Saturday, May 30, 2009

If Only

The North Korean policy threatening us with nuclear programs, promising to halt their nuclear programs for aid, getting that aid, and pursuing their nuclear programs anyway is about to end.

We're finally tired of it:

Gates and the defense ministers of Japan and South Korea said North Korea must not be allowed to continue playing a dangerous game of brinksmanship in hopes of winning aid.

"We must make North Korea clearly recognize that it will not be rewarded for its wrong behaviors," South Korea's Lee Sang-hee said.

Gates said Pyongyang was engaging in familiar tactics. "They create a crisis and the rest of us pay the price to return to the status quo ante."

Actually, paying North Korea to stay non-nuclear, as odious as that is, is at least arguably a cost-effective policy--as long as the example doesn't inspire too many thug regimes to do the same.

But the problem is, we haven't gone back to the status quo ante each time. If only that was the case. Each time we cut a deal and send aid, North Korea makes a little more progress toward nuclear missiles.

The common feature is that North Korea continues to make progress toward nukes. I think we should really conclude that North Korea wants nukes and isn't just spending scarce money on nukes to get us to give them money. In a perfect Pillsbury Nuke Boy world, they have nukes, our aid, and sell their missile and warhead designs to wealthy Persians.

I continue to believe we must quietly squeeze North Korea without really calling attention to that fact. If we are too open about it, that might compel North Korea to officially notice and possibly role the dice to reverse their slow collapse by taking major military action. We'd win any war, but the price in lives would be tremendous, for South Korea especially.

Lovely decade we're having, eh?

The Mullahs Must Go

When you think of the corrosive effects of the mullahs ruling Iran, you think of Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as support for various jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you think harder, you think of support for radicals in various Gulf states and cooperation with North Korea. And the nukes, of course.

But Iran's money and fanaticism infect far more:

Venezuela and Bolivia are supplying Iran with uranium for its nuclear program, according to a secret Israeli government report obtained Monday by The Associated Press.

The two South American countries are known to have close ties with Iran, but this is the first allegation that they are involved in the development of Iran's nuclear program, considered a strategic threat by Israel.


Without Iran, many annoying enemies would be mere annoyances. With Iran's help, they are threats to order and security around the world.

While we insist on holding our extended hand out to Iran, they continue to slap us around with their extended hands.

The mullahs must go. Anything we do should be means to that objective.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Run That By Me Again?

North Korea worries about our evil plots:

"The northward invasion scheme by the U.S. and the South Korean puppet regime has exceeded the alarming level," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. "A minor accidental skirmish can lead to a nuclear war."


So, we're supposed to believe the President Obama is all on board this northward invasion scheme?

I realize that President Obama would get the Nobel Peace Prize for carpet-nuking North Korea (sorry President Carter, no more prizes for you as a kick in the leg to our president!), but in the real world, there is no Obama plot to invade North Korea. And the fact that Pyongyang believes this should be the one and only piece of evidence that we need to conclude that the Pillsbury Nuke Boy is Grade A Nuts.

There might be a war, but we sure as heck won't start it.

The Parameters of our Limits

America and South Korea are at a heightened state of alert over North Korean threats:

South Korean and U.S. troops raised their alert Thursday to the highest level since 2006 after North Korea renounced its truce with the allied forces and threatened to strike any ships trying to intercept its vessels.

The move was a sign of heightened tensions on the peninsula following the North's underground nuclear test and its firing of a series of short-range missiles earlier this week.

In response, Seoul decided to join more than 90 nations that have agreed to stop and inspect vessels suspected of transporting banned weapons.

North Korea says South Korea's participation in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative is a prelude to a naval blockade and raises the prospect of a naval skirmish in its western waters.

On Wednesday, it renounced the 1953 truce that halted fighting in the Korean War. It said Thursday through its official media that it was preparing for an American-led attack. The U.S. has repeatedly denied it is planning military action.


There isn't a lot we can do militarily against North Korea, without triggering North Korean military responses that are unacceptable to South Korea. And without South Korea's full cooperation, no military option is going to be decisive. And when you consider that each of the nations interested in North Korea have different objectives, it is no wonder that constructing a policy on North Korea seems as hard as herding kittens.

Waiting for North Korea to collapse and trying to squeeze North Korea as much as the weakest link of our alliance will allow is the only real option we have as long as North Korea does not have nuclear missiles capable of reaching our territory.

And always keep in mind that North Korea isn't our main threat despite their nuclear ambitions. Iran is the main threat, with their combination of support for Sunni and Shia jihadis, their nuclear ambitions, and their oil and position astride the Persian Gulf oil export sea lanes. North Korea is a proliferation threat and a threat to Seoul even without nukes because of the thousands of artillery pieces pointed at Seoul, but until they have long-range nuclear missiles that can penetrate any missile defenses we have, North Korea is not a direct threat to America.

But also keep in mind that all of our limitations on military action that restrict what we can do fall away if North Korea attacks South Korea. Any serious military action against North Korea requires South Korea's army and territory. Be clear, if North Korea gets nuclear ICBMs, we don't need South Korean cooperation in order to launch a serious air and missile campaign against North Korea's nuclear infrastructure. But if we are talking about military responses to North Korea right now, we need South Korea.

Once South Korea is fully in should North Korea initiate fighting, our options expand. Indeed, the existence of thousands of artillery pieces (tube and rocket) aimed at Seoul that deter South Korean-initiated military action,combined with the shifting balance of power in Seoul's favor, actually propel South Korea to expand their military goals once shooting starts:

If a crisis erupts on the Korean peninsula and the North Koreans fire even a warning barrage at Seoul, I expect the South Korean army to march north of the DMZ and carve out a no-launch zone in an arc around Seoul to protect their capital and home to a quarter of the population from North Korean artillery. And if the attack is focused just on a no-launch zone, will Pyongyang unleash nukes that might be shot down and which would trigger an American nuclear retaliation?

The North Korean army will soon be too weak to even defend their territory let alone conquer South Korea.


I just don't think that the North Korean leadership really understands how bad their strategic position is relative to South Korea, Japan, and America. Who in North Korea would risk telling the truth given the price of being less than totally hard line?

I've got a bad feeling about this whole crisis. Not since 1994 have I felt that a Korean crisis could spiral to war. I'm confident that we'd win that shooting war, but what would the price be? This is why, as long as North Korea appears far from having the ability to directly attack us with nukes, I've always favored squeezing North Korea to push for their collapse. We can win without a hot war.

And then there is that worry that Iran wouldn't mind sacrificing North Korea to keep us involved with the junior member of the Axis of Evil while they finish their nuclear business. Sure, this crisis is most likely driven by internal North Korean political infighting, but Iran might stir the pot for their own purposes, hoping for a big distraction from dealing with Iran.

And with a win under our belt over North Korea, would the Obama administration be more or less likely to rest on its unanticipated laurels and fail to aggressively deal with Iran?

North Korea could be the biggest--and bloodiest--Red Herring of all.

UPDATE: Just after posting, a story (tip to Instapundit) on the problems of war.

Distracted By the Shiny Object?

Iran keeps pressing for the ability to create weapon's grade Uranium:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran has boosted its capacity to enrich uranium, another sign of anti-Western defiance by the leader seeking re-election in a vote next month.

Ahmadinejad said last month that Iran had 7,000 centrifuges at its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz in central Iran. The figure marked a significant boost from the 6,000 centrifuges announced in February. In his latest comments, reported by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency on Thursday, he did not give a specific new figure.

"Now we have more than 7,000 centrifuges and the West dare not threaten us," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying on a small radio station late Wednesday.


The Iranians highlight it, boasting of their ability to enrich Uranium. We focus on it, looking for clues that can help us calculate when Iran can enrich enough Uranium for an atomic bomb. And Iran quietly progresses on the Plutonium path, too.

But is this apparent agreement on the importance of Uranium enrichment a red herring?

The problem from Iran's point of view is that they can't know if crossing one of these lines could trigger an American or Israeli preemptive strike out of fear that further delay in attacking would be too late to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And if I was an Iranian nutball, I wouldn't assume the Americans and Israelis couldn't knock out my infrastructure.

Were I an Iranian nutball, under those circumstances, I'd want at least a few atomic warhead on hand before I announce capabilities to produce atomic weapons-grade material. Which would mean I'd have had to have bought some from either North Korea or Pakistan--or possibly even from some broke custodian of Russia's arsenal.

If Iran can announce both the ability to make nuclear bomb material and the possession of actual nuclear weapons--perhaps by detonating one in a test on their own territory--Tehran would quite possibly deter an attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

We're not dealing with idiots. If the Iranian mullahs believe there are red lines that trigger Israeli or American action, why wouldn't they take counter-actions rather than just blindly cross those lines and provide a pretext for military action against them?


Iran and North Korea have been real tight on missile technology. And North Korea was involved witht that secret reactor that Syria was building. Don't pretend that Iran didn't fund that. There is no way that Syria could afford that bauble.

And in the latest North Korean crisis, reports keep coming out that North Korea has enough nuclear material for about 6 bombs. Why does everyone seem to assume that North Korea still has all that material? Sure, we are focused on preventing that transfer. But have we been successful?

Are we simply being distracted by the Iranians over enrichment when that is merely the long-range plan for building nukes, while the short-term plan progresses secretly with efforts to just buy nuclear material? Iran has the money. And North Korea certainly needs the money.

As I've said, our enemies may be semi-nuts and dress like 1975 lounge singers, but that doesn't mean they are stupid. Don't under-estimate their ability to outwit us.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Still Trying to Take Vienna

I remain puzzled about Russia's failure to take Tbilisi in last August's brief war. The capital was open and the Russians faltered.

The Russians appear to still want Tbilisi. The question is, do they rely on increasingly aggressive protesters to effect regime change or just send in the tanks?

This isn't the first prediction of Russia's intentions toward Georgia.

I wonder if the Georgians are seriously getting ready for round two. They really can't count on being as lucky as they were last year in another war.

Misunderstood

The administration finally released the Pentagon report on released detainees from Gitmo:

The Pentagon says about 5 percent of terror suspects released from the U.S. navy prison at Guantanamo Bay so far have returned to the fight against the U.S. and its allies.

Data released Tuesday suggests that an additional 9 percent of freed Guantanamo detainees are suspected to have rejoined what the Pentagon defines as terrorist activity.


So is it that 14% of terrorists continue terrorism after imprisonment (reflecting a pretty good rate, really, of suppressing terrorist activity) or (as lunatic critics of the facility argue) is Guantanamo a facility that supposedly causes innocent poets to take up terror, yet only 14% are so driven by the constant horror of rice pilaf?

Revenge?

Why do reporters persist in this line of reporting?

A suicide squad using guns, grenades and a van packed with explosives targeted police and Pakistan's intelligence agency Wednesday, killing 30 and wounding 250 in an assault seen as revenge for the month-old army campaign against the Taliban in the Swat Valley.

The midmorning blast on a crowded street damaged an area nearly as big as a city block, mangling cars, spraying bricks in all directions and leaving behind a swimming pool-size crater. Most of the dead and injured were civilians.


Revenge? The reasoning that this must be "revenge" only follows from the fact that this time the terror attack follows Pakistani military action. The jihadis have never actually required any reason to kill innocent civilians other than their hate for non-jihadis.

Our common enemy committed their usual terror attack against innocents. Why dignify it as a response to legitimate Pakistani action to regain control of their territory?

Beyond Paranoid

The North Koreans insist that they want a pledge from us not to attack them in order to abandon nuclear efforts. Well, our pledge and lots of goodies.

But how does that outline of a deal square with their absolute paranoia?

North Korea blamed the escalating tensions in the region on Washington, saying the U.S. was building up its forces, and defended its nuclear test as a matter of self-preservation.

An editorial in the North's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, called the United States "warmongers" and said Washington's recent announcement about sending fighter planes to Japan "lay bare the sinister and dangerous scenario of the U.S. to put the Asia-Pacific region under its military control."

At the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, An Myong Han, a diplomat from the North Korean mission, said his country "could not but take additional self-defense measures including nuclear tests and the test launch of long-range missiles in order to safeguard our national interest."


It should be obvious that the North Koreans are so paranoid that even a treaty signed by President Obama using a pen dipped in the blood of our warmongers would not be enough to soothe Pyongyang enough to halt any of their nuclear efforts.

Whatever we do about North Korea, it should start with the assumption that we cannot talk them out of their nukes.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Point of Order, If I May?

I'm rather sympathetic to the frustration over attempting to deal with North Korea to end their nuclear ambitions. I tend to think there is nothing we could give North Korea to persuade them to abandon their nuclear weapons program.

But these two authors are way off in their solution, which is to abandon the six-party talks and go one-on-one to achieve a unified and friendly Korea:

If we decide to talk again, American diplomacy should expand beyond nuclear talks to begin preparing for the outcome it wants: a democratic, unified and eventually nonnuclear Korea. As Korea expert Andrei Lankov has suggested, America's new approach could include the opening of cultural, educational and economic exchanges with the North. Western experts should be encouraged to teach at North Korean universities; North Koreans should be allowed to study in the West; and the United States, Japan and South Korea should undertake cooperative economic projects in the North. The United States should also open more radio and television broadcasts from South Korea and the West. In short, Washington's diplomacy with North Korea should focus on measures that raise North Koreans' standard of living and exposure to the West. This would keep our focus on long-term strategic objectives. And who knows? Maybe a new American approach to North Korea will provide an added benefit: If China sees its prominence diminished in North Korean diplomacy, maybe it will finally have some reason to act more forcefully in disarming Kim.


I say we ask for a pony, too.

I mean, these are great goals. Don't get me wrong. I like them. But if I may be so bold, just how do we convince the North Koreans to go along? I mean, they famously dickered forever over the shape of the table to end the Korean War (well, a truce, but you get my point). Just how are we to get them to sign on to policies that we believe will lead them to become a unified and pro-American non-nuclear state?

So really, China will never face any dilemma over helping us lest we get a maximum gain at their expense because North Korea will never agree to any of this let alone the whole package.

Of course, I've long been in favor of squeezing the North Koreans until they implode, containing them and preparing to cope with either a surprise missile launch or conventional attack on Seoul. As far as I'm concerned, the talks are just a way to keep the North Koreans from striking while their military has any residual strength. Every day our side gets stronger, and until North Korea has nuclear missiles or bombs I'm fine with smiling and going through the motions of talking. Actual agreements just risk giving enough aid to put off the day of collapse beyond the day North Korea goes nuclear.

The problem is that we have to consistently isolate North Korea. Any lessening of pressure just puts off the day of collapse and makes it more likely that North Korea gets the bomb before it collapses. Yet we have had to give North Korea enough hope that they could strike gold with talks by not too openly putting the screws to them. I think we've done rather nicely so far the last 6 years or so.

Once North Korea has a nuclear weapon (and their successful test of a nuclear device does not mean they have nuclear warheads), the question must become under what circumstances do we strike North Korea's nuclear arsenal? And do we press on for regime change, too? In for a penny, in for a pound, and all that. Or can we continue to isolate them and deter them, still hoping for a collapse without a desperate nuclear launch that our missile defenses can't handle?

But if the goal is to put pressure on China, instead of this fanciful proposal, perhaps we should state that it will become our policy to help any entity that feels threatened by North Korea's nuclear arsenal to help them with both missile defense and their own nuclear deterrent. After all, if we're supposed to be so understanding of Pyongyang's fears of American attack despite 50+ years of not actually invading them despite our nuclear dominance, shouldn't the world (and China in particular) understand the worries of Japan, South Korea, Australia, and even Taiwan?

So far we've essentially shielded China from the logical consequences of their refusal to help disarm North Korea. If nuclear proliferation is going to happen despite our best efforts and China's interference, why should it stop with North Korea going nuclear?

Why not let China bear the biggest share of the resulting problem? And this path at least has the advantage of North Korea's full cooperation.

The Cure Worse Than the Disease

I'm all on board with Ralph Peters as he complains about the lies that the global left believes about Guantanamo Bay, about the allies who refuse to help us hold the monsters held at Gitmo even as they have condemned us for our supposed cruelty, and our own politicians who score points on the Left by condemning Gitmo but would never support housing the prisoners in their own district.

But I part company when it comes to his solution:


WE made one great mistake regarding Guantanamo: No terrorist should have made it that far. All but a handful of those grotesquely romanticized prisoners should have been killed on the battlefield.

The few kept alive for their intelligence value should have been interrogated secretly, then executed.


While it is true that unlawful combatants could be simply executed on the battlefield and be a violation of no laws of war, I would never make our troops executioners. It is one thing to say that we shouldn't make efforts to capture terrorists. I'm fine with that. Shoot to kill, by all means.

But if a terrorist attempts to surrender, our troops must accept that surrender. I could not ask our troops to bear that kind of burden, one that blurs the line between killing as a soldier must and murder.

We have a problem with our prisoners held at Guantanamo, one largely created by ourselves for not vigorously defending against false charges about what our own attorney general calls a well-run prison. We must not solve the problem by relying on our troops to kill them all. Who will defend our troops when photos of that mission go public? Or do you think nobody will complain or ask questions when terrorists suddenly stop flowing in to our hands?

The Gitmo prisoners are our problem. We need to man up and tell the human rights lobby to bugger off, and that we treat our prisoners just fine, thank you. Tell these punks to go investigate the jihadis if they want real human rights abuses.

UPDATE: I'm certainly not immune to expressing similar sentiments. Yet while I am all on board the idea that we should vigorously seek to kill our enemies, I was letting the frustration talk in that post when I wrote we are not obligated to take unlawful combatants prisoner. That is technically correct but it should not be our policy. I hope that in my blog as a whole I've consistently portrayed the need to fight the war with honor so our troops come home with their heads held high, knowing that they were soldiers and not executioners.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Giant Brain Speaks!

Zakaria says we don't know that Iran really wants nuclear weapons:

Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program (which could make the challenge it poses more complex). What's the evidence? Well, over the last five years, senior Iranian officials at every level have repeatedly asserted that they do not intend to build nuclear weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has quoted the regime's founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asserted that such weapons were "un-Islamic." The country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral. In a subsequent sermon, he declared that "developing, producing or stockpiling nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam." Last year Khamenei reiterated all these points after meeting with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. Now, of course, they could all be lying. But it seems odd for a regime that derives its legitimacy from its fidelity to Islam to declare constantly that these weapons are un-Islamic if it intends to develop them. It would be far shrewder to stop reminding people of Khomeini's statements and stop issuing new fatwas against nukes.


You know, for a member of the sophisticated class that keeps telling us that jihadis don't really understand Islam, so they can't be using "true" Islam as an excuse to kill us, Zakaria should exercise a little more humility in judging how Islamists can use Islam to justify nuking somebody in the name of Islam. Unless Zakaria is trying to argue that Islam is all on board supporting terrorism as Iran does in the region, from Afghanistan to Egypt, and most points in between, it would be prudent to accept that there is an Islam believed by the nuts with nuclear ambitions that sees no contradiction between Islam and killing lots of Infidels. [I fouled up this sentence originally, and corrected it.]

And unless Zakaria thinks that the experience of the Iran-Iraq War, which led Iran to start a nuclear program, has been forgotten.

And how do you explain the secret nature of much of Iran's work if they aren't seeking nuclear weapons when they could pursue peaceful nuclear energy openly under the IAEA?

I don't know about the "you" in "everything you know about Iran is wrong," but I'm positive it applies to Zakaria. Truly, I don't know what planet Zakaria lives on when it comes to anything related to radical Islam--whether Sunni or Shia. Heck, I don't know what planet he lives on when it comes to any issue touching on our defense.

Iran may not want the bomb? I'll go with Admiral Mullen on this issue:

President Barack Obama's top military adviser says Iran's objective is to obtain nuclear weapons — and that threatens the region.


Of course, I'll freely admit that Mullen lacks the nuance that Zakaria demonstrates so consistently. Gosh, and Newsweek is losing readers? Go figure.

UPDATE: Heh.

The Great Debate?

Iran's Ahmadinejad wants to debate President Obama at the UN:

Ahmadinejad said that, if re-elected, he would be open to "debate global issues as well as world peace and security" during the U.N. General Assembly in September.


To be a "debate," one side would have to take the pro-American position, no?

Given our president's tendency to preemptively apologize when meeting foreign leaders, I propose sending Cheney. Now that would be a debate.

China? Your Call

The North Koreans have successfully detonated a nuclear device:

North Korea claimed it carried out a powerful underground nuclear test Monday — much larger than one conducted in 2006 — a major provocation in the escalating international standoff over its rogue nuclear and missile programs.

The regime "successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of measures to bolster its nuclear deterrent for self-defense," the country's official Korean Central News Agency said.

Russia's Defense Ministry confirmed an atomic explosion at 9:54 a.m. (0054 GMT) in northeastern North Korea, estimating the blast's yield at 10 to 20 kilotons — comparable to the bombs that flattened Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hours later, the regime test-fired three short-range, ground-to-air missiles, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed sources. U.N. Security Council resolutions bar North Korea from engaging in any ballistic missile-related activity.


Unlike their 2006 test, this one did not "fizzle." And the missile tests (not ICBMs, yet) are clearly meant to imply that the North Koreans could launch that nuclear device. We're not there yet, however. A nuclear device is not a weapon until it can be launched at a target, either by plane or missile. Sure, a cargo container carried by ship might be the method. But that isn't the same level of threat as being able to launch a nuclear warhead on command in a matter of minutes or hours.

I hope this stiffens our resolve to isolate and squeeze North Korea until they collapse. I'm not sure if even anybody in the administration believes that we could reach out to Pyongyang as this point. North Korea wants nukes and our aid, which the Pillsbury Nuke Boy is happy to call tribute to their Daring Porcupine, or whatever he's called these days.

But remember that we aren't at the point where we need to use force. North Korea is a proliferation threat (Iran and Syria, for the most part) and only a future direct nuclear threat. We don't need to do much more in addition to squeezing North Korea a little tighter other than quicken our missile defense preparations.

The real problem is China's. We are quickly coming to the point where major nuclear-capable nations like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan will have to decide whether they wish to be under direct nuclear missile threat from North Korea. Missile defenses are the easy decisions for these countries to make. But if North Korea can threaten US citizens on US territory with nuclear missiles, all three will have to decide whether they trust our commitment to risk an American city to use our nukes in defense of South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. These three may want their own nuclear deterrent. We might face one more nation's nukes. China could face four more (The Chinese don't think that North Korea would never use nukes on China, do they?).

Taiwan, already under threat from China's nuclear (and conventional) arsenal, is perhaps the least likely of these three to make the choice specifically because of the North Korean threat, but Taiwan is really the nation already most in need of nukes. So if Japan and/or South Korea go nuclear, the Taiwanese might use North Korea as an excuse.

Heck, once the nuclear train leaves the station, who says that it stops with these three obvious clients for rapid nuclearization? Vietnam has long been under China's shadow. Indonesia might not want to be the only big country in the area without nukes. Even Australia might decide prudence requires some nukes.

China has been dorking around for years now, doing too little to smack down North Korea, enjoying the discomfort their little psycho client state inflicts on us. This despite the fact that a nuclear North Korea has repercussions far greater for China than for us.

The focus has been on President Obama. But our course is already set--squeeze and contain North Korea (including the Non-Proliferation Initiative to stop smuggling of nuclear technology). We just need to do both more vigorously. In all the talk of North Korean nuclear ambitions forcing a choice on military action, remember that China reaches that decision point long before we do.

So China, what's your call? The phone line is there, after all.

UPDATE: On the proliferation question, James Robbins in the corner reminds me that I should be more clear--I wonder how much of North Korea's nuclear program is Iran's program, paid for by Iran's dollars. We think we know that Iran's nuclear ambitions require Iran to enrich Uranium on their own. Why do we think this is the only track?

Remember

Saturday, May 23, 2009

War of Attrition

Well, I can't say the Pakistanis aren't fighting the jihadis. They seem to be persisting in their offensive:


Pakistani security forces have entered the main town in a northwestern Taliban stronghold, engaging in fierce street battles Saturday as they tried to wrench the Swat Valley from militants, the army said.

Capturing Mingora town is critical to Pakistani efforts to regain the valley and prevent it from being a safe haven for insurgents who threaten the nuclear-armed Muslim nation's stability. It also could prove a major test for a military more geared toward conventional warfare on plains than bloody urban warfare.

The military operation has strong support from Washington, which wants Pakistan to root out insurgents who are using hide-outs in the northwest to plan attacks on U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan. For now, it appears to have broad public support in Pakistan as well.


We need Pakistan to control their jihadis to keep Pakistan friendly. And we need them to complement our surge of troops in Afghanistan.

Up to now, the Pakistanis haven't had the stomach to persist long enough to defeat the jihadis. The government always cut a deal that let the jihadis consolidate their gains.

And after those failures, the jihadis have made advances. The result is that defeating the jihadis requires much more Pakistani persistence.

The Pakistanis clearly have more determination (bolstered by our cash bribe). But has it increased enough for the much tougher job they face? I'm not optmistic. And until the Pakistanis stop seeing India as their main military threat rather than their own jihadis, my optimism won't increase much.

Hypocrisy Beats Stupidity

Krauthammer notes, as others have, how President Obama continues to adopt Bush security policies even as the president bashes Bush for leaving him "a mess":

Observers of all political stripes are stunned by how much of the Bush national security agenda is being adopted by this new Democratic government. Victor Davis Hanson (National Review) offers a partial list: "The Patriot Act, wiretaps, e-mail intercepts, military tribunals, Predator drone attacks, Iraq (i.e., slowing the withdrawal), Afghanistan (i.e., the surge) -- and now Guantanamo."

Jack Goldsmith (The New Republic) adds: rendition -- turning over terrorists seized abroad to foreign countries; state secrets -- claiming them in court to quash legal proceedings on rendition and other erstwhile barbarisms; and the denial of habeas corpus -- to detainees in Afghanistan's Bagram prison, indistinguishable logically and morally from Guantanamo.

What does it all mean? Democratic hypocrisy and demagoguery? Sure, but in Washington, opportunism and cynicism are hardly news.

There is something much larger at play -- an undeniable, irresistible national interest that, in the end, beyond the cheap politics, asserts itself. The urgencies and necessities of the actual post-9/11 world, as opposed to the fanciful world of the opposition politician, present a rather narrow range of acceptable alternatives.

Among them: reviving the tradition of military tribunals, used historically by George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Winfield Scott, Abraham Lincoln, Arthur MacArthur and Franklin Roosevelt. And inventing Guantanamo -- accessible, secure, offshore and nicely symbolic (the tradition of island exile for those outside the pale of civilization is a venerable one) -- a quite brilliant choice for the placement of terrorists, some of whom, the Bush administration immediately understood, would have to be detained without trial in a war that could be endless.

The genius of democracy is that the rotation of power forces the opposition to come to its senses when it takes over. When the new guys, brought to power by popular will, then adopt the policies of the old guys, a national consensus is forged and a new legitimacy established.

That's happening before our eyes. The Bush policies in the war on terror won't have to await vindication by historians. Obama is doing it day by day. His denials mean nothing. Look at his deeds.


It is clear that domestic issues take priority with this president. To be fair, President Bush initially thought the same thing. But 9/11 made Bush a war president and that is how he governed. Which makes it hardly surprising that President Obama seems to barely notice we are at war. It is a distraction. So our president makes cosmetic changes trumpeted by fine speechifying to hide the insignificance of his changes that make "bad" national security policies "good," in order to get on with his aggressive domestic agenda.

In one sense, this slight of hand is bound to be frustrating for many on the right. Surely it would be more satisfying to see President Obama really smash the Bush security and defense policies so he could bear clear responsibility for failing to defend us. Then the call to replace the president in four years would be clear, based on narrow-minded partisan stupidity.

Under the current circumstances, it is also frustrating to see a tamed press corps that trumpeted all of the Bush policies as shredding our Constitution now not say a word against the newly "good" old policies.

All this is frustrating, to be sure. But given the threats we face, I'll settle for a president who is a hypocrite over our defense and security policies rather than stupid. And I'll take a press corps that will back our policies now, regardless of the hypocrisy of their mental gymnastics. Would we really be happy if our president refused to fight our war in deed as well as words? Would we really like it if our press corps elites continued to hammer our war effort?

For me, the answer is easy. No. I'd rather have a president who I didn't vote for wage war rather than have a president who in deed and word justifies my vote against him. This is America's war and not just Obama's war, no more than it was just Bush's war. I want to win. I may be distressed that large segments of the opposition did not feel that way under Bush, but acting as they did under Bush would be dishonorable. I may not expect much from them, but I expect more from my side.

Remember, much of our Obama-friendly press will die off from failing to keep readers (and not all of them can get jobs in the Obama administration); and our president will eventually leave office, in 4 to 8 years. But the Long War will remain to be fought. The Left will always oppose that fight, but both parties now have the history of being on board the fight.

Still, our president does not take the war seriously. He goes through the motions by closely following many past policies, but his heart isn't in it. And this will be communicated to those who must fight the war. Many will not risk being thrown under the bus for being too aggressive in defending us. Perhaps not enough to spell disaster, but over time how can any relaxation of effort fail to be exploited by our jihadi enemies?

I wonder what horrifying event will make President Obama a war president.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Self Inflicted Wound

The world expects, and our administration intends, for America to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities where we hold terrorists nabbed in the Long War. And why are we doing this?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Obama administration had no choice but to order the shutdown of the prison at Guantanamo because "the name itself is a condemnation" of U.S. anti-terrorism strategy.

In an interview broadcast Friday on NBC's "Today" show, Gates called the facility on the island of Cuba "probably one of the finest prisons in the world today." But at the same time, he said it had become "a taint" on the reputation of America.


A "taint." Indeed, President Obama said in his speech on the topic that the image of the prison helped enemy recruiting. But the facility is one of the finest in the world. So why the taint? Why is the image so bad?

Why? Because of the constant drumbeat of lies about the facility that the global Left has mounted on it:

... the aggressive and unending efforts of a cadre of lawyers, activists, left-leaning Democrats in Congress, and civil libertarians against the facility, its purpose, its goal, and its existence. These efforts began even before it was opened, in November 2001, and continue to this day. The anti-Gitmo forces worked tirelessly to shape the public perception that Gitmo was the red-hot center of an aggressive policy approach that led the leftist financier George Soros to declare: “The biggest terrorist in the world is George W. Bush.”


I fault the Bush administration for failing to rebut this campaign of lies. But the Bush administration was awful on communications even as it was stalwart in defending our nation despite the poor press it got. So despite the facility's actual quality and the need we have to hold the prisoners held in Guantanamo, President Obama is committed to closing it. Well, eventually, if they can figure out what to do with the poor poet Pashtuns we just happen to have swept up (ignoring that only a tiny fraction of the men we "swept up" ever made it to Gitmo).

So we will hold the terrorists somewhere. And wherever we hold the terrorists, the global Left will protest and allege inhuman conditions and torture. Because ultimately, the campaign against Guantanamo Bay was never about Guanatano Bay or even the fate of the prisoners, or even about bashing President Bush, but a tool to bash America.

Dress for Success

Some soldiers are just too eager to kill the enemy:


An Associated Press picture of a soldier in his pink boxers has become an iconic image of the war in Afghanistan, but at the moment it was taken, wardrobe was the last thing on the minds of the fighter and photographer. ...

U.S. Army Specialist Zachary Boyd leapt from his sleeping quarters and grabbed his helmet, vest and rifle — but not his pants — and took his station behind sandbags.

Guttenfelder's photo made newspaper front pages the next day, including The New York Times and Boyd's hometown Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas. It elicited an immediate smile, but also symbolized the dedication of those fighting in Afghanistan. It put a human face, or backside, on what can seem an anonymous conflict.


This is shocking. Didn't anybody in command explain to Specialist Boyd that the afternoon's Taliban ass-kicking was a formal affair?

I'm sorry that Boyd was worried that he might get in trouble taking his place on the line. Any uniform is the uniform of the day for killing enemies.

I'd salute Specialist Boyd if he didn't work for a living.

Dual-Tasked Carriers

I'm concerned that our huge super carriers are just going to be expensive targets in a network-centric world.

But perhaps carriers can evolve away from the ultimate in platform-centric warfare. This might point the way:

Late last year, the U.S. Navy rolled out its first combat UAV (or UCAS, for Joint Unmanned Combat Aerial System). This was part of a six year long, $636 million contract to build and test two X-47B UAVs. The test program calls for first flight this year and first carrier landing next year. The 15 ton X-47B has a wingspan of 62 feet (whose outer 15 foot portions fold up to save space on the carrier). It carries a two ton payload and be able to stay in the air for twelve hours.


UCAS could deploy on smaller carriers than our super carriers. Already, I've written that our amphibious warfare ships could double as light carriers. UCAS make this role bigger than the vertical takeoff F-35 does.

And while I had my doubts about 60,000-ton carriers instead of our super carriers, given the steep drop off in performance for the smaller carrier, UCAS instead of larger manned aircraft could make the smaller carrier just as potent a strike platform as the super carrier with manned aircraft.

I still have grave doubts about the long-term survivability of even medium-sized carriers as the centerpiece of our fleet when a naval network will make it possible to mass missile strikes from widely scattered platforms.

But existing amphibious carriers that can double as light strike carriers and future medium strike carriers that can double as large amphibious carriers could be a little insurance during the gray area of time betweent the supremacy of the platform-centric era super carriers and the network-centric era where widely scattered land-based, surface, submerged, and aerial weapons can be concentrated against any target without exposing a single valuable asset to the enemy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Reaching Iran

Stratfor says Israel would have to go through US-controlled airspace in Iraq to attack Iran:

Israel would have a great deal of difficulty attacking Iranian facilities with non-nuclear forces. A multitarget campaign 1,000 miles away against an enemy with some air defenses could be a long and complex operation. Such a raid would require a long trip through U.S.-controlled airspace for the fairly small Israeli air force. Israel could use cruise missiles, but the tonnage of high explosive delivered by a cruise missile cannot penetrate even moderately hardened structures; the same is true for ICBMs carrying conventional warheads. Israel would have to notify the United States of its intentions because it would be passing through Iraqi airspace — and because U.S. technical intelligence would know what it was up to before Israeli aircraft even took off. The idea that Israel might consider attacking Iran without informing Washington is therefore absurd on the surface. Even so, the story has surfaced yet again in an Israeli newspaper in a virtual carbon copy of stories published more than a year ago.


I don't know about that. Going around Iraq doesn't seem that much longer.

Yes, as Stratfor says, Israel could not simply do this without informing us, given all our assets in the area. But while deconflicting with proper codes would make Israel's job easier, I don't think it is necessary. Israel surely must inform us they are coming. But more than that is not vital if Israel believes their security is at stake.

And ballistic and cruise missiles are not well suited to taking out most of Iran's nuclear facilities. I'm assuming that not all targets are hardened, however, so missiles could be used on some. But I could be way off on that assumption.

Israel has had many years to work on the problem of targetting Iran. I think they've worked on the problem.

A Neat and Easy Answer

President Obama is determined to close our Guantanamo Bay detention facility in the face of European and Leftist criticism at home:

President Barack Obama forcefully defended his plans to close the Guantanamo detention camp Thursday and said some of the terror suspects held there would be brought to top-security prisons in the United States despite fierce opposition in Congress.

He spoke one day after the Senate voted resoundingly to deny him money to close the prison, and he decried "fear-mongering" that he said had led to such opposition.

He insisted the transfer would not endanger Americans and promised to work with lawmakers to develop a system for holding detainees who can't be tried and can't be turned loose from the Navy-run prison in Cuba.

"There are no neat or easy answers here," Obama said in a speech in which he pledged anew to clean up what he said was "quite simply a mess" at Guantanamo that he had inherited from the Bush administration.

The whining by our president is getting tiresome. Given the number of Bush-era security policies that President Obama has wisely continued, you'd think a little humility would be in order on judging yet another Bush-era policy.

Quite simply a mess? Funny, that's not what his attorney general said:

Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday the Guantanamo detention center is a well-run, professional facility that will be difficult to close — but he's still going to do it.


As for fear mongering, since we will be holding many of the little darlings even after the president closes Guantanamo Bay, perhaps the record of those we've released might warrant--not fear--but caution. But the president doesn't want us to see that report on the number of detainees who have returned to the fight.

The president also advised that our prisons would be tough enough to hold the jihadis from Guantanamo Bay. And that is why the global Left will only pause to take a deep breath after Gitmo is closed in order to continue screaming about whatever prison we use to hold the jihadis.

If even a "well-run, professional facility" that has already let go scores of jihadis who continue to wage war on us can attract Leftist rage, does anybody with a functioning brain stem really believe the Hope and Change Detention Facility will be viewed as anything but President Obama's very own gulag?

Closing the Cuba facility is seen by our president as a neat and easy answer to the problem of responding to unhinged criticism of Guantanamo Bay. He is mistaken.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Flights of Fancy

Taiwan's president says peace talks won't happen until China removes their ballistic missiles that threaten Taiwan:

Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou said any peace talks with China would take place after the mainland removes short-range missiles based across from the island.


It remains unclear to me why any Taiwanese would believe "peace talks" are anything other than arranging the terms of surrender to China. But Taiwanese public opinion seems odd, to say the least.

More to the point, the Taiwanese must not accept a reduction in the missiles rather than complete removal from launch range. Remember, China's war plans will not rely on a simple salvo of all of their missiles in the first minute of war. There is some fraction of the total that will allow China to begin an invasion while other missiles are brought forward for the second and subsequent waves of missile attacks.

But I suspect that Ma will take any reduction offered by China as progress and press forward with meaningless talks.

China wants Taiwan. What is there to discuss?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Build a Friggin' Tank!

In our quest to replace our M-1 Abrams tank, I have never understand why we shrank from building an actual main battle tank as the replacement.

The Army is under orders to reconsider the Future Combat Systems program to replace our heavy armor:

The Army said yesterday that it plans to restructure its $160 billion weapons modernization program, known as Future Combat Systems, marking a major shift in one of the Pentagon's most closely watched and expensive projects.

In the most significant change, the Army said that it will outfit all 73 of its combat brigades with the high-tech equipment developed under the program, rather than the 15 brigades it had originally projected.

The Army also said it will cancel $87 billion worth of light armored ground vehicles following a recommendation by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. The vehicles, which were intended to replace Bradley Fighting Vehicles and tanks, would have relied on improved surveillance technology to compensate for their lack of heavy armor.


The idea that we don't need armor because we'll shoot first--every time--has never made sense to me. I've long been critical of the FCS as a replacement for the Abrams and Bradley.

As far as building something between heavy armor and leg infantry, I think our Strykers (and their variants) are just fine. Why build another light--and very expensive--armored vehicle?

We need another heavy tank. Although perhaps we already have it.

The Innocence Project

I don't understand why the Left, in its eagerness to undermine the justness of the Iraq War, insists that Saddam Hussein had no dealings with al Qaeda. They both hated America and it would be illogical to assume no contacts. And there were contacts:

Maddow and Wilkerson operate under the premise that there was no evidence linking the fallen Iraqi regime to al Qaeda. We can debate the extent of the relationship and what should have been done about it. But the claim that there was no evidence of a relationship at all and, therefore, it needed to be generated exclusively through torture is false.

The fact of the matter is that the U.S. Intelligence Community had collected evidence of a relationship for years. For example, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet has written that there was “more than enough evidence” of a relationship. The relationship was even mentioned in the Clinton administration’s original indictment of al Qaeda in 1998. Foreign and American press outlets reported on the relationship years before the Bush administration made the case. Most importantly, the Iraqi regime’s own documents illustrate that it had a noteworthy relationship with al Qaeda and al Qaeda’s affiliates.

There are, quite simply, dozens upon dozens of pieces of evidence. And I’m sure that high-value detainees were asked about these pieces of evidence. It would have been negligent not to have done so.


It helps to remind people of this. I know much of the Left only hears "Saddam had no role in 9/11, how dare you say that!" But I've never said that, and saying they had contacts does not mean that Saddam had a role in 9/11.

Saddam was evil. He dealt with evil people--al Qaeda included. Why is this so hard to digest?

No More Mr. Nice Guy

The North Koreans have rather emphatically signalled the end of their policy of reaching out (such as it was) to South Korea:

North Korea executed its pointman on South Korea last year, holding him responsible for wrong predictions about Seoul's new conservative government that has ditched a decade of engagement policy toward Pyongyang, sources said Monday.

Choe Sung-chol, who as vice chairman of the North's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee had pushed for bold reconciliation with Seoul's previous liberal governments, disappeared from public sight early last year amid reports that he was fired.


That's fine. I'd rather squeeze the North Koreans and contain them until they implode.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mission Accomplished--Finally

The Sri Lankans have announced the end of their long war, with the defeat of the cornered remnants of the Tamil Tigers and the death of their charismatic leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

For those who insist the Iraq War post-Saddam fight was a near-debacle that we've only won because we gambled, reflect on what a real civil war looked like:

Full-fledged war broke out in 1983 after the rebels killed 13 soldiers in an ambush, sparking anti-Tamil riots that human rights groups say killed as many as 2,000 people.

At the height of his power, Prabhakaran controlled a virtual country in the north that had its own border control, police force, tax system and law school. He commanded a rebel army of thousands backed by artillery, a navy and a nascent air force.


The Tigers also pioneered suicide bombers. Their troops, though outnumbered, were superior to the Sri Lankan troops. And the Sri Lankan army, surely inferior to Iraq's current army, did not have a powerful ally to help them (India helped for a short time, however, despite Indian Tamil sympathy for their brethren on Sri Lanka and initial help for the LTTE, losing 1,200 dead in the process) and basically had to win on their own.

The idea that our war in Iraq was unwinnable was always laughable:

When we look back at this war, will we really think that a 5-year struggle with casualties well under Vietnam rates was difficult in historical terms? I'm not dismissing over 4,000 American deaths, mind you. But these deaths did not prevent Americans from sustaining an all-volunteer military to wage it. Further, the Baathists, representing at most 20% of the Iraqi population, were actually defeated by the end of 2003. Who believed such a minority could not eventually be defeated?


In retrospect, we've beaten our multiple enemies inside Iraq in a very short time period indeed.

And I'd be surprised if the Sri Lankan war is really over. The civil war is over, to be sure, with the conquest of the last Tiger territory. Pure terror and insurgency could last for years more. Much depends on how much the Tamils leaned on the leadership of their dead LTTE commander. And it depends on how well the government can reach out to those Tamils unhappy but currently unwilling to fight or support resistance.

If Prabhakaran was as key as the press is saying, the war might really be over. But I'd be surprised. Wait a few months to see if the broken LTTE remnants regroup and initiate low-level resistance.

Mission to Be Accomplished

After sixty years of Chinese hostility toward Taiwan, one year of a Peking charm offensive has persuaded most Taiwanese of Chinese good intentions:


A record number of Taiwanese believe traditional rival China is friendly towards the self-ruled island and half do not believe closer ties hurt Taiwan's sovereignty, a survey showed Monday.

Nearly 57 percent of the 1,007 people questioned in a China Times poll last week said China was friendly towards Taiwan -- the highest number recorded by the daily.

A total of 15.7 percent considered China hostile while the rest had no comment.


If this poll is to be believed, China is rapidly gaining the ability to take Taiwan by surprise with a bolt from the blue invasion:


The real problem for Taiwan is that Taiwan's belief that China is all warm and fuzzy now will dull their reaction to early signs of being attacked. Remember, gaining the element of surprise doesn't just mean hiding what you are doing from an enemy. It is in large measure manipulating the information so that your enemy believes they see what you want the enemy to see. The Taiwanese government could easily dismiss early ambiguous signals of a coming Chinese attack because the Taiwanese leaders fervently want to believe that their wise policy has ended the Chinese threat, and so reacting with even prudent defensive measures would jeapordize the thawing relations.


The people of Taiwan clearly want to be fooled. In the short run it is comforting.

It is chilling how an entire people can believe soothing words erase the hard realities of the world.

Whoa. We were talking about Taiwan, right?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Allies Uncomfortable With Bush Diplomacy

The April 25 issue of The Economist has an article noting the failed North Korean inter-continental missile launches and nuclear test.

There is, the article says (my typing from the print edition), a bright side for President Obama and our allies:

So North Korea remains a rogue state with an alarming nuclear programme rather than being a nuclear power in its own right.Mr Obama's North Korean policy is unformulated, and his foreign-policy and security team incomplete. But the clearer the shortcomings of the North's nuclear programmes, the less Mr Obama will be inclined to rush like his predecessor into deals that quickly unravel. That will reassure South Korea and Japan, which despaired that Mr Bush's negotiations sometimes allowed North Korea to drive a wedge between America and its allies.


The horror! The loyal opposition wanted us to engage North Korea directly even as our allies were worried that our diplomacy might, by dealing with North Korea directly, disregard our allies!

So by having no plan to do anything unilaterally about North Korea, we at least won't worry our allies. Which is fine by me. I just want North Korea to quietly die.

The article also proposes to continue the six-party talks whether North Korea is there or not. We have no joint 5-party plans for North Korea's collapse (I assume the specificity means each of us has plans on our own or join plans with our allies), so this topic could be the subject for our meetings.

Which is also fine. We might have to partition North Korea since nobody wants the other side to have all of North Korea, with the other side's forces either on the Yalu or overlooking Seoul (and closer to Japan).

Seriously, Torch the Horn

Al Qaeda is again ready to take parts of Somalia over and turn it into a new sanctuary:

A week of fierce mortar and gun battles in Mogadishu has left the president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, in control of little more than the presidential palace, airport and docks.

More than 135 people have died and 34,000 have fled their homes in the city, leading to warnings from Western security agencies that al-Qaeda could regain a key strategic toehold on the Horn of Africa.

The threat to the government, which assumed office only in December, is spearheaded by the al-Shabaab movement, which is backed by Eritrea and aligned to al-Qaeda. An increasing number of foreign Islamic radicals have joined the battle against Sheikh Sharif's forces, which are backed by 4,300 African Union peacekeepers.

"It is perhaps dangerous to overblow the current threat of al-Qaeda in Somalia, but if the government falls, then it's pretty clear the door is that much more wide open," said a Western diplomat in Nairobi.


The last time we faced this situation, Ethiopia stepped up. Ethiopia withdrew (honestly, they stayed far longer than I thought they would) and probably isn't up to returning.

So it could be up to us. I wonder if Somalia could be the first war theater really initiated by the Obama administration. It would be useful, as I've written before.

Grant Me That This is Funny

The Obama administration is going to continue the tribunal system for captured terrorists. The Obama administration insists the reforms meaningfully change the system from "bad" to "good."

Un huh:

At least some people in the White House must now be embarrassed by their boss's switcheroo, though you can't tell from Friday's declaration. Part of the tribunal face-lift is that "the accused will have greater latitude in selecting their counsel." Say what? Enemy combatants already have better access to attorneys -- white shoe and pro bono, no less -- than nearly every criminal defendant in America. Perhaps this means Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, 90 Yemenis and the rest will now be able to choose lawyers from both Shearman & Sterling and Covington & Burling, instead of one or the other.

Another red herring is supposedly tightening the admissibility of hearsay evidence. Tribunal judges already have discretion to limit such evidence, and the current rules are nearly indistinguishable from those of the International Criminal Court. The sensible exceptions involve evidence obtained under combat conditions or from foreign intelligence services, which are left untouched by Mr. Obama's nips and tucks.


If these tribunals are so different from the Bush-era trials, why are the so-called human rights activist so unhappy and why are conservatives congratulating President Obama for doing the right thing?

This has been fun!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Heal the Wounded

One problem with repeated deployments is the increased chance of PTSD or lesser emotional or psychological problems. These are combat wounds but there is still a stigma within the military to seeking help:

A military culture that values strength and a "can do" spirit is discouraging thousands of soldiers from seeking help to heal the emotional scars of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite top-level efforts to overcome the stigma, commanders and veterans say.

Up to one-fifth of the more than 1.7 million military members who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are believed to have symptoms of anxiety, depression and other emotional problems. Some studies show that about half of those who need help do not seek it.


We want to retain the values of strength and the "can do" spirit, but we also have to make sure that troops understand that wounds can take many forms, and that it is important to treat PTSD and lesser injuries that impair a troop's ability to function.

I don't think that it is right to give the Purple Heart--a medal for physical wounds--since it is too difficult to determine a wound. Perhaps one day the standards for detection will be more rigorous, but for now I think it opens up more problems than it solves. That step is not necessary to treat PTSD as a wound.

Nobody would come home with a bleeding wound without seeking help. We need to make sure that all wounds are treated, and those who are wounded and seeking help are respected as those who sacrificed their health for their country.

The Disbanding Issue

I've been consistent in my view on the controversy over disbanding the Iraqi army after we defeated the Saddam regime. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, for just some of the most recent.)

My view was that disbanding it was a pure formality since it disintegrated. It wasn't there to retain. My assumption was that we were trying to get some commanders to defect with their units, but that did not happen.

Second, given the role of the army in repressing the Shias and Kurds, we had to get rid of the Baathist-led army to end the rumors that we weren't liberating Iraq but just trying to put in our own Sunni Arab strongman.

Finally, the events of spring 2004 showed why it was good we did not have the old army around. The new Iraqi security forces broke apart (about half) in the dual jihadi/Sadrist offensive. Can you imagine what would have happened if "former" Baathist-led units were faced with the same situation? They would have defected and fought us. It would have been our own Sepoy Mutiny right there.

So when this RAND study on the Coalition Provisional Authority came out, I went right to the "Disbanding the Army" section, starting on page 52.

So what does the RAND study say, or what can I conclude from the piece?

--The pre-war plan, despite considerable worries about doing this, was to retain some of the old army, but to reduce it in size and retrain it from forme Baathist idelogical identity.

--In the end, the Iraqi army "self demobilized" and there were "no organized Iraqi miltary unit left."

--Some believed despite the disintegration, that we could recall a significant fraction of the old army and they'd respond.

--Even if we could reconsititute the units, they'd have to be retrained (too many Sunni Baathist officers).

--Recalling the old army would have been a terrible signal to the Shias that the old order was just being rearranged, since the old army, as a pre-war State Department study stated, "has been made into a tool of dictatorship." As noted, despite these worries the original plan was to retain some of the old army.

--The bases were so looted that there was no place to station any units.

--Any scheme to use the old army for security required a benign security environment and not the insurgency and terror campaigns that began in fall 2003. Indeed, our plans for a new army planned initially to slowly build a small army focused on conventional defense from foreign threats, using as much of the former personnel as we could. In the summer of 2003, we started forming light infantry units for internal security, the Iraq Civil Defense Corps (I will note, apart from the text, that later this was renamed the National Guard and it was eventually absorbed into the army when we finally decided the army needed to be focused on internal threats). Indeed, even our building plan assumed a benign security environment (which I will note was not unreasonable given the rapid collapse of Baathist resistance and the assumption that Syria and Iran were too scared to fuel violence in Iraq).

--The Iraqi army was so top-heavy with officers (Baathists) that there was no way to use even a fraction of them in a new or reconstituted army.

--We did pay stipends to the former army personnel but it was not announced until a month after the disbanding order and getting the funds out took another month. The question is whether this delay, coupled with not wanting their immediate service, caused them to join the insurgency that developed. I think it is silly to say that Saddam's loyalists would have willingly accepted Shia rule but for the lack of small stipends.

--During the First Battle of Fallujah in spring 2004, one of the new Iraqi army battalions refused to fight other Iraqis when ordered to support our Marine attack. We ended up dismissing a number of troops and replacing a number of leaders. How would an army of Baathists have done better than a new army unit? (Note that it took this enemy offensive where Baathists allied with foreign jihadis to finally get the majority of Shias--except those supporting Sadr--to really side with us and be willing to fight at our side against the real foreign invaders--al Qaeda. This also planted the seeds to get Sunnis to switch to our side, though that took nearly three years more to sprout in the Sunni Awakening.)

So my conclusion remains that the army was gone and disbanding it was a pure formality; maybe we could have recalled some personnel; there was no place to put any army at first whether retained or built; any security force--whether new or retained--would have been so fragile in the early years that it required a benign security environment to function, meaning there was no way to avoid the need for our forces to take the lead in fighting our enemies; and retaining former Baathist officers would have made it more difficult to get the Shias to side with us.

I simply don't understand why it is still a widely held assumption by so many, either for or against the war, that "disbanding" the Iraqi army after the fall of Baghdad was our biggest mistake in the war.

Continuing the War

While the war is basically won, there are terrorist elements being supported from abroad that continue the terrorism.

We are working on the rat line from inside Iraq:

A joint U.S.-Iraqi force targeted an al-Qaida cell involved in funneling arms and weapons into Iraq from Syria, arresting three people near the troubled northern city of Mosul, the U.S. military said Saturday.

The statement said the cell is led by the Syria-based Abu Khalaf, whose assets were frozen by the U.S. Treasury department on Thursday for his involvement in the flow of money, weapons and militants through Syria into Iraq.

The operation took place in the village of Tal al-Hawa, 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Mosul.

"The combined force was led to a residence where they captured three of Abu Khalaf's associates," according to the statement. It added that one of the men was wanted by the Iraqis in connection with car bombings.

Another suspected member of Al-Qaida in Iraq was arrested in Mosul itself. The operations took place on Friday and Saturday.

Mosul, described as the last urban stronghold in Iraq of al-Qaida, has been the scene of a flurry of operations ahead of a June deadline for U.S. forces to pull out of the country's cities.


The Iraqis need to step up. But it is understandable that they--and we--worry about their ability given the help we've given up until now.

But the Iraqis have the advantage that the enemy is knocked down and mostly localized now. Iraq should be able to handle the job with our logistics and other support.

Friday, May 15, 2009

If We Sink, We're Innocent?

Krauthammer usefully reminds us about the central fact of the so-called torture debate regarding waterboarding:

The fact that Pelosi (and her intelligence aide) and then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss and dozens of other members of Congress knew about the enhanced interrogation and said nothing, and did nothing to cut off the funding, tells us something very important.

Our jurisprudence has the "reasonable man" standard. A jury is asked to consider what a reasonable person would do under certain urgent circumstances.

On the morality of waterboarding and other "torture," Pelosi and other senior and expert members of Congress represented their colleagues, and indeed the entire American people, in rendering the reasonable person verdict. What did they do? They gave tacit approval. In fact, according to Goss, they offered encouragement. Given the circumstances, they clearly deemed the interrogations warranted.

Moreover, the circle of approval was wider than that. As Slate's Jacob Weisberg points out, those favoring harsh interrogation at the time included Alan Dershowitz, Mark Bowden and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter. In November 2001, Alter suggested we consider "transferring some suspects to our less squeamish allies" (i.e., those that torture). And, as Weisberg notes, these were just the liberals.


So harsh interrogation methods were acceptable to some who now say waterboarding is a crime. If waterboarding was torture, why did all these people say nothing when they learned of it? Don't seriously tell me that you believe it is a justification to now say that the people doing the so-called torture told the Congress members and staff that it was against the rules to not talk about it--and obeying the torturers' rules trumped exposing human rights violations of those same people! I thought we established long ago that just following orders is no defense. Either those leaders and writers screaming now are guilty of supporting torture or they are wrong to claim what we did was torture.

No, these people who now scream about torture thought what we did was acceptable.

Look, I don't think we should torture except in extreme conditions. And that is a proper debate. So too is the debate over what is torture and what is harsh or even just unpleasant. I don't think waterboarding is torture, as unpleasant and scary as it is. Looking at a nude photos of Jeanine Garafalo would be unpleasant and scary to me (who am I kidding, just listening to her is that)--but who would consider that torture? And it is even a proper debate to decide what we are willing to do or not do to get information, whether those methods are torture, harsh, or unpleasant. We don't need to decide waterboarding--or any other method--is actually torture to outlaw it.

If you want to say that what was once acceptable under the circumstances of the time following 9/11 is now unacceptable, that is a reasonable decision to make if you want. But realize that the risk of another terrorist attack goes up if we do so. You may think that another crater in an American city is a small price to pay to uphold that view, but it is a risk. And yes, even that is a legitimate point of debate.

But focusing our debate on defining waterboarding as torture is for one purpose only, to punish the former administration for doing what was once viewed as acceptable. The Left, dragging elements of Congressional leadership along, is on a witch hunt to prosecute Bush administration officials with no interest in any debate over how best to protect us from our enemies and uphold our standards, and how to resolve those two objectives in cases where they conflict.

Lunge Worthy

I've noted that Australian defense build-up plan. I figured the surface warfare elements were best suited to leverage allied help.

This article argues that the entire force is really designed to leverage our help against China:

But the even greater development that appears to be driving Force 2030 is not be the rise of China, but the potential decline of U.S. military primacy. For decades, the U.S. military has been responsible for maintaining an uncontested order in the Asia-Pacific that has served to greatly benefit Australia. The decline of American primacy in the coming decades would jeopardize Australia's security by fueling strategic competition amongst the economically charged powers of the region.

While Force 2030 concludes "the United States will remain the most powerful and influential strategic actor over the period to 2030," it is concerned that American power may become too stretched as it seeks to content with emerging events, further constraining its ability to respond. "This is likely to cause the United States to seek active assistance from regional allies and partners, including Australia, in crises, or more generally in the maintenance of stable regional security arrangements."

Perhaps drawing on the lessons of Australia's inaction during the decline of British hegemony, Force 2030 seeks to build a force that will enhance Australia's capacity to contribute to U.S.-led operations, while also granting the nation the ability to operate more independently if it needs to.


Eventually this will be true although in the shorter run, the aircraft and subs would be a potent threat to a moderate-sized force approaching the shores of Austalia.

It is disturbing that the Australians seem to assume we will need a little encouragement to help them in the face of a future Chinese threat (although I wish the Taiwanese had a little more of that attitude). In the early days of World War II, we spent much of our limited resources to safeguard the line of communication to Australia. The Australians clearly worry about being on their own, with India not getting strong enough fast enough to help and America weakening enough to lose the ability to help easily.

I think they are right to think this way, sad to say, but we need to be careful that our "ten year rule" on defense spending doesn't reduce our power so much that it discourages our allies and potential allies from arming up to resist the rising regional power. If we are strong enough, we become the glue that welds the power of many nations together to resist Chinese ambitions. In this situation, it makes sense for smaller countries to spend on defenses that alone are insufficient but in concert with allies led by America, are enough to blunt Chinese aggression.

At some point, however, if our power continues to decline relative to China, worries among our allies and potential allies over Chinese power and our ability to resist it in the western Pacific could lead some of these nations to decide the safest--and cheapest, since they can't afford on their own a military capable of resisting China--option is Cold War Finlandization. American sufficiency in miltiary strength suddenly becomes grossly deficient, when stripped of allies.

If that happens, and our western Pacific allies check out of our alliance system, we'll be pushed back to the mid-Pacific as the relative power balance swings far faster than the bilateral Chinese-American balance would seem to indicate.

October Surprise

Iran has until October to show progress in curtailing their nuclear weapons ambitions, cease supporting violence in Iraq, and cease supporting violence in Afghanistan:

The Obama administration and its European allies are setting a target of early October to determine whether engagement with Iran is making progress or should lead to sanctions, said senior officials briefed on the policy.

They also are developing specific benchmarks to gauge Iranian behavior. Those include whether Tehran is willing to let United Nations monitors make snap inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities that are now off-limits, and whether it will agree to a "freeze for freeze" -- halting uranium enrichment in return for holding off on new economic sanctions -- as a precursor to formal negotiations.

The moves are partly driven by concerns in Israel and among Washington's Arab allies that Tehran could drag out negotiations indefinitely while advancing its nuclear program, the officials said.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have stressed that U.S. overtures toward Tehran won't be open-ended. The administration is committed to testing Tehran's willingness to cooperate on the nuclear issue and on related efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and Iraq.


Whew! Less than five months to get all that? Honestly, I'll be surprised if this works.

One possibility is that Iran will make minimal moves at the end of September that fail to even approach the benchmarks, but the administration will insist this is enough hope of change to continue that path.

Or, the Iranians will show their utter contempt for our latest deadline and just blow us off.

Or, the "strong" sanctions will be to ban the Iranians from sending a delegation to the Tennessee Pork Festival in 2010.

The surprise will be if we then take serious action.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Exodus? From Where?

This article reports that Christians are fleeing Iraq in greater numbers since the toppling of Saddam:

Iraq has lost more than half the Christians who once called it home, mostly since the war began, and few who fled have plans to return, The Associated Press has learned.

Pope Benedict XVI called attention to their plight during a Mideast visit this week, urging the international community to ensure the survival of "the ancient Christian community of that noble land."


Is this damning of our invasion and the new government? Well, only if we invaded every Middle Eastern country:

The number of Arab Christians has plummeted across the Mideast in recent years as increasing numbers seek to move to the West, saying they feel increasingly unwelcome in the Middle East and want a better life abroad.


Still, it is worse in Iraq, so this must damn the current government, right?

But the exodus has been particularly stark in Iraq — where sectarian violence since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion has often targeted Christians.


So unlike the enlightened Baathists, the Shias are prone to cruelty regarding Iraqi Christians?

Again, not so fast.

Some Christians cite the violence as their reason to flee. Iraqis of all religions and ethnicities have been killed, but Christians had the misfortune to live in some of the worst battlefields, including Dora and the northern city of Mosul, both al-Qaida strongholds.

Execution-style killings late last year targeted Christians in Mosul, as did a string of bombings. In March of last year, the body of Mosul's Chaldean Archbishop was found in a shallow grave a month after he was kidnapped at gunpoint as he left a Mass.


So al Qaeda terrorists--who kill all non-jihadis--are the main reaon for the "sectarian" violence.

Oh, and just what was the position of the Christians under Saddam? Well:

The loss of the small power the community had under Saddam has also played a role in the Christian exodus.

Barred from the army, security services or high-level political positions under Saddam, Christians in Iraq often became doctors, engineers, land owners, and above all civil servants, filling the ministries as technocrats who kept the country running.


Ah, the Christian community sought protection as a minority by working for Saddam to make sure the machinery of Sunni Arab domination over the Shias and Kurds worked smoothly. That might have something to do with Shia and Kurd attitudes, eh? Even if such attitudes aren't the main reason for the Christian flight, given regional trends and al Qaeda attacks in particular.

Plus, there is a perception that the UN will expedite Christian applications for refuge abroad.

The exodus may be tragic, but there are reasons far apart from the current Iraqi government. And the real exodus is happening from the Arab Moslem world--which we largely haven't invaded.

Perhaps I'm overly sensitive, but stories like this always strike me as efforts to discredit our liberation of Iraq. But in this case the problem is one of the wider Arab Moslem world.

Proof of God

Danish intelilgnece agents identified part of the suicide bomber pipeline that flows through Syria into Iraq. But there was a slight problem in doing something about that--Danish law:

The Danish government attempted to deport the Iraqis back to Iraq (on the grounds that their pro-terrorist beliefs made them unfit to enjoy asylum in Denmark). The deportation was blocked by lawyers pleading that the Iraqi terrorists would be at risk of mistreatment by Iraqi police interrogators, or murder at hands of families of those killed by Islamic terrorists the Danish Iraqis helped get into Iraq. Thus, on humanitarian grounds, the Iraqi terrorists continue to live in Denmark."


The Danes inspire world-wide Islamic anger over cartoons while Denmark refuses to deport terrorists for fear they will be abused in Islamic countries.

Huh.

Is it any wonder the jihadis believe god is on their side? How else would you explain this?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Pixelating the Naughty Bits

Our Left has been getting all hot and sweaty over the prospect of finally seeing pictures of American soldiers abusing prisoners. The military and many on the right argued against the release,a rguing it served no purpose but to become part of enemy recruiting efforts. Given the reaction of the more excitable types in Islam over poorly drawn Mohammed cartoons in Denmark, this was no small matter. People would die over this release.

President Obama will fight the release of abuse photos, reversing his earlier decision:

President Barack Obama declared Wednesday he would try to block the court-ordered release of photos showing U.S. troops abusing prisoners, abruptly reversing his position out of concern the pictures would "further inflame anti-American opinion" and endanger U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House had said last month it would not oppose the release of dozens of photos from military investigations of alleged misconduct. But American commanders in the war zones have expressed deep concern about fresh damage the photos might do, especially as the U.S. tries to wind down the Iraq war and step up operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

Obama, realizing how high emotions run on detainee treatment during the Bush administration and now, made it a point to personally explain his change of heart, stopping to address TV cameras late in the day as he left the White House for a flight to Arizona.

He said the photos had already served their purpose in investigations of "a small number of individuals." Those cases were all concluded by 2004, and the president said "the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken."


Good for him. This was the right decision. He is the commander in chief responsible both for winning our wars and making sure our troops aren't exposed to needless risk as they fight our wars.

The crimes depicted by the photos were exposed and punished. End of story. Releasing the pictures was all about Leftist Porn--pictures showing our soldiers in a bad light and that would be used to convey the impression that the crimes of a few represent all of our troops.

Of course, for the Islamists, far less will incite them. This will be a long war, indeed.

UPDATE: It did occur to me that the president could just be trying to hide behind the courts and hope they shield him from having to actually decide on this issue, which he can do. So let me amend my approval to say that it is good that the photos are still unpublished. We shall see if the president does the right thing when push comes to shove. His fringe backers are eager to enjoy the photos and just don't appreciate the interruption.