Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Post-Westphalian Pilot Program

This article argues that we have to stop thinking of the Democratic Republic of Congo (old Zaire) as a single political entity:

A solution to Congo's troubles is possible with a reimagined approach. The West could start by making development and order its first priority in the Congolese territory, rather than focusing on the promotion of the Congolese state. This simple distinction immediately casts the Congolese problem in a whole new light. It would mean, for instance, that foreign goverments and aid agencies would deal with whomever exerted control on the ground rather than continuing to pretend that Kinshasa is ruling and running the country. Such an approach might bring into the picture a confusing array of governors, traditional leaders, warlords, and others rather than the usual panoply of ministers. But that would finally be a reflection of who is actually running Congo.

Sounds like a pilot program for the Lexington Rule I proposed.

Actually, it goes beyond it by working with de facto authorities who control portions of a country's territory and run their corner of the map reasonably well despite nominal legal control by a non-functioning central government (hello Russian and Chinese vetoes, so it would have to be done outside the UN).

If we can't admit Congro is broken beyond repair, we're beyond hope in crafting a post-Westphalian solution to the lack of state sovereignty that gives us so many problems these days.

Changey, But Not So Much Hopey

Well, Mark Steyn certainly got me to haul out the booze and remove my shoe laces and belt for safe keeping with this cheery piece.

Steyn's quote from the Brookings "analyst" alone was just about enough to get my head in the oven.

Without America, the West has no defender. If we go European, there is no America practically speaking.

Have a nice day. Don't say I didn't warn you if you "read the whole thing."

The Big Difference

The basic reason I still hold open the possibility that China could be our friend instead of enemy, despite China's apparent view of us, is that China does have a lot invested in the international economic system.

The Soviet Union only dabbled in the Western economic world, buying wheat and stealing our technology. China is plugged in and makes a lot of money in the world, and that might trump ideology one day.

But I don't count on it.

A Basis for a Sound Alliance?

Bush was always an excuse for Europeans to avoid heavy lifting. The Europeans like talking and not taking action. So when President Obama goes to Europe, cheering crowds will get all misty eyed at his speeches and then go home and cheer their governments' refusal to help us fight in Afghanistan just as heartily (tip to Stratfor email):

There is no question that Obama and the major European powers want to have a closer relationship. But there is a serious question about expectations. From the European point of view, the problem with Bush was that he did not consult them enough and demanded too much from them. They are looking forward to a relationship with Obama that contains more consultation and fewer demands. But while Obama wants more consultation with the Europeans, this does not mean he will demand less. In fact, one of his campaign themes was that with greater consultation with Europe, the Europeans would be prepared to provide more assistance to the United States. Europe and Obama loved each other, but for very different reasons. The Europeans thought that the United States under Obama would ask less, while Obama thought the Europeans would give more.

Nope trumps hope. European countries will only pretend they are our allies more publicly if we don't ask them to do the things that allies do.

Net Loss

A good article on the new hope and change policy of talking with our enemies and assuming we are just one breakthrough away from being their friends.

When we talk to our enemies, we tend to make many of our friends nervous that we will strike a deal at their expense. I guarantee that if talks with Iran get going, before long our European friends will wonder where they fit in to our deals?

Such a policy does not make new friends except at the expense of existing friends and people who deserve to be our friends. In the end, this policy just leads to a net loss of friends.

Is it so hard to keep in mind that some people aren't worthy of being our friends?

UPDATE: Sowell puts it well, writing:

Barack Obama is following a long practice among those on the left of being hard on our allies and soft on our enemies.

So we'll have fewer of the former and more of the latter.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ah, Peace Partners!

On the heels of their cricket bat lesson, the Pakistanis continue to be beaten about the head and shoulders with a clue bat:

A group of gunmen attacked a police academy and rampaged through it for hours Monday, throwing grenades, seizing hostages and killing at least 11 officers before being overpowered by Pakistani security forces in armored vehicles and helicopters, authorities said.

Six militants were arrested and eight others were killed in the eight-hour battle to retake the facility on the outskirts of this city in eastern Pakistan, said Rao Iftikhar, a top government official in Punjab province.

Officials said more than 90 officers were wounded by the attackers, some of whom wore police uniforms.

The highly coordinated attack underscored the threat that militancy poses to the U.S.-allied, nuclear-armed country and prompted Pakistan's top civilian security official to say that militant groups were "destabilizing the country."

These jihadis don't want to live in peace. When will Pakistanis finally realize that they cannot make a deal with the Devil?

UPDATE: The Taliban aren't shy about taking "credit" for the attack--and threatening us:

The commander of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility Tuesday for a deadly assault on a Pakistani police academy and said the group was planning a terrorist attack on Washington that would "amaze" the world.

Baitullah Mehsud, who has a $5 million bounty on his head from the U.S., said Monday's attack outside the eastern city of Lahore was in retaliation for U.S. missile strikes against militants along the Afghan border.

"Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world," Mehsud told The Associated Press by phone. He provided no details.

I guess he's not one of those "non-threatening" Taliban. If the threat (or is it an enemy "contingency"?) is true, it would kind of kill the notion that ony al Qaeda is a threat to us and not the Taliban. Heck, just the threat alone should tell us something.

Welcome to America!

Apparently, some of the Gitmo lovelies we hold might be released into America and given financial assistance, according to our National Intelligence Director:

Some of the detainees, deemed non-threatening, may be released into the United States as free men, Blair confirmed.

That would happen when they can't be returned to their home countries, because the governments either won't take them or the U.S. fears they will be abused or tortured. That is the case with 17 Uighers (WEE'-gurz), Chinese Muslim separatists who were cleared for release from the jail long ago. The U.S. can't find a country willing to take them, and it will not turn them over to China.

Blair said the former prisoners would have get some sort of assistance to start their new lives in the United States.

"We can't put them out on the street," he said.

Call me crazy, but this sounds exactly like putting them out on the streets.

You know, I'm going to stop kidding about idiotic ideas like this.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Scrambling for New Excuses

In a way it is funny that the European elites got their wish with the replacement of the Bush presidency with the Obama presidency. The president's European trip won't find as much cheering:

President Barack Obama's first European trip could dampen his hopes that a new diplomatic style will convert once-reluctant allies into cooperative global partners.

From taking in Guantanamo Bay prisoners to sending more troops into Afghanistan's most difficult regions and spending their way out of economic crisis, European nations remain reticent about some of the toughest U.S. priorities.

I eagerly await the nuanced thinking that will allow the Europeans to continue to reject our requests for help.

Not Acting Partnery

While we continue our debate over whether China will be our future partner or adversary, the Chinese communists seem to have made up their mind:

China insists that its military spending is purely for defensive purposes. What China does not comment on is the two decades of officially sanctioned media activity inside China, wherein the United States is portrayed as the opponent in a future war. The books, articles and films all make this future war sound inevitable. China does not allow, officially at least, this stuff to be translated. But Westerners can obtain it, and some has been translated. Once you go over this material, China's defense spending, and their recent protests about it, make sense. The Chinese leadership, a bunch of Communist Party politicians, are desperate to keep their police state going. Creating a credible external enemy, and mobilizing nationalistic fervor, is a classic way of retaining power.

While I don't think we must be enemies, I tend to want to err on the side of being strong and assuming the worst but acting nice. Then, perhaps the Chinese will fear us long enough to evolve into a less aggressive stance.

Or who knows? Maybe we'll become close friends.

Walking Down the Street

I always wondered about our doctrine that held that it is best to advance down the middle of a street than to hug the walls, to avoid richochets and fragments.

To me, it seemed better to have some concealment. This always seemed like a mistaken generalization from the far more valid tactic of advancing within buildings down the center of a hall and away from walls--especially concrete or brick walls--to avoid ricochets and fragments. But I was signal corps with limited tactical training. What did I know?

Well, it seems my wonder was not so off base after all, based on Israeli Gaza experience that we have adopted after all:

One Israeli experience contradicted American doctrine, which urges troops to advance in the middle of streets to avoid ricochets from walls. The Israelis found that getting shot in the center of the street was more of a danger than ricochets. The U.S. has largely switched to the Israeli method.

This makes far more sense.

Speed Bumps

I still have a nominee for an official date to put in the history books as Victory in Iraq Day, if trends continue. I'd like to wait until June to see if positive trends continue even as our troops pull out of the cities, and to see how the Iraqi people vote on the ratification of the status of forces agreement that sets the terms of our presence.

I also want to make sure that significant numbers of Sunni Arabs don't revert to insurgency:

Iraqi troops using loudspeakers ordered members of an armed Sunni neighborhood group in Baghdad to turn in their weapons Sunday after the arrest of their leader sparked fierce gunbattles with American and Iraqi troops.

The two-day standoff in Fadhil, a ramshackle Sunni enclave on the east bank of the Tigris River where al-Qaida once held sway, appeared to die down temporarily by midday as convoys of U.S. and Iraqi rolled into the neighborhood. But the confrontation threatens to undermine U.S. efforts to stabilize Baghdad before American troops pull out of Iraqi cities by the end of June.

The trouble started Saturday when Iraqi troops arrested the head of Fadhil's Awakening Council for alleged terrorist activity. The arrest triggered fierce gunfights between Iraqi forces and Awakening Council members, killing four people and wounding 15.

Six more people, including four women, were wounded Sunday in sporadic shooting that occurred as U.S. and Iraqi soldiers began sealing off the neighborhood, police and hospital officials said.

The confrontation is important and potentially explosive because the Awakening Councils, also known as Sons of Iraq, are Sunni security volunteers who broke with al-Qaida and joined forces with the Americans — helping to lead to the calm in Baghdad the last year.

I personally think the Sunni Arabs would be fools to restart the war they lost. The Awakening members had to give biometric data and so they'd be easier to track down now. If there is a round two, the Shia and Kurdish majority might decide expulsion is the only safe option for the Sunni Arabs.

Another area of worry is the question of Kirkuk and the larger Kurdish issue:

Seeking to head off an explosion of ethnic violence, the United Nations will call for a power-sharing system of government for Iraq's deeply divided region of Kirkuk in the oil-rich north.

A draft U.N. plan, outlined to The Associated Press by two Western officials, aims to defuse dangerous tensions. Kurds, a majority in the region, have been trying to wrest control from Arabs, Turkomen and other rival ethnic groups. If open warfare breaks out, it could jeopardize the U.S. goal of stability across Iraq before elections at year's end.

Again, I think the Kurds would be fools to alienate the Iraqi central government. Without being part of Iraq--even if the Kurds successfully revolt--the Kurds would be landlocked and surrounded by hostile Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, who would eventually agree to end the new state.

The Kurds have a bright future within Iraq. I hope they understand this. One day, as Czechoslovakia peacefully broke up, the Kurds might do the same. This is not the day.

So I wait patiently to see if we won in Iraq.

And if either of these sore spots erupt into war, al Qaeda would gain fertile ground to return.

Iraq is probably strong enough to endure this challenge and prevail, with our help, but there would be more senseless bloodshed before Baghdad reasserted control. Let's hope saner heads prevail.

UPDATE: Strategypage has a good post about the Sunni Sons of Iraq, the Sunni Arabs in general, and the Kurdish issue:

The Iraqi government promised the Sunni Arab gunmen that they would get jobs, either in the security forces or civilian ones. That did not happen for 80 percent of the Sunni gunmen. The government is dominated by the Kurdish and Shia Arab majority (about 85 percent of the population), which hates the Sunni Arabs and would rather kill than coddle them. Most foreigners don't appreciate the depth of this hatred. Worse, the Kurds and Shia Arabs would welcome another violent showdown with the Sunni Arabs, because the next time, it's generally believed that the Sunni Arabs would lose, and be driven from the country.

The dispute (over who controls 20-30 percent of Iraq's oil production) between the government and the Kurds up around Kirkuk is unresolved and keeps moving towards an attempt to use violence to resolve it. The Kurds are better fighters (better trained, led and disciplined), but are outnumbered by the government (Shia Arab) forces. In this area, the local Sunni Arab gangs and militias will work with the Shia Arabs against a common foe (the Kurds, who are not Arabs, but ethnically related to Iranians and Europeans.) A likely outcome of a fight would be a bloody stalemate, although the Kurds have a shot at short term success.

Of course, staying engaged in Iraq is the best way to make sure we don't have to just hope for the best.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Russian Survey

Strategy page has a number of interesting points in a Russia post that deserve expansion all on their own.

One, and this is not shocking:

Further investigation has revealed that the Cyber War attacks on Estonia and Georgia (which temporarily shut down Internet access in those countries), while carried out by nationalistic Russian hackers, was done at the instigation of Russian government officials (who got in touch with leaders of Russian hacker groups and requested the attacks).

Right now nobody really seems to think this type of attack crosses a threshold of war. We really need to fight back with like tools and be prepared to hit their hacking infrastructure with real weapons when we can, should shooting break out.

Two, and this is disturbing:

The Russian Navy announced its intention to resume the use of nuclear warheads for some of its anti-ship missiles (those launched via torpedo tubes by submarines). This would enable these missiles to destroy a group of warships, and to avoid defensive weapons (like Phalanx and SeaRAM). The U.S. and Russia withdrew their tactical nuclear weapons from their navies at the end of the Cold War.

Great. Russian tactical nukes at sea in their rusting ships run by paranoid regime loyalist officers and crewed by ill-trained men. That certainly doesn't have disaster written all over it. Our carrier battle groups and expeditionary strike groups are the only targets for these nukes, of course. Way to hit that "reset" button, Vladimir.

And three:

Canada and Russia are engaged in a growing dispute over who controls certain Arctic waters, and natural resources that may be present on the seabed beneath. Russia says it is going to set up a special military force to patrol Arctic waters it believes it "owns". Precisely who controls Arctic waters has never been spelled out by international treaty, and the Russians have expressed a determination to define what they own, by themselves, and see who will do what to oppose these claims.

As I've written, we need a Polar Command. And Canada may need to shift the focus of their military to Arctic operations rather than helping us in Afghanistan.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rising Sun

The Japanese are very up front about their willingness to shoot down a missile if it nears Japanese territory. America and South Korea are prepared to shoot, as well.

It is unlikely that the missile will approach anybody's territory.

But if it does, somebody's going to light up the missile defenses.

And if North Korea makes good on their threat that firing at their missile means war against Japan, America, and South Korea, a war will destroy the North Korean regime. Pyongyang just doesn't have the horses to pull that threat off.

Let's Get 'Em

I'll wait to look at official documents on what our war will look like to comment, but it seems as if President Obama is in it to win:

The goal is to weaken and ultimately destroy al-Qaeda's havens and sanctuaries in Pakistan and prevent the terrorist group from returning across the border to Afghanistan, the officials said. The administration began outlining the new strategy for members of Congress yesterday.

Obama also will be discussing it with other leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization when he meets with them for a summit April 3-4 on the French- German border. The administration has been pressing the allies to shoulder more responsibility in Afghanistan.

I still worry about President Obama's ability to make a gut check when the going gets tough (and when his allies turn on him from the left) and I worry about putting too many troops into Afghanistan given our poor supply lines, but the news reports of the plan don't flash danger, or anything, to me.

And while the president's mischaracterization of the Iraq War is annoying, as long as he is willing to fight the enemy in Afghanistan with the goal of victory, while not losing what we've gained in Iraq, I'll man up and let that go.

And if the president can get allies who've not contributed to the war to step up, I'll give him credit there, too.

Preparing for the Next 9/11

We're preparing for the next 9/11. But not in a good way:

The CIA is being investigated for doing what was desperately demanded of it after September 11, 2001. Proposed new restrictions would outlaw things like the use of contractors for interrogations (even if there were no other source of manpower to do the job in time), the use of "vigorous interrogation", the detention of foreigners without giving them access to the U.S. criminal justice system, and many more items that most CIA officials know, from their own experience, will only get Americans killed. They know that because they paid attention to what the Church Committee restrictions did to degrade U.S. intelligence gathering capabilities.

Is it any wonder our jihadi enemies are convinced God is on their side? How else would you explain our determination to undermine our ability to defend ourselves against vicious killers?

A Little Calm is in Order

Mexico has a problem with their drug cartels. But Mexico is fighting them. And we are helping. So forget about the worries that Mexico is on the verge of collapse:

"Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state," said National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair at his first news conference Thursday.

Echoing the assessment of Mexico's leaders, Blair said the dramatic increase in killings in Mexico is a result of that government's crackdown on drug cartels.

A U.S. military planning report issued in January warned that the escalating violence is dangerously destabilizing Mexico and warned its government could collapse. But Blair said there is no danger of that.

That planning report, the JOE, was not a prediction of collapse but just scenarios of some bad things that might possibly happen--so we should think about the what ifs.

I worried earlier in the year that something might be amiss with Mexico, but the headlines lately are too stark.

Work the problem, people.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Being Nice to a Friend

Lord knows I'm no fan of our president, but I completely missed the theme that apparently has been running through the right side of the aisle that President Obama thanked himself by mindlessly reading a teleprompter at a St. Patrick's Day event with Irish premier Brian Cowen.

When I read a story about it, I read it as a gracious effort by our president to smooth over a little glitch with Cowen's prompter with some self-deprecating humor. I guess my VRWC implant malfunctioned and I didn't get the Rove download on this subject.

For all I've worried that this administration seems determined to reach out to our enemies and stiff arm our friends, I thought this was at least a step in the right direction.

Anyway, this article refutes the rumor and verifies my impression.

There's plenty enough to complain about without stooping to this level. Come on people, it's too soon for Obama Derangement Syndrome to set in.

Convoy Duty

It seems the Israelis hit an Iranian supply convoy shipping long-range rockets headed for Gaza through Sudan:

A government minister in Sudan is accusing the United States Air Force of killing dozens of people in that north African country this past January – but the semi-official American version of the story is very different.

CBS News national security correspondent David Martin has been told that Israeli aircraft carried out the attack. Israeli intelligence is said to have discovered that weapons were being trucked through Sudan, heading north toward Egypt, whereupon they would cross the Sinai Desert and be smuggled into Hamas-held territory in Gaza.

Could this rumor be the source of those missiles detroyed in Sudan?

UPDATE: Apparently not via Eritrea:

Israel revealed that it has sent warplanes down the Red Sea to attack a convoy of trucks, near the Egyptian border in Sudan, carrying Iranian long range rockets destined for Gaza. Iran brings the rockets (and other weapons) in through Port Sudan, and then trucks them to Egypt. Sudan is an ally of Iran, and thus does not interfere. Egypt is not a friend of Iran, but the border police can be bribed. The January attack destroyed 17 truckloads of weapons, and killed the 39 men operating the vehicles. Since then, the smugglers have resorted to individual trucks, and the use of small boats moving up the Red Sea coast.

It's a small victory, but remember that this has only slowed down the Hamas effort to arm up.

Talk to the Butt

We timidly offered up our annual report on China's military power, as press spokesman Morrell explained:

Asked if the Pentagon was concerned the analysis could derail bilateral military talks by angering China, press secretary Geoff Morrell said the "straightforward, fact-based report" had "nothing inflammatory or derogatory in it."

The Pentagon hoped the report would help in "fostering greater cooperation, greater understanding, greater transparency between our two militaries," he added.

Nothing inflammatory or derogatory? Has Morrell never interacted with the Chinese government before? These gentlemen have low thresholds for being inflamed and insulted.

The Chinese threw their usual tantrum. For such an ancient civilization they sure do behave like self-centered toddlers:

China slammed a newly released U.S. report on Beijing's growing military power as a "gross distortion," saying Thursday that it could damage military relations between the two countries.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang lashed out at the report as "interference" in China's affairs and said his country had formally complained.

"It is a gross distortion of facts and interference into China's internal affairs. China resolutely opposes it and has made solemn representation to the U.S. side," he told a regularly scheduled news conference.

Yeah, yeah. We're being so unfair! And all the other rising powers are building up their militaries! Stop looking at me! I hate you! I want a new international partner!

I do hope our side gives them a nice shiny reset button and sends them on their way. With instructions on where to put it, of course.

Clearly, there's no way I should be in the State Department.

Programming Note

Coming soon to a Congress near you! A new episode of Tales of the Newly Discovered Reality!

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III urged lawmakers yesterday to renew intelligence-gathering measures in the USA Patriot Act that are set to expire in December, calling them "exceptional" tools to help protect national security.

The law, passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, created divisions between proponents, who said it was necessary to deter terrorism, and privacy advocates warning that it tramples on Americans' civil liberties. Portions of the law are up for reauthorization this year.

Mueller told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee he hopes that the reauthorization of two provisions would be far less controversial than in previous years. One of those provisions, which helps authorities secure access to business records, "has been exceptionally helpful in our national security investigations," he

It was shredding the constitution when Bush did it (even if Clinton before him did it, too)! But with minor cosmetic changes, our new leaders hope you'll fail to notice the striking similarities between the old "bad" policies and the new "good" policies! All this and more, on Tales of the Newly Discoverd Reality!

An Open-Handed Slap in the Face

I know that it is common for those on our left side of the aisle to argue that any help or encouragement we give to dissidents in thug regimes is counter-productive--"tainting" the dissidents with our association--but I've always thought that ridiculous thinking. Natan Sharansky, who knows a thing or two about being a dissident in a thug regime, writes about President Obama's outreach to Iran's mullahs (Tip to Gateway Pundit):

Roger Cohen’s article in the New York Times (March 22, 2009) analyzing President Obama’s televised greeting to the people and leaders of Iran on the occasion of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, evoked a poignant feeling of déjà vu for me.

Cohen believes and hopes that in his message, President Obama is basically abandoning the idea of regime change and of a military confrontation and is also rejecting the idea of linkage between the internal policies of Iran and international relations.

Reading it, I recalled how we, the democratic dissidents of the Soviet Union, looked in desperation and anger (and sometimes with deep disdain) at the messengers of the “free world“, who were willing to accept the Soviet Union as it was, who denied the policy of linkage between human rights and international pressure, and who did everything to downplay the military threat of the Soviet dictatorship. Immediately I thought what Iran’s democratic dissidents must be thinking while reading such an article?

What must they be thinking? They're thinking that we'll look the other way while the Iranian government oppresses and kills them as long as we get a nice shiny document, complete with lovely ribbons and official wax seals, that lets the West pretend that Iran is going to be on their best behavior from now on. That their struggle for even scraps of freedom is unworthy of the support of the greatest democracy on the planet. That they have no hope for any peace but the peace of a cemetery.

What is exactly is "liberal" about our liberals who'd throw Iran's dissidents to the wolves?

The V-Word

As I've written, I'm not quite ready to declare victory in Iraq, but I have a date in mind should the situation in June seem to justify a retrospective declaration.

Jacoby is not shy and wonders why the anti-war side is unwilling to utter the V-word:

For a long time the foes of both the Iraq war and the president who launched it insisted that none of this was possible - that the war was lost, that there was no military solution to the sectarian slaughter, that the surge would only make the violence worse. Victory was not an option, the critics declared; the only option was to partition Iraq and get out. Time and again it was said that the war would forever be remembered as Bush's folly, if not indeed as the worst foreign policy mistake in US history.

Even now, with a stubbornness born of partisan hostility or political ideology, there are those who cannot bring themselves to utter the words "victory" and "Iraq" in the same sentence. But six years after the war began, it is ending in victory. As in every war, the price of that victory was higher than we would have wished. The price of defeat would have been far higher.

Of course, my caution is based on not wanting to be premature given our path to achieving this victory. The anti-war side, as the comments sadly reveal, are simply aghast at the thought of military victory by America. That they cannot accept that we are at least winning is damning. Their advice on war has been worthless so their failure to recognize victory is understandable. Victory is messy and imperfect. We won World War II despite the advance of the Soviet Union into central Europe. Or would you argue we didn't win World War II until 1989?

We've won (or are winning) the war in Iraq, despite problems that we still must cope with.

Debate the reasons for war if you must. Or the cost of what we've achieved. But to get so heated over the concept of our victory just makes those people appear (dare I say it?) to be hostile to the very idea of our victory. That couldn't be true, could it?

On the Eve of the Long Collapse?

Is North Korea nearing their long collapse? If North Korea's security forces cease being a bulwark of the state, it could be that the end is nigh:

Throughout history the initial signs of collapse of despotic regimes can usually be traced back to some apocryphal moment in which the armed forces, secret police or others charged with maintaining "public order" demonstrate that they no longer unquestioningly follow the orders of the dictator. The famous stories of the 1917 Russian Revolution when one of the dreaded crowd-suppressing Cossacks winked at those demonstrating against Tsar Nicholas II rather than giving the standard order to move down scores unarmed civilians. Another of the Tsar's Cossacks used his curved, razor-sharp cavalry sword to cut open sacks of state-owned grain for starving workers and peasants instead ordering a charge to cut them down Bloody Sunday-style. These and other similar moments are considered the beginning of the end for the Romanov dynasty.

Several recent analytical reports, including a study from the U.S. government's National Intelligence Council (NIC), are causing those watching the situation in North Korea to ask if we are not seeing a similar deterioration in the control over the military by the Kim Family Regime (KFR), as it is referred to by the US military command in South Korea. Like the starving mobs in St. Petersburg who were demanding to be fed, the on-going food crisis in North Korea is having a crippling effect on the military establishment's loyalty to the Great Leader, and is permanently weakening the grip that the KRF has on the country.

The North Koreans already downgraded the military in a regime survival strategy of spooks and nukes, to keep the population and military under control and foreign enemies at bay with spies and nuclear weapons, respectively. But the spooks don't seem up to the task without having army special forces attached to them.

The article mentions that South Korea and China prefer the North Koreans to suffer under the Kim regime than risk paying the cost of a regime collapse. This is true. But doesn't this just mean that Seoul and Peking would prefer an intact North Korea with nuclear missiles capable of threatening us? So they don't have to spend the money to rescue North Koreans?

I don't know why that motivation to prop up the corpse of a regime in Pyongyang has to trump our foreign policy goal of eliminating a direct nuclear threat to our people and a nuclear proliferator.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Running Out of Time

No wonder I've written a lot about Taiwan lately--I must have sensed a disturbance in the Pentagon as they completed their annual report on Chinese military power. (Link fixed. For some strange reason the report from the main page doesn't work. I had to go deeper in Defenselink to get it.)

The report describes the balance as I have, stating:

The security situation in the Taiwan Strait is largely a function of dynamic interactions among Mainland China, Taiwan, and the United States. The PLA has developed and deployed military capability to coerce Taiwan or to attempt an invasion if necessary. PLA improvements pose new challenges to Taiwan’s security, which has historically been based upon the PLA’s inability to project power across the 100 NM Taiwan Strait, natural geographic advantages of island defense, Taiwan’s armed forces’ technological superiority, and the possibility of U.S. intervention.

That is, China is trying to create a force capable of invading Taiwan while deterring America from intervening, or at least delaying us while they conquer Taiwan. Taiwan tries to make their island tougher to take to deter China or buy time for America to intervene. And we try to build our forces to interfere with China's attack at the earliest possible moment. Our job is complicated by being far away from Taiwan while China is close by.

But as I've noted, this ability to defend Taiwan despite our distance basically rested on the pillar of past Chinese inability to mount an invasion (the days of the "million-man swim" put down of the PLA's invasion plan). That day is passing. And the report comments that despite cross strait detente, China still vows to absorb Taiwan--by force if necessary.

The report does say that Taiwan is building their war reserve stocks, which is important to actually fight an extended campaign to defend themselves. That is good.

And the report states we have maintained the ability to defend Taiwan against Chinese attacks. Also good.

An invasion by the PLA, the report states, would be a significant military and political risk given the state of China's military and the challenges of executing a large-scale invasion in the face of American intervention.

However, despite Taiwan's recent efforts to reverse declining defense spending, China continues to move the balance of force in the strait toward China. In particular, the report notes that Taiwan no longer dominates in the air as the report as recently as 2002 stated.

The question is, how long can we judge that Taiwan can hold on long enough--in the face of continued Chinese advances in their military capability--for America to intervene? And when that treadmill strategy is no longer feasible, how do we adapt to the new situation to help Taiwan defend itself?

Also, as I've argued, the report notes that Taiwan stands in the way of Chinese power projection capabilities, quoting a PLA Academy of Military Science textbook:

If Taiwan should be alienated from the Mainland, not only [would] our natural maritime defense system lose its depth, opening a sea gateway to outside forces, but also a large area of water territory and rich resources of ocean resources would fall into the hands of others.... [O]ur line of foreign trade and transportation which is vital to China’s opening up and economic development will be exposed to the surveillance and threats of separatists and enemy forces, and China will forever be locked to the west of the first chain of islands in the West Pacific.

Even if we did not have a moral obligation to help a fellow democracy resist being conquered by a decidedly unfree China, we'd have an interest in keeping China bottled up in the western periphery of the Pacific as long as we are unsure of whether China will be a partner or enemy.

Really, what will we do when the annual report states that we can no longer be judged capable of rushing to Taiwan's defense with any reasonable chance of winning?

The Battle Over Time

Right now, the military balance in the Taiwan Strait is a race over time as China seeks to make sure their military can overrun Taiwan before we can intervene in force. China does this by trying to speed up their military and slowing down America, as well as weakening Taiwan's resolve and ability to fight.

Our Congress actually contributed to winning this battle by indicating that Congress would not slow down our reaction to a Chinese attack:

The U.S. Congress Tuesday pledged "unwavering commitment" to ensuring Taiwan's security, defying protests from China that claims the island.

Congress reaffirmed its stance 30 years after the U.S. broke off relations with Taiwan, which recently has been reconciling with China but still counts on U.S. guarantees of protection.

The House of Representatives in a voice vote approved a resolution that pledged an "unwavering commitment" to the Taiwan Relations Act and called it a " cornerstone" of U.S. policy.

The 1979 law requires the U.S. to maintain the capability to defend Taiwan and to provide the island "arms of a defensive character."

Representative Shelley Berkley, the chief sponsor of the 30th anniversary bill, said the resolution sent an important signal as Taiwan "enters a new era of cross-Strait relations."

"Taiwan is an inspiring story of expanding freedom, a robust capitalist economy and a strong trading partner of the United States," Berkley, a member of President Barack Obama's Democratic Party, said on the House floor.

"We must do everything in our power to continue protecting it and ensuring its survival," she said.

Sometimes Congress can pleasantly surprise you.

A Rose By Any Other Name

Prior to the Iraq War, I guessed we'd have 7 brigades as part of 75,000 military forces in Iraq once the fighting ended. I've worried that our combat forces would be too small given the lengthy post-major combat operations COIN fight. But it seems like we'll have sufficient ground combat forces to pose as a real deterrent to Iranian conventional military adventures:

President Obama has said all "combat" troops will depart Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving a residual force of 35,000 to 50,000 until the end of the following year. According to Army officials interviewed by the investigators, the intention is for six of the current 14 brigades in Iraq to remain behind after the combat departures.

Our brigades are smaller now than when I spoke of seven, but our brigades are also better now after six years of improvement and combat experience. That we can support this number of combat brigades with what could be less than half of what I guessed implies that we will still rely on lots of contractors for many support functions I had assumed our uniformed military would provide.

So fewer troops but the same capabilities I hoped for, I'd say. No matter what we call it.

This is good.

Fighting the Last Cold War

The Russians are still on their NYETO binge of trying to pry America away from Western Europe by getting rid of NATO. Russia's foreign minister went on a whine about NATO's imaginary threat to Russia. He uses some humor in saying Russia is all about promoting "fairness." Good one, Lavrov.

Effing idiots, the lot of them.

In reality, NATO is no threat to Russia. Indeed, NATO could be an ally of Russia should the Russians realize China is the true threat to Russian territorial integrity. But instead, Russia alienates the West to gnaw on scraps of empire in South Ossetia.

Still, if you grant the lunatics in Moscow at least internal logic from their paranoid fantasies, it makes sense to split American away from European NATO countries. Steyn described them well:

America garrisons not distant ramshackle colonies but its wealthiest allies – Germany and Japan – to the point where almost every other western nation now budgets for an ever more minimal, perfunctory military, entirely confident that US defense welfare is a permanent feature of life. Troops from India, the dominions and the colonies provided a third of Britain’s military manpower in the First World War, and half in the Second. By comparison, America heads a military alliance of non-military allies in which it expends vast amounts of diplomatic energy trying to persuade the world’s richest countries to cough up a token detachment of non-combat troops to man the photocopier back at barracks while the Third Infantry Division slogs up into the mountains to do all the fighting.

This is the reality of NATO, with few exceptions. And even those countries with capabile troops have too few to make much of a difference. But Russia seems focused on destroying an alliance with no interest in attacking Russia and no capability to do so even in the face of Russia's rotting army and air force.

At what point do the Russians realize they're being idiots?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thank You, Canada

I do hope Canadians don't think that a late night show of clowns who celebrate their own clowning reflects American opinion. These guys can be funny, but their joking over the deaths of 4 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan is reprehensible.

Canada has been a stand-up ally in Afghanistan. They are notable for being one of our few allies to actually fight instead of sending war tourists. Canadian troops may not be numerous, but they are good soldiers. I'm glad to have them fighting with us.

And the Taliban have specifically targeted Canadian forces in order to try and break Canadian morale and get them to pull a Spain and run away.

To Canada's credit, they've held firm in the face of this enemy strategy.

So understand that Canada has been an ally. And they've suffered significant casualties to remain in the thick of the action in the toughest parts of Afghanistan.

I'm sorry some clowns mocking Canada's recent losses have gotten so much attention. I'll always be proud to have Canada as our ally.

Defending the Net

I wondered about the physical vulnerability of the Internet, a couple years ago. While many experts seem to discount this possibility, it seems that it is possible--if not as easy as I feared.

This article describes someone who is constantly repairing the physical infrastructure of the Internet because of underwater cable breaks:

The incidents reveal a surprising fact about the Internet: that it requires constant physical maintenance. Without people like Rennie patching cables, the entire network would gradually stop. First, traffic would slow to a crawl as more bits crammed into fewer and fewer cables. Then, after a while, isolated service failures like the ones in the Middle East would pop up. Eventually, as line after line went dark, U.S. businesses would be cut off from their outsourced functions abroad, international e-mail traffic would halt, and global financial transactions would cease. Pockets of connectivity would persist, but ultimately the Internet we rely on to stay in touch with the rest of the world would be reduced to the local-area network in your office.

Something that must be constantly maintained simply because of wear and tear and accidents could be attacked more effectively, in my view. If deliberate attacks can't be more effective than fishing net incidents, anchors dragging, and whatever else, I'd be shocked.

Don't get so caught up with cyber-warfare that you forget that a room full of enemy hackers can be killed very nicely with a 500 pound JDAM.

I Want to See the Fine Print

General McNabb guarantees that the supplies will get through to Afghanistan:

Thanks to billions of dollars spent in road and air base construction, troops in landlocked Afghanistan will never have to worry about getting enough supplies, the Pentagon's chief of military transportation told senators last week.

Insurgent attacks on major supply roads into Afghanistan have disrupted U.S. delivery schedules, said Gen. Duncan J. McNabb, who directs the U.S. Transport Command. But he told lawmakers that he has personally assured the head of Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus, "We will be there. We'll figure out and make sure you never have to worry about this."

Petraeus is overseeing the influx of 17,000 additional troops into Afghanistan beginning in May, and McNabb is working to maintain "a lot of options . . . lots of ways to get in there" with cargo for those forces.

I have no doubt that Taliban attacks, even in Pakistan, won't do more than inconvenience us.

I have no doubt that we can get enough supplies into Afghanistan in normal circumstances to wage war?

Heck, I have no doubt we could supply the whole lot by air if we really had to. At least for a little while.

But this is not the problem. Sure, the cost will be high to do all this, but the real problem is if Pakistan flips to either neutral or enemy status and denies us both land and air corridors to Afghanistan. How will we supply our forces then? Will we have to escort our transports in and out of Afghanistan with fighter aircraft, fighting our way through?

What is the fine print for that guarantee?

Monday, March 23, 2009


I had thought our fall surge in drone strikes within Pakistan was more about keeping the enemy off balance during a presidential transition during wartime. Apparently not:

An intense, six-month campaign of Predator strikes in Pakistan has taken such a toll on Al Qaeda that militants have begun turning violently on one another out of confusion and distrust, U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say.

The pace of the Predator attacks has accelerated dramatically since August, when the Bush administration made a previously undisclosed decision to abandon the practice of obtaining permission from the Pakistani government before launching missiles from the unmanned aircraft.

It was more out of frustration at Pakistan's inability to do the job and the leaks that made getting Pakistani permission too counter-productive.

We can't ever wipe out al Qaeda by this tactic alone, but we are unbalancing them. We should just drop blinking devices in Taliban compounds to make other Taliban think we have targeting devices in the hands of Pakistanis.

UPDATE: Strategypage has a good piece on the Predator campaign, concluding:

Pakistani officials believe that the multimillion dollar rewards on bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders may now actually work. The problem has always been that you can't capture an al Qaeda big shot without the assent of local tribal leaders. For a large chunk of that reward, that assent may now be had from some chiefs, and bin Laden knows it. He also knows that he has lost an irreplaceable number of veteran leaders, to U.S. Hellfire missiles, in the last seven months. Rumor has it that big money was paid for the information that made some of these attacks possible. It's bad enough that al Qaeda is losing senior people, it's worse that they are now seen, by local tribesmen, as a way to get rich. Al Qaeda leaders now know what it's like to be terrorized.

Make them live in fear of us, I say. Read it all, as others say.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Axis of El Vil Speaks

Hugo Chavez has the nerve to insult President Obama:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Sunday called President Barack Obama "ignorant," saying he has a lot to learn about Latin America.

It's like hope and change are meaningless concepts to thug rulers like Chavez. I wonder what Harry Belefonte thinks of Hugo now?

Can we JDAM Chavez yet?

UPDATE: That's just the annoyance speaking, of course. As long as Chavez is just a clown, I'd rather ignore him publicly and see if he self-destructs. We need to carefully watch him in case he steps over the line into Axis of Evil territory, of course. Then JDAMs become important. But a guy can dream, eh?

UPDATE: Former Ambassador Negroponte provides a good explanation for Hugo's ranting:

And he says something rather interesting about George W. Bush and the Venezuelan strongman:

"I think one of the great things Mr. Bush did was not give Hugo Chávez the satisfaction of reacting to his various provocations. My sense is that that bothered Chávez. I don’t think Mr. Bush ever mentioned his name, frankly” — and that was an appropriate approach.

Hugo would love a war of words that justifies his expanding control yet doesn't represent a threat to his regime.

Hugo remains the court jester of the Axis of El Vil, only. What a clown. He should just buy the floppy shoes and go whole hog.


This is an expansion of an update to this post. It seemed a good enough topic to expand in pull together some past posts.

The basic situation of the Taiwan Strait crisis is that China is much weaker militarily than America but China is much closer to Taiwan, giving China a head start on deploying decisive power to the combat area.

Further, Taiwan is weaker than China and the imbalance grows as Chinese national power expands each year. Taiwan's basic hope is to be too difficult to conquer quickly, buying time for America (and Japan) to intervene.

Third, Taiwanese defense efforts can counter the Chinese-Taiwanese military balance trend, but as Chinese power projection capabilities continue to grow, at some point Taiwan's efforts become insignificant.

Strategypage sets for the basics as I've long discussed:

The Taiwanese government is increasing defense spending, including the development of more locally made weapons (like cruise missiles to take out targets on the mainland.) Chinese pressure on the U.S. caused Taiwan's recent request to buy 60 F-16 fighters, to be turned down. Taiwan wants to increase its military capability because its arrangement with the United States requires that Taiwan be strong enough to hold off a Chinese attack long enough for American forces to arrive. This means keeping control of air bases on the island for up to a week. China is apparently building up its land, air and naval forces to the point where a surprise attack could conquer Taiwan in a few days, if the defending Taiwanese were not ready.

There is still a problem with this Taiwanese strategy. And that's aside from whether the Chinese don't need a week or whether a week is sufficient time for the American government to decide to intervene and then get forces to Taiwan in time to make a difference.

The problem is that a strategy of buying time usually buys that time with the currency of real estate. That is, you fall back to keep your forces intact and make sure the enemy must advance slowly to deal with your still-functioning forces.

So even if the Taiwanese successfully buy that time, doesn't this mean that the PLA is entrenched on parts of Taiwan? Doesn't this mean we have a new status quo on the island with two armies contesting the same real estate?

Which means that the initial attack could be just the softening up phase to prepare for the real killing blow (perhaps even a non-military killing blow against a demoralized Taiwan that can see what is coming), that will fall at a later date. And my solution still assumes we keep China off the main island. This is the problem of basing a defense not on defeating the enemy, but just slowing them down. Slowing the enemy down just means it takes them longer to get where they are going.

I don't believe I've read any article that doesn't assume we either defeat the Chinese (and keep them from landing on the island) or lose to the Chinese (who occupy the entire island). These are not the only two options.

Increasingly, the most likely outcome of a war will be that China establishes control of some territory on Taiwan, perhaps just clinging on or perhaps a substantial bridgehead, but that American and Taiwanese forces prevent the PLA from completely defeating the Taiwanese and taking over all of Taiwan. And the Taiwanese will either lack the ability (either in units or simply ammunition supplies) to eject the Chinese troops and American refuses to risk nuclear war to either eject the Chinese or supply Taiwan with ammunition to do the job.

China then has a jumping off point for a million-man march in a few years.

Eventually, Taiwan--with American and Japanese backing--will need to break out of this pattern of buying time, by slowing down the Chinese who are in turn trying to slow down America and Japan, to come up with a new strategy to survive living next door to China.

Will the new means of security be inviting American forces to deploy on the island, creating a tripwire that bypasses the race aspect of Chinese and American forces trying to get to Taiwan first with the most?

Will it be going nuclear to provide the ultimate asymmetric weapon that will deter China without relying on America?

Of course, either of these would likely trigger a Chinese attack. Unless China was busy with a war with Russia or India, for example. Or focused internally because of domestic unrest in the northwest, southwest, or even nationwide.

Or will it be by getting the Chinese to focus on the interior of Asia which might eventually lead their naval power to halt its expansion and perhaps wither compared to American, Japanese, and Taiwanese naval power?

Could the Taiwanese actually leverage economic power to undermine Chinese will to use force?

Or will a new strategy be to use Taiwan's soft power of being a democracy to undermine the stability of Peking's rule, in the hope that the communists will be overthrown and that the new government will not be interested in conquering Taiwan? Or perhaps this would lead China to break up into successor states, none of which will be interested in taking on Taiwan--or perhaps just be too weak individually to do the job.

We need a new plan for how to deal with such a two-step conquest:

China is vulnerable to internal unrest and fissures. Once Peking shows it will wage war to upset the status quo over Taiwan by use of force, we need to push back and attempt to end the threat at the source--by attempting to roll back the Communist dictatorship that will without a doubt launch the Second Taiwan War when the time seems right to them. Call our policy "Two Chinas. One System." The one system being Taiwan's system of democracy and free markets.

The old plan worked for decades, but only because we faced an old PLAN, so to speak. It is clear that this plan is increasingly insufficient to defend Taiwan in the face of the new PLAN.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Not Over

I don't think the Mumbai Massacre issue is over as far as India is concerned:

India's government says it has "overwhelming evidence" that "official agencies" of Pakistan were involved in the Islamist militant attacks on Mumbai that left 165 people dead.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram also accused Pakistan in a TV interview to be aired Sunday of doing nothing to dismantle "the infrastructure of terrorism" on its soil amid heightened tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

"Given the overwhelming evidence we have, I am entitled to presume that official agencies (of Pakistan) were involved (in the attacks)," he said, referring to such Pakistani institutions as its spy agency and army.

This could still lead to war if the Pakistanis don't meet whatever minimum requirements India has about addressing Pakistani involvement in the attack.

Rest in Peace

Our president is committed to making a deal with Iran to end their threats of terrorism and nuclear blackmail. Nuanced diplomacy will succeed in building a quiet peace where so-called cowboy diplomacy under Bush failed. Sadly, our commitment to endless talks has already given Iran the only thing they want from diplomacy--time.

So it should be no shock that the soothing balms of hope and change seem to have no effect on Iran's mullahs:

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismissed overtures from President Barack Obama on Saturday, saying Tehran does not see any change in U.S. policy under its new administration.

Khamenei was responding to a video message Obama released Friday in which he reached out to Iran on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian new year, and expressed hopes for an improvement in nearly 30 years of strained relations.

Khamenei holds the last word on major policy decisions, and how Iran ultimately responds to any concrete U.S. effort to engage the country will depend largely on his say.

In his most direct assessment of Obama and prospects for better ties, Khamenei said there will be no change between the two countries unless the American president puts an end to U.S. hostility toward Iran and brings "real changes" in foreign policy.

"They chant the slogan of change but no change is seen in practice. We haven't seen any change," Khamenei said in a speech before a crowd of tens of thousands in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad.

Iran is our enemy. They have been at war with us since they took over our embassy three decades ago and they continue to kill our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. The only thing holding Iran back is lack of capacity to kill more of us.

Talking to Iran or making a deal with Iran could never last and would only betray friends or victims of Iran's mullahs who desperately want our help against the mullahs.

President Obama would have been better advised to have sent a message to the long-suffering people of Iran. They are the ones who want hope and change. They are the people in the Moslem world with the best opinion of America, remember? But no, the people of Iran are thrown under the bus in our president's address to the mullahs:

"Liberty" isn't a word you'll find in President Obama's Iranian New Year message to "the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran." Nor is "freedom." Nor "democracy." Nor "human rights."

Nor will you find any expression of solidarity with the people of Iran--though you'll find plenty of solicitude for their rulers. The president bends over backwards to reassure the mullahs that our government wishes them well.

You'll find a paragraph addressed to "the people and leaders of Iran," as if the people and leaders were in harmony, and shared a need to be reassured that we seek "a future with .  .  . greater opportunities for partnership and commerce."

You'll find two paragraphs devoted to speaking directly to Iran's leaders. Obama reassures them of his commitment to diplomacy, and to an engagement grounded in "mutual respect." Of course expressions of respect for the people of Iran are nothing new--President Bush reiterated our respect for the people of Iran many times, including a year ago on the occasion of Nowruz, as they call their New Year. No, what's distinctive about Obama's statement is his respect for the "leaders," the clerical dictatorship.

God almighty. It was annoying during the Cold War when liberals spent far more time attacking authoritarian allies of America who we needed to resist the Soviet Union than they spent condemning Soviet crimes against humanity, but at least liberals stood up for human rights somewhere. And I'll give our labor movment credit for standing with Polish workers in the Cold War. Though to be accurate, the labor movement was led by Democrats and not liberals.

Now liberals are all about abandoning people who would be free from mullah thuggery. Lebanese? We'd rather strike a deal with Syria than help you fight Hezbollah. Israel? Ditto for Hamas. Iranians? Gotta get that "grand bargain" so you're on your own. Learn to love and respect the Basij.

If you think words don't matter, you didn't pay attention to our president during the campaign. Then, he believed words mattered.

And words mattered to the downtrodden Shia of southern Iraq who rose up against Saddam in 1991 after we defeated Saddam's army and ejected it from Kuwait. Words mattered--and had an effect. Our shame was in using those words and then doing nothing to support the people who risked their lives to fight oppression after they listened to our president's words.

When did hope and change become all about making thug rulers comfortable and secure enough to die peacefully in their beds? When did liberalism become all about using nuanced thinking to justify retreat in the face of such tyranny?

The peace and quiet of people living under such thug rulers isn't the quiet of peaceful partners of the rulers, but the quiet desperation of living with no hope of relief from oppression and misery.

It is the quiet of a cemetery. And our president has declared cemeteries to be heaven on Earth.

Words matter.

Friday, March 20, 2009

It Takes a Village to Raze the Taliban

We're going local in Afghanistan, recognizing that attempting to defeat the Taliban and their al Qaeda friends and turn Afghanistan into a unified modern state is asking for too much:

The plan is based on the assumption that top leaders of extremist groups are unlikely to switch sides wholesale and would be unreliable allies if they did. Instead, the revised military effort will focus on eroding the power of militant leaders by drawing away low-level fighters -- most of whom signed up for financial reasons.

Key to the strategy, according to administration officials, will be strengthening village elders and other local leaders as part of an overall shift in emphasis away from the country's central government.

The White House is nearing approval of the strategy and is expected to outline details next week, before President Obama travels to a summit of world leaders in early April.

The strategy review will address the need to build up the abilities of the central government and to expand the Afghan National Army. But many officials have concluded that local leaders and governments are even more important.

Under the plan, the administration would offer local leaders a variety of tools, including small-scale economic projects and training for local security forces, that they can use to convince insurgent fighters to lay down their weapons.

The plan and its objectives were described by advisors who spoke anonymously because the strategy review is not complete.

But the emphasis on local reconciliation reflects a growing belief that a heavy reliance on the country's central government, led by President Hamid Karzai, has hindered the U.S.-led war effort.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has been particularly critical of the focus on Kabul. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell, while refusing to discuss the White House review, said Gates had been clear that the U.S. needed to do more to build up local governments."

Building a strong central government in Afghanistan is counter-cultural, counter-historical," Morrell said.

This is good. I set out what I think we will do here, with the caveat that I'm worried about risking too many troops in Afghanistan at the end of insecure supply lines. I think my conjecture is holding up pretty well as decisions are made in Washington.

We have to think local even as we still support the central government in becoming more effective in an appropriate role. But the locals are the key to security and good governance that will lead to economic development that attracts military-age men to civilian jobs and not drug gangs or Taliban war bands; the key to building up local defense forces to resist armed Taliban and drug gang bands; and the key to generating intelligence for Coalition--and increasingly Afghan--offensive operations that hammer the enemy as the essential stick to the carrot of development. Local jobs can never compete money-wise with the payoff of joining the Taliban or drug gangs. But if the local men know that they will live to spend a smaller legitimate paycheck rather than leave a pile of cash to their next of kin, it will speed the beginning of wisdom.

But remember that local recruits are only part of the problem. Pakistan is also a source of cannon fodder sent in to Afghanistan. We can succeed brilliantly in getting local recruiting to dry up, but if recruits are still avaialable in Pakistan, the war will go on. We are sending troops to the border regions where they can interdict this movement. But we can't seal the long and rugged border completely.

Ultimately, we need Pakistan to control their border region and prevent it from being the Taliban rear area where forces are generated, trained, and armed for the Afghanistan War. And this is a problem perhaps beyond our capabilities, at least in the short run:

U.S. officials working on Pakistan acknowledge they will have only limited influence on the power struggle.

"It's pretty clear that we've got to really be dealing with institutions and with the government as a whole," said a U.S. official. "We can't just say 'this guy is our man.' "

Counterterrorism experts expressed concern that while Islamabad is consumed in internal politics, the Taliban is gaining ground. "Probably the most serious challenge for the U.S. is there is no clear command and control in Pakistan," said Seth Jones, an expert in the region at the think tank Rand Corp.

David Kilcullen, a former Bush-administration adviser on counterinsurgency, said the Pakistani security forces' reluctance to follow the civilian government's direction -- police in Lahore backed off after initial resistance to protesters and didn't enforce Mr. Sharif's house arrest -- represents "a classic precursor indicator to the collapse of the Pakistani government."

I used to think we'd need to take a direct role in pacifying the frontier areas if the Pakistani government can't do the job. I'm beginning to think we need to take a direct role just to prop up the Pakistani government.

We need to do things right to win in Afghanistan. We need our allies to do things right to win. We need the Afghan central government to do things right to win. We need local Afghans to do the right thing. We need Pakistan to do things right to win. We need Pakistan's frontier tribes to do things right to win. We need Congress to fund and support the war--a war that is far more expensive man-for-man deployed than in Iraq because of the poor transportation network going into Afghansitan. We need our public to support the war long enough to win.

Can we juggle all these multiple elements long enough to win? President Obama stands holding all these strands to pull them together.

Can our president lead us to victory in Afghanistan? Will he?

When and Not If

President Obama is on a fool's errand to convince Iran to make nice on the nuclear issue. Does he really think he can out-surrender the Europeans who have been trying for the last half-decade to convince Iran to halt their nuclear weapons programs?

I think President Obama will discover that his friendship tape cannot be played on Region Nut VCRs.

And the entire point of this article is ludicrous:

While the broader rapprochement initiated by the Obama Administration could be integral to resolving the standoff over Iran's uranium enrichment program, there's some concern in Washington and beyond over how much time Obama has to find a diplomatic solution on the nuclear issue. The urgency of the nuclear question itself is a matter of some debate.

"From all the information I've seen," CIA chief Leon Panetta said on Capitol Hill last month, "I think there is no question that they are seeking [nuclear weapons] capability." Israel and more hawkish voices in Washington concur, and stress that Iran has already crossed the key technological threshold in what they portray as a headlong drive to attain atomic weapons. But the U.S. military and intelligence community says that while Iran is assembling a technological infrastructure that would enable it to develop nuclear weapons, it has produced no weapons-grade materiel. In fact, according to the Obama's Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, Tehran has not yet taken the fateful decision to actually use its new technological capacity to develop weapons.

What is the point of debating how much time Iran has and what point they actually are on the road to nuclear weapons? Do you seriously believe the West--without the prodding of that cowboy Bush--will ever, under any circumstances, take action against Iran to forcefully stop them from getting nukes? We'd have difficulty getting a Security Council resolution condemning Iran for nuking Tel Aviv let alone get the support to strike Iran! As if Obama would to that anyway.

The point is, we'll give the Iranian mullahs all the time they need to build nuclear weapons. The issue of time became moot once President Bush left office.

My only hope is that I am right about what President Bush has left President Obama as a tool should the Iranians become an obvious nuclear power.

I worry that Iran might have considered how to survive such an attack with their nuclear arsenal at least partially intact.

My fear is that I'm right that Israel would need to use nukes to do the job if Israel thinks we can't stop Iran from going nuclear.

Wow. I Didn't See This Coming

Despite my worries about whether the Ma administration is serious about standing up to China, Taiwan's review of their military is encouraging:

Taiwan's first Quadrennial Defence Review, released on Monday (March 16), took a harder line against China's military threat than expected, given the warming cross-strait relations. The island plans to cut troop numbers by a fifth and opt for an all-professional army by 2014, by ending conscription. It is trading numbers for better technology, including advanced information warfare capabilities. It is developing a doctrine of asymmetric warfare as the military balance in the Taiwan Strait has tilted in China's favour.

Crucially, the defence review put paid to speculation that China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou planned to adopt a 'porcupine' strategy of focusing on defence against a ground assault by strengthening Taiwan's army and civil defences. This would have meant giving up its longstanding strategy of deterring an attack by maintaining air and sea superiority. The paper did not play down the importance of the navy and air force, and defence officials said at a press conference that Taipei would ask again to buy F-16 fighters from the United States. Washington had turned down such a request just last year.

The defence review shows that Taiwan has no illusions about China's intentions despite the considerable easing of tension after Ma, of the Kuomintang, came to power.

The asymmetric warfare refers to the ability to take the war to the mainland rather than fight over and on Taiwan. Cruise missiles and long-range precision weapons carried by aircraft would be key. They could strike PLA bases to disrupt the Chinese offensive. Well-trained and equipped troops are still key to counter-attacking any PLA footholds on Taiwan established by air- or sea-delivered means, but hammering the PLA as it approaches Taiwan is key to buying time--both for the Taiwanese to mobilize and deploy and for America and Japan to decide to intervene and reach Taiwan in strength.

And I still think Taiwan needs modern submarines as part of an asymmetric military threat to China.

This report is a bit of encouragement for me, in the midst of apparent idiocy on the issue of China's intentions toward Taiwan.

UPDATE: Strategypage sets for the basics as I've long discussed:

The Taiwanese government is increasing defense spending, including the development of more locally made weapons (like cruise missiles to take out targets on the mainland.) Chinese pressure on the U.S. caused Taiwan's recent request to buy 60 F-16 fighters, to be turned down. Taiwan wants to increase its military capability because its arrangement with the United States requires that Taiwan be strong enough to hold off a Chinese attack long enough for American forces to arrive. This means keeping control of air bases on the island for up to a week. China is apparently building up its land, air and naval forces to the point where a surprise attack could conquer Taiwan in a few days, if the defending Taiwanese were not ready.

There is still a problem with this Taiwanese strategy. And that's aside from whether the Chinese don't need a week or whether a week is sufficient time for the American government to decide to intervene and then get forces to Taiwan in time to make a difference.

The problem is that a strategy of buying time usually buys that time with the currency of real estate. That is, you fall back to keep your forces intact and make sure the enemy must advance slowly to deal with your still-functioning forces.

So even if the Taiwanese successfully buy that time, doesn't this mean that the PLA is entrenched on parts of Taiwan? Doesn't this mean we have a new status quo on the island with two armies contesting the same real estate?

Which means that the initial attack was just the softening up phase to prepare for the real killing blow, that will fall at a later date. And my solution still assumes we keep China off the main island. This is the problem of basing a defense not on defeating the enemy but just slowing them down. Slowing the enemy down just means it takes them longer to get where they are going.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Very Positive View

It drives me nuts that we speak of China's charm offensive as if the Chinese have abandoned their goal of taking over Taiwan. Much as we and the Soviets had different views of detente, so too do China and Taiwan have different views of this charm offensive.

I wondered if our government was foolish enough to be blind to China's true aim. And our government is indeed similarly clueless:

"The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before, has a very positive view of the progress that has been made since last May in restoring dialogue and the many steps toward the improvement of the cross-Strait relationship," said Burghardt, who is effectively the top US envoy dealing with Taiwan.

How is it positive that the Chinese are saying nice things when their objective is no different? The very next sentence in the article would seem to undermine this happy talk:

China and Taiwan have been governed separately since the end of a civil war in 1949, but Beijing considers the island a part of Chinese territory and is determined to get it back -- by force if necessary.

It is not "progress" when the Chinese objective is the same even as the Peking rulers smile and say nice things.

Even academics are confused:

However, relations between China and Taiwan have improved greatly following the election of Ma Ying-jeou as Taiwan president in March 2008. Although the unification issue remains unresolved, Mr. Ma has rejected his predecessor’s policy of pursuing de facto independence from China.

This dramatic change has removed the specter of war from the Taiwan Strait. It has also removed the primary rationale behind China's decade-long rapid military buildup and the vast investment of funds that it required. However, no letup in this effort should be expected.

The spectre of war is removed? This is insane.

No let up in the build up anyway? Why is that? There are a number of reasons, including:

China’s new global standing combined with its Taiwan-driven military progress has convinced the Chinese that they can begin narrowing the gap between their economic standing as a great power and their military capabilities and to begin playing a military role on the international stage.

Ah, they want to be a major power. That requires power projection capabilities. And as I've mentioned, power projection requires nullifying the effects of having Taiwan acting as a stopper in the bottle. China needs to own Taiwan. Good thing from Peking's point of view that Taiwan-driven military progress can tackle two birds with one stone.

And what are the Chinese military capabilities relative to America?

This threat, stemming from China’s determination to block Taiwan’s moves toward separation, had been the catalyst for China’s efforts to build up its armed forces. Their focus was defensive: to acquire a capability needed to invade Taiwan and to deter the U.S. from intervening; failing that, to delay the advance of U.S. forces by protecting the maritime approaches to the Taiwan Straits and China.

Aside from objecting to the author's description of Chinese offensive capabilities to conquer Taiwan as defensive, this is quite right. China doesn't need to defeat us or even deter us--they just need to delay us long enough to beat Taiwan.

So stop arguing that we are far superior to China militarily when arguing China can't conquer Taiwan. The overall balance just isn't that relevant to China on the Taiwan question and shouldn't be that relevant to Taiwan or America.

And for Pete's sake, stop thinking that a nice smile means that China's objectives are the same as ours. The Chinese aren't shy about telling us they want Taiwan. Why don't we listen?

Great Expectations

On the eve of the anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Secretary Gates sketched the failure to plan for the post-conventional phase in Iraq:

Looking back, it seems to me that almost everybody, including those who were in the administration at the time agreed that the assumptions were that this would be a very quick, largely conventional kind of conflict, Saddam would be put out of power and then the situation turned back over to the Iraqis themselves.

I think that most people would agree that there was, clearly, inadequate planning for the situation not turning out that way and for us to be involved for a protracted period of time, and I think that was perhaps one of the biggest mistakes that was made.

I think that we just didn't anticipate or they didn't anticipate at the time that this could be a protracted counterinsurgency kind of challenge and it clearly turned out to be that.

I'm reasonably sure that I've explained my views on this issue (perhaps in pieces, however), but on the anniversary of OIF, let me set it all forth.

We did not have unreasonable expectations and the anti-war side was no better in predicting post-war insurgencies that would drag on. Heck, before the war many predicted the conventional phase would be a disaster for us (remember the claims that Baghdad would be our Stalingrad as the Baathists fought to the death?). Remember also that in summer 2003, after we crushed Saddam's military, that Democratic leaders argued that the next election would be fought on economics and not on the very successful war just concluded. Rather than speaking of insurgencies, the anti-war side was claiming Syria was next on the hit list.

I did not expect the insurgencies and terror campaigns to be this tough. I won't pretend otherwise. Let me explain my reasoning at the time and why I was wrong.

First, I assumed that any Baathist insurgency based on the 20% Sunni Arab population was doomed to failure in the long run against the 80% Kurd and Shia population.

Second, I did not know if the sanctions-weary Sunni Arabs were up to resisting. Remember, many of the anti-war side argued that we could overthrow the Saddam regime by supporting an uprising rather than invade. If the Sunni Arabs were truly that weak, how could they mount an insurgency?

So on the eve of invasion I didn't know if the Sunni Arabs would mount an insurgency after what I assumed would be a cake walk conventional campaign, but assumed if resistance was mounted the Sunni Arabs would lose in time.

When Saddam's Special Republican Guard failed to mount any resistance in defense of Baghdad, I discounted the idea that the Baathists had the will to resist.

Further, I assumed that Iraqi police could be counted on to stay at their posts and provide local stability in a relatively benign post-war environment, under our guidance as we built an Iraqi government based on Shia and Kurdish dominance of a de-Baathified civil service. Again, lack of Baathist resistance in Baghdad during the invasion encouraged me on this.

But Iraqi security forces collapsed and were of no use. So too did the government structure. And the Baathists did decide to resist despite failure to fight during the invasion. This resistance, however, was very low level for four months and did not alarm me at all.

The Baathists had three advantages that I did not suspect: lots of money stolen from the Oil for Food program; lots of ammunition and weapons scattered around Iraq; and a pre-war pipeline of jihadis that continued to pump fanatics from around the Arab world into Iraq via Syria after the war ended. Oh, and you might say there was a fourth advantage--the Shias were grateful we got rid of Saddam but were suspicious of us based on our betrayal of them in the 1991 uprising that President H. W. Bush encouraged. That lack of trust would not be largely erased until late summer 2004, after the Shias (aside from the pro-Iran Sadr goons, that is) saw the Baathists ally with al Qaeda and realized they needed us and that we were fighting on their side.

The insurgency only really took off in November 2003. But despite being ill-prepared for this fight, we ground down the Baathist resistance throughout the fall of 2003, capturing Saddam in December, and witnessing dwindling combat and casualties through February 2004. It looked like the war was nearly over.

But in March and April 2004, two more events that nobody expected took place: the surge of Syrian-supplied al Qaeda killers who reinforced the faltering Baathists who still retained the organization, cash, and weapons, leading to the creation of a jihadi enclave in Fallujah; and the Iranian offensive using Sadr and his goons in southern Iraq. This dual offensive led to the collapse of half of the Iraqi security forces. We held off this offensive without breaking and defeated a repeat of Sadr's uprising in August 2004 without alienating the Shia majority.

I did not expect Syria and Iran to be so bold as to wage war against us in Iraq as they did. Nor did I expect we'd let these two countries get away with this support. Maybe we had no good options to stop them once they decided to wage war, but I didn't expect it.

From then on it was a slow grinding away of the various factions waging insurgencies and terror campaigns, while we built up the Iraqi security forces and governing structure. The Iraqi government didn't want to use violence against Sadr and promised us they could take care of him quietly. Things again looked to be calming down through the winter of 2005-2006.

The bombing of the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra in February 2006 by al Qaeda in Iraq signalled the beginning of a new phase where al Qaeda and Sadrists slaughtered each other's civilian supporters in an effort to provoke civil war. Baghdad grew increasingly chaotic despite two Coalition attempts to pacify the city, and civilian casualties edged up nationwide before exploding beginnning in November 2006.

This was the first time I began to worry about winning the war. Even though our enemies were not beaten, I also knew that Iraqi forces were getting better and more numerous. I expected they could eventually defeat the enemies. But I knew the Iraqis needed our support and I didn't know if our willingness to fight would last long enough to achieve this. My worry lasted through the new Congress' attempts to lose the war in the spring and summer of 2007, and didn't ease until fall 2007.

The violence had remained high as we crafted and then executed the surge, beginning in earnest during summer 2007. This broke al Qaeda in Iraq and, more quietly, we broke apart Sadr's outfit which had reacted to quiet defeat by declaring they were on a ceasefire. Sunni Arabs also decided in large numbers to abandon hope of beating us, and to side with us to destroy the hated jihadis. Beginning in Anbar and spreading to the capital area, this was the the fourth major piece of the mosaic of enemies facing us to break.

By early 2008, the Iranian-backed Sadrist remnants were broken by Iraqi and American military action from Baghdad to Basra, and the only significant fighting remains in Mosul and Diyala province. This is being snuffed out although it is taking longer than the Iraqis hoped it would take. But we are still pulling back from combat, judging the Iraqis strong enough to beat the enemy if we stay in a mostly support role. I have braced since fall 2007 for a new surprise that would indicate a new phase of the war, but the closest we've had was the spring 2008 offensive by the Iraqi government against the Sadrists--and that worked out well for us.

The result is an insurgency (of multiple enemies, primarily Baathists, nationalist Sunni Arabs, al Qaeda in Iraq, and the pro-Iran Sadrists) that has taken six years to mostly defeat. Only the hard core remain but they lack significant sources of support right now. These thugs must be hunted down and killed or driven from Iraq.

When you consider that insurgencies often last a generation until broken (witness the final defeat this year of the 25-year long Tamil insurgency in Sri Lanka), the enemies inside Iraq didn't do too well, historically speaking. But lots of Baathist money and weapons already in Iraq combined with Baathist technical expertise in bomb-making and plentiful imported jihadis to use them made the resistance far more powerful than they would otherwise have been given their numbers.

And who knows? Maybe there is a silver lining in this long insurgency and terror campaign. Perhaps the difficulty that Iraqis had in winning their freedom and defending their fledgling democracy from foreign and domestic jihadis, Baathists, and Sadrists, will make their achievement all the more dearer. Maybe a quiet Iraq in summer 2003 without the subsequent fighting would have made democracy seem like an alien concept planted by America rather than an Iraqi goal paid for with the blood of many Iraqis who wanted a better future.

I guess I still have great expectations. But even as I knew in summer 2003, the future of Iraq still depends on how Iraqis defend their gains.