Monday, February 28, 2011

Redefine Service

I don't fully buy the apparent implications of this observation, true as it may be (tip to Instapundit):

"Baumol started out by asking himself why the costs of the performing arts always seemed to be rising" Moynihan wrote. "I remarked that if you want a Dixieland band for a campaign rally today, you will need the same [number of] players you would have needed at the beginning of the century. Productivity just hasn't changed much."

But per-player costs -- salaries and benefits -- had risen dramatically, and the price of that Dixieland band along with them.

So, too, the price of health care, the senator argued. An already labor-intensive industry was becoming even more so with each technological advance -- driving per-patient productivity ever lower and overall costs inexorably higher.

The same, he said, is true of what he termed the "stagnant [public-sector] services" -- including "education high and low, welfare, the arts, legal services, the police. This means that the [costs] of the public sector will continue to grow."

But will they continue to grow until government can no longer squeeze sufficient money from the wealth-producing sector to sustain the demands of the wealth consumers? And did that happen in the summer of 2008?

Not everything but the demand and cost in this equation is constant. Take the Dixieland band example. If you want to hear a Dixieland band play, the costs will be higher as a service (assuming that the demand for Dixieland bands hasn't fallen so much that part-timers who play for fun will do it for little or no money--I think our newspapers might be able to comment on that change). But what if, in a world of demand for Dixieland music, you decide you simply want to listen to Dixieland music. Ah, then your cost horizons change. Get a record, tape, CD, or MP3--or even a video--and technology has lowered the cost of listening to Dixieland music, if not that of a Dixieland band.

Or take higher education. I trudged to many a huge lecture with a couple hundred other students to hear a professor lecture (well, when I went. I wasn't the most diligent of class attenders). What would I have lost if I heard a professor lecture via video along with a couple hundred thousand other students? If you assume the service of listening to a history lecture must include sitting in a lecture and hearing a one-way dialog in person, sure, the costs will always go up. But change the definition of what receiving the education service is, and cost vectors can change. Heck, isn't this really what diploma mills have been about? Go right to the diploma and cut costs by having no or bogus classes, right? We could find something in between, couldn't we? Surely there would be ways to redefine the service, right?

And maybe universities could split off their research functions to an affiliated for-profit enterprise to keep the administrative costs of contracts and grants (which, if I understand the issue, is a major reason why the ratio of administrators to faculty has skyrocketed) of that enterprise hang on the teaching side. And as a pure rant, why the trend to luxury dorms? By God, when I was in college we had converted broom closets for dorm rooms and we liked it.

But I digress.

Even in government, there is room for changing service. Lots of transactions with government that once required a trip to a government office staffed  with an employee (regardless of whether they did the job well or not) whether anyone who needs the service is at the counter or not can now be done on the Internet. In Michigan, the state workforce has actually dropped by 23% between 1990 and 2009 (see p. 9 of the document; p. 12 of the PDF). I'm sure that there were further decreases in 2010. And that overall decrease includes a pretty hefty increase in the Department of Corrections staff given the rising prisoner population over the last couple decades, which means the non-Corrections state employee numbers really dropped. Clearly, state services are being provided differently--and with fewer people.

I won't pretend to be able to say how labor-intensive services can be provided that lessen the reliance on the more expensive labor costs. And I'm not interested in delving into the subject. But I will say that the costs doom us only if we have a static view of how to provide the service. Not that I even like Dixieland bands, but if I wanted to hear one, I'd pay a few bucks to listen to one whenever I want rather than save up to hire one every 6 months or so to play for me personally.

About That Old Conventional Wisdom

Remember how anti-war types would say that use of force against terrorists is counter-productive because it just produces more terrorists? Yeah, I remember it, too. I've always argued that only ineffective use of force encourages terrorists. Retaliate by launching cruise missiles at some goats and tents and you're darned straight it will encourage terrorists.

But hunt them down and kill or arrest them over a long period of time? Well, that gets discouraging for the terrorists. We've already seen that we can in fact discourage terrorists in Iraq by kicking their asses. Now it is the Taliban's turn:

The Taliban are increasingly desperate to decrease the pressure on them from U.S. and NATO troops. In particular, the campaign against the Taliban leadership (the guys who command a few hundred men in part of a province or city), is causing major morale problems. Not just among the field commanders, but also among the rank-and-file Taliban. These guys are increasingly disillusioned with Taliban tactics that often stress killing terror tactics against civilians. The Taliban gunmen are often believers in the Taliban idea of a religious dictatorship eliminating corruption and bringing peace and prosperity to the countryside. But this is not what the Taliban is actually doing, even in areas where they have a lot of control. As a result, recruiting is more difficult (even with the offer of higher pay), and desertions are increasing.

Of course, the big shots in Pakistan still want to give it the good ol' jihadi try, so once again, we expect a Taliban "spring offensive." Mind you, these don't seem to pan out--except if you count our own offensives in the spring. But jihadi hope spring eternal:

This year the spring offensive by the Taliban and other insurgent groups has a new and terrifying face: the insurgents are using suicide bombers who create high casualties to sow terror and are planning an assassination campaign as well, Afghan and American military analysts say.

In the past, sowing terror amongst civilians rather than taking on security forces has proven to be an example of ineffective force that just angers civilians and strengthens their resolve to work with us. It is one thing to terrorize civilians and police who have no hope of fighting back. It is another altogether when the targets of terror have US and coalition forces and even increasingly capable Afghan forces nearby capable of dishing out a world of hurt on the would-be terrorizers.

But the terrorists have few options. Terrorism will work this time for sure, right? But we are adjusting to face them once again:

The U.S. military will start carrying out more counterterrorism missions against insurgents in eastern Afghanistan and work more closely with Pakistani forces in operations against insurgents along the porous and rugged frontier, the U.S. general commanding the region said.

The east isn't yet our main effort while we work on the southern Taliban strongholds, but progress in the south means that a shift to the east is in sight. Adjusting in the east to prepare that battle space has already begun and we are continuing to prepare for an influx of troops shifted there.

Remember, war is organized violence. Force is ineffective when it has no real strategy behind it. That is just violence and better described as a spasm of violence rather than a use of force. Lately, our enemies have been far more guilty of pointless violence. As long as we respond by continuing to wage a war, we'll beat these SOBs.

UPDATE: Thanks to The Unreligious Right for the link.

Angry Mob

An angry mob torments a reporter.

Sadly for the media, it isn't a Tea Party rally.

Fortunately for the angry mob, the mainstream media has no interest in covering anything about mob violence unless it is about the potential for Tea Party anger. Actual violence by the left side of the aisle is of no interest.

Remember, the call for civility is only a ploy to shut down conservative voices challenging the status quo.

I really don't understand how anyone can believe that the vast majority of the media doesn't tilt left. Yes, Fox tilts right, but it is no more biased than their sister networks on the left. Fox is only notable for being one of the few on the right to reach a mass audience. Just because almost all of the rest tilt to the left the same way, making that bias seem "normal," doesn't lessen their bias.

Setting the Nutballs Off Again

The London Olympics logo is offensive to Iran because it looks like a Burger King ice cream lid?

No, never mind. That's another writing outrage that offended the easily excitable. This time, the Iranians claim the stylized "2012" says "ZION." You have to read down on the left and then down on the right side to get this.


Given that one reads Farsi right-to-left, shouldn't it be read as "OZNI?" Or are we free to just read the letters in any order to find the upsetting word?

Although OZNI is a Hebrew name meaning "my hearing." Aside from the fact that the meaning of the name is kind of silly, the Hebrew origin of Ozni is suspicious. We'll let the Iranian mullahs ponder this conspiracy and make a definitive ruling before passing judgment.

I'll ask it again, what doesn't set these nutballs off?

And the Winner Is ...


The Indian Navy has decided to despatch three naval warships including its largest amphibious vessel INS Jalashwa to evacuate its citizens stranded in trouble-torn Libya.

The other two would be destroyers. I assume a support ship or two would go with them.

This beats the Chinese effort:

The missile frigate Xuzhou was ordered to break off from anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden and is sailing toward Libya, the Defence Ministry said in a notice reported by state media Friday. ...

The ship's mission, approved by the Central Military Commission headed by President Hu Jintao, marks the first time China's entaglement-wary leaders have ever sent a navy ship to take part in the evacuation of civilians.

I heard that we too are moving naval forces to the region to actually make the 6th Fleet real again for this crisis. It will dwarf both in capabilities, I assume. It will include a Marine Expeditionary Unit (battalion-based reinforced task force) flown in to meet an amphibious warship that left its MEU in Afghanistan heading for the Mediterranean. An aircraft carrier appears to be on call in the Red Sea. We could move land-based air power, too, but I don't know what we have in mind. But since almost everyone actually believes 6th Fleet is a real force as it was in the Cold War, we won't get much credit for putting a naval task force off of Libya.

UPDATE: Well, we are sending 400 Marines to join the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge and the amphibious transport dock Ponce.

Unless there are hundreds of Marines still on the Kearsarge after taking a MEU to Afghansitan, it sounds like this might just be an ad hoc provisional light battalion mostly intended for humanitarian missions and not a true offensive force as loading another MEU would represent. But I'm guessing. I heard a couple destroyers are also heading for the scene. No mention of the carrier task force holding station in the Red Sea, which would turn the US naval task force into a potent force.

If the carrier group doesn't head for Libya, the West will have to rely on the French and Italian (and Spanish?) navies for the main punch. They should be more than capable of putting sufficient naval power off of Libya and sending enough ground forces ashore if necessary.

The Stalemate Continues

The stalemate in Libya is holding for now:

Gaddafi's forces have been trying for days to push back a revolt that has won over large parts of the military, ended his control over eastern Libya and is holding the government at bay in western cities near the capital Tripoli.

In both Libya's third city, Misrata, 200 km (125 miles) to the east, and Zawiyah, a strategic refinery town 50 km (30 miles) to the west, rebels with military backing were holding the town centers against repeated government attacks.

"An aircraft was shot down this morning while it was firing on the local radio station. Protesters captured its crew," the witness, Mohamed, told Reuters by telephone.

Libyan loyalists still haven't managed to take Zawiya or Misrata, two cities I believe are crucial to hold if Khaddafi wants to win this revolt.

Shooting down a Libyan aircraft shows that somebody is managing to put some captured air defenses in working order. If we want to help the rebels, we could help with technicians to repair what is there rather than ship in new weapons or enforce a no-fly zone.

Rebels boldly claim they'd move west if rebels in the east needed help, but if they could advance on Tripoli, they'd have done it already. Again, sending in people (hello private military contractor companies) to help organize rebel forces and set up some logistics to support a real plan to attack would do more good than no-fly, no-drive, or no-sail zones.

Somebody needs to make a move to break the stalemate, although I believe Khaddafi has a more urgent need to move and achieve some type of visible victory over the rebels since I think his side is far more brittle and vulnerable to defection. On the rebel side, the price of inaction is more likely to be a long civil war rather than outright defeat.

The West has an interest in making sure that Khaddafi doesn't win and that the rebels don't need a long civil war to win.

UPDATE: More news. Libyan government forces suppressed demontrations in the capital. Outside Misrata from an air base that both sides have a foothold on, government and rebel forces skirmished as the loyalists attacked the city (this is corrected); and rebels managed to send reinforcements from the eastern strongholds to Misrata. the latter is interesting on two counts: one, the rebels managed to do more than hold static positions where they had successful uprisings; and two, how did they get past what I had heard was a government area in the Sirte region between Misrata and the rebel-held east? Is the Sirte region no longer pro-government or is it too fluid for any pro-Khaddafi forces there to interdict traffic?

Leaving the Gates Open

What the heck is Secretary Gates thinking?

Secretary Gates made me nervous when he first entered office since I worried he was brought on to oversee the premature withdrawal from Iraq. Gates has been far better than I feared, and he clearly cares for the troops he supervises and wants to prevail in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have other problems with him, mostly his cover for Obama administration cuts to defense spending, but overall I like him. He's certainly better than I could have hoped under a very liberal Democratic administration.

But this is out of line:

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned Friday that the U.S. should avoid future land wars like those it has fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not to forget the difficult lessons it has learned from those conflicts.

"In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ’have his head examined,’ as Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur so delicately put it," Gates said in a speech to cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

How could Gates say that? Sure, the practical effect of two land wars in the greater Middle East region will be to lessen our willingness to fight a land war there. But why say it and possibly encourage enemies?

Didn't Gates just effectively say that South Korea and Iraq are outside our defense perimeter when it comes to where we will send our ground forces to help an ally? Didn't we experience the consequences of declaring an intervention on behalf of an ally is ill advised before?

I'm not prepared to predict where we might need to commit our land forces. I'm not eager to do it, but if our allies or vital interests are threatened, why make it more likely that a potential enemy will assume we won't commit land forces to defend an ally or vital interest?

Somebody needs to have their head examined, alright--or at least have another level of review for their speeches added.


China's rise in raw power makes their facade seem very imposing. That the rise came from a very low level and that the Chinese have a long way to go to match the depth and breadth of Western countries that have already risen makes that rise less than it appears is another matter. The image is impressive. And the Chinese certainly project an air of believing the talk of their rise to dominance. Indeed, it seems inconceivable that anything could derail the rise of China, even if the rate of growth in recent decades can't be sustained.

But that air of confidence is shown to be brittle by the heavy-handed response of the Chinese to fairly pathetic calls for protests:

An online call for anti-government protests across China on Sunday instead brought an emphatic show of force by police determined to deter any buds of the kind of unrest that has shaken the Middle East.

Lines of police checked passers-by and warned away foreign photo journalists in downtown Beijing and Shanghai after a U.S.-based Chinese website spread calls for Chinese people to emulate the "Jasmine Revolution" sweeping the Middle East and stage gatherings in support of democratic change.

Officials from China's ruling Communist Party have dismissed the idea that they could be hit by protests like those that have rippled across the Middle East.

But a rash of detentions and censorship of online discussion of the Middle East have shown that Beijing is deeply nervous about any signs of opposition to its one-party rule.

Deeply nervous, indeed, as I wrote recently:

Is it a rising China or an uprising China? I mean, you'd think a country supposedly destined to stand astride the world as a Colossus wouldn't sweat so much over feeble voices calling for protests. Doesn't it make the authorities look weaker to react so strongly to something so small?

If the Chinese rulers are this nervous, perhaps we shouldn't think of China as stable as we assume.


So where are those amber waves of grain going (tip to Instapundit)?

[One] of the simplest steps to help ensure that the world has enough to eat in 2050 would be to scrap every biofuel target. If all the American maize that goes into ethanol were instead used as food, global edible maize supplies would increase by 14%.

It would only help feed people and make our foreign policy easier, but when you have Green and agro-business lobbyists behind ethanol, we won't take that simple step.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Shallow Rant

As I've mentioned, I've become hooked on Chuck this year. I first caught the Summer Glau guest appearance online. Then caught up with what was available online and started watching season 4 live. Then I Netflixed season 1, found a cheap copy of season 2 (and then nabbed a cheap copy of season 1). I have time to find a cheap copy of season 3 and have to watch for reruns of early season 4.

The stories are good, the characters interesting, and I usually laugh out loud at least once during an episode.

Oh--and I'll not try to deny it--Yvonne Strahovsky is both hot and appealing in her character.

I know. I'm easily swayed by a pretty face. I'm just shocked I didn't really notice this series until this year.

Whose "Spring" Is This?

So far, the uprisings in the Arab and Moslem world have been most advanced in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Tunisia and Egypt have at least turned out the visible rulers of the ruling class (we shall see if the ruling classes hang on with a different ruler in place under different rules that still rig the game for their own benefit) while in Libya, rebels have captured a large chunk of the country.

Elsewhere, unrest has shaken the governments of Arab states and even Iran, but nothing has approached what has happened in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. So I have to ask, is this an Arab trend, a Moslem trend, or just a North African trend? Or will a non-Moslem autocrat feel the same pressure and expand this to a trend against autocracy in general (and no, Wisconsin doesn't count despite some silly comparisons to that effect)?

It is too soon to tell, I suppose.

It's Science, Darn It!

Well, after conducting the science fair experiment with Lamb last weekend and working on data analysis yesterday (with Lamb also doing a little bit of data entry on the typed material), today was cutting out the typed pieces and pictures, arranging them on the big board, and gluing them in place.

We shared the cutting and gluing tasks and I did most of the placement (mostly to make sure the parts of the experiment were in the right order).

The last task--while Lamb went on to some mad scientist mixing of disappearing ink, water, a crayon, and bubble soap in a little plastic bowl to see how it would combine for whatever smoking, scientific glop she hoped it would turn into--was me attaching a support to the whole thing so it won't tip over, and making sure it folds up nicely for transport and bagging the props for transport and making sure their placement on the display mat is clear.

I'll have to go over set up with Lamb and her mom just in case I'm not the one taking it in this coming week. I'll let it dry overnight here before taking it to Lamb's mom's house.

But it is nice to have it all completed with several days to spare on the due date. And I'm pleased at how much Lamb did. She did all of the experiment, writing out what was going on through all the steps. She understands the experiment and the results. And she enthusiastically did at least half of the gluing and cutting. I did most of the typing and the basic design work, but that is still too much for her to do right now, based on Mister's experience at the same grade level.

Being Responsive

The road to rule of law and the suppression of corruption  in Iraq is surely long. But after nationwide protests, Prime Minister Maliki at least as the good sense to appear to react to public outrage:

Iraq's prime minister, following a string of deadly anti-government protests, gave his ministers on Sunday 100 days to improve their performance or risk being fired....

"The performance of the government and the ministries will each be evaluated separately in order to know the extent of success or failure in carrying out the duties given to them," the statement read. It also stressed that each minister must answer for corruption — a key complaint for Iraqis — in their ministries.

Iraq has a long way to go to stand on their feet without reverting to an authoritarian model of governing.

I really want a fairly robust American military presence in Iraq after this year as a visible signal of our interest in the development of Iraq, to hold the ring of Iraqi politics to make sure that they keep disagreements political and not violent, to deter Iran and Syria, and to see that progress towards rule of law is made.

A Virtual Intervention?

I'm amused that even a think tank can call for NATO intervention in Libya and assume that our 6th Fleet can form the backbone of an intervention based on no-fly, no-sail, and no-drive zones.

One, while we can certainly send ships to 6th Fleet, it normally has few ships, and the few ships it has are really just in transit between the Middle East and our East Coast. Better to count on the Italian and French navies for the core of a naval force.

Second, I'm not sure what the zones achieve.

A no-sail zone is pointless despite the claim that Libyan naval forces have shelled rebels. Libya's navy is a joke and can hardly be significant. Khaddafi would do himself more good to take loyal sailors and form them into ad hoc ground units.

A no-fly zone would be expensive and resource intensive and the Libyan air forces hasn't been much a factor despite early bombings of rebels. And there is no way we'd risk shooting down transport planes that could contain civilian shields along with imported mercenaries and supplies. Further, if the rebels manage to put some of the anti-aircraft missiles they captured on Libyan bases into action, the rebels would either have to shut them down and rely on our planes for protection or we'd risk having our planes attacked by rebel air defenses.

As for no-drive zones, are you stoned? Do we have blue force tracker on rebel stuff? Can we tell the difference between trucks of refugees and armed militias from high altitude? Or do we assume anything traveling west is rebel and heading east is Khaddafi's? We'll accidentally kill civilians this way and the world press will be all over it blaming us for atrocities.

This is a virtual intervention proposal that lacks a sense of realism and assumes Khaddafi will lose so we can do the minimum to appear like we are on the rebel side. If we're going to intervene, let's not pretend to intervene. Resolve to land a division-sized NATO force at Tripoli, take the city, and shoot Khaddafi on the spot. Now that's an intervention.

If we really want to intervene without putting in decisive ground power to tip the balance to the rebels, we could use naval and air power to escort humanitarian aid to eastern Libya to demonstrate our power and support for the rebels. And quietly (and more effectively) send in civilian technicians to help the rebels put anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons, armored vehicles, and transport in working order; and to organize logistics (including getting oil moving out to provide money to sustain their side) so the rebels can hold what they have and go on offense before Khaddafi can settle his troops down and prepare for a long slog.

Throw in information from recon assets to help the rebels know what they are facing and where the enemy forces are, and we would have the basis of an effective intervention that avoids the problems of a virtual intervention designed merely to look like we are doing something.

UPDATE: Oh, and I still think any intervention should be European led. We've done enough for now and we're busy. If Europe can't handle a threat this close to Europe, what good are they?

I'm also absolutely disgusted to hear people calling for a humanitarian intervention in Libya justified by Khaddafi's support for terrorism and his oppression in the same breath condemn our interventions against Saddam and the Taliban!

Just heard some guy on TV spouting that line, saying we should go in and overthrow Khaddafi and then get out--unlike our wrong campaigns to fill the vacuums in Iraq and Afghanistan so something better rather than worse replaces the thug regimes we overthrew. Remember, some authority will arise, no? And if not, is chaos really better?

UPDATE: The French are doing what I'd do, anyway:

France says it is flying medical aid to the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi in what it calls the start of a "massive" operation to support opposition forces trying to topple Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I'm getting used to being embarassed by our foreign policy inadequacies. What's one more? On the other hand, I'd rather not take the military lead in the Libya crisis since we are busy and less busy Europeans like Italy and France are close by. So French intervention is good. Unless they are staking out the humanitarian role in order to leave us the military roles by default.

I guess I'll be happy since at least a European country is taking the lead on Libya, as I've wanted them to do.

A Necessary First Step

If Khaddafi is to survive, he needs to counter-attack and win that counter-attack to break the momentum of the rebels and set the stage to start rolling back rebel gains--even if it takes a long campaign in an east-west civil war.

Until Khaddafi wins a visible victory over the rebels, all the talk by rebels of advancing on Tripoli will make Khaddafi's forces vulnerable to defecting to the rebels out of fear. So far the rebels don't appear capable of mounting an offensive--they just seem capable of advancing through defections by scared pro-Khaddafi forces. If the government can give the appearance that they can win, they can actually try to win.

The Libyan government appears ready to mass enough forces to win that first victory west of Tripoli:

An Associated Press reporter who reached Zawiya, 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Tripoli, confirmed the anti-government rebels are in control of the center of the city of 200,000. They have army tanks and anti-aircraft guns mounted on pickup trucks deployed. But on the outskirts, they are surrounded by pro-Gadhafi forces.

There were at least six checkpoints controlled by troops loyal to Gadhafi on the road from Tripoli to Zawiya. Each checkpoint was reinforced by at least one tank, and the troops concealed their faces with scarves.

Zawiya is also close to important oil industry infrastructure that Khaddafi will need for a long civil war. In the short run, I'm sure he has plenty of cash to use for now to survive. But if he neither wins nor loses quickly, he'll need oil exports to fight a civil war.

Khaddafi could survive this uprising even though it may seem unlikely right now. But the first thing he needs to do is capture Zawiya.

UPDATE: If Khaddafi doesn't get a victory under his belt soon--and Zawiya seems to be the only option for that right now--the rebels will keep advancing:

An AFP reporter arriving in Nalut, a town of 66,000 people, 235 kilometres (145 miles) west of Tripoli, found loyalist Kadhafi forces had entirely disappeared.

"The city has been liberated since February 19. It has been run by a revolutionary committee named by the town's communities," Shaban Abu Sitta, a local lawyer and member of a revolutionary committee, told AFP.

"The towns of Rhibat, Kabaw, Jado, Rogban, Zentan, Yefren, Kekla, Gherien and Hawamed have also been free for days. In all these towns, Kadhafi's forces have gone and a revolutionary committee put in place," he said.

If the news is all about cities revolting, pretty soon anybody loyal to Khaddafi will switch sides before it is too late for Libyans to be grateful they are defecting.

Mind you, I'm fine with Khaddafi dithering, since it will just mean he loses more quickly. I'm just saying that the path to his victory doesn't include the pro-Khaddafi forces sitting on their butts waiting for revolts to get closer and closer to them.

The Explanation Just Doesn't Matter

I think that every Western sex tourist heading to Southeast Asia knows that they need to look closely at the female at the bar before taking "her" back to the hotel. Reinforce this lesson:

Than Shwe and other top generals, appearing at a nationally televised ceremony, shed their dress uniforms for the Burmese equivalent of women's dresses. "I don't understand why the generals were wearing women's [sarongs] but they looked very weird," said a Rangoon mechanic, Myint Oo. Others put a more sinister spin on the generals' sartorial selection. "It's yadaya," said a Rangoon-based astrologer who asked not to be named, referring to Burma's particular brand of black magic.

Burma's junta: Taking weird to an entirely new level.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Set-Up That Worked

The Russians are looking to improve upon their military's performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgia War.

I wasn't terribly impressed. Georgia seems to have learned more lessons and is reorienting to defending their country rather than counter-insurgency, according to Strategypage.

Of more interest is this bit of obviousness that eludes much of the nuanced class around the Western world:

On the bright side, the Russian military demonstrated great resourcefulness and innovation before and during the invasion. This included the strategic planning, because the war was a set-up. Russia used only one infantry division for the invasion, and had held training exercises in July. The Russians pulled off a "strategic surprise" against the Georgians, and for this the planners could be proud.

The plan was primarily based on deceiving the Georgians into attacking first. Thus increased border violence by South Ossetian forces caused the Georgians to think they could retake the lost (in 1991) province. Less than a day after the Georgian forces entered South Ossetia, the Russian force of over 20,000 troops (including combat experienced Chechen counter-terror units and North Ossetian militia groups) invaded Georgia.

I don't understand why it isn't obvious to people that Russia was the aggressor in that war.

A Reddish Hue of Orange

It doesn't look good for Ukraine:

He's destroyed his country's democratic institutions and reduced quality of life for most of his compatriots. That's the verdict against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych by many of the country's political experts one year into his presidency.

Well, everyone knew Yanukovich was pro-Russian. This trend is hardly a surprise, eh?

Let Europe Step Up

I'm sympathetic for the cries to intervene in Libya to end the government killing of rebels and protesters. But we all know that these people mean American should intervene.

And many of those calling for a humanitarian intervention--if not most based on past performance--will eventually call our forces baby killers deserving of ICC trials under Belgian judges. When the going gets tough, the compassionate are gone.

We're busy after all, actually fighting a war across the Middle East region against jihadis while most Europeans watch us fight. Let the Europeans step up closer to home.

First of all, Italy has a major interest in ending the fighting so that refugees don't spill across the Mediterranean to land on Italy's shores. Italy has decent forces--certainly capable of landing in Libya and securing coast areas. We could help logistically.

There is the NATO Response Force, which we could support logistically. I personally don't think much of the no-fly zone concept. One, it would have to be done from Italian air bases or ashore in Libya since we'd have to move in a carrier task force which isn't there. Defections of pilots have effectively grounded the Libyan air force, it seems. I don't recall any reports of bombing in quite a while now. And would we really shoot down transport planes, which could be carrying a mix of ammunition, mercenaries, nuns, and puppies? Quietly send in technicians to the rebel-held areas to put captured anti-aircraft weapons into operation if we really want to help hold off Libyan aircraft.

Or let the European Union go in. They're all proud of the Eurocorps as a symbol of Europe's power separate from us. I'll cheer them on and wish them well.

At most, if we are talking ground troops, we could help a European-dominated intervention (whether Italian-, NATO-, or EU-led) by adding in a Marine Expeditionary Unit or a battalion task force of paratroopers. Just to show them that this is what allies do.

But should America lead an intervention? No. Khaddafi is a piker compared to Saddam in the realm of depravity, and we already know that Compassionate Americans will grow to admire the "stability" and "peace" that the heavy hand of Khaddafi could have provided if we'd just kept our imperialist noses out of the place.

UPDATE: Another reason a no-fly zone would probably be an empty gesture:

Most seriously for Col. Gadhafi, personnel at Tripoli’s Mitiga air force base – a former U.S. installation seized by Col. Gadhafi in his 1969 coup and considered a key military asset – have defected and joined the opposition, according to statements from officers and credible reports.

What does Khaddafi have left to fly?


I don't know what to make of the Bahrain situation.

The government conducted a brief flurry of violence early on, and then pulled back to negotiate.

The protesters continue to protest but nothing much seems to be happening on the streets as talks go on with a divided opposition.

It seems like the government is trying to wait out the protesters and in the end give in less than some protesters may want right now as people want to get back to their lives and accept what they can get.

Unless a more radical group takes the lead in firing up the protesters:

The return of Hassan Mushaima, a senior Shiite figure, could mark a new phase for an anti-government movement in the tiny nation which is strategically important for the U.S. because it hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

Mushaima heads a Shiite group known as Haq, which is considered more hard-line than the main Shiite political bloc that has led two weeks of protests. Mushaima returned Saturday from several months of voluntary exile in London, with a stop in Lebanon.

I'd also like to know what Iran is doing trying to undermine the government.

Or what the Saudis are prepared to do. I imagine the Bahrain monarch can play good cop/bad cop by telling the protesters he'd love to give in more but those darned Saudis will march in and clamp down if they get too worried about what we give you.

The Khaddafi Awakening

As he promised, Libya's government is arming citizens in Tripoli to fight rebels who might take to the streets to challenge the government:

The embattled regime of Moammar Gadhafi is arming civilian supporters to set up checkpoints and roving patrols around the Libyan capital to control movement and quash dissent, residents said Saturday.

The reports came a day after protesters demanding Gadhafi's ouster came under a hail of bullets when pro-regime militiamen opened fire to stop the first significant anti-government marches in days in the Libyan capital.

These newly minted local militia is being well paid, apparently:

A 40-year-old business owner said he had seen Gadhafi supporters enter one of the regime's Revolutionary Committee headquarters Saturday and leave with arms.

He said the regime is offering a car and money to any supporters bringing three people with them to join the effort.

If this can keep the opponents of the government off the streets, it may allow the Libyan government to scape up mobile forces to counter-attack.

Just One Question, Please

Vice President Biden:

Vice President Joseph Biden argued on Thursday for forceful and early international intervention to prevent governments from committing atrocities, but didn't explicitly make the case for such intervention in Libya.

"I got in trouble when I said, during the Bosnia crisis, coming back from meeting Milosevic... that when a state engages in atrocity, it forfeits its sovereignty," Biden told an audience at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., where he was speaking at an event honoring the late Congressman Tom Lantos.

I'll refrain from wondering if we are all NeoCons working on the Bush freedom agenda, now (and just so you are clear, there's nothing "neo" about me--always been conservative. Not that there's anything wrong with that of course).

But I would like to know--if an atrocity-committing state loses its sovereignty--whose sovereignty replaces it? Because if nobody has sovereignty, don't we get Somalia? Or the Democratic Republic of Congo (former Zaire)?

I only ask this inconvenient question because there are a lot of people who claim to want to do good to stop an evil dictator early on (cougheugenerobinsoncough), but who would abandon the project with an equal amount of self-righteous blather when the cost of imposing a new sovereignty over bloody enemies gets too high for them to bear.

Heck, pretty soon those people are calling for us to split the country in three pieces and bug out.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Is India This Confused?

India is worried about buying American fighter aircraft because they don't think they can trust us:

Retired Indian generals and industry analysts say Indian officials have two reservations about buying American.

First, New Delhi worries about relying on US parts given the sanctions Washington imposed in 1998 when India went nuclear. In case of a war with archrival Pakistan – a US strategic ally – would Washington curtail military trade again?

Second, US law requires defense agreements to be signed by any country purchasing certain high-tech military equipment. The US failed during Obama’s visit last year to get Indian sign-off on two such agreements: the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), and the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMoA).

Are the Indians that confused? The current strategic environment is way different than in 1998, when we were still under the lingering views of the Cold War when India was a Soviet ally and seemed too distant for us to trust. Today we seek India as a partner. And India needs a partner given that in the short run at least, Chinese power is expanding faster than India's. yet India worries about baggage with a US-Indian arms sale relationship?

We may have some baggage--but not as much as the Indians fear--but who else can back up their weapons with real strategic partnership and possible help if it becomes crunch time for India? France? The EU? Russia? Sweden?

Get real. Only America provides that level of service with a decision to buy American. And as for support for weapons sold, just ask those "baggage-less" Europeans how many weapons they sell to Taiwan over Chinese objections.

India will get fine planes regardless of whose plane they choose, truth be told. But India is foolish if they think they get anything more than just the planes if they buy anything other than our planes.


As it turns out, the Somali pirate execution of 4 American hostages wasn't as quite out of the blue as it first seemed:

U.S. warships surrounded the captured sailboat Quest and told the pirates on board that they would not be allowed to take their four American captives to Somalia. Two pirate leaders went to an American warship to negotiate, while 17 other pirates remained on the sailboat with the four American captives. The American FBI negotiator offered to let the pirates take the sailboat to Somalia, if they gave up their four captives. ... The pirates said they would consider the offer. But within an hour, gunfire was heard on the Quest, leaving two pirates and the four Americans dead. U.S. Navy SEALs quickly went aboard and subdued the remaining pirates, killing two that resisted. Most of the pirates seemed intent on surrendering. 

Not that the responsibility for the murders doesn't lie with the pirates themselves. I'm not blaming either the Navy or President Obama. Waiting out the pirates until we could strike worked the last time we confronted hostage-holding pirates. Perhaps some of the pirates this time learned the lesson that they would not escape, so they might as well go down in a blaze of glory.

I guess we need to learn the lesson that patience is not always the answer. Maybe next time we shadow a pirate-held ship from a distance and strike during the dark of night to kill them all as fast as we can.

Can Khaddafi Counter-attack?

I don't assume Khaddafi is doomed. If I was pushing his units around a map, I'd keep fighting.

The Libyan government struggles to control its own corner of Libya, with reports that they have Tripoli, some areas around the capital, other areas in the west, the center, and deep south. The rebels are expanding areas they control, defending some in the face of limited counter-attacks, and getting time to organize.

The rebels in the east might want to drag out of storage as many old tanks as they can find to set them up as pill boxes in static positions to defend what they have now with former soldiers who can still fire the weapons (I have little hope they can drive them and fight effectively in a mobile role even if in running condition). If they can make some of the defecting army units mobile with working tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, and anti-aircraft weapons, they'd have a mobile reserve to bolster any cities under attack. If the regime starts to look brittle, those mobile forces could spearhead a drive on Tripoli to see if the advance causes anybody to crack under the pressure of feeling like they are about to lose.

Khaddafi is wounded but not dead. Libya has perhaps 4,000 mercenaries (although it could be more by now), their loyal militias (mostly useful for static defense in their home cities or attacking rebel forces within the same cities) which could number up to 100,000, 10,000 loyal troops of the 32nd brigade along with unknown numbers of loyal army forces. The government is starting to spend money to keep their forces loyal.

Some army units have defected to the rebels. Others may be sitting on the fence, holding their positions in bases. Some may have self-disbanded. Khaddafi needs to bring the units on the fence into the battle. I'd use 1,000 of the 32nd brigade to stiffen regular army units still loyal or of questionable loyalty and to stiffen ad hoc ground units formed from loyal air force and naval personnel. Get some of them into the fight on offense to gain some confidence after making sure they can defend their own bases or friendly cities. Maybe this could leverage 10,000 men for offensive operations.

Use the mercenaries and secret police to stiffen the militias rather than as separate units to terrorize civilians. Some of the best or most loyal units, with mercenary and secret police stiffeners, could be made mobile to counter-attack around Tripoli and then push east, in time. Perhaps this gets us 12,000 merc/militia blends using civilian transport with some heavy weapons operated by mercenaries for a mobile role with the rest of the militias defending Tripoli and cities still loyal to Khaddafi.

Split the remainder of the 32nd into two 4,000-man strike forces to form a relatively solid core around which other army units and the merc/militia units could follow.

Use one strike force to spearhead operations around Tripoli to nail down their home turf.  Use the other strike force to drive on Misratah with other units in support to retake the city from rebels and open a line to loyal forces around Sirte.

Arm local militias in recaptured locations to keep the mobile forces freed to keep picking off static rebel positions.

Keep 1,000 of the 32nd in reserve in Tripoli to guard key regime positions and back the militias and mercs holding the key target of the regime--Tripoli itself.

If any aircraft or helicopters are in flying condition with loyal pilots, use them to bomb rebel military positions ahead of ground attacks. Use helicopters to move ammo and supplies up to key units fast. Prepare them for the possibility that they may need to bomb rebel-held oil installations in case the rebellion does turn into a long civil war between east and west.

The key for the government now is to break the apparent momentum of the rebels and gain some of their own so that units that haven't defected will feel more secure and so people who can be persuaded to remain loyal to the government will openly side with Khaddafi's forces. The government doesn't have to win it all right now. They just have to make it look like they can win.

That's what I'd do, anyway, if I was Khaddafi. Maybe Khaddafi's days really are numbered as some reports indicate. But I never say die in a battle. I don't assume the regime can't survive, even in a truncated state, for the moment.

UPDATE: Tripoli itself is still under threat, although it seems that the government can hold the city despite unrest:

Protesters described coming under a hail of bullets as they tried to march from several districts around the city toward Tripoli's central Green Square. One man among a crowd of thousands said gunmen on rooftops and in the streets opened fire with automatic weapons and even an anti-aircraft gun. ...

He warned, "At the suitable time we will open the arms depot so all Libyans and tribes become armed, so that Libya becomes red with fire."

Taking on the rebels in the east will entail some risk if Tripoli can't be held in the face of protesters. Arming supporters in the city and other loyal areas would help with that objective.

How Green is Your Fuel?

Rising food prices have been fingered as triggers (although no one claims they are the underlying cause) of unrest in the Moslem world the last several months.

Global food supplies are surely tight. So how does this make sense?

Ethanol makers are expected to consume a record 5 billion bushels of corn this year, or some 36 percent of the harvest.

Despite criticism that using food for fuel was driving up prices and contributing to thin stockpiles, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the conference the government had no intention of scaling back on ethanol.

"There is no reason for us to take the foot off the gas," Vilsack told the conference. "This is a great opportunity for us because we can do it all, make no mistake about it."

Tight global commodity stockpiles have pushed food prices higher, contributing to political unrest in countries with high poverty rates and unemployment.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton struck a more cautionary tone on ethanol. "We have to become energy independent but we don't want to do it at the expense of food riots," Clinton said in the keynote address.

Vilsack's attitude is astounding. Obviously, we aren't doing it all right now. And with people worrying that Islamists might take advantage of a power vacuum caused by the fall of dictators, ethanol's "green future" takes on a whole different meaning. And what the heck, Vilsack has no responsibility for foreign policy, so from where he sits, what does revolution across the Moslem world mean compared to a few happy agri-businesses and ethanol lobbyists?

Still, even though the blinkered view of Vilsack is understandable (not justified, mind you) by his portfolio, isn't this something that should be addressed by the Oval Office which should have a broader view?

Shouldn't the president tell Vilsack that food is more important than ethanol right now? Just suspend the government supports for ethanol (on both the mandated use and subsidy sides) and corn will reach family tables instead of fuel tanks.

Not the Enemy

Iraqis so far are protesting the way their government runs (corruption and failure to provide results) rather than the government's legitimacy. But Iraqi security forces, perhaps too used to years of fighting terrorists and insurgents, fired on their own people:

Thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq on Friday, in the largest and most violent anti-government protests here since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world several weeks ago.

In two northern Iraqi cities, security forces trying to push back crowds opened fire, killing six demonstrators. In the capital of Baghdad, demonstrators knocked down blast walls, threw rocks and scuffled with club-wielding troops.

The protests, billed as a "Day of Rage, were fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services.

I had riot control training when I was in the National Guard. We had it drilled into us that our job was to move people if necessary or contain them, and not to hurt them. Indeed, we trained without rifles in order to prevent accidental shootings from the chaos of a confrontation. Only a select number of troops--held to the rear--carried firearms.

We were even explicitly told that killing a fellow citizen to protect some random building was not our job. Of course, being told to defend some objective is another matter, the point was that looting a party store is not a crime punishable by death so we shouldn't carry out that sentence.

(As an aside, I didn't like having to hold my night stick right-handed in order to make a uniform phalanx and to keep movements synchronized. I'd have had to waste a second switching hands if it came to having to use the weapon. Another reason left-handers reportedly have shorter life spans trying to use the devices of a right-handed world. Have I mentioned that a hand grenade is a right-handed weapon? Have you seen how I learned to use a computer mouse?)

The Iraqi security forces seriously need to understand that confronting protesters unhappy with the government's performance needs to be carried out far differently than when fighting enemies massing on the streets trying to topple a legitimate government. Don't tell me we aren't needed in Iraq for years to come.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

Khaddafi abandoned WMD programs and pledged to stop supporting terrorism out of fear that he could follow in the foot steps of Saddam Hussein, who we dragged from a spider hole and handed over to the Iraqis for trial, conviction, and execution.

It is astounding that President Obama won't come out explicitly against Khaddafi when half  of Libya is in revolt against Khaddafi, including an unknown percentage of the armed forces. When will our president take a stand against a thug ruler who is no friend of ours, despite his meeker profile adopted out of fear?

Really, we have every interest in making sure Khaddafi loses rather than just watch and try to jump in front of whatever parade seems to be dominating near the end game. Because if Khaddafi wins despite his apparently extreme difficulties now, why will Khaddafi have any reason to fear us in the future?

He'd have no reason to fear us, of course. So if Khaddafi survives this crisis and then decides to return to rogue ways as the best survival strategy for the future, he'll know we will remain passive and do nothing.

After all, if we won't take a stand against Khaddafi now when he is weak, why would Khaddafi think President Obama ever would take a stand against Khaddafi?

UPDATE: Of course, Khaddafi (sheesh, I spelled his name different back then) was already "unflipping" as his fear of America waned. And don't feel guilty about acting against Khaddafi even though he flipped. As far as I was concerned, we had enough to do against jihadis and their friends that accepting a partial victory--for the moment--was enough of a victory while we worked on bigger problems. That acceptance was never an acceptance of Khaddafi, as far as I was concerned. Now that he is vulnerable and teetering, push hard.

UPDATE: More thoughts on the "flip" and why is wasn't a bad decision despite the uprising today. Although like any decision, it has consequences for us if Khaddafi loses and the formerly oppressed people don't appreciate our valid reasons

The Low Hanging Fruit

As we contemplate how to help bolster democracy supporters in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Bahrain, and other Moslem state, let's not forget that Iraq--where we've made the most progress so far--still needs our help.

Let's not pretend that saving money by failing to help Iraq won't put at risk all we've achieved by expending treasure and blood the last 8 years.

Still Between Revolt and Civil War

The Libyan rebel and government positions are still in flux:

Foreign mercenaries and Libyan militiamen loyal to Moammar Gadhafi tried to roll back the uprising against his rule that has advanced closer to his stronghold in Tripoli, attacking two nearby cities in battles that killed at least 15 people. But rebels made new gains, seizing a military air base, as Gadhafi blamed Osama bin Laden for the upheaval.

The Libyan government attacked but failed to take Misratah airport, but did extend their control to the west of Tripoli, at Zawiya. At Misrata, the government forces not only failed to dislodge the rebels but air force personnel at a nearby air base revolted and disabled their planes.

The rebels now hold the coast from the Egyptian border to Marsah al Burayqah (which I think is Breqa in the article). Sirte remains loyal to the government, thus cutting of Misratah from rebel territory to the east.

Will the rebels advance on the Sirte region to link up with Misratah? Or will the government send additional forces to clear out Misratah to allow them to reinforce Sirte? Priority for the government would seem to be nailing down the Tripoli region, which they haven't managed to do yet.

UPDATE: This article adds the southern oil fields (in the eastern half of the country, I assume) to those controlled by the rebels.

Weird, Huh?

I guess not everything can be blamed on global warming:

After a series of record-setting snowstorms hit the mid-Atlantic region this winter, some people asked NOAA if humans could somehow be to blame. Specifically, they wanted to know if human-induced global warming could have caused the snowstorms due to the fact that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor.

The CSI Team’s analysis indicates that’s not likely. They found no evidence — no human “fingerprints” — to implicate our involvement in the snowstorms. If global warming was the culprit, the team would have expected to find a gradual increase in heavy snowstorms in the mid-Atlantic region as temperatures rose during the past century. But historical analysis revealed no such increase in snowfall. Nor did the CSI team find any indication of an upward trend in winter precipitation along the eastern seaboard.

Huh. I thought everything was the fault of global warming! Really, not even superstitious medieval peasants blamed more things on the devil than have been blamed on global warming.

Say What?

North Korea's deputy foreign minister says Tehran and Pyongyang are in "one trench" in the fight against "arrogant powers."

It's almost like they are an axis of evil, or something.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Reminder to Rule Well

Iraqi authorities are getting perhaps a timely reminder from their people to rule well and not just think of elections as periodic events that decide whether they or another gang of corrupt politicians get to loot the public treasury:

In an apparent bid to deflate a major protest planned for Friday, the head of Baghdad's provincial council on Tuesday promised to fire corrupt and inept officials, while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that he was personally overseeing the availability of sugar and other items provided to the poor.

“We have listened to the demonstrators,” said provincial leader Kamal al-Zaidy, after meeting with council members and parliamentarians to address a lack of government services. “There are some departments whose performance is decreasing in a way that would make the Baghdad provincial council be ready to take essential decisions to fire executive staff.”

Iraqis inspired by protests sweeping the Arab world have been airing their grievances in the street almost every day. Much of their anger is directed at officials they blame for electricity cuts, lack of jobs, and lack of government services in a country believed to have the world’s second-largest oil reserves.

I say timely because these protests aren't attacking the legitimacy of the government, but how they run the place. This is a big difference. Our biggest struggle in Iraq isn't the remnant terrorist but corruption and lack of rule of law. If these protests help us move Iraq forward on rule of law issues (assuming the Obama administration is committed to doing this and not declaring victory and walking away)

If the government can't reduce corruption to acceptable  levels (Chicago level?), one day the protests might demand regime change outside of elections the way other Arabs are doing in other countries.

And the Answer Is ...

Raise our gas tax! So saith Thomas Friedman.

That's always his answer. To whatever question he focuses his ginormous, deep, brainpower on. This time it is in answer to the question of what do we do in response to unrest in the Arab world:

“America, you have built your house at the foot of a volcano. That volcano is now spewing lava from different cracks and is rumbling like it’s going to blow. Move your house!” In this case, “move your house” means “end your addiction to oil.”

So add in a dollar a gallon tax (and apply it to deficit reduction--his only new twist to an old song). This way, we'll buy more hybrid electric vehicles.

We'll ignore that attempts to build our home next to Canadian oil tars or on American lands or waters have been halted by the greens.

Back to the idea that a dollar more in gas taxes will lead to the hybrid nirvana that will free us from relying on oil from the Middle East.

European taxes on gas are much higher ( a couple years old, but I didn't feel like spending more than a minute Googling--it gives you the idea) than even the Friedman green wet dream.

Yet European hybrid vehicle sales are far lower than ours (with a rate less than a third).

But other than that problem, Tom's solution is just swell.

Oh, and why wouldn't higher prices without more taxes do the same thing? What is it about the magic of a tax that makes the higher price of gasoline more significant than a higher price without the tax? Heck, a couple of dollars a gallon per gas ago, I seem to recall people extolling the powers of a 50 cent tax on freeing us from oil "addiction."

Sigh. I won't say that you can't drown in a pool of Friedman's wisdom. But you would have to be drunk and face down to do so.

The August Surprise

Secretary Gates mentions one upcoming psychological advantage that we will likely reap in Afghanistan at the end of this summer:

Although military and civilian officials tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the July 2011 deadline has made it harder to get Afghans to cooperate with the U.S. and our allies, Gates believes there may be a payoff when the deadline passes.

“The Taliban were messaging that we were leaving in July of ‘11. It seemed to me that if we were willing to be patient we could do some judo on them. Because if the Taliban were all persuaded we were going to be gone by the end of July ‘11, they were going to be in for a really big surprise in August, September, October, November and so on, because we are still going to have a huge number of forces there.”

I mentioned this aspect of the "deadline" several months ago (as I similarly mentioned about Iraq when the 2006 Congressional elections may have given the enemy there unjustified hope that we'd leave right before we surged) when it seemed like the enemy was counting on only having to hold out under our attacks until July 2011:

We aren't leaving in July 2011 and the enemy is failing to understand the nuance of that "deadline." Yes, it was probably a mistake to announce that non-deadline deadline, but there may be a silver lining as long as domestic forces committed to retreating can be contained. We can exploit this enemy perception of our pending departure even if that perception makes it more difficult for our forces over the next year. If the enemy feels that they will get relief next summer, and if instead we intensify our efforts next summer and fall, the reality that the enemy doesn't really know how long they have to endure our pressure will likely batter the morale of all but the most committed jihadi. And even the committed jihadis will suffer doubt and fear under those circumstances.

Have patience, people. We held on in Iraq until the enemy broke and ran. We can do the same in Afghanistan.

About That 3:00 a.m. Phone Call

Unless President Obama is muting his response to the Libyan crisis because he is working with Italy and waiting for US military assets to move into place to back his words, I don't understand why he is not offering words of support to the rebels and calling for Khaddafi to step down:

Once again, the White House has fluffed its lines on the Arab revolution. With Gaddafi’s helicopter gunships strafing his own people, with corpses piling up on the streets of Tripoli, President Barack Obama has remained silent.

Even if the revolt fails, is it so bad to have a reputation for siding with people who want to overthrow a tyrant?

Yes, we flipped Khaddafi from his WMD projects and terror support (apparently), but he is still a thug. We accepted his flip without demanding more since we had more than enough to do elsewhere, but don't be confused that he was our best buddy. In the short run, we'd not try to unseat him; but in the long run, we ow him nothing for a decision out of fear to become less threatening to us.

We're several months past the 3:00 a.m. phone call stage. By now, the White House should have more than a vague idea of how to respond to new phone calls, regardless of when they come.

UPDATE: Or we could be waiting for evacutation operations to get as many of our citizens out (from an OSAC email update):

U.S. Embassy Tripoli released the following Warden Message on February 23, 2011:

As of 10:49 a.m. a U.S. government chartered ferry is preparing to dock at the As-shahab Port in central Tripoli, located on the sea road across from the Radisson Blu Mahari Hotel. The ferry will depart for Valletta, Malta, no later than 3:00 p.m.

Processing of U.S. citizens has begun and seats are available on the ferry.

This could explain some of the restraint by the administration to this point. Even though a history of being harsher to friends than to our enemies [UPDATE: link added] is the most obvious explanation, I'll withhold final judgment at this point.

Sorting Out the Sides

Libyan loyalties are still in flux, and it isn't obvious whether this will be a successful or failed revolt, or turn into a civil war between east and west. Khaddafi is still nailing down his region while the rebels are still gaining ground:

Militiamen loyal to Moammar Gadhafi clamped down in Tripoli, but cracks in his regime spread elsewhere across the nation, as the protest-fueled rebellion controlling much of eastern Libya claimed new gains closer to the capital. Two pilots let their warplane crash in the desert, parachuting to safety, rather than bomb an opposition-held city.

The opposition said it had taken over Misrata, which would be the largest city in the western half in the country to fall into its hands. Clashes broke out over the past two days in the town of Sabratha, west of the capital, where the army and militiamen were trying to put down protesters who overwhelmed security headquarters and government buildings, a news website close to the government reported.

The government may have secured its base of the capital, but protesters may regroup and return to the streets--perhaps armed this time if arms depots in the capital region aren't secured by the government.

And rebels moved the "front" closer to Tripoli. But these revolts are likely just spots on a map, with rebels in static positions that they can defend, but incapable of supporting other rebel spots on the map. If the Libyan government can scrape up mobile forces from their (pre-crisis) 50,000-man army (half conscripts), foreign mercenaries, and any ad hoc forces organized from loyal navy and air force elements, they could pick off these static rebel bastions one by one.

At some point, the rebels need organized army units to form a core of mobile forces to defend gains and attack west to expand rebel areas without counting on local rebellions to expand the ground held. Misrata is pretty far west and could be out on a limb if the rebellions slow down before driving Khaddafi from power.

At the very least, the eastern rebels need mobile forces to hold the "waist" of Libya at Marsah al Burayqah to block the main east-west road into eastern Libya. They'd also need to push forces south to Tazirbu and Al Jawf to protect the oil resources down there that could sustain them if it comes to a drawn out civil war.

So far, I don't pay much attention to casualty figures since they could be grossly exaggerated. Whether it is in the low hundreds or over a thousand, however, it is clear the Khaddafi is willing to kill at the higher edge or more to retain power. That's my main take on the casualty guesses.

UPDATE: Another report on the sorting. Rebels seem to hold eastern Libya, at least along the road from Egypt to Aldabiya (Ajdabiya on my map, I think), to the east of Masah al Burayqah. And Khaddafi appears to only partly control the capital. Mobile army forces are being used west of Tripoli to retake Sabratah (not on my maps) 80 kilometers from the capital.

The rebels in the east have some breathing space as long as Khaddafi has to use his loyal mobile forces to clamp down his home base. They'd best use the time wisely.

UPDATE: Khaddafi doesn't seem to be consolidating his own region. One (former) Libyan air force pilot says he say up to 4,000 foreign mercenaries flown into Tripoli; and only 150 pro-Khaddafi loyalists responded to a call to rally in the capital's Green Square. It doesn't look like a government counter-attack to the east could take place anytime soon, that's for sure.

UPDATE: More indications that Khaddafi is having trouble just holding the west outside of the capital. Also, in the east, rebels are vowing to advance on Tripoli. Bravado, to be sure, but right now it is more likely that battles between east and west will be fought in the west rather than in the east.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Here's a Funny One

Fidel Castro and Daniel Ortega have stated their support for Khaddafi.

But that's not the funny part. Although it is humorous that either thinks anyone cares what they think about Khaddafi.

The funny part is this:

Leftist governments in the Americas have long embraced him as a fellow fighter against U.S. influence in the world. Gadhafi has responded over the years by awarding the Moammar Gadhafi International Human Rights Prize to Castro and Ortega, as well as to Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia.

The "Moammar Gadhafi International Human Rights Prize?" Hah!

That must rank right up there with the Chinese "Confucius Peace Prize."

What do these thugs do, award them to each other?

My Father Is Li Gang!

If the Chinese ruling class is worried about a revolt springing from seemingly nowhere, look no further than this irritant that the Chinese people see every day:

A black luxury sedan with official red People’s Armed Police plates had just parked in a spot reserved for someone else. When the garage attendant came over and rather meekly suggested that he move the car, the driver turned on him viciously. ‘Who are you? You’re nothing!’ he bellowed, with such force the concrete walls seemed to reverberate. ‘I will squash you like a bug!’ His father may not have been Li Gang, but the point was still clear. In today’s China, like in Orwell’s Animal Farm, some animals are more equal than others.

The man was nothing in the face of state power and privilege.

A billion angry nothings is something to worry about. And Peking sure is worried these days.

Sleep well, comrades.

What Is it With These People?

I recently read an article reporting on a positive assessment of the Afghanistan surge by a couple researchers from the Obama-friendly Center for a New American Security. They have some decent people associated with the place, and nobody horribly inept, like Lawrence Korb, for example, as far as I can tell. But I couldn't bring myself to link to it. First, I've noted our success in Afghanistan recently, and didn't need the cover of CNAS to bolster my point right now.

More important, even a non-nutcase outfit that leans left can't get that "Iraq bad but Afghanistan good" mindset out of the way of their analysis of Afghanistan. They took a shot at the Iraq victory by stating to the effect that we are learning that unlike in Iraq we can't kill our way to victory.

Sigh. We did not try to kill our way to victory in Iraq. Strategypage highlights the guilty parties on the body count (which was much lower than the screeching harpies of the hard core Left still insist it was):

The war in Iraq did not play out quite like the mass media portrayed it. The one thing there is most agreement on is that nearly all the violence was the result of terror attacks on Shia and Sunni Arab civilians. This violence peaked in late 2006-early 2007, during which time civilian deaths were at least 3,000 a month. They have greatly declined since then, with December 2010 being the lowest, with 151 civilian deaths.

Got it? Nearly all the violence was from Syrian- and Iranian-supported Sunni Arab terrorists killing Shias and Iranian-backed Sadrists killing Sunni Arabs.

When even an outfit like CNAS can't avoid bowing to the anti-Iraq War Left, I have little reason to pay much attention to them.

Oh, No. Not Pretentious At All

IMPORTANT NEWS: Toyota says plural of Prius is “Prii.”

I can hardly wait to see how it plays out in the showrooms:

Just don't tell the salesman that you are going home from the lot.

There really is a Monty Python routine for anything.

Bravely Bold Badger 14

Those Madison protesters sure like their hippie music.

May I suggest a song?

Bravely bold Badger 14
Rode forth from Madison.
They were not afraid to hide,
Oh brave Badger 14.
They were not at all afraid
Brave, brave, brave, Badger 14.

They were not in the least bit scared
To be mashed into a pulp.
Or to have their eyes gouged out,
And their elbows broken.
To have their kneecaps split
And their bodies burned away,
And their limbs all hacked and mangled
Brave Badger 14.

Their heads smashed in
And their hearts cut out
And their livers removed
And their bowels unplugged
And their nostrils raped
And their bottoms burnt off
And their pen--

"That's... that's enough music for now lads."
Brave Badger 14 ran away.
Bravely ran away away.
("We didn't!")
When Walker reared his ugly head,
They bravely turned their tails and fled.
Yes, Badger 14 turned about
("We didn't!")
And gallantly they chickened out.
("We never did!")
Bravely taking to their feet,
They beat a very brave retreat.
("all lies!")
Bravest of the braaaave, Badger 14!
("We never!")

Go ahead, learn to sing along!

Oh, and for the dense, I'd like to make it clear that this is satirical and in no way meant to imply that I think anybody should rape the nostrils of the Badger 14 or do anything else the minstrels sing about. It may not be good satire, but it is satire.

A Period of Magnified Conflict

I still don't know if we need China's loans more than China needs those bought dollars as investments or our resulting imports from China, but the Chinese sure think that they have the edge:

Leaked diplomatic cables vividly show China's willingness to translate its massive holdings of US debt into political influence on issues ranging from Taiwan's sovereignty to Washington's financial policy.

China's clout -- gleaned from its nearly $900 billion stack of US debt -- has been widely commented on in the United States, but sensitive cables show just how much influence Beijing has and how keen Washington is to address its rival's concerns.

Yet for a China supposedly rising at a velocity high enough to allow them to pressure us as our major creditor, the Chinese sure are nervous about tiny threats, as a ranking communist appears:

"The schemes of some hostile Western forces attempting to Western and split us are intensifying, and they are waving the banner of defending rights to meddle in domestic conflicts and maliciously create all kinds of incidents," Chen told the magazine, which is published by the official Xinhua news agency.

"Mass incidents continue at a high rate," Chen said, using the Party euphemism for protests, riots, strikes and mass petitions.

"Our country is in a period of magnified conflicts within the populace, high crime rates and complex struggle against foes, and these features are most unlikely to change any time soon," he said. The magazine reached subscribers on Tuesday.

To counter such worries, Chinese leaders have promoted more of the stringent security steps that they brandished over the weekend, when police snuffed out feeble attempts to emulate the "Jasmine Revolution" street protests that have bloomed across the Middle East.

Is it a rising China or an uprising China? I mean, you'd think a country supposedly destined to stand astride the world as a Colossus wouldn't sweat so much over feeble voices calling for protests. Doesn't it make the authorities look weaker to react so strongly to something so small?

Witnessing New Zealand's Darkest Day

New Zealand has been rocked by a serious earthquake in Christchurch:

One of New Zealand's biggest cities lay in ruins Tuesday after a powerful earthquake toppled tall buildings and churches on a busy weekday, killing at least 65 people in the country's worst natural disaster in decades.

My sympathies go out to our distant friends.

UPDATE: We are sending help:

The U.S., meanwhile, has dispatched a search-and-rescue team to New Zealand to help in the quake's aftermath.

Good luck in keeping the death toll from going higher.

Time for Some Major Killing

News reports say that pirates killed the American hostages they took when they captured their yacht. Two pirates also died, so it is unclear to me if we tried a rescue mission or whether there was a split amongst the pirates.

Our Navy should sink the ship with a barrage of missiles that makes it clear that there will be no survivors to even think of trying to rescue.

Then send the video footage to the pirates ashore. Tell them we're coming.

Then we should destroy every port facility used by pirates and sink every boat that even looks like it belongs to pirates.

Then we should work with India to really work out a mission ashore.

We need to take the gloves off. It is shameful that we tolerate piracy in this day and age.

UPDATE: It was not a rescue attempt. The pirates initiated an attack on one of our ships and then shot the hostages:

U.S. naval forces who were trailing the Americans' captured yacht with four warships quickly boarded the vessel after hearing the gunfire. They tried to provide lifesaving care to the Americans, but they died of their wounds, U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida said in a statement.

A member of a U.S. special operations force killed one of the pirates with a knife as he went inside of the yacht, said Vice Adm. Mark Fox, commander of U.S. naval forces for the Central Command.

Fox said in a televised briefing that the violence on Tuesday started when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired from the yacht at the USS Sterett, a guided-missile destroyer which was 600 yards away. The RPG missed and almost immediately afterward small arms fire was heard coming from the yacht, Fox said.

We really need to make the career choice of piracy a high-mortality occupation.

UPDATE: Here's that briefing.

Who Makes a Move Now?

For the moment, the killing seems to have convinced a lot of Libyans in Tripoli to stay indoors. But Benghazi and other locations in the eastern half of the country seem to be in the hands of rebels. The first campaign might be over:

Mohammed Ali, an exile opposition activist, said he had also received reports from residents of scores of bodies in the streets. Inhabitants of the capital of some 2 million people were staying home Tuesday after warnings by Gadhafi loyalists that anybody on the streets would be shot, said Ali, who is based in the Gulf emirate of Dubai.

The week of upheaval in Libya has weakened — if not broken for now — the control of Gadhafi's regime in parts of the east. Protesters in the country's second largest city Benghazi over the weekend overran police stations and security headquarters, taking control of the streets with the help of army units that broke away and sided with them.

Can the Libyans scrape up enough ground units to retake the east?

Can the rebels organize enough forces to advance west?

Instead of a Western no-fly zone over Libya (and remember, our 6th Fleet is a virtual fleet these days), perhaps an Italian-led mission with American help and UN (if we can get it) blessing to send humanitarian supplies to the eastern part of Libya would be in order if a stalemate develops. We could airdrop supplies (with fighter escorts), see if Egypt will allow ground convoys from their country, and send in supply ships and a hospital ship.

If we really feel the need to do something, that might be the way to go.

UPDATE: Interesting. This really could be an east-west civil war:

[The] crackdown so far has been waged chiefly by militias and so-called "revolutionary committees," made up of Libyans and foreign fighters, many hired from other African nations.

Many army units in the east appear to have sided with protesters, and other more institutional parts of his regime have weakened. A string of ambassadors abroad have defected, as has the justice minister.

Protesters claim to control a string of cities, from the Egyptian border in the east — where guards at the crossing fled — to the city of Ajdabiya, about 450 miles further west along the Mediterranean coast, said Tawfiq al-Shahbi, a protest organizer in the eastern city of Tobruk.

Although it seems at least some units in the east have rebelled, it isn't clear that Khaddafi has control of his own military units if he is relying on militias and foreign mercenaries. Indeed, the commander of one of his commando brigades, normally of a higher level of loyalty than regulars, defected:

In a sign of the extent of the breakdown in Gadhafi's regime, one of his closest associates, Abdel Fattah Younis, his interior minister and commander of the powerful Thunderbolt commando brigade, announced in the now protester-held city of Benghazi that he was defecting and other armed forces should join the revolt.

It isn't clear if the unit itself went over with him, although it is implied.

Let's see if Tripoli heats up again, or if Khaddafi tries to move into the east to try and re-establish control.

UPDATE: Khaddafi is calling on his supporters to retake Tripoli:

"You men and women who love Gadhafi ... get out of your homes and fill the streets," he said. "Leave your homes and attack them in their lairs." ...

State TV showed a crowd of Gadhafi supporters in Tripoli's Green Square, raising his portrait and waving flags as they swayed to music after the address. Residents contacted by The Associated Press said no anti-government protesters ventured out of their homes after dark, and gun-toting guards manned checkpoints with occasional bursts of gunfire heard throughout the city.

Are there no loyal security forces to do the job? If Khaddafi doesn't have the horses to secure his own city without essentially mobilizing civilians, could he scrape up enough to advance hundreds of miles to the east to retake the rebel-held territory? And could the rebels organize a defense of their area, let alone manage the logistics of marching west on Tripoli?

If Libya really is splitting, setting the stage for a civil war, it could go on a while since both east and west have access to oil assets (from Stratfor):

Libya’s 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil output can be broken into two categories. The first comes from a basin in the country’s western extreme and is exported from a single major hub just west of Tripoli. The second basin is in the country’s eastern region and is exported from a variety of facilities in eastern cities. At the risk of oversimplifying, Libya’s population is split in half: Leader Moammar Gadhafi’s power base is in Tripoli in the extreme west, the opposition is concentrated in Benghazi in the east, with a 600 kilometer-wide gulf of nearly empty desert in between.

This effectively gives the country two political factions, two energy-producing basins, two oil output infrastructures. Economically at least, the seeds of protracted conflict — regardless of what happens with Gadhafi or any political changes after he departs — have already been sown. If Libya veers towards civil war, each side will have its own source of income to feed on, as well as a similar income source on the other side to target.

Welcome to the Iran-Iraq War in the Desert?