Friday, August 31, 2012

The European Pivot to Asia

China surely has an interest in keeping Europe in the market for Chinese products. Especially now when China's economy appears fragile and they are preparing a changing of the guard at the top of the Communist party. But I find it hard to believe that the hard bargainers of Peking will loan money to the European Union for only that general objective.

Right now, it is all smiles for the cameras:

China is prepared to buy more EU government bonds amid a worsening European debt crisis that is dragging on the world economy, Premier Wen Jiabao said, in the strongest sign of support for its biggest trading partner in months.

The debt crisis, which has dented demand for Chinese exports and dragged China into its worst downturn in three years, was the primary focus of talks between Wen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel who arrived in Beijing on Thursday.

In the short run, it's hard to complain if China spends some of its foreign currency reserves on shoring up major allies of ours. Two birds with one stone, and all that.

China has already bullied and bribed Europeans into halting arms sales to Taiwan.

China has been urging Europe to end their arms embargo on China put in place after the unpleasantness of 1989. And Europe would love to have that market again for their own arms sales.

As Europe's new banker, China is in a position to push Europe to end that embargo.

And to make the Europeans feel less guilty, I'm sure the Chinese are telling the Europeans that China is making such progress in domestic arms production that if Europe doesn't establish markets soon, China won't even want to buy European weapons.

Whether or not there is a decent interval between the Chinese loan and the announcement of the end of the arms embargo, I think we can say that this will be the first step in Europe's own pivot (and deep bow) to the Asia-Pacific region.

Heart Breaking and Confusing

We are well past the surge of forces in Iraq that led to stresses on the Army blamed on rising suicides. Yet our troops will have killed themselves in record numbers this year:

A top US commander says 2012 is expected to be another “tough year” for the country’s entire military as the number of suicides in the US Army ranks is expected to hit a new high for the year.

Marine suicides will be high if not a record.

Are these veterans of multiple tours committing suicide or new soldiers? I don't know. And suicides were lower during the most stressful period of 2006-2008 when the Iraq War raged at its worst. Why are rates shooting up now?

Do troops have too much time on their hands to think and dwell on being at war?

Is the drop in overall support and interest in the fight they are still in affecting their morale?

Is this a leadership problem with platoon leaders and platoon sergeants failing to detect problems and address them early?

I'm not sure if I'm more saddened or more confused about this problem.

UPDATE: Our government is aware of the problem, and is trying to cope, it seems:

The President has rightly challenged us to do even more to prevent suicide among service members, veterans, and military families, and the entire leadership of the Department of Defense shares his determination to put a stop to these tragedies. In the months ahead, the civilian and uniformed leadership of the Department will remain focused on implementing a comprehensive suicide prevention strategy to deal with this urgent and complex challenge.”

The Department of Defense and Department of Veteran’s Affairs have a Military Crisis Line and encourages military families, veterans and their loved ones to call 1-800-273-8255 to gain access to a specially trained and qualified responder.

I worry that we'll turn out troops into victims rather than injured warriors in a misguided effort to treat them. I don't have answers. I just know that we can't allow our troops to keep committing suicide, and something must be done. But I don't have a lot of faith that we can solve the problem without hurting the military.

Fracked Up Logic

Since when did we start treating our aircraft carriers like battlestars?

I liked Battlestar Galactica. Both the original and the remake. Although I was pretty young for the first round, so my expectations perhaps weren't that refined. But one thing that really annoyed me (and still does) was that the battlestars--with their two wings of fighters--still seemed to fight like a battleship rather than a carrier.

If they can't conduct long range strikes and keep enemy base stars at bay, I'm not sure why the battlestar shouldn't have dispensed with the fighters that just muck up IFF and instead add more laser guns to simply shoot whatever approaches the ship.

Which brings me to our Navy (tip to Instapundit):

Swarming speedboats represent a major threat to Navy aircraft carrier groups. Small boats are dangerous because they can emerge without warning from behind islands or other features, and weapons systems are designed to handle fewer, larger opponents, so carriers and other large vessels might be swamped before they can deal with the threat.

Today the Navy appears to be taking the threat more seriously. And existing defense technologies could be combined to create a defensive shield to detect and destroy boat swarms from a safe distance. The latest proposal involves an all-seeing eye in the sky that can pick out small boats at a distance and see over obstacles.

Raytheon's JLENS (Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor) is a blimp-based radar system that provides 360-degree, 24/7 coverage.

Small boats could slip out of the radar shadow of Iran's coast and swarm any carrier or large warship that sails in the Strait of Hormuz or the Persian Gulf. So we are building an expensive system to spot those small boats and sink them before they get close to the big ships.

Excuse me for asking the obvious, but why do we need to send our carriers into the Persian Gulf to fight Iran? Those small suicide boats aren't ocean-going assets. They have to stay in shallow water. Relatively calm, shallow waters.

Why don't we keep our big ships in the Arabian Sea where the small boats can't go and use our aircraft--including persistent drones--to go after the Iranian forces?

Truth be told, should we go to war against Iran, we shouldn't want our carrier in the constricted waters of the Persian Gulf. We'd want the maneuvering room of the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean behind that. We deploy a carrier in the Gulf when we don't anticipate combat with Iran.

Not that the airborne shield wouldn't be of great use to the Ponce sitting in the Gulf, being used as a base to go after Iranian small assets.

But for God's sake, just keep our fracking carriers out of the Persian Gulf rather than spend whatever sum is necessary to figure out how to keep them there.

The Vacuum in the East

Lack of loyal Syrian troops to put down the rebellion nationwide is made worse by the focus on trying to hold the large city of Aleppo. Too many troops are being sucked into that black hole. The results around the rest of the country are being reported more and more.

The Kurds are stepping up as Syrian security forces withdraw:

Some towns in northeastern Syria are flying yellow, green and red Kurdish flags as long-oppressed Kurds exploit an uneasy vacuum left by President Bashar al-Assad's retreating forces.

Syrian Kurds may be enjoying a breath of freedom after Assad appears to have ceded control of some areas to focus on the battle against mainly Sunni Muslim Arab rebels fighting in Damascus and Aleppo.

More of these areas will become obvious as time goes on. Assad can't hold the entire country and he isn't even trying to do that.

Assad's only hope is if Iran can somehow convince the nonaligned movement to back a ceasefire and send in an international force of peacekeepers to shield Assad as he rests and rebuilds his military.

Don't You Know There's a War Going On?

That was an ovesight by the Romney team.

It would have been nice if Romney had mentioned his gratitude for our troops fighting for us overseas; and pledge to make sure that our troops go to war with the backing of the American people, Congress, and government, with all the tools they need, and a vow to make sure their sacrifices are for a worthwhile goal.

No need to open up the divisions over the Afghanistan war that exist even within the Republican party. Just recognize the troops--and their families who cannot ignore the war--as worthy of our respect and thanks.

UPDATE: Mad Minerva noticed the oversight (and thanks for the hat tip).

Well What Was the Point of Opening Your Mouths?

Reassuring Assad should not be the jobs of Western leaders. But after seeming to edge closer to backing Turkish calls for humanitarian zones inside Syria, France and Britain are distancing themselves from that option:

The British and French foreign ministers say there are major obstacles to establishing safe zones for refugees within Syria, but that they are ruling out no measure yet.

But don't worry, Assad. If they haven't ruled out intervention, it's only that they haven't ruled it out yet. Shaking in your boots, yet?

If they are serious about having that option open, maybe they shouldn't try to maximize the chance that Assad will ignore them by minimizing the chance that Britain and France will carry out that option.

No

Here we go again:

Does China's next leader have a soft spot for Tibet?

Good grief. When do the stories come out about how Xi Jinping loves jazz and laughs out loud watching I Love Lucy reruns?

What is it with the desire in so many to humanize and soften communist rulers who manage to claw their way to the top of the party pyramid?

Oh, and the answer is "no." Whatever his purported soft spot, Tibet will remain a colony of Peking.

You're Worried. That I Get

I sense a general unease with China in India even if the specifics of this article don't really mesh together into an actual point.

The article says some in India believe China is preparing to strike India this year; that China will turn on India after securing their western Pacific objectives; that China is trying to pierce the Himalayan shield with diplomatic inroads into Bhutan and Nepal; and that this is related to India's "Look East" policy of competing with China for Southeast Asian friends.

I just don't see how the first fear is bolstered by the latter trends.

Yes, China is building infrastructure and forces to make Tibet a launching pad for operations against India. I've noted this development.

But China is not about to realize their western Pacific goals any time in the next few months to allow China to turn on India this year.

Further, the Bhutan and Nepal efforts would surely be compromised by a Chinese strike on India in the near future.

Finally, if India really believes China won't turn on India until China gains its objectives in the western Pacific, you'd think that India wouldn't limit their Look East policies. You'd think that India would want to bolster Taiwanese defenses to keep China busy as long as possible in that strategic direction.

India surely has reason to worry about Chinese power. But I'm not sure what the point of the article is other than a general expression of angst. Perhaps I simply lack the background to understand the implications that bring this all together for an Indian reader.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

No (R), No Foul

Hey, is this one of those "dog whistle" appeals I keep hearing about?

Can't be! He has a (D) after his name. Pity. It would have been a good one.

Move along.

Via Althouse.

Not As Comforting As You Might Think

This article rightly explains that China is not about to build a navy capable of crossing the Pacific and defeating our fleet in battle in order to project power ashore against Alaska, Hawaii, or even our West Coast. But China's inability to project power more than 1,000 miles out is no reason for complacency.

The conclusion:

The bottom line is that China’s present naval shipbuilding program aims to replace aging vessels and modernize the fleet, not to scale-up a modern fleet to the size and composition necessary to support and sustain high-end blue water power projection. China is building a two-layered navy with a high-end Near Seas component and a limited, low-end capability beyond, not the monolithic force that some assume.

That is China is seeking a blue water force only for limited training, crisis, and diplomatic purposes while their main focus is on the western Pacific. I think this is a very reasonable conclusion about China's naval goals.

That latter focus in scary enough and no reason to dismiss China's capabilities. If China can defeat our smaller forward-deployed fleet and dominate that area, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, and even Australia and New Zealand become too exposed to Chinese power to remain closely allied to America. Maybe Russia and their strategic nukes means Russia can maintain their independence, but even they would be cowed at least a little bit if we are pushed away from Asia.

And as I've often written, China doesn't even need the ability to defeat just our smaller forward-deployed fleet to defeat us. If China can simply delay our fleet long enough to achieve their objective, the Chinese win. My prime example is Taiwan. China needs to defeat Taiwan and only needs to delay us long enough to defeat Taiwan. Do those things and we (and the Taiwanese, of course) lose. But that applies to other Chinese neighbors who need to hold long enough for our distant forces to reach them.

Further, I think we have finally grown used to the post-Cold War world if we think a war with China goes on as long as we like until we can mass our greater power to roll back whatever gains China makes in the early weeks of a war.

I recall thinking that one reason for our rapid conclusion of the Persian Gulf War in 1991 was that we still operated under the Cold War template of thinking of making quick gains before the threat of escalation to nuclear war compelled a halt in place for the conventional forces.

But after wars in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, we know that Russia is not about to limit us with threats of nuclear war the way the Soviet Union could threaten us.

But a rising nuclear-armed China is not a power to be pushed around at our option, even if our conventional forces remain superior across all potential battlefields.

China's nukes are limited, but will we risk a few of our cities for conventional gains? How long will China attempt to hold their limited gains in the face of our growing counter-attacks without threatening nuclear escalation to hold those gains?

We really need to remember why we once needed to make sure we or our allies could emerge with the upper hand after no more than a few weeks of fighting. At least in regard to China, we will one day be in that position. After three weeks of fighting, our side better hold the key terrain, no?

It would surely be a reason to be extremely concerned if China develops a navy capable of crossing the Pacific and fighting our fleet.

But it is a reason for concern if China only builds a navy sufficiently strong to lose slowly enough to slow down our fleet in the western Pacific long enough for China to achieve their objective in the western Pacific.

Apocalypse Right Now?

It's been sounding like the soundtrack of Apocalypse Now here at home for the last half hour, or so.

I went outside and there appears to be a Blackhawk helicopter traveling between the Ann Arbor airport and Michigan Stadium--over and over.

No home football game this Saturday. I wonder what is going on?

UPDATE: Wow. I'm really impressed with Google's indexing. Within ten minutes of posting I thought I'd search to see if I could answer my question. No luck on that, but the top search result was this post.

The True Candidate

I don't think Mitt Romney cares one whit about being upstaged by Clint Eastwood. Romney isn't a man so worried about his accomplishments that he needs the embellishments of Greek columns, or something.

But if Republicans are really worried, just have Mitt pull a flippin' sword from a stone and get on with the quest.

Blather, Wince, Repeat?

I'd hoped that Israel had learned the lessons of 2006 and would use fast-moving army columns to tear up Hezbollah in Lebanon the next time they go toe-to toe. Just as I started to draw comfort that they had learned that lesson, Israel seems determined to repeat another mistake of 2006: thinking they can compel Lebanon to control Hezbollah.

In 2006, we bought Israel a month of time to deal with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Even Arab states were quiet about the Israeli counter-attacks. But Israel failed to use their army to destroy the Hezbollah rocket-launching points, their air force failed to suppress the rockets, and in the end their punitive strikes against Lebanese infrastructure failed to push Lebanon's government--which was incapable of doing so in any case--to rein in Hezbollah. All that infrastructure damage did was compel the Arab world to end their tacit approval of Israeli actions and vocally oppose Israel.

Now Israel hopes to repeat that failed punitive strategy if it comes to war with Hezbollah again:

Israel has quietly reminded Lebanon recently that if Hezbollah attacks Israel, the retaliation will include all Lebanese infrastructure (roads, bridges, power plants and military assets). This strategy recognizes that while Hezbollah only rules in the south, the radical Shia militia makes use of all infrastructure in Lebanon. While this is true, the Lebanese government is also in a difficult position when it comes to controlling Hezbollah. That's because Hezbollah represents the minority Shia and has long used religious fanaticism and financial and military support from Iran to dominate the majority (a fractious collection of Christian, Sunni and Druze groups). The majority wants to cut Hezbollah down to size, but they don't want to wreck the country in order to do it.

What's the point of this threat? How many Lebanese Sunnis, Druze, and Christians are happy with Iran's proxy running their own state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon and paralyzing the nominal national government in the process? The government is too weak to take on the unified and ruthless Shia Hezbollah backed by Iran. Destroying Lebanon's infrastructure will not make Lebanon's government magically strong enough to fight Hezbollah.

Israel would do far better to reassure the Lebanese government that if Israel has to go into Lebanon, Israeli forces will narrowly target Hezbollah and try to avoid collateral damage. Do that and Israel will find that it has Arab governments largely silent on the fight and many weeks to complete the destruction of Hezbollah.

The Long War Evolves

Iraq really was a victory in the war on terror, even if you think the price we paid was too high. But the Long War continues because Iraq was just a battle and not the war itself.

My hopes for Iraq as an influence on Iran are not so far fetched:

Yet, if one were to isolate a single hinge in calculating Iran's fate, it would be Iraq. Iraq, history and geography tell us, is entwined in Iranian politics to the degree of no other foreign country. The Shiite shrines of Imam Ali (the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law) in An Najaf and the one of Imam Hussain (the grandson of the Prophet) in Karbala, both in central-southern Iraq, have engendered Shiite theological communities that challenge that of Qom in Iran. Were Iraqi democracy to exhibit even a modicum of stability, the freer intellectual atmosphere of the Iraqi holy cities could eventually have a profound impact on Iranian politics. In a larger sense, a democratic Iraq can serve as an attractor force of which Iranian reformers might in the future take advantage. ... Without justifying the way that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was planned and executed, or rationalizing the trillions of dollars spent and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the war, in the fullness of time it might very well be that the fall of Saddam Hussein began a process that will result in the liberation of two countries; not one. Just as geography has facilitated Iran's subtle colonization of Iraqi politics, geography could also be a factor in abetting Iraq's influence upon Iran.

Mind you, the author is quick to point out that this is in no way a defense of the war. That's been a major point of disagreement that I have with Stratfor.

Although deaths were not in multiple hundreds of thousands as the author states. Further, given the rate that Saddam killed Iraqis (and Kurds, and Kuwaitis, and Iranians), I think it is a stretch to assume no war in Iraq would have led to a decade of peace in Iraq.

Nor was the cost in the trillions, for that matter. Unless you count so many indirect costs as to make the exercise pointless. I'll just point out that our direct spending on the war was about what we spent in a pen stroke with the 2009 stimulus.

But I digress. The point is--ignoring the debate over the price we paid in favor of the outcome--that a reasonably democratic largely Arab Iraq could be a major influence in Persian Iran that undermines the mullah autocracy. (So is it really so bizarre to think Iraq might have influenced the Arab Spring?)

By George, I think I mentioned that before the Iraq War:

So could Iraq spark dominos from Iran to Syria and from Egypt to Saudi Arabia? I hope so. It certainly isn't out of the question given the history of the "discredited" domino theory. With Islamofascism crumbling in Iran, perhaps the region is ripe for the democratic counter-offensive. Shoot, just batting .300 would be pretty good. The ironic thing is, though tipping the domino of Iraq could start a chain reaction for rule of law and democracy in the Islamic world; the Iranian mullahs hoped tipping Iraq the other way, during the Iran Iraq War in the 1980s (the real First Gulf War) would be the first domino to turn the Islamic world into Iranian-inspired and led fanatics. The Iraqis may have held the line long enough to blunt the murderous, Islam-distorting philosophy that today motivates al Qaeda and prepared the region for the day very soon when we reach out our finger and tip the domino the other way. No wonder al Qaeda hates Saddam almost as much as the West.

I hope for democracy in the Moslem world. I'm realistic enough not to try to implant democracy overnight in Iraq; yet optimistic enough to think that there is no such thing as a people "not ready for democracy," as so many critics condescendingly imply. I'm also realistic enough to accept as a success far less in the short run. Iraq as a place where people aren't trying to flee bloody tyranny, where the rulers don't dream of expansionist glory, and where thugs don't find sanctuary to plot our murder in the thousands, is fine by me. Even a democratic Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq, or elsewhere, would be pure cake. We might even do better than that in the long run.

Sanctions, Iraqi democracy, a wall of Gulf Arab resistance, Syria, and Lebanon are all battles that can weaken Iran. And the Arab Spring is a threat to Iran's hope of leading Moslems against the West.

Not that we are simply able to harvest the fruits of Iraq. Mind you, Iraq was a victory. But it was a battle and not the war. Now we are in a wider battle for the heart and soul of the Arab world. We must fight this battle to win the Long War.

We've decimated the terrorists; we've destroyed despots who backed terrorism, putting every terrorism-supporting state on notice; and now we have the opportunity to address the problem in the wider Moslem Arab world.

But from the start, it was always a war for the heart and soul of the Arab world to help reformers and moderates control and then discredit the jihadis who were nurtured in a culture that too often still celebrates suicide bombers who kill us.

Thinking of the Long War as a tactical--or even just a law enforcement--problem risks endless war and a security society that steadily erodes our freedoms. Even just focusing on state supporters of jihadis just contains the jihadi wave and buys time for the next surge of jihadi anger and mobilization, which has a long history. But the next surge might be in an environment where chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons are within the capabilities on nonstate or even individual actors.

I know we are all tired of war. But we haven't won this war yet. Hopefully we will need no more drawn out counter-insurgencies. But whether that is true or not, the war continues on different battlefields.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Too Big to Fail?

China wants to run Asia for the Asians Chinese, it is clear. But they're gonna need a bigger boat.

China doesn't get along with friends, neighbors, or enemies:

China has a growing list of problems with its neighbors, both the ones who are allies (North Korea, Burma, Pakistan) and those who are not (all the rest.) The "allies" are a sorry lot; all of them failed states with troubled economies and inept governments. The other neighbors are increasingly hostile because of the nationalistic polices of China, which have led to bullying and threats. China has become more vocal about claims on the territory of its neighbors. This has caused the neighbors, despite many differences they have with each other, for form a growing anti-China coalition.

China is big. But they aren't big enough to beat everyone--especially if we weigh in the balance.

UPDATE: The boat is getting bigger, but it might be taking on water.

I've never been in the camp that sees China as on a continuous uphill slope on the way to replacing us as the global power. But I've never believed China needs to get that strong to be a threat to us or the world we've built and defended.

Involuntary Martyrs

While some of the more boorish members of the left are getting over their disappointment that Isaac didn't wash away Tampa and the Republicans there for the convention, for a while they consoled themselves with the thought that it would look bad while Republicans lived it up while people died in New Orleans.

The left won't get that happy, teachable moment, it seems. But we'll always have Paul Wellstone for memorial service pep rallies, now won't we?

Anarchist Scum

May they rot in jail (if guilty and convicted, of course):

A group of American soldiers formed an anarchist militia and plotted to overthrow the United States government, a court in Georgia has heard.

The allegations emerged in a murder case against four soldiers accused of belonging to the group.

Prosecutors say the men formed a militia called Fear, standing for Forever Enduring Always Ready.

They are in civilian court. I wonder if they will also face charges under the UCMJ? This is a gross violation of their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

Oh How I Hate

Not that I need another reason to despise Ohio State University (tip to Instapundit):

As faculty members at Ohio State last week double-checked their syllabi, glanced at their rosters, and ran through the usual routines for the start of fall courses, some of them found a surprise in their e-mail in boxes. A senior English professor invited his colleagues to open their classrooms in the weeks ahead to organizers in the Obama campaign. They would first encourage students to register to vote and then, if the instructors were willing, encourage students to volunteer for the Obama campaign.

I'll grudgingly admit that a similar scenario is hardly out of the question at my University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Compassion Promotes Invasion

Syria is an interesting example of how international law actually can promote intervention in a country's troubles.

Consider that Jordan hosts refugees from Syria who have certain demands on Jordan:

Jordan's has warned Syrian refugees in its tent camp near the Syrian border against rioting.

Public security officials say rioting by 200 refugees late Tuesday over the camp's 'poor services' injured 26 Jordanian security officers.

Refugees, once they reach your territory, become a responsibility that you cannot escape under international law:

It is widely accepted that the prohibition of forcible return is part of customary international law. This means that even States that are not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention must respect the principle of non-refoulement (return against their will to their country of origin). Therefore, States are obligated under the Convention and under customary international law to respect the principle of non-refoulement. If and when this principle is threatened, UNHCR can respond by intervening with relevant authorities, and if it deems necessary, will inform the public.

So is it any wonder that Turkey, contemplating the possibility that refugee flows to Turkey could turn into a flood might want to keep refugees from entering Turkey and thus creating an obligation to take care of them on Turkey's own soil?

Syria's refugee exodus is accelerating and up to 200,000 people could settle in Turkey alone if the conflict worsens, the United Nations warned on Tuesday, increasing pressure for creation of a buffer zone inside Syria.

Turkey has floated the idea of a "safe zone" to be set up for civilians under foreign protection as fighting has intensified in a 17-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

I'm not trying to pick on Turkey, mind you. We've done that with refugees from Cuba by intercepting them at sea and keeping them in Cuba. Australia, too, tries to keep economic refugees from reaching Australia's shores. I bet Jordan wishes it could get away with a buffer zone inside Syria to keep refugees out of Jordan.

But it is a humorous incentive for intervention, you have to admit, given the international community's preference for non-interference in internal affairs of member states.

UPDATE: Turkey will ask for that humanitarian zone inside Syria:

Turkey's foreign minister will urge the Security Council on Thursday to set up a safe zone in Syria to protect thousands of civilians fleeing the civil war, but his appeal is almost certain to go nowhere given the deep divisions in the U.N.'s most powerful body.

Turkey knows Russia and China won't allow the UN Security Council to approve such a zone. But Turkey will want to show that they did all they could to gain the sainted international community's approval and act unilaterally or with a coalition of the willing only when that body shows it is often the last line of defense for cruel despots who have the membership card that gets them in the door.

UPDATE: France and Britain sound like they are on board, with or without the UN:

France and Britain warned Syria's President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday that military action to secure safe zones for civilians inside the country was being considered despite the paralysis of the U.N. Security Council over how to end the 17-month conflict.

I think we can all be grateful that George W. Bush isn't around to trample international law and round up a posse of the willing to invade a Baathist-run country alleged to have WMD.

That Would Be Interesting

A North Korean defector has come up with a scenario that I hadn't considered:

North Korea is likely again to attack the South by shelling another submarine or landing on a South Korean-held frontier island, a former North Korean diplomat predicted Tuesday.

He says that North Korean provocations are increasingly looking more like conventional warfare, citing the recent island shelling and sinking of a South Korean corvette. Past provocations relied on agents and commandos.

He has a point.

I've figured that the South Koreans are ready to retaliate hard against any North Korean strike on South Korean forces with a major air attack (of course, I figured wrongly that Seoul had reached that point prior to the latest attack; but now there seems to be a consensus that South Korea will strike back hard). One sharp strike for one sharp strike. Then it is over unless North Korea wants to escalate further. North Korea would be foolish to start on that path, I believe.

If North Korea is invested in hitting South Korea for whatever political purposes Pyongyang has in mind, how would they do it and put South Korea on a horns of a dilemma rather than North Korea?

How about landing troops on a small, nearby island along the western sea border, digging in, and daring South Korea to do something about it?

A South Korean response would need to be the ejection of the North Koreans, which would take time to prepare and execute. There would be no quick strike to show resolve. No, this would be man-to-man close combat which the North Koreans might think is their strong suit. An air campaign is a losing proposition for the North Koreans and the ideal arena for South Korea. How would this play out if South Korea endures heavy casualties digging out stubborn defenders in a Tarawa replay?

I guess I can understand why South Korea plans to increase their marine force even as they downsize the military overall.

That would be an interesting time, no? Such a provocation would be a major and drawn-out crisis with all the opportunities for escalation that no sane party should want. But who knows what The Un believes?

About That Vision Thing

As I've written several times, I find the notion that the Chinese are deep, long-term planners who have great patience is simply ridiculous.

So what if their civilization is ancient? Chinese leaders are born and die just like Western leaders who, by contrast, supposedly are short-term thinkers hamstrung in dealing with the cunning Chinese. Unless you want to argue that somehow Chinese leaders pass along the wisdom of centuries of rulers, why their civilization's age should give them unique planning abilities is beyond me. Are Egyptians also noted as deep, long-term planners who have great patience, hmm?

I maintain that some Westerners see a veil of secrecy and caution in foreign policy, and interpret that as signs of long-range, deep planning.

If the Chinese leaders are patient, long-term planners, it sure isn't from the Han gene pool:

The government has, for decades, used nationalism (appealing to popular sentiment about China being strong and powerful) to keep people from dwelling on government corruption and incompetence. That has worked a bit too well, with opinion polls showing the majority of the population wants China to be more forceful with other countries that refuse to do what China tells them to do. There is also public support for doing the opposite of whatever the West demands.

One, the Chinese leaders didn't see that coming?

And two, the Chinese people sure are failing the deep and long-term thinking test if they simply want to do things that the West says they shouldn't.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Well That's Simply Sad

My how the mighty have fallen. The once fearsome jihadis who embraced death rather than fear it, can't even get volunteers for a ticket to Paradise any more (from my Jane's email updates):

Ansar al-Islam, an Iraqi militant Sunni Islamist group, released an electronic pamphlet to jihadist forums in October that announced it was building vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED) that can be steered to their targets by remote control. The pamphlet admitted the vehicles were difficult to control but said the problem had been offset by the installation of video cameras[.]

One question: what jihadi genius responsible for the Mark I version thought it could be steered with no cameras?

Das Kapital Never Mentions Space

I have to agree that I don't have any problems with President Obama's approach to space exploitation: he has no interest in "helping."

If only he had the same opinion of more of our economy and problems.

Heck, sometimes I think I'm wrong to worry that we left Iraq in 2011 and that lack of presidential interest is the best thing Iraq has going for it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Senseless Before the Beating

Because sometimes you just have to beat some sense into some people:


Responsibility to Protect Who?

Our intervention in Libya and the ongoing revolt in Syria has been an opportunity for some discussion about the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) notion that we should intervene to protect human life even when we have no national interests in the outcome.

I find this odd considering we got out of Iraq while innocent people still needed protection.

And with the rush for the exits in Afghanistan, are you telling me no innocents there need protecting?

Aside from our national security interests in winning there, people in Afghanistan most definitely need protecting:

The Taliban have beheaded 17 Afghans for attending a dance party that flouted Islamic extremist rules.

The killings, in a the southern district of Helman, were a reminder of how much power the insurgent group still wields - particularly as international forces draw down and hand areas over to Afghan forces.

The victims were part of a large group that had gathered late last night in the Musa Qala district for a celebration involving music and dancing, said district government chief Neyamatullah Khan. He said the Taliban slaughtered them to show their disapproval of the event.

"Disapproval" doesn't even begin to cover this. Over dancing. Head Loose, indeed.

Barbarians.

The only good jihadi as a dead jihadi, as far as I'm concerned. I sleep well at night, thank you very much. How those who want to make deals with the Taliban can do that is beyond me.

Preservation of Favoured Policies in the Struggle for Power

Our left side of the aisle has gone through an interesting evolution in thinking on coping with hostile states with rulers who want weapons of mass destruction. What will the next phase of their opinion look like?

In 1998, a Democratic administration both struck Saddam's Iraq over four days despite admitting that they didn't think it would do more than delay Saddam's WMD progress by more than a year; and signed legislation making regime change in Iraq our official policy. Liberals seemed fine with this.

In 2002, in the debate on Iraq, liberals opposed invading Iraq to depose Saddam (some figured we could support a revolt or coup), arguing that Saddam was contained and couldn't possibly get nukes under our watchful eyes and sanctions.

Today, liberals oppose striking the mullah-run Iran, arguing that Iran will eventually get nukes and it isn't worth the price to simply delay that nuclear future; and don't see any point in overthrowing the regime.

That's pretty amazing. To go from supporting thug regime change and accepting even the short delay of a thug getting WMD, to opposing efforts to remove a thug regime and acceptance that the thug's desire to get WMD is too strong to do anything about.

In 2002, liberals also added to their arsenal of inaction the worry that the chaos of destroying Saddam's regime would allow chemical weapons--hitherto guarded by Saddam's forces--to spread to terrorists inside and outside Iraq's borders. (I will refrain from charging them with lying about Saddam's WMD.)

Now we are told that force is the last option for dealing with Iran's nuclear program. But that last excuse for inaction will inevitably be put into play once Iran does in fact go nuclear. You can already see it in action today regarding Pakistan's nukes:

Retired Pakistani Brigadier-General Asad Munir, who formerly served in the senior ranks of the military's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency, says that all nuclear installations -- whether civilian or military -- are guarded with elaborate security arrangements.

He says that Western countries' concerns that nuclear weapons could fall into the wrong hands have been put to rest.

So far, they seem secure. But the worry lingers. And we require the current government and military to remain securely in power to keep the nukes safe, of course. That's very convenient for the current rulers, no?

And in Syria, where revolution threatens to topple the Assad regime or force it to contract its realm, worries over chemical weapons are high:

Al-Qaeda has declared common cause with Syria's rebels and is operating in the country. That raises the danger that if one of the places where WMD is stored fell behind rebel lines, the international terrorist organization might have a chance to get them.

So far, the fear of Syria's collapse hasn't prevented the West from at least tepidly supporting the revolt. I suppose Assad's promise not to move chemical weapons actually has a deterrent function against Western intervention by leaving the weapons vulnerable to rebel (and maybe jihadi) capture by refusing to move them to secure locations within the Alawite community.

The article raises a number of issues I've raised, but I have to object to one expert saying that Hezbollah wouldn't want Syrian chemical weapons because Hezbollah has condemned "indiscriminate" Israeli tactics and wants to be a legitimate political player. Please. Hezbollah boasts of their ability to indiscriminately bombard Israeli civilians. Iran has shown that wanting to kill Jews in large numbers and being a legitimate member of the glorious international community are not incompatible.

Oh, and let me digress a bit more over the claim that Saddam subdued a Kurdish revolt in 1988 by using chemical weapons at Halabja. Saddam's success in crushing organized Kurdish resistance in 1988 was based not so much on chemical weapons but on the many troops freed from frontline duty against Iran by the ending of that war. Also, it only suppressed resistance for a time rather than decisively end it.

One can only hope that there is another phase of liberal attitudes toward disarming thugs with WMD ambitions. If President Obama decides to attack Iran, we will see them returning to something closer to the 1998 version.

If Romney is the one with that duty, on the other hand, I can guarantee that Code Pink and International ANSWER will once again get loving coverage from our media. And the most nuanced of our big-brained foreign policy thinkers will worry about the security of Iran's nuclear assets should we strike Iran or risk chaos in Iran by supporting resistance, and argue that holy nuance requires us to accept the lesser of two evils by supporting a thug regime that securely holds its WMD.

UPDATE: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that one of the authors of Strategypage, who I respect as an analyst, says Iran would welcome a strike and so we should not do it.

I respectfully respond that the wishes of nuts should not be Gospel. Osama bin Laden welcomed an American military response to 9/11. Saddam believed he did not have to back down in 2003 because an American attack would not dethrone him.

Both miscalculated and both are dead.

Iran surely welcomes ineffective military force. Let's make sure it is effective, eh?

And I'll repeat that I'll accept more time as the result of an imperfect military solution than seeing Iran go nuclear sooner.

Glory, Glory, Al-lelujah

Our left would mock Al for this kind of religious thinking masquerading as science if he wasn't shilling for Big Warming. Saint Al Gore enlightens us about global warming:

"[E]very night on the news now, practically, is like a nature hike through the book of Revelations."

How science-like.

I personally prefer a drive through the book of Shove It.

Glory, Glory, Al.

That's Our Story and We're Sticking To It

Does the rebellion in Syria--assuming it has decimated Syria's air defense network--provide Israel with another attack route into Iran (to hit targets at Natanz, Fardo, Arak, Isfahan, and Parchin)?

This is likely true, which funny enough means that Israel would be harmed by a Western no-fly zone over Syria while Iran would potentially be protected since Israel would not want to risk a fight over Syria with NATO aircraft by failing to deconflict their strike package with NATO forces.

On the other hand, if Israel only sent a handful of aircraft through Syria while the bulk used routes through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq, they could provide Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia with plausible deniability about using those routes. Israel can claim all aircraft went through Syria and who would say otherwise?

Iraq can just plead poverty of means since they don't have the equipment to defend or even monitor their air space.

Whether or not Israel needs to reconfigure their attack routes to take advantage of Syria's circumstances, Syria's difficulties provide a nice cover for Arab states that might not mind it if Israel took down the Persian bomb and are willing to provide routes and perhaps services in their countries.

I'm not sure Syria provides any tactical advantages, but it sure provides diplomatic advantages.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

About That "Blockade"

Israel "blockaded Gaza" and this is a cause for Leftists to get all weepy over the fate of Palestinians living there. How many tunnels did Egypt close down that crossed from Sinai into Gaza in response to jihadis using those tunnels to attack Egyptian troops? Oh, that many:

Egyptian military engineers have blocked 120 tunnels used for smuggling to and from the Gaza Strip since the start of operations in the neighbouring Sinai Pensinsula, security officials said on Saturday.

"Tunnel entrances are being demolished every day and the operation will continue until all underground passageways are shut," one official told AFP.

That's just 120 so far, apparently.

One, how was Israel's sifting of imports to prevent militarily useful products from entering a blockade when this virtual underground superhighway was in operation?

Two, will Leftists get upset now that Egypt has started blockading Gaza and organize convoys to run the border fence from Sinai?

Three, will Turkey get furious with Egypt?

It's Only Significant If the Climate is Changing

Instapundit notes:

YOU DON’T NEED A WEATHERMAN TO SEE WHICH WAY THE WIND BLOWS: Hollywood bailing on President Obama and the Democratic National Convention

The president may not need a Weatherman, but he's long had one anyway.

The Last Good Jihadi?

Is our drone campaign nearing its end?

It looks like we got a top jihadi in Pakistan:

The officials said Badruddin Haqqani, who is also believed to handle the network's vital business interests and smuggling operations, may have been killed during a drone strike this week in Pakistan's tribal North Waziristan region.

But we're not sure.

Regardless of this strike, we are having success with drone strikes in Pakistan:

Should the U.S. continue to strike at al-Qaida's leadership with drone attacks? A recent poll shows that while most Americans approve of drone strikes, in 17 out of 20 countries, more than half of those surveyed disapprove of them. ...

As al-Qaida members trickle out of Pakistan and seek sanctuary elsewhere, the U.S. military is ramping up its counterterrorism operations in Somalia and Yemen, while continuing its drone campaign in Pakistan. Despite its controversial nature, the U.S. counter-terrorism strategy has demonstrated a degree of effectiveness.

I've been pleasantly surprised at our ability to keep hitting targets inside Pakistan.

I'll admit, as I've written many times over the last 4 years, that I'm surprised we are still hitting targets there. I figured that the unpopularity of our strikes in Pakistan would keep us from doing it enough to be effective. I assumed that our campaign at the end of the Bush administration was just to buy time during the presidential transition, and that it would taper off in early 2009.

Yet drone strikes continue in Pakistan's border areas despite the unpopularity of them in Pakistan and the opinion of much of the rest of the world.

The key has been that in areas where we conduct strikes: Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, there is no opposition from the top to exploit anti-drone sentiment. Somalia has no top, of course. Yemen needs the help since al Qaeda was a large portion of the enemy side in the civil war.

And Pakistan has felt the need to be our sometimes-ally against jihadis who they believe threaten Pakistan rather than America alone.

I worry that once we are largely gone from Afghanistan, Pakistan will no longer see an advantage in tolerating our drone strikes. Far from being a distant and clean weapon, drone strikes need intelligence on the ground and persistent aerial intelligence to provide good information on where (and when) legitimate targets are present. We don't get a participation ribbon for accurately blowing up a compound where a wedding reception is taking place 5 hours after the big jihadi convention wraps up.

Back in 2008, I didn't think that Pakistan's government would buck their public opinion against those strikes by our forces. But they did allow them, so we have had success with them.

There will come a time, however, when Pakistan's government will decide to stoke public opinion on drones rather than resist that opinion. What will we do then?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The PLA Is Dead

China killed the People's Liberation Army:

Over the last three years, without any fanfare, China has changed the names of its armed forces. Gone is the PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) prefix for the navy (PLAN) and air force (PLAAF). It's now just the Chinese Army, Chinese Navy and Chinese Air Force.

I noted this years ago (probably by citing a Strategypage article), but since everyone and their aunt has continued to refer to the Chinese armed forces as the PLA, I doubted that report and didn't follow the change.

But if the patches are showing up, I guess I make the shift official and bury the PLA on this site.

Dereliction of Duty

Governor Huckabee says the Republican Party is "shooting our own soldier" on the battlefield by rejecting Senate candidate Todd Akin?

Oh, please. Akin carried out a green on blue attack against the Republican Party. This is self defense for the GOP.

Patton would have slapped Akin. Hard.

Another Such Victory

The rebels surely suffered a defeat in Aleppo over the last month as the government hammered them, but that doesn't mean that the Assad regime victory in the Battle of Aleppo will contribute to victory in the war.

This article claims the Syrian rebels bit off more than they could chew by trying to capture Aleppo, and that the Syrian government has pounded the rebels:

A MONTH after rebel forces launched a blazing attempt to capture Aleppo, Syria’s second city, they are starting to wilt. The regime claims to have routed them from their main stronghold in the Salaheddin district. Clashes continue in the southwest of the city and around the airport, but the best that rebel commanders can now hope to achieve is to draw the regime into a quagmire.

I won't contest the idea that the rebels took a pounding. Trying to hold ground against a conventional military will do that.

But Assad is the one who bit off more than he could chew:

I think Assad might be biting off more than he can chew. Sure, it is a big and important city with regime defenders to protect, but it is close to Turkey and adds more people to the defense perimeter of Core Syria than I think Assad has the forces to pacify.

Assad had to scrape up so many troops to fight for the city that he had few to hold the rest of the country, which in the east is falling to the rebels in the absence of Syrian security forces.

And now that Assad has knocked down the rebels in Aleppo, Assad has to find the troops to garrison the city of 2+ million people. Where will he get the troops to hold the city? Standard counter-insurgency doctrine says he'll need 40,000+ troops to hold that city. That's a third of the 120,000 ground security forces that Assad was recently judged to have available. Could Assad recruit local defense forces from Aleppo residents to be an effective substitute for all but a fraction of that 40,000?

Given that the rebels are disorganized, even a thorough hammering of the Aleppo rebels won't affect the other rebels in the rest of Syria--aside from the positive effect of sucking Syrian troops into the black hole of Aleppo.

Before long, rebels from the surrounding countryside will reinforce the Aleppo rebels and the fight there will continue.

Truly, another such victory will be the undoing of Assad.

Every Fern is Sacred

It seems like every decade or so, we learn that stomping out every small wild fire just allows fuel to build up for a really big, destructive forest fire (tip to Mad Minerva):

"What kept those forests open before was the natural process of fire," Allen says. Natural fires from lightning burn along the ground, taking out only the shrubs and small trees. But for the last century, the U.S. Forest Service has suppressed almost all fires. They thought fire did more harm than good.

But radical environmentalists insist that every fern is sacred, so we never actually change our destructive practice.

Every Fern is sacred.
Every Fern is great.
If a fern is wasted
Gaea gets quite irate.

But since the practice is all about making sure environmentalists can believe they care more than others about the forest rather than protecting the forest, the policies continue and we can look forward to more of this new normal.

Heck, it's win-win if they can blame this on global climate change rather than man's policies about the forest.

Why Do They Hate Masonry?

What doesn't set jihadis off on waves of death and destruction?

Ever since 9/11, liberals have tried to explain the attack by asking "why do they hate us?' and then providing reasons we need to do something we aren't doing, stop something we are doing, or just stop being us in order to satisfy the grievances of the Moslem world that regrettably inspire a small number of jihadis who kill us, and a larger number that either gets some satisfaction from the killing or is too worried or apathetic to stop the jihadis themselves. The president's Cairo speech was just another aspect of that thinking: see, we really, really respect you! Now stop that whole killing thing, 'kay?

What doesn't set these murderous jerks off on an orgy of destruction?

Conservative Islamists blew up the tomb of a 15th century Sufi scholar and burned down a library in the Libyan city of Zlitan, a military official said on Saturday, the latest attacks on sites in the region branded idolatrous by some sects.

They used bombs and bulldozers.

Apparently, these guys didn't get the memo that the Palestinian question needs to be settled first before they settle the dust over tombs and libraries that offend them. Go figure.

I wouldn't mind this mindless urge to destroy if we were clear-headed enough to fight back with confidence. My question has always been why do we hate us? Why can't we stand up for our civilization and values with the self assurance needed to deny the legitimacy of whatever excuse of the day that jihadis throw at us to justify killing us--or blowing up shrines and historic sites?

As I've often asked over the years, what doesn't set these nutballs off? Good grief, just kill the nutballs and don't lose any sleep over it.

And These Are Significant ... How?

Those who say attacking Iran's nuclear facilities would be counter-productive amuse me--in a we're so screwed if our so-called best and brightest believe this rot sort of way. They simultaneously dismiss the problem of Iran's nukes and inflate the ability of Iran to counter-attack. All while denying that Iran has any nuclear ambitions that are really dangerous, anyway. These arguments are, to use a technical term, "stupid."

We have another contestant in the genre. This time from Britain:

First and foremost, war with Iran would be a terrible option for Israel. The Iranian people would probably respond to outside attack by rallying behind their leaders and strengthening a deeply unpopular regime.

Iran would hit back through Hizbollah in Lebanon and by trying to close the Strait of Hormuz, imposing civilian casualties on Israel and a grave burden on the global economy. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad would have the opportunity to pose alongside Iran as a dual victim of a Zionist plot.

The best that Israel’s air force could achieve would be to delay – not derail – Iran’s nuclear ambitions. ...

In fact, the military option might well be wholly counterproductive. The American, British and Israeli governments all share the same assessment of Iran’s intentions: they believe the country’s leaders want the ability to build a nuclear weapon, but have not yet decided whether to actually go ahead and exercise the option.

Let's address the significance of the objections--folly-wise.

Let's see, somehow having an Iran with people who love their Israel-hating rulers would be more dangerous than having an Iran with people who hate their Israel-hating rulers. Why? In what way would Iran's rulers behave differently toward Israel if Iran's people rallied around the flag? The key is the question of whether Iran's rulers hate Israel and whether they have nukes. Would it really be comforting for Israelis to know that the majority of Iran's people really feel really, really awful about how their government nuked Israel?

Plus, I don't accept the premise. Perhaps in the short run there will be some rally around the flag effect. But in time, the people will resume their dislike for all the things they hate about the regime that impoverishes them and oppresses them and kills them. Remember, we had a rally-around-the-flag effect here after 9/11. But by 2004, the Democratic Party no longer rallied around the president; by 2008, a majority of the voters no longer rallied around the president and his party; and by 2012, a majority of the people no longer rally around the war in Afghanistan begun in the aftermath of 9/11.

Second, looking at ways Iran might fight back isn't a reason not to attack Iran--it's a reason to prepare for overt war. Remember, Iran has already killed lots of Americans in Iraq (and British troops, too, who held the Basra region for so long), in Afghanistan, in Lebanon (in the 1980s), and that whole embassy invasion thing. Iran has been at war with the West since they took power.

But what of those counter-attacks?

Hezbollah doesn't seem so eager to fight at Iran's side when Iran is not physically at their side. Hezbollah will be all by themselves if they attack Israel since Assad is busy, Iran is far away, and Hamas is weak. If Hezbollah does fight, Israel will defeat them and Iran will lose another tool.

Will Iran try to close the Strait of Hormuz? Maybe. But closing it hurts them, too. They might not try to close it and simply try to survive and rebuild without further damage. But they might try to close Hormuz. And we will try to keep it open. The last time Iran tried to interfere with traffic in the Persian Gulf, we kept the waterway open. I imagine we can do it again. I imagine that lots of Europeans who didn't care if Iran nukes Israel will care that oil no longer flows to them. Like in the 1980s, European ships will join our fleet.

Don't forget that Iran's military is very weak in the air and at sea, where sanctions have a bigger effect than on ground troops. If Iran's screeching and fling poo don't scare us off, we will prevail and smash Iran's attempts to close the strait.

And so what if Iran and Syria pose as victims of a Zionist plot? Don't they do that every day? Assad tried that early in the crisis and the people didn't respond by rallying around the flag.

You do recall that Israel in 2007 bombed Syria's reactor under construction with North Korean assistance, right? Yet in 2011, that horrible memory of being under Israeli attack didn't stop Syrians from revolting against their rulers. Huh.

Further, so what if the attack only buys time? Of course it only buys time! Who in the world ever claimed that it would be the perfect solution that solved the problem of nuts with nukes for the rest of eternity?

But we need that time! Heck, maybe in a few years, after that rally-around-the-flag effect has worn off, Iranians will revolt and we might actually support that revolt rather than reach out to the dangerous mullahs who rule Iran.

The last objection, that Iran hasn't actually made the decision to possess a nuclear bomb rather than just the ability to rapidly build a nuclear bomb is just idiotic.

One, if the decision is real rather than subterfuge to keep us from attacking until Iran can build a bomb, doesn't that undermine the idea that Iran wants nukes to deter us? After all, nukes only deter an American attack if the nukes exist. Having "the ability to build a nuclear weapon" rather than having an actual nuclear weapon arguably reduces deterrence rather than strengthens it, no?

And if Iran doesn't really worry that we will complete our decades-long preparations to invade them and have a go at them, but wants nukes for other reasons, what is the difference between having the capability to build nukes quickly and having some nukes?

Iran will still have the prestige of being a nuclear power that will intimidate enemies and either inspire those neighbors to slowly slide into Iran's orbit or seek nuclear weapons on their own. Welcome to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. How counter-productive is failing to stop Iran when you consider that?

Then there is the problem of whether or not having a nuke or two will lead Iran to make good on their rulers' vision of a world without Israel, who they famously believe is a "one-nuke state" vulnerable to destruction by only a single well-placed nuclear explosion.

In the end, the objections are just an excuse to do nothing.

Oh, the writer has one last attempt to appear non-idiotic. He says that if we detect Iran making an effort to turn capabilities into hardware, our calculations would change and he implies we would have the option of attacking.

Right. Our record on that isn't very good. And gathering the will and assets to do the job would take time--perhaps too much time to stop that decision to build hardware. Or does the British author think America should keep sufficient military forces poised around Iran in perpetuity in order to keep that option alive?

In the end, I'd bet that we would fail to detect Iran's crossing of the nuclear threshold in time to stop them. And once Iran has nukes, you can bet the calculations will change again--sorry, chaps, it is too late to do anything at all about Iran's nukes. Blood shame.

Iran under the mullahs with nukes is a problem the world should not try to justify, explain, or blow up into a problem too great to be solved. We should destroy the Iranian regime and if we can't do that, we must delay their possession of nuclear weapons capabilities for as long as possible.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Stay Hopey My Friends

What with recent news that President Obama thinks he is usually the most interesting man in any given room; and that the White House has its own home brewery (Please, we all know he is a wine and soft cheese kind of guy who has discovered beer in time for the election campaign), I thought that a parody of the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World beer commercial would be in order.

But the Republicans already did:



Pretty funny, actually.

Well, Then, It's Settled

If Assad is on board the idea that he won't use chemical weapons against the rebellion, what will he do to change the losing course he is on?

We warn the Syrians not to use or move chemical weapons. Russia guarantees that Assad won't use or move chemical weapons. And now Britain warns Assad not to use chemical weapons:

Mr Cameron and Mr Obama both agreed "that the use - or threat - of chemical weapons was completely unacceptable and would force them to revisit their approach so far", said the spokesman.

So we have a consensus. No chemical weapons. Like I've said, I don't think Assad could salvage his position by using chemical weapons. And he'd just beg for a UN-blessed intervention. But you never can tell if Assad thinks otherwise. But if his only hope for significant help isn't to be alienated, Assad has to fulfill that Russian guarantee.

But as I've been arguing for a while, Assad can't win the way he is fighting. Something dramatic needs to happen. The rebels are having enough success that I don't think they suddenly collapse from poor morale. Indeed, the danger is far higher that there will be a collapse of the army under the stress of constant combat for a year and a half now.

And I can't imagine a political settlement at this point.

Assad simply needs a better troop-to-population ratio. So either he needs a lot more troops--several hundred thousand--from some source; or he needs to try to control fewer people. I don't see any other militarily feasible answer to his basic problem.

In theory, he could conscript every able-bodied male from the Alawite and allied communities, but he couldn't keep that many people under arms for long without destroying the economy. Counter-insurgencies aren't fast. And training that many people quickly would be tough--even for basic duties like holding strongpoints or patrolling roads.

Iran couldn't possibly send that many.

Russia couldn't possibly send that many.

And the Sunni world is far more likely to send recruits for the rebels. And couldn't possibly send that many, in any case.

I just don't see any alternative but to contract his perimeter. At worst, with what he has, he could retreat to a Rump Alawite state in the coastal mountain region.

Or add a buffer zone to the east encompassing the region from Aleppo to Homs.

Perhaps a southern buffer in the northwestern part of Lebanon would be considered.

Or even my original Core Syria idea of a truncated Syria that extends from Idlib down to the Israeli and Jordanian borders along that main Aleppo to Jordan highway, including Damascus, in order to retain the UN seat as Syria. But that would require more troops than Assad has now. Perhaps a combination of the above sources of security forces could expand Assad's ground forces enough to hold that. But I doubt it now.

I freely admit that such a contraction could be a disaster, in practice. South Vietnam couldn't pull it off in 1975. But it might be the only choice Assad has left.

Settling the question of chemical weapons use is comforting, but it doesn't settle the question of how does Assad possibly win this fight.

UPDATE: Oh, and I meant to also ask what Russia has promised Assad in exchange for making Russia's guarantee valid. I'm thinking the Security Council veto, money, fuel, arms, marines and ships in Tartus, and a paratrooper regiment along the border with Turkey--however short that border might be at the end of the day.

I don't think Russia would have made the guarantee without Assad's pledge not to use chemical weapons since there is no way that Russia could effectively intervene to stop Western intervention if chemical weapons use prompts intervention.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Russian Guarantee

Russia, which has warned the West against intervening in Syria, has denied that President Obama's trigger for intervention is valid:

Russia is working closely with the Syrian government to ensure that its arsenal of chemical weapons remains under firm control and has won promises that the weapons of mass destruction will not be used or moved, Moscow's point man on Syria told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Interesting. Russia guarantees the security of Syrian chemical arms?

Will Russia deploy paratroopers to physically make good on that guarantee?

Will Assad not need to even move chemical arms within whatever defense perimeter Assad decides to hold?

Do we believe the Russian guarantee?

Do we want Russia to be the guarantor of Syria's chemical weapons if it means Russian troops are put on the ground there?

That's an interesting guarantee that Russia has made. What does it mean in practice?

UPDATE: Russia says they have Assad's guarantee that he will not use chemical weapons against the rebels:

Russia is working closely with the Syrian government to ensure that its arsenal of chemical weapons remains under firm control and has won promises that the weapons of mass destruction will not be used or moved, Moscow's point man on Syria told The Associated Press on Thursday.

How closely are they working? Are Russians providing physical security? Are they really promising not to move chemical weapons?

As a matter of curiosity, did we know that Russia had Assad's guarantee before we warned Assad not to use or move his chemical weapons? That's mostly a rhetorical question. I assume Russia really wants to provide President Obama some "space" to get that second-term "flexibility" that President Obama promised the Russians.

NOTE: My apologies for the update that repeated the initial article link and quote. Wow. Clearly I had another article in mind. Bad day to quit sniffing glue, obviously.

Seeing How Isolated Iran Is

We're told that attacking Iran's nuclear infrastructure risks the great global coalition we've assembled to punish Iran through economic sanctions and demonstrate to Iran how "isolated" Iran is. I don't think that word means what they think it means:

Israel on Thursday warned UN chief Ban Ki-moon and other world leaders not to fall into an Iranian propaganda "trap" when they attend a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Tehran next week. ...

The Non-Aligned Movement has 119 state members, as well as the Palestinian Authority.

Among top-level delegates who will be attending the summit are Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi, Cuban leader Raul Castro and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Fifty-one nations and the UN plus others will attend.

Yeah, wouldn't want to spoil that hard-won "isolation" by eliminating Iran's nuclear threat by attacking Iran.

UPDATE: Iran has high hopes:

The Islamic Republic's three-year tenure of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which starts on Sunday, is a chance for Tehran to elevate its international standing as the United States seeks to cripple its economy and isolate it diplomatically over its nuclear program.

Yeah, smart diplomacy sure has demonstrated to Iran that the world is united to stop Iran's nuclear drive.

Unintended Consequences

Has anyone noticed that the UN Law of the Sea Treaty (UNCLOS, or less charitably, LOST), which we supposedly need to ratify to endorse international law concerning the seas, is the very reason that the South China Sea has become a hot spot that could trigger a major power war from a number of angles?

[China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, and Taiwan] each claim parts of the territory based on what is known as UNCLOS, or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which says nations can claim an Exclusive Economic Zone extending 200 nautical miles into the waters surrounding their coastlines. They may also make further claims based on the continental shelf extending from their shores.


Since a lot of natural resources lie under the sea bed, controlling the seas above those resources--which the Law of the Sea allows, is now important. Important enough to go to war over.

Remember, as I've noted before, LOST says nothing about how to determine ownership of the islands that form the basis of those 200 nautical mile economic zones.

The UN. Is there anything it can't make worse?

Fighting Nonstate Actors

This opinion piece from the Strategic Studies Institute wants the Army to focus on post-Westphalian conditions for fighting nonstate actors:

Moreover, nation-states, their proxies, and nonstate actors who perpetrate unconventional, undeclared, asymmetric conflicts throughout the global community can and do take de facto political control of geographical and human portions of traditional nation-states. When they do, they create quasi-states within the state. Whether or not motives are political, commercial, or ideological — or to control or to replace governments — is irrelevant. The fact is that these activities make a joke of traditional sovereignty. At the same time, law and security depend completely on the whim of terrorist, insurgent, criminal, or gang leaders. This makes a joke out of citizen (human) rights, and the notion of democracy. Inadvertent or deliberate, any and all of these actions compel radical change and define both insurgency and war.

In general, I have to agree that we need a new approach to fighting these nonstate actors. Indeed, the issue of essentially privatized warfare (at only 99 cents, it is a virtual steal, if I do say so) is part of this new environment that denies states a monopoly on lawful use of military force.

But one thing that I believe is overstated is the focus on the nonstate actors. Yes, we need new ways to combat them. But do not forget that nonstate actors generally only become serious threats when they have state sponsors. Take down those old-fashioned Westphalian states and the nonstate actors that rely on them for sanctuary, training, weapons, money, and intelligence, are far weaker than they are with state support.

And conventional armed forces are really good at hammering conventional states.

By all means, explore how we can fight nonstate actors in a post-Westphalian world with military and non-military means. And look out how we can use nonstate assets to fight these nonstate actors as well as their state sponsors.

But don't neglect the aspect of simply destroying the regime that supports nonstate actors who would make a joke of human rights, democracy, and sovereignty.

Let the Man Do His Job

Our military goes to war with the objectives and forces that our civilian leaders provide them. That's the way it is supposed to be. So why is there a conservative complaint that Marine Lieutenant General Dunford, the likely choice to lead the Afghanistan campaign, has voiced support for the president's strategy there?

I don't quite understand this:

Insiders like Korb don't expect Dunford to make any major changes to the current NATO and U.S. strategy, which calls for building a huge Afghan national security force and handing more and more territory to them between now and the end of 2014. "This means the status is going to hold," Korb says.

But, as with most issues these days, conservatives scoffed at the pick.

"He's a lousy pick if our goal is victory, but a good pick if you're sitting in the Oval Office and want a yes man," says Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute.

What the Hell? I expect any general to support the president publicly and provide honest advice in private. If a general can't do that, they can resign and exercise their right as a private citizen to express their dissent.

I may not be happy that we have set a deadline for our operations. I understand the need to reduce troops over time and turn over fighting responsibility to Afghans. That's Counterinsurgency 101.

But Dunford's duty is to do the best he can with the objectives he has and the troops he is given for those objectives. I have no reason to think that Dunford cannot do that.

And I sure don't expect him to have established a reputation for undermining civilian leadership. I may not have much respect for the commander-in-chief, but he is the commander-in-chief.

If conservatives want to complain about President Obama's policies, feel free--it is a target-rich environment, as the expression goes. Criticism of military strategy is obviously open, too. But don't complain about the general in charge for obeying his lawful orders.

There are worse things than having a lousy commander-in-chief. Like having an officer corps that feels free to advocate its own policies against the will of civilian leadership.

Being a Conservative for a Day

Tom Friedman focuses the awesome power of his big brain on what conservatives need to do (tip to National Review Online):

America today desperately needs a serious, thoughtful, credible 21st-century “conservative” opposition to President Obama, and we don’t have that, even though the voices are out there.

That's funny. Tom Friedman thinks that Republicans can run from being reasonably benighted despots and become reasonably enlightened autocrats in service of progress?

His concern for conservatives is touching.

Hey, you know what we really need? A truly "liberal" party.

I'll say it again because it is true (and because I really like saying it): I'm not saying you can't drown in a pool of Tom Friedman's wisdom, but you would have to be drunk and face down to do so.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Are You Kidding Me?

I'm hearing criticism and outrage from the left that former Navy SEALs and intelligence officers are slamming the president for leaking intelligence about how our special operators work in the field. Even the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff criticised them.

This outrage by our Democratic friends is outrageous. Former military personnel have every right to comment on political issues. General Dempsey, on the other hand, should stay out of political issues and has no right to criticize civilians for voicing opinions about our president. If Dempsey wants to explain why they are wrong, I welcome his view. But otherwise, he is the one stepping outside his lane.

Further, in what is the most annoying part of this episode,I can hardly believe the left is slamming the former SEALS and intelligence agents given the way that the anti-war side celebrated former intelligence officers who criticized the Iraq War and said we couldn't win, former military officers who said we could not win, and even a serving American military officer who criticized the Iraq War.

My God, getting a former soldier to condemn the war was the freaking Holy Grail of the anti-war left, and they didn't even care if the so-called soldier ever served in Iraq--or was even a soldier!

Gosh, it seems like only yesteradministration when dissent was patriotic.

You don't like what those citizens who used to be Navy SEALs are saying? Criticize them. Note that in the post on the former officers I specifically affirmed their right to express their opinion even as I wrote how they got their criticisms wrong.

But demand they shut up and salute their former commander-in-chief like good sailors? Bite me.

UPDATE: Victor Hanson has thoughts.

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That ...

Vice President Biden shared a bit too much:

Joe Biden: “I’ve known eight presidents, and three of them intimately.”

I'm going to go with both Bushes and the Johnson ...

How Will This Play Out?

Are Syria's threats about their civil war spilling over in the region being played out in Lebanon? And what will the end game be? Would Assad try to add pieces of Lebanon to his new and shrunken realm?

The Russians themselves warned that outside intervention would lead to a wider war.

Lebanon has seen some fighting spill over from Syria, and it might be intensifying:

The death toll from fighting between Sunni Muslims and Alawites in Tripoli climbed to at least 10 [NOTE: and over 100 wounded] overnight, medical sources said on Wednesday, in clashes that the city's residents described as some of the heaviest since Lebanon's civil war.

There is suspicion that this spill over isn't just happening as a natural consequence of fighting in Syria:

As Syria’s civil war drags on, the recent arrest of a former Lebanese government minister allied with the Syrian leadership on charges that he planned a campaign of bombings and assassinations has led many in Lebanon to conclude that President Bashar al-Assad is trying to push this fragile country into a sectarian war.

Lebanon is somewhat of a mess of divided loyalties:


I got that map from Juan Cole's site, which I don't find particularly useful (and notice how he doesn't get much attention now that Bush is gone--who knows, perhaps he isn't as bad now that he isn't trying to hammer Bush).

Indeed, one of the reasons I wondered about Assad creating an Alawite Rump Syria plus a buffer to the east is the example of Lebanon. Eastern Lebanon was grafted on to the core Christian coastal zone to give the state some depth.

But Syria never accepted that eastern Lebanon was part of Lebanon. Remember that Syria's occupation zone in Lebanon--originally sanctioned to end the civil war there--ran through much of the non-Christian areas of Lebanon:


Would Assad try to add some north-south depth by annexing northwest Lebanon? Say from a point south of Tripoli on the coast to encompass Christian areas and then inland to Balabakk and then east to the border to incorporate the good road lading to Homs? Would the annexation be informal as Syria's occupation of portions of Lebanon was before? Or done through proxies?

Much depends on how far Assad wants to retreat, what he thinks he needs to rule after that retreat, and what Russia is prepared to do in support.

It's quite possible that Assad really intends to fight for all of Syria and win or lose that battle. But I can't see how he could pull that off successfully.

I admit my speculation on a Core Syria (which no longer seems defensible given the erosion of Assad's security forces), a Rump Alawite Syria, and a Rump + Buffer Syria (and now a Rump/Buffer plus Southern Buffer Syria) is purely a map exercise without analysis of whether any of those are viable as a state. But they have the advantage from Assad's point of view of leaving his people in charge at the end of the day. And if Assad can keep Russian (and Iranian, and to a lesser extent, Chinese) support, he might have no choice but to try one of them.

Assad Must Be Desperate

The risk of defecting pilots, the difficulty of maintaining aircraft, the availability of artillery assets, and the risk of provoking a Western no-fly zone were all reasons I thought Assad wouldn't risk his air force in the fight. But he is committing his planes to battle:

Its forces stretched thin on multiple fronts, President Bashar Assad's regime has significantly increased its use of air power against Syrian rebels in recent weeks, causing a spike in civilian casualties.

The aircraft have been lower tech trainers fitted with weapons, which eases the maintenance hurdle.

But if Assad can't keep his ground forces creaking along, he certainly can't maintain an aerial tempo for long. This will be another resource that he depletes. Perhaps Assad thinks he can't use this weapon long enough to provoke a Western no-fly zone so it is simply a free asset to take some pressure off his worn out ground forces.

Ultimately, if Assad wants to keep using his air power, he will need Russian support to keep the West from imposing a no-fly zone; and he will need Russian help to keep the planes flying. That could mean sending in contractor pilots and maintenance personnel in addition to arms, and target information from satellites and intelligence.

Is Russia all-in for Assad?

Commandeer-in-Chief

President Obama says that the choice is our defense budget or a tax increase:

President Obama said Monday the “the only thing” allowing the sequestration to proceed is Republicans’ unwillingness to raise certain taxes[.]

I guess our president doesn't think he'll need to order our SEAL teams into action again.

Well, There You Go

Do we really know what China's amphibious lift capabilities are?

My views on a Chinese invasion of Taiwan rely on China using amphibious lift assets drawn from the civilian fleet and older warships allocated for use as assault ships crammed with light infantry. Critics of China's ability to invade Taiwan focus on the lack of formal amphibious warfare assets and I believe this is terribly United States Marine Core-centric. We are unique in history in having such robust organized amphibious warfare capability and others don't need (and haven't needed) that narrowly focused capability to invade if they are willing to endure the higher casualties (or can gain surprise by landing at undefended points).

My Jane's email update highlights this capability:

The Chinese military launched a 36,000-tonne 'Bohai Sea Green Pearl' ferry vessel on 8 August at Yantai Port in Shandong Province. The vessel has a dual design that allows it to serve as a civilian transport ship and as an 'amphibious augmentation platform' allowing troop and heavy equipment transport. According to Chinese media, the platform is Asia's largest, most advanced and most luxurious commercial cruise ship and was developed as part of a civilian-military integration strategic development project intended to enhance passenger transport in Bohai Bay while reinforcing strategic maritime delivery capabilities for continental Chinese military forces[.]

Don't underestimate the ability of the Chinese to hit Taiwan. Remember, China doesn't have to defeat our Navy and Air Force in order to conquer Taiwan. China just needs to conquer Taiwan before we can intervene in force sufficient to be decisive.