Thursday, October 31, 2013

No Down Side to Complaining

When we fail to support friends and oppose enemies, our enemies learn not to fear us, of course. But don't forget that the flip side of this coin is that friends learn they don't have incentive to remain a loyal friend.

With the Germans, French, and other countries bitterly and publicly complaining about our NSA eavesdropping, some here are dismissing the protests because everybody knows everybody does it (tip to Instapundit):

Amid the growing furor over allegations that the United States spied on some of its closest allies in Europe – including German Chancellor Angela Merkel – a quiet refrain is being repeated by intelligence insiders across the continent: We all do it.

The other countries may complain (tip to Instapundit) but they basically resent that we are much better at it, but we're all grown ups.

Yet our allies and others are complaining loudly. Why?

They complain because they no longer have an incentive to just stay quiet and let the story die.

In the past, knowing they needed our help, they would take the big boy attitude that everyone does this and just hope the story goes away.

But now the German leaders can score points at home by slamming our efforts with little concern that they might lose our support in the future. Heck, what are the odds of this administration helping them if they stay quiet?

And obviously, we aren't going to try to punish them. Good grief, look at what Iran gets away with! And we still think we see a reformer in power in Iran who might strike a deal with us!

Merkel could take over Austria, invade Denmark, and still expect to get a phone call from President Obama to work out our differences! What on Earth are we going to do about a little complaining about our NSA?

It's all about a lack of respect for us. If our allies feel this way, what will our enemies try to do to us over the next three years?

That's Not a Destroyer. This is a Destroyer

The first (of three) Zumwalt class "destroyer" is afloat. Come on. It's a pocket battleship.

Zumwalt is floating now:

The Navy's stealthy Zumwalt destroyer floated out of dry dock without fanfare Monday night and into the waters of the Kennebec River, where the warship will remain dockside for final construction.

The largest destroyer ever built for the Navy, the Zumwalt looks like no other U.S. warship, with an angular profile and clean carbon fiber superstructure that hides antennas and radar masts.

This class of "destroyer" is 600 feet long and almost 15,000 tons.

The large class of Fletcher class destroyers we built for World War II was very successful. These capable ships were 2,500 tons and a little over 375 feet long. That's a destroyer.

Zumwalt isn't much smaller than Germany's pre-World War II pocket battleships. Why we call something this big a "destroyer" eludes me.

I hope it is a good ship killer. The idea that it should be a shore-bombardment vessel always seemed ridiculous.

Inspector Clouseau Returns

The European Union will investigate whether the Russians tried to spy on them at a big conference Russia hosted. This should be amusing.

Was Russia spying on European leaders?

The European Union is investigating newspaper reports that Russia tried to put spyware onto computers of visiting delegations in St. Petersburg at last month's summit of leaders from the world's 20 top economies, but has yet to find any evidence.

The Russians did not have a license. The Russians say it is not their monkey. I'll take a leap of faith and say nothing will come of this so-called investigation. The EU will let Russia off with a warning. It's far safer to complain about inflated stories of American espionage.

The EU did such a splendid job in their Georgia War blame investigation, after all.

To say the EU is worthless is to ignore the danger it poses to Europeans, liberty, and our national interests.

If the Russians didn't also try to break up NATO, opposing the rise of the EU should provide a basis for US-Russian cooperation, no?

Size Matters

This is a good post on why we darned well better know what the German government is doing.

It cites another article that basically addresses why I think we need to know what Germany is doing.

That NRO post also brings up an issue I haven't flogged for a while, namely that Germany in the EU makes the Germans more EU than German---and that's a problem:

So yes, Germany is an ally, but Germany-in-Europe, not quite so much.

Not just Germans, of course. I hold that while Europeans can be our friends, Europe--as a single political entity--cannot be our friend.

A Subtle Change

Old President Obama: "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it. Period."

New President Obama: "If I like your health care plan, you can keep it. Footnote."


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Iron Duh

Israel's (or anyone's) rocket defense system cannot cope with the cheaper rockets that can be launched at the targets those defenses protect. Ultimately, the best defense is to occupy the rocket launch sites.

This story about the limits of Iron Dome isn't really news:

In a piercing, informative and opinionated article based on data, Dr. Nathan Faber criticized the Israeli missile-defense concept ("tiered defense") this week. The conclusion of Dr. Faber's article, published on the Magen Laoref ("Homefront Shield") foundation's website, is that if Israel finds itself in an all-out war on several fronts facing enemies that are showering it with hundreds of missiles a day (perhaps over a thousand), this concept could crumble due to financial, operational and technological reasons.

To be fair, the critique is for the entire system of defenses being built to shoot down everything from tactical rockets to ballistic missiles and not just the Iron Dome system. So that is a newer angle.

For the most likely rocket defenses, Iron Dome can't really protect civilians. It just wasn't meant to do that.

To defeat the tens of thousands of rockets that Hezbollah can launch (and add in Hamas in Gaza), Iron Dome can only buy time for Israeli ground forces to occupy the rocket launch sites and stop the launches at the source.

That's the only way the Allies could halt German V-1 and V-2 launches at Britain in World War II, and that's still the surest way of stopping rocket launches.

Of course, when you are talking about missiles launched from Iran, occupying the launch sites isn't possible unless you are talking engineering a coup so new leaders don't fire the missiles. I don't assume that is possible in the midst of a fight.

Passive defenses (shelters, evacuations, blast protection, rescue and medical response), anti-missile missiles, and efforts to knock out enemy missiles before they are launched will be important. As will missiles and air strikes launched back at the firers to remind them of what they risk by this course.

Those larger missiles aren't cheap, however. While cheaper than the anti-missiles, Iran still won't have huge numbers of long-range ballistic missiles. And with conventional warheads they won't be that awful to endure before they run out. In the Iran-Iraq War, the "wars of cities" were intermittent events during the war. And no missile defenses were present.

Missile and rocket defenses are good to have. But at best they buy time for other means to stop the attacks. Israel has the ground power to put a stop to Hezbollah and Hamas launches from Lebanon and Gaza.

Iran is the big problem. There is no ground option.

And inconveniently enough, Israel's possession of nuclear weapons won't deter Iran from firing conventional missiles at Israel. So Israel will have to rely on other means to endure the barrage and hurt Iran enough to stop and make them cautious about doing it again.

I'm thinking strikes on Iran's Kharg Island oil export facilities might be the best response to this threat.

When They Really are Out to Get You

I find this disturbing:

Russian authorities have uncovered a shipment of Chinese home appliances that contain microchips designed for spying.

According to Russian news agency Rosbalt, the spy chips are implanted in irons, electric kettles, phones and car dashboard cameras[.] ...

Some of them are capable of stealing data from computers within a 200-meter radius via unsecure Wi-Fi networks.

But oh no, I was paranoid to even bring this idea up! And more recently, quoting that post.

Every device one of our sailors brings on a Navy ship should be carefully checked.

Unless this is just Russian paranoia akin to Israeli bird spies, we should really be careful.

UPDATE: Even if the Russian story is fantasy, the general idea is valid:

Secretly placing wireless devices in computer equipment has been increasingly common as improved technology allowed such devices to get smaller and more powerful. Israel and the U.S. are believed to have used such devices for intelligence operations against Arab countries and Iran. Many other intel agencies have access to this tech and are believed to be using it. The United States is the largest target for this sort of thing and major corporations and governments spend a lot of money trying to protect themselves.

And this was related to a drug-smuggling gang's operations in Europe.

The Real Drones are Those Doing the Taliban's Work

I bitterly complained about the recent international community's bizarre analysis of our drone usage against bloodthirsty jihadis as if we are the problem in this equation.

Strategypage covers this bit of nonsense nicely.

On the Tizzy Factor of our drones:

Despite the greater efficiency in putting mass murderers out of action, and at less risk to innocent bystanders, the fact that the people pulling the trigger are not at any risk is for many, somehow wrong.

And the drone strikes themselves? Are they really slaughtering innocents? Not so much:

The “UN report” cited civilian losses that are at odds with what is actually happening in the target areas and what is known about the use of missile armed UAVs. Independent witnesses (journalists or not) who have visited the tribal territories and asked locals about the UAV campaign find most tribesmen in favor of the missile attacks. That’s because the terrorists maintain control of places like North Waziristan (where most of the UAV missile attacks occur) using terror and the Pakistani Army, when it does attack the terrorists, uses artillery and aerial bombing that causes far more civilian casualties than the missile attacks of American UAVs. Moreover, the American attacks actually kill more of the hated Islamic terrorists and frighten the terrorists a great deal. Local civilians have figured out that Americans make an effort to avoid civilian casualties while the Taliban will often try to protect themselves by forcing local civilians to act as human shields against American attacks. The local civilians hate this and try to get away whenever possible. The Americans tend to detect this and act on it, attacking when the terrorists are “unprotected”.

But many journalists over there are (rightly) afraid of the Taliban and repeat fantastic tales of drone-caused slaughter that the report writers in the international community are all too happy to report as fact.

I commend President Obama's refusal to bow to international pressure to cease the one major effective thing he is doing to kill terrorists.

It's. The. Law?

Apparently, It's. the. lie.

Yeah, remember when saying that Obamacare couldn't possibly guarantee that you could keep your health insurance if you like it--let alone make health care broader, better, and cheaper for both consumers and government--was just nonsense (and possibly racist)?

Face it. Keeping your health insurance doesn't require a grandfather clause. It requires a Santa Claus.

And sadly, the IRS will determine who is naughty and who is nice.

UPDATE: I honestly can't bear to listen to Representative Waxman speak. He misrepresents the truth so easily, I'd like to check his ID for his name, too.

Let's say it again: Obamacare only "saves" the federal government money over a ten year period because the law raises revenue over that period to counter the added expenses (and counts the revenue added from day one of enactment, three years before Obamacare expenses start, I'll add). He's simply gaming the Congessional Budget Office rules to assert something that common sense says is just not so.

A Whole New War

Assad's chances of defeating the rebellion are higher now than a year ago.

I still think that the odds are against Assad. But with our failure to vigorously support the rebellion and our bizarre WMD deal that has bought Assad time to kill his people into submission with conventional means by ruling out our air strikes, Assad has a better chance.

But the main factor in his better chance is that Assad is fighting a whole new war as I argued he had to do:

Assad needs to do something that offers his troops hope of victory by giving them an objective within reach. Assad needs to abandon large parts of Syria to the rebels and prepare to rebuild his forces to retake the country. ...

So, could Assad hold his rump Alawite homeland plus the territory down to Damascus? Call this one, Minimum Syria. As in the minimum to still be recognized as Syria. ...

Perhaps with a realistic plan to survive, Assad could get Russia to commit a marine regiment to hold a base region on the coast and a parachute division in the north to help deter Turkey and help hold the front south of Aleppo. Call that 10,000 troops. Maybe Iran can toss in half that in irregular plain clothes thugs. Perhaps Hezbollah tosses in a thousand men. Surely, Assad could mobilize 18,000 local defense forces from Alawites and loyal minorities worried about the Sunni majority.

Assad would continue to control chemical weapons depots and missile assets. If Hezbollah and friendly Lebanese Shias can hold the western border of this new Minimum Syria, Assad could prepare for the long haul with Russian, Chinese, and Iranian financial support. ...

Assad could still win this fight. But he has to retreat until the correlation of forces can be swung back in his favor. Assad just can't win the way he is fighting, now.

Assad has largely abandoned Syria outside of the core I described (although I thought Aleppo was too much to hold, Assad still holds in that region but doesn't seem to be making a major effort to secure the region despite some talk in the summer of doing so).

Assad has mobilized way more local defense forces than I thought he could. But he had Iranian support to do this:

The Assad forces are unified, including the many local militias formed in the last year with Iranian help. The Iranians are the key to the improved battlefield success of the Assad forces.

Hezbollah has added more than the minimum, I thought. And that has been very important to the dispirited Syrian troops:

Recent gains by Syrian forces are usually led by Hezbollah gunmen. Hezbollah had withdrawn most of its 10,000 gunmen from Syria over the last month but the 3,600 Hezbollah fighters still in Syria are well trained (often in Iran), experienced, and led by some of the best Hezbollah combat commanders. The Assad forces are still demoralized and the presence of these aggressive and capable Hezbollah gunmen makes a big difference. The Assad troops will move forward, despite rebel fire, if they see the Hezbollah men making progress.

And Iran has funneled in a Shia Foreign Legion to support Assad.

Assad has also gained major Iranian financial support and support from Russia, which is helping with financing, weapons, and ammunition. China isn't taking a lead here, but is sympathetic to Assad.

Russia has not committed troops to Assad, but is keeping a flotilla off of Syria as a show of support.

So Assad is fighting a whole new war.

But with his small population base and the heavy casualties his forces are suffering, I don't think Assad's odds of holding out against the heavy odds he faces are very high.

There are lots of rebels in the field--way more than we faced in Iraq (by a factor of 4 or 5). And the casualties Assad's forces are enduring dwarf Coalition and Iraqi security force casualties in the Iraq War.

I knew Assad wasn't an island of stability amidst the Arab Spring on the eve of the Syrian protests. If only our president followed my advice to support the rebels early and decisively to defeat our avowed enemy in Syria.

We're clearly worse off for not doing that. So Assad can be forgiven for his optimism given that his odds are surely higher now because of our failures to work for his ouster when Assad was reeling.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us

The funny thing is, the Russians think we are engaged in a vast conspiracy to absorb every bit of the former Soviet Union.

Russia would like to rebuild the Soviet Union's territorial expanse. If only that was true that we had a grand plan to prevent that. The glorious team of rivals that President Obama guides is pulling the wagon apart by running in different directions:

While the State Department has been promoting Ukraine’s integration with Europe, Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission are on the verge of taxing, and effectively banning steel pipes, one of Ukraine’s key imports to America, partly at the behest of a company owned by Russia.

Critics say the conflicting policies by State and Commerce at this delicate juncture reflect strategic drift by President Obama.

"At a moment when the U.S. and the EU are encouraging Ukraine to resist Russia's economic bullying and take difficult reform steps to achieve an Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU, a U.S. move to block Ukrainian exports contradicts U.S. interests,” said Robert Zoellick, the former head of the World Bank. “It's a frustrating example of policy incoherence."

Yeah, the word "competence" obviously comes to mind with this administration every week.

Tip to Instapundit. And apologies to Pogo.

The Data Does Not Support the Theory

The Germans are noticing our perplexing failure to follow the normal rules of foreign policy where you help friends and punish foes. If only it was based on confusion.

The speech at the Victory Column is a dim memory for Germans, it seems:

These are difficult times for American foreign policy, which no longer seems to differentiate between friend and foe. At least, that is the unpleasant impression created by new allegations that the U.S. has been spying on its allies and even their heads of government.

If we were unable to differentiate between friend and foe, you'd think that there would be something of a random nature of rewarding friends and foes versus punishing friends and foes.

Sadly, with our policies running heavily toward punishing friends and rewarding foes, there is nothing to indicate we can't differentiate between friend and foe. No, the problem is that we've correctly identified them and our president decided to reach out to foes at the expense of our friends:

From the beginning of the Obama presidency, I've lamented his inclination to seek friends among our enemies at the expense of our friends. The former isn't the problem. But when it is attempted by paying the price of the latter, it is a big problem.

President Obama thought he was so unique that he could make friends out of enemies while keeping our friends (who often considered some of those future friends of ours their enemies).

Still, maybe the Germans have a point. After denying that it is even important to support friends, is the administration unable to distinguish between friend and foe?

So I have hope. If we truly can't tell the difference between friend and foe, we have a fighting chance of accidentally treating some of our friends well.

My, I really am an optimist at heart, aren't I?

Bowing to the Inevitable?

The Saudis turned down their turn on the UN Security Council because they learned that even though President Obama was willing to bow before them, that might just have been practice for the truly deep bow to Iran's new (dreamy reformist!) ruler.

I worry not that Saudi Arabia will seek help from others instead of us but that they'll seek nuclear weapons to survive a nuclear and emboldened Iran.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Twice to the Sound of the Guns

The government knew that security was poor at Benghazi prior to 11 SEP 12, knew al Qaeda was preparing to attack, and knew their explanations that a video inspired ad hoc attackers was completely inaccurate. Now what about the claims that no American forces could be sent to help?

I am still stunned that no Americans were even moved toward Benghazi from our many forces in Europe just in case we could have done something of use in the 7 hours of the attacks on the consulate and the annex.

60 Minutes looked at the attack. (Tip to Legal Insurrection via Instapundit. Transcript here.)

The idea peddled by the administration that we don't just rush in without advanced planning is nonsense, and shown to be nonsense by the actions of our security forces that night.

The first instance of rushing to the sound of the guns was carried out by CIA security personnel who defied an order to wait in order to run to the consulate:

About 30 minutes into the attack, a quick reaction force from the CIA Annex ignored orders to wait and raced to the compound, at times running and shooting their way through the streets just to get there. Inside the compound, they repelled a force of as many as 60 armed terrorists and managed to save five American lives and recover the body of Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith. They were forced to fight their way out before they could find the ambassador.

Just a few made a difference. As seemed apparent early on.

And they continued to make a difference at the annex:

The same force that had gone to the compound was now defending the CIA Annex. Hours later, they were joined by a small team of Americans from Tripoli. From defensive positions on these rooftops, the Americans fought back a professional enemy. In a final wave of intense fighting just after 5 a.m., the attackers unleashed a barrage of mortars. Three of them slammed into this roof, killing former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

So there was a second instance of forces rushing to the sound of the guns. This time the State Department's security forces from Tripoli who made it to the annex to join the CIA reaction force. They did not make it in time to save the consulate.

But neither did they just sit in Tripoli, excusing their inaction by saying they couldn't make it to the consulate in time to do any good.

The US military's regional response, following local reserves at the annex and country reserves from Tripoli, never took place. Only 2 American troops (I believe they must have come from Tripoli with the State Department forces) were sent to help:

We have learned there were two Delta Force operators who fought at the Annex and they've since been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross -- two of the military's highest honors. The Americans who rushed to help that night went without asking for permission and the lingering question is why no larger military response ever crossed the border into Libya -- something Greg Hicks realized wasn't going to happen just an hour into the attack.

Lara Logan: You have this conversation with the defense attache. You ask him what military assets are on their way. And he says--

Greg Hicks: Effectively, they're not. And I-- for a moment, I just felt lost. I just couldn't believe the answer. And then I made the call to the Annex chief, and I told him, "Listen, you've gotta tell those guys there may not be any help coming."

(Note: Delta Force is Army. So I'm not sure why a Navy Cross was awarded. Was one actually a SEAL?)

I can't believe the answer either. And I can't believe the notion that we couldn't even begin to move troops and aircraft from Europe to Banghazi in case they were needed.

Our people were abandoned by Washington. The few personnel who rushed to the sound of the guns made a difference in rescuing our people on the ground and preventing a mass slaughter or capture of Americans.

If our military had rushed to the sounds of the guns, we might have held our consulate and annex grounds even after the defeat at the consulate, denying al Qaeda that victory and maybe even engaging them and inflicting enough losses on them to discourage future attacks on our embassies.

Candy Crowley should be made to watch this report about 30 times. From a partisan nothingburger that wasn't even news before the election, we're finally finding out this is a scandal after all.

UPDATE: I guess it isn't a "manufactured scandal" now that Chris Matthews is asking the same questions I've been asking:

“The president is the best security agency, people are sitting in the White House 24/7, there are officers on deck, they are getting an instantaneous report on what’s happening there,” Matthews began. “What were they looking at in forms of assets that could have been sent? Where was the U.S. Cavalry, to use an American image. Where were the people that could’ve come or tried to get there within how many hours it took to save the lives of the people still living? Where were they and why weren’t they called to do it? I’m going to ask that question until I get an answer.”

Tip to Instapundit.

UPDATE: CBS says a source is no longer believable (tip to Instapundit):

In late October, 60 Minutes ran a report featuring the account of British security expert Dylan Davies – though he called himself Morgan Jones – who recounted in detail his actions in the early morning hours during the Benghazi attack.

It was later revealed that Davies told the FBI he did not visit the American diplomatic compound on the night of the attack and had not, as he claimed, seen the body of slain U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

I didn't quote that source, so I don't think this post needs to correct anything. Parts of the story that I do quote really repeat past reporting on local reactions to the attacks.

So the negation of that source does not erase the fact that we had two responses to the attacks. The first from the annex personnel and the second from the State Department reaction force from Tripoli.

Perhaps this explains the odd award of a Navy Cross for a Delta Force soldier that was mentioned.

But have no doubt that this bad source will be used to discredit those who want to know what happened. CBS should have done a better job on this, over a year after the incident. It's not like they rushed to finish this before the 2012 election, after all. God they suck.

Getting to the Root Problem

The Obama administration is getting ready to blame and arrest Nakoula Basseley Nakoula for the Obamacare website failure.

Why not blame the man? Some poorly made Internet video that nobody saw? Or a poorly made Internet website that nobody can use?

Because, really, what difference does it make at this point?

All For One?

If China decides to strike Japan to settle the Senkaku dispute by force, it would be a good idea for South China Sea claimants to jump on their claims rather than wait their turn to be targeted.

China is continuing to press Japan over the Senkakus:

China on Monday kept up the pressure on Japan over the disputed Senkaku islands, sending its coastguard to the area following Beijing's weekend mention of "war" after Tokyo reportedly readied to down its drones.

Four Chinese coastguard vessels sailed into the territorial waters of the islands -- which Beijing calls the Diaoyus -- on Monday morning, the Japanese coastguard said, where they remained for about two hours.

China insists that it might find war with Japan justified over the loss of the drones of a single Pomeranian grenadier newly unified Chinese Coast Guard:

The manoeuvre came days after China, in one of its strongest statements so far in an increasingly acrimonious spat over the islands, said if Japan fired on its unmanned aircraft it "would constitute a serious provocation, an act of war of sorts".

Japan seems in no mood to follow China's script that requires Japan to just sit and wait for Chinese encroachment to slowly swallow up the Senkaku Islands.

Abe, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, said Japan should take the lead in guarding against what he said might be an attempt by China to use force to attain its diplomatic goals.

He said he had realized at recent meetings with South East Asian leaders that the region sought leadership from Tokyo in terms of security amid China's more forthright diplomacy.

"There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by rule of law. But if China opts to take that path, then it won't be able to emerge peacefully," he told the newspaper.

The article also notes that Japan may have approved use of force to shoot down drones over their territory. China may think that sending coast guard drones doesn't count as starting a militarized conflict, but Japan has seen this scenario play out before in the region and it always ends with a Chinese "death star" sitting on stilts over some small rocky islet.

I think Japan would win an air-naval battle over the Senkakus. Even without our direct intervention.

And if Japan has a scrape with China over those islands, that really should be the signal to every other state in the region with territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea to rapidly occupy anything they claim while the Chinese are busy with Japan.

I mean, if the Japanese are serious that other nations are committed to making sure China can't take that path and get away with it, they'd be prepared to do that.

The Wild East

Russia is trying to build a brigade-based army to have a shot at stopping the Chinese short of using nuclear weapons.

Russia is abandoning the division as the basic army unit, as the West has done:

Russian recently announced that it would accelerate its plan to create 40 more combat brigades by the end of the decade. This conversion was first announced in 2009 and since then 70 brigades have been created. Not all are fully manned or equipped. Only 35 are maneuver (tank or infantry) brigades and only about half of them are at full strength. The other 35 brigades are artillery, engineer and the like.

The brigades are to be kept at full strength unlike old practices of filling out divisions with reservists to reach war strength. And training is to be better.

They hope this will give them a better chance at stopping the Chinese at the conventional level:

Officially, Russia has ceased to consider Chinese ground forces a threat as Russian nuclear weapons are supposed to be what would stop a Chinese ground assault. Traditionalists in the Defense Ministry are pointing out that nuclear war would destroy both nations and that the current situation allows China to quickly grab the Russian Far East (which China has long claimed) and then call for a peace conference. This is the sort of tactic China has used in the past and the Chinese are big fans of their imperial past. The pro-brigade leaders won this debate and it is apparently agreed that a brigade-centric army would be more successful in fighting the Chinese threat.

China, too, is going to the brigade organization.

This is good for the Russians. As I've said, Russia can blitz Georgia or nuke China. But there isn't much capacity in between. And that is no way to defend Russia itself since nukes could only be credibly threatened if Russia itself was in danger of being destroyed. Would Russia really risk nuclear war with China (who can shoot back) over the Far East?

Unfortunately for Russia, they will find that nuclear weapons aren't useful for defending their country. Threatening to use nuclear weapons is only credible in the face of national destruction. Certainly, a Chinese army marching on Moscow would lead Russia to unleash nuclear weapons to prevent that. And Russian nukes would deter China from using their own nukes on Russia.

But China isn't going to march on Moscow. Will Russia really provoke a general nuclear war with China if the Chinese take a chunk of territory in the Far East but go no further?

Now if only the Russians would come to appreciate that they face no threat from the West which really couldn't work up an interest in invading Russia.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

A World Full of Subs But None to Buy

Taiwan still wants submarines (as they should want them). But we don't build non-nuclear subs.

The only country willing to resist Chinese pressure to sell arms to Taiwan doesn't have a submarine that can be sold to Taiwan. So I'm not sure whether this is just for show or serious:

President Ma Ying-jeou has reiterated Taiwan's desire to purchase submarines from the United States in an interview with an American paper earlier this week.

"Some weapons are high on the list of items that we hope to procure, but we currently have no way to purchase them. Submarines, for instance, are one of those items," Ma told the Washington Post in Taipei Thursday.

Apparently, Taiwan has given up the idea of building their own subs. I don't know why, since other countries no more advanced than Taiwan have done this. Do the Taiwanese think they are better off spending the last 12 years trying to buy them through us rather than starting a program 12 years ago to design and build their own?

I still think that Russia should sell Taiwan conventional subs. Russia pointed China away from their Far East for a long time by selling China weapons useful for fighting at sea. Finally tired of China's theft of Russia's technology, Russia finally throttled back that open spigot of arms sales.

But if Russia still wants to keep China's resources focused on the southern rather than northern front, the Russians will need to bolster potential foes like Taiwan to keep China busy.

Unless we decide to supplement our nuclear subs with conventional boats, too, we just aren't likely to convince an ally (under pressure from China not to do that) who does build conventional subs to sell Taiwan the blue prints and allow us to build them for Taiwan.

Too Big to Fail Us

I know the Germans are upset that we were listening to Prime Minister Merkel. We had reason to listen.

Do you remember how Germany was flirting with Russia, seemingly ready to move away from NATO to reset their relations with Russia?

Can you blame us for wondering what the heck the Germans were up to given their central role in Western Europe?

Is It Fraud Yet?

Indeed. If a private company low-balled prices in their sales pitches and billed you higher when it was time for you to get out your check book, I think you might expect false advertising statutes to kick in.

Voting Present

Jesus Christ, welcome to the freaking White House, eh? There was a time when the buck stopped there. Now it goes there to die, or something (tip to Via Meadia via Instapundit):

Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.

In private conversations with aides, Mr. Obama described Syria as one of those hellish problems every president faces, where the risks are endless and all the options are bad.

So what are we getting?

Decisive action by Washington, they argue, could have bolstered moderate forces battling Mr. Assad’s troops for more than two years, and helped stem the rising toll of civilian dead, blunt the influence of radical Islamist groups among the rebels and perhaps even deter the Syria government from using chemical weapons.

Worried that we'd be blamed for something bad that might happen if we did something to defeat an enemy, we did virtually nothing and watched the situation get worse.

So the buck entered the Oval Office, was batted around like a hacky sack by senior foreign policy staff, and then fell behind one of the couch cushions where it was lost until housekeeping staff found it.

I'd like to note that this damning article is in the New York Times. I guess some of their staff took their cojones out of the blind trust they put them in during the 2009 inauguration. Will wonders never cease?

But America will be blamed for "letting" the bad things happen. President Obama may be able to vote "present," but America can't.

Grow up. Some outcomes are less bad than others. If our choices are among bad outcomes, you have to make a choice.

If we'd made an effort earlier to support rebels while they were non-jihadi and while Assad was reeling, this might be over. Or at least on the down slope heading toward Assad's defeat.

But no, our president goes through the motions of leading our foreign policy. He convenes meetings of his team of rivals in the Oval Office and deigns to sit there while they debate and offer alternatives that will never be seriously considered.

That's the problem. President Obama does not and never has thought of himself as a wartime president. He goes through the motions, checking boxes on what an actual leader would do if he was in charge. As I wrote when our last phase of the Iraq War was being wound down, quoting myself from 2009:

I've figured our president is so totally focused on his domestic agenda that foreign policy and wars are only of interest depending on how he figures they'll hurt or help his domestic agenda.

Iraq? Afghanistan? Is it more trouble to win or lose? On Iraq, he'd have to go out of his way to lose--so complete the victory it shall be.

On Afghanistan, three months of debate and the jury is still out on whether we want to win. Will losing or fighting to win hurt his domestic vision more?

While the president has mercifully kept many Bush wartime measures without admitting it (but made the NSA stuff worse?), I do not trust the president as a war leader any more now than when I wrote this post:

Still, our president does not take the war seriously. He goes through the motions by closely following many past policies, but his heart isn't in it. And this will be communicated to those who must fight the war. Many will not risk being thrown under the bus for being too aggressive in defending us. Perhaps not enough to spell disaster, but over time how can any relaxation of effort fail to be exploited by our jihadi enemies?

I wonder what horrifying event will make President Obama a war president.

What could horrify the president and get him to pay attention to foreign affairs? I'm thinking loss of the Senate in 2014. Now that he'd take seriously.

Of course, that warning about being careful about what you wish for might bite me in the butt at that point. It might be that our foreign policy on auto-pilot is the least bad thing of many bad things that could happen if our president chose to be a foreign policy president.


Remember when people imagined that a community organizer's major strength as president would be competence?

This could be written without laughter leaking into the keyboard. But people actually believed it (and lots still do, amazingly):

The team the U.S. president-elect is assembling around him is strikingly centrist in nature, a group of people known more for its competence than for its ideology.

Please explain how these uber-competent people could design Obamacare to rely on healthy young people signing up for mandatory insurance in order to pay for the whole project designed to expand coverage to sicker people. And yet allow these young people to stay on their parents' insurance until they are 26 and--because the group designated to pay for the system probably doesn't know where to buy a stamp and so must enroll online--roll out a web site so poorly designed that nobody without memories of dial-up Internet usage would put up with the "glitches" (which is apparently the administration-approved term for systemic incompetence in design)?

Yeah, they kept using that word "competence." I don't think that word means what they thought it meant.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Night of the Socially Dead

I went to see Rifftrax Night of the Living Dead showing the other night with a friend. Why are people just so weird?

My friend likes these and I asked him to let me know the next time he was going. So we went.

It was pretty funny. Every once in a while I tried paying more attention to the movie than the humorous commentary, but mostly I just enjoyed the commentary.

The movie itself really was kind of bad. Let me just say that World War Z would have been a cakewalk for humans with the zombies (who are never called that, though) of this movie.

But the oddest thing happened before the movie started. My friend and I were just talking before the movie started, watching the humorous pre-movie fare (I believe I was in the middle of noting a moral dilemma I had--it's resolved and I'm keeping my mouth shut) when this guy plops down right next to me.

Which is odd, is it not, in a theater far from even half full? Social space respect usually leads people to use different rows; and unless you have to, you don't sit right next to someone--me, in this case.

I initially assumed he must know my friend. So when he turned to me to talk as he sat down, I was expecting a "Hi, Pete. Bad traffic. Glad I found you!" followed by introductions.

But no, the man smiled and said to me, "I'm here for a meet-up."

As if that explained why he was sitting right next to me.

Well, we were kind of near the back so maybe he wanted the vantage point to watch for his group, I thought.

That's how I roll. I try to figure out how things make sense even if it doesn't make sense to me.

But he never left. He never even stood up to look around and even pretend he was looking for "his group."

Or was the meetup one where everyone sits next to a stranger in order to compare notes post-event to see who got the most outrageous reaction. If so, he lost.

And I have to wonder if people even use the term "meet-up" anymore? It sounds so "you've got mail." But I guess I'm not the one to make that call on this issue.


If this was a standard meetup, their procedures are fairly ineffective in the "meeting" aspect.

I suspect the guy simply thought it was unacceptable to sit alone in a theater as if he had nobody to go with, and so just plopped next to two guys to pretend he was in a group.

Which is odd. I have no worries about going out alone if I want to be at that location. I just saw Captain Phillips that way. I really don't worry about seeming like I'm isolated. Maybe because I'm not.

Of course, at one point he verbally expressed his frustration that the main armed character in the movie kept shooting zombies ineffectively in the chest rather than in the head.

That might explain a lot.

I refrained from participating in his meetup fantasy by saying, "Maybe he is a veteran and was trained to shoot center of mass."

I know my thinking of that explains a lot, I admit. Well, that and my tendency to go off on the injustice of friggin' hand grenades being a right-handed weapon.

Anyway. An odd footnote to a funny movie experience.

What Are You Going To Do About It?

Pakistan continues to stoke violence inside India by supporting jihadi infiltration, confident that their nuclear weapons make them immune to paying the consequences.

Given the nature of both Iran and North Korea, does anybody think they will lessen their support for terrorism if they have nuclear weapons? Nuclear-armed and terrorist-supporting Pakistan should not be in their body of evidence:

Pakistan continues to deny these government links to Islamic terrorists, even though it is an open secret inside Pakistan and a growing body of evidence confirms the continuing links and support. The Pakistani generals apparently feel that the presence of nuclear weapons makes Indian threats of war (to halt the growing border violence) meaningless.

Rather than deterring Indian invasion (which Pakistani poverty and dysfunction already achieve), Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is viewed as a license to kill. Pakistan is saying, "Just what are you going to do about our support for terrorism, India?"

It's the regime, stupid. Bloody-minded regimes will continue to be bloody-minded regimes. And nuclear weapons will just give them the confidence that they can get away with higher levels of violence because of their ability to threaten the use of nuclear weapons if an enemy responds to their terror campaigns.

We do try to reduce Pakistan's support for terrorists. But we need Pakistan for access to Afghanistan. Yet India can be excused for not thinking that our (not fully successful) focus on reducing support for terrorists who target us is good enough when Pakistan keeps supporting terrorists who target India.

Pakistan should understand that just as their nuclear weapons can deter India from responding at too high a level without risking a spiraling crisis that leads to nuclear war, India's nuclear weapons give them room to respond with more force that Pakistan will nave to accept if they don't want to risk a spiraling crisis that leads to nuclear war.

Focusing on weapons used is always a mistake when it is the bloody-minded rulers that are the real problem. Yet as Syria shows, we don't get it. Is Assad really less lethal without access temporarily to his chemical weapons?

It's. The. International. Law

Human rights groups are confused about what international law is and what they wish it was. They can take a flying leap on their criticisms of our drone strike policies.

Armed drones seem to cause some people to go into a tizzy. They are no different than other weapons and require no separate rules to govern their use. I swear, a lot of people in said tizzy are simply upset that their major difference is that they don't expose American pilots and crew to death and capture.

Human rights groups are acting out their tizziness:

Human rights groups on Tuesday accused the United States of breaking international law and perhaps committing war crimes by killing civilians in missile and drone strikes that were intended to hit militants in Pakistan and Yemen.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released separate reports detailing the deaths of dozens of civilians in the two countries. They urged the Obama administration and Congress to investigate, and end a policy of secrecy on the attacks.

"In some of the cases we looked at ... they appear to be war crimes, but really the full picture is for the U.S. authorities to reveal," Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan researcher at Amnesty International, said after describing the death of a 68-year-old Pakistani grandmother in an alleged drone strike.

"We are saying for the U.S. authorities to come clean," he said at a joint news conference with Human Rights Watch.

Responding to the reports, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama administration officials "take the matter of civilian casualties enormously seriously." He said he could not speak to specific operations, but that U.S. policies met international and domestic legal obligations and the standard of "near certainty" that civilians would not be hit.

Come clean? Please. President Obama? Nobel Peace Prize? Lovely speech on the subject?

Oh, not enough? Well.

Let me say this clearly. International law does not require civilian casualty-free warfare. International law requires military forces to not deliberately target civilians and to take reasonable care to prevent casualties. But no military is required to avoid all civilian casualties if it prevents those military forces from achieving their military objectives.

If American methods of war that rely on precision weapons and targeting decisions that try to avoid unnecessary civilian deaths don't satisfy your definitions of legal warfare, nobody's can. But that's the point. They want any conventional warfare to be off the table to hobble the main nation (America) that can use conventional power in defense of the West.

So I don't even need to go into the question of whether any civilians have died in our strikes. I'm sure some have died. But with precision weapons you have to also consider why civilians might die in our strikes.

Accident or mis-aimed weapon? Not a war crime. Oh, there might be some cases such as if we carpet bombed the wrong neighborhood seeking out a military bunker (that would be the proportionality test in that). But almost certainly not a war crime.

Targeting the wrong people? Not an American war crime if we thought we were targeting Taliban combatants.

But it could be a Taliban war crime if their refusal to wear uniforms to distinguish them from true civilians contributed to a mistaken strike.

Civilians too close to target? Not an American war crime.

But that would be a Taliban war crime. It is a war crime to use civilians as human shields.

And do we really need to go into the vast data of how their very operations are designed to kill civilians--sometimes cruelly? Just how precise do you think IEDs and suicide bombers are?

Do not, however, expect the human rights industry to demand that the jihadis "come clean" on their actual war crimes. Human rights activists would face far more risk of being stabbed on the streets for insulting Islam than they would getting a drone on their tail on the way home from their self-righteous press conferences.

Keeping Them Moving

With just a couple wings of F-22s (about 180 planes) it makes sense not to keep them massed at air bases where they can be knocked out in large numbers on the ground and to make their unique capabilities a worry in more places.

My Jane's email notices writes that the Air Force is practicing moving small groups of F-22s around to keep an enemy off balance not knowing where the planes are flying from:

The US Air Force (USAF) has developed a new concept for fighter formations using its only operational stealth fighter, the F-22 Raptor. The new F-22 formation theory, which has been circulating the Pentagon and has been demonstrated in exercises as far back as 2009, involves generating small cells of F-22s from 'unexpected' locations and keeping them on the move in a 72-hour cycle that involves rapid refuelling, rearmament, and redeployment[.]

Strategypage writes about a similar concept that keeps a small group of Raptors and support personnel ready for rapid deployment overseas to conduct a wide range of stealth missions:

Over the last few years the U.S. Air Force has developed a novel way to made the most of the few (180) F-22s it has. This particular solution comes in the form of an F-22 QRF (Quick Reaction Force) that consists of four F-22s and a C-17 full of weapons, maintenance gear, maintainers, specialized pods, weapons and spare pilots ready to fly to any of hundreds of airports or bases in the world that can handle four F-22s and a C-17. When there is a need for a few stealthy fighters somewhere on the planet, the QRF can be off and set up within a day to provide 72 hours of F-22 air support and a dozen or more sorties. The QRF pilots are trained to handle air superiority or a wide range of surface (land and sea) attacks. Think of this as the Fedex of specialized air support.

Both concepts together indicate that the Air Force wants the planes to be more survivable and lethal by moving them around frequently.

And it shows that the planes will act more in support of other fighters out there in larger numbers doing the bulk of the flying. You won't see (no pun intended) an entire wing of F-22s airborne in some massive aerial armada.

Great Plan! Just Who Will Be the "Framework Nations"?

Germany hopes that NATO can maintain military capabilities even as national defense budgets fall by having select large nations take the lead in specific capabilities that smaller countries will supplement. There are a couple problems with this, of course.

I'm sure it look great on paper (in French and English, as well as the original German):

Germany's proposal, discussed by NATO defense ministers at a Brussels meeting, is that big NATO nations act as "framework nations" leading a cluster of smaller NATO allies.

These clusters of countries would jointly provide some military capabilities or develop new ones for the benefit of the whole alliance, with the lead nation coordinating their efforts.

The idea could be a way of plugging gaps in the armory of European NATO countries such as air-to-air refueling aircraft, a shortage of which was exposed during the NATO bombing campaign of Libya in 2011.

I should be flattered, really. This is a version of my tribal auxiliaries proposal which I floated a few years ago as European defense spending started closely resembling a joke:

So, how do we react? Could we convince our European allies to simply abandon their militaries above the brigade or squadron level and ask them to organize and equip ground battalions and brigades that plug into our brigades and divisions, with our higher level units taking care of logistics and command? Could the Europeans send squadrons to fight as part of our air wings, which we move and support logistically? And plug individual ships into our task forces that we supply on the move?

With our brigades operating as self-sustaining units under a division headquarters that commands them but does not provide logistics and firepower support as was done in the past, adding another brigade from an ally to our division HQs would be relatively easy, I'd think. And since we are used to adding our own battalions to beef up our brigades for combat, this could be done at the brigade level, too, although with more difficulty. I'd prefer to have self-contained allied brigades, but we have accepted battalions in Afghanistan to bolster our brigades, so even that is quite feasible.

I assume absorbing air components could be done, too, if they use the same planes, especially. Navies already sail together so this probably the most easy, depending on how integrated the ships have to be with our forces (highly integrated for fleet-on-fleet but loosely for pirate hunting and such).

My proposal could actually work with America as the "framework" nation. Just who will be a framework nation in NATO other than us? France? When their 4,000-strong intervention in Mali was their peak. Britain? Which anticipates only being able to send 6,000 troops overseas? Italy? Which seems to be an EU ward of the state because of their finances?

So that's problem one. Just who can be a framework nation in Europe?

The second problem is highlighted when you get to the obvious "framework nation" candidate. Is the largest economy in Europe--Germany--going to take the lead in one category of force generation? Germany could afford it. But they have no interest in building a military. And Germany doesn't want to fight anywhere.

Germany itself is a poster boy for why this can't work. NATO is an alliance where every member state gets to decide what its response will be to a threat to one of its members. There is nothing automatic about joining in the fight.

Or what of France. Let's say they take the lead on naval air power while Britain takes a break. Yeah, that would work just swell. Like France would refuse to send their aircraft carrier if Britain needs naval air power in a Falklands Islands crisis?

In the Cold War, with Russians sending in massed armor into NATO territory, we hoped that aspect wouldn't be that much of a problem. Fight or die. Well, other than the French. Who knew what they'd have done?

But remember the Libya War? Germany really didn't participate. And they weren't the only ones. And some who did participate preferred to restrict it to aircraft flying figure eights over the Mediterraneans somewhat near Libyan air space.

Germany also caveated their commitment to Afghanistan which NATO decided to support after 9/11 in a matter that meant they were more war tourists than combatants. Oh sure, they contributed to a useful role in a relatively safe area where we needed reliable troops. I do thank them for that. But it sure would have been nice to have had Germans in Regional Command East while 10th Mountain got a break further north for a bit. And let's not dress up this limited commitment as a major force contribution.

So the second problem is that if NATO divides up its military capabilities into packets that the various countries have to put together to create a whole NATO force, haven't we just given the must reluctant, fearful, extortionist-minded, or broke member of NATO a veto over NATO military action? If--God fobid--Belgium became a framework nation for mobile artillery, what would happen to the theoretical 10,000-man European NATO force if it found it was ready to go, except that Belgium wouldn't allow its troops to fight that silly war that (NATO) Brussels wants to fight?

Face it. We're the only framework nation that matters for work above Mali levels of degree of difficulty. And even I wouldn't trust the Europeans to do more than supplement our full spectrum capabilities.

So yeah, other than those little things, great plan.

There's a Memo Somewhere On This

Norway won't help us destroy Assad's chemical weapons. And doesn't even see the need to talk to us about it any more.

Wow. How bad is our reputation that the foreign minister of a NATO ally stiffs us like this when we ask them if we can ship Assad's chemical weapons to Norway for destruction?

Boerge Brende on Friday said Norway doesn't have the capabilities to handle the request by the deadlines given so there was no point in continuing the discussions.

I guess we are trying to avoid destroying stuff in place during a rebellion.

But you have to just shudder that the Norwegians don't even want to talk to us about the issue. What's the point? It's pointless. There is no point.

They don't even see the need to pretend to want to work with us. Just "No thank you. My assistant will see you to the door since I have another meeting in 5 minutes. Thank you for your interest in Norway. Good day."

What really scares me is that now that a NATO ally has stiffed us (But what about the Czechs? Aren't they NATO's niche capability for all things chemical warfare detection and coping?), will we propose that Iran take the stuff? You know, as a show of their good faith?

The outreach writes itself, no? Iran "helps" us by ridding Syria of chemical weapons (while people remind us of how Iran was the victim of chemical weapons used by Saddam--but ridding the world of Saddam was wrong and based on lies, they'll quickly add) which will also build confidence in how Iran can honestly deal with us directly about their own more ambitious nuclear aims.

See? Iran has grasped our outreached extended hand! A friend we just haven't tried hard enough to make is born!

It's freaking nuanced, baby!

Oh sure, I'm not being serious. Nobody could be that stupid. Right?


Friday, October 25, 2013

We'll Get Wars But Have No Allies

Our allies in the Middle East are worried we don't have the stomach to back them against their enemies. Who is really shocked at this development?

Apparently it is just too complicated to remember to support friends and oppose enemies:

President Barack Obama's diplomatic overtures to old foe Iran and his last-minute refusal to attack Syria have officials in Israel, the Gulf countries and Turkey wondering if Washington is deliberately neglecting them to avoid being dragged into a Middle East facing deeper sectarian strife and concerns that Tehran may be seeking a nuclear bomb.

You mean our pivot to the Pacific was just an excuse to pivot away from the Middle East? Get outta here!

Should we have announced a pivot to Asia when increasingly it seems only to be an excuse for the Obama administration to pivot away from CENTCOM?

Wonder no more.

We'll likely get the wars we want to avoid but without the allies we alienate in the process.

Moving Beyond the DMZ

Prosperity has expanded South Korea's defense requirements.

Why should it be surprising that South Korea is building a blue water navy?

Is the South Korean Navy simply an expensive trifle?

Last week, Kyle Mizokami argued that the Republic of Korea Navy is “Impressive … and Pointless.” Mizokami makes the nutshell case against South Korea’s shift to the sea: "In the country’s rush to embrace its destiny as a seagoing nation, South Korea has prematurely shifted resources from defending against a hostile North Korea to defeating exaggerated sea-based threats from abroad. Seoul is in the midst of a strategic shift that has shorted defenses against the North and put its forces in harm’s way."

We benefit from a global economic order run under rules we set, so our power projection forces defend our interests just by being out there seen defending the world order we designed after World War II.

As South Korea's trade has gone global, why is it shocking that South Korea feels a need to have a navy that can contest any efforts to cut them off from the rest of the world?

Yes, there is a point that having a navy would be pointless if North Korea drove south through inadequate South Korean ground forces backed by insufficient air power.

But that isn't the situation, is it? North Korea's military power has rotted away over the last 20 years while South Korean ground power has expanded in quality.

The only reason North Korea still poses a threat is because South Korea's capital, Seoul, is within artillery range of North Korea.

And Seoul has a quarter of South Korea's population (if memory serves me).

But I don't believe North Korea has the ability to take Seoul unless they make massive use of chemical weapons and that use causes the near-complete collapse of the South Korean army. If that happens, North Korea might be able to organize a largely unopposed road march into Seoul.

North Korea's only real option is to bombard Seoul and hope to extract concessions to stop the bombardment--and achieve that before South Korea with American support advances north of the DMZ to create a no-launch zone that protects Seoul.

In the future, North Korea will develop a nuclear warhead and have that threat. But that is in the (near) future. And how useful will that be in extorting cash when South Korea has to know that their only hope at that point is a North Korean collapse?

Anyway, South Korea has the need and room to breathe to build a navy. A navy that will have anti-missile capable ships, I'll add, if you can't look away from the DMZ (demilitarized zone).

The Heavy Tank Lives

In an age of drones and special forces, it is rare to see a defense of heavy armor. But heavy armored forces remain necessary for conventional warfare.

Heavy armor hasn't been made obsolete just because precision weapons exist.

It's nice to see a defense of heavy armor.

Remember, even in World War II in the golden age of armored warfare, victorious armies would find that their armored forces were wiped out. But crews survived and new tanks were brought in to allow the mechanized forces to keep going.

Tanks could and did die facing just lots of simple projectile weapons. So the definition of becoming obsolete shouldn't be that tanks can be lit up.

I don't say that the heavy tank won't become obsolete.

I do say that the tracked heavy tank won't become obsolete until something replaces it. Until then, it is the only weapons system that combines firepower, protection, and cross-country tactical mobility.

Perhaps unmanned ground vehicles in the long run will replace tanks. But the software to guide the numbers of vehicles an army fields in widely different terrain dwarfs the relatively simple task of doing the same for aircraft in the sky.

In 2001, I tried to get an article published pushing back against the post-Desert Storm notion that our Army was too heavy and had to lighten up to be strategically mobile. The Abrams-Bradley team was seen as a pair of dinosaurs about to be brought down by the furry little mammals of light, strategically mobile systems.

I think this point of mine still stands out as the main point that frames the debate about heavy armor:

It seems safe to emphasize rapid deployment, abandon heavy forces, and discount mere numbers of troops because of the most unfortunate lesson. We learned we are unbeatable. Braced for thousands of casualties to break an Iraqi army hardened by its long war with Iran in the 1980s, we were stunned by the apparent ease of victory. Although few would admit this if pressed on the point, the very fact that we are seeking a smaller, lighter Army and are willing to thrust it into combat piecemeal upon arrival in the theater is unassailable proof that we do assume victory.

And we assume other countries know this too and so will never challenge the Army on the battlefield. All threats are asymmetric now. This is wishful thinking. Victory in Desert Storm will not give us credit toward the next war. We have to fight each one individually because every future enemy will have chosen to fight despite our last victory. They aren't scared of us. They may respect our power, but they think they can win. We must respect that determination. The proper lesson is that a military equipped and trained for the fiercest foe is ready to win decisively against lesser foes; and that decisive victory can lower casualties if it ends the war quickly.

And in 2002, I actually did get an article published in Military Review ("Equipping the Objective Force") that addressed what I thought was our futile effort to replace the Abrams-Bradley team with a 19-ton vehicle that wouldn't lose any attribute of firepower, protection, and mobility in its design:

Major General R. Steven Whitcomb, U.S. Army Chief of Armor, plans to equip the Objective Force with a future combat system (FCS) possessing “substantially improved strategic mobility and tactical agility, while maintaining overwhelming firepower and crew protection.”2 It is not called a tank because the FCS is envisioned as a vehicle that will be part of a networkcentric force that blurs distinctions between combat branches and blends combat support with the combat branches.3 The Army must field an FCS to be lighter, faster, and more agile than the Cold War Army yet still meet threats in 2025. We are clearly asking too much of this envisioned FCS.

We've abandoned that approach. Weight is no longer driving the replacement for our legacy heavy systems. The Iraq War demonstrated the value of our heavy armor, once more.

Of course, perhaps there could be reach-back technologies that could reduce crews exposed depending on the mission. But this will all be evolution rather than extinction for the heavy tank.

So, yeah, tanks can be killed. But properly employed and led by trained soldiers as part of a combined arms team they are still the primary killer and means of taking territory. No drones and A Teams--as awesome as they are in their lanes--can do that.

Death Spiral

One of the casualties of our failure to support the Syrian rebels against Assad early in the revolt is the array of minorities in Syria.

Assad recruited other minorities who had suffered under past Sunni domination to be their partners in dominance of the majority. This isn't a pleasant reality to contemplate but that's the way it is. Who can blame minorities like the Christians for taking a way out of being screwed by the majority?

The initial impulses of the Alawites to run the show can at least be understood even though the atrocities carried out to maintain their rule can't be excused.

But when the revolt broke out, there was a window of opportunity to get the minorities to turn on Assad and avoid systematic retribution for their past alignment with Assad. If the minorities thought that Assad was truly on the way out and if we had acted to make that a reality by arming and supporting those early rebels, the minorities could have safely "awakened" and switched sides.

Indeed, the Alawites themselves could have rejected Assad. Remember, even in Iraq with more wealth, not all Sunni Arabs were on the platinum level of minority privilege. In Syria, many Alawites could have been induced to reject Assad. But instead, we did too little to push Assad out while his position was at its weakest. Of we'd done something, perhaps even the Alawites wouldn't find themselves shackled to Assad today:

As far as Abu Khader is concerned, Syrian President Bashar Assad is a “thief” who is leading Syria “to hell.” That doesn’t mean he will stop fighting for the regime. As an Alawite soldier serving in the Republican Guard, Abu Khader feels that he must keep fighting for Assad, a member of the same religious minority, in order to preserve his sect’s very existence in a country dominated by Sunni Muslims. He blames Assad for leading Alawites into a sectarian war but sees no alternative to supporting the President. Assad, says Abu Khader, “got us into this war to keep his authority. But as Alawites, we are forced to fight, because the opposition is all Sunnis, and they want to kill us all.”

As the killing as mounted, anger has mounted and made it far more difficult to set aside without a retribution bloodbath taking place after Assad falls.

I still think Assad is in a tough position. His forces are enduring heavy casualties that I don't think a Shia Foreign Legion paid for by Iran can fully replace.

Further, the rebels have to know that retribution will fall on them if they fail to win the bloody war. This will keep them fighting, I think, even if they aren't getting enough support from abroad.

But Assad has retreated from trying to hold most of Syria to focusing on his core Syria territory from the northwestern coastal areas down to the capital region.

And Russia and Iran have gone all in to supply Assad with the weapons and cash needed to keep fighting.

And even we are complicit in Assad's survival as our glorious "partner" in chemical weapons disarmament that is nothing but a diplomatic air defense shield for Assad to use while he kills his people into submission while the temporary disarmament goes on.

The administration assumed Assad was doomed because he was in a very bad position. We thought we could just watch and reap the benefits of Assad's fall without making any effort other than saying words.

Assad, Iran, and Russia understood that you don't win if you don't fight, and so decided to fight rather than give up. So here we are with Assad having a fighting chance of winning by breaking the will of his enemies to fight before his own forces crack under the strain of constant fighting and dying.

Regardless of who wins, there will be retribution as survivors seek revenge for the many deaths of friends and family that they witnessed.

The odds are with the rebels who have the numbers and sufficient weapons to keep fighting. But the war will be longer, more bloody, and more difficult to put behind everyone once it ends because we thought that we could pivot away from the Middle East and get good results with no efforts to make the results good.

And by failing to intervene when Assad was at his weakest (and when a more modest effort on our part could have gotten forces moving together against Assad), Assad might win. But we're supposed to believe this is smart diplomacy restoring our reputation in the Moslem world.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Reasonably Enlightened Despots

Tom Friedman famously wished America had reasonably enlightened despots to decree Green laws to save the planet. Seriously.

Tom might want to wish China had those guys. Behold the reasonable enlightenment!

In the northeast China is entering the smog season. Thanks to air pollution sensors on the roof of foreign embassies, and posting of those readings to an embassy web site, the government has been forced to do something about the pollution. These embassy efforts was one of many to call attention to the obvious; the air in the capital had become a health hazard. Earlier this year China allowed the mass media (state controlled and independent) to publish data on air and other types of pollution. Up until this year it was illegal to publish this data. But despite all the censorship, such pollution was being measured and the data getting to the public. Last year, without naming names, China warned foreign embassies that using pollution monitors on embassy property (which the Chinese government cannot touch) and releasing that information to the public was illegal. Embassies post this information on their websites for the benefit of their citizens visiting Beijing (the Chinese capital). China does not want to publicize how bad the pollution is in Beijing (or anywhere else in China).

Huh. Tom wants this for America?

Choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China's largest cities [Harbin] on Monday, forcing schools to suspended classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport, in the country's first major air pollution crisis of the winter.

Behold the enlightenment (although not in Harbin):

The article says China has adopted a color-coded pollution alert system. Judged useless for the war on terror here, China puts it in place for their war on pollution. Let the mockery begin.

Wait for it. You know it's coming.

I'm not saying that you couldn't drown in a pool of Thomas Friedman's wisdom. But you would have to be drunk and faced down to do so.

And apparently, you can choke on his wisdom and develop lung ailments.

NATO Won't Take In Ukraine and Georgia

Two nations that had wanted into NATO won't be joining next year. Russian opposition trumps their bids.

Ukraine and Georgia are still out in the cold:

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Ukraine decided to end its long-standing bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization while Georgia remained interested but would not become a member in 2014, Russia's RIA Novosti news service reported.

This is instructive:

Officials said NATO-Russia cooperation, improving capabilities and progress in Afghanistan were the top agenda items when the alliance's defense ministers meet Tuesday and Wednesday.

Angering Russia by pushing into more of the old Soviet Union is being ruled out because NATO lacks military capabilities and doesn't want to risk Russia cutting off our supply lines to Afghanistan.

Remember, that's what Russia has counted on all along.

Georgia has no place else to go, of course. So they'll keep trying.

And I'll admit that I don't want Georgia into the alliance until they give up hopes of taking back their lost provinces that Russia took from Georgia in the August 2008 war. We shouldn't want a new member intent on drawing their bigger friends into a war with Russia to reclaim people who seem foolish enough to prefer Russian control. Let those in Abkhazia and South Ossetia enjoy their new friends and focus on making Georgia prosper to give their future generations a reason to regret their forefathers' choice in 2008, eh?

Ukraine is interesting. They apparently won't try again for membership. Of course, I thought their wishes were moot since Ukraine renewed the Russian lease for Crimean naval bases. I thought NATO rules don't allow member states to host military bases of anyone not in NATO.

Indeed, I had to grudgingly tip my hat to some truly smart diplomacy over that one.

I have to wonder if Russia will now feel free to pursue Anschluss with Ukraine--or at least pull off a Sudetenland victory by absorbing the more ethnic Russian eastern portions of Ukraine--knowing that Ukraine lacks bigger friends.

Ukraine might regret giving up their nuclear weapons that they inherited when the Soviet Union fragmented.

I Stand Corrected

I assumed the low-bidder got the Obamacare website contract. I stand corrected.

There was no bidding process. Tip to Instapundit.

David Didn't Wait for Goliath to Die of Old Age

In a sense, a Taiwanese sense of inevitable victory is a good thing psychologically given their position next to a hostile leviathan bent on their subjugation. But I do hope they understand that they need to hold their island democracy until the correlation of governing forces turn their way. Otherwise, Taiwan could have a long interregnum between democracy as a subjugated province of autocratic China.

This is interesting from Strategypage:

Taiwan has been the major target of ... Chinese economic and international pressure for decades and remains independent and defiant. China considers its efforts to regain control of Taiwan as successful. Slow but steady brings eventual victory and resistance is futile. The Taiwanese are also Chinese (at least culturally, ethnically it’s a different story) and believe the long game favors them. That’s because the Taiwanese believe democracy will outlast the communist police state that rules China. Recent history would seem to favor the Taiwanese, but the Chinese communists have much to lose if democracy gains a foothold in China and are determined to hang on to their power and wealth. That is growing increasingly difficult as the corruption and mismanagement so typical of communist police states continues to anger Chinese.

How comforting will it be for generations of Taiwanese living under Peking's rule to hope that their grandchildren will benefit from the inevitable defeat of the communist police state.

If Taiwan can't build a military sufficient to deter a Chines invasion or to resist Chinese pressure, Taiwan needs to go on strategic offense using their own ability to influence the mainland to lessen the burden on their democracy outlasting China's police state by shortening the reign of that police state.

When all alternatives but one have been ruled out, the last one left--no matter how unlikely it seems--is the one you need to pursue, no?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Mountain is High and the Emperor is Far?

The motivation for India to negotiate with China over border incidents is disturbing, if true.

India thinks that the Chinese generals commanding forces on the India-China border are acting on their own:

India and China are still talking about their border disputes but progress is slow. While Chinese government leaders say they are all for a settlement, India has come to believe that Chinese military leaders are acting independently along the border. So India is trying to open discussions with senior generals in hopes of making a deal with whoever is really in charge. All this diplomacy has halted Chinese aggressive use of troops to move across the border into remote areas that China claims. Chinese troops are still more numerous on the border than their Indian counterparts and China has renewed its tactics of not recognizing the passports of Indians living in the areas China claims (since these people are, in Chinese eyes, Chinese citizens who are trying to use Indian IDs and passports). Indian diplomats fear that the current situation is just a truce and that the Chinese will not give up their efforts to take the Indian territory they claim.

Claims that China would never start a war and risk their economic growth miss the point that military leaders might have a very different view than Communist Party leaders on what is important.

Just who can order the PLA to war, anyway? Are the generals more nationalistic than Communist?

Oh, and if China's economy suffers setbacks, the premise for the belief that China's party leaders wouldn't launch a war collapses as the assumption fails. In that case, a war might be seen as rallying people to the Communist Party in the absence of economic growth to provide that acceptance of the party's monopoly on power.

Smart Diplomacy

The Germans are upset at America over our eavesdropping.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel complained to President Barack Obama on Wednesday after learning that U.S. intelligence may have targeted her mobile phone, saying that would be "a serious breach of trust" if confirmed.

For its part, the White House denied that the U.S. is listening in on Merkel's phone calls now.

I imagine Merkel always knew we spied on them. Sadly, our inability to keep our secrets secret compelled Merkel to notice.

And our complete lack of a reputation for seriousness as either a friend or foe means Merkel is free to publicly berate us for doing what everyone tries to do to everyone.

But what really hurt Merkel was President Obama's insistence that he was too busy with Obamacare to talk right then. He asked her to just speak her complaints into the lamp so he could read the NSA summary of the transcript later and respond.

UPDATE: See? Is it so hard to just pretend?

[Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz] Sharif urged an end to the US campaign of drone strikes against extremists. The attacks have infuriated many Pakistanis who see them as violations of the country's sovereignty.

Sharif called for greater counterterrorism cooperation with Washington but said: "I also brought up the issue of drones in our meeting, emphasizing the need for an end to such strikes."

Obama did not mention drones and the two leaders did not take questions.

Pakistan does allow us to use drones from their territory. Who thinks we could carry this out without their cooperation? But we allow the Pakistani leaders to pretend they have nothing to do with the strikes in order to placate politicians who can pretend that fighting jihadis (and getting our aid) isn't vital to their own survival.

So the president just moves the ceremonies along and our drones continue to kill jihadis who threaten both America and Pakistan.

It's instructive, really. Pakistan really could turn to China for more support at our expense (see the Saudi discomfort with us). But they don't. Our willingness to actually kill jihadis counts as an oasis of resolve in a desert of our declining reputation for being a serious friend or foe.

Nuclear Saudi Arabia, Anyone?

When Saudi Arabia doesn't trust us to protect them from the Iranians who the Saudis believe want nukes and want to use them to at the very least put the "Persian" back into the Gulf, just what do you think that means?

The Saudis are really mad at us and I don't think a nice pat on the back from John Kerry is going to help much:

Prince Bandar bin Sultan told European diplomats that Washington had failed to act effectively on the Syria crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011, the source said.

It was not immediately clear if Prince Bandar's reported statements had the full backing of King Abdullah.

"The shift away from the U.S. is a major one," the source close to Saudi policy said. "Saudi doesn't want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent."

Does it mean seeking Russian help? When Russia backs both Iran and Syria?

Does it mean seeking Chinese help? When the Chinese back Iran and at the very least don't want Western intervention in Syria?

So with no one to rely on and fairly limited military capabilities that are adequate to face Iran only with outside help to maintain their weapons and outside help to keep Iran from modernizing their weapons, Saudi Arabia has only one major option.

Saudi Arabia can go nuclear. Then they don't have to depend on us any more.

Nuclear? You scoff. Well, the Saudis already have a missile force. China sold them 30-120 2,800 kilometer-range DF-3 missiles. The DF-3 was designed by China to be nuclear capable although only conventional warhead versions were sold to Saudi Arabia.

And Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have been pretty tight in the past. Saudi Arabia being the home of Mecca and Pakistan considered to have the "Moslem bomb." At the height of the security relationship, Pakistan actually had 15,000 troops rented out to Saudi Arabia to protect the kingdom. An entire combat brigade was part of that package. They were pretty tight resisting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, too.

So if some of Pakistan's know-how migrates to Saudi Arabia's missile silos (and maybe even some warheads for the right price), don't be too shocked.

So the price of our loss of reputation as a reliable ally could be Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons.

Have a super sparkly day.

UPDATE: Note that Saudi Arabia did not actually break diplomatic relations with us as I saw one story headlining this news. That would involve recalling ambassadors and possibly slapping John Kerry with a white glove across each cheek.

But the Saudis clearly don't think it is safe to rely on us. That's pretty depressing.

UPDATE: Strategypage writes (it's a brief mention, so no point in quoting) that some in Saudi Arabia want China to be their patron. I don't see that happening. Sure, Saudi Arabia could tilt toward China in an effort to play us off against China to leverage more of our support out of fear that China will gain more influence. But China can't replace us. Our military capability is still dominant in the region and the reasons for anger could change with different leadership (either attitudes or personnel) to use that dominance.