Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Russian Army's Wish List

Russia has unveiled an entire line of new tanks and armored vehicles to replace their Cold War-era arsenal. Good luck with affording that.

Russia has a lot of new armor on parade:

Paraded uncovered for the first time on 9 May in Moscow, Russia's new range of armoured vehicles represent not only the biggest change in the country's armoured vehicle families since the 1970s but also a new design ethos.

While the vehicles' designs partly involve radical rather than revolutionary innovation, the scale and ambition of the change they embody is nothing short of a revolution. Together, the Armata, Kurganets, Boomerang, and Koalitsiya and other vehicles on show will replace nearly all Russia's existing vehicle families as, remarkably, Russia is attempting to replace all its main armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) families at the same time.

Hey, Russia has a new rifle, too:

Russian efforts to upgrade their Cold War era military equipment have fallen short because the country cannot afford all the new tech that has to be developed or to buy enough of the new gear to replace all the older stuff. Naturally the only way this all works out is via compromises. So the new infantry rifle, the AK-12, despite all its impressive new features, will be restricted to the elite (commandos and paratrooper) forces. Meanwhile the Cold War era AK-74, which uses the same ammo as the AK-12, has been upgraded again.

The Russian armored vehicles sound impressive. But if Russia can't afford a new basic infantry rifle, in what alternate procurement world will Russia be able to replace their old armored vehicles in anything but a small part of even their best units?

Putin is aggressive and dangerous, but so far his military might is weighted to the ends--he can nuke us or he can send in special forces and small regular forces capable of taking on weak enemies with poor quality troops (poor in training or weapons) as they did in Georgia, Ukraine's Crimea, and now the Dombas region of Ukraine.

The middle range of fighting a medium or large-scale conventional operation against a sizable or capable force is still beyond the Russian militaries capabilities. Having all these new weapons would help Putin gain a full spectrum of military options, but I don't see that happening any time soon.

All the more reason we should help Ukraine and others to stop Putin while his means are still weak.

Ah Yes, I Remember it Well

We won the Iraq War by 2008. We maintained the peace until 2011 with a sizable troop presence. Iraq rapidly fell apart after we left at the end of 2011. While I'm grateful that President Obama has re-engaged in Iraq to reverse our setback, I do wish he'd do a better job of it. But let's revisit the whole idea of keeping American troops in Iraq between our departure in 2011 and our re-entry in 2014.

One of the funniest aspects of the renewed Iraq War debate is the amazing ability of President Obama's supporters to say that we only had a 3-year agreement to keep forces in Iraq under President Bush and so our presence in Iraq was supposed to end in 2011, according to Bush.

I have a question for Obama supporters if that is true: If the 2008 agreement between the Bush administration and Iraq that provided for a three-year presence in Iraq was intended to remove all US troops from Iraq at the end of 2011, why did the Obama administration even negotiate at all with the Iraqis for a new agreement?

As should be obvious to anyone who hasn't put their higher brain functions into a blind trust for the duration of the Obama administration (Hope and Change are much better than thinking!), the Bush deal was intended as an interim deal that was to be replaced by a permanent deal.

President Bush was under pressure to leave this issue to the new President Obama, so getting a 3-year deal was probably the best he could have done.

I can only assume that the assumption in the Bush administration was that success by 2011 would lead President Obama to continue our presence in a quiet Iraq rather than risk being blamed for a resurgence in violence if we left.

Sadly, President Bush under-estimated the priority of politics in the Obama administration's calculations.

Remember, right now the Obama administration wants its blind trust-supporters to parrot the line that President Obama tried very hard to get a status of forces agreement with Iraq even though the president campaigned on his opposite promise to get us out of Iraq as fast as possible; and once we left, boasted of getting our troops out of Iraq and thus keeping his campaign promise.

Got it. Between his promise and his boast, President Obama tried very hard to do the opposite. I'm not that stupid to believe that. Are you?

While I'm at it, one aspect of this "setback" in Iraq is the role of Hillary Clinton's State Department.

Remember that the fallback position for failing to keep American troops in Iraq to bolster the Iraqi government and help keep them on track was a massive State Department paramilitary effort to replicate what our military would have done had we stayed.

Hillary Clinton can be so proud of how she carried out her responsibilities as Secretary of State--she sure did travel a lot.

Of course, perhaps she was just collecting checks from foreign governments for the Clinton Foundation. That would explain her mileage and lack of accomplishments.

But How Would I Be Affected?

Is Israel worried that a bad nuclear deal with Iran could lead to 100,000 dead Israelis in a nuclear strike? President Obama tries to reassure Israelis by reminding them that His own reputation would suffer greatly should such an inconceivable thing happen despite His deal.

This presidential hand-holding must be so comforting to Israelis:

“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”

I mean, what's radiation sickness compared to the threat to The One's Legacy?

I also take exception to this part:

The president—the self-confident, self-contained, coolly rational president—appears to have his own anxieties about the nuclear talks. Which isn’t a bad thing.

One, his anxieties appear to be completely self-centered.

Two, as for that whole "No Drama Obama" line, I think it is more accurately stated as "Drama? No Obama."

Unclear on the Concept: Moscow Version

Somebody has something that belongs to somebody else, and that somebody else is upset.

Putin's Russia says that Ukraine must pay their energy debts to Russia:

Russia would adopt a tough position if Ukraine decided not to pay off debts owed to Moscow by its previous government, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview broadcast by Russian TV on Saturday.

Huh. Somebody having something that belongs to somebody else is rather awful. It's kind of like theft.

It's kind of like Russia's seizure of Crimea and ongoing home invasion in the Donbas region.

I still don't know why Ukraine doesn't present Russia with their own billing statement for renting the entire Crimea for the past 14 months, including mineral rights and the bases and of course a security deposit for damage to the carpet that will totally need to be steam cleaned when the Russians leave the premises.

Get the right accountants to do the figuring, and Russia will be in debt to Ukraine for generations to come, even taking Ukrainian energy imports into account.

As an aside, I remain totally impressed that when Medvedev speaks, Putin's lips hardly even move!

UPDATE: Ukraine should also watch John F. Kerry as our most Gumby-like Secretary of State ever asks the Russians not what they can do for us, but what we can do for them.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Getting What You Wish?

Remember how opponents of the Iraq War said that fighting there just inspired young Moslem men to join the jihad? That our presence there created jihadis? Remember how some admitted that Saddam was horrible but that we should have toppled him and then left? Yeah, we tried that in Libya.

ISIL is gaining ground in Libya:

Standing guard at his frontline post, Libyan soldier Mohammed Abu Shager can see where Islamic State militants are holed up with their heavy weaponry less than a kilometer away.

The militants have effectively taken over former dictator Muammar Gaddafi's home city of Sirte as they exploit a civil war between two rival governments to expand in North Africa. ...

Libya, which has descended into near anarchy since NATO warplanes helped rebels overthrow Gaddafi in a 2011 civil war, is now the third big stronghold for the Sunni Islamist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which declared a Caliphate to rule over all Muslims from territory it holds in Syria and Iraq.

It's all so confusing. Our motives were pure (Responsibility to Protect rather than oil). We led from behind (NATO). We had a UN Security Council resolution (that we twisted from the original purpose) rather than any Congressional authorization. We did not occupy the country and provoke jihadi recruitment. We cackled the dictator Khadaffi was killed. And we left Libya alone so they could sort out their problems without our horrible influence.

Good God, people! Our president didn't have a Texas twang--he had the middle name "Hussein!" We had Hope (Change be upon it) and Change (Hope be upon it)!

Everything was different!

And here it is 2015 and rather than being a kite-flying paradise, there is civil war in Libya, refugees (and terrorists?) flowing to southern Europe, and jihadis have flocked to Libya (and spilled over into Mali with a bit of blowback), where they killed our ambassador (and three others).

That's okay. President Obama has learned more lessons. We shall pivot to fighting climate change on the theory that carbon footprints are more dangerous that car bomb footprints.

And let me just say, damn Mark Steyn to Hades for thinking of this title before me.

If the president's record is any indication, by focusing on degrading and ultimately defeating climate change, climate change will defeat us--despite the fact that we are in year 17 or 18 in the great "pause" in global warming.

Deciding Not to Get There First With the Most

This is an interesting account of Benghazi on September 11, 2012, but I have to take issue with this:

Abu Khattala, a terrorist leader and possibly one of the ring leaders of the attacks, said that he was in fact motivated by the video. Khattala is now in US custody and under indictment for the role he played in the assault.

No. Khattala was not motivated by a video. He was already a terrorist leader and so motivated to kill us whether or not a video existed or he saw it or even heard of it.

At best, a video was an excuse. And they have plenty of grievances to justify slaughtering innocent people, whether Moslem of Infidel. So don't even speak to me of a jihadi being motivated to attack our people at Benghazi by some stupid video.

But do read it. The attack was quickly gathered up and not a long-planned assault, according to this.

His explanation for only 5 mortar rounds being fired at the CIA annex as being because the enemy only brought 5 rounds, indicating that this was hastily organized, is persuasive to me--about the mortar, anyway.

But I've never insisted the attack had to have been pre-planned for it to be a terrorist assault unrelated to a video.

And there was information that the attack on the "consulate" was planned at least 10 days in advance.(tip to Instapundit)

Perhaps just use of a mortar wasn't planned, eh?

Or maybe the attack on the annex, where the mortar was used, was not planned while the attack on the "consulate" where our ambassador died was planned. Hard to say, even now.

While that  information about the attack being planned in advance may be wrong in full or part, at the time of the administration's explanations for the attack, that was the information the administration had. Yet they went with the video explanation.

Also note how the Annex CIA personnel rapidly reacted on their own to reach the "consulate" (the TMF) and that the State Department quickly dispatched a small but available security force from Tripoli to Benghazi:

Had CIA officers not responded to the TMF would have been more fatalities there.

This is the important part. My main question of that day is why couldn't our military do the same thing?

In all our forces in Europe, we didn't have a single transport plane and a platoon of special forces, infantry, military police, or air base security forces available to head to Benghazi just in case?

Nobody in European Command had the authority or initiative to begin to move forces toward Benghazi?

Really? That's pretty damning for a nation at war.

I suspect that because of our president's declaration that al Qaeda on their heels and on the run, with our wars being "responsibly ended," our military leadership had a peacetime mindset rather than a war perspective that would have made reacting to an enemy attack their first impulse.

Indeed, the lack of advance planning for the attack makes it even more important for us to have reacted fast. A pre-planned assault could have been over before we could fly and drive to the sites.

But for a situation developing, as it did, who knows what we could have done if we'd acted like we were at war that day and moved to the sound of the guns?

I wouldn't assume Morell is telling the full story. But certainly some pieces of it sound true. And my main question remains unanswered.

Russia Today

Sometimes it is the little things that demonstrate what bastards the Russians are lately.

Sure, the Russians rattle nuclear sabres, harass neighbors, and are continuing to invade Ukraine.

Which is bad. And dangerous. And a big picture problem for Europe and anyone within reach of Russia.

But let's not forget the small things.

Like Russia's incursion into Estonia last September when the Russians kidnapped Estonian police officer Eston Kohver and took him into Russia.

The Russians still hold the man. Because they are untrustworthy bastards.

UPDATE: Related: The Russians are still upset with the West about targeting Serbia's Milosevic--whose forces committed mass murder in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and who was eventually charged with war crimes (he died in prison before a trial could be held).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Kill Them, Get Them Running, and Keep Them Running

Strategypage explains Nigeria's recent dramatic improvements in fortunes against Boko Haram.


In late 2014 Nigeria began a major offensive against Boko Haram and depended [0n] less corrupt and more effective troops from neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon to lead the way. While this seemed to work, it was not enough to weaken Boko Haram sufficiently to allow Nigerian troops to go in and finish (and take credit for) the job. So in December the government decided to act on a suggestion that had been bouncing around (and leaking) for months and hire some foreign mercenaries to train and advise (lead) a task force of elite Nigerian troops to quickly crush the most determined Boko Haram resistance.

This answers some questions I had about the alleged revival of Nigeria's corruption-ridden military.

More from Strategypage on what the mercenary company, STTEP, did:

In a few weeks the STTEP force had expanded by selecting competent Nigerian troops and these few hundred troops, moving quickly in trucks and a few armored vehicles as the 72nd Mobile Force Battalion, with Nigerian aircraft overhead (some with STTEP men aboard acting as spotters) quickly smashed one “troublesome” Boko Haram group after another. ...

This made it easier for the troops from neighboring countries to go after less effective Boko Haram fighters. By late February Boko Haram was weakened sufficiently for the Nigerian troops to go in and carry out the final push against the demoralized and thoroughly unnerved Boko Haram fighters. STTEP was so successful that Nigeria did not extend their contract and in March the STTEP personnel left as the Nigerian Army was advancing into Boko Haram strongholds and freeing hundreds of women and children the Islamic terrorists had captured in the last year.

This is what I've been talking about for Iraq. There just aren't that many ISIL fighters, really.

But ISIL has the advantage that they are on the strategic offensive with the far larger Iraqi forces tied down defending their territory.

We need to put ISIL on the defensive by striking them rather than allowing ISIL to attack Iraq--which gave us the loss of Ramadi.

And to put ISIL on the defensive worrying more about what we do to them rather than figuring out what they can do to us, we need core ground forces to be the mobile spearheads (backed by firepower--artillery and air support) that drive into ISIL territory to allow the adequate and even poor Iraqi troops to exploit victories to fight and kill reeling ISIL forces.

Then the Iraqi garrisons are safer because ISIL is too busy coping with  our offensive to ponder their own mayhem.

We did this in Afghanistan. The French did it in Mali. And now the Nigerians did it in their own territory against fanatical jihadis.

Meanwhile, we're still writing the annexes to our perfect plan that will deliver victory over ISIL in Iraq and Syria some time after President Obama leaves office.

And also, my gathered thoughts on private warfare, which the Nigerian episode reflects.

UPDATE: About that last step:

The army fears that Boko Haram will now revert to guerilla war and attempt to rebuild. The foreign (Chad, Niger, Cameroon) troops will soon return home, in part because Nigerian commanders have been uncooperative and seem to resent the presence of foreign troops. That is unfortunate because there are still too many incompetent and often corrupt Nigerian officers and there is no quick fix for that. The army needs help because they are spread thin in the northeast and cannot protect everything Boko Haram can still raid or attack.

Could our diplomats at least remind the Nigerians about our experience in Iraq?

Keep Boko Haram running and keep killing them--or they'll regenerate and keep killing innocent people and kidnapping girls.

UPDATE: ISIL is following my advice:

Islamic state fighters pressed an advance east of Ramadi on Friday after breaching Iraqi defenses outside the city the insurgents overran last weekend in a major defeat for the Baghdad government.


We should be slaughtering these jihadis. Instead we keep excusing "setbacks" as irrelevant to our plans.

Hezbollah's Plan B?

While Assad is under pressure and he needs his few friends more than ever to survive, is Hezbollah's operations between the Lebanon border and Damascus more about establishing a buffer zone inside Syria more than propping up Assad's rule in Syria?

Hezbollah's forces are (again) making gains in the Qalamoun Mountains region west of Damascus:

Hezbollah's chief said Saturday his Shiite movement had expelled Syrian opposition fighters from most of Syria's Qalamun region bordering Lebanon but the battle was not over.

Hezbollah's role is huge at this point and Assad doesn't try to hide it:

[For] Syria's increasingly embattled president, Hezbollah's help is more critical than ever.

In the last week, the Iranian-backed guerrilla group has unleashed its powerful arsenal to drive insurgents from wide areas of the Qalamoun mountain range, a short drive from Assad's seat of power in Damascus.

But with Iran'a financing and the crucial role of Hezbollah in spearheading attacks, is this offensive really designed to save Assad?

Or is Iran directing Hezbollah to prepare for the defeat of Assad and a possible retreat by Assad's forces away from Damascus that he may not have the troops to hold at the expense of his Alawite and coastal home base?

Hezbollah is up front about why they are fighting so hard there:

"Our goal in Qalamun is to protect Lebanon, and we've seen the evidence of the threat in Arsal and the other attacks on the border," a Hezbollah military commander said.

What is unclear is whether Hezbollah believes that keeping Assad in power is the key to protecting their position in Lebanon or whether they are simply looking to their own interests. If Assad can benefit from having Hezbollah control this region--great. But if not? Too bad for him?

Assad certainly isn't doing too well. If Assad wants to hold on to Idlib province, he needs to do something different than just losing ground:

Rebels including Al-Qaeda's local affiliate seized the Syrian regime's largest remaining military base in northwestern Idlib province on Tuesday, a monitor said. ...

The loss of Al-Mastumah base leaves only a few positions in regime hands in Idlib, a region that borders Turkey and neighbours the government stronghold of Latakia province on the Mediterranean coast.

This effort to create a buffer zone to protect their home turf inside Lebanon would also be easier for Hezbollah to justify as their casualties cause supporters (and recruits) back in Lebanon to question why they are fighting and dying for Assad by killing other Arabs while Israel remains at peace.

In related news, Turkey shot down one of Assad's fighters a couple days ago when it entered Turkish air space.

If Syria goes belly up, given our failure to support more acceptable rebels, I don't know who other than the Turks could commit enough troops to try to stabilize the place and deny ISIL or jihadis control of Damascus when Assad attempts the Big Contraction to a Alawite-dominated rump Syria.

Nah, This Won't Inspire Conspiracy Theories

Arab states are worried about Iranian aggression and are horrified that we are seeking to strengthen Iran and end their isolation. Our response to that worry and horror is that we'll gladly sell them very expensive weapons to the threat that we are enabling. I think you could make a good conspiracy theory out of that with very little effort in the Middle East.

Aw, Hell no:

The White House message appeared to be not that the US is undergoing a policy “realignment” favoring Iran, as some critics have charged, but that American and indeed Gulf Arab interests are best served by encouraging the emergence of a strong but cooperative Iran – a responsible member of the “community of nations,” as Obama likes to say.

In the meantime, Obama said the US can best help the Gulf states counter Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region not by going head to head with Iran and its proxies in conflicts in Syria and Yemen, but by reinforcing security cooperation.

The US is committed to expanding intelligence and maritime-monitoring cooperation with its Gulf partners, the president said. Specifically, the US committed to helping the Gulf states implement a regional missile defense system.

For critics of the White House approach, Obama has simply fallen back on the traditional means of American support for Gulf states worried about an interventionist Iran: arms sales and provisions of evermore sophisticated weapons systems.

“It’s not diplomacy, it’s an arms fair,” said William Hartung, director of the arms and security project at Washington’s Center for International Policy, about this week’s summit.

So let me get this straight. President Obama thinks that ending sanctions and empowering Iran won't actually make Iran a nicer neighbor for our Arab friends. But we'll gladly sell sophisticated and expensive arms to our Arab friends to cope with a stronger Iran?

Now that's smart diplomacy! And you wonder why the belief that we created ISIL in order to justify our military actions in the Middle East is so strong in the region? Imagine what this "smart" diplomacy will spawn?

Oh, and one more thing. The missile defenses we offer are only useful for defending against shorter-ranged ballistic missiles. There is a way to get around that system limitation, even if it seems unlikely.

Or there are the simpler methods Iran could use like loading a nuke on a civilian plane and sending it on a regular, scheduled run into Arab air space before plunging to the target; or sailing a container ship loaded with a nuke into an Arab port. Or maybe a suicide sub surfaces inside the port and lights one up?

"Involuntary martyrs" are a feature and not a bug for true believers, remember.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Haven't They Suffered Enough?

An opinion piece in the New York Times calls for mass settlement of Syrian refugees in Detroit. Yeah, that's not going to work.

I know Detroit has massively depopulated--I'm one of the people born and raised there but no longer a resident, after all--but the idea of mass settlement of Syrian refugees seems ... downright cruel.

Haven't those Syrians suffered enough from civil war without putting them into a zombie Apocalypse setting?

And won't we provide real reasons for the international community to accuse us of human rights violations?

Also, you have to love the breezy setting aside of security issues in that opinion piece:

Homeland Security, which controls the borders, would have to carry out accelerated security checks, as has been done in the past for Vietnamese and for Iranian religious minorities.

"Accelerated" means superficial and fast, of course.

Our past experience of mass refugee settlement cited consisted of South Vietnamese allies fleeing conquest by North Vietnam and Iranian minorities by definition not likely to feel the tug of radical Shia Islamist mullah-run Iran.

Just what might mostly Sunni Arab refugees from a country not known as an ally of ours with plenty of jihadis from their ranks running loose in the Middle East do once here?

Certainly, the mostly Christian Arab community in the Detroit region has done well and is an asset. I'm one of the last people in this area to have anything against Arabs generally or Syrians in particular. That's not the issue.

But the mass dumping of war-scarred refugees from a country that has been our enemy and which generates jihadis into policy- and crime-scarred Detroit seems more than just cruel to those refugees.

Dumping them into our own war zone is perhaps likely to cause a significant number to feel doubly betrayed by America which would not act against Assad three years ago and which dumped them into an alien city that looks painfully like Sarajevo Aleppo already.

I wouldn't be shocked if young men who pass that "accelerated" security check become radicalized just from being put in Detroit.

And here's a big question. Why would the refugees stay in Detroit? The idea  of these authors is that they would benefit the city. Are the refugees to be serfs tied to the land and held in place by force?

I don't care what level of coordination is done by various levels of government to welcome these refugees. True compassion will result in the established Arab community helping those refugees move out of Detroit just as fast as they can, just as Detroiters have done for the last fifty years.

Perhaps the next opinion piece will be to force all those who moved out of Detroit to move back in--for the good of the city of course. Why not? If refugees have to stay, why should Detroiters be exempt from the same logic regardless of how long ago we fled?

Obviously, I jest on the last point. But I do find the assumption that the refugees will--and perhaps must--stay in Detroit once they arrive is typical of such social planners whose analysis ignores the real world realities that their theories ignore.

I suggest San Fransisco as an alternate destination for mass settlement of Syrian refugees. Or perhaps whatever city the two authors live in.

If You Start to Take Vienna

We plan to defeat ISIL. Eventually. One day.

We have planes in place and we could easily put forward observers and advisers into the field to direct our air strikes.

What we need are trained, mobile core combat forces to lead the advance and host the forward observers.

Since June 2014 following the ISIL offensive that overran the north of Iraq, that's all I've been asking for to defeat ISIL:

Our few special forces and intelligence agents backed by air power smashed the Taliban army in 2001. The French used a tiny military force to blitz their way through the jihadis controlling northern Mali last year.

The Iraqis probably don't have that military capability, unless their counter-terrorism forces are capable of fighting as formed units. That's probably a waste of their capabilities even if they could do it. We don't treat 30 SEALs as a really good platoon of infantry, now do we?

We could organize the general purpose Iraqi units for a plodding assault north. But it will be ugly even if successful.

We need a core of a mobile offensive force that can shatter the jihadis by moving north and calling down precision fire to smash up the jihadis as they try to defend their newly won caliphate.

Nearly 11 months later, there apparently are no core forces capable of leading a mobile offensive to shatter ISIL. The recapture of Tikrit was a success but it did not lead to further gains.

Jordan seems angry enough at ISIL but there's been no news about their ground forces entering the war.

The Kurds are grinding forward but don't seem to have the armaments to provide a really potent core ground offensive force.

Our training efforts don't seem to have put any decent regular Iraqi army troops into the field yet.

And there are no mercenary units hired that could spearhead an offensive.

Mind you, we could be husbanding the decent brigades in reserve while counting on the existing frontline units to hold in order to avoid throwing decent units into meat grinder defensive battles against ISIL that would wreck their offensive potential.

That's possible. Perhaps even likely.

But we are not even supporting the frontline Iraqis from the air in sufficient quantities with sufficient coordination to hold the line until we have gathered enough forces capable of leading offensives.

With the fall of Ramadi in Anbar province, ISIL clearly isn't done taking significant ground.

If you start to defeat ISIL, defeat ISIL. We started to defeat ISIL, but I have no idea what we are doing.

UPDATE: While I sincerely doubt ISIL could capture Baghdad, ISIL has clearly started to take Anbar:

Islamic State militants overran Iraqi government defences east of the city of Ramadi on Thursday, police and pro-government tribal fighters said.

The defensive line was breached at Husaiba, about 10 km (six miles) from the city, on Thursday afternoon after IS fighters intensified mortar and rocket fire.

If ISIL forces Iraq's defenders back to the gates of Baghdad, ISIL may not be able to take the city but they will be able to carry out terrorist attacks rather easily.

Also, after all this time, Iraqi troops not having hand-held anti-armor weapons capable of stopping ISIL's improvised armored vehicles used as IEDs to breach defensive barriers--as we say was the problem at Ramadi--is inexcusable.

Nuance Lessons

So the job of the White House spokesman is to explain things to us?

Josh Earnest had a shot at Iraq.


White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Tuesday said President Barack Obama’s policy in the Iraqi conflict – employing airstrikes but no commitment of U.S. ground troops – overall has been a success.

So the president has committed sufficient numbers and types of forces to Iraq to win this fight. That is straightforward enough.  

Very broadly speaking, I do think our strategy is appropriate, although I have criticisms on specifics.

And I really think we need more of a sense of urgency to execute whatever operational plan we settle on, as I've complained repeatedly.

Let's continue with Mr. Earnest's explanation:

White House spokesman Josh Earnest blamed Congress for not giving Obama the new military authorization he asked for to wage war against the Islamic State.

"At some point, somebody in Congress needs to assume responsibility for this and not just complain about it the whole time," Earnest said.

So the president--whose policy in Iraq has been a success they say, remember--doesn't have the authority to commit the types and numbers of troops to do the things the administration thinks is necessary to win the fight in Iraq?

For his constitutionally provided job as commander in chief, his pen and phone aren't enough?

Sometimes I think the administration is just upset that the enemy has not simply won that war and spared us the need to do something about it.

I really just don't get this whole nuance thing.

How Did He Become So Wise in the Ways of Strategery?

Helping Ukraine resist Russian military aggression is exactly what Putin wants us to do? Oh, good grief.

It cracks me up when an author pretends to so much understanding of nuance and what our enemies think that they argue that responding forcefully to a foe's aggression just "plays into their hands."

They write as if only the author has the fine understanding of the situation to see the true deep strategy of our enemy that actually counts on us resisting them to complete their plans of world (or regional or imperial or national) domination!

Or sometimes it makes me weep with a sense of doom or throw small objects at non-valuable things in frustration at our stupidity. It depends on my mood, I suppose.

Yes, I remember when such deep thinkers opposed our military response to 9/11. A number of analysts said that Osama bin Laden wanted us to attack him in Afghanistan after 9/11.

I don't know how deep Osama's plan was, since the Navy has never told us where they dumped his carcass at sea after our forces killed him at his Pakistan residence a few years ago.

Anyway, an author says that helping Ukraine resist Russian aggression would fall into Putin's diabolically clever plan! No, really. That's what he says:

As someone who has visited Russia often, America arming Ukraine will just play into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy of making the United States the enemy. ...

I think Mr. Putin wants America to arm the Ukrainians. Russian media thrives on this stuff and therefore the people will believe, even more than they already do, that America is the enemy. The Ukrainian conflict is not all about taking territory in the East and keeping Ukraine from NATO and the European Union. It is also about keeping Mr. Putin and his minions in power.

I agree this is not our fight. Who says we should fight Russia to keep Ukraine free? It's a dangerous thing to have post-invasion NATO membership that retroactively justifies our intervention, eh?

I don't think the logistics would allow us to deploy decisive force that far east even if it was a good idea.

Nor am I eager to start a war with declining Russia while rising China looms and while we battle jihadis across the greater Middle East region.

And I don't think we need to provide big ticket items to Ukraine to help them militarily. It would take too long to integrate new types of weapons and Ukraine has lots of big weapons if they are repaired and upgraded.

Case in point:

Ukraine recently announced that it is upgrading about 300 T-72B tanks held in reserve. These will be refurbished and get new equipment that will make them similar to the Polish PT-91. The official reason for this is that Ukraine wants the T-72Bs to meet NATO requirements but the upgraded tanks would also improve the defensive capabilities of the Ukrainian Army forces fighting in eastern Ukraine.

So the issue isn't fighting Russia directly. It isn't even about us sending major weapon systems. But the author thinks it is counter-productive to even help Ukraine resist military aggression?

Putin's efforts to bolster his continued autocratic rule work just fine with chest-thumping conquests at the expense of Ukraine. He doesn't need to paint America as the enemy with our help to Ukraine as Exhibit A.

Ideally, Putin has low-cost conquests like Crimea. The Donbas isn't working out as planned, and that's a good thing. We should make it worse for Russia.

Besides, that America-as-the-enemy train left the station (although forgive me for linking to the generally awful Vox--by chance I ran across this and I'd have to take time to find something else for the same point. I plead laziness).

Long before Putin invaded Ukraine, Putin painted America as out to weaken and destroy Russia. They make up stuff, so what's the difference if we actually help a sovereign member of the United Nations resist illegal aggression by Russia?

And don't forget that before the conquest of Crimea, Russia considered our efforts in Ukraine to bolster their economy--which is the author's solution to resisting Putin--and political institutions--which is necessary to combat economy-killing corruption--as a plot against Holy Mother Russia without any arms involved at all.

Helping Ukraine restore their economy, as the author says our response should be rather than arming Ukraine, has to be part of our total effort to help Ukraine resist Russia. Yes, Ukraine has to be able to afford to resist Russia.

But if Ukraine can't also defend their territory from Russian attacks, all we are doing by bolstering Ukraine's economy while refusing to help Ukraine defend their land is creating a more valuable target for Putin to conquer.

I say we risk "playing into Putin's hands" and attempt to inflict a defeat on Putin by assisting Ukraine in resisting Russia's subliminal invasion and occupation. This means supporting new NATO states who are familiar with Russian-designed weapons in restoring Ukraine's large Soviet-built arsenal and providing the force multiplier pieces that fill in capabilities gaps that allow the existing major weapons to be used more effectively, including intelligence about where the Russians are in Donbas.

If Putin can't wrap up his conquest, how glorious will owning Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine seem to his people when their standard of living keeps dropping as a consequence of aggression? Isn't Russia's economy at least as significant as Ukraine's?

Because defeat is one thing that a thug ruler intent on using glorious conquest to bolster their rule just can't handle. Although I admittedly haven't been to Russia any times to bolster my statement.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Why is Mid-2015 the Historical Vantage Point for Iraq?

Why is this month the point where we ask, "if we knew in 2003 what we know now, would we have invaded Iraq?"

After all, our Master of Smart Diplomacy re-intervened in Iraq in 2014 and promised a three-year plan to defeat ISIL, and thus save Iraq.

Shouldn't we assume brilliant success in Iraq because ... Obama?

And then judge the cost of that future multi-sectarian paradise in Iraq free of ISIL where people work together in an Iraqi democracy?

Why isn't that future the logical point to judge the decision to invade Iraq?

Or the end of 2011 when Iraq was pretty quiet and working to build their fragile democracy?

Why now when we are engaged in a renewed battle to define the end state of Iraq?

Consider that our Civil War took years to win and cost massive casualties. Although the Union thought the war could be won quickly, it actually took a long time and a exacted a heavy price.

In 1870, would a majority have considered the decision to fight the Confederacy in 1861 to have been the right decision?

When we were still mourning our 365,000 war dead? And that's just the Union number, since we're talking about knowledge of the costs of starting the war.

When Black Codes denied newly freed slaves their equal rights in states as the slave-holding elite defeated Reconstruction and found new ways to keep formally free people in bondage under the law?

When even the paper rights in our Constitution took until then to be ratified.

Yeah, mistakes were made, no doubt in both the war and post-war.

And it took a century to get real civil rights legislation to make sure African Americans could be equal under the law.

So yeah, knowing what we know now, launching the reconquest of the Confederacy in 1861 was the right decision.

Let's be grateful that Democrats didn't win their effort to make the decision point for the Civil War the year 1864 as our nation went to the polls to decide if President Lincoln would have the chance to complete the war he started in victory.

Nuanced folks could have made serious arguments about why the Civil War was a mistake from 1864 to 1964 based on "knowing what we know now," eh?

Supporters of the Iraq War should have a little more backbone to defend what Iraq can be (and what it already isn't) if we take the time to build something good on what our military achieved by defeating evil.

War supporters do not need to accept the premise that this moment is the correct point in time to decide if 20/20 hindsight allows us to be satisfied with our decision in 2003 to launch the war and destroy Saddam's evil and dangerous regime in Iraq.

UPDATE: Related thoughts from Victor Hanson.

Although I disagree that the counter-terror/insurgency campaign was decisively riddled with errors (any campaign is) given that we did defeat a number of threats through 4 years of fighting after the fall of Saddam.

UPDATE: Related thoughts here and here. And here, too.

And Then They Came for the Warrenistas

I await my apology from the far Left anti-free trade wing of the Democratic Party for insisting that opposition to our president's policies can only be attributed to racism.

A Good Outcome for the Good War?

There are signs of hope in Afghanistan.

One, Afghan forces are fighting well despite worries that they couldn't endure the casualty rate.

I wonder what the enemy rate is. Afghans may simply tolerate a higher casualty rate. Different militaries have different traditions and a violent warrior culture is way different.

Two, elections have put better leadership into position at the national level.

I'd feel better about this if Afghanistan was a unitary state rather than a legal fiction with a UN seat sitting atop independent-minded regions, ethnic groups, and tribes.

Three, Pakistan realizes that they need Afghanistan stable and that playing with fire by supporting some jihadis can't work.

I'll believe that ... why? I have doubts that this shared view on jihadis will last long enough to matter to Afghanistan.

Four, the economy has made huge progress.

Sure, wealthy Westerners operating there represented a massive infusion of wealth relative to their reality before 2001. Can Afghanistan maintain what we built? Will the draw down of forces and foreigners be done without reducing the money flowing into the territory?

Five, public opinion polling shows confidence in the national government and security issues.

That is good. But people can wrongly believe lots of things in large numbers. That polling could reverse in the face of bad reality.

As the author says, promising signs for victory are not the same as victory:

Afghan security forces must get urgently needed fixed-wing A-29 aircraft to complement the handful of helicopters they already possess, because air power will remain a crucial advantage in prosecuting the counter-insurgency campaign after coalition planes are gone. Thousands of contractors may need to remain in country, training Afghans in how to maintain their equipment and improve their tactics. After 14 years of sacrifice, the U.S. and its partners shouldn’t skimp on the funding needed to keep Afghanistan in the win column.

Yes, don't walk away. That's been my hope since before President Obama inherited the "good" war:

The end result in Afghanistan, if all goes well, will be a nominal national government that controls the capital region and reigns but does not rule local tribes and which actually helps the locals a bit rather than sucking resources from the locals, who in turn do not make trouble for the central government or allow their areas to be used by jihadis to plan attacks on the West. We press for reasonable economic opportunities, with bribes all around (I mean, foreign aid), to keep a fragile peace.

And we stick around this time, unlike after the Soviets left Afghanistan when we ignored the place, for a generation or two to see if we can move Afghanistan into the 19th century (hey, let's not get ahead of ourselves).

Hopefully our military surge recedes by the end of 2011 and we can get down to a single combat brigade plus air power that function as a fire brigade and a hammer for the central government should a local difficulty exceed Afghan military capabilities.

We don't have the combat brigade. But I still have the same hopes for ultimate victory.

UPDATE: The very related drug war there.

UPDATE: Locals needed to battle Taliban in the north:

The Afghan government has enlisted hundreds of militia fighters controlled by local commanders to battle Taliban militants near the northern city of Kunduz, officials said, underlining how the armed forces are struggling to tackle the insurgency alone.

Which is good in regard to willingness of people to resist the Taliban; but a potential long-term problem if these armed militias become a warlord army.

But you can't worry about a potential future problem at the expense of solving an immediate problem.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Asymmetric Warfare

Cyber-warfare that affects us in the physical world could be an act of war. Which means we will not restrict retaliation options to the cyber-domain:

“Because an opponent comes at us in the cyber domain doesn’t mean we have to respond in the cyber domain,” said [the director of our National Security Agency, Michael] Rogers, who also heads up the U.S. Cyber Command, speaking at the George Washington University forum. “We think it’s important that potential adversaries out there know that this is part of our strategy. The whole goal is, you do not want to engage in escalatory behavior.”

As the newswire Agence France-Presse reports, Rogers did not eliminate the possibility for real-world retaliation against a digital-based attack.

This is what I've been saying.

It's really just asymmetric warfare--which is all the rage--right?

Still Writing the Perfect Plan?

Do our leaders realize that our enemies want to win?

Ramadi, Iraq, has fallen to ISIL:

About 500 people have been killed in the fighting for Ramadi in recent days and between 6,000 and 8,000 have fled, a spokesman for the provincial governor said.

The city's fall marked a major setback for the forces ranged against Islamic State: a U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi security forces, which have been propped up by Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias

It was also a harsh return to reality for Washington, which at the weekend had mounted a successful special forces raid in Syria in which it said it killed an Islamic State leader in charge of the group's black market oil and gas sales, and captured his wife.

I know, I know. Our military says that the status of Ramadi is no big deal in the big picture of our 3-year plan to defeat ISIL (that is only in its 8th month, after all). How many more Iraqi cities are irrelevant to that perfect plan we are working on?

I think our basic plan is sound, since it is what I outlined in posts before it became clear it is what we are planning to do: Win in Iraq; build up friendly forces in Syria while we win in Iraq; and then win in Syria.

I'd also like to make sure Assad is defeated and Iran is defeated, too--which don't seem to be part of the Obama administration plan--but right now I'm just talking about ISIL.

Another point of disagreement is that while it seems like we want to focus on Mosul, I've long thought Anbar is the priority front.

The Kurds are a reliable force to hold the northern front while focusing on Anbar is necessary to protect Baghdad and to convince Sunni Arabs it is safe enough to turn against ISIL.

Yet despite thinking our basic plan is sound in concept, from the beginning, I've worried about lacking a sense of urgency since our enemies might not wait for our perfect plan to be finished.

I've been frustrated as we've failed to address Anbar before it gets worse.

And my frustration grew worse as the situation in Anbar's Ramadi got worse despite the obvious nature of that threat.

So we're still months away from an offensive to liberate Mosul while Anbar continues to fall to ISIL advances.

Yes, ISIL wins actual battles while we are still working on our detailed plan to strike north, apparently ignoring anything that might derail the awesome plan we are progressing through and checking off boxes of tasks completed.

I can see it now. Just as we lead the march into Mosul, ISIL forces will sweep through Fallujah and make their own thunder run into Baghdad, which we will say is no big deal as long as the Green Zone is safe.

But no matter, we'll have increased our bombing sorties by 12% over that time period--totally validating the plan! 

It's the damnedest thing about giving your enemies time. Sometimes they use it to try to win rather than just patiently wait for the meticulously planned killing blow to fall on them.

I felt the same way about our invasion of Iraq in 2003. I worried we gave Saddam too much time before we struck. But the most telegraphed war in history up to that time was a marvel of urgency in retrospect.

In about the same amount of time as President Obama has spent planning to defeat ISIL since he announced our re-intervention in Iraq, President Bush asked the UN to authorize a war against Saddam Hussein, got Congress to declare war, sent our military to the Middle East, invaded Iraq and destroyed Saddam's military, and sent Saddam himself into hiding.

But no. Really. We should just take our freaking time on defeating ISIL. Because what can they do? Defeat us?

UPDATE: I may fail to see the full nuance of our fully Hoped battle station, of course. Perhaps the three-year plan is just to delay total defeat in Iraq until after President Obama leaves office, allowing him to farcically claim he didn't lose Iraq.

I'm not sure even that more focused objective is within his reach if this keeps up.

UPDATE: Perhaps we should review the last time we began a campaign to free Ramadi from jihadis.

Pity We Misspoke, All Things Considered

China doesn't like it that we aren't going along with their rejection of international law that makes the South China Sea international waters:

"The Chinese side will take resolute measures to safeguard national sovereignty and safety. We will keep an eye on the situation in relevant waters and airspace and respond to any violation of China's sovereignty and threat to China's national security," said Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, according to USA Today.

On Monday the USS Fort Worth traveled through the South China Sea near man-made islands in an area where Philippine and Japanese navies have coordinated exercises.

Army Col. Steven Warren said Wednesday the Pentagon will continue to patrol the area around the disputed Spratly Islands, claimed by China, Taiwan and the Philippines.

Warren said China's man-made islands cannot be recognized as extensions of the Chinese mainland, according to international law.

Fort Worth is one of our new Littoral Combat Ships.

She also sent up a helicopter and drone to challenge any claims that China owns the air space above the sea:

The USS Fort Worth, one of the most modern ships in the U.S. navy, dispatched a reconnaissance drone and a Seahawk helicopter to patrol the airspace, according to a little-noticed statement on the navy's website.

In that light, it's a pity we misspoke:

A U.S. official misspoke when he told a Senate committee in the United States this week about plans to base long-range B-1 bombers and other surveillance aircraft in Australia, a spokesman for Australia's defense minister said on Friday.

It's a pity because B-1 bombers loaded up with long-range anti-ship missiles (LRASM) based in Australia would be a wonderful addition to our assets capable of contesting the South China Sea.

UPDATE: One of our new P-8 long-range Navy aircraft flew through air space that China unlawfully claims to own.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Back Assward

Sometimes I wake up screaming in the middle of the night, as I realize that John Kerry is our chief diplomat.

With my apologies to my neighbors:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday he is hopeful that the successful conclusion of a nuclear deal with Iran will send a positive message to North Korea to restart negotiations on its own atomic program.

I'm sorry. But, huh? North Korea already has a thriving nuclear weapons program. Why would they want to follow Iran's foot steps to achieve the same thing?

North Korea signed a deal to keep them from going nuclear with the 1994 Agreed Framework, and two decades later, North Korea has nuclear devices and long-range ballistic missiles, and is working on linking them up.

I think Iran has learned from North Korea that any signed agreement with the West can be violated without drawing a response forceful enough to stop the cheating.

And Iran learned that they can negotiate their nuclear arsenal with only a decade of delay.

Gosh, just how did Kerry build that reputation for being such an ineffective Secretary of State?

Not Doing Stupid Stuff?

Let's recall the triumph of Obama-era smart diplomacy that the Kerry-Lavrov Syrian chemical weapons agreement proved to be.

Assad has used chlorine gas in his war since that agreement. He has kept facilities. And he has kept chemical weapons he should have given up.

Do read this all, but this is the best part:

Over a more than 40-year period, most of Syria’s old chemical stocks of precursors became worthless for military purposes, but still toxic. The Syrians never bothered to invest in capabilities to denature the toxins, so they just piled up. We essentially have played the role of hazmat garbage collectors, paying out of our own pocket to get rid of all this useless stuff—hundreds of tons of it—but leaving the newer and better materials off the books and in regime hands (possibly now in Latakia province). The result is that while the effort marginally reduces the danger of Islamist crazies getting their hands on the precursors, it has absolutely zero effect on the Syrian chemical war order of battle.

Yeah, who could have seen any problems with this agreement? Garfinkle was right to warn about the agreement. Few enough did.

Surely not the worst Secretary of State in living memory or his boss--who would surely be the best secretary of state if you asked him, eh?

This, as Garfinkle writes, is what we got from our smart diplomacy that eschews doing stupid stuff:

On several occasions the President and his Secretary of State lauded the achievements of the chemical weapons deal with Syria, via Russia. It suited them to do so because it has tended to erase, or at least to blur, the unnerving memory of the infamous “non-strike” event in Syria. It allows the narrative that the threat to use force, even in “an incredibly small” way, to recall Kerry’s madcap remark at the time, resulted in a diplomatic achievement via arms control with real security policy benefits. It did not. It resulted in the U.S. government’s backing down on account of being successfully lied to and hoodwinked by a small cabal of weaker parties; the only security policy benefits accrued to our enemies.

It's not the stupid stuff this administration does that unnerves me as much as it is their absolute certitude that they are the smart guys in the room.

But I'm sure we'll do much better when it comes to Iran's nuclear weapons, materials, and facilities. Right?

As an aside, I've long regretted that I didn't note (or perhaps I've forgotten that I did) that in regard to Iraq under Saddam, large stockpiles of chemical weapons were counter-productive since they deteriorated too rapidly to store for long.

During the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq would make the chemical agents and fill shells shortly before use. In reality, to have a chemical weapons capability, Saddam needed the ability to produce chemical weapons with the need for only a small stockpile to bridge the gap between immediate need and production starting.

Faulty IFF

If President Obama and his defenders can't tell the difference between Iran's hardliners who want nukes and our "hardliners" who want a deal that actually keeps Iran from getting nukes, how am I supposed to trust the administration can tell the difference between Iranian hardliners and "moderates?"

In my view, Iranian "moderates" are just the guys who want nukes but are willing to pretend not to want them in order to get a deal with us.

Hardliners aren't willing to even pretend to bow before the Great Satan for even a decade.