Monday, October 31, 2011

The Limits of Flipping a Tyrant

Cutting deals with thug rulers is always a problem even if we have tactical reasons to peacefully achieve a partial win in the short run.

It seems that Khaddafi wasn't as "flipped" as we thought:

Libya's interim prime minister on Sunday confirmed the presence of chemical weapons in Libya and said foreign inspectors would arrive later this week to deal with the issue.

We knew Khaddafi kept chemicals, but the weapons were supposed to be gone. Apparently not. Also, Libya still has nuclear materials, if this news is true.

So don't feel guilty about taking down a thug dictator who supposedly flipped to our side out of fear after we nailed Saddam Hussein. It was clear Khaddafi was flipping back as that fear faded. And now we know he never fully flipped in the first place.

As I mentioned here as an aside in the post, rather than undermining our ability to cut deals with dictators, it sends the message that when you flip, you'd better darn well stay flipped--and if you lied to us about the sincerity of your flip, the deal is off:

Five, while you may say that it sends a bad message to current despots who might want to come in from the cold because Khaddafi "flipped" (after witnessing that we destroyed Saddam) and gave up almost all of Libya's WMD programs and stockpiles (nuke stuff is safely in America, now; although some poison gas in non-weaponized form is still in Libya--assuming we didn't bomb it already), Khaddafi has been backsliding in recent years. I say that it is a good message to send to despots that when you flip, you'd damn well stay fully flipped. Flipping should not be a time out to avoid destruction that allows you to gradually resume standard operating procedures.

No, ending up on display in a meat locker (according to proper standards of ritual corpse display fully consistent with Islam, of course) is the end result of playing games with us.

That Ship Has Sailed

The British are making it legal for their civilian ships to apply for a license to carry armed guards to protect them against pirates:

British merchant ships travelling around the Horn of Africa will for the first time be able to carry armed guards to protect them from pirates, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.

Some object:

Experts agree that private guards do deter pirates, but their use can cause problems of legal jurisdiction and spark concerns about the use of mercenaries, questions of liability and private militarisation of the seas.

With all due respect, pirates are private militarisation of the seas. That ship, so to speak, has sailed.

Hopefully, the law that provides for licenses addresses liability. And I have few concerns about the potential use of mercenaries compared to the actual problem it is addressing. Although I admit if I'm on a yacht in the Horn area and a merchant ship's mercenary team sinks my boat because they think I'm a pirate, I might change my mind.

However, this doesn't necessarily solve the problem. I think that the law should be broad enough to address a private arms race at sea. Pirates could well escalate from small boats with assault rifles and anti-tank rockets to larger ships with heavier weapons. Merchant ships may well need crew served automatic weapons with the range to really tackle pirate ships.

Time to Reflect

During both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, I complained about British tactics that seemed to value making deals with battlefield foes to keep the battlefield quiet. The image of security trumped defeating enemies to provide actual security.

I was especially annoyed during the Iraq campaign when our tough fight in the Sunni Triangle was contrasted to the "softly, softly" approach of the British in the south who had to face the Iranian-supported Sadrists and who (because they cut deals) seemed to be having more success than us (because of the loud explosions coming from our sectors).

But in both Afghanistan (in Helmand) and in southern Iraq, the British areas were not pacified and had to wait for those who followed them to actually defeat the enemies.

It pains me to say this because Britain has endured casualties at our side, and I value Britain as a capable military ally.

Although I don't know how long Britain will remain a viable military power, if the British hope to continue that tradition, they do need to examine their decisions not to use their excellent (if small) military properly in both Iraq and Afghanistan:

Self-serving myths are cultivated, putting all the blame on Tony Blair and the Americans for pitching British soldiers into unwinnable wars. Responsibility for the insufficient number of troops deployed or the lack of appropriate equipment is held to lie with the politicians, not the generals.

The result is that there is a lack of appreciation in Britain of the extent of the purely military failure. In Iraq in 2007, four years after British troops invaded, they were in the humiliating position of being largely confined to a camp outside Basra, while Shia militiamen ruled the city. The British contingent did little except defend itself and had become, in the graphic phrase of British soldiers, a "self-licking lollipop".

Failure after British troops were deployed in Helmand province in 2006 came even more quickly. Military intelligence wholly misjudged the danger of sending troops there. Assault troops devoted themselves to trying to destroy the Taliban and, by alienating the local population, acted as its recruiting sergeant. Little account was taken of local reaction to a foreign occupation that brought only death and destruction.

I have to say I question the characterization of the Helmand approach. Are we really to believe that the British were too soft in southern Iraq in how they dealt with Shia militias (although there was reason to be careful in the Shia south while we dealt with the Sunni Arab resistance) but too hard in Afghanistan, rather than consistently too soft? My recollection is that the British cut deals in Afghanistan, too, that went awry.

Counter-insurgency surely can't be won by military means alone. But sometimes people use that fact as an excuse to ignore the costly military side of counter-insurgency. Security provided by military means is certainly necessary for all the non-military means that go into defeating an insurgency. The British reputation for counter-insurgency success has allowed them to gloss over their recent record. It wouldn't hurt for them to really look at how they fought and what they achieved.

True Greatness

Michael Barone is puzzled by Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria.

Great minds recoil in horror from idiocy alike, of course.

But the true greats can address the random synapse outbursts of idiocy from two purported deep thinkers into one article as opposed to the two separate posts I required.

Do read it all, as the expression goes, and savor the fresh disdain of two writers who have no business giving foreign policy advice to anyone (well, if our enemies would listen to them, I'm fine with that).

Screw the UAVs!

You think UAVs are the wonder weapon of the Long War? Guess again. Now we're talking real red bull:

That’s right, an Army lab here is testing a beef jerky stick that looks and tastes just like your average Slim Jim but contains an equivalent of a cup of coffee’s worth of caffeine to give even the sleepiest soldier that up-and-at-’em boost.

It's not your father's MRE, that's for sure. From the almost inedible pork patty to caffeinated meat.

Paging Elizabeth Warren

So is this part of the social contract that justifies spending whatever the left says we need and taxing at whatever level the left says we need to support that spending? Mark Steyn writes:

Stanley Thornton Jr. of California receives Supplementary Security Income disability checks from the Social Security Administration in order to sit around the house all day wearing a giant diaper and a giant onesie, sucking on a giant pacifier and playing with a giant baby rattle. Stanley Jr. runs a website for fellow “adult babies” called I believe I first heard of the “adult baby” phenomenon some years ago in London. If memory serves, there was a club, and the members lay around in giant cribs being read bedtime stories by a bosomy nanny. Minor celebrities and possibly backbench Tory members of Parliament may have been involved. In those days, it was what we called a “fetish” and you had to do it on your own dime. Now it’s a “disability” and the United States government picks up the tab. And, if that’s not progress, what is?

When defending government spending and the taxes that are needed to support them, Ms. Warren brings up police and fire protection (but not national defense), roads, and schools. I think we can all agree that those are fine things to spend money on. I'd hope that supporting adult babies isn't something Ms. Warren would insist is part of the social contract.

And in between? Well, that's what our democracy is about. Or it should be. Rather than accusing opponents who want to debate how much to spend in between fire protection and adult baby support (and the taxes we should endure) as wanting to kill people or let them die, shouldn't we be allowed to debate spending questions without acting as if that spending is beyond touching? Or even questioning?

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link.

Getting There

When we can't be in Iraq to deter Iran, we have to rely on getting there:

The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.

It's "back to the future" with concepts from the 1990s, as one officer noted. And as I noted a couple weeks ago:

We'll need to rely on prepositioned equipment to be able to rapidly reinforce Iraq (and Kuwait, for that matter). We have Army brigade sets in Kuwait, the UAE, and afloat in the Indian Ocean, and a Marine set near there as well. Plus we have a parachute brigade in Italy and Germany that could be flown in rapidly. Hopefully, we put a couple brigade sets inside Iraq guarded and maintained by private contractors. Backed by air and naval forces in the region, this will have to do. It isn't ideal. But we can only help the Iraqis as much as they agree to our help. Perhaps the pro-Iranian factions can be marginalized yet to gain that permission.

Against an Iraqi military weakened by defeat in 1991, this worked during the 1990s. Against an Iran still weakened by the revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, and sanctions, this should also work. We'll also increase naval forces in the region, including "considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region." I'm not sure what that means. It doesn't sound like simply deploying more ships to Central Command. It sounds more like making sure that ships going to or returning from the western Pacific transit the Central Command area. That way, additional forces would be nearby in an emergency. But that would certainly be a challenge to the logistics. Or will we keep ships in the Atlantic fleet and have them deploy to the western Pacific rather than have those ships in the Pacific fleet? Or maybe it means something else entirely.

Still, there is no reason to panic over our ability to maintain force able to confront Iran. We can do it. And over time, Iraq will gain the capacity (with our training and help) to confront Iran. Plus, as the Washington, D.C. bombing plot showed, Iran wasn't deterred by close to 150,000 American troops on the ground near their borders with Iraq and Afghanistan. I worry more at this point about our absence on the ground inside Iraq and the effects on Iraqi domestic politics. Our presence on the ground has been a reassurance that Iran can't meddle too much and that Iraqi parties can't resort to force to settle political differences. Without our presence, I worry some Iraqi faction will resort to violence to achieve their goals--even if it is just our of fear that another faction will do so first. Our presence reduces that fear factor.

I hope that the Iraqis reconsider their confidence about taking the training wheels off so soon. I hope the Obama administration listens if the Iraqis rediscover the wisdom of our presence on the ground.

UPDATE: Of course, we need to have the reputation of reliability to rely on this method. Will we have that reputation when it seems as if the Obama administration wanted negotiations with the Iraqis over our post-2011 presence to stumble? Starting talks late, insisting on getting immunity for our troops first before talking about troop numbers and roles, insisting that Iraq approve an agreement by submitting it to parliament (when the existing one was not, and many others around the world are not), low-balling our proposed troop presence (which may have led the Iraqis to think the political risks of accepting too few troops to be effective were not worth it), and boasting that President Obama would "end" the war, rather than "win" it could hardly boost confidence, eh?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

We Keep Plugging Arrogance into the Models

We cannot build economic models that allow us to predict what will happen (tip to Instapundit, I think):

When it comes to assigning blame for the current economic doldrums, the quants who build the complicated mathematic financial risk models, and the traders who rely on them, deserve their share of the blame. [See “A Formula For Economic Calamity” in the November 2011 issue]. But what if there were a way to come up with simpler models that perfectly reflected reality? And what if we had perfect financial data to plug into them?

Incredibly, even under those utterly unrealizable conditions, we'd still get bad predictions from models.

Yet we have people here who think that if we can just be more scientific about the whole thing, we can guide the economy to prosperity without those annoying recessions that pop up.

The fact is, the enlightened and scientific hand is not capable of matching the unseen hand (which consists of the aggregate decisions of hundreds of millions of people).

Sadly, the urge to guide us is strong and never goes away in some quarters.

Making it Worse

Kenyan forces clashed with al-Shabab forces in Somalia:

A Kenyan army spokesman said Kenyan forces were ambushed about 60km (40 miles) from the border, along the route that leads towards the port of Kismayo - an al-Shabab stronghold.

Residents in the area said the exchange of fire lasted for at least 30 minutes.

Maj Chirchir said nine al-Shabab fighters were killed and two Kenyan soldiers were wounded, one critically.

That isn't the part I'm interested in highlighting, as nice as it is to have Kenya on offense against jihadis. No, this tiresome hand wringing is the important part:

But BBC Africa analyst Grant Ferret say Kenya's exact aims in Somalia still remain unclear; some suspect it plans to create a buffer zone to provide protection from its unstable neighbour.

The risk is that it not only becomes bogged down in a military campaign against insurgents, but that its own security is undermined, he says.

Ah, yes. The old refrain that fighting back just makes more jihadis. Better to just take the occasional terrorist attacks and avoid making eye contact lest we catch their eye, and hope the jihadis strike elsewhere.

Really, by fighting back, we're only making it worse for ourselves:

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Only fighting back ineffectively produces more jihadis. Fighting is the only way to defeat them. And while killing jihadis isn't the way to beat jihadi ideology in the long run, in the short run it is certainly very necessary.

Shelter Before the Storm

Turkey has yet to make good on the ultimatum that they issued to Assad some time ago to stop killing demonstrators, or else. But they have edged toward active hostility:

The support for the insurgents comes amid a broader Turkish campaign to undermine Mr. Assad’s government. Turkey is expected to impose sanctions soon on Syria, and it has deepened its support for an umbrella political opposition group known as the Syrian National Council, which announced its formation in Istanbul. But its harboring of leaders in the Free Syrian Army, a militia composed of defectors from the Syrian armed forces, may be its most striking challenge so far to Damascus.

On Wednesday, the group, living in a heavily guarded refugee camp in Turkey, claimed responsibility for killing nine Syrian soldiers, including one uniformed officer, in an attack in restive central Syria.

They are only 60 or 70 strong sheltering under Turkish protection, so they aren't about to lead a revolt that marches on Damascus. Although they claim to lead over 10,000 fighters inside Syria.

But their mere existence--regardless of their number or how many they really lead--provides a group that can provide a pretext for armed Turkish intervention if the Free Syria Army asks Turkey to establish humanitarian safety zone enclaves along the border.

Or, I suppose the Turks could march all the way to Damascus. I guess it depends on whether they think they need to do this fast or can risk a partial intervention that allows internal opposition to eventually overthrow the Assad regime.

I'm generally a bandaid off fast kind of guy. If Turkey stretches this out, they give Assad time to point missiles with chemical weapons north instead of at Israel. If Assad fears that enclaves could eventually snowball into liberated territory that threatens his rule, he may also thinks that chemical weapons aimed at those enclaves will kill Turks and rebels--and force Turkey to retreat.

Fear of the future and time to think is a dangerous combination. How will Turkey play this?

UPDATE: The Arab League seems mighty jumpy over a mere 40 added to the existing death toll:

Arab ministers said on Friday they had sent an urgent message to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, calling on him to end seven months of violence against civilians following the killing of 40 pro-democracy demonstrators by Syrian forces.

I wonder if the Turks mentioned anything to the Arab League?

UPDATE: Assad promises that Western military intervention "would burn the whole region."

Is Assad thinking of escalating by using his air force to prop up what must be his increasingly stretched and tired loyal ground security forces? At some point, he has to worry not only that his army will break before the protesters (and increasingly an armed resistance), but that Turkey will edge to intervention before Assad can crush the opposition and go a week without shooting his own people to dull Ankara's momentum towards regime change in Damascus.

Manly Men

So is it really true that China, Vietnam, and India will react to their sex-selection abortions that result in more males by rampaging across the globe to keep their women-less men occupied?

As the global population hits seven billion, experts are warning that skewed gender ratios could fuel the emergence of volatile "bachelor nations" driven by an aggressive competition for brides.

The precise consequences of what French population expert Christophe Guilmoto calls the "alarming demographic masculinisation" of countries such as India and China as the result of sex-selective abortion remain unclear.

But many demographers believe the resulting shortage of adult women over the next 50 years will have as deep and pervasive an impact as climate change.

As bad as climate change? Oh, then never mind. No problem.

Seriously, while the sex imbalance is disturbing for many reasons (as a father of a wonderful daughter, I don't understand why you'd not want a daughter--no offense to my son, of course), why would it lead to bachelor nations recreating Mars Needs Women?

One, since the three countries mentioned are all next to each other, won't they be more likely to fight each other for women? Winner gets women and the loser gets a deeper imbalance?

Or will they form an Axis of She-fail to pick on the countries without excess males to steal their females?

Seriously, why wouldn't China, India, and Vietnam just develop a lot of men really good at video games, with only beer and mayonnaise in their near-empty refrigerators; and Manhattan Project-style engineering programs designed to improve online porn and FPS games, and make pleasure robots? I sincerely doubt that young men who don't even need to worry about sucking in their gut in the presence of non-existent single women will be in good enough shape to be a threat to anyone.

Hey, instead of war, maybe societies will evolve new norms:

When Munni arrived in this fertile, sugarcane-growing region of north India as a young bride years ago, little did she imagine she would be forced into having sex and bearing children with her husband's two brothers who had failed to find wives.

"My husband and his parents said I had to share myself with his brothers," said the woman in her mid-40s, dressed in a yellow sari, sitting in a village community center in Baghpat district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

"They took me whenever they wanted -- day or night. When I resisted, they beat me with anything at hand," said Munni, who had managed to leave her home after three months only on the pretext of visiting a doctor.

Not that this is a good evolution. In non-Western societies, scarcity of women will result not in their elevated status as men pursue scarce women, but the turning of women into prized assets to be owned, bought, and sold.

Sex-selection abortion will have a lot of bad effects. But I doubt that we need to worry about rampaging Asian men out to steal women.

UPDATE: Scarce children are a commodity in China:

Police in eastern China have broken up a human trafficking gang that bought babies from poor families and sold them on for as much as $8,000, state media said Friday.

Tell me that the same fate doesn't await adult women from poor families.


I mentioned that the North Koreans weren't letting their citizens in Libya who witnessed the revolution come home. Now that the dictator is dead, the Pyongyang government still won't let them come home:

An estimated 200 North Korean nationals are in Libya and previously worked as doctors, nurses and construction workers, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. They had been dispatched to the country in order to earn the hard currency that Pyongyang requires to fund its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

Yonhap reported that the North Korean nationals have been left in limbo, joining their compatriots who are stuck in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries with orders not to return home.

They've seen too much. So they can't go home.

Funny enough, they might be the luckiest North Koreans of all--outside the pampered elites and those who have escaped abroad.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Violence Inherent in the System

More Occupy Wall Street violence.

FYI, I am not the Michigan man referenced at the end.

It's a Learning Experience

Occupy Wall Street protesters don't like it that freeloaders want to siphon off their free stuff:

The New York Post has another hilarious dispatch from the People's Republic of Obamaville (or, as it was known before the revolution, Zuccotti Park). It seems "the Occupy Wall Street volunteer kitchen staff launched a 'counter' revolution yesterday--because they're angry about working 18-hour days to provide food for 'professional homeless' people and ex-cons masquerading as protesters."

Yeah, you have to hate it when people who haven't earned anything demand free stuff just because they don't have any.

But the OWS folks have adjusted to the reality that the top 1 percent have too much stuff that the OWS protesters want, and the bottom 1 percent wants some of the stuff that the OWS people have. They've coined a new slogan to reflect their new outlook:

We are the 9998%

And if the movement takes off to attract more followers? Well, OWS can just adjust the number downward to keep the new scruffy rabble out of their gated protest community.

I'm an optimist. I like to think that even young people who thought it was a good idea to borrow $100,000 for their BA in Grievance Studies can learn when confronted with reality.

UPDATE: More optimism on the learning potential. Perhaps in addition to learning about the problems with "to each according to their need," the OWS protesters will learn that "from each according to their ability" doesn't require more than a dozen or so drummers.

Still Barely an Ally

My view of Pakistan is that they are worth having as an ally because their role in Afghanistan is a net positive for us despite their support for jihadis. Add in their nukes and it is worth it to work at the relationship to save it.

I look forward to having the maneuvering room to push Pakistan harder without worrying that our campaign in Afghanistan will be threatened. And at that point I'd be willing to risk alliance to get more out of Pakistan (and to change their jihadi-friendly policies).

But as difficult as it is to see Pakistan as an ally given their flaws, I think we have confirmation from our jihadi enemies that Pakistan is a net positive for us:

Pakistan's security service provides weapons and training to Taliban insurgents fighting U.S. and British troops in Afghanistan, despite official denials, Taliban commanders say, in allegations that could worsen tensions between Pakistan and the United States.

A number of middle-ranking Taliban commanders revealed the extent of Pakistani support in interviews for a BBC Two documentary series, "Secret Pakistan," the first part of which was being broadcast on Wednesday.

You'd think that if the Taliban were supported more than being hurt by Pakistan's policies, the Taliban would keep their mouths shut. But alienating America from Pakistan before we can address the relationship on our terms is something that will help the Taliban. If Pakistan has nowhere else to go, maybe Pakistan will help the Taliban more enthusiastically and completely.

Clearly, we have some common objectives with the Pakistanis that push us together. As satisfying as it would be at some level to break with Pakistan over their double dealing, we have to be grown up and deal with the situation we have.

Access to Power

The Army is getting the Air Force AESA radar:

At the request of the U.S. Army, a defense manufacturer adapted jet fighter AESA radar to operate on a moving vehicle. ... The radar can operate while the vehicle is moving, providing 360 degree radar monitoring for aircraft, as well as mortar, rocket or artillery fire. ...

The army has used air force technologies before, most notably air-to-air missiles (Sidewinder and AMRAAM) fired from launchers on ground vehicles.

The most interesting aspect, to me, is the weapons potential of AESA (quoting Strategypage):

Sort of like the EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) put out by nuclear weapons. The air force won’t, for obvious reasons, discuss the exact “kill range” of the of the various models of AESA radars on American warplanes (the F-35 and F-22 have them). However, it is known that “range” in this case is an elastic thing. Depending on how well the target electronics are hardened against EMP, more electrical power will be required to do damage.

Obviously, power limitations are more rigid on a plane. But won't a ground-based AESA radar have the potential of plugging in to practically limitless power (relative to what it could process and direct)? Note, too, that the original post mentions that the Army has commonly adapted Air Force weapons for air defense.

Can we ramp up the power enough to be a weapon that can defeat the hardened electronics of an incoming ICBM warhead?

Good Versus Bad War

I know I lack the "nuance" gene because I fail to appreciate the deep differences between a "good" war and a "bad" war.

Iraq was an illegal war of choice despite being backed by UN resolutions unfulfilled by Saddam and a new one, plus a Congressional declaration of war (authorization to use force).

Libya was an exercise in responsibility to protect without a declaration of war and without a UN resolution authorizing regime change. Indeed, the Obama administration said it was not even a "war", and so exempt from the War Powers Resolution requirement to report to Congress.

President Bush "lied" about the reason to go to war with Iraq (WMD), even though every major intelligence agency believed Iraq had active programs and stocks of chemical weapons (our CIA said it was a "slam dunk" certainty); and even though our declaration of war listed many more reasons than WMD to go to war. Add to this that Saddam was poised to restart chemical and other WMD programs as soon as sanctions slipped sufficiently, with the apparatus still in place to develop, design, and manufacture chemical weapons and other WMD.

President Obama took the Arab League request for a "no-fly" zone to keep Khaddafi's planes from bombing civilians, used it to get a UN Security Council Resolution allowing the bombing of Khaddafi targets to protect civilians, and then used that to ultimately train, arm, organize, and advise the rebels to achieve regime change, using NATO planes as their air force. The toll of lives lost from Khaddafi's air force is unclear and may not have been very much. This was not lying us into war.

Iraq was a bloody mess, with somewhere over 120,000 Iraqi civilian casualties over 8.5 years, or about 14,000 per year.

Libya was a pristine immaculate intervention where we limited our intervention to avoid civilian casualties, with--for argument's sake since the toll is uncertain--15,000 civilian deaths (few from NATO air strikes, to be sure) from all war causes over 7 months. That's over 25,000 on an annual basis. In a country with a quarter of the population of Iraq. Which means that the Libyans endured a toll about 7 times as intense as Iraq.

After the death of Khaddafi, who was captured and shot on the battlefield, we are celebrating mission accomplished.

After Saddam was captured, tried for his crimes, and executed by the Iraqis, we fretted over the manner of his death and how it would prolong the "quagmire."

Iraq's three major regions (Kurdish north, Shia south, and Sunni Arab center and west (broadly speaking, with mixing in the center, of course) can't get along and needed the iron hand of Saddam to hold the artificial state of Iraq together.

Libya's eastern, western, and southern tribal factions will work together in a democratic transitional government, even though Libya is an artificial state.

Bush was a reckless cowboy for saying about Baathist insurgents in summer 2003, "Bring 'em on" if they wanted to challenge the new Iraq (What was he supposed to do? Quake in his boots or show confidence?)

Our chief diplomat said of Khaddafi's death, "We came, we saw, he died." Crickets continue to chirp loudly.

Look. I'm satisfied that getting rid of the Khaddafi regime was a victory for the good guys. But so too was getting rid of Saddam's regime. I'm just a little bitter that our Left and media treat the two so differently because President Obama led one and President Bush led the other.

Me? I'll support staying engaged long enough to cement our battlefield victory in Libya. Because that's what I want in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because that's what you should do when we go to war. Will the Left and the media remain supportive when the going gets tough?

That was rhetorical, of course. The question answers itself.

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link. Also, how could I have forgotten the fluffiest of fluffy excuses to hate the bad Iraq War? "No blood for oil (in Iraq)." Again, tip to Stones Cry Out. Libya must have much better oil--environmentally speaking.

The Definition of Insanity

Whenever I get depressed that some people think that Tom Friedman is a deep thinker, I am reminded of Fareed Zakaria's pretensions to intellect--and get more depressed.

Zakaria, who couldn't find his own buttocks with both hands and a GPS signal, thinks that President Obama can solve our problems with Iran with an outreach effort:

Obama should return to his original approach and test the Iranians to see if there is any room for dialogue and agreement. Engaging with Iran, putting its nuclear program under some kind of supervision and finding areas of common interest (such as Afghanistan) would all be important goals.

This time, I'm sure outreach will be brilliant.

No International Faux Pas

Having passed the "global test" for intervention, the Libya War is over as far as the United Nations Security Council is concerned:

The 15-nation council unanimously approved a resolution terminating the U.N. mandate, which set the no-fly zone over Libya and permitted foreign military forces, including NATO, to use "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians.

Well, authorization ends at the end of the month. All the new Libyan government has to do is avoid killing enough people before then to avoid triggering an intervention to protect civilians from the new government. God willing and the crick don't rise, NATO won't have to restart the war to "level the playing field," as Secretary Clinton so infamously put it.

Starting in November, we can veto any UN resolution to protect civilians from the new Libyan government, avoiding an international faux pas.

UPDATE: No worries. NATO is urging restraint:

NATO decided Friday to end its mission in Libya on October 31, declaring it fulfilled its "historic mandate" to protect civilians as it urged the new regime to build a democracy based on human rights.

Well, as long as we're "urging" them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

And a Gift to Stalin?

I find this level of analysis annoyingly dumb:

U.S. Iraq Withdrawal a Gift to Iran? No, the U.S. Iraq Invasion Was the Gift to Iran

Hey, it's from Time "magazine." Don't expect much. Ted Carpenter isn't much better. He covers the same ground, bemoaning the fact that the destruction of Saddam's regime didn't solve all of our Middle East problems for all eternity, arguing this proves that we should have left Saddam in power. But this idiocy cannot be glossed over as just more inanity with a different by-line:

Most of them either ignore the point or barely mention it in passing that George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, signed the agreement to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Bush needed an agreement before he left office, and getting one required a limited time frame. I have no doubt that Carpenter would have complained bitterly if the agreement had been "open ended" for all time. The simple fact is that the agreement was a bridge agreement to a future agreement. It bought time both for Iraqis to get used to post-America Iraq and for the Obama administration to get used to not abandoning Iraq. Carpenter himself concedes that the administration failed to get a new agreement.

Saying the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a gift to Iran is like saying the destruction of Hitler's regime was a gift to Stalin's Soviet Union. Is it too nuanced to appreciate that even bad people can like something we do in our own interests? Seriously, Saddam was evil to us, to pro-American Arabs like Kuwait, and to anti-American Iran. Perhaps 400,000 to 600,000 Iranians died fighting Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Of-freaking-course Iran was happy to see Saddam go. But they were not happy to see us arrive in force. So yes, our departure is far more of a gift to Iran than the invasion. The invasion was in our interest, too. Our departure is not in our interest.

And saying that Iraq has an Iran-friendly government is wrong. Iraq has had an Iran-fearful government. Iran has friends in Iraq. I won't dispute that. But Iraqis don't want Iran to run their lives. But as long as Iraqis fear that America won't defend Iraq until Iraq is strong enough to resist Iran on their own, Iraqi politicians and policy have to take Iran into account to avoid angering them. In another context, the magazine might be touting that as "smart" diplomacy.

I won't even say that withdrawing from Iraq is a gift to Iran. It makes our task more difficult. But we can still win the post-New Dawn struggle for Iraq despite our withdrawal.

What worries me isn't that Iran wants to win that struggle. Nor is the narrow fact that our military won't be there to defend Iraq what worries me most. Like I've written, it makes our job more difficult--but not impossible.

What worries me is that our failure to get a deal with Iraq wasn't a failure of effort, but a decision by our administration not to seek an agreement. Have we decided not to struggle with Iran over the future of Iraq? I can't imagine we'd be that dumb. I surely think the Obama administration has learned that our bad relations with Iran aren't the fault of George W. Bush that needs only proper outreach to correct.

But maybe I'm suffering from a lack of imagination. Refusing to fight would be ultimate the gift to Iran. And if Iran wins Iraq because we won't fight them, I'm sure there will be plenty who will say it proves them right all along.

Keeping Chaos at Bay

Jihadis in Somalia are trying to rally Somalis against the Kenyan "invaders:"

Somalia's al Shabaab rebels vowed on Thursday to fight Kenya after its troops entered the Horn of Africa nation and called on sympathizers to carry out major attacks in east Africa's biggest economy.

The call to arms came 12 days after Kenya sent soldiers into Somalia to battle the al Qaeda-linked rebels Nairobi blames for a string of kidnappings on Kenyan soil and frequent border incursions threatening state security.

The Kenyans aren't on a punitive mission. They just want to keep the chaos of Somalia a decent distance away:

Kenya admitted that its invasion of Somalia was not just in response to recent Somali kidnappings in Kenya. The invasion had been planned for years, but mainly as an option if the Somali violence spilling over into Kenya became intolerable. The recent kidnappings of foreign tourists and growing flood of Somali refugees was the trigger. Kenya plans to establish a buffer zone along the border, protected by clans that will be supplied and subsidized by Kenya. In addition, Kenyan troops will be available to move into the buffer zone if the pro-Kenyan clans come under major attack.

Kenya can't afford to act as if the formal state of Somalia exists. So they will cut deals with enough locals to give them a shot at calming the border areas down. I hope this works. We might want to do the same thing in Pakistan's wild west border areas.

UPDATE: We sure are active nearby. But nothing to see:

The United States acknowledged Friday it was flying drones out of Ethiopia under a counter-terrorism campaign in the Horn of Africa but said the aircraft were unarmed and not carrying out raids.

If we aren't carrying out raids with the drones, it's because we don't need to. I find it hard to believe we aren't providing backing to local friends willing to go after jihadis. It's a sad day when other countries are so sensitive about killing jihadis from their soil.

But we did carry out strike missions from Ethiopia when Ethiopia had a go at the jihadis inside Somalia. So we've done it before.

Oh, and the drone in question is the Reaper, according to the article, which is not one we'd use for pure recon missions:

The MQ-9 Reaper is a 4.7 ton, 11.6 meters (36 foot) long aircraft with a 21.3 meters (66 foot) wingspan that looks like the MQ-1. It has six hard points, and can carry 682 kg (1,500 pounds) of weapons. These include Hellfire missiles (up to eight), two Sidewinder or two AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, two Maverick missiles, two 227 kg (500 pound) smart bombs (laser or GPS guided.) Max speed is 400 kilometers an hour, and max endurance is 15 hours. The Reaper is considered a combat aircraft, to replace F-16s or A-10s.

If the name alone wasn't a dead give away, the capabilities should tell you what we are using them for. But we aren't using Reapers for strike missions. Heaven forbid.

Islamists in Government: Issue in Doubt

Tunisia is beginning a process that will determine whether democracy or Islamism wins there:

The people of Tunisia, Arab Spring 2011's first revolutionaries, have earned their chance to struggle with one of the 21st century's most essential political, social and cultural questions: Will democracy moderate political Islamists, or will political Islamists undermine democracy?

Note I wrote "struggle," not "answer." The Tunisian people have embarked on a murky process that will take years (perhaps decades) to conclude. Exaggerated optimism as to the outcome is as foolish as exaggerated pessimism, though I am certain the threats of militant violence and sleazy, destructive corruption will haunt every passing second. Violence and corruption haunt every revolution.

Those who fear that the Islamists will win this struggle have opposed the Arab Spring, arguing that having our SOBs in power is better than risking that the people actually want Islamism.

But bad results haunt every revolution. It isn't unique to this spring. Yes, some or all of the Arab Spring could turn out badly. But that isn't a reason to despair and support thugs. That only holds the lid on the boiling pot and makes sure that when it finally blows, it will be far worse. No, the spectre of bad results is a reason to stay involved to help the forces of democracy win the struggle with Islamism.

It's the Long War. Remember?


Is this the opening signal of property value collapse in China?

Hundreds of angry home buyers launched a series of protests in China's commercial hub of Shanghai this week, as owners decried falling prices for their properties, state media said Thursday.

Hit by weak demand and lack of funding, developers have slashed prices for some new projects in the city by more than 20 percent, the China Business News said, causing an outcry among those who bought at higher levels.

Prices are way too high. But people have nowhere else to put their money and so have pushed the bubble higher and higher. I hope the Europeans aren't still counting on the Chinese to save their financial system.

Heck, I hope we aren't counting on the Chinese to continue financing our staggering budget deficits.

Merkel: I Will Kill This Cute Puppy!

As I've mentioned many times, the European elites believe that the anti-democratic European Union under the gentle but firm grip of Euro elites is the only way to save Europe from the ugly passions of the grubby peasants who have plunged Europe into war again and again:

[Saying] that the EU is what stands between people and the dogs of war is just silly.

Next up: Preserve the EU or we'll kill this puppy!

Merkel takes aim at the puppy (tip to NRO):

Mrs Merkel said European leaders could not allow the single currency to fail as “the world is watching”.

“Nobody should believe that another half century of peace in Europe is a given — it’s not,” Mrs Merkel said. “So I say again: if the euro collapses, Europe collapses. That can’t happen.”

The elites can try to scare the people with images of war. But I think more people are willing to see that puppy die.

It's SCIENCE, Darn It!

Ah, science crap (via Transterrestrial Musings)!

Ms. Laframboise is the author of “The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert“, a book that describes how the IPCC includes green lobbyists and others too biased, or too misinformed to have any place on such an important UN body.

It's almost as if effing idiots want to tell us how to run our lives because they pretend they understand our climate, our place in it, and how to respond to what they claim to understand.

Not really related, but Delingpole has a go at what we deniers believe. It's not that we deny "science." It's that we deny the global warmers have anything to do with science.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Friedman Levels of Dumb

Have I mentioned that while I won't claim you can't drown in a pool of Thomas Friedman's wisdom, you would have to be drunk and face down to do so? I have? Well. On to the Friedman:

In his own way, President Obama has brought the country to the right strategy for Bush’s “war on terrorism.” It is a serious, focused combination of global intelligence coordination, targeted killing of known terrorists and limited interventions — like Libya — that leverage popular forces on the ground and allies, as well as a judicious use of U.S. power, so that we keep the costs and risks down. In Libya, Obama saved lives and gave Libyans a chance to build a decent society. What they do with this opportunity is now up to them. I am still wary, but Obama handled his role exceedingly well.

No doubt George Bush and Dick Cheney thought that both Iraq and Afghanistan would be precisely such focused, limited operations. Instead, they each turned out to be like a bad subprime mortgage — a small down payment with a huge balloon five years down the road. They thought they would be able to “flip” the house before the balloon came due. But partly because of their incompetence and lack of planning, it took much longer to flip the house to new owners and the price America paid was huge. Iraq may still have a decent outcome — I hope so, and it would be important — but even if it becomes Switzerland, we overpaid for it.

So let’s be clear: Up to now, as a commander in chief in the war on terrorism, Obama and his national security team have been so much smarter, tougher and cost-efficient in keeping the country safe than the “adults” they replaced.

Oh my God. Does Friedman write this stuff this way because he knows his fanboys in the White House read him? And give him weight? Get a freaking room, Tom.

Seven months after we hit the silks to invade Afghanistan and crossed the berm to invade Iraq, the wars looked pretty won. Claiming massive big-brained, nuanced super-genius levels of competence is rather premature when speaking of Libya. Have you noticed that the Iraqis stiffed our super-genius effort to keep American troops in Iraq after this year? When everyone--Americans, pro-American Iraqis, and anti-American Iraqis know we are needed? Have you noticed that our super-genius foreign policy witnessed President Karzai of Afghanistan (you know, "he may be a son of a bitch, but he's--no wait, just stop there") say he'd side with Pakistan in a hypothetical US-Pakistan war? Stop the nuance! It burns!

Shoot, I bet that weather vane of conventional wisdom, Mr. Friedman, probably supported both Afghanistan and Iraq when the wars were 7 months old. President Obama better not count on Tom's big brain to defend him if Libya doesn't turn out to be a leading-from-behind cake walk.

Still think Libya is a win in the bank already? Especially when the low cost of Libya was simply transferred from Americans to Libyans by letting the weak Khaddafi regime hang on so long, where they could kill a lot more Libyans even as American pilots remained out of reach.

Claiming Libya was brilliant requires you to believe two things. One, that in 8 years, Libya will look as good as either Iraq or Afghanistan as far as giving our Moslem allies chances to build better lives. Don't look now, Tom, but you may have just bought a bad sub-prime mortgage.

And two, it requires you to believe that President Obama will be as resolute as President George W. Bush in fighting a war to win--even after all the smart guys say it is doomed and never worth fighting.

The White House should watch its back if it thinks that the deep thinking of Thomas Friedman is in its corner. He sucks the generals and kicks the privates. That's what a king of conventional wisdom does. You think you're different, and Tom will really respect you in the mourning? Don't listen to Friedman. He isn't your SOB.

Number One is Number One

I keep saying that people shouldn't count us out and that this century will likely be ours, too. Here's another take in support (tip to Instapundit, I think):

The American phoenix is slowly rising again. Within five years or so, the US will be well on its way to self-sufficiency in fuel and energy. Manufacturing will have closed the labour gap with China in a clutch of key industries. The current account might even be in surplus.

Yes, part of our retention of the top spot may be because the rest of the world screws up worse than we are, but so what? Did we emerge from World War II with about half the world's GDP within our borders because we mastered business models better than anyone else? No, the rest of the world was bombed and spent into oblivion leaving us the last man standing. And it was a dominance that laid the seeds for our 1970s decline as our dominant industries failed to compete even as the rest of the world recovered and rebuilt from the devastation of World War II.

And if we could recover our leading role after the dismal 1970s revealed how far we'd sunk, we can recover now when the mantra of global competition is strong in our national psychology.

Number one is number one. There are no style points involved.

They Still Bug Me, of Course

Via Mad Minerva, who credits The View from Taiwan, this author warns us not to assume China won't risk war:

Can China help itself when smaller neighbours defy its will? For me, Beijing’s behaviour over the past couple of years conjures up the classic Aesop fable ‘The Scorpion and the Frog.’ Like most such tales, it’s short yet rich in substance:

‘A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, ‘How do I know you won’t sting me?’ The scorpion says, ‘Because if I do, I will die too’.

‘The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp, ‘Why?’

‘Replies the scorpion: ‘It’s my nature...’

The author has a point. But he is mistaken to frame the issue in the sense that the Chinese might do something against their better interests, so presumably we must be prepared should they do so. That is too America-centric. The fact is that we can only say China wouldn't do something out of self interest if China was ruled by Americans who see the world the same way. The simple fact is that even this attempt to adapt the fable is mirror-imaging the Chinese. Don't assume that what we believe is in China's interest (and what is not) is how China views the world.

I mean, if the scorpion is part of a family of scorpions that fears the frog as a mortal threat to their nest, killing the frog at the price of but one of the nest's scorpions doesn't defy logic and reflect a blind obedience to nature. It makes perfect sense.

China isn't a scorpion. They just aren't us.

Leaking Away

This is interesting--and not in a good way for Assad:

Nearly 20,000 soldiers have deserted in the last seven months, most of them in the last month. The number of deserters grows daily. The recent death of Libyan dictator Kaddafi did not help morale for the government, or its troops.

That many? Is that a reliable number or one drawn from dissidents? Still, even if the number is off, it is probably more reliable to say that more are deserting lately.

Not that this affects the loyal forces involved in killing and terrorizing the population. Not immediately. These 100,000 plus foreign bully boys seem ready to keep killing. The question is whether the trickle of desertions unleashes a flood of revolts. The regime can stand the trickle of low-ranking soldiers deserting from units that aren't even trusted to put down the protests and budding revolts around Syria. They are still too few to really hold ground for long when the loyalists attack.

The problem is if the trickle either reaches a flood or if the trickle seeps upward to infect officers who might either take their entire unit into revolt or simply desert and then help organize and lead the lower level defectors.

Plus, the trickle of defectors has to bolster protester morale as the regime continues to kill and arrest them. Assad could still break the protests. But the trend seems to be against him right now.

About That Land War in Asia

An Indian think tank examines scenarios of potential Indian-Chinese conflict.

There are two interesting things to note. One, I think I did as extensive a job of setting forth the high end conflict potential (but without foot notes, of course) two years ago.

And two, it is amazingly land power-centric. I think of myself has pretty biased toward land power. But my conclusion was that air and sea power had to be given priority given the limitations on decisive land power options by either side. The think tank report barely addresses these angles. Perhaps being a citizen of America, a power projection country, just naturally inclines me to look at naval and air aspects along with ground forces. Perhaps my confessed bias isn't nearly as bad as I thought. Really, warnings about a land war in Asia can't really apply to Asian nations, right?

Oh, and one more thing. in discussing war against Pakistan and India, the emphasis appears to be that the Indians would attempt to decisively beat Pakistan first while holding in the north against China. This makes sense in a conventional world. But in India's new nuclear world, this is backward. Decisively defeating Pakistan simply risks Pakistan hitting India with nuclear weapons to prevent decisive defeat if India does rip apart Pakistan's army. China wouldn't mind that exchange.

Further, China's much greater nuclear arsenal (compared to both Pakistan and India) means that any gains that China makes along the land border while India is busy crushing Pakistan are less likely to be reversed at the peace table. And those nukes mean that it is less likely that India gets the time to shift victorious assets to the northeast to counter-attack before a nervous world pressures both into a ceasefire in place.

Face it, China is the main threat. India needs to act that way rather than say the words that China is the bigger threat but continue with decades old military focus on Pakistan in practice.

In case of a two-front war, India needs to hold Pakistan in an economy of force operation, confident that over time Indian weight of power can reverse any local gains that Pakistan might make. Meanwhile, the main effort of India must be on dominating the India-China border conflict so that India holds as much as they can and grabs bargaining chips on the other side of the dividing line in order to restore the status quo ante at the negotiating table.

No End Zone Celebration

Our Secretary of Defense (our former chief spy) is lauding China for not throwing a hissy fit over our recent arms sale to Taiwan:

"As a matter of fact, I guess I would commend them for the way they've handled the news of that sale to Taiwan ... I think they handled it in a professional and diplomatic way -- and we appreciate that."

China successfully pressured us into refusing to sell new F-16s to Taiwan. We dressed up the necessary but clearly consolation prize of updating their older F-16s as a superior deal. And when the Chinese are quiet over their partial victory over us, what do we say about that defeat?

Now we count it as a success that our foes don't rub our nose in their victories. Wonderful.

But hey, as long as we're taking the views of spies, let's get the final word on whether our Taiwan arms sale was a success:

Let's 86 the appreciation talk, shall we?

Winning is Always Better

While the Left has been the prime mover in opposing the Iraq War, elements of the isolationist right have seemed to root for defeat, too. As we failed to persuade Iraq to keep American troops in Iraq, this author applauds the end of the war for us--even though we could yet lose if the absence of our troops is decisive:

This is hardly the first war that exhibits the common tendency to think that just a little more persistence will make the difference between a win and a loss. But this tendency is no more logical than a gambler on a losing streak doubling down on his bets. There is no reason to believe that the next year or two of war will be more productive than the previous year or two or three. As with other lights that have been seen at the end of other tunnels, this kind of incremental thinking is a prescription for winding up with far greater costs than would justify even something that could be described as a win. We are dealing in the realm not of logic but of psychology, especially with the common but mistaken human inclination to treat sunk costs as investments.

Given that we actually won in Iraq with a little more persistence that saw a more productive strategy, I don't know how this is a justification for being happy to say goodbye to Iraq.

He throws in a Vietnam reference, just to be sure. That we won in Vietnam only to see our Congress throw away the victory in partisan spite is apparently beside the point.

What we won in Vietnam is beside the point for Iraq. But we achieved a great deal in Iraq at an amazingly low cost, historically speaking. This editorial highlights that the war isn't ending--just our direct participation in it:

“THE LONG WAR in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year,” President Obama announced on Friday afternoon. That will be true only for American soldiers. Iraqi insurgents, including al-Qaeda, continue to wage war against the country’s fragile democratic government; Iran sponsors its own militias and has been accelerating its effort to dominate its neighbor. Thousands of private contractors will continue to guard U.S. diplomats and installations. And a tense standoff goes on between ethnic Kurdish and Iraqi government forces in northern Iraq — where Turkey has just launched its own armed incursion.

I don't celebrate leaving Iraq with missions yet to accomplish. I think we needed 25,000 (including three combat brigades and special forces) to defend all that we achieved. But you go to war with the army you have in Iraq and not the army you wish you had. I simply seek to figure out how we achieve those missions with the limits that our diplomacy put on us. I can wish our diplomacy was better. I can hope that it was a true failure of diplomacy rather than a decision by the White House not to push for a way to get to an Iraqi "yes." It would be better to think we tried to do the right thing but couldn't, rather than think we didn't know what the right thing is or didn't care.

But our departure from Iraq with a victory there that we to defend and more objectives to achieve if we exploit our battlefield victory is merely a more difficult opportunity rather than a retreat as these authors assert, quoting President Obama's speech on the subject:

“Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home. The last American soldier will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops. That is how America’s military effort in Iraq will end.” In other words, our efforts in Iraq end neither in victory nor defeat, success nor failure, but simply in retreat.

The authors seem to assume that our withdrawal from Iraq dooms our efforts to achieve our objectives rather than increasing the degree of difficulty. We have much to defend and much more to achieve, as they write. but we have to keep working the problem. Twenty-five thousand troops wouldn't have guaranteed success. And zero won't guarantee failure.

Of course, if the administration has decided to walk away from Iraq because of partisan spite, achieving victory will rest solely on the Iraqis and others in the region who will oppose Iran and resist the jihadis. If we want to win, I have confidence that we can find ways to win despite the added difficulties. But if the White House has decided that it doesn't care if we lose, we could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Winning is always better than losing. Is that so difficult to comprehend? Work the problem.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Silver Lining

As many in the West lament the fact that the Arab Spring hasn't led to more progress already toward democracy, downplaying the good that defeating tyrants represents in the long run, let's take comfort in one factor that will benefit us:

Bahrain ordered a crackdown on protesters, ignoring American exhortations to negotiate with the demonstrators. President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen returned to his country despite President Obama’s demand that he step aside. Egypt’s military rulers rejected U.S. requests to lift a hated emergency law and to free a Jewish-American law student accused of spying. Iraq rebuffed an offer to extend the American troop presence and proclaimed support for Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad. Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank. “People in the region recognize that we’re not as dominant a power as we thought we were, that we were just as surprised by the Arab Spring as they were … and that we are, if anything, less capable of directing where things go from here than the indigenous peoples and governments,” says Gordon Adams, a foreign-policy professor at American University.

This is a bright side because it undermines al Qaeda's appeal to the Arab masses. Remember that al Qaeda painted us as the ultimate power behind the thrones that oppressed them. Striking us at home on 9/11 was merely step one in the multi-step vision that ended with isolated Arab regimes deprived of American support (because we were driven from the region) falling to al Qaeda-led or -inspired revolutions. Plus, al Qaeda showed they are murderous bastards in Iraq and elsewhere (and worse--losing bastards), and the Arab Spring shows that revolts don't need al Qaeda to strike down tyrants.

Al Qaeda hoped for an Islamist Spring. They got an Arab Spring. Now, naturally the jihadis hope to hijack the spirit of revolt. But if we continue to stay involved rather than being driven from the region, we can defeat the jihadis here, too. Work the problem rather than despair that the Vermont Chapter of the League of Women voters didn't run the revolutions.

Revolutions are messy. Make the mess fall on the jihadis.


President Obama is tallying up quite the body count.

Osama bin Laden: killed by SEALs.

Anwar al-Awlaki: killed by drone strike.

Muammar Khaddafi: killed by American-backed rebels.

Nobel Peace Prize Committee? Died of embarrassment.

Their worst nightmare is that the president's reelection in 2012 will result in more carnage:

The T-000 terminator model is relentless.

The Vegan Body Count

Meat wins!

Unfortunately for the ethical vegan, the production of their food alone reduces their claim [to superior ethics] to impossibility. Animals are killed in untold millions, in the course of plant agriculture. Some are killed accidentally in the course of mechanized farming; some are killed deliberately in the course of pest control. Animals are killed, every day. Every potato, every stick of celery, every cup of rice, and every carrot has a blood trail leading from field to plate.


Of course, cows are cuter than vermin. Or frogs. You have to draw the line somewhere.

He Wants Credit? Earn It

President Obama has done better on killing terrorists than I imagined. And he has continued Bush policies in form (if not deeply held) to a greater extent than I hoped. I think it is based on the path of least resistance to avoid interfering with his domestic agenda, but the reality is still there.

But since I don't really trust President Obama's team to do the right thing abroad except when it furthers their political agenda (or when our foreign policy is on auto pilot without presidential level direction), I don't give him a lot of credit. Some credit is due, of course. The Libya War did work out despite my expectations. But to be fair to my analytical abilities, the war changed greatly from how it was both sold--as a simple "no-fly" zone over rebel-held cities, and begun--as bombing Khaddafi's forces without siding with the rebels. Stratfor describes it well:

After seven months of NATO intervention, Gadhafi was killed. That it took so long for this to happen stands out, given that the intervention involved far more than airstrikes, including special operations forces on the ground targeting for airstrikes, training Libyan troops, managing logistics, overseeing communications and both planning and at times organizing and leading the Libyan insurgents in battle.

And it was still a close call. NATO seemed awfully close to throwing up their hands when the western rebels overran Tripoli.

President Obama just hasn't earned full credit, any more than he earned that Nobel Peace Prize, and our enemies know it:

To be sure, as Obama’s fans will tell you, he approves the killing of lots of bad guys, of which Qaddafi is the latest case in point. It’s an impressive list by now, and grows longer virtually every day. And they insist that he’s brought down more tyrants than George W Bush and Dick Cheney ever dreamed of, and is calling for Assad to go. Why is he not getting proper credit? they ask. The answer’s pretty easy: because in the three cases of regime change to date (Tunisia, Egypt and Libya), Obama arrived late to the fight, plainly dithered before making up his mind which side he was on, and never seemed to be “in charge,” without which he really isn’t entitled to ask for a medal. And as for the assassination of terrorists, while it’s a better world without them, it’s not a fundamentally changed world, and Obama promised to change the world. If you’re going to fight the terror network, you’re going to have to target headquarters, training camps, and home bases. He has yet to act effectively against the two surviving charter members of the Axis of Evil, Iran and Syria. They have every reason to believe they can do most anything without fearing anything more than sanctions, headshakes, and tongue clucks.

Yeah, the credit has to be limited by how these achievements were made: leading from behind and leading from before.

But I wouldn't go as far as the last sentence. Libya pretty much came out of nowhere and foes have to worry that President Obama might ignore Congress, find a loop hole in international law, and militarily intervene even when no vital American interests are at stake. It may not be as good as enemies fearing our resolve, but fearing our unpredictability has some value.

The basic point is that Iran is exploiting our reputation for not being willing to go for the kill or do what it takes to help our friends. It is complicating our foreign policy all across the Middle East region. Even getting a win in Syria if we can somehow topple the Assad regime, while it will hurt Iran, will not end the Iranian threat that appears wherever we have problems in the region (and even in Latin America and Africa, Iran spreads its tentacles).

I draw comfort that we continue to treat the symptoms of our problems in the Islamic world. I feared far worse. But if President Obama wants true credit for leadership, he can do what even George W. Bush wouldn't do (to be fair, he'd have been impeached by the loyal opposition if he had tried): cut the Gordian Knot in the Middle East and destroy the mullah regime in Iran.

Be warned, this isn't just necessary to strike back for Iran's past crimes or their current destabilizing efforts, it would forestall future Iranian mischief on a grander scale, as Stratfor also describes:

Syria was close to Iran before the uprising. Iran has been the most supportive of the Syrian regime. If al Assad survives this crisis, his willingness to collaborate with Iran will only intensify. In Lebanon, Hezbollah — a group the Iranians have supported for decades — is a major force. Therefore, if the U.S. withdrawal in Iraq results in substantial Iranian influence in Iraq, and al Assad doesn’t fall, then the balance of power in the region completely shifts. ...

The point here, of course, is that the decision to withdraw from Iraq and the inability to persuade the Iraqi government to let U.S. forces remain has the potential to change the balance of power in the region. Rather than closing the book on Iraq, it simply opens a new chapter in what was always the subtext of Iraq, namely Iranian power. The civil war in Iraq that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein had many dimensions, but its most strategically important one was the duel between the United States and Iran. The Obama administration hopes it can maintain U.S. influence in Iraq without the presence of U.S. troops. Given that U.S. influence with the presence of troops was always constrained, this is a comforting, though doubtful, theory for Washington to consume.

Iran is our enemy. We can pretend that we don't need to fight them, but one day they'll do enough harm to us to remove that comforting illusion that we can afford to have them as an enemy, continually probing our defenses and seeking to harm us. President Obama is learning the hard lesson that our war with Islamo-fascists (both Sunni and Shia varieties) is not the fault of George W. Bush. It's them--not us.

My hope is that liberals will give the president leeway to fight Iran and the jihadis in ways that they never would for a Republican. Liberal support for President Obama's war in Libya without Congressional authorization and their refusal to condemn drone strikes in Pakistan and escalation in Afghanistan shows that they are fully capable of switching gears rapidly depending on who is leading the war. And far more conservatives will support our president in return, rather than turn on a president for doing what they'd defend Bush for doing. I remember one liberal writer making that argument explicitly as a reason to vote for Kerry in 2004. I thought it was a disgustingly partisan argument. But I never thought it was wrong.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Representative Murtha was suspected of being one corrupt Congressman:

Last week’s release of FBI documents finally put in writing what nobody had ever said on the record: The FBI suspected that former Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) and lobbyists close to him were running a scheme to funnel earmarks to sham companies and nonprofits to benefit the lawmaker’s friends and former staffers.

There were some convictions around the periphery, it seems, but no smoking gun in Murtha's hand was proven.

Still, given the man's horrible record on saying horrible things about our troops at war, being able to say Murtha was "unconvicted" and "unindicted" is hardly a glowing recommendation to have his name live on, painted on the hull of LPD-26.


Without addressing whether the particular program is good or bad (tip to Instapundit), it does illustrate what I've been preaching for years: if you are concerned with our civil liberties, you should want America to be on offense to actually win the Long War on Islamo-fascist terrorism rather than sit on defense, ratcheting up our defenses at home each time the enemy penetrates our defenses or reveals a hole in them.

Unless you wish to simply surrender to the jihadis and give in to their every whim about what we can say, do, think, or even where we can go, that fading "No Endless War" bumper sticker you sport should mean "victory."

Monday, October 24, 2011


As I've noted many times, even if the global warmers are right about the dire consequences of global warming, that the globe is truly warming on time scales large enough to be significant, and that we are causing it, I don't under any circumstances accept that they have even a remote clue about how to combat it:

The largest and most comprehensive study yet done on the effect of biofuel production from West Coast forests has concluded that an emphasis on bioenergy would increase carbon dioxide emissions from these forests at least 14 percent, if the efficiency of such operations is optimal.

Fancy that.

Hey, if someone bought carbon credit indulgences for this green fail project, do they still go to Green Heck?

A Tragedy in Progress

As we debate how Turkey will frame its foreign policy, the Turkish earthquake that appears to have killed a thousand people is a tragedy that we must respond to without thought of whether the Turkish government is with us or against us.

The Beginning of Wisdom?

After decades of Saddam's iron grip and 8 years of a major American military presence, Iraqis can be forgiven for wanting--against their better sense--to be truly on their own:

For the first time in decades, Iraqis face a future on their own, with neither Saddam Hussein's iron fist nor the United States' military might to hold them together. This has been both their dream and nightmare: They wanted American troops (the occupiers) to go, but they wanted American troops (the protectors) to stay.

Iraqis know they need us. But they fear trading one ruler who controls them for another. So fine, Iraq is proving they can tell us to go. And we are proving that we stay only when asked (as we say is our policy). I hoped our announcement of final departure would trigger some second thoughts on being eager for us to go. It would be one thing if our departure meant that Iraq was truly free of foreign influence.

But Iran, Syria, the Sunni Arab world, and al Qaeda wreck that happy fantasy. We broke their backs but they didn't take defeat as permanent and seek to bounce back. Perhaps the many Iraqis who did want us to stay but were too timid to defend our role will be emboldened by our imminent departure to persuade the rest that our influence--a positive one of rebuilding and creating democracy--can counter all the other influences that seek to break apart a prosperous and democratic Iraq before it can really get started.

We have time before the end of the year arrives. And the Iraqis even have time after that to correct the error before it can be fatal. I just hope that if the Iraqis ask us to stay, that President Obama will be willing to walk back his triumphant withdrawal statements in the middle of a reelection campaign.

UPDATE: The signs of fear are there already:

The speaker of Iraq's parliament on Monday accused neighboring nations of meddling in Iraqi affairs and signaled it will only get worse if the country is seen as vulnerable after U.S. troops leave at the end of the year.

And our Secretary of Defense is reminding people that even post-withdrawal, we have a lot of power in the region (as I've noted):

Speaking to reporters in Bali, Indonesia, Panetta noted that an estimated 40,000 U.S. troops will be stationed across the Mideast even after the Iraq withdrawal, including about 23,000 in neighboring Kuwait.

"So we will always have a force that will be present and that will deal with any threats from Iran," Panetta said.

Of course, I also want our troops inside Iraq to set limits on how Iraqi factions maneuver for power. Our troops provide a comfort level that nobody can afford to resort to arms to settle political differences. That's what Panetta needs to fear about our departure.

Let's hope wisdom follows.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Long Road Ahead

If you don't count the fragile success story of Iraq or the abortive Cedar Spring in Lebanon, the Arab Spring began in Tunisia. We are fortunate it started there, for as voters head for the polls today, Tunisia has the best chance of setting a good example of the first vote:

The unexpected revolution in this quiet Mediterranean country — cherished by European tourists for its sandy beaches and desert oases — set off a series of similar uprisings against entrenched leaders, an event now being called the Arab Spring. If Tunisia's election produce an effective new government they will serve as an inspiration to pro-democracy advocates across the region, including in next-door Libya, where longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi was killed last week by rebel forces.

Of course, democracy isn't just that first vote. It's the second and third and twentieth. With confidence that winners and losers alike are protected by the laws that the majority writes under the restrictions of their constitution.

Voting can just be the non-violent means for a dictator to achieve power. Yet while it isn't the only thing that goes into democracy, it surely is one thing that simply must be done to call your country a democracy.

Let's stay involved. Revolution and the first free election are just the first--but vital--steps to democracy.

UPDATE: The initial results are in:

Results from Tunisia's first free election were expected to hand victory to a moderate Islamist party on Tuesday, sending a message to other states in the region that long-sidelined Islamists are challenging for power after the "Arab Spring."

The voting system was set up to make it more likely that the winner would need allies to govern. This will happen. These guys will draw up the constitution and prepare for new elections in a year or so.

It would have been nice if the secular parties had won outright. But as long as elections continue to be held and whoever is in office has to account for how they ran the government during their tenure, results and not religion will eventually lead to better results (well, I hope that will be the result). Democracy is not judged by the first election results. It is judged by whether the first election is just a tool for the winner to seize power. It is judged over the long haul.

The Center Will Not Hold

We should not be trying to build a centralized state in Afghanistan governed from Kabul:

Afghanistan would support Pakistan in case of military conflict between Pakistan and the United States, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an interview to a private Pakistani TV channel broadcast on Saturday.

"Our" man says this even as we try to get Pakistan to stop supporting jihadis who plague Afghanistan. Granted, this was just bravado. But as I've said before, we need to bypass Karzai and Kabul by strengthening local Afghan governance and security. Afghanistan needs stronger government but it needs to be decentralized to exploit the tribalism that makes a modern state impossible in the near future. Afghanistan can continue to have a UN seat with whoever holds Kabul controls, but Kabul most only reign over the regions rather than rule them. We can't trust the center, the center can run the periphery, and the periphery doesn't trust the center anyway.

Remember, unlike Iraq where developing democracy can have positive repercussions throughout the region, Afghanistan is peripheral to the war over the future of Islam. Our objectives in Afghanistan are purely local in preventing Afghanistan from becoming a launching pad for future 9/11s and to keep the country from destabilizing nuclear-armed Pakistan. The Long War to defeat Islamo-fascism will not be won or lost in Afghanistan.

We owe Karzai--who has betrayed all the hope he initially embodied--absolutely nothing. Remember that.

Voting Present

It is good that we defeated Khaddafi and our various enemies in Iraq. You can't blame President Obama for taking some credit for being in office when they happened:

President Barack Obama sought on Saturday to cast himself as a strong leader on foreign policy, highlighting a pullout from Iraq and the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi as success stories.

Strong leader? Really?

While President Obama helped in important ways, the Libya War was led by Britain and France. At best, President Obama "led from behind."

And while President Obama did not actively try to lose Iraq, the Iraq War victory was led by President George W. Bush (over Obama's objections of achieving what he now says is his success story). At best, President Obama "led from before."

I'm certainly happy that President Obama didn't get in the way of others winning. And I even give him credit for helping to move them along (while worrying that he won't do enough to keep them moving forward). But however you want to describe it, being present when good things happen isn't "leading" by any stretch of the imagination.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Quantifying Compassion

So the administration tells us that failure to spend federal money on hiring police and teachers leads to more crime and less prepared students (respectively, I assume).

Fine. Have that argument. I assume that if the administration says that X amount for police and Y amount for teachers is what they want to spend, that others can't turn around and accuse them of killing people and impoverishing students if they don't spend X + A and Y + B on those programs.

Seriously, if spending less than what the administration wants is tantamount to Republicans allowing the killing and raping of people, why isn't failing to spend more than what the administration wants tantamount to the administration allowing killing and raping? Or is the amount the administration proposing the exact amount necessary to solve all the crime and teaching problems? But no, only spending less than what the administration proposes kills and endangers, right?

But that's not the really annoying part. What really annoys me is that even assuming that hiring local police and local teachers is the best thing in the world you should do, why is it the responsibility of the federal government to borrow that money to spend on those wonderful things? And why isn't it tantamount to allowing more murder and rape to refuse to take federal money spent on--oh I don't know, PBS and NPR?--and instead spend it on local education and police? Why is compassion only defined as taxing and borrowing more rather than making choices to live within our means?

Lord knows we seem to have abandoned concepts of personal responsibility. Are states and cities now freed from hard choices by the ever expanding compassionate federal government that promises to solve every problem? Good God, I think it is obvious our federal government can't do all that. But shouldn't we think it is obvious that the federal government shouldn't do all that?