Thursday, March 31, 2011

After Shock

The Japanese earthquake and tsunami will cost so much that Japan's defenses may suffer (from my Jane's email updates):

Japan may cut defence spending to meet disaster reconstruction costs
Japan's defence budget for 2011 - already at an 18-year low - could drop even further due to the massive costs associated with rebuilding parts of its northeast Pacific after the 11 March earthquake and tsunami, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has indicated to Jane's . The Cabinet Office said on 23 March that the cost of rebuilding facilities and infrastructure in the areas hit by the disaster could reach at least JPY25 trillion (USD309 billion) over the next three years[.]

This isn't promising. Japan lives in a dangerous neighborhood. And there are worst things than earthquakes and tsunamis that must be prepared for.

The Logic is Impeccable, You Must Admit

If you wonder why the coalition over and near Libya goes to great lengths to deny we are fighting for the rebels, this should clear up that mystery:

“We’ve been conveying a message to the rebels that we will be compelled to defend civilians, whether pro-Qaddafi or pro-opposition,” said a senior Obama administration official. “We are working very hard behind the scenes with the rebels so we don’t confront a situation where we face a decision to strike the rebels to defend civilians.”

Ponder that. We may yet have a war against both sides in a civil war. Now that's nuanced!

This is going to work out just swell.

Wait. It Gets Better

Andrew Sullivan can't believe that President Obama is wading into an Arab civil war against a tyrant with overt and covert means (tip to Instapundit):

It's so surreal, so discordant with what the president has told the American people, so fantastically contrary to everything he campaigned on, that I will simply wait for more confirmation than this before commenting further. I simply cannot believe it.

Not to worry, reality will eventually seep into the "reality-based" community.

While Sullivan's bewildered denial stage is certainly fun, until he gets to the lamentations part, it isn't yet as fun as it can be.

UPDATE: We got to the lamentations part! (Via Instapundit who cites Althouse) That was fast.

Cue the video (from the link in the original part of this post)!

I love the smell of facepalm in the morning.

UPDATE: Thank you to Instapundit for the link.

The Gift of Time

I don't wish to underestimate what our Navy and Air Force can do with our strategy of bombardment to compel the fall of Khaddafi's regime. But we are handicapped in achieving that objective with those means. It's early yet, but as time goes on, the chances of our victory go down. Why? The basic politics of Western intervention in an Arab state.

One, the coalition is divided on what our objective is and what resolution 1973 authorizes:

Then there is the potential quagmire in the tangle of countries that make up or are associated with the alliance against Gaddafi. Already, in Europe, there is disagreement between pro-intervention countries and nations like Germany and Italy on both the military operation and how to deal with Gaddafi.

Two, the cost in money and perceived Libyan loss of life will outweigh the objective in Western public opinion:

"Gaddafi has managed to group a large number of his forces within big cities, meaning air strikes to eliminate them aren't going to work unless you're willing to kill far greater numbers of the surrounding civilian population. This is why the air strategy was risky from the start... By consequence, fears are high that after a certain point, this could go on and on, and wear Western opinion down." ...

French public opinion could quickly develop mission fatigue especially with Paris already imposing a whole array of austerities to battle the domestic budget deficit. The moral imperative to help the Libyan rebels may bog down when the French people figure the money involved is better spent at home.

Three, just as the Arab League quickly backed away from their support of a no-fly zone when we started dropping bombs, the Arab public will sour (and with more anger than in the West) on the mission as reports of air strike-caused Libyan civilian casualties (whether actual or staged or made up) mount:

"If the military operation goes on far very long," says Bitar, "Arab public opinion will begin rapidly [to compare] it to Iraq, and start viewing it as another kind of invasion of an Arab country, rather than an attempt to let Libyans determine their fate in a fair fight. And that's not even considering the possibility of large numbers of Libyan civilians being killed as collateral damage in strikes, or if they get caught between opposing forces in what becomes and open-ended civil war. There, too, Arab public opinion will turn hostile to the intervention, and blame it for the unending violence and death."

Absent real determination by the West to persevere through that basic reality, the coalition will fragment and retreat before achieving the objective. This gift of time to the loyalists will likely prove to be decisive. Unless we get lucky with our current strategy, of course, as I've often mentioned.

I would like to add that my early preference of covertly arming and supporting the rebels to prepare them for a long civil war without putting our prestige on the line by openly calling for the defeat of Khaddafi probably wouldn't have worked.

While I suspected that Khaddafi could mount a counter-attack, the rebels are far weaker than I guessed at the time. I thought more defecting soldiers would give the rebels at least a framework of basic military structure that additional training, guidance, and weapons could flesh out in order to hold out. Then, over time, the rebels could gain strength and engage in a decisive campaign to win the civil war. Clearly, the loyalists could have beaten the rebels even if we did what I suggested.

Going forward, my plan wouldn't work, either. It could, if Western air support could be guaranteed for the rest of the year while we arm, train, and organize the rebels. But soon, the coalition will fragment and we will be in the position of having to intervene directly with ground troops--but after Western Europe and the Arab world have turned on the coalition operation. Wouldn't it be better to intervene now, while public support is higher, with a reinforced division of Western ground troops to land near Tripoli and capture the capital and hang that paper-hanging SOB from a lamp post?

UPDATE: Obama earning respect in the Arab world by bombing Khaddafi's forces? Get back to me in a couple months.

Oh, and this is rich:

A Saudi friend told me it was one of the rare occasions he’d seen a U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East align with America’s backing for human rights and democracy.

You mean other than suffering more than 4,500 killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom to free a country from a murderous and oppressive despot and defend the fledgling democracy we helped set up against vicious killers from the Sunni Arab world and Iran?

I mean, really, other than the aqueduct, what have the Romans done for us?

Charlie Brown Diplomacy

Syria has had a long run of convincing American diplomats that just one more concession to Assad will lead Syria to abandon Iran and flip to the West to make peace with Israel. Assad (whether Boy Assad or his dad) repeatedly took what he could to keep their rickety state going a little longer on Western aid and then rejected any moves to actually flip. At the end of the day, the Assad regime figured just a little Western aid and the Iranian alliance was the best combination to stay in power.

Heck, I'm not innocent in all this. I thought for years that we could flip Syria based on a take-it-or-leave-it policy of offering our hostility until Syria flipped first. Then--and only then--we could talk goodies. Briefly during the Bush administration it seemed like we were trying that. Now I'm not sure we could engineer that kind of flip as long as Iran supports Syria. And Pelosi's pilgrimage to Damascus when she became Speaker in 2007 ended the or-else track, anyway.

I wrote recently about an article that just doesn't seem to get that Syria is not interested in flipping through promises of Western help and lamented reporters could fall for the idea that the fall of the Assad regime would be bad for the prospects of peace with Israel. I admitted that perhaps my beef should be with the foreign policy types the reporter interviewed. Well, I probably owe the reporter a hearty "I'm sorry for assuming you are an idiot." No, from the top the delusion of working with Assad persists, as Secretary of State Clinton indicates:

There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer. What’s been happening there the last few weeks is-- is deeply concerning. But there’s a difference between calling out aircraft and indiscriminately strafing and bombing your own cities, then police actions, which frankly have exceeded the use of force that any of us would want to see.

Assad is a "new" leader? And he's a reformer? On what reality-based planet do you have to live on to believe that Boy Assad, in power for a decade and reliant on his father's brutal minions to do what it takes to stay in power, is a reformer?

Apparently, if protests after Friday prayers lead the Assad regime to put down the protesters violently with means that fall short of using aircraft (and to be fair, Khaddafi's limited use of air power was largely aimed at armed targets rather than against civilian targets), that won't count--although it will frankly exceed the use of force that any of us would want to see, of course.

The belief in Assad's powers of reform are strong in this Secretary of State. But in the end, can't you just see Clinton hopefully running up to kick the ball that Assad is holding, only to see Clinton ending up on her back, staring at the sky and muttering "Rats!"? That smarts, all right.

The nuance! It burns!

UPDATE: Krauthammer isn't impressed by the "reformer" claim:

Few things said by this administration in its two years can match this one for moral bankruptcy and strategic incomprehensibility.

Hillary Clinton said her judgment after getting a 3:00 a.m. crisis call is superior to then-candidate Obama's judgment. Her Sunday morning analysis doesn't bolster her claim.

The Jihadi Petri Dish

Yemen's unrest is far more than another version of the Arab Spring's yearning for freedom (however it is understood by the protesters). Yemen has long-standing tribal and political divisions that have sparked war before. Those factors are present today.

Stratfor worries about chaos that will allow al Qaeda to thrive.

It seems that either the government wins, and until the government wins their best troops trained and equipped by our government so they can go after al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will be busy defending the government.

Or the more Islamist-friendly opposition wins, and at least initially won't work with us to fight al Qaeda. They'll disband the best anti-terrorist units, too, because they are pro government. We might have a window of opportunity to use whatever data we have on al Qaeda locations in Yemen to hit them during the transition period.

And in the meantime, al Qaeda can operate more freely and expand while both sides focus on each other and leave al Qaeda alone.

I tend to think that any government will eventually want our aid to hunt jihadis since the jihadis will eventually be a threat to that government. But in the short run, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula could strike us and kill Americans or other Westerners by exploiting the lack of pressure on them.

Still Not Providing Air Support

News that we have CIA operatives on the ground in Libya trying to work with the rebels does not change the fact that we are not providing ground support to the rebels. We are running a parallel air campaign that we hope the rebels can exploit with their armed mobs:

The United States and Britain have inserted covert intelligence agents into Libya to make contact with rebels and to gather data to guide coalition air strikes, a report said.

Given how the fighting has gone, I'd say that these agents on the ground are identifying targets for planned air and missile strikes, but they are not painting loyalist targets for hitting loyalist units that are in contact with rebels. Further, given our lack of knowledge on the ground, I'd bet that most of the efforts of the agents is getting intel on the rebels and trying to talk to them, rather than identifying targets. For our planned strikes, we have planes and electronics and satellites to find targets.

The British may be doing more of the targeting for their effort around Misrata (it seems like the British have the job of working that area) since the story says the British have agents and special forces on the ground. So maybe the British are trying to provide actual ground support to rebels in Misrata. This makes sense because while we think we can get away with not doing that and still nail loyalists on the open road between Ajdabiya and Sirte, with loyalists and rebels inside Misrata, greater precision is needed in targeting to avoid civilian casualties.

Unless NATO wants to give up and let Khaddafi survive (press reports of phantom casualties are already in the Arab press and it won't take many accidents to develop a narrative of suffering Libyans under our guns to migrate to the Western press, which will then validate Arabic language press), inevitably we'll need to put special forces on the ground with rebel units to call in air strikes.

The rebels need an army. Either we prepare for a long war by sending in French anti-tank missiles, old Egyptian tanks, a military contractor company to train and organize the rebel mob into a passable army (and draw up a plan to use their forces to win the civil war), and put in special forces to use our air power to support the rebels in combat; or the Europeans send in three good combat brigades reinforced with other supporting units to form a reinforced division and capture Tripoli (or a couple Egyptian divisions could make the long drive to Tripoli).

Otherwise, we're relying on good luck to win. But who knows, maybe Khaddafi will slip and fall getting out of his bath tub. It happens to people all the time. Why not him? Maybe Tom Friedman could get a little more specific in his prayers for luck.

We're flying over Libya on a coalition wing and Tom's prayer. I want to win this war. I'm praying, too, Tom. And members of Congress should remember that our military is at war over Libya even if they have questions about how the administration is waging the war. Win the war, first. Focus on how to do that. After? Go after the president all you like.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rant. Dignified Rant

My blog picture will be five years old by this coming fall. I'm thinking I need a new one:

I freely admit that the chances of me wearing a tuxedo are almost infinitely smaller than wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt, but one does what one must when one has a license to blog.

Although perhaps I should edit out Lamb's "fairies" poster in the background. It does detract from the awesomeness factor a bit.

But only a bit.

The Prospect of a Glorious Issue or the Sad Choice of a Variety of Evils

Christopher Hitchens asks if this Arab Spring could have taken place without the liberation and defense of Iraq (tip to Weekly Standard):

Can anyone imagine how the Arab spring would have played out if a keystone Arab state, oil-rich and heavily armed with a track record of intervention in its neighbors' affairs and a history of all-out mass repression against its own civilians, were still the private property of a sadistic crime family? As it is, to have had Iraq on the other scale from the outset has been an unnoticed and unacknowledged benefit whose extent is impossible to compute. And the influence of Iraq on the Libyan equation has also been uniformly positive in ways that are likewise often overlooked.

Iraqis certainly seem to think that their example has been important.

I speculated several years ago that President George W. Bush could one day be known as George the Liberator in the Arab world.

Yet much depends on President Obama. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered. Much depends on whether the Arabs seize the moment and whether President Obama, who ran as the anti-Bush, bolsters these early, sometimes feeble grasps at the promise of freedom, in fulfillment of his actions to save the Libyan rebels from the depth of their winter.

By perseverance and fortitude, as we demonstrated in Iraq through dark years of bloodshed, we will have a say in whether Arabs have a glorious future or succumb instead to any of the numerous evils that could follow revolution.

Look North

Our Navy doesn't have enough experience operating in the far north (From my Jane's email updates):

Interview: Commander Blake McBride, Arctic Action Officer, US Navy
The Arctic is emerging as a region of increasing interest for the US Navy (USN), as rising sea levels and melting polar ice present new security concerns for a navy that is built primarily to operate in warmer tropical climates. A report from the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS), commissioned by the USN and released on 10 March, notes: "Summer sea ice in the Arctic is declining at an estimated rate of 10 per cent per decade or more, and Arctic Ocean sea lanes could be open as early as the summer of 2030." It further observes: "The lack of operating experience by naval surface and air forces in cold-weather environments has resulted in a generation of naval personnel unfamiliar with the demands of operating in far-north areas, both at sea and ashore." Growing concerns over increased international transit routes and disputes over mineral rights are driving the US to develop a requirements list for the Arctic in co-operation with other nations that border the region: Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia[.]

Establishing a Polar Command would probably help.


War is not a static enterprise. As I said they would (and doing it the way I said they should), the loyalists have adapted to our air power sufficiently to drive east to Burayqah (Brega):

Gadhafi's forces also have adopted a new tactic in light of the pounding airstrikes have given their tanks and armored vehicles, a senior U.S. intelligence official said. They've left those weapons behind in favor of a "gaggle" of "battle wagons": minivans, sedans and SUVs fitted with weapons, said the official, who spoke anonymously in order to discuss sensitive U.S. intelligence on the condition and capabilities of rebel and regime forces.

The change not only makes it harder to distinguish Gadhafi's forces from the rebels, it also requires less logistical support, the official said.

Let's see what we have up our sleeves, in response. American or Western special forces on the ground with the rebels to accurately call in fire after identifying targets would be the no-brainer response. Maybe flying in attack helicopters from sea platforms to reach the coastal road with Hellfire missiles might work in some places. Maybe AC-130 gunships and A-10s recently brought in could work better with this target set.

UPDATE: The loyalists are adapting to our air power in another way I suggested, by hiding their vehicles under cover until they need to use them. I had an article on that and apparently deleted it. If I find it again, I'll post a link and quote it.

Growing in Office Before Our Eyes

Miss Bush yet? No need. Bush is coming back before our eyes--in foreign policy, at least. President Obama's transformation may not yet be complete but it is progressing. Austin Bay analyzes the president's war speech for the clues:

Hope and change? It appears reality has given President Obama an extended "teaching moment," and he's learned from it. Instead of putting down American exceptionalism, he has embraced it.

I love the smell of American exceptionalism in the morning.

Arming the Rebels?

Should we arm the rebels in Libya? My first preference would be to put weapons in the captured arms depots into working order. Perhaps that is not an option. If not, arming the rebels is the logical next step. If we don't, the frustration that the rebels already have at the lack of effective air support during combat will step up to the next level and result in the rebels and the loyalists hating us.

Perhaps we and the Libyan rebels need to look to the Toyota War for options on how to beat Libyan mechanized forces. And the Chadians didn't have the level of air support that the French could provide back then.

Get 4-wheel drive vehicles with those multiple rocket launchers and anti-tank missiles; buy the services of a military contractor to train and organize the rebel armed mob; and stop charging up to loyalist positions.

Get off the damned coastal road. Go around Sirte and other loyalist strongholds with a bunch of mobile raiding groups and work to pick off tanks and armored vehicles at long range. Stay away from the roads where coalition planes hunt loyalist armor and supply vehicles.

And for God's sake, hold at Ajdabiya.

UPDATE: And no, I'm not dismayed at the chance that we might send some arms to a "flicker" of al Qaeda or Hamas in Libya's rebel faction. As long as they shoot at Khaddafi's forces, deal with one problem at a time. As I recall, there were more than "flickers" of communists in the French and Yugoslavian resistance when we sent them arms to fight the Nazis. And do I even have to mention the "flickers" of communists in the Soviet Union when we lost lots of lives fighting convoys through German air and sea attack to reach Murmansk to provide them with arms and supplies? By all means, avoid directly giving arms to jihadi types. But don't deny aid to (and future influence over) the remainder.

UPDATE: Speaking of Chadian tactics, is Chad intervening on the side of Khaddafi?

Bani said he heard from three sources, including one in Chad, that 3,200 to 3,600 heavily armed members of the Chadian presidential guard were marching from Sirte toward Ajdabiya. The report could not be independently confirmed.

That per the rebel spokesman. That seems rather unlikely.

UPDATE: Rebels in Libya, as in the rest of the Arab world so far, are not being led by jihadis. Of course, jihadis will try to exploit the revolts and unrest. But the fact is, most of the protesters or rebels have rejected the calls of jihad and are not fighting to establish theocratic Islamist states. Our support can be valuable in strengthening the non-jihadis during the struggles on the streets or on the battlefields, and after when they try to build a new government and society.

Fretting too much that jihadis will take over and refusing to help the rebels defeat Khaffafi will just make it easier for Khaddafi to kill off lots of non-jihadi rebels and leave a higher proportion of jihadis among the rebels. Or our lack of support for the rebels will frustrate the non-jihadis and perhaps radicalize them (the left is fond of saying that Ho Chi Minh reached out to us after World War II, but because we rejected him he turned to communist ideology to motivate his fight for independence in Vietnam).

We're at war. The primary problem is winning it, and destroying the Khaddafi regime is how we win it. One problem at a time, people, or we'll end up with an angry Khaddafi regime that survives our half measures and rebels who resent our failure to support them and turn to radical jihadis who will at least fight at their side with real determination to beat Khaddafi. There's nothing smart about that.

Liberty and Independence?

I don't think the Delaware state motto means what they think it means. (Tip to Weekly Standard blog.)

"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance."

Amazing. And they flat out lied to the man.

Working for the Clampdown

Protesters around Syria are challenging Assad's rule. Assad blames it on "conspirators:"

Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed a wave of protests on "conspirators" who are trying to destroy the country, giving his first address to the nation Wednesday since the demonstrations erupted nearly two weeks ago.

Assad said security forces were given "clear instructions" not to harm citizens during the protests.

So he gave his twisted speech to the young believers. What is he gonna do now?

While he defends himself by saying security forces won't attack citizens, conspirators are clearly another matter. Those he'll order shot and disappeared as necessary.

This all plays out in these days of evil presidentes, working for the clampdown. But lately one or two has fully paid their due for working for the clampdown.

Gitalong. Gitalong.

UPDATE: This article figures that the army and Assad's base of support put down this protest wave; but that eventually, the regime falls. Perhaps taking off the turban and asking is this man is a Jew? will work one more time.

Once More, With Feeling

I know I said the Libya civil war could swing back and forth along the coast road, but this is ridiculous. The victory spray painted signs on the walls in Ajdabiya were barely dry before the loyalists struck east again:

Rebels retreated Wednesday from the key Libyan oil port of Ras Lanouf along the coastal road leading to the capital Tripoli after they came under heavy shelling from ground forces loyal to leader Moammar Gadhafi.

So for a third time (first when the rebellion started and second during the first loyalist offensive) I'll advise the rebels to do whatever they need to do to hold Ajdabiya. The coalition may be attacking loyalist heavy forces from the air, but despite the losses the loyalists have managed to go on the offensive under the air umbrella.

Hold Ajdabiya, and the loyalists are stuck out in the open with supply lines stretching west that are vulnerable to the coalition air campaign. If the rebels can pin the loyalists at the city, given some time the rebels will be chasing the loyalists west once more.

But if the rebels lose the city, offensive options open up for the loyalists. I'll modify the loyalist options a bit from the original post. As my first option, I'd strike southeast to Jalu to cut off the rebel's southeastern oil resources in order to prepare for a long war (although it would be safer to just hold at Ajdabiya and mount a drive on Jalu from Maradah, to the west--assuming the loyalists hold Maradah). Driving east to the Egyptian border is probably the worst option now that the coalition can pound road columns that close to the coast. Advancing north to Benghazi could be attempted if the loyalists can avoid large columns and quickly get their heavy stuff into the city of Benghazi to get mixed up with rebel and civilian targets.

Remember, until we get forward observers on the ground to work with the rebels, we're not really providing air support for the rebels. What we are doing is running a separate air campaign that the rebels have to adapt to if they want to exploit our air strikes.

But at risk of repeating myself, the rebels need to dig in at Ajdabiya and hold it at all costs. Well, unless their strategy is to let the loyalists approach Benghazi again to compel the West to commit ground troops--in for a penny, in for a pound, and all that. Heck, NATO is already thinking of ground troops after a win. It isn't that great a leap once you start getting used to the idea of winning to commit troops to achieve the win, eh?

UPDATE: Upon reflection, if I was running the loyalist show, I'd hold firm at Sirte while pushing the rebels east without going for Ajdabiya. I'd then prepare for another fighting withdrawal back to Sirte to again hammer approaching rebels. Repeat as necessary. This avoids having long supply columns supporting a long battle at Ajdabiya, which would be vulnerable to coalition air strikes. If I thought I could bounce Ajdabiya and get in their quickly to set up defenses in the city, I'd probably take a shot. Although the supply line issue would still exist, so there would still be some risk. Rely on foreign mercenaries to hold the city if captured to minimize that risk.

Regardless of whether the loyalists try to take and hold Ajdabiya or fight a mobile battle east of Sirte, withdrawing and advancing as needed, I'd make my main offensive efforts at Misrata near Tripoli and--far from coalition air power--against the loyalist oil resources in the deep southeast around Al Kufrah to prepare for a long war. Make the rebels a ward of the West during a time of budget woes rather than self-sufficient based on oil exports, and the rebels will have a harder time buying the expertise and weapons they need to build and army and their own air defenses.

UPDATE: Rebels are fleeing through al Burayqah (Brega) and regrouping at Ajdabiya. If any try to make a stand at Burayqah, it won't last long unless our air power really blasts them. The rebels also claim that the loyalists are flanking them from the south (which I also mentioned earlier). At what point do the loyalists make a decision about pursuing rebels at the risk of being hit by coalition air power or drawing back to again draw the rebels west before pouncing?

Buy This Ship!

I'm worried about the survivability of our super carriers in a world of cheap and persistent surveillance assets combined with numerous long-range anti-ship missiles. I've taken comfort that we have, in practice, a reserve stealth fleet of smaller carriers that have a primary mission of carrying Marines but which could serve as carriers larger than most other countries' carriers.

The British are selling off one of their small carriers:

Just two weeks after the aircraft carrier was decommissioned at its home port of Portsmouth Naval Base, Hampshire, the Ark Royal has been advertised on the website.

So when I first say this news, although my first reaction was that it will eventually enter PLA Navy service after it is bought by China "for a nightclub or school," my second thought was that America should buy that ship!

Seriously. One, it would keep it out of Chinese hands so it can't be turned into an amphibious warfare vessel or small carrier.

But more important, it could be a valuable test bed to see how effective a carrier this small could be for missions we need to complete. At only 22,000 tons, it is about half the size of our amphibious warfare carriers.

I think we should experiment with tradeoffs between more smaller vessels and the capacity of fewer large ones, as well as the benefits of having more targets for an enemy to deal with even if each one is easier to sink than a larger ship. With network-centric warfare, we can mass effects from widely separated platforms, I imagine. Why build these platform-centric super carriers if they can't survive?

And we could test Ark Royal with unmanned combat aircraft. Smaller craft on a smaller carrier might even things out, eh?

Anyway, buy that ship!

UPDATE: Actually, I imagine it would be more likely that India would buy the ship. They have the motivations to stop China from getting it; and it is likely to work out better than the Russian piece of garbage up on cement blocks in Russia's front yard, leaking oil, that India hopes will one day be delivered to them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Carthago Delenda Est

Our UN-blessed war with Libya can end with Khaddafi still in power in whatever rump Libya he still holds, according to Secretary Clinton:

Military action will continue "until Kadhafi fully complies with the terms of (UN Security Council resolution) 1973, ceases his attacks on civilians, pulls his troops back from places they have forcibly entered, and allows key services and humanitarian assistance to reach all Libyans," Clinton said.

The establishment of an immediate ceasefire was one of the top demands of the resolution authorizing "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians, including air strikes on Kadhafi's ground forces and a no-fly zone.

So we would have to accept a ceasefire if he complies with 1973.

Let's recall the other UN-blessed wars that ended short of victory.

First, there was the Korean War begun in 1950. We got a ceasefire and the survival of North Korea. Now they threaten the world with threats ranging from terrorism, nuclear attack, conventional attack, and--funny enough--collapsing from their own economic ineptitude and oppression. So this has been a great experience of a vast coalition acting on behalf of the world.

Then we have the Persian Gulf War of 1991 that liberated Kuwait--thus saving them from attack and oppression by Saddam's forces--but allowed Saddam's weakened Iraq to survive. We got a long no-fly zone followed by another war to finally destroy his regime, and a long counter-insurgency fight to defeat the regime remnants and jihadis and death squads financed and facilitated by the Iraqi Baathists, Syria, Iran, and the wider Sunni Arab world. That was fun, huh?

And now we could easily have this UN-blessed war end in a ceasefire with Khaddafi still standing?

That would be a defeat for America even as the UN types declare mission accomplished because we checked off all the boxes on resolution 1973.

There is no substitute for victory. Khaddafi's regime must be destroyed. Otherwise, we risk having future generations deal with an even worse problem in Libya.

UPDATE: Thank you to The Unreligious Right for the link.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Ground truth in Libya as rebels hit resistance and retreat from Bin Jawwad, not far from Sirte:

Libyan government tanks and rockets have driven back rebels who attempted an assault on Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte. Opposition fighters fleeing in a panicked scramble pleaded for international airstrikes that never came. ...

Some fleeing rebels shouted "Sarkozy, where are you?" — a reference to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the strongest supporters of airstrikes against Gadhafi's forces.

Where is he? Along with the rest of the coalition, "he" is not providing close air support to the rebels. "He" is running a sometimes parallel air campaign above them.

We are actually pretty clear about this:

ADM. GORTNEY:  Well, first off, we're not in direct support of the opposition.  It's not part of our mandate, sir.  And we're not coordinating with the opposition.  Our strategy continues to be to pressure him where we think it's going to give us the best effect. 

And if you still can't accept what he says:

We have no mil-to-mil communications with the opposition.

If the rebels can exploit what we do, good for them. But that's the extent of the "cooperation."

If the dreams that air power purists dare to dream really do come true, they'll be just fine.

Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh why can't our air power?

UPDATE: The rebels have retreated from Ras Lanouf, as well, according to this report. Somehow the Libyan loyalists managed to attack Bin Jawwad for hours while under our aerial umbrella.

Reality-Based Coalition

What is it with these people--like our president--who believe that they are part of the "reality-based community?" The president in his Libya speech couldn't resist taking shots at Iraq (which we won, which is more than I think we can achieve in Libya at this point):

In this effort, the United States has not acted alone. Instead, we have been joined by a strong and growing coalition. This includes our closest allies – nations like the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Turkey – all of whom have fought by our side for decades. And it includes Arab partners like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, who have chosen to meet their responsibility to defend the Libyan people.

To summarize, then: in just one month, the United States has worked with our international partners to mobilize a broad coalition, secure an international mandate to protect civilians, stop an advancing army, prevent a massacre, and establish a No Fly Zone with our allies and partners.

To make the obvious point, he didn't boast of that coalition working to overthrow a dictator. Some want that (France and Qatar have recognized the rebels as the government of Libya). But the rest will stop fighting as they call it mission accomplished for what they signed up for.

And for all the presidential boasting of his ginormous coalition, since we--let alone most of the coalition--won't push for regime change in this war, when do we break it to some of our allies that we are bugging out to implement the magical non-military means of getting rid of Khaddafi?

U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said Tuesday there are plenty of "non-military means at our disposal" to oust Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

France, which has been at the forefront of the international campaign against Gadhafi in Libya, struck a more forceful tone, however, with the defense minister suggesting the strikes could go beyond their mandate of just protecting civilians.

"We, the French and English, we consider that we must obtain more" than the end of shooting at civilians, said Gerard Longuet on France-Inter radio. He also said Libyan politicians could be targeted since they gave orders to the military.

And the Italians are working for a ceasefire and Khaddafi's exile. What if they just get the ceasefire?

But what really grates my nerves is the implicit shot at the Iraq War, when President Obama asserts we are not acting alone in Libya. One, let's see how that coalition looks in a few months, eh? And two, we had a far bigger alliance on the ground in Iraq than President Obama could scrounge up to fight over or near Libya! How can the president assert otherwise? Besides, I know we must have had a coalition in Iraq because during the war, whenever a country decided to leave, the media trumpeted that the coalition was collapsing. And to collapse, it must have existed.

Look at the Iraq War coalition of 39 nations that sent at least some troops to join us, and which saw 21 countries suffer deaths in their forces at our side (with Britain suffering 179 at the high end down to 5 countries that suffered a single death). We did not act alone in Iraq. We did not sacrifice in Iraq alone (and that doesn't even count the sacrifice our Iraqi friends made fighting at our side). And the coalition lasted long enough to achieve victory. That is the measure of an effective coalition.

President Obama has a lot of nerve puffing up his 10-day-old war coalition with Libya when we don't even know what we will achieve there by belittling our coalition allies in the victorious Iraq War by ignoring their participation and sacrifice.

Restoring our reputation abroad, indeed.


I want to win the war with Libya. I want to support President Obama in winning this war.

But I have no idea what President Obama considers "winning" and worry about what it means.

And just in case our president isn't a total bitchin’ rock star from Mars, I think I have grounds to worry about what will trigger the "mission accomplished" moment for this war.

UPDATE: Kristol is comforted about the speech and believes the president wants to win. No doubt, the president wants to win. But I still have no idea what "winning" means to him.

Syria on the Brink

Is the Baathist regime in Syria cracking?

Syrian state-run television says the Cabinet has resigned as the country sees the worst unrest in decades.

President Bashar Assad accepted the Cabinet's resignation following a meeting Tuesday.

The resignation is the latest concession by the government aimed at appeasing more than a week of mass protests.

Hundreds of thousands are on the streets, however, protesting the regime. Will they accept these concessions or be emboldened by them?

And are the concessions being offered because the regime doesn't think it can crack down with force or because some in the ruling elite want one last chance to defuse the crisis before the slaughter is ordered? Are hard-liners straining at the leash to wade in with force?

The cabinet resignation is fairly irrelevant since it will just be musical chairs. Will enough Syrians out on the streets accept this as a victory? Maybe four months ago. But after seeing protesters bring down two governments and shake the pillars of power of other Arab rulers, I rather doubt it.

Strategypage has good background on this crisis. Sadly, the Christan minority (10% of the population) threw in their lot with the minority Allawite government (a common tactic of persecuted minorities). The 75% Sunni majority kept out of power should be told that foreign help requires restraint in handling the minorities if they defeat the Assad regime. I doubt the Baathists in Syria have the resources to mount resistance the way Iraq's Baathists did from 2003 to 2007 (and the Syrian Baathists won't have outside support the way Iraq's Baathists received from bordering Syria and Iran), but it would be best not to take chances.

Funny enough, Israel has become comfortable with the Assad regime's predictable hostility and in large part prefer the devil they know. Since they've managed this foe, they worry more about the chance of getting a more unpredictable enemy than they hope for getting a true peace partner.

This is a major development. Iran will work hard to keep their client Assad in power.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mad Minerva for the link.

And Counter-Move

As we fought the enemy in Iraq, the enemy relied more on roadside bombs (IEDs), so we armored up our vehicles. The enemy used bigger bombs, and we added even more armor. The enemy used more IEDs, we added more armor and build MRAPs to successfully counter them. (And we went after bomb makers with various tools, I don't mean to suggest we only use passive measures to fight the enemy.)

And now, in Afghanistan, even with custom-built MRAPs to replace our trucks modified to be MRAPs, the enemy reacts and our troops pay the price:

Stronger armored vehicles are preventing more servicemembers in Afghanistan from being killed by roadside bombs. But the bombs are still powerful enough to cause severe skeletal and spinal injuries, the worst of which are leaving some paralyzed, Army surgeons say.

Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, have V-shaped armored hulls, designed to protect riders from a bomb’s shrapnel and firepower. The bomb’s immense energy is also absorbed by the vehicle. But as insurgents try to counter the vehicles’ protections with bigger blasts, much more of this energy is reaching soldiers’ bodies, especially their spines.

This has led to a new type of broken-back injury called a combat burst fracture, said Army Dr. (Maj.) Brett Freedman, director of spine and neurosurgery service at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

War sucks. Don't forget it. It may have a worthy goal, but real people pay the price to win it (or die trying to win it). It only appears clean from 20,000 feet.

On the bright side, it takes far more effort for the enemy to emplace bigger bombs. That means we should face fewer and have more chances to discover the IED builders and emplacers, and even detect the IEDs themselves.

Why I Worry About the Nutballs in Tehran

Iran's ruling mullahs are truly scary dudes:

The message of the short film was clear: The current crisis in the Middle East (Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, now Syria… all of it) is a harbinger that the Mahdi (the hidden one, the Twelfth Imam) was coming soon and that, in the ensuing chaos and destruction, Khomeini’s version of Shia Islam would shortly rule over the entire globe.

I've worried in the past that the mullahs were perhaps on the verge of acting to bring on the hidden imam, but was proven wrong. But if Ahmadinejad and his crazy-eyed comrades do act, don't say we weren't warned.

Where the Targets Are

Russia needs to shift forces to their Far East. They seem to be doing that.

And reality is sinking in that the Northern Fleet's mission of interdicting NATO lines of supply across the North Atlantic is long gone. Russia needs a Northern Fleet capable of defending their coast and a ballistic missile submarine bastion in the waters off their northern coast, but that's about it. When the Russian's refit one of their more capable big ships, it will move to the Pacific:

The Russian missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov may reinforce Russia's Pacific Fleet in 2013 after repairs, a high-placed official of the Russian Navy said on Sunday. ...

The Marshal Ustinov, a Slava-class missile cruiser, was launched in 1982 and commissioned with the Russian Northern Fleet in 1986.

It is one of their more capable ships and has missiles optimized for attacking aircraft carriers. China will soon deploy aircraft carriers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Exit Strategy

Well, President Obama explained our new war. What was perhaps unclear to the Libyan loyalists before is now crystal clear--Khaddafi just needs to hang on until the coalition tires of the military struggle. President Obama tonight gave Khaddafi his exit strategy from the Libya War:

Of course, there is no question that Libya – and the world – will be better off with Gaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake.

So loyalists don't need to worry that we'll do what it takes to bring down the Khaddafi regime. There will be no military mission to include regime change. The loyalists will be standing at the end of the day to enjoy the money Khaddafi has shoveled at them. So thoughts of defecting to the rebels or deserting will dwindle. All Khaddafi has to do after the guns fall silent is sweat out some sanctions while dangling oil and oil contracts out the window. Do you really think he won't get takers? Hello Russia and China!

Yes, we prevented a massacre. So that's a victory for the rebels and their supporters. That was a good thing we did. But President Obama said Khaddafi had to go. And now he says we will accept defeat over that goal by allowing Khaddafi an exit strategy.

This is a post-America war. We fight for no real goal in order to maintain a small coalition joined to fight for no real goal but which won't let us pursue victory--and admit ten days into the fight that we won't try to win.

Well. I suppose we could still get lucky before this war dwindles to a no-fly zone and then to sanctions and then to media images of Libyan "victims" of Western sanctions that erode and collapse in time for Khaddafi to celebrate 50 years in office--even if it is only a realm consisting of western Libya.

An Air Power Purist's Wet Dream

A thought struck me when a TV host reported that Libyan rebels are advancing west with coalition air support aiding them. In fact, there is no coalition "air support." Air support implies that there is coordination going on between air power and ground forces. One "supports" something else. With no American forces on the ground to call in air strikes where and when needed by the rebels (although perhaps the Brits and French, less squeamish about this whole boots on the ground controversy, have forward observers on the ground), what we are witnessing are two separate campaigns against the loyalists--one on the ground by a mostly armed mob and one by professional air forces.

Ever since planes could carry bombs, air power advocates have insisted that they could win wars without the blood of ground combat. It hasn't worked out. In World War II, not only did it not work out but the bomber air crews over Germany suffered losses on par with infantry. More recently in the 1990s during two Balkan crises, air power purists believed they had the chance to show their stuff. I don't think that worked out, either. Even with precision munitions.

After a decade of supporting soldiers and Marines on the ground in an admirable display of jointness (I'm sincerely impressed and appreciative of how well our Air Force has provided accurate ground support where and when needed) in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Libya War provides an opportunity for air power purists to prove that they can win a war all on their own in an air campaign that can do what it wants for the most part, without regard to the rebels. Just avoiding friendly fire and collateral damage are the only constraints.

Well, there are those rebels on the ground, true. But if the coalition air strikes can drive Khaddafi from power before rebels march in to Tripoli and string Khaddaif from a lamp post, mission accomplished!

UPDATE: Strategypage notes the difficulties of using air power only to defeat ground forces, but sets out the "desert exception," so to speak. It is true, as they say, that air power is most effective on the flat, open terrain like Libya. That's why I've suggested that Libyan loyalist resistance is better done in the cities where we have to be careful about hitting civilian targets.

And it is why I've said that the loyalists should move between the cities in short moves between hiding points and in small numbers to minimize their time under the gaze of our recon assets that will bring down the firepower on them.

Most important, it is why I think the loyalists should use civilian vehicles whenever possible. Indeed, human shields would help them out in the open. One bus loaded with refugees bombed by NATO by mistake (even after bombing fifty buses loaded with ammo and fighters) with pictures broadcast to the world would be as valuable to the loyalists as a brand new integrated air defense system.

The Left's New Bumper Sticker

Leftists are surely in a quandary over the Libya War. It was building up over the formerly "good war" of Afghanistan, but this current not-really-war-because-a-Nobel Peace Prize-winner-is-doing-it has hammered the point home.

And the administration's long-standing refusal to call terrorism "terrorism" and war "war" has led to some snark over the latest quasi war. But I'm not satisfied with “Make love, not time-limited, scope-limited military actions!” for a new anti-war bumper sticker.

Wouldn't it be better to say, "Make time-limited (sorry), commitment-limited (again, sorry) mutual arousal actions, not time-limited, scope-limited military actions!”

I'm So Sorry

While there are far worse perils that our soldiers face, they do have my sympathies for this hardship that will befall our troops as our stay in Iraq is scheduled to end:

Bases in Iraq, such as Balad, now feature dining halls lined with smoothie stands and omelet bars. Food courts including Subway, Green Beans coffee and McDonald’s sit near the air-conditioned huts many soldiers live in.

“This generation of soldiers is used to some pretty high living,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Corson, head of the 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command. “This is the best-fed Army on the planet. I don’t eat this well at home.”

But the comforts are all on the way out. Corson said soldiers will be exclusively eating Meals, Ready to Eat by November.
MREs? The horror.

Not that the so-called "high living" is really a luxury for troops in the thick of it. But Iraq is a much more peaceful place for our troops than it was even a few years ago, so it is a good trade off, I'd say. Still, not too many troops in Iraq those last months will consider those pouches of mixed luck to be a peace dividend.

Before He Votes Against It

Senator John F. Kerry (D-Who Served in Vietnam) is for the war in Libya. He even thinks promoting a democratic transition in the Arab world is a good thing. Mr. President, beware.

Not that Kerry is wrong. Heck, I'll count myself amongst your supporters on Libya even though I would have preferred we had intervened more quietly (no mentions that Khaddafi "has to go") and early with special forces and covert aid (and logstics support for France, Italy, and Britain to use their militaries) rather than taking even a temporary lead in the military campaign. But despite my misgivings, I'll be in your corner longer than your more high profile backer. And I won't switch on democracy promotion when the going gets tough to argue that Arabs just can't handle freedom.

The Obama administration just shouldn't take too much comfort from the good senator's backing. Kerry once supported the Iraq War, too.

Just watch your back, Mr. President. Or win fast. Senator Kerry already qualified his support by saying we shouldn't get involved in a long conflict in another Moslem country. That's right, he's already telegraphing his expiration date. Don't ever forget that eventually this particular Senate supporter will report for duty. You can point to this opinion piece all you want as evidence he backed you, but it won't matter--and he won't be shamed at all. That's how he rolls.

That's all I'm saying. Watch your back.

Unfair, Unbalanced, and Revolutionary?

Instapundit writes:

BLOGGING FROM inside Libya. “Look. Back then, there was no satellite television. There was no proper media, you know? We didn’t know what was going on in the outside world. All we heard was Qaddafi, Qaddafi, Qaddafi, ranting at America, America, America. But now, it’s different. Now we know what’s going on in the world. Now we have Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, you name it.” (Via Gerard van der Leun).

I noted about five years ago a Strategypage report on how the Arab press--as outrageous as it appears to us (well, not all of us)--has actually been a revolutionary improvement over what Arabs used to have. That's a frightening thought, to be sure, to consider what it used to be. But there you go.

Deja Vu

I drove a decent bit to a roller skating rink yesterday for Lamb's scout troop event. When I pulled up, I recognized the place. Lamb had been there once before, but not with me--her aunt had taken her there once. It turns out that I had taken Mister there for a classmate's birthday party 7 or 8 years ago. Man, I guess I've been parenting a long time if I've had time to forget places I've been.

The trip there went well enough, with two children and an ex-wife in the car. I kept threatening to "turn the car right around" if there was too much commotion and argument (and for Mister, who wanted exactly that, I explained that his complaints and commotion reset my dial back). I did have to explain to Mary at one point when she appeared really worried that I would turn around that I was just joking around. That may have been a tactical mistake, I admit, after I earned the credibility by pulling my car over to the side of the street early in the trip when Lamb complained about something related to the trip and I offered to end the trip right then and there if she was so unhappy about this event. Yeah, I know, classic dad maneuver.

I didn't realize it, but this was a wider scout thing than just the school troop, and 300 young girl scouts were there. When we walked in the door at the top of the hour amidst a milling crowd of scouts and adults, I recalled that the skate counter was in the back and quickly appreciated that 300 girls scouts would create a line of monumental length and time. So we got there fast, and as we returned to have her mom help Lamb put on on the skates, the line was already snaking down the side of the rink. Close call.

Lamb fell a lot. Her mom and I walked around the rink with her a while, taking turns. Mister semi-sulked in protest at not being allowed to stay at home. Eventually, he opened up his lap top to use it. For some reason, he assumed he could plug it in and was worried about using it on battery power alone. That's why it has batteries, I tried to explain logically. Why have batteries at all if you are only going to plug it in? Eventually he got over it. Or he may have just been in protest mode over going to a young girl event where they actually played Justin Beiber for the skate. I share his shudders of horror on this one.

We also bugged out a bit early to avoid the return line.

On the way back, despite the skeptical responses I got, I did threaten to "turn this car right around" and go back to the rink a couple times.

Lamb experienced some bruises and shed some tears over the event (frustration and not pain), but by the time we all got back to her mom's, she was happy she'd gone. Although this morning, she still had some sore points from falling. But she was in good humor through it.

Mister survived. Lamb was happy she went. And ex-spouses managed a family event.

Of course, this probably means we'll need to get Lamb some roller skating lessons this summer. she wasn't alone in struggling, but most of the girls could skate at least a bit. It would be nice if she could join in that fun.

Fueling a Long Civil War

Since early in the Libya Civil War, I've mentioned that the loyalists and rebels have the potential of funding a long east-west civil war with oil resources on their own side of the country. This article describes the oil industry and who has what:

Libya's energy wealth is more or less divided down the middle of the country, with huge unexplored areas of the Sahara Desert in between. About two-thirds of the country's mammoth oil reserves - the biggest in Africa - lie in what's now rebel-held territory. The rebels also control key oil-export terminals in the eastern ports of Zuteina and Tobruk, where hundreds of thousands of barrels now sit in storage tanks. Across the country, Gaddafi's regime controls the natural-gas pipeline to Italy, near the Tunisian border, as well as Tripoli's big oil-export terminal, and Libya's two biggest oil refineries, at Ras Lanuf (which Gaddafi seized back from the rebels just two weeks ago) and Zawiyah.

That neat East-West division of the natural spoils could allow for a long, bloody war, since each side has the potential to generate massive income for many years to come by tapping into their separate oil and gas fields, pipelines, refineries, and terminals - that is, so long as they can find customers.

As I've said, this could make for an Iran-Iraq War in the Desert. Although note that since the article was written, the rebels captured Ras Lanouf.

Oh, and both sides will find customers for their oil. Whoever doubts that doesn't put gas in their car.

From the Shores of Tripoli

After our initial operations to smash up Libya's air defenses, command and control, and air force capabilities, we are beginning to draw down our naval forces off of Libya:

At least one of the five Navy ships and submarines that have launched dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles at Libyan targets from positions in the Mediterranean Sea has left the area, three defense officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss sensitive military movements.

I'd guess that would include at least U.S.S. Florida being sent home.

Remember that before the Libya crisis, our 6th Fleet was a virtual fleet. The other four combatants will all move on eventually to wherever they were before the crisis. Our NATO allies have plenty of ships to handle Libya and our fleet is stretched around the globe.

Getting Closer

Rebels have pushed west to An Nawfaliyah, about 60 miles from Sirte:

Rebel forces on Monday fought their way to the doorstep of Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte, a key government stronghold guarding the road to the capital Tripoli.

The lightning rebel advance of the past few days, backed by powerful international airstrikes, has restored to the opposition all the territory they lost over the past week and brought them to within 60 miles (100 miles) of this bastion of Gadhafi's power in the center of the country.

So far, as I've expected, there has been little loyalist resistance to small spearheads of rebels exploiting the loyalist retreat from Ajdabiya. Sirte, also as I expected, will be the main line of resistance for the loyalists. The loyalists would improve their position by finally taking Misrata to eliminate that lure for the rebels to push west (rescuing fellow rebels holding out is a potent motivating factor for the rebels, I imagine).

This is gut check time for the loyalists. If they can hold at Sirte, they could even prepare to knock the rebels back to Ajdabiya. This could be done even under the guns of the coalition if done right. And eventually, the coalition's will to stay in force will falter. Once that happens, even if the loyalists can't retake the east, the loyalists could reclaim oil export centers west of Ajdabiya that the rebels now control.

Maybe air strikes will be enough to facilitate the advance of the armed mob of rebels into and through Sirte. But I doubt it. Can the rebels scrape up enough trained and organized troops and hastily trained and organized rebels to mount an attack on Sirte? If they can take that city from the loyalists, I'd guess that loyalist morale starts to get brittle. Then we might avoid a long civil war.

UPDATE: Oh, and if I was the rebels, I'd push a column to take Maradah and then push on to Zillah to secure their inland flank. Once at Zillah, I'd push to Waddan, which would allow them to threaten the rear of Sirte or the loyalist south around Sabha.

UPDATE: The loyalists made a stand 35 miles outside of Sirte:

Libyan rebels were stopped in their tracks on Monday as forces loyal to Moamer Kadhafi launched a fierce attack on their convoy, halting their push forward to Sirte for a second time in the day.

The rebels came under heavy fire at the village of Harawa, some 60 kilometres (35 miles) short of Kadhafi's birthplace.

I'd guess this is more of an outpost than the loyalist main line of defense, since a village doesn't provide the cover that a larger city would from coalition air attack. But we shall see.

And notice how poorly trained the rebels are:

On Sunday, the rebels had seized Bin Jawad after retaking the key oil town of Ras Lanuf as they advanced with the support of coalition air strikes on Kadhafi's forces.

But on Monday they came under heavy machine-gun fire from regime loyalists in pick-up trucks on the road from Bin Jawad to Nofilia.

The insurgents pulled back into Bin Jawad and opened up with heavy artillery.

Pick-ups flying the green flag of Tripoli and mounted with heavy machine guns opened up on the rebels who replied with multiple rocket launchers and cannon fire.

A 10-minute incoming artillery barrage panicked the thousand or so rebels along the road outside Bin Jawad, sending them fleeing in disorder.

This is what I was talking about when I said I'd put loyalists on the flanks to attack, leave stay-behind units in towns on the coast that the rebels take, and hammer the rebels with artillery when they advance too far.

UPDATE: Loyalists appear to be making Sirte their main line of resistance:

Some residents were fleeing the city of 100,000, as soldiers from a brigade commanded by Gadhafi's son al-Saadi and allied militiamen streamed to positions on the city's outskirts to defend it, witnesses said. Sirte — where a significant air and military base is located — was hit by airstrikes Sunday night and Monday morning, witnesses said, but they did not know what was targeted.

And the loyalists mined the road leading to Sirte in a display of military competence. That will slow down the rebels.

This battle will be important. If the rebels win it, there is a chance this civil war could end sooner. If the loyalists win, the chances of this dragging on for months or even years goes up.

Counting On a Body Count

The unrest in Syria has racked up an impressive body count already without drawing too much attention:

Syrian forces opened fire to disperse hundreds of protesters in Deraa calling for an end to emergency laws on Monday, but demonstrators regrouped despite a heavy troop deployment, a witness said.

At least 61 people have been killed in 10 days of anti-government protests in the southern city, posing the most serious challenge to President Bashar al-Assad's rule.

And the army is involved now, although it doesn't seem to be shooting:

Assad, 45, sent in troops to the key port city of Latakia on Saturday, signaling the government's growing alarm about the ability of security forces to keep order there.

The protesters don't seem to be interested in dispersing despite the heavy hand of the authorities.

Will the troops open fire if ordered? Do the Syrian authorities need to order the troops to shoot? Or can the other security forces and imported bully boys do the job? Will the people flinch and go home?

The Syrians have the track record to show they will slaughter people to stay in control. And their Iranian masters rely on body counts to retain control. That's their advice to Damascus:

Despite being one of the most brutal police states in the world, Syria is suffering from an increasing number of anti-government demonstrations. So far, the death toll (among protestors) is only in the hundreds. In the past, Syrian dictators have killed over 10,000 of their subjects, in the name of restoring order. Pro-Iranian rulers in Lebanon and Gaza are also suffering from growing protests. Iran seems to be telling everyone to follow the Iranian example. Just start killing opponents, and keep killing until the opposition goes silent. The dead don't protest. Iran is doing more than give advice, and has sent security experts to Syria and ordered Hezbollah gunmen into Syria to help with terrorizing freedom lovers.

We should be ramping up information broadcasts to Syria to show the extent of the protests, the government violence, and the Iranian helpers. We should not remain silent.

I'm not saying we should use our military to help. I'm not one of the people saying why Libya and not Syria (or Iran)? We should do what we can when and where we can. Libya had the advantage of being an easier target. And we have European allies that have more reasons than we did to intervene (stopping refugees from flooding southern Europe and starting oil exports to Europe). And it certainly isn't morally wrong to stop Khaddafi. Heck, we even have old scores to settle. And his "flip" during the Bush administration has been unravelling anyway, it seems.

If I may digress more (and it is my blog, so I may), I don't even mind we are more in the background on Libya. Indeed, I thought we could have been even more in the background militarily given the proximity of Libya to Europe and Europe's unused military power sitting in their barracks. Let them step up, I say, with our logistics help since we are allies.

Still, having put the prestige of America on the line by saying Khaddafi must go, President Obama has an obligation to help the rebels win. Khaddafi's survival would now be a defeat for America. That is one reason that all the complaints that we are siding with rebels who may or may not be pretty odious don't move me. Even if we replace one thug with another group of thugs, we at least nailed a thug who has been a thorn in the side of America for decades who has killed lots of our people. We supported Stalin's Russia to defeat Hitler's Germany, remember. Foreign policy isn't always neat and clean. Plus, some of the Libyan rebels are bound to be decent people. Again, this is a reason for America and the West to stay involved after the revolts are over and the costs of the revolts are tallied.

It just never hurts to be visibly on the side of the people against their oppressors, even if the people lose in the short run. We may have reasons not to do more than quietly persuade friendly autocrats to reform, but the point remains valid. Let the Syrian people know that we are on their side. Let the regime know that outreach is dead if they massacre their people. It is dead as a practical matter, but let the Damascus crew know that even our crew can't pretend it is a productive track if the Syrians start mowing down protesters.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I Like This Man

Good job, eh? (Tip to Mad Minerva)

Reality-Based Foreign Policy Community

Unrest in Syria and Jordan has the potential to lead to unrest in a wider area. This much is clear, as I wrote. This New York Times analysis agrees on that point but then laments the possibility that Assad's regime could collapse because--well, read it and weep:

Deepening chaos in Syria, in particular, could dash any remaining hopes for a Middle East peace agreement, several analysts said. It could also alter the American rivalry with Iran for influence in the region and pose challenges to the United States’ greatest ally in the region, Israel.

Chaos could dash hopes of a peace agreement including Syria? Really? People still believe that is possible? Syria has shown no interest in negotiating other than to gain tactical space by getting Western help to keep their rickety dictatorship going a little longer. Alliance with Iran's mullah regime is the way Assad has bet his future. We'd be better off squeezing Syria to get them to flip out of fear than hoping we can coax Assad with goodies.

The next sentence about altering our competition is unclear to me. That would be a good thing, since chaos in Syria or regime change would deprive Iran of a tool used to spark chaos in the wider region. In the short run, Syria or Iran could try to sow chaos to keep Boy Assad in power. And in the medium run, chaos as Syria tries to sort itself out will pose dangers as well as opportunities. Loose chemical weapons or the chance that the region could be a Somalia-like environment for jihadis are real problems.

But if the Assad regime goes down, that should help the region in the long run. It could even be a benefit if we try to manage and guide what comes next. And it strikes me as morally wrong to say that a tyrant with WMD (chemicals for sure, possibly bio stuff, and whatever nuke programs--not weapons, to be clear--the North Koreans are working on that Israel hasn't bombed) or jihadis underground should get a free pass out of fear of chaos to oppress their own people and foment unrest of their own choosing on the region.

But I will say that perhaps the author meant that second sentence to an "on the other hand" statement rather than a continuation of the first which describes a problem. That's a possibility because the story is about Syria and Jordan and the last sentence clearly has to refer to the chance that unrest in Jordan could end that country's peace treaty with Israel. And the article concludes by quoting an analyst who thinks on balance, short-run chaos in Syria anyway is a good thing by depriving Iran of a key ally. And perhaps my beef really shouldn't be with the writer but with the several analysts who clearly represent a school of thought on Syria.

But the bizarre first sentence is unreal regardless of whose thinking it represents, even if it has poisoned my reading of the next one. Even assuming only the first sentence is the offending one, it is pretty bad. Assad keeps pulling the football away after convincing the West that really, this time for sure, an outreached hand from the West can lead Syria to flip to the West and make peace with Israel. And every time we run towards the ball, we end up on our back, staring at the sky and wondering what we did wrong.

Chaos in Syria is a frightening possibility for a number of reasons, but so is the image of a boot stomping on a neck forever in Syria under Assad's regime and their state-sponsored terror that causes unrest now in Lebanon, Israel, and Iraq. That type of reasoning would have led us to support the Soviet Union back in 1991. We did manage that far more dangerous transition.

A lot of people in Syria apparently want the opportunities that chaos can provide rather than endure the oppression and poverty that stability has brought them. They at least deserve our moral support. And if they bring down the Assad regime, they deserve our help to build something we can all like rather than just doing nothing and saying we hope things turn out all right. And even if it doesn't turn out all right, there is long-term advantage in standing against despots and with their people. Good things will happen eventually, if not in Syria then elsewhere, as people understand that while we may not be able to help them all the time with all our resources, we want them to win and be free.

But hey, look at the bright side you foreign policy realists! Maybe Assad will get his security forces to kill tens of thousands of protesters, jail the survivors, and reimpose stability! Then you can get on with the nuanced smart diplomacy of outreach. Remember, enemies are just friends we haven't made yet, right? And who knows what we need to give them to get them to be our friend? The possibilities are endless!

An Interesting Defense

The Libyan regime is protesting coalition intervention on the side of the rebels:

The Gadhafi regime on Saturday acknowledged the airstrikes had forced its troops to retreat and accused international forces of choosing sides.

"This is the objective of the coalition now, it is not to protect civilians because now they are directly fighting against the armed forces," Khaled Kaim, the deputy foreign minister, said in the capital, Tripoli. "They are trying to push the country to the brink of a civil war."

Got it. The UN only said that the coalition could prevent the Libyan regime from slaughtering its own citizens. And the regime is outraged that the coalition is doing more than that.

Isn't that kind of like the man who murders his parents pleading to the judge for mercy because he's an orphan? Well, the analogy doesn't really fit, I guess. But it feels that way.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

How many times, in your younger and less responsible days naturally, did you wake up with a hangover around noon or so, and question how on earth you and your buddies could have done something as stupid as you did the night before? Sometimes, the best you could say was that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Well, governments do that too, although without the excuse of alcohol interfering with their judgment:

For the last couple of weeks reports have been circulating of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) being involved in a very messy undercover surveillance operation that went very badly. Allegedly, BATF let a few thousand (yup, a few thousand) weapons from the U.S. enter Mexico so their agents and other security agencies could track them. The new (and ironic) term for this is gun walking, instead of gun running. Essentially, BATF agents were letting weapons go across the border. The U.S. government is now calling the operation a serious mistake. U.S. sources admit that one of the things that led to the revelation that BATF was conducting the operation was that a number of the weapons involved in crimes in Mexico could be traced back to Arizona (checks included serial numbers). One U.S. media source claims that two AK-47s that BATF agents let be shipped to Mexico were used in the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent. If there was ever an Operation Backfire, this is it.

And when you did it, nobody died. It was just stupidity.

Still, given the false claims that a high percentage of weapons used by the drug cartels in Mexico come from gun sales in America (in reality, only a high percentage of the very small percentage of traceable weapons seized can be traced to America--a rather skewed sample eh?), these thousands of traceable American-origin weapons floating around in Mexico will provide years of ammunition for the false argument that American needs to dramatically restrict legal weapons sales in order to help our Mexican friends battle the drug cartels.

So I guess it all depends on what the BATF considered their objective, eh?

Follow the link for much more on the Cartel War from Strategypage.

Rommel Was Here

Rebels have pushed west of Ajdabiya against light loyalist opposition, to capture Burayqah (Brega) and al Uqayla:

Libyan rebels took back a key oil town and pushed westward Sunday toward the capital, seizing momentum from the international airstrikes that tipped the balance away from Moammar Gadhafi's military.

Brega, a main oil export terminal in eastern Libya, fell after a skirmish late Saturday and rebel forces moved swiftly west, seizing the tiny desert town of Al-Egila — a collection of houses and a gas station — on their way to the massive oil refining complex of Ras Lanouf.

"There was no resistance. Gadhafi's forces just melted away," said Suleiman Ibrahim, a 31-year-old volunteer, sitting in the back of a pickup truck.

The latter location will be known to World War II buffs as El Agheila, the location from which Rommel launched two offensives to the east to reach to the Libya-Egypt border region (or beyond).

The rebels are now heading for Ras Lanouf, they say, on the way to Tripoli.

Perhaps. I mention the World War II connection only because the North African campaign swung back and forth between Uqaylah and the Egypt border region several times as the Italians invaded Egypt; the British Western Desert Forces swept through Libya to the waist of Libya; the Germans led an offensive back to the border region and siege of Tobruk; the British attacked back to the waist; the Germans led an attack into Egypt; and then the British led the final offensive all the way through Libya and into Tunisia to link up with the Allied forces landing in Morocco and Algeria advancing into Tunisia.

Unless the rebels get outside ground help to drive on Tripoli, my guess is that the civil war could be a long one as rebels and loyalists swing back and forth between the decent size cities Sirte in the west (loyal to Khaddafi) and Ajdabiya in the east (favoring the rebels). There isn't much to base a defense line between these points and any forces out there could be bombarded by air or artillery and would likely retreat rather than sit and take it. In the end point cities, there is hope of refuge from bombardment, local support, and supplies.

Or, we (and the rebels) could get lucky, as I've often noted. I hate to cop out like that, but a magic bullet from someone close (or missile from someone at high altitude) finding Khaddafi could end this if nobody has the stature to take command. Or the loyalists could crack before the coalition bombing them can crack. If I was a betting man, however, I'd guess that the front could swing back and forth along the coast, with more efforts over time being devoted by each side to deny the other oil export resources needed to wage a long war with either air raids or ground raids aimed at the other's oil facilities.

If that happens, it will be hard not to call Libya a civil war. And then all those people here who insisted Iraq was in a civil war in 2006 and 2007, which was a mistake for America to fight in, will have even more exlaining to do.

Oh, and here's a good interactive map of the war to date from the New York Times.

UPDATE: Apparently, the rebels have occupied Ras Lanouf. There has been little resistance since Ajdabiya fell to the rebels, as I expected.

Were I the loyalists, I'd fight a delaying action along the road to Sirte, leave stay-behind teams between Sirte and Ajdabiyah, and then hit the rebels hard with artillery when they approach Sirte. Send the rebels running east again and have small loyalist units emerge from hiding spots in the coastal towns or inland (if they can avoid prying coalition aerial eyes) to hammer the retreating rebels in ambushes or blocking positions.

Right now the loyalists want to buy time until the will of the coalition to continue intervention at the current pace wanes.

UPDATE: Reporters say that rebels (50-100?) have pushed to Bin Jawad, just west of Sidrah.

UPDATE: As I said, what I'd do if I was the loyalist CINC. The open arrow is the latest reports of where the rebel spearheads are:

As the rebels move further west (the solid arrow), I'd make a stand at Sirte while attacking Misrata. I'd leave small forces on the flanks of the tiny rebel spearheads as well as small units hidden along the coast road.

With a heavy barrage of artillery fire, the rebels will likely pull back to the next town. I'd spring ambushes along that retreat route and pursue with small mobile units moving in civilian vehicles to recapture towns and prepare for another fighting withdrawal back to Sirte. The goal is to buy time. The coalition says they could be at this no-fly-plus zone for months. Khaddafi has to make sure the fight lasts longer than that.

UPDATE: Here we go:

International air raids targeted Moammar Gadhafi's hometown of Sirte for the first time Sunday night as rebels quickly closed in on the regime stronghold, a formidable obstacle that must be overcome for government opponents to reach the capital Tripoli.

If the loyalists can't hold here, I don't know if their morale can hold together with further retreats west. Especially since the loyalists still haven't taken Misrata. The rebels haven't reached positions to attack the city, yet. And honestly, unless the air attacks completely cripple the defenders, I don't know if the rebels can take the city--as in attack against determined defenders and drive the defenders back. So far, the rebels seem to be able to advance into vacuums created by coalition air power. We'll see if our air power can pave the way for a similar advance or if the rebels get sufficiently organized to actually attack.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Combat Fatigue

The military has made great strides in identifying and treating the combat wound of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or, as some troops prefer to call it, the old name of "combat fatigue." That is truly a more accurate description, really:

Troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan would prefer that you call stress related problems PTS (Post Traumatic Stress), not PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Actually, many troops wish everyone would revert to the older term, Combat Fatigue. What's in a word? For the troops, PTS is just another injury, and not a disorder. It's something you deal with. It wasn't always that way.

Although most troops now accept that PTSD is not a sign of mental weakness, but a very real combat hazard, many still avoid special PTSD treatment programs. However, by making PTSD treatment (which is usually just monitoring, and the use of some anti-stress medication for a while), part of regular medical care, the military had made much of the stigma disappear.

The military has also done a lot to delay the onset of combat fatigue. Mini-vacations, a couple years at least between deployments, and lots of goodies in off-time while in combat all help to extend the useful life of a soldier or Marine in combat.

So the next time you read about air conditioning in the field or burger kings or Internet access in a remote base, remember that this isn't "pampering" the troops--it's keeping them fit to be sharp soldiers who can come home safe and sound in mind and body.