Saturday, March 31, 2012

Abridged Too Far?

Earth Day--and Earth Hour--is upon us again. Time flies. As the hour when right-minded people turn off all their lights to show their deep concern over global warming climate change global weirding, I perhaps shall light off some charcoal in the barbecue and heat up the lower atmosphere over my patio.

I know I should be deeply concerned. All the in-crowd says I should be scared witless. Not that they read the actual science about the issue. But they do read the articles by the lazy, leftist, reporters who read the inaccurate and sensationalized summaries written by the politicized advocates who read the science and hope nobody else does:

So what this IPCC report is saying is that WE DO NOT KNOW if there's an anthropogenic signal in extreme weather patterns, and that there does not seem to be a trend towards increased extreme weather events such as tornados and tropical storms. Yet the liberal MSM is reporting the opposite. How come?

Well here's the weird part. The misinformation comes from the IPCC's summary of its own report (available here) which has been regurgitated, in classic churnalism style, by all the usual lazy MSM suspects. (H/T Katabasis)

Not that I read the science, mind you. But I do read the articles by people who have read the science--and then compare it to what the professional journalists write.

Funny how the media just paraphrases what they are told and ignores the actual source material. I noticed this in the 2007 Iran national intelligence estimate summary reporting.

It would be nice if the use of falsified summaries led to the global warmers getting knocked back for reaching way too far, as Delingpole hopes. But as long as earnest people take Earth Hour seriously, that day is not yet here.

Next year in a lit up Sydney Opera House, eh?

China Atwitter

If nothing happened in Peking, what is Peking so nervous about?

China started a sweeping crackdown of its vibrant social networking media over the weekend, detaining six people, closing 16 Web sites and shutting off the comment function for two gigantic microblogs.

The campaign, which was announced late Friday and put in place in stages through Saturday, was directly linked to the political instability that has gripped China since one of its most charismatic politicians, Bo Xilai, lost his post in mid-March. That spurred rumors of a coup, which the government-run Xinhua news agency cited as the reason for the measures.

Curious to say the least. And worrisome for a country that would be a world power.

The Spirit is Willing

China's neighbors don't want to be bullied by China and are willing to stand together against Chinese pressure. China doesn't like that:

Chinese officials in Beijing are warning against any joint military patrols or exercises between Vietnam and the Philippines in the disputed South China Sea.

Vietnam and Philippines military officials have discussed conducting joint exercises in the disputed region in meetings earlier this month. The exercises could include joint patrols of the Spratly Islands, which both countries and China claim as their own.

Neighbors of China will be willing to cooperate with each other despite the power imbalance between them and China as long as those neighbors have some confidence that China will be cautious with America hovering nearby.

Breaking that confidence is stupid.

Declaring Victory

After a flurry of attacks by Assad's forces around the country, Assad wants the resistance to stop:

Syria says the year-long revolt to topple President Bashar al-Assad is now over, but it will keep its forces in cities to "maintain security" until it is safe to withdraw in keeping with a U.N.-backed peace deal.

But Assad's forces keep firing. And the deal is supposed to start with Syrian "troops" (what about other security forces?) pulling out of cities.

And the resistance hasn't accepted the deal.

Nor has the resistance decided that overthrowing Assad isn't their goal.

But it will help to muddy the waters and delay any movement to intervene against Assad by allowing Assad to pretend he is complying with world pressure to stop killing Syrians.

Friday, March 30, 2012

An Alawite Homeland?

The Syrian uprising is a battle between too-small loyal forces and people upset with Assad drawn from the majority Sunni Arab community. Yes, small amounts of rebel forces (and some terrorists joining in) fight the Assad troops, but the center of gravity is the will of the people to endure the killings and arrests by the loyal security forces. Strategypage discusses the situation:

The government still faces its most implacable foe in the form of cell phone videos that constantly contradict assertions that troops and police are not attacking civilians. The videos show that the artillery and ground assaults continue. But there are too many towns and villages in rebellion, and too few loyal troops to go after them all and shut down opposition completely. The government strategy remains one of continuing to attack hostile civilians in the hope that the civilians will give up resisting before the government runs out of cash and armed loyalists.

This basic situation has been going on for over a year, now, and neither side has broken.

I wondered if at some point the Assad regime would decide that it can't risk their forces breaking first and instead focus on defending a core Syria where the Alawites and their allies (mostly Christian and Druze) live.

So is this news an indication that Assad is thinking more actively about creating a core Syria with fewer Sunnis in that region once the fighting stops?

Sunni Muslims who have fled Syria described a government crackdown that is more pervasive and more sectarian than previously understood, with civilians affiliated with President Bashar al-Assad’s minority religious sect shooting at their onetime neighbors as the military presses what many Sunnis see as a campaign to force them to flee their homes and villages in some sections of the country.

It clearly isn't a full-blown ethnic cleansing. But it might be. How confident are Assad and his allies that they can continue to rule all of Syria with the tools they have? At some point, Assad might decide that it is better to rule a smaller Alawite Syria than to lose their necks and their country by trying to hold it all.

And if Assad does that, how do we react to a Syria that could fragment into an Alawite core in the west stretching from the Turkish border down to the Jordanian border (with uncertain amounts of economically important areas outside of that core that Assad thinks he must and can control), a Kurdish are in the northeast, and a vast but poor Sunni Arab region between them?

I'd expect to see Assad move any WMD and related assets located outside of areas he wants to hold into areas of Syria in the west if he decides on such a survival strategy.

It seems to me that the motivation of protecting Sunni Arabs from being attacked is eliminated if Assad essentially pulls out of the Sunni Arab areas (although while Assad more intensively ethnically cleanses the areas he want to hold he may have to withstand stronger motivation to intervene).

The question of whether a rump Assad regime allied with Iran is as dangerous to us as Syria is now may be irrelevant if the humanitarian reason to topple Assad goes away.

If We Won't Win, We Will Lose

We need to win in Afghanistan and we can.

I'd be more secure with this appraisal of the Afghan war if Panetta wasn't simply one voice in the administration debate:

Panetta, attending security talks in Ottawa with Canadian and Mexican defense chiefs, says the United States would be in "deep trouble" if it fought wars by surveys.

He says the Pentagon has to operate based on what it believes is the best strategy to achieve the mission. He says the mission in Afghanistan is to safeguard U.S. security by ensuring the Taliban and al-Qaida never again find a safe haven in Afghanistan.

Rallying the country is President Obama's job. He's done less than Bush did for the Iraq War when its popularity declined. But even if President Bush's speeches didn't make the war popular, the troops who fought in Iraq could draw comfort from those speeches that no matter what, their commander-in-chief would do whatever was in his power to give them the opportunity to win. And they did even though opinion polls showed a preference for getting US troops out of Iraq, even if polls at least showed no majority for losing the war. Today, our troops can be excused for wondering if their sacrifice is for nothing.

Secretary Panetta has the mission right, we need to prevent Afghanistan from being a safe haven for jihadis who have used the place before to attack us at home.

General Allen has the situation right, too:

I was very clear in my testimony that after we recover the surge this September, I'll conduct an analysis of the kinds of combat power we will need in 2013. I said I believe the power -- that power to be significant, but I do not say that it will need to rest at any certain level throughout this year or 2013. The truth is there is no way I can know that right now, certainly not until after we've emerged from the fighting season and not until after I've had the chance to assess the state of the insurgency in the aftermath of the fighting season, the operational environment that we anticipate in 2013.

And the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces going forward is not just a matter of what to do with the remaining 68,000 U.S. troops. I must also carefully consider the combination of forces in theater. There will still be some 40,000 ISAF forces in the field and an increasingly capable and increasingly numerous Afghan security forces. Force levels then will represent a composite number. That's a key point. It's American forces as a component of the international and indigenous force, not a separate and distinct entity.

And as I said, it is not just about the numbers either. It's about the operational environment in which we will find ourselves in 2013.

We've done much to degrade the Taliban's capabilities this winter, to deny them resources and sanctuary. I believe we've made it harder for them to succeed in a spring offensive of their own, but we need to get through this fighting season for me to fully understand that amount of combat power that we'll need in 2013.

The basic point is that our side has to be stronger than their side for our side to win and achieve the objective of keeping Afghanistan from becoming a jihadi sanctuary.

That point includes the number of American and Coalition troops, the number and quality of Afghan security forces backed by a reasonably competent governing structure, and the number and quality of enemy forces.

In the long run, Afghan forces have to be strong enough to fight with only our noncombat support. Ideally they could fight without our help, but keep in mind that even our NATO allies--after half a century of preparing to fight--couldn't take on Libya last year without our help. Afghan forces are making progress in getting better.

The strength of the enemy is also important in the equation. The past couple years have featured American-led Coalition forces pounding down and atomizing the enemy. If we can knock the enemy down far enough, Afghan government forces become relatively stronger than the enemy even if government forces don't get any better.

Ideally, our troop strength and mission makes the difference in keeping our friends stronger than our enemies, and over time because we build up our allies and knock down the enemy, we can change our mission from one of fighting the enemy to mostly supporting our allies who fight the enemy. And that means we can reduce our combat forces to lower levels that function only as a strategic reserve and as a rescue force for our support forces in the field.

But can we do that?

Increasingly, even conservative voices are arguing that we can't:

Afghan soldiers and policemen have murdered a coalition soldier or aid worker once a week on average since early 2010, according to an Army study. In all, 77 coalition troops have been killed by members of the Afghan National Security Forces, the Wall Street Journal reported in February. That tally doesn't include seven U.S. troops killed in the wake of the Quran burnings.

Our soldiers think their Afghan "allies" are unstable, incompetent, drug abusers and thieves, according to that Army study, "A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility." They call them cowardly and lazy and say they lack discipline, are dangerous in firefights and have poor hygiene.

The Afghans don't like us, either. "Many ANSF members demonstrated a general loathing of U.S. soldiers" the study said.

"Security responsibility for some areas has transitioned to Afghan forces with notable success," Gen. Allen said. But not, he admitted, in the areas where the Taliban is most active.

The training of Afghan soldiers and police has lagged because of a shortage of trainers and widespread illiteracy (only one recruit in 10 can read and write), high attrition and corruption, the man in charge of training them, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, said last June.

That is from Jack Kelly. Kelly was kind enough to quote my blog many years ago in regard to the Iraq War. The angle of that Kelly article was that over time, we could transfer responsibilities to the Iraqis. In the end (although it took longer than I thought and had to endure a Syrian-Iranian offensive in 2006 that nearly derailed our plans), the Sunni Arabs did in fact turn on the al Qaeda invaders.

And we can win in Afghanistan. What of the problems Kelly cites?

They are true. Afghans do shoot at our troops on occasion. But that is mostly an issue of personal issues rather than enemy infiltration. Afghanistan is a violent place. I dare say we don't see the Taliban shooting each other because of the same issues. That's just the way it is and we need to adapt to that environment.

Are the Afghans as bad as the study says? No doubt. So what? Or do you want to tell me where the Taliban recruit their disciplined, brave, energetic, literate, and hygienic forces? If they've got them, maybe we can recruit there. Oh, and since the Taliban are allied with drug gangs, drug use is surely an issue with our enemies. Although I'll concede that quality of recruits is more of a problem in Afghanistan, that also meant that in Iraq our enemies had better recruiting material, too.

And there was a time when the arguments here were over the status of Iraqi battalions and how many could fight on their own. If you want our allied forces to be as good as ours, you set yourself up for failure. And in the end, we knocked down and atomized the enemy in Iraq so that Iraqi forces could handle the job. Not as well as ours can in a technical sense, but well enough to win.

I'll offer a quote from Rudyard Kipling on the issue of our problems versus the problems of our enemies that I first noted in November 2004:

Man cannot tell but Allah knows
How much the other side is hurt.

We see our own problems and fret over them like teenagers who think they are the first person ever to experience heart ache and make the mistake of thinking our enemies' unseen problems don't exist because we can't see them.

And if the issue is whether an ally has to like us, I give you France as a case in point. It would be nice to be loved by our allies, but all we need them to do is fight with us against a common enemy. That they do, day after day, despite some incidents that call that into question. But those incidents are just excuses to retreat and lose rather than a reason that demonstrates we can only lose.

The problems we face in Afghanistan are all problems that people said couldn't be solved in Iraq. But in the end, our side was good enough to win the war in Iraq. We can do the same in Afghanistan. Identify problems, but do that to fix them and complete the mission. Don't panic. Work the problems, people.

And don't forget our enemies have worse problems.

It Makes More Sense in the Original Austrian

An Austrian man cut off his own foot in order to continue getting unemployment benefits.

I like to believe that if someone did that here they'd have their benefits cut because in court the person wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

< rimshot >

No. I'm not sorry about writing that, at all.

Working the Problem

I mentioned that assumptions that Israel cannot attack Iran because Israel lacks sufficient aerial refueling capabilities fail to consider whether Israel will think outside the box to get around that limitation. I mentioned the idea that Israel could hit Iran and have planes land in third countries--including Azerbaijan.

Well, what do you know?

According to a new article in Foreign Policy, Israel has, through a longtime but recently deepened relationship with Azerbaijan, gained access to airfields in a country bordering Iran, which it could use to make more feasible its attack on Iran.

While Azerbaijan says Israel can't use bases to attack Iran, the possibility of Israeli planes landing in Azerbaijan after an attack is raised.

Fancy that. Maybe aerial refueling capabilities aren't the limiting factor.

UPDATE: Azerbaijan denies they'd have a role in launching a strike:

A senior official at Azerbaijan's presidential administration said such speculation was "aimed at damaging relations between Azerbaijan and Iran".

"We have stated on numerous occasions and we reiterate that there will be no actions against Iran... from the territory of Azerbaijan," presidential official Ali Hasanov told journalists in Baku.

I would like to point out that the scenario I outlined is consistent with this denial. I only suggest that Israeli aircraft could land at Azerbaijan air fields after a flight direct from Israel to their targets in Iran, thus reducing Israeli aerial refueling needs--not that an attack would take place from Azerbijan territory.

UPDATE: Here's the article that started this off. I find it disheartening that our intelligence people are not happy with what Israel is doing, rather than putting the blame squarely on nutball Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions.

Repeat!

I'm a proud dad. Both my children are a joy (with the usual and normal amount of frustration--no Stepford Children here!).

So it is with great pride that I can report that Lamb won the grade trophy for her science fair project. It was an experiment that continued the theme of simple machines. This year she tested the positioning of a fulcrum in a lever to lift an object. UPDATE: Here's the picture:


Although I was a history and political science major, I did take physics in college. The remnants of that three-decade-old knowledge are just strong enough to come up with grade school experiments.

Lamb put a lot of work into the project. This year, I also had Lamb type her notes for the display board. I'll admit that this was the toughest part for her. But despite some complaining, she did persist for 2-1/2 hours of typing. She enjoyed the experiment part a lot more.

Ever since she was pre-kindergarten and watched me helping her big brother with an experiment for his science fair, she's been eager to do her own. Back then, I had to make a quick experiment using wooden blocks for her to conduct while Mister worked on his. Seeing Mister's trophy also inspired Lamb to get her own.

Since she won last year, Lamb noted with a little worry that other kids in her class were saying they had to beat her! I told her that she should be proud that she is considered the standard to beat.

And she still is. For those of you counting along at home, that makes three science fair trophies for Lamb. :-)

As a bonus, the first grade winner did the experiment she won with in kindergarten.

As an additional bonus, she is managing this without having to forfeit her childhood by being put on the career track at a young age by tiger parenting approaches. Kids will have a lifetime of work and responsibilities. I say as long as they do what they are supposed to do, let them be kids while they are kids.

I hope my daughter learns from these science fairs that she can achieve whatever she wants in life. I'll have no limits placed on her that she doesn't want.

We Shall Return

After the Cold War, the Philippines wanted us to leave our large naval and air bases there. And we complied. Times change:

The Philippines is offering the United States greater access to its airfields and may open new areas for soldiers to use, as the Pacific country seeks stronger military ties with its closest ally, moves likely to further raise tensions with China.

In exchange for opening its bases, the Philippines will ask Washington for more military equipment and training, including a another Hamilton-class warship and possibly a squadron of old F-16 jet fighters, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told Reuters on Thursday.

But we will return in a different form. Rather than have permanent bases, we will regularly use Philippines facilities so that in case of a crisis we are familiar with moving in quickly and operating.

Lead the Troops

One of my first reactions when I read that one of our troops murdered Afghan civilians was that his unit's leadership might bear some responsibility for failing to lead. We are looking into that issue.

We've been at war a long time and these incidents are pretty rare. While we can congratulate ourselves about that fact, we have to look at the leadership of the units who are entrusted to keep our troops fighting honorably.

And it might help to wonder if we are asking our troops to fight in order to win or to fight just not to lose before the presidential election.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hey, Whatever Floats Your Boat

NATO actually has the right response to Russia's threats regarding our planned missile defenses (well, "planned" before President Obama asked Medvedev for some "space" on the issue):

The deployment by the Kremlin of tactical weapons to protect against a planned U.S.-led missile shield in Europe would be to squander funds that could be used to improve living standards in Russia, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday.

“I have to say that it would be a complete waste of money to deploy offensive weapons against an artificial enemy – an enemy that doesn’t exist in the real world,” Rasmussen said in a video link-up from NATO headquarters in Brussels. “This money would be much better spent on economic and social development.”

Rasmussen’s comments come less than a week after outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow was preparing a host of countermeasures to tackle NATO missile defense, including forward deployments of tactical Iskander missiles in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.

Like I wrote:

The Russians threaten to bolster missile launch detection and weapons to counter our missile defenses. If it increases their trust in us, I say go for it, dudes, Knock yourselves the eff out and build up those capabilities. Since the missile defenses are not pointed at Russia, can't stop a Russian attack, and are already vulnerable to existing Russian weapons, by all means achieve the capability to bounce the missile defense rubble if it helps you sleep at night.

Russia has a lot of ground to make up for after a generation of their military rotting away. Why discourage the Russians from wasting money if they want to persist in thinking of us as the enemy? Would we really rather they bolster their conventional capabilities instead?

Make my day, Moscow. Counter that dangerous threat to Mother Russia. We deserve it. And you'll feel good, apparently.

Tip of the Spear

Libya's south is still not settled down:

Three days of clashes between rival militias in southern Libya spread to the centre of the country's fourth largest city Sabha on Tuesday despite the deployment of army troops trying to stop the violence which has so far killed nearly 50 people.

This seemed like a pro-Khaddafi revolt a while back, if memory serves me. But later that seemed less clear. It is at least clear that control is being contested. If pro-Khaddafi (notwithstanding Khaddafi's room temperature status) forces want to mount a counter-attack, they'll need to do it from the south where they can draw supplies and mercenaries far from potential NATO air power. If Tuaregs can emerge from the recent fighting with a base of power in Mali, they would be a source of manpower and a deep rear area.

Sabha matters a great deal. If factional fighting continues among the victors of the Libya civil war to the point that the country starts to splinter, the Khaddafi faction could yet reorganize to mount a counter-attack to seize Tripoli and perhaps settle for half a loaf.

Editorial Space

I guess this is Putin providing "space" to Obama:

"Electing Mitt Romney as the next President of the United States of America would be like appointing a serial paedophile as a kindergarten teacher, a rapist as a janitor at a girls' dormitory or a psychopath with a fixation on knives as a kitchen hand. His comments on Russia are a puerile attempt at making the grand stage and boy, did he blow it..."

Pravda goes on to question American democracy and say that Romney is just an "adolescent" school boy[.]

You can't say Putin isn't living up to his side of the bargain. Although had they asked President Obama, they's have told them that for the dull Romney, having Pravda of all papers attacking him is pretty much a gift.

Still, Moscow is clearly trying to help the president who asked them for help. Shameful. Just shameful.

I will say that if President Obama plans to do something about overthrowing the Iranian regime, it would excuse any intent to gut our Europe-based missile defenses. If he plans to set back the Iranian nuclear plans, it would excuse any intent to purchase Russian cooperation by delaying our Europe-based missile defenses to the point that it still goes online before the Iranian threat develops.

But I suspect our president just wants to retreat. Whatever President Obama thinks he can get from Russia, we will lose from our disheartened allies.

I forget, is this the "smart" part of our diplomacy or the "nuanced" part?

UPDATE: If any of our allies are wondering if President Obama plans to bargain away their interests after re-election, do recall that most of you clamored for the nuance and European sophistication of candidate Obama over the cowboy Bush. Oh, and remember that loyalty is a cowboy trait. Enjoy.

UPDATE: Exactly:

Can you imagine the kind of pressure a reelected Obama will put on Israel, the kind of anxiety he will induce from Georgia to the Persian Gulf, the nervousness among our most loyal eastern European friends who, having already once been left out on a limb by Obama, are now wondering what new flexibility Obama will show Putin — the man who famously proclaimed that the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century was Russia’s loss of its Soviet empire.

Shameful.

The First Battle

China is preparing to hit us in space and in cyber-space to knock us off balance in the opening days (or weeks) of war. Do that successfully, and China has the opportunity to achieve a limited victory close to China before we can recover.

It has taken time for our government to become aware of China's threat:

Over the last decade the U.S. Department of Defense has become aware of elaborate Chinese plans to use Internet based attacks to support more conventional military operations. This awareness initially elicited incredulity, followed by fear which led to a more detailed investigation of the situation. Now there are attempts to deal with the problem.

So we need backup plans to cope with such attacks until we can adapt our networked systems to operate despite the attacks:

Having fallback plans (or "Plan B") ready beforehand is much more effective than scrambling to cope right after your Internet systems have been interrupted or corrupted. In effect, the Department of Defense is getting into wargaming possible Internet based attacks, including working out what you do if the defenses, such as they are, don't work.

And, of course, we need to figure out what we can do in cyber-war:

U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) became operational in late 2010, but it still has not established an official (approved by the government) policy stipulating how Internet based attacks can be responded to. While Cyber Command has been asking for permission to fight back, technical, legal and political problems have delayed agreement on how that can be done.

It would be nice if we could figure out ways to quickly counter-attack to disrupt the Chinese attacks before they seriously degrade our capabilities.

Interestingly enough, private contractors are a big part of our cyber-war capabilities and we will bring in civilian volunteers in war:

All those Cyber War operations are dependent on contract workers (civilians) for their top technical talent. ... Meanwhile, the Department of Defense has assembled a growing group of civilian Cyber War volunteers. Not all have security clearances, but in the event of a national Cyber War crisis, that would be less of an issue.

When you consider that China has organized civilian hackers, we could see the first war between private warfighting assets take place in cyber-space:

The U.S. has an edge in the number of potential "mercenaries" (commercial security firms, and freelance experts) it could enlist for the war effort. China openly encourages its hackers to go out and practice on foreigners, especially the Japanese (still hated for World War II era atrocities) and the United States. China is also believed to have arrangements and understandings with the gangs that specialize in Internet based crime.

Why yes, I have done something on that topic, now that you mention it.

The first battle may not involve casualties (unless some hackers have heart attacks from over-use of Red Bull), but the outcome of the battle could determine whether China achieves their objective before we can effectively fight back.

Huh, That Would Be Useful

Now that you mention it, the Cocos Islands would be a nice place to hold the left flank of any forces we deploy in northern Australia and to support and Littoral Combat Ships we are planning to base in Singapore:

Australia could one day allow U.S. spy flights to operate from a remote Indian Ocean island, Defense Minister Stephen Smith confirmed on Wednesday, supporting the U.S. pivot to Asia but likely upsetting Australia's biggest trading partner, China. ...

"We view Cocos as being potentially a long term strategic location. But that is down the track," Smith told reporters on Wednesday.

The Washington Post said the Pentagon was interested in using Cocos Islands, a series of atolls about 3,000 km (1,800 miles) west of Australia and south of Indonesia, as a new base for surveillance aircraft and allowing spy flights over the South China Sea.

I'm not sure I was even aware of the Cocos Islands as a potential asset. Sounds good to me. Heck, I'm still waiting for us to upgrade Wake Island.

So What is His Distraction?

President Obama made much of President Bush being "distracted" by Iraq from winning the "real" war in Afghanistan. Obama continued the increase in troop strength begun by Bush, and has accepted higher casualties as he allowed our military to go on offense to defeat the Taliban in their southern strongholds.

But the president has utterly failed to use his supposedly magical speaking ability (I never got any leg tingles, that's for sure--blinding headaches, sure, but no tingles) to rally the American public behind the need to endure casualties to win the war:

If the commander in chief doesn’t defend the war and make a case for his chosen strategy, the American public has little else to go on but the most garish of headlines. Afghanistan was supposed to be the “good war” that this administration wasn’t going to neglect as — it charged — the Bush administration had done. Yet today, the only thing coming from the Obama administration on the subject is radio silence.

Even Bush would make what I considered stirring defenses of the Iraq War to try to check the fall in support to win the war. I constantly complained that Bush didn't do that week in and week out, but at least he made the effort. And in the end, he did just enough to sustain support until we could win on the battlefield. If only he'd done enough to extend public support through the Obama administration to have allowed the continuation of our troop presence.

But now, President Obama hasn't been willing to do even what Bush did, and the question is still out over whether we can stay the course until we defeat the Taliban on the battlefield. What's distracting President Obama from fighting and winning the real war, anyway? Oh, right. That's the "real" war now.

Oh yeah, I miss him.

Enough!

The South Koreans are getting fed up with the nuclear tantrums from the north:


"We are studying measures such as tracking and shooting down (parts) of a North Korean missile in case they stray out of their normal trajectory" and violate South Korean territory, said Yoon Won-shik, a vice spokesman at the Defense Ministry.


One of these days, North Korea is going to provoke South Korea into retaliation. It will escalate, pulling in Japan and America, and end with South Korean troops holding an enclave north of the DMZ to keep North Korean artillery out of range of Seoul.

After that, we'll see if China can finally restrain their little rabid pet or if the Chinese panic and occupy Pyongyang.

I don't believe North Korea has nuclear weapons yet. At best they have a nuclear device that requires an army of scientists and technicians to detonate in a laboratory environment. So they play a dangerous game of bluff that they can't back up.

We shall see if mid-April, when the North Koreans say they will launch their missile, is that day.

When All Else Fails

Try the bleeding obvious to halt Horn of Africa piracy:

Some major seafaring nations, like China and India, are talking more aggressively of attacking the pirate bases. The EU (European Union) recently authorized its ships and aircraft off Somalia to hit individual targets on land (like fuel storage, vehicles and other key pirate assets.) This would lead to civilian casualties, and would be publicly condemned by the UN and many nations. But the seafaring nations would quietly encourage such action, a solution for piracy that has worked for thousands of years.

But the hope that a less direct response could defeat or cope with the piracy dragged on for years. Let's hope that the impact of years of a piracy culture and economy hasn't led to problems that will outlast the destruction of the pirate havens when the world finally gets to the point of doing that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stimulus and Response?

Yesterday, Turkey closes their embassy in Syria:

Turkey closed its embassy in Damascus and recalled its ambassador as relations between the former allies continue to deteriorate.

Today, Syria says they accept a ceasefire:

Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan said Tuesday that Syria has agreed to a ceasefire plan, but some implementation details remain to be worked out. Annan, who's been tasked with mediating an end to the Syria violence, received U.N. Security Council backing last week for a six-point proposal to ease the crisis.

I don't assume Syria has done anything more than trying to keep from angering Turkey. And "implementation details" might include slaughtering protesters.

Ban Ka'ar Hill Awaits

The murders of Jews (including young children) and Moslem paratroopers in France led the always-hopeful Global Left to speculate that the killer was obviously a right-winger--thus proving that anyone on the right is damned by that individual's crime. Sadly for them, the killer was a jihadi Moslem who delighted in the slaughter of a terrified child. Which meant the "why do they hate us?" thinking could finally kick in.

Yet while the identification of the killer as a Moslem jihadi doesn't damn all Moslems as killers, the sad truth is that too large a minority is sympathetic to the motivations and maybe even the killings, however regrettable that may be. So France has a problem:

With France's deadly attacks, Islamic terror has apparently struck once more in the heart of Europe — and authorities say there's a dangerous twist: the emergence of homegrown extremists operating independent of any known networks, making them hard to track and stop.

"We have a different kind of jihadist threat emerging and it's getting stronger," Europol chief Rob Wainwright told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from The Hague. "It is much more decentralized and harder to track."

Indeed, it isn't just France that has a problem. But France could have the worst problem. Recall that over six years ago, France has a problem with vaguely defined "youths" torching cars and whatnot.

Sure, then their issue was "jobs" rather than "hijabs." But they were willing to torch cars over that grievance. Tomorrow, today's twist could make a new motivation for mayhem and burning--with the addition of brutal killings.

And as I've asked before, what if tomorrow a nuclear-armed, mullah-led Iran warns France to tread carefully when reacting to Moslem riots inside France? Now that's a twist.

A Second Marine Corps

Times are changing. The Marine Corps is going back to their amphibious roots to separate themselves from two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where the Marines worried about becoming a redundant "second army."

Which, considering that the Obama administration is simply assuming we won't need to fight a land war in the near future, is a wise move in the appropriations war.

But if we aren't going to be involved in any large land wars (as the administration assumes for budget purposes), being the first Army is no great place to be in the appropriations war.

So it seems that the Army is trying to be a second Marine Corps involved in expeditionary missions (for some reason, the link to the original web site is dead):

Odierno said the Army will go from a force that is forward-deployed to one that will rotate from the United States to hot spots. He said forces in the United States would be regionally aligned for contingencies and stocks would be pre-positioned.

Regionally aligned units are a change from having general purpose forces to those that are assigned to specific regions much as special forces groups are. Since the regionally aligned units are designed, in part, to take up the slack of training allied troops to free up special forces who traditionally did this for combat missions, this makes sense:

We have learned many lessons over the last 10 years, but one of the most compelling is that – whether you are working among the citizens of a country, or working with their government or Armed Forces – nothing is as important to your long term success as understanding the prevailing culture and values.

Before the most recent set of conflicts, it was generally believed that cultural awareness was only required in select Army units, such as Special Forces or Civil Affairs. Recent history has made clear that we need expanded levels of cultural and regional awareness in all Army units. So, in the simplest terms, regionally aligned forces are Army units and leaders – Brigades, Divisions, Corps, and support forces – who focus on a specific region within their normal training program by receiving cultural training and language familiarization.

AFRICOM, for example is getting an early brigade that is regionally aligned:

In 2013, we will align a brigade with U.S. Africa Command. Missions will be conducted primarily by small units from within the brigade, who will deploy to select locations to support small-scale security cooperation activities and annual military exercises. Brigade Soldiers who are not deployed will continue to train both for U.S. Africa Command requirements and for emergent tasks.

While the bulk of the brigade trains normally for combat, detachments (which could include attached reservists, I assume) will be sent to Africa for training missions.

But it makes sense only so far, if you ask me. If we start dividing up all our Army's brigades and aligning them with specific theaters, we pretty much abandon the idea that we must be ready to pool half of our active Army units to fight an Iraq-sized war someplace as we used to with the major theater war (and earlier: major regional contingency--or conflict, depending on who you asked) planning assumption. Sure, I assume good-sized chunks will be aligned with Korea or the Middle East, but will it be enough to fight a war the Army is told it doesn't need to plan for? I eagerly await the regional alignments list.

If the Army is just a big pool of troops to generate rotations of small Army Expeditionary Units to be a quickly deployed to specified regions for training or crises, won't we have two ground forces designed to win battles? If so, who wins our wars? I mean, if our enemies don't cooperate with our administration's assumption about not needing to fight wars, we might need one Army.

Where'd They Build That Bad Reputation?

Whether or not hard-core Islamists win free or rigged elections in Arab countries as the result of the Arab Spring of 2011, we can say that Islamists will have a narrower range of actions they can take if they win. The last decade of jihadi violence--that largely targeted Moslems despite the jihadi claims of wanting to stick it to the infidels--has done a lot of damage to the reputation of jihadis:

The Arab Spring was a big disappointment to al Qaeda, which saw itself as the most qualified to liberate the Moslem world from all its problems. Worse, many of the Arab Spring leaders were calling for democracy. Al Qaeda considers democracy un-Islamic and just another bad influence from the West. But al Qaeda also noticed that Islamic political parties did well in elections that followed the overthrow of several Arab despots. But these Islamic parties were wary of al Qaeda, even though al Qaeda had blamed the terrorist slaughter in Iraq on others. This did not deceive anyone. As a result, in the last few years, al Qaeda has tried real hard to reduce the civilian body count, and concentrate on killing soldiers, police and politicians instead. So as al Qaeda showed up in the new Arab democracies, they were warned that any rough stuff would be met with rougher stuff.

And killing Osama bin Laden made it obvious that their jihadi saviors are mortal. Not mentioned is that al Qaeda has had their butts kicked on two major battlefields (Afghanistan and Iraq). Winning would have made the carnage less offensive, I'd bet.

It will be a while before passions cool over the Iraq War and we can assess whether the Arab Spring was inspired by the liberation of Iraq. Although in early 2005, before Iraq exploded in sectarian violence (by mid-2006) when Lebanon was experiencing a Cedar Revolution and democratic reforms percolated in the Arab world, the idea wasn't so controversial.

But I think we can thank the Iraq War for the narrow opportunities that jihadis have to exploit the fall of despots in the Arab world. The despots were going to fall eventually. And one reason the realist camp has for supporting those despots is that something worse--jihadi regimes--will take their place. Without the Iraq War where al Qaeda and jihadis in general wrecked their image, those eventual revolutions--even if the liberation of Iraq did not hasten that day--would have put pro-jihad Islamists in a good position to exploit the chaos and take charge.

And as I've said all along of democracy in Arab countries, if we focus on the process that excludes the violence-prone and not the outcome, free elections that happen more than just once to choose the new dictator will provide voters the chance to decide whether putting Islamists in charge was really a good idea. Give them many opportunities to elect good men and they'll eventually do it. Even if we can't exclude the violence-prone from participating in their elections, their bad image earned in the Iraq War may be doing that job for us.

Call it blowback for the jihadis, if you will.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Stuff Happens

In light of several posts that I wrote addressing Chinese power, their potential to stumble, and the reaction of the neighborhood, Strategytalk has a good overview of China and the region.

They make a good point that China really doesn't want war and would rather trade (although stealing technology is part of "trade" and not "war" in their thinking). That is a positive when you consider that Hitler wanted war. He thought it was good for the people to have a struggle. So that Chinese preference isn't nothing.

But it isn't everything, either.

One, is it war when you are subduing what you think is a rebellious province? War, properly speaking, is between states. China does not consider Taiwan a state. Yet regardless of the legalities it would look a lot like war.

Two, as China's military grows, the military option for any problem obviously grows and the chance for war increases. If 9/11 had happened to France, despite their mostly decent military, the option of overthrowing the Taliban government, chasing al Qaeda into the hills of Pakistan, defeating the Taliban in their southern stronghold, and eventually killing Osama bin Laden with a surprise special forces raid would have been out of the question for France. Britain, I think, could have done the first and second steps, but not the third. And without the third, they couldn't have gotten to that fourth step even though they could have pulled off something similar (but without the high tech helicopters).

Third, leaders make stupid decision all the time. China could believe a quick blow can rapidly resolve a problem and find they have an open-ended war instead. And if the target is Taiwan--believed in Peking to be a purely internal matter--and America or Japan intervenes, it would become a war in legal terms, too. The same could apply to Tibet if there is an uprising and India gets involved, leading to a China-India war.

Fourth, even a country that doesn't want war can go to war. China intervened against us in Korea and Vietnam and in the former, it led to war between us. It could have happened in the latter. And China went to war with India and Vietnam. There were also some pretty hefty border clashes with the Soviets. And minor clashes in the South China Sea where China took some islands.

And fifth, accidents happen or escalation from a minor clash could spark a war.

And don't speak to me about Chinese weaknesses as if that is the last word. I perfectly agree that America is far more powerful economically (I don't know why so many Americans believe China's economy is bigger than ours) and our military is far more powerful than China's. Just the fact that the debate is how we can operate close to China and not the reverse should make that clear. We are a global power and China is not--and may never be considering all the foes they have surrounding them. If, because of any of the objections I cite above China goes to war, China has the advantage of location. We will have the power to counter-attack successfully, but that will require a political decision to mass that power and take the risk of going hammer and tongs with a nuclear power (however weak they are in that regard).

Oh, and given the above and related to the fifth reason war could happen despite China's preference for trade, remember that some damn fool thing in the Balkans unrelated to Germany led to a German crisis with Russia, which led Germany to attack France because Germany knew that time was not on their side. Germany believed that they had to use their speed of mobilization to defeat France before the slower Russia could mobilize. Attacking Russia risked having France decide to jump in to get their lost provinces back from Germany while Russia was fighting in the east.

Today, China knows that because of their location they can gain an advantage over America's relatively sparse forward-deployed forces in the western Pacific. But that advantage will erode if we have time to mobilize our resources. The same pressure to act aggressively will play on Chinese nerves in a crisis as they watch our distant forces gather and prepare to move west. And what if Chinese political leaders--who may very well sincerely and resolutely prefer trade to war--aren't the people who decide if there will be war?

And as long as I am on a roll of worst-case scenarios, what if something happens that completely upsets the variables in China's calculation that it prefers trade and prosperity to the potential failures of war? What if their economy tanks? Doesn't that make the trade prosperity issue less compelling? Especially if the peasants are revolting? Especially if the xenophobia the Chinese rulers have been stirring up to replace faith in communism leads to public pressure to deal with whatever foreign devil is "causing" their economic problem?

There is a lot of military power in east Asia. Asia spends more on military power than Europe, now. Sheer density of militarily capable states increases the chance of stuff happening that can spark a war.

I'm just not comforted by the notion that war can't happen because it doesn't make sense and nobody wants it. Stuff happens. We have lots of books to show that.

My Confidence Level is Not Tingling

So the intelligence services who haven't alerted us to any nuclear debut since they missed Moscow's in 1949 don't think Iran is close to going nuclear?

The United States, European allies and even Israel generally agree on three things about Iran's nuclear program: Tehran does not have a bomb, has not decided to build one, and is probably years away from having a deliverable nuclear warhead. ...

Reuters has learned that in late 2006 or early 2007, U.S. intelligence intercepted telephone and email communications in which Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a leading figure in Iran's nuclear program, and other scientists complained that the weaponization program had been stopped. ...

Current and former U.S. officials say they are confident that Iran has no secret uranium-enrichment site outside the purview of U.N. nuclear inspections.

They also have confidence that any Iranian move toward building a functional nuclear weapon would be detected long before a bomb was made.

First of all, might not the Iranians have learned from Iraq that we listen to our enemies? With Iraq, we overheard Iraqis discussing their WMD and concluded--since they apparently believed it--that Iraq had WMD (the chemical sort, anyway) in firing condition. I keep saying that the Iranians aren't stupid. Knowing that we seem fixated on the "imminent" issue, might they not want to seem safely outside that possible trigger for strikes?

What if the narrow weapons program was halted only because the Iranians purchased the design from North Korea or Pakistan and those caught complaining don't know about it? So concluding that the halt of those programs--if the halt is even real--just doesn't matter?

The confidence of the intelligence community is touching, but their track record isn't great. And what if Iran has facilities outside of Iran? What if Iran does have extra enrichment capacity? Either in facilities not known to us or by using known facilities at a greater capacity than we calculate?

And worse, what if the uranium enrichment issue isn't as key as they believe?

What if Iran is well aware that as they approach the ability to build a nuclear warhead, they become a target?

The problem from Iran's point of view is that they can't know if crossing one of these lines could trigger an American or Israeli preemptive strike out of fear that further delay in attacking would be too late to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And if I was an Iranian nutball, I wouldn't assume the Americans and Israelis couldn't knock out my infrastructure.

Were I an Iranian nutball, under those circumstances, I'd want at least a few atomic warhead on hand before I announce capabilities to produce atomic weapons-grade material. Which would mean I'd have had to have bought some from either North Korea or Pakistan--or possibly even from some broke custodian of Russia's arsenal.

I'll say it again, if I was an Iranian nutball, I'd want a few nukes on hand before I got the ability to build my own nukes just to deter America or Israel.

Oh No, Wouldn't Want to Militarize a War

The Obama administration is finally going to send communications gear and non-lethal aid to the Syrian rebels. On the other hand, the Obama administration is holding back more on the most ridiculous pretense:

US President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed Sunday on the need to send "non-lethal" aid to Syrian rebels, including communications equipment, a US official said. ...

The rebels are badly outgunned by Syria's armed forces but the White House has said that it does not favour arming them, arguing that further "militarising" the conflict would worsen civilian bloodshed.

One, the war is on. Further militarizing it simply means giving the rebels more of a chance to fight back against the tanks, artillery, and helicopter gunships of the Assad regime. That would be a good thing and not a bad development.

And two, just what do the administration's big brains think communications gear and other supplies are supposed to do if not allow the rebels to fight more effectively?

But hey, I should rejoice that our policy is a little less stupid after this decision rather than complain too much that we aren't facing the bleeding obvious.

Isn't This an Effective Response?

I don't know why President Obama is asking China to control North Korea:

U.S. President Barack Obama urged China on Sunday to use its influence to rein in North Korea instead of "turning a blind eye" to its nuclear defiance, and warned of tighter sanctions if the reclusive state goes ahead with a rocket launch next month.

"North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations," a stern-faced Obama said after a tour of the heavily fortified border between the two Koreas resonant with echoes of the Cold War.

Oh contraire', my president. Iran has proven that threats achieve quite a lot. Indeed, Iran's lesson is that President Obama should have told China that if North Korea attacks South Korea, Japan, or America again, we will strike China. Quite a lot of people here go along with that logic, after all.

Stretching Exercise

Reelection for President Obama is just a means to get more presidential "flexibility." And it would be nice, the president essentially says, if the Russians didn't harm his reelection chances by humiliating the president before November.

Flexibility is useful for bowing more deeply and for curling into a fetal position while enemies kick us.

I'm sure the Russians are smart enough to know that President Obama's reelection is good for them. Lord knows what Obama will give away in December.

Every day, Carter looks better. Even he managed to react to Soviet aggression and increase defense spending in response.

UPDATE: I hear that missile defense is the particular area that President Obama will bend over backwards to give up. Silly me, I had hoped the kisser and the kissed would be reversed.

UPDATE: Don't under-estimate the shamefulness of this incident:


Obama appears to have decided his re-election, with the aid of Putin, is more important than supporting U.S. allies and pursuing responsible collective security measures against rogue regimes. Hope and change? No. A self-centered politician's political security first. American security? Not so much.


I'm not sure how much more "smart" diplomacy we can endure. The Poles are surely asking that question.

How on Earth does this administration think it can "lead from behind" if none of our allies believes they can safely turn their backs on us?

On the domestic front, liberals still love the president despite the many national security policies of Bush that Obama has continued. This is because liberals deep down trust their candidate to retreat and disarm when he can in his second and final term. Now President Obama has let the Russians know they just need to be patient, too. As long as enough rubes here believe the farce long enough to vote for President Obama, Russians and liberals will be happy.

Is Canada Resetting Relations, Too?

Given that Canada deemed their far north a new frontier that has to be defended, what gives with this decision?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s much-ballyhooed plan to build a naval facility at Nanisivik shrunk dramatically last month, when Department of National Defence officials told regulators about big cutbacks to the project.

From a year-round base, the facility will be a summer-only base where troops can use satellite phones rather than a new telecommunications system.

But hey, don't you go thinking that this won't have state-of-the-art stuff to project Canadian power into the great frigid north!

They will retain a “large flat area” for use as a helicopter landing pad, but it will meet DND’s code requirements only if “budget permits.”

Large flat areas don't come cheap, eh? Well, if budget permits they'll have that fancy flat area.

Did the Russians go sane while I wasn't looking to justify Canada's retreat from their own north?

The Logic of the Plan

I was recently relieved to read that our military still assumes we will have an offensive in Regional Command East this year. I've blogged my concerns that the White House had essentially called off the war.

The military's assumption that they'll have 68,000 US troops for 2013 makes me feel better:

During a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Allen was pressed by Senator John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican, for his opinion on the required American military presence in Afghanistan next year.

“My opinion is that we will need significant combat power in 2013,” General Allen responded.

Mr. McCain pressed on, asking, “Like 68,000?”

“Sixty-eight thousand is a good going-in number, sir, but I owe the president some analysis on that,” General Allen replied.

We were on offense in the south of Afghanistan in 2010 and needed 2011 to defend the gains and make sure the Taliban didn't come back. With an offensive this year in the east, we'll need troops to hold the gains in 2013 against a Taliban counter-attack. And recall that more robust sanctuaries are across the border inside Pakistan in the east.

Obviously, the military will give the president options after both this year's effort in the east and how well defending the gains is going in light of Afghan security force development.

Unless we've decide to panic, the logic of our staged offensives based on surges in troop strength that started under Bush and accelerated under Obama requires keeping a higher level of troops for at least a couple more years to achieve our objectives.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

No, Those are the Little Questions

Something--perhaps big--appears to be going on in China's political world. Foreign Policy goes over the five big rumors:

Speculation is rife that a coup might have happened, with the only general consensus being that something big is going on in Beijing. What follows is a curated guide to the "information" -- read: wild rumors and speculation -- floating around online in Chinese about Bo Xilai's surprising fall from grace and what his sacking means for the future of the Chinese Communist Party.

They are interesting. And all are considered unlikely. So something else is the answer to the question of what is going on in Peking. It is quite possible that the answer to the question is "nothing in particular."

Which leads to the bigger question of how can anyone believe that if China takes our place as the dominant power that our interests will be defended in a manner little different from the transition from Britain to America (and it would be good for us, really, they say, because China rather than America will pay for the military power to defend the system we designed)? China is the second biggest power and we have no idea if a coup is taking place in China. How can this uncertaintly be a source of a light-hearted article in a serious publication (As the judgment of one rumor shows: "Likelihood: Slightly better than the Mayan Apocalypse.")?

We live in a country where the administration makes Friday night data dumps certain that being too late for Friday evening news means that the flood of news we consume will make the data dump mere ancient history by Monday when people start to pay attention to the news again. Little can happen here without going public fast and the way to hide information is to dilute it in the flood of news we live in (whether the media will cover it is another question). Yet in China, we can only speculate about whether a coup is or is not happening.

I don't think that China is fated to become either the number one economic power or the most powerful and influential global power at our expense. Demographics (and maybe economics) could get in the way of the former and geography the latter. But for those who assume both and tell us not to worry about it, how does this mystery about what is happening in China provide any assurance that the rise of China to dominance is something that we should welcome?

It Could be a Two-Fer

Vice President Biden will attempt to put US-Iraqi relations on a firmer footing, getting Iraq to halt their support for Assad of Syria. A little history of Iraq's leadership ambitions would be in order to make some progress.

Wars against Iran (1980-1988) and Kuwait (1990-1991) smashed Iraqi ambitions for leadership roles in the region through territorial conquest. War with America in 2003 smashed that strategy of winning through aggression for good (we hope). A strong American alliance could be the basis for Iraq to finally get what they've wanted, but without aggressive wars.

Iraq is hosting an Arab League summit:

A summit of Arab leaders, held here for the first time in a generation, is a prime opportunity for Iraq to reassert itself as a political player in the Arab world after years of war, isolation and American occupation.

It also puts Iraq's Shiite leadership under pressure to pick a side in the bitter sectarian politics dividing the region. The top item on the agenda — the crisis in Syria — is seen by Iraq's suspicious Arab brethren as a litmus test of whether Baghdad is with them or with their top rival, Shiite-led Iran.

It may be that Iraqi support of Assad at Iran's request is simply a means of getting some concessions from the Sunni Arab world. And then there's the satisfaction of paying the Sunni Arab world back for their years of funneling jihadis into Iraq to kill Iraqis and American troops. Sure, sending their angry young men to Iraq where Americans, Iraqis and others could kill them (sorry about the mayhem they unleashed) seemed clever to Arab rulers at the time, I'm sure. But now the consequences must be faced.

And we are trying to get Iraq to choose wisely:

The first major test of U.S. post-war influence in Iraq is now raging over efforts to stop Iran from funneling arms to Syria through Iraqi airspace, but the Iraqis are either unwilling or unable to assure the United States the shipments will cease.

In the short run, if we get Iraq to turn on Iran over this issue, it may not be our position that sways Iraq's leaders but the prospect of gaining influence with Sunni Arab states. That would establish a path for Iraq that leads to a stronger alliance with America.

Iraq does have to choose a path. Iraqis wanted to be the leader of the Arab world before, and the invasion of Iraq in 1980 was supposed to be a nice trophy prior to hosting an Arab League summit a couple years later. The war stopped that summit and despite Iraqi attempts to portray themselves as the Sword of the Arab world, the Arab world wanted nothing to do with the war. At the time, Egypt was knocked out of the leadership position because the Egyptians made peace with Israel. Iraq wanted the role. By the time the war ended, Egypt had exploited the war and Iraq's single-minded focus on winning it--to regain a leading role in the Arab world.

And now, with Egypt in turmoil and flirting with an Iran whose nuclear ambitions make Sunni Arab states nervous, Iraq has an opportunity again to be a leader in the Arab world.

Face it, Iraq can't be the leader of the Shia world since Iran has the lead there even without Iraq following them. And the Arab world won't follow Iraq if Iraq follows Iran. If Iraq wants a leadership role befitting their stature, as they see it, they need to mend fences with the Sunni Arab world, defy Iran and turn against Syria's Assad (who is responsible for lots of death in Iraq, let's not forget), and seek closer relations with America in order to get the military power needed to back regional leadership ambitions. In the long run, that will be a strong incentive for Iraq to come to their senses in regard to military cooperation with America.

And really, if Iraq manages to parlay their American friendship and stature in the Arab world into a leadership position in the Arab world by standing up to Iran, the ultimate defeat of Iran would catapult Iran into the leadership of the Shia world, too.

If anyone needs truly smart diplomacy right now, it is Iraq. Could they blow this opportunity?

All About the Location

Yemen doesn't attract a lot of interest from me. My view is that the place is pretty old school and whoever emerges on top will want our help to control jihadis.

While the civil war environment endures, al Qaeda has room to play, but it is chaos for them, too, and so not much of a sanctuary. They are one small faction there and one that draws our missile attention from time to time. So I don't worry about it as a major Long War front. Strategypage has a nice summary. It's very medieval, they say.

But what worries me is Iran's hand in this:

Washington believes Iran is working with Shi'ite Muslim rebels in northern Yemen and secessionists in the country's south to expand its influence at the expense of Yemen's Gulf neighbors, the U.S. envoy to Sanaa was quoted as saying on Sunday.

And it isn't just having a presence near Saudi Arabia's land border. I think Iran would love to complement their influence in Eritrea across the Red Sea with a presence in Yemen where Iran can attack alternative oil routes that bypass the Strait of Hormuz.

Never mistake fanaticism for stupidity.

Burden of Proof

The world press will print or broadcast any accusation of brutality by American forces and give it credibility. Without that preparation of the media battlespace, the atrocity that was carried out in Afghanistan recently wouldn't be as much of a problem given all the violence the Taliban inflict as a matter of standard operating procedures.

So it is good to have the tools to shut them down:

U.S. and Afghan troops recently tracked down and arrested a corrupt government official who had stolen a lot of cash and goods. ... The culprit was arrested, but as soon as he got within earshot of journalists he began claiming that the American and Afghan troops had stolen gold from him and roughed up the women of his household. But the American Special Forces troops had worn small cameras on their helmets during the operation, and gladly showed the videos to the journalists.

That ended the story line that was surely being written.

At least this is a positive aspect of the problem of pervasive battlefield video. But the fact that the journalists require proof from our side rather than from the enemy shows you how much the world media is biased (from sympathy, corruption, or simply threats) against America.

Smells Like ... Opportunity

Via Instapundit, we have news of note:

A rapidly increasing stream of New Age believers – or esoterics, as locals call them – have descended in their camper van-loads on the usually picturesque and tranquil Pyrenean village of Bugarach. They believe that when apocalypse strikes on 21 December this year, the aliens waiting in their spacecraft inside Pic de Bugarach will save all the humans near by and beam them off to the next age. ...

Now the nearby village is awash with New Agers, who have boosted the local economy, though their naked group climbs up to the peak have raised concerns as well as eyebrows.

Perhaps 100,000 hippies will arrive by the end-of-the-world date of Mayan doom.

I'm thinking lots of fire hoses and liquid soap ...

I know you are thinking, "Why would aliens pick these people to rescue?" Well, to be fair, the alien visitors will be expecting nudists considering what we riveted to the outsides of Pioneer 10 and 11 when we sent them into space:


Still, I have to think NASA had some scientists who were looking ahead to the possibilities of getting rid of these unproductive annoyances.

Thank you, Aliens!

With All Due Respect, Kiss My Ass

Gosh, President Medvedev is being all Russian-y again:

President Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday time was running out for the West to come up with new proposals to secure Russia's agreement to a missile defense shield in Europe. ...

"We have time (for an agreement) but it is running out, and I think that it would be in our mutual benefit to reach mutually acceptable agreements," Medvedev told a security conference.

"The main thing is that we must hear one simple thing - hear it and receive confirmation: 'Respected friends from Russia, our missile defense is not aimed against Russian nuclear forces.' This must be affirmed, not in a friendly chat over a cup of tea or a glass of wine, but in a document."

I hope Medvedev is simply being difficult, because if he is stupid and paranoid enough to believe our system is a threat against Russia, we're in for a fun 21st century.

The Russians threaten to bolster missile launch detection and weapons to counter our missile defenses. If it increases their trust in us, I say go for it, dudes, Knock yourselves the eff out and build up those capabilities. Since the missile defenses are not pointed at Russia, can't stop a Russian attack, and are already vulnerable to existing Russian weapons, by all means achieve the capability to bounce the missile defense rubble if it helps you sleep at night.

Heck, to show you how reset I am when it comes to our Russian friends, if they truly just want a "document" that legally binds us to not use the system to shoot down Russian missiles, I say give it to them. Hell, I'm in a generous mood. Make the documents official in both English and French!

But if the Russians want to hold a key to the system so it can't be fired without their "da" or want technical details of the defenses to make themselves secure in the knowledge that they can nuke Europe and America whenever they might wake up in a foul mood, I say screw 'em.

Sometimes I think the Russians' ego leads them to make this issue such a priority sore point between us. The Russians can't accept that we just don't think about them much any more the way we used to when Soviets roamed the planet. We've got bigger issues to face on a daily basis, and only when the Russians act like this do we dust off the phone number for the 3rd under-secretary of defense who still speaks Russian to give him a task to do.

Years ago when I was a political science major, I rejected becoming a Soviet specialist because I thought that was way too pessimistic to think about the world. I was right about that, at least. A major in Russian history would have been more prescient, I'd say. On that I failed. Just general purpose history and political science for me, and I've forgotten most of the Russian language I learned (and to be fair, I only decided to learn that language when I was a math major and figured Russian would be handy).

They want a freaking "document" indeed. Therapy would do them a lot more good, I'd say.

UPDATE: Obviously, the Russians really annoy me. It is especially frustrating because I had hoped to welcome Russia to the West. Russia could have taken their place in this world of advanced democracies--one which Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan have joined and which India is moving toward, it seems--but instead they used paranoid conspiracies to alienate potential friends even as their supposed friend in the non-West, China, steals them blind in military technology and looks longingly at Russia's Far East which was gained from so-called "unequal treaties" from China.

It All Evens Out

A Danish television host had fun teasing President Obama over his description of a number of our allies:

Thomas Buch-Andersen, host of the Danish TV show Detektor, mocked President Obama's political rhetoric in a recent episode. "Obama used a metaphor from boxing to explain Denmark's role in the world," says Buch-Andersen, introducing the segment.

He then roles the tape. "That's fairly typical of the way that Danes have punched above their weight in international affairs," President Obama says at a press availability in the Oval Office with Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark.

That description is then shown again and again in regard to other allies of ours.

The Danish host said the speech writer's copy key might be stuck. But the TV guy fails to appreciate that when we decide to "lead from behind," pretty much all of our allies have to "punch above their weight" to make up for us.

This is called "smart diplomacy." Smarts, doesn't it, Europe?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Foreign Policy Realism in Action

Turkish Kurds vow to fight Turkey if Turkey intervenes in Syria to stop Assad--the same Assad who holds Syria's Kurds down:

Turkish Kurd militants threatened on Thursday to turn all Kurdish populated areas into a "war zone" if Turkish troops entered Syria, a sign the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has allies in Syria may be taking sides in the conflict there.

The Kurds have made a grim calculation that they need the support of Syria to fight against Turkish oppression of Kurds--even at the price of Syrian oppression of other Kurds.

Having PKK support might not be such a good idea for Assad. If anything gets Turks jittery it is their Kurds. Turkey once threatened an invasion of Syria if Syria didn't turn over a Kurdish resistance leader and Syria complied rather than risk a fight. And that was when the Syrian armed forces weren't shaken by sectarian suspicions and desertions. The article raises that incident, too:

Turkish officials say they are watching closely for signs Syria may renew its support for the PKK, which it dropped in late 1998 after Turkish tanks massed on the Syrian border. Damascus was forced to deport PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan who was later seized by Turkish special forces in Kenya.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has repeatedly said Syria "would not dare" make such a mistake again.

You never can tell about mistakes. In 1914 and in 1939, the Germans didn't want to fight a two-front war. Sometimes you just get what you get. Heck, sometimes you even get what you deserve.

Thank Goodness for Smart Diplomacy!

Gosh, remember when we were told by the anti-war Left that it was wrong to remove the brutal, aggressive, WMD-seeking dictator Saddam Hussein because the milling masses of divided Iraqis needed a strong hand to control them? Remember the lofty promises of nuance that we could enjoy if only that cowboy Bush who killed Saddam was gone?

Well, children, enjoy:

A year after the rebellion against Kaddafi began, the dictatorship is gone but so is any effective government. The regional, tribal and city militias that were organized during the months of fighting have not disbanded and many refuse to recognize the authority of the NTC (National Transitional Council). ...

Civil war is brewing, and the goal will be to control the oil income. There are over 200,000 armed men in Libya, most of them belonging to a tribal or local militia. Some of these militias have set themselves up as local governments and are demanding "taxes" from businesses. So far, the NTC retains control of the oil trade. But that may not last. Success in avoiding civil war rests on the ability of the NTC leaders to negotiate unity deals with the many independent-minded factions.

Iraq didn't disintegrate despite the fissures. But surely, the Obama administration will do better than Bush on this regard. Phase IV of R2P will go like clockwork. I'm sure Libya will be just grand at the end of the day.

After all, the Obama administration's post-war plan has to be simply awesome by now, shouldn't it? I mean, we have smart guys and gals in charge, now.

Oh wait, President Obama killed Osama bin Laden:



Never mind. That means I'm not supposed to complain about Obama's foreign policy. I really need to get with the program.

Not That Being "the Next Japan" Sucks

Some of our elites tell us that China's communist rulers, being reasonably enlightened autocrat, are practicing capitalism better than our business leaders and too-timid government regulators.

But is China's economic growth a bubble about to burst?

Will China become the next Japan? Will its economic bubble burst? Should the Chinese brace themselves for deep deflation and economic stagnation? These questions have begun to swirl ever since stock prices and real estate values started to soar.

Even though the Chinese stock market did crash some years ago and hasn’t fully recovered since, housing prices have continued to rise, making for some striking similarities between China now and Japan before the appearance of the its own asset price bubble.

Not that this means that the real economic progress that China has made disappears. But the growth rate of the past may have been borrowing from the future and the bill may be due.

Nor does it mean that China won't be a growing military threat to their neighbors and a challenge to us. China can continue to modernize their military from the improved economy they have built even if the economy stagnates for even decades as it works through the imbalances it has created before resuming a more reasonable rate of growth. Look at Japan for confirmation of that. And China could gain local superiority over forward-deployed American forces in the early weeks of a war, should the worst happen.

Put away the white flags. It would be a little embarrassing to try to give up to China's "inevitable" rise just as they stumble in the face of economic reality.

Japan Rearms

Japan is preparing to shoot down a North Korean missile should it veer over Japan:

Speaking in Tokyo Friday, Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka said the Japanese military will be prepared for any eventuality.

Tanaka says he is ordering officials to prepare deployment of PAC-3 surface-to-air missiles and Aegis destroyers carrying a state-of-the-art anti-missile system that could attempt to shoot down the rocket.

Pyongyang says it will place an earth observation satellite into a polar orbit in mid-April to honor the 100th birth anniversary of its late founder and perennial president, Kim Il Sung.

Japan was not happy when North Korea fired a missile over Japanese territory before. Now Japan can do something about it. If North Korea wants to send a message to Japan, Japan might send a message right back.

Japan can do this because they have always had good--if small--military forces. And Japan continues to rearm in a dangerous neighborhood. And don't say that China hasn't had advanced notice of the consequences of failing to control their yappy lap dog.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ah, Now I Get It

People continue to get their panties in a twist by arguing that if Israel--not America--attacks Iran's nuclear facilities, then Iran will attack America "in retaliation."

Rather than calling into question the rationality of a mullah government that those anti-strike people think we can deter if they get nukes--and who knows, they say, if all their nuclear work, buried underground and dispersed to other countries, is really for the purpose of getting nuclear weapons!--these people argue that we have to stop Israel from attacking Iran.

This makes as much sense as saying that if North Korea attacks South Korea then we are fully justified in an immediate attack on China because China is a friend and ally of North Korea. And if China doesn't restrain North Korea, China deserves whatever they get from us. Who could blame us for "retaliating."

Huh. You mean that logic doesn't make as much sense when I put it that way? Fancy that.

Measuring Effectiveness

Fighting or shooting protesters continues around Syria. When you think about the Syrian armed forces and the prospect of how they could resist a Western intervention, contemplate the casualties the Syrians claim to have suffered:

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdesi said this week that 3,000 members of the security forces had died in the uprising, which Damascus blames on terrorist gangs.

And recall that the Syrian insurgency (with a terror assist from al Qaeda and other jihadis--blowback's a bitch) is far weaker than the insurgencies and terror campaigns in Iraq were from 2004 through 2007.

Then let's compare security force casualties. In the worst year of the insurgency in Iraq, our casualties never reached a thousand in a year--against well-armed and well-funded thugs supported by Syria, Iran, and the Arab Sunni world that provided recruits for the suicide bombings.

Even if you want to compare the Iraqi security forces casualties to Syria's, Iraq suffered about 6,000 for the entire war.

The Syrian armed forces just aren't that good. They'd be more of a challenge than Libya's, but in a conventional clash the Syrian armed forces would be crushed by a decent Western intervention, whether led by the Turks or us. Not that I think we should. I'd be happy if we just armed the opposition. Oh, and don't forget that these high Syrian casualties are being suffered by the best trained and most loyal troops that Assad has.

Oh, and one more thing, as Detective Columbo would say. If you are still panicky about the killings of American forces by Afghan allies, recall that the armed resistance in Syria is largely made up of Syrian army deserters. Now that's a trust issue.