Thursday, February 28, 2013

From the Files of Smart Diplomacy

Iraq should be an easy ally to reassure.

Iraq's Shia-dominated government faced an Iranian and Syrian (under Assad) attempt to tip Iraq into civil war through support for rival terrorists and death squads in the Shia and Sunni Arab communities. In addition, perhaps 300,000 Iraqis (mostly Shia) died in the 1980s fighting Iran in that long war.

Iraqi hostility to both Iran and Assad should be easy to leverage into a close alliance between America and Iraq.

Hey, how's this for the fruits of smart diplomacy?

Iraq's prime minister warned Wednesday that a victory for rebels in the Syrian civil war would create a new extremist haven and destabilize the wider Middle East, sparking sectarian wars in his own country and in Lebanon.

Nouri al-Maliki stopped short of voicing outright support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's embattled regime. But his comments in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press marked one of his strongest warnings yet about the turmoil that the collapse of the Syrian government could create.

The prime minister's remarks reflect fears by many Shiite Muslims in Iraq and elsewhere that Sunni Muslims would come to dominate Syria should Assad be toppled, and his statements could provide a measure of moral support for those fighting to keep Assad in power.

Again, not that I blame the Iraqis. They need to be careful about angering the Iranians. Not a lot of Iraqis are fond of Iran and far fewer are fond of Syria under Assad. But Iran is close and willing to fight for Iraq. Iraq's military has not had the time (or opportunity, arguably) to transition to one capable of conventional warfare in a clash with Iran. Where, the Iraqis can ask, is America?

Twenty-five thousand American troops. That's all I wanted to keep in Iraq to reassure Iraqis that it was safe to resist Iranian pressure and that it was safe to practice democracy. That's all I wanted to defend the gains we made until Iraq could handle the role on their own.

But no, our president had to "responsibly end" the war that continues without us. All he wants is a decent interval before Iran can win in Iraq to avoid responsibility for the debacle.

And now we have a Secretary of Defense who doesn't want to dictate to anyone, let alone Iran, and is famously eager to cut a deal with Iran on top of that. Yeah, that will reassure the Iraqis who should be our natural friends based on our common enemies and shared sacrifice.

We may yet win this. Iraq could buy the time they need to strengthen their military (which we are helping, I'll say) and then reject Iranian influence so that their prime minister doesn't have to sing the praises of the stability provided by killers with so much Iraqi blood on their hands. Heck, the odds might even be in our favor. It's hard for me to say. But it would be easier to say if we were still there and in the game competing with the Iranians rather than looking for ways to cut deals with the murderous SOBs in Tehran.


As Syria's war casualties approach 80,000 dead--including troops and rebels, but mostly civilians--let's ponder what our military inflicted in Afghanistan where some allege we just air raided villages and over-used firepower.

This is the toll in Afghanistan as we prepare to ease out of the campaign:

Thus since 2001 another 60,000 Afghans have been killed, about half of them were men fighting for the Taliban and drug gangs. Nearly 20,000 civilians were killed, mostly by the Taliban. Another 10,000 were killed fighting against the Taliban, along with 4,300 foreign troops. The violence peaked in 2010 (with 11,000 dead) when NATO led a major offensive against the Taliban and drug gangs.

Remember that most civilian deaths were caused by the enemy. And there is a good amount who died from our fire that I'd argue are the responsibility of the enemy under the rules of war because of the way the enemy fought--among civilians where sometimes civilians would be killed by accident as we tried to kill the enemy.

Hey, here's some enemy fun--poison:

Ghazni deputy provincial council head Abdul Jamhe Jamhe says the militants somehow infiltrated the outpost and poisoned those inside the compound before launching the Tuesday night assault. He says the assailants then shot the incapacitated men.

Ten were local police and 7 were friends of the police.

Remember, too, that during our fight in Iraq, about 120,000 Iraqis died--including perhaps a third who were the enemy plus Iraqi security forces.

Yet in two years in Syria, nearly 80,000 have died. And the death toll has only really accelerated in the last year, or so.

Syria is what brutality looks like. Not Afghanistan. And not even Iraq.

And if Karzai gets our special forces out of that region with baseless charges of brutality when in reality they are the reason Karzai lives in a presidential palace, expect more brutality from the enemy and a higher body count.

We aren't the problem. How's that for perspective?

A Strong Message, Indeed

If Canada doesn't sell America their oil via the Keystone pipeline, do the Euros really believe that the oil won't be sold to someone?

The combination of being a global warmer and a Eurocrat is just an astounding recipe for major league stupid:

The European Union's top climate change official said on Thursday that if the Obama administration rejects the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, it would send a strong message that the United States is serious on combating climate change.

Well, if the administration reject the pipeline, I guess it will just prove Secretary Kerry's message.

Unclear On the Concept

Our new Secretary of Defense seems unclear on how his department is different from the State Department.


Decorated Vietnam veteran Chuck Hagel was sworn in as U.S. defense secretary on Wednesday after a bruising Senate confirmation battle, promising to renew old U.S. alliances and forge new ones without attempting to "dictate" to the world.

That's nice. Implicitly trash your country--and the two prior secretaries in the same administration, I'd add--on your first day in office. You'd think that having an apologetic president would be enough. But no. Enough of that dictation stuff. Let's not bicker over who killed who, right?

Also, Secretary Hagel (it still grates that this doesn't mean he takes dictation) doesn't seem to really get the concept that when the president turns to the Secretary of Defense for options, it is precisely because other countries don't want to voluntarily do what we want (or stop doing what we don't want them to do), so we may send in the military to compel them. That is, our military will try to dictate the outcome to them after beating them about the head and shoulders with force.

When anyone says that only veterans should hold foreign policy and defense positions, the counter-arguments will be Hagel and Kerry.

Hey, one piece of advice: old allies and potential allies really value our ability to dictate to those portions of the world that our old and potential allies are worried about. So maybe get on this problem that supposedly will reduce our ground forces by 200,000 troops.

I find it hard to believe that the cuts would be this much on top of reducing training. Is the sequester really that badly designed? And if it is, the president really wouldn't sign a bill passed by Congress to do this more rationally?

The defense budget numbers look worse than I think they are since--if I recall correctly--the Obama administration simply has a unified defense budget including war operations rather than the base budget and war supplementals of the Bush administration. So cuts in our budget now also take into account reductions in warfighting accounts.

Whether we are ending the fight too soon is a separate question of whether defense spending is declining too much for the core military budget, but this budget change is a factor in judging the seriousness of the spending levels going forward.

Also, I dislike using defense spending as a percent of GDP to decide what is enough for defense. It is useful to show whether it is really a burden on our economy (it is not, given our very large economy). But it is not useful for deciding whether we are spending enough on needed capabilities.

Oh, and I hate the idea of scrapping the F-35 Marine Corps version since it denies us our stealth carrier capabilities.

But I'm sure that Secretary Hagel is well aware of all the nuances of these problems. This will work out swell.

Or not.

Twas the Night Before Sequester

Tomorrow the Sequester officially begins. We will spend for the rest of the fiscal year an amount about 2.3% less than we planned to spend.

Twas the night before Sequester, when all through DC
Not a revenue was stirring, not even a fee.
The reductions were marked by bureaucrats with care,
In hopes that St. Obama soon would be there.

The civil servants were nestled all snug--cuz they're feds,
While visions of continuing resolutions danced in their heads.
And Director made mischief, and I under a budget cap,
Had just written our press release for a long winter’s scrap.

When out on the Mall their chants were so bitter,
I sprang to my desk to see what was on Twitter.
Away to the Windows I flew like a flash,
Tore open the browser and queried the hash.

The stories on TV of the hardly-fallen budget
Gave spin of austerity to reporters to fudge it.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature Air Force 1, and eight tales of fear.

With a tall hopey driver, so lively with no drama,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Obama.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Morgan! Now, Matthews! Now, Amanpour and Maddow!
On, Schieffer! On, Sawyer! On Crowley and Brokaw!
To the top of the hour! To film who will bawl!
Now spin away! Spin away! Spin away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild charges that fly,
When they film a Republican, oh do they cry.
So up to the House-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of programs, and St. Obama too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard quite enough
The prancing and pawing of each little puff.
As I drew in my head, and turned down the sound,
Down the chimney St. Obama came with a bound.

He was dressed in a suit, from his head to his foot,
And his investments were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Programs he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!
His crises like poses, his woes like a fairy!
His droll little budget was wrapped up with a bow,
And the fear on his face was as real as some show.

The stump of a program he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad mandate and a little hope--really?
That shook when he governed, like a straw man so silly!

He was hopey and changey, a Left Forward POTUS,
And I fainted when I saw him, in spite of the fuss!
A wink of his eye and a tilt of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the budgets, then turned with a shirk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the deficit he rose!

He sprang to his Prompter, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the drone of a missile.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he gazed in the mirror,
"Happy Sequester to all, and to all a good-fiscal year!"

I'm so excited! I hope I get a unicorn!

With apologies, of course.

Defining the Sides

It was a good fight to resist Chuck Hagel's nomination to be Secretary of Defense (tip to Instapundit).

In the end, the fight denied President Obama the easy ability to blame Republicans for what a nominally Republican Secretary of Defense does to the department. Near-unanimous Republican opposition makes that clear.

That won't stop the president from gutting defense in the theory that the tide of war is receding, but clarity on blame is at least something.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Distance and Time Are the Least of Our Problems

In his testimony before Congress on the Benghazi response of our military, Secretary Panetta rightly objected that the military is not a 9/11 force that must be ready to respond within minutes to any call for help. But this misses the point. A military bureaucracy that felt at war would have responded within hours just in case it could do something.

When fighting was raging in Iraq, it was often said we had two militaries: the one fighting a war abroad and the peacetime military at home that couldn't be budged from routine to react to the fighting.

As the tide of war has receded, as our president has boasted, that division has gotten worse, with our military leadership unable to even recognize that peacetime rigidity. Former Secretary of Defense Panetta (who has done a good job, overall, I'll admit, in defending the department from calls for cuts--and who I'll miss) highlighted this failure to really believe we are at war when he defended the military's response to the Benghazi attacks.

Said Panetta:

"The United States military is not and should not be a global 911 service capable of arriving on the scene within minutes to every possible contingency around the world," Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Nobody is saying that the military should be capable of reacting within minutes. From the beginning, I've agreed that what is usually called the consulate was beyond help once the attack started. But the annex was not beyond help. There we had hours. And even after the annex personnel escaped, there was reason to secure the annex grounds as well as the consulate grounds. There we had days.

And given the confusion about what was going on in Benghazi, we had no way of knowing how much time we had to make a difference on the ground. One of my concerns is that we may have essentially written off the people at the annex and figured it was better to cope with a score dead Americans than make an effort that might cause casualties in the rescue force.

Remember, a non-military rescue force despite being pitifully small did make a difference in keeping our casualties down to four, saving those who rallied at the annex and getting them out the next morning.

So when our top general backs Panetta with this statement, I just don't buy it:

Dempsey said he stood by his testimony, "your dispute of it notwithstanding." The general said the military was concerned with multiple threats worldwide and, based on time and positioning of forces, "we wouldn't have gotten there in time."

Between midnight and 2 a.m. on the night of the attack, Panetta issued orders, telling two Marine anti-terrorism teams based in Rota, Spain, to prepare to deploy to Libya, and he ordered a team of special operations forces in Central Europe and another team of special operations forces in the U.S. to prepare to deploy to a staging base in Europe.

The first of those U.S. military units did not actually arrive in the region until well after the attack was over and Americans had been flown out of the country. Just before 8 p.m., the special operations team landed at Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sicily. An hour later, the Marine team landed in Tripoli. Defense officials have repeatedly said that even if the military had been able to get units there a bit faster, there was no way they could have gotten there in time to make any difference in the deaths of the four Americans.

Our basic defense for failure to get there?

"This was, pure and simple, a problem of distance and time," Panetta said.

We couldn't have gotten to the consulate in time. But we didn't know that it was too late until much later. And we could have gotten there in time to reinforce the annex. Or even to secure the two sites after the fights were over.

And it bears repeating that to this day we have not taken action in direct response to the attack. I don't count helping the French fight the jihadis in Mali who were linked to the assaults and killings.

But consider what we sent to Libya. We ordered specialized anti-terrorism units and special forces to head for Libya. These are units that were considered the best units to enter a confused situation like Benghazi.

We didn't send even unarmed aircraft to fly over the area to possibly frighten the jihadis let alone armed aircraft that might have been able to shoot.

Oh, we had an excuse for that, too:

Dempsey said it would have taken up to 20 hours to get the planes ready and on their way, and he added that they would have been the "wrong tool for the job."

It would have taken 20 hours to arm planes in Europe and send them on their way? On the anniversary of aerial attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? What the Hell?! Our forward-deployed Air Force units couldn't get a pair of planes in the air on an hour notice, or so? Just how bad is our readiness?

Good God, we did better at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941--with 25 plane sorties that shot down 7-10 Japanese planes. and without the knowledge that the day was rather an important anniversary for our enemies.

And why assume aircraft were the wrong tools or that our enemies would know they were the wrong tools if they were inappropriate? Our enemies have experience with the killing power of our Air Force. Why assume they'd shrug and get on with their attacks if they heard American aircraft overhead?

In the dark, would the jihadis have known that a VIP transport flying overhead wasn't a gunship about to dispatch them to paradise?

And we didn't send any troops that we could have scraped together from our many tens of thousands of troops in Europe. There are about 36,000 Army troops in Europe and we couldn't scape up a platoon of combat soldiers or military police from those units to put on a plane? With the remainder of a company to follow? Just to do something until the specialized troops could arrive?

Or maybe send Air Force base security forces? They'd have some skills in fighting in closed spaces like buildings, right?

If this was a war, our leaders would send cooks and mechanics to the front with rifles in an emergency if there was nothing more appropriate left to send.

Our peacetime leadership considers their role done if they send the specialized units on their way regardless of whether they can make it in time.

Or is our military already hollow before sequestration hits?

I suspect it isn't that bad yet. Even with funding shortfalls, we still have units capable of fighting even if they'd take more casualties to win or have a higher risk of failure. But we didn't send what we could.

I'm sorry, but distance and time are the least of our problems. If our leaders felt like we are at war, forces would have been sent. Maybe they couldn't have made it in time to make a difference. But we would have tried.

All Your Monies Are Belong to Us

I thought the silver lining in the ObamaCare Supreme Court decision upholding that law (if something of that vast a size can be encompassed in that term) was that the government can't regulate non-commerce (the failure to buy health insurance) under the Commerce Clause?

I know that this is a state-level proposal, but it is disturbing nonetheless.

One day, at this rate, the government will just have all our checks directly deposited with the Treasury Department and they'll generously grant an allowance for what they say we need.

He Has the Right to Remain Silent, Doesn't He?

I do hope Secretary of State Kerry explores the security status of our embassy in Kyrzakhstan in light of the difficulty in enhancing democratic institutions there, as he noted recently. When's the last time you heard a success story from that outpost of our diplomacy?

Granted, the man is just vigorously exercising his rights. But one must wonder how the press would react to a gaffe like this if a Republican had done it?

I mean a "Republican" who isn't in the Obama administration.

And other than how they treated Mitt Romney throughout 2012, of course.

The Charge of the Sequester Brigade

I'm feeling harshly toward the Pentagon over the sequester. Perhaps I am too hasty in blaming the Pentagon for the form of this budget reduction despite past practices that would paint them as complicit in this debacle.

The Pentagon says they are helpless in how they allocate cuts under the sequester:

First, as you know, if sequestration goes into effect for the remainder of the year, it will require the Department of Defense to cut roughly $46 billion from the level of funding provided on the FY2013 continuing resolution, all in the last seven months of the fiscal year. By law, sequester would apply to all of the DOD budget, including wartime spending. The only exception is that the president has indicated his intent to exempt all military personnel funding from sequestration. While DOD leaders support this decision, it does not mean that other budget accounts will be cut by larger amounts to offset the exemption, and our current estimate is that these cuts will amount to nine percent.

In addition to requiring these large and sudden cuts, the law mandates that they be applied in a rigid, across-the-board manner, account by account, item by item. Cuts to the operating portions of the DOD budget must be equal in percentage terms at the level of appropriations accounts, for example, Army active operation and maintenance, Navy reserve operation and maintenance, and Air Force Guard operation and maintenance.

This is a good point. The military must carry out the law. As our new Secretary of State has advertised, Americans have the right to be stupid. Even when our government is carrying out that right with such enthusiasm, the military still has the duty to follow the law as passed by civilians.

Theirs is but to do and die, right?

So the ultimate responsibility for the stupidity is in the hands of the civilians who made the law. Thank goodness, we have a new civilian Secretary of Defense who can get right on this problem.

Wait. What? It's Chuck Hagel? We may have to wait. He's admitted he has much to learn to be the secretary. I imagine O-4s all over the Pentagon are preparing PowerPoint presentations going over the nuanced differences between sh*t and Shinola for him.

And the 7-month crash course in defense may just better prepare him for his planned role in gutting the Pentagon, anyway.

Our leaders in Congress could grant the president discretion in the defense budget or even just exempt operations and maintenance from the cuts. We are at war, you know.

I guess the Budget Wars never recede and mere enemies trying to kill us are secondary considerations. Never waste a manufactured crisis, I suppose.

Still At the "Beat Them" Stage

Mexicans are reacting quite naturally to the failure of the government to provide security. While arming and organizing to beat the drug cartels is not the best thing to happen, it at least is better than locals simply joining the drug cartels for safety.

Local defense forces have sprung up in Mexico separate from the government:

The rapid spread of vigilante-style community “self-defense” groups is drawing debate in Mexico after the latest group popped up with suspiciously sophisticated weapons, printed T-shirts and clothing that doesn’t reflect the usual mix of participants.

The group appeared this week in Tepalcatepec, in the western state of Michoacan, in an area dominated by warring drug cartels. Tepalcatepec is the latest in a recent wave of towns where residents have set up patrols and checkpoints to fight crimes like kidnapping and extortion. ...

Many Mexicans are concerned that the “self-defense” patrols could start acting like paramilitary groups or be used by the drug gangs themselves.

Well, yeah. In the long run they could become a problem or even the problem. But in the short run, is it better for the locals to simply join the cartels now? Or simply do nothing and be controlled by the cartels by default?

The Mexican government should attempt to support these forces to provide some level of oversight and focus to keep them from devolving into gangs or auxiliaries to the drug cartels.

The development should be a lesson to us, as well. Our president keeps telling us that the tide of war is receding. But it is not, in the original form that prompted the large-scale operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that are over or ending. Jihadis keep trying to kill us.

And if our government does not appear to be fully engaged in fighting the jihadis, private American individuals and groups will fight the war on their own. You might think that waging war abroad is way different than defending your town from a threat all around. You'd be right. But that doesn't mean that private groups can't join the war.

You can read my blog thoughts on this for only 99 cents!

Heck, might not states or even cities (New York City already has intelligence and SWAT teams that surpass the spy and special forces capabilities of most countries) fill in the gap?

Let's hope these groups fight for what American wants and don't devolve into death squads or just a force for the foreign policy of a faction at odds with American interests.

National governments are supposed to have a monopoly on the use of force. If the national government does not do everything it can to defeat threats, the vacuum will be filled by someone.

A Sequestering! A Sequestering!

The looming sequester is nearly upon us. Brave cabinet officials seeking the Holy Grail of a Balanced Approach to deficit reduction face many perils.

LEW: Open the door!
Open the door!
[pound pound pound]
In the name of President Obama, open the door!
[squeak thump]
[squeak boom]
ALL: Hello!
REID: Welcome gentle Treasury Secretary, welcome to the Congress Anthrax.
LEW: The Congress Anthrax?
REID: Yes... oh, it's not a very good name? Oh! but we are nice and we shall attend to your every, every need!
LEW: You are the keepers of the Balanced Approach to reducing the deficit?
REID: The what?
LEW: The Balanced Approach -- it is here?
REID: Oh, but you are tired, and you must rest awhile. Boehner! Biden!
BOEHNER and BIDEN: Yes, oh Reid!
REID: Prepare a bill for our guest.
BOEHNER and BIDEN: Oh thank you thank you thank you—
LEW: Away away vile temptress!
REID: The bills here are warm and soft – and very, very big.
LEW: Well, look, I-I-uh--
REID: What is your name, handsome treasurer?
LEW: Sir Lew... the Chaste.
REID: Mine is Reid... just Reid. Oh, but come!
LEW: Look, please! In The One's name, show me the Balanced Approach to deficit reduction!
REID: Oh, you have suffered much! You are delirious!
LEW: L-look, I have seen it! It is here, in the--
REID: Secretary Lew! You would not be so ungallant as to refuse our hospitality.
LEW: Well, I-I-uh--
REID: Oh, I am afraid our life must seem very dull and quiet compared to yours. We are but five score wealthy Republicans and Democrats, all between sixty and ninety-five and a half, cut off in this Senate with no one to protect us! Oh, it is a lonely life -- drafting, amending, unamending, making exciting boilerplate. We are just not used to handsome cabinet officers. Nay, nay, come, come, you may testify here. Oh, but you are in deficit!
LEW: No, no -- i-it's nothing!
REID: Oh, but you must see the economists immediately! No, no, please, lie down.
[clap clap]
FRANKIN: Ah. What seems to be the trouble?
LEW: They're economists?!
REID: Uh, they've had a basic economic training, yes.
LEW: B-but--
REID: Oh, come come, you must try to balance! Senator Frankin, Senator Leahy, practice your art.
FRANKIN: Try to balance.
LEW: Are you sure that's necessary?
FRANKIN: We must question you.
LEW: There's nothing wrong with that!
FRANKIN: Please -- we are senators.
LEW: Get off the bill! I am sworn to fiscal responsibility!
FRANKIN: Back to your bill!
LEW: Torment me no longer! I have seen the Balanced Approach to deficit reduction!
FRANKIN: There's no Balanced Approach here.
LEW: I have seen it, I have seen it. I have seen--
LEW: Oh--
LEW: Reid!
MENENDEZ: No, I am Reid's identical twin senator, Menendez.
LEW: Oh, well, excuse me, I--
MENENDEZ: Where are you going?
LEW: I seek the Balanced Approach to deficit reduction! I have seen it, here in this Congress!
MENENDEZ: No! Oh, no! Bad, bad Reid!
LEW: What is it?
MENENDEZ: Oh, wicked, bad, naughty Reid! He has been setting alight to our beacon, which, I just remembered, is Balanced Approach-shaped. It's not the first time we've had this problem.
LEW: It's not the real Balanced Approach?
MENENDEZ: Oh, wicked, bad, naughty, evil Reid! Oh, he is a naughty senator, and he must pay the penalty -- and here in Congress Anthrax, we have but one punishment for setting alight the Balanced Approach-shaped beacon. You must tie the budget down on a bed and sequester it!
SENATORS: A sequestering! A sequestering!
MENENDEZ: You must sequester it well. And after you have sequestered it, you may deal with it as you like. And then, sequester me.
VARIOUS SENATORS: And sequester me.
And me.
And me.
MENENDEZ: Yes, yes, you must give us all a good sequestering!
SENATORS: A sequestering! A sequestering!
MENENDEZ: And after the sequestering, the spending bill.
SENATORS: Spending bill! Spending bill!
LEW: Well, I could stay a BIT longer.
KRUGMAN: Secretary Lew!
LEW: Oh, hello.
LEW: What?
LEW: Why?
KRUGMAN: You're in great peril!
KRUGMAN: Silence, foul temptress!
LEW: Now look, it's not important.
KRUGMAN: Quick! Come on and we'll cover your escape!
LEW: Look, I'm fine!
KRUGMAN: Come on!
LEW: Now look, I can tackle this lot single-handed!
MENENDEZ: Yes! Let him tackle us single-handed!
SENATORS: Yes! Tackle us single-handed!
KRUGMAN: No, Secretary Lew, come on!
LEW: No, really, honestly, I can go back and handle this lot easily!
MENENDEZ: Oh, yes, he can handle us easily.
SENATORS: Yes, yes!
LEW: Wait! I can defeat them! There's only a hundred of them!
MENENDEZ: Yes, yes, he'll beat us easily, we haven't a chance.
SENATORS: Yes, yes.
MENENDEZ: Oh, filibuster.
KRUGMAN: We were in the nick of time, you were in great peril.
LEW: I don't think I was.
KRUGMAN: Yes you were, you were in terrible peril.
LEW: Look, let me go back in there and face the sequester.
KRUGMAN: No, it's too perilous.
LEW: Look, I'm a cabinet officer, I'm supposed to get as much peril as I can.
KRUGMAN: No, we've got to find the Balanced Approach to reducing the deficit. Come on!
LEW: Well, let me have just a little bit of sequester?
KRUGMAN: No, it's unhealthy.
LEW: Bet you're a Tea Partier!
KRUGMAN: No, I'm not.

Really. We can face the peril of the sequester.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

In Defense of Stupidity

Secretary of State Kerry told the Germans we have a right to be stupid. Thanks, John. Way to represent us.

Hell, given that he was recently a Senator, Kerry should have explained that we have parliamentary procedures to facilitate stupidity!

The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, overcoming a fierce campaign by some GOP lawmakers to block President Barack Obama's nominee.

Hagel's nomination, which required support from just a majority of the chamber, passed 58-41.

So while Kerry boasted of our commitment to freedom of speech, his former colleagues were making sure that our ability to defend freedom abroad is curtailed.

Thanks, guys!

Follow That Car

I don't mean to sound paranoid, but after North Korea appears to have managed to blow a nuclear device small enough to mount on a missile--which they've also successfully tested--the Iranians announce the first Pacific journey for their navy since 1979.

Given the links between Iran and North Korea (and that whole founding members of the Axis of Evil thing), I find this suspicious:

Commander of the Iranian Navy Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari said in Tehran on Monday that the Iranian warships will be sailing in the Pacific Ocean for the first time in over three decades. The commander told reporters that a number of Iranian warships are to leave the Malaga Bay on Tuesday to continue their ways to the North into the Pacific Ocean.

If nuclear components were sent by North Korea to Iran by merchant ship, we'd likely board it. I hope we watch these ships closely to see if they go anywhere that might allow the Iranians to pick up nuclear warheads.

Would we attempt to board an Iranian warship that will shoot rather than submit to a boarding?

Because It's There?

So that walking piece of breathing garbage, Moqtada al Sadr, abandons violence to bring his Hezbollah clone to Iraq in service of his master, Iran. And suddenly Shia death squads are issuing threats to Sunni Arabs? Huh. What does Iran want?

Moqtada al Sadr is dangerous. He is attempting to build a pro-Iran state within the state of Iraq.

And now a "new" Shia militant group--completely separate from anything touching Sadr, of course--is making threats to kill Sunni Arabs:

The fliers began turning up at Sunni households in the Iraqi capital’s Jihad neighborhood last week bearing a chilling message: Get out now or face “great agony” soon.

The leaflets were signed by the Mukhtar Army, a new Shiite militant group with ties to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. “The zero hour has come. So leave along with your families. ... You are the enemy,” the messages warned.

So what is going on? Iran has a tame Shia scholar to set up their own Hezbollah political wing. Having a "separate" military wing is an obvious complement.

But why?

During the insurgencies and terror campaigns, Iran and Syria essentially sent in their proxies to start a religious war. Iran sent in the Shia death squads. Syria sent in al Qaeda suicide bombers. Iraq's Baathist Sunni Arabs worked with al Qaeda in Iraq and hoped that the sectarian conflict would cause the Sunni Arabs to rally to them out of fear of the Shias.

Syria and Iran just wanted to defeat America and drive us from Iraq, assuming that they'd deal with what followed better than they could deal with an American ally in power in Iraq.

But what about now? The old reasons to start a sectarian war don't make sense, do they? Iran has means to influence Iraqi policy without starting a sectarian civil war. Not only can they use Sadr's group, but they can exert pressure directly on Iraq's government in the absence of America's presence.

The revolution in Syria changes things, of course. Iraq's Sunni Arabs are backing the rebels against Iran's ally Assad, despite the Shia-dominated government of Iraq's assistance to Iran in helping Assad. Iraq is no friend of Assad, given the death that Assad dealt to the Shias during the insurgencies and terror campaigns. But Iraq's government no doubt feels it has no choice but to give in to some of Iran's demands.

Maybe the Mukhtar Army is a threat by Iran to sow violence unless the Iraqi government does more to help Iran assist Assad. Or maybe the threats of violence are to pressure Iraq to shut down Iraq's Sunni Arab assistance to the Sunni Arab rebels.

Or does Iran want a unified Iraq at all, even if Iran has greater influence than it has now?

Could Iran want to break off Iraq's Shia south under the rule of a friendly Hezbollah-type organization, using the Mukhtar Army as the core of a defense force, without the Sunni Arabs and Kurds messing up Iran's designs in a unified Iraq? Iran would then have a direct shot at Kuwait and an easier overland route to Saudi Arabia.

And a much weaker Iraq. Iraq did invade Iran in 1980 and inflicted a lot of casualties on Iran in that 8-year war. With American arms and training, in time Iraq will be militarily stronger than Iran. Would Iran rather fragment Iraq to avoid that future? A future where Iraqi leaders no longer have to give in to Iranian demands out of fear?

But that risks the Sunni Arab parts of Iraq linking up with a new Sunni-run Syria, doesn't it? Would Iraq want a stronger Sunni Arab Syria quite hostile to Iran?

Does Iran just want enough chaos in the mostly Sunni Arab world to keep the more numerous Arabs from ganging up on Persian and Shia Iran?

Or is there no deeper purpose other than the fact that Iran has long mucked around in Iraq, even before Iraq invaded Iran in 1980? And even before Iran was run by the nutball mullahs, for that matter.

Iran is still mucking around in Iraq. That at least is clear. But what is the reason, now? And we chose not to be there to resist Iran, whatever Iran's designs are.

This is still called "responsibly ending" the Iraq War, if you'll recall.

UPDATE: If we still have 25,000 troops in Iraq, would the Iraqis be so keen to protect the Assad regime because that is what Iran wants?

Turkish and Qatari support for Syrian insurgents is tantamount to a declaration of war against Iraq, which will suffer from the fallout of an increasingly sectarian conflict next door, an Iraqi Shi'ite politician said.

Remember, Assad's regime is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis (mostly Shia). Yet a Shia Iraqi government official can say they fear the results of the overthrow of Assad and would prefer to keep him in power.

But the Obama administration chose not to pursue options to keep our troops in Iraq after 2011. So I have sympathy for the position that Iraq is in.

This is what happens when we get "smart" diplomacy. I'm sure Secretary of State Kerry will give us more of it--good and hard, I'm sure.

Rear Guard

While I think we mistakenly truncated our Afghanistan phased surge offensive by accelerating its withdrawal last year, we at least aren't racing for the exits in a way to look like a hasty retreat.

I've worried about the optics of our Afghanistan withdrawal. So this news is welcome in shaping that imagery:

The United States will maintain more than 60,000 troops in Afghanistan through the spring and summer fighting season, cutting to 34,000 by February and staying at that strength through the Afghan elections set for 2014, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.

On top of the decision to delay planned cuts to Afghan security forces by keeping them at current strength through 2018, we increase the sense that we are withdrawing because we are winning rather than retreating because we are losing.

Fifty Shades of Sequestration

The dreadful--but strangely enticing--pain of 2.3% budget reductions of the planned budget increase--is upon us:

My inner Ryan is beside himself, hopping from Senate to House. Sequestration hangs heavy over my budget like a dark tropical storm cloud. Butterflies flood my spreadsheet--as well as a darker, carnal, captivating ache as I try to imagine what the sequester will do to me.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Home By Christmas, Again

The Chinese expect to win any war they initiate quickly. But that is a hope based on their overall weakness rather than an expression of confidence.

If the crisis over the Senkaku Islands escalates, expect China to hit hard and fast (Via Mead with a hat tip to Instapundit):

“The battle to take over the Diaoyu Islands would not be a conventional operation. For either party involved in the war, it would be very difficult to employ their full military capabilities, because there would be no time for them to fully unfold in the fight. The real fight would be very short. It is very possible the war would end in a couple of days or even in a few hours,” said PLA Navy Rear Admiral Yin Zhou, a former director of the Navy Institute of Strategic Studies, in a recent primetime special on Beijing TV.

I agree it would be difficult for either side to fully commit their forces for a Senkaku scenario. Especially land forces, where China's advantage is largest. As the article notes, the biggest island in the group could hold a platoon. Indeed, that limitation makes it more likely Japan will prevail.

To the general point that China wants to win wars quickly, that is a result of China's overall inferiority to American plus our allies and the fact that China--being far closer than America to any area of operations--is able to strike first and so maximize their force commitment (in addition to perhaps gaining the element of surprise). China simply must win before we can gather our forces, decide to fight, and then counter-attack. If we have the time to do that, it is more likely we will prevail.

China faces a dilemma in regard to American forward-deployed forces if China wants to strike Japan (or any other third party). China's basic strategy for a quick war against America must be to hit our forces hard to delay our response in defense of whatever target China selects. If China attacks the Senkaku Islands, does China hit our forces too in an effort to give us a bloody nose and delay our counter-offensive? I've often said that China doesn't need to defeat us to win a war they start. China needs to defeat their target (Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, or whoever) before we can intervene.

But striking us to hurt our forward forces would also bring us into the war automatically rather than drag out our decision-making process to enter the war. That decision by China to hit us too might guarantee a long war by making us less likely to leave China alone after they make a quick gain in the Senkaku Islands. Indeed, it might cause a war with America even if Japan decides it isn't worth it to fight China over the islands after China makes that quick gain they expect.

China obviously will be the ones to strike first since Japan administers the islands already. Japan is defending the status quo. Unfortunately for Japan, the islands are too small to put land force garrisons on the islands to defend them. If China chooses, they can likely put forces on, around, and over the islands and compel Japan to eject the Chinese.

Of course, Japan could defend the islands with robots. That would increase the price China must pay for what they hope will be a short and glorious war. And it might increase the amount of force China would have to commit to the operation, making it less likely that China could achieve surprise with a bolt-from-the-blue attack.

Remember, too, that China doesn't have to be right about their prospects for a short war. They just have to believe it is true to plunge the western Pacific into war.

Sort of Like a Diplomat

It has been said that an ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country. Apparently, being the press secretary for the most open administration in the history of--like, forever--is very similar (tip to Instapundit): A press secretary is an honest man sent to deny the truth at the White House briefing room for the good of his president.

At least he has no diplomatic immunity, so he can still get parking tickets, right?

The NATO Recruiting Office

Europe's defense capacity is a joke despite the amount of money they spend on their militaries and the number of people wearing a uniform. We simply can't expect them to reverse that trend. Let's treat Europe as a recruiting pool for military efforts that we lead.

Why the Eurocrats think they need the European Union to suppress nationalist impulses for war is beyond me when you consider that European militaries are mostly a joke--and getting worse:

Europe once was a military power—many military powers, in fact. But no longer. Today Europe is turning into a continent without a military. ...

No amount of whining by Washington will change this reality. There is no political will to increase outlays. And despite the Europeans’ unwillingness to fulfill their alliance responsibilities, some of them have criticized the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia. Panetta claimed that “Europe should not fear our rebalance to Asia; Europe should join it.” But the likelihood of the Europeans deploying military personnel in Asia is about as likely as the Europeans conquering Mars.

The Europeans rightly fear that the “pivot” will shift U.S. military resources from Europe. Yet there is no compelling reason why Washington should continue to protect the populous and prosperous continent from largely phantom threats.

Europe barely defeated Libya, for God's sake, and took far longer to do it than they assumed. And it took a Libya wracked by civil war and a substantial assist from America to do the job. It was a closer thing than you think, in my opinion.

It is time to stop trying to get Europeans to build even small versions of our military. We can't lead from behind when there is nothing in front.

And the idea that NATO will pivot to Asia with us is ridiculous. I count it a success if our European allies just decline to sell China military technology useful to kill our military personnel.

Let's just get the European to make whatever they are willing to field good enough to take the field at our side if we can round up a coalition of the willing for the problem at hand. That's what we need to do anyway, so why not accept it? Think of the dribs and drabs of European military assets as a source of tribal auxiliaries to attach to our actual military.

I take exception to the idea that there is no compelling reason to protect Europe from phantom threats. One, you never know when real threats will emerge. Once they do, we may not have the will to rebuild what we abandon in Europe. And the Europeans might be too frightened to accept our help (calling it "provocative" or some such rot). So best to stay as insurance, no?

More to the point, it is in our interest to remain in Europe even if that presence looks like a free defense against phantom threats because Europe is a convenient staging area for deploying our forces into a vast arc of crisis from West Africa to Central Asia.

Remember that "leading from behind" essentially assumes we can get allies to fight for our interests. Libya worked because it was in Europe's interest to fight the war. I argued for that interest all along as a reason to let Europe handle the job. They let us handle Iraq, for the most part, alone. Same with Afghanistan. There are honorable exceptions by allies who shed blood at our side at one point or another (Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Britain, and Poland, off the top of my head, have my gratitude), but they were and are more rare than the war tourists who went along for the t-shirts and snow globes, with more caveats than capabilities in their kits.

So even if we could get Europeans to build up their militaries, we can't get them to fight for us. Let's just accept that only we will fight for our interests and seek the most effective way to get real allied help when our interests coincide. Even if select European states decide to rearm, Europeans will rely on us to take the lead anyway. Even France's commendable effort to rout the jihadis in Mali was a fairly tiny expedition (yet still required substantial American help):

Going into Mali there were only about two thousand troops heading north, and only a few hundred of those were commandos. But like their American counterparts, the French have elite infantry units (airborne and Foreign Legion) who were flown in (or parachuted in) to assist. The basic French tactic was to use months of air reconnaissance to identify buildings where the al Qaeda men were staying in the dozen or so major towns (and a few cities) in northern Mali they occupied. Using a dozen or so fighter-bombers and several hundred smart bombs and missiles, these al Qaeda targets were hit. Then, when the commandos approached the al Qaeda held town in their Patsis (or even lighter vehicles) they would call in smart bomb strikes as needed.

Our tankers and surveillance were key to getting French troops to Mali and allowing that air support to work. But how often is a threat going to be small enough for our European allies to handle? When their capabilities continue to drop? If we treat Europeans as tribal auxiliaries, we might be the ones to organize and lead a force with a couple thousand French plugged into our organization to carry out the mission. It might not even look much different than the way it turned out. But at least we'd be clear from the start what our allies can and can't do.

Under the Lengthening Shadow

It has been noted before that a couple decades ago, we could send carrier battle groups close to China's shores and the Chinese were unable to locate them, let alone attack them. Now we work to pierce China's growing anti-access weapons in a timely fashion. Taiwan, which is falling deeper into that area that China wants to deny us, must realize that China wants to own them (and the Taiwanese won't like it) and that we won't fight China if Taiwan can't buy enough time for us to intervene and if Taiwan can't win the conflict with our help.

Hey! What do you know? That charm offensive doesn't mean the mainlanders are Taiwan's new bestest friend ever:

Chinese leader Xi Jinping reaffirmed China's desire to bring Taiwan under its control in a meeting Monday in Beijing with the honorary head of the island's ruling party.

Xi's meeting with Nationalist Party honorary chairman Lien Chan was viewed on both sides as a symbolic gesture aimed a reaffirming warming ties between the former rivals following Xi's elevation to leader of the ruling Communist Party last year. Once-tense relations have given way to thriving trade, transport, and investment links, although there has been no commitment by Taiwan to political talks that might lead to China's unification goal.

I will say, no matter what I think of President Obama's foreign policy skills, I'd never think he'd concede our surrender in principle even if he didn't want to talk about timetables the way Taiwan's governing party has.

It may feel all nice that China doesn't snarl at Taiwan these days, but China fully expects the policy of closer relations to lead to Taiwan's surrender. At what point does Taiwan's refusal to talk end China's smiling charm offensive?

And will Taiwan's failure to even try to match China's military build up then deter a Chinese invasion?

Worse, will America be able to intervene? Two decades ago, we could intervene at will to stop a Chinese attempt to throw an invasion force across the Taiwan Strait. Now? That lengthening shadow of China's military threatens to buy China enough time to conquer Taiwan. The Taiwanese need to be capable of holding on long enough for us to intervene and they need to help us pierce that lengthening shadow:

Strong allies help weak allies who help themselves. That's the message the Naval Diplomat will be conveying next Tuesday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, down in Washington, DC. The organizers asked me to comment on whether the U.S. pivot to Asia will enhance Taiwan's security, degrade it, or somewhere in between. My bottom line: it will bolster security if the islanders rededicate themselves to their own defense while helping U.S. forces pierce Chinese anti-access defenses. Beijing is trying to deter Washington from intervening on Taiwan's behalf; Taipei must mount a reciprocal effort to bias American decisionmaking toward coming to the island's rescue. ...

The purpose of anti-access is to inflict heavy damage on a superior opponent, inflating the costs of the effort to unbearable levels. Once the immediate costs or opportunity costs are too steep, Clausewitzian logic prompts leaders to abandon the venture — or forego it altogether.

This is the unforgiving logic Taipei must counteract. Showing Americans that fighting for Taiwan won't impose unacceptable losses or take too long is critical to swinging U.S. cost/benefit calculations toward intervention. That means devising strategy and forces that hold Chinese assailants at bay long enough for the U.S. Navy to force entry into maritime Asia. Taipei must stage some anti-access measures of its own, taking a strategically defensive stance that imposes prohibitive costs on PLA attackers. It means deploying sea and air forces to the island's east to help clear a corridor for American relief forces.

I've droned on for years about Taiwan needing to buy time by denying China a quick victory, and have addressed the need for Taiwanese sea control off of their east coast to allow US forces to reach Taiwan. We may be developing long-range weapons that will allow us to strike Chinese assets from beyond China's weapons range, but that doesn't get US supply ships and transport aircraft safely into Taiwan to provide material support to Taiwan.

I've wondered if we could even use the shield of Taiwan's geography to operate carriers close to Taiwan, but if Taiwan can't control their east coast, we will never know.

Counting on our loud "pivot" to the Pacific is no substitute for robust Taiwanese defenses. Our pivot is a very slow (and already ongoing) increase in the percentage of our fleet deployed in the Pacific. But if our fleet shrinks, even having a higher portion of our fleet in the Pacific will only slow our decline in power rather than reverse it.

Even if we wanted to fight China for Taiwan regardless of whether Taiwan can fight, increasingly we must have Taiwan in the fight for us to intervene in time to stop a Chinese conquest of Taiwan. While we could mobilize sufficient power to counter-invade Taiwan and liberate the island, would we? Do the Taiwanese really want to count on it?

Perhaps the Taiwanese think they can wage a guerrilla war against Chinese occupation and drive China from their shores? Good luck with that. But hey, maybe "Free Taiwan" bumper stickers will becomes as trendy as "Free Tibet" stickers. How much have the Hollywood types who advocate that freedom done to advance the cause?

Or do the Taiwanese really think that the tide of war has receded from the Taiwan Strait just because the mainlanders bare their teeth at Taiwan and call it a smile?

Arming Assad's Enemies

After watching the death in Syria toll race beyond 70,000 in the last two years and see jihadis gain influence in the Syrian rebellion, somebody in the West finally rubbed a couple brain cells together and decided to arm the non-jihadi rebels.

Well what do you know?

In a series of blogs, [the British blogger Eliot Higgins, aka Brown Moses] noted the appearance in rebel hands of new weapons that almost certainly could not have been captured from government arsenals. They include M-79 anti-tank weapons and M-60 recoilless rifles dating back to the existence of Yugoslavia in the 1980s that the Syrian government does not possess.

He also noted that most of the recipients of the arms appear to be secular or moderate Islamist units of the Free Syrian Army. In a sign of how organized the effort is, he said, one of the recent videos shows members of the local Fajr al-Islam brigade teaching other rebels how to use some of the new weapons.

The items appear to have already begun influencing the course of the war, he said. They have contributed to a sharp escalation of fighting in the Daraa area this year in which opposition fighters have overrun government bases, including several checkpoints along the Jordanian border, a key but long-neglected front.

Croatia appears to be the source of the weapons. And Jordan must be cooperating in this effort, despite denials, given their interest in keeping jihadis from controlling territory bordering Jordan. The weapons are allowing the rebels in the south to capture government arsenals, increasing the effect.

Apparently, the special forces convention we held in Jordan wasn't just about WMD proliferation threats.

I would like to take exception to this part of the story:

The shift was prompted by the realization that rebel gains across the north of the country over the past year were posing no major threat to the regime in Damascus, said Saleh al-Hamwi, who coordinates the activities of rebel units in the province of Hama with others around the country.

Gains in the north threaten to create a free zone close to Assad's Alawite base in the west. That will draw off already shrinking forces away from Damascus and the lines of communication that keep Damascus linked to Assad's core area.

Further, Assad's decision to fight for Aleppo has surely crippled his army as it futilely tried to capture and secure the major city. It was obviously a bridge too far for his too-small ground forces. It could be Assad's Verdun, breaking his army even as he has retained a presence in the city.

But whatever Assad has left in the city is no longer trying to win and won't be able to hold out as outposts in and around Aleppo continue to be under assault:

Syrian activists say rebel fighters have launched a fresh offensive on a government complex near the embattled northern city of Aleppo.

Assad's stretched forces are getting no rest and the scale of the fight is escalating. I may not know how long the Syrian army can endure this war of attrition, but they sure aren't going to win the war they are fighting.

UPDATE: I stand corrected. Assad is sending reinforcements to Aleppo:

The fighting in Aleppo keeps going against the government. Being forced out of the city would be a major defeat and would give the rebels a place to establish a new Syrian government. To avoid this catastrophe the government has been sending reinforcements north. But it isn’t enough, because the government has fewer and fewer troops available. Forming civilian militias is of only limited help because these guys are OK at defending their neighborhoods, but much less capable, or willing to move elsewhere and go on the offensive. Most of Aleppo is now controlled by the rebels and the Assad forces may be gone in weeks, or months depending on how desperate they are to hang on.

But they are being sent not to win--just to delay defeat. Once the troops sent figure that out, I imagine morale there will take a hit. Or will the threat of being sent to the Aleppo front be used to scare young soldiers into behaving>

The Strategypage post also says that Saudi Arabia is behind the Croatian arms, and yes they want them to go to non-jihadis. Silly me thinking some Western nations decided that arming non-jihadis to fight our enemy Assad was a good idea. Sometimes I'm too naive for my own good.

The Killer Sequester

The Draconian evisceration of our budget--a whole 2.3% of our planned spending increase this year--is looming. Will our Washington leaders face the Killer Sequester?

OBAMA: Behold the cave of budget evisceration!
REID: Right! Keep me covered.
BOEHNER: What with?
REID: W-- just keep me covered.
OBAMA: Too late!
REID: What?
OBAMA: There it is!
REID: Where?
OBAMA: There!
REID: What, behind the sequester?
OBAMA: It is the sequester.
REID: You silly sod!
OBAMA: What?
REID: You got us all worked up!
OBAMA: Well, that's no ordinary sequester!
REID: Ohh.
OBAMA: That's the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered spending trigger you ever set eyes on!
BIDEN: You tit! I soiled my armor I was so scared!
OBAMA: Look, that sequester's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer!
BOEHNER: Get stuffed!
OBAMA: He'll do you up a treat, mate.
BOEHNER: Oh, yeah?
BIDEN: You mangy Potus git!
OBAMA: I'm warning you!
BIDEN: What's he do, nibble your budget?
OBAMA: He's got huge, sharp-- eh-- he can leap about-- look at the bones!
REID: Go on, Jack. Chop his trigger off!
LEW: Right! Silly little sequester. One budget stew comin' right up!

Remember our losses. Not 5. Just 2.3%.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A New Low

Good grief. I'm used to Ted Carpenter responding to any threat to America or our allies by advising us to just get used to it and retreat. But in the face of North Korea's nuclear progress he now wants us to actively help them go nuclear?

I am stunned that Carpenter has sunk this low:

It is undoubtedly distasteful and worrisome to accept an odious regime like North Korea’s into the global nuclear weapons club. But it is time to face reality, however unpleasant it is. The strategy of trying to isolate that country has not worked, and there is almost no prospect that it will work in the future. North Korea is not about to return to nuclear virginity, and no rational person suggests launching a preemptive war to prevent the country’s emergence as a nuclear power. Consequently, we must learn to make the best of a bad situation.

Because we haven't stopped North Korea with attempts to isolate them we should welcome them to their nuclear-armed future? What kind of message does that send to other despots? If you can't beat them, join them?

And this strange thinking confuses our attempts to stop North Korea from going nuclear because they are an aggressive, hostile, and despotic regime by seeming to assume that our efforts to stop North Korea have caused them to be aggressive and hostile.

If North Korea goes fully nuclear (and they are now close to mating nuclear warheads to a working missile), our efforts to contain and isolate North Korea have to be intensified. Slowing the expansion of that new nuclear arsenal to buy time for our thin missile defenses to cope longer must be a priority. And we have to raise the stakes to trying to collapse the regime from the costs of pursuing nuclear weapons at the expense of feeding their own people.

Who says we can't beat them? We have no need to join them! And they have no interest in joining us! We'd be more than happy to leave North Korea alone if they weren't a threat, but North Korea needs to call us a threat to stay in power and justify their murderous rule.

Carpenter's solution would simply make it easier for North Korea to build nukes without facing consequences to their regime security. He says North Korea will have their nuclear cake and eat it, too--so we might as well bake the cake and send it to them with a lovely note saying all is forgiven.

Carpenter's foreign policy advice--any of it, really--is just a joke. He was probably disappointed to find out that The Onion wasn't reporting the truth about The Un. Really, it's the regime, stupid. Crush it.

Sequester's Day Speech

The sequester looms. If we survive the zombie apocalypse that will follow the slashing of the planned rate of increase, meaning we will spend 2.3% less than we planned to increase our spending, we can only imagine the scene in the now-darkened White House ...

President Obama bemoans with his press secretary the failure of the Congress to cancel the dread sequester in the winter of 2013:

CARNEY. O, that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those monies in the sequester
That do no investing to-day!

OBAMA. What’s he that wishes so?
My press secretary Carney? No, my fair press secretary;
If we are mark’d to spend, $3.7 trillion are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer monies, the greater share of investment.
Keyne’s will! I pray thee, wish not one billion more.
By 99%, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost-of-living increase;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet historic budgeting,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my pressec, wish not a dollar from Congress.
Keyne’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one dollar more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Jay Carney, through my OFA,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And monies for relocation allowance put into his purse;
We would not spend in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to spend with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Sequestrian.
He that outspends this day, and comes safe office,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Sequester.
He that shall spend this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Sequestrian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Sequestrian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Barack the King, Reid and Pelosi,
Boehner and Lew, Biden and McConnell-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good bureacrat teach his intern;
And Sequester Day shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the next fiscal year,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of borrowers;
For he to-day that spends our borrowed monies with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in Congress now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That spent with us upon Sequester's day.

With apologies to Bill.

UPDATE: And with humble thanks to Mad Minerva for the kind words.


If Assad can't hold Damascus, he'll have to retreat to some enclave based around his Alawite core region in the west, plus whatever else he can hold for strategic depth inland. He also needs a reason to be worthy of support by Iran should Assad have to fall back. An overland route of supply to Hezbollah is that reason.

This is important:

An unremarkable area of flat fields, orchards, farms and small villages lying between the Syrian town of Qusayr and Lebanon’s northern border has become a fiercely contested battleground that threatens to expand into Lebanon.

Fighters from Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah and Syrian Army troops are fighting the rebel Free Syrian Army for control of an area that could become strategically significant if Damascus falls to the rebels and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad is forced to flee. Qusayr lies close to the highway that connects Damascus to Homs, Syria's third largest city, and then to Tartous, the coastal town which is a gateway to the mountain chain dominated by Alawites, an obscure offshoot of Shiite Islam that forms the backbone of the Assad regime.

Some analysts believe that if Assad is forced out of Damascus, the rump regime will decamp to the Alawite mountains to form an enclave that could survive on the logistical and material support of Iran, a key ally of the Assad regime and patron of Hezbollah.

I wrote earlier that Assad has motive to actually expand into Lebanon itself for a little more strategic depth.

And this would allow Syria to maintain links to Hezbollah once he doesn't have a land border from Syria into Lebanon via the main Damascus-to-Beirut highway, which was part of the basis for my original speculation that Assad should have contracted his realm to a core Syria stretching south to the Israeli and Jordanian borders. But Assad's ground forces are way too weak to hold that much ground now.

Assad needs foreign help to survive. So he needs to be just as big of a pain in the neck to us even if he can't rule all of Syria. So Assad needs a secure line of communication to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. And that requires access to northern Lebanon as the first step to linking up with Hezbollah

Resistance is Not Futile

Chuck Hagel appears to have the votes to (barely) be confirmed as Secretary of Defense. That's quite a pick, Mr. President. But he may not have the ability to turn blame for cutting national defenses to the Republicans.

Instapundit observes that the confirmation fight over Hagel may have made it so clear that he lacks Republican credentials that he cannot fulfill his primary role as Secretary of Defense in the second Obama term:

I think the original plan was to nominate a Republican who could take the blame for defense cuts — and actions. I don’t think Hagel can fill that role usefully now, even if he’s confirmed.

I think Instapundit is quite right about the reason for Hagel, who was initially touted as a Republican willing to buck his party:

President Obama wants someone willing to buck his own party good and hard on defense.

Hagel will carry out orders to gut the Pentagon and will have that coveted "R" after his name to make sure the blame is properly cast away from the president and his party.

Everyone has their role in the new administration. We are so bucked.

But when only Democrats are eager to have Hagel as Secretary of Defense, the notion that Hagel is a respected Republican who is only doing what is proper and necessary--and to take the blame when we lack a needed capability--is clearly false. Since Hagel has the votes, it will be interesting to see if he still withdraws because of this problem.

Resistance is not futile. President Obama may not be stopped from cutting defense spending too much, but at least he'll have to take responsibility for it, right? That's a victory, of sorts.

Note: I'd link to the article Instapundit linked to, but trying to go to it apparently triggered a fake virus warning site that mimicked my security software. When I ran my actual security software, it said my computer was clean.

A Reason to Care

I normally wouldn't care much about the state of affairs in Eritrea, except for their location and their friends.

Strategypage writes about unrest in Eritrea and what it might mean (I briefly noted the incident discussed).

I care because I worry that Iran and Eritrea might be too close for comfort, as an item further down the list notes:

The UN reported that a NATO naval patrol had stopped a ship carrying weapons to Eritrea. The weapons shipment violated UN arms sanctions. The NATO naval force seized 15 tons of weaponry and ammunition that were shipped by North Korea. The shipment included rockets and surface to air missiles. The ship had apparently sailed through Singapore and had tried to change its cargo manifest to reflect Singapore as the point of origin.

It's bad enough that Eritrea provides Iran access to Yemen, Somalia--and Egypt and Gaza for that matter--to foment terrorism.

But giving Iran another option to interrupt oil exports from the Persian Gulf is quite disturbing.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Warning the Wrong People

I thought we had a problem with North Korea. But now--even after a successful North Korean nuclear test--Russia and China are warning us against military intervention regarding North Korea:

The two countries' foreign ministers condemned last week's test but said any action against North Korea had to be agreed at the United Nations, where Russia and China have the right of veto as permanent members of the Security Council.

That's lovely. Maybe they might have a talk with their little friend:

North Korea warned the top American commander in South Korea on Saturday of "miserable destruction" if the U.S. military presses ahead with routine joint drills with South Korea set to begin next month.

Pak Rim Su, chief of North Korea's military delegation to the truce village of Panmunjom inside the Demilitarized Zone, sent the warning Saturday morning to Gen. James Thurman, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency said, in a rare direct message to the U.S. commander.

Given North Korea's record of violent aggression against South Korea, we aren't the ones who should be warnted about militarizing this problem.

And given the balance of power that has developed, North Korea should be the last country to want to militarize the conflict. If there is war, the North Korean regime will be the one to face destruction.

Do the Russians and Chinese really find that outcome "miserable," too? If so, we've got bigger problems than North Korea.

A Washington Decimation

Our nation's leaders are trying to work us up into a panic over sequestration cuts that will amount to a reduction of 2.3% in the amount of planned spending increases. But our leaders--in both parties--say this is so awful that it is going to decimate our economy and lead to countless lives lost or wrecked.

Imagine a Roman cohort that had failed in combat after fleeing the enemy, lined up, disarmed, and surrounded by loyal cohorts, and told by their leaders that they would face a Washington Decimation as punishment. Imagine the horror of those surviving 500 legionnaires being told their fate by the budget battle-hardened centurion:

Men, you disgust me! You fled in the face of the Sequesterian swordsmen! You all know the punishment. We've no choice but to decimate the ranks.

The men of the shamed cohort shifted about and mumbled in fear, as they began to see what was going to happen.

The centurion exploded at the break down of discipline.

Silence in the ranks! Any man who steps out of formation will be cut down like the dogs you are!

That's better.

Now this is going to be a Washington Decimation, and not a Roman Decimation that you are perhaps used to. This cohort is currently 500 strong. As you know, a full-strength cohort has 600. So we were going to add 100 new replacements to this unit.

But not now. Oh no. Not now. We will punish you for your cowardice in battle that almost led to the evisceration of Rome's finest food inspection facilities and the deaths of our most dedicated police and teachers!

So rather than give you 100 replacement legionnaires, we shall decimate the planned increase to your authorized full strength! We were going to cut your planned increase by the usual 10% and give you only 90 new soldiers.

But we decided that was too Draconian. Nobody wants to emulate the Greeks, eh? So we shall slash your planned reinforcement by the bowel-loosening amount of 2.3%! We shall only give you 98 new soldiers! And then another one late in the next fiscal year, of course.

The troops started to look up and glance at each other, suddenly aware that the Washington Decimation wasn't quite so bad as the traditional kind that they were used to, when cuts were literally cuts to the throats of those who failed in battle.

But the brightest ones in the ranks were wise enough to cry out, "No, my Lords! Not that! How will we get by! We won't even be able to send a trireme to face the Persians if this keeps up!"

Quiet, dogs! You are dismissed to your barracks--with pay, of course--to contemplate your failures. Now begone!

And the centurion just grinned. A cruel grin forged in many a budget battle fought in Rome. And he whispered to himself, "That'll teach 'em to run in battle."

And it did indeed teach them. And it taught the loyal troops who had fought and stood their ground despite the casualties they endured. Oh yes, there were many lessons learned that terrible day.

Don't Lose Our Edge

When I drone on about making sure our military is well trained, and that training should be the very last thing to be cut during budget problems, this is what I'm talking about keeping.

Dagger Brigade is a weapon and not a potential pile of scrap metal and dead bodies scattered across the landscape because this is what they do before deploying:

Some 4,000 Soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, out of Fort Riley, Kan., are training for realignment to U.S. Africa Command, expected later this year.

The 2nd BCT, or "Dagger" Brigade as it is known, will be the first brigade to be regionally aligned to U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM. ...

Following weeks of small-unit preparatory training at Fort Riley, the 2nd BCT, 1ID, arrived here at the National Training Center, or NTC, for decisive action training, which lasts from Feb. 16 to March 1. That training consists of two main parts: combined arms maneuver and wide-area security. ...

In wide-area security, the other main focus of decisive action training, Soldiers are trained to deal with counterinsurgency missions, humanitarian crises, floods of refugees, criminal and insurgent elements and even negotiations with host-nation governments, tribal leaders and local and national militias.

While the two parts of decisive action training can be thought of separately, in reality they overlap, said Lt. Col. David Oesgher, the NTC senior operations officer or G3. He explained that a humanitarian crisis or rear-action guerrilla warfare could occur at the same time conventional fighting is taking place at the forward edge of the battle area.

The brigade leadership, which met with planners at NTC months earlier to discuss their customized training objectives, wanted NTC trainers to stress the humanitarian aspect, since that is considered one of the more likely scenarios Soldiers will face in Africa, according to Lt. Col. Jack Murphy, who heads up the NTC Operations Group. However, he said, the rest of the decisive action training is also something all Soldiers need to be really good at no matter what region they're aligned with.

Murphy said the training is intense, with troops spread thin across "the box," as the vast training area is called, which is about the size of Rhode Island.

That intensity, or "fog and friction" as Murphy terms it, comes from one crisis after another, lack of sleep or down time, and realistic scenarios where Soldiers at all levels must think quickly and make crucial life-or-death judgment calls, while simulated and real ordnance is being dropped and where injured and wounded role players must be tended to.

This isn't cheap. But we pay a price either before or after the battle starts. I choose paying the price before the battle. Will our government? Will our Pentagon make that choice?

Russia Got Off Easy

I'm starting to think Russia got off easy with just a meteor strike compared to our double strike of getting John Kerry and Chuck Hagel as our foreign policy and defense team.

Kerry as Secretary of State may make we weep in sorrow for our nation's foreign policy, but this article on his listening tour explains why I also want to curl up into a fetal position when I contemplate Hagel's pending confirmation as Secretary of Defense:

Recent statements by Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Kerry and Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel have persuaded Tehran that Washington is still chasing the mirage of a “grand bargain” with the mullahs.

Kerry’s position on Syria is the subject of even greater suspicion in the region. ...

Kerry now says all this was prompted by a desire to promote peace. He also calls it a bipartisan effort, since Hagel joined him on two visits.

Ah, there's the Hagel role in the Obama administration: to disguise Democratic retreat by asserting that the nominal Republican Hagel's involvement constitutes "bipartisanship."

Of course, I think that is only one role. Mostly, Secretary of Defense Hagel with that coveted (R) after his name will allow President Obama to blame a Republican for future deficiencies in the military.

I say, make it trapezoid shaped, just for fun.

Whose Spring?

The Arab world's autocrats have been rocked in the Arab spring. Why didn't China face their own spring? Because it was an Arab Spring.

The monarchies and democracy have avoided the worst despite Arab Spring-inspired agitation for change, while Algeria's 1990s blood bath of a campaign against their jihadis may have dampened their enthusiasm for more violence now. So it wasn't universal even in the Arab world. But there is a question of why didn't this wave spread to the biggest example of an authoritarian regime, China (tip to Instapundit)?

The collapse of regimes like Hosni Mubarak’s in Egypt, which many considered “an exemplar of…durable authoritarianism” was a salient reminder to many that such revolutions are “inherently unpredictable.” Before long some began to speculate that the protest movements might spread to authoritarian states outside the Arab world, including China. Indeed, the Chinese government was among those that feared the unrest would spread to China because, as one observer noted, China faced the same kind of “social and political tensions caused by rising inequality, injustice, and corruption” that plagued much of the Arab world on the eve of the uprisings.

Alas it was not to be as the Chinese government has proven far more durable than many of its counterparts in the Arab world. This inevitably raises the question of what factors differentiated the Chinese government from its Arab counterparts in places like Egypt?

The answers don't really make sense since China has problems that plague the Arab world sufficient to cause unrest--and indeed there is already much unrest that remains localized; and the strength of China's internal security apparatus isn't the answer since some of the Arab states wracked by revolt were assumed to have strong security forces that made them immune to revolution.

Funny enough, it may be that the vast scale of China, where the mountains are tall and the emperor is far, has made the relative autonomy of regional and local governments--despite the Communist Party's monopoly of power at the center--seem like the only problem that matters. The distant Communist Party in Peking is often seen as a potential ally of the protests:

As a consequence, much like the Middle East, the years 2011 and 2012 have been ones characterized by very high levels of protest activities in China. However, because of the decentralized nature of the Chinese state, these battles have been ones won and lost by claimants contesting local officials rather than challenging the regime itself.

Not that I didn't wonder if the unrest could spread to China. And the Chinese government worried about just that--but their worry predates the Arab Spring, Remember the SARS thing? (which I had noted in an old post about that article on my original site), where "mass incidents" are a feature of China.

If the Chinese people ever start to associate the central government with their grievances, then the whole house of cards could come crashing down.

Of course, there are lots of authoritarian governments that could have been rocked by the example of the Arab Spring. Focusing on China may make sense because they are the biggest example of an authoritarian regime and because the impact of their fall would be so great, but lots of dogs did not bark all over the world.

The fact remains that this was an Arab Spring. I can be forgiven for wondering if the focus on China is a way to ignore that the Iraq War initiated by George W. Bush may have a role in explaining the Arab Spring. We may have to ponder whether the Iraqis are right that they had a role in inspiring other Arabs to hope for more than authoritarian misery or the alternative of Islamist misery.

Sure, the end results may be more autocracy or Islamist misery, but the latter wasn't the rallying call of the Arab Spring as people rallied or revolted against the former. And even the victory of new despots in the short run may not be the end of the story that unfolds over many decades. How long did it take France to get real democracy after their 18th century revolution? How long did it take America, for that matter? Don't despair. Work the problems presented by this opportunity!

And as I've asked many times over the years, if democracy is so unimportant in the Arab world, why does every despot hold sham elections? Why not just call what they do "authentic" as part of their cultural heritage and tell us to shove that Western election stuff?

We upset the status quo in the Arab world by pulling down the leading Arab despot of our era and insisting on democracy as the replacement. How could this not have repercussions? Mark my words, "George the Liberator."