Sunday, March 31, 2013

Goodness Lesson Number One

Whether it is a "reset" or a simple look in the eyes trying to find a soul, we keep thinking the Russians have finally stopped wanting to be hostile nuts. So far, post-communist Russia has been disappointing. Thank goodness they are far weaker, but they seem to highly value the ability to nuke America and NATO Europe.

I know this is being counted as progress, but consider what it really means:

NATO hopes a U.S. change to global missile defenses will dispel Russian concern and foster cooperation on an issue that has long strained relations, alliance Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said in an interview.

Russia has said U.S. missile shield plans could erode its nuclear deterrent. It has softened criticism since Washington announced on March 16 that it would station 14 missile interceptors in Alaska in response to North Korean nuclear threats and at the same time forgo a new type of interceptor that would have been deployed in Europe.

However, Moscow has said it wants a series of consultations on the new shield set-up and U.S. and Russian defense officials are expected to hold talks on that in the coming weeks.

We are trying to establish a thin shield that will stop a small arsenal of Iranian or North Korean missiles, and Russia is worried that the shield might mean that Russia will lose the ability to nuke NATO countries. Which is ridiculous, since Russia's arsenal is more than sufficient to overwhelm such a shield.

Besides, reset nations with souls we can trust don't worry about losing their ability to nuke us.

Unless Russia not only wants the ability to nuke us but wants other nations more likely to use nukes to have the ability to nuke us, too.

The Russians are so not even ready for Goodness Lesson number two.

B-2s Just the Tip of a World of Hurt

I wonder where our cruise missile subs are?

We have four of the converted nuclear-missile subs with over 150 Tomahawks each in our arsenal. Once we surfaced three of them at once all near enough to China to be worrisome to Peking.

We used one of them for the Libya War. So we know they work. Having two or three close enough to North Korea would add a lot of warheads coming down on North Korean artillery pieces, air defense sites, ballistic missiles, nuclear facilities, and command-and-control facilities in a short period of time.

We loudly displayed our B-2s to North Korea. Which could harm North Korea a great deal. Add in 2 or 3 of our cruise missile subs--plus the cruise missiles in our other subs and surface vessels in the western Pacific and Army long-range tactical missiles--and we'll have quite the initial punch to shake up the North Koreans enough for our aircraft to start hammering North Korean forces.

You never can tell what North Korea's leaders believe they can get away with. I'd rather squeeze North Korea into collapse. But if they try something, let's remove that faith in what they can get away with.

Affordable Firearms Act, Anyone?

Words have meaning. But not whatever arbitrary meaning is convenient at the moment.

So if having health care insurance is now a "right" that the government must pay for; and some gun control advocates are saying that gun owners--who actually have a constitutional right to own guns--should have to buy "insurance" before owning guns (in a transparent effort to reduce gun ownership); why doesn't the government pay for gun-ownership insurance to make sure everyone has access to this right to bear arms?

For that matter, why doesn't the government fine everyone who doesn't own a gun and actually pay for everyone who can't afford to buy one to have some type of firearm with legally mandated minimum requirements for features of that weapon?

We could call it ObamaCarbine.

I mean, if it is a right, and not everyone exercises that right for one reason or another, this is what we should do, right?

But our government doesn't understand what "insurance" is. Or "semi-automatic," it is clear. I suspect they have a flimsy grasp of what "rights" are, too. I think some of them need lectures on the assumption that they have a sixth grade level of understanding.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Praise Be the Science

Science is hard:

‘Creation Care’ advocate Todd Levasseur published a full-length editorial this week in the Charleston Post and Courier arguing that people have a religious obligation to become global warming activists. He wrote, “Maybe it is time for an 11th Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not emit greenhouse gases.’”

But faith will do. Which is a nice Plan B since the Science Wall is being challenged as the fear of being called a "denier" seems to be visibly declining even in usually loyal media outlets:

The new issue of The Economist has a long feature on the declining confidence in the high estimates of climate sensitivity. That this appears in The Economist is significant, because this august British news organ has been fully on board with climate alarmism for years now. A Washington-based Economist correspondent admitted to me privately several years ago that the senior editors in London had mandated consistent and regular alarmist climate coverage in its pages.

Oh, they still say global warming is a problem. But they've taken that first step by admitting that the model has not measured up. Remember, climate alarmism is based not on actual data but on a model of predicted pretend data far into the future. That model has lots of problems in design and data, and it predicted that temperatures would continue to rise while carbon dioxide was added to the atmosphere. For the last 16 years, or so, the temperatures have not gone up even as carbon dioxide has been added to the atmosphere. Shouldn't that be considered a problem?

And no, it isn't a defense of the models to say that the models are right except for whatever they didn't think of to include in the model to account for the flat temperatures of late. That's the point of the skepticism--the model is flawed. And the model's extreme predictions are the basis of calling for extreme (and costly) measures to stop the predicted warming (and the predicted bad effects--if they are bad) carried out by strengthened national governments and by granting powers to international bodies.

I can hardly wait for the rigorous science-ish debate about how many carbon credits can fit on a pinhead like Michael Mann.

Now go and emit no more.

Let's Talk Strategic Mistakes, Shall We?

While it isn't over yet, so things could change, there is great worry about what the jihadis who have gained combat experience in Syria will do when Assad falls. This is not a worry we had in the Iraq War.

Where will the jihadis in Syria go when their jihad in Syria is over?

The key concern, the Israelis said, is where the jihadis go after Assad falls. Do they stay on in Syria to fight any Alawite militias that may appear? Do they go west to Lebanon, to fight the Shiite group Hezbollah? South to try to cross into the Golan, and fight the Israeli army? Or east into Iraq, to fight as Sunnis against the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Maliki — which the Israelis saw as perhaps the most likely outcome?

But there is another possible outcome: that the jihadis go to Europe to commit acts of violence and terror there. Why would hundreds of them possibly go to Europe? Because they came from Europe.

The facts are pretty clear: There are hundreds and hundreds of European Muslims now fighting in Syria.

Just remember, there weren't battle-hardened jihadis graduating from the Iraq War because we slaughtered the scum while we fought them there. We didn't train jihadis in Iraq--we broke their backs. So much so that when we surged in Afghanistan it was with the Taliban as our enemy and not al Qaeda.

When the rebellion began, we didn't want to "militarize" the conflict in Syria by arming rebels, recall. And here we are 70,000+ dead Syrians later with a jihad national training center prepared to send graduates back to their homes.

But Iraq was our greatest strategic mistake in modern history, according to some purported deep thinkers. Whatever.

How Desperate Are They?

Is North Korea's talk of war serious or just bluster?

One advantage of North Korea's crude bluster is that it dulls reactions in South Korea and the Pentagon. Oh, there they go, again! But if North Korea intends to attack, this tendency will buy them time to mobilize.

During the Cold War, if I recall correctly, we generally assumed the Soviets would be able to get a week head start on NATO in mobilizing for war. It would take us that long to recognize that Moscow was seriously preparing to lunge west and to make our own decisions to prepare for the onslaught.

It may depend on how good our surveillance is these days. No doubt we look at a lot of indicators to see if enough are tripped to indicate North Korea is preparing for war. While North Korea's army is mostly forward deployed near the DMZ, it can't roll out of the barracks on no notice.

But do the North Koreans know what we monitor? If they do, can they disguise mobilization signs long enough to get a week's advantage on South Korea?

I know, why even ask this when North Korea would lose a war with South Korea and America?

Because I don't know if North Korea believes they would lose a war with South Korea and America. Or if they do believe that they'd lose a full scale war, I don't know if the North Koreans believe that taking military action against South Korea, Japan, or even America means that a short and glorious attack must escalate to a war. The North Koreans might believe that their old strategy of rattling sabers and killing South Koreans in small numbers to inspire fear and money still works, but that they only have to up their game a bit and draw some serious blood--or some new blood. A few missiles aimed at Japan or Guam might be just the trick to regain that fear that North Korea counts on for money.

One thing we should be grateful for is that North Korea lacks much ability to attack American soil (other than bits of Alaska and Guam). North Korea's gleeful threats to target American cities surely telegraphs their intent and likely their belief that the ability to target cities in North America gives them leverage over us.

And you never can tell if the North Koreans believe they would lose a war. Seoul is enticingly close to the DMZ, after all. It starts the war within range of some of North Korea's longest ranged artillery. North Korea may believe that a combination of bombarding Seoul and massive infiltration by North Korea's large force of special forces (not SEAL or Delta quality, I should add--think more like approaching Army Ranger quality without the technology) will sow enough confusion in the ranks of South Korea's army that even the North Korean army could slice through them for the short march to Seoul.

Take that city and North Korea can call it a victory and call for negotiations to refrain from destroying the city and killing as many of the people who failed to run south as they can. What would South Korea pay to get their capital (where a quarter of the population calls home) back?

If you play the odds, North Korea is blustering and bluffing as they always have, even though the bluster is more specific and legalistic (in nullifying the ceasefire and proclaiming they are at war) than in the past. But in theory, such bluster can cover mobilization if you intend to attack and simply want to maximize your mobilization advantage.

How good is our intelligence in monitoring relevant North Korean military activities?

The Small Booms Count

While the flight of two of our 20 B-2 stealth bombers over South Korea had their nuclear capabilities stressed as a warning to North Korea, I imagine the real threat is their capability of dropping several hundred smart bombs at once on North Korean long-range artillery that threatens Seoul.

Our use of nuclear-capable B-2 bombers during our exercises in South Korea sent a signal to North Korea:

"This is useful reminder to the South Koreans that the U.S. nuclear arm can reach out and touch North Korea from anywhere. We don't need to be sitting there at Osan Air Base," south of Seoul, said Ralph Cossa, president of the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum CSIS think tank.

This is the bomb load that should cause sleepless nights in Pyongyang--not the nuclear payload:

Proponents claimed that by 2007 the B-2 could carry 216 [some accounts say as many as 324] of the 250-pound Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs). Each BRU-61/A smart pneumatic carriage holds four SDB weapons, the rack weighs 320 pounds (145 kg) empty, and 1,460 pounds (664 kg) loaded with four 285 pound (130 kg) bombs. In principle, the B-2 has a total of 80 attach points for the 500-lb Mk 82 based GBU-30 JDAM, each of which could accommodate a single BRU-61/A rack, for a total of 320 SDB weapons. In practice, the resulting 117,000 lbs (53,000 kg) weight would exceed the B-2's nominal 40,000 pound (18,000 kilogram) payload by some wide margin. The bomber could of course trade up for somewhat more payload by trading off against fuel and un-refueled range. The widely cited 216 SDB carriage would result in 54 BRU-61/A racks, 27 in each bomb bay, for a total 78,800 pound (35,800 kilogram) payload, roughly double the nominal value.

The SDB can penetrate three feet of steel-reinforced concrete. North Korean gunners may want to measure their overhead cover.

Depending on refueling needs, a small number of B-2s could drop many hundreds of accurate bombs before the North Koreans were aware that they should be ducking for cover.

Friday, March 29, 2013

But We're On a Break!

If the ceasefire is over, can't we take some shots at that idiot Kim Jong Un?

The newest nutball says the war is on:

"From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly," a statement carried by the North's official KCNA news agency said.

Kim Jong Un is one reason God gave us JDAMs, after all.

I know that we aren't supposed to worry about crazy talk. But won't we be embarrassed if North Korea starts something after all the warnings they seem to be giving us?

At what point do we hit the North Korean assets that are a threat to our troops in the region and our allies?

Remember, the North Koreans might believe that if they strike a sharp blow and then stop and offer to talk, we'll be afraid enough to send money to them rather than risk an escalation.

There's a First Time for Everything, It Seems

There's no shame in being second, after all.

Besides, everyone knows the first victim is the truth.

Tips to Instapundit.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A recent post of mine about Stand-To! triggered a sequence of events that apparently led to an example of something I worry about for our Army: a zero-defect mentality that makes officers too cautious to succeed by taking calculated risks.

I seriously wondered about the judgment of the Army for linking to a communist newspaper article about AFRICOM deployments.

This was on Stand-To!, a site I've likened to Instapundit as a valuable aggregator of stories about the Army and national defense issues related to the Army.

But after the repercussions of having the error of judgment pointed out, the Army officers in charge of Stand-To! reacted not by working to make sure judgment in article selection is good--but by removing judgment altogether. Now, only articles from Army sources are allowed, as you can see from Friday's issue.

This makes Stand-To! less of a valuable resource. I used to read it every day it was published. I valued the variety of stories that the Army chose to highlight. But one mistake led the officers in charge to erase all chance of that mistake happening again in the worst possible way. They decided not to trust future officers to exercise judgment. Now it appears only Army articles are allowed.

So now I can go many days between bothering to look at Stand-To! If this is a reflection of Army values on risk-taking in war, we're in for some rude shocks the next time we face a tough opponent in conventional warfare.

The Old Rules of Stupid

Can the Marine Corps survive? I hope so. But if the Marines can't survive while they search for a mission, I hope the Marines don't just settle for a murder-suicide pact that kills our national defense as they fall into oblivion.

The Marines are worried about being a "second army" and worried that a return to amphibious warfare roots (well, roots from the 1930s, anyway) is not the way to survive. But as a solution to their problem, this is just ridiculous:

So what should the Marine Corps do?

First, it needs to recognize that future wars will be very different. Firepower will be brought to bear by unmanned surveillance aircraft and by small, highly trained teams. These teams will be fast, exceptionally physically fit, able to operate independently, but also able to operate with larger forces when necessary. Teams will be inserted by parachute, landing zone, or over the horizon from the sea. They will be backed up by a robust logistics tail and continuous, round-the-clock air support that provides security to compensate for their small size. Air support will consist of fixed-wing assets at sea, national assets based around the world, and fleets of unmanned aircraft that constantly surveil each team and the area in which they operate. That means teams are unlikely to be surprised or ambushed, and when threats are identified, they can be quickly neutralized by precision munitions launched from drones, manned aircraft, and ships. The teams will be able to conduct precision operations and a variety of raids, or hundreds of operators can be employed in coordination with each other during high-intensity conflicts.

I'm not going to comment on this nonsense. I don't have to. I already did when Foreign Policy raised this notion three years ago, in an article called "The New Rules of War." Here it is.

Mind you, it covers a lot of terrain and the ratio of rant to dignified is rather high. The author of that older article and the notions presented just really push my buttons about stupidity masquerading as deep thinking.

On the firepower-centric capabilities of small units swarming around a conventional battlefield, I wrote:

Arquilla then makes the stunning leap that since swarms of insurgents stymie our massed armies (which they did not do in Iraq or Vietnam; and it is an error to think we were massed in either war) we should face massed enemy armies with swarms of our small units that overwhelm them by striking at many points. Wow. That is idiotic.

Again, Arquilla takes a valid point about naval warfare in a network centric world (something I agree with) and tries to apply it to ground warfare. ...

After not explaining how we'd use large numbers of small units to disable a conventional enemy army, Arquilla then says we could have that army of small units by slashing out the apparently useless armor, signal, artillery, MP, infantry, and assorted logistics units that a modern army needs to take the field. Yet somehow, we'd have to rotate those units in the face of a big enemy army. Just how do we do that when the enemy would control the ground? It is simply foolishness to extrapolate from a valid observation about carriers versus large numbers of smaller, networked missile-armed ships. And arguing that his reduction in forces could be done just as big reductions were made after 1945, 1975, and 1991 ignores that the earlier reductions did not eliminate the army and replace it with vast numbers of fire teams that apparently have no higher organization.

God almighty, once again some people think that magical Net Fairies will win our wars for us. Is the Marine Corps really so desperate to avoid sinking that they'll grasp at this anchor in the belief it will keep them afloat?

There's a difference between being visionary and just seeing things.

Tip of the Spear

Syrian rebels are poised to make an effort to  push into Damascus. Their numbers seem small but it is perhaps misleading.

Strategypage writes about the recent surge of weapons to the non-jihadi rebels in Syria, who are also keeping an eye on the post-Assad fight against the jihadis (who are the most eager fighters, which is a force multiplier even though they are only 20% of the rebels):

But first the Assad government must be destroyed and the plan appears to be centered on Damascus. There are about two thousand armed rebels fighting in the outskirts of Damascus, slowly extending their control towards the well-defended city center. The city center includes major government buildings, the commercial districts, major universities and hospitals plus residential neighborhoods of government supporters. The increased arms supply includes more effective anti-tank rockets and additional mortars (that give the rebels artillery support). More shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles are getting in as well. The Americans and Turks have been training rebel gunmen and leaders. The latter is particularly important because these men are taught how to more effectively use their fighters in combat.

Just two thousand rebels seems like a small amount. But since these full-time fighters are probably 10 percent of the total rebels likely involved (if this rebellion is like others, the vast majority are part-timers providing logistics, replacements, and intelligence), this is probably like a 20,000-man assault. That is more like a four- or five-brigade force--or a reinforced division--if it was a conventional army unit of that size.

Or think of it this way: A conventionally organized brigade of infantry would have perhaps three battalions of infantry. That's 9 companies of infantry. That's 27 platoons. Each platoon would have about 30 shooters in three squads of ten infantry each. So a brigade of 3-5,000 men would have 810 fighters at the tip of the spear.

Of course, for a conventional unit you would add in supporting armor, artillery, scouts, command-and-control, and logistics to make a unit very effective in support of those 810 fighters. And units could have bigger platoons, of course, plus heavy weapons support platoons. So this is just a notional comparison with a simple model of a brigade. But it illustrates the point. By this reckoning, the rebels have perhaps 2-1/2 brigades in the fight for Damascus.

A two-thousand man conventional infantry unit (smaller than one of our infantry brigade combat teams with 8 companies in two infantry battalions), which would have only a small percentage of infantry in it, would have no chance of taking a well-defended Damascus. But 2,000 rebel fighters are just the small percentage of rebels representing the direct shooters. They might do it, depending on the morale of the defenders.

A Statute of Mass Destruction

This episode is disturbing and is a warning about protecting our freedoms:

Phoenix man Eric Harroun, who served in the Army from 2000 to 2003, was arrested Wednesday upon returning to the U.S. from Turkey, where he had described to FBI agents his bizarre journey to the front lines of Syria's civil war with fighters from the al-Nusra Front, a designated terrorist organization also referred to as al Qaeda in Iraq.

Oh, I'm not talking about the accused Phoenix man. If he did what he is accused of doing (and what he boasts of doing) he's either a traitor (for fighting with al Qaeda, notwithstanding that we want Assad's regime to fall) or in desperate need of mental health professionals. Or both, of course.

But I'm not talking about that as what is dangerous. We can deal with him.

No, this is the dangerous part:

The criminal complaint against Harroun says federal officials believe they have probable cause to believe Harroun "conspired to use a weapon of mass destruction," meaning the RPG. He will remain in custody pending a preliminary hearing in early April, federal officials said.

How does this even make sense? An RPG is a rocket-propelled grenade. Originally just an anti-tank weapon, it has evolved to be an anti-personnel weapon, too, providing light infantry with their own light direct-fire artillery support.

Recall that we passed crimes against using WMD after 9/11, in the fear that jihadis might use chemical, biological, or even atomic weapons in extreme scenarios (even if the latter was "just" a dirty bomb that spread radioactive material with a conventional explosive). WMDs meant those types of weapons.

As if simply killing several thousand people wouldn't rack up the prison time or electrical voltage enough. And as if a statute would deter a jihadi.

But aside from those considerations, the statutes were written so poorly that any very conventional method of killing people can be described as a "weapon of mass destruction." I worried that rather than being used against real al Qaeda plotters, that ordinary criminals would be charged using the statutes. Which is ridiculous. An RPG is not a WMD.

And if an RPG is a WMD, then Saddam Hussein most definitely had lots of WMD in his arsenal at the time we invaded. Lots.

And thus our laws are twisted out of reality. The intent of the law was to stop chemical, biological, and atomic weapons. You'd hope that prosecutors would use a little common sense when they compile the charges. But in practice, there is no such thing. In practice, a very sad man is charged with a crime that should have been reserved for real terrorist jihadis plotting against us.

Laws need to be written very carefully. The collateral damage for poorly worded laws can be great.

And more important, laws should be really necessary in the first place. Why we needed specific statutes for killing or attempting to kill lots of people with a particular type of weapon is beyond me.

So this is what we got. A glorious triumph of the state in defeating our jihadi enemies out to kill us in our homes with WMD. I feel safer already.

Rational for Some, At Least

I keep harping on the line that it is dangerous to rely on the notion that it doesn't make sense for North Korea to start a war they'll lose, so they won't start a war. Let's look at one group of people for whom it makes a great deal of sense to risk just that.

Strategypage notes that North Korea is finding that the usual threats aren't getting the usual response--fear and money:

After over half a century of threats to again invade South Korea the world is finally coming to realize that North Korea is bluffing. ... In short, the threats don’t have much impact and that makes North Korean leaders even angrier because they see their intimidation efforts being ridiculed and, well, ignored.

Even the UN is starting to punish North Korea by limiting participation in the UN. For a gulag and criminal enterprise with a UN seat, losing the UN seat is problematic.

This lack of a proper response is very worrisome for one group in North Korea in particular--the ministry responsible for generating fear and money:

That makes officials at the North Korean Ministry of Intimidation (an organization that exists under a different name) very nervous. Officials who fail the North Korean leadership are often executed.

So there is a bureaucracy charged with intimidating South Korea and the rest of the world into fearful offerings of money and goodies that North Korea's elites can plunder. Performance reviews rely on generating fear and money. Fear and money aren't being generated. At some point, somebody in the northern elites won't get that iPhone 5 they thought they were going to get.

Performance reviews for the Ministry of "Intimidation" can be harsh in a criminal enterprise and gulag with (for now) a UN seat.

So that ministry has a very rational reason to push harder to get fear and money. One, it's all they know. So they'll do more of the same to get expected results. That's safer, bureaucracy-wise.

Two, if intimidation goes too far and escalates? Well, another ministry with planes, tanks, and subs has to cash the checks that MinInt is writing.

Three, leaders might be executed if the ministry doesn't achieve success--or just look like it is trying harder.

Four, if the overzealous intimidation goes awry, the state will perhaps be too busy fighting and may even want the blustering press releases even more while the missiles and rockets are flying. That annual performance review might work out fine, after all.

So even in a nation where it is difficult to really determine what makes sense and what is rational (is running a gulag and criminal enterprise while masquerading as a state really rational? Does it really make sense?), we can see one organization that we can make a case for rational actions that could run the risk of war.

UPDATE: At what point do North Korea's threats becomes so great that someone on our side takes preemptive action? Is this declaration that their missiles are on standby beyond words or is the declaration just a press release?

North Korea put its missile units on standby on Friday to attack U.S. military bases in South Korea and the Pacific, after the United States flew two nuclear-capable stealth bombers over the Korean peninsula in a rare show of force.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed off on the order at a midnight meeting of top generals and "judged the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view of the prevailing situation", the official KCNA news agency said.

KCNA said North Korea and the United States could only settle their differences by "physical means".

Kim Jong Un is the reason God gave us JDAMs, you have to admit. If it is to come to fisticuffs, let's make sure the North Koreans don't live to regret raising the conflict to physical means.

The Russians are right. Demented, but right:

"The situation could simply get out of control, it is slipping toward the spiral of a vicious cycle," [Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov] said when asked about tensions on the Korean Peninsula at a joint news conference after talks with his Ukrainian counterpart.

Russia's focus needs to be more on North Korea cooling down, but Lavrov is right about things potentially spiraling out of control. We are far enough away that we aren't likely to get carried away. But North Korea could well inspire fear and preemptive air and missile attacks by South Korea and/or Japan if the North Koreans don't cool off.

If either of our allies decides that North Korea is about to strike, the incentive to preempt North Korea will be high. That's rational, too, you know.

UPDATE: Here's an example of pushing for armed action combined with the belief that a general war will not follow, with a generous motive of narrow rather than national gain regardless of the outcome. Not that it isn't in our interests to prevent Iran from going nuclear. But it does illustrate a motivation that we shouldn't rule out for North Korean actors when we try to figure out what is rational for the North Koreans to do.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

I'm Calling Logistical BS, Again

There is no way that Russia's military is prepared for snap maneuvers and no way that Putin would risk the embarrassment of ordering actual snap maneuvers that flounder.

Get real:

President Vladimir Putin has surprised Russian military leaders by issuing a snap order to initiate immediate Black Sea war games – which experts say is a sign that the country's armed forces are becoming capable of defending the country on, literally, a moment's notice.

The command was delivered in a sealed envelope to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at 4 a.m. Thursday morning, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

A note posted on Mr. Putin's official website said the exercises will be held in the Black Sea, and involve "up to 7,000 military personnel, over 30 warships based in Sevastopol and Novorossiisk, aviation, rapid deployment airborne troops, marines and the special forces of the General Staff.... The exercises' main objective is to assess combat readiness and coordination among the various branches of the Armed Forces."

PhotoShop won't be involved, but this is for propaganda purposes abroad and domestically. There is no way that the Black Sea Fleet has readiness levels capable of supporting short-notice drills.

But I'm sitting in Michigan and I have perhaps a little too much cynicism regarding this. I eagerly await Strategypage's take on these exercises.

Not As Dumb As We Hope

If Iran can buy a nuke, they will.

This writer (tip to Instapundit) warns that Iran could go nuclear very quickly if they buy rather than build a nuclear weapon:

The West has tried to stop Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons by diplomacy, sanctions and cybersabotage, and with the threat of military action if Tehran crosses red lines in moving toward the final stages of making a bomb. If Iran becomes discouraged in its efforts, an easier and more immediately dangerous option is available: buying nuclear weapons from North Korea.

Well, yes. But I think it is wrong to assume that Iran would only go the nuclear purchase route if they become discouraged. Because Iran knows that crossing red lines for building nuclear weapons could prompt an attack on their nuclear facilities, I think the purchase route is a perfect complement to the build option:

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

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

If Iran can announce both the ability to make nuclear bomb material and the possession of actual nuclear weapons--perhaps by detonating one in a test on their own territory--Tehran would quite possibly deter an attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

We're not dealing with idiots. If the Iranian mullahs believe there are red lines that trigger Israeli or American action, why wouldn't they take counter-actions rather than just blindly cross those lines and provide a pretext for military action against them?

Just what did that Iranian warship do in the Pacific, anyway?

And of course Iran would want to minimize the damage we could do by attacking Iran's nuclear infrastructure by dispersing backup facilities abroad.

Personally, I think we'll be surprised when Iran goes nuclear. I'm just hoping the Obama Option (with a bonus Nobel Peace Prize as a shield) is a reality.

I'm Calling Logistics BS

Darned shame we don't have some kind of advanced country that we could deploy our military to in case we have to advance into North Korea.

We wargamed the collapse of North Korea and we've leaked we have issues to work through:

While not all lessons learned from the exercise were fully hashed out in this unclassified setting, some officers involved expressed their views of how the past decade of war has influenced how the Army prepares to fight.

“We’ve had the luxury in the last several wars of a place called Kuwait” from which to launch troops and stage equipment, one officer said. “I think our skills have atrophied in the call you get in the middle of the night,” and in forcible-entry operations from the air and sea. Skills haven’t been kept fresh in doing things such as loading trains full of equipment, and in setting up new command posts, he said.

Another leader agreed. “We have been spoiled by a command-and-control network that has been established for a decade” in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, adding that the Army has to get back to training to operate in an austere environment.

Yeah, we must have completely forgotten the advance into Afghanistan with no easy way into that landlocked country.

And deploying into Saudi Arabia through Dhahran to advance into Kuwait 250 miles north in 1990-91; and deploying into Kuwait in 2003 to advance 350 miles into Iraq spoiled us.

Gosh, if only we had some type of advanced and wealthy country nearby North Korea with an advanced military and civilian infrastructure plus established command-and-control facilities that we could use before a crisis. If we had that, advancing the 120 miles from Seoul to Pyongyang might be doable, logistically speaking. Gosh, if that hypothetical country had a large and advanced military, too, that would be pretty ideal, wouldn't it?

So while some of the problems discussed are real, if our military can't overcome them, whose can? For goodness sake, beef up the engineering contingent that we plan to send for the scenario and make sure we have railway building capabilities to push north of the DMZ.

And if we can't use South Korea as a launching pad to march north, where could we? I call BS on this article. It sounds more like wargaming excuses not to intervene.

That Nigerian Investment Opportunity Looking Better

When the Croatians were welcomed into the EU with a reminder to bring their check book, did nobody raise any alarms in Zagreb?

This is kind of funny, in a glad-I'm-not-them sort of way:

The European Commission has announced that Croatia will join the EU on July 1 this year.

What timing. That is the secret of good comedy, no?

Have Fun Storming the Castle

Tunisia is a place we need to watch for jihadis. But don't panic.

Our AFRICOM commander is worried about Tunisia:

Gen. Carter Ham told Tunisian radio late Tuesday that “it is very clear to me that al-Qaida intends to establish a presence in Tunisia.”

Fair enough. Jihadis are dangerous people. We should worry about them.

But remember that intention is not the same as achieving. And Tunisia isn't the most desirable place for a sanctuary. It is neither radical enough nor remote enough to be very useful for the jihadis as a base to project power. All al Qaeda's presence will do is remind another country of Moslems of why al Qaeda is a murderous bunch of thugs who will kill fellow Moslems as happily as they'll kill Infidels.

But when you get chased from sanctuary after sanctuary (Afghanistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and Mali, to date), you can't be too choosy. Remember, in late 1942 the Axis established quite a presence in Tunisia when they had little presence prior to that. But that was their last stand in Africa rather than being a new offensive to defeat the Allies.

Jihadis are flexible. They'll be murderous thugs wherever they can find a little space and easy targets. We must remain flexible in going after them. So worry about them. Just don't forget to go after them to make more good jihadis.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Savor the Nuance

After shared concerns over Syria prompted the beginning of a reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, Austin Bay discusses the development, which is yet another sign of Assad's pending doom.

Bay also notes the ceasefire with the Kurds as a factor in this issue, as I did. Although I have hopes for larger goals than Syria (Iran), dealing with Syria also hurts Iran (and Hezbollah).

But getting potential access to Turkish air space for an attack on Iran is not the reason for the reconciliation, according to Bay. He focuses on the Kurdish angle. Taking the Kurd card away from a lot of unsavory actors will benefit us.

And this takes away the Kurdish card from Assad, too. He may have hoped that his loss of Kurdish regions of Syria would worry Turkey enough to avoid siding against Assad. But that worry is gone. And the lingering reasons for Syria's Kurds to work with Assad are gone now, too, with Turkey losing a worry that Turkish Kurds might unite with Syrian Kurds for a larger state including both countries' Kurds.

People in the media keep saying that the Syria rebellion is stalemated. It isn't. It may be fairly static in ground controlled, but behind that geographic fact the Syrian regime is eroding and losing strength while the rebels are gaining capabiities:

Mideast powers opposed to President Bashar Assad have dramatically stepped up weapons supplies to Syrian rebels in coordination with the U.S. in preparation for a push on the capital of Damascus, officials and Western military experts said Wednesday.

For a press corps that tries to school us on how insurgencies aren't a military problem, they sure do focus on the military surface factors of a conventional land-control metric, eh?

But a regime assessment that accurately judges Assad as losing would explain recent rumors of Syrian chemical usage. Of course, that requires Assad to accurately judge that he is losing and thinking that desperate times call for desperate measures.

We want to keep the chemical genie in the bottle. I've heard it raised in the press recently, so I should repeat my call to prepare for a post-Syria Assad rather than a post-Assad Syria. As much as I'd like to avoid saving Assad, the price of elimination might be too high. We might have to settle for near-total neutering and then work that problem if it keeps chemical weapons off the battlefield (which is the Syrian population, recall).

And if it is a dose of nuance you need, consider that Turkey's forced making up with Israel will be more enduring if a rump Alawite state under Assad or a loyal successor that is still angry at Turkey--but far weaker--sits south of Turkey.

My Pucker Factor Is Currently at Yellow

Okay, I'm at DEFCON 3 right now over North Korea.

This is not comforting:

Reclusive North Korea is to cut the last channel of communications with the South because war could break out at "any moment", it said on Wednesday, days after warning the United States and South Korea of nuclear attack. ...

The North has already stopped responding to calls on the hotline to the U.S. military that supervises the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Red Cross line that has been used by the governments of both sides.

"Under the situation where a war may break out at any moment, there is no need to keep north-south military communications which were laid between the militaries of both sides," the North's KCNA news agency quoted a military spokesman as saying.

Mind you, I'm not worried that North Korea could win a war with South Korea. But the cost of beating that criminal enterprise and gulag with a UN seat will be high.

I just don't know if North Korea really understands that they'd lose a war if they start one.

Worse, even if the North Koreans understand that they won't win a war, I worry that the North Koreans believe they can get away with some more Dead South Koreans Theater without drawing a big violent response from South Korea. After all, that's how it has worked before.

And it is not likely that South Korea will let North Korea get away with further provocations. South Korea has already vowed to strike back hard.

And South Korea now knows that we have their backs for levels of violence far lower than an invasion:

A new South Korea-US pact providing for a joint military response even to low-level provocation by North Korea offers an added deterrent at a time of elevated tension, the South said Monday.

The two allies signed the military agreement on Friday in a move likely to fuel fresh outrage in Pyongyang, which has spent the past few weeks denouncing joint South Korea-US military exercises.

While existing agreements provide for US engagement in the event of a full-scale conflict, the new protocol addresses the response to low-level action such as a limited cross-border incursion.

It guarantees US support for any South Korean retaliation and allows Seoul to request any additional US military force it deems necessary.

Back in the mid-1990s, I really worried that we were on the verge of war with North Korea. Only much more recently did I read that we really were close to war with North Korea.

And I've worried before that North Korean threats might mean more. But when North Korean threats aren't being met with fearful offers of goodies for the North Korean regime and we are working on the details of responding to more North Korean violence, I worry that this is more than North Korea just turning the Psycho Dial to "11."

North Korea could start something that South Korea will challenge. If North Korea does provoke what becomes a war, we should take the opportunity to end the North Korean regime while they still lack weaponized nuclear capabilities. If not, get used to Pucker Factor Red for decades to come--as the best case scenario.

UPDATE: Hah! Here's a little levity--All your monuments are belong to us:

South Korea has come up with a clever way to cause the collapse of the North Korea government; use missiles to destroy statues of the two previous rulers of North Korea (Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il). There are 35,000 statues and monuments for these two in North Korea and these representations of the two deceased rulers are considered sacred. South Korea intelligence analysts have drawn up a secret list of the statues that would have the most impact on North Korean morale if destroyed.

I'm honestly not sure if this is a clever way to retaliate if North Korea wants another episode of Dead South Koreans Theater for their own enjoyment, or if it is over-clever and South Korea should just blow up military targets.

UPDATE: Our response lacked the humor value--and nuance, of course:

The United States flew two nuclear-capable stealth bombers on practice runs over South Korea on Thursday, in a rare show of force following a series of North Korean threats that the Pentagon said have set Pyongyang on a dangerous path. ...

The bomber flights, and the unusual public announcement of them by the U.S. military, appeared designed to send a message of Washington's resolve to North Korea amid rising tensions on the Korean peninsula.

No PhotoShop required.

The Exception That Proves the Rule?

Because when your own life is on the line, you want armed "heartless motherf&ckers" on your payroll.

The Midas Touch

When you are an authoritarian regime like China or Russia, you must pound your fist in frustration at American soft power. We do better with enemies than they do with allies.

Consider that China committed troops to support North Vietnam's fight in South Vietnam for decades. Yet after they won their war against South Vietnam, relations soured into a war in 1979, and relations remain bad:

Vietnam on Monday accused a Chinese vessel of firing on one of its fishing boats in disputed waters, denouncing the incident as a "serious violation" of its territorial sovereignty.

The Vietnamese boat was fishing near the contested Paracel Islands last Wednesday when it was "chased and shot at by a Chinese vessel, causing a fire in the cabin," foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said.

And then there is Burma (Myanmyar) which counted China as its only friend for many decades. What were the fruits of that support?

The skirmishing (between troops and tribal rebels) on the Chinese border has ended. But the further you go into Burma the more anti-Chinese sentiment you find. Even the military is angry, accusing the Chinese of selling them second-rate and often defective weapons. Tribal people are angry at the seizure of their land (by corrupt military and political officials) for Chinese dams and pipelines, while non-tribal Burmese (the majority of the population) are angry at what they feel is exploitation by arrogant Chinese (aided by corrupt Burmese officials and businessmen).

Russia has seen former "allies" and even former parts of the Soviet Union itself join NATO and otherwise seek American friendship and protection.

And China can't make a friend to save its life, it seems. Of course they worry that North Korea could become an American ally if the current North Korean regime collapses. Look at the track record!

And let's not forget Germany, Japan, and Italy, after World War II. Or Canada and Mexico. Or Britain, for that matter. Not even the French, for all I complain about the quality of their friendship, have become an enemy. Seriously, our State Department may seem to be in desperate need of an "American desk" at times, but they have great material to work with, when you think about it. How could they not do well enough?

One day, people really have to explain how we are so awful and the source of the world's problems. ("Why do they hate us?", anyone?) We can't even get our enemies to work up a good and permanent hate against us. China and Russia have trouble keeping isolated rogues in line.

Our Unbiased Media

Our media, with few exceptions, clearly sides with liberal issues and the Democratic Party. But there is one area they remain quite neutral: they've largely managed to avoid taking America's side in the war on terror.

Let me provide CNN with a little clue when discussing the killing of Osama bin Laden. This is inappropriate language (tip to Weekly Standard):

In February, Esquire magazine published a lengthy profile of "The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden." The story did not identify the killer by his real name, referring to him only as "the Shooter."

The article goes on to question the identity of the shooter.

What I object to is the notion that whoever the SEAL is who fired the shot that killed bin Laden, it is offensive to call the shooter "the killer" as that opening description of the shooter does.

Osama bin Laden was surely "killed." That's a fact.

Calling the SEAL who shot bin Laden as "the killer" is clearly a judgment--and not a positive one--of the American sailor. If a police officer lawfully shoots a criminal, no reporter would dream of calling the cop the "killer."

But describing the SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden as "the killer" tripped off the fingers of that writer--CNN's "national security analyst"--as easily as filling in the dateline.

No, Osama bin Laden was "the killer" in this story. And our people killed him as bin Laden deserved, then dumped his meat sack in the ocean. Good riddance. And thanks to the SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden and all those who helped track the real killer down.

God, our media sucks.

This Is What I'm Talking About

India is helping Afghanistan avoid reliance on Pakistan for an outlet to the sea. But giving mullah-led Iran leverage, too, isn't ideal.

This is the right idea, but the execution is bad:

Afghanistan now has another way to reach the ocean. Iran has made a deal with India whereby India will spend $100 million to upgrade the Iranian port of Chabahar and allow Indian ships to move cargo in and out of Afghanistan via Iranian roads, railroads and the port of Chabahar.

I long hoped to have the advantage of a route to Afghanistan through Iran. But I wanted it through a pro-American (or at least non-nutball) Iran:

One of the benefits of overthrowing the mullah regime in Iran and replacing it with a government that reflects the pro-American sentiment of the people of Iran will be the land corridor it will open to Afghanistan.

Now, our access to Afghanistan is from the north through the unstable "Stans" and back through an increasingly unfriendly Russia; or through Pakistan which we have to coddle to keep land-locked Afghanistan from being cut off from us.

Open up a supply route through Iran to Afghanistan and suddenly we don't need to be quite so reliant on our Central Asian bases or so careful with a Pakistan that will not crack down on the Taliban who hide and organize inside Pakistan. We won't have to be so shy when it comes to hunting bin Laden there, either.

Oh well. So close. But perhaps after the Indians build this supply line we can address the nutball factor.

One can hope. This is an era of hope and change, isn't it?

Depositors Will Not Provide a Blank Check

Cyprus's banking system will be saved--for now. If the precedent spreads, Cyprus' banks won't survive a European Union-wide banking crisis. The European Union won't survive such a crisis unless the "democracy deficit" of the EU turns out to be a feature rather than a bug.

Krauthammer isn't optimistic about the Cyprus Precedent:

“The first thing that strikes me is how tiny this whole thing is,” Krauthammer said. “I mean, it could have ripple effects the way, you know, Sarajevo did in 1914. Little things can develop into big things. But the bailout is $13 billion.

And there certainly is the potential for wider developments:

The euro fell on global markets after Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch chairman of the eurozone, told the FT and Reuters that the heavy losses inflicted on depositors in Cyprus would be the template for future banking crises across Europe.

"If there is a risk in a bank, our first question should be 'Okay, what are you in the bank going to do about that? What can you do to recapitalise yourself?'," he said.

"If the bank can't do it, then we'll talk to the shareholders and the bondholders, we'll ask them to contribute in recapitalising the bank, and if necessary the uninsured deposit holders."

What is really tragically funny is that the rest of Europe needs Europeans (and others with deposits in European banks) to believe that Cyprus is unique and that nothing like this could happen elsewhere. Yet some EU big shot explicitly says that Cyprus could be the model for other crises. And to add to the humor, the very lack of immediate panic to the Cyprus solution is used as justification for repeating the Cyprus solution!

Mr Dijsselbloem argued that the lack of market contagion surrounding Cyprus showed that private investors could now be hit to pay for bad banking debts.

Which raises a profoundly philosophical question: are you effing kidding me?

Hey, nothing bad has happened yet! Keep on going!

This will not turn out well:

The more significant development was the fact that the European Union has now made it official policy, under certain circumstances, to encourage member states to seize depositors' assets to pay for the stabilization of financial institutions. To put it simply, if you are a business, the safety of your money in a bank depends on the bank's financial condition and the political considerations of the European Union. What had been a haven -- no risk and minimal returns -- now has minimal returns and unknown risks. Brussels' emphasis that this was mostly Russian money is not assuring, either. More than just Russian money stands to be taken for the bailout fund if the new policy is approved. Moreover, the point of the global banking system is that money is safe wherever it is deposited. Europe has other money centers, like Luxembourg, where the financial system outstrips gross domestic product. There are no problems there right now, but as we have learned, the European Union is an uncertain place. If Russian deposits can be seized in Nicosia, why not American deposits in Luxembourg?

Something had to be done to keep the Cyprus banks from going down and pulling other European banks down with them (with their economies following them down in short order). But this is the solution that the big-brained lads and lasses in Brussels came up with.

Yep, some damn fool thing near the Balkans could spin out of control. My only hope is that there will be a bright spot. After World War I, two empires were hit hard. The Russian empire lost a lot of land in the west; and the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved. Maybe the European Union proto-dictatorship will not survive this crisis. It certainly deserves a severe haircut on its way to the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Did the A-Team Return?

It seems the Western special forces in Jordan must be doing their most basic pre-9/11 function--training friendly forces to take on Assad.

This story says our intelligence people are doing the training:

The United States is training secular Syrian fighters in Jordan in a bid to bolster forces battling President Bashar Assad's regime and stem the influence of Islamist radicals among the country's persistently splintered opposition, American and foreign officials said.

The training has been conducted for several months now in an unspecified location, concentrating largely on Sunnis and tribal Bedouins who formerly served as members of the Syrian army, officials told The Associated Press.

But given that Jordan has been the focus of Western special forces activity, it seems likely that our special forces are involved.

Since 9/11, our special forces have been far more involved in direct action. Which is why the regular Army has been picking up some of the slack in training friendly forces. But without an Iraq front and the Afghan front receding, perhaps the special forces are picking up some of their old jobs in Jordan.

Making sure non-jihadi rebels have the edge in Syria would be high enough priority to re-engage the special forces in this more traditional training task.

Revisionist Me

There is some growing (but fiercely resisted) realization that we really did win the Vietnam War. If we hadn't cut off Saigon from supplies and air support, South Vietnam would be free today.

I'm proud to say I called this back in college during a political science class. I was shocked when the TA agreed with me. Ahead of my time, I was.

UPDATE: I suppose the point is that even less than a decade after the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese invasion, when the Vietnam War was still widely viewed as wrong and doomed to failure, I gave my opinion on my analysis of what happened. So I think I have credibility when I argue that we won in Iraq.

Further, I don't think that it is accurate to say that we were failing in Iraq until the miracle of the surge. We were making progress in the war. But just as the spring 2004 Sunni-Sadrist uprisings signalled a new phase of the war that we had to win; after we turned back those threats, by early 2005 it looked like we were once again in sight of turning over responsibility to the Iraqis.

But the early 2006 Samarra mosque bombing eventually ignited sectarian killing on a scale we hadn't seen until then. Iran and Syria weren't done trying to win. And al Qaeda still hoped to build their caliphate on the bodies of Iraqis and American troops. I thought we'd built up Iraqi civilian and military institutions up to the point that we could have continued our glide path out without the surge. The surge worked better than I hoped, faster than I hoped, and eliminated the major problem I saw for the surge--that heightened expectations would not be met and that would sour the American public on staying long enough to allow the Iraqis to complete the win--the way we failed to do in South Vietnam.

The surge won and gave us the great advantage of winning before we left rather than having a hard, messy Iraqi-led fight after we left. But still too many can't see we won that war. So go figure.

I still fear that President Obama just wants a decent interval before failure that keeps the failure out of his record. I draw hope from the fact that nobody as tough as North Vietnam is on Iraq's borders ready to exploit our absence with a conventional invasion (although I won't say I have no worries).

Anyway, we'd be better off if a South Vietnam that had reached South Korean levels of 1990 existed today. We'd have a much wealthier and tougher ally to block Chinese South China Sea objectives.

Funny enough, China might have better relations with North Vietnam today if we'd stuck around long enough to complete our battlefield win in South Vietnam even if North Vietnam was no better an ally for China than North Korea is today.

Anyway, right or wrong, I'm just giving my views on events. So when some organization contacts me to offer me talking points on issues of the day that might be of interest to my readers--even with the offer of money--I'm not biting.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Been There. Done That

Even a number of Iraq War supporters express disdain for Maliki and his failure to practice democracy with peace time standards. I don't. We've made that mistake before.

I don't like this line of thinking, even used in defense of the Iraq War:

The story in Iraq isn’t over. It didn’t end with our departure, and what we do still matters. The Obama abdication in Iraq, though, has continued. We should be using every remaining financial and diplomatic lever we have to try to force Maliki to give up his campaign against the Sunnis and to maintain some distance from Iran. Instead, the administration is content to take Maliki as it finds him, even as he allows Tehran to funnel aid to the Assad regime in Syria, which we want to see fall.

Maliki is not our problem in Iraq.

Our problem is that Iran has enough power to intimidate Iraq and we aren't on the ground to balance that power. That imbalance will last for many years until Iraq's conventional military is rebuilt.

Our problem is that factions within the Shia community would welcome Iranian dominance.

Our problem is that al Qaeda has not been wiped out. But we weren't there to help hunt them down (until a recent decision to send the CIA reinforcements to help Iraq) and now they are opening up a franchise in Syria.

Our problem is that too many Sunni Arabs think they should rule Iraq. Some don't even think Sunni Arabs are a small minority of Iraqis. Way too many Sunni Arabs inside and outside the government provide support to Baathists and jihadis out of either conviction that the Sunni Arabs should run Iraq or from fear of what the thugs will do to them if they don't support the Sunni thugs and terrorists. It may be active or passive support (by looking the other way), but Maliki has a reason to be suspicious of Iraq's Sunni Arabs.

Perhaps if we were still there in strength, we'd have the ability to keep Maliki's attempts to fight enemies within the Sunni Arab community focused; and maybe if we were there the Sunni Arabs would trust that we were keeping the Shias and Kurds from persecuting all Sunni Arabs rather than just going after terrorists.

And one huge problem is that we assume one man represents all our problems in Iraq. We made that mistake before:

I don't blame Maliki for trying to root out Baathists. Too many aren't really former Baathists and believe Sunni Arabs should rule Iraq as they have for centuries. Iraq is at war and I can't forget that Americans kept pressing South Vietnamese President Diem to be more inclusive despite being at war. We got rid of him thinking Diem was the problem and too late realized that he was actually winning the war until we supported his removal in a coup. Let's not make the mistake of thinking one man is the difference between victory or defeat--or if it is that we know who that one man is. Focus on strengthening rule of law in Iraq. I hope one day we'll see a peaceful transfer of power from the losing incumbent to the winning opponent and it won't seem strange at all. Our continued troop presence would have helped that goal along a great deal, I think.

I've accepted that Americans chose President Obama to be our leader. Let's accept who Iraqis chose and work with him. And work with the system that selected Maliki to make it better.

And most important, remember that Maliki is a leader waging a war against jihadis, Baathists, Sunni Arab superiority complex, Shia death squads, Iranian meddling, Kurdish separatists, Shias who want revenge on the Sunni Arabs for decades of oppression and an awareness of centuries of oppression before that, and old fashioned corruption. So no, he isn't going to govern like Iraq is at peace. He can't. I just wish we were there to limit Maliki's actions to avoid bending democracy beyond the breaking point and doing it only enough to tackle the problems and only long enough to get past the worst.

Seriously, This is Madness

Okay, I have to keep going after taking one shot at this piece of shoddy analysis.

What planet does this guy live on?

Ignatius, Webb and many other tenth-anniversary war critics base their judgments on the outcome of Bush’s war decision, not on speculations of what the outcome might have been. Consider: Before the war, America was flush with cash. It had Iraq’s Saddam Hussein at bay, a brutal but broken dictator who could be—and was—rather easily contained in his own space. And yet, even in his reduced state, Saddam posed an important counterweight to the ambitions of neighboring Iran, thus helping maintain a valuable balance of power in the region. Al Qaeda didn’t have a presence in Iraq, as the secular thug Saddam had no intention of allowing any such threat to undermine his rule. True, he maintained Sunni dominance over the majority Shia, but this had been the political reality in Iraq for centuries—under the Ottomans, the British, the British-installed kings and the succeeding dictators. And while this wasn’t pluralism, it did breed stability.

Now America is broke, in part because of the estimated $2.2 trillion invested in Iraq. Iran, unchecked by Iraqi power, is on the prowl in the region as never before. Al Qaeda is pursuing openings there that didn’t exist during the Saddam days. Sectarian strife is rampant and on the rise. The entire region has been destabilized, in part because of the Iraqi invasion, and Islamic fundamentalism is more thoroughly entrenched in the region than ever. China, as Webb and others predicted, has exploited America’s Middle East preoccupation to flex its muscles in Asia. And all this represents the strategic cost, leaving aside the 190,000 people killed by the war, including 4,488 U.S. service members, 3,400 U.S. contractors, and 134,000 Iraqi civilians.

This is laughable. It has nothing to do with being a critic based on the outcome.

America was "flush with cash" prior to the war? Really? We were less in debt but still in debt. Many conservatives were rather upset with Bush over spending. I wasn't happy about it but winning the war was my priority, and at least Bush didn't falter in trying to do that despite growing cries to lose (ahem, Obama, Pelosi, Kerry, Biden, and Hagel). We had budget surpluses based on bubbles that burst near the end of that run and we did have that 9/11 thing. Remember that budget deficits were declining until the financial crisis of 2008 hit us. Absent that, as the wars wound down we would have reached that "flush" state again--albeit with a higher debt because of deficit spending. And the Iraq War cost less than the 2009 stimulus spent at the stroke of a pen. Citing $2.2 trillion as an Iraq War cost requires you to count all indirect costs decades into the future--which is obviously not money we've spent already. Saying Iraq is the reason we are broke is plain wrong. At one trillion dollars in deficit spending now without a single American soldier in combat in Iraq seems like the obvious rejoinder to this cause and effect claim.

Further, Saddam was sort of held at bay, but he was fostering terrorism in the region, training and hosting terrorists and funding suicide bombers in Israel.

Saddam may have been bluffing about having WMD, but based on his need to bluff (he was willing to endure even weakening sanctions to maintain that bluff, recall) he'd obviously try to get WMD before his bluff was called, no? And North Korea shows us that even being broke, you can get nukes. Iraq--with oil money--could have gotten nukes if he'd remained in power. Chemical weapons--which he produced for the Iran-Iraq War--would have been easy. And sanctions were breaking down in early 2001 as Saddam staged dead baby parades to successfully weaken support in the Arab world and the left wing in the West for sanctions. Recall that in early 2001 our then-Secretary of State Powell was already talking about a fall back position of "smart sanctions" that focused on rulers in place of the collapsing general sanctions on Iraq that Saddam was evading by exploiting the "oil for food" loop hole to get resources for his own regime at the expense of the people of Iraq whose suffering was a lovely chorus for his propaganda shows.

And Saddam did make and carry out threats against the Kurds or against Kuwait even as he was "contained." And as we practiced dual containment of Iran and Iraq, there was always the danger of a new Nazi-Soviet pact that would align Iran and Iraq against their common enemies in the Gulf and America.

Oh, and you have to love the dismissal of Saddam's minority dictatorship. I mean, as long as its been done a long time, that's just dandy. That wasn't stability. It was just the illusion of stability made easy for Westerners to believe because the quiet suffering didn't make our evening news to disturb our suppers.

Was al Qaeda in Iraq? Well, al Qaeda had Afghanistan for their base. So why bother going to a place where they could be bombed by American no-fly patrols? And plenty of supporters were in Saudi Arabia before that government recognized al Qaeda as a threat to their own rule. Why base in Iraq?

Saddam did welcome al Qaeda refugees from Afghanistan after we routed the Taliban to remote portions of Iraq where they could draw supplies from Saddam-controlled territory (and from Iran). As for al Qaeda exploring openings in Iraq that weren't there before we invaded, why would al Qaeda do that when Saddam shared an enemy with al Qaeda? Al Qaeda invaded Iraq precisely because it was no longer a friend and because they had been crushed in Afghanistan. But rather than being a jihadi conquest to create a new al Qaeda base, Iraq was where we slaughtered jihadis and put them in openings in the ground about 6 feet deep. We devastated al Qaeda in Iraq.

Further, although it is commonly claimed, Saddam was hardly secular by the time we invaded. Saddam increasingly relied on appeals to Islam for his legitimacy during the 1990s. Or have we forgotten the jihadis that Saddam imported prior to the 2003 war known as Saddam's Fedayeen? They arrived via the same pipeline that funneled suicide bombers into Iraq during the war.

As for causing Islamic fundamentalism in the region, that is farcical. Both regimes and opponents of those same regimes stoked different versions of Islamist fundamentalism as pillars of support. The Iraq War discredited the jihadi versions of those Islamist factions as the Arab world saw jihadis gleefully killing other Moslems. So when the Arab Spring hit, the first protests called for democracy and not Islamism. And even though Islamists have gained influence and power, they have been unable to make a flat appeal to the joys of jihad as they exploited prior to the Iraq War--and which fueled a bloody war in Algeria during the 1990s, recall. That jihadi option was not a popular one any more after the images of jihadi depravity were broadcast. The Islamist leaders may yet trick their people into getting jihadi-friendly Islamist governments, but the leaders can't openly promise that outcome. Not after the Iraq War.

Finally, the idea that China needed us to fight in the Middle East to exploit their growing power in Asia is nonsense. Our ground forces weren't in Asia and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were ground-centric. And if you want some more fun with this, China did worry about our forces in Afghanistan (which actually borders China). And American ships in CENTCOM are as well placed to interdict China's trade with the Middle East and Africa as any ship in the western Pacific. They're better placed, in fact, since they are out of range of Chinese power.

The man has a lot of nerve pretending his side has the monopoly on cold calculation of outcomes.

Two posts on one piece of idiocy. Maybe I am a masochist with fantasies of pain.

UPDATE: Here's a better analysis. Funny, I forgot about shutting down the Pakistani nuclear market and Khadaffi's abandonment of his nuclear programs. I wrote about them, to be sure. But they escaped my recall for the ten-year anniversary. Yeah, the war looks better the more you analyze it.

UPDATE: Here's Strategypage on Iraq. Oh, and let's add another success to the Iraq War ledger: the war required Saudi Arabia to wage a war against al Qaeda's sanctuary within Saudi Arabia. Many opponents of the Iraq War argued we took on Saddam without dealing with the home of the majority of the 9/11 hijackers. Well, the Iraq War did that. It may not have been as satisfying as invading Saudi Arabia and destroying their energy industry in the invasion and chaos that would follow (and American troops owning the cities of Mecca and Medina wouldn't be a problem in the Moslem world, eh? Talk about "the street" rising up! That would have united all factions within Islam, no?), but the Iraq War certainly directly led to our success in curbing Saudi tolerance and overt support for jihadis when the jihadis proved to be a threat to the royal family's rule.

Yeah, biggest strategic error we've ever made. Whatever.

Fifty Shades of Iraq

I think of myself as conservative. But after the Cold War, a lot of conservatives reverted to isolationism and I don't go with that at all. A recent piece on Iraq is just a masochistic piece of junk that can't even admit we achieved anything in Iraq.

I mean, seriously?

Ignatius, Webb and many other tenth-anniversary war critics base their judgments on the outcome of Bush’s war decision, not on speculations of what the outcome might have been.

Webb's confusion cited in the article about defeating terrorism and worries about occupying Iraq forever would seem to be self-evidently wrong rather than a sign of far-sighted wisdom considering we are almost completely out of Iraq and we crushed al Qaeda thoroughly in Iraq, breaking their momentum and putting lots of jihadis who might otherwise have killed us here in the ground over there.

Indeed, Vice President Biden could say that Iraq might be the biggest victory of the Obama administration. Assuming that isn't damning our president with faint praise, that might still be the case.

I base my support for the war on actual accomplishments and examination of what we'd have had to accept if we hadn't gone into Iraq and overthrown Saddam.

Further, by quoting Ignatius without noting that the article cited was a complete mush of incoherent ritual confessions of guilt, the analytical ability of the author arguing that supporters are basing their opinions on speculation is just ridiculous.

I am judging my support on the outcome. We achieve much, even if we haven't achieved (yet) as much as I'd like. Even if you want to argue that the cost we paid has been too high for what we achieved, it is hard to argue that what we did was immoral. Think of it as a really tough case of Responsibility to Protect if that makes you feel better.

I'm not sure what the opponents of the war are doing. It seems more like penance than analysis to me.

It Makes a Certain Amount of Sense

Russia sees the hand of the West in the NGOs working for rule of law in Russia. I guess if you want to name and enemy, naming one that actually has no interest in crushing you is safer.

Russia has moved against rights groups in Russia:

Russian prosecutors and tax police searched the Moscow headquarters of Amnesty International and several other rights groups Monday, continuing a wave of pressure that activists say is part of President Vladimir Putin's attempt to stifle dissent. ...

Putin has long been suspicious of NGOs, especially those with American funding, which he has accused of being fronts for U.S. meddling in Russian politics.

We barely think about Russia let alone have the time to plot against them. Good grief, you can read stuff here just about begging Americans to remember that Russia still matters. They could nuke us and otherwise make trouble for us, but practically speaking they aren't going to smash up Europe or Japan. And without that, we really can afford not to think about Russia too much if they don't want to be our friend. Have fun with 1.2 billion Chinese on your border and angry Moslems within them.

But Russia really does think we are plotting against them. Or at least enough in power think that way:

Westerners are puzzled at the way Russian politicians are growing increasingly hostile to foreigners in general and the West in particular. ...

Scrounging up details from Russian media, discussions on the Internet and statements by the many members of the Duma (parliament) with access to the inner circle reveals a rather bizarre (to Westerners, and some Russians) state of affairs. Put simply, most of those currently running Russia really believe that the United States has formed an anti-Russian coalition that is surrounding Russia in preparation for an invasion. The motive behind this plot is the Western need for Russia’s many natural resources. The U.S. has been using pro-democracy and reform minded NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) within Russia to cause turmoil and weaken the government and military.

In a way I'm flattered. Some like to complain that we can't sustain a long-range plan for anything under our system. Yet the Russians think we have a deep (and secret) plan to surround them and crush them. Oh sure, we did that to the Soviet Union. I'll grant them that. But Russia isn't the Soviet Union.

And the Russians shouldn't want to be the Soviet Union again. We could be friends if the Russians would get over their nostalgia for the Soviet era when fear of them gave them power and influence.

But who knows if the Russians really believe this stuff. After all, it is safe to rail against a NATO conspiracy when European NATO would have trouble rounding up stray cats let alone invading Russia. So if I was going to make up a threat, I'd pick someone to demonize with no interest or capability to make the fantasies real.

But I go for the simple explanation. I suspect that this is a sincere belief among Russian leaders rather than just a story to justify their increasingly dictatorial rule. But I'm not sure if it is better or worse if the Russian leaders do believe this stuff or don't.

Still, I much prefer a Russia frustratingly annoying over the Soviet era when they were a major threat to us around the globe.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Did We Just Stick It to the Iranians?

The formal ceasefire between Kurdish rebels in Turkey will surely make it more likely that Iraqi Kurds will accept autonomy within Iraq rather than seek independence. This follows Israel's "apology" to Turkey. Should Iran be worried?

This is good news. A 29-year fight has been ended (except for die hards who will simply extend the death toll):

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group declared a "formal and clear ceasefire" with Turkey on Saturday after the rebels' jailed leader this week ordered a halt to the decades-long armed campaign for autonomy.

"Since March 21 and from now on, we as a movement, as the PKK ... officially and clearly declare a ceasefire," said Murat Karayilan, the PKK's field commander, in a video message apparently taped at a rebel holdout in northern Iraq.

Iraqi Kurds surely understand that Turkey is hardly going to be fine with Iraqi Kurdish independence if it might reignite their own Turkish population. So Iraq's Kurds have limits to how much they can play off the central Iraqi government against the Turks.

Which is good. I'd rather the Kurds enjoy their prosperity and autonomy within a unified Iraq.

A unified Iraq is also a tougher nut for Iran to deal with. Not only have the Kurds proven to be the most effective troops in the Iraqi military, Iraq keeps the option of undermining Iranian control of their Kurdish population.

Further, since the Kurds are Sunni (although not Arab), it helps with Iraq's outreach to Sunni Arab countries to accept Iraq as one of them in opposition to Persian Iran.

Indirectly, it helps with outreach to the Sunni Arab world by denying Sunni Arabs of Iraq an excuse to secede from Iraq. Within Iraq, Iraq as a whole could benefit from Arab world acceptance of Iraq as long as the perception is that the Sunnis are treated fairly within Iraq.

And by avoiding a rump Iraq that is mostly Shia Arab, Iran's influence in Iraq is diluted.

Since this took place right after the Israeli "apology" to Turkey, I wonder if the timing was related? Could the glow of the apology be an effort to obscure the ceasefire? Or is it the reverse and the ceasefire is timed to take the attention away from Israel's apology?

The two events do seem related, after all. A Turkey that has made up with Israel and its own Kurdish population is more likely to have the inclination to cooperate against Syria and/or Iran.

I've said that I have a gut feeling that President Obama really is prepared to strike Iran to keep them from going nuclear (assuming that Iran doesn't surprise us--a big "if"). Am I too naive to believe that while President Obama may give every indication that he has a noodle for a backbone, that on this issue perhaps he has a spine?

Perhaps four years of Iran's failure to grasp his extended hand has caused our president to learn--or just be terribly offended. Maybe this is why Netanyahu was willing to appear to apologize to Turkey for the Palestinian faux-tilla incident. Sure, it is unfair. But Israel lives in the world that it has and not the world it would like to have. The issue is at least put to rest.

Heck, as long as I'm looking for dots to connect, if America, Israel, and Turkey are gathering to confront Iran, wouldn't that make this diplmomatic effort more than an exercise in futility?

Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Iraq on Sunday and will urge Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to make sure Iranian flights over Iraq do not carry arms and fighters to Syria, a U.S. official said.

Without us nearby, Iraq fears mullah-run Iran. That leads them to do things for Iran that we don't like. This doesn't mean Iraq is controlled by Iran or even friendly to Iran, although it is a pain. While I've focused on returning America to Iraq to resist the Iranian threat, simply removing or defanging the Iranian threat is an acceptable alternative for securing Iraq. (Russia should take notes on this part given their worry about our Europe-based missile defenses designed to stop future Iranian missiles.)

Kerry will also speak to leaders from the Kurdish and Sunni Arab communities. Which hopefully keeps them calmed down.

I keep hearing we have smart diplomacy now. Was this some of it?

UPDATE: Of course, gathering a coalition to face Iran--if that is what we are doing--might be related to a push on Syria to get Assad out. Note the president's visit to Jordan with promises of aid to cope with the refugees and note Israel leaning forward a bit more on their Syria border.

Again, just because they are dots doesn't mean that they should be connected. But you never know.

UPDATE: Without bringing up Turkish-Israeli relations, this author wonders if something is up, too. Although he wonders about Syria, I consider that a shot at Iran, too.

Trade First. Then Flag

A land war in Asia requires a supply line. China wants to build that supply line.

Russia is a little nervous that Chinese railway building to Central Asia might pose a threat under different conditions:

China is offering to build new railroads into Central Asia. This is part of a $300 billion plan to upgrade and expand Chinese railways over the next two decades. Chinese businesses are investing more billions to create new businesses in Central Asia and the cheapest way to get goods in or out of this landlocked area is via rail. ...

Something Russia does not like to discuss openly is the fact that Chinese railroads extending into Central Asia would make it easier for China to carry out major military operations in the area.

Like I've said, I want China to pivot to Asia.