Geopolitical Futures doesn't see China's fortifying of small artificial islands in the South China Sea changing the balance of power in the region:

Some see this development as a major advance for China, but it’s hard to understand why. The Chinese bombers located on these islands would be used only in the case of war. And if a war does break out, these islands would be turned into craters.

Yes. Unless China shoots or starts to forcibly stop ships from moving through the South China Sea without Chinese permission, these assets don't change anything about legal control.

If shooting starts, all the assets and allies come into play.

Not that the island bases are irrelevant. It depends on what is sent against them. Absent America, China could use the bases against other opponents.

But they do not make a decisive contribution to who would control the South China Sea in a shooting war that involves America.

Honestly, I'm still wondering how the artificial islands would handle a typhoon, as I noted here as an aside.

Prophecy of Warfare: Theme Seven

This is a really good article on planning for future wars by a talented retired Army major general.

Let me review, at his challenge, the ten themes Scales set forth about future war in 1999. Mind you, it speaks well of him to predict the future and then stand by them when the future approaches. As he notes, predictions about future war shouldn't be about getting the future right, it is about not getting it too wrong to win.

I'll do them one at a time in separate posts. This is the seventh post. Let me preface this effort with my warning from my 2002 Military Review article (starting on p. 28) about the projected FCS that was the primary weapons system envisioned by those planning efforts:

Barring successfully fielding exotic technologies to make the FCS work, the Army must consider how it will defeat future heavy systems if fighting actual enemies and not merely suppressing disorder becomes its mission once again. The tentative assumptions of 2001 will change by 2025. When they do, the Army will rue its failure today to accept that the wonder tank will not be built.

The seventh theme from 1999 is:

7.Supplement Manned with Unmanned Reconnaissance
Information- and precision-age technologies offer considerable promise as a means for producing unmanned aerial and ground vehicles capable of performing effectively as surrogates for manned tactical reconnaissance.

This theme has definitely come to pass, perhaps faster than expected under the pressure of the needs of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While unmanned systems have long been subjects of my blogging, I can't say I have really focused on this theme. But I have kind of assumed it. I won't link to my posts about unmanned systems because they are tangential to the theme of recon.

One aspect that I've put more focus on is a manned/unmanned blending rather than a pairing of separate manned and unmanned systems. That pairing is definitely a thing. But blending via "reachback" technology the two systems in single fighting platforms is a path to consider, too.

There is one aspect of this type of persistent reconnaissance that does disturb me, however:

How do we get our military to win when human rights groups might get a hold of tapes [NOTE: "recordings" rather than literal "tapes"] that show fatal mistakes and even isolated crimes?

We want our troops to fight clean but when even a good war like World War II would be flyspecked in our day, how do we deal with all this recorded material and how do we bring our troops home with their heads held high over a war well fought and won?

I don't have any answers at the moment, but we need to think about how we will treat our soldiers when their every step in an inherently chaotic environment is scrutinized for errors or wrongdoing. Perhaps years after the events.

If we don't, our military won't fight for us. It will kill--such as in Kosovo when we face inferior enemies unable to strain our capabilities--but will it fight and struggle in a tough fight?

That isn't all that clear to me.

It still isn't clear to me. But the combination of manned and unmanned surveillance has certainly arrived, making it important to consider how we treat all that data about how our troops are fighting the battles we send them to win.

Theme six is here.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Is Our Nuclear Arsenal a Partisan Issue?

Sure, if America builds tactical nuclear weapons there is a risk that there could be a nuclear war at lower levels of weapon size. I've noted that anything targeted by a nuke of any size will fail to appreciate the distinction between "strategic" weapons and "tactical" weapons.

But there is also a risk of not having a robust "tactical" option. If an enemy with a "tactical" option thinks America would never risk an escalation to "strategic" weapons, that enemy might be more likely to use their "tactical" nukes feeling America has no choice between accepting enemy use of small nukes or escalating to large nukes that might simply lead to the enemy using "strategic" nukes on American cities.

So of course a "small" nuclear exchange isn't good. But despite its awfulness, it is better than a "strategic" exchange.

And isn't arguing that any nuclear weapons use automatically leads to all-out nuclear war, as Senator Feinstein does, rather an odd position to stake out?

Well, the post-Cold War/Soviet era holiday from MAD was nice while it lasted.

Two For One Carrier Deal

American naval deployments may keep carriers close to home waters rather than rotating them forward on a routine basis. This will allow our carriers to train together for operations rather than being ready for only single-carrier missions:

As the Navy looks at shaking up its deployment patterns to become more responsive to world events and more unpredictable to adversaries, one key benefit may be more time available for high-end training closer to home.

I am totally in favor of that. During the post-Cold War world when sea control was assured and power projection was the norm, single carriers forward deployed were safe and useful.

Now we need our carriers on their A game for sea control. Massed carrier operations may be necessary. Keeping carriers closer to home to train together will also make surge deployments for a crisis or war more possible.

And, as I've noted in different circumstances, the article notes that training forward risks letting enemies learn too much about our training and capabilities.

Further, I'd add that forward deploying the carriers singly make them more vulnerable to an enemy's first strike while the carrier is forward and in range of the potential enemy that has the ability to challenge America for sea control. Which immediately shifts naval power in favor of the enemy which already had the capability to challenge us for sea control.

So there are two reasons not to rotate carriers forward: force protection and multiple carrier operations.

Perhaps we can move on to the issue of whether sea control should rely on aircraft carriers at all.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Perhaps It Depends on How "Before" is Defined

If the problem with any nuclear deal between America (and Japan and South Korea) and North Korea is that North Korea wants economic benefits before they give up nukes, isn't a potential solution to have Chinese troops and nuclear scientists and technicians take control of North Korean nuclear facilities and weapons bases?

If North Korea agrees to give up nukes and then China takes control of the nukes, couldn't America extend economic benefits to North Korea while Chinese personnel lock down the nuclear weapons; and then put in international technicians to dismantle the North Korean nuclear infrastructure?

Technically, the North Koreans would get aid before giving up nukes. Heck, let the North Koreans claim the Chinese are there to protect the nuclear facilities from being struck by America.

And maybe South Korea hires all of the North Korean nuclear scientists and technicians as a form of economic aid to North Korea by directing all South Korean taxes on that income to go to the North Korean government.

This would also get the people who might restart the North Korean nuclear program safely out of North Korea. Which would also allow American intelligence people to debrief the scientists and technicians to verify the status of North Korea's past nuclear status.

Of course, if North Korea wants to test our patience by throwing up road blocks to get a better deal for them, they can. And we are able to respond:

President Donald Trump is canceling the planned June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, citing the “tremendous anger and open hostility” in a recent statement from North Korea.

We don't just want a deal. We want a deal before North Korea can threaten our cities. Which means the deadline before we resort to Plan B is coming up fast:

Honestly, since last autumn I've thought the American military has been ordered to gear up to be able to strike North Korea before it gets nuclear weapons capable of hitting American soil (which would be some time this year, if estimates are to be believed); and so North Korea getting too enthusiastic with these objections risks failing to get a real deal before we feel we must strike.

So let the games begin. Is this how North Korea and China want to play this?

I'm willing to consider that Trump blew this by appearing too eager for a deal early on. Although he and his cabinet have walked that back to say we only want a good deal.

But given the timeline we are on before we must strike North Korea or accept that they have a nuclear arsenal that can reach our cities, did we have a choice other than to talk big early to convince North Korea that we are serious about a deal?

Nor is America's action to cancel the summit the last word, apparently:

North Korea said on Friday it was still open to talks with the United States after President Donald Trump called off a summit with leader Kim Jong Un, saying it hoped the "Trump formula" could resolve the standoff over its nuclear weapons programme.

Will China get North Korea to cut a real deal before we strike North Korea?

So We Just Keep Going Until We Lose?

We need to defend rule of law in Iraq. And we aren't despite the recent Iraqi election. This failure to defend rule of law while pretending formal voting is the same thing will lead to disaster

I don't like Moqtada al-Sadr who has American and Iraqi blood on his hands when he worked for the Iranians. But his faction won the recent Iraqi election (with 17% of the vote). My concern is that rule of law must be maintained and future free elections to redress this error must be held as scheduled. That's what a democracy does.

Was the recent election riddled by fraud?

The Independent High Election Commission, a body that long ago lost its independence and is now staffed by apparatchiks from the major parties, contracted with a mysterious and little-known Korean company to provide ballot boxes that scan votes and uplink them to a central database upon the closure of polls. That Korean company had little track record, has little behind it but a webpage, and the single international election Iraqis say it previously managed in Kyrgyzstan ended in disaster.

Fixing that issue is far more important than the issue of Sadr's influence (and he says he opposes Iran now, but is that true? And does it matter if true given his past crimes of leading three insurrections against the Iraqi government from 2004 to 2008?) in the Iraqi government.

I was happy to see Iraqis continuing to vote. But America should absolutely not overlook the possibility of fraud for "stability" in Iraq. Failing to settle the question of fraud just guarantees that one day Iraqis will use bullets rather than ballots to settle political disputes.

To prevent that, America should strongly support this initiative:

Iraq's prime minister has ordered the creation of a high-powered commission to look into alleged irregularities in the parliamentary elections held May 12.

And worse, if this fails to validate a clean election or identify the irregularities, the minority Sunni Arabs will be prone to supporting jihadis--again--if they believe the majority will rig the elections. Minorities only have rule of law--or guns--to protect themselves.

For God's sake, let's make sure the primary weapon is rule of law! Or are we that eager to wage Iraq War 3.0 in a few years time?

Really? That's All You've Got?

This professor's rebuttal of 4 "bad arguments" to ditch the Iran nuclear deal is totally unconvincing. Let's explore, shall we?

Bad Argument 1: Focus on the Past Instead of the Future

The bad past is indicative of how bad the future built on that foundation would be. The future is the whole point of getting people to accept how badly the deal was negotiated. All the up-front benefits to Iran were seemingly intentional to allow writers like this professor to argue that while the past was bad, we have to stay the course to get the Unicorn of the future benefits. They shouldn't get away with this, and wouldn't have if the agreement had been submitted to the Senate as a treaty.

The argument that slowing down Iran with the deal is better than getting out of the deal ignores that the deal actually requires the West to improve Iran's nuclear technology during the life of the deal, which in the long run may speed Iran up. It also ignores the possibility of doing something actually effective in stopping Iran rather than pretending the deal is actually good.

And pulling out of the deal ends American complicity in the deal that paves the way for Iran to go nuclear. Further, while the ban on Iran having nukes doesn't expire, the ability of the world to have access to Iran to make sure does expire. And the inspections are so limited and qualified that all the IAEA can say is that they haven't seen Iran violate the deal in the limited areas it can inspect. That is not the same as saying Iran is abiding by the deal. Honestly, this "bad argument" is anything but bad.

Bad Argument 2: Ignore Non-American Parties to the Deal

I'm not sure what the point of citing the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 as evidence of critics thinking the deal is a bilateral US-Iran deal since the 1922 agreement was multinational, too.

What critics ignore this fact? But the deal is really an Iran-America deal because Iran is the nutball party that wants nukes and America is the only major power with the desire and power to stop Iran. The rest are supporting players who just don't matter. If not, why is Iran complaining? Shouldn't they be saying "So what? We lost 1 but we retain 6!" Russia, China, and the EU basically don't like America and can be considered Iranian allies on this issue. Germany would never fight to stop Iran if Iran goes nuclear and just wants to sell stuff to Iran. And Britain and France know that America would do the heavy lifting if Iran cheats, so why not get the financial benefits while they can?

Heck, none of them would be higher than third on the list for Iranian targets and surely America would take care of the problem by then, they likely reason.

The fact that Obama blew the multilateral sanctions America had achieved to get the horrible deal is to be regretted but is no reason not to start the process over, accepting that unilateral American sanctions will be less effective. But in time they may grow. Or a lesser amount of pressure could work in current and future circumstances.

Really, if you borrow too much money to ever pay back; you can regret borrowing so much and declare bankruptcy to start your life over. (See? I can use the author's pointless analogy and turn it back on him!)

Bad Argument 3: Assume Iran Will Capitulate

Obviously opponents of the deal assume Iran will be defeated in some way without the deal and prevented from getting nukes! Or that the situation will at least be less bad. Just as obviously, the proponents of the deal believed Iran would "capitulate" in the deal by not going nuclear. I'm going to side with the opponents of the deal on this one, no problem.

His worry that war will result if Iran gets the bomb outside of the deal just glides over his assumption that under the deal Iran won't get the bomb. That's the whole point of those who oppose the deal. The deal doesn't stop Iran and at best delays Iran. Indeed, the author defends the deal on that very point under point one by arguing that the deal at least delays Iran's progress! Which is it? Does the deal stop Iran or doesn't it?

I also am a little amused that he says under Trump war is now the likely result of pulling out of the deal. Obama himself warned that war was the only alternative to his deal notwithstanding the fact that he, Obama, was president at the time! So Obama was arguing, "Stop me before I kill?" Really?

The point is that there will be a war between America and Iran of some sort if Iran goes nuclear. Does the deal stop Iran from going nuclear? Even the author relies in part on the idea that the deal at least delayed (on paper--but maybe not in reality depending on cheating and how much Iran learns during the deal) Iran's nuclear weapons status. So at best there is no war right now under the deal.

And you must admit, Trump campaigned against wars abroad and says he wants a better deal.

But if Iran goes nuclear, Saudi Arabia follows. Egypt follows. Turkey follows. Maybe the UAE follows. And add that to Israel and Pakistan who have nukes. Does nobody think this is a problem that might lead to a nuclear war, even if "just" a local one? A problem that accelerates with Iran getting nukes?

I don't assume Iran capitulates outside of the deal and gives up nukes. What I assume is that Iran--which didn't even admit it had a nuclear weapons program--didn't capitulate under the deal to give up nukes. What I assume is that outside of the deal we have a better chance of correcting the horrible mistake that the 2015 deal was.

Also, the author makes a side trip into the Iraq War, asserting that poor Saddam had to prove a negative--that he didn't have WMD. That description is misleading. We knew what Iraq had acquired to build WMD and the 1991 ceasefire deal required Saddam to account for that material and equipment so we knew he did not hide it. Saddam could have done that fairly rapidly. Saddam refused to do that, and in fact impeded inspectors in an attempt to bluff that he had WMD to deter America (and Iran, for that matter) until we tired of the inspections games and went home under pressure from the sainted international community to give the poor guy a break and move on.

Bad Argument 4: Impending Democratic Revolution

I don't know if a revolution in Iran can save us from nutball nukes. I do know that a lot of Iranians hate their government and that we have refused to help them. I do know that I'd worry far less about a non-nutball Iran with nukes. And I'd hope that a free Iran might decide that using funds for development of the economy rather than nukes or regional aggression might be better, if given the choice.

And I do know that the pro-deal people had their own delusions about the revolutionary effects of the 2015 deal. The Obama administration assured us and our allies that the Iranians would use the financial windfall for domestic investments when in fact a whole lot of that money--far more than Obama people told us--went to fomenting more violence in the region. And President Obama himself said the deal could turn Iran into a responsible and successful regional power! Ah the powers of Hope and Change exported to mullah-run Iran! How glorious the future looked! Until that mayhem and violence was ramped up by Iran instead, including partnering with Russia to further destroy Syria.

Oh, and I enjoyed the author's reasoning that since Iran endured the pain of the Iran-Iraq War that Iran can endure anything Trump does with new American sanctions (but say, didn't the glorious multinational sanctions drive Iran to capitulate to the glorious deal? Never mind, I'm sure I'm confused about the nuance of his defense of multinational sanctions under his bad argument 2 rebuttal). But the Iran of the 1980s is different than the Iran of today.

Sorry to introduce nuance.  But maybe enduring losses to defeat an invader when your people are still hopped up on revolutionary fervor doesn't translate into enduring pain to get nukes when revolutionary fervor is in the rear view mirror for most Iranians who may have noticed that America didn't invade them for the many decades Iran has lacked nukes. Maybe the professor can explain why the Russians endured 30 million dead to win the eastern front in World War II but the Russian leaders are worried about the effect on popular support for losing even hundreds of soldiers to win in Ukraine or Syria?

So maybe a revolution will save us. Maybe not. But I don't count on a revolution saving us.

So strike four, I say. Thanks for playing professor.

I don't assume getting out of the deal will solve the problem. I just know that staying in the deal guaranteed we'd get the problem the horrible deal was in theory supposed to solve.

And probably sooner than we feared. Heck, I didn't even explore whether Iran outsourced key elements of their nuclear program to their North Korean friends, where the IAEA can't even carry out flimsy inspections as they do in Iran.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

They Never Did Learn What We Tried To Teach Them

Buh bye:

The Pentagon on Wednesday disinvited China from a major U.S.-hosted naval drill in response to what it sees as Beijing's militarization of islands in the South China Sea, a decision China called unconstructive.

"As an initial response to China's continued militarization of the South China Sea we have disinvited the PLA Navy from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) Exercise," said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman.

Good. I was astounded that we ever wanted China to watch our military up close:

We are officially in favor of these missions because we believe that if the Chinese see how powerful we are, they won't try to fight us.

This is a crock. The Chinese know we are technically more advanced. What they think is that we are too pampered to fight them. And seeing our nice barracks and PXs with Chanel No. 5 won't convince them that we are hard warriors able to absorb high casualties. Seeing our military up close will simply give them insights into fighting us or at least cause them to believe that they have insights into fighting us[.]

So of course China considers the action "unconstructive."

UN Dome

Under no circumstances should a UN force be put in Gaza.

This is nonsense:

Kuwait has circulated to members of the UN Security Council a draft resolution calling for the dispatch of an "international protection mission" to shield Palestinian civilians, according to a copy obtained by AFP on Friday.

The draft "calls for measures to be taken to guarantee the safety and protection of the Palestinian civilian population" and for "the dispatch of an international protection mission."

If you want to know why it is nonsense, look at Lebanon where the UN armed force (UNIFIL) is nothing but a human shield for Hezbollah that interferes with Israel's ability to strike Hezbollah which has turned southern Lebanon into a rocket-launching complex.

Is that what we want for Gaza? I know that is exactly what a lot of people calling for the UN in Gaza want, but America should oppose it.

And really, for all the talk of protecting innocents, at one point Hamas said 50 of 62 killed were actually members of the Hamas terror group/government. An Iran-backed jihadi group said another 3 were their people. So 85% of the Palestinian dead were combatants, it seems. At least.

The best way to protect Gazans would be to overthrow the Hamas government that sends children to the front line of a war.

The Wreckage of the Syrian Army

Assad's army is a fragile force and desperately trying to fill its depleted ranks:

When protests against the Assad regime began in 2011, the Syrian army numbered about 250,000. But tens of thousands of defections, desertions, and mass casualties over more than seven years of conflict have gutted the military. While its current size is unknown, one thing is clear: Assad is now going to great lengths to reconstitute his forces. The problem is that few Syrians want to fight for him.

And the army is depleted despite all its members being "in for the duration" with no rotation home. The PTSD must be pretty bad for those who have survived the massive loss of life in the small army since the civil war began.

The article doesn't mention casualty figures, but I believe the death toll is about 150,000 for the Syrian armed forces. Which makes it understandable why Assad needs Shia shock troops to spearhead the assaults. Iran's client terror group Hezbollah, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and the Iranian-paid Shia foreign legion are key to maintaining the offensive in addition to Russian mercenaries (who have lost 500 dead, I think I read on Strategypage).

Iran also pays for Syrian militias, but I don't know if they function as shock troops. They may be garrison forces. But they do compete with Assad's recruiting/conscription drives.

Yet despite the death toll and the problem the survivors no doubt have, Assad has kept an army in the field. A couple times during this long civil war that became a multi-war, I wondered how the army could still keep fighting.

Of course, it has never expanded to even the pre-civil war level. And not even all the forces Iran has paid for have made up that difference.

Assad is winning. And the battered survivors in his armed forces will start to fight even more cautiously, not wanting to be the last to die in the war. That won't affect the Shia foreign legion, but unless something dramatic happens, Assad will win this civil war within a shrunken realm. Will his troops keep fighting to expand the core Syria he is starting to dominate to reach the formal borders? Or will rebels revert to insurgency in areas Assad formally controls?

And within the core Syria that Assad's forces hold, will Assad or "army" warlords actually rule that territory?

UPDATE: Strategypage takes a tour of Russia in Syria, among other things.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

I Do Believe I Spit Every Ounce of Beer in My Mouth On My Screen

Our big expensive carriers are vulnerable to increasingly lethal anti-ship weapons. What can be done? Well, the Navy could turn the dial to 11, obviously:

In the case of war, any surface naval vessels including aircraft carriers veering within the range of these [Chinese anti-access/area denial] weapon systems run a huge risk of being sunk. Even with the Aegis missile defense umbrella in place, the targets face the prospect of being overwhelmed with multiple cruise missiles. So how does the U.S. combat this problem that has entrenched itself as a major trade chokepoint? Enter the low yield tactical nuclear option.

When a class of vessels is so vulnerable to enemy action yet so expensive that we can hardly consider losing any that somebody seriously considers the use of nuclear weapons to knock out the anti-ship missile launching sites, I think we have a problem with our class of vessels.

One, the kill chain is long and we have options below the nuclear threshold to combat them.

Two, we may need to accept that because of the threat of plentiful precision weapons combined with good surveillance capabilities, for sea control missions big expensive carriers have no place in our strategy even if they retain a role in power projection missions in the absence of significant anti-ship capabilities. Those are two different missions, recall.

If we need to use nukes to keep super carriers in the fight, we need to reconsider whether carriers belong in the fight.

I guess I should wipe my screen now (and yes, it is after 5:00)--and change my underwear.

That's a Good One, Strategypage!

The always-valuable Strategypage makes a joke about a potential nuclear deal with North Korea:

North Korea would offer a compromise in which the north would pretend it got rid of its nukes and the U.S. would pretend it has verified that and believes it. This may seem possible to the North Koreans but in the United States and South Korea, it would not work. A free media means it is impossible to hide such things for long and both the Americans and South Koreans are well aware that they were deceived several times by North Korea since the 1990s. [emphasis added]

That level of pretending has actually worked. That was exactly the basis of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as I warned long before the deal:

God help us, but the obvious compromise taking shape is that we'll believe we struck a real deal with Iran by believing any obvious lie that Iran is willing to tell us to reach that deal. John Kerry will think he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for that document.

Heck, that was also the basis for the 2013 chemical weapons deal with Syria that didn't actually prevent Syria from using chemical weapons.

The American media, rather than being an obstacle to pretending, eagerly went along with the pretending that the Obama administration orchestrated for the Iran deal in their friendly echo chamber.

The only reason North Korea has reason to believe we won't pretend with them is that Trump stopped pretending with Iran and demonstrated the price Iran will pay for thinking it had beaten us with a pretend nuclear deal:

The United States on Monday demanded Iran make sweeping changes -- from dropping its nuclear program to pulling out of the Syrian civil war -- or face severe economic sanctions as the Trump administration hardened its approach to Tehran.

There will be no more pretending. I hope.

[NOTE: I see one person saw this last night before I noticed I mistakenly posted this back in time yesterday morning ... ]

UPDATE: So no pretending:

"A bad deal is not an option," [secretary of State] Pompeo said in his opening remarks for a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. "The American people are counting on us to get this right. If the right deal is not on the table, we will respectfully walk away."


Depth and Position in the Baltic Littorals

America, Sweden, and Finland signed an agreement for joint national security cooperation:

Finland, Sweden and the U.S. have signed a new letter pledging to increase the national security relationship between the two nations.

The language in the agreement, signed Tuesday at the Pentagon by U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Swedish Minister of Defence Peter Hultqvist and Finnish Minister of Defence Jussi Niinistö, is nonbinding and largely involves big themes as opposed to steady deliverables.

But speaking to Defense News after the signing, both visiting ministers emphasized that this is a starting point for future strengthened relations, and that there will be a particular emphasis on increasing and planning joint exercises.

It isn't a NATO Lite. But it is a kind of "sort-of-NATO" deal that paves the way for wartime cooperation. Just in case.

Despite their small militaries, they aren't push-overs. And it isn't like the Russians have unlimited divisions to spare to focus on either Finland or Sweden.

And their territories will provide valuable depth (Sweden) as well as an interdicting position on our left flank (Finland) should the Russians go to war against NATO in the Baltic states and attempt to sortie their Baltic fleet from St. Petersburg.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Seeing the Big Board

So that's interesting:

Israel's Security Cabinet, a forum of senior ministers headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has begun holding its weekly meetings in a secure underground bunker in Jerusalem, Israeli media said on Tuesday.

The facility, known as the "National Management Centre", was first used by the Security Cabinet in 2011 to rehearse a national crisis scenario. It was carved out beneath the government complex in Jerusalem and includes living quarters as well as command facilities.

Meeting in a secure bunker? What's up with that?

Is Israel telegraphing a decision to go to war against Iran by tearing up Hezbollah in Lebanon?

Is Israel trying to look like it is preparing to order the mission? Or something bigger?

Is Israel planning to use the facility but want to dull expectations of Israeli action every time the leadership enters the bunker?

UPDATE: More here and here. Israel seems determined to inflict a defeat on Iran that pushes Iran back from Israel; but Russia won't allow Israel to damage Russia's position in Syria (where Russia has naval and air bases); and Russia wants to diminish Iranian influence in Syria.

To me, that implies that Russia won't let Israel really hit the Iranians hard in Syria or go after Assad. By being Assad's protector in ways Iran can't, Russia gains influence in Syria.

But Lebanon and Gaza are another matter for Russia. They aren't going to oppose Israel in those places where Iran invests in actors who can fight Israel for Iran.

So again, it makes sense that Israel would hammer Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel gets to tear up a weakened Hezbollah that has bled heavily in Syria for Assad and which is still deployed there.

Perhaps the weak UN force in southern Lebanon can actually police the south rather than let it be a Hezbollah rocket platform aimed at Israel.

Perhaps other actors in Lebanon can cripple Hezbollah's political power in the government.

Hamas will be more isolated politically by losing Hezbollah as an ally.

And of course, if Israel also limits operations in Syria to firepower directed against Iranian and Hezbollah targets, Iran is further reduced in power in the region; and Russia can portray their presence as limiting Israeli action.

Indeed, Assad surely would like Iranian influence reduced in Syria after taking Iranian help to defeat rebels in the core Syria in the west. If Assad is assured by Russia that Israel will observe red lines on actions against Iran, Assad would quietly be fine with anything that takes Iran down a peg or two.

Or I'm wrong to connect dots with no actual connections other than my long-standing view that it makes sense for Israel to hammer Hezbollah in Lebanon in a giant ground raid that goes deep into eastern Lebanon.

The Fourth Option for African Littorals

This Navy analyst offers three options for matching Navy assets with operational needs in east African waters:

U.S. naval presence in East Africa has improved maritime security and facilitated operations on land. Coalition efforts reduced piracy incidents from 237 attempted hijackings in 2011 to only three such attempts in 2017[1]. Joint exercises, such as Cutlass Express, have developed partner nation maritime law enforcement capacity[2]. Intelligence gathering from sea based platforms has enabled multiple U.S. military missions ashore[3]. Increasing demand for high-end combatants in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea leaves the East African littoral mission vulnerable to having its gains reversed and questions the utility of those ships for low intensity missions.

The author makes no recommendation after laying out the three alternatives. Why just three options? Perhaps that's why no option stood out as the best solution.

I of course think that the match between Navy high value assets needed elsewhere and operational needs around Africa is best achieved by a fourth option: outfit The AFRICOM Queen modularized auxiliary cruiser (as many as needed, of course).

The AFRICOM Queen could be an Army vessel designed for multi-service assets, as I suggested. But the Navy could equip the ship, too.

Hopes and Fears for Rule of Law

So we've established that the Obama practices are just standard operating procedures rather than a scandal, and so Trump can act this way in the 2020 campaign? Well, as long as we have the ground rules established.

But no, I'm not seriously saying that. If true, this is an extremely bad way for our government to use the greatly expanded powers of the modern federal executive branch. And it doesn't make it right if both sides manage to use that power to defeat political opponents. A politicized intelligence system quickly becomes a political domestic intelligence system that loses the ability to carry out their formal roles to keep us safe from foreign agencies.

How can we trust these agencies with the power to conduct surveillance inside the United States to find enemy plots when assurances that they'd never target Americans for non-security reasons seems to have been carried out?

Rule of law--which I drone on about quite a bit here--took a bigger hit than I feared in the Obama era. Yet the media didn't explode in outrage. Surely even the left-leaning media would have the decency to wonder what is going on, right?

So is it really as bad as it seems? Or are there reasonable explanations? Are those painting this picture right to be portrayed as tinfoil hat types?

I hope to God the answer is that there are reasonable explanations (but if not, heads need to roll).

And remember, with this type of apparent government collusion in support of Hillary Clinton, with rigged Democratic Party rules and processes to pave her way to the nomination, with a "blue wall" of Electoral College advantage, with all the data analysis they could buy, with a massive spending advantage, with the media a full-time ally, and with Donald Frigging Trump as her actual highly imperfect opponent, Clinton still lost the election.

Yet some people pine for the alternate history of Hillary bringing her purported skill set to the White House? One shudders at the thought. If you wonder why I am skeptical about any conspiracy theory that requires a government secret plot, the 2016 Democratic campaign will stand as Exhibit A for a generation, I think.

And her victory would kept quiet what seems to have happened in making elements of our intelligence agencies an actor in our election.

I want to know what happened. A free America governed by rule of law needs to know what happened. Either prove bad things happened and punish the bad actors; or prove that our intelligence agencies acted properly, so they don't have their reputations unfairly tarnished.

I fear the former happened. I hope the latter happened.

UPDATE: More. And he's hardly a Trump fanboy.

You don't have to like Trump to worry that rule of law was undermined by the Obama administration. Indeed, you might want to worry more that Obama normalized practices that Trump could now use with the precedent.

But I just don't feel competent to judge this despite it feeling really bad. Partisans insist it is either absolutely extremely bad or completely normal. I want to know which it is.

What If Europe Had Hard Power?

The European reaction to America ending the Iran nuclear deal demonstrates Europe's weakness compared to America:

The EU’s goals, announced after yesterday’s foreign ministers meeting, are ambitious and reflect the Europeans’ political resolve. But even if the EU follows through on them, European businesses are unlikely to risk access to the U.S. market for the comparatively marginal revenue available in Iran. So any economic incentive for Iran to remain compliant will likely come from China, Russia and India, among others.

As a result, after having played a key role in the painstaking negotiations that resulted in the JCPOA, Europe will watch the deal’s commercial payoffs head East.

It would be insane for European businesses to pursue trade with Iran if it harms their trade with America.

But wait, there's more!

There is no shortage of explanations for why Europe finds itself powerless to back up its bark with some bite. To begin with, as Jeremy Shapiro explains in Foreign Affairs, the trans-Atlantic relationship continues to be based on a fundamental power asymmetry: Europe simply needs the U.S. more than the U.S. needs Europe. Moreover, as Shapiro astutely notes, Europe’s internal divisions at times make the U.S. a more valuable partner for individual member states than the EU itself.

So Europe needs more unity to use its aggregate power. This would be useful to block Russia? No. Stop terrorism? No. Fight chaos around their southern periphery to prevent destabilizing migration to Europe? Oh no, of course not.

Europe, the author (and likely every Eurocrat in Brussels) thinks the EU needs more unity to resist America. Yes, the America that defended them from the threats of a Kaiser, Nazis, and commissars for much of the 20th century, which allowed them to think they could build a giant EuroDisney fantasy world where power is exercised not by tanks and secret police, but by ever closer cheese regulations.

And that urge to stick it to the Americans is currently strongest even when America has taken a step to oppose a theocratic, nuclear weapons-seeking, destabilizing power in the Middle East.

Yes, they think, Europe should create and use its power to bolster charter member of the Axis of Evil, Iran. Ah, the sweet economic and cultural friendship they could have, but for meddling America!

That's what those Euro-suckups really think. And yes, the picture of Iran's reprehensible foreign minister with the EU's top foreign policy official--the reprehensible in her own way tyrant fangirl Mogherini--was used in the article, which nicely makes my point.

So don't even talk to be about how a stronger European Union that aggregates their dispersed power into a single entity is in America's interests. That political "Europe" is not our friend.

America--for the sake of the free West which Europeans are a major part of--should want the European Union to die with festering boils.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Damned When We Don't

Venezuela's political and economic collapse could draw in America to cope with the humanitarian disaster.

Yet despite the obvious need for American troops to secure entry points for humanitarian aid if Venezuela does collapse, the usual suspects threw a fit when Trump mentioned the possibility of American military intervention.

Far better to let Venezuelans starve and allow the refugee flow to destabilize neighbors than "taint" the aid with American soldiers, eh?

One can regret that America didn't support a coup back in 2002 that would have stopped the Chavez/Maduro destruction of a once-prosperous nation. But there is no Wayback Machine, and you can easily write the history that the usual suspects would have spread if America had done that:

Venezuela might have been spared this destruction at the hands of the idiotic Chavez-Maduro regimes if the 2002 coup attempt had actually succeeded.

We should wish that America had actually supported the coup which would have rewritten the past 16 years.

But recall that if we had helped the coup leaders succeed back then, that intervention would have led to ruffled feathers in the region and among the global Left every time an American secretary of state visited the region.

Yes indeed, we'd have endured sad tales of how brutal America prevented Venezuela from reaching the heights of prosperity and equality that Hugo's brand of socialism could have built on the solid foundation of the world's largest petroleum reserves! It would have been one more damning indictment of America's long role in Latin America.

But instead, here we are.

And my best-case scenario simply counts on Maduro not attempting a last-ditch war with the Netherlands in an attempt to rally his people around the flag that Maduro waves.

The Fisher Solution

China's navy is rising but this Stratfor description of what America's naval dominance will look like is static and potentially misleading:

Barring significant internal strife, an economic collapse or a major war, China's navy will continue its significant rise in the decades to come and continue to close the gap on its U.S. counterpart.

By 2030, the Chinese will likely be the dominant naval force in a line stretching up to the Philippines, and will have a further zone of advantage out into the Pacific Ocean.

The U.S. Navy, on the other hand, will largely remain paramount on the rest of the world's oceans and seas.[emphasis added]

So yes, as Straftor notes:

The coming decade of development will significantly reduce, but not eliminate, the gap between China's navy — already the second most powerful maritime force on the planet — and the U.S. Navy by 2030.

What we will see, I think, barring events that interrupt that Chinese navy rise, is a more pronounced shift of American naval power to be within range of the western Pacific--from the Indian Ocean to the west coast of America.

Once the Cold War ended, America began to shift forces away from Europe, with "the pivot" formalizing the shift and looking to divide our fleet 60-40 weighted to the Pacific up from 50-50 in the Cold War. Our once-massive Mediterranean fleet pretty much evaporated. For a time (until recently) we didn't even have an Atlantic fleet.

And once China's fleet becomes even more powerful, the shift will become more pronounced, in the manner that Britain concentrated their global fleet in home waters as the German fleet rose in power in Europe:

[British] Admiral John Fisher, who became the First Sea Lord and head of the Admiralty in 1904, introduced sweeping reforms in large part to counter the growing threat posed by the expanding German fleet. Training programs were modernized, old and obsolete vessels were discarded, and the scattered squadrons of battleships were consolidated into four main fleets, three of which were based in Europe. Britain also made a series of diplomatic arrangements, including an alliance with Japan that allowed a greater concentration of British battleships in the North Sea.
To concentrate power in or near the Pacific, America would need to leave securing the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea largely to our NATO allies (including Canada) who have significant if dispersed naval power to block Russia's weak navy from Norway to the Mediterranean Sea.

America would have to shift Fifth Fleet from the Arabian Sea center of gravity to the the east from Diego Garcia to Darwin and Perth (where they'd still be able to respond to Central Command problems), to support operations against forces in the South China Sea from the Indian Ocean, with logistics and military support from Australia.

Putting American assets on the eastern end of the Indian Ocean also helps keep our fleet within supporting distance of Pacific assets. And with more Chinese warships heading for the Indian Ocean, an American naval force based out of Australia will be able to hammer the Chinese ships, bolstered by American and allied land-based air power in the Gulf region and Diego Garcia (plus the Indian navy).

America's regional allies would step up their abilities to secure sea lines of communication in the Persian Gulf region (like Saudi Arabia), with larger ships that even now are being built for Qatar (which I noted here) in the region. Britain will help there, too. Don't forget that America could expand the deployment of smaller vessels in the Gulf backed by air power there. And diverting some of the oil traffic away from the Strait of Hormuz is one element of that protection.

And as far as I'm concerned, I don't know why land-based air power can't replace carriers in the Middle East (and in the Mediterranean Sea and North Atlantic, for that matter--with land-based planes in Norway, Britain, and Iceland defending the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap to secure trans-Atlantic lines of supply).

Don't forget that in Asia, America may have the support of powerful Japanese, South Korean, Indian, and Australian navies and air forces; plus smaller forces from allies and friends like Taiwan, the Philippines (where bases would be more important), Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and New Zealand.

And America will need to integrate land-based air power from the Air Force into the naval effort in the Pacific.

China's fleet rise will not take place in a static environment. It is worrisome, no doubt. But America will do things other than build more ships and train our crews more diligently.

And optimistically, if China only wants a fleet to protect their sea lines of trade that America has no interest in cutting outside of a war that we don't want, China's stronger fleet will be no threat anyway.

UPDATE: This terminology change reflects my view that rising Chinese naval power will compel America to concentrate naval power in or near the Pacific--including the eastern Indian Ocean:

The Pentagon may soon be announcing a new name for its largest area of operations, with a change to Indo-Pacific Command to “better encapsulate the responsibilities the command currently has,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Rob Manning said Monday.