Tuesday, September 30, 2008

An Opportunity for Somebody

So an Iranian ship, Iran Deyanat, is under control of pirates. Several Somali pirates have died after coming in contact with the cargo, according to reports, while suffering skin burns and loss of hair. Speculation is that the cargo is composed of chemical weapons.

Those symptoms don't look like chemical weapons exposure to me. It sounds like radiation sickness, I wrote.

This article quotes an expert who agrees:

Chemical experts say the reports sound inconsistent with chemical poisoning, but may reflect the effects of exposure to radiation.

"It's baffling," said Jonathan Tucker, a senior fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. "I'm not aware of any chemical agent that produces loss of hair within a few days. That's more suggestive of high levels of radioactive waste."

Still, even though the reports sound damning, the sources of the information may have reason to attract us to Somalia:

"I'm not saying it's impossible that this has happened, but I'd take anything they say with a great deal of salt," said J. Peter Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. "They have made fanciful claims before in the hopes of attracting U.S. and other international attention."

Pham said that the 14 provisional governments that have ruled Somalia since 1991 have all relied on foreign aid for support and profit and could be trying to attract attention by inflating the current crisis.

"Would it be beyond them to raise the specter of WMDs in order to attract resources and international assistance? The only source of revenue for this government is foreign aid," he told FOXNews.com.

So it could be a smoking gun found in the hands of the Iranians. Or a smoke screen trying to suck American money into the impoverished anarchic region.

I assume we are working hard to determine what is going on there.

UPDATE: What puzzles me about the incident is the relative lack of press coverage compared to the Ukrainian ship holding T-72s. I'm not worried about al Qaeda getting main battle tanks. Nor do I think that the small arms in the ship are particularly tough to come by in the Horn of Africa. The article also reports we have the pirate-held ship surrounded by a half dozen ships. Are we also watching Iran Deyanat? Are we feigning lack of interest or are we really uninterested? And if uninterested, do we know we don't have to be interested or are we asleep at the switch? The latter seems highly unlikely. It is all very puzzling.

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Sense of Reality

A United States-Iraq status of forces agreement seems closer now, according to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki :

Answering questions in his office situated in Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone, al-Maliki underscored that he is firmly committed to reaching an accord that would allow U.S. troops to remain in the country beyond next year.

"We regard negotiating and reaching such an agreement as a national endeavor, a national mission, a historic one. It is a very important agreement that involves the stability and the security of the country and the existence of foreign troops. It has a historic dimension," al-Maliki said.

The talks have been snagged in recent weeks over Iraq's demand that it have legal jurisdiction over U.S. forces in the country if they are accused of wrongdoing. But al-Maliki signaled that he is now willing to accept immunity for U.S. forces when they are pursuing their official duties, and would only demand Iraqi legal jurisdiction over them when not.

If this issue is resolved, he said, he believed the other "hanging issues" could be solved quickly.

After seemingly ignoring the fact that the next president might not want any forces in Iraq at all, let alone want an agreement regularizing their status, Maliki seems to have had his mind focused. Maybe he reads political polling data from America.

I find it hard to believe that the Iraqis would risk losing our protection in the next few years. The Iraqis still need us. Their air force, for example, is just beginning to get the basics of air transport and now aerial reconnaissance, with Iraq buying small American aircraft for the mission:

The King Airs are small aircraft equipped with advanced aerial video technology enabling them to cover wide areas and send live feed to ground control centers, the Defense Ministry says. The twin-turboprop aircraft are produced by U.S. manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft Corp., based in Wichita, Kan.

Iraq once had a formidable air force, but it has been largely incapacitated since the 1991 Gulf War that followed Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government hopes to regain control of the country's skies as it eventually takes over authority from the Americans.

The Iraqi army, too, just now mastering light infantry, needs years to get a handle on conventional armored warfare against enemy brigades and divisions.

Maliki seems to get this finally, as the first article notes, after his boasting earlier in the year, and knows we need to be actively helping the Iraqis in the near term:

"This would not be in the interests of Iraq nor in the interests of the United States. Our need for coalition forces is decreasing — but it still exists."

We could still lose this war. Remember, when we left South Vietnam in 1973, the Viet Cong were defeated. In 1975, North Vietnamese armored columns conquered South Vietnam, making our defeat of the Viet Cong rather irrelevant.

We could still go that route. And you'd remember this if you've been reading our polls.

The Iraqis can be grateful that their oil wealth means that a complete cut off of American aid next year would not be as catastrophic as it was for South Vietnam.

A Convenient Crime

So what are the Iranians shipping to Eretria?

A tense standoff is underway in northeastern Somalia between pirates, Somali authorities, and Iran over a suspicious merchant vessel and its mysterious cargo. Hijacked late last month in the Gulf of Aden, the MV Iran Deyanat remains moored offshore in Somali waters and inaccessible for inspection. Its declared cargo consists of minerals and industrial products, however, Somali and regional officials directly involved in the negotiations over the ship and who spoke to The Long War Journal are convinced that it was heading to Eritrea to deliver small arms and chemical weapons to Somalia's Islamist insurgents.

This article pretty much cuts and pastes this reporting, so adds nothing new.

Still, if you are on the left, I know what you are thinking: Shia Iranians helping Sunni terrorists? That is impossible! Shias don't work with Sunnis!

Yet it happens.

I do hope we end up with the contents of that ship before this is over. I assume we have assets watching the ship.

So how many ships in the Horn of Africa area are hijacked? One percent? Two? A half percent?

We got mighty lucky, if this Iranian-owned and suspiciously Iranian-crewed ship is hauling chemical weapons.

Or is it carrying chemical weapons?

Within days, pirates who had boarded the ship developed strange health complications, skin burns and loss of hair. Independent sources tell The Long War Journal that a number of pirates have also died.

I don't know, but that sounds more like radiation exposure than any type of chemical weapons exposure.

So did we get lucky? If so, maybe our CIA and special ops guys should be tipping off pirates to particularly valuable ships owned by Iran or North Korea or other regimes that might move WMD materials or components around.

Which of course makes me ask again, did we really get lucky with this pirate attack?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Winning the Long War

While opponents of American foreign policy complain that we've alienated allies and made the situation worse by angering Arab Moslems, reality continues to defy these predictions. Our European allies continue to cooperate with us against terrorists and even fight with us in Afghanistan. European public disapproval of America is irrelevant since no Germans are about to rouse themselves from August holiday to suicide bomb us. Their anger is meaningless. Their governments know they need us to fight jihadis and watch the Russians. And Europeans will get over their current anger after we've won in Iraq.

Meanwhile, our war has had an effect on the Arab "street" that is undermining the sources of propaganda that justifies jihad and encourages recruits to join the jihad:

Western diplomatic and media pressure on Islamic scholars in the Moslem world, and in the West, is having a serious impact on the popularity of Islamic terrorists in their own backyard. The reason is simple: the terrorists are using a heretical interpretation of Islam to justify their use of violence. Particularly odious is the belief that innocent Moslems killed during terrorist attacks are "involuntary martyrs" and that any Moslem who does not agree with the terrorists "is not a true Moslem" and can thus be killed as an infidel or heretic.

Mainstream Islamic scholars long opposed the theological misdeeds of the terrorists, but were either shouted down, terrorized into silence or ignored (especially by key media in the Islamic world). As more Moslems were killed as "collateral damage" to Islamic terrorism, the more pressure there was on Islamic scholars to openly condemn the sins of the killers. Even before September 11, 2001, Pentagon and State Department officials were making this point, without much success.

These Islamic scholars have openly turned on the radical extremists who have twisted Islam to justify their terrorism campaign. This will change the rules of the game, as I wrote we must do to really win the Long War and not just suppress the jihadis until they regroup and come back in another generation or two with more terrible weapons.

Good God, people, you don't actually believe Iraq was a distraction from the war on terrorists, do you?


I've long thought that Syria's support for Sunni jihadis in Iraq is a risky move. The Alawites who rule Syria are a Shia-offshoot minority that keeps the Sunni Arab majority subjugated.

Syria funneled Sunni Arabs through Damascus and into Iraq to kill us and Iraqis. But that conveyor belt has been disrupted. Are jihadis who want to go to Iraq getting stuck in Syria with nothing to do with their jihadi anger?

Or is this bombing a sign of what jihadis with time on their hand and no Americans nearby do?

State-run television said a car packed with an estimated 440 pounds of explosives blew up on a road on the capital's southern outskirts, wounding dozens and shattering car and apartment windows. The charred booby-trapped car sat in the street near a primary school.

The blast knocked down part of a 13-foot-high wall surrounding a security service complex that houses several buildings in the Sidi Kadad neighborhood.

Syria plays with fire. Did they get burned? And could Syria become a target of Sunni jihadis?

Only Nixon Can Go to China

Given the hatred the global Left has for President Bush and America, it would be impossible to launch a strike on Iran to keep them from getting atomic weapons. Despite ample and widespread belief that Iran is seeking nukes, if Bush orders the strike, Bush will be vilified for taking action and loons around the world will declare their intent to arrest various American officials on war crime charges. Some of those loons will be in allied governments and some will be within America. The world is that screwed up.

And we know we can't subcontract the job to Israel. Israel can't do the job properly and we'd be blamed anyway. The BBC reports that the Guardian writes that we turned down an Israeli request to approve their strike:

The Guardian quoted unnamed European diplomatic sources as saying Mr Olmert had used a one-to-one meeting with Mr Bush in May to raise the issue.

Israeli sees Iran's nuclear programme as its greatest threat.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only but has defied demands from the United Nations Security Council that it halt enriching uranium.

According to the sources quoted by the Guardian, Mr Bush turned down the proposal for an attack and said the US position was unlikely to change as long as he was in office.

Our "approval" is needed for Israeli aircraft to cross Iraq where we control the air space. It wouldn't do to have our air defenses knocking down Israeli aircraft on a raid we didn't know about. Israel needed to deconflict with our air defenses just to strike Syria a year ago.

I'd long thought that Bush would strike Iran before his term of office ends. I no longer think we will. I think we are hoping that Iranians will overthrow their mullahs before they go nuclear. I've pretty much given up any hope that our intelligence agencies are working to engineer such a revolt. So we won't strike and risk inflaming Iranian opinion to rally around the mullahs. I'm not so sure that is the right way to read the Iranian public's reaction should we hurt the mullahs, but I think we are operating on that assumption.

I also think we are compelled by world opinion and our own loyal opposition to only strike Iran when even the densest Leftist admits that Iran has a nuclear missile pointed west. Not that the Left will approve even then, but the liberal non-Left will stop taking their cue from International ANSWER at that point. Even European countries who don't want Iran to go nuclear and believe Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, but think diplomacy can stop the mullahs, will back us in military action then.

But striking when the threat truly is that imminent and obvious is a tough act to pull off. What would stop the Iranians from launching when they detect our forces are on the move? What if we missed just one in the initial strike?

So while I think that we would strike in a very thorough campaign under those circumstances, I think we are building up layers of missile defenses not with the idea of decades of deterrence, but with the idea that we only need to defend against the Iranian nuclear missile threat for a couple hours while we destroy their nuclear infrastructure including the nuclear missile(s).

Irrational hatred of this administration will keep us from striking Iran under any other circumstances.

Of course, the bright side of our elections could be that the Obama administration won't face this public relations problem. Heck, he could get the Nobel Peace Prize for preemptively nuking Iran.

The world is funny that way.

UPDATE: This development fits with my view that we are preparing a shield to blunt an Iranian blow while we strike Iran's nuclear infrastructure when their ambitions become too obvious to explain away or deny:

U.S. European Command (EUCOM) has deployed to Israel a high-powered X-band radar and the supporting people and equipment needed for coordinated defense against Iranian missile attack, marking the first permanent U.S. military presence on Israeli soil.

And plugging Israel into the network would help keep Israel from freelancing an attack that won't be enough to do the job.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hope and Change

Part of the reason we have spent blood and treasure in Iraq is the hope that we can change the dysfunctional Arab Moslem society that has provided fertile ground for Islamo-fascist terrorism, with both an ideology justifying terror and a pool of young men eager to kill us to cure their problems. Rule of law and democracy, we hope, will prevent a new generation of jihadis from arising after we defeat the current wave.

If we don't change the ground rules, another round of jihad will come as they have come before our generation. But the next wave might have even deadlier weapons available for the jihadis to use against us. This may be our last chance to prevent the loss of a city in a nuclear fireball or the deaths of millions from biological weapons.

The problem is clear enough and rests on the poor educational levels of the Islamic world:

The education shortage results in less wealth. GDP of all Islamic countries is a fifth of the European Union and the United States (which contain half as many people.) Unemployment rates are much higher in Islamic countries, and most are ruled by dictators or monarchs. Without science, education and democracy, you find that science and economic progress cannot flourish. ...

The poor economic performance, and tendency not to allow women to be educated, leads to many young, ignorant, unemployed men. These are prime prospects for Islamic radical groups. The pitch is that it is all fault of someone else, and that if we kill enough of the right people (local tyrants, and their foreign allies), than all will be right again. It won't, it hasn't, but it works great for recruiting.

Many so-called progressives (and many on the isolationist Right) insist that democracy and freedom are beyond the capacity of Arabs to implement. It can seem this is so based on headlines. But democracy was not achieved overnight in the West. It took centuries to evolve. It had best not take centuries for the Islamic world to achieve workable democracy, but Moslems are not incapable of living in a democratic society. Moslems do this everyday here in America.

And there is hope that education can do the same job in the Arab Moslem world:

It's only recently become fashionable among Moslems to attribute this to internal conditions. The Arab Reform Movement tries, with limited success, to overcome this "blame the outsider" attitude. Even the Saudi royal family is behind the Arab Reform Movement, and the need for the Islamic world to invest more in education and economic freedom. But thousand year old habits are difficult to erase quickly. This is why Westerners can speak with educated Moslems and come away thinking that friendly relations between the Western and Islamic world are more likely than not. But among the vast majority of poorly educated, and often illiterate, Moslems, the West is feared and hated. Moslem tyrants play on this, as they have for centuries, to blame the misery the tyrants have created on infidel (non-Moslem) foreigners.

It may be discouraging that the Moslem "street" is backward and hostile, but the relatively enlightened views of the educated Moslems provide me with hope that a wider transformation is possible. Remember, they don't have to love us--just find it unthinkable to slaughter us because of our differences. Is that change really too much to ask of them?


Just so you know, the Republican Guard was the six-divisions (or so) force of Saddam Hussein's army that provided a better trained mobile force to back the poorer quality regular army units that held the front lines. There is no Republican Guard in Iran.

If you are speaking about Iran, the regime's parallel military most loyal to the regime is called the Revolutionary Guard.

I'm just saying. You know, in case you are in a debate or something.

Flying Dutch for the Jihad?

German commandos raided a Dutch KLM plane bound for Amsterdam while it was on the ground in Cologne and nabbed two men who wanted to die for the holy war:

The newspaper says the Cologne to Amsterdam flight was stormed at 6:55 a.m. (0455 GMT) and police arrested a 23-year-old Somali man and a 24-year-old German born in Somalia.

Thank you, Germany. Good work in stopping them. Using commandos is pretty serious stuff so I assume the Germans believed they had to act fast to prevent some serious Islamist killing spree. Otherwise, why not just notify the Dutch to arrest them as they got off the plane in Amsterdam?

I wonder what particular group of Westerners were their target and which of their many so-called grievances did the two men use to justify their plans?

Perhaps they were off to slay Mickey Mouse and blow up Euro Disney.

Mobius War

Waging war against the Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists who hide in Pakistan is going to be a problem:

Pakistani government spokesman Akram Shaheedi urged U.S.-led coalition forces "not to violate territorial sovereignty of Pakistan as it is counterproductive to the war on terror."

"It has been Pakistan's policy that we will not allow anyone to violate our sovereignty, and we will continue to defend our territorial sovereignty," he said Friday.

The clash occurred as new Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was in New York meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai was scheduled to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday.

Two American OH-58 reconnaissance helicopters, known as Kiowas, were on a routine patrol in the eastern province of Khost when they received small arms fire from the Pakistani border post, said Tech Sgt. Kevin Wallace, a U.S. military spokesman in Bagram. There was no damage to aircraft or crew, officials said.

So far, Pakistan has been unable to prevent their territory from being used as a sanctuary by our enemies. And Pakistan has been unwilling to ignore our increasing but still rare strikes into Pakistani territory to do the job ourselves.

And even if Pakistan didn't complain, our precision strikes that go after leadership can never do more than disrupt the enemy by forcing new leaders to step up. To suppress them we need to smother the area with security forces. And Pakistan's recent reactions to our minor strikes shows that we can't do much more.

The reason we can't do much more is that while the frontier areas of Pakistan across from Afghanistan are our front line, that same border region is our rear area that we rely on for supplies. That's right, we shoot in the same direction our supplies come from.

And given the state of Pakistani public opinion that seems to applaud Pakistani use of force against our forces if we cross the border in pursuit of terrorists, I don't think we can count on rational decisions by Pakistan's leaders to keep our supply lines open if we intrude into the tribal areas too much. No matter how much the Pakistanis know they need our military and economic help, losing that aid is a long-term problem. Losing the support of the Pakistani people is an immediate problem that could lose Paksitan's leaders their jobs or even lives.

So there you go, we have a mobius war that twists and turns back on itself. Our front line is our line of supply. That's the real distraction in the war on terror.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Speed is Life

Cheap precision weapons have revolutionized warfare, and so far we are the only country that has taken full advantage of this change:

Military commanders the world over are struggling to figure out how to deal with the massive changes created by the arrival of JDAM. The United States has them, most of them, and the ability to stop others from using them (because America control the GPS satellites). The impact of JDAM has been enormous. It has made air power much more effective, reduced casualties for the force using them, and speeded up combat operations. Few non-professionals have noticed this, but generals and admirals of the major military powers have. These changes are will go down in history as a major shift in military capabilities, but the mass media has not really noticed what is going on here. Thus few people are aware of how much JDAM has changed the way wars are fought.

I mentioned this speed feature of precision weapons about a year ago when I noted new precision 2.75" DAGR rockets which continued the trend in precision capabilities:

Coupled with recon assets that now roam the battlefield, precision strike capability will continue this speeding up effect. Our ground forces can look to the day in conventional combat where we kick off attacks and count on our forces to spot enemies during the advance and then destroy them with precision weapons when identified. The speed of reaction may very well allow us to fight in damn near march order in non-urban areas without having to pause to deploy against resistance unless it is a major force well dug in and concealed.

And precision fire support means that line units won't need to fire as much because supporting units to the rear and in the air will take out the targets. And those supporting units won't need to resupply as often, too. So pauses to resupply will dwindle.

Given that night vision gear and land navigation abilities based on GPS allow us to operate 24/7, the limits of human endurance will be the next brake on the speed of combat tempo. We're working on that, too.

And of course, remember that the revolutionary increase in air power means that it is even more important to maintain aerial supremacy. Even if we can't take out an enemy satellite system that allows their rockets and artillery to use precision GPS-guided munitions, keeping their air force off of our troops while our Air Force pounds them (including their guns and rocket launchers) will give us the victory.

Gambling Going On Upstairs

The European Union has complained about Iran's nuclear projects, echoing the administration's claims about Iran's nuclear weapons intentions:

To date, Iran has produced nearly 1,000 pounds of low-enriched uranium, said the report — close to what Albright says is the 1,500-pound minimum needed to produce the 45-60 pounds needed for a simple nuclear bomb under optimal conditions.

And with Iran's centrifuges running ever more smoothly, it "is progressing toward this capability and can be expected to reach it in six months to two years," says Albright.

Touching on such fears, the statement by the 27-nation EU said that Iran's defiance of Security Council demands on enrichment is troubling "because it brings us closer to the moment where Iran will have fissile materials for a weapon, if it chose to increase their degree of enrichment."

It also cast serious doubt on Iranian assertions that it never embarked on studies geared toward making nuclear weapons.

While the evidence "remains to be verified, the IAEA's exhaustive and detailed" information, "leads one to think that the Iran has methodically pursued a program aimed at acquiring the nuclear bomb," the statement said.

But our media told us that our National Intelligence Estimate assured us that Iran is not seeking to build nuclear weapons! How can this be?

Well, as was clear at the time, our NIE said no such thing. But opponents of doing something got the NIE spun the report and counted on nobody reading the actual NIE. So now it seems shocking that the EU, of all institutions, says that Iran seeks nukes. Mission accomplished, as the saying goes.

As I said at the time, just read that NIE. Don't trust our press corps to draw conclusions or report accurately about anything they feel deeply about.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What are the Persians Up To?

Strategypage notes that Iran has sent hundreds of trained killers back to Iraq:

September 21, 2008: Hundreds of Iraqi Shia who had been sent to Iran to take training in bomb making and assassination, are returning to Iraq. But these men are not doing anything, yet.

And it isn't just Iraq:

A former Iranian diplomat, now living in exile in Sweden, believes that Iran is continuing to build a network of agents in Persian Gulf Arab countries. All of these have Shia minorities. One country, Bahrain (65 percent Shia), has a majority. The others are minorities; Oman (4 percent), Kuwait (23 percent), Qatar (5 percent), Saudi Arabia (15 percent), Yemen (45 percent) and the United Arab Emirates (15 percent).

And this isn't even mentioning the overt Iranian presence in southern Lebanon where their creation Hizbollah prepares for war and increasing presence in Gaza in support of Hamas.

I wrote a while ago that I worry just what Iran is planning for the region. I still wonder--and worry.

The Return of Maneuver

Israel is refocusing on making their army the dominant force in the region and in their military. Reliance on air power is being scaled back:

The IDF intentionally refrained from large-scale ground maneuver operations during the 2006 Lebanon War. This was one of the causes of it's poor showing, which left the scene, for the first time in it's history, without clear and visible decision, both militarily and political. As the war was examined in depth by the so-called Winograd Commission, it became clear to decision-makers, that extensive ground operations, relying on large-scale, rapid maneuver warfare remain significant elements in any future warfighting, both high-intensive and asymmetric, in which the IDF will have to defend it's nation against looming threats, both at the frontline and especially in the vulnerable rear zone....

The lack of focus to achieve 'Land Dominance' – a situation where land forces perform a series of rapid and decisive operations, employing maneuver forces throughout the battle area, precisely, lethally and effectively, to defeat the enemy, was identified soon after the war in after action reports. Lacking area dominance, and recognizing the vulnerability of the individual elements, the IDF response to threats was incomplete, insufficient and deliberate tactical moves were rapidly reduced to evacuation of casualties after initial engagements with the enemy. In an attempt to reduce vulnerability to stand-off anti-tank missile threats the IDF limited operations to night time. Furthermore, movement of lightly armored vehicles was prohibited throughout the theater while heavy armor was ordered to move off-road, which was proven highly challenging for the inexperienced crews. These factors had a negative effect on combat support and combat service support to forward forces, severely degrading their operational effectiveness and combat flexibility.

The Israelis screwed the pooch in Lebanon in 2006. Their ground approach was awful and the above article confirms my suspicions at the time:

In 1973 the Israelis needed 18 days to mobilize and defeat the combined militaries of Syria and Egypt. This time the Israelis were unfocused, intent on winning with air power alone, then used minimal ground force in a shallow frontal assault that was just a low-level war of attrition, and then gathered forces for a big push that lasted all of half a day or so before pulling back. They could have had longer if they hadn't misused their air power in a misguided strategic campaign that compelled Sunni Arab states to cancel their support for Israel's fight against Shia terrorists.

I felt their army conducted shallow attacks on a wide front that just let the enemy fight on their terms. And it was worse than I thought. The Israelis actually stopped their attacks to withdraw wounded troops! The Israelis forgot the purpose of war and so lost that war.

Frontal attacks on fanatical light infantry is costly to the attackers. What was needed, I argued, was a strategy that penetrated the enemy's frontline bunkers and got behind them. Maneuver the enemy out of their prepared positions and victory would be achieved.

The question is, will Israel refocus in time for the next round?

When Terrorism is a Law Enforcement Issue

Do we deal with terrorism as a law enforcement or military issue? I've never been a fan of this choice. We use military power when we must and use law enforcement when we can. Al Qaeda in Afghanistan or Iraq were as far from law enforcement problems as you can get.

But Iraq in some places is becoming a place where battling terrorism is a law enforcement problem:

When the Iraqi Army caught Abdul al-Wasit, a mid-level operative for Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), he was working undercover as a shepherd in a rural area. It was a far cry from his earlier days in a village 65 miles south, where he used to extort locals and openly execute rivals.

The once seemingly untouchable insurgent had been reduced to hiding on the fringes of society. Many of his fellow operatives had joined him, and they continued to plan operations while supposedly trading sheep.

Facing a local population that has grown intolerant of AQI's indiscriminate acts of violence, many operatives like Mr. Wasit have gone underground – some have even formed sleeper cells in the Iraqi security forces. Members now only emerge from hiding to conduct high-profile attacks. Though this strategic shift has created an apparently less active AQI, the group has not given up the fight in Iraq and will likely remain a threat here for years.

Al Qaeda in Iraq is a threat, with religious hatred still motivating the jihadis. But more and more, the war will be fought with arrests of individuals and small cells by teams of Iraqi cops or paramilitary forces rather than complex military operations that must kill and drive out large groups of the enemy that try to stand and fight.

Of course, this is being made possible because we fought the jihadis and their allies as a military threat when it was appropriate these last several years, rather than clinging bitterly to notions that god and guns didn't matter in Iraq.


I think the whole debate over reconciliation in Iraq is ridiculous. The idea that some over here promote that Iraq's Shias and Kurds need to forget all about the Sunni reign of terror under Saddam and learn to love their former enemies is hogwash.

Good grief, have you read the Lefty blogs here in America? They're still enraged over dangling chads in Florida 2000 and are eagerly planning their 2009 show trials for everyone from supporters of the war in Iraq to global warming "deniers." Where's their spirit of reconciliation? And they expect Iraqis to forget dangling corpses?

It is too much to expect Shias, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds to love each other given the destruction that Saddam's regime inflicted on Iraqi society. All I expect from Iraqis is that they let elections and rule of law settle their very real grievances. Not all Sunni Arabs are complicit in Saddam's crimes. As long as death squads are suppressed, the guilty can be properly identified, prosecuted, and punished without harming the innocent. And with rule of law, the innocent won't have to fear they are next in line just because they are Sunni Arabs.

So with this caveat in mind, Iraqi's parliamentary passage of a local elections law is still good news:

Agreement was reached after Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and Turkomen lawmakers adopted a U.N. compromise to form a parliamentary committee to review disputes regarding Kirkuk separately so the elections could go ahead elsewhere.

The new law required the committee to make recommendations for separate legislation on Kirkuk by March 2009.

U.N. envoy Staffan di Mistura, who has shuttled relentlessly between the political blocs to pressure them to approve the law, told The Associated Press that preparations for the vote would begin immediately.

"Today is an important day for Iraq and democracy as the parliament found a compromise over election law," he said. "This will help Iraq and Iraqis to express their opinions by voting for their candidates in the provinces."

They don't need to love each other--just refrain from shooting and bombing each other to settle disagreements. Heck, we should look forward to negative campaign ads in Iraq!

We Few

Presidents Bush and Talabani have joined to thank those in the Coalition who remain to help Iraq defeat the gangs, jihadis, Baathists, and Persian pawns who continue to threaten and kill even as they have been dramatically weakened:

"Mr. President, we've still got work to do," Bush told Talabani. "But there is no doubt that the situation in Iraq has changed substantially. There's no doubt that mothers are able to send their child to school without fear of carnage. Oh, there are still killers amongst your — in your midst, but your government has been steadfast in bringing people to justice who are trying to undermine your democracy."

Bush says 41 countries participated in the Iraq conflict, although that number has been dropping. According to a list provided by the White House, representatives of the following nations were being recognized at the meeting: Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Tonga, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

"I'm here on behalf of the Iraqi people to express my deepest appreciation for all countries who participated in the breaking Iraq from worst kind of dictatorship," Talabani said. "Of course, noble and responsible nations must bear their sacrifice in order to free the oppressed and bring citizens from the worst kind of dictatorship. Nevertheless, on behalf of the people of Iraq, I want to express my deepest condolences for your brave soldiers and civilians who have lost their lives while standing up for our shared values of freedom and democracy."

Yes, the Coalition is shrinking. But so, too, are the enemies of Iraq. The Coalition has lasted long enough to do the job. And as victory is achieved, those who remained have a special place in history that has been forfeited by those such as Spain who once helped but ran when al Qaeda targeted them:

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day

Or those who fought with us in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

One War

We want Pakistan fully invested in stamping out jihadi groups in Pakistan's frontier areas. Without the assistance of Pakistan, the area remains a haven for al Qaeda and the Taliban who fight us in Afghanistan and to prepare for attacks on our homeland or Americans abroad.

The problem is that Pakistan has only sought to keep the jihadis quiet and out of the cities rather than defeating the jihadis. Pakistan has been willing to let the jihadis survive as long as the jihadis attack Afghanistan and not Pakistanis. Only after our pressure or some jihadi bombings that kill Pakistanis have the Pakistanis sent the army in on punitive missions into the tribal areas. These army missions would end when the jihadis promised to behave inside Pakistan and after the reason for our pressure subsided.

Then the process would repeat. And with al Qaeda beaten in Iraq, more al Qaeda resources are going to Pakistan to fight us in Afghanistan. The stalemate is now at a higher level of carnage. And with more American troops scheduled to go to Afghanistan (three or four more brigades, it seems by the end of summer 2009), more American troops will die without addressing the basic problem that we can't easily solve the Afghanistan problem without getting Pakistan involved in our war.

Secretary Gates wants Pakistan to feel that fighting the jihadis is necessary for their very survival:

"The nature of the threat that they face, beginning with the assassination of the current president's wife and now most recently the attack on the Marriott hotel, makes very clear to the Pakistani government that they face an existential threat in the western part of their country," Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The remote mountainous region believed to be a safe harbor for Al Qaeda and other groups also poses the greatest threat of terrorism against the United States, Gates said in hearing testimony that underscored the dangers posed by the tribal lands along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.

US officials have increasingly looked to Pakistan as a vital part of their strategy against an intensifying insurgency in eastern Afghanistan, which the Americans say is being fueled by militant strongholds in Pakistan.

Top US defense and diplomatic officials recently began reviewing American strategy in the region and Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has specifically called for a new military strategy that encompasses both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Gates is right, of course, about the threat the jihadis pose to Pakistan. If Pakistan will fully commit to beating these guys, it could be the last jihad by al Qaeda.

But if Pakistan won't fully commit, the problem of Pakistan remains, and we will have to solve it.

I'd rather have Pakistan join us. But do we have a Plan B just in case that relies on Pakistanis but not Pakistan?

(Organic) Animal Farm

With the latest tainted products scandal unfolding in China which has caused 4 infant deaths and tens of thousands of ill children due to poisoned formula, the Chinese Communist elites are insulated from the problems the mere peasants face:

While China grapples with its latest tainted food crisis, the political elite are served the choicest, safest delicacies. They get hormone-free beef from the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, organic tea from the foothills of Tibet and rice watered by melted mountain snow.

And it's all supplied by a special government outfit that provides all-organic goods from farms working under the strictest guidelines.

That secure food supply stands in stark contrast to the frustrations of ordinary citizens who have faced recurring food scandals — vegetables with harmful pesticide residue, fish tainted with a cancer-causing chemical, eggs colored with industrial dye, fake liquor causing blindness or death, holiday pastries with bacteria-laden filling.

It's nice to know that in China, not everyone has to endure that gut-wrenching pain that comes from seeing your child sickened and wondering if your little one will die or be crippled for life.

Some are more equal than others.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sledge Hammer

Perhaps the reason Russia didn't persist in their August War all the way to Tbilisi was because they lunged blind into Georgia and after getting a bloody nose, were too confused about the situation they faced to continue deeper into Georgia:

More information is coming out of Russia describing the problems troops encountered when they invaded Georgia last month. It turns out that the Russians lost eight aircraft (four Su-25s, two Su-24s, one Tu-22 and one Mi-24 helicopter.) The Russian pilots were not prepared to deal with the three batteries of SA-11 anti-aircraft missile systems the Georgians had bought from Ukraine last year.

The Russians also found their GPS system did not cover Georgia:

Aircraft and ground forces got lost, and that led to more losses. The GLONASS problems also prevented use of Russian smart bombs with much effectiveness.

The Russians may not have had enough troops to just press on in a frontal assault after their initial losses.

Distant Early Warning Line

The Russians are making noises about controlling the Arctic:

"We must finalise and adopt a federal law on the southern border of Russia's Arctic zone," Mr Medvedev told a meeting of the Security Council, in remarks carried by Interfax news agency.

"This is our responsibility, and simply our direct duty, to our descendents," he said. "We must surely, and for the long-term future, secure Russia's interests in the Arctic."

Global warming has stepped up the fight for the disputed Arctic, believed to be laden with vast reserves of oil and gas. Russia has pitted itself against Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United States to fight for a greater part of the region, arguing that most of it is Russian territory since an underwater ridge links Siberia to the North Pole's seabed.

Last August, a Russian mini-submarine carrying politicians and scientists plunged to the depths of the Arctic and claimed to plant a Russian flag to mark Moscow's stake in the territory.

Footage of the alleged planting was widely broadcast on Russian television – but later turned out to be images taken from the Hollywood blockbuster Titanic.

Canada has been preparing to contest the north by force if necessary, as I noted a year ago:

Ottawa said last month it would spend C$3.1 billion to buy at least six new patrol ships for the area.

The government said on Friday it will also spend C$4 million refurbishing a facility in Resolute Bay that will allow year-round training of military forces in the Arctic.

Rest assured that the Canadians aren't relying on special effects to defend their interests.

Canada could become NATO's front line if the Russians persist in looking for trouble wherever they can find it.

Viking Funeral

The Russians are definitely coming to the Western Hemisphere:

Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said the nuclear-powered Peter the Great cruiser accompanied by three other ships sailed from the Northern Fleet's base of Severomorsk on Monday. The ships will cover about 15,000 nautical miles to conduct joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy, he told The Associated Press.

I've mentioned I'm not exactly worried about this deployment. The Russian squadron would provide excellent target practice should it come to war. It isn't about war, of course, but attempting to tweak the United States. Lot's of luck with that. Even our State Department is with the program, according to the September 13th edition of The Economist:

The public respones from Washington has been a barely-stifled yawn. The State Department noted that if the Russians were indeed coming, then "they found a few ships that can make it that far."

Who knew our State Department had that in them?

The Russians may actually be able to carry out this deployment without needing a tow sometime during the cruise. But the crew will be glad to get back to Severomorsk without mishap, I dare say.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Yes Virginia, There is an Al Qaeda in Iraq

It has always been silly to claim that Iraq distracts us from the war on terrorism. Iraq is where the terrorists chose to fight us. Michael Totten has a useful reminder:

The United States could not have prudently allowed itself to yield the field to Al Qaeda in either Iraq or Afghanistan by being wholly distracted from one or the other. Both fronts were crucial for Al Qaeda, which means both were crucial for the United States. It doesn’t matter if we like the fact that we have been embroiled in a hot war with Al Qaeda in two countries at once. That’s just how it is.

If Al Qaeda hadn’t poured all those resources into Iraq, they likely would have poured them into Afghanistan. And the U.S. very well may have lost the war by this time. Afghanistan, at the very least, would be in much worse shape than it is. And it’s not looking good even now. Independent foreign correspondent Michael Yon, who is hardly known as a pessimistic defeatist, still insists we’re losing the war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the U.S. has all but won the war in Iraq even though Iraq was in much worse shape recently and the war there did not last as long. Iraq, as it turned out, was an easier place to fight Al Qaeda and other sundry insurgent and terrorist groups than Afghanistan.

While it is certainly arguable that Iraq was a distraction on the war on terror, I disagree. But for the purposes of debating how to fight al Qaeda, it is a moot question. Al Qaeda did decide to fight us there and we have thrashed them there, wrecking their global brand in the process.

And given the many times I've written about the difficulty of fighting in remote Afghanistan (and the much higher cost of supplying troops there, as a bonus) while the enemy can regroup in Pakistan, a major fight in Afghanistan instead of Iraq may very well have just been a costly failure over the same time--with the additional bonus of having Saddam or his evil spawn searching for ways to exploit our grinding war in Afghanistan.

We have beaten al Qaeda in Iraq. Why the self-described "reality-based community" should have so much trouble accepting this simple fact is beyond me. But I'm trained in history and political science--not psychology.

Land of Many Paks

"Pakistan" is our crucial ally in the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and al Qaeda. Hundreds of Pakistani troops have died fighting the jihadis, many civilians have been killed by jihadi bombs, and our supply lines need Pakistani support to maintain.

"Pakistan" is our enemy in Afghanistan. They've supported terrorism inside Afghanistan, they've allowed jihadis to carve out sanctuaries inside Pakistan, and they've protested limited efforts by our forces to strike inside Pakistan.

The problem is, "Pakistan" is a collection of sub-national entities. Some of them help us and some oppose us. Which makes the idea of a sovereign Pakistani government controlling all their territory rather farcical. Yet we're expected to respect that sovereignty and not take direct action inside Pakistan.

Here is an example of overt Pakistani support for our enemies:

Pakistani military forces flew repeated helicopter missions into Afghanistan to resupply the Taliban during a fierce battle in June 2007, according to a Marine lieutenant colonel, who says his information is based on multiple U.S. and Afghan intelligence reports.

The revelation by Lt. Col. Chris Nash, who commanded an embedded training team in eastern Afghanistan from June 2007 to March 2008, adds a new twist to the controversy over a U.S. special operations raid into Pakistan Sept. 3.

Pakistani officials strongly protested that raid, with a statement issued by the foreign ministry calling it a “gross violation of Pakistan’s territory.”

But fewer than 15 months earlier, Pakistani forces were flying cross-border missions in the other direction to resupply a “base camp” in Nangarhar Province occupied by fighters from the Taliban, al-Qaida and the Hezb-i-Islami faction led by Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Nash told Army Times in a Sept. 17 telephone interview.

And it is worse:

But according to Nash, the helicopter missions were just the tip of the iceberg of the support the Taliban and its allies in his area of operations received from Pakistani forces. That support included training and funding — he notes in his briefing that the average Taliban fighter makes four times the average monthly income of an Afghan — in addition to logistical help and, on numerous occasions, direct and indirect fire support, he said.

“What [the Pakistanis] bring to the fight is not only tactical expertise, but [because of] how they’re arrayed along the border, they can easily provide support by fire positions that our enemies are able to maneuver under,” Nash said. “We were on the receiving end of Pakistani military D-30.”

The D-30, as the article explained, is a 122mm artillery piece.

But as I noted, this isn't a Pakistani war, as another source noted even as he confirmed the elements of the story:

“I’m not saying that any of that is sanctioned by the government of Pakistan,” he said. “What I’m saying is this is occurring,” the officer said.

The U.S. government official who closely follows Afghanistan and Pakistan also said it was difficult to gauge exactly who in the Pakistani government was giving the go-ahead for such extensive support of the Taliban.

We simply can't let the Wesphalian fiction of Pakistani unitary control of all of Pakistan's nominal territory stop us from fighting our enemies. I've argued this point for many months now:

It is about more than bin Laden. But without routinely violating the border to attack targets inside Pakistan and without accepting perpetual defense as we do in Iraq in the face of Syrian and Iranian aggression, we may have an opportunity to use a post-Westphalian Lexington Rule to fight al Qaeda in Pakistan.

If we can't get Islamabad to control the frontier area, it is time to bypass Islamabad and deal directly with the tribes who don't recognize the control of Islamabad in the first place. We cannot allow the fictions of sovereignty to keep us from defending ourselves from fanatics who straddle the gray boundary that lies between reality and international law.

Using limited military assets such as special forces and drones to back civilian armed assets such as the CIA or contract personnel (with either former or seconded special forces from Western countries, or perhaps even hiring security companies to provide the personnel) or even Arab special forces that would live and work inside the frontier areas, we may be able to turn the frontier tribes against the jihadis who target us.

Strategypage notes that we certainly have the building blocks in place for such a strategy, with an intelligence network inside Pakistan's frontier areas:

The U.S. intelligence network in Pakistan, along the Afghan border, has been under construction for more than a decade. While the Taliban and tribal unrest has made it easier for the government, and the U.S. (via the Special Forces or CIA) to recruit informants in the Pakistani border areas, the Taliban has responded by launching witch hunts, killing unpopular or suspicious tribesmen, after accusing them of being spies. The point is made, even if justice is not served.

The informant network is getting lots of key Taliban and al Qaeda leaders killed. Several times a month, GPS guided missiles are fired from Afghanistan, or from UAVs overhead, and kill people who appear to have been identified by locals. The Americans pay large rewards for information that leads to a successful attack. While the Taliban are killing anyone they suspect of being an informer, most of the dead appear to be innocents who simply looked guilty to increasingly paranoid Taliban.

So we have the resources to recruit allies inside Pakistan and not just informers.

And we have potential foot soldiers for our surge, too, it seems, with private armies (lashkars) inside the tribal areas.

I could be way off, but I don't see what three more American brigades can do inside Afghanistan unless it is to control the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and act as an anvil against which the lashkars in our service (and supported by our artillery, UAVs, and Coalition special forces) will hammer the Taliban and al Qaeda.

Late next year, after our three additional brigades are in place, we may see this Lexington Campaign. Or is it to be a pointless surge that simply perpetuates short-term stalemate at a higher level of violence?

Polar Bear

After their not-quite-a-victory over Georgia, the Russians are denying that they are isolating themselves. Pay no attention to that little war thing, the Russians protest. It was just a lark. Don't believe the Americans who are trying to isolate us:

"We are in effect being pushed down a path that is founded not on fully-fledged, civilized partnership with other countries, but on autonomous development, behind thick walls, behind an Iron Curtain," Medvedev told a gathering of civil society groups in the Kremlin.

"That is not our path. For us there is no sense going back to the past. We have made our choice."

Really, that path through Gori, Georgia, was just a wrong turn!

Sorry! Sorry! Let's not quibble over who killed who, eh?

Georgia was a tougher nut to crack than the Russians may have anticipated, so instead of looking at Ukraine as the next victim, the Russians are looking north to conquer the territory and seas of the polar bears:

"We are concerned about not just Russia's claims through the international process, but Russia's testing of Canadian airspace and other indications ... (of) some desire to work outside of the international framework," said Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"That is obviously why we are taking a range of measures, including military measures, to strengthen our sovereignty in the North," he said, highlighting a new sensor net, navy patrols and a military training camp in the Arctic.

But Russia had best be careful over their ambitions in the north.

From AFP

Five countries bordering the Arctic -- Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States -- claim overlapping parts of the region, which is estimated to hold 90 billion untapped barrels of oil.

But the Russians seem to forget that unlike Georgia which is at the moment outside of the NATO defensive umbrella, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and America are members of NATO.

If the Russians couldn't conquer Georgia, why do they think they can conquer the Arctic?

Friday, September 19, 2008

The East is Red

Russia's Georgia adventure has made our new Eastern European NATO allies acutely aware of the threat that Moscow poses and the distance that these new NATO countries are from help:

The Russian incursion in August raises questions for newer NATO members — like the three Baltic states that were part of the Soviet Union before the fall of the communist empire in 1991 — about whether and how NATO would respond in the event that Russia chose to invade their territory.

That issue formed a part of the backdrop to a meeting here Friday of allied defense ministers who are divided over how to treat their relationship with Russia and how to proceed with NATO military reforms.

We cannot let it seem as if there are two tiers in NATO--the pre-1989 members who will be defended and the post-1989 members who are members in name only. We must move to extend our alliance's military power as far east as the paper obligations go:

In addition to maintaing sufficient forces deployed in Europe able to move east to reinforce the eastern European NATO frontline states, we should establish American, British, and German equipment depots for additional heavy brigades in southern Poland. If we can fly in troops to man these forces, in a return of forces to Poland (REFORPOL) concept, we'd enhance deterrence without forward deploying powerful NATO offensive units that would scare the Russians in reality instead of their faux fear of Georgians and Latvians. Those units could swing north or south or stay put once manned and fielded.

So far, counting on a benign Russia that is a strategic partner, we've extended NATO membership east without extending NATO military strength east in any significant fashion. It is time to correct that mistake. Russia has shown they'll strike at gaps in our defenses. Fill those gaps.

Show weakness and they'll pounce. Show strength even as we look for ways to improve relations, and they'll back off.

Holy War!

Really, some people insist on believing God is on our side in our wars.

Check out this, as proof positive that wide segments of Americans thought this way!

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.

What a bloody giveaway! God is marching on? Oh, come on!

And there's more, too. Read it and fear for the theorcracy that surely follows. No good could possibly come from such faith-based nonsense.

It's like the simple rubes in buggy-over country actually believed that God approved of freeing the slaves and preserving the Union!

Thank goodness we have a Left that can set us straight. Where would we be without them?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

What's Our Objective?

While we have a problem with dealing with Taliban and al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan crossing into Afghanistan to kill, I think it is ridiculous to claim we are losing the war there. Talk of adding troops to Afghanistan is skipping ahead, as far as I'm concerned, past the questions of what our objective is in Afghanistan and what we want our troops to do.

Secretary Gates said that we are looking at revising our Afghanistan strategy:

A senior defense official traveling with Gates said later that the administration was examining a range of strategic questions, including whether to reduce the combat role of NATO troops in Afghanistan in light of planned increases in U.S. combat troops. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the Pentagon, said it amounted to a broad review that included more than just military aspects of U.S. strategy. ...

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last week that he had commissioned a study of Afghan strategy to incorporate the complexities presented by rising unrest and insurgent activity in Pakistan. Mullen also publicly questioned whether the United States is winning in Afghanistan.

Gen. David McKiernan, the senior U.S. general in Afghanistan, told reporters on Tuesday at his Kabul headquarters that he believed the current strategy was adequate but that he needed more U.S. ground forces and other resources to properly execute it. He said he needs more than 10,000 extra American ground troops in 2009, in addition to the reinforcements already announced by the Pentagon.

I'm not opposed to adding troops to Afghanistan. No more than I was opposed to adding troops to Iraq when the idea was brought up in late 2006. Mostly I wanted to know what we would do with those troops. I became satisfied that the planned use of those troops was wise. Yet I worried that the real good those troops could accomplish could be nullified by a loss of support back home if it took too long for those troops to achieve successes.

The same applies to Afghanistan. What is our mission? I don't think we need to make a constitutional democracy in Afghanistan to win. This is a peripheral state in Islam. We need a stable Afghanistan with economic progress and a reasonable semblance of democracy and rule of law that balances the various tribes and regions.

Our main concern is keeping Afghanistan from being a sanctuary for terrorists. This objective extends to the Pakistan tribal areas across the border. So even if we can surge troops to keep jihadis from using Afghanistan as a base, we can't use the same strategy in Pakistan.

It is fair to say that controlling Afghansitan is step one and then we deal with the Pakistan tribal areas, but be clear that winning in Afghanistan does not end the war. And given that I know our Left won't support an expanded war in Afghansitan and Pakistan, we have to be ready for the anti-war side to shift their focus and turn the "good" war into the "bad" war.

Further, the risk of putting too many US troops into landlocked Afghanistan where their supply lines are at risk if Pakistan either collapses or chooses to stop our convoys is a serious problem that argues against putting too many troops in the region.

So before too many troops go to Afghanistan, what are they going to do on the battlefield? And what do we hope this battlefield result will achieve as our objective?

First things first.

The Surrounded Kingdom

Will China become a superpower and supplant us during this century?

China's power will surely increase--unless China breaks apart. But I sincerely doubt that China will replace us as the dominant power.

Even if China is one of many great powers, we will remain the dominant power. One reason is that we will still retain the bulk of the world's free military power

Strategypage has a useful site (that link is dead but I did find it--in 2019!--on the Internet Wayback Machine) that provides a single numerical value for a nation's land power, including air power that can support ground forces. The numbers on this site demonstrate why I don't worry about China too much even should they match us in absolute power. In short, China can't escape the logic of our geographical advantage.

First, I ignore naval power. We have absolute naval dominance. China can't fight us over here. We would fight China over there. That's advantage one even before we look at land power.

Consider that China has a land value of 2,757. America has a land value of 10,000. That's close to 4:1 right now. So China has a way to go to match us. Granted, this doesn't mean we can invade China and occupy them. Our power would diminish with distance and occupation is manpower intensive. But on the periphery of China we could beat them in battle. Say Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, or Hainan, as long as we have the time to deploy our forces from America to the campaign area close to China.

If we had to, we could manage to deploy decisive land power against China even with 18 of our active and reserve Army and Marine brigades/regiments remain committed to Iraq and Afghanistan. It would take some supreme effort but we do have over 80 combat brigades in our active and reserve components.

But this good picture is even before we discuss geography. We have Canada to our north, with 166 land power value, and Mexico to the south, with 130. Even if both were hostile and we wanted to allocate twice their power to hold them, we'd have 9,400 in land power to spare. But since they are friendly, our full land power is deployable overseas.

But what about Cuba and Venezuela? Won't they tie us down a bit? Well, add in 31 and 65, respectively, for China's side with these two. And then consider our ally Colombia's 435 (which surprises me , actually, as a rather high number). And remember that our naval power will keep Cuba and Venezuela in check.

So let's look at the Middle Kingdom and their geography. China's 2,757 looks like a lot. And it is. But start looking at their neighbors. First of all, for the sake of argument we won't count Russia in this since little of their 1,726 value is lined up against China, and Moscow is in no condition to go toe-to-toe against China below the nuclear threshold. If Russia ever goes sane and joins the West, we'll revise this assumption.

But starting with India, which has 2,290 in land power, we already have a major counter-weight to distract China. Sure, Pakistan can help Peking if they side with China, but Pakistan's 699 points still leave India as a major Chinese foe.

Then look at South Korea with 920. North Korea's 688 looks mean, but I think it is fragile. Still, it probably nullifies South Korea as a Chinese foe in the short run, at least. But if Seoul does manage to absorb North Korea one day, you'd have a potential unified Korea with 1,600. Which is why China doesn't want a unified Korea, of course.

Then there is Japan with 523. And Taiwan with 449. And Vietnam with 327. Add in Australia with 172 and Thailand with 156. Sure, Burma throws in 202 on China's side, but the anti-Chinese alliance is adding up faster.

China has a potential coalition of 4,346 land power points to face immediate neighbors totaling 4,837. And this leaves Russia out of the picture, though that would probably only add in 200 points or so (as a wild guess) in the Far East to face China. I've left out others, too, like Indonesia, New Zealand, and the Philippines, who don't add much either way right now.

Oh, and we've forgotten to add in American power. That would be 10,000 points, essentially free to be deployed worldwide without worrying about our homeland defense. We remain the off-shore balancer who can intervene in Asia to sway the balance of power decisively against China.

Which is why I don't lose sleep at night over China's rise in power and wouldn't change places with them. Oh, if China is able to focus their power on a localized area, like Taiwan, they can generate local superiority for a short time--perhaps long enough to win that battle--but if we are able to mobilize and deploy our power, we can beat China on any battlefield. And we'd likely have powerful local allies to help us. China is a threat to our interests even now, but only if they catch us off guard.

Remember that geography (and our completely dominant Navy) means our power is free to deploy worldwide while China is hemmed in by hostile or potentially hostile neighbors. It's the Expeditionary Kingdom versus the Trapped in the Middle Kingdom.

Death to the Mice

The Mickey Fatwah is On:

"Mickey Mouse has become an awesome character, even though according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases," al-Munajid said.

"The shari'a (Islamic religious law) refers to the mouse as 'little corrupter,' and says it is permissible to kill it in all cases. It says that mice set fire to the house, and are steered by Satan. The mouse is one of Satan's soldiers," he said.

I'm sure Tom would agree.

I guess that brief jihadi flirtation with Islamice Fascism was just a deviation from true Islam.

Explain to me again why it's our fault they hate us?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Goons of August

Ralph Peters stands in awe of Vladimir Putin based on his invasion of Georgia this August. Peters calls Putin "the world's most effective national leader in power. He also might be the most misunderstood." He goes on:

As a former intelligence officer myself, I'm awed by his ability to analyze opponents and anticipate their reactions to his gambits (Russia is, of course, a nation of chess masters). Preparing for the dismemberment of Georgia, the prime minister accurately calculated the behavior of that country's president, Mikheil Saakashvili, of President Bush, of the European Union and of the Russian people. He knew he could get away with it.

Putin has a quality found in elite intelligence personnel: the ability to discard all preconceptions when scrutinizing a target. And when he decides to strike, he doesn't look back. This is not good news for his opponents, foreign or domestic.

Among the many reasons we misjudge Putin is our insistence on seeing him as "like us." He's not. His stage-management of the Georgia invasion was a perfect example: Western intelligence agencies had been monitoring Russian activities in the Caucasus for years and fully expected a confrontation. Even so, our analysts assumed that Russia wouldn't act during this summer's Olympics, traditionally an interval of peace.

Putin had been conditioned to read the strategic cards differently: The world's attention would be focused on the Games, and key world leaders would be in Beijing, far from their crisis-management staffs. Europe's bureaucrats and senior NATO officials would be on their August vacations. The circumstances were ideal.

Peters has it wrong and misunderstands the outcome of the Russian-Georgia War of 2008. War is not chess. The rules of war and politics are not nearly so clean and mechanical.

Putin achieved success at the tactical level--he gained the element of surprise when he attacked Georgia as the Olympics began. But what has Russia actually achieved by fighting this war?

Russia now has South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But Putin had those on August 6th. He didn't need to invade Georgia to get these bits of empire.

Did Putin get rid of President Saakashvili? No. A stream of NATO leaders, planes, and warships have gone to Georgia in support of Georgia's independence. Putin started to take Tbilisi. But he did not take Tbilisi.

Did Putin keep Georgia out of NATO? Well, in the spring, NATO seemed to be putting the Georgians off, perhaps indefinitely. Today NATO tells the world that Russia can't stop other nations from joining NATO. And honestly, by settling the immediate status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, we get to lay down the law to Georgia to get over those scraps of land and get on with their future. NATO won't fight Russia to regain them for Georgia. But Georgia can prosper in the West just as West Germany prospered without East Germany and South Korea prospered without North Korea. In fifty years, if Georgia plays their cards right, Georgia won't want those basket case client states of Moscow.

Did Putin intimidate the West? No, again. Europe hasn't been Patton-like in its response, but NATO will move to let Georgia and Ukraine in if they wish. And these NATO countries and others near Russia got a wake up call to arm up and draw closer to America. Our defensive missiles will go in Poland and our radars in the Czech Republic. The Baltic states want us on their soil. Shoot, how long before Sweden wants to join NATO?

Even Russia's Near Abroad in central Asia has cozied up to a disapproving China and won't be in the homeland by Christmas. The Chinese don't like the precedent of regions being carved out of the home nation as Putin did to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, lest Taiwanese and Tibetans and others get the wrong idea about who is in charge. Even Mini-Me Belorus wasn't exactly cheering on Putin.

To add insult to injury, Russia now needs to arm up its rotting military as neighbors move to defend themselves. Too bad about the price of oil dropping so much since the July peaks, eh? Good timing on that aggressive Russia policy, Putin. Foreign investment is fleeing Russia and we shall see if the people of Russia still love their splendid little war in a few years. Putin will find he is ill-prepared to wage a geopolitical war of attrition against his neighbors who are not intimidated by his display of aggression.

Further, the war has put the lie to Prime Minister Putin's fiction that he stepped down as president and turned over the reins of power to President Medvedev. We talk about Putin's Russia, as it remains. Medvedev is reduced to hand puppet status. I have to ask the question, how long will Medvedev go along with being the guy with the fanciest stationery who gets to speak to visiting heads of state and not the guy with the military and political power of Russia? Might not Medvedev begin to use what little power Putin left the presidency to begin a power struggle with Putin?

So in the end, Georgia was not a road to Russian domination of the West, the reincorporation of the Near Abroad, or even the absorption of Georgia alone--the tactical target of the August attack. And perhaps the seeds of civil strife within Russia were cultivated just a little bit by humiliating Medvedev as nothing but a messenger boy for Putin. Perhaps Russia, still a vast continent-spanning country, isn't done fragmenting.

This is how the aftermath of the war seems to be going right now. Since when is tactical success and strategic blunder given such a high mark? Remember that Japan's Pearl Harbor attack still looked pretty bad for America as 1942 opened. By 1945, nobody thought much of that brilliance.

I'm just not impressed with Putin's alleged effectiveness.

UPDATE: Secretary Gates isn't very impressed with Russia's war effort, either:

Russia's recent military action in Georgia was a Pyrrhic victory -- costing Moscow far more in the long term than any short-term gains it achieved.

"The Russian leadership might seek to exorcise past humiliations and aspire to recapture past glory along with past territory," he said. "But mauling and menacing small democracies does not a great power make."

Don't over-estimate their power. But don't under-estimate their desire to reclaim their past glory--and territory.

Expecting Logic in South Asia?

I've worried that our supply lines through Pakistan to our forces in Afghanistan make us too vulnerable to really press Pakistan for more help in fighting the Taliban inside Pakistan who cross into Afghanistan. And I worry about adding troops to the area, putting more troops at risk in a crisis with Pakistan.

Strategypage says the Pakistani implicit threat is outmatched by their need for US weapons to prepare for a possible war against India, which is Pakistan's main concern:

In the last few months, the U.S. changed its policy, after quietly warning the Pakistani leadership, and allowed commando raids despite Pakistani protests. It didn't take long for the Pakistani terrorists and media everywhere to get hold of this and raise a stink. This forced the Pakistanis to go through the motions of protesting and vowing to fight the American invaders. The Pakistanis threatened to halt NATO supplies, which go from a Pakistani port, via truck, into Afghanistan. But that's a hollow threat, as Pakistan depends on American weapons and other military aid, to equip Pakistani forces sufficiently so they can deal with archenemy India. Pakistan's only other supplier is China, which provides decidedly inferior weapons, at least compared to the American stuff.

I hope they are right. But isn't it a mistake to assume that others will think as we do?

I hope these statements are for public consumption only:

Pakistan's government has faced rising popular anger over a Sept. 3 ground attack by U.S. commandos into South Waziristan, a base for Taliban militants killing ever more U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Pakistan says about 15 people were killed, all of them civilians.

The new firing orders were disclosed by Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.

Abbas said Pakistani field commanders have previously been tolerant about international forces crossing a short way into Pakistan because of the ill-defined and contested nature of the mountainous frontier.

"But after the (Sept. 3) incident, the orders are clear," Abbas said. "In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire."

Yet we appear unconcerned about this:

Responding to the concerns, Donald Camp, deputy assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, said: "I cannot envision a situation where we would find ourselves in a shooting situation with Pakistan."

Ah, our professional diplomats can't imagine shooting. That's comforting. With Pakistanis more mad at us for killing jihadis inside Pakistan than they are at jihadis planting bombs inside Paksitani cities, our State Department can't imagine a shooting situation.

I can. And I can imagine tens of thousands of our troops cut off from supply line running through Pakistan and reliant on supply lines that go north through Russia.

Remember, too, that Pakistani opinion is enflamed by a mere raid and a few more Predator strikes. Are Americans who want to send more troops to Afghansitan really laboring under the belief that 10,000 more US troops (three brigades) can deal with the source of the problem inside Pakistan without enflaming Pakistani opinion to the point that they will demand action. Can you fail to imagine a Pakistani civilian government triggering an armed confrontation with us to avoid losing power?

Won't having more troops at risk sway angry Pakistanis at some point that we have more to lose than they do if Pakistan breaks relations with us? Might not the Pakistanis think they can accept a short-term reduction in conventional power in order to grab us by the short hairs since they have atomic weapons to deter an Indian invasion? Is the threat really that hollow? And must it always be hollow as we place more potential hostages within Pakistan's reach?

Shoot, even if we refuse to be cowed and tough it out, how long do you think most of our non-fighting NATO allies with troops in Afghansitan will last before they beg for Pakistani get out of jail free cards?

And even if you can't imagine this type of confrontation between Pakistan and America, do you even believe that 10,000 more American troops can do what 100,000 Pakistani troops fighting in the tribal areas have failed to do?

Look, Pakistan has been our friend since 9/11. Well, they've been a friend enough most of the time, so that I'd rather not fight the war without Pakistan's help. Pakistan has suffered many casualties in this fight. But they weren't much of a friend before 9/11 and there are plenty in Pakistan who'd go back to those 9/10 days if they had a say.

I guess the logic is weak all over.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reality Check

Russia started the Russian-Georgian War of 2008, plain and simple.

I find it absurd that anybody is focused on the details of Georgian telephone intercepts that the Georgians claim are proof that Russia started the war:

Georgia also provided audio files of the intercepts along with English translations to the New York Times, which made its own independent translation from the original Ossetian into Russian and then into English.

Russia, already facing deep criticism and the coolest audience in European capitals since the cold war, is arguing vigorously against Georgia’s claims. Last week, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin expressed bafflement at what he saw as the West’s propensity to believe Georgia’s version of events.

The ramshackle Russian military, rusting away for two decades now, miraculously put together an invasion of Georgia, flying in paratroopers even from distant bases, within hours of being attacked by Georgia? You seriously believe that version of events?

Russia got their South Ossetian goon allies to shoot at the Georgians and the Gerogians obliged by shooting back--which triggered the overt Russian invasion of Georgia. That is the reality of the situation.

Georgia fell for the provocation and gave Russia the excuse to invade. Although to be fair to Georgia, the Russians may have invaded anyway even if Georgia had held fire initially. Russia just would have needed to lie just a little more in that case to make up the Georgian provocation.

Of course, all Russia got for their effort is a NATO commitment to embrace Georgia:

In a strong message of support after Georgia's debilitating war with Russia, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Georgia's "road to NATO is still wide open."

"The process of NATO enlargement will continue, with due caution but also with a clear purpose — to help create a stable, undivided Europe," he said in a speech at Tbilisi State University.

If checked in Georgia, where else will Russia try to expand?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Victory Changes the Equation

One of the reasons that we have aruged over the timing and pace of troop withdrawals from Iraq is the desire to end our casualties. But this motivation assumes high levels of combat and much higer casualties than we have endured this year.

As we have defeated (but not eliminated) our enemies inside Iraq, Secretary Gates and LTG Austin in Iraq highlight our Army's and Marine Corps' new role:

We are clearly in a mission transition," he told reporters on an overnight flight here from Washington.

U.S. troops will increasingly play a backup role, Gates said, as Iraqi security forces take on more of the responsibility for fighting an insurgency that has lost much of its power and influence over the past year.

"The areas in which we are seriously engaged (in fighting) will, I think, continue to narrow," Gates said.

The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, told reporters later at the main U.S. military headquarters outside Baghdad that he remains optimistic that the trend of improving security will continue. He said key measures of security have improved about 80 percent over one year ago; while "there is a degree of fragility" to the situation, he said, it is "somewhat less" fragile that just a few months ago.

With lower casualties, the stress on our miltary drops dramatically even without increasing dwell time. Being deployed to Iraq comes to be more like deploying to any other place where we stand in the world--unpleasant but not particularly dangerous. As more progress is made--like local elections legislation as the article notes--the situation will be less fragile and we can risk reducing forces in Iraq and not just direct combat roles in the streets of Iraq's cities.

Remember, the fear that we were losing (or the conviction we were destined to lose, and even a desire to lose, for some) drove the pressure to get out of Iraq, in order to halt our casualties.

Now that we are clearly winning, the very basis for advocating a rapid withdrawal has ended. We should now be judging the timing and pace of withdrawal as they affect our accumulating victory.

UPDATE: Not that combat and casualties are a thing of the past for our forces in Iraq, of course:

Senior U.S. commanders see their small combat outposts scattered around Mosul as the centerpiece of a strategy designed to reduce insurgent violence by having troops live within the community and gather better intelligence. Platoons rotate into the outposts on stints of several days from a large base at the city's airport. ...

"I think the (American) people think the war is over," [SSG] Carter said. "But they don't realize the amount of contact that we receive out here."

Not over everywhere. And not over all the time. But far better than even a year ago as the enemy showed signs of breaking.

Thank You, Russia

I hope I don't spoil things by thanking Russia for attacking Georgia. Oh, I'm sorry that Georgians suffered. But in the bigger scheme of things, Russia is making the world a better place for us.

And I'm not talking about the reaction of Russia's so-called Near Abroad that has become alarmed at Russia's assertiveness and is reaching to the West for protection. That's all good, but the really important impact is on China.

Consider what Strategypage has reported:

The Russian invasion of Georgia last month made the Central Asian members (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), nervous. It reminded them that they are at the mercy of the Russians, and now the Russians have demonstrated a willingness and ability to revive their ancient imperialist attitudes. China, however, has been reassuring the Central Asian states that they can look east for protection from Russian aggression. This adds to the tensions between Russia and China. ...

The Central Asian nations refused to condemn Georgia, as Russia urged them to, because these nations are wary of Russian intentions. The Central Asian countries have Russian minorities (left over from the Soviet Union period) that are not treated well. There are also other minorities from neighboring countries (Russian conquerors drew the current borders in the 19th century, with a few 20th century tweaks by communist officials.) Russia has recently stated that it would defend Russians, and Russian business interests, wherever they are.

So China is being sucked into Central Asia in competition with Russia.

This is good. The Great Game is on, and we must encourage more shoveling the snow north:

The Russians are already playing the game and have been successful in keeping China pointed towards Taiwan and therefore America, Taiwan's ally. As a reader noted, the Russians did this once already in Operation Snow, which succeeded in getting Japan to go south in World War II instead of north into the interior of Asia where the Soviet Union was.

We have reacted by trying to arm Taiwan with better weapons and to whip the Taiwanese military into shape to actually fight off an invasion. We've pulled Japan into the arena with a commitment to defend Taiwan and we are making a major play toward incorporating India into our alliance system. We have Australia on board and our forces are based in Central Asia. While all this looks good for building an alliance to fight and defeat China, this is not playing the Great Game. This is making the best of a worst case scenario--war with China. Sure, if we must fight I'd rather win, but just going to war is going to cost us in lives and money.

One can say that we hope that by becoming strong enough we deter the Chinese but this is still only second best. A deterred China will always be on the verge of attacking, just waiting for the moment when we cannot stop them for one reason or another and so cannot deter them for even a short window of opportunity.

No, defeating China makes the best of the worst case and deterring China makes the best of the second worst case. We need to shovel the Snow back north. We need to play the Great Game in Asia to achieve our best case--a China pointed away from the south--Taiwan and the United States and our other allies--and pointed toward the north and the interior of Asia.

Split China's strategic focus and they will fail to dominate the continent or the Pacific even if they rise in power to rival us. More and more, this problem may plague Chinese strategy:

China is splitting its resources between efforts to secure sea imports and land imports for their energy needs. They will end up having insufficient resources to protect both sources.

So we may gain an advantage over China as they react to Russia's invasion of Georgia by being pulled into Central Asia to bolster ex-Soviet republics that don't want to endure the Georgia treatment.

Heck, if the Chinese start to threaten closer Russian interests and not just the distant Far East, Russia itself might come to its senses and join the West out of self preservation.

I'm beginning to think Putin isn't ex-KGB as much as he's a CIA agent, bending Russian actions to benefit America. Surely Putin couldn't be as clueless as this makes him seem, right?