Monday, December 31, 2012


Dave Barry has a hilarious review of our year.

But sometimes the humor is too close to tragedy:

Abroad, the big story is a deadly 9/11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. It soon becomes apparent that the attack either was or was not a spontaneous protest to a movie that either does or does not actually exist, or possibly it was an organized terrorist attack that either did or did not involve al Qaeda and either could or could not have been prevented if there had been better intelligence, which maybe there was, or maybe there was not, although if there was, it was not acted on, possibly for political reasons. Or, not. But beyond these basic facts, little is clear. The White House issues a strong statement assuring the nation that President Obama was not in any way involved in this, “or anything else that may or may not become known.”

Our president reminded us today that he'd be with us for four more years. Which at this point seems as scary as a Mayan prophecy of doom.

Perhaps he'll get involved with that whole presidency thing during that time. I've often thought the term The Long War was appropriate for the war on terror because it would take so long to defeat our enemies. I had no idea that the length might be partly determined by the state of our government's willingness to defeat that enemy. Or even admit we have an enemy to defeat, for that matter.

Happy new year. I hope you find your happiness in your personal life, as I do mine, for there may be little joy in our governmental life.

I fear we are governed by those we deserve.

UPDATE: Happy new year! Mind you I'm deep in my cups, and as an Irishman, prone to being maudlin. I'm sure a proper hangover will restore my naturally optimistic nature!

You Can't Imagine How Everything Changes

I don't judge people for not having children. I don't. For many years I could no more imagine having children than I can imagine not having children now. So I understand the reasons for not having children. And I respect them. But I can't undo the knowledge of what it means to have a son and a daughter. And it really does change everything.

Instapundit notes this article, which quotes this observation about the effects of parenthood:

Steven Spielberg once said that, after he had children, he changed his mind about the way he’d ended Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The dad who joins the aliens to head off into the galaxy, he said, was created “blithely … Today, I would never have the guy leaving his family and going on the mothership.” The fact that he’s abandoning his children never crossed my mind when I saw that movie as a young person, and I suspect it would puzzle me now.

Yes, I understand. Being a parent ruined The Family Man for me, as I wrote in April 2004 when I saw it. Excuse me for reproducing the entire post since it resides on the undead archives and strangely is too dark to easily read. That's new for that site.

Anyway, the post:

I watched The Family Man yesterday, starring Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni. Cage is a good actor and Leoni is totally hot. It's a 2000 movie about a man who goes to London and embarks on a stunning financial career at the expense of the college sweetheart (Leoni) he leaves behind in America. She had asked him not to go, but he does, promising he'll return after his year abroad. He returns, to be sure, but not to Leoni. Cage is incredibly wealthy, with a rich lifestyle in New York City, and doesn't need a thing, he says.

Cage runs into an apparent street thug who pulls a pistol on a shop owner in a dispute over cashing a winning lottery ticket. Cage intervenes by offering to buy the ticket from the armed man. The man takes the offer, and after a conversation in which Cage tries to save the young "thug" and the thug hints he is part of some organization that has noticed his intervention and is impressed.

Somehow, the mysterious man places Cage in an alternate place where Cage wakes up on Christmas morning to find he is married to Leoni and they have two children, a boy still too young to talk and a little girl. Cage sells tires retail and lives in New Jersey. Cage is getting a glimpse of what his life could have been. It's billed as a sort of It's a Wonderful Life story.

At first Cage is horrified at his life with middle class clothing, bowling, changing diapers, retail sales of tires, shoveling snow, and walking the dog. The little girl recognizes that Cage is not her daddy. He says he isn't but that he'll come back. She thinks he's an alien and when he promises not to harm her, she helps him out on the routine of his life.

And of course, Cage realizes he never stopped loving Leoni. And he learns to enjoy what he has in this glimpse of what his life would have been if he hadn't gone to London. It is well done and enjoyable. Leoni doesn't know what has gotten into her husband but she clearly still loves him. Yet Cage considers an affair with another women because he isn't "really" married to Leoni.

But one day, while he is on his lawn playing with his little girl, she falls on top of him and happily tells him, "I knew you'd come back!" And Cage was indeed her daddy. They hugged, lying on the snow, while Leoni looks on smiling from a window. Cage likes the life he could have had--the life he thinks is now his.

It seems all will be well when Cage's boss from his real life loses a tire and comes in to Cage's business. Cage wows the boss with his finance knowledge despite lack of experience and credentials, and lands an entry level position in the company he used to lead. Leoni is aghast that Cage would take this job and uproot them from their community, friends, and school, but she chooses to stay with him. It seems Cage will get it all despite the choice he made years ago in college to walk away from his true love.

That's when Cage is reminded that all he is getting is a glimpse of the life he could have had--not that actual life. He runs into the same man who sent him on his glimpse and knows he must go back to his rich life.

So Cage won't go to sleep, trying to hang on to the life that could have been. He looks in at his sleeping children and spends the night in his bedroom, looking at Leoni, until he finally drops off at dawn.

He awakens in his expensive and neat but sterile apartment. He races to "his" house and finds that Leoni does not live there. In many ways this seems just. To have allowed him to stay in that new life--while retaining all the memories and experience of his original life--is essentially giving Cage more than one life. Had he stayed in this new life, he would have basically had a three-week humbleness retreat where he gave up his riches before returning to his life of riches based on his years of knowledge and experience from his original life. But this time he has the love of his life and two wonderful children. This is fair?

And while at first it seems like he is resigned to rejoining his old life that now seems so hollow to him, he soon sets out to find Leoni and undo what he now views as his youthful mistake of going to London and not marrying Leoni.

This is where the movie lost me. Mind you, I like it still, but it lost a lot. I've always thought that it is pointless to dwell on "what might have been" thoughts. You can--and should--work to make up for bad decision or even just decisions that turned out bad, but you can't actually undo those decisions. You make your decisions and move forward. And imagining what might be different--and presumably better--from one different choice fails to take into account how changing one piece--even one that seems bad--in the mosaic of your life would change all the others--even the good ones that flowed from that "bad" decision. We can't make good decisions all the time. We can't. All we can hope for is that we make enough good decisions and that we are capable of coping with the bad decisions, making even bad decisions turn into good choices with hard work and some sense of optimism that life works out.

Cage should have counted himself lucky just to get a glimpse of what might have been, in order to make himself a better person in his original life, with the price of this insight perhaps for him to endure the knowledge of what might have been .

So instead of perhaps giving us a moral lesson in responsibility, the movie is seemingly on the way to giving us a happy ending where Cage realizes his mistake and gets his college-age sweetheart after all. Cage finds Leoni in New York City where she is a successful lawyer and who is packing to go to Paris for her job. Leoni tells Cage she is over him and he needs to move on, too.

Of course, in a replay of the first scene where Cage goes away and Leoni begs him to stay, Cage goes to the airport and asks her to stay--just to have coffee and talk, this time. She says "no."

While Leoni returns to her line, Cage then goes on to tell Leoni about their wonderful life, their house, her non-profit job, and their wonderful children. Instead of thinking of this man she hasn't seen in more than a dozen years as a nutcase for spinning such a fantasy as reality, she stays for coffee.

And the imagery of falling snow that signaled both the onset of his glimpse of his alternate life and his return to his original life is how the movie ends, with the two of them still talking in an airport coffee shop long after the other passengers have gone.

If he just got a glimpse, and that is all that is possible, how did Cage display any unique need or goodness, whether in his glimpse or back in his original life, needed to give him this alternate life based on what would have been the "right" choice (while keeping his experience from the "wrong" choice)?

But however unlikely that change in the apparent rules of those glimpses seem, and how wrong it seems to me to allow do-overs in life, the alternative is even worse. What if that talk over coffee simply meant that Cage and Leoni were getting a chance in their existing lives to pick up where they left off?

Instead of a happy ending, we'd have a really tragic ending. Imagine if this is what was happening? Cage gets the love of his life. Leoni, too, gets the man she loved. And they have their wealth and status, too. But they don't have the life history that made them love each other in that alternate life.

And most important, the children they had in that alternate life would not exist. The little girl, especially, who in three short weeks Cage came to see as his daughter who he loved--and who in turn came to see him as her daddy after all--would not exist. Would Cage have gone on about their absence, becoming bitter about what he did not have from that "glimpse" that he wanted for his life? Would Leoni have come to be angry with Cage for denying her even the memories of that life that he shares with her? This so-called correction leaves two souls out of the world, doomed never to talk or finally learn to play the violin.

But the movie did not clearly spell out what happens next. It left the the next step vague in an effort to give this story a happy ending, at least in implication, despite the problems in crafting a happy ending under the possibilities available. In the end, while still an enjoyable movie, it is a disturbing movie, made all the more unsettling by the image of the Twin Towers in the beginning that no re-dos can bring back.

Rather than being a movie about the perils of choices and the importance of living the only life we have as well as we can, it implies that you can have it all--that Earthly redemption can make up for earlier mistakes--or even just regrets--and erase your errors.

End original post.

So there you go. Parenthood ruins movies. I couldn't really enjoy that move without thinking of the two children who would not exist in the movie version of a happy ending. Without the children, the ending could not be happy for me.

For those who choose not to have children, please be happy. Understand that for those who have children, the world is never the same. Happy endings aren't as easy to write.

But Leoni is hot, regardless, you have to admit.

The Conclusion is Obvious

I know what you are thinking when you read that a daughter of the 1% and an Occupy Wall Street type have been caught with an arsenal:

The privileged daughter of a prominent city doctor, and her boyfriend — a Harvard grad and Occupy Wall Street activist — have been busted for allegedly having a cache of weapons and a bombmaking explosive in their Greenwich Village apartment.

And no, I'm not thinking that you are thinking that the couple adds up to 100% trouble.

No, it is obvious what these two were up to. Clearly they were about to join the Tea Party movement.

Nothing else could possibly explain their actions, correct?

It's going to be Occupy State Prison for a while.

Objects in History are Closer Than They Appear

China's claims to Japan's Senkaku Islands magically appeared after it was discovered that resources might be around the islets. And the claims have been aggressively asserted after China's military capacity to contest control was developed. Face it, nobody near China is safe from newly discovered claims of ownership.

China used to acknowledge Japan's ownership of the Senkaku Islands (tip to The View from Taiwan):

A Chinese government document from 1950 appears to refute China's current claim to the Senkakus by indicating the islets are part of Japan's territory and referring to them by their Japanese name, a just-obtained copy revealed. ...

It was completed on May 15, 1950, about 7½ months after the Communist Party founded the People's Republic of China. Beijing now argues that the Senkaku Islands have been known as Diaoyu since ancient times, but this appellation is nowhere to be found in the document.

Like I said, nobody is safe.

China's neighbors need to speed up that military modernization. Standing still is no defense from this threat. Past Chinese territorial claims aren't extinct just because we don't seem them today. They're just dormant waiting to be brought back to life when the conditions are right.

White House Whine Cellar

So a last minute fiscal cliff deal is struck and President Obama still has time to round up average citizen props who won't suffer from spending cuts or tax increases for his stage announcement of the deal?

Does he keep a stable of Americans in need of whatever he is peddling at the moment underneath the White House?

The Years of Riding the Tiger

China is a continent-sized country with a history of violent revolution and chaos between eras of stability. Is chaos building in China? Some academics are worried enough to risk official displeasure by saying so.

Chinese academics are warning of problems ahead without reform:

A prominent group of Chinese academics has warned in a bold open letter that the country risks "violent revolution" if the government does not respond to public pressure and allow long-stalled political reforms.

The 73 scholars, including well-known current and retired legal experts at top universities and lawyers, said political reform had not matched the quick pace of economic expansion.

"If reforms to the system urgently needed by Chinese society keep being frustrated and stagnate without progress, then official corruption and dissatisfaction in society will boil up to a crisis point and China will once again miss the opportunity for peaceful reform, and slip into the turbulence and chaos of violent revolution," they wrote.

If violent revolution erupts, many futures are possible for China. Heck, Taiwan might conquer China if the conditions are right.

Preparing to Die in His Bunker

Assad's air force is eroding and his army is burning. When his supporters and army need Assad to be out there in public--despite risk of being attacked by rebels-- rallying his troops to fight and his people to stand firm, Assad instead gives off the air of doom by hiding to avoid being killed by rebel snipers or bombs. When his supporters and troops fear resisting the rebels more than they fear disobeying orders from Assad, Assad will die in his bunker.

For now, Assad is still issuing orders from his bunker:

Heavy fighting raged on the outskirts of Damascus on Monday as elite troops backed by tanks tried to recapture a strategic suburb from rebels in one of the largest military operations in that district in months, opposition activists said.

But any local success comes at the price of stripping forces from other areas where rebels can make gains.

And Assad's forces are eroding and will reach a breaking point before too long. Armies break before they are destroyed:

The rebels, and many outside observers, see the Assad government as losing ground and combat power daily. More and more Assad supporters have fled to Damascus and western Syria (the sea coast area where Alawites are the majority). Those in Damascus feel they are doomed, as the airport increasingly comes under rebel fire and will likely be closed soon. Land routes are dangerous, and those will be closed by rebels eventually. The Syrian security forces are shrinking from casualties and desertions and there are few reinforcements. ...

On November 29th, the air force made its biggest daily effort ever, carrying out 60 attacks in 24 hours. Before that, the number of daily attacks had averaged 20 a day for and had stayed at that level for months. The daily sortie rate has since declined to ten or less a day. Aircraft losses, plus shortages of fuel, bombs and reliable pilots has contributed to this. Air bases are increasingly subject to rebel attack. The Syrian Air Force is fading away and won’t come back while the rebellion continues.

On paper, it may seem like Assad still has much combat power. And in the figurative bunker (if not literally by now), all Assad has is paper and advisers too afraid to tell him the truth (assuming even they know the truth):

Basher Assad has become more paranoid about assassins getting to him. He rarely attends public events and is constantly adjusting his personal security arrangements. His family and closest aides are nearly as fearful and paralyzed by fear. All this says more than a press release about the state of the government and the failure of its campaign against the rebels.

Assad isn't saving himself. By failing to rally his supporters and military in a visible display of resolve even if it is risky, Assad is simply choosing the way he dies.

Unless Russia sends in marines (naval infantry, for them), which Strategypage says is aboard an amphibious ship ordered to Syrian waters, and paratroopers to bolster the morale of the surviving and hard-pressed Syrian ground forces (remember, there is no rotation for them--they're in for the duration or until they die--or desert), Assad's forces will break and run. How long will Assad issue orders to non-existent units before rebels close in on his last stand? Or does he go rabbit like Saddam Hussein did, dragging out the drama of his downfall?

I think it is time for a Downfall parody of Bashar Assad. Asma should worry about being cast in the role of Eva Braun, no?

What Other Land Border?

Perhaps the Israelis haven't been starving and impoverishing Gazans after all. Perhaps it is the fault of Palestinians for choices they've made.

Egypt's Islamist government has opened their border to Gaza to allow construction material in to Gaza:

Islamist-led Egypt allowed building materials into Gaza via the Rafah crossing on Saturday for the first time since Hamas seized control of the Palestinian enclave in 2007, an Egyptian border official said.

Huh. So all that outrage about Israel "blockading" Gaza from the land and sea was a bunch of bunk since there was another crossing to Egypt that could have been used had Egypt allowed it? Indeed, according a Hamas propaganda officer:

Rafah had been closed for goods for so many years and we always hoped such a policy would change, without exempting the Israeli occupation from their responsibilities. Israel must end the closure and reopen all crossings with Gaza.

It's pretty funny that the Palestinians themselves wanted the Egyptians to open their border, confident that Israel could still get blamed for "blockading" Gaza.

Also, what occupation? Isn't it about time that Hamas admit that they control Gaza and that their are no Israelis occupying the area? Is a simple admission of reality too difficult to manage?

The reality is that Israel didn't block food and medicine. Yes, Israel blocked a lot of building materials since Hamas tended to use them for bunkers rather than schools and houses (except for houses for the ruling elites, of course).

And recall that Hamas chose to smuggle in rockets rather than goods to alleviate their purported suffering.

On the bright side for Israel, the Palestinians are losing their ability to spin any ass-kicking they endure when they provoke a war with Israel into a diplomatic win:

Years of exaggerating their losses, and deliberately trying to get their own civilians killed (for propaganda purposes) has caught up with the Palestinians, who are now being accused of war crimes (for using those tactics. This was because Israel was able to provide enough video evidence of Palestinians in Gaza firing rockets from residential neighborhoods, as well as Arab language media stories discussing the use of this tactic to persuade Western media and war crimes researchers that they were being played by the Palestinians. This scam has been going on for more than a decade, but in the West it was not fashionable to question the Palestinian claims, even though details of the deception were openly discussed in Arab language media. But with the spread of the Internet, more and more photographic and video evidence of the deceptions was seen by more people.

I look forward to the day when Palestinians try to build a better future rather than simply take joy in killing a few Jews and accepting the deaths of more Palestinians as simply the price to make the Jews look bad for fighting back.

Rejecting Palestinian propaganda claims would go a long way to reaching that day when Palestinians accept the reality that Jews couldn't care less about harming Palestinians since Hamas and Fatah are doing that job better than any Israeli plot could inflict.

Fear and Loathing

Why are gun owners uniquely worthy of being guilty as a group for what an individual does with a firearm?

Via Instapundit, this is an excellent point about fears of people who own weapons:

Given as stipulated the vast majority of the right is one step away from the cliff of slaughter, might saying: “Next year we’ve coming for your guns” less than two weeks after Andrew Cuomo said “Confiscation could be an option“, be the push to send a bunch of heavily armed Chick-Fil-A eating psychopaths over the edge?

If the left really fears the gun-armed right as a bunch of law-breaking nuts, wouldn't the rational response be to scrape off those Obama-Biden 2012 bumper stickers and sell their Prius cars to avoid being an obvious target?

Or maybe the left really isn't worried about the armed right? Perhaps it is just not letting a crisis (or crime) go to waste, as our president shamefully did when he basically asked the Republicans to go along with his fiscal plans for the sake of the dead children.

Contrast the rush by our left to demonize the NRA and law-abiding gun owners with the rush by these same people to visit mosques immediately after 9/11.

Which is fine as far as it goes. I too argued, in the days after 9/11, that as we prepared to wage war we should not demonize law-abiding Moslems. American Moslems were--and are--the least of our problems.

I didn't go to any mosque. To me, the whole thing had the feel of "we're not all bad, please don't kill us even though we probably deserve it," rather than a statement of resolve to win without betraying our values.

But my question is why aren't those on the left heading out to NRA chapters, shooting ranges, and gun stores around the country to assure law-abiding gun owners that they aren't to blame for what somebody does with a firearm?

Isn't demonizing everyone with a weapon just as wrong as demonizing everyone with an Allah?

And if our left had done something like that outreach--or just refrained from demonization without any positive affirmation of inclusion for the NRA--I'd accept that a call for a "conversation" about reasonable firearm restrictions within our 2nd Amendment was not about a "lecture" from the left with the right just shutting up and taking it.

I guess it is the difference between who you really fear and who you simply loathe.

UPDATE: Instapundit notes a newspaper author who, tired of nobody listening to his columns about the evils of private gun ownership, just wants to ignore the Constitution, declare the NRA a terrorist organization, disarm gun owners by force of arms if necessary, and torture pro-gun politicians into agreeing with the author about gun control issues.

I don't know, how could our forefathers have foreseen the 1st Amendment being abused by wide dissemination over the Internet--the ultimate large-capacity printing press--of violent proposals and threats to deprive people of other Constitutional rights?

In Kaul's world, he just had a "conversation."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Post-Syria Assad

Russia hasn't quite abandoned Assad and the only way to avoid a fight to the death in Syria that continues long after Assad is ejected from the presidential palace is for us to start thinking about a post-Syria Assad rather than a post-Assad Syria. Joe Biden's old desire to split Iraq in three may have a place here. It would be far better than trying to make a too clever deal with Iran that links Assad's survival to the ending of Iran's nuclear programs.

The Assad regime and the rebels seem to have mutually exclusive goals that will require many more dead Syrians to resolve:

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said Saturday that there was “no possibility” of persuading President Bashar al-Assad to leave Syria, leaving little hope for a breakthrough in the standoff. He also said that the opposition leaders’ insistence on Mr. Assad’s departure as a precondition for peace talks would come at the cost of “more and more lives of Syrian citizens” in a conflict that has already killed tens of thousands.

But the impasse is solvable, I think, if we stop thinking of Syria as a unified objective. If we move beyond that, perhaps both sides can get what they want--if the light is just right.

Remember that Biden wanted to split Iraq into three parts to give the Kurds, Shias, and Sunni Arabs their own home and end the fighting. I opposed that because I didn't want to give Iran an opportunity to really control the Shia part without Kurds and Sunni Arabs to balance the pro-Iranian Sadrists in the Shia part. Nor did I want the Kurds--the most effective government fighters--out of the fight. Further, I did not want the Sunni Arabs to have their own wasteland of an Anbar homeland where they could get all bitter about their poverty and defeat, and which would become a jihadi safe haven in the heart of the Middle East. A fine idea in theory was bad for Iraq at that moment. In time, when passions cool, perhaps an amicable split can be negotiated. The Czechs and Slovaks managed that. But we aren't there yet in Iraq.

But Syria is so much more bloody than Iraq that it may be the only way to match the objectives of both sides.

We'd need to give the Alawites and their Christian allies a province they demographically dominate on the coast and mountains of western Syria; the Kurds would get a province in the northeast; and the Sunni Arabs would get the rest.

Damascus would be a federal enclave.

Power would be devolved to the provinces, including foreign affairs excepting some symbolic aspects reserved to the mostly nominal federal government. Assad could become president of the Alawite province and carry on as he has.

The Kurds and Sunni Arabs would get their own provinces. Perhaps the Sunni Arabs get multiple provinces based on existing provinces or groupings of them. The various rebel factions could be bought off with control of these provinces.

At the federal level, the rebels would dominate, with a rebel in the position of prime minister representing legal "Syria" at the UN. Powers might be restricted to the federal zone and certain legislative areas not reserved to the provinces, such as allocating oil revenue and tariff revenue to the various provinces.

So we and the rebels get rid of Assad as the ruler of a relatively strong Syria (he will be demoted to just another despot who can't do too much harm to us with his resources); the rebels eject Assad from the presidency of Syria and take charge of the national government as the dominant groups, and control their own people's lives in the provinces; WMD assets outside of the Alawite area are secured (I assume Assad will want to quietly keep some), perhaps with an international force to do the job; Lebanon gets to edge away from resuming the civil war; Israel gets a weakened threat to their north (although the Golan border could get hotter with terror threats, the conventional threat will be much lower for a long time); Turkey and Jordan get to send the refugees back to Syria; Iran and Russia retain a pocket of influence in a rump Assad realm to retain access to Hezbollah or naval and intelligence bases, respectively; the Kurds get the hope of an independent state in fact if not legally; tens of thousands of further deaths might be prevented; and the UN gets to feel that it achieved something through diplomacy.

Unless the deaths are merely delayed as all sides--or even just one side--prepares for round two for control of all of Syria.

Sure, it isn't as elegant as some pretend trade off where Iran pretends to abandon pursuit of nuclear weapons in exchange for saving Assad. But it has more hope of success and doesn't require a futile sacrifice of Syria's Sunni Arabs (who won't go along with the plan anyway) for a futile goal of getting Iran to agree to end their nuclear ambitions:

Iran has responded to the toughening of sanctions by speeding up its work on a bomb, not slowing it down,” says Jean-David Levitte, former French ambassador to Washington and, until May, then-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s diplomatic adviser. “We now have only a relatively few months to act before Iran’s nuclear effort becomes irreversible.”

Levitte believes that the six powers conducting nuclear negotiations with Iran have to make a final comprehensive offer. Failing Tehran’s quick agreement to such a proposal, the only courses left open will be acceptance of an Iranian bomb or military action to prevent it, he argues.

This is where Syria comes in. It is stomach-churning for me to suggest that Americans should work to salvage any part of Assad’s regime, which has slaughtered tens of thousands of Syrians. But the least bad option available may be for all powers to pursue two overriding, interlocking goals: Syria’s descent into a total bloodbath must be stopped. And Iran must agree to live up to its nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations by forswearing atomic weapons.

This is foolish, notwithstanding the impeccable credentials of being suggested by a former French ambassador with a hyphenated name that includes "Jean." Which is the triple crown for the Nuanced American set.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by ratifying the Assad regime's future dominance of Syria (even without Assad technically in charge) will not let us find the easy way out of the Iran dilemma. In the end, Iran will get nukes and Assad will get Syria. The only question is how long the interval is where we can pretend to have diplomatically solved two vexing problems with one large group of dead Syrians.

And don't foolishly believe that if only we make this offer and Iran refuses or fails to comply, the world will embrace an American military campaign to disarm Iran. We will always lack that support because there will always be another option before that "last resort" arrives.

Fortunately, I doubt if Iran would even pretend to agree to such a bargain, such is their disdain for the West and confidence in their ultimate success.

Sometimes foreign policy realism needs to do a reality check, no?

Nuanced people keep saying that many of the world's borders and states are arbitrary and relics of colonialism. But when it comes time to fix those arbitrary relics, nobody wants to touch them. I think decentralizing Syria could be a way out of this problem.

Too Soon to Judge

Many things begin their growth in the spring. But few mature by the end of summer. We must have patience with the Arab Spring and focus on the roots of a civil society based on rule of law. And we must accept that steps forward will not be uniform and may even get worse in some places. Work the problem and don't pine for the illusion of stability that strongmen in the Arab world seemed to provide.

I've counseled patience with the Arab Spring for some time, now. Here's another plea for patience, as related by Max Boot:

Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

Overthrowing the autocrats was just the most obvious first step. Overthrowing habits of authoritarianism amongst even the liberals who don't really grasp what "democracy" means besides the surface appeal of modernity is the hard part.

Yes, sometimes things will get worse. But it wasn't going to get better without overturning the status quo of autocratic regimes that stoked what they hoped was a tamer form of Islamism in support of their autocracy in order to appeal to dissidents, rebels, and terrorists who also used Islamism to gain allegiance of the people.

Work on making even the Islamists responsible for their policies (hey, tourists and investors aren't too keen on risking necks and money in Islamist-friendly places) and too afraid of the consequences of failing to allow regular and relatively free elections for the people to judge their progress.

Sure, it is a myth that Mao once said after one and a half centuries it was too soon to judge the 18th century French Revolution. But I think we can say that this really is a case of "fake but accurate." History happens in huge chunks and not in a single exciting season with a happy ending and all loose ends wrapped up.

The problem of Arab Islamism and the promise that the Arab Spring can subdue with democracy the urges for jihad that spring from today's Arab Moslem societies is a long term struggle. Work the problem and don't grow frustrated that it takes time.

NOTE: Oh, and the first three sentences of the post are an allusion to both my previous post on Friedman and Being There, the movie. Lest you think I'm that full of myself.

UPDATE: When you consider that some of the so-called liberal community here in America have a frightening problem with appreciating the value of rule of law in promoting freedom rather than simply handing absolute power to whoever gets 50+% of the vote, you should have more modest goals for the first years of the Arab Spring. The author is a professor of constitutional law, by the way. Tip to Instapundit for that link.

Our Constitution can be changed. We have procedures for that. If you don't like something about it, try to change it. That's a constitutional right, too.

Oh, and while I argue for patience in judging the Arab Spring and for a willingness to work the problems, don't be confused that I don't recognize that Egypt is a serious problem in this struggle:

THE bespectacled Mohamed ElBaradei is a serious man with a pile of degrees in constitutional law and a Nobel Prize for running the UN’s nuclear agency. Last winter he warned of grave trouble if his country elected a president before defining the powers of the office in a new constitution. The generals in charge of post-revolutionary Egypt failed to listen.

That is something many Egyptians will now deeply regret. Muhammad Morsi, the Muslim Brother and winner of presidential elections in June, shocked the country by issuing a decree that assumes vastly widened powers for his office, including virtual immunity against judicial oversight. He then ordered the assembly that is drawing up the country’s new constitution to cram a month’s work into a single day—so as to produce a draft on November 29th, ready for a referendum in mid-December. All this has met with furious protests. The courts have gone on strike and demonstrators have taken to the streets in numbers not seen since last year’s revolution.

On the bright side, the revolution still isn't over. If we support the forces of rule of law, we might yet win the struggle in Egypt one day.

The Secret is Out

Now we know how Thomas Friedman can keep churning out that dreck on a regular basis.

Tip to Instapundit.

It's quite funny. But it lacks the feature of any really good column that begins a point by noting how Friedman was chatting with Known Bigshot at some Elite Conference, and while exchanging views on some Trivial Thing, came to a blinding flash of insight.

To truly mock Friedman, you should simply randomly access his actual columns from the New York Times web site. That would be devastating.

Kudos to the author of the site. It's nice to know that I am not alone in wondering how he could become a favorite pundit of the rich and famous. It truly boggles my mind that there is a class of people who believe he provides insights rather than slickly marketed banality.

Mind you, I'm not saying 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.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Compare and Contrast

Assad is losing his war. Baathists are going to be 0-2 when his side goes down.

After less than two years of war, Syrian rebels are pushing the government's forces out of more and more territory, eroding the government's military, and capturing bases. Contrast this to the Iraq War where the insurgencies and terrorists could not generally prevent government and coalition forces from moving wherever they wanted, terrorist enclaves that did develop were eventually recaptured, the government's forces generally grew during the conflict and gained competence, and attacks on bases were always unsuccessful and only designed to be media operations.

And also remember that the insurgents in Iraq had lots of money and access to an Iraq awash in arms and explosives left over from Saddam's buying sprees; while the Syrian rebels have been fairly poorly armed until recently.

Anyway, a Syrian base is in danger of being overrun:

Syrian rebels stepped up their siege of a military base in north of the country Friday as government warplanes bombed surrounding areas to support the defenders, activists said.

The fighting around Mannagh airbase near the Turkish border came as foreign ministry officials in Ankara said two Syrian air force generals had defected and crossed the border.

Surely it is becoming obvious to the Assad people that they can't win the way they are fighting. Eventually, the army will break or the Assad base of civilian support will break as defeat looms and people try to strike a deal with the eventual winners.

Even the Russians have sternly warned the Syrian government not to use chemical weapons in a last ditch--and futile--effort to save their regime:

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview released by the English-language state television channel RT that Assad had given Moscow repeated assurances he had no plans to order such an attack.

"I do not believe Syria would use chemical weapons," Lavrov said in comments translated by the channel into English. "It would be a political suicide for the government if it does."

So Assad can't find a miracle weapon to win the war he is in. Assad's people need a whole new war that they can win.

Part of waging that new war may require a ceasefire to regroup, rest, and rearm. Perhaps Assad really does need to negotiate with the rebels to establish a decentralized Syria where Assad rules a rump Alawite state where he withdraws most movable assets to keep them under control. Then give the rebels the other provinces while establishing a coalition national government with few real powers save the UN seat privilege and postage stamp concession.

We keep speaking of post-Assad Syria. Perhaps we should be thinking about post-Syria Assad. Perhaps Assad should be thinking of that, if he wants to live.

Although if the Sunni Arab win in Syria inspires Iraqi Sunnis to think they can restart their war against the Shia-dominated government, we might have a rematch in Iraq. I wonder if Iran will want to spend the money it spent on Assad to support Maliki's government? At least Iran would likely be on the winning side, there. The least bad option for us would be for our air power, intelligence, and special forces to re-engage in Iraq to support the Iraqi security forces.

I hope the super genius Secretary of State we are going to have can persuade the Sunni Arabs of Iraq that restarting the war in Iraq is too stupid to contemplate.

UPDATE: Despite lack of arms, rebels are estimated to be inflicting a thousand dead per month on the Syrian army:

The regime also has suffered setbacks on the battlefield, as its forces lose ground across all but two of the country’s 14 provinces. Military analysts say Syrian troops are being killed at a rate of about 1,000 a month, and even elite units appear to have lost the ability to mount sustained offensives.

Good God. We never lost more than a thousand in a year of combat in Iraq. I think the highest Iraqi toll in a month was a bit over 300 dead security forces. And usually it was a lot less.

If Assad keeps spinning his wheels, his army won't be able to fight any type of war. He has to decide fast to do something different.

Suffer the Children

President Putin of Russia signed legislation to stop Americans from adopting Russian orphans:

President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Friday that bans Americans from adopting Russian children and imposes other sanctions in retaliation for a new U.S. human rights law that he says is poisoning relations.

That's right. The Russians are punishing their own children to strike back at America.

It's a sad affair when there's no one there.

I guess we know who cares more about Russia's orphans since we're the ones being punished and presumably care more about their fate.

Yes, indeed, the right side won the Cold War.

Friday, December 28, 2012

By Any Memes Necessary

Our established press corps increasingly operates as a political party--or at least a lobbying group--that advocates the positions of its own members.

Driscoll reminds us of some of the bigger media campaigns recently:

There are of course, countless more additional examples than our handful above, where the media long ago concluded that simply reporting straight news was much less satisfying than serving the cause of the good and righteous left. (Feel free to explore the topic further in the comments.)

There was a time when journalists could be just as guilty of advocacy, like in World War II during a British campaign in Ethiopia prior to Pearl Harbor:

Wingate also skillfully employed bluff. He entered one newly liberated Italian fort to find the telephone ringing. An officer at another fort was calling to ask where the British were. Wingate instructed an Italian-speaking American war correspondent to “tell them that a British division ten thousand strong is on its way up the road,” “advising them to clear off.” This the panicked Italians did posthaste.

That was advocacy. But it was advocacy for the forces of the defenders of the West against fascist aggressors.

Of course, it is possible that David Gregory and the rest of the lot who pretend to report news still think they are doing exactly that.

Now We Know Better

News from the front lines of science (tip to Instapundit):

For decades, policy makers have tried and failed to get Americans to eat less salt. In April 2010 the Institute of Medicine urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate the amount of salt that food manufacturers put into products; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already convinced 16 companies to do so voluntarily. But if the U.S. does conquer salt, what will we gain? Bland french fries, for sure. But a healthy nation? Not necessarily.

This week a meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. In May European researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.

In another decade, New Yorkers will have to buy 32-ounce soft drinks infused with salt.

For their own good, of course.

I wish science was a tool to inform us rather than an excuse to control us.

On the Front Lines of New Nonsense

The Nation is really a joke publication and I shudder when I think people get information from the magazine. They ran a piece on our "pivot" to the Pacific and it is incredible. I shrank from tackling the monumental level of ignorance (charitably) or deceit that could allow writers to express these views, but in the end I could not just delete the window and move on.

This fright piece about our military making plans to provoke a war with China is just amazingly dense.

Let's take a tour, shall we?

First, we are planning a new fleet for South Korean waters!

On the small, spectacular island of Jeju, off the southern tip of Korea, indigenous villagers have been putting their bodies in the way of construction of a joint South Korean–US naval base that would be an environmental, cultural and political disaster. If completed, the base would hold more than 7,000 navy personnel, plus twenty warships including US aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and destroyers carrying the latest Aegis missiles—all aimed at China, only 300 miles away.

Wow. Sounds ominous. Especially with the sound track of doom no doubt playing in the heads of the writers as they typed. But it isn't. Whatever the issues of local opposition to a base--not that uncommon but hardly indicative of national interests rather than NIMBYism--this is simply not a place where we are putting more forces into.

Yes, it could host US forces, but this is a South Korean base for South Korea's increasingly blue water navy. Those American ships the author mentions are simply the capacity of the new base. So if our ships wanted to use the base--and South Korea allowed it--we could indeed put elements of our fleet there.

Why we'd put them within reach of China's lengthening air power range is beyond me. Remember that we are pulling back forces on Okinawa to Guam precisely because we don't like having our forces so close to China that they could be a tempting target for a Chinese sneak attack.


Jeju is just one island in a growing constellation of geostrategic points that are being militarized as part of President Obama’s “Pacific Pivot,” a major initiative announced late in 2011 to counter a rising China. According to separate statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, 60 percent of US military resources are swiftly shifting from Europe and the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region.

Dudes. Seriously?

The pivot is a miniscule transfer of our overall power that has been going on for a couple decades. That 60% figure is just for our Navy in the Pacific, which in the Cold War was balanced 50-50 with the Atlantic. The shift to the Pacific is not new and it is not swift. And since our fleet will decline over the next couple decades, even having a few percentage points more of our smaller fleet in the Pacific is not exactly an arms race with China.

Surely, the authors have something better.

The Pentagon has also positioned Patriot PAC-3 missile defense systems in Taiwan, Japan (where the United States has some ninety installations, plus about 47,000 troops on Okinawa) and in South Korea (which hosts more than 100 US facilities).

Our total for Japan and not just Okinawa is about 47,000. That's 522 military personnel on average per base for those of you following along with the math. PAC-3s are a defensive system, so what of it? And we most assuredly are not putting our PAC-3s in Taiwan. We're selling them to the Taiwanese, but US troops are not going to man them. And 100 facilities in South Korea sound like a lot until you realize that most are pretty small and that our forces in South Korea have been dropping the last several decades and aren't going up.

Are these guys stoned?

But wait, there's more!

The United States has also begun rotating troops to Australia and has announced plans to build a drone base on Australia’s remote Cocos Islands. (Also targeted is the gorgeous Palawan Island in the Philippines and the resource-rich Northern Mariana Islands, to name only a few on a long list.) In a whistle-stop tour of the region intended to shore up more allies last September, Panetta said the United States hopes to station troops in New Zealand as well, though approval for that has not been granted. Obama made his own tour just after re-election, courting Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand as potential trade partners and military allies in the encirclement of China. The United States has even reopened discussions with the brutal Indonesian military—collaboration had been suspended for several years because of human rights issues—in an attempt to influence this key trading partner with China.

Yeah, we'll rotate 2,500 Marines through Australia when it is up and running. And drones are good for long-range recon. So what?

As for the Philippines, it is the Chinese who are targeting them rather than us targeting the Philippines. The Philippines is worried enough about Chinese aggression that Manila wants us back.

I hadn't heard about the Mariana Islands issue, but good--if true. They are US territories, you know. And away from Chinese forces.

New Zealand used to allow our navy into their ports but stopped us when they refused to allow nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships into their ports and we refused to confirm or deny whether any ship was so armed. Now we don't carry nuclear weapons routinely so that is an option--if the New Zealanders want us.

And heaven forbid that trade deals should surround China! Surely Peking's rulers are retiring to their fainting couch--if not already filled with writers and readers from The Nation. Thailand has long been an ally. Burma should be pried away from China if we can. And Cambodia is a loyal ally of China and we aren't making a dent there.

As for Indonesia, I do believe human rights are far more of an issue with China than with Indonesia.

And you'll also get imperialism!

Adm. Robert Willard, head of the US Pacific Command (PACOM), gave context to these maneuverings in September 2011. In a speech at the World Affairs Council in San Francisco, he labeled the entire Asia-Pacific region—which contains 52 percent of the earth and two-thirds of the human population—as a “commons” to be “protected” by the United States. Normally, the word “commons” refers to resources commonly shared and controlled by contiguous parties. But Willard seemed to have in mind a massive “US commons” that extends nearly 8,000 miles from the Indian Ocean to the west coast of North America.

Good grief. We do defend freedom of navigation for all nations--not just for us. China is the one trying to overturn established rules of the sea to claim control of exclusive economic zones--and more--as territorial waters where Chinese domestic laws hold sway.

Goodness guys, China freaking declared the South China Sea to be one of their cities! You want to see imperialism? Why look so hard to find it all the way across PACOM on the west coast of North America?

And hey, we'd be happy if other countries would help us defend the commons, unlike China which wants to fence off "their" portions.

God help us, these twits aren't done yet:

Less well known is that PACOM activity includes overseeing the South Korean military. This condition dates back to the signing of the 1953 ROK-US Mutual Defense Treaty, which is still in effect. In fact, US hegemony over the entire region has remained unchanged for more than half a century, locked into an anachronistic Cold War landscape marked by similar bilateral agreements with Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and a wide scattering of island nations. The rationale behind this “empire of bases” was once “containment” of communism. Obama’s Pacific Pivot is a turbo-charged update, not to contain communism but to contain China—economically, politically, militarily. China has responded by accelerating production of armaments, including a new aircraft carrier, while courting its own regional allies—especially among ASEAN countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Cambodia and others, including Russia—in addition to reasserting control of shipping lanes in the South China Sea.

That overseeing of South Korea's military would have ended by now--but South Korea asked us to put that day off for a couple more years.

And yes, we have agreements with other countries to defend them. Although we refuse to say whether we'd defend Taiwan, so I have no idea what these guys are talking about.

I have to wonder if these writers' first language is English, since as I've mentioned, our pivot can be called many things--including marketing with little behind it--but "turbo-charged" is not one of those things. Clearly, that word doesn't mean what they think it means.

Oh, and didn't the authors just mention that we are encircling China with agreements with Burma, Thailand, Camobodia, and Indonesia? Now our moves are reason for China to rally natural allies?

And what's with this gliding over of China "reasserting" control of the South China Sea as if traditional--and old--imperialistic habits trump modern international law? Heck, why shouldn't we "reassert" control over lots of territory we once dominated? Gander and goose, good for each, right?

That's it for the rush to war the authors see, since they spend a lot of pixels going on about local resistance to bases and love of pristine nature areas. Whatever.

A fascinating tale of aggression that is most fascinating for being 180 degrees wrong.

In reality, rather than Peking being a sad victim of the Pentagon's machinations to start a war, China has been an active participant in frightening China's neighbors into wanting America committed to stopping Chinese aggression from exploding into war:

The challenge facing the new leadership of General Secretary Xi Jinping is how to dig China out of its own geopolitical hole. Because of Beijing’s foreign policy missteps in the last three years, China today faces the worst regional environment since Tiananmen. Its relations with Japan are at a record low; China-ASEAN ties have similarly deteriorated due to the South China Sea disputes and China’s heavy-handed use of its clout to divide ASEAN. The Sino-American relationship is increasingly turning into one of strategic rivalry. Even South Korea, which has sought to strengthen Seoul-Beijing ties for two decades, has distanced itself from China because of China’s reluctance or inability to restrain North Korea’s aggressive acts (its latest missile test is but one example).

We hardly want a war. But we also can't abandon friends and accept Chinese domination of a vital part of the planet in the face of Chinese assertiveness:

The government [of the Philippines] is negotiating with the United States regarding the extent of increased American military presence in the Philippines and surrounding waters. China has reacted by proclaiming that its armed forces would be adequate to confront any foreign efforts to contest Chinese claims to most of the South China Sea (including areas off the coast of the Philippines where oil and natural gas have been found). The U.S. does not want to get into a war with China over its outrageous claims to the South China Sea, but there is the problem of allowing a nation to just grab islands that have long been recognized as belonging to a neighbor. The Chinese claims include revising international law (the 1994 Law of the Sea treaty) that finally (it was thought) settled who was entitled to what and where. This treaty left many disputed islands whose ownership still had to be settled by negotiation. But China is blowing right past the 1994 treaty (which China signed) and saying, in effect, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine too.” Chinese leaders have made these claims a matter of national pride, painting themselves into a very dangerous corner.

Nor are the Indians particularly rattled by America. No, India worries about China:

China's creeping assertiveness towards its neighbours, evident since 2008-09, has become even bolder. Within weeks of his ascendancy, for the first time, four Chinese warships entered waters near the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands that China calls Diaoyu. This was followed by a Chinese maritime surveillance aircraft flying over the contested islands, prompting Japan to scramble its own fighter jets. A confrontation was avoided as the Chinese plane had left the area before Japanese interceptors arrived. But the message was clear: China was ready to use force to change the status quo. Although the island has been under Japanese control for five decades, China's attempt to change the reality on the ground is perhaps based on calculation that a weakened and dispirited Japan would seek to avoid direct confrontation. China's aggressive moves also coincided with its submission of documents to the UN, detailing its claims to the continental shelf in the East China Sea.

This escalation comes in the wake of other incidents in the South China Sea, in which Chinese patrol boats had repeatedly intercepted Vietnamese and Malaysian survey vessels and cut seismic cables used for exploration. China's Hainan province has passed a law allowing its officials to search and repel foreign ships believed to be engaged in "illegal activities" in the territorial waters surrounding islands that China claims.

But no, really, it's our fault. If you listen to The Nation, of course. Or if you listen to the Chinese, I suppose. But if you listen to either, you either have no base of knowledge to judge the idiocy of these vanguards of The Nation on the front lines of nonsense, or you side with China in all these disputes.

Or both, I suppose. Lord, what a load of rubbish. I actually felt brain synapses snap and break as I lowered myself to actually address their lunatic fantasies of American aggression.

The Former Republic of Syria

The only way to have a political settlement in Syria is to devolve power to the regional level and let the rebels in to a coalition government in Damascus that has little real power over the regional governments--including an Alawite homeland that Assad would be president of.

There is still a UN push for a negotiated settlement in Syria, and Russia seems ready to go along to salvage something of their position:

Speaking in Damascus at the end of a five-day trip during which he met President Bashar al-Assad, Lakhdar Brahimi called for a transitional government to rule until elections and said only substantial change would meet demands of ordinary Syrians.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov added to the envoy's call for a peaceful solution when he told a senior Syrian diplomat that only a "broad inter-Syria dialogue and political process" could end the crisis.

Yet the rebels don't seem like they want to accept the continued presence of Assad in the national government.

And the Russians would like to avoid abandoning their client. The Russians would like to keep their naval base and listening post, too.

I assume most Syrians would like to end the fighting.

And the Sunni Arabs and Kurds would get their own homelands--plus effective control of the national government, such as it would be.

Assad and his supporters get to live and still run the local show.

And the UN gets to chalk up a victory in its annual report, with 45,000 dead a mere footnote of their success.

Hopefully, whatever Sunni Arab units left in the army that haven't defected or deserted but are confined to bases because they aren't trusted by Assad can then be the core organized force for the Sunni regions to defeat the jihadis.

Unless it is a fight to the death, I don't see how negotiations that assume a unitary Syrian state and government can possibly result in anything that actually halts the fighting rather than just pause it.

The Right to Be Angry

I do wish American troops were in Iraq to make sure everyone knows the limits of the power struggle within Iraq. As long as Iraq's Sunni Arabs restrict their actions to venting anger rather than supporting terrorists (which some do, even now), this isn't terribly worrisome:

Large, noisy demonstrations against Iraq's government flared for the third time in less than a week Wednesday in Iraq's western Anbar province, raising the prospect of a fresh bout of unrest in a onetime al-Qaida stronghold on Syria's doorstep.

The rallies find echoes in the Arab Spring. Protesters chanted "the people want the downfall of the regime," a slogan that has rippled across the region and was fulfilled in Tunisia and Egypt.

The words have less power since the Iraqi government actually was elected. So I don't expect Maliki to flee the palace. The Sunni Arabs may not like it, but until the next election, that's what you have. I feel their pain.

The Shia-dominated government should surely take into consideration Sunni anger. Winning shouldn't mean the right to do whatever you want. Elections shouldn't have those consequences.

And the Shias are already straining relations with the Kurds.

But the Sunni Arabs need to understand that they'd lose the most in a new war with the central government. The Sunni Arabs may be winning in Syria's civil war, but they are the majority there.

Democracy doesn't mean you get what you want. So demonstrations alone are fine. As long as rule of law with real checks and balances holds firms and regular elections take place, we can hope that Shias, Kurds, and Sunni Arabs all fight their battles with ballots and not bullets and car bombs.

But I wish our troops were still there to remind everyone that the limits of action have real powers of enforcement behind them. A year after we left, there's a lot of tension brewing in Iraq and little trust. How long can restraint hold?

UPDATE: Sadly, too many Sunni Arabs hope to rule Iraq again despite losing elections (and some believe they are actually the majority). While I hope the Shia majority deals carefully with the Sunni Arabs, too many terrorists are able to operate amongst the Sunni Arabs--whether from love or fear of the terrorists. The Shias can't be expected to just let the terrorists kill them from the Sunni Arab base. The Shias have the right to be angry, too. And the Sunni Arabs should have the brains to be more afraid of settling the issue with force.

UPDATE: We're getting past the peaceful protest part, after a week of loud demonstrations of anger:

Bodyguards for Iraq's deputy prime minister wounded two people when they fired warning shots at Sunni protesters who pelted his convoy with bottles and stones on Sunday, witnesses said.

The incident took place the city of Ramadi in western Anbar province, to where Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq had travelled to address people in an attempt to defuse sectarian tensions.

Al-Mutlaq is a Sunni Arab.

Attacking the convoy, even with just objects, was an implicit threat to escalate to readily available weapons.

The Sunni Arab problem with reality is well expressed:

"It's only now Mutlaq comes to attend the protest and after seven days. He came to undermine the protest," Saeed al-Lafi, a spokesman for the protesters, told Reuters.

Protesters are demanding an end to marginalization of Iraq's Sunni minority, which dominated the country until the U.S.-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.

They want Maliki to abolish anti-terrorism laws they say are used to persecute them.

Echoing slogans used in popular revolts that brought down leaders in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Yemen, protesters have also been calling on Maliki to step down.

"Is this the way to deal with peaceful protesters? To shoot them? This is really outrageous," said protester Ghazwan al-Fahdawi, displaying empty bullet casings from shots he said had been fired by Mutlaq's guards.

One, the spokesman acts as if the protests are the end rather than a means. The man came to talk to the protesters. Or don't the protesters want to find a solution that allows them to go home?

Two, "marginalization" means the end of privilege that they enjoyed under Saddam and previous centuries of their rule as a minority. But many don't believe that they are a minority within Iraq.

Three, cries of "persecution" would not ring so hollow if the Sunni Arab community didn't shield the al Qaeda terrorists who still kill Shias. It is true that many Sunni Arabs shield the terrorists by looking the other way out of fear, but that makes dead Shias no less real.

Four, these guys are no Arab Spring. They are protesting a lawfully elected government. In an alternate world, they'd be the ones facing an Arab Spring movement to overthrow Saddam's minority Sunni Arab government.

And five, the protesters weren't so peaceful when the deputy prime minister came to town. Yet the violence the Sunni protesters started is blamed on the deputy prime minister.

It's all blame the other side and don't take responsibility for their own actions in a blazing denial of reality.

Do you see why I wanted 25,000 American troops in Iraq to defend our gains, including three Army combat brigades? This democracy stuff needs time. Germany, Japan, and Italy needed that time after World War II. We denied that time to Iraq and they are on their own. Maybe it will work. But the odds are higher it won't without us there.

While I worry that a Sunni Arab victory in Syria could encourage Iraqi Sunni Arabs to restart a struggle for control of Iraq, that's a two-edged sword for the Sunnia. The Iraqi Shias might use that Sunni Arab victory as an excuse to expel Iraqi Sunni Arabs to Syria in an ethnic cleansing campaign. Many Iraqi Sunnis fled there during the insurgencies and terrorism campaigns while we were there. Why not send the rest to Syria if they are so unhappy in the new Iraq, the Shias may reason?

During the Iraq War, before the Awakening, I repeatedly wondered if the Sunni Arabs of Iraq were determined to seize the mantle of stupidest, most self-destructive people in the Middle East from the grasp of the Palestinians who have held the trophy for many decades, now. Why beg for expulsion when they could live in a free Iraq with American-guided rule of law?

In the nick of time, needing thr prodding of seeing how life under jihadis would be, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq switched sided in the Awakening, ending their quest for the trophy.

Will the Sunni Arabs of Iraq seek the prize once again?

Defense of What?

Is it my imagination, or are the defenders of Chuck Hagel boiling down their advocacy of Hagel to the argument that it would stick it to the Israelis if he is nominated and confirmed as our Secretary of Defense?

Going Over the Cliff

China appears to have selected the Philippines to be the target of their new policy of treating the South China Sea as Chinese territorial waters subject to civilian law enforcement.

The Philippines is protesting:

“The Philippines again calls on China to respect our territorial sovereignty and exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The Philippines strongly objects to the Chinese patrol of Philippine maritime domain in the West Philippine Sea,” Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Assistant Secretary Raul Hernandez said in a statement sent to reporters.

“Such patrol will not validate the nine-dash lines (claim of China) and is contrary to China’s obligation under international law including Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” the statement added. ...

The state-run Xinhua news agency reported that the patrol ship Haixun 21 sailed into the high seas under the administration of the Maritime Safety Administration of Hainan province, from which China administers the West Philippine Sea.

China is edging toward war and doesn't seem to think there is any problem with this.

Wait Listed

With action against the jihadis in northern Mali scheduled for the fall of 2013--without direct French help--the Central African Republic really shouldn't get their hopes up for French help with their difficulties.

The CAR wants their former colonial ruler to help them:

The president of the Central African Republic appealed on Thursday for France and the United States to help push back rebels threatening his government and the capital, but Paris said its troops were only ready to protect French nationals.

The exchanges came as regional African leaders tried to broker a ceasefire deal and as rebels said they had temporarily halted their advance on Bangui, the capital, to allow talks to take place.

Insurgents on motorbikes and in pickup trucks have driven to within 75 km (47 miles) of Bangui after weeks of fighting, threatening to end President Francois Bozize's nearly 10-year-stint in charge of the turbulent, resource-rich country.

French help is supposed to be one of those privileges of membership in the French zone.

But France is busy withdrawing their semi-fighting force from Afghanistan.

And Mali is ahead of CAR for whatever France can spare:

Al Qaeda leaders in northern Mali are pretty certain that the French are going to invade using a force of 3,000 Mali soldiers trained and led by French and African officers and 3,300 more from neighboring states. A force of 400 European officers and NCOs will begin upgrading the training of the African troops next month and a French general with extensive experience in Africa has been appointed to lead the training and combat mission The foreign contingent, organized by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), now has the approval of the UN to clear the Islamic terror groups out of Mali. ... That invasion is now scheduled for next September, or even later.

I have my doubts that the Mali contenders for power will want to send so many of their best trained and equipped troops north. But we shall see.

And French help will be restricted to training, perhaps advisers (?), logistics, and air power, rather than sending in a French Foreign Legion regiment that I figured would be necessary to do the job in any reasonable amount of time. But we're well beyond that factor, I suppose.

Of course, if Syria goes belly up, they get to the head of the line in French zone intervention priorities. Which means the Mali jihadis have plenty of time to lop off limbs, burn old parchment, and blow up cultural monuments deemed un-Islamic.

And CAR can welcome their new SELEKA overlords.

Or is there even a French zone any more? France's president said that protecting regimes is no longer a priority of the French: "Those days are over."

UPDATE: We bugged out and the French like the idea of having a "French zone" in Africa more than they like making an effort to defend the pro-French governments that make up the zone:

Rebels are closing in on the capital of the impoverished Central African Republic, threatening to topple the weak government and push yet another African nation into civil war, failure, or outright collapse, The Associated Press and other news outlets are reporting.

The former French colony joins a string of countries stretching from Mali and the Ivory Coast to Congo and South Sudan where war and turmoil have created waves of refugees and power vacuums for warlords or criminal groups to exploit. Several of the countries are former French colonies, raising questions for Paris about whether to get involved in the conflicts.

The United States evacuated its embassy in the CAR capital Bangui overnight, sending the ambassador and around 40 other staff to Kenya due to the deteriorating security situation, the AP reports.

Not that I think we should intervene. For all I know, the rebels are the good guys. Or at leas just different bad guys.

But my faith that the French would ultimately commit a Foreign Legion regiment to salvage the bad situation in northern Mali where a jihadi sanctuary has developed was misplaced. Those days are over, it seems.

Oh, there's not mention of America's role in that operation, but my memory of that is that American aircraft helped airlift the forces in.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Peak This

Shale oil and shale gas have the potential to really shake up existing power relations around the globe.

Russia could have less influence on Western and Eastern Europe; Australia could be a major energy exporter as could America. Canada will have more exports. Unmentioned in this Stratfor article is that Israel could be a major energy player with offshore fields (perhaps because the article is about shale gas).

And then there is China:

China also has significant deposits of shale gas in its interior provinces. Because Beijing is burdened by relatively few regulations, the regime could acquire the land and build the infrastructure necessary for its exploitation. This would ease somewhat China's energy crunch and aid Beijing's strategy to compensate for the decline of its coastal-oriented economic model by spurring development inland.

The countries that might conceivably suffer on account of a shale gas revolution would be landlocked, politically unstable oil producers such as Chad, Sudan and South Sudan, whose hydrocarbons could become relatively less valuable as these other energy sources come online. China, especially, might in the future lose interest in the energy deposits in such low-end, high-risk countries if shale gas became plentiful in its own interior.

China is building a blue water navy that looks beyond Taiwan in no small part because they believe they need the power to protect long petroleum supply lines from Africa and the Middle East to China across the Indian Ocean, through Southeast Asian choke points, and through the contested South China Sea.

So as China invests in a blue water navy and as China loses the motivation to support unsavory energy exporters in Africa and the Middle East to ensure energy supplies no longer needed, where does that leave China's blue water navy?

China is a land power with many potential enemies around their land borders. It has been many centuries since China's naval power reached beyond their near shores. If China does not need a blue water navy, will China really devote the resources to build and sustain a large blue water navy over the long run?

Or will China pull back and build a blue water navy big enough to reduce their land and air power capabilities along their land borders without building a blue water fleet big enough to actually contest the blue waters far from China's shores? And as a bonus, lack the resources to be a dominant land power because they put too much into a navy also insufficient to be dominant?

Or maybe China will pull back at sea, focus their spending on land and air power suitable for land opponents while maintaining a navy sufficient to contest local waters against significant local threats and American forward forces, with only a small number of blue water forces suitable for peacetime engagement missions?

A War By Any Other Name

The war on terror isn't just a kinetic thing. Iraq and Afghanistan are the worst-case scenarios where lots of US troops were needed.

In the Horn of Africa and inside Pakistan, it is a kinetic but more low key intermittent shooting war.

Intelligence and law enforcement fight the war where it has not broken out into open warfare.

And there is a grey area we've filled with the Global Response Staff.

Another aspect is bolstering local forces to handle the jihadi threat so it doesn't become a worst-case scenario:

A U.S. Army brigade will begin sending small teams into as many as 35 African nations early next year, part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the U.S. a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge.

The teams will be limited to training and equipping efforts, and will not be permitted to conduct military operations without specific, additional approvals from the secretary of defense.

The unit tagged for AFRICOM is the 2ng brigade combat team of the 1st Infantry Division. Forces sent will range from a handful to potentially a full battalion, and for varying periods of time.

Of course, units sent to Africa will be prepared for anything and not just be there for training, as valuable as that is for us and the host country:

Gen. Odierno said the Regionally Aligned Forces concept fulfills the new defense strategy, which calls for more engagement with U.S. partners around the world. It also provides a way for seasoned soldiers to practice skills learned from a decade of war-fighting and for recruits to experience new opportunities around the world.

A key requirement is the Army’s readiness for every conceivable type of situation, such as the consulate attack in Benghazi, said British Col. James Learmont, an exchange officer working on the Army’s concept.

“Responsiveness is a pretty key component of this because everybody wants us to be more responsive — in other words, quicker,” Col. Learmont said in a separate interview.

Huh. I know we couldn't have reacted fast enough to save our Benghazi diplomatic post (usually called the consulate), but I still don't understand why our still-large forces in Europe could not have shaken loose a platoon or company to fly to Benghazi to help the annex.

I just don't buy the military excuse for inaction that they can't have forces "tethered" to every diplomatic outpost in case something happens. Of course not.

But it is not a matter of being tethered. It's a matter of being ready for every conceivable type of situation and being responsive to unexpected situations. If we expect small forces going into Africa to be prepared for that, why weren't our forces in Europe similarly prepared? Unless they were capable of reacting but it was a problem higher up on the civilian chain of command.

In any case, a long war requires approaches we can carry out over the long haul. We neither want to nor can we afford to fight the war on terror as if it is nothing but Iraq or Afghanistan campaigns. Best of luck to the Big Red One as they enter the continent of Africa again.

No more Kasserine Pass, right? Be ready for every conceivable type of situation. And be trained well enough to react to the situations you can't conceive.

Another War on Baathist WMD?

As we watch the death count in Syria spiral, watch jihadis gain influence within the rebellion, see potential friends angered at our failure to help secular forces, see Sunnis wonder why we let Sunnis die, and worry about Assad's chemical arsenal getting in the hands of those increasingly powerful jihadis, I thank the stars that we had the wisdom to avoid "militarizing" the conflict by arming friendly rebels, as our government warned a year ago. Who knows what might have happened if we'd actively supported the rebels? It might have gotten really ugly, or something.

On the bright side, Israelis and Jordanians have a common worry:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has secretly met Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman to discuss the risk of Syria's chemical weapons falling into the hands of Islamist militants, Israeli media reports said on Wednesday.

I wonder if this cooperation would involve Israel getting Jordan to simply stay out of the way and limit their role to controlling their border with Syria; or if the Israelis would want the political cover of moving into Syria with Jordanian troops participating?

We can all be sad at such a decision to militarize the conflict, of course.

Jordan has a decent mechanized force with a tradition of being competent troops. Although it has been nearly half a century since they fought in a conventional war.

UPDATE: Whatever they talked about, it isn't something they will be doing openly together:

Jordan says it is prepared to deal with any potential chemical weapon threat posed by the ongoing violence in neighboring Syria, but adds it will not enter "any alliance" to protect itself.

But Jordan does express confidence that they can handle the WMD threat--which I assume means proliferation threats rather than chemical attack on Jordan. Diplomatically, it would be better for Jordan to send troops into Syria while Israel provides quiet support. But militarily, Israel could do a better job.

On the other hand, the Jordanians won't have to face much in the way of conventional armed resistance if they move in to secure WMD sites within reach.

I wonder if the Israelis are as content with whatever was discussed?

Sugar and Cream Only, Please

Yes! This is annoying (tip to Instapundit):

Isn’t there something creepy about Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz having [in Politico's words] “asked his Washington-area employees to write ‘Come Together’ on each customer cup today, tomorrow and Friday, as a gesture to urge leaders to resolve the fiscal cliff”? Did Schultz take a poll of his employees–sorry, “partners,” he calls them–before ordering pressuring asking them to join in this lobbying effort? What if he were, say, the CEO of Chick-fil-A and he “asked” his “partners” to write “Preserve the Family” on the outside of cups and containers?

It is weird, isn't it?

What's next? Starbucks employees coming around Sunday mornings to ask me to support coming together in Washington?

As always, I'll smile, politely decline their offer, and note I'm happy with my house brand of coffee.

Perhaps customers can respond to these scrawled messages by telling the partners that since the partners feel free to offer tips to the customer, the customer has no need to tip them.

Not every freaking thing has to be political. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and all that.