Monday, November 30, 2015

Unchecked and Unbalanced

In my career with the state legislature, my job was to follow the obscure administrative rules process in the state. While I appreciated the ability to delegate technical language to the executive branch, I developed a strong sense of protectiveness for the legislative role in making sure that the executive drafted rules in accordance with legislative intent.

The state legislature's role was gutted by the courts as an exercise of a "legislative veto." The case for that in a narrow sense was strong, I admit. But the legislature never tried to rewrite the system to protect the legislative branch's role, and it became a bit player in the process unable to do more than be a speed bump against the executive branch.

My explanations of the change failed to inspire any interest in strengthening the legislature's role. I could not advocate, but I wrongly thought that a simple explanation of how the system changed would raise the hackles of the legislature, regardless of what party you were.

The federal system is far worse, as Will writes:

As the administrative state distorts America’s constitutional architecture, Clarence Thomas becomes America’s indispensable constitutionalist. Now in his 25th year on the Supreme Court, he is urging the judicial branch to limit the legislative branch’s practice of delegating its power to the executive branch. ...

The Constitution,” Thomas notes, “does not vest the federal government with an undifferentiated ‘governmental power.’” It vests three distinguishable types of power in three different branches. The Court, Thomas says, has the “judicial duty” to enforce the Vesting Clauses as absolute and exclusive by policing the branches’ boundaries.

Read more at:

Do read it all.

The system has tilted the balance of power toward the executive in ways that should not be allowed to continue.

We'll see if this explanation and advocacy moves the legislature to limit the ability of the executive branch to essentially write substantive laws through the rules process.

And while I'm at it, the older I get the more thoroughly convinced I am that it was a mistake to make United States Senators elected directly by the people instead of being appointed by the state legislatures.

Again, as a staff member in the legislature, I wrote many resolutions urging Congress to do this or that. They were mostly stored in the circular file when they reached Washington, D.C. But it fed the urge to do something about a problem at the federal level.

Back in the day, such resolutions would have directed the two Michigan United States Senators to vote a certain way.

And the senators would, since their jobs depended on the state legislature. That was their constituency. No more.

And so instead of being servants of their state to protect the interests of the state against the powers of the federal government, United States Senators are just a part of the Washington, D.C. undifferentiated governing blob that grows and grows. The senators have more in common with each other than with their state.

Many people are too young to remember the expression "don't make a federal case out of this," meaning don't make some relatively trivial issue or dispute more of a big deal than it justifies.

The assumption behind that admonition was that the federal government only interested itself in national issues or really important state issues, leaving smaller issues to states and local governments.

Who uses that expression now? It wouldn't even make sense given how far the power of Washington, D.C. reaches into our lives.

And so power has shifted from the legislative to the executive branch; and from the states to the federal government. All fed by growing revenue at the federal level and a growing sense that no issue is too local to escape federal power.

Can you really say that we've benefited from this shift?

The Car Bomb Footprint Threat in Paris

President Obama last week urged world leaders to defy ISIL following the Paris massacre by meeting in Paris this week to--wait for it--discuss the climate:

US President Barack Obama insisted Sunday he would go ahead with a visit to Paris for world climate talks despite the deadly attacks there, urging other leaders to attend and show "we are not afraid" of extremists.

As world leaders fearlessly gather in Paris following the ISIL massacre to talk about halting the scourge of global warming in its tracks--which may not happen, which may not be primarily our fault, which may not be bad, and which we may be able to cope with at a far lower price in money and freedom rather than by trying to halt it--France will deploy a massive security screen to protect these leaders and their loyal minions from the car bomb footprint of jihadis.

In order to discuss climate change and these leaders' fear of carbon dioxide.

There are protesters who insist that the gathered leaders confront the deadly threat marched and chanted around the planet:

"Protect our common home," declared placards held aloft as thousands gathered in Melbourne.

Oddly, they seem fixated on temperaturephobia rather than on the jihadis who have plagued our homes in this era of Islamist terror.

I really just don't get nuance.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

If France Wants to Make a Difference

Rather than making a relatively small additional commitment to the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria where the outcome depends almost entirely on the difference that a fully committed America could make, France should lead the fight against ISIL in Libya.

ISIL's Libya bastion is a problem for Africa and Europe just to the north.

In addition, the bastion could be a fall-back position if the main front in Syria and Iraq collapses:

“Libya is the affiliate that we’re most worried about,” Patrick Prior, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s top counterterrorism analyst, said at a recent security conference in Washington. “It’s the hub from which they project across all of North Africa.”

The leadership of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is now clenching its grip on Sirte so tightly that Western intelligence agencies say they fear the core group may be preparing to fall back to Libya as an alternative base if necessary, a haven where its jihadis could continue to fight even if it was ousted from its original territories.

Like I've been saying since the Paris massacre when France indicated it finally felt at war, France should take the lead to destroy the Libya portion of ISIL.

Success there would provide a lot of advantages to the war on terror in addition to adding glory to France by being their front rather than being a slightly larger force in the coalition of scores who do nothing in the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria but who get their name on the credits.

And it is really just finishing the job that France was eager to start back in 2011.

Boots on the Ground For A Little While

I've long assumed we have this type of capability to put boots on the ground in ISIL-held territory in Iraq or Syria if necessary:

Syrian special forces launched an operation "behind enemy lines" to rescue the surviving crew member of a Russian warplane downed by Turkey, Syria's Al-Watan newspaper reported on Thursday.

"Eleven members of an elite unit of the air force intelligence service and a (Russian-language) translator, led by an officer, infiltrated 3.5 kilometres (two miles) behind enemy lines in the Al-Atira region on Tuesday and recovered the airman," the pro-government newspaper said.

If we had to rescue American or coalition aircraft crew down in enemy territory, we'd need Air Force rescue troops, helicopters/V-22s, slow moving combat aircraft, and other special forces and regular troops in reserve in case it gets sticky on the ground.

I hope I'm not assuming too much. After all, I'm a bit surprised that Russia didn't have their own forces in Syria capable of carrying out this mission.

If We Do the Job Right, Few Will Even Know About This

To prevent a country or region from deteriorating enough to require 150,000 American troops on the ground, you can leverage stability with just a few troops who make local forces capable of maintaining stability. As we are doing more and more in Africa.

Africa Command (AFRICOM), our geographic command that controls United States Forces in Africa (minus Egypt, which is in CENTCOM--Central Command), has Army forces throughout Africa working to improve African militaries in both military capabilities and in proper civil-military relations (no coups):

For American soldiers, the mission in Africa is a refreshing and welcome change from Middle East and Afghanistan deployments, said Army Col. Barry “Chip” Daniels, commander of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division. The brigade was assigned to support Africa Command from January through September. Of the brigade’s 4,500 troops based in Fort Bliss, Texas, as many as 1,100 were deployed in Africa at one time, Daniels said during a meeting with reporters last week at the Pentagon.

“We did theater security cooperation across the continent. About 100 missions in 26 countries,” he said.

These engagements are nothing like the standard Army brigade deployment, Daniels said. For one, the teams bring a much lighter footprint than what the Army is accustomed to. Only one battalion of about 800 soldiers was in Djibouti for the entire nine-month tour. The rest of the brigade stayed back at Fort Bliss. “We would rotate small teams of three to 130 people to conduct theater security cooperation and exercises,” he explained. “They may go for a week to four months.”

This is pretty new for the Army. Traditionally, special forces and not regular units carried out training of other countries' troops. But our special forces are pretty engaged in the kinetic side of their skills portfolio in the war on Islamist terrorists.

So to help fill the gap--because you can't snap your fingers and quickly expand special forces enough while keeping them "special"--the Army has committed to the concept of Regionally Aligned Brigades, which commits units to specific regions. In this case, the third brigade of the 1st Armored Division.

So the troops fill in on the training role--and have a battalion for emergencies--across Africa. (And a Marine unit ashore in Spain has the same job at the northwest part of the continent.)

Ideally, we train African troops so they are effective enough to defeat threats to stability--and so preclude the need for foreign direct intervention to keep threats from rising against us, too.

And ideally these more effective African troops have leaders who won't use those military skills to set themselves up in the presidential compound outside of democratic processes.

As a benefit, we build relations with local forces and build up knowledge of the region in case the worst happens and we have to intervene.

It's also nice to read that despite the suspicion that greeted the creation of AFRICOM in 2007, countries have welcomed our deployments that come in, help out, and then leave.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Other Gulf

A Polish ship was attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea. With problems in governance ashore and the distance from major naval powers, this continues to be a problem despite the lack of publicity that Somali piracy generated.

This is a dangerous area to sail:

Five Polish sailors are being held by kidnappers after a cargo ship belonging to a Polish company was attacked off the Nigerian coast, an incident Poland says highlights the need to review safety procedures of vessels operating in the area. ...

The area where the kidnapping took place was not traditionally frequented by pirates Polish Maritime Minister Marek Grobarczyk said.

I thought the whole region was rather dangerous. Why would the specific area be a relatively safe area?

This article says that different agencies track the problem differently, which could account for thinking one place is safe:

This brief overview shows that depending on the source of information, the type of analysis, the depth of detail and the reporting requirements of the client, the interpretation of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea can differ significantly—with a potentially profound impact on the industry’s risk management posture and on stakeholders’ and policymakers’ reaction to the situation.

Indeed. While waters off of Benin and Togo are high risk, the region reaching down to Angola is under pirate threat, really.

And we lack persistent naval power in the region, which is far from the western Pacific or the Middle East where we focus naval power. Heck, we have little naval power committed to European waters these days.

Helping locals do a better job of policing pirates would be a good thing to do. Figuring out how to get out-of-area powers to help out, as was done off of Somalia, would help, too.

When Macro-Aggression Shrinks

If this video shows all you have to worry about, your life--and our society--is pretty darned good.

One wonders how much more the aggression has to shrink before the problem (nano-aggression?) becomes thought crime.

If our problems with Islamists gets reduced from bombings, rapes, and beheadings to complaining about their micro-aggressions, I think we can declare victory there, too.

Tip to Instapundit.

We Can Carry Out Military Drills in International Waters

This article says we will likely conduct a freedom of navigation exercise aimed at China in the South China Sea sometime in December. Will it actually be a freedom of navigation exercise that challenges China's sovereignty claims?

We will sail near a Chinese artificial island again. But this information about the last one raises questions about whether we actually carried out a freedom of navigation operation:

Earlier this month, Senator John McCain, the Republican head of the Senate Armed Services Committee called on the Pentagon to clarify publicly the legal intent of last month's patrol.

U.S. officials said the Navy avoided military drills that could have exacerbated tensions with Beijing during the Lassen's Oct. 27 patrol in the Spratly Islands, an approach experts said could reinforce rather than challenge China's sovereignty claims.

As I noted, avoiding those military drills gut the purpose of a freedom of navigation operation and turn it into an innocent passage that does not challenge claims of territorial waters.

Are we defending freedom of navigation or just pretending to do that?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Russia Picks and Chooses

Russia is upset that Poland wants to scrap the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act and have permanently stationed NATO units from further west permanently stationed in the new NATO countries in the east. Since Russia has already violated the treaty, why shouldn't NATO just scrap the treaty?

This type of complaint takes a lot of nerve:

Russia's foreign ministry on Thursday slammed as "extraordinarily dangerous" Poland's call to annul a NATO act that prevents it from having permanent military bases on its soil.

"We consider these statements to be extraordinarily dangerous and exceptionally provocative," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Poland's new right-wing Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski on Wednesday called for scrapping the 1997 act on NATO-Russia relations to let the alliance install the bases, saying the document causes "inequality" between new and old members of the alliance.

Let's look at a couple provisions of the agreement that Russia holds so dear.

One, let's look at some of the big picture of the agreement:

To achieve the aims of this Act, NATO and Russia will base their relations on a shared commitment to the following principles: ...

•acknowledgement of the vital role that democracy, political pluralism, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and civil liberties and the development of free market economies play in the development of common prosperity and comprehensive security;

•refraining from the threat or use of force against each other as well as against any other state, its sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence in any manner inconsistent with the United Nations Charter and with the Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations Between Participating States contained in the Helsinki Final Act;

•respect for sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all states and their inherent right to choose the means to ensure their own security, the inviolability of borders and peoples' right of self-determination as enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE documents; ...

•prevention of conflicts and settlement of disputes by peaceful means in accordance with UN and OSCE principles;

Russia's foreign minister is implying that the West is about to rip up the act while Russia upholds it?

Just where is Russia's commitment to democracy and all the rest?

Hasn't Russia moved well beyond the threat of force with seizures of Georgian and Ukrainian territory? And threats have been plenty against NATO states and Sweden, with both military movements and verbal threats.

I think we can acknowledge the failure to respect sovereignty and the rest, as well as Russia's failure to limit disputes to peaceful means.

And two, what about those specific limits on NATO deployment?

NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defence and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.

Is Russia clawing back territory and seeking to keep neighbors as vassals part of the foreseeable security environment envisioned in 1997?

Doesn't Russia's failure to continue the security environment of the time eliminate the conditional pledge not to permanently station additional substantial combat forces in the east?

Perhaps I'm hasty in saying we should scrap the treaty. But we should match Russia's selective disregard.

NATO should suspend the permanent stationing provision of the founding act as long as Russia occupies Crimea and other portions of Ukraine in the Donbas region.

And let Russia know that the provisions on stationing additional permanent substantial combat forces will be reset at the level existing not in 1997, but at the level when Russia withdraws from Ukrainian territory and reaffirms the big picture commitments.

And we should insist that these commitments specifically include, but is not restricted to, the Baltic NATO states, Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia, which are in the main line of fire of Russia's drive to rebuild their empire.

All in all, Poland's desire to increase their army by 50% is fully justified given the current and foreseeable security environment:

Under the plan the Polish army would grow from its current strength of 100,000 to 150,000 as the country continues to expand the capabilities of its armed forces. Poland has pledged to hit the unofficial Nato defence spending target of two per cent of GDP and has launched an intensive modernisation programme.

Plus, Poland wants to create 3 new territorial brigades (like our National Guard reserve units) in the east.

Russia can't be allowed to pick and choose the most favorable parts of agreements they've entered.

And a note. The picture of the Leopard tank in Polish service in the Telegraph story sure looks like an American Abrams tank and not a German-made Leopard.

UPDATE: Related news on Russia's return to Cold War weirdness.

No Blitz, But It Is Krieg

The Iraqi offensive at Ramadi is actually making progress. We will see more progress.

It's been a long time coming, but the Iraqis do seem to be making progress toward taking Ramadi:

Security forces have been making progress in retaking Ramadi. Since September the city has been surrounded and troops have cleared ISIL forces out of more than half the city. There are about 5,000 ISIL gunmen in Anbar and that number appears to be declining. Several recent ISIL defeats in Syria and Iraq have been bad for morale and suddenly ISIL seems to have fewer people to send out to fight. ...

American and Iraqi officials have been insisting that Ramadi will be retaken by the end of the year. Such claims are often based on intel that is not available to the public. For a long time it was believed this was just wishful thinking but now the Iraqis are closing in and ISIL is not responding.

Like at Sinjar in the north, at Ramadi the ISIL forces don't appear to have the same devotion to fighting and dying as they once did.

As I noted here, it is good to see that ISIL jihadis are willing to retreat. Jihadis can be demoralized. Contrary to the notion that fighting jihadis just creates more jihadis, defeating them will discourage them, depress recruiting, and get them to run. The Strategypage post continues:

North of Mosul Kurdish and Yazidi forces drove ISIL out of Sinjar after a two day battle. Most of the 500 ISIL men defending the town fled as it became obvious that the attackers were surrounding the town and not taking prisoners. This lack of resistance was surprising especially when it was discovered the ISIL had dug over thirty tunnels under the town for their fighters to live in and fight from. ... While the Kurds mobilized and trained more fighters (including many Yazidi men) [to retake Sinjar] ISIL has been in decline. ISIL is not getting as many recruits, is suffering more desertions (despite executing those who try to leave) and ISIL morale and motivation has noticeably declined.

But at Ramadi, retreating is not as easy since the Iraqis spent time surrounding the city first, which this news reports:

Iraqi forces have cut Islamic State's last supply line into the western city of Ramadi by seizing a key bridge, Iraqi officials and a military officer said on Thursday.

The capture of Palestine Bridge, straddling the Euphrates river in northwestern Ramadi, means Iraqi forces have the city surrounded. They will now move to clear the city of the Sunni militants one neighborhood at a time.

So the situation around Ramadi is good. But unless there is some plan for a war of movement (as I've been hoping for and expecting from the Jordanians to the west), cleaning out Anbar province and moving on Mosul is going to take a very long time at this pace.

Yet the ground victory should happen. This is a good sign on that front (back to Strategypage):

North of Baghdad (Tikrit) soldiers and Shia militia repulsed an ISIL attack on two oilfields. This is increasingly common and it is now the exception when Iraqi troops flee contact with ISIL. It does still happen, but the government now allows officers to be punished for such failures of leadership.

This is also a good sign since Iraqi government forces need local Sunni Arabs to cooperate against ISIL:

In Anbar Iraqi special forces carried out an operation that rescued 220 civilians held hostage by ISIL. The hostages were from a pro-government Sunni tribe in the area and ISIL was holding the tribal members to coerce the tribe into not fighting with ISIL.

This is also good news for the long-term issue of blunting Iranian influence in Iraq and keeping Iraq as an asset in the war against jihadis:

Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, the head of the Iran backed Shia militias in Iraq said that if Iran ordered him to overthrow the Iraqi government he would do so. This confirms what Iraqi leaders have long feared. The Shia militias are supposed to be under the control of the Iraqi government, if only because the militia members are paid by the government. Yet the Shia militias often refuse orders from the government and are demanding more money while refusing to account for how they spend it. This sort of behavior is a major reason why the Iraqi government is so cooperative with the Americans since Iran is now seen as a greater threat than ISIL.

I've certainly been concerned that Iran would gain influence in Iraq. But I was never unduly worried--as long as we gave Iraqis an alternative to risking domination by dangerous and non-Arab Persians (despite the common Shia religious bond).

Despite my worries that it is taking so long to defeat ISIL in Iraq, the silver lining is that Iran has had the time to show their true colors. Iran has fanboys in the militias (as Iran had with that walking piece of breathing garbage Moqtada al-Sadr during the Iraq War insurgencies phase), but the government knows not to trust Iran or their militias who would replicate Hezbollah in Lebanon if they can.

So Iraq will need to tame and dismantle the militias loyal to Iran after ISIL is defeated. We need to help with this rather than (again) walking away before the job is completed.

Unfortunately, the Iraqi government also mistrusts the Kurds, which hampers cooperation. That will be more critical when ISIL-held Mosul is the objective. Fortunately, we have a lot of influence with the Kurds. So both sides need us and we can use this to keep either side from doing anything too counter-productive.

Do read all of Strategypage's post, which covers a lot of ground.

I've long had confidence that we could beat ISIL in Iraq. Even after the initial thrust into the north, I expressed my confidence that the Iraqi government could hold Baghdad and prevent a complete ISIL victory. As time goes on, the balance of forces has been shifting in favor of the Iraqi forces and their allies.

And now that balance is starting to show on the ground in Iraq.

No, America Did Not Create Radical Islamism

This thinking that tries to blame America for jihadis drives me nuts:

We created Islamic extremism: Those blaming Islam for ISIS would have supported Osama bin Laden in the ’80s

No, we did not create ISIL, any way you look at it. The Islamist extremism that motivates current jihadis has existed throughout the entire history of Islam which was born on violent expansionism.

Not that this means all Moslems today--or even most--support terrorism. But it does show that the motivation for jihad springs from their own society, well apart from our interactions with the Islamic world.

We no more created ISIL than we created the Soviet Cold War threat by arming Stalin's USSR during World War II.

And as an aside, I won't blame President Obama for the depravity of our enemies. I may think he could have done a better job of pursuing our interests in Syria and Iraq, but the blame for the violence in Paris and elsewhere is purely on the jihadis and not on our president (and not on so-called global warming that is in its 18th year of pausing regardless of whether it is a real factor blamable on us in the long run) .

Yes, we armed Islamists fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but that was a risk to defeat the greatest threat to the West we've seen.

And it worked. Whatever level of threat Putin's Russia represents to the West, it is weaker and further east than the Soviet Union was.

Should we have refused to help resistance to the USSR in Afghanistan because those Islamists might later turn on us? And risk the Soviet Union continuing on?

We didn't buy any positive views by helping Moslems throw off Soviet control?

For some, I guess, anything we do in the Moslem world ticks them off.

Should we have refused to help Stalin's resistance to Nazi Germany because those communists might later turn on us? And risk Nazi Germany continuing on?

Whether or not we had armed the Afghan resistance, the jihadi impulse was there and would have appeared regardless of our efforts there. The idea that jihadis not even born when the Afghanistan War raged got worked up over that is ridiculous.

And if that worked them up after all that time, that is a problem, no? Doesn't it suggest that nothing--not even a really splendid outreach speech in Cairo--can tame the jihadi impulse?

Is that the sort of existential conflict that we are in from that alleged Original Sin of America?

This thinking is just nonsense attempting to convince gullible Westerners that we dress slutty and shouldn't walk around at night. We got what we deserved, eh?

If it's not Reagan, it's the crusades. Or the cartoons. Or Guantanamo Bay. Or Iraq. Or just being in Saudi Arabia to help defend them.

What doesn't create jihadis?

The correct response to jihadi attacks on us is not to fixate on whether somebody on the victim side will do something wrong against some innocent person conflated with the jihadis!

Stop the sucker's blame-the-victim game of asking "why do they hate us?" as if we could figure out why we deserve their hate and so end the regrettable but fully understandable justification for slaughtering us at home.

Just ask "why do they hate?" with the proper focus on their failings to enter the modern world that our Secretary of State assures us rejects violence as a foreign policy.

And then ask, "why do we hate us?"

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Sink No Evil

Behold the anti-submarine capability of Europe's most militarily powerful NATO country:

After significantly cutting the size of its military in recent years, the United Kingdom was forced to call on France and Canada to help look for a Russian sub they believed was patrolling off the Scottish coast, according to a report in the Telegraph.

According to the report, the Russian sub was spotted more than a week ago and has yet to be found amid fears that it might be trying to spy on the UK’s Trident program — a sub-based nuclear warhead delivery system stationed in Scotland.

This is the island nation of the United Kingdom. Which endured two German efforts in two world wars to use submarines to starve Britain into submission.

The island nation whose nuclear deterrent is submarine-based.

So explain what power Britain plans to project into the Persian Gulf.

UPDATE: Britain will retire their largest warship after only 20 years of service:

The U.K. Royal Navy flagship — the amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean (L12) — is slated for scraping in 2018, the U.K. Ministry of Defence confirmed this week.

The move to decommission the Royal Navy’s largest ship, not mentioned in the MoD’s latest Strategic Defence and Security Review, follows mere months after the completion of a $97.8 million upgrade.

So no helicopter carrier to carry ASW assets or to project ground power to distant stations.

But don't worry. Britain will use one of their two new expensive 70,000-ton aircraft carriers--when finished--for amphibious operations.

That seems like a waste. Unless my notion for our Ford class carrier hulls has merit.

Defending Russia's Precious Bodily Fluids

Good grief! Putin let us see the big board!

It could have been a scene straight out of "Dr. Strangelove" when President Vladimir V. Putin stepped into the Russian Ministry of Defense's brand new, three-tiered, multibillion-dollar control center this week, for a war briefing that had its fair share of movie-like pageantry.

The fortified National Control Defense Center was Putin's first stop after officials confirmed that the Russian charter jet crash that claimed 224 lives last month was the result of an act of terror.

Luckily, the capabilities of the Russian military haven't improved enough to need this massive facility.

But if they do improve, worry. The Soviet Union showed how bad Russia can be and how stupid Westerners can be in dealing with them. After recounting her experience in the Soviet Union, Applebaum writes:

Recently, this has begun to seem significant to me. Not because my own experience was significant, but because it means that the living memory of the USSR is now truly fading and the nature of the USSR—its peculiar awfulness, its criminality, its stupidity—is becoming harder and harder to explain. The sense of being surrounded by lies; the underlying anxiety that someone might be listening or reporting on you; the constant, screaming, inescapable propaganda; the sullenness of the crowds on the Metro; the memories of mass terror just below the surface; the useful idiots and the cynical sycophants who supported the whole thing, both in Russia and abroad; all of that is now absolutely impossible to convey.

I haven't forgotten. But I'm older than 40. The Soviet Union was the reason I enlisted. And I haven't forgotten what the Soviet Union was.

And I remember the ease with which Westerners sought to excuse and minimize the Soviet threat and their level of evil.

And even praise them.

I'll never forget a test I took in college where one question was about whether the USSR of Stalin was gone because small freedoms in the gaps of Soviet power have appeared.

I was astounded. I basically wrote that it was ridiculous to argue that because some peasants were allowed to keep a few chickens apart from the collective that the system was any less evil. The apparatus of oppression and control used by Stalin to kill and imprison was still in place even if it wasn't being used to its full effect at the moment.

The system was still evil.

Putin hasn't rebuilt that system. But he is rebuilding the kind of government that can rebuild that system.

Yet it isn't enough to say that those under 40 don't remember the horrors of Soviet communism. Bernie Sanders--a United States Senator and presidential candidate--honeymooned in the Soviet Union and would not see the gulag all around him. He's pretty old. What's his excuse?

And here we are with Putin rebuilding his military and trying to rebuild the empire. And there are Putin fanboys in the West eager to excuse and minimize--and even admire--Putin's actions.

I truly hoped that Russia could put aside their past after the Cold War and join the West. I really did. I did not miss or pine for the Cold War days of hair-trigger nuclear balance of terror. I wanted Russia to join the West.

But Russia under Putin has chosen to confront the West.

Perhaps when Putin's cohort of leadership passes from the scene, a truly post-Cold War Russia will have another chance to reject paranoid confrontation with the West and actually join the West.

Although by then, the question might be moot depending on what China decides, eh?

Don't Forget the Pie


It is now a Thanksgiving ritual for me to watch the "Pangs" episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I didn't look this year, but one day I hope to find a better quality video online to link rather than my iPod-recorded video off of the screen.

New Life for Old Media

I'll always miss albums. While I love digital music, losing the cover art is rather a shame. The small thumbnails on your smart device aren't quite the same.

And it is why I still like CDs. They are smaller but still have visible cover art.

Mind you, I use the digital tracks that come with the CDs or rip them, so I rarely actually play the music CDs I have (or the tapes I collected for commuting before I had a car CD player). But having a physical reserve for the music is a comfort to my 20th century self.

And what about the vinyl albums I still have?

I recently tossed my combination turntable, tape player, and CD player. I realized I hadn't actually listened to an album in ages. I have a few of the old albums in CD form now--and hence have digital versions. So why keep the turntable when I really don't have the space for things of low value.

If necessary, I can still play CDs and even tapes.

But the albums remain. Not a lot, mind you.

And what happened to all my albums, anyway? I know I had a lot more and they are gone. When did I lose them?

I was recently looking for one when somehow it came up in conversation (don't hate me, it was Lover Boy--which would never make the cut for display, I'll say) but I couldn't find it--and a friend said he remembered seeing it. But we were once college apartment-mates so his memory could go back quite a bit.

Seriously, the Eddie Money album survived, but my Bruce Springsteen, The Knack, and Neil Young albums are gone?

And my AC/DC album! Good grief, I'm starting to think thievery is involved.

Or David Bowie.

Okay, I'll admit I dumped my Journey and Foreigner albums at some point. The shame.

I know exactly what happened to my 707 album. A good friend back in the day took it to get it autographed, and sadly, it was never returned with or without autograph.

If you are a certain age, you know this song:

I have a vague memory of seeing them live in Ann Arbor.

Yet I have the next two albums. How sad, really.

Anyway, at least some of my albums remain. I can't possibly part with them.

Unless whoever has been slowly stealing them cleans me out eventually.

They are icons of a lost age, really.

And then it came to me. You display icons:

Steal that!

This had long been a hole in one living room wall dominated by a large framed print in the center, flanked by a smaller piece over my daughter's desk on the right.

Once, the space featured a poster of kittens that my daughter had won at a festival (it's now in her room).

Because I have a daughter, I left off Candy O and Wild Eyed Southern Boys.

But I kind of like it. I might expand it with 6 or 7 album covers along the bottom and right edges in future years. That would be about it, although I won't do that if it crowds the main print rather than balances the wall.

When my daughter is grown, I suppose the other corner might work for a similar display on that side.

Or maybe I'll take them down.

Well, I have time to ponder those notions.

This is what you can do when you have a decorating notion and no wife to veto the idea!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We'll See New Oil Truck Hood Ornaments Soon

So we finally struck oil trucks in ISIL-controlled territory to deprive ISIL of oil sales revenue. We actually dropped leaflets to warn drivers to get away from the trucks before we hit them. That won't work many more times.

Why not? Because if we give the ISIL jihadis enough time, they'll put more human shields in the way to take advantage of our rules of engagement:

It is unlikely more American air strikes or talk about commando operations will make a difference and that is because the U.S. refuses to do anything about the very restrictive ROE (Rules of Engagement) used so far. ISIL has exploited this ROE by widely using human shields at many of its key bases. This recently led to ISIL putting hundreds of Shia into steel cages and moving them around by truck to where an air strike was anticipated. ISIL put pictures of these caged human shields and in general dared the United States to hit a target protected by caged Shia.

So we took our shot and did some damage.

But I assume that ISIL oil revenue will take a hit and then slowly climb as they adapt.

This is one way ISIL will adapt:

Now ISIL will have to hold hostage family members of drivers and execute hostages if drivers run away. This is an ancient technique that is still widely used in the Middle East.

But oil revenue is so important that I think it will include putting cages of captives in trailers towed behind the tankers. Keeping our bombs away rather than keeping drivers in the trucks is the higher priority.

After Paris, The Deluge?

Just what is the state of opinion among France's Moslems? Is the slaughter in Paris a leading indicator of shifting opinion?

Six of the Paris attackers did not come in from overseas:

The fact that most of the Paris attackers identified so far were European-born radicals has once again shined the spotlight on the growing problem in the West of homegrown extremism.

Authorities have identified four Frenchmen and two Belgians as suspects in the shootings and suicide bombings that killed 129 people on Friday.

A seventh had fingerprints that match someone coming into Greece as a migrant, if memory serves me, so it isn't a clean sweep for homegrown terrorists.

But it does highlight a potential crisis I saw a decade ago when French Moslems torched cars because of lack of jobs:

This year's rioting is based on lack of opportunity and is not jihad coming to Europe this year.

But this begs the question of what happens next time? First of all, I obviously assume there will be a next time. I assume this because I don't think the French are capable of opening their economy, government, or society enough to bring these suburban aliens into French life. So hopes raised by increased government attention to their plight will be dashed in a few years by pitiful results that leave France's Moslems in pretty much the exact same spot as September 2005. A few dozen more Social Cohesion mime academies won't count as progress.

My fear is that the jihadis in France will increasingly lead the alien and alienated Moslems of France. Remember our own Revolution. When colonists first confronted British soldiers with arms in April 1775 at Lexington and Concord, and then lay siege to the British in Boston, we did not seek political separation. Our forebears only wanted their rights as Englishmen recognized. It was not until July 1776, more than a year later, that we made independence from the British our official goal.

This is not jihad and it never has been, says Strategypage. But this says nothing of the future. Will it become jihad? A cry for rights can become a cry for separation in remarkably short time. Will we look back at the events at Clichy-sous-Bois as the first clash leading to a declaration of independence by France's Moslems?

You remember those riots, right?

I don't think we are at the point where there is a cry for separation.

But we are at the point where those who have separated themselves from France are willing to kill people rather than just torch cars.

Does it continue to get worse? Does ISIL try to actively provoke separation?

Has Moslem opinion in France started to lean toward choosing hijabs over jobs?

Or can France make an effort to assimilate their Moslem residents more effectively to reduce the urge to kill.

Of course, defeating the ISIL base of the potential outside support will have a good effect on convincing French Moslems that taking up the jihad inside France is no path to Paradise.

Dying for ISIL?

The seizure of Sinjar in Iraq by Kurdish forces highlights several important factors we face when taking on ISIL.

While taking the city allows us to cut the main transportation link between Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, don't expect the Kurds to die in significant numbers to destroy ISIL:

The fighters' apparent escape suggests the Kurds' priority was to seize the town —both for its strategic and symbolic value — not trap and crush the IS forces in it outright. IS's tactical retreat also points to the pragmatism that the group can show when badly outgunned — a contrast to other cases when its jihadis fight to the death, usually during offensives when they aim to wreak as much damage as possible before being killed.

The Kurds are the most effective non-jihadi fighters we have in both Syria and Iraq, but we can't count on them to do much more than defend their territories. So they can't be the force for defeating ISIL.

They can be the force that holds a sanctuary where the forces that can defeat ISIL can be organized and supported, but that's different.

But Iraqis are more willing to die for their country than Kurds are who don't really consider Iraq their country. The Kurds will work with us to fight ISIL to benefit Iraq--for a price--but they won't die in large numbers for Iraq.

On the ISIL retreat issue, I'll at least say in favor of our slow-motion offensive around Ramadi that our initial goal was to isolate ISIL there prior to going after them. That could be a battle of annihilation for the ISIL defenders.

The retreat also demonstrates that ISIL will sometimes retreat rather than mindlessly die in place despite the vows of jihadis that we love life and they love death.

And if we hit them hard enough on the ground with support from the air, they will retreat and scatter at some point rather than die for an obviously lost cause of defending the caliphate.

But if the ISIL forces had chosen to fight to the death in Sinjar, leaving the jihadis there for so long gave them the chance to prepare defenses that would exact a high toll on assaulting forces:

The Kurdish fighters who recently captured this city were impressed to glimpse for themselves a warren of tunnels and underground bomb shelters built by now-vanquished Islamic State occupiers, describing it as a feat of engineering.

The extremist group, which captured the northern Iraqi city of Sinjar in August 2014, has built tunnels in other parts of Syria and Iraq where it administers a self-declared caliphate. But Sinjar is one of the few places where Islamic State has been forced to retreat, offering outsiders a rare view of how the group marries meticulous planning with brutal tactics, such as using the local population as slave labor to fortify conquered territory.

“There are so many tunnels we can’t count them,” Kurdish Yazidi officer Maj. Hussein Khuru Murad said Monday. “This one let them go in and out of a shop on the street, and then make their way to a bomb factory,” he added, pointing to an entrance in the city center.

When you give an enemy time they use it. This time it didn't matter--except to the locals who suffered under ISIL brutality all this time.

But it does matter as a general rule.

So our coalition to defeat ISIL varies in their willingness to die; even jihadis can decide it is not worth it to fight to the death; and giving an enemy time increases the chances that the enemy can create conditions where our side will die in greater numbers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

It's All So Puzzling

Our government issued a global travel alert in response to jihadi threats:

Citing "increased terrorist threats" from militant groups in various regions of the world, the U.S. State Department issued a global alert on Monday for Americans planning to travel following deadly militant attacks in France and Mali.

It's so odd. I'm having difficulty understanding how this could be.

First of all, our president is not George W. Bush. So we've got that.

And then our new not-Bush president made a speech in Cairo reaching out to the Moslem world.

Yet still, almost 7 full years into the Age of Hope and Change, we still have angry jihadis trying to kill us?

All over the world?

Good golly gosh, just what could we possibly do in response to the threat beyond what we've done?

Floating Human Shields

We need to consider how we will conduct freedom of navigation operations if they are heavily opposed by Chinese civilian ships attempting to swarm and disable a single American warship.

China is more likely to swarm us than shoot at us:

China believes it can handle American warship visits to the South China Sea without triggering a disastrous (especially for China) war by quietly mobilizing a growing fleet of civilian cargo and fishing vessels. These unarmed ships are used, usually in groups, to block the moment of unwelcome foreign commercial or military ships.

Assuming we actually are conducting freedom of navigation operations, this is a problem I have worried about:

Let's not have one of our ships disabled with a propeller fouled in fishing nets and then set upon by Chinese coast guard vessels to tow it to port in a "rescue.

And before the mission, I was worried about China's "civilian" ships:

We should be prepared to disable Chinese civilian vessels ordered by the Chinese government to ram or otherwise interfere with our missions. I doubt China would escalate to Coast Guard or even navy vessels, but you never know. ...

No American ship sent to challenge the illegal 12-mile limits around artificial islands should go alone. It should have plenty of backup nearby.

And we should have means short of force to keep Chinese non-military vessels away from our ship carrying out the challenge.

Heck, I'd put a sizable Marine contingent on whatever ship we send in case the Chinese try to board the vessel after disabling it by ramming or fouling the propellers.

What do we do if fishing vessels swarm our warship and manage to foul our ship's propeller? Or even try to board our ship? Do we shoot at the Chinese "civilians" who have been essentially conscripted for an attack?

We have to carry out these missions. But let's be prepared for everything China might throw in our way.

Black Grades Matter

Black Lives Matter activists decided that white students studying is not what college students should do:

Protesters at Dartmouth University disrupted students studying in the library, reportedly directing profanity towards white students and physically pushing others.

In a critical editorial, the conservative Dartmouth Review listed some of the epithets hurled by the protesters: “Fuck you, you filthy white fucks!” “Fuck you and your comfort!” “Fuck you, you racist shits!”

Some students were physically shoved around, too.

The video shows mixed race protesters. The students in the video who stood up from their studying to join the protest should be ashamed of themselves. Not exactly profiles in courage, eh?

I find it troubling that young people who make it into a good university would decide that being an activist takes precedence over being a student.

The African Americans in the protest should especially reconsider their use of time. Given the state of education in the African-American community, you'd think that these students especially would take advantage of the tremendous opportunity they have to get an education from Dartmouth.

What a waste! How much better would it be for preserving Black lives in police encounters if more young Black men studied, graduated, and thrived; and if young Black boys had these men as role models? Perhaps having fewer encounters between young Black men and police on the streets would make a difference, hmm?

Sadly for these students who decided to major in activism, they may find that #BlackGradesMatter and that they should have spent more time in the library studying and less time chanting, insulting, and pushing.

Even worse for the students on all sides, the so-called adults at the university are more interested in standing up and joining the protesters rather than standing behind those who would--gasp!--use their time in college to study and encourage the others to be less activist and more student.

UPDATE: Not that injustice doesn't exist. But the snowflake Maoists on our campuses get in the way of addressing real problems by raising the trivial to monumental proportions.

This killing, on the other hand, is outrageous:

The white Chicago policeman charged with murdering a black teenager he shot 16 times spent his first full day in custody on Wednesday in a jail hospital ward, as calm prevailed in a city braced for civil unrest over new video footage of the slaying.

Protests were mostly small and peaceful on Tuesday and Wednesday following the release of a graphic clip showing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being gunned down in the middle of a street on Oct. 20, 2014, as he was walking away from police who had confronted him.

Unless police sincerely believed the boy had a suicide vest on and was a danger to others if he went much further, what potential crime was he suspected of committing that justified an instant death penalty?

Young Black men and older boys have enough problems with criminals in their own neighborhoods without the police assuming all are gang members, or whatever the police shooter's thinking led him to empty his weapon into McDonald.

People have a right to assume that the police will protect them.

Well, That's Sticky

The Russians in Syria have been crowding the Turkish border and Turkey shot down a Russian plane:

Russia's defense ministry said one of its Su-24 fighter jets had been downed in Syria and that, according to preliminary information, the pilots were able to eject. It said the aircraft had been over Syria for the duration of its flight.

The Turkish military said the aircraft had been warned 10 times in the space of five minutes about violating Turkish airspace. Officials said a second plane had also approached the border and been warned.

Could have been worse if we did it.

UPDATE: As Turkey looks to us for support, I'd just like to note that prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Turkey denied us the use of their territory for 4th Infantry Division to strike into northern Iraq.

Just saying.

UPDATE: Russia's military options to escalate against Turkey are limited.

Unless Russia nukes Turkey.

The collapse of the Warsaw Pact denies Russia the ability to attack Turkey from Bulgaria.

And the collapse of the Soviet Union eliminate Russia's land border with eastern Turkey.

Further, Turkey can instantly cut off Russia's sea line of communication from the Black Sea to the eastern Mediterranean via the Turkish straits.

Really, Turkey is strong enough to hold off a non-nuclear Russian attack with only logistical and intelligence help from NATO.

Before a conventional war is over, Turkey might have sunk Russia's Mediterranean flotilla and bombed Russia's naval bases in recently conquered Crimea.

I'm not saying Putin won't escalate. I'm saying it wouldn't make sense.

UPDATE: Stratfor has thoughts.

Let me add that if Russia wants to send a message directly to us, the temptation to go F-22 hunting might be irresistible.

UPDATE: If Putin hopes to leverage Russia's intervention in Syria to end Western sanctions over his invasion of Ukraine, this is rather counter-productive, isn't it?

Russia threatened economic retaliation against Turkey on Thursday and said it was still awaiting a reasonable explanation for the shooting down of its warplane, but Turkey dismissed the threats as "emotional" and "unfitting".

It will be tougher for Europeans to end sanctions on Russia over Ukraine when Russia puts economic pressure on Turkey--a NATO ally--over the shoot-down.