Wednesday, February 29, 2012

This Is the Part That Confuses Me

So, let me get this straight: If a country (Israel) what we do not control attacks another country (Iran), that other country (Iran) will attack us (America) even though we have nuclear weapons and they (Iran) do not.

Deterrence is going to work just swell if Iran goes nuclear.

Never Mind?

All hail our diplomatic success!

The United States said on Wednesday that North Korea had agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches and to allow nuclear inspectors to visit its Yongbyon nuclear complex to verify a halt to all nuclear activities including uranium enrichment.

For sixty years, North Korea has said we were itching to invade and/or nuke them, and only a nuclear program can save them.

But now they say "never mind."

One, I'd like to know why we have a mere moratorium. Or is the agreement to last only as long as North Koreans are so hungry that there is danger of starving. Is the moratorium over after the harvest? Or just after our presidential election?

Two, why is there only mention of the uranium program? Is the failure to mention the plutonium route to nukes a loophole that North Korea will exploit while we pretend we've made a real breakthrough? I thought the Yongbyon reactor was for the plutonium route, but after a decade has Pyongyang gotten another source of plutonium? Or do they have enough on hand so they can afford to suspend additional production?

Remember, in 1994 we had another triumph in which North Korea agreed to end their plutonium program. And in 2002, we accused North Korea of having a uranium program in place. That was an accusation that North Korea admitted and then denied.

And now after another decade of work, we only specifically mention a "moratorium" on the uranium program.

Rather than throw North Korea lifelines, I'd rather squeeze them until they collapse--before the program they don't mention gives them a nuclear weapon.

Here's a CRS report from a few years ago on North Korea's programs.

Forgive me for being cynical about this. If we really have made a breakthrough, I'll surely blog my congratulations.

Get. A. Grip

My biggest fear over the whole Koran Affair is not that the Taliban will try to exploit it or that the Left will use it as an excuse to run away. Birds gotta fly, and all that. No, my biggest worry is that normally pro-war people will take the events as an excuse to wash our hands of the damned ingrates we are dying to protect.

Yesterday I heard Ralph Peters say that it wasn't worth losing a single American soldier over there given how "they" are reacting to a simple mistake.

The problem is in defining "they," isn't it? We say "they" have been rioting; and "they" have been attacking us in retaliation; and "they" have no gratitude for all "they" have received from us. We further wonder if "they" can be trusted to work with us in the field to fight the Taliban.

The problem is that "they" refer to different people in each case.

"They" have been rioting? Sure, a good portion of Afghanistan's population is pro-Taliban and can be worked up for a nice riot by our Taliban enemies. We've seen this before. Nothing new.

"They" have been attacking us in retaliation? "Retaliation" is a stupid description. "They"--the Taliban--have been attacking us for a long time now. What else do you expect them to do? And just because they continue to attack us after the mistake we made and claim it is in "retaliation" for the attempted Koran burning doesn't mean we should believe them. Why were "they" attacking us before the incident if the attacks are "retaliation" for one incident?

This proves "they" have no gratitude for our sacrifice? Oh please. The numbers don't seem to be that big. This is no broad uprising against us. This is loud and this is well-publicized. But the war goes on even with these riots taking place by people ill-disposed to us all along.

And God give me strength for even having to address the question of whether "they" can be trusted to work with us. We've lost 4 soldiers to attacks by Afghan soldiers. That's it. The overwhelming majority of Afghan security forces continue to work with us and fight at our side against the Taliban and their al Qaeda friends.

Our Taliban enemies would love it for us to see the actions by any part of Afghanistan's population as just another part of a singular "they" who can't be trusted, who are probably nuts, and who just want to kill us--so screw 'em all.

I suppose I should be grateful that it has taken several years for some conservatives to turn on the war waged by a president from the opposing party. Liberals only took several months to turn on Iraq.

But stuff happens in wartime. And I never forget that Peters went wobbly for a bit on Iraq, too, in the darkest days there. He recovered from that crisis of confidence and I bet he can again.

Remember, too, that we aren't fighting in Afghanistan as a favor to Afghans. We are fighting to build an Afghanistan capable of resisting efforts to turn their soil into a sanctuary that can be used to again strike our cities. It would be in our interest to achieve that objective even if 100% of Afghans can't be trusted, are nuts, and just want to kill us.

Get a grip. This is war and our enemies are trying to win. Don't make it easy for them by forgetting who they are and what they want. And don't forget why we are fighting. Work the problem.

UPDATE: Ah! Thank you Max Boot! A timely follow-up exactly on point:

Many Americans seem to be saying that if the Afghan people don't want us there, why should we stay? That's dubious logic because we are not in Afghanistan as a favor to the Afghan people. We are there to protect our own self-interest in not having their territory once again become a haven for al Qaeda.

It's also a fallacy to assume that most Afghans are anti-American. The protests, which tapered off Tuesday, have involved a few thousand people out of a population of 30 million. The attacks on Americans have been carried out by a handful of assailants. President Hamid Karzai has accepted President Obama's apology over the Quran-burning incident, condemned the violence and called for restraint. His security forces have policed the protests and suffered heavier casualties than our own.

And opinion polls show "they" support our military effort in Afghanistan.

Good grief, our jihadi enemies would love it if we wrongly conclude that we have no friends in Afghanistan--so it isn't really abandoning and betraying them--and wrongly conclude that we have no interests other then creating a feeling of universal love for America by people with 21st century Western ways of thinking and acting.

Man up and work the problem. Our enemies have far worse problems.

UPDATE: And Strategypage addresses the motives of the rioters:

Nearly all the violence has taken place in areas where the Taliban or drug gangs are active. As with many earlier protests, many of these are staged by the Taliban, and Taliban members, often armed, have been observed running the demonstrations.

It's not hard to hire a mob in Afghanistan, even if there is a risk of injury (from Afghan security personnel, who have inflicted all the injuries.) Afghans just don't like outsiders, and enjoy getting paid to express that.

And they discuss that we are beating the enemy. I swear, we are our own worst enemy.

Work the problem. Don't be the problem.

Give Them Hope

Do we have options to aid Syrian rebels that would be out of proportion in moral effect to the actual amount?

Assad's forces are hammering Homs:

Syrian troops launched a ground attack in Homs on Wednesday in an apparent attempt to overrun the rebel-held Baba Amro neighborhood that has endured 25 days of siege and fierce bombardment, opposition sources said.

Strategypage mentioned that troops included the loyal 4th Division of the army, which means that Homs is a priority target.

Syria's rebels are pretty much on their own, outnumbered even by the loyal elements of the desertion-plagued and largely ineffective army. They may get moral support from seeing international conferences about their fate, but that only goes so far in day 25 of a siege by guys with more and bigger guns.

Couldn't we do something to encourage the rebels in a concrete manner even if we won't send in weapons?

Homs is under siege and other places will be, too. Would it be possible to rig up our GPS-guided parachute systems for long distance drops released from neighboring countries?

I know the payload couldn't be much, but is there something that could be delivered that would help despite the low tonnage? Maybe radios or satellite phones plus batteries and battery rechargers? These would allow video to be taken and gotten out, and allow rebels to communicate with each other. Maybe civilian-grade night-vision equipment? Are there any medical supplies that are crucial even in small quantities? I suppose sending in even a small amount of Russian-designed anti-tank rockets might induce some real caution by Syrian armored vehicle commanders driving into cities, but I assume any weapons are right out.

I know we couldn't send much aid. I don't even know if we can manage to hit even a city-sized target from many tens of kilometers away. But the rebels sure could use signs that they aren't forgotten and alone.

UPDATE: And believe me, being isolated with little hope that allies are with you is something I know. I just heard that in the day before our primary election yesterday that people in Michigan were deluged with robo-calls from Romney and Santorum. I didn't get a single one here in Ann Arbor. Apparently, the entire area code has been written off.

Well ... Nuts!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

People for the Early Termination of Animals

PETA has more important things to do at PETA Central than deal with inconvenient or expensive-to-care-for animals (tip to Instapundit):

Documents published online this month show that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an organization known for its uncompromising animal-rights positions, killed more than 95 percent of the pets in its care in 2011.

What is PETA's position?

PETA has always been known for uncompromising, unwavering views on animal rights. We aren't afraid to make the difficult comparisons, say the unpopular thing, or point out the uncomfortable truth, if it means that animals will benefit.

But PETA is also clear that killing animals is acceptable:

No one despises the ugly reality of euthanizing animals more than the people who hold the syringe, but euthanasia is often the most compassionate and dignified way for unwanted animals to leave the world.

PETA, in the first article, says it has a good reason for killing the animals in its care:

PETA media liaison Jane Dollinger told The Daily Caller in an email that “most of the animals we take in are society’s rejects; aggressive, on death’s door, or somehow unadoptable.”

Dollinger did not dispute her organization’s sky-high euthanasia rate, but insisted PETA only kills dogs and cats because of “injury, illness, age, aggression, or because no good homes exist for them.”

Well there you go. If caring PETA staff determine an animal is too injured, sick, or old; or are too aggressive; or if a healthy, cute, well-adjusted animal can't be placed in a proper home, then the caring PETA staff can kill the animal.

But what about the animals? Don't they have a say in their future?

As PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk has said, “When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Each one values his or her life and fights the knife.”

Huh. PETA doesn't think that an animal is any different than a person in wanting to live. Does PETA advocate the killing of human orphans because of "injury, illness, age, aggression, or because no good homes exist for them?" Their high profile publicity campaigns make them appear to be fierce defenders of animals and their rights. But PETA kills animals when it is convenient to do so.

Look, I don't think animals should be treated cruelly. But ultimately, we are in charge of the fate of animals and can use them. And in the end, that's what PETA does, too.

They can cut out their morally superior pose any time, now. Oh, and for God's sake, never let them run shelters for abused children or women--or staff suicide hot lines.

Diluting the Jihad

The Afghanistan War and the Arab Spring are having an interesting interaction:

In the last year, many, if not most, of the foreign Islamic terrorists in Pakistan have left. There were several reasons for this, and the death of Osama bin Laden last was not a major one. The Arab Spring has encouraged many foreign terrorists to return home, where rebellion has taken the heat off Islamic radicals, or even made religious radicals part of new governments. But many of the foreign terrorists were encouraged to depart because of several years of increasingly effective American UAV missile attacks.

This is good for us, I think. First, it gets rid of a lot of the foreign jihadis in Afghanistan-Pakistan. Since these guys have a lot of the technical expertise, this should reduce the effectiveness of the jihadis we and our Afghan allies face. This is obviously important as we seek to turn over combat duties to Afghans and come home.

Less obviously, it helps us in the general war on terror by sending jihadis back to their home countries. Remember that a lot of our Arab friends looked the other way as jihadis went to Iraq to fight us. Our Arab friends could look supportive of a Sunni cause (fighting America in Iraq)--deflecting unwanted jihadi attention--while enjoying the benefit of having those jihadis out of their home country--and most likely for good at the hands of American, Coalition, or Iraqi forces on the battlefield. That easy option for dealing with their home-grown jihadis is greatly reduced.

Now the jihadis will go home where they will compel our Arab friends (and even foes) to kill and arrest the jihadis out of self defense. And since the jihadis are going to their home countries, it is like a frontal assault on a wide front that allows the defenders to kill a manageable number of attackers in their sector. If jihadis picked one country and went to it, that would be more of a problem for us. But they aren't. They may have short-term opportunities (including not being killed by an American UAV), but in the long run spreading the jihadis out commits government to killing their own jihadis. Which is good for us.

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Big Defection

Syria's army lost some troops:

Iraqi Kurdistan said on Monday it has granted refugee status to 30 Kurdish Syrian troops who defected to the region in the first such instance in the revolt against Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The autonomous Kurdistan region in north Iraq pledged it would not hand over the soldiers to Damascus after they crossed over in the past two days.

Already, Sunni Arabs in Iraq are sending supplies to Syria's rebels. If Sunni Kurds do the same thing, will that embolden Syria's Kurds to openly join the revolt?

If so, Assad may need to cut his losses and retreat to a core area and try to win in a truncated Syria instead of losing in all of Syria because his forces are stretched too thin.

Our Last Soldier Comes Home

United States Army Staff Sergeant Ahmed al-Taie will finally be coming home from Iraq:

A Shiite extremist group handed over a simple wooden casket containing the remains of the last U.S. soldier missing in Iraq, a prominent Iraqi lawmaker said Monday, drawing a close to a case that has anguished the American's family since his 2006 disappearance.

He was captured and then killed--within a year of his capture--by the Iran-supported Shia death squads in Iraq. He chose to try to make a difference in Iraq when it would have been easy for him to keep his hands off. He was taken at the height of violence. He did not live long enough to see Iraq given a chance for real peace.

May he rest in peace.

When people here speak of how attacking Iran's nuclear facilities could "start" a war with America, keep in mind that Iran has been at war with us for more than three decades now. And remember that Taie is one of hundreds of American military personnel dead because of Iranian-supplied weapons.

Trust Us

I thought it was shameful that we urged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam at the conclusion of Desert Storm, and then when the Shias rose up just watched Saddam shoot the uprising down even though we had an army still sitting there.

I guess memories are short in Washington. Or perhaps shame is just in short supply:

Syrians in the military and business who still support President Bashar Assad should turn against him, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday.

"The longer you support the regime's campaign of violence against your brothers and sisters, the more it will stain your honor. If you refuse, however, to prop up the regime or take part in attacks on your fellow citizens, your countrymen and women will hail you as heroes," Clinton said at a news conference in Morocco as she conveyed a message to those holdouts backers of the embattled leader.

So if Syrians stand by their honor and resist Assad, but Assad takes exception to that standing up for honor, what do we do?

At least Bush had the excuse that nobody was fighting Saddam and who knew that people would actually rise up?

Before He's Against It

So President Obama believe algae-based bio-fuels will relieve us of the need to use messy fossil fuels?

Yep, he'll support that idea right up to the moment he has to approve an algae bio-fuel pipeline to move the fuel to actual people who need to use it.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Once More, No Sepoy Mutiny Here

It is unfortunate that we are facing what I assume are fomented riots over the mistaken attempt to burn Moslem religious material that Moslem Taliban prisoners already defaced by writing in them.

But let's not panic, ok? This is no Sepoy Mutiny. And although we've lost 4 troops directly attributable to the incident in the violence that has followed, we still haven't reached the body count of our own Moslem-American attacks on US troops from a 2003 incident during the invasion of Iraq and the more recent 2009 incident at Fort Hood.

The fact is, despite this incident, we are doing fine in Afghanistan. We've beaten down the Taliban in southern Afghanistan and are prepared to attempt the same thing in the east. And the north and west simply aren't fertile territory for the Taliban. Those are the places we put our non-fighting coalition allies.

Yet this rioting will no doubt be used to bolster erroneous impressions that Afghanistan is hopeless:

All this media excitement arose from a lack of understanding between strategic intelligence assessments and operational/tactical combat assessments. Both gave a different picture of what was going on and both were accurate. But to those who don't understand the difference between strategic intelligence and combat assessments the information can appear contradictory.

For example, the strategic intelligence assessment of Afghanistan is grim. It has to be if it's accurate. That's because Afghanistan is not a nation but a coalition of tribes and ethnic groups who do not get along. ... There has been a lot of progress in Afghanistan but not enough to satisfy the unrealistic expectations that politicians and their media cheer leaders have opportunistically latched onto.

The military situation is different, if only because the enemy has conveniently concentrated themselves in two provinces (Kandahar and Helmand, where most of the world's heroin currently comes from).

We certainly can't show progress in creating a stable, national government that runs Afghanistan the way France is run from Paris. If that is your definition of success, we will fail.

My confidence in the war stems from the fact that my objectives for Afghanistan are not high:

The end result in Afghanistan, if all goes well, will be a nominal national government that controls the capital region and reigns but does not rule local tribes and which actually helps the locals a bit rather than sucking resources from the locals, who in turn do not make trouble for the central government or allow their areas to be used by jihadis to plan attacks on the West. We press for reasonable economic opportunities, with bribes all around (I mean, foreign aid), to keep a fragile peace.

Anything more is simply a bonus, and I wouldn't sacrifice lives trying to achieve it. It's nice if we can get it--but don't get your hopes up. Remember that despite cries over the years that Afghanistan is where the "real" war on terrorism is taking place, that is not true. Afghanistan is simply too peripheral in the Arab Moslem world for the real fight to be there. It was simply the first fight because its remoteness made it a haven for al Qaeda to attack us on 9/11. As long as it isn't a sanctuary in the future, we're good.

This isn't the first time that there has been panic in the air over images of ululating rage. The riots are no reason to abandon Afghanistan or to conclude that our fight there has been futile. That's what the Taliban want you to think. But we won't fall for their ploy, will we?

UPDATE: Honest to God, news coverage is idiotic. Why on Earth are news stories describing Taliban attacks as "retaliating for" the Koran burning? The Taliban have been attacking all along, right? And talk of whether we can continue our strategy in light of the riots is ridiculous. Of course we can. I'd bet the Taliban had a hand in the protests to begin with, and eventually they'll die down.

I will offer a caution that we should not have no combat forces in Afghanistan even when we rely on Afghan forces (with or without our advisers with them). If something goes really bad, I want our bases to be fortified zones where any scattered forces of ours can retreat to with American bombers on call to smash up any attack on the perimeters in support of a robust defense line. Once that is stabilized we can figure out what to do next. I think we had plans like that when we were hip-deep in the Balkans just in case there really was an uprising against our presence.

But we aren't anywhere near this being anything but a Taliban propaganda coup. Work the problem, people.

Monkey Business

I wish our best and brightest in Washington would conduct their economic experiments on monkeys instead of us. (Tip to Instapundit)

Heck, I bet you could convince monkeys to buy electric vehicles if you pay them enough. But I bet you'd get some poo flinging if you paid the buyers with money taken from the other monkeys.

The State of Ground Forces

According to this piece on downsizing our military, the Army will go down to 37 brigades in the active component--which is more than the 33 we had before 9/11. Plus the Ranger regiment. And special forces, which I assume are still on track for further expansion.

The Marines will go down to 8 regiments in the active component--which is the same as what we had before 9/11.

Keep in mind that our Army brigades are organized differently now. Then, almost all of our brigades fought as part of a division and they had three maneuver battalions, each having 3 maneuver companies.

Now our brigades are self-contained with the combat support units directly attached to the brigade rather than relying on the division. And the brigades have 2 maneuver battalions, each having 4 maneuver companies. Stryker brigades still have the triangular arrangement, if I recall correctly.

The Army says it may reduce the number of brigades further in order to increase the number of battalions in each brigade. I wouldn't do that. Having more brigades helps with rotations and provides a platform to add Army National Guard battalions right to the active brigade if we want more manpower. Plus, for high intensity warfare, the 2-battalion brigades will do just fine.

The Army and Marines will also retain NCOs and mid-grade officers to be able to add new units quickly. Which would also be a means to expand our brigades with new active battalions if we need them.

This isn't so bad--as long as the force structure is fully staffed and as long as nothing worse happens in the budget process. I never expected Army expansion to last forever once Iraq was concluded.

Still, never forget that this process is why we go to war with the Army we have and not the Army we wish we had when a crisis erupts.

UPDATE: Odierno says we may go down to 32 or 33 brigades by adding a battalion to each brigade. I think that is a mistake.

Two-battalion brigades with a recon element will do just fine in high intensity warfare (although I'd be happier to beef up the recon elements to more of an armored cavalry-type unit). And we'll have more brigades for flexibility and unit rotations. And if we need to beef up the infantry elements for counter-insurgency, we can build new active battalions with our extra NCOs and officers, add National Guard battalions, add Military Police battalions, or add allied battalions. The point is, we have many options for expanding our active component brigades if needed. But we don't have options for having more brigades in the first place--that takes longer to increase.

Also, the article explains the regionally aligned brigades which appear designed to take up some of the duties of training allied ground forces in order to free up our special forces from this traditional role in order to focus on anti-terrorism shooting missions. I hope these are separate from the combat brigades. At one point this seems clear, but when the article speaks of attaching one of our brigade combat teams to the NATO Response Force, it implies the opposite.

UPDATE: OK, let me reach back for a couple posts discussing the reorganization issue. See here and here. There are more links from the latter.

Peter Gleick, Super Genius

As I explain to my son, there is a big difference between being educated and being smart. (Tip to Instapundit)

Actually, I think this gets the flavor of the caper and the fail:

You have to wait to the end for the line I intended: "I went to college!"

UPDATE: This is appropriate:

Intelligence minus judgment equals intellect.

It seems like liberals pride themselves on being smarter than conservatives. Sometimes I think they are right. Because you have to be a super genius to think of arguments that make really stupid ideas sound like good ideas.

Oh, and Smith makes a good point that there are consequences of seeing idiot savants tell us what we must do.

UPDATE: See? They really do think they are super geniuses.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Science is Scuttled

A very enjoyable presentation on climate change science that argues:

Stated briefly, I will simply try to clarify what the debate over climate change is really about. It most certainly is not about whether climate is changing: it always is. It is not about whether CO2 is increasing: it clearly is. It is not about whether the increase in CO2, by itself, will lead to some warming: it should. The debate is simply over the matter of how much warming the increase in CO2 can lead to, and the connection of such warming to the innumerable claimed catastrophes. The evidence is that the increase in CO2 will lead to very little warming, and that the connection of this minimal warming (or even significant warming) to the purported catastrophes is also minimal. The arguments on which the catastrophic claims are made are extremely weak – and commonly acknowledged as such. They are sometimes overtly dishonest.

As I've long said:

One, I'm not convinced that the temperatures today are higher over a long enough period to be considered the highest ever rather than a blip in the long run.

Two, I'm not convinced that people are at fault for any rise even if there is a significant rise in temperatures this century.

And three, and this is the most important part, I think the idea that we must cripple economic growth in order to slow any increase in temperatures is sheer stupidity. Coping with change is cheaper and more effective than trying to stem the incoming tide.

None of my position (or the position of skeptics in general) requires me to reject the mundane basics that CO2 is increasing, that people are putting CO2 into the atmosphere, or that in theory increased CO2 in the atmosphere will cause some rise in temperatures.

But we are justified in wondering whether natural fluctuations from other causes of climate change swamp whatever man does. We are justified in wondering how much temperatures will rise. We are justified in questioning the data integrity and the models that form the basis of the worst predictions. We are justified in questioning the predictions of catastrophe if temperatures do rise. And we are justified in questioning the solutions that the global warmers insist we must adopt to prevent our imminent doom.

And, of course, we are justified in wondering just what Al Gore is smoking.

Worst of all, the global warmists in their obsession are trashing the concept of science as an objective tool for understanding our world and our place in it:

The Gleick episode exposes again a movement that disdains arguing with its critics, choosing demonization over persuasion and debate. A confident movement would face and crush its critics if its case were unassailable, as it claims. The climate change fight doesn’t even rise to the level of David and Goliath. Heartland is more like a David fighting a hundred Goliaths. Yet the serial ineptitude of the climate campaign shows that a tiny David doesn’t need to throw a rock against a Goliath who swings his mighty club and only hits himself square in the forehead.

Science is never truly settled for long. As the quasi-religious attempts to chisel climate change in stone are breaking down, my hope is that science can't be scuttled for long, either.

The Swellness Increases

Does anybody find this bizarre?

An Israeli pre-emptive attack on Iran's nuclear sites could draw the U.S. into a new Mideast conflict, a prospect dreaded by a war-weary Pentagon wary of new entanglements.

So if Israel attacks Iran, Iran will attack us. Does nobody see a basic problem with this Iranian thinking?

Yet somehow we think we can deter a nuclear-armed Iran when we spend all our time talking about what we won't do, what we don't want, and what we don't want Israel to do?

Iran could give lessons on deterring attacks, that's for sure.

Yep. This will work out just swell.

Oh, Please, Crash Our Pivot Party

China is rising and we are pivoting to the Pacific to counter China. I find this advice for how China can wreck our plans hilarious:

Can China Crash U.S. Pivot Party? ...

A good start would be for China to rebuild goodwill with its neighbors by showing some flexibility over regional disputes. Above all, China would do well to consider a multilateral framework to resolve the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. With significant natural resources and fishing rights at stake, every nation in the region has an interest in resolving such issues peacefully. China would be much better served by rethinking its expansive claims and committing to a peaceful negotiated settlement to all outstanding issues. China could also strongly suggest, via diplomatic channels that extend beyond current measures in place, that claimant nations do more to explore the joint development of important natural resources in disputed areas. Some progress has been made here, but all claimants deserve to know how much potential wealth there is beneath the sea, and how much it would cost to develop such resources. A carefully crafted and clear strategy could win China key allies in the region.

Um, the point of our pivot isn't to fight China but to keep China from resorting to force to resolve territorial disputes. If China preempts our pivot to Asia by pledging to resolve all those disputes diplomatically, I'd say that's great--for China, China's neighbors, and America.

So please, China, by all means "crash" our pivot party.

Why I'm Conservative: Part 2

When our ruling elites believe that their biggest job is to protect us from even the remotest possibility that something might go wrong in a legal activity that will hurt us, the safest thing to do from that perspective is to make it too difficult for any legal activity to take place.

And no, this isn't a call for the joys of the "free enterprise" of Somalia. That seems to be a favorite rejoinder of liberals who object to calls by conservatives for fewer regulations. Liberals honestly can't seem to comprehend the difference between "fewer" regulations and "no" regulations.

Although truth be told, when it comes to a child's lemonade stand, no further regulations (on top of the regulations that provide the tap water, lemons, sugar, electricity, and containers used to prepare the lemonade) is absolutely the right way to go.

Another Slam Dunk

We're concerned about Syrian chemical weapons being dispersed across the borders should Assad's regime collapse and prolonged chaos leaves the stockpiles vulnerable to theft (or sale):

The State Department has begun coordinating with Syria's neighbors to prepare for the handling of President Bashar al-Assad's extensive weapons of mass destruction if and when his regime collapses, The Cable has learned.

This week, the State Department sent a diplomatic demarche to Syria's neighbors Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, warning them about the possibility of Syria's WMDs crossing their borders and offering U.S. government help in dealing with the problem, three Obama administration officials confirmed to The Cable.

There is some amusement in this deadly serious problem. I recall before the Iraq War that opponents of the invasion who now say it was a war based on "lies," then warned that defeating Saddam could lead to chaos and the dispersal of the WMD that were firmly under Saddam's control while he remained in power. So it makes sense that there is some continuity in that worry. Now, of course, "lies" aren't involved--just the guidance of our intelligence which tells us that Assad has chemical weapons. That's way different than Iraq in 2002 and 2003, eh?

Anyway. It is good to be concerned about Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. It is a real threat we need to be prepared for. Kudos to the Obama administration for addressing it. Who knows? Maybe our caution over Syria is based on trying to get the pieces in place to cope with the potential chaos of a fallen Assad regime rather than mere passivity.

I still hold hope that version 5.0 of the conventional wisdom of Saddam's chemical weapons status might be unveiled. After all, dispersal by the Assad regime before collapse is unlikely given the greater scale of what Assad has and the lack of a safe destination.

And a Silver Platter, Too

So, notwithstanding Assad's pre-uprising claim that Syrians support him because of Assad's steadfast opposition to Israel, which holds former Syrian territory that Syria vows to recover, this analyst thinks that Israel could defeat Assad by giving the Golan Heights back to Syria:

How could Netanyahu topple Assad and weaken Hizbullah in one fell swoop—a far more strategic opportunity than a strike on Iran? Hand over the Golan Heights with one condition, says Bruce Riedel.

I know I lack the nuance gene when I can't comprehend how giving Syria the Golan Heights--the one objective that Assad can point to as a reason to live under his dictatorship--will undermine Assad rather than be a victory that he can point to as his great achievement; and then accuse the opposition of nearly undermining that achievement by trying to unseat him.

Oh wait. There's the "condition" that will make this brilliant rather than bone-headed. I can hardly wait. What could it be?

Defense Minister Ehud Barak simply needs to convince Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to put back on the table the offer Barak made to Assad’s father in 2000—return of the Golan Heights to Syria in return for peace with Israel.

Ah, the condition is that in the midst of an uprising, Syria gets a peace treaty with Israel that under the circumstances simply protects Assad's rear as he fights the uprising. There really is a difference between a peace treaty when Israel has the problem of a stable Syria being allied with Iran in support of Hezbollah and Hamas and when Syria is under siege which could break the Syria-Iran alliance and isolate Hezbollah and Hamas if Assad falls.

Oh, the Israelis can see from the Egyptian Spring that a peace treaty could be completely dependent on the whim of who is in charge. How confident can Israel be that whoever replaces Assad will honor the treaty? How confident can Israel be that Assad would honor the treaty once he has Golan back? He has said that opposition to Israel is the pillar of his regime. How will he rule without the pillar?

God almighty, when an enemy is busy wrecking itself as Syria is doing now, the least we can do is refuse to rescue them in the midst of their crisis.

UPDATE: We continue to talk about the problem while Syria kills the problem with the support of Iran, Russia, and China. The saddest thing about this crisis:

The silence of President Obama on the matter of Syria reveals the general retreat of American power in the Middle East. In Istanbul some days ago, a Turkish intellectual and political writer put the matter starkly to me: We don't think and talk much about America these days, he said.

"We don't think and talk much about America these days." Wow. Apparently, some people don't think "leading from behind" is leading at all.

Let's be clear, here. There is no objective reason for people to disregard what we think or might do. We remain by far the most powerful country in the world. The only reason for people to disregard us is because they don't think our leaders will actually use any of our immense power. For a ruling class full of their own nuance, they fail to appreciate that successful diplomacy relies on robust military power and the respect of others who believe (or fear) we are reliable either at their side or across the front line when the balloon goes up.

Why it isn't a no-brainer to send arms to Syria's opposition is beyond me. Assad supported al Qaeda in Iraq for years yet we tried to talk to him--but we're supposed to worry that if we arm his enemies he won't talk to us?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Everything You Ever Read Here

Just a reminder that you can buy the first volume of compilations of select and representative posts from The Dignified Rant on specific subjects. My first effort is on the issue of private warfare in our state-centric world, and includes a retrospective of thoughts on what I've written on the subject over the years.

The Dignified Rant on: Private Warfare is available from Amazon for your Kindle reader at the low, low price of 99 cents.

Future volumes will be available through the tab above labeled "Buy The Dignified Rant".

Give Obama a Break

Riots continue in Afghanistan over the issue of Koran's being in a burn pile because Afghan Taliban prisoners were writing in them to communicate with other prisoners:

Thousands of Afghans staged new demonstrations Friday over the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, evidence that President Barack Obama's apology has so far failed to quiet the outrage over the incident.

That the deaths are taking place in Afghanistan and not in the rest of the Moslem world should tell you that like the Koran flushing incident, this violence is a Taliban effort designed to gain followers in Afghanistan, separate the Afghan government from America, and possibly to reduce our will to stay in Afghanistan to win.

So I don't mind that President Obama has apologized for the incident. I'm sure our military asked him to do so to try to calm the immediate crisis. I'm equally sure that President Bush would have done the same thing. Before we do anything else we need to calm the situation. And we did screw up by putting the religious tracts in a burn pile. Apologizing doesn't make the violent response legitimate--the apology recognizes we face nutballs who can use this incident to defeat us. Don't let them use this incident to defeat us.

Not that this is riot- and death-worthy. I'm not defending that reaction. Indeed, the whole incident shows why I do not in fact have to respect Islam. As long as incidents like this provoke riots and murder among some and fail to inspire most Moslems to condemn the violence, I won't respect Islam. Oh, I'll tolerate their faith. But that's all our society asks us to do. I don't expect others to respect my religion. I do expect not to be discriminated because of it. Of course, this brings up more questions about our faiths as much as theirs.

And when the crisis calms down, maybe we can ask why it wasn't an insult to Islam for Moslem Taliban to scrawl in their holy book and use it as a note pad. Just where do they draw the line between "How's the jihad going, Muhammed?" and "I hated the rice pilaf, today. How about you?"?

What happened was wrong by our standards and more important--stupid--because our enemies are nutballs. Our enemy will try to leverage the incident to defeat us. We shouldn't help that objective along by getting our panties in a twist over the unfairness of it all and throw our hands up in frustrated rage while walking away.

It's a long war.

UPDATE: Hey, if I can react with annoyance to a comment by someone who I think would be a superior president to Obama (a low bar, I admit) as an unfair attack on him, I guess I can say I don't have Obama Derangement Syndrome. After watching the unhinged opposition to Bush, that's no small thing in my mind.

UPDATE: I can't say I disagree with this author's frustrations over the Koran riots and murders. He makes many excellent points that I was getting at. Yet still, as a tactic to get past this violence--which I am sure is being stoked by our Taliban enemies as a tactic (or have I missed the global riots that show it is a Moslem thing rather than a Taliban thing?)--I have no problem with our apology. If an apology allows us to get on faster with the serious business of killing jihadis, what's the problem?

In the Heart of Darkness

While there are no details of what we are doing in Uganda, we say we are making progress:

The United States said on Thursday it was making progress with its African allies in its push against Uganda's notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), but gave no clear end date for the shadowy U.S. military operation unfolding in central Africa. ...

Karl Wycoff, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, said the intervention was showing some positive results, noting that LRA attacks were sharply down and defections were rising.

We're hunting a monster. And we can get some credit from countries who can help us in East Africa in pursuit of our objectives.

Spin, Baby, Spin

So the president came into office saying he wanted higher energy prices to push us to a new, Green, post-petroleum future. As the proverb says, be careful what you wish for.

We have oil prices going on a steady march up that people are starting to really feel in their wallets.

President Obama faces reelection this year. He says the steadily rising oil prices aren't his fault.

Which leads me to ask the president why he is unhappy that he is getting what he said he wanted--and what we needed? Shouldn't this be a case of "promises made and promises kept?"

Of course, embracing the rise of oil prices as just what he intended would require the president to decide whether he has to tell us we are too stupid to appreciate his brilliance or that his high energy price objective was stupid.

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Get a Sense of It, And Then Look Away

He is so screwed:

Princess Mary of Denmark caught the eye of Pentti Arajarvi — married to Finnish president Tarja Halonen — when they sat next to each other at a state banquet.

Mr Arajarvi was blatantly staring at her breasts, only looking away when she suddenly turned towards him.

Seinfeld has advice for this situation:

Although in the real world it gets in The Sun rather than being like looking at the sun.

Several centuries ago, a Danish squadron would be laying waste to the port facilities of Helsinki by now.

Oh, the first link has the video.

The Long March at Sea

Really? Taiwan is just getting around to this?

The Taipei-based United Daily News said the navy, which ordered the US-built Harpoon missiles in 2008, recently test-fired the weapons in the United States, in preparation for installing them on its two Dutch-built submarines.

Next year, the two non-ancient subs that Taiwan has will have them operational.

I was happy to note the purchase back in 2005. It is a "force multiplier" and gives America options in the early hours of a war when we might not be ready to openly help Taiwan:

If the Chinese try to invade Taiwan and at least one Taiwanese sub makes it to sea, then if Harpoons start smashing into Chinese ships, we can openly marvel at the storage capacity of the Dutch-built boat. I mean, some people might speculate that American subs are launching them, too, but that would be idle speculation best left for historians to examine decades after the Taiwanese fend off the invasion attempt.

And next year, the Taiwanese will finally deploy the missiles. Hey, no sense of urgency, eh?

No Enemy Should Sleep Soundly

The question of supporting the anti-Assad rebels is in the air as Assad escalates his efforts to kill his way to peace and quiet that will end those persistent voices calling for his departure:

Syrian tanks pushed into a rebel stronghold in the battered city of Homs on Thursday and U.N. investigators accused President Bashar al-Assad's government of crimes against humanity.

I'd rather have the Turks go in to Syria in force to have a chance at ending this problem sooner rather than later. But if the question is simply whether we support the insurgents, the answer is "heck yes."

Does anybody remember that through the Iraq War Assad funneled jihadis into Iraq for al Qaeda where they blew up Iraqi civilians and American and allied troops in suicide bomber attacks? And otherwise supported insurgents fighting us in Anbar and the Sunni Triangle?

We owe Assad payback. Even if the anti-Assad forces don't win we should support the anti-Assad forces. Our enemies should know they don't have a free shot at us, and fear that even if we don't hit them immediately, we'll bide our time and strike when we can.

UPDATE: Some arms are getting in:

Foreign powers are turning a blind eye to weapons purchases by Syrian exiles who are already smuggling light arms, communications equipment and night vision goggles to rebels inside Syria, a Syrian opposition source said on Friday.

If it is a good thing that Assad falls (and I think it is), I worry that too many people in Washington labor under the delusion that insurgents always win and so Assad is doomed. After all, the people in power now are the same people who said we couldn't beat the insurgents and terrorists in Iraq. Indeed, they said that fighting the terrorists and insurgents in Iraq just created more insurgents and terrorists so was actually counter-productive. But I'm not sure that these people have digested the implications of the fact that we did in fact defeat the insurgents and terrorists in Iraq.

Assad has survived so far, remember. He is weakening and the resistance is strengthening. But Assad hasn't faced even the shock we faced of the dual uprising in Iraq in spring 2004--just as we were knocking down the Baathist resistance--where al Qaeda and the Sunni Arabs plus the Sadrists in the Shia community rose up to fight us and the new Iraqi government. Half of the Iraqi security forces collapsed in the first shock of that uprising, and it took a year to beat back the twin offensives. And then it took three more years and our surge offensive to finally beat them down.

Nothing is inevitable. Our choices influence what happens. And not making a choice is a choice.

Just Who Was Reset Anyway?

Remember how we tossed Poland (and the Czech Republic) under the bus in order to "reset" our relations with Russia? This was supposed to pay dividends by convincing Russia to work with us on common interests.

Well, we have a diplomatic success to savor!

Russia is warning Israel not to attack Iran's nuclear infrastructure:

Russia warned Israel on Wednesday that attacking Iran would be a disastrous and played down the failure of a U.N. nuclear agency mission to Tehran, saying there is still a chance for new talks over the Iranian atomic program.

Which seems really similar to America's position on the issue!

The Obama administration, increasingly concerned about the lack of any assurance from Israel that it would consult Washington before launching strikes on Iran's nuclear sites, has scrambled in recent weeks to convince Israeli leaders to give sanctions and diplomacy more time to work, U.S. officials say.

Well, we couldn't get a convergence of approach by getting Russia to move toward our position, so we move closer to Russia's position. Still convergence, right? What's the dif'?

The nuance! It's blinding!

We Need a Treaty of Westfailia

Member states of the United Nations are supposed to be the only really recognized actors in the world. But technology is enabling sub- and trans-national entities to act as sovereign states with their own foreign policies. The online Anonymous collective is groping its way forward to being an actor on the world stage.

This fits in with the broader development of private warfare which is the subject of the first volume of collected essays from The Dignified Rant, with a retrospective commentary, that I have published and offer for sale on Amazon in Kindle format. The Dignified Rant on Private Warfare is available for 99 cents. This and future titles will be available through the tab at the top of the blog called "Buy the Dignified Rant."

Anonymous has emerged as a cyber-state that wages war for its own goals:

It's been denounced by NATO, targeted by the FBI, and subjected to dozens of frenzied editorials. Targets as varied as Bank of America, Sony, the Justice Department, and the government of Egypt have felt its wrath. Its trademark symbols have appeared everywhere from the streets of Cairo to Occupy Wall Street to the Polish parliament. For a group that sprang organically from an Internet forum normally devoted to anime cartoons and cat videos, the amorphous hacker/prankster collective known as "Anonymous" has become a surprisingly potent actor in global politics. But to understand the forces that make the group tick, let's look back to a time before SOPA and the Arab Spring and consider the strange story of one "Agent Pubeit."

So far, missions are coalitions of the anonymous willing:

In operations, as in communications, Anonymous follows a simple model: Anyone can propose anything. The measure of success is simply whether other Anons join in. Want to hack Muammar al-Qaddafi's websites? Take down MasterCard? Wipe out a child-porn haven? Put out the word and start doing it. The result has been a dazzling series of "ops" against everyone from the government of Sweden to right-wing billionaires David and Charles Koch to the strategic consulting firm Stratfor.

Heck, I got an email or two from the Anonymous collective tweaking Stratfor with messages purporting to be from the company but obviously not from the company. But the company didn't have my credit card information so it was more interesting (to me) than annoying or dangerous (again, to me).

The group has grown from talking to pranks to acts that try to affect the physical world from the cyber-world. Right now, the group is oriented by a common view of the world (at least in some respects) but lacks leadership that focuses the group. Will that last?

Will someone assert control and will others follow? Will a traditional state subvert the group for its own purposes? Could Anonymous fragment as members continue to slide away from the prank and talk side of the spectrum of action more toward direct actions against the physical world? Is the membership just unsuited to following orders or becoming a real actor in foreign affairs rather than a factor that impacts foreign affairs like extreme weather that can hit a place and then dissipate?

And as governments react to being attacked by going after the Anonymous members, what do we do? Some are kids? But are they pranksters, criminals, spies, or unlawful combatants? What does one country do when another country decides that the first country's Anonymous hacker who stole secret documents are spies and snatch them while they are on spring break in the Bahamas? Or just kill them with a poison-tipped umbrella?

But don't count on the Westphalian international community's professional guild--the United Nations--to productively address this issue. They're just unhappy that their is a demand for a service that nation-states don't provide. Security isn't security if the wrong people provide it, apparently:

A United Nations expert panel today warned of an alarming resurgence of the use of mercenaries in armed conflict, and called for regulating private military and security companies, whose activities raise numerous human rights challenges.

“Mercenaries pose a threat not only to security, but also to human rights and potentially to the right of peoples to self-determination,” said Faiza Patel, who currently heads the Working Group on the use of mercenaries. “It is crucial that States cooperate to eliminate this phenomenon.” ...

In addition to mercenaries, the “ever-expanding” activities of private military and security companies continue to raise a number of challenges, Ms. Patel said.

“Providing security to its people is a fundamental responsibility of the State and outsourcing security to private military and security companies creates risks for human rights, hence the need to regulate their activities.”

She noted that these companies continue to undertake a growing range of activities in an increasing number of countries from drug-eradication programmes in Colombia to post-conflict reconstruction.

“And it is not just governments who take advantage of their services, but also NGOs [non-governmental organizations], private companies and the United Nations,” she added.

I don't know, but I think a majority of UN member states pose threats to security, human rights, and the right of peoples to self-determination. UN troops, too, have been involved in some pretty ugly human rights violation cases, after all. Mercenaries are a tool that can do good or be abused, as any tool that can coerce people can be abused regardless of who wields it.

But the UN admits that it isn't providing enough UN-level collective security to meet demand. And it admits that member states aren't providing it. Heck, even the UN uses private military service companies. So in the end, the UN just wants to regulate it:

For the Working Group, “the potential impact of the widespread activities of private military and security companies on human rights means that they cannot be allowed to continue to operate without adequate regulation and mechanisms to ensure accountability.”

I'm sure they mean UN regulation. This report simply sounds like a threat to ban private military companies as the stick to get them to accept UN regulation and oversight. But if the UN can't provide collective security at the nation level because countries disagree about who should be the target of collective security action, who thinks the UN could enforce mercenary regulations without member nations doing the job? And how would authorization to enforce UN rules be any easier than collective security decisions when some member states will defend "their" mercenary companies from UN action?

Well, they've done a bang up job with what they are responsible for already. I'm sure this new UN job will work out just swell.

Mercenaries are simply responding to demand. If they are to be regulated, it would be better handled at the national level where a nation can enforce the rules and the nations can be held accountable by others for failing to control their own mercenary companies. Privatized military power is a fact of life.

Anonymous is a forming post-Westphalian entity that represents one type of a class of private warfare actors who increasingly challenge the nation-state that formally has a monopoly on military power. We need to come to grips with this trend to develop new rules of the road--a Treaty of Westfailia, so to speak.

Private warfare is the subject of the first volume of collected essays from The Dignified Rant, with a retrospective commentary, that I want to put together and offer for sale. The Dignified Rant on Private Warfare is available for the low, low price of 99 cents. Wow! And if you print it out on absorbent paper, it can function as a kind of ShamWow!, so it's really a two-fer.

I have a long list of topics that I want to mine The Dignified Rant for future volumes. If you have suggestions, email me at You probably have ideas that I haven't thought of.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shaky Science

We've detected signs of a recent earthquake on Mars. Apparently, that means that there could be liquid water underground.

I'd quote the article but I don't know how I'd possibly be able to follow fair use guidelines by only excerpting a small portion of the article.

On a more serious note, I blame global warming.

Blowback in Action

Iraq says violence is down as al Qaeda leaves Iraq for more fertile killing grounds in Syria:

The departure of al-Qaida-affiliated fighters from Iraq to join the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria has had one benefit, Iraqi officials say: Violence has dropped in this country, in some areas by as much as half in just a few months.

This doesn't mean the resistance to Assad is an opportunity for jihadis to seize control of Syria:

The U.S. is concerned that al Qaeda is operating in Syria. It's true that Iraqi Sunni Arabs have been entering Syria to join the fighting, and some of these men probably belonged to terrorist groups in Iraq. But it's also true that Syria has suffered several incidents of terror attacks over the last five years. These were believed to be carried out by one of the many Islamic terror groups that Syria has given sanctuary to over the decades. ... But keep in mind that al Qaeda trashed its reputation in Iraq during the last decade, because of so many attacks on civilians. Al Qaeda may be temporarily welcomed by the Syrian rebels, but as soon as the Assads are gone, any popularity for Islamic terrorists will dissipate. Many of these thugs still work for the Assads, and have been sheltered by the Assads for decades.

As an aside, Sunni Arab Iraqis are taking the opportunity for some payback.

Justifying a hands-off approach to Assad just because al Qaeda is fighting him makes as much sense as refusing to take sides against Hitler because Stalin fought Hitler. That has been Assad's line all along, recall.

But if you insist on "multi-lateral" military alliances as a superior alternative to unilateral operations, never forget that "multi" leaves room for unsavory characters.

No Prophet Motive

Austin Bay writes that the struggle against the drug gangs in Mexico faces the challenge of surviving an election. Fighting the drug gangs and strengthening rule of law are the two major efforts in that struggle:

Calderon's goal is laudable but so difficult. It will take years to achieve. However, time is something he doesn't have. 2012 is an election year in Mexico, and Calderon cannot succeed himself. He needs a follow-on reform president with guts and vision.

The cartels may not want to replace the political order like a terrorist or political insurgent movements, but they do seek to subvert it. No, Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel commanders don't have a rigid ideological orthodoxy, but they do have an idea of what constitutes politically favorable conditions for their operations: a weak government with corrupt cops, bought judges and a defanged military focused on parades. Add frightened reporters, since the bribed cops won't protect them, and you've got a drug lord Reconquista of Mexico, a return to the worst dinosaurio days of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

He also notes that while the drug gangs use the tools of terrorism (military-grade weapons and beheadings) to complement their use of bribery, blackmail, and death threats, the drug gangs are not like terrorists in that the gangs have a profit motive rather than a prophet motive. This looks like war but it is different.

Mexico is making progress. but this year's election isn't the only threat to defeating the drug gangs. My fear is that the use by Mexico of the relatively uncorrupted military in the struggle (to bypass corrupted--by bribery, blackmail, and death threats--local police and judges) will result in the military becoming a corrupted institution. If the Mexican drug lords can buy time, they'll be able to buy troops, too.

Oh, and this is a lesson to countries that tolerate thugs on their own soil, with the justification that it is a problem for others only. Years ago, Mexicans refused to address the drug gangs because it was "an American problem" and not a Mexican problem. The problem was drug demand from America and why should Mexico suffer casualties to go after drug gangs in Mexico? Besides, lots of dollars flowed south into Mexico. Too bad for Americans. But ignoring the drug gangs led them to be a threat to the Mexican government. Now it is a Mexican problem.

And for Americans, don't think that this is just a Mexican problem. Violence spills over into America and over time, Mexican drug lords will spill over to battle for control of the distribution network inside America and undermine our border agents, cops, and judges to look the other way. The gangs have a profit margin and vertical integration from producer to retail sale is one method of increasing profits. Plus, it may be safer for drug gangs to live in America if the fight in Mexico gets too hot.

We have an interest in Mexico's victory in this "war."

Inconvenient Truths

Recently, merchant ships have begun to put armed detachments on ships travelling within range of Somali pirates. Many are private contractors and so many people are up in arms about the possibility that trigger happy mercenaries will shoot up an innocent boat approaching their ship on the high seas.

Well, that happened. Inconveniently, the shooters were Italian marines:

The shooting deaths of two Indian fishermen mistaken for pirates sparked diplomatic wrangling Wednesday over the arrests of two Italian marines, and some maritime experts are questioning the use of armed guards on merchant ships.

India may try the marines for murder. You'd think the Indians would be a little more understanding considering they had a major "oops" moment in the fight against piracy. Perhaps I missed the news of the trial in Thailand over that incident.

Critics of defending against pirates cite this incident as proving that armed guards are counter-productive (from the initial article):

Maritime organizations are questioning whether the very presence of armed security could actually increase violence on the high seas.

Please. Armed security guards simply increase the levels of violence visibility when an accident happens. The violence is already at a pretty high level.

You can prefer the invisible collateral damage of inaction in the face of pirate attacks, but don't pretend that fighting back is the cause of collateral damage just because that's the only time you hear about it.

Perhaps the Italian marines really screwed up. I don't know. But considering that India allows armed guards on merchant ships and India fights back even at the risk of making mistakes, you'd think they'd have a little more understanding.

Until someone goes ashore in Somalia and kills lots of pirates, we'll be living with this problem.

Actually, this would be quite the opportunity for China to carry out. They'd demonstrate the willingness to act to protect the general good, gain experience with long distance military deployments, gain ground near their oil import sources, make the "Indian Ocean" seem a little less "Indian" in doing what India hasn't done, and demonstrate that the American-led anti-piracy patrol just hasn't been enough.

We've Long Been Against Impressment

The Great Game comes to the Taiwan Strait. We have intervened in the Taiwan-China dispute as Taiwan and the mainland continue their dispute:

"I want to say that I'm sorry to tell you that Jeremy Lin is an American, a blue-blooded born American," Faleomavaega said, drawing hearty laughter from Ma, and then added "who happens to be of Taiwanese ancestry, and we're proud to have him."

That's about it right there. The U.S. representative from Congress (representing American Samoa) put it well.

You can be impressed by our people--but don't impress them.

Now if only Ireland and Hungary would stop bickering over me ...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

This Will Work Out Swell

The Iran debate continues. Let's see:

We're warning Israel not to strike Iran to prevent Iran from going nuclear any time soon.

We're worried that Iran will strike back at us--perhaps even at home with terrorism--if Israel strikes Iran.

We're so worried about Iran's reaction that we are publicly saying we won't attack Iran any time soon because it is a bad idea.

Increasingly the administration seems to be taking the position that we can deter Iran if they get nukes rather than run the risk of a wider war by striking Iran's nuclear program.

So notwithstanding our confidence that we can deter a nuclear Iran in the future, right now we don't think we can deter a non-nuclear Iran from striking at our forces or allies in the Persian Gulf region if someone else attacks Iran.

That's so nuanced, I think I pulled a muscle trying to follow it.

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About State

Foreign policy unilateralism at its worst:

I'm sure Secretary of State Clinton is wondering, "What am I doing here?" (language and subject warning)

I think they're yelling, "Hey, we're going to make diplomacy!"

Sorry. I couldn't resist. Probably should have. Hey, I'm sick with my judgment impaired by medications.

The Iran Precedent

I'd forgotten, but Victor Hanson reminds us that Iran was the first country to attempt a preemptive strike against an enemy's nuclear program:

In 1980, Iran sent planes into Iraq to attack the Osirak facility, for fear that Saddam might develop a bomb during the Iraq-Iran War. That mostly failed mission damaged but did not destroy the facility, which was demolished a year later by the Israeli air force. For all the present Iranian talk of sovereignty, it was Iran that established the precedent that unhinged enemies cannot be allowed to have nuclear weapons.

I've probably mentioned this before (ah, a quick check shows I did mention Iran's effort at least once), but forgot about it. Not that we need an Iranian precedent to strike. But cries of outrage if Israel strikes Iran should explain why Iran could be on the giving end of preemption without global rending of garments and gnashing of teeth but not on the receiving end.

Decode? No. Address? Yes

Secretary of Defense Panetta's recent remarks that Israel could attack Iran soon to disrupt Iran's nuclear programs are causing some debate about why he did that (tip to Instapundit):

Officials and strategists the world over are trying to parse Washington Post columnist David Ignatius’s bombshell revelation that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes Israel will attack Iran in the coming months and is pleading with the Israelis to put off any strike. Had Panetta, who’s developed a reputation for being gaffe-prone during his short time as defense secretary, possibly been a bit too candid in the presence of a fellow old Washington hand? Or was Panetta crazy like a fox, using an influential columnist to make the threat of an Israeli strike to strengthen the U.S.’s ability to rally its partners into putting tougher sanctions on Iran?

That's an interesting idea that Panetta is trying to rally our partners to implement sanctions to preclude the need for war. It is plausible.

But for one thing. Another article from four days ago notes that Europe and Congress have been dragging America along on the tougher sanctions route:

In recent months, the toughest moves to deter Iran from pursuing its presumed nuclear ambitions have come from a bipartisan group in Congress and European allies, especially Britain and France. The White House at first resisted these steps before embracing them as inevitable.

If Panetta is trying to rally our partners for tougher sanctions, why has our administration been following along (and not "leading from behind" by any stretch of the imagination)?

The theory that Panetta is trying to drag someone along works if you change it slightly and assume that the leak was for the purpose of doing what Washington leaks usually try to do--influence policy here in America and not abroad. If you assume that Panetta is actually trying to rally the Oval Office to implement tougher sanctions, Panetta's leak makes much more sense. Consider the same article's assessment of our Obama sanctions policy:

The administration has imposed dozens of sanctions on Iran since 2009, but it has carefully calibrated their effect. Officials fear that too powerful a blow to the world's third-largest oil exporter could cause an oil price increase, damaging the global economic recovery, undermining international support for the sanctions campaign and creating political trouble in an election year.

Careful calibration is stupid when the stakes are nuclear. Careful calibration is just another way of saying gradual escalation of military means to send signals. All either does is give the target the opportunity to adjust to gradual problems rather than a big problem all at once.

So the decoding isn't that much of an issue. The address for who the coded message is more important. And I suspect that the recipient is President Obama and not distant partners in Europe. Face it, the Europeans have to be scared. For years they could drag their feet on the assumption that cowboy George W. Bush would do the job right if all else failed. Now the Europeans have to face the prospect that the only likely military option will be carried out by Israel, which lacks the ability to do a really thorough job.

Heck, the Europeans have to worry that Iran will lash out first as the crisis drags on:

"Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran's national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions," Mohammad Hejazi told Fars news agency.

Which is why I'm not a fan of putting our carriers in the Persian Gulf.

Have a nice day.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Is the Oil Market Working?

This post notes that there seems to be a disconnect between the supply and demand of oil, as prices continue to rise while retail deliveries dive. The purpose of the post is political rather than foreign policy, but it raises the question of why the apparent disconnect?

Granted, global demand is what counts and our deliveries aren't the only component of demand. But surely our demand is a major part of the global total.

What if there is no disconnect? What if the dive in retail deliveries here simply doesn't consider the demand of non-retail deliveries? What if nations and companies are buying oil for petroleum reserves in anticipation that America and/or Israel will strike Iran's nuclear facilities this year and lead to a short-term crisis of oil production and transport through the Strait of Hormuz? What if this isn't captured by the statistics (or is being hidden in the short run for obvious reasons)?

Of course, I wondered about just this same thing 6 years ago.

I always keep in mind that connecting dots is a risky game when you have no idea if you are seeing actual dots let alone connections.

I'm Just Careful

Via Meadia reminds us that we don't have a purely bilateral relationship with China. Others with real power are involved:

In China, those who think of the relationship out of context often push for a more aggressive Chinese foreign policy than the facts justify or China’s real interests warrant. In the United States, it leads people to divide into two camps: the declinists, who think the U.S. must try to appease a rising China, and the containers, who think we must work to contain China before it’s too late.

I can go with that. I think it is premature to speak of China taking over the top spot when they still have less than half of our gross GDP (and even calculating by PPP gives us a good edge) and their per capita GDP is woefully low (about 10% of ours). So I oppose the declinist camp.

But while I think we need to focus on the China threat, I neither over-state the threat nor think we should "contain" China. Our containment of the Soviet Union was an ideological containment that sought to prevent the USSR from using hard power until the economic weaknesses of communism could undermine Moscow. China is not economically a communist power--they're more state capitalism now--so while China will face economic setbacks on occasion, we can't wait for that factor to undermine their government. Nor is China an ideological threat to spread pro-China communism since the only thing that survives of communism is party control of the government.

So "containment" doesn't even make sense in terms of China. We have to view the potential problem from a regional point of view.

China faces lots of military power besides America.

Indeed, when Asian powers increase their power, I think that actually increases our influence. (Well, as long as nobody uses their increased power to smash their neighbors to become supreme in the region.) Consider that when all the Asian powers lacked power projection capabilities, we were actually the only country that could theoretically threaten an Asian country. With wealthier Asian states investing in capable militaries, they each theoretically pose threats to each other. And a power outside of Asia is, all things being equal, safer to trust for help.

But in a purely bilateral comparison, China has the advantage of being close to the theaters of operation while we are far. That matters more in the short run than our overall power superiority which will take time to mobilize and focus.

That distance does make us more trusted than China, as I said, but our ability to support stability requires friends, enemies, and potential enemies to have confidence that we will use our power to help our friends. This, I think, is what people who propose "containing" China really mean. They need a new word with less history. Maybe we can turn around China's term that they use to hammer us and say we oppose "hegemony" in Asia by any one power to defend the peace and prosperity that has marked post-World War II Asia.

China is neither doomed nor destined for greatness. We can say the same for America, although our fundamentals are stronger than China's. I don't fear the future. China should be the one to worry even as purported deep thinkers here panic about China and dream of replicating China's reasonably enlightened policies they believe fuel China's rise.

And I don't assume we will fight China any more than I assume China won't risk their growing economy to pick a fight with us. But I could be wrong. And accidents happen.

Yet sheer prudence requires us to prepare our military with an eye on China to deter Peking; reassure the many Chinese neighbors who worry about China's rising power; and if worse comes to worst, be capable of defeating China's military. That isn't containment, that's just being careful.

Of course, just what capabilities we would need to defeat China's military is a good question all its own without delving into questions of destiny and futility. But I'm careful like that.

Attica! Attica!

Greeks are rioting and protesting over their money problems:

Several thousand Greeks demonstrated on Sunday against punishing austerity measures to reduce the country's debt, on the eve of make-or-break talks in Brussels on a 130-billion-euro ($171 billion) bailout to avert bankruptcy.

The Dignified Rant has obtained film of one confrontation with police (language warning):

Sorry. I always think of this scene when the Athens region is mentioned.

The Greeks surely feel like they deserve a kiss, under the circumstances.

Thinking Outside the Box

People keep saying Israel can't attack Iran's nuclear facilities. This article says our military has calculated that Israel would need 100 aircraft minimum. The article focuses on the lack of aerial refueling as the reason Israel can't attack Iran given the range and routes.

Whether or not Israel is likely to succeed with the tools they have available isn't the most relevant question for me. The question is do the Israelis think that the certainty of Iran getting nukes is a risk that even a low odds attempt should attempt to stop--or delay?

I think Israel has attack options, although coping with the refueling issue with aircraft flying from Turkish bases is obviously no longer an option given the anti-Israel turn of Turkish foreign policy. But who knows, since Turkey is also turning against Iran after a brief flirtation.

But what other options might Israel take to address the refueling problem? We're huge, so if we have a problem we think "buy more tankers." Basing out of Turkey was one option I thought of. But what else could Israel do?

Perhaps, like we did at Desert One in our failed rescue operation where we attempted to refuel our helicopters inside Iran on the ground, Israel does something similar. Could some of Israel's planes land at remote airfields or stretches of highway in eastern Jordan, western Iraq, or northern Saudi Arabia to refuel? This would save Israel's aerial tankers for other planes flying straight from Israel.

Perhaps, like we planned for the Doolittle Raid, the Israelis will plan this like a one-way mission where most Israeli planes recover in nearby countries after hitting Iran, with only those within the capacity of Israel's aerial refueling capacity return to Israel at once. Would Georgia be a likely site (where Iran tried to kill Israelis recently)? Armenia to thumb their nose at Turkey? Even Jordan or Kuwait? Or even land at a remote airfield or road on the way back in the Desert One option to be refueled after the mission? Note that our assumption failed and we lost all our planes in the Doolittle Raid

How many Israeli warplanes could land at any one site without being an "incident?" If only small numbers land at some places (like Jordan or Kuwait) could Georgia, as an example, handle most as long as they aren't the only site?

And how many planes could be left out of a strike by relying on other assets for a portion of the missions? Could cruise missiles or ballistic missiles with conventional warheads suffice for some of the unhardened targets? Would commandos be able to replace some sorties? Those options would reduce the refueling burden a bit.

Or what if the Israelis go a completely different route? What if the Israelis fit out their long-range civilian aircraft as GPS-bomb toting bomb trucks? How many of these would Israel need to replace all but the long-range fighters that would escort the bomb trucks? If Israel just had to refuel in the air the escorting fighters, that pretty much eliminates the refueling problem, no?

Or maybe Israel accepts that a strike on Iran would be a one-way mission. What if the Israelis haul out a bunch of their 200+ A-4s, F-4s, and Kfir C-7s from reserves and outfit them with GPS bombs? Would the Israelis get pilots to go on one-way suicide missions or simply land the planes after the strike at neutral sites so the pilots survive and who cares if the locals confiscate the planes in retaliation for unauthorized landings? Or could the Israelis turn these reserve planes into drones guided from the ground so only the ancient air frames are at risk? Or a mix, with a small number of piloted planes controlling 3 or 4 drone strike planes each? Israel could only do this once, but if all you hope to do is buy time since you can't hope to solve the problem, why not?

Israel has had a lot of time to think of ways to overcome their aerial refueling limitations. Buying more refueling tankers is only the most obvious option. And if Israel has concluded that any chance to slow down Iran's nuclear progress is worth taking given the alternative 100% chance that Iran will get nukes, Israel has a lot of incentive to be more creative than your average columnist insisting Israel "can't" attack Iran.