Friday, August 28, 2015

#AllVeteransMatter?

They really do try to act like our military isn't an alien culture they have to pretend to respect:

Until Thursday, the Democratic National Committee’s “Veterans and Military Families” website had as its only picture a shot from White House photographers during President Obama’s visit to Warsaw in 2011.

The president had been cropped out, but faces of four elderly veterans wearing European-style military uniforms were visible above several paragraphs asserting the party’s “commitment to America’s veterans.” The Polish military’s White Eagle insignia was clear on the headgear of two of the veterans.

Which recalls this embarrassing uniform confusion early on.

It hasn't gotten better after more than 6 years. #AmericanVeteransMatter.

Tip to Instapundit.

Returning to Those Thrilling Discussions of Yesteryear

Stratfor has an interesting article on Israel's hesitation to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. Which has dangerous implications. Will the deal require Israel to nuke Iran to preempt a nuclear threat?

Stratfor, writing about Israel's apparent unwillingness to risk a strike on Iran, says that Israel isn't sure its military could cripple Iran's nuclear facilities and that a failure could dent Israel's military reputation:

For the Israelis, the price of failure in an attack on Iranian nuclear sites would have been substantial. One of Israel's major strategic political assets is the public's belief in its military competence. Forged during the 1967 war, the IDF's public image has survived a number of stalemates and setbacks. A failure in Iran would damage that image even if, in reality, the military's strength remained intact. Far more important, it would, as the failed U.S. operation did in 1980, enhance Iran's position. Given the nature of the targets, any attack would likely require a special operations component along with airstrikes, and any casualties, downed pilots or commandos taken prisoner would create an impression of Israeli weakness contrasting with Iranian strength. That perception would be an immeasurable advantage for Iran in its efforts to accrue power in the region. Thus for Israel, the cost of failure would be extreme.

That is a real problem. That's why I figured Russia should have stopped at their Crimea takeover and banked the "style points" for that coup rather than risk exposing their military as less than impressive in a less successful campaign in the east.

Stratfor's analysis is consistent with my view that Israel could come up with a strike option--if they think outside the box enough--but that only America has the ability to really wage a campaign of multiple strikes over a long period of time to smash up the infrastructure.

And even we risk the obvious flaw that not all of Iran's nuclear infrastructure may be in Iran. As I asked at the end of this post:

But what if focusing on the ramifications of the terms of the deal just doesn't really matter? What if it really is the regime that matters? What if all the focus on break-out times and sanctions misses the point that Iran is playing another game altogether?

Further, at some point, Israel may have to decide between a risky conventional attack that has a low chance of success against the likelihood that Iran might nuke an Israeli city with a high chance of testing whether or not Israel is a "one-bomb state." Calculations change a great deal when you substitute concern for your military reputation with concern with your continued existence.

And this is where it gets really sticky.

Some assume that Iran with nuclear weapons is no big deal because Israel's nuclear weapons deter Iran. I have deep doubts about that comforting notion.

If Israel can't deter Iran, we have to think about what Israel's response to a nuclear-armed Iran will be.

Remember, right now Israel has enough doubts about their ability to mount a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. What will Israel's options be after Iran buys better defensive weapons after the long embargo on arms goes away. Already Iran is discussing advanced air defense missiles with Russia (Reset!).

If Israel believes Iran will nuke Israel and if Israel believes their conventional option is too weak, Israel's only logical alternative is a counter-force nuclear strike on Iran's nuclear weapons and their nuclear infrastructure in general. That's the logic of the situation.

Ah, dust off those old Cold War tomes on counterforce theory.

At that point, our only hope is that the Bush-era Obama Option has been improved enough to allow us to mount a last-minute attack campaign to disarm an openly nuclear Iran as an alternative to a disarming nuclear strike by Israel. We at least have the ability to substitute large numbers of precision weapons for nuclear warheads.

As we debate whether this deal will stop Iran from going nuclear, can we at least center the debate on the assumption that a nuclear-armed Iran is a bad thing? Because some of the deal supporters seem confused on this issue.

As an aside, one good thing about the letter by nearly 200 retired admirals and generals who oppose the Iran nuclear deal. The Obama administration touted a supportive letter by several dozen officers. That actually gave me momentary doubt about my judgment sitting here as a civilian with only open-source information to judge the debate.

The new letter makes me more comfortable that I'm not wrong to oppose the deal. Hopefully it has the same effect on others whose opinion matters most immediately. Just how close to midnight do we want the nuclear clock?

Georgia On Their Mind?

So Ukraine followed our advice not to resist the Russians based on Georgia's experience with Russia in 2008?

As Russian President Vladimir Putin's forces took over Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in early 2014, the interim Ukrainian government was debating whether or not to fight back against the "little green men" Russia had deployed. But the message from the Barack Obama administration was clear: avoid military confrontation with Moscow.

The White House's message to Kiev was advice, not an order, U.S. and Ukrainian officials have recently told us, and was based on a variety of factors. There was a lack of clarity about what Russia was really doing on the ground. The Ukrainian military was in no shape to confront the Russian Spetsnaz (special operations) forces that were swarming on the Crimean peninsula. Moreover, the Ukrainian government in Kiev was only an interim administration until the country would vote in elections a few months later. Ukrainian officials told us that other European governments sent Kiev a similar message.

But the main concern was Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As U.S. officials told us recently, the White House feared that if the Ukrainian military fought in Crimea, it would give Putin justification to launch greater military intervention in Ukraine, using similar logic to what Moscow employed in 2008 when Putin invaded large parts of Georgia in response to a pre-emptive attack by the Tbilisi government. Russian forces occupy two Georgian provinces to this day. [emphasis added]

One, that this administration learned that lesson from the Russo-Georgia War of 2008 is amazing.

The implication is that by fighting back, Georgia lost even more territory than they would have if they hadn't fought.

In fact, Russia ended up holding exactly what they had before the fighting started--the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

It is far easier to argue that the poor showing of Russia's military against the ill-prepared (for conventional war) Georgian military when Russia plunged into the rest of Georgia and appeared to aim for the capital, Tblisi, convinced Russia to pull back and not try to smash independent Georgia for good.

And I did offer advice based on a more accurate reading of 2008 at the time.

But what about the advice, even though it is clearly not based on what actually happened in Georgia in 2008?

Clearly, letting Russia carry out their nearly bloodless takeover of Crimea did not sate Putin's appetite and persuade him not to invade the Donbas.

I know that Ukraine's military and government was in a state of paralysis when Russia invaded Crimea, but even if Kiev could send little, they should have sent whoever would obey orders to attack.

Before Russia's invasion of Crimea, I outlined an immediate counter-attack into Crimea as the best response to invasion.

I realized at the time that my outline was a paper exercise for a paper armed force and did not reflect reality of the ground.  But in retrospect, I think Ukraine should have sent even a single company-sized unit, if that's all they had, to attack south into the peninsula and try to shame more to follow.

And give heart to Ukraine's mostly support units in Crimea to hold in place rather than give up.

Who knows? If Russia knew that they faced armed resistance right off the bat, they might have retreated their special forces from their scattered positions to hold just the Sevastopol naval base.

Imagine how different the crisis would be if Russia was penned into Sevastopol only?

Or perhaps Ukraine should have met the bloodless takeover with airlifts of humanitarian supplies to all the scattered Ukrainian units across Crimea, all being broadcast to the world, daring Russians to open fire and give lie to their polite mysterious green men propaganda.

And Ukraine could send ground convoys even as we joined the humanitarian resupply mission.

Whether armed or not, Ukraine should have responded quickly with whatever they had despite their weakness. Certainly, doing nothing about Crimea didn't prevent Putin from annexing that peninsula and expanding his war against Ukraine, which is still ongoing with casualties approaching 7,000.

Yet after the territorial aggression by Russia, nuclear threats against the West, and even a little example of being SOBs, the Russians say we want to restore relations:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday the United States has been sending "signals" that it wants to start mending ties with Moscow, badly strained over the past year and a half by the conflict in Ukraine.

Ah yes, that vague "conflict in Ukraine" that has sadly "strained" relations. Which actually means the very specific Russian invasion of Crimea and Donbas and the annexation of the former.

Lavrov says we want to "mend" relations as if this is our fault and somehow we have to make up for our failings to keep our relations reset shortly after that 2008 war.

UPDATE: Here's an article that is quite wrong. Yes, Bush urged the Georgians not to fight the Russians in South Ossetia when the Russians massed north in August 2008. Georgia definitely erred by shooting first and falling into Russia's trap.

And it was a trap unless you amazingly believe that the then-rusting Russian military managed to instantly respond to Georgia's foolish firing into South Ossetia with an assault right through to Georgia proper.

But once Russia invaded the rest of Georgia, the Georgians absolutely had to fight hard to prevent the Russians from taking the entire country.

Further, the notion that helping Ukraine resist aggression is telling Ukrainians to fight for us is nonsense. Ukrainians want to fight for Ukraine! They aren't dying for us. They're fighting and dying for themselves. They should be punished because we share the objective of halting Russian aggression? We should help them.

And as I've said, we don't need to ship big ticket weapons. Ukraine has plenty to refurbish, I've argued. And they are:

Ukroboronprom made most of its money in the last year by building and refurbishing 2,000 vehicles and even more artillery weapons (guns, howitzers and rocket launchers). Another item in big demand is refurbished communications equipment. Ukraine has a lot of Cold War (pre-1991) era equipment which has been left unused and poorly maintained. This provided a pool of equipment that, with some skill and ingenuity, could be restored to usefulness.

Indeed, I've noted that our new NATO members with their own expertise could help refurbish and modernize the old Soviet-era models.

Ukraine does need capabilities to pull their weapons together like drones, electronic warfare, secure communications, and infantry anti-tank weapons.

And I'd also add in anti-ship weapons to protect their coast from a Russian amphibious assault.

I can understand not wanting America to fight Russia. I sure don't. But does that mean we shouldn't help others defend themselves? Which is what Bush did for Georgia.

And I'll remind you again that after the Georgia War of 2008, Russia held no more than what they held before the war--the provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Isn't that the whole idea behind "leading from behind?" Now our policy should be "everyone retreats until our foes tire themselves or conclude they have enough?"

Already Russia has taken all of Crimea and  parts of the Donbas, which Ukraine had controlled. We can only dream of our current policies being as successful as those that responded to Russia's Georgia aggression.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Next Stop: Rump Syria

Assad has been forced back to Core Syria. It seems unlikely that Assad can hold even this, given the casualties he has suffered.

Assad has lost a good chunk of his territory so far this year:

Territory fully controlled by President Assad’s forces has shrunk by 18% between 1 January and 10 August 2015 to 29,797 km2, roughly a sixth of the country, according to the latest data insights produced by IHS Conflict Monitor.

In a recently televised speech, President Assad admitted it was necessary to focus on holding certain areas of greater strategic importance, while sacrificing others. The key areas which Assad cannot afford to lose include the capital Damascus, the Alawite coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartous, and the city of Homs as the vital connection between them. These are likely to be defended, even at the expense of losing other major cities like Aleppo or Dar’a.

Jane's provides a map:

[Oddly, Blogger isn't letting me upload the map--or anything, for that matter. So follow the link to see it. I'll try to add the map later. A day later and I still can't upload pictures. Odd, that is.]

This is essentially down to the Core Syria that I wrote Assad had to contract to in order to build an army capable of regaining control of all of Syria.

But being forced back to this area after suffering simply astounding levels of casualties among his troops is not the same as contracting before suffering the casualties and preparing for an offensive.

And yes, fighting for Aleppo was a bridge too far for Assad.

At this point, because of the massive casualties, holding Core Syria is just a temporary line before retreating to Rump Syria in the northwest.

And I did wonder if Assad was trying to prepare his supporters for such a contraction.

So I think we should watch for a move by Assad to legally shift the capital from Damascus to the coast. That way, no matter how little territory Assad holds, he will still be in charge of legal Syria and thus hold the UN seat and all the legitimacy that comes with that status.

I think Assad will ultimately attempt to hold a Rump Syria based on the coast but pushed inland for a buffer zone to Homs in the southeast of that territory and up the main north-south highway from Hama and up to positions as close to Idlib as they can hold.

This will provide an inland buffer zone to help protect his core supporters. It will retain the coast so Russia can have a naval base. And it will retain overland access to Lebanon to keep even a Rump Syria useful for Iran.

Ideally, the new safe zone in the north will allow non-jihadi rebels to control that area. And ideally Southern Front rebels with Western, Jordanian, and Israeli support can advance to Damascus to control the south.

ISIL, unfortunately, would control the rest until the non-jihadi rebels can be strengthened to expand their control at the expense of both ISIL and al Qaeda and Assad, too.

Unless Assad's military simply collapses under the strain before Assad can order a retreat.

If Assad can't defend the territory he has with the troops he has, the only logical way to avoid defeat is to contract his territory to a size his military can hold.

And do it before his military is too exhausted to hold anything.

UPDATE: Is it too late for Assad to retreat to his corner of Syria?

A growing number of soldiers and civilians in government-controlled areas of Syria are expressing rare public disaffection with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Noncombatants as well as the military in traditionally loyal coastal regions are complaining that not enough is being done to relieve enclaves besieged by rebels.

The defeat at Tabqa--the first besieged enclave to fall--has clearly shaken Assad's supporters.

If Assad's fate rests on his ability to relieve multiple besieged enclaves, he's in trouble.

Retreating to Rump Syria may be Assad's best-case outcome at this point. It probably won't be his last stop.

High Seas Retreat

Russia inherited the mighty Soviet fleet that would have contested control of the North Atlantic with NATO during a war. Now the high seas fleet is just sad.

Russia's navy is falling apart:

Commissioned in 1991, Kuznetsov was Russia's last new large warship. In the past 23 years, Moscow has managed to complete a few new submarines and small frigates and destroyers at its main Sevmash shipyard, on the North Atlantic coast. But many of Russia's current naval vessels — and all its large vessels — are Soviet leftovers.

They're outdated, prone to mechanical breakdowns, and wickedly uncomfortable for their crews — especially compared to the latest U.S., European, and Chinese ships. ...

Kuznetsov doesn't have many years left in her. Her boilers are "defective," according to the trade publication Defense Industry Daily. Yet when she goes to the breakers to be dismantled, Moscow could find it impossible to replace her. For one, the shipyard that built all the Soviet carriers now belongs to Ukraine. It lies just outside of Crimea, and Russian forces did not manage to seize it.

And Ukraine produces key components.

Russia's blue water fleet situation hasn't gotten better since 2005 when I noted their weakness.

Face it, for a country with such a long land border, Russia's naval needs are far more limited and local, with the priority to coastal defense and defending bastions for their nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) to have a survivable nuclear deterrent.

So if Putin wants big aircraft carriers rather than a fancy red sports car? Oh please God, let Putin try to build them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The ISIL War

The war on ISIL drags on.

The offensive against ISIL-held Ramadi drags on, although I retain hope that this is a prelude to a war of movement.

And if there is a breakout into Anbar, Strategypage explains why I've been writing for more than a year that Jordan could provide a core mechanized force to lead an advance:

Jordan has long been a prime target for Islamic terror groups. Yet compared to other nations in the region the kingdom has, next to Israel, had the fewest Islamic terrorist incidents within its borders. This is no accident and is the result of having one of the best trained and reliable security forces in the region and being the beneficiary of a lot of help with equipment and specialist training from the United States and Israel. ...

The Jordanian armed forces contains 105,000 troops plus 65,000 trained reservists. It is a small force, but more effective, man-for-man, than any other [NOTE: any other Arab force] in the region.

So Jordan has both a motive to destroy ISIL and the capacity to contribute forces to the coalition we are (mostly--excepting Iran and their hand puppet militias in Iraq) leading in Iraq.

If Jordan would advance from the west while Iraqi forces press from the east, we could collapse ISIL control in Anbar and free up Iraqi troops for a Mosul offensive as local Sunnis armed and supported by us assume responsibility for local defense against a weakened ISIL.

Iraqi Kurds are still clawing back terrain around Kirkuk:

The assault began overnight south of Daquq, a town about 175 km (108 miles) north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. The front line between the regional Kurdish peshmerga forces and Islamic State in northern Iraq has hardly budged for months.

The Kurds aren't about to die to liberate Mosul--or other territory that will simply revert to Iraqi government control. So a big attack up there doesn't make sense until it is in support of an Iraqi drive that will move into Mosul at the end of the road.

And we still could be preparing for a Mosul offensive. While early reports said that American-trained Iraqi troops are involved in the offensive on Ramadi, more recent news says that Austalia and New Zealand trained two brigades involved in the offensive:

Multiple units that the coalition has helped train are participating as this fight, as you know, the 73rd and 76th brigades who were trained by coalition partners Australia and New Zealand, are doing very well to date, as are the approximately 600 Sunni tribal fighters who participated in the advise and assist program.

This would fit with that earlier report that 3,000 coalition-trained troops are involved. The earlier cited article said they were American trained but that could be an error.

But until Baiji is secured, it will be tough to drive north with that ISIL position still holding on their right flank. The Iraqis claim it is a priority:

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the battle over the northern town of Baiji and its refinery - Iraq's largest - was critical to the fight against Islamic State.

The town, about 190 km (120 miles) north of Baghdad, has been a battlefront for more than a year since its seizure by the Islamists in June 2014 as they swept through much of northern Iraq toward the capital.

If Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militia fighters regain full control around Baiji, it could help them push north toward the Islamic State-held city of Mosul and offset losses in the western province of Anbar.

If that is secured, an offensive on Mosul could be carried out with US-trained Iraqi troops since we may not have diverted US-trained units to the Anbar offensive.

We've disagreed with the Iraqis on whether to mount an Anbar or Mosul offensive. Iraq seems to have won that debate (and I agree with the Iraqis on this), but perhaps we also won in the sense that we successfully kept US-trained ground forces out of the Anbar offensive.

In Syria, the United States and Turkey seem on the same page to create an ISIL-free zone along the Turkish-Syrian border:

Turkey and the United States will soon launch "comprehensive" air operations to flush Islamic State fighters from a zone in northern Syria bordering Turkey, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Reuters on Monday.

Detailed talks between Washington and Ankara on the plans were completed on Sunday and regional allies including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan as well as Britain and France may also take part, Cavusoglu said in an interview. ...

The United States and Turkey plan to provide air cover for what Washington judges to be moderate Syrian rebels as part of the operations, which aim to flush Islamic State from a rectangle of border territory roughly 80 km (50 miles) long, officials familiar with the plans have said. ...

Cavusoglu said the operations would also send a message to President Bashar al-Assad and help put pressure on his administration to come to the negotiating table and seek a political solution for Syria's wider war.

This is progress. But this incremental escalation has a major flaw.

While we say we want non-jihadi rebels to fill the vacuum, assuming our air campaign decimates ISIL, why do we assume that non-jihadi rebels rather than Assad's forces will fill it?

Note that we say that we want this safe zone for rebels who will pressure Assad into negotiating. I believe that is a weak point in our plans to support rebels. Rebels will fight and die to win against the hated Assad system. We say we want them to fight and die to pressure Assad into negotiating a peace deal that presumably doesn't lead to Assad hanging from a lamp post.

Yeah, is it any wonder that our training program doesn't seem to be pulling in many Syrian recruits under the terms we've set?

Perhaps Turkey hopes to leverage this air campaign into a real safe zone held by Turkish troops when the air-only zone doesn't do the job. Yes, a no-fly zone protected the Kurds in Iraq after we defeated Saddam in 1991. But it didn't do the Shia in the south any good at all. The difference was the ability to hold ground.

And then there is an investigation about whether intelligence is being slanted to make the war seem more successful than it is:

The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.

I certainly expressed my doubts that a metric of ground lost by ISIL really showed that we are winning.

So the war goes on. It is mostly stalemate, but I give the advantage to ISIL on points because ISIL has the most significant successes by clawing against Assad in Syria and still holding the recently taken Ramadi (as well as expanding abroad which will help them recruit replacements for their losses to our air campaign).

But that could change rapidly if--as I have to believe--we really do plan a war of movement in Anbar province despite the painfully slow advance taking place now around Ramadi.

The Army Challenge

The Army needs to adjust to the fact that it will get far less funding than it needs and prepare for the day it will be sent to war despite that shortfall.

I'm not comfortable arguing that the Army is paying for Air Force planes and Navy ships. One budgets for threats with limited money and you have to make choices. The Army has lost this battle for now.

And no, suffering the most in our wars since 9/11 doesn't get the Army any credit. That's a sad fact of life.

Not that I don't agree that the Army is underfunded.

The Army thinks it would have problems defeating Russia right now:

A series of classified exercises over the summer has raised concerns inside the Defense Department that its forces are not prepared for a sustained military campaign against Russia, two defense officials told The Daily Beast.

Many within the military believe that 15 years of counter-terrorism warfare has left the ground troops ill prepared to maintain logistics or troop levels should Russia make an advance on NATO allies, the officials said.

Among the challenges the exercises revealed were that the number of precision-guided munitions available across the force were short of the war plans and it would be difficult to sustain a large troop presence.

“Could we probably beat the Russians today [in a sustained battle]? Sure, but it would take everything we had,” one defense official said. “What we are saying is that we are not as ready as we want to be.” ...

At his last briefing with reporters, Army General Raymond Odierno, the outgoing Chief of Staff of the Army, said NATO exercises conducted in Europe exposed even small challenges that could have outsized impact in a fight against Russia.

“One of the things we learned is the logistical challenges we have in Eastern Europe. For example, Eastern Europe has a different gauge railroad than Western Europe [where U.S. has traditionally trained] does so moving supplies is a more difficult. So we are learning great lessons like that,” Odierno said.

“We may very well be able to provide the airpower that would allow us to prevail in a fight, but the current state of our air forces definitely doesn’t make that a sure bet.”

More serious was Odierno’s warning that “only 33 percent” of the U.S. Army’s brigades are sufficiently trained to confront Russia. That’s far short of the 60 percent needed. Odierno said that he does not believe the Army will reach those levels for several more years.

The Army is small and could get smaller. This is a problem we could regret:

A Rand Corp. analyst warned Tuesday the U.S. could “regret” tackling the nation’s three largest security threats with the currently planned reduced Army force structure.

Remember, one day in the future the question of sending our Army to war will be the debate. If somebody correctly states that we have to go to war with the Army we have and not the Army we wished we had, remember that right now we are building the Army we wish to have on that future day.

And then we will send the Army we have to war. Whether or not we have the Army we wish we had at that moment. That's a fact of life that the Army must live with.

Fear is the Beginning of Wisdom

Right now, Sweden is not NATO-worthy. Strategypage provides a summary of how they got this way.

Sweden has started to react:

Swedes now realize that the Russian threat is now and it is growing. The Swedes are now more aware of their precarious defenses but have not really done much to remedy the problem. Going back to the old “reserve army” will require the reintroduction of conscription and that is not popular. It is really all up to the Russians. If they become a scary enough threat the Swedes will rearm, otherwise it is mostly posturing and angst.

Perhaps Russia will give them the time.

But joining NATO is not a substitute for rearming.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Run Away!

American troops help to keep the peace between Israel and Egypt in Sinai. So naturally the administration is considering pulling them out:

The Obama administration is quietly reviewing the future of America's three-decade deployment to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, fearful the lightly equipped peacekeepers could be targets of escalating Islamic State-inspired violence. Options range from beefing up their protection or even pulling them out altogether, officials told The Associated Press.

The American forces have helped marshal peace in the peninsula since Egypt's 1979 historic peace treaty with Israel. Some 700 members of an Army battalion and logistics support unit are currently there. They mainly monitor and verify compliance, and have little offensive capability. Several other countries also provide personnel.

This is not a United Nations force. We organized it. To responsibly end a war.

It has been quietly doing its job. Notwithstanding fantasy rumors about it.

See the web site of the Multinational Force & Observers.

Jihadis are waging a war in Sinai against Egypt, aided by Hamas in Gaza. So there is danger.

Call me cynical, but I wonder if we are floating the option of removing our forces--thus killing the whole mission--to pressure Israel into staying quiet on the Iran nuclear deal that Israel opposes.

Or is it just natural to retreat from everywhere? That's possible, too.

UPDATE: Of course, if we are floating this to pressure Israel, there might be collateral damage in Egypt if al-Sissi sees this as evidence that he can't rely on us:

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, making his second visit to Moscow in three months, says he hopes for Russia's help in combating terrorism in the region.

Yeah, Assad might give al-Sissi an earful about loyalty:

Assad described Russia as "principled", while "the United States abandons its allies, abandons its friends."

He added: "This was never the case with Russia's policy, neither during the Soviet Union, nor during the time of Russia... Russia has never said that it supported President Such and Such and then decided to abandon him."

Not that I worry that Egypt could flip to Russia. Egypt is still reequipping their military after flipping from the Soviet Union to America after the Camp David Accords that led to our Sinai observation force to keep the peace.

But Egypt certainly has reason to hedge their bets. And Russia would love to improve their position in the eastern Mediterranean. Why expend so much effort to take Crimea from Ukraine if not to project power south?

This Time for Sure!

Thankfully, we have a lot of experience with disarmament deals with nutball regimes. Let's review.

The WMD deal with Iraq was violated by Saddam who secretly kept WMD programs for a while, then refused to verify he no longer had active programs, and kept the ability to reconstitute the programs despite inspections.

We went to war with Iraq.

The nuclear deal with North Korea was violated by the Kim dynasty and now North Korea has nuclear explosive devices (if not deliverable nuclear weapons yet).

North Korea repeatedly threatens us and our allies with destruction. And their regime make even regular nutballs look better by comparison.

The WMD deal with Libya still left a psychopathic dictator in charge of a mostly de-WMD's state.

We went to war with Libya.

The nuclear disarmament deal with Ukraine worked. But sadly Ukraine probably regrets that decision given that they've lost significant chunks of their territory to Putin.

The chemical weapons deal with Syria left a psychopathic dictator in power who still used chemical weapons inconveniently left off of the deal.

The death toll mounts in Syria, jihadis run wild (and crossed into Iraq to take Mosul and the region), and our involvement against most sides in the civil war ratchets up.

And now we have a nuclear deal up for approval with Iran.

But this deal will work much better, we are reassured.

But hey! We'll always have Khazakstan! Whether they'll retain that secure feeling as Putin casts longing glances their way, we'll see.

And no, I don't count South Africa. For whatever reason they gave up their nukes, nobody had to make them do it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

You've Got a Friend

France honored the Americans and Briton who counter-attacked the gunman on that French train:

The president of France pinned his country's highest award, the Legion d'Honneur, on three Americans and a Briton on Monday, saying they "gave a lesson in courage" by subduing a heavily armed attacker on a high-speed train carrying 500 passengers to Paris.

President Francois Hollande said that while two of the Americans who tackled the gunman were soldiers, "on Friday you were simply passengers. You behaved as soldiers but also as responsible men."

Hollande then pinned the medals on U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their longtime friend Anthony Sadler. All took part in subduing the gunman as he moved through the Amsterdam-to-Paris train with an assault rifle strapped to his bare chest. British businessman Chris Norman, who jumped into the fray, also received the medal.

It's so odd. James Taylor didn't get the Legion d'Honneur for his response to an earlier terror attack.

This is a much better ending than some weepy, self-absorbed #bringbackourtrainpassengers Twitter campaign.

The Last Resort of a Scoundrel

Venezuela is spinning into poverty and chaos. Should the Dutch be worried?

Venezuela, despite oil wealth, is clearly faltering under their Hugo Chavez-designed socialist economic system, which the current ruler, Maduro, is unable to make work:

Venezuela is slipping toward a humanitarian crisis. News of its latest economic low point, or of President Nicolas Maduro's most recent political tantrum, tends to eclipse this slow-motion disaster. Yet the danger of a Venezuelan implosion is growing.

I know. An economic system designed by this man is imploding?


It boggles the mind, no?

The editors say that Venezuela's neighbors need to worry about chaos flowing out from a chaotic Venezuela.

But it might be worse. What if Maduro tries to rally his hungry and toilet paperless people with a foreign enemy?

It would be unwise to take on Colombia, whose armed forces are experienced after decades of war--that they are finally winning--with leftist/drug cartel insurgents.

A threat to Panama would not work out well since we retain an interest in protecting the canal.

Guyana is weak and Venezuela has a large territorial claim on them, but the Organization of American States would have to take notice of that kind of hemispheric violence.

And Brazil? It may be true that Brazil is the power of the future--and always will be--but they are still capable of drubbing Venezuela. And there is the OAS thing.

So who could Maduro target to distract his people and avoid angering a near power able to smash his armed forces?

I think the Dutch need to worry about defending the Dutch West Indies from Venezuela. I thought so back in 2007. And the case for capturing these Caribbean islands is stronger today.

Venezuela would gain traction with the claim that they are ending the last remnants of colonialism. So the OAS would likely be at least neutral.

NATO is now focused on Russia. Would the NATO reaction force risk coming to the Western Hemisphere?

Russia would be more likely to help Venezuela--if quietly--to harm a NATO nation and gain a bridgehead (militarily useless for Russia but good for image as a globe-spanning power).

And are the Dutch really better prepared than they were back then?

You never can tell whether Maduro will get tired of his Axis of El Vil Status and wants to make the jump to evil.

No Mission Accomplished

Listening to defenders of the Iran nuclear deal insist that without the deal Iran will go nuclear in a year drives me batty. Let me repeat, being able to go nuclear in a year (or any other time period) is a measure--imperfect since we are observing from afar--of technical ability to race to a nuclear device if the Iranians push the pedal to the medal.

The assumption of defenders of this farcical nuclear deal that because Iran now has the ability to race to a bomb in a year that they will race to the bomb without the deal ignores that Iran has achieved this narrow breakout period for the last decade or so. And they have not pulled the trigger yet.

So to believe this claim you have to assume that without the deal, whatever reason was holding Iran back in the past (lack of a warhead design, working ICBM, or adequate defenses?) from making the decision to race to a bomb will no longer hold Iran back.

There is no reason to assume that. Or that a deal will change the calculations of Iran that have so far kept them from making that decision.

It's quite possible Iran thinks they need a decade to get a warhead design, perfect and build an ICBM, and build air defenses, so buying that decade of time that keeps America from attacking them--and providing a cash windfall, too--is a great deal for them.

So yes, no deal is probably better than this deal.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Window of Opportunity?

It strikes me that if Israel really wants to hurt Hezbollah while they are occupied in Syria so heavily, that they have a window of opportunity between now and when Congress votes on the Iran nuclear deal.

Iran has a lot of incentive to be on their best behavior (well, for them) in order not to undermine the willingness of members of Congress to back the president on upholding this awful deal.

Okay, Now I'm Worried

Although talks are going on between North and South Korea, am I making too much of the fact that the broke North Korea with a rotting military actually managed to put more than 50 of their hard to maintain and crew submarines at sea?

North Korea is doing something:

The meeting at the Panmunjom truce village inside the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) began on Saturday evening shortly after North Korea's deadline for Seoul to halt anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts or face military action. It broke up before dawn on Sunday.

Even as the talks restarted, the rivals were on high military alert, with the North deploying twice the usual artillery strength at the border and a majority of its submarine fleet - more than 50 vessels - away from bases, the South's defense ministry said.

They doubled their artillery and sent the majority of their sub fleet to sea? The former wouldn't be too difficult since you just have to tow stuff. It doesn't even have to work or have much ammo available.

But putting subs to sea means they have to be crewed and seaworthy. That takes a good deal of time and a lot of effort to prepare. And they're old.

They put more than 50 to sea. If that is accurate, of course. But this article says that 70% of North Korea's 77 subs are at sea and "undetectable." So they either submerged or sank.

And the South Koreans say this:

The official said he couldn't immediately confirm whether the North's submarine activity was one of its strongest since the 1950-53 Korean War.

So this is unusual at the very least, if that question arose.

As my 2012 The Military Balance assesses, "[North Korean] equipment is in a poor state, and questions remain over personnel training, morale and operational readiness."

So even if this isn't the strongest ever deployment, the fact that it is being done now when their military is in such bad shape says a lot about the effort needed.

Mind you, I don't think North Korea could win a war with South Korea and her allies--essentially America and Japan. I can't imagine that even North Korea's leaders are so lost in their fantasy world that they believe they could win.

Although I'll admit that massive chemical weapons use and perhaps some nukes would give them a shot if it shattered the South Korean military and allowed the North Korean troops to carry out a nearly unopposed road march south.

But the prospect of defeat might not deter North Korea's leadership.

Perhaps the long collapse is finally coming close.

Perhaps in response the North Korean leadership sees the alternatives as an uprising with a military unwilling to defend the regime on the one hand; and on the other, a losing conventional war with South Korea that rallies the people around the regime, decimates their own military which may be less than loyal, and rallies the survivors after a ceasefire.

Remember, North Korea went to a strategy of kooks, nukes, and spooks--using spies to control their people and nukes to deter invasion--because the large military is unaffordable.

But it really is a problem for the regime to starve the military of resources.

So why not engineer the reduction of the useless for domestically dangerous army by South Korea?

North Korea really just needs the ability to bombard Seoul--not advance to Pusan.

And really, why would the North Koreans care if any of their submarines survive? Their most glorious use would be to demonstrate the horrible nature of their many enemies and end the money drain to keep them in service.

This strategy for regime survival assumes we and the South Korea don't march north--even a little bit--and assumes China doesn't march south, of course. Perhaps North Korea does have some nukes that they believe could deter such a bad final outcome.

Or they believe the threat of Chinese intervention will stay our hand.

And remember, if we look at all kinds of indicators that would signal an invasion (and we do), North Korea could fool us because the North Koreans wouldn't need to carry out a lot of activities that we would detect if the purpose of the war is not to win a war but to safely lose and rally the people, decimate useless parts of the military and generally chop it down to size without releasing trained and possibly angry troops into the civilian world.

Perhaps North Korea blinked over their 48-hour deadline for South Korea to stop their loudspeaker news broadcasts at the DMZ.

Or perhaps Kim Jong-Un was simply overly optimistic that his forces could be put in position in 48 hours.

Perhaps I just don't know nearly enough about what North Korea is doing and not doing to realize that my pucker factor shouldn't be rising to dangerous levels.

UPDATE: The submarine deployment is indeed "unprecedented."

And this is a bad time for things to go boom in the neighborhood:

The Pentagon said on Sunday it was aware of reports of an explosion at a U.S. military base in Sagamihara, Japan, but said it could not confirm the blast occurred on the base.

During a crisis is a bad time to have explosive accidents. If it was an accident.

UPDATE: Talks continue:

South Korean President Park Geun-hye demanded on Monday that North Korea apologize over recent landmine blasts, even as the bitter rivals held marathon talks to defuse tensions that have brought the peninsula back to the brink of armed conflict.

Are the North Koreans talking because they realize they made a mistake and want to talk back their threat?

Or do they just need time?

Question: where are the 50+ North Korean subs going? The Korea Strait to interdict shipping? To positions to unload commandos (which could be in Japan, too)?

Sometimes people send in the diplomats to further war aims and not to avoid war.

UPDATE: I've read some who claim suspending the exercises even for a short time reflected the Obama administration "blinking" in the face of North Korean threats. I disagree.

If our troops are in the field on exercise (without live ammo, or little) and the enemy invades, those troops are dead meat if hit. It makes perfect sense to pause and see what is going on in case all Hell is about to break loose.

We paused and then resumed the exercises. Although if we didn't see many of the indicators we believe we'd see on the eve of invasion, keep in mind my caveat above about what North Korea might be thinking.

The Harfification Continues Apace

When Admiral John Kirby was a spokesman for the Department of Defense, he did a good job and seemed very credible. Now that he wears a suit and speaks for the Department of State, he simply seems to be rapidly going native as a spinner in service of denying the obvious.

This is just a personal subjective observation. But it seems accurate. I just hope he doesn't have to start wearing pajama boy glasses.

UPDATE: Well, he isn't up to the glasses yet.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

When Kerry Met Rouhani

I've been writing for a long time that the outline of a nuclear deal between America and Iran has been painfully clear: Iran will pretend not to have nuclear weapons programs; and we will pretend to believe them. The Parchin side agreement (Remember, it isn't secret--we just can't see it) is a small but easily digested example of this level of pretending.

Let's review the Parchin side deal between Iran and the IAEA (tip to Instapundit):

The document, titled “Separate arrangement II” – which was referenced in a Wednesday AP story and published Thursday – indicates that Iranians will be allowed to inspect themselves for evidence of the nuclear work they conducted at Parchin [a][b]. Instead of allowing IAEA inspectors to collect evidence from the facility, samples will be collected by the Iranians using Iranian equipment. Instead of allowing the IAEA to collect everything it wants, only seven samples will be handed over from mutually agreed upon areas. Instead of giving inspectors access to facilities, photos and videos will be taken by the Iranians themselves, again only from mutually agreed upon areas.

The side agreement is a farce. What kind of pressure was the IAEA under to even agree to this level of pretending to inspect? I wonder if someone at the IAEA leaked this in protest to putting their integrity into a blind trust for the duration of the deal.

And you wonder why I worry about what the IAEA could ignore with different personnel in charge if this is possible now?

Here is the text of this side deal which includes this gem:

The above mentioned measures would be followed, as a courtesy by Iran, by a public visit of the Director General, as a dignitary guest of the Government of Iran, accompanied by his deputy for safeguards.

So in the side deal, after the pretend inspecting is completed, Iran also agreed to a dog and pony show by the DG of the IAEA to Parchin--the only IAEA official to visit the site--to create the illusion that the IAEA inspected the site.

The farcical inspections take place in the shadows--or they are supposed to, anyway.

The purely "courtesy" visit is to take place under the glare of the photographers. Why would that be?

And given my earlier joke, I'd really like to see every secret side deal.

Why would our administration go to such lengths to pretend that this deal is so great? And why does our president assume we can't tell the difference between a real deal and his deal?



We're screwed by this deal. And we're supposed to like it. Just lie back and think of presidential legacy!

All things considered, Meg Ryan is an amateur at pretending. Nobody in the Obama administration deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for this sorry spectacle of a deal.

But they sure should be in the running for an Oscar.

Lafayette, We are Still Here!

Two off-duty American military personnel along with a friend stopped a Kalashnikov-wielding attacker on a train in France:

A gunman tackled by young Americans on a train between Amsterdam and Paris pleaded with them to hand back his Kalashnikov after they overpowered him, one of the group said.

"Everything happened very fast," Anthony Sadler, a student travelling with friends Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone, both members of the US military, told France's BFMTV.

"I didn't realise what was happening until I saw a guard run past. I looked back and saw a guy enter with a Kalashnikov. My friends and I got down and then I said 'Let's get him'," said Skarlatos, a 22-year-old member of the National Guard in Oregon, who has recently returned from service in Afghanistan.

The American stabbed by the would-be mass murderer is expected to recover.

One, Skarlatos, is identified as a National Guard member without specifying whether he is Air or Army Guard. At least one man--the one stabbed--is a soldier, according to the US military. So that must be Spencer. The third American, Sadler, is a student.

Earlier reports credited the Marines. I don't know if that is the result of many decades of very good publicity for that service that led onlookers to assume that a charging frontal assault must mean Marines!

An American passenger was also shot.

The men received medals from the French in gratitude.

It may seem odd that the attacker pleaded for the return of his weapon, but after the Iran nuclear deal the attacker probably figured there's no harm asking.

So far French authorities are not speculating on the motivation of the 26-year old man of Moroccan origin.

UPDATE: Things are still unclear. Apparently, the man wounded is Air Force. Which conflicts with earlier reports. And there were Marines on the train who helped. Perhaps to help subdue the attacker after the other American responded?

Early details are dodgy. Which is why I didn't blog it last night, figuring by the morning it would be sorted out. But not yet.

But the big picture is there: American military personnel prevented a bloodbath.

UPDATE: The captured man is a known threat:

"If the identity he has declared is confirmed, he is a 26-year-old man of Moroccan nationality identified by the Spanish authorities to French intelligence services in February 2014 because of his connections to the radical Islamist movement."

He is believed to have visited Syria. For the waters, I'm sure.

The questioning should be informative.

And followed by French air strikes, I'm reasonably sure.

UPDATE: Sadly for French pilots, we got the number 2 ISIL SOB:

The second-in-command of the Islamic State jihadist group has been killed in a US air strike in northern Iraq, the White House said.

But the French shouldn't worry just because we got Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali. We left a bigger SOB for them:

Kayla Mueller, the U.S. aid worker killed this year while being held hostage by Islamic State militants, was raped repeatedly by the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, while in captivity in Syria, U.S. officials said on Friday.

#WhyGodGaveUsJDAMS

UPDATE: Wow, lawyers over there can be just as scummy as here:

The gunman who was disarmed by passengers on a train in France two days ago looked weak and malnourished and said he had only meant to rob people, a lawyer who interviewed him after the attack said on Sunday.

Yeah, an automatic rifle and 300 rounds is standard for a robbery.

UPDATE: Oh, and the attacker had a pistol and a box cutter.

Also, a British guy was involved in taking down the attacker as well as a French man:

Chris Norman, a 62-year-old British consultant who lives in France, was also decorated by Hollande on Monday.

Stone said another man, who is French and whose name has not been disclosed, "deserves a lot of the credit" because he was the first one to try to stop the gunman.

The West dodged a bullet. This time.

And sorry about the crack about lawyers. I know good ones. But the worst do give the profession a bad reputation among those who don't have contact with attorneys. They should just start calling themselves the "profession of peace," I suppose.

UPDATE: I wonder if the unnamed French man is an undercover train marshal, or something.