Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thinking Big?

Scientists have discovered a huge canyon in Tibet that has been filled in:

Researchers have made a surprising discovery in Tibet, unearthing an ancient canyon buried deep under sediment along the Yarlung Tsangpo River in the southern part of the country.

The canyon is thousands of feet deep in some places and is believed to have been carved by a river three million to seven million years ago.

Don't give the Chinese government any ideas. This effort to build an island in the Spratly Islands might be just the start to filling in all of the South China Sea:

The land reclamation project was China's fourth in the Spratly Islands in the last 12 to 18 months and by far the largest, IHS Jane's said. It based its findings on images taken on Aug. 8 and Nov. 14 showing that dredgers had created a land mass almost the entire length of the reef.

It said Fiery Cross Reef was previously under water with its only habitable area a concrete platform built by China's navy. It said that structure was home to a Chinese garrison and had a pier, air-defense guns, anti-frogmen defenses, communications equipment, and a greenhouse.

The Great Landfill of China would be just the construction project to keep employment going, eh?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

It's a Big Job. Start Now

Ukraine's prime minister recently stated that his job was to build a military that could stop Russia. What are the building blocks?

According to my latest (2012)--and way too expensive for a humble blogger--the IISS The Military Balance, Ukraine's power can be set out as follows:

Population: 45 million.
GDP: $161 billion.
Per capita GDP: $3,559.

Main battle tanks: 2,988 (10 T-84, 167 T-80, 1,032 T-72, 1,667 T-64, 112 T-55).
Recon: 600+ BRDM-2 armored cars.
Infantry fighting vehicles: 3,028 (60 BMD-1, 78 BMD-2, 994 BMP-1, 1,434 BMP-2, 4 BMP-3, 458 BRM-1K).
Armored personnel carriers: 1,432 (44 BTR-D tracked; 10 BTR-4, 136 BTR-60, 857 BTR-70, 395 BTR-80 wheeled).

Artillery :3,351 (600 2S1, 527 2S19, 463 2S3, 24 2S5, 99 2S7 (self-propelled); 371 D-30, 2 M-30, 287 2A36, 185 2A65, 215 D-20, and 7 ML-70 (towed).
Multiple rocket launchers: 554 (20 9P140, 315 BM-21, 2 BM-13, 137 9P140, 80 9A52).
Large Mortars: 437 (318 2S12, 119 PM-38).
Anti-tank: 500 100mm ATG plus AT-4, AT-5, and AT-6 ATGM.

Anti-tank helicopters: 139 Mi-24.
Transport helicopters: 77 mostly Mi-8 (army, air force, and navy). Plus some in border guard.
ASW helicopters: 72.
Transport aircraft: 62 (air force and navy).  Plus some in border guard.

Anti-aircraft:1,261 SAM of various types  (army and air force) and 470 guns, mostly towed 57mm.

Surface-to-surface missiles: 212 (50 FROG, 90 SS-21, 72 Scud-B).

Combat aircraft: 234 (126 MiG-29, 36 Su-27, 36 Su-24, 36 Su-25).

I've left out naval craft. Aside from losses in the above inventory in the war so far, the navy was decimated by the Crimea campaign and wasn't terribly relevant before that.

Russia's military power is far greater than Ukraine's. I won't bother listing out their assets.

My point in the hardware listing isn't to imply that this represents military power. It just allows well-trained, well-supplied, and well-led troops to maximize their combat capabilities.

My point is that Ukraine has the building blocks of equipping their military with big ticket items.

We don't need to ship major weapons to Ukraine. That would take too long to re-equip and re-train the Ukrainian army. And they have plenty of existing stuff that is adequate to face the Russians.

Ukraine needs to repair and upgrade what they have, which our new NATO members who are shedding old Soviet equipment can help upgrade and maintain.

Our help should be in training, command and control, logistics, intelligence, and recon capabilities.

Weapons should be limited to filling capability gaps--like anti-ship missiles, naval mines, and more longer-range precision surface-to-surface missiles (like the SCUD-B--which given Ukraine's armaments industry in this field they should be able to build on their own, right?) than Ukraine possesses to threaten Sevastopol naval base--and equipment (which could include personal and crew-served weapons) to make their special forces, infantry, and paramilitary infantry more capable.

Since landmines seem to be out of fashion, we should make sure that Ukrainian combat engineering capabilities are good to build obstacles to slow a mechanized advance.

We could help with all this. It seems the new Congress wants to help more than the Obama administrations appears to be doing (although there could be quiet help taking place, I don't know), but I agree with the Obama administration that big-ticket weapons systems aren't appropriate.

Perhaps Congress could pass a new Lend-Lease Act to coordinate Western actions to rebuild Ukraine's military to create a good active force and an effective reserve structure.

More significant than hardware and troops in the long run, Ukraine is handicapped by demographics and economics where Russia has a population of 139 million by the same source and a GDP of $1.84 trillion, with a per capita of $13,270.

While building an army that can stop Russia is important, it requires a Ukrainian economic base to do so.

If Ukraine can combat lack of rule of law and move toward the West, achieving even a per capita GDP of Poland ($13,435) which has a head start on Ukraine--or even Russia--Ukraine could have a GDP of $604 billion. Now we're talking a real economic base to hold off Russia.

Achieve just the European Union average of about $34,000, and Ukraine's GDP could be $1.5 trillion. Do that and Crimea and Donbas will beg to rejoin Ukraine.

Those are big "ifs" and will take time, but Ukraine's position is hardly hopeless. Ukraine needs to get to the point where they can inflict casualties so heavy on the Russians that a Moscow victory isn't worth achieving before they can aspire to defeating the new Reddish Army.

Why Russia Can't Have Nice Things

This attitude is what makes much of the world eager to see Russia fall flat on their faces:

Russia said on Thursday the United States would violate international agreements and destabilize the situation if it supplies weapons to Ukrainian forces fighting separatists in the country's east.

Yeah, Russia invades Ukraine contrary to international law and agreements--while denying their involvement--and when a new democracy wants to defend their independence from Russian colonial rule, our help is the problem that is destabilizing the situation.

Even as Russia provides the arms and diplomatic support to allow Assad of Syria to slaughter his way to retaining power.

And underlying this is just a bizarre notion that assumes we spend all our time thinking about ways to screw them:

"As for the concept behind to the use of coercive measures, the West is making clear it does not want to force Russia to change policy but wants to secure regime change," Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as telling a meeting of the advisory Foreign and Defense Policy Council in Moscow.

Good grief, man! You invaded Ukraine! That is why the West is imposing sanctions! Come on, get a friggin' clue!

The truth is, if Russia didn't act aggressively, we wouldn't care one bit about them. Which probably hurts more than anything, really. If we really are out to get them, we think they are important.

So the truth hurts--we'd rather pivot to Asia and the Pacific and keep Atlantic Europe quiet. And our attention is just a reaction to them and not some bigger plan.

Russia's rulers are crushing the post-Cold War hopes and sympathy of the West that Russia was a victim of communism as much as we were, and could move on from that horrible past to join the West as a free and prosperous democracy.

Which means that should China decide that large chunks of Russian land in the Far East are a core interest in China, Russia will have far less ability to call on the West for help or even much sympathy when they might want help from us to avoid loss of territory and loss of independence as Ukraine seeks today.

UPDATE: This is what I'm talking about. Russia denies that bad relations with the West have anything to do with Russia's invasion of Ukraine:

"When Russia starts... safeguarding people and its interests, it immediately becomes bad (in the view of the West), he said.

"You think it's over our position over east Ukraine or Crimea? Absolutely not! If it wasn't for that, they would have found a different reason. It has always been like that."

Good grief. Of course relations are bad because Russia has attacked Ukraine.

It's not so much that Russia has invaded Ukraine. I mean, what do you expect from Putin? He isn't a lion-lying-down-with-lambs kind of man.

It's that he denies he is even doing anything wrong--or doing anything at all, really.

And this is why when the chips are down, help will be hard to come by for Russia:

Back when my finances were pretty tight, I sent a small check to Russia to help after the Beslin Massacre. I can't imagine even caring with Putin in power.

Kill Them All

It looks like the Kurds will deny ISIL a victory at Kobani. Will the Turks help turn it into a significant ISIL defeat?

While I've felt that putting priority on Iraq in the fight against ISIL is proper, given the importance of keeping Kurds in Iraq and Syria on our side, and the need to deny ISIL a propaganda victory, making sure we intervened and won at Kobani was very important,

We seem to have achieved the initial objective of denying ISIL a big victory:

The more than 270 airstrikes in and around Kobani by the U.S. and its allies since Sept. 23 are far more than have been carried out on any other target in Syria or Iraq, according to the U.S. Central Command. The area around the Mosul Dam in Iraq is a distant second, with 156 airstrikes since Aug. 8.

Allen [Note: the retired US Marine general who is the "envoy" of the anti-ISIL coalition] said the air attacks have killed "well over 600" IS fighters — a casualty figure believed to be the group's biggest losses in Syria or Iraq.

"At what point do they decide that it has cost them too much? If they pull out, this is going to be a real indicator that the march to victory of ISIL has finally hit its high watermark," Allen said in the interview.

We shouldn't just want ISIL to pull out. We should want to annihilate them.

Waterloo is a poor analogy for this battle. Waterloo was a last-gasp attempt by Napoleon to retrieve defeat. It was hardly his high water mark.

As I've noted, this could be ISIL's Stalingrad--the high water mark of the German invasion of the USSR in World War II. That's a far better potential analogy. And one with a second part after the Germans failed to take all of that city.

What is really needed to cement this battle as a real defeat for ISIL rather than an end to their string of victories is a counter-attack that bags a lot of the ISIL attackers while they are focused on Kobani:

If the Turks use their mechanized forces to drive into Syria to cut off the jihadi forces focused on an image battle for Kobani, the Turks could replicate the Russian offensive around Stalingrad, a city which Hitler viewed as a decisive objective that he had to conquer for his image.

In a war where we worry about jihadis scattering to live and fight among civilian shields, cutting off the jihadis close to Turkey with Kurds holding the core and Turks holding the outer ring, this could be a hammer and anvil operation that turns into a battle of ISIL annihilation under an umbrella of Coalition air power.

I know the Turks disagree with our lack of focus on making sure Assad is defeated, too, but I hope that our vice president has some influence on Turkey's actions during his visit there,

Friday, November 21, 2014

Canary in the Coal Mine

Arab states probably didn't mind that President Obama has tried to push Israel around, notwithstanding that country's status as our friend and ally. Where did they think their status ranked them, anyway?

Yeah, now the ability of our president to screw Israel isn't so funny:

The Obama administration is looking to strike a nuclear deal with Iran and, according to a Republican member of Congress, some in the administration have begun to talk like the ink is dry. ...

The White House and others, the member says, are already thinking about problems a deal might create. ”We know they’re going to be enriching, so how do you square that with Saudi Arabia and other places?” asks the lawmaker, who emphasized that he was personally uncertain whether a deal would come to fruition soon.

And if Saudi Arabia is feeling like the friendship is fraying, others in the Arab world will easily think we are abandoning them.

They should have known better. When the Jews are targeted, they are generally just the first target.

And the Smart Diplomacy rolls along.

Trojan Horse

This testimony on the prospect of war is interesting (tip to Instapundit), but for this post I want to highlight a portion about China's economic development that amounts to playing with fire.

This part of the testimony is interesting:

Mass urbanization is a revolutionary process that involves great cultural and social change. In China alone, urbanization has been a driving force behind the lifting of hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty, but urbanization has lifted them at the same time into a new political consciousness and is creating new sources of tension within China and, consequentially, in the region around it.

History tells us that as people’s material comfort grows, they do not tend to stop wanting more. In fact, quite the opposite happens as societies move from pre-modern to modern conditions; people gain the time, educational background and security to turn their attentions to political and social desires. At the same time, because state policies matter more to people living in modernizing economies and in urban areas than to illiterate farmers in traditional rural societies, city dwellers tend to be more politicized than peasants, and demand more from their rulers.

Various societies are reacting to mass urbanization in different ways, and they are at different stages in the process. China is in the climactic phases of a dramatic shift while India is still at a relatively early stage with massive movements to the city still to come.

India could experience tremendous growth as China has if it seriously urbanizes. But at least India has democracy to cope with rising demands of urbanized people.

But what of China, which has abandoned communist economics while keeping Chinese Communist Party monopoly on power? What will be the result of this urbanization?

I wonder if the Chinese party leaders are deliberately achieving the source of their own doom:

I wonder if China's Maoist tradition of a peasant-based Communist revolution really appreciates the problem of urban residents for the stability of the state?

Marx viewed urban workers as the natural source of a Communist revolution. He thought Russia wasn't fertile ground for a revolution. Lord knows what he'd have thought of China.

Lenin brought the communist revolution to Russia by making his forces the vanguard of the proletariat that was still too small to erupt in revolution.

Mao bypassed the whole urban-based revolution to go to what China had lots of--peasants from the rural areas.

And now China is urbanizing on purpose? And aging, too, making problems of economic growth more acute?

I know the new and larger cities are supposed to encourage a transition from manufacturing to higher end manufacturing and consumer spending--China's growth can't continue at this rate without such a transition--but doesn't this run the risk of creating the fertile ground for unrest and revolution if growth isn't achieved?

And given that increasing material growth a bit just leads to a desire for more--and for political gains, too--isn't China's policy just a Trojan Horse for revolution?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Perhaps Shockingly Legal

I don't assume President Obama will announce "lawless" changes to our immigration policy tonight.

The changes may run contrary to the spirit of the election, but that's the way politics work--you use your power until you don't have it.

But I suspect that the president will stay within the lines in his executive order. Really, it is more shocking to ponder how much authority Congress grants to the executive to write administrative law to carry out statutory language. That's why the Obamacare rules are so much longer than the already-large law.

Congress will need to start explicitly denying executive agencies the authority to promulgate rules to carry out laws or severely restrict their authority. And perhaps start changing existing authority.

Rules can be a valuable tool for Congress to give the executive branch to avoid putting needlessly technical language into statutes.

But given how legislation itself has grown to monstrous size, along with the staffs to write that language, we're way past the time when Congress couldn't just draft the laws themselves to provide the details that conform to what Congress actually intends.

UPDATE: The president's decision seems rather ... large. I'll wait for better analysis than the initial reactions.

A calm but firm response may be in order that rejects the action but denies the president the victim card the way President Clinton played the opposition.

Besides, right now I'm more worried that the president will grant amnesty to Iran's nuclear ambitions.

UPDATE: And let me add that if a Republican president had justified sweeping government policy on scripture (setting aside the dubious relevancy of the quotes), the Left would be screaming about Christianist theocracy taking hold in America. But everyone knows that the Biblical quotes are just a thin veneer over political posturing, so there are no complaints from the left side of the aisle.

UPDATE: This seems about right. Tip to Instapundit.

And initial legal thoughts. Limits were considered and set. The author will have more by this weekend. Also tip to Instapundit.

I have no idea if the limits accepted --expansive as they seem to be--in the president's action would pass court review.

Nor do I know if it will even get to a review if Congress and the president come to an agreement for legislative action.

UPDATE: Although there is one former "law professor" on record against such actions, in general.

Perhaps the problem is that the former community organizer likes the idea.

Doctor Strangecare

What's next? Will the people see the big board?

Videos from college conferences and Washington think tanks over the last few years show Gruber bragging about the law’s deliberate complexity and belittling American voters’ intelligence.

Now at least two colleges who hosted the professor have tried to scrub Gruber from the internet. The University of Pennsylvania removed Gruber’s October 2013 panel appearance — in which he laughed about “the stupidity of the American voter” — on November 10, but quickly reposted the video after withering criticism.

On Monday the University of Rhode Island took a page out of Penn’s book, removing a 2012 discussion where Gruber explains how the law was passed to “exploit” the American voters’ “lack of economic understanding.” URI offered no explanation on its webpage as to why the video was pulled.

You can't challenge conventional wisdom in here! This is higher education!

UPDATE: The deceptions from government are surely common. That's why I think the basic solution is to shrink federal government authority rather than futilely try to keep it from abusing authority.

But what really gets me is that the so-called press corps participated in the ridicule of objections to the provisions of the law and their refusal to highlight the obvious deceptions:

The net effect of this was that the administration could make claims that were impossible to effectively refute in debate, because doing so required voters to follow lengthy technical discussions, and the readers had whole lives to live and didn't have time to master the arcane art of CBO budget rules. So politicians gamed the CBO process, and then wielded the numbers as a weapon against critics. Many journalists also used the CBO score pretty uncritically, because that was a lot easier than walking readers through an abstruse argument. So stuff got done that couldn't survive public scrutiny, and highly contestable "facts" about things like deficit reduction entered the media stream. Jonathan Gruber comes along and tells us that this was deliberate, which was obvious to anyone who was paying attention, but not actually much remarked upon in many quarters.

That politicians should try to exploit the accounting rules was inevitable; that is what people do with accounting rules. I'm not saying that's what the rules are for, or that they do no good; I'm just saying that about eight seconds after your rules are made, some bright Johnny will start figuring out a way to game them.

What is not inevitable is that journalists should effectively sanction this by saying it's no big deal. We don't have to get elected, after all. And those politicians and policy makers aren't our bosses; the reading public is. We shouldn't act like we're part of the insider clique that decides what other people need to know -- no, worse, that decides what other people do know. If we knew this all along and voters didn't, that doesn't mean voters don't have a right to be outraged. It means that we've lost track of whose side we're on.

That's what frustrated me so much. The complete failure of our media class to explain what is happening. Which is supposed to be their job.

Obamacare's defenders, for example, would insist that the law reduced the deficit, yet the press never called them on this obvious deceit that relied on new taxes and assumed a full decade's worth of taxes while counting law expenses for just a little over half of that time period since the law didn't go into effect for many years (except for the taxes, which were immediate).

We'll see if the press does any better on immigration "reform."

I suspect that they've just learned to stop worrying and love the Obama.

UPDATE: Oopsy. Bad stats. Not a lot. But still worrisome. The errors never go the other way, eh?

And I've heard elsewhere that perhaps most of those actually signed up went to an existing program--Medicaid.

Yet we were told that 40 million people were denied insurance pre-Obamacare.

Career Opportunities

Let's imagine it is 2015 already and two people are looking for work.

Matt Taylor updates his resume' to include "Part of team that landed a robotic spacecraft on a comet."

Rose Eveleth updates her resume' to include "Drove a rocket scientist to tearfully apologize on TV because I didn't like his shirt."

Say, does everyone--not just feminists--get to play that game? With Ms. Eveleth's attire, perhaps?

I'm tempted to agree that this whole episode reflects on the evolution of modern feminism to being "appalling stupidity backed by hysterical rage."

But that would be wrong. I think it is the opposite: hysterical rage backed by appalling stupidity.

Who isn't in support of women's equality under the law this side of ISIL-occupied Syria? But that was old feminism.

Now we have modern feminism that takes nonsensical stands that make them function as the Women's Auxiliary of the Democratic Party while ignoring actual wars on women lest it benefit Republicans.

Have a Ball

I'm really not worried about Russian planes patrolling in the Western Hemisphere:

On Wednesday, Mr Shoigu said "long-range aviation units" would fly along the borders of the Russian Federation and over the waters of the Arctic Ocean.

He added: "Under the prevailing circumstances we need to ensure a military presence in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans, the waters of the Caribbean basin and the Gulf of Mexico."

Enjoy your flight. We know you have a choice in flying locations, and appreciate that you've chosen America.

The Russians will get support from those Axis of El Vil members Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.

This provides no real benefit to Russia, is legal if done in international air space, and just gives our air defense systems something to do outside of exercises.

Heck, maybe we'll tighten up a bit, in response.

New Approach from New Conditions

This assessment by our top general about Iraq is misleading:

Asked at a Washington conference why Americans should expect the latest US intervention in Iraq to go better this time, Dempsey said "we think we're taking a different approach."

"Instead of grabbing a hold of it, owning it and then gradually transitioning it back, we're telling them from the start, look, that is about you, this has to be your campaign plan," the general said at a conference organized by the Defense One website.

One, the question is stupid because it ignores 2012 and 2013 when we walked away from Iraq without trying to maintain the institutions--including the armed forces--that could defend our gains from the first intervention.

Instead, we stood aside as Iraq deteriorated.

Two, the answer ignores 2003 to 2011, when we built the Iraqi security forces (and remained to keep the Iraqis on track) that we can now support in this different approach:

I'd like to again note that the only reason President Obama can contemplate taking on ISIL in Iraq without using US ground forces is that under President Bush, a coalition of the very forces we will count on to be a ground force we can support from the air was built from 2003 to 2008.

I mean, really. In 2003 we had to own the campaign because friendly forces were too weak to overthrow Saddam and defend the new government against Saddam's henchmen, jihadis, and Syrian and Iranian intervention to destabilize Iraq.

Today we have the luxury of supporting Iraq because of what we did before 2012.

And we must support the Iraqis at this significant level because of what we didn't do until late this year, which might have allowed Iraq to hold their ground with far less allied support.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

So Blindly Following is an Indicator of Global Leadership?

If Australia's only problem in showcasing their global status as a rising power at the G20 summit in Brisbane is that they are "out of step" with the world's concern over climate change, then Australia will do just fine as a great power.

Let's Review the "Stupidity" Part

I hadn't realized that at least some of Jonathan Gruber's comments about misleading the public about Obamacare's transfer of wealth from the young healthy to the old sick, relying on the public's stupidity, were made to college audiences. Cherish that fact.

Fancy that:

Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, is making himself a household name, and not in a good way. A series of videos have emerged in recent days showing Mr. Gruber—an architect of the Affordable Care Act—telling college audiences that major parts of the law were designed purposely to mask its true cost to individual Americans.

As Mr. Gruber put it, speaking last year at a conference at the University of Pennsylvania: “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, you know, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

The audiences laughed away in their superiority, confident that others were the dumb ones who were fooled, notwithstanding that no Republicans in Congress voted for the law and so were not fooled.

Yet the people in the audiences were the ones who were fooled since they are the young healthy people compelled to buy insurance to subsidize others.

And they are fooled because that burden is temporarily disguised by forcing insurance companies to cover "children" on their parents' policies through age 26.

Now that I think about it, it is rather funny.

Yeah, It's. The. Law Lie.

Also note that Gruber sided with the often derided (by Democrats) Republican observation that you can't really tax corporations since they pass that cost on to their customers.

More importantly, he verifies that the law meant what it said--only people going through state exchanges for Obamacare qualify for subsidies, in order to push states to cooperate (as I've repeatedly said was obvious and a common tactic).

Yeah, who is looking stupid now?

Real Support for the Troops

Strategypage writes about how Ukrainian civilians are actively supporting their troops in battle by providing needed support services that their own military cannot handle. Civilians could do even more.

This is real support:

The fighting in Ukraine found the Ukrainian Army lacking many combat support services. These were never abundant during the Soviet period because the Soviets did not believe in a lot of that. Not much money was spent on such things after Ukraine became independent in 1991. When the Russian aggression began in early 2014 many civilian organizations formed, often spontaneously, to provide needed support for Ukrainian troops sent to fight.

Not content to merely Twitter the Czar, these civilians use social networks and the Internet to organize support to help their troops kill the czar's henchmen.

We've seen similar things here, but since Ukrainians are close to the front, their help is more personal in nature, including delivering the support and even moving casualties.

But what more could civilians do via the Internet to support their troops fighting the Russians?


IT experts across Ukraine have been an important part of the volunteer effort to supply the army with equipment. ...

The Ukrainian army had no drones at the start of the war, while the rebels were using sophisticated Russian drone technology. “Back in summer, reconnaissance drones would have saved many, many lives,” says Andriy Horda, a volunteer scout with the Ukrainian army in the war zone. Now, Horda and others say, the troops are equipped with foreign-made drones and homegrown ones built in workshops across the country.

It would be better to have a class of drone rather than homegrown ones, but Ukraine is making do until they can get that simplicity.

UPDATE: Huh. Lots of coverage on this angle:

Powering the Ukrainian war effort, teams of volunteers, most of them women, work around the clock at a logistics center to send an array of products — bottles of homemade pickles, sets of handmade underwear and commercially available military equipment, like night vision scopes for rifles.

In one room, a man stacked hand-sewn ballistic vests, peculiarities of the war in Ukraine, a nation with a rich tradition of handicrafts but a woefully underfunded military. Others at the site sort sleeping bags, miniature wood stoves and wool socks.

Volunteers tackle even seemingly core military tasks. One group of civilian mechanics in the town of Zhovti Vody repairs trucks and armored vehicles, ancient heaps that break down regularly.

They deserve our help.

As I've said before, I wouldn't go to war with Russia over Ukraine. Ukraine is not in NATO and it creates too much of a grey area about our actual red line to think about.

Nor could we intervene effectively given the distance from the NATO infrastructure.

But that doesn't mean we can't help put Ukraine's military back into working order (training and maintenance) and supply arms to fill gaps in their capabilities. And help with intelligence and advice, of course.

Did the USSR worry about our reaction when they armed North Vietnam when we were at were with them?

See? This is the Problem

"Breaching" a line of ground forces with air attacks is pointless if no friendly ground force exploits that breach in the line to take ground.

That's nice:

France's defense ministry said on Wednesday that two Rafale jets had struck Islamic State targets alongside coalition planes near the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk in an effort to breach the group's frontlines.

There is no mention of an allied ground forces attacking ISIL's line to take advantage of that breach.

So ISIL will fill the gap and the line will continue to hold.

The article also notes that France will send aircraft to Jordan. Let's hope Jordan provides a ground force that can take advantage of any attacks that those planes make in order to take ground in western Anbar province.

Using ground forces in concert with air power is the only way to apply effective military force to solve this problem.

UPDATE: That may have been a problem with the article focus and not the warfare:

In Iraq, the new offensive by Kurdish forces, known as the peshmerga, targeted areas in Diyala and Kirkuk provinces, said Jaber Yawer, a peshmerga spokesman. The IS extremists had seized the territory in their August offensive that saw them capture a third of Iraq.

But the article doesn't directly connect the Kurdish offensive in Iraq to the air strikes around Kirkuk. So I'm not sure if my criticism is justified or misplaced.

UPDATE: Ah, my worry is misplaced:

In the north Kurdish and Iraqi Army troops began a new offensive around Kirkuk. Using air support, Iraqi armor and artillery the Kurdish/Iraqi forces are pushing ISIL out of towns and villages in the area. The combination of air reconnaissance, air strikes and better equipped (the Kurds) and led (the Iraqis) fighters have been more than many ISIL groups can handle. There have been more ISIL surrenders and apparently a lot more ISIL men are deserting. This is what captured ISIL men are reporting, as well as foreign volunteers who return home and are identified by local police and questioned.

Do read the rest, which discusses the ISIL fight and which includes the detail that the Iraqi army has eroded to just a little over 100,000 troops (from pre-June levels of 205,000) and that 100,000 Shia militia have been accepted into service. That alone explains much of the passivity since much of the force has to hold the line before it can counter-attack.

There are police, too, which suffered similar problems, in the security role. And the Kurds in the north, of course. But the Iraqi manpower total shows why we have a struggle to find a core mobile ground force to exploit allied air power.

Trying to Put the Cart Before the Strong Horse

ISIL raced through northern Iraq in June in what was essentially a small ISIL strike force taking advantage of a rising up of Sunni Arabs living in northern Iraq. This followed a similar advance in Anbar during January. We clearly aren't going to ride a counter-uprising (another Awakening) to an easy defeat of ISIL.

We aren't finding Sunni Arabs in ISIL-occupied Iraq willing and capable of resisting ISIL:

Officials admit little success in wooing new Sunni allies, beyond their fitful efforts to arm and supply the tribes who were already fighting the Islamic State — and mostly losing. So far, distrust of the Baghdad government’s intentions and its ability to protect the tribes has won out.

“There is an opportunity for the government to work with the tribes, but the facts on the ground are that ISIS has infiltrated these communities and depleted their ability to go against it,” said Ahmed Ali, an Iraq analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. “Time is not on the Iraqi government’s side.”

ISIL is too powerful in the Sunni Arab regions that ISIL controls for the Iraqi Sunni Arabs to risk rising up absent powerful Iraqi government forces coming to their rescue.

Thus, the hope that Iraqi forces could sail back into their lost regions taken by ISIL on a wave of Sunni Arabs angry at ISIL cannot take place. Angry the Sunni Arabs may be at ISIL brutality. But the Sunni Arabs cannot risk rising up before liberation is at hand.

So now we have the task of mounting an offensive into ISIL-held territory to the north and west of Baghdad, with Sunni Arabs at best rising up once the frontline reaches them.

A lot is riding on our ability to train Iraqi and Kurdish brigades to advance on Mosul from the south and northeast and to advance on Fallujah and Ramadi from the east, bolstered by our air power.

And I'd still like to see Jordan advance into Anbar from the west, too.

UPDATE: About the placement of that cart. But for that slaughtering thing that ISIL inflicts on the Sunni Arabs if they show signs of opposition, this would be a nice development:

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained Wednesday what the United States and its allies have to do to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL).

"When the Sunni population rejects it, that's the defeat mechanism," Dempsey said at the Defense One Summit in Washington, D.C.

It's a bridge too far to assume that Sunni Arabs deep in ISIL territory will rise up and help Iraqi forces advance rather than counting on an Iraqi advance to make it safe for Sunni Arabs under ISIL control to rise up to complement the American (and allied)-supported Iraqi offensives.

And the Syria front is even more of a problem, cart-positioning-wise.

Please Review Separation of Powers

The idea that Republican control of the next Congress (due to winning the Senate and holding the House) means they must "prove they can govern" is just nonsense.

I've noticed this theme since the election, and it annoys me.

What the election means is that Republicans must prove they can legislate.

That is, the branch that is responsible for passing legislation must--you know--pass legislation.

Which the executive branch can veto, recall, making even this power limited given that the Democrats still control that branch.

And the Republican-controlled Congress must make sure the executive branch--the actual branch that must execute the laws, otherwise called "governing"--must continue to govern rather than attempt to be a quasi-legislative branch through its power to promulgate administrative rules.

I know this is difficult to grok. I have friends who would look at me with a puzzled look when I would note that I did not work for the government--I worked for the legislature.

Explaining that really, I had no civil service protections and was as at-will as anyone in the private sector, was almost as tough a sell.

But the distinction is real. President Obama is charged with governing. Congress is charged with legislating. The two are not just competing versions of some blob-like apparatus that are really the same thing in function.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Keeping America In

One of the problems with complaining about NATO as an effective partner for mobilizing Europeans for the defense of Europe is that NATO is also important for keeping America in Europe for our own objectives.

Never forget that Europe is an asset, too.

We may be unhappy that Europeans won't mobilize their economic and technological power for effective military power as allies; but we'd be more unhappy if someone else hostile to us managed to harness that economic power, large population, and technology to create significant military power that could be used against us.

Nor should we forget that Europe is a power projection platform for our forces into an arc of crisis from West Africa to Central Asia.

So let's not talk so easily about why NATO is worthless.

Whether the threat is a proto-Soviet Union in the European Union, a revived and aggressive Russia, or demographic changes within Europe that threaten to nullify a still generally Western outlook, we need to defend Europe for our own reasons even if Europeans don't much feel like it.

Once Again, Why It is the "Long" War.

Strategypage has a good reminder of why we can't grow tired of fighting jihadis:

Moslems get motivated to do something about Islamic radicalism when the violence is literally next door. That's why terror attacks in the West are so popular. The infidels are being attacked, without any risk to those living in Moslem countries. Iraq changed all that, and during the course of that war (2004-7) the popularity of Islamic terrorism, in Moslem countries, declined sharply because the terrorists were killing so many Moslems. That, in the end, is what has killed, for a while, most Islamic terrorism in Iraq. Worldwide, al Qaeda never recovered the popularity (in the Moslem world) it enjoyed after September 11, 2001. It would also be nice if the Moslem world got their act together and expunged this malevolent tendency once and for all. The Arab Spring was supposed to help but so far it hasn’t. Change is coming but don't hold your breath waiting for it to suddenly appear.

We have to help that change take place and contain the jihadis who rise up with an eye on killing Americans until that change takes place.

Sadly, pushing that change even among those we hope are on our side is very difficult.

But what's the alternative? Hoping the jihadis won't notice us if we avoid eye contact?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Please, the Outline of the Deal is Obvious

Ledeen comments on the speculation game over a potential nuclear agreement with Iran with the looming (what number is this one?) "deadline" of November 24th.

He thinks Iran is content to have no deal which leaves them with a nuke program, weakening sanctions, and a humiliated America still hanging around stalker-like, trying to catch the top mullah's eye at various negotiating venues.

I don't bother speculating on the potential details. The big picture has always been clear to me.

The Iranians will pretend not to have a nuclear weapons program; and we will pretend to believe them.

While I am not sure how many deadlines we've set for Iran, let's recall that first deadline that not only included Iran's nuclear program, but insisted that Iran stop fomenting violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Good times. Good times. The Tennessee Pork Festival denial surely hurt Tehran.

Actual Islamophobia

To be fair, they are clinging to their god and guns:

A flood of anti-Shiite propaganda online and on satellite television is spreading bigotry and violence to countries which have so far had little experience of the sectarian hatred that has set the Middle East alight.

Shiite Muslims from Australia to Nigeria, from Britain to Indonesia, are increasingly the victims of intimidation and even violent attacks from fellow Muslims as hardline Sunni ideologies gain an ever more global reach.

Much like the "war on women," you have to look outside America for real Islamophobia.

Clearly, we're going to need more COEXIST bumper stickers.

Well That's Disturbing

After the recent attempt to seize a Pakistani frigate, is attacking navy ship now the latest jihadi fad?

This is disturbing:

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir said on his official Facebook page that an Egyptian naval vessel was attacked Wednesday and set ablaze by “terrorist elements” about 40 miles off the port of Damietta.

All four boats used by the assailants were destroyed after air and naval reinforcements were called in, Samir said, and 32 attackers were arrested.

The Egyptians have 8 sailors missing (being missing at sea is really bad, as you might imagine) and 5 injured.

Jihadis loaded up four boats with boarders and attacked an Egyptian vessel at sea? Why? Was it just for the killing or was it to capture the vessel and use it to ram a bigger ship? Or to sail into port and wreak havoc at the dock with all those terrorists?

Our Cole experience taught us that we need to be on guard in port. I hope we don't assume we are safe while underway.