Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ground Troops to Poland?

Will we send ground troops to Poland?

That's what this says:

Poland and the United States will announce next week the deployment of U.S. ground forces to Poland as part of an expansion of NATO presence in Central and Eastern Europe in response to events in Ukraine. That was the word from Poland’s defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak, who visited The Post Friday after meeting with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon on Thursday.

That's a good idea. When I hear about US ground forces, I think maneuver units. Not air defense or helicopter units or anything else. Those units are great and valuable. But nothing says commitment like a maneuver unit of infantry, armor, and artillery, designed to take and hold land.

I agreed with a proposal to put our Germany-based Stryker brigade in Poland. Plus liked the idea of reinforcing the Army in Europe.

And while I'm at it, noted my earlier call to move our equipment in Norway for a Marine brigade to the Baltic states region.

And then noted my post-Georgia invasion proposal to put Army brigade sets of equipment in Poland. I stand by that, too.

But then I read elsewhere later (sorry--lost link) that this is referring to moving an American company of 150 men to the area for exercises.

Which is symbolic only.

Sure, we get familiar with the area. Which is valuable. And a big decision to base a brigade in Poland would take a lot more time to make and plan. So this could just be easing into that. But it isn't the big deal I thought it might be.

Of course, the biggest job will be to improve the logistics network of NATO to support the movement of western NATO forces into eastern NATO countries to come to the aid of NATO states under threat from Russia. That's the biggest brake on meeting a Russian threat.

But whatever agreements we had with Russia about not basing troops in the east is as dead as Crimea's status within Ukraine. Russia can whine and complain about this as our latest sin, but Russia is driving bad relations right now.

Air Farce One?

A civilian American plane was on the ground in Iran recently. Why is the question.

An American plane would need all sorts of permissions granted to go to Iran. Somebody got that permission:

Iran had an unlikely visitor: a plane, owned by the Bank of Utah, a community bank in Ogden that has 13 branches throughout the state. Bearing a small American flag on its tail, the aircraft was parked in a highly visible section of Mehrabad Airport in Tehran.

But from there, the story surrounding the plane, and why it was in Iran — where all but a few United States and European business activities are prohibited — grows more mysterious.

With talks with Iran about their nuclear programs going nowhere, I wouldn't be too shocked if the administration blessed an effort by a private individual to see if a deal can be worked out.

If so, I imagine it would have to involve American concessions to get a deal where Iran pretends to end their nuclear programs and we pretend to believe them.

But that is a long standing worry of mine.

With problems in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, the Obama administration would love to have something it could portray as a diplomatic success. They'd just have to maintain the fiction until the fall mid-term elections.

The mystery of who is on the plane and why they are there remains.

UPDATE: Iran has an answer:

Iran says that a plane which landed in Tehran airport flying the American flag was leased to Ghana's presidential office and carrying a business delegation from the West African nation. ...

State news agency IRNA on Friday night quoted Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as saying that the plane was transporting the brother of Ghana's president and a mining delegation.

Interesting. But nothing seems suspicious--like Uranium--off hand. I wonder how sanctions affect such a mission? And I freely admit I simply may not understand the nefarious uses that Ghana's mineral exports could support. Although we and Ghana are friendly, as the article notes.

So chalk it up as a short-lived, interesting bit of RUMORINT.

The Tax Meta Data

Instapundit notes TurboTax's lobbying effort to make sure tax filing is more difficult.

Yes, complicated is better--for them.

Which reminds me of a tax preparer company's commercials discussing their role in helping you comply with the complicated federal tax code.

Preparing your taxes, the commercial says, is like preparing the story of your life over the last year.

The story of your life in deductions and credits.

I don't want the federal government getting the story of my life when I pay my taxes. After all, they might disapprove of the story:

New emails show that both the IRS and Justice Department were involved in a probe of Tea Party and other conservative groups. This is no mere scandal — it's a major breach of the law.

Tip to Instapundit.

When I pay my taxes, I want the federal government to get the revenue needed to run government and carry out the core functions of government that Congress has authorized. They have no business getting the story of my life for the last year.

Friday, April 18, 2014

So We Got the Pivot Going For Us

Let's keep in mind that "reset" with Russia and "outreach" to the Islamic world were the Obama administration's reasons we could "pivot" to Asia and the Pacific.

So Russia invades Ukraine and the Middle East burns, with our major gain in the region--Iraq--under threat from Iran and unrest spilling over from Syria.

Meanwhile, in the Pacific:

During Obama's four-nation tour of Asia that begins on April 23, his toughest challenge will be to reassure skeptical leaders that the United States intends to be more than just a casual observer and instead is genuinely committed to countering an increasingly assertive China in the region. ...

U.S. officials say the Obama administration's long-promised "rebalancing" of America's economic, diplomatic and security policy toward Asia is on track, largely unaffected by the attention demanded by the crisis in Ukraine or persistent troubles in the Middle East.

The Asia "pivot" - as the White House initially dubbed it - represented a strategy to refocus on the region's dynamic economies as the United States disentangled itself from costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I love that. Worries about our resolve to win in Europe and the Middle East really should have no effect on Asian judgments about our commitment to winning in Asia. Because... Pivot. And stuff.

The administration considers the pivot on track not because moving assets and programs to the Pacific is increasing allied confidence in us and deterring potential foes. No, the pivot is on track because moving assets is on track--forgetting the difference between means and ends. Measuring the inputs is all that matters in judging the pivot.

And by that logic, events in Europe and the Middle East have no effect on judging our efforts in those regions we pivoted away from. We're drawing down. So who cares what happens? Success!

Perhaps at the end of 8 years of smart diplomacy, we'll receive total diplomatic consciousness.

So we got that going for us. Which is nice.

Pivot to Sevastopol

If the Ukraine agreement really doesn't ratify Russia's conquest as the price for preventing a Russian invasion of Ukraine, we need to pivot back to the Crimea issue, with a particular focus on Sevastopol.

Before Russia formally seized Crimea, I wondered if we could make this a crisis over Sevastopol to limit the damage and end the crisis.

That ship sailed. Russia took the entire region.

But maybe we can return to this idea as a basis for a lasting agreement. If Russia pulls out of Crimea but keeps Sevastopol as a base area after paying Ukraine handsomely for the base, we could lift sanctions.

Couple it with language that adds to Crimea's existing autonomous status within Ukraine to give Russia a visible but nominal victory "protecting ethnic Russians" that can justify withdrawal from Crimea outside of a Sevastopol base area.

Unmask the Invaders

As the crisis over Crimea and eastern Ukraine has gone on, there have been reports of masked Russians involved in the armed uprisings. We should catalog and publish all the incidents to unmask the operations as the Russian aggression that these incidents were.

Russian special forces weapons. Vehicle markings or plates. Accents and word use indicating Russian origins. Occasional boasting by masked men of their true identity. These were all hints at Russia's hand behind the image of resistance to Ukrainian rule.

Then add this in:

Many Western observers now take as fact that groups raiding buildings in places like Donetsk and Kharkiv are, in fact, Russian and not simply Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Consider the recent example of Kharkiv, where pro-Russian protestors first attempted to occupy the city’s opera theater before realizing that it wasn’t City Hall. “Presumably, the local citizens of Kharkiv, if they wanted to take over City Hall, they would have gotten the right building to begin with,” Steven Pifer, director of the Brookings Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, told Defense One.

Huh. Well that's embarrassing.

It strikes me that the Ukrainians, supported by our ability to disseminate information widely, should catalog all the instances where the masks slipped to reveal a Russian face behind the cover. Putin can keep denying that Russians are involved. But that denial could be repeated after every instance shown of actual Russians operating on Ukrainian soil is shown.

Russia complains that Ukraine is preventing male Russians from entering Ukraine, but that is just common sense, as I've noted in other circumstances.

Despite the glorious signed agreement in Geneva, the crisis will go on as Ukraine indicates:

The anti-terrorist operation is still going on and how long it continues depends on how long terrorists remain in our country," Marina Ostapenko, a spokeswoman for Ukraine's State Security Service (SBU), told reporters.

The Ukrainians will need a better operation, however. Sending in troops to confront semi-armed civilians was a mistake since the troops were equipped and trained to overcome resistance by shooting to kill. Outnumbered by aggressive mobs and unwilling to kill civilians (a good thing, really), the troops could only retreat or surrender.

I'd pay good money if we'd start calling this the Geneva Memorandum. (Oh. Why? Because of the Budapest Memorandum that should have prevented Russia's aggression.)

UPDATE: Add the saga of Andrei Petkov, solid Ukrainian citizen/German spy/selfless pediatric surgeon (What? No puppy rescuer role?), who has been featured in Russia's propaganda efforts:

The Petkov fabrications would make for a good laugh were the situation not so serious. Readers should not think that Petkov affair is an isolated incident. It is the norm rather than the exception. Viewers of Russian television are fed a daily diet of fabrications that show non-existent gun battles, savage beatings of innocent civilians, sinister forces proudly displaying Nazi regalia, and tearful residents of east and south Ukraine longing for annexation into Russia. Readers must understand that the Crimean Anschluss, accepted by many in the West, as a joyous, celebratory reunion was a cynical spectacle organized by Russian special forces, protest tourists, and local mafia thugs.

We can laugh. But don't. As amateurish as this incident is, we can't seem to counter it. Putin's efforts to justify an invasion of Ukraine are working inside Russia and is being picked up by too many Western outfits who describe unrest in eastern Ukraine as a budding civil war rather than the Russian Operation Chaos that it is.

UPDATE: Ah. I missed this:

In a blog post entitled “Who are the men behind the masks?” the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Gen. Philip Breedlove, offered the most detailed Western evidence to date that, despite Russia’s claims that the unrest there is an organic, local movement, it was instead the work of Russian troops posing as locals that orchestrated the apparently coordinated takeover of government buildings in eastern Ukraine that has plunged the fragile country into chaos.

“The pro-Russian ‘activists’ in eastern Ukraine exhibit tell-tale military training and equipment and work together in a way that is consistent with troops who are part of a long-standing unit, not spontaneously stood up from a local militia,” Breedlove wrote.

This is a start. But speaking of the obvious training is just one part of a story we have to tell about Russia's attempt to simulate a local uprising to justify a Russian movement into Ukraine to suppress the disorder.

UPDATE: More from RFE/RL on the 25th airborne brigade debacle, in which 6 vehicles switched hands to the pro-Russian groups. It seems that the soldier was offered money to switch sides.

As you may recall, I said that I wouldn't be surprised if money changed hands for the vehicles. The post doesn't directly linke the money claim to the vehicles, but my speculation isn't so off the wall. Ukraine rightly does not want to live under Russian rule--which is something to support--but it is far from being a bastion of rule of law. Let's not think we have anything other than a potential member of the Western community in Kiev. But at least there is hope without Russian dominance.

So let's put these bits of information together with Putin's claim of innocence leading off every one of them. Just pound the point of Putin's lying about Russia's role.

Resistance Risks Tension?

China is aggressively insisting that it owns islands that other countries own. Yet preparing to defend those small islands is what risks creating tensions?

China's expansive definitions of what is their territory isn't the problem that causes tension. The problem, the editors clearly believe, is that those on the receiving end of this aggression are preparing to resist Chinese claims:

Japan is sending 100 soldiers and radar to its westernmost outpost, a tropical island off Taiwan, in a deployment that risks angering China with ties between Asia's biggest economies already hurt by a dispute over nearby islands they both claim.

Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera will break ground on Saturday for a military lookout station on Yonaguni, which is home to 1,500 people and just 150 km (93 miles) from the disputed Japanese-held islands claimed by China.

Defending their own territory. How provocative.

I don't doubt that the Chinese will react with anger at such a move. But let's remember that China's reaction is not justified and it should not be a veto on perfectly normal Japanese decisions to defend their territory.

Japan's defense strategy is so far focused on dominating the air and sea following a Chinese land grab rather than holding the ground in the first place:

Japan's remote-island strategy, set out in the guidelines, is to "intercept and defeat any invasion by securing maritime supremacy and air superiority" with swift deployments supplementing troops positioned in advance.

"Should any remote islands be invaded, Japan will recapture them. In doing so, any ballistic missile or cruise missile attacks will be dealt with appropriately."

I think Japan can win that type of fight.

I also think Japan could supplement boots on the tiny ground by deploying robots to defend their tiny bits of land.

Resisting unreasonable Chinese demands is not provocative no matter how much the Chinese would like everyone else to just go along with China's claims.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Simple Reason Those Ranchers Aren't Terrorists

Senator Reid (D-Bizzaroworld) says that the Nevada ranchers in a land dispute are domestic terrorists. Reid obviously doesn't believe that and I can conclusively demonstrate why.

I may not have a strong opinion on the Nevada rancher issue, but pushing back against an intrustive federal government is not a major sin in my book.

Although the idea that the land isn't federal is kind of silly. I admit that whether or not a state should have so much of its land under the control of the federal government is a good question. I leave it to others to tackle the specific land issues.

But really?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is calling armed backers of a Nevada rancher "domestic terrorists" for using guns in a grazing rights battle with the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Don't be silly. Those people can't be "terrorists." If they were, Reid and his ilk would be wringing their hands while asking endlessly, "why do they hate us?"

If Reid and his allies really thought that the ranchers were terrorists, they'd be called the "ranchers of peace" and Reid would be directing cowboy poetry funding their way.

Heck, President Obama would probably give a big speech in Cheyenne, Wyoming, billed as an "outreach to the plains people."

And of course, the Council of American Independent Ranchers (CAIR) would be invited to sit in on every discussion of federal land policy.

That's why I know Reid doesn't actually believe the ranchers are terrorists.

I guess if it had been called "Occupy Bunkerville," and the protesters just stopped bathing while living in tents, the ranchers would have gotten better press coverage.

Cashing In?

There is a deal to de-escalate the crisis over eastern Ukraine.

Apparently my initial impression that Russia was bluffing to cover their insufficient military power to pull off an opposed invasion was right.

But Russian activity sure did make me question my judgment.

Of course, a deal essentially ratifies Russia's conquest of Crimea.

UPDATE: There is no timetable and we claim the issue of Crimea is not closed:

No timeline was given for the implementation of the agreement, but Ukraine's foreign minister said it should begin "in the coming days".

He added that the West is "not giving up" on Crimea, "but we did not come (to Geneva) to talk about" the peninsula.

The agreement also called on all sides to reject extremism in all shapes.

I tend to think this outcome was Putin's intent (because his military wasn't good enough to win anything but an ugly initial victory in eastern Ukraine) rather than being a case of our brilliant diplomacy keeping Russia at bay.

Membership Has Privileges

I would not go to war over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine has not pushed for NATO membership and we should not be in the business of granting the benefits of membership to nations that decide not to join. But we can and should help Ukraine resist the Russians in this crisis.

Yes, there was Russian pressure, Western fear, and Ukrainian divisions to explain it, but Ukraine did not join NATO and has not been on a path for membership. Indeed, as I understand it, Ukraine did not qualify because Russia had a base in Ukraine, which is against NATO rules.

Obviously, that block against membership is gone going forward.

But whatever the past, Ukraine is not a member of NATO and even if we had the logistics network in eastern NATO to project significant forces into Ukraine, we should not. It would be a terrible message to send that you can get NATO protection without joining NATO and contributing to NATO actions.

Yet as a member of the international community that is being subjected to Russian aggression in violation of both the United Nations charter and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine deserves help in defending itself.

And this is entirely inadequate help:

The United States is working on a package of non-lethal aid for Ukraine that could include medical supplies and clothing, but would stop short of providing body armor and other military-style equipment, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Good grief.

Major weapons are pointless. Ukraine can't integrate new weapons into their military on short notice. But we could send body armor and look for spare parts and ammo among our new NATO allies who are shedding Soviet-era equipment.

And we could help with communications gear and night vision equipment. Our main role should be to help Ukraine use what it already has to maximum potential and fill in gaps with easy-to-adopt equipment. Heck, could the Ukrainians use trucks for logistics?

Socks and MREs are great, but the Ukrainians need to be able to fight and maneuver--and survive.

Do we really believe that we are signalling firm resolve with Russia by escalating from MREs to socks and maybe upping the ante to tents and eventually to dreaded flashlights if the Russians continue to provoke unrest?

Help Ukraine fight and survive. That's the signal to send.

Preserve the Army

Trying to figure out just what Ukraine's military could do to defeat the Russians keeps leading me to the conclusion that the Ukrainian military simply isn't reliable enough to risk in a major battle. This makes scenarios a paper exercise based on paper units that likely won't reflect reality. The key objective of the army isn't to hold the east--but to survive the loss of the east while inflicting casualties on the Russian invaders.

Leadership is always the important factor in whether units hold together. When the 25th airborne brigade lost 6 of its armored vehicles recently (defection, theft, purchase--I don't know), it showed one problem with sending troops to the east.

That unit will be disbanded:

Acting President Oleksander Turchinov said on Thursday the entire paratroop brigade would now be disbanded and those who surrendered would be punished.

So scratch one paper unit. Perhaps the troops and officers can be filtered to reconstitute a smaller but more reliable unit. I'd focus on punishing officers and not troops.

Putting units up against civilian mobs is also a mistake, since the troops likely only have the option of shooting to defend themselves and that would make for very bad relations with the locals. And add to Russia's list of sins that they will use to invade.

Add in the fact that any Ukrainian troops pushed into the far east near the Russian border could be cut off by Russian pincers moving into Kharkov and Donetsk and then closing the gap by securing the north-south road between them where pro-Russian forces (organized and paid for by Spetsnaz) are already active.

So what can Ukraine do with their military?

One, the Ukrainians have to inflict casualties on the Russians and extend the campaign. If Ukraine can't hold their eastern (and possibly southern) regions, they have to deny the Russians "style points" by giving the Russians a quick and low-cost victory. Ukraine needs to pull a Finland and inflict enough losses on Russia to make them think twice about fighting Ukraine again in the near future.

This means that the Ukrainian military can't march off to battle to be destroyed in the first clashes in the east. The army has to survive.

So what would I do?

The Ukrainians have police, army, intelligence, and National Guard forces on the ground plus air force and a negligible navy that was unimportant before the loss of ships in Crimea.

In the east, before the Russians invade, the Ukrainians need to send police and special forces to the east for the main effort to use less-than-lethal force against the Spetsnaz rent-a-mobs to avoid bad optics. And to tangle with the Russian Spetsnaz and to organize pro-Ukrainian locals to resist the Russian occupation should it come.

Troops in contact with the mobs is a bad idea and risks either defections or collapse if units don't shoot and risk provoking a Russian invasion if they do shoot.

Only token army combat units plus some engineer units should be in the far east region between Kharkov and Donetsk, along invasion routes but away from civilians. Units should be mobile and asked only to destroy some invading armor, lay mines, fell trees, blow bridges and tunnels, and otherwise slow the Russian invaders a bit. They should know that they are expected to retreat and survive with rally points all the way back to the Dnieper River established.

Indeed, I'd have minimal mobile forces in the entire eastern region east of the Dnieper River. Let the initial Russian blow hit empty air. As the Russians push west, hit them with helicopter and air strikes and try to ambush them with small anti-tank units that keep falling back rather than trying to (vainly) halt the Russians.

Once the Russians move, I'd push National Guard troops into cities with orders to hold in place as road blocks. They can be stiffened with small units of the army with anti-tank and other heavy weapons to support these enthusiastic if poorly trained men. Hold in the cities to slow down the Russians and inflict casualties. And then scatter when resistance fails to see if they can either form partisan bands or escape west. Remember, the Russians will have a low troop-to-terrain ratio if they push west. Escape should be possible.

Main Ukrainian combat units should be held at the Dneiper River or deeper from the border in the south to prevent an easy link up between Russia and Crimea overland.

As Russians move west, Ukraine should use their attack helicopters to strike the spearheads of the Russian columns while transport helicopters move in anti-tank equipped infantry into blocking positions for ambushes and then withdrawal to do it again somewhere else.

Aircraft should be used to hit the spearheads, too. The Ukrainian air force can't win control of the air. And I doubt that they can deconflict air defense missiles with air operations. So rely on ground-based air defense missiles to inflict losses on the Russian air force while using aircraft to bomb, missile, and strafe the invaders. Burn the air force out to affect the ground war. If the planes wear out, so what? You don't get points for losing a war with planes surviving. Besides, there are lots of second-hand F-16s out there to re-equip after the war (and some A-10s, it appears).

Ukrainian artillery units could be organized into small units of a firing battery and a company of tanks or mechanized infantry for local security and an engineer detachment to move within range of Russian units, fire a volley--and then displace west to try it again. The engineers would plant mines or fell trees across roads or otherwise block chokepoints with obstacles to slow pursuit.

Hopefully, by the time the Russians are reaching the end of their first lunge into Ukraine, they've used up supplies, suffered casualties, and failed to decisively engage Ukraine's army even though the Russians will have taken territory.

If the Ukrainians can manage it, they should use their mobile units to counter-attack the Russian spearheads at this point. I don't anticipate a general offensive to regain ground. Just local battles to inflict losses on the Russians while keeping their own units intact.

Reservists who are mobilized and the new National Guard forces should be kept in cities to hold them and be a sponge to soak up Russian mechanized forces that try to enter the cities.

At the neck of the Crimean peninsula, I'd hold a thicker line. I hope Ukrainian engineers have been busy bulding bunkers and obstacles since the Russians took Crimea. And use artillery units to bombard the Russians holding their end of the neck. Helicopter gunships in smaller numbers could also raid the Russian line trying to pick off vehicles and heavy weapons.

I'd burn my long-range surfact-to-surface missiles in a bombardment of Russia's Sevastopol naval base.

These operations would keep Ukraine's 8th and 6th corps (division-sized units) busy. The western-most 13th corps should defend against a thrust from Belarus and mount the only real Ukrainian offensive by moving into Transdniestria as quickly as possible against the small Russian garrison there.

I'd want this done fast in order to free up the corps' aviation regiment and artillery brigade for use in the east or around the Crimea neck.

I'll add that this would require NATO intelligence support with satellite, AWACS, and JSTARS information shared quickly with the Ukrainians.

As for Ukraine's surviving navy, I'd be grateful if they can manage to lay a few mines and launch brief bombardments of Sevastopol before getting out of harm's way.

The end result if enough goes well, is that Russia has occupied a chunk of Ukrainian territory in the east and south--I don't know how much Putin wants or how much his military tells him they can capture.

But Sevastopol naval base is a shambles. A large burning Russian ship settled on the bottom of the harbor is a bonus.

Russia's army has suffered embarrassing losses.

Ukrainians are still resisting as partisans in the east (and south).

Transdniestra in the west is in Ukrainian hands.

And the Ukrainian army is still largely intact.

At that point, the Ukrainians can start infiltrating small irregular units, special forces, and intelligence agents into Russian-occupied Ukraine to organize and wage guerrilla war against the Russians while the Ukrainian army continues to use artillery to harrass Russian forward units occupying Ukrainian territory.

Just refuse to be beaten despite the loss of territory and compel Russia to fight a long war with too few troops to secure the area conquered.

Offer to talk, of course. But don't declare a ceasefire otherwise the talks are just a means to ratify Russia's victory with only the details to be determined. The goal should be the evacuation of the Russians. That's the only reason to talk.

Could this work? Don't know. But I know that Ukraine has to keep their army intact. And they have to inflict casualties on the Russians and drag out the fight to deny Russia a quick win that bolsters Putin's boast of an awesome Red Army reborn.

And the Ukrainians have to fight just to establish that they are a real country with a right to exist and not just a lost province of Russia waiting to be pulled into the empire when the time is right.

The Hotel California

When pro-Russian ethnic Russians heard Putin's mission bell, they thought to themselves, "this could be Heaven." But the shimmering light ahead was not what they thought it would be:

Life on the Black Sea peninsula, for most if not all its residents, has been turned upside down, at least in the short term. Shopkeepers post prices in both Russian rubles and Ukrainian hryvnia, and have to resort to hand calculators to make change. Lawyers and judges complain that the legal system is all but paralyzed. And Crimea’s main economic engine, tourism, is in danger, as the turmoil spooks tour operators and new visa requirements make vacations more of a headache.

And those who rejected annexation to Russia may not have a choice:

For those who want to keep their Ukrainian citizenship, however, authorities have set up a byzantine process and a strict deadline of Apr. 18 to do so. Those who don’t meet the deadline automatically become Russian citizens.

Russian citizenship is so great you don't even have the option of rejecting it!

I know it is early. But the notion that Crimeans would be eager to get inside Putin's increasingly dictatorial system struck me as insane:

And let's wrap our heads around the idiocy of Crimeans begging to go into Putin's Russia. Did nobody point out that when the opportunity presented itself between 1989 and 1992 that everybody who could manage it escaped from the then-Soviet Union's loving grip?

Putin has let Crimeans know that while they can check out anytime they like, they can never leave.

And so the Crimeans said, "We are all just prisoners here, of our own device" Ukrainians in the east should take note.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Press Release Was Enough

Apparently, Iran got more mileage out of saying that their "fleet" would sail the Atlantic than actually sailing the Atlantic.

Never mind:

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency is reporting that the country has temporarily called off a plan to dispatch warships to the Atlantic Ocean.

The risk of having the Great Satan rescue their broken down ships was probably a factor.

Use 'Em or Lose 'Em

Rebels in the north have reportedly received a small amount of TOW anti-tank missiles:

"Moderate, well-organised fighters from the Hazm movement have for the first time received more than 20 TOW anti-tank missiles from a Western source," the source said on condition of anonymity, and without specifying who had supplied the rockets. ...

"More have been promised should it be proven that the missiles are being used in an effective way," the source said.

This model, improved over the decades, is an old design. And I'm sure that there are older models that will work fine against Assad's armored vehicles. So I don't worry about these falling into the wrong hands.

It's a small start, to be sure. But in time, this weapon will induce more caution by Assad's armored vehicle crews.

I wonder what the proof is? Videos? I know in the campaign against the Soviets in Afghanistan, we supplied new Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to rebels only when we received a spent launcher in return.

Hmm

I take it Assad doesn't want to just sit and take Jordan's support for Syrian rebels:

Jordan's army says the country's air force has attacked cars that were at the kingdom's border with neighboring Syria.

An army statement says the attack happened Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. (0730 GMT). The statement says the camouflaged vehicles were driving in a rugged area near the border and ignored demands to stop from security forces.

The statement says Jordanian warplanes fired warning shots at the vehicles. The statement says the vehicles didn't stop and were then destroyed in airstrikes. The statement did not say how many vehicles were destroyed, nor did it offer casualty figures.

Were they entering or leaving Jordan? Rather dramatic to launch air strikes on civilian vehicles--even if painted in camo colors.

UPDATE: Entering Jordan:

Jordanian warplanes hit and destroyed several vehicles trying to cross the border from Syria, a government spokesman said on Wednesday, underlining Amman's concern about incursions from areas controlled by Syrian rebels.

They were "technicals," as the Somalia-inspired jargon would describe them--civilian vehicles with machine guns mounted on them. Apparently rebels--I assume of the jihadi bent since otherwise they'd have cooperated with Jordanian efforts to stop them.

I find it odd that the story says Jordan has minimal cooperation with rebels in southern Jordan, given that the southern rebels seem to be our main focus of late. Perhaps plausible deniability is strong.

UPDATE: Ah. Jordan is extremely sensitive about any rebels returning to Jordan after surviving in Syria:

Three years into Syria's civil war a growing number of Jordanian jihadists are coming home, some disillusioned by infighting within rebel ranks, others seeking a break from a draining and largely inconclusive conflict.

Up to a few months ago, Jordanian authorities were more discriminating with returning fighters, sometimes freeing "first-time offenders" who were deemed misguided after expressing regret for their actions.

Now, every detained returnee is whisked straight to court, although none have been accused of plotting attacks in Jordan.

The Jordanians don't mind if people go to Syria to fight. But if they don't die there, they should go elsewhere if they tire of the fight. Hence blowing up private vehicles carrying jihadis coming into Jordan.

Drang Nach Osten

Syria and Hezbollah are under a lot of pressure because of the war and because Iran has had to cut back financial support. But that doesn't stop the claims of imminent victory from coming out of Syria and Hezbollah's front office.

An article about how great the Syria intervention has been for Hezbollah's combat effectiveness just seemed like a propaganda ploy to me:

Lebanon's Hezbollah movement is gaining new combat experience in Syria, shedding its guerrilla tactics to fight alongside an army, and shifting its narrative to explain the battle against "Sunni extremists". ...

Hezbollah is believed to have about 5,000 fighters in Syria at any given time, with thousands more preparing to deploy.

Their officials say so many men signed up last year that they are no longer actively recruiting for the Syria front. ...

Syria's conflict, wrote former US defence intelligence official Jeffrey White this January, is giving Hezbollah "valuable knowledge of irregular warfare and actual combat experience".

Interestingly enough, Hezbollah says the Syrian troops are pretty poorly trained.

But while Hezbollah is surely getting combat experience, the idea that Hezbollah has no problems recruiting people to go to the eastern front Syria is nonsense:

What makes this worse is that Hezbollah has been spending a lot more cash on the Syrian war than it expected to. The problem is that Hezbollah had to use cash to maintain morale among the Hezbollah men who “volunteered” to fight in Syria. Hezbollah does not have many full time fighters and most of those sent to Syria are “reservists” who have received military training but are basically full time civilians. Over 2,000 of those “volunteers” have been killed or wounded so far. To keep the families of these casualties happy Hezbollah has paid large sums in death benefits as well as disability payments for the wounded in addition to all their medical expenses. While Hezbollah only sends its fighters to Syria for a few months at a time, the high casualty rate and having to fight fellow Arabs is demoralizing for many of them. There is growing resistance when these men are asked to go back to Syria for another combat tour. Over the last year Hezbollah has found itself running out of money and popular support among Lebanese Shia.

The posts note the drop in Iranian financial support.

So boasts that Hezbollah is confident that Assad will win is hope masquerading as confidence:

Echoing recent bullish talk coming out of Damascus, Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy leader of the Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia which is supporting Assad in combat, told Reuters that the president retained popular support among many of Syria's diverse religious communities and would shortly be re-elected.

"There is a practical Syrian reality that the West should deal with - not with its wishes and dreams, which proved to be false," Qassem said during a meeting with Reuters journalists at a Hezbollah office in the group's southern Beirut stronghold.

Ah, wishes and dreams. The man is right that Western policy has been confused. But increasingly it seems like the West is starting to realize that Assad is no partner and that his defeat will require efforts by the West rather than just reaping the benefits of a cheap win after stating that "Assad must go."

Amusingly enough, Putin's people are the source of reports about Assad's confidence:

President Bashar al-Assad has forecast that much of the fighting in the Syrian civil war will be over by the end of the year, a former Russian prime minister was quoted on Monday as saying.

"This is what he told me: 'This year the active phase of military action in Syria will be ended. After that we will have to shift to what we have been doing all the time - fighting terrorists'," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Sergei Stepashin as saying.

Stepashin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and former head of Russia's FSB security service, portrayed Assad as secure, in control and in "excellent athletic shape" after a meeting in Damascus last week.

This part is kind of funny. Hezbollah didn't get the full talking points, it seems:

Stepashin, who served as prime minister in 1999 under President Boris Yeltsin and now heads a charitable organisation called the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, added that "the fighting spirit of the Syrian army is extremely high".

Yeah, the fighting spirit is fine. That's why Iran needs to pay for Hezbollah and a largely Iraqi Shia foreign legion to be the spearheads of any Syrian government offensives.

After the autumn 2013 Lavrov-Kerry deal about chemical weapons ensuring Assad's survival, Assad promised victory in six months. With that promised relief date approaching, Assad needs to extend that promise to the end of the year.

After that it will just be mopping up, Assad says.

But Assad's forces are taking a beating in casualties and in financial losses. With so few Syrians part of his base of support, these losses mean that they need to see a light at the end of the tunnel. But there isn't. Assad's best case scenario is a Pyrrhic Victory.

Hopefully, we make sure that the light is actually the headlight of a coherent policy that seeks to defeat Assad.

UPDATE: Some push back on the Assad ascendant theme:

[The] Syrian army is overstretched and drained by relentless combat, high casualty rates, and desertions. It was only able to retake tracts of western Syria because of help from Hezbollah and Iraqi paramilitary forces, as well as Russian and Iranian logistical support, analysts say.

If the Assad regime decides to make a push for Daraa province in the south, part of which is held by the rebels, or Idlib and Aleppo provinces in the north, dominated by rebel and foreign extremists, it could leave insufficient troops to garrison Qalamoun and the coast and prevent rebel forces from slipping back into the area.

“It may well be that the war Iran is interested in pursuing – the one that secures for itself and its Syrian vassal that part of Syria important to Iran – is the war Assad thinks may be over by the year's end,” says Mr. Hof. “I'm not sure that Assad would want to expend the time or effort to reconquer those parts of Syria whose inhabitants he largely holds in contempt.”

These are themes I've been stressing. Syria's ground forces are hurting, reliant on outside forces for offensive punch, and may have problems holding what the spearheads capture, and that Assad is really only winning--and that control seems tenuous--in a Core Syria stretching from Damascus to the coast.

It's good to see some analysis that pushes back against the Russian propaganda effort.

Fraternal Assistance is the Next Logical Step

As I mentioned earlier, before the Crimea invasion, speculating about Ukrainian military options is difficult because the loyalty of security forces is uncertain.

RFE/RL shows pro-Russian elements with Ukrainian BMD infantry fighting vehicles. These are made for airborne troops. So it seems as if the Spetsnaz got Ukraine's 25th paratrooper brigade to give up some.

It could be from sympathies. I'll bet that the vehicles were purchased from Ukrainian troops. Corruption is high in Ukraine, just as it is in Russia.

Russia calls this a civil war. But it is Russian aggression.

UPDATE: Austin Bay has it just about right:

For the past month, the Russian government, with Vladimir Putin its spotlight propagandist, has repeatedly declared that brutal anti-Russian ethnic violence as a prelude to ethnic-based civil war is imminent in Eastern Ukraine.

That's a lie. What Eastern Ukraine really faces is a Russian military invasion -- and more on that in a moment.

Kremlin claims of anti-Russian ethnic violence in Eastern Ukraine reprise the false accusations Putin made in February to provide media camouflage for the Russian seizure of the Crimean peninsula.

I don't think Slovensk is a central point as an initial objective for follow-up thrusts either north to Kharkov, south to Donetsk, or west to the Dnepropetrovsk. I think that the road net would mean a direct attack on Kharkov from the north and a march on Donetsk from the southeast, with fake uprisings between the cities assisting Russian forces in linking a new western border along the north-south road between the bigger cities.

But the key is that this R2P mission has nothing to do with responsibility to protect ethnic Russians. This is just responsibility to Putin for creating a crisis.

If Ukraine will fight a prolonged war even after Russia occupies their east, Russia could be made to pay a price.

I hope Ukrainian special forces are deploying as stay-behind forces to organize resistance they way our special forces did during the Cold War for NATO defense.

Get Ukraine's artillery, air, and long-range missiles to target military assets in occupied Crimea, use Ukraine's conventional military to take Transdniestria, and deploy to mount raids and support the infiltration of irregular National Guard into occupied Ukraine.

UPDATE: More on Ukraine's difficulties resisting the Russians:

“We even have an agreement on the books that forbids our [military intelligence] agencies from working against each other,” says Igor Smeshko, who served as head of Ukraine’s State Security Service from 2003 to 2005. “We could never have imagined that our Russian brothers would ever fight a war against us,” he says. “We could never have thought that just when we’d been bloodied from fighting our own tyranny here at home, that we would get a knife in the back from the Russians.”

Good grief. Is John Kerry their foreign minister, too?

Ukraine must resist the Russian invasion. Finland and Crimea should be contrasting lessons. Fail to fight, as Ukraine failed in Crimea, and Russia keeps pushing for more. Fight and lose, as Finland did in the 1939-1940 Winter War, and you can live even if you lose territory.

UPDATE: Ukrainian mechanized infantry of unknown size took up positions at Izyum, which lies north of the recent cities where pro-Russian building takeovers have happened, along the Kharkov-to-Donetsk road. Per RFE/RL live blog today.

UPDATE: Yes, the vehicles are from the 25th brigade:

The Associated Press reports that one of the men on the APCs, "who identified himself only as Andrei, said the unit was part of Ukraine's 25th Brigade of Airborne Forces and that they have switched to the side of the pro-Russian forces."

Switched sides? Maybe bribed. But maybe switched sides. Just because there are relatively few in the east who want to join Russia doesn't mean there are none.

But I tend to think Russia is simply working hard to simulate a civil war to justify invasion.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Just ... Wow ...

Why I pray for our president's health and safety every day.

I have to be missing some context there. People seemed to appreciate the vice president's words, and it makes no sense that they would smile when told that the bombing was worth it to hear the survivors speak a year later. Were they not paying attention? Was there something else I'm just not seeing?

Or does nobody expect much from him?

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link. I honestly hope to post an update putting the statement into a context that just doesn't make it sound like our vice president simply doesn't want a bloody Boston Matathon bombing crisis to go to waste.

We Owe Russia Some Hurt

For all those bizarrely trying to blame Putin's aggression against Ukraine on the West's failure to befriend him, let's remember that the Russians helped Saddam's odious regime resist our invasion.

We owe the Russians some payback (via my old post):

Two Iraqi documents from March 2003 -- on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion -- and addressed to the secretary of Saddam Hussein, describe details of a U.S. plan for war. According to the documents, the plan was disclosed to the Iraqis by the Russian ambassador.

We need to help Ukraine resist the Russians, and if the Russians invade Ukraine, we should increase aid so that Ukrainians can wage guerrilla warfare within the conquered zone and strengthen Ukrainian conventional forces to fight back.

I hope we are sharing intelligence with the Ukrainians to help them deploy their limited forces more effectively.

And I will laugh when China seizes territory in the Far East from Russia at some point.

The Thucydides Escape Valve

I don't assume that America and China will come to blows if China passes us by in power (or comes close to passing us by). Political science theories say this is so, but today's situation is different than the history that has led to these theories.

This could be worrisome on the face of it:

In recent years, especially since the beginning of this decade, the term “Thucydides trap” (between China as a rising power and U.S. as an established one) has gained increasing currency among policymakers, advisers, and China experts in Western research institutes and think tanks. The fear is that as its power increases, China will eventually choose to challenge or even overturn the existing international order that has contributed so much to its rapid rise, making a war between China and the U.S. likely.

The Thucydides Trap refers to the Greek writer Thucydides who described the long struggle between Athens and Sparta, writing that Sparta and Athens had to clash as Athens reacted to the prospect of losing their dominance (and let's gloss over whether a pro-Athenian attitude was just an attempt to clear Athens of any wrongdoing).

The author above writes that 3 factors make the trap less likely to lead to war.

One, the international system rejects war more than it did in the past when power transitions seemed to spark war. Well, perhaps it was written before Crimea.

Two, China benefits from the current system so why would they want to overturn it? I don't understand why this means China wouldn't want to fight for dominance within the system. Or why China might not believe they'd do better with their own.

Three, China says they won't go to war and want to rise peacefully. Sure. And China says that they expect to just be given stuff because of their rising power. What will China do when they don't get "stuff?" It seems that the peaceful rise factor ignores the fact that China simply expects to gain the rewards of winning wars by the mere fact of their peaceful rise.

I me not be comforted by these three explanations, but I do think there is a reason that a power shift is not a guarantee of war as Thucydides saw it. We speak of the Tyranny of Distance in regard to projecting our power across the vast Pacific. The reverse side of that coin is the Pressure Valve of Distance.

I recently had a post on power shifts between China and America:

One advantage we have in avoiding general war is that we lack a land frontier to have really tense face offs, the way we had with the Soviet Union at the Fulda Gap in West Germany during the Cold War. The vast Pacific gives us a bit of buffer to think clearly.

We are not in the position of Europe during its long history of warfare, whose powers had to figure shifting power when strong powers crowded each other on a small continent.

Unless China gains the ability to invade and occupy Japan, any Chinese gain such as South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, or Vietnam, will not give China a decisive advantage, but will give us notice that we are at war with China and allows us to wage a long war to disrupt China's trade and to seek an opportunity to counterattack around their periphery. The ability of China to really inflict a killing blow if they choose war doesn't seem terribly high to me, the way the USSR had the ability to inflict a major blow against NATO if the Red Army could advance to the Rhine River.

The reverse is true, too. We are not going to invade the Han heartland and try to occupy it.

So a power shift between America and China doesn't seem nearly as dangerous as it was in the past, which we define as Europe-based.

Sheer distance is a lubricant that reduces friction and decisions made in fear of dramatic loss. The power shift between America and Britain with the Atlantic between us did not result in a hammer and tongs, all-out war between us to decide who runs things.

And even a power shift will leave America with more free power to deploy in contrast to China which has lots of local power centers that China has to cope with.

Finally, I'm not so sure China will necessarily pass us by or, if they do, be able to hold their edge.

Let's hope the Thucydides Trap doesn't apply to the America-China power pairing. Because we could be at risk as China approaches our power to pass us by and then again as we regain our lost position to regain the top spot.

This isn't to say that we couldn't get involved in limited wars in support of allies. But distance will give both sides a bit of perspective before making this a total war to see who calls the shots.

We're From the Government and We're Here to Help

Really, the federal government is going after the first born of deceased persons who the federal government says owed them monety?

Can debtors' prisons be far behind?

Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter. ...

The government doesn’t look into exactly who got the overpayment; the policy is to seek compensation from the oldest sibling and work down through the family until the debt is paid.

How is this legal? In what world are minor children responsible for what their parents did?

And worse, for what their parents received from the government without any proof that even the parents knew there was a problem?

Have we really gotten to the point where we have to smear lamb's blood on our door frames to make sure Treasury passes us over?

One more reason that the federal government is just too big.

Tip to Instapundit.

Now They're Just Effing With Us

Figuratively the Queen of Battle

Strategypage has a good post on the quest to figure out just how the heck you put women in infantry units.

Yes, women have performed well in combat situations. But no, that is not the same as being in the infantry.

And yes, I was just a REMF, if you have something to say about that.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Stuff Happens

Am I just too cynical in thinking that Russia might have had a hand in an attack on our Pakistan line of supply to Afghanistan?

Let's see how this goes:

Pakistani officials say at least one driver has been killed in attacks on trucks carrying supplies to NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.

Could be just local nutballs. But the Russians wouldn't mind us seeing the alternative lines of supply through Russia to our forces in Afghanistan as less reliable.

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link.

There are enough Taliban nutballs in Pakistan to make this a sheer coincidence, I freely admit.

I'm just saying that it is in Russia's interest to remind us why we need the Russian supply links to Afghanistan in order to push us back from helping Ukraine enough to defy Russia.

Stuff does just happen. But it can be convenient when it does.

Assad Shows What Torture Really Is

After the overwrought allegations here that we tortured detainees at Abu Ghraib, Iraq, and a handful of al Qaeda, Syria's Assad reminds us of what actual torture is.

This is torture:

The UN's human rights chief on Monday condemned the "routine" use of torture in Syrian detention facilities, as a new report said victims were raped, beaten and had their teeth and toenails pulled out.

Navi Pillay said torture was routinely used in government detention facilities as well as by some armed groups in Syria, where more than 150,000 people have been killed in a bloody civil war.

"In armed conflict, torture constitutes a war crime," said the UN rights commissioner.

"When it is used in a systematic or widespread manner, which is almost certainly the case in Syria, it also amounts to a crime against humanity."

The UN report, based on accounts by 38 survivors, detailed the systematic torture of men, women and children in the war-ravaged country.

Jihadis fighting Assad also torture, according to the report.

Let me contrast this torture with what we were alleged to have done in Abu Ghraib. While revolting, the naked pyramid photos of detainees were far closer to fraternity hazing than any type of physical abuse, let alone torture. The incidents were a breakdown of military discipline and wrong. But they were not torture despite the routine description of what happened as torture.

As for waterboarding, we rarely did it and it is simply not in the same league as beatings that can cripple or kill, raping, and pulling teeth and toenails out.

Waterboarding is not torture, in my opinion. It is terrifying but will not cripple or disfigure a person.

And at risk of reopening an old, poorly conducted debate, torture is not worthless. If you know from other information that a subject has information, torture will most assuredly get the subject to talk.

What people mean when they say that torture doesn't work is that routine torture of people swept up by security forces in the hopes of getting good information doesn't work. Yes, in that circumstance, torture does not work because those who know will talk, but so too will the far more numerous people who know nothing. They will talk nonsense to get the torture to talk, which will muddy the waters and make even the accurate talk less valuable.

Look, we are free to ban any type of pressure that we aren't comfortable with, and in consideration of what we hope to get. I wouldn't torture enemies for information.

We are even free to ban waterboarding as a method. I'm not in fact terribly comfortable with that method. Yet I can't blame our people in the aftermath of 9/11 for using such a method on a small number of people believed to have information in order to stop another 9/11.

But banning a particular method isn't to say that the banned method is torture. And it always bothered me that opponents of the method argued against it on the grounds that it is torture.

Seeing actual torture in action should be clarifying, shouldn't it? But a lot of what is happening in Syria contrasted to Iraq should be clarifying.

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link. I scored a hat trick with Mark's daily links. That's a first, as far as I can tell.

An Inconvenient Pravda

A Russian official made the mistake of getting ahead of Putin:

The parliament speaker in Russia's Khakassia Republic has apologized for a statement he made about Moscow's right to "own" territories in Kazakhstan.

Vladimir Shtygashev said on April 12 that his words had been misinterpreted and he offered "sincere apologies" to everyone offended by his statement.

Yeah. "Misinterpreted." I hate it when that happens.

When Putin asserts the right to protect ethnic Russians wherever they are, the right to own territories is not something to be interpreted as it is to be prioritized. Kazakhstan is simply lower down the list, it is clear.

Some in Khazakhstan seem to have a similar "misinterpretation" of Moscow's threat:

[Opinion] in Kazakhstan on the Crimea crisis appears to be divided along ethnic lines: Northern Kazakhstan, which is dominated by an ethnic Russian population tends to be supportive of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy in Ukraine, whereas the rest of the republic harbors decidedly mixed feelings on the subject.

There's your problem right there: northerners (ethnic Russians) would welcome their new insect Moscow overlords; while southerners rather appreciate getting out of Moscow's grip once and do not relish another trip into the Russian empire.

We'll see if Kazakhstan and its neighbors play the China card in response.

That Khakassia legislator made the classic government faux pas--he told the truth.

Donetsk Pocket

One of the problems Ukraine has in defending the east is that Russia's mechanized and airmobile forces could envelope them from north and south and simply take them out of the fight by isolating them within a Putin Triangle.

This geography is a problem for Ukraine's army if they deploy to the far east (in orange) to defend this region from invasion:


Put Ukrainian conventional forces forward at the border and the Russians (in red) can drive into Ukraine around the defenders. The Ukrainians simply don't have the numbers to defend the region.

This was terrain for sweeping mobile operations in World War II. It still is, I imagine.

I'll have to update my Ukraine military option post, given the ability of Russia to march into this eastern region.

UPDATE: News today is that a small Ukrainian mechanized force has moved near Slovyansk:

The 20 tanks and armoured personnel carriers were the most forceful response yet by the Western-backed government in Kiev to the pro-Kremlin militants' occupation of state buildings in nearly 10 cities across Ukraine's rust belt.

Ukrainian forces set up a cement road barrier and began checking traffic leading to Slavyansk while fighters and attack helicopters circled overhead.

That's likely elements of a mechanized infantry battalion--if not an entire weak battalion. I'm not sure what the Ukrainian maintenance and manning levels are.

And at Kramatorsk, Ukrainians took control of an airport:

Soldiers disembarked from two helicopters at an airfield at Kramatorsk, where reporters earlier heard gunfire that seemed to prevent an air force plane from landing. The troops withdrew into barracks after local civilians manning a barricade gave them a hostile reception when they tried to leave the compound.

n Kiev, acting president Oleksander Turchinov declared a much-needed victory over pro-Russian rebels by saying the air base had been "liberated". But there was no sign of militants.

Both are small operations between Kharkov and Donetsk. And not too close to the Russian border.

The Ukrainians are apparently beginning a low key and fairly low level effort to counter the Spetsnaz-led building captures throughout the region.

UPDATE: Remember that talking about a civil war in eastern Ukraine over-states the support by local residents for Russian occupation of the region. Talk of a civil war assumes Putin's version of events is true. That version is not true.

Recent polling shows few Ukrainians in the east want to be part of Russia. And much of the violence is organized by Russian special forces and paid locals or Russians imported to Ukraine to simulate Ukrainians.

I wouldn't go to war over Ukraine--they have not wanted to be part of NATO and NATO help should not be easy for outside nations to gain--membership should be the goal of others and not a free ride.

But we should help Ukraine resist the Russians, with arms, supplies, intelligence, and operational advice--even if Russia occupies even more of Ukraine.

UPDATE: This article says the Slovyansk operation is by 500 troops backed by 20 armored vehicles. That sounds like a smallish battalion. So there should be trucks moving some of the infantry, I imagine.

How Wars Start

Our destroyer in the Black Sea was harrassed by a Russian aircraft:

A Russian fighter jet made multiple, close-range passes near an American warship in the Black Sea for more than 90 minutes Saturday amid escalating tensions in the region, a U.S. military official said Monday.

In the first public account of the incident, the official said the Russian Fencer flew within 1,000 yards of the USS Donald Cook, a Navy destroyer, at about 500 feet above sea level. Ship commanders considered the actions provocative and inconsistent with international agreements, prompting the ship to issue several radio queries and warnings.

On the bright side, we could see the plane was unarmed. But under different circumstances, what if we weren't sure and opened fire in the belief that the plane was preparing to attack?

With a Russian frigate shadowing our ship, too (but not dangerously close), maybe we'd hit their ship as well, fearing they were acting together.

Or what if we took defensive actions against the plane that the frigate mistook for threatening action?

Watching us in international waters is fine. But risking a shooting match is just stupid.

State Department Comments on Ukraine

The State Department has responded to false Russian claims about the Russian-stoked crisis in Ukraine.

Mostly I'm interested in a clarification on Russian troop strength:

An estimated 35,000-40,000 Russian troops remain massed along the border, in addition to approximately 25,000 troops currently in Crimea.

Add another 40,000 Russians deeper inside Russia. And of the troops in Crimea, I think you have to subtract about 10,000 as Sevastopol garrison forces.

These aren't a whole lot of troops for a war with Ukraine. It all depends on whether the Russians expect--and get--a road march into Ukraine to some particular depth or whether the Russians get a war.

While we can offer advice on how to maintain, bring out of storage, and use what they have, it is too late in the day to bolster Ukraine's major combat operations capabilities with new weapons. If Ukraine survives this crisis, we can look at that later. For now, we'd be better off sending small arms and garage door openers (to trigger IEDs used against Russian troops.

It's About Trust

I appreciate that Air Force fire support specialists are upset at the retirement of the only dedicated ground support aircraft that the Air Force has. Leadership isn't as interested in that mission, unfortunately.

As a ground guy, the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns eliminated the basic mistrust I long had of the Air Force's ability and interest in supporting ground troops. Troops learned to count on and trust the Air Force to put ordinance on target when it was needed.

Sadly, Air Force leadership is showing exactly what it thinks of the ground support mission by deciding to get rid of the A-10:

Oh sure, the Air Force promises that multi-mission aircraft will continue to support the "mission" of ground support even when the asset designed for that mission is gone.

Yeah, I'm sure when the Air Force is prioritizing missions for their scarce multi-mission aircraft that ground support will be high on the list.

But by killing the only aircraft specifically designed just for ground support, the Air Force is very clearly telling us what their priorities are. The Air Force is essentially telling the Army (while denying this to Congress) to have a nice life--but goodbye. To think they were once the Army Air Force.

Yes. Jointness talks. But money walks. And there is no money for the A-10.

But the ground coordinators who embedded with the grunts who did the work of supporting ground forces aren't happy with this decision:

The Defense Department decision to retire an Air Force plane built specifically to support ground forces has ignited a firestorm of criticism from the airmen whose job is to embed with Army ground forces and spot enemy targets. Meanwhile, one top Air Force commander is defending his service’s decision to eliminate the A-10 Warthog, despite acknowledging the aircraft’s value.

Even when I was in basic training, these pilots took the time to practice their missions using the training company I was in as a prop. When we went on night fire, A-10s practiced strafing runs (well) in front of us so they could learn what a line of US troops firing looked like while cruising by.

But the Air Force says that the platforms that also have the missions of air superiority, deep strike, and whatever else the Air Force planners come up with to win the war on their own will be responsive to Army needs for ground support--with a caveat:

“If I have to sacrifice something in order to be able to fight the range of military conflict,” [Air Force General] Hostage said, “I’d rather have the F-35 and be able to fight the full range, than have an A-10 and be world class at close air support, and then lose completely in any kind of high-end fight.”

Already, we see other missions have higher priority. He has a point. But the fact is the Air Force will be deciding when close air support priority justifies using his multi-role aircraft for that mission.

The Army will have better luck responding to a Nigerian email scam. And lots of luck with the Air Force keeping the trust with the Army that was built up through years of effective Air Force close air support.

UPDATE: In the opening sencence I mistakenly wrote "pilots" are upset at the A-10 retirement. While they probably are, the story was about the Air Force personnel who move with ground troops to call in fire missions. I knew that and wrote about that in the post but mistakenly wrote "pilots" in the first sentence by mistake.

Going Where Assad Isn't

Even as Assad is using limited ground power to go on offense around Damascus, especially to the west toward Lebanon's border, other rebels are making forays into previously safe areas in the Alawite core region.

The war is continuing in Syria, notwithstanding Assad's stated confidence that he will win:

For three years, residents of Syria's Mediterranean provinces have watched from their coastal sanctuary as civil war raging further inland tore the country apart, killing tens of thousands of people and devastating historic cities.

But a three-week-old offensive by rebel fighters in the north of Latakia province, a bastion of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite minority, has brought the battle ever closer and shattered that sense of relative security.

Rebels are now fighting in the hills overlooking the sea, bringing the country's main port of Latakia within their range - rocket-fire killed eight people in one barrage on the city a month ago - and Syria's coast feels under real threat.

If rebels can't hold areas, they need to disperse and go guerilla. And hit where Assad is weaker. Casualties are Assad's weak link with only 10% of Syria's population in Assad's Alawite community.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Seriously?

The Chinese do have a sense of humor. They want a say in the Arctic Sea and decry Western countries who think that their proximity to the Arctic gives them exclusive rights to the region.

China is eying the natural resources and potential for year-round shipping lanes across the region. They think they should have a say:

So far, China hasn't unveiled an official Arctic policy. But the world's second-largest economy is apparently preparing to play a key role in securing the region's riches.

"Countries closer to the Arctic, such as Iceland, Russia, Canada, and a few other European countries may tend to wish the Arctic were private or that they had priority to develop it," Cui Hongjian, head of the European department of the China Institute for International Studies, told reporters before Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Europe. "But China insists that the Arctic belongs to everyone just like the moon."

Like the moon, they say.

But unlike the Yellow Sea where China gets upset if our warships exercise with the South Koreans.

And unlike the East China Sea which Japan had best vacate if they know best.

And unlike the South China Sea which China says is their home territory-- and is indeed their City of Sansha.

And unlike India, which China claims occupies Chinese territory.

You have to love the chutzpah. If territory is close to China, it is China's territory. If it is close to others? Well, they need to share.

But of course China has a policy that covers the Arctic. The policy is that if China wants it, it is their territory. Simple.

So who knows what could become a core interest of China in the future that everyone else needs to just back the eff off from China's control?

Could be the Arctic. Could be the Moon. Who knows?

I Don't Doubt the Tanks Will Be Sold

Germany won't sell 800 Leopard II tanks to Saudi Arabia. I have little doubt that eastern European NATO members will buy up all that are available before too long.

This is interesting timing:

The German government will not approve a reported deal to sell up to 800 battle tanks to Saudi Arabia, a German Sunday newspaper said, citing government sources.

The sale of the Leopard-2 tanks had been billed as one of the biggest deals for the German armaments industry, Bild reported.

Given how important it is to sell the tanks, would I be assuming too much to think that Poland and other eastern European NATO members will step in to buy these excellent tanks?

And would I be drawing too much of a conclusion to think that the government decision to not push for the sale is in order to keep the tanks in Europe in light of Russia's recent aggression and looming round two with Ukraine?

Putin Has Discovered Our NATO Plot

If Russia moves in to eastern Ukraine to support all those separatists who seem to be active lately, expect to see "proof" of NATO intervention that justifies Russia's aggression.

Russia is denying that they are up to anything.

Russia says it has no military personnel in eastern Ukraine. At the same time Russian mass media is full of stories about American “mercenaries” operating in Ukraine.

Russian claims of NATO mercenaries or even special forces destabilizing Ukraine will be bolstered by captured American equipment that will be put on display. They've done it before.

UPDATE: Russia called for a UN Security Council meeting today:

The U.N. Security Council has called an emergency meeting at Russia's request to discuss the growing crisis in Ukraine.

No word on what is going on, so far.

One can assume that the Russian representative won't tearfully apologize for Russia's responsiblity for the growing crisis.

My worry is that Putin is checking a diplomatic box to pretend he consulted with the world before sending his troops in to the eastern corner of Ukraine.

I honestly didn't think Putin would risk a war with Ukraine that could go badly and tarnish the reputation built on Crimea. But events point to Russia beginning a war.

Hope, Change, and Planting Stories

The Obama administration is planting stories to blame Israel for the failure to keep talks with Palestinians going (tip to Instapundit):

The Obama administration has been waging a secret media war in capitals across two continents blaming Israel for the recent collapse of peace talks with the Palestinians, according to former Israeli diplomats and Washington, D.C. insiders familiar with the peace process. ...

These administration officials have planted several stories in Israeli and U.S. newspapers blaming Israel for the collapse of peace talks and have additionally provided reporters with anonymous quotes slamming the Israeli government.

The primary source of these multiple reports has been identified as Middle East envoy Martin Indyk and his staff, according to these insiders, who said that the secret media campaign against Israel paved the way for Secretary of State John Kerry to go before Congress on Tuesday and publicly blame Israel for tanking the talks.

Huh. The administration is planting stories. False stories.

Oh, no worries. Nobody will get outraged over this.

The people horrified that our military paid to have stories--accurate stories--placed in Iraqi media during the Iraq War to support winning that war will not be equally horrified about this effort.

Everything really is better with hope and change.

Is Putin Leading from Behind?

I've mentioned that even if Putin does not want to invade Ukraine (again), that nationalistic forces that he relies on for his support could push him to invade anyway.

Russia appears to have the capability to move into eastern Ukraine. Whether they have the capability to fight for and hold eastern Ukraine is another question altogether.

Rationally, I think Putin should pocket his easy victory in Crimea that gives him a tremendous propaganda victory that makes it appear his military is awesome, as well as gaining control of an important military base to allow him to project power into the Mediterranean Sea.

As Putin continues to stoke tension with Ukraine by engineering uprisings in Ukraine's east, he could be preparing for round two with an operation justified by a similar effort in Crimea.

Or he could just be trying to influence negotiations with the West over Ukraine's internal governance to loosen Kiev's control of the regions, trying to influence Ukrainian elections coming up, or trying to get the West and Ukraine to accept Russia's conquest of Crimea.

Indeed, the special forces work in eastern Ukraine could be a compromise by Putin between cashing in his Crimea chips or letting the bet ride to gain eastern Ukraine. Perhaps nationalistic elements want to keep going, and unable to simply rein them in, Putin has said, "show me what you can do" and then he'll decide, putting the burden on them to keep expanding Russia.

Putin might be putting the aggressive nationalists within his government in the position of making good on their claims, and if they can't whip up a faux uprising as they did in Crimea, Putin can safely end the crisis.

Yet if they can do that, Putin could have no choice but to continue the war even if he doesn't want to right now.

Regardless of Putin's intentions, nationalistic forces could push Putin to invade even if he does not want to risk a war over eastern Ukraine. Those forces aren't just a passive force to be harnessed in direct support of whatever Putin chooses to do. They are a force that can move in its own direction:

From the moment that Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea cast a new, bitter chill over relations with the West, a sinister jingoistic vibe has pervaded this unsettled capital — stirred up by state-controlled television and Mr. Putin himself.

“Some Western politicians are already threatening us not just with sanctions but also the prospect of increasingly serious problems on the domestic front,” the president said in his speech announcing plans to absorb Crimea into the Russian Federation. “I would like to know what they have in mind exactly: action by a fifth column, this disparate bunch of ‘national traitors,’ or are they hoping to put us in a worsening social and economic situation so as to provoke public discontent?” ...

There is also now a website with a name that translates as “traitor.net” that includes photos and quotations of public figures who have spoken out in some way against Russia’s policy toward Ukraine. The bottom of the site has a button inviting viewers to “suggest a traitor.”

At Mr. Putin’s direction, a committee led by his chief of staff is developing a new “state policy in culture.” Widely expected to be enacted into law, the proposed cultural policy emphasizes that “Russia is not Europe” and urges “a rejection of the principles of multiculturalism and tolerance” in favor of emphasizing Russia’s “unique state-government civilization,” according to Russian news accounts that quoted a presidential adviser on culture, Vladimir Tolstoy. ...

Some of the language on Russian television in recent days has been far more charged than anything heard during Soviet times. One of the country’s most prominent television hosts, Dmitry K. Kiselyov, declared during an evening newscast last month that Russia remains “the only country in the world capable of turning the U.S.A. into radioactive ash.”

A force like this could easily conclude that Putin himself deserves to be on a traitors' list if he fails to "return" Ukraine to Russian control and leaves millions of Russians "stranded" and at risk in a foreign land.

So while I think that rationality requires Putin to hold off on invading Ukraine (again), I can't be sure if he defines rational the same way I do. And that assessment of rationality is complicated by the forces of nationalism that Putin is whipping up but which could carry him along on a wave of xenophobia that he does not control and only hopes to survive.

While intentions can change overnight, Russia's military capabilities to begin a war in Ukraine remain intact.

Don't forget that as tensions are stoked by Moscow, Ukraine under pressure might decide that they have no choice but to use their smaller military power to strike first at Russia in the belief that they are making a preemptive strike.

Armed with publicly released satellite photos, might the Ukrainians in the belief that the Russians are coming use air and missile forces to hit Russian airfields and combat units arrayed near their border or in newly annexed Crimea?

The Ukrainians are counter-attacking against the "uprisings" in the east:

Ukrainian security forces launched an operation on Sunday to clear pro-Russian separatists from a police headquarters in the eastern city of Slaviansk, with Kiev reporting dead on both sides as it combats what it calls an act of aggression by Moscow.

Ukraine faces a rash of rebellions in the east which it says are inspired and directed by the Kremlin. But action to dislodge the armed militants risks tipping the stand-off into a new, dangerous phase as Moscow has warned it will protect the region's Russian-speakers if they come under attack.

Once shooting starts, attitudes change. Forces on both sides of the border could react in ways that escalate this beyond the control of anybody--even Putin.

And this is a reminder that it is unfair to blame the West for failing to bring Russia into the West after the Soviet Union fell. I hoped Russians would take the opportunity of defeating Communism to join the West (although I never supported their membership in NATO, not wanting NATO's eastern front to reach the Pacific Ocean facing China). But Russians feel apart from the West in many ways. And that's the way a lot of them like it.