Thursday, March 05, 2015

Diplomacy is the Art of Saying "Nice Doggie" Until You Find a Rock

I think I may have identified the problem with our diplomacy.

Is the man serious? Is the joke about the State Department needing an "American desk" accurate?

Simply demanding Iran's capitulation is no way to get a nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday as he wrapped up three days of talks with a veiled dig at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I wasn't a droning senator for years--and don't own any spandex--but I think demanding Iran's capitulation is exactly how to get a nuclear deal that prevents Iran from going nuclear rather than one that gets Kerry a Nobel Peace Prize.

I think squeezing Iran until they believe that only having to give up their nuclear ambitions is a glorious win is exactly what we need to do.

But no, Kerry apparently believes that being the honest broker about whether Iran can kill millions of people in a nuclear Holocaust as they want or nobody as we want is the subject of give and take.

And Kerry is considered our least effective Secretary of State? Incroyable!

When a Body Count Matters

I'm not sure what could impress Putin with the need to halt his aggression against Ukraine and deter further aggression other than more dead Russian soldiers.

One of our generals is on board this method of resisting Russia:

While emphasizing the U.S. still seeks a diplomatic solution to the crisis, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said in Berlin that helping Ukraine with weapons would increase the stakes for Russian President Vladimir Putin at home.

“When mothers start seeing sons come home dead, when that price goes up, then that domestic support begins to shrink,” he said.

He said Ukraine needs intelligence--which I assume means battlefield intelligence--counter fire capability--meaning the ability to fire back at Russian artillery--and something to stop tanks--which would mean infantry anti-tank weapons and probably engineering help to create obstacles. I'd say anti-tank mines, but they are politically incorrect these days.

But by all means, help Ukraine kill Russian soldiers at such a level that Putin can't hide the fact.

Heck, Putin isn't shy about increasing the body count of Russian foes. Why should we be more skittish?

Indeed, maybe Ukraine should be holding moving burial ceremonies for dead Russians in their custody and publishing them online.

Perhaps it has seemed crude for me to be arguing for an effort to kill Russian soldiers all along, but that's the reality of stopping Russia. General Hodges just stated the obvious.

UPDATE: Remember, it seems that Putin was willing to murder the dissident Nemtsov to keep the deaths of his soldiers as subliminal as his wars:

[An associate of Nemtsov,] Yashin said he and Nemtsov had spoken about the Ukraine report about a day and a half before his death.

"He told me he had been in touch with relatives of Russian soldiers killed there and he was planning a trip to Ivanovo to talk to the parents of those killed soldiers," Yashin said.

"He said in the very near future he was going to assemble and put in order various evidence and documents directly proving the presence of the Russian military on the territory of Ukraine and, accordingly, (exposing) President's Putin's lies that there are no Russian servicemen there."

Nemtsov had also settled on a title for the report, Yashin said. He was planning to call it: "Putin and the War".

Little dead green men aren't as cool.

The Narva Fulcrum?

Could Russia's Putin destroy NATO's credibility to defend its members in Estonia, thus undermining Ukraine's reasons to seek the protection of the alliance?

NATO is planning a rapid response unit and mounting more exercises. But is this really enough to stop more “little green men,” whether in Russian uniforms or not, from sparking another conflict? As Malcolm Chalmers, research director at the Royal United Services Institute in London, recently told me: “The danger is that Russia next bites off a bit of Estonia, then asks what NATO is going to do about it.”

Narva is the bit of Estonia that Russia might see as the fulcrum they can use to topple NATO's reputation, as I discussed recently.

Before the Crimea Crisis, I mentioned moving Marine Corps equipment from Norway to Estonia, although once the crisis broke I had second thoughts about the survivability of that equipment and later suggested Latvia instead, when I considered what we might do if Putin goes big.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Who Says "They" Aren't Making More Land?

China is creating the capacity to fight for islands in the South China Sea to enforce their claim of most of the region as part of China. So are we.

China claims the bulk of the South China Sea as their new (and watery) City of Sansa (no, not that Sansa).

Lacking a little thing called "land," China is correcting that deficiency:

Satellite photos show China making rapid progress in building new islands in the Spratly islands. Some of these new islands are large enough for airstrips long enough to support warplanes, but most are suitable only for light transports and helicopters. This, however, makes these new islands suitable as staging areas for helicopter raids on nearby small islands claimed, or even occupied, by another nation. In effect, these new islands have become permanent aircraft carriers dotting the disputed islands of the South China Sea.

That's where our new Marine Corps presence in northwest Australia that will eventually become a battalion-sized force comes in:

[In] the context of the South China Sea where very small islands could be the battlefields, a small and well trained amphibious force capable of projecting platoons, companies, or the entire battalion to seize control of those small islands will have big effects.

It won't rise to the level of island hopping in World War II, but don't think that an islet hopping campaign featuring Marines figuratively raising the stars and stripes won't get China's attention.

Let's hope that the South China Sea becomes a kill sack for Chinese forces should it come to a fight.

What About the Post-Agreement Plan?

If President Obama succeeds in getting a nuclear agreement with Iran that includes even an effective ten-year pause in Iran's nuclear activities, what do you think will happen after the "mission accomplished" banner is strung up at Geneva on the hotel where the agreement is signed?

I'll tell you what happens. We will have given notice to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt that they have ten years to get their own nuclear weapons into operation.

This will be the result given to a world by a president who was given a Nobel Peace Prize for his potential to achieve nuclear non-proliferation during his presidency.

Even the people hopped up on hope and change fever back when leg tingles were all the rage, the Nobel Peace Prize people, may have actually realized their folly:

Norway's Nobel Peace Prize committee on Tuesday demoted its controversial chairman Thorbjoern Jagland in a move unprecedented in the long history of the award.

The organisation, which said the former Norwegian prime minister would remain as a committee member, gave no reason for its decision.

However the renowned diplomat had drawn sharp criticism shortly after becoming chairman in 2009 for awarding the prestigious Nobel to newly elected US President Barack Obama.

The move stunned the world and the recipient alike, as Obama had been in office less than nine months and the United States was still waging simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Yeah, bad career move. All the more evident given that the recipient bombed the moon on the day he received the prize and since then has taken the lead in wars on his watch.

Have a super sparkly day.


I hope Democratic leadership wasn't the target audience for Israel's prime minister in his speech to Congress:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the United States on Tuesday that it was negotiating a bad deal with Iran that could spark a "nuclear nightmare," drawing a rebuke from President Barack Obama and exposing a deepening U.S.-Israeli rift. ...

Underscoring the partisan divide, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called the speech "an insult to the intelligence of the United States" and said she was so "saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran” that she was near tears.

Let's hope that Prime Minister Netanyahu's outreach speech to the wider Democratic world works better than President Obama's outreach speech to the Islamic world.

UPDATE: Stratfor reminds us that Israel once earned a prime place in our alliance thinking because we needed their help to resist Soviet efforts to dominate the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The collapse of the USSR ended that need and so our alliance thinned out.

The 9/11 attack thickened the alliance as we fought common jihadi foes (in inspiration if not the actual groups involved). As we try to distance ourselves from too large of a direct role in that fight, relations are bound to thin out again.

I don't think that Israel has as much to worry about in becoming one of many allies we are trying to count on in the region.

Israel was fine when Iran under the Shah was our Gulf pillar and we had Turkey in NATO and Saudi Arabia as a friend in the Gulf, too. Israel as a democracy with a more common heritage will make them first among equals, at least.

Yet I don't share Stratfor's seeming confidence that we can come to terms with mullah-run Iran through a nuclear deal that makes Iran an ally again.

I just don't believe that it is possible to become a friend with Iran under the mullahs, especially if they get nuclear weapons capability.

Nor do I see our fights in Iraq and Afghanistan showing we can't pacify those jihadis. We did build states with forces capable of fighting those jihadis (rather than hosting or supporting jihadis) with our campaigns--if we stay to help them as long as they need our assistance, of course.

From Israel's position, Putin's efforts to regain a foothold in the eastern Mediterranean with their help for Assad, their basing rights in Cyprus, their expansion in the Black Sea rear area, and renewed contacts with Egypt which is out of favor with us lately, will tend to increase Israel's importance to us.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

China Buys Greece?

As I speculated earlier, China has reasons for wanting port rights in a Greece desperate for cash. And China has the inside track on getting those port facilities in Greece:

While the world watches the ongoing debt negotiations between Greece and its international creditors mainly for their impact on the Greek and eurozone economies, the talks have already put Beijing’s plans for a strategic transport system meant to further integrate Europe and the Mediterranean with the Chinese market back on track. The new leftist government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in Athens had initially announced plans to halt the privatization of Greece’s largest seaport, Piraeus, alarming investors from the Chinese shipping giant Cosco, which is keen to take a majority share in the Greek facility. But as part of the four-month bailout extension reached earlier this week between Greece and the so-called troika made up of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Greece has reversed course and will go ahead with previously agreed-upon privatizations, including Piraeus.

Cosco is counting on turning the port into a key junction of its proposed “One Belt and One Road” transport system, a mammoth project in which Beijing aims to build both an overland corridor and a maritime route connecting eastern China to Western Europe.

"Privatization" in this case means essentially selling the port to China.

And thus the "treaty port" humiliations are avenged.

While Piraeus will not be a military base, it will be under Chinese control and their financial leverage over Greece will allow China to pressure Greece to allow Chinese warships to use the facilities if there is a Mediterranean contingency (as there was in Libya in 2011) that might require Chinese naval deployments.

And China can't get a formal base anyway, unless Greece leaves NATO since NATO rules prohibit such a thing.

But China "gets" Greece while their junior partner Russia had to settle for Cyprus.

Been There, Done Something Similar to That

When I read the headline that our F-15s would launch satellites, I thought, what's the big deal?

During the Cold War the F-15 demonstrated the ability to launch anti-satellite weapons. Given miniaturization of satellites, putting an actual satellite into orbit should be child's play:

DARPA officials hope the program can deliver satellites under 100 pounds within 24 hours notice and for a price tag under $1 million.

Of course, the first two comments at the top mention the old anti-satellite history of the plane.

But it is still neat.

Man Cave

Well I'll be... Is hornswaggled the appropriate term? That Toronto tunnel was innocent:

Toronto’s mystery tunnel has turned out to be a place for a couple of guys to get away from it all, more a “man cave” than a terrorist threat.

After being stumped for more than a month by a 33-foot-long, hand-dug and carefully reinforced tunnel to nowhere, the Toronto Police said Monday that they had identified two men in their 20s who did the backbreaking work.

“These two guys dug a hole to hang out,” a getaway, Constable Victor Kwong said. He added, “Kids do it, but I’ve never seen anyone in their 20s do it.”
I would have bet good money otherwise.

But now we have another question to answer.

Assuming these guys aren't Hobbits, how bad are their home lives that "hanging out" in a narrow and damp literal man cave is considered a better option?

And wouldn't it have been better to make their cave wider and taller rather than 33 feet long?

Toronto's reputation in the rest of Canada has not been improved.

The Coming Civil War in California?

Natural disasters are natural. Oppressive governments that make matters worse are man-caused.

The idea that global warming is one of the causes of the Syrian Civil War is nonsense. Stresses from natural disasters is normal--slaughtering people in reaction is not.

While it is not nonsense to say that natural disasters can sow discontent in people, even if Syria's climate has warmed to cause mass migration to cities, since the planet's temperature has been flat for 18 or so years now, the cause of that changing climate in Syria is not global warming. Weather changes. Climates change.

Second, it is nonsense to even think of weighting the change in climate more than the sectarian divisions caused by a minority government sponsoring sectarian terrorism abroad while bloodily repressing their people and keeping most resources for the regime's favored sects.

To their credit, the study authors themselves don't say global warming caused the civil war. But that is what will be repeated and that's the only reason this study got reported.

And the case is undermined by the explanation that Syria's average temperature has gone up 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900.

That revolution was a long time coming, apparently.

But you'd better hope that drought doesn't cause civil war. Because another article in the same journal says California's drought, too, is the fault of global warming (but what about the "pause?"):

In a separate study, also published in the same journal, Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, said the long-time upward trend in California's temperatures have caused the current drought there to be worse, regardless of the initial cause of lack of rain. Diffenbaugh didn't see much of a change in rainfall, but a big one in terms of warming.

I'll note that other climate scientists say the drought is purely local conditions. Which, given the "pause", makes sense.

But if that study is correct, I assume that Sacramento will begin barrel-bombing the San Fernando valley while San Francisco gears up their chlorine gas bomb arsenal.

Funny enough, the article ends up bolstering one of the main objections of we "deniers" to crippling economic growth to halt our contribution to (the currently "paused") global warming:

While they are different places, there is a connection between the two droughts and climate change, Kelley said. It shows that a wealthy United States can bounce back from a big drought and a country like Syria sometimes can't, he said.

Apparently, it is possible to cope with changing climate if you aren't a poor dictatorship that stokes sectarian differences to remain in power. Don't give Assad a "get out of jail free card" by blaming global warming.

And note, too, that while the global warmers want greater government control to fight (the currently "paused") global warming, the study also noted that Syrian government policy contributed to the problem:

Using satellite images, Kelley's team confirms that over-pumping of ground water in north-eastern Syria because of government subsidies for wheat production depleted a source of irrigation that farmers could otherwise have used when rains failed. Meanwhile, the Syrian government slashed food and fuel subsidies. "This resulted in agricultural collapse and mass migration," says Kelley.

So maybe California isn't out of the woods yet, depending on what policies they order.

Alagore Akbar!

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Other Oil War

Iranian fanboys have gained power in Yemen and Iran is sending help. Another asset to potentially wield an oil weapon against Arab Gulf states is created.

Here come the Iranians:

The first direct flight from Iran to Yemen's capital arrived on Sunday, as the Shiite rebels holding Sanaa formalize ties with the regional Shiite powerhouse.

The flight underscores how the rebels, known as Houthis, are strengthening their grip over state institutions and exercising sovereign power in Sanaa, even as the country's president insists he is still in charge after fleeing to the south.

It contains "humanitarian" aid. No mention of anything else. More planes will follow.

Aside from harming our effort to kill al Qaeda in Yemen, this potentially adds another link in an Iranian effort to counter-attack Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states that export oil.

Arab states in the Gulf have long had to contend with Iran's ability to interfere with oil exports through the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran looms over and which contains Iranian islands that can add to Iran's ability to base forces to block oil exports.

Arab states have sought to use pipelines across to the Red Sea--and then north through Suez or south into the Indian Ocean more, and Iraq once used pipelines through Syria as alternatives to the Hormuz route.

Iran has sought influence in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Sinai, Sudan, and Eritrea, which could serve as platforms to contest oil flows through these alternative routes.

Now Iran could get Yemen in their camp to help plug the southern Red Sea route.

That would give Iran quite the oil weapon of their own--if we can't sell oil, nobody can.

Normally, I'd take some comfort that Iran is under financial pressure from sanctions and from Saudi efforts to depress oil prices (Iran's major source of income) and so supporting Yemen could add to their money woes and ultimately accelerate Iran's problems supporting all their friends in crime.

Nor do I assume that Iran can keep this asset since the Sunni Arabs are likely to regroup and resist.

But of course, if Iran holds this gain for now, Iran counts on John Kerry delivering a deal that President Obama desperately wants that will save Iran's economy (and pave the way for nuclear weapons) before all the past-due billing notices arrive in Tehran, according to their foreign minister:

"Our negotiating partners, particularly the Western countries and particularly the United States, must once and for all come to the understanding that sanctions and agreement don't go together," he said in Geneva. "If they want an agreement, sanctions must go... We believe all sanctions must be lifted."

And this will be called smart diplomacy by our administration. What the Hell! Nobel Peace Prizes for everyone!

The Other Option

I've long assumed the general outline of an Obama administration nuclear deal with Iran is quite clear. Iran will pretend not to have a nuclear weapons program; and we will pretend to believe them.

Yet I've held out hope that Iran itself would save us from such a bad deal because of their utter contempt for us and their refusal to even pretend to bow to us in their certainty that God is on their side and backs their nuclear efforts.

Yet our best and brightest is on the job:

Nuclear negotiations with Iran have reached a "far more advanced stage" than ever before, a senior administration official said Friday, expressing hope that negotiators may be able to conclude a partial agreement by the end of March..

While "there are still gaps" between Iran, the United States and the five other world powers involved in the negotiations, the official said, "obviously negotiations have advanced substantially."

Yes, John Kerry already has a place on the mantel selected for his Nobel Peace Prize resulting from a deal:

Kerry is traveling to Montreux, Switzerland, for a Tuesday meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the nuclear issue.

Kerry will again be accompanied by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a sign that the talks are delving deep into the details of a possible agreement. The Energy Department oversees the U.S. nuclear stockpile and employs the government's experts on nuclear fuel.

You tell me, is Kerry more likely to make progress on actually convincing Iran that they don't want nuclear weapons; or make progress on convincing Iran to pretend they don't want nuclear weapons?

This path was stupid when we started it and it will be dangerous if we finish it.

Netanyahu's speech to Congress better be really good if the Obama administration is to be deflected from its course.

Yet our administration treats Netanyahu worse than they'd ever treat the Iranians.

Maybe Netanyahu should let loose with a few "Death to America!" rants to earn the respect of President Obama and his chief diplomat.

President Obama has long said that "all options are on the table" when it comes to halting Iran's drive for nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, one of the increasingly likely options on the table is not halting Iran at all.

Have a super sparkly day.

UPDATE: Iran may yet save us from our delusions by refusing to pretend even a little to give up their nuclear goals:

Iran on Tuesday rejected as "unacceptable" U.S. President Barack Obama's demand that it freeze sensitive nuclear activities for at least 10 years, but said it would continue talks aimed at securing a deal, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported.

"Iran will not accept excessive and illogical demands," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying by Fars.

My hope is that Iran's contempt for us is so great that they find it too distasteful to pretend they are halting or even delaying key elements of their nuclear program.

The Pre-Spring Offensive

One thing that annoyed me about complaints directed at our plans to take Mosul was that they seemed to assume that the forces earmarked for the offensive were the only forces available in the Iraqi military.

If there is an American-advised offensive by Iraqi and Kurdish forces sometime in the next couple months, recent actions will affect the operation.

First, ISIL forces launched what could be considered a spoiling attack:

Islamic State suicide bombers and fighters struck targets on Saturday in the northern Iraqi city of Samarra, where security forces and their Shi'ite militia allies have been gathering for an offensive against the radical Sunni militants.

But the attack doesn't seem to have interfered with preparations for the Iraqi offensive north:

Iraq is deploying 27,000 troops to retake the city of Tikrit from Islamic State, in a mission that will test the military’s ability to stage major offensives against the group before trying to capture its stronghold in Mosul.

The state-sponsored al-Iraqiyah television said that paramilitary forces, a term that usually describes Shiite militias, are backing up police and army soldiers. The forces will also seek to liberate other areas in the Salahuddin province, where Tikrit is located.

If successful, this will advance the jumping off point for an offensive aimed at Mosul. And it isn't calling on the troops earmarked for the Mosul attack, it seems, since the Tikrit offensive is based on Shia militias which we don't operate with (because of Iranian influence and concerns about their discipline).

While I don't like it that Iran is gaining influence by funding and organizing their local version of Hezbollah in Iraq, hopefully we kill two birds with one stone if the offensive uses pro-Iran Shia militias to fight ISIL jihadis.

The Iraqis are hoping local Sunni Arabs have tired of living under ISIL rule:

Iraq's prime minister called on Sunni tribal fighters to abandon the Islamic State group Sunday, ahead of a promised offensive to retake Saddam Hussein's hometown from the extremists.

Haider al-Abadi offered no timeline for an attack on Tikrit, the hometown of the late Iraqi dictator some 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Baghdad that fell into the hands of the Islamic State group last summer.

There is no word about when the attack will take place. It should be soon if this is to advance the jumping off point for the Mosul offensive in the spring.

And I'm still waiting to see what happens in Anbar where our Marines (and others, I assume) are also training Iraqi forces.

UPDATE: Moments later, I see that the offensive against Tikrit has begun.

I don't expect this to be pretty since basically two armed and fanatical mobs are going into battle.

The Iraqi mob will at least have some trained guys for support. But the ISIL mob has a lower degree of difficulty since they just need to hold and die in place within Tikrit.

UPDATE: We aren't providing air support because the Iraqis didn't ask us for it.

UPDATE: Actually, we aren't providing air support because this is an Iranian-led offensive and we don't want to be associated with any slaughters of Sunni Arab civilians:

No American air support is being used and the Americans say that is because Iraq did not request any. The real reason for no U.S. air support is the fact that this is an Iranian operation and if American smart bombs and missiles were used the Iranians would blame the Americans for any civilian casualties.

And there is this about the Iraqi Shia militia leading the attack on Tikrit:

Iran has trained these guys to think of this as a religious war, of Shia against fanatic Sunnis who see Shia as heretics to be murdered on sight. Iran has trained the militia to see this as a very personal battle in which death is martyrdom and as much a reward as victory. The problem is that ISIL trains their people the same way so the U.S. (and many Iraqi Army commanders) expects an epic bloodbath made even more horrific by mass murder of Sunni civilians.

In many ways, a higher body count among the pro-Iranian Shia fanatics and ISIL fanatics is ideal.

The one thing I'll say in caution about the force of fanaticism is that it will propel true believers to kill and die rather than surrender or retreat--right up until the moment when it doesn't and the true believers flee. Iran experienced that loss of morale in 1988 after looking like true believers since 1980 in their war with Iraq.

But you can't tell when that break will happen.

UPDATE: Actually, on reflection, this Iranian-led offensive could explain that controversial CENTCOM briefing on the Mosul offensive that we are planning.

Perhaps we didn't want to leave the impression that only Iran is on the job in Iraq.

And maybe we wanted to establish the wisdom of our deliberate approach if Iran leads a bloodbath offensive.

This is better than believing we had no idea that the Tikrit offensive was going to begin.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

An Army and Not a Mob

Following the war in Vietnam, our Army was figuratively decimated. It took a long time to reorient the Army and rebuild its ability to fight. Compare that experience and outcome with the Army that came out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Given that many on the left insist we lost both the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War (after demoting it from "good war" status after the Iraq War wound down), why didn't our Army and Marines suffer from those defeats after the war? Why did they continue to be effective with good morale and training? Shouldn't they have been broken as they were after our justly deserved (remember, from the left's point of view) defeat in Vietnam?

Of course, victory versus defeat is a difficult judgment. Even in Vietnam we defeated the North Vietnamese and left South Vietnam intact, if battered and without full control of their territory. Reliant on our support and facing a major conventional threat from Hanoi, South Vietnam fell to a North Vietnamese invasion a little over two years after we left.

In Iraq, a little over two years after we left, jihadis took over large parts of Anbar and then overran large parts of the north, including Mosul. Yet Iraq did not fall. And we returned to help Iraq hold the line, and (we say) eventually reclaim their territory.

And in Afghanistan, we are nearly out with the intent of having all our troops out in two years, despite the continued presence of enemy forces in (mostly) the south and east. The outcome remains in doubt, at least, with reasons to believe either outcome could happen.

But regardless, our ground forces--especially the Army--were broken after leaving Vietnam--and it didn't need to wait until the fall of Saigon to break. Not broken after Iraq--even after the ISIL offensives. And not broken after largely leaving Afghanistan--and who thinks it would break even if the Taliban regain control in two years?

The key is that in Iraq and Afghanistan, we withdrew units. They retained cohesion and as units they know they did their jobs and did their jobs well. And it doesn't matter if you judge those wars lost or won.

In Vietnam, as I've noted before, we withdrew individuals rather than units and left an increasingly smaller mob of individuals behind to hold the line until we pulled them all out.

There are other differences, too. We had the draft back then and have volunteers now. The casualties in Vietnam were nearly an order of magnitude greater than the combined casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. And public support for the troops was sustained in the latter wars even as support for keeping the troops fighting declined, in contrast to the hate for the troops that existed during Vietnam in some circles.

(Indeed, I always assume that support for the draft today on the left is motivated by the desire to recreate that hate to undermine our ability to fight wars.)

But I think that unit cohesion is the key to maintaining an effective military even in defeat. Remember, war from the foxhole gives you a different perspective than looking at the large-scale maps and pondering the grand sweep of the war.

If you are in the foxhole, you judge success by what is going on near you and not the bigger picture.

I've noted before that my limited experience in the military only gave me hints about what those who go to war experience. But I did get hints. And one of them was this difference between perspectives.

Such as the night my unit was going into the field for a training exercise to test our knowledge on the new equipment we had been trained on. That night, word of the August 1991 coup in Moscow came across the radio in our barracks.

That was of intense interest to me. Yet over the next four days, during which I never had more than a five-hour stretch of sleep, my focus was on using our new equipment, including a teletype machine we'd soon ditch for a field fax machine, rather than following the coup that was taking place in a nuclear-armed state recently defeated in the Cold War.

So don't let anything interfere with our unit cohesion. Don't take shortcuts to save money, even during sequestration, because we want an army in our barracks and not an armed mob.

Who Knew Maduro is a Racist?

Venezuela's Maduro is taking actions against Americans in his hare-brained notion that America is plotting against him.

President Maduro is an idiot. But he's an increasingly dangerous idiot:

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Saturday his government had detained U.S. citizens, including a pilot, on suspicion of espionage, in a move likely to strain already tense relations between Washington and Caracas.

Maduro also said his government would order a reduction in the number of U.S. embassy staff in Caracas and prohibit some U.S. officials from entering Venezuela in retaliation for a similar U.S. measure last year. Venezuela would also require U.S. citizens to obtain visas before visiting, he told a rally.

The Venezuelan president, long at odds with Washington, has renewed accusations in recent weeks that the United States is seeking to topple him.

Is Maduro just presiding over the final stages of the destruction of Venezuela that his idiot mentor started?

Or is he thinking of making the big leap from the Axis of El Vil to the Axis of Evil?

And should the Dutch worry? Because if something happens, European NATO states have too much to worry about in Russia and Libya to really extend a hand for some islands in the Western Hemisphere.

If Maduro wants an easier target, there's Guyana, I suppose.

Je Suis SNL

Good grief, it seems like only yesterday that we were all Charlie. But now there is controversy over a Saturday Night Live skit?

If we can't mock evil idiots, who can we mock?

Mock them. They may be evil, but they are evil idiots.

Maybe more mockery will take away some of the allure of joining these breathing pieces of garbage.

Or did we disrespect the Nazis with this?

Yeah, right in ISIL's face when they claim to be the master religion.

Je suis SNL.

Finding the Nixonian Common Foe

If President Obama wants a "Nixon goes to China" moment for his presidency, perhaps there is an option less stupid than hoping Iran is the place he should go to.

Have no doubt that a nuclear deal with Iran is stupid. The ultimate stupidity by an administration that bizarrely believes it is achieving global success with a policy of not doing stupid sh*t.

The stupid sh*t continues to multiply.

But maybe there is something President Obama can do to get a legacy other than one of bumbling strategery.

Consider that China would love to see Russia fight with America and NATO in Europe. China has supported Russia over Ukraine in words and deeds (although China benefits from the latter).

A rising China that could sit out that blood-letting between their major rivals for dominance would be in a good position to claim the throne and pressure their neighbors to submit to Chinese dominance.

Consider that Russia would love to see China fight America in the Pacific both to take us down a peg and to keep their Far East (stolen from China) off of China's immediate focus until Russia can restore their military power to Soviet levels when Russians were a threat to Chinese territorial integrity and not vice versa.

Russia and America both have an interest in not wrecking each other in a war so that China can pick up the pieces at the expense of both of us.

What if NATO and the Russians come to a new agreement on conventional forces in European NATO and Russia west of the Ural Mountains?

What if we focus on limiting the heavy forces that each of us deploys in this region to a level that does not allow either to reasonably pose a threat to take large amounts of territory?

Russia would be free to deploy heavy forces of tanks, heavy anti-tank focused infantry fighting vehicles, and self-propelled artillery east of the Ural Mountains while we would limit similar forces in Europe.

NATO countries could have some heavy forces in Europe just as Russia could have some heavy forces in European Russia, and to compensate for lack of European territory outside of the treaty area we could host sites in America to store the bulk of the heavy equipment of our continental NATO allies.

That way, even continental Europeans would have to ship over heavy forces across the Atlantic to pose an offensive threat to Russia.

We'd have to adjust the totals to account for the ease of movement by rail versus by sea.

And the Europeans could even have rotations at our National Training Center against our OPFOR to hone their conventional skills by flying in troops to use their stored equipment here.

We and the British would still need prepositioned heavy equipment in Poland, I think, but otherwise we could restrict actual ground troops in newer NATO countries to lighter forces (like paratroopers and Stryker units) unsuitable for leading an offensive and better suited for power projection missions into the arc of crisis from West Africa to Afghanistan, just as the Russians would have fewer and lighter forces close to NATO.

Only a serial apologist for America like President Obama could sell to our left wing a deal with Russia that allows each of us to focus on China and avoid war with each other.

Now that would be a reset.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Will Warlords Return to China?

China has made great strides in both increasing their GDP to the benefit of their people and in moving toward and advanced economy. Whether or not statistics have been fiddled with, there has been tremendous growth. But what obstacles remain to enjoying this success?

Could civilian-military differences lead to a military-supported coup?

And what happens to China as a political entity if the outcome isn't clean, as the above article speculates?

It is an unlikely outcome, however, because the PLA is divided. Many within it have a stake in Xi’s survival. Far more probable is a scenario in which officers in charge of one of China’s military districts—in Sichuan, say, or perhaps in Jilin—decide that they have tolerated more than enough interference from the central government and declare war. There might be considerable local support for such a move; regional identities remain strong within China and resentment of a rapacious central government is easy to foster. Bo Xilai fell in part because of his popularity in Chongqing. Affordable housing and the idea that he would not let his Chongqingers down made Bo a hero to many locals. Beijing’s arresting him was for many just another example of the central government interfering with Chongqing’s well-being. Capitalizing on local discontent and China’s militia-rized culture, an enterprising military commander could well gather enough strength to challenge Beijing.

Were such a thing to happen, China’s fate could go in one of several different directions. If our imaginary commander were strong enough, an outright seizure of the capital after long, bloody warfare would be one outcome. Mao Zedong, after all, managed to seize power and unify the country after battling a series of foes. But given Xi’s strength, outright victory would be unlikely. Instead, one can expect a bloody stalemate, with the country dividing along north-south lines as old as China itself. “Two Chinas”, to use that dreaded phrase, could emerge. Balkanization might not stop there either. Once other military commands see the possibility of successful defiance, they too might act.

Xi might find that quashing secessionists costs more blood and money than he can get his hands on. China might fall back into a new Warring States or warlord era, in which little fiefdoms spar, subside into coexistence, and then start sparring again.

This is very speculative, as the author says. But with a basis in history, it is at least a subject of speculation.

As I've written before:

With a state both cruel and failing economically, governing a continent-sized population with a history of fragmentation, I don't know why we need to guess which course the government of China will follow. The continent of China is big enough that it could follow all the possible paths.

"Failing" may be defined as failing to grow fast enough to satisfy demands for economic progress rather than recession, but it will be failure enough to matter.

To add to the fun, what if the fear in Chinese ruling circles that they are potentially in a pre-revolutionary situation leads them to push the military too far, thus triggering a civil-military conflict?

Or what if China's rulers seek a "foreign" fight to cement their rule? In their way of thinking that is not the escalation that we might see it as being.

Heck, it might not even be a "foreign" target in their way of thinking.

But no worries. The world is a safer place according to our Secretary of State. That and a buck will get you a (small) cup of coffee, eh?

Send in the Clowns

Really? It's come to this?

In a new blog post, the White House declares that "7 out of 10 Doctors [say] Climate Change Is Already Harming Patients’ Health."

How is it possible to make that claim when we've been in--charitably--a "pause" in global warming for the last 17 years (give or take a year or two)? Just how is American health being harmed because of increased heat when the global temperature has been flat?

And given that cold-related deaths are twice as likely as heat-related deaths in America, how can global warming even be harmful if it was taking place, at least in the short run?

This poll just in! Six out of ten clowns say global warming is already making us sadder.

There Was No Battle Inside Basra

While Iraqi forces moved into Basra in spring 2008 in the Charge of the Knights operation against pro-Iran Shia militias, there was no battle inside Basra during the Iran-Iraq War.

In an otherwise interesting piece on the issue of Mosul and whether we telegraphed our intentions, the author says this about the ability to fight and seize Mosul:

Whatever the rationale behind the U.S. statements, the overall plan to retake Mosul carries serious tactical and strategic risks. These risks exist whether CENTCOM releases a trailer for the campaign or not. Urban combat is costly—even if you win. The United States knows this from its own history in cities such as Hue during the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War. The Iraqis know it from their history, too, such as the battles for Khorramshahr and Basra during the war with Iran.

I'll ratify the Khorramshahr experience.

But I don't know what the author is talking about when citing Basra.

Basra was the subject of many Iranian offensives in the Iran-Iraq War. But I don't believe the Iranians ever made it closer than 6 miles to the city in the face of stiff Iraqi resistance and many fortifications and obstacles.

So there is no urban warfare experience inside Basra for Iraq to draw from.

UPDATE: This was as close as Iran got to fighting inside Basra:

In January 8, 1987, Karbala Five signaled its beginning when waves of Iranians rushed the Iraqi lines northwest of Khorramshahr. As Rafsanjani predicted, the Iraqis stood their ground and fought. Final victory was not, however, the result. In standing to fight, the Iraqis gunned down the Iranians who stubbornly attacked in the face of crippling losses as they slowly shoved the Iraqis back. By January 22, 1987, the Iranians had advanced to within ten kilometers of Basra, the objective on which Iran pinned her hopes of victory. By the fourth week of the offensive, Iran's attack force was spent and the Iranians dug in to hold their exposed positions at the outskirts of Basra. Iraq's counter-attack called upon all the available reserves and smashed the Iranians to end the offensive for good. Perhaps 20,000 Iranians died in the battle. Iraq's casualties were about half of Iran's. Iraq's performance is notable in that Iraq withstood and won the kind of brutal bloodletting that supposedly only Iran could endure. Observers at the time saw only that Iran had launched yet another in a seemingly endless series of big offensives. They speculated about how many more of these attacks Iraq could endure. Actually, Iran broke at Karbala Five. It would be many months before observers began to wonder what was wrong with Iran when no further attacks were begun, yet it was true that the "Islamic Revolution bled to death in Karbala V."

So there you go.

Well, That's Convenient

A prominent dissident in Russia was murdered:

Boris Nemtsov, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis, was shot dead steps from the Kremlin in a murder that underscored the risks taken by the Russian opposition.

Nemtsov, 55, was shot four times in the back by assailants in a white car as he walked across a bridge over the Moskva River in central Moscow with a Ukrainian woman, who was unhurt, just before midnight on Friday, police said.

Steps from the Kremlin? That's convenient, too. The killers could kill the man while on a coffee run. No overtime pay. Which is nice for cash-strapped Russia.

Leaving the Ukrainian woman unhurt won't look good on their annual fitness report, of course.

But don't you worry, Putin is on the case:

Putin condemned the "brutal" slaying and took the investigation under presidential control, saying it could have been a contract killing and a "provocation" on the eve of a big opposition protest Nemtsov had been due to lead on Sunday.

Putin will reportedly put famed murder expert and dogged pursuer of "real killers"--O. J. Simpson--on the case.

We now resume our regular foreign aggression programing.

UPDATE: Interesting:

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was murdered because he planned to disclose evidence of Russia's involvement in Ukraine's separatist conflict.

Although I'm bewildered by the notion that Russia's direct involvement isn't already clear.

So who else has the proof? Surely Nemtsov didn't dig this up on his own?

Or are there other bullet-riddled bodies all around Moscow this morning?

UPDATE: Nemtsov's death is a tragedy. So when does Putin increase the death toll to mere statistic?

UPDATE: I admire their courage:

Tens of thousands of people are marching in central Moscow to honour opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead on Friday.

They carried portraits of Mr Nemtsov and banners saying "I am not afraid".

He had been due to lead an opposition march on Sunday but his killing turned the event into a mourning rally.

But I worry too, if Putin just considers a rally like that a "target-rich environment."

Friday, February 27, 2015

Obviously, It's George W. Bush's Fault

Seriously, what part of "we're fighting barbarians" is unclear to you?

A video of jihadists in Iraq gleefully smashing ancient statues to pieces with sledgehammers sparked global outrage and fears Friday that more of the world's oldest heritage will be destroyed.

I guess the job of smashing our cultural heritage doesn't count for Marie Harf.

Let's get on with our job of killing these breathing pieces of garbage.

That's WAY Different, Eh?

What are the limits of Chinese understanding of Russian security concerns?


Western powers should take into consideration Russia's legitimate security concerns over Ukraine, a top Chinese diplomat has said in an unusually frank and open display of support for Moscow's position in the crisis.

Say, let's continue this unusually frank way of thinking, shall we?

Vladivostok is really close to China, isn't it? No reason for Russia to worry at all, right?

Should China "abandon the zero-sum mentality, and take the real security concerns of Russia into consideration," when it comes to China's control of all of Manchuria?

I know, I know. China would say that's way different.

But really, this isn't about China. It's about Russia and how utterly stupid their rulers are proving to be.

Russia could have joined the West, and European Russia would be a vast safe rear area to guard against the real threats Russia faces to their territorial integrity.

But no, by invading Ukraine, Russia has repudiated any hope of relying on past treaties and agreements or international law under the United Nations system to defend their own territorial integrity should China raise dormant claims on Russia.

Granted, Russia thinks they have this covered, too. Surely Russia thinks, China will get involved in a fight at sea that will keep Russia's Far East safe.

Maybe we should say, as we do about disputes over islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea, that we take no position on who should own the Russian Far East as long as nobody resorts to war against one of our allies to settle these issues outside of diplomacy. Perfectly reasonable, I say.

China is surely taking notes on the new rules that Russia has written. Maybe Peking will start thinking that they have legitimate security concerns about the Russian Far East? Lots of important Chinese assets lie so close to Russian territory there, no?

Maybe China will dust off Russian-established precedents sometime around, oh, the year 2021.

NOTE: I rewrote the fifth-to-last paragraph to clarify it.

Ripples of War

Strategypage explains how Ukraine's military declined and how plans to rebuild it faltered on lack of cash.

Although in defense of Ukraine, they were finally winning in the east until Russia's August 2014 direct intervention; and it is too risky for Ukraine to send too much of their military to the east when Russia could trap those troops in a pocket if Russia escalates to general war and marches on Kiev from the north and northeast; and out of their Crimea positions from the south.

In the meantime, Mariupol's defense may rely more on French resolve than Ukrainian military capabilities:

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said this morning on French radio that if separatist troops advanced on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, that would constitute a new red line.

"I told my counterpart Sergei Lavrov that such a move would mean Russia wants to make a link with Crimea, and that would change everything," said Fabius.

Does Putin want those French-built amphibious warfare ships he bought but has not yet received more than he wants Mariupol?

Although I'm not sure why the loss of Mariupol means there is a land bridge to Crimea along the north shore of the Sea of Azov. Russia would have to push west a great deal more through more cities and towns before they can claim that objective.

Is there an assumption that Ukraine can't defend anywhere else along that route? Truly, Ukraine's military capabilities are low if that is the case.

There should be lots of bridges wired to blow and engineers ready to create obstacles on that potential line of advance. If those precautions aren't being made, why not? Shouldn't we be advising them to do so? Shouldn't they know better anyway?

Hasn't Ukraine made some progress in rebuilding military capabilities?

Speaking of that objective:

Ukraine's president says his country has signed an agreement to cooperate with the United Arab Emirates on military and technical issues as he kicked off a visit to the Western-allied Gulf nation.

That's interesting. How can Ukraine pay for arms? Could it be that Ukraine will trade some of their surplus Soviet-built weapons for anti-tank weapons, for example?

The UAE could conceivably use those Ukrainian weapons to arm anti-Assad rebels.

So Ukraine would get weapons they need to resist Russia's war of aggression and strike back at Russia by harming Putin's ally, Assad.

This comes on top of Russia's continuing effort to blackmail us into doing their bidding by threatening to sell advanced air defense missiles to Iran.

The war continues to affect a wider region than just Crimea and the Donbas.

Remain Calm. All is Not Well

John Kerry is taking heat for saying the world is a safer place. To be fair to him, it is. But justifying his low ranking among our secretaries of state, that is irrelevant to American security which he is supposed to advance through diplomacy.

So here we go:

Kerry testified at a separate hearing that, "Despite ISIL, despite the visible killings that you see and how horrific they are, we are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world than normally; less deaths, less violent deaths today, than through the last century."

But hold on:

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, testifying on Capitol Hill, catalogued the growing terror-fueled violence in stark terms.

"When the final accounting is done, 2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled," Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

It is almost too easy to recall Animal House:

To be fair to Kerry, both statements are actually correct.

Let me explain, as I did when President Obama made Kerry's claim:

President Obama has stirred some outrage by saying that we are safer now from terrorism than we have ever been; and saying that we only think the world is more dangerous because of Twitter and whatnot making us more aware of disorder. Most narrowly, I imagine he is actually correct--and yet 100% wrong.

On world disorder, I have no doubt that a look at global statistics would show the world growing less violent over the last 25 years.

This is the peace dividend of our victory in the Cold War as Soviet support for violence around the world ended and the impact of that support dwindled over time.

Yet does less violence in much of the Third World mean anything for our security when we face increased threats in eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the western Pacific? These are the areas that matter to our national security.

As much as we (and those living in those areas) can be grateful that violence in sub-Sahara Africa and Latin America is down, that is not sufficient to make up for the increased violence and threats in our areas of interest.

Similarly, given the massive amount of money that we have spent to create a homeland defense apparatus (the civil liberties aspect of that aside), I have no doubt that the president is technically correct that we are safer now than in 2001.

But this reflects an ability to detect and repel attacks from a greater array of threats rather than a reduction in those overseas threats to us.

Would we pass out Kevlar body armor to the people of Chicago and then tell them that they are now safer because their chance of dying in gun violence is dramatically lower now?

What the president has told us is, at best, accurate but fake.

These measures the president cites are no reason to believe we are not still engaged in the Long War against Islamo-fascist terrorism that we realized we were in 13 years ago.

I quoted the whole thing. Fair use doesn't apply to myself, eh?

I'm sure if you searched Strategypage, you could find the statistics to show the decline in deaths.

That doesn't mean America is safer when Russia is regaining power and is nursing a sense of persecution as it carves up Ukraine and threatens NATO states; when China is growing in power and seeking a role befitting its new power; when Iran is working for nuclear weapons, and when Venezuela and Argentina have foreign targets that could tempt their leaders to distract their people.

And Lord knows what is going on in Mexico where narco-"governments" at the regional level using jihadi terror tactics compete with the actual local governments and the corrupt national government.

Then when you consider all those threats despite the lowering of the body count, you have to admit that the potential for really bad body counts is expanding. What is Kerry doing about that other than going on about global warming as a threat and dreaming of a Nobel Peace Prize for getting Iran to pretend to stop their nuclear work?

Oh, and there is still that post 9/11 war against jihadis who are slaughtering across the arc of crisis from Libya to Afghanistan. Which has gotten worse.

Yet John Kerry is our chief diplomat who is tasked with keeping these threats from becoming a military problem.

If only he would be the only one to get trampled when that fails. Now that would be fair to John Kerry. Alas, that's not how it works. Face it people, we're an interpretive dance away from chaos.

Come on people, we pivoted to Asia on the assumption that Europe was peaceful and the Middle East quiet only to find Europe is a new theater that demands our attention and the Middle East had but a few years of looking quiet as an all-too short peace dividend of our battlefield victory in Iraq before it became an even bigger call on our attention.

Remain calm. But not all is well. The world that matters to us is not better.