Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Adding Up the Human Cost

So what about Iraq? What price did we and the Iraqis pay to win and what price did the enemy suffer?

Strategypage has a good post on the statistics of our casualties, with this introduction:

With only 50,000 American troops left in Iraq, and none of them committed to full time combat operations, one can get a sense of what the human cost of the seven year war was. Foreign forces lost 4,735 troops (93 percent American). Iraqi security forces lost about 6,000 police and soldiers. About 100,000 [Iraqi] civilians died, but over a third of these were members of terrorist groups (mostly Sunni, including al Qaeda). Another ten percent were members of various anti-terrorist militias. The U.S. tried to identify as many dead enemy fighters as it could, but those numbers are currently classified. Based on information that did leak out, it's clear that the terrorist groups lost over 30,000 people. Most of the civilians were killed by terrorists, most of the terrorist deaths were caused by American troops.

That makes it about 4,400 US dead; 335 Coalition dead; 6,000 Iraqi security forces killed; and 10,000 pro-government militia members dead. The enemy suffered 33,000 dead. And 57,000 true civilians died--with most killed by the enemy. And I'd bet the vast majority of those technically killed by our bullets and bombs are legally the responsibility of the enemy who illegally fought among civilians as cover from our firepower.

I know this is a shock to Lancet readers, but we really didn't slaughter our way to victory in Iraq. It is a high price, to be sure, but this is far from war crimes territory (for our side, anyway). It is a far cry from our casualties in the Civil War. Then we lost about 2% of our population in the war (625,000 combined dead out of a population in 1860 of 31.4 million. Iraq lost over 100,000 (remember, some of the dead were imported jihadis who tended to carry out the al Qaeda suicide bombings) out of a 2003 population of 25 million, or about0.4%. Oh, and our loss rate was over 4 years while the Iraqi toll was spread over nearly twice that time span. Was Iraq's toll worth ending Saddam's rule and defeating the jihadis and Iranian Sadrists? Was our loss of life worth it to end slavery? I'll say yes to the latter and hope the Iraqis judge their losses worthwhile, too.

Although that Iraqi judgment depends on what they do with the victories over their enemies, no? If they revert to a dictatorship, perhaps not--although if it is a Shia dictatorship, maybe the Shias will still say it is better to be misruled by one of their own. The Kurds and Sunni Arabs can be forgiven for not believing that is worth it. I hope that all Iraqis will gain so much in the decades to come that it will be as brainless for them to say it was all worth it as we say our Civil War casualties were a price worth paying to end slavery and preserve the union.

Also, I always wondered what percent of so-called "civilian" casualties were actually enemy combatants. I'll have to look to see if I have an old post trying to guess the percent or merely cautioned that "civilian" casualty numbers likely included the enemy since they looked awfully like civilians, and other than being overwhelmingly young and male were otherwise indistinguishable from civilians.

And again, for those who want to "take off the gloves" in Afghanistan, that is exactly what our enemies in Iraq did. What did it get them? It got them defeat.

Remember, too, that the war isn't over. Al Qaeda, Baathists, and Iranian allies continue to wage war against Iraq, killing more every month. Iraqis can handle the reduced threat. But we need to keep helping the Iraqis so the body count doesn't climb more than it needs to before the last enemy are smothered. We're allies, after all.

And Iraq needs our help to succeed so that the cost we've paid buys an objective worth it.


This is an interesting string of events:

Airport screeners [in Chicago] reportedly stopped [one of two men eventually arrested] because of his "bulky clothing." They uncovered he was carrying 7,000 dollars in cash, and then opened his luggage, ABC News said.

There they found a cellphone taped to a Pepto-Bismol bottle, three cellphones taped together and several watches taped together, but because no explosives were discovered, he was cleared for the flight to Chicago.

Once at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, he appears to have checked his luggage on a flight bound for Yemen, with scheduled stops in both Washington's Dulles airport and Dubai. But he did not board the flight.

Instead, he was joined by Murisi, ABC said, and the pair boarded a flight to Amsterdam.
The plane was sent back to the gate and the luggage searched when the airline realize there was no passenger associated with the checked baggage. No explosives were found.

It sure looks like they were testing means of attack. Or perhaps someone else with explosives was supposed to link up with their suspicious luggage somewhere on the path to complete a bomb.
It's like presidential outreach means nothing to these people.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Killing Them Softly

Those who believe we should "take off the gloves" and use massive firepower in Afghanistan don't understand that this policy is counter-productive as well as being morally bankrupt. It might feel good to think we are going all out to win, but such a policy will not win a counter-insurgency unless we are willing to quite literally massacre most of the adult-age males in a region. That's not who we are and I'm glad of it.

But the desire to unleash firepower ignores that we've done a pretty good job of killing enemies with restrictions on firepower usage:

According to data released by the Afghan government, war related deaths are running at the rate of 40 per 100,000 population (about 12,000 dead a year). Two thirds of the dead (at least in the last month) have been Taliban. About a quarter of the dead were civilians (mostly killed by the Taliban) and the remaining twelve percent security forces. Afghan casualties are unchanged, if you leaved out Taliban losses, over the last few years. Two years ago, civilian and security force losses were 15 per 100,000. They are still at that level. The NATO effort keep civilian losses down has had an impact here. ...

The hammering the Taliban are receiving (over 7,000 dead this year) is largely due to more foreign (especially American) troops, and the movement of air recon and intel resources from Iraq to Afghanistan. So far this year, recon sorties (by manned and unmanned aircraft) over Afghanistan have nearly tripled. ...

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, general David Petraeus, openly proclaims that the Taliban are being beaten. But the real problem in the country is the corruption and the drug gangs. Petraeus is going after the drug gangs, but the corruption requires more effort from U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan and officials back in the United States.

I argued against the urge to kill them all and let Allah sort them out in Iraq, and it paid off--even our former Sunni Arab enemies there are worried about our troops leaving! It will also pay off in Afghanistan.

Patience, people. We can win in Afghanistan without going postal. Indeed, restraint while killing just those who need to be killed will get us there. The point is to win and not to have satisfying Fourth of July fireworks on our evening news.

Preparing for the Next Last War

Israeli air dominance made the last round with Gaza two years ago a clear Israeli military win, with much better coordination of aircraft and helicopters with ground forces than we witnessed in southern Lebanon in 2006. Hamas is trying to arm up to keep Israeli helicopters at a distance:

Egyptian police raided three arms depots in the central Sinai Peninsula Saturday containing nearly 200 surface-to-air missiles apparently headed for Gaza, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported.

So how many made it through already?

But not to worry, if the Egyptians nabbed the first shipment. I'm sure a peace flotilla could sail in with some missiles to make up for the seizure.

And if such missiles keep the Israelis from carying out better recon over Gaza and the Israelis have to use artillery in an indiscriminate fashion to fight a future war with hamas, the resulting civilian casualties will be a bonus for Hamas.

Oh, and while such old SAMs are not terribly effective against warplanes so I assume the intended targets are helicopters, to be safe the Israelis should probably watch the flight paths of their passenger planes near Gaza.

We Shall Not See Them Lit Again in Our Time

The lamps are going out all over Europe (tip to Mad Minerva):

Shoppers across Europe are panic buying the last remaining stocks of old fashioned 75W light bulbs before the traditional household items are banned in the EU next week.

Not to worry, for those who are waging war on incandescent light bulbs in favor of those hideous compact fluorescent lamps promise we'll be green by Christmas.

Trust the charge of the Heat Brigade to win this eco-victory.

Preview of Tuesday?

Iraq's future remains important to us and we are not washing our hands of the country.

I commend the vice president for saying this in Iraq:

Vice President Joe Biden sought Monday to reassure Iraq that America is not abandoning it as the U.S. military steps back and a stalemate over who will run the war-battered nation's next government approaches its sixth month.

Iraqis need to hear this. Syrians need to hear this. Iranians need to hear this.

Tomorrow, Americans need to hear this from President Obama and Iraqis, Syrians, and Iranians need to hear this message again.

Great Balls of Fire!

Well, Timbits these ain't:

In a remote Serbian mountain village, they're cooking up delicacies to make your mouth water — or your stomach churn. At the seventh annual World Testicle Cooking Championship, visitors watch — and sometimes taste — as teams of chefs cook up bull, boar, camel, ostrich and even kangaroo testicles.

"This festival is all about fun, food and bravery," said Ljubomir Erovic, the Serbian chef and testicles gourmand specialist who organizes the bizarre cooking festival and has published a testicle cookery book.

Excuse me, I feel a need to go have a meal of Tab and a tuna sandwich on white bread with mayo. And a Twinkie.

Past Performance is No guarantee of Future Earnings

I remain skeptical that China will come very close to matching America in per-capita GDP. I have doubts China will match us in raw GDP in my lifetime, since I doubt they can maintain the pace they've been on the last few decades.

Why? Because China's position on the development path matters, and they've been at the beginning:

Centrally planned economies tend to be good at wrenching societies out of agricultural poverty into the industrial age -- especially when the technologies needed to accomplish that shift have been invented elsewhere. Remember that in the 1930s, '40s and even '50s the Soviet model seemed viable, for precisely that reason.

As I've been droning on for years about, putting the most efficient peasant into the most inefficient factory will give you impressive GDP growth. The real challenge, which the old USSR failed to meet, is making those factory workers (and then information workers) more efficient once the simple input of migrating subsistence farmers to simple export-oriented factories dwindles to near zero.

If China can't maintain growth rates once that simple input ends, they won't match us. And it is quite possible that China needs an open and democratic society to do that. And if China does the latter, I won't really worry very much about a China that grows more powerful than we are.

Although I'll admit that an autocratic China has a better chance at making the transition from quantity to quality than the old USSR did. We shall see.

I Can't Believe It's Not War!

President Obama I fear does not, deep down in his bones, feel we are at war. This is part of my unease with our president--notwithstanding some policies that are just fine with me--as we continue to struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan, with efforts on a smaller scale in scores of other places under way to keep jihadis from achieving Iraq or Afghanistan levels of violence and chaos.

This article hits it on the head:

Where George W. Bush saw the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as his central mission and opportunities to transform critical regions, Mr. Obama sees them as “problems that need managing,” as one adviser put it, while he pursues his mission of transforming America. The result, according to interviews with three dozen administration officials, military leaders and national security experts, is an uneasy balance between a president wary of endless commitment and a military worried he is not fully invested in the cause.

This is how I've long felt. About a year ago, I finally focused it in a post:

I've figured our president is so totally focused on his domestic agenda that foreign policy and wars are only of interest depending on how he figures they'll hurt or help his domestic agenda.

Iraq? Afghanistan? Is it more trouble to win or lose? On Iraq, he'd have to go out of his way to lose--so complete the victory it shall be.

On Afghanistan, three months of debate and the jury is still out on whether we want to win. Will losing or fighting to win hurt his domestic vision more?

It has felt to me in many ways that the president has been buying time abroad by retreating before problems wherever he can. I'm hopeful that the president has seen the limits of retreat and that recent spine stiffening regarding China and Iran are signs we can halt the image of retreat before foes can exploit our inward focus the last couple years.
Perhaps in his speech this Tuesday on the war in Iraq, we'll see if President Obama still really, deep down, fails to see himself as a war president leading a nation at war.
The speech could go either way, I think. Which is a shame, since whether the president believes it or not, his nation is at war.

Help, Help, They're Being Oppressed!

The Palestinians are being victimized again:

New reports by Palestinian rights groups highlight a surprising symmetry in the abuse that the U.S.-backed government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and his Iranian-supported rivals Hamas in Gaza inflict on each other.

Both governments carry out arbitrary arrests, ban rivals from travel, exclude them from civil service jobs and suppress opposition media, the rights groups say. Torture in both West Bank and Gaza lockups includes beatings and tying up detainees in painful positions.

Hamas and Abbas' Fatah organization have harassed each other ever since the Islamic militant Hamas seized Gaza in 2007. However, the crackdowns have become more sweeping in recent months as each aims to strengthen its grip on its respective territory.

Sounds pretty bad. But the Israelis aren't doing it. So it doesn't count.
It's just a waste of good moral outrage if you can't blame the Jews. So nothing to see. Move along.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Those Damned NorwayCons

The way the Norwegians are going around unilaterally and arrogantly waging war on Moslems in Iraq and elsewhere (probably to steal their oil, too), who can blame jihadis for plotting to kill Norwegians?

Officials say the suspected plot against this quiet Nordic country was one of three planned attacks on the West hatched in the rugged mountains of northwest Pakistan by some of al-Qaida's most senior leaders. The other plots targeted the bustling New York subway and a shopping mall in Manchester, England.
Luckily, the terrorists were compromised early on. But when the jihadis want to kill Norwegians, can we maybe admit the problem isn't what America does but what the jihadis believe and want to achieve?

Or can we look forward to an orgy of "why do they hate us?" hand wringing in Oslo, too?

New Dawn

We remain committed to Iraqi security and retain significant combat power in Iraq despite the withdrawal of our last "combat brigade." We should make it clear with our words that we are in it for the win.

I thought the plan for Iraq was to have six advise and assist brigades (and press reports confirmed my memory), but Strategypage states that there are seven such brigades. In addition, there are 2 Army aviation brigades (with transport and attack helicopters).  Strategypage also counts two National Guard infantry brigades that provide security for our remaining bases. So Strategypage calls it eleven combat brigades.

I call it seven. I don't count aviation brigades as line units that can take and hold ground. I think of them more like air support. I also don't count the two reserve brigades that provide security. I sincerely doubt that they are organized to function as a brigade in the field but are organized into scattered security detachments that are tied to static base defense and perhaps limited escort missions outside the wire.

If the Iranians or Syrians think that they can exploit our departure, they are premature in their eagerness. Although it would be nice if the president's Tuesday night speech doesn't speak of the "end of the war" as if we are abandoning the Iraqis. The Iraqis do seem a bit sensitive to this issue:

President Barack Obama's message this weekend that Iraq would "chart its own course" may have been welcome news for war-weary Americans, but it has fueled anxieties about the future among Iraqis.

"The war is not ending. The war against terrorism continues here," Nuri al-Moussawi, a 51-year-old Baghdad resident, said.

Given that with 50,000 troops still in Iraq fighting our common enemies we are not, in fact, abandoning Iraq, it would be nice if President Obama would use words to match that commitment and reassure friends and convince foes that we are in Iraq for the long haul.
And isn't it nice to see how we turned Iraq from an enemy that supported terrorism to an ally that helps us fight terrorism?

What Was the Question, Again?

The question: Hit or miss?

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but my question is are these people who are asking even heterosexual?

Answer to the question: Hit.

I'll be in my bunk.

Escaping in the Confusion

I mentioned some reported unrest in Bahrain recently.

Strategypage explains this was bigger than just "unrest."

Bahrain recently warned Kuwait and Saudi Arabia that it had uncovered a plot involving hundreds of sleeper agents, organized into 40-50 cells. The agents, often poor locals, as well as men from Iran, Yemen and Lebanon, were financed by religious leaders and Islamic political parties. The plan was to launch coordinated attacks in Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Bahrain proceeded to arrest and question 250 suspects. Kuwait put the usual suspects under greater scrutiny, and Saudi Arabia said nothing. Bahrain said the attacks were to be carried out if Iran were attacked (presumably by Israel.)

Presumably, Iran could also try to execute such a plan, in addition to pushing Hamas and Hezbollah to attack Israel and inciting/carrying out added attacks on our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to sow confusion should Iran go nuclear and thus deter American action. Israel would not be deterred from hitting Iran, but Iran would have more of a chance to preserve their nuclear apparatus if attacked by Israel and not America.

We'd be a lot better off without the anti-American mullah regime in Iran. Hasn't our CIA had many years to ponder this problem?


So is it really inconceivable that China could successfully invade Taiwan?

I sometimes think I must really be awful in writing about defense issues when I read a piece like this by someone who actually has books under his belt on defense issues, as his bio says. This is just ridiculous:

China's air and naval forces are ‘being modernized to deal with possible US intervention in a Taiwan scenario,’ Cole says. But it's not clear that the US military is even strictly necessary for the defence of Taiwan. The very nature of a cross-Strait attack amounts to Taiwan's best defence.

An amphibious landing is, for the attacker, among the most complex and dangerous of military operations, especially in today's globalized and media-rich world. The attacker must move forces across open water, while under fire, secure a beachhead then sustain an influx of supplies and reinforcements—all while ignoring international outcry. All the defender must do is hold ground, keep shooting and loudly object in the world's embassies, international bodies and in the media.

Taiwan's defensive advantage is even mentioned in the same Pentagon report that warns of a fast-developing Chinese military. ‘An attempt to invade Taiwan would strain China’s untested armed forces,’ the report points out. ‘China’s combat force attrition and the complexity of urban warfare and counterinsurgency (assuming a successful landing and breakout), make amphibious invasion of Taiwan a significant political and military risk.’

That's the case with or without US and allied intervention—and regardless of China's growing wealth or the ongoing stresses on the US economy. Any reforms resulting from AirSea Battle would likely not significantly alter the calculation. The concept could be rendered moot before it even becomes a reality.

The man says that the budding AirSea Battle doctrine against China is pointless since China can't invade based on the inherent difficulties of launching an amphibious invasion. One, while I'm not familiar with the specifics of the doctrine and am not commenting on it, if the inspiration is AirLand Battle, what's his beef? The idea that the Air Force and Navy should work closely is common sense and really a specific application of our long-standing emphasis on joint (or "purple" operations, reflecting a blending of service "colors.") operations. Remember the problems in the Grenada operation when ground forces had problems getting air support because radios were not compatible? Part of the solution is making sure the services aren't so insular that they can't work together. Training and proper equipment make sure all contribute to the fight and can help each other. That's really not so difficult to understand, is it? And is it really controversial and "pointless?"
As annoying as the basic problem with his apparent view on joint operations is, my real problem is with the quoted material that addresses a major incentive for the AirSea Battle doctrine--the question of whether China can invade Taiwan. The author thinks that the inherent difficulties make it too tough whether or not America intervenes and regardless of Taiwan's defense preparations.

Given China's focus on deterring or delaying American intervention in such a scenario, it must be quite a surprise to the Chinese that it isn't clear that American intervention is strictly necessary for Taiwan to defeat a Chinese invasion.

You see, an amphibious operation is so complex and dangerous that China couldn't execute it.

Why? Did the author do some calculations on relative capabilities and conclude that Taiwan would defeat anything China could throw at them?

Apparently not. You see, the very nature of a cross strait attack is Taiwan's defense!

But wait! There's more! You see, China would be attacking in a globalized and media-rich world!

One, China would have to move troops across open water! The solution would be ships. And that open water is but 100 miles wide.

Two, they'd be under fire all the way! Yes, all of those 100 miles, which could be traversed in what? Five or six hours? And that assumes that Taiwan can react quickly. And it assumes that the Chinese air force and missile arsenal (and cyber atttacks and special forces operations) don't cripple the Taiwanese ability to shoot in sufficient quantity or at least delay the onset of the barrage on the invasion flotilla. The real question is whether the attrition that Taiwan (no worries about considering American forces, too, since it isn't even clear we are needed, right?) can inflict is enough to cripple the invasion flotilla.

And they must secure a "beachhead." Is he really assuming a traditional Saving Private Ryan invasion on a real beach as the main effort? Because I see any over-the-beach operations as purely secondary. I think the real objectives of a bolt-from-the-blue invasion would be Taiwan's ports and airfields so troops unload at docks and fly into airheads.

As to moving supplies and troops as follow-ups? Is China so bereft of experience in shipping based on their export-based economy that they couldn't manage to do this? Oh, come on!

But here's the key, apparently. China would have to do all those things while ignoring the dreaded "international outcry!" Yes, it is true, for all Taiwan would have to do is "keep shooting and loudly object in the world's embassies, international bodies and in the media." How Taiwan would object in the world's embassies or international bodies is beyond me since Taiwan is not formally a recognized country. And the media is going to care?

In what world does China care that much about world opinion? They hold Tibet. They hold their Moslem west. The support the freaking psychopath regime in North Korea and the practitioners of genocide in Sudan, and count Burma and Zimbabwe among their friends. They shield Iran from international sanctions over their nuclear program. Peking gives a rip about what anyone would say if China can conquer Taiwan in two weeks? Really?

I don't know why the author even highlights the difficulties of break-out from the beachheads, urban warfare, and counter-insurgency when the "very nature" of invasion obviously preclude such operations in the first place.

The Pentagon does not say China can't invade. Past reports, when Chinese power was less, even said that China would have to be willing to endure the casualties to invade rather than focus on the technical difficulties. Now it says it would be a risk for China. Yes it would be. And part of that risk is the question of whether and how we would intervene.

Taiwan certainly needs to shoot at Chinese invaders to win. But it will win not by counting on nebulous bad publicity and international pressure (by countries that don't even recognize Taiwan's status as an independent nation). It will win by shooting and stopping a Chinese invasion from getting ashore. Because China doesn't even have to conquer the island in the initial invasion. If the Chinese simply get ashore and Taiwan can't drive them back into the sea, a ceasefire could leave Taiwan divided and vulnerable to a new war in a few years time after China consolidates their territorial gain.

Look, I'm not arguing that China would win a war. But China could certainly attempt an invasion, and I think that depending on the breaks and how the campaign unfolds, China could conquer all or part of Taiwan. AirSea Battle seems like a perfectly natural evolution of our thinking considering that jointness is our general goal; and advances in Chinese power makes it clear that our Navy alone is no longer sufficient to deter or defeat a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. That means our Navy needs Air Force help to fight China's increasingly capable air and sea power that can now project force out to sea, to include Taiwan and the areas to the east of the island.

Is that really such a difficult thing to calculate?

UPDATE: Thanks to The View from Taiwan for the link.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mad Minerva for the link.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I Don't Think That Word Means What They Think It Means

The Economist, in an otherwise decent opinion piece on warning doubters of our power to recognize we have a lot going for us (and it speaks of foreign policy successes rather than insisting Obama has been a complete failure: which I can agree with as a general rule even if I'd quibble over some of their assessments), starts with the boilerplate language of dismissing the Iraq War as dumb even as it mentions what we've achieved as if they are nothing:

WHEN Barack Obama confirms next week that all American combat forces have left Iraq, you can be sure of one thing. He will not repeat the triumphalism of George Bush’s suggestion seven years ago that America’s mission there has been accomplished. Mr Obama always considered this a “dumb” war, and events have proved him largely right. America and its allies may have rid the Middle East of a bloodstained dictator, but Saddam Hussein’s vaunted weapons of mass destruction turned out to be a chimera and the cost in American and especially Iraqi lives has been hideous. Iraq, it is true, is no longer a dictatorship. Thanks in part to Mr Bush’s lonely refusal in 2007 to heed the calls to cut and run, the sectarian bloodletting that followed the invasion has abated. But the country’s new democracy remains chronically insecure (see article), which is one reason why some 50,000 American “support” troops are to stay behind to shore it up.

Where to begin? From the beginning, I suppose.

I sometimes feel like I'm the only one who understood at the time that when President Bush on that carrier noted the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq, he was speaking of the formal end on May 1 of the force-on-force conventional phase of the war. No, he didn't (any more than I did, since I assumed wrongly that the hard part of the fighting was over) speak at that point of defeating an insurgency that had not yet begun, but he did speak of the hard work we still had to do. And few war opponents saw the insurgency, with major leaders in Congress complaining that Bush had conspired to win a war decisively to enable Republican gains in the 2004 elections.

The main part is the defense of President Obama's judgment as a candidate that the Iraq War was "dumb" and that events have proven him right. Really?

So ridding Iraq of a blood-stained dictator was dumb?

The cost in American and Iraqi lives was hideous? Our losses have been tragic at an individual and family level, but the losses we endured are historically low. Judging them "hideous" says more about the West's low tolerance for any casualties far more than it speaks of the casualties themselves. As for Iraqi lives, the responsibility for those losses lies with our enemies who either deliberately targeted civilians or who violated the laws of war to risk civilian lives. We acted far more cautiously to avoid civilian casualties than international law requires. Over 100,000 dead is a lot, but Saddam inflicted far more on his own people in his reign and we shouldn't assume that his killing spree would have been over had we not overthrown that admitted "blood-stained dictator."

And eliminating a dictatorship is meaningless because the democracy in Iraq remains chronically insecure and requires 50,000 troops to maintain? Oh, come on! This circular logic in defeatism and willful refusal to recongize success is amazing. Getting rid of a dictatorship is not a good thing because the democracy that replaced it is insecure? An insecure democracy is worse than dictaroship because it still requires 50,000 US troops to protect? But our troops were necessary in the first place to end that dictatorship that in theory was a bad thing, right? One day, if we don't convince ourselves we've lost as The Economist editors have done, we won't require troops at all in Iraq. Heck, I still hope that one day we won't need troops in NATO countries, Japan, and South Korea (with a strong dissent to the author's assertion that we "broke" Iraq so have an obligation to fix it--Saddam "broke" Iraq before 2003 and terrorists  backed by Syria and Iran bounced the rubble after that) to protect those democracies. Is it really so outrageous that we would need to stay in post-war Iraq for pershaps decades to come?

And the biggest outrage of the opinion: so Iraq's WMD were a "chimera?" A chimera, my dictionary tells me, is "a creation of the imagination; an impossible and foolish fancy."

In what way, dear writers of the mother tongue, was the issue of Iraqi WMD a creation of the imagination? Did not Iraq manufacture and use chemical weapons against Iran and against their own Kurds in the 1980s? Did not Iraq have a nuclear weapons program until we ended it in the Persian Gulf War of 1991? Didn't we discover in the mid-1990s from a momentarily defecting son-in-law of Saddam that Iraq had an active biological weapons program? Did not President Clinton engage in four days of Operation Desert Fox, along with our British allies most notably, in 1998 to destroy Saddam's continuing WMD infrastructure? Didn't the UN itself confess in the months before the Iraq War of 2003 that Iraq had failed to account for all its WMD raw materials? In what sense did our imagation create the Saddam WMD threat?

It is true that we did not find actual post-1991 WMD in Iraq (but I don't rule out that they are buried in Iraq or stored in Syria). But is it possible to declare the ability and intention of Saddam to get WMD an impossible and foolish fancy given that he kept in place--at great cost in human and financial terms--the infrastructure and raw materials of a WMD project that could have put mustard gas into his arsenal within months of ending sanctions, and worse in the years that would follow the ending of international sanctions?

Does anyone really believe that given that Saddam bluffed that Iraq had at least some WMD in order to deter an Iranian attack to exploit Iraq's conventional weakness, that Saddam would not have tried to cover that bluff the instant he could get away with it? Really? An effing "chimera," you toadies of conventional history-forgetting wisdom who think that PBS-style upper crust English language usage is all the authority you need to judge the WMD issue a slam dunk as a "chimera"?

What a bunch of dandified a-holes. And those words mean exactly what I think they mean.

I know the US-British relationship must remain special when I can read crap like that from their prestige press and still consider Britain our best ally.

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I've often complained about the abilities of our press corps to report on matters of war. I'm not sure whether their political bias is more important than their topical ignorance in explaining their general failure to inform the public on war. So I have a duty to note a good story when I read it. The chronology of run up to the Iraq War and results is amazingly accurate:

This moment in history is the culmination of a confrontation that goes back 20 years to the Gulf War of 1990.

Following the al-Qaeda terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush and his Cabinet argued that Saddam was too much of a threat given the climate in the Middle East to remain in power.

When Saddam refused to allow U.N. inspections of his weapons facilities, Bush argued that Saddam "needs to let inspectors back in his country, to show us that he is not developing weapons of mass destruction."

In October 2002, the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to authorize force against Iraq. In November 2002, the United Nations Security Council adopted a unanimous resolution offering Saddam "a final opportunity" to comply with disarmament.

Three months later, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said U.S. and European intelligence agencies believed Iraq was hiding its weaponry and seeking more.

The final U.N. weapons inspection report stated that Iraq failed to account for chemical and biological stockpiles. Lead U.N. inspector Hans Blix stated he had "no confidence" that the weaponry had been destroyed.

In his State of the Union Address in January 2003, Bush said: "Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late."

At 5:34 a.m., March 20, 2003, a U.S. force backed by 34 nations crossed into Iraq. The war was on.

In the ensuing years, the war saw failures and unforeseen consequences. No weapons of mass destruction were found, and a violent insurgency arose that shocked many.

There were successes as well. Millions of Iraqis braved terrorist death threats to vote in free and fair elections in 2005. Saddam's regime was deposed, and democratic institutions moved into his palaces and ministries. Violence eventually plummeted.

Wow. That's actually accurate.

And the remainder is pretty good, too, giving both sides of the question of whether we won some print time to state the opposing positions on the question. The focus that we don't know whether we've won is accurate enough, in my opinion. While we've achieved much already, it is true that future failure to remain engaged in Iraq could undo much of what we've done up to now and deny us greater victories in the future.

Our Mission Accomplished?

Clearly, al Qaeda in Iraq has been waiting for our formal end to our combat role to strike across Iraq. It gets them more publicity this way. But in the end, other than inflicting pointless civilian casualties, al Qaeda (and I assume their Baathist backers in exile who still hope to regain power) will lose this fight. But President Obama isn't going to make the situation easier, apparently.

The terrorists can certainly hide for a while as we help the Iraqis hunt down the weakened al Qaeda which lost their ability to bring down the Iraqi government during the surge/Awakening. But coming out to make these attacks brings attention. And the scale of the attacks brings public outrage to do something to stop the attacks. So despite the corruption--which is common to the region, including the terrorists themselves--the Iraqis will gear up to fight the terrorists:

"We direct the Iraqi forces, police and army and other security forces, to take the highest alert and precautionary measures to foil this criminal planning," al-Maliki said in a statement to state-run television.

A senior Iraqi intelligence official said security forces believe suicide bombers have entered the country with plans to strike unspecified targets in Baghdad by month's end. The official did not know how many bombers or where they would attack, and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

If suicide bombers are entering the country, the likely path is through Syria as they arrived before. I suppose this puts Syria on notice that Iraq will blame Syria if such attacks continue. Eventually, Iraq will be able to do something about Syrian involvement in the terrorist mass murder that plagued Iraq since 2003.

But this, from President Obama, is a bit discouraging to me:

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, used his weekly radio address to reaffirm his campaign promise to end the war in Iraq and refocus on Afghanistan as home to the top threats against America.

"The bottom line is this: the war is ending," Obama said from the Massachusetts island retreat of Martha's Vineyard, where he was on vacation. "Like any sovereign, independent nation, Iraq is free to chart its own course."

Really? The war is "ending?" Bye Iraq and have a nice life?
Come on, Mr. President! We all know that we will continue to help Iraq--even after 2011. Why act like we're washing our hands of the fight that still rages (even if it is at a much reduced scale)? Why give Iraqis that impression and why give our enemies that hope? Do you really think the "professional left," as your press secretary called them recently, will really learn to love you if you distance yourself from victory in Iraq despite all you've done for them in passing highly progressive legislation? They do not believe that you upheld your campaign promise to get our of Iraq. Then, you promised to lose the war. They believed you.

We won the war before you could lose it and your base can't forget that insult when they spent years claiming that far from betraying our troops in the field, they were the clear-eyed realists who understood that the war was unwinnable and that their dissent was all about cutting our losses and getting out before we lost. They don't want us to win--anywhere--and I hope that you understand that as our president you have a duty--as well as a personal interest if you value reelection or your legacy--to win the wars we are in. Especially a war we have won in Iraq by ignoring the urge to move on and ignore it, thus risking all we've done.
I have hopes of a better presidential speech on Tuesday, but I'm starting to worry that my basic optimism will be betrayed. We've accomplished many missions in Iraq. But we have more missions to accomplish before we can think about resting.

Plug and Play?

While we won't yet sell Taiwan F-16 fighters (and part of that is Taiwan's fault for refusing the sale when offered nearly a decade ago), we will sell the equipment that allows a military to actually fight:

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said earlier this week that the U.S. sale includes "defense services, technical data, and defense articles" for Taiwan's air defense system, and radar equipment for the island's Indigenous Defense Fighter jets.

Remember, fighter jets are just one component of having an air force. You need the trained pilots, of course, and weapons to fire. But you also need the equipment to detect enemies, direct your own aircraft, and manage the air battle. And you need lots of trained and equipped people on the ground to keep those planes flying when the battle management people say "go there."

China protests, of course. Let them.

One day, with this radar and air defense system equipment in place, when Taiwan finally gets more advanced jets they will be able to plug into a system that can use them to maximum effect.

And I'm guessing we might be able to link to their system so we get a good picture of the air space over Taiwan and the Taiwan Strait if we need to intervene.

UPDATE: Oh, rereading this after reading another article on the subject makes it clear I misread the initial article. The radar in question is for their IDF, a simple locally made fighter, and not for their ground-based air defense system. The IDF can use all the help it can get to survive in the air, of course. But Taiwan really needs F-16s. And I hope the air defense radar system on the ground is already good enough.

UPDATE: Maybe the article changed between times I read it, since another article (Tip to Defense Industry Daily) says that we will indeed sell ground-defence radar items. So my original point stands.

Friday, August 27, 2010

It's Science! Damn It!

The science is settled.

Which is why I was absolutely right that this is a bad automotive technology.

The Wrong Mosque in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

Jonathan M. writes to me about a recent post stating that we are hardly Islamophobic as a recent Time magazine article asserted. He asked:

Don't you think the controversy surrounding the "Ground zero" mosque indicates that there is at least some anti-muslim sentiment present in the country? And doesn't the fact that several right-wing pundits appear to be trying to whip up anti-muslim sentiment concern you? I'm speaking of the comments by Gingrich, in which he appears to be adding a geographical component to the 1st amendment; of Limbaugh, who seems to think that there will be terrorist training courses available at the new "cultural center"; and of the slandering on FOX news of the religious leader there (Rauf), who apparently has in the past given State Department sponsored lectures in the Middle East (under both the Bush and Obama administrations), and is, by all accounts, a religious moderate. Moreover, protests against mosques being built in the U.S. are happening all over the country (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/22/AR2010082202895.html?hpid=topnews&sid=ST2010082202944). Clearly, the controversy in New York is not an isolated incident, and the proximity to ground zero as a basis for the protests is a canard.

I don't think that the issue of the mosque being built on Ground Zero is a matter of religious freedom. I wrote about this issue fairly early before the issue really ramped up in the media. I stand by my judgment about the sponsors--including Rauf who is not as moderate as he acts--notwithstanding his work for Obama and Bush--and the symbolism of such a place at that place and at this time. I can't speak to what Beck or Limbaugh said, not having heard them, but mosques run by radicals have long served as recruiting and indoctrination grounds for terrorists, and overseas--I'm thinking of Iraq in particular, but not exclusively--have functioned as jihadi armories and fighting positions, even.

The Moslems backing this project certainly have the right to build a mosque. That isn't a question. Our freedom of religion settles that. The question is where it will be built. That answer is a matter of zoning (a geographic component, if you will), financing, common sense, and sensitivity to others. Religious freedom--what Moslems clearly have here in America--does not have anything to do with where it is built. Where is a legitimate question even in first amendment matters--just ask universities that have speech codes. And don't even get me started on the restrictions of freedom of speech that our campaign finance laws impose, especially in the time right before an election for some groups (isn't that the most important time to get out your message?).

Consider an abortion clinic. Under current laws, such places can be built. They are legal and have been given constitutional protection by our highest court. But zoning ordinances will restrict where one can be built. Money will be an issue, and it is unlikely to be built in a high-demand area where property values are high. One probably wouldn't build it next to a Right to Life headquarters building even if you had zoning and money to do so, out of a sense of prudence. And you might even not build it next to a Catholic church, just out of decency. Avoiding the latter two would actually help the stated purpose of an abortion clinic in serving actual women who want to have abortions by avoiding high profile conflict. Now if their purpose was not to assist pregnant women who want their service, but to cause a political fight, then build away wherever.

Really, the position of those opposed to the mosque at the Ground Zero site isn't much different from the president's state position that the project people have the right to do so but that the wisdom of doing so is another question altogether.

There is also the matter of timing. Perhaps when Islam has made more progress in taming the fanatics who taint their religion, a mosque within the Ground Zero perimeter would promote understanding. But while there is a hot shooting war going on with jihadis? No. It is just wrong.

And do people who hate Moslems side with the anti-mosque side? No doubt. But the arguments I read do not rest on anti-Islamic feelings, but on anti-jihadi feelings and sensitivity to those impacted by the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. I think our war against jihadis and the ideology that backs jihad would be better served by not putting a mosque at Ground Zero next to where the World Trade Center stood.

And I really resent the accusations of Islamophobia here given how little actual violence is directed at Moslems here, even after 9/11, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, beheadings, and all manner of mayhem and murder carried out by the jihadis who claim they fight for Islam. I dare say Texans face more hostility from your average MoveOn.org chapter and Marines would face more blind anger from a Code Pink coven than Moslems would face in rural Alabama.

Further, consider if the roles were reversed and some Lutheran blew up the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Nobody defending the mosque at Ground Zero would consider it a natural thing to build a Lutheran church and outreach center a block or two from the rubble of the mosque. Their opinions would be moot, of course, since the Saudis wouldn't allow that notwithstanding the goals of promoting understanding. The lot of Christians in Islamic lands is what you should look at if you want to see real religious intolerance. Until Islamic countries make a lot more progress in demonstrating tolerance toward Christians, Jews, Hindus, and even rival Moslem sects, I don't care to hear too much self-flagellating hand wringing over deciding where Moslems can build a mosque here.

And do some use the issue for political pursposes? Sure. Just as people supporting the mosque claim it supports a political purpose of winning over Moslems overseas so they'll like us more. Just as people who like Obamacare use sad tales of individuals without insurance for political purposes. Politics is how we resolve differences in how we govern ourselves or conduct foreign policy. But I have no doubt that the people on both sides sincerely believe they are right even as they hope to persuade other people that their position on related issues is the correct path to take. That's how we work--with persuasion and not guns and grenades.

Just as true as the accusation that bigots are among those who oppose the mosque, I bet pro-jihadi or simply energetic "dissenters" support building the mosque side by side with those who honestly believe the project will be a bridge to increase understanding. So I don't attach much significance to the fact that some oppose the mosque for bad reasons. I don't think that the fact that the honorable motives of most supporters of the mosque negate the reasons of the dishonorable and our enemies for being delighted with a mosque on that site.

And as to why I don't allow comments, I recently addressed that, too. I sometimes feel guilty about not allowing comments, but that feeling always passes quickly.

So thanks for your comments, Jonathan. (Funny, I had a friend by that name in college.) I usually don't post at length in response to comments, though I will sometimes use them when appropriate, but since I haven't written much on the issue, I thought it was a good opportunity to expand on the two posts I have written.

Build the mosque elsewhere. Or make it a true cultural center with no place of worship that hosts Moslems, Hindus, Jews, and Christians and works to fight the jihadi hatred that led to the slaughter on 9/11 and other attacks by Islamo-fascists around the world on Moslems, Hindus, Jews, Christians, and animists who do not wish to submit to the vision of Islam that the jihadis promote.

UPDATE: If hatred is so rampant, why the need to provoke it to film it? I have no problem with the idea that there is hatred out there--of lots of people, including of Moslems. But we really are a tolerant society. [I added some other links above in existing text to reinforce points.]

Worst Case Scenario

So the Taliban have launched some attacks in the relatively quiet north and west of Afghanistan:

Eight Afghan police gunned down at a checkpoint. Campaign workers kidnapped. Spanish trainers shot dead on their base.

Is this conclusion justified?

A spurt of violence this week in provinces far from the Taliban's main southern strongholds suggests the insurgency is spreading, even as the top U.S. commander insists the coalition has reversed the militants' momentum in key areas of the ethnic Pashtun south where the Islamist movement was born.

No. These attacks suggest no such thing. While such attacks might suggest the Taliban are spreading, that conclusion could only be reached if the enemy sustains and expands such attacks over time. Otherwise, this is just a raid--militarily insignificant--into hostile territory. We're likely to hunt the enemy down in the absence of local support for their mission or they'll flee south to friendly territory before we can catch them. In the west, it might even be an indication of Iranian support--which we know exists in relatively low levels--rather than southern Taliban spreading out.
I am always amazed by the eagerness of Western reporters to assume the worst--for us--in any military action.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Remission Accomplished?

I eagerly anticipate President Obama's Oval Office speech on the transition out of Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.

I hope the president speaks of our military victory over Saddam's despotism and the murderous insurgents and terrorists that attacked Iraq's civilians mercilessly, and the establishment of a fledgling Iraqi democracy as achievements we may be proud of.

I hope the president thanks our troops and their families for all they have endured--especially the difficult job that they accomplished during the surge of 2007 despite being written off as an impossible mission by so many here. It would be nice if he thanks President Bush for his courage in forging ahead to achieve victory, but a thanks for the troops in winning will be enough to get that point across.

I hope he reminds us that we have much more to do to cement Iraq's democracy and defeat the reduced but still deadly terrorists that kill and maim innocents.

I won't even complain that there is no Iraqi government so long after the spring elections. This is a delicate problem and doing too much to force compromise would make it seem like we owned Iraq's government. I'm satisfied that we've kept the stalemate within the political realm rather than watching factions pull out weapons and shoot it out for power. In a very real sense, this prolonged exercise in politics may be a blessing in disguise if it really cements the notion that violence has no part in settling election disputes.

If the president leaves me convinced that winning in Iraq is important to him and that winning more in Iraq is important to him, I will be satisfied and say thank you, Mr. President, for not letting your base's hatred of the war push you to let up in our efforts to complete the mission.

Excuse Me While I Pound My Head Against the Wall

We are starting over on our Bradley Fighting Vehicle replacement program:

The industry source said the move was driven by internal differences over the requirements for the new vehicles, saying service officials "simply cannot agree on the performance requirements, and things like how they should be prioritized."

The source said the Red Team told Army officials they had two options: upgrade the existing ground vehicle fleet; or start over, a move that the source said could mean it will be seven to 10 years before the first GCV is delivered.

Since the replacement concept was reaching Abrams proportions in weight, this is understandable.

The problem is the Army wants a vehicle to do it all--carry a full squad (8 or 10, I don't know which, instead of the Bradley's truncated 6-man squad) with the firepower and protection to fight in a high-intensity environment and toss in a v-shaped hull while you are at it so it will function like an MRAP in IED country. And 12 cup holders, too. Is that too much to ask?

Why, yes. Yes it is. This is basically the same issue that is sinking/blowing up the Marine Corps' expeditionary fighting vehicle (EFV) that will take a couple squads of Marines from their amphibious warfare ship over the horizon to the beach, and then advance inland a few hundred miles in a mechanized onslaught without bothering to stop. Is that all? And a v-shaped hull, too, so the expensive thing won't blow up from running over a slurry of fuel oil and fertilizer set off by a garage door opener.

Come on, Army. Do this right or face the same problem the Marines have now with their project. Don't try to cram every mission into one hull and we'll be far better off. And be able to afford the vehicles.

Friendly Advice

We should be careful not to lose our military superiority that we've built up at such a high cost over the last several decades. The price of losing our status would be great.

I wrote about Japan's decision to focus their military power on China. This, I said, is a natural reaction to China's rising power. Japan's decision to arm up, along with others like South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Australia, will help us cope with China's rising military power in the western Pacific.

China would rather its neighbors not react to China's rising power by aligning with America, and is using that "soft power" charm that they supposedly have oozing from their pores:

China is warning Asian countries that holding military exercises with the United States is bad for their health. South Korea and Vietnam, both of which have recently conducted naval activities with their American counterparts, have been warned that the United States is far away, suffering from financial difficulties and is not a reliable partner while China is right next door.

China wants those countries to believe that. But China is not destined to surpass us in power. Which means that China won't grow so powerful that countries can't arm up to balance China's power.

But for all those neighbors to be willing to stand up to China's power, they have to be confident that we have the power and determination to use it against China and to be confident that other potential partners won't stop absorbing some of China's power by making deals with China to ally with Peking. If these countries don't have confidence that we will help them, they'll cut a deal with China to protect themselves and turn away from us.

So we have to be careful about maintaining our power in the Pacific and maintaining our reputation for supporting allies and fighting until we win. If any nation, like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, or Vietnam think that they can't count on us for effective military support, they'll withdraw from the potential balancing coalition against China. And once one country defects, the power potential arrayed against China will drop enough to perhaps push another country to defect and align with China rather than with us.

Thus, even a reduction in our military power that may seem marginal to us could be what tips the system against us in a cascade of defections, causing a dramatic drop in coalition power arrayed against China, and denying us the capability of operating in the western Pacific. Instead of being a rear base to support our allies against China, Guam would become an outpost as we are pushed back to the Aleutians-Hawaii line for our line of defense against Chinese naval power.

So the next time China complains that one of our carriers is exercising too close to China despite being in international waters, we should tell Peking to take a hike and sail close to their borders to demonstrate that we don't fear their friendly advice to us.

Morale Mining?

This tool would appear to have applications in wartime or in soft-power information campaigns during peace:

Many companies are turning to social-media sites to gauge the success of a new product and service. The latest activity on Facebook, Twitter, and countless other sites can reveal the public's current mood toward a new film, gadget, or celebrity, and analytics services are springing up to help companies keep track.

Could we use social media sites to measure enemy morale? Or the attitudes of any particular population?

While it is obviously worthless for Afghanistan where there is no critical mass of people online to say it is representative of the population, wouldn't it be good to be able to gauge the feelings of people toward the enemy or our forces, or monitor reactions to collateral damage in air strikes?

But on the other hand, given the online presence of jihadis, wouldn't it be useful and possible to monitor their morale in close to real time? Could an upsurge in confidence scoring on such sites indicate hopes among a sub-set of users that a coming attack onn us is imminent?

Actually, I kind of assume we are already doing something like this--or exactly like it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Never Mind

After years of wanting us to leave Iraq, Iraqis don't want us to go:

A majority of Iraqis believe it was the wrong time for a major withdrawal of US combat troops, a poll said on Tuesday, with more than half also warning that it would have negative consequences.

When asked if it was the right time for American soldiers to leave -- the US military earlier confirmed troop numbers in Iraq had fallen under 50,000 for the first time -- 59.8 percent said no, compared to 39.5 percent who said yes.

One can understand why the reality of our departure is scary:
Bombers and gunmen killed at least 56 Iraqis in more than two dozen attacks across the country Wednesday, mostly targeting security forces and rekindling memories of the days when insurgents ruled the streets.
I never took seriously earlier polling during the fighting that Iraqis wanted us out. Of course they did. It would be a matter of pride. But they also knew they needed us. And they were either confident or feared we wouldn't (or couldn't) leave--ever.
But we aren't gone. We still have six combat brigades and 4-5,000 special forces people in Iraq to help the Iraqis fight al Qaeda, Baathists, and the Iranian-backed Shia death squads.
And I assume we'll negotiate a new deal with the Iraqis to keep our forces in Iraq after 2011 to keep helping them defend their new democracy.

UPDATE: We rather assume they'll ask us to stay, too:

Iraq's leaders, worried about the country's stability and the designs of powerful neighbors such as Iran and Saudi Arabia , may ask for at least some American troops to remain as an insurance policy, Iraqi and U.S. observers said.

"There is a reasonable probability the Iraqis, once they've got a new government in place, will reassess" and request a change to the 2008 status of forces agreement, said Ryan Crocker , who was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2007 to 2009.

"I hope we'll be responsive," Crocker said in an interview, arguing that there's much left to do in Iraq .

About half of our 50,000 are headquarters and non-combat people--including Air Force people, I assume. Less than a tenth are special forces. Under 21,000 are in 6 combat advise and assist brigades.
Perhaps we can draw down to three [combat] brigades (one near Basra, one near Baghdad, and one near Mosul and Kirkuk), with a total of 10,000. Perhaps we get down to 12,000 support personnel and a few thousand special forces. That would total 25,000. Plus civilian contractors for training, maintenance, and working with the State Department. Perhaps we can count on using air power based in Turkey and Kuwait to miminimze the need to put fighter aircraft and support planes inside Iraq.

And I'd be happy if we had a couple brigade sets of equipment in Iraq so we could rapidly fly in troops to reinforce our troops there in a crisis.

Assuming we could also call on an airborne brigade based in Italy and a Marine Expeditionary Unit afloat within CENTCOM, we could more than double our ground power in a short time.

I think we have a couple more brigade sets for the Army in the region (Kuwait and afloat?), meaning we could get a bit more without even calling on forces in the United States.

It would be the height of folly to fail to put the resources into Iraq needed to exploit and defend what we've won already at the price we've paid. So yeah, I hope we'll be responsive, too.

A Line in the Sea

This article is about Jimmy Carter's visit to North Korea (hey, at least we didn't send Ahmadinejad as our envoy) to bring back a hostage. But I'd say the real news is the last paragraph:

South Korea’s defense minister Kim Tae-young escalated the rhetoric on Tuesday, saying South Korean forces would fire on North Korean targets if artillery shells fired by the North landed on South Korea’s side of the line in the Yellow Sea, as they did after South Korea finished exercises there more than a week ago. South Korean and US naval ships are planning more war games in the Yellow Sea early next month.

I'm guessing that North Korea will fire across that line after we hold those exercises next month.

So does a promise to fire back at North Korean "targets" mean a similar barrage across the line or something more?

Dazed and Confused

Marine Corps General Conway reminds us that far from being "resurgent" or whatever you want to claim they are, the Taliban are hurt:

He added that interrogations of Taliban prisoners have shown that they are getting tired of the war.

"They're getting hammered, to a much greater degree than we are," Conway said. "And they're asking themselves, 'Hey, is this all worth it?' And they're asking themselves that now."

Further, the thought that we will withdraw next summer is sustaining them in the fight despite the hammering they are taking:

"We think right now it's probably giving our enemy sustenance. . . . We've intercepted communications that say, hey, you know, we only have to hold out for so long," he said.

But there is a silver lining to this enemy hope:

But if it turns out the Marines are still in Afghanistan after mid-2011, Conway said, insurgent leaders based in Pakistan could be hard pressed to explain themselves to their foot soldiers.

That has been on my mind a lot, actually, as a silver lining to all our summer 2011 withdrawal talk. At the beginning of 2007, I wondered if the hoped withdrawal of US forces from Iraq based on the 2006 election results and the Iraq Study Group report set up the enemy for a major morale hit once the surge started. I've never read anything on that to suggest my hunch is right. but at least the logic is sound, I guess.

I suspect that after convincing themselves that no matter how badly we are hammering them that they have to endure that hammering only for a finite time, that once that time period passes next summer and we are still hammering the Taliban that their morale will take a major hit. For at that point, they'll have to believe that the hammering will go on forever--or at least long enough to kill them.

Of course, I've never believed that we would just withdraw beginning next year. That assumption depends on whether the president can resist calls to pull out from Afghanistan faster than we should--or whether the president even wants to stay and fight.

UPDATE: Afghans agree with Conway about the impact of the impression that July 2011 is our deadline for fighting:

"This is giving more reason and propaganda for the anti-government elements to prolong the fight," Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimy said of Obama's timetable.

"Such assertions could be used in favor of insurgents for ... empowering their forces and giving reasons to fight," he said. "The withdrawal should be based on the capability of the Afghan security forces."

One would hope that we won't have yet another stupid debate over "exit strategies" from the war instead of focusing on "winning" the war.

But we will have that debate. The anti-war side that no longer feels compelled to claim they want to win the "good war" in Afghanistan will see to it.


Germany will slash their already inadequate military, according to their defense minister:

He is calling for Germany's mandatory conscription to be maintained in the constitution but for it to be phased out in practice starting in mid-2011. Under the proposal, the army would shrink from its current size of 252,000 soldiers to around 165,000.

The German army can barely deploy their small force to Afghanistan with their current army. How can they even pretend to be a great power with the new numbers? I'm not sure why the Germans are even bothering to pay for a military at all. And conscription for 6 months is worthless, since a soldier takes that long to finish basic and school training.

Germany should scrap their military, save the $39 billion they spend, and just sign a $5 billion contract with Blackwater (or whatever their name is now) to protect Germany from foreign threats.

The Russians seriously worry that NATO is a threat to them?

UPDATE: Ah, the idea of military reform is to get rid of conscripts who can't be sent abroad anyway, and who aren't needed in numbers to make conscription lotteries fair to those eligible to be conscripted.

If this leads to more capable troops able to actually deploy to a fight, it makes sense to shrink their army rather than keep a make-work program for young people. It is always better to have a smaller number of troops capable of fighting than a larger number of troops that can't fight (but which you may believe can fight, getting you in the worst of both worlds).

So I retract my crack about the Germans implicit in the title.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Building Democracy

Building Afghan democracy:

Afghanistan’s political traditions are just beginning to develop. A Pashtun tribal leader told me that a “problem among Afghan politicians is that they do not tell the truth.” It’s a political system so new that that needed to be said out loud.

Yeah, that's a cheap shot on us. But still, it's funny.

Perhaps our civilian surge will give the Afghans our secret about how to tell when the politicians do not tell the truth--when their lips are moving.

Ok, that was another cheap shot.

Effing With Tradition

It is just wrong to deny the University of Michigan and that school in Columbus, Ohio the opportunity to play the last game of the season as we always do.

College football will be cheapened if the game is moved up closer to the middle of the season.

Nearer, My Kim, to Thee

The situation in North Korea seems increasingly unstable. Succession questions, hunger, news of a prosperous outside world, and public despair that could nullify fear of the security apparatus all hang over the Stalinist police state. And with Seoul within easy bombardment range of North Korean missiles and artillery, instability inside North Korea could turn into a bloody war in an instant.

So what's up with this?

Since June, at least two additional combat divisions have been camped outside the North Korean capital. No official explanation was given for this troop movement (which required using a lot of scarce fuel.) All is speculation in the north, because intel agencies in South Korea, the United States and China are reluctant to release any solid information, lest they risk exposing the few good sources they have up there. But the current rumors indicate that most of what's going on up north these days is driven by efforts to keep the government going. This is difficult, because supreme leader Kim Jong Il is apparently dying, or at least believes he is. The big problem is that his chosen successor is his youngest son, an able enough young man in his 20s. That's too young for a place like Korea, where people like their leaders elderly. Kim Jong Il is trying to convince his elderly associates to honor his choice of successor, and apparently not everyone is convinced.

Two divisions were moved near the capital? The regime has downgraded its reliance on the army both for national defense and regime security.

So what are two army divisions doing near the capital where they could be a threat to the regime as much as a palace guard? Or have the North Koreans made sure that at least some of the divisions are in better shape and more loyal (like Saddam's Republican Guard Corps) than the rest of the army just for this purpose?

And I'm assuming Kim Jong-Il ordered this move of presumably loyal troops. Is it possible that the army has done this in support of another faction--perhaps even a pro-China model faction (as long as I'm wildly speculating with absolutely no basis in fact)?

Who ordered this? Why are they there? And if called upon to act against or for the regime, will the unit's leaders or their men obey orders? Will these units be given orders to act? What will trigger orders?

North Korea is plagued by woes and shrouded in darkness. We see only the tip of the iceberg.

Gibbs Has My Six

I tend to save the bulk of my venom for the hard core political "Left" (with a minor in the isolationist right, if only because that right is marginalized and not promoted by our national culture and press corps, so has little real influence), rather than complaining about "Democrats." I've known and worked too much with Democrats who are intelligent and decent people to write off the party as a whole. I worry that the Left has hijacked that party at the national level, but still, I maintain the distinction.

So it is with some amusement--given that it seems to me that the Left has a pretty good presence in the current White House--that the president's press secretary sees the same distinction I've maintained all along on this blog:

The press secretary dismissed the “professional left” in terms very similar to those used by their opponents on the ideological right, saying, “They will be satisfied when we have Canadian healthcare and we’ve eliminated the Pentagon. That’s not reality.”

Gibbs made sense. Excuse me while I go take a long, hot shower for even typing those words.

I quibble on one small part--the "professional" Left? The Left will never lose its amateur status as far as I'm concerned.

To the Seas

Russia seems to be wisely (from their point of view) setting aside dreams of aircraft carriers sailing in the oceans and focusing on building a fleet for the nearby seas:

Russia has committed over $3 billion to start rebuilding its Black Sea fleet. The new force will consist of six Tornado class, 500 ton missile boats, three 4,000 ton Krivak IV frigates and three Kilo class submarines. There will also be a dozen or more mine sweepers, amphibious craft and smaller patrol boats, plus about twenty support ships and a few dozen aircraft and helicopters. ...

Last year, the government ordered the navy to concentrate on building new ships for the Black and Baltic Seas, instead of planning a high seas aircraft carrier fleet.

The Black Sea and Baltic Sea fleets were decimated by the break up of the Soviet Union. They need the most work. The Black Sea is priority, I'd think, given the challenges of Ukraine, Georgia, and Caucasus jihadis.

But Russia needs fleets for all their seas. The Northern Fleet needs to be strong enough to hold the Barents Sea to stop attacks on Russian soil and as a haven for ballistic missile submarines.

Russia also needs a Pacific Fleet able to at minimum hold a safe haven for missile subs in the Sea of Okhotsk, and to protect their coast from attacks from the Sea of Japan.

Throw in a Caspian Sea flotilla while we're talking. And the Arctic Sea, of course.

Russia doesn't have the money to be a land power and a sea power. Heck, they may not have the money to ba a land power across Eurasia. Russia's military has serious issues to contend with. So scrapping global naval ambitions is the only sensible thing they can do.

Monday, August 23, 2010


In what way is our "reset" policy with Russia going to do any good when so much of the problem stems not from us but from Russia's deep-seated paranoia?

As Muscovites suffer record high temperatures this summer, a Russian political scientist has claimed the United States may be using climate-change weapons to alter the temperatures and crop yields of Russia and other Central Asian countries.

In a recent article, Andrei Areshev, deputy director of the Strategic Culture Foundation, wrote, "At the moment, climate weapons may be reaching their target capacity and may be used to provoke droughts, erase crops, and induce various anomalous phenomena in certain countries."

I'm reasonably sure that Secretary Clinton's famous reset button has already been disassembled by Russia's leading scientists to find out what it really does. What country would seriously send such a silly prop to Russia?

Alert Tom Friedman!

Ah, to be China for a day!

Thousands of vehicles were bogged down Monday in a more than 100-kilometre (62-mile) traffic jam leading to Beijing that has lasted nine days and highlights China's growing road congestion woes.

A nine-day traffic jam. Seriously.

One day, they'll all be electric cars so an event like this will just make Tom Friedman envious.

Weighing Victory

I think General Odierno is basically right to be confident that Iraq can handle internal security; but he is a bit off on this judgment of Iraq:

In interviews with CBS' "Face the Nation" and CNN's "State of the Union," Odierno said it may take several years before America can determine if the war was a success.

"A strong democratic Iraq will bring stability to the Middle East, and if we see Iraq that's moving toward that, two, three, five years from now, I think we can call our operations a success," he said.

Smashing Iraq's military so rapidly was a clear military victory.

Overthrowing the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein and his demon spawn was a victory of human rights.

Ending the Iraqi threat to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia was a clear victory for our foreign policy.

Ending the threat of Saddam possessing weapons of mass destruction again was a foreign policy victory.

Defeating al Qaeda in Iraq and blunting Iran's efforts to dominate Iraq were foreign policy victories.

Yes, if Iraq emerges as a stable democracy in several years, this could set an example for the region and provide a broader victory for our foreign policy.

But that outcome does not affect the succeses we've already pocketed.

We have more to do in Iraq. But we've achieved much already.

Reality-Based Budgeting

I can't believe that people still try to argue that our budget deficits are caused by the Iraq War.

Does this look like a war problem?

Or is it a spending problem on other programs? Really, isn't defense the number one priority of the government? Why isn't all defense spending considered below the deficit line? Why aren't we blaming farm subsidies and education spending for the deficits? Do read the whole article.

This false claim astounded me before. It still does.

Natural Action. Natural Reaction

China argues that their rising military power is a natural and normal thing for a country growing in economic stature and with increasing dependence on overseas trade. They have a point.

It is also natural for other countries to react to China's rising power and ambitions with their own rise:

After a review of its military policies, Japan has decided to redeploy its armed forces, to better deal with the growing threat from China and North Korea. Russia, despite the continuing dispute over the Kurile islands, is seen as much less of a problem. Throughout the Cold War, Japanese military power was focused on a possible attack from Russia. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and two decades of decline in the Russian armed forces, Japan now feels able to turn and confront the growing might of China, and hostility from North Korea. Japan is also upgrading its armed forces, especially its navy, in response to the growth of Chinese naval power.

Until China's natural rise in military power, Japan had less incentive to really gear up their military for potential conflict.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

We'll Need to Kill Him Yet

That walking piece of breathing garbage--Moqtada al-Sadr--is up to no good in Iraq again:

Sadr -- feared by some, reviled by others and revered by a broad swath of Iraq's urban poor -- is now a kingmaker in Iraqi politics. It's a role that Sadr, the scion of a prominent clerical family, has been building toward since 2003.

Years ago, I argued emphatically that we needed to kill Moqtada al-Sadr, the Iranian hand puppet who has fronted insurrections twice in 2004 and resisted the Charge of the Knights offensive in 2008.

Is he truly a "kingmaker" as the article says? Well, Sadr has failed multiple times to prove his popularity in Iraq. I don't think that many Iraqis really want an Iranian puppet to lead them.

But he does have some support that will follow him into the streets and the Iranians will back him. I suspect that Mookie will resort to violence yet again--it's what he does. If we let him live after yet another attempt to seize power, we'll deserve whatever we get in Iraq.

Getting What We Pay For

Background information on paying for our Navy. Bottom line: we can't get the numbers the Navy says it needs with the building plan the Navy wants.

If numbers matter, we can get them. It just depends on whether the Navy accepts less capable ships to reach that number.

The Navy needs to adapt to the budget realities. Saying that such a reality-based course will result in a Navy they don't want ignores that by ignoring reality the Navy won't be what they want it to be anyway--and it won't be better.

Preach It, Petraeus

Some common sense about the war from General Petraeus:

Wired.com: Another thing that gets parsed a lot — do you find that it’s a false distinction between counterinsurgency and counterterrorism?

Petraeus: Well, in fact, operations by counterterrorist forces — in other words, by our special-mission-unit elements, which will remain nameless but which you know are absolutely part of a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency campaign. Not only are those [operations] not at odds with counterinsurgency, they’re a very important element in the overall approach. So are population-centric security operations — to clear, hold, and build [areas with] conventional forces. So are, of course, similar operations in partnership with Afghan forces.

And now, [there's] the Afghan local police initiative, just signed by President Karzai yesterday. That will enable the establishment of village guard forces: local police, under the Ministry of Interior elements in that district. There have to be very careful safeguards to ensure that these are not militia nor warlord forces or anything like that.

But then, as you know, you cannot kill or capture your way out of a substantial insurgency. Clearly, politics are a huge part of that. So that is where reintegration of reconcilable elements of the insurgency comes in. And that is already ongoing.

There is no contradiction between a strategy that protects people and kills the enemy.

Thanks for getting my six on this.

I Met a Strange Lady, She Made Me Nervous

Well, Australia's left-leaning prime minister may have had a short reign, unable to convince voters that she should continue Labor's policies, depending on the negotiations over forming a government in what could be a hung parliament:

With 78 percent of votes counted, a hung parliament was most likely, with two possible scenarios for a minority government: a conservative administration backed by rural independents or a Labor government backed by Green or green-minded MPs.

The latter scenario is frightening for many investors, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard indicating on Sunday after early talks with independent and Green MPs that she was open to discussing the policies of this disparate group of lawmakers.

Or Tony Abbot could succeed in forming a government from the right side. Although he couldn't make the case enought to earn the right to form the government with a parliamentary majority.

I have no idea what this might mean for Australia's role in the fight in Afghanistan. Or for their defense plans focused on China. It's enough to make me chunder.

You better run, you better take cover, until this is all sorted out.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Make 'Em Work For It

The Army is working on ammunition that won't cook off and obliterate a crew when their vehicle is hit:

Called IMX-101 (which stands for Insensitive Munitions Explosive) the explosive is one successful result of a four-year Pentagon-funded effort that sought to replace TNT — military munitions’ longtime staple. ...

The appeal of eliminating TNT comes down to safety, both in transport and storage. The compound’s extreme volatility means that a TNT-loaded munition will detonate, with fatal implications, if struck by an IED or a rocket-powered grenade. ...

“But with IMX-101, all that would happen is the explosive would deflagrate (burn quickly), and the shell would break into a few pieces,” Charlie Patel, a program-management engineer for Project Manager Combat Ammunition Systems, says of the key difference between the two explosives. “You wouldn’t have the big detonation that would wipe out the vehicle and driver or a whole storage area and crew.”

I'd think this would have great appeal for warships, which would reduce the impact of magazine hits that destroy a ship as the Hood experienced at the hands of the Bismarck in World War II.

Clash of the Titans?

So will China or India emerge on top in Asia?

The economist notes that what Westerners take for granted--our economic dominance--is something that has been true only over the last couple centuries:

These two Asian giants, which until 1800 used to make up half the world economy, are not, like Japan and Germany, mere nation states. In terms of size and population, each is a continent—and for all the glittering growth rates, a poor one.

Until industrialization gave Western Europe an enormous productivity advantage that catapulted the West to dominance, the sheer size of India and China gave them the largest economies in the world. That was less relevant back then since there was little per capita surplus to make that economic size felt anywhere but within their regions, at best.

China, of course, is now the second largerst economy in the world as measured by GDP, having just passed Japan, a country a tenth the size in population. Which means that China is hardly as powerful as the GDP figure would indicate.

From the West's point of view, the relative decline of the West as India, China, and the rest of Asia have advanced economically, is really only a matter of European relative decline since American economic power has remained pretty stable as a share of the whole. We have reason to have confidence that our economic power has a foundation to keep growing even as China faces demographic limits to growth at recent rates and potentially worse outcomes.

And of the Asian powers rising, I'd surely call Japan a member of the West. And I'd add South Korea and Taiwan to that club with a little longer time to entrench democracy and rule of law after emerging from authoritarian governments in the last couple decades.

Further, India is poised to become a member of the West on the strength of its history of democracy and rule of law. So this is nothing to worry about when looking at India's rise.

Further, India and China are so large that they are perhaps better thought of as geographic terms (like "Europe" is today) rather than as political entities. Their very size and divisions could yet cause problems in rising further. Fragmentation is not out of the question, for either state. Although if I had to place bets, I'd give India a better shot at overcoming their divisions based on their experience with democracy and rule of law that provide alternatives to political separation as a means of satisfying grievances of sub-groups.

Just in terms of India versus China, their rise causes problems in that they will be nuclear powers who are rivals and neighbors. Yes, for conventional conflict the mountains between them will make them distant neighbors. But for nuclear weapons and diplomatic competition in Southeast Asia and Central Asia, the proximity will keep them focused on each other.

Yet India will have a geographic advantage over China that can overcome at least part of any Chinese advantage in head-to-head economic and power comparisons with China. China is surrounded by potential foes. These countries will lay claim to much of China's rising power. Indeed, China's rise causes a reaction by neighbors to counter China's greater power, nullifying at least part of China's increased raw power. India, by contrast, has few external foes that could divert them from focusing on China. Pakistan, certainly, diverts Indian military power and attention. And Burma. Toss in Sri Lanka if you'd like. But that's it.

Add in India's geographic advantage of being able to use sea power to block China's trade routes across the Indian Ocean and potential to use air power to interdict land routes to Central Asia, and India does not have to even surpass China in power to have the advantage in deployable power in a one-on-one comparison.

Add in America's deployable power, which will always be great because of our geography, and is far more important even with a rising Asia that has to watch neighbors carefully, and China has nothing to smile about in marking their rise to second place.

So yes, the question of whether India or China will win their economic battle is important, but it is not the only questions we have to answer when we consider the impact of their potential rise.