Monday, March 31, 2014

Look Who's Evil Now

Given that President Obama was the first major presidential candidate to abandon public financing in order to spend whatever he wanted to during the 2008 campaign, it has always shocked me that those on the left side of the spectrum insist Republicans are the party of the rich--and hence, evil.

More evidence directly on this issue:

Republicans are the party of the rich, right? It's a label that has stuck for decades, and you're hearing it again as Democrats complain about GOP opposition to raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits.

But in Congress, the wealthiest among us are more likely to be represented by a Democrat than a Republican. Of the 10 richest House districts, only two have Republican congressmen. Democrats claim the top six, sprinkled along the East and West coasts. Most are in overwhelmingly Democratic states like New York and California.

It's a free country, of course. And if the wealthiest want to support Democrats, that's their right.

If this is news to you, there is a reason you haven't heard that the Demcorats are the party of evil rich people.

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link.

I May Have Been Hasty

Russia doesn't have any type of transnational ideology that can easily attract fanatical loyalists abroad. But that doesn't mean that Putin doesn't have fans abroad.

God help us, but there are people today who think, as so many French before World War II thought of the Jewish socialist Blum, "better Hitler than Blum" when they look at Putin with admiration for his opposition to the West:

During his Brussels speech this week, Obama also declared that Russia leads “no bloc of nations, no global ideology.” This is true, up to a point: Russia’s “ideology” isn’t well-defined or clear. But the U.S. president was wrong to imply that the Russian president’s rhetoric, and his annexation of Crimea, has no wider echo. Of course there were the predictable supporters of Russia in the United Nations: Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, North Korea. More interesting are his new European friends. Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) — an anti-European and anti-immigrant party that is gaining momentum in Britain — declared last week that the European Union has “blood on its hands” for negotiating a free-trade agreement in Ukraine. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Front, has also said she prefers France to “lean toward Russia” rather than “submit to the United States.” Jobbik, Hungary’s far-right party, sent a representative to the Crimean referendum and declared it “exemplary.” These are all minority parties, but they are all poised to make gains in European elections this spring.

It isn't just ethnic Russians (or Slavs, more generally) that Putin can count on.

Although I think our appeal to freedom and democracy is a superior transnational ideology, in the long run.

I don't like the European Union, either. But if the choice is the EU or Putin, don't insanely think that Putin is the superior choice. This is madness.

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link.

Fun with Math

This is how the Obama administration is carrying out its pivot to the Pacific:

[Foreign Policy Institute director Rovert] Zarate said that while the Navy is moving toward plans to put 60 percent of its ships into the Pacific and 40 percent in the Atlantic as part of the rebalance, it is reaching that goal by decommissioning ships from the Atlantic rather than adding to the Pacific.

And there's this fun with math for the Navy, too:

We're changing the rules on how we count our "battle force" ships that magically increases our fleet size? And this is supposed to hide the fact that our fleet is shrinking?

But on paper, everything looks great.

Say, paper militaries are pretty worthless, aren't they?

The major problem is that the South African armed forces have spent billions in the last decade to buy modern equipment without providing enough money to maintain and operate it. The major purchases include 26 Gripen jet fighters, three U209 submarines, four MEKO A200 frigates, and 30 AW109 helicopters. ...

South African politicians believed that having a lot of ships and aircraft in service, even if they didn't fly or go to sea much, provided the potential for putting a lot of ships and aircraft out there if the need arose. Left unsaid was the fact that sending a lot of inexperienced crews to sea or into the air increased the risk of accidents and failure in combat.

Yeah. But the shiny weapons look good as long as you don't need them. So you can pretend to have a real military.

Obviously, South Africa is just an extreme example and our military is not in that shape. But it's part of the same outlook that drives our leaders to defend their defense decisions on paper rather than in the real world.

Resistance is Not Futile

The Philippines continues their unequal fight against China's claims on Filipino territory.

Score one for the little guy:

The Philippine government vessel made a dash for shallow waters around the disputed reef in the South China Sea, evading two Chinese coastguard ships trying to block its path to deliver food, water and fresh troops to a military outpost on the shoal.

The cat-and-mouse encounter on Saturday, witnessed by Reuters and other media invited onboard the Philippine ship, offered a rare glimpse into the tensions playing out routinely in waters that are one of the region's biggest flashpoints.

Good for them!

Although as China is escalating their pressure by trying to blockade the island, the Philippines should start to build a permanent structure on the Second Thomas Shoal the way China establishes sovereignty with concrete and steel.

I'd like to note that the Philippines had media on board the vessel to hopefully shame the Chinese as bullies had the Chinese ships rammed or otherwise used force to stop it.

I've noted the need for Manila to wage an information battle against the behemoth, Peking, in this contest.

In the bigger war, the Philippines is pressing a claim against China under international law:

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told a news conference Sunday that the documents submitted electronically to the tribunal in The Hague consist of nearly 4,000 pages of analysis and documentary evidence.

Filipino officials took their territorial disputes with China to international arbitration in January 2013, after Chinese government ships took control of a disputed shoal off the northwestern Philippines. They asked the tribunal to declare China's claims to about 80 percent of the strategic waters and Beijing's seizure of eight South China Sea shoals and reefs illegal.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said last week that China will never accept nor participate in the international arbitration pushed by the Philippines. He called on the Philippines "to stop going any further down the wrong track so as to avoid further damage to bilateral relations."

You have to admire the Chinese reaction. Relations could get worse? What's China going to do? Bully Manila and seize the Philippines' territory?

UPDATE: I recently noted that the Philippines needs the ability to fight tiny wars over these islands. This compels China to back off from their slow strangling strategy or go beyond bullying and wage a battle big enough to attract the attention of the world and risk American entry into the struggle.

That Constituency is Locked Up

Mickey Kaus (tip to Instapundit) notes a new ability to buy time to save gunshot victims by cooling the body for a while. He comments that new technology will always bend the cost curves up and asks:

What if you save the brain but can’t repair the “structural problems” with the body? What if you happen to have another perfectly adequate body from a recently brain-dead patient handy? Hmm. Is that covered under my Bronze plan? … It’s not hard to come up with highly inconvenient implications for the health technocrats who think they can “bend the curve” of medical costs. Crazy, expensive and desirable new technologies will always defeat them, no? [Plus Obama will only want to re-animate Democrats-ed If they know English and pay back taxes]

Re-animate dead Democrats? How silly. They already vote for Democrats. Why provide living people who need services, too?

If I May Remind People of the Events of a Whole Month Ago

Take Russia seriously. Or they'll keep pushing until we have to take notice.

I like this reasoning for why Putin would never order his troops to cross the border into eastern Ukraine:

Politically, Putin would find himself on very shaky ground. Already, he mustered only 10 other countries—the likes of Belarus, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, and Syria—to oppose a U.N. resolution condemning the annexation of Crimea. If he invades Ukraine, a sovereign nation with a United Nations seat, his isolation will widen and deepen politically, diplomatically, and economically.

The author's cautions about the difficulties Russia's army would have in an invasion where Ukraine's military resisted are well taken--and I think a victory would come too dearly for Putin to find the effort worth it.

But I'm sorry, doesn't this dismissal based on potential Western reaction ignore the fact that Putin already invaded Ukraine and took Crimea?

You know? That stuff that happened starting at the end of last month? Ring a bell? Crimea was part of Ukraine a month ago and now it isn't? Russia has it now? You may have forgotten since CNN started talking about MH370's fate in terms of divine intervention and black holes.

Yeah. That's the one. Crimea.

Explain to me why a second invasion would be the one that awakens NATO and the world to resist Putin's Russia if the first invasion didn't seem to shake up enough people to seriously isolate Russia politically, diplomatically, and economically?

Putin can rightly believe that eventually the West will rouse itself to resist Russian aggression, but where does Putin calculate that stand will be made?

I mean, with all due respect for the differences between Putin and Hitler (and at least allow me that the Hitler of 1939 was nowhere near the level of evil that Hitler Version 1945 was, so the comparison isn't totally off base, notwithstanding Godwin's Law), Hitler didn't think his invasion of Poland would trigger an Allied declaration of war. Hitler thought he had a couple more years at least to prepare for war with France and Britain.

But we all did eventually stop Hitler, so whatever. No need to think of what we could have done earlier, right?

We don't need to go Cold War II on Russia--why stroke Putin's ego with that? President Obama was right--psychotic, but absolutely right (sorry, Animal House reference, there)--Russia is just a regional military power:

“Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors, not out of strength but out of weakness."

The pooh-poohing of Moscow certainly understates the severity of the challenge posed by a restive Russia. No world leader should be sanguine when having disagreements with other countries that own nuclear weapons. But, that said, the nature and scope of that challenge does not support the “Cold War is back” rhetoric now current among many pundits. Today’s Russia is not yesterday’s Soviet Union. This Russia represents a problem all its own.

But they are an aggressive regional military power in a region of great importance to us.

So no new Cold War. There are lots of reasons it is not. But do treat the Russians under Putin as the potential threat that Putin is happily turning Russia in to these days.

It will take a little longer than I'd hoped for sanity to break out in post-Soviet Russia.

Of course, if it is a stupid and futile gesture we want in response, Secretary Kerry's just the guy to do it.

I Got Major Dad Points Friday

I've mentioned that Lamb likes to bake. So I took the opportunity to banish the Easy Bake oven (I've smiled and enjoyed--that's my story and I'm sticking to it--many cakes that came out of that device over the years) and set up a baking station on one counter in my kitchen. That was a major success.

When Lamb bought some cake decorating supplies and brought them over to our home, I figured I had to reorganize the baking process here. One counter I have is one I don't use much in the cooking process, so it seemed the prime candidate for adaptation.

Upon reflection, I should have gotten the hint when she gave me baking utensils for Christmas and then a cake pop mix for Father's Day.

Anyway. I removed from the counter a radio I never use, light-bulb oven (saving the bulb, of course!), napkin and oven pad bin, and first aid kit. Only the fire extinguisher, phone, and answering machine remained. That left plenty of counter space for Lamb's baking supplies.

I repurposed a couple tins already there, bought a couple air-tight containers, and moved baking supplies into a line across the back of the counter. Various measuring spoons and cookie cutters, flour, brown sugar, sugar, powdered sugar, small mixing containers, and decorating supplies. Everything was in a container of some sort.

And I brought out labels so Lamb could label them.

I was cooking dinner when Lamb came in after school, and so forgot to point out what I'd set up for her.

But she spotted it when she came in the kitchen, and reacted with an enthusiastic blind side hug and a "Thanks, Dad!" which reminded me that I'd set that up.

She labeled the containers happily, and she loved having a baking station with all her supplies lined up at the back of the counter. This was her territory, now.

That first day of the baking station was limited to baking cookies before dinner was ready, and then she made for her own dessert a small microwave "cookie" in a bowl from a YouTube video she'd watched.

Heck, even Mister had one of the big sugar cookies for dessert. Although he insisted it not be decorated.

Next week will be the cupcake kit in the cupboard. Lamb is eager to get going with the raw materials--she was already telling me I'd need to keep lots of powdered sugar on hand for frosting--but I told her we at least have to use up the kits in the cupboard first. I'm glad I picked up running again after that four-week hiatus.

And the Easy Bake is now banished to a closet as a half-way station to the landfill.

Oh, and just banish any unkind thoughts that this whole project was merely a ploy to justify getting rid of the Easy Bake oven. People are so cynical, sometimes.

Anyway, baking has been my dad job. That and individual tactical training in the summer.

Let's Remember that Assad Deserves to Lose His War

Yes, we don't want the jihadis in Syria to win. But for them to win even temporarily, Assad must first lose. And Assad deserves to lose.

Assad deserves to lose because he has been a persistent enemy of ours, and is responsible for unleashing al Qaeda suicide bombers and hosting Baathist resistance to kill our troops during the Iraq War. I've long felt that it is also useful to show that if you are an enemy of America, we will eventually take an opportunity to exact revenge.

But if defeating an enemy and setting an example for other potential enemies isn't sufficient, and if you need just absolute evil that doesn't just rely on using chemical weapons on civilians, keep in mind that Assad's thugs can teach al Qaeda a thing or two about brutality:

The UN investigation into the Syrian fighting has found a pattern of deliberate violence against civilians it expected from al Qaeda but was surprised to find such bad behavior was a government policy as well. It was also discovered that a lot of the government atrocities against civilians were carried out by an unofficial but very real government backed Shabiha militia. This group has been around for years and was long part of the government secret police effort to control the population. The investigators have known about Shabiha for several years but as more Assad insiders come forward there is a more accurate picture of how Shabiha operates and who the key players are. The government never acknowledged Shabiha, whose members were often criminals and thugs. But with the civil war a growing number of senior members of the Assad government have defected to the rebels and supplied details on Shabiha. While al Qaeda gets the most publicity for atrocities against civilians the Shabiha has actually been worse, sometimes wiping out entire pro-rebel villages and killing their victims in gruesome ways (slit throats or torture for no particular reason). UN investigators are building a case for war crimes charges against al Qaeda (and other Islamic terrorist groups) and the Assad government.

Yeah, we wouldn't want to support rebels if any of our aid might inadvertently reach jihadi rebels who would use that aid to kill civilians.

Defeating Assad is just the first step of coping with the problem of Assad and a divided country that has become a Shia-Sunni battleground and an Arab-Persian fight as Iran struggles to retain their major foothold in the Arab world. But it must be the first step.

The Lord of the Sea Was Unavailable for Comment

North Korea and South Korea cratered the sea along the Northern Limit Line off the west coast of the peninsula:

More than 100 North Korean shells out of 500 or so fired landed in South Korean waters, prompting marines from the South to fire back with more than 300 rounds in the North's waters, defense officials in Seoul said.

Seoul also scrambled F-15s on its side of the maritime border, they said.

The North Koreans didn't kill anybody or even strike land. This is progress.

It may be that North Korea truly fears that a direct attack on South Korea would trigger a major South Korean military response that would humiliate the North Korean military.

Although Neptune has promised to bring the issue to the UN Security Council.

UPDATE: North Korea may believe South Korea will take no more:

The absence of human fatalities is welcome news. So is the South's tit-for-tat firepower display.

For the last two years South Korean leaders have been telling the current northern dynast, Kim Jong Un, that South Korea will no longer bleed and bear it.

Economic aid now depends on demonstrated North Korean good behavior. Violent provocations by North Korea, whether at sea, on land or in the air, will draw forceful and convincingly violent southern responses.

It could be that after a spectacular run, Pyongyang's production of Dead South Koreans Theater is coming to an end. South Korea will fight if attacked.

Although North Korea may believe that a new successful nuclear test will allow them to revive this pageant.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Dog That Did Not Bark

So why didn't Russia occupy eastern Ukraine while the Ukrainian military presence was minimal and while the shock of the initial movements into Crimea was still fresh?

Five days before the war began, I speculated about what the Russians would do if they decided to invade Ukraine:

First of all, while I'd like all of Ukraine, it is too big for my army to conquer easily. So I'll settle for much less.

I'd encourage Yanukovich to declare autonomous regions in the east, within Ukraine formally, but defended by local militias quietly supported by Russian advisers and weapons. I'd respond positively to Yanukovich's request for fraternal assistance.

I'd also annex the Crimea, claiming that the transfer to Ukraine in the Soviet period was premised on Ukraine remaining part of Russia and so is not valid. It doesn't matter if that stands up legally as a good argument. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. And with the Crimea being majority ethnic Russian, who will complain? Especially with lots of local militias springing up?

I assumed Russia had 100,000 army troops decent troops that could be in a force pool of an invasion.

I made a WAG (wild-ass guess) that Russia could use half of their decent troops (and there are some good ones in there, I'm not being dismissive) and add the same amount of reasonably good Interior Ministry troops equipped as infantry.

My Crimea portion of that invasion scenario was pretty good on the size of the force needed to take the peninsula. I divided the Russian force pool into two elements:

Fifteen thousand paratroopers would be airlifted to Crimea and ten thousand paramilitary forces would cross the Kerch Strait to reinforce the Russian naval infantry regiment and other troops based in Crimea. [Note: This would be 2,000 naval infantry and 10,000 or so non-combat troops.]

The main effort in eastern Ukraine would be 65,000 strong, on the ground.

Forty thousand paramilitary forces would head into eastern Ukraine, with half committed to cities from Kharkov anchoring the northern flank and points south; and the other half in the southern part, especially around Donetsk. These non-army troops would be the visible face in the cities of the intervention. ...

The 25,000 army troops in three motor rifle or tank divisions (or their brigade equivalents) would be divided into three groups, with one division near Kharkov, one near Donetsk, and one in reserve inside Russia able to move against Ukrainian counter-moves against either major city. This operational reserve force would also include 10,000 paratroopers.

I assumed another force outside of the two invasion forces would be made available:

The Moscow garrison of two divisions would be readied as the strategic reserve.

Obviously, the Russians didn't go into eastern Ukraine.

So how did the invasion of Crimea go? Strategypage describes it and I quote it in this post:

The 11,000 Russian troops normally stationed in Crimea are mostly support personnel for the naval bases of the Black Sea Fleet. The exception was 2,000 marines. These were reinforced by another 7,000 troops, mostly infantry and special operations forces flown in or arrived by ship by early March. These were followed by 15,000 more ferried across the 4.5 kilometer wide Kerch Strait that separates Crimea from southern Russia.

The total included a thousand Spetsnaz.

I thought 25,000 Russian troops would enter Crimea. The Russians actually sent in 22,000.

The main difference is that I thought the Ukrainians would resist and that the raising of local militias would be a supporting force.

Since there was no resistance, the Russians were able to use a Spetsnaz-militia force to pretty much take the key terrain of Crimea.

So why didn't Russia occupy eastern Ukraine, too?

Reports of Russian activity inside eastern Ukraine were out early in the crisis, as if Spetsnaz would repeat the local militia strategy to pose as oppressed ethnic Russians.

And even today, there are reports of 30,000 to 40,000 Russian troops near the border with more deeper in Russia available.

So even the eastern wing of my dual offensive seems in line with my estimate.

But Russia did not invade early. Why?

Did the Spetsnaz effort fail and so deny Putin a needed pretext? If so, why not just assert the pretext and go anyway? The pretext was flimsy for Crimea. What was one more?

Did I grossly over-estimate the Russian troops available? And rather than 100,000 troops and Interior Ministry troops being available, only a quarter of that could be scraped up quickly?

If so, Crimea is the priority.

Now Russia seems to have enough troops to occupy the eastern portion of Ukraine--had the troops been available a month ago. Now, these troops may not be enough to fight for, take, and hold eastern Ukraine in the face of Ukrainian resistance.

Or maybe Russia hasn't made nearly as much progress in restoring their military to fight "the big one," when they earned an ugly victory over a small foe since 2008. Perhaps they're still only capable of fighting "the small one." And Crimea was it.

Or at least Russia's military is not good enough to win a bigger war cleanly and quickly. Such a fight would cripple the Putin narrative that the Russian army is awesome.

UPDATE: Lavrov will chat with Gumby Secretary of State Kerry about ending the threat of invasion:

An unexpected late-night call from Vladimir Putin to Barack Obama has raised hopes for a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis. Do not hold your breath Washington D.C.! Putin’s vague assurances that Russia favors diplomacy over tanks were sufficient to lure John Kerry to redirect his plane to Paris for talks with his counterpart on Monday. But, rest assured, Putin’s diversion from arms to diplomacy is designed to test whether he can get the United States to sell out Ukraine without an invasion that would further isolate Russia and inflict serious damage on its economy.

Putin’s diplomats are already making the case for an agreement that creates an emasculated Ukraine comprised of loosely connected regions, each conducting its own economic and foreign policy (and free to join Russia if they wish), with a powerless figure-head government twiddling its thumbs in Kiev. And Ukraine: Say good by to joining the European Union under such circumstances. You are no longer a country.

Ah, surrendering in Paris in the spring! Life doesn't get much better for our chief "diplomat," does it?

One can either interpret this as form of an ultimatum by Russia that they will invade unless Kerry snatches a partial victory from the jaws of defeat by selling out Ukraine.

Or you can go with the explanation that Russia is not capable of easily defeating Ukraine, and hopes that Lavrov can be Lucy to Kerry's Charlie Brown one more time, and save Russia from their own weakness.

I'm going with the latter.

The (D) Stands for Defensible

More reasons I don't trust the media to play it straight. Jonah Goldberg is spot on.

Although I don't doubt that most of the left-leaning media sincerely believe that they fairly cover Republicans and Democrats, in practice they believe that (D) stands for "defensible" while (R) stands for "reprehensible."

And their coverage follows that distinction. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a case in point (tip to Instapundit):

Another man might have assumed, correctly, that launching a campaign of insult and insinuation against two billionaires would result in renewed attention to his own finances. Not Harry Reid. The Senate Democratic leader since 2005, and the Senate majority leader since 2007, is not one to reflect before speaking. His mouth runs far ahead of his brain.

The man is Exhibit A in the "imagine the press coverage if he was a Republican" game.

But Reid has no reason to be worried. No matter how far ahead of his brain that his mouth runs, the press corps will be behind both, covering up the mess. Reid's wealth, accumulated despite being a life-long "public servant," is defensible, after all.

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link. Although in my defense I was speaking of how the media interprets "D" and "Rs."

Spetsnaz in Chinese Characters

Russian "tourists" appear to be special forces organized as local militias inside eastern Ukraine:

Unofficial self-defense units comprising so-called Russian "tourists" have also been observed inside Ukraine, in pro-Russian eastern cities like Donetsk and Kharkiv.

This is bad enough as a threat to eastern Ukraine. But consider that China, which denies that Russia's condemned seizure of Crimea has any relevance to China's perfectly natural objectives off their coast, will note the success of Russia's takeover of Crimea with not much more than special forces who organized local sympathizers into a 10,000-man force to lead the takeover effort.

I've long expeced that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would feature Chinese special forces infiltrating Taiwan as tourists before the invasion:

A surprise invasion would be led off by Chinese units unloading from civilian ships in Taiwanese ports and could now be supplemented by chartered flights of softball teams, and bowling teams, and chess teams from China that all seem to be made up of burly young men with short hair.

China may see their claim to Taiwan as way different than Russia's claim on Crimea, and would bristle at any comparisons, but I bet the Chinese are paying close attention to the means Russia used to get their foot in the door during their way-different invasion of Crimea.

So What is Iran Up To?

Well that's interesting:

Unknown assailants in a speedboat shot at a merchant vessel as it sailed through the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman on Sunday, the NATO Shipping Centre (NSC) said.

The unidentified merchant ship reported being shot at twice from close range from a speedboat carrying six people armed with machine guns, on Sunday morning. It repelled the attack with hoses and the vessel and crew are safe, NSC said. ...

The attack happened on the Gulf of Oman side of the Strait of Hormuz, about 90 minutes after a different merchant ship was approached by two speedboats with crews wearing military clothing, NATO said. ...

"After a while the skiffs turned away to Iranian coast."

That certainly sounds like an Iranian Revolutionary Guard operation. Although Iran is only mentioned as the direction the first approaching ships turned to.

Did Iran ordering the attack and approach? Or did the Revolutionary Guards?

And did Russia request a little heightened tension in the Persian Gulf as a favor? Perhaps to remind us that if we are involved in one war in Europe that another could break out in the Persian Gulf?

Anyway. Interesting.

Now What?

The Crimea crisis is sounding over. Putin will bank his territory and reputation--for now.

Putin saluted the performance of his troops in taking Crimea:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the actions of Russian military forces in the Ukrainian region of Crimea have demonstrated the "high level of preparedness" in the Russian armed forces.

"Recent events in Crimea constituted a serious test [for the Russian military]. They demonstrated new qualitative abilities of our armed forces as well as high morale of the personnel," Putin said.

Yes, he earned lots of style points for that conquest by a military that is less impressive than Putin claims:

Despite Putin's attempt to make his military look awesome, his military really isn't prepared to fight more than a small war with any type of skill.

Oh, he could send large formations into battle. But they'd suffer heavier casualties against any decent opposition and would achieve their objectives only with brute force.

And when the basic load of fuel and ammo in his vehicles went black, the resupply effort might be less than impressive. Which is why I think Putin's window to easily seize eastern Ukraine is closing.

Any victory with this force would not be pretty. And when you fight a small power, you need all the style points you can accumulate to avoid looking like a bumbling giant that simply overwhelmed a tiny foe with no business even being on the same battlefield.

Remember, Russia did not take Tblisi in their short war with Georgia--a small country. And Putin appears to have wanted to do so.

But his military's performance could not have inspired confidence when the decision to go for total victory had to be made.

Trying to continue the war by advancing into eastern Ukraine, creating a land bridge to Crimea, or even driving all the way to Odessa and on to Transdniestria would risk the military reputation that Putin is now touting.

The Crimea triumph of Russian quality and morale was not a real test of the Russian military's ability to fight, as impressive as the near-bloodless conquest was.

By now, Russia will have to fight to break into or through defended eastern Ukraine:

"Our own security forces have already been mobilizing for several weeks -- both the National Guard and army troops," says Mykola Malomuzh, a retired army general and the former head of Ukraine's Foreign Intelligence Service. "An invasion is already a considerably more complicated matter than it was before." ...

Ukraine's Defense Ministry says that it's already called out 40,000 reservists to back up existing ground troops. Nearly all are concentrated along Ukraine's eastern border, and analysts say that despite the dilapidated state of Ukraine's post-independence military, the soldiers are combat-ready and armed with vast numbers of Soviet-style tanks, rockets, helicopters, and antiaircraft missiles.


Kiev has already begun improving its defensive capabilities. On March 17, the Ukrainian Parliament allocated 6.9 billion hryvnia -- about $684 million -- to defense. In the last few weeks, Ukrainian armed forces, tanks and other defensive weapons have been deployed along the country's border with Russia. The number of border guards along Ukraine's southeastern borders has also increased. Kherson province is planning to build a 20-kilometer long ditch along its border with Crimea.

A National Guard has been formed, and its ranks are to consist of 20,000 troops. The Ukrainian Security Service appears also to have become more active in Ukraine's vulnerable southeastern provinces. No less important, the population is determined to resist and sales of guns have far outstripped supply. ...

Kiev's defensive efforts may or may not be enough to stop a possible Russian attack, but they would certainly make it far more difficult, risky, and bloody -- which may be enough to deter Moscow.

Unlike the Crimea invasion, Ukrainians are now psychologically prepared to fight Russia. And the Ukrainians have made more preparations than news stories portrayed to me.

So escalating to a new war with Ukraine will be an actual war this time, and threaten Putin's boasts of his military's prowess the way the drive on Tblisi, Georgia in 2008 tarnished the reputation of Putin's military.

And there is another factor that isn't something I think of much because we don't operate on what is a very old system of annual or semi-annual intake of recruits, which leads to discharges of lots of trained troops at one time as new civilians are brought in:

"If Putin decides to send in his troops, he has a narrow window in which to act," Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer writes in "Foreign Policy," citing the need to seize on current troop readiness before Russia's spring draft brings in a wave of unseasoned conscripts. "The window of opportunity for an invasion will open during the first weeks of April and close somewhere around the middle of May."

Unless Putin wants to keep all those resentful draftees due to leave the army in for the duration of a renewed war with Ukraine, Russia's military has to win fast and have no lingering resistance.

I don't think Putin's generals are in any position to guarantee that the correlation of forces favors Russia (although they might be too afraid to tell the truth, I admit, making my guess the crisis is over wrong based on a very wrong assumption).

And if Russia doesn't win fast, they have to either let troops go in the middle of a war theater or deal with popular discontent as sons don't come home when expected.

So I'll hazard a guess and say the immediate crisis is over. And if it isn't, I think Russia risks defeat or an ugly victory.

The Choir Begins Practicing

Ah, the fans of the Warmish Inquisition gird their loins for battle.

I noted recently a professor who wants global warming deniers imprisoned.

The digital green shirts gather their arguments in support:

Those denialists should face jail. They should face fines. They should face lawsuits from the classes of people whose lives and livelihoods are most threatened by denialist tactics.

Let’s make a clear distinction here: I’m not talking about the man on the street who thinks Rush Limbaugh is right, and climate change is a socialist United Nations conspiracy foisted by a Muslim U.S. president on an unwitting public to erode its civil liberties.

You all know that man. That man is an idiot. He is too stupid to do anything other than choke the earth’s atmosphere a little more with his Mr. Pibb burps and his F-150′s gassy exhaust. Few of us believers in climate change can do much more—or less—than he can.

Threats to the first amendment like this are reasons to cherish the second amendment, of course, as the article about that little proto-fascist, Adam Weinstein, notes.

What I'd like to note is the complete anti-science nature of the pro-global warming position that Weinstein takes. Let me repeat what he writes:

Few of us believers in climate change can do much more—or less—than he can.

In what world of science do you speak of "us believers in X"?

Would anybody speak of "believers in the laws of thermodynamics?" Or "believers in the laws of conservation of matter?" Or "believers in the Earth orbiting the Sun?" Or "believers in engineering?"

Belief is a feature of religion, and that's what people like Weinstein have created.

Science doesn't persecute those who disagree with the conclusions of science.

Fanatical belief purges heretics who believe the wrong ideas.

You all know that man. That man is a fanatic, displaying his digital "the end of the world is nigh" sandwich board to those passing by on the Internet.

Let's sing it, brothers and sisters!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the greening of the Al:
He is trampling out the derricks where the oil of wrath is drilled;
He hath loosed the fateful thinking of His terrible swift gourd:
Al's inconvenient truth is marching on. ...

Now go and emit no more. Or else.

The Burning Sensation Means the Hope is Working!

Fareed Zakaria defends President Obama on the Ukraine crisis. Of course he does.

Not that I'm saying we should go to war over Crimea. But Zakaria's defense of our president on these cases is just wrong:

Compare what the Obama administration has managed to organize in the wake of this latest Russian aggression to the Bush administration’s response to Putin’s actions in Georgia in 2008. That was a blatant invasion. Moscow sent in tanks and heavy artillery; hundreds were killed, nearly 200,000 displaced. Yet the response was essentially nothing. This time, it has been much more serious. Some of this difference is in the nature of the stakes, but it might also have to do with the fact that the Obama administration has taken pains to present Russia’s actions in a broader context and get other countries to see them as such.

You can see a similar pattern with Iran. The Bush administration largely pressured that country bilaterally. The Obama administration was able to get much more effective pressure because it presented Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to global norms of nonproliferation, persuaded the other major powers to support sanctions, enacted them through the United Nations and thus ensured that they were comprehensive and tight. This is what leadership looks like in the 21st century.

Let me repeat at length what I recently wrote about the Bush-Georgia comparison:

I know that President Obama's defenders attack critics of him by saying President Bush didn't do anything about Russia's invasion of Georgia in August 2008. That comparison is wrong and we can only wish President Obama will be as effective as Bush was.

Remember, President Bush was constrained in his reaction by the election campaign about to begin as the two parties held their nominating conventions that month. Partisans on the left would have screamed (with actual flecks of flying spittle visible on the video) that the Bushtatorship was trying to gin up a manufactured crisis to help McCain.

And then there was that financial crisis in September that shook our economy dangerously.

Plus there was the natural desire not to risk a war that a successor will have to finish.

And keep in mind that Bush was president for only five more months, including 3 months of transition with the president-elect.

Yes, President Bush did not inflict pain on Russia (other than sticking to their missile defense plans in NATO over strenuous Russian objections) in those 5 months he was in the Oval Office.

But President Obama did nothing in the 5 years he has been in the Oval Office. And he ended the Bush-era missile defense plan.

Had he cared to, President Obama could have tried to stiffen the spines of the EU "investigation" of the war that bizarrely blamed Georgia as much as Russia for the war, and pretty much signaled that the West would do nothing.

On the Russo-Georgia War itself, remember that before Russia invaded, Russia already possessed the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia, with Russian garrisons on the ground supporting local pro-Russia militias.

When Russia invaded Georgia proper and headed for Tblisi to completely conquer the country, our efforts in support of Georgia (a Coast Guard ship docked in Georgia and we airlifted supplies and Georgian troops then deployed in Iraq to Georgia) and the poor performance of the Russian military in the fight combined to get Russia to back off from their expansive aim.

So at the end of the war, Russia held what they had before the war started.

I'd say that President Bush's response was superior to President Obama's reaction to Crimea. And since responsibility for responding to the invasion of Georgia quickly fell on President Obama, why is President Obama off the hook for the American response? Was "reset" and the cancellation of Bush's eastern European missile defense plan on the 70th anniversary of Soviet Russia's invasion of Poland something to be proud of as a signal to Russia?

As for Iran, am I the only person who remembers what this country was like after Nancy Pelosi took charge in the House in January 2007? Democrats would have impeached President Bush for being too harsh with Iran.

And while I certainly salute President Obama for ratcheting up sanctions. What did he then do? Relaxed them just to get Iran sitting at the same table to talk about vastly different things. We want to end Iran's nuclear weapons capability. Iran wants to ratify their nuclear weapons capability (without even admitting they have weapons goals).

President Obama still has time to put his mark on his response to Crimea. Indeed, we don't know if the crisis is over. But positively comparing Obama to Bush over Ukraine/Georgia and Iran is just sucking up in hopes of getting an appointment to the president's foreign policy team.

I swear to God, Zakaria couldn't find his own buttocks with both hands and a GPS signal.

Dad of the Year

Could the dad in this video going viral be any more of an a-hole?

It made television. So it has to be viral somewhere if not this particular video.

But the dad really said these words in response to his son's disappointment? It's okay? You had the same reaction as I did, bud? It's all right?

Is the dad serious?

Look at the daughters. They move away from the cake with unsure looks as if they don't know what they are supposed to think. They should have had the freedom to shriek with glee, as little girls do.

What a special memory they have, now.

I have a son and a daughter, and I love them each the same. The idea that a father would tell his daughters that their gender is something that you cope with as a second-best outcome is horrible.

I'm horrified that the father would voice his disappointment--and then capture his opinion on video. If that father really had disappointment, he should have taken that thought to the grave unspoken--and certainly unfilmed.

And I'm horrified that he kept recording when his son had a melt down. Really? You want to save that memory? Oh, but it went viral. You were on TV. It's okay, then. You get 15 minutes of fame.

I'm sure the father and son will love their new sister.

The son is young. Give him a break. He doesn't deserve to have this reaction preserved forever, defining part of him this way.

I won't draw broader conclusions about the father, either. He surely loves his son and daughters with all his heart. In time, he'll probably feel guilt for the rest of his life for uttering those words for all the world to hear.

The father never should have voiced his disappointment and should have destroyed that video rather than upload it to the web for permanent storage.

Sometimes people just act stupid.

UPDATE: Huh. Twelve hours later and I notice the video was taken down. Sometimes stupid fades, I guess.

But Where Would NATO Stop the Russians?

Russia is not the Soviet Union reborn, and we don't need to drop all efforts to cooperate with Russia even as we think in terms of stopping Russian aggression against NATO states. But Russia is a threat to NATO.

This article denies that Russia is any threat to overrun NATO and that NATO retains enough military power to defeat a Russian invasion:

The alarmist claims that the alliance can’t defend Europe from Russia are preposterous.

That's true enough, but not relevant to the problem at hand: Russia can grab territory in eastern NATO and require NATO to counter-attack across new NATO states without adequate logistics preparation to handle those troop movements.

And the ability to defend Europe from Russia begs the question of where does NATO stop the Russians if the Russians don't stop on their own?

Russia will not do NATO a favor and launch an all-out offensive to reach the Rhine River or die trying in the effort. If Russia tried that, the Russians might make it to the Oder River, but between there and the Rhine River, the Russians would surely be wiped out--if they manage to keep their own logistics effort rolling west.

But that isn't the problem NATO faces. The problem NATO faces is that Russia might try to bite off chunks of NATO states as they did in Crimea against non-NATO Ukraine and then dare anybody to eject the Russian troops in possession.

And if you've forgotten the Russians have nukes, they'll remind us.

So yeah, NATO--even just European NATO--has more combat power than Russia. With a European GDP many multiples of Russia's it would be shameful if that wasn't the case.

The question is will NATO devote the effort and resources to make sure that NATO states in the east can resist the initial Russian invasion, and so deter the Russians if they might have to fight and face a NATO counter-attack before the Russians attain their objectives.

That is the real problem that Russia poses for NATO. It is not alarmist to point out that gap between alliance promises and capabilities that still has not been closed so long after NATO expanded into the east.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Army Bright Spot

The Army seems to have confidence that it will have new fire support artillery despite budget woes and the mistaken belief that we can schedule a land war for when it is more convenient financially and emotionally.

After wars, the Army always takes hits out of proportion to the other services. And with the Air Force seeking to cover their cuts at the expense of supporting the Army, it is good that the Army can count on its own artillery arm for battlefield fire support:

The Army is “fully committed” to the M109 Paladin Integrated Management, or PIM, program, Army Secretary John McHugh said on Thursday during a hearing of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. ...

The Army plans to spend almost $8 billion to buy 582 of the more advanced tracked vehicles, designed to support soldiers in heavy brigades with a cannon capable of firing 155mm precision-guided projectiles, according to Pentagon budget documents. The systems, which are being built in York, Pa., and Elgin, Okla., will include a new chassis, engine, transmission, suspension, steering system, and armor, according to the contractor.

The story says that the program appears on track for funding and fielding. The Army needs this weapon system. I was certainly skeptical about the proposed ultra-light Future Combat Systems (FCS) and horrified about the weight of the proposed Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV)--both cancelled, but the M-109 PIM is a proven approach to fire support. I believe a bunch of the "new" stuff is from the Bradley chassis. And I assume that a lot of the cannon system is from late model true M-109s or from the old FCS research for the fire support version.

And since we've cut back on artillery units over the last decade because we rely on precision rather than "dumb" shells, we don't need a 1-for-1 replacement program to maintain fire support capability. That has to help a lot, budget-wise, despite an increase in per-unit costs because of lack of volume production.

It helps that this can be described as an evolutionary step from the five-decade-old M-109 rather than a radically new weapon system.

It worked for the Navy Super Hornet ...

Searching for Weakness

I haven't been overly worried about Assad's various offensives. He has limited spearheads with Hezbollah and Iran's Shia foreign legion, which he has moved about to lead offensives to take land. But rebellions can lose territory by retreating from points where the government is strong and still inflict damage by going where the government is weak.

Whatever damage our deal with Assad did to rebel morale, and however longer the fight will go on because that deal harmed the rebel ability to defeat Assad, the deal has not decisively weakened the rebels. They are still fighting and they could fight on for years more while Assad's small base of support may not be able to endure the bloodletting for long enough to grind down the rebellion.

Assad's forces can mount offensives, but they have to have the ability to hold what they take after they clear an area they focus on.

Here's an area the rebels have moved on that had been relatively safe:

Syrian rebels pressed their offensive deeper into the coastal heartland of President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect on Wednesday, battling government troops backed by warplanes for control of at least two villages in the heavily wooded and mountainous terrain, activists said.

Opposition fighters from several conservative and hard-line Islamic groups, including the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front, launched their assault Friday on the northern stretches of Latakia province along the Turkish frontier. So far, they have seized a border crossing, and also gained control of an outlet to the sea for the first time since Syria's uprising began three years ago.

While modest in terms of territory, those gains have buoyed an armed opposition movement that has suffered a series of recent setbacks on the battlefield. Over the past month, Assad's forces, backed by his allies from the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group, have captured towns and villages along Syria's border with Lebanon, squeezing the flow of rebel fighters and materiel across the frontier.

I can wish the rebels weren't jihadi types. But their operations do demonstrate that rebellions can strike where the best government troops aren't, and do damage.

As the rebels hang on despite Assad's free hand since the autumn, but as Assad finds the chemical deal did not allow him the time to decisively defeat the rebellion, somebody will have to try something new to break the basic stalemate that endures. Assad thinks that he can be ruthless enough to crush the spirit of the rebellion.

I have strong doubts that Assad's faction can endure the losses longer than the rebels can--as long as the rebels receive external support sufficient to give them a reason to keep fighting and dying.

Say, Where is Snowden These Days?

As American intelligence attempts to monitor Russian troop activity near Ukraine and their intentions, this is interesting:

U.S. spy agencies have struggled to intercept telltale communications in which Russian leaders, military commanders or front-line troops have indicated their military plans, said U.S. officials.

Intelligence officials are using an array of intelligence tools, including imagery and human sources to discern Russia's next moves.

Russia is often very good at operational security and may be working actively to not voice intentions because they know they might be overheard, U.S. officials say.

A U.S. official said the U.S. is tracking the Russian efforts closely and has "visibility into the Russian troop buildup along the Ukrainian border."

The senior Obama administration official acknowledged the difficulty of collecting intelligence about Russian intentions, calling the country a "hard target."

I have to wonder what insights into our intelligence gathering capabilities that Snowden provided to the Russians to help them hide activities and intentions.

And worse than hiding what they do from our ears and eyes, what Russian actions are we observing that Russia fully intends for us to see?

Cast a Giant Shadow

More information on Russian troops poised to invade Ukraine (again).

It looks like there are 25,000 Russian troops across eastern Ukraine's border ready to invade plus 25,000 Russian troops in Crimea that could also invade from their new positions.

Additional troops--I assume paratroopers and Spetsnaz--are deeper in Russia but capable of being airlifted into action.

Significantly, the Russians have set up the logistics to sustain an offensive.

I still don't think the Russians have a lot of troops available for an invasion.

The Crimean-based Russian troops are only really useful to support a deep drive that would establish overland lines of communication between Russia and Crimea.

If the Russians just want to seize eastern Ukraine, the Crimea-based troops aren't likely to leave Crimea. Maybe 6,000 airlifted in early in the Crimea invasion could be airlifted back to the main front, but that's about it. Russia has to hold what they already stole.

With 25-30,000 troops in the east, Russia has enough to occupy some cities in the east, between Kharkov and Donetsk. Then add in Interior Ministry troops to help hold the region.

Does Putin really think he can just march into Ukraine and seize more land without having to fight? He might be right, but I doubt it.

If the Russians push any deeper, the Ukrainians will have the opportunity to fight.

And the Russians will have longer supply lines through potentially hostile territory to defend.

And the Ukrainians could push irregulars back into the area Russia "controls" thinly with their few troops in a large area. Guerrilla warfare could develop.

I know that everyone seems to be talking about Putin as Stalin reborn with a new Red Army massed to do his bidding while foes tremble before him. But Putin's army just isn't worthy of that reputation.

I just don't think Putin has the horses to successfully pull off more than a quick road march against little opposition into eastern Ukraine. Trying to take more ground or being forced to fight for eastern Ukraine just risk the military reputation he built on the nearly bloodless take-over of Crimea.

UPDATE: Is Russia signaling that they want to cash in their chips and go home?

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking on Russian television, reinforced a message from President Vladimir Putin that Russia would settle - at least for now - for control over Crimea despite massing thousands of troops near Ukraine's eastern border. "We have absolutely no intention of - or interest in - crossing Ukraine's borders," Lavrov said.

On the question of whether Russia has no intention of invading or has no capability to escalate and count on an easy win, I lean to the latter.

But Russian smart diplomacy could get concessions from Kerry based on our belief that Russia has the capability but is willing to abandon the intent if we make the right offers.

Truly, Kerry himself is the flexibility that President Obama promised Medvedev that Russia would get from us after the November 2012 elections.

UPDATE: Oh, God! Bust out the umbrella for the peace for our time speech:

Flying from Riyadh to Shannon, Ireland, for a refueling stop on Saturday, Kerry decided to turn his plane around and was traveling to Paris for a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov scheduled for Sunday evening. Kerry spoke to Lavrov on the flight after President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in a call on Friday to have their foreign ministers meet to discuss a possible diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine situation.

This will work out just great.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Point of Vulnerability

If we do have some sort of Cold War Lite with the Russians in Europe, remember that unlike the actual Cold War when Russia held Western troops and West German citizens as effective hostages in West Berlin, in a new period of adversarial relations, we hold Kaliningrad hostage.

So as we defend the territorial integrity of NATO states that are invaded by Russia, we can isolate Russia's Baltic Sea enclave, Kaliningrad, and prepare to seize that ground as a bargaining chip with reinforcements heading east from the western-most NATO countries should we have problems ejecting the Russians from NATO territory.

I retain hope that younger generations of Russians will replace the older generations that seem to pine for the glory days of the Soviet Union, which made the world--and its own citizens, too, don't forget--take notice of their power.

One day, Russia may eventually join the West, freed from delusions that Nazis or Bonapartists (or expansionist Swedes?) still plot to conquer Russia.

Until that day, Putin needs to worry about what we can do to his remaining empire should the West finally accept that wake-up call without hitting their reset snooze button--again.

Putin has gotten away with blatant aggression at little cost. So far the West Europeans seem oblivious to this demonstration:

President Obama on Wednesday sought to coax his European allies to wake up to the renewed threat of Russia, and reinvest in militaries that have long gone fallow. But for the moment, there appears to be little appetite among European leaders to bust their recession-scarred budgets or buck their war-weary populations in order to shore up thinly stretched armed forces.

Military spending across Europe fell dramatically after the Cold War, then ramped up for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in the five years since the global financial crisis, it has been cut sharply again -- even as Russia’s defense spending has surged by more than 30 percent.

More European cuts are on the way, even as leaders hurl a daily dose of tough rhetoric toward Moscow.

America, too, is suffering from defense cuts. But at some level a reduction is normal after wars wind down. And we started with much more capability.

In any case, Putin risks reversing this trend of defense cuts in NATO's traditional European powers if he pushes too quickly to gain more territory.

How Many Wars Should We Be Able to Fight?

We've reduced our ability to deploy forces down to one war's worth, as we define them. Do we pick Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, al Qaeda, or some enemy to be named later?

As Russia returns as a regional power, this article reminds us of the South China Sea:

The Chinese government speaks of the 1.35-million-square-mile South China Sea as a Chinese lake, "blue national soil" where its "indisputable sovereignty" extends over far-flung waterways and bits of land, even some that sit 50 miles from other nations' coasts but 1,000 miles from mainland China. Beijing has ratified the Law of the Sea Treaty limiting states' maritime sovereignty and economic rights, but in 2010 China's foreign minister insisted that the South China Sea is a "core national interest," adding: "China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that is just a fact."

Yes. I've droned on about that region for some time, either as a region or in reference to Taiwan at the northern end.

We've abandoned the ability to fight more than one war at the same time. It wasn't so long ago that we thought our enemies had evaporated:

How much more money will it cost us to fight a single major war we can win at great cost over a long period of time than it costs to deter anyone from thinking they might win?

But what the Hell. Under Barack "Von Clausewitz" Obama, our global strategy has brilliantly neutralized Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and al Qaeda so much that we can actually see the tide of war receding. Why would we possibly need the most powerful military in the world let alone the dominant military?

And after all, slashing our defense and avoiding blame are the only reasons Hagel is the nominee for Defense Department. Yes, we are truly and royally bucked.

Not that we've had a two-war standard for a long time. At best we had the ability to execute two wars in overlapping time frames. The model was win-hold-win. That is, win in one theater, hold in a second while we won the first war, and then win the second war by transferring forces to the second war.

Think of Iraq invading Kuwait and then North Korea invades South Korea. We'd win in Kuwait with a Desert Storm while stemming the North Korean advance, and then shift forces to counter-attack in South Korea and push the North Koreans north of the DMZ.

But now we don't even pretend to have that ability.

The better question is how many of our enemies or foes will choose wars to advance their interests, confident that there is another potential foe that we have to keep our military unengaged to face just in case, rather than stop their particular aggression?

Next War, For Sure

France is in the process of selling four amphibious warfare ships to Russia. Russia swore they would deploy them in the Pacific and Northern fleets. What a shock, the Russians want the first to go to the Black Sea fleet.

The Russians will gear up Sevastopol for power projection missions:

Now that Crimea is under Russian control, effectively nullifying the lease agreement with Ukraine, the base will see its troop contingent rise from 12,500 to up to 40,000 by 2019, the defense ministry said.

Russia says it will also station [in Sevastopol] one of the two Mistral-class warships it has purchased, but not yet received, from France for $1.7 billion. However, France has warned it may cancel delivery if further Russian action in Ukraine merits heavier European Union sanctions.

Three short years ago, the Russians said the ships wouldn't go to the Baltic or Black Sea fleets. The French pretended to believe the Russians. I was not fooled:

Russia pretends that it won't deploy them in the Black Sea! And France pretends to believe them! Now that's nuanced foreign policy!

Plans change, eh? Have no doubt, at least one of those Mistrals will be based in the Black Sea, and France won't say a word about it.

What a shock. The Mistrals aren't yet delivered (Russia is supposed to build two, according to the deal). Although one put to sea from France, it is still in French control.

The French foreign minister says they might not deliver the vessels:

Fabius said: "If Putin continues like this, we could envisage cancelling the [Mistral] sales. We will ask others - I'm thinking of the British in particular - to do something equivalent with the assets of the Russian oligarchs in London. The sanctions must affect everyone."

Any move to block the LHD contract "would be part of the third level of sanctions", Fabius said, "but for the moment we are at the second level".

The first ship, Vladivostok , was floated out from STX France's Saint-Nazaire shipyard in October 2013 and is scheduled for delivery to the Russian Ministry of Defence in late 2014. The second vessel, Sevastopol , is due for delivery in 2015.

Right. I'm guessing the French have an adequate out for not saying a word about deployment.

Have no doubt, both ships will be in Russian hands in time for Putin's next war.

Between Retreat and War

The Philippines continues to resist Chinese attempts to push the Philippines out of their possessions in the South China Sea. Manila wants to avoid either retreating or a major fight for their islands.

China is now blockading a small Filipino garrison on Second Thomas Reef, where they hold a grounded amphibious warfare ship to maintain physical control:

China told the Philippines that the continued presence of Filipino marines on Second Thomas Reef is intolerable and that China will deal with this violation of Chinese sovereignty. This is how China warns victims that an attack is coming and the Philippines is asking the United States for some backup here. The U.S. condemned the Chinese blockade but it is unclear what more the U.S. will do. The next step appears to be a tight blockade of the Filipino garrison to starve them out, as Chinese civilian and military ships blocked two recent efforts by Filipino supply ships to deliver food and water to the small garrison on Second Thomas Reef. The supplies were eventually air dropped, but that might also face interference and all this might be preparations to an outright assault by Chinese troops.

The Filipinos are also challenging the Chinese diplomatically with a legal case:

The Philippines will file a case against China over the disputed South China Sea at an arbitration tribunal in The Hague next week, subjecting Beijing to international legal scrutiny over the increasingly tense waters for the first time.

Manila is seeking a ruling to confirm its right to exploit the waters in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as allowed under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), its team of U.S. and British lawyers said.

A ruling against China by the five-member panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration could prompt other claimants to challenge Beijing, experts said. But while legally binding, any ruling would effectively be unenforceable as there is no body under UNCLOS to police such decisions, legal experts said.

China, which has refused to participate in the case, claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea, displaying its reach on official maps with a so-called nine-dash line that stretches deep into the maritime heart of Southeast Asia.

Sadly, China doesn't care about the legal case. Peking drew a nine-dashed line around the sea, and that's that, as far as the Chinese are concerned.

Explain to me again how ratifying the Law of the Sea will bind China to international norms and agreements?

Anyway, the Philippines needs to reinforce their garrison and build a more permanent structure. And make resupply easier.

We could certainly start supplying the garrison. But that could ultimately push China to just invade and get the capture of Second Thomas Reef over with in between our resupply missions.

Ultimately, the Philippines needs a stronger force on the reef.

Could we help Manila by carrying out a joint military exercise with them at Second Thomas Reef with our Marines and Navy construction units? We could build a "temporary" wooden structure on a concrete platform that we'd build "for the duration of the exercise?"

When we leave, the Philippines can do what they want with what we build. They would have a better position to hold. The Philippines could then start expanding their hold with better weapons to resist an attack.

My basic feeling is that China is willing to use force, but they want the level of force to be low enough that it remains below the threshold of war that might draw in America.

Yeah, this is where a reputation for resolve has an effect.

If the Philippines can build the military capability that compels China to go above that "incident" threshold to win a battle with Filipino forces, that might deter China from starting a fight.

Remember, Russia kept the whole conquest of Crimea at the "incident" level since Ukraine did not fight back. The Philippines needs to fight if they hope to hold their territory and if they hope to get American help. We'll help the Philippines--but we won't fight China to defend Filipino territory if the Philippines won't fight China.

If something isn't done soon to find a winning strategy between doing nothing and going to all-out war, the Chinese will simply land on the outpost and kill or capture the small Filipino squad holding the old LST, and China will continue their campaign to secure everything within the nine-dashed line.

Doomsday Machine

I did not know that Russia still relied on Ukrainian components for their weapons as much as they still do. Which leaves Ukraine an option to deter the Russians.

This is interesting:

It is an ironic fact that much of the equipment used by the Russian troops in Crimea, and those maneuvering on Ukraine's border, is produced by Kyiv's military industry.

The equipment includes the motors that keep all of Russia's combat helicopters flying and many of the engines that power Russian naval ships. It also includes about half of the air-to-air missiles carried by Russian fighter planes. ...

The Ukrainian facilities which are most important for Russia's military are Motor Sich in Zaporizhzhya, which produces helicopter engines, Yuzhmash in Dnipropetrovsk, which manufactures rockets and missiles, and the Russian company Antonov's plant in Kyiv, which makes planes.

For Russia to capture these three production facilities, the Russians would have to advance all the way to the Dnieper River. That's a deep advance.

If the Ukrainians rigged the key machine tools for destruction and prepared to destroy blue prints and technical data, whether paper or electronic versions, they could quite possibly deter the Russians from invading if the Russians believe that the sources of key weapons components will be wrecked.

Given Russia's conventional weakness (compared to the task of defending a vast border) which forces Russia to rely heavily on the threat of massive nuclear attack to deter invaders, Ukraine's threat to destroy the source of these components not only reduces Russia's conventional forces but weakens Russia's nuclear force.

UPDATE: A quick update. If, as the article notes, the factories and their exports to Russia are so important to Ukraine, maybe an alternative to preparing to blow the machine tools and documentation in place is to take a page from the Soviet Union's reaction to Nazi Germany's invasion.

The Soviets moved entire factory gear the the Ural Mountains region to avoid losing the production capacity. What if the Ukrainians move the key factory components, documentation, and skilled employees to western Ukraine for the duration of the crisis?

Chutzpah Defined

Wow. The lack of self-awareness is astounding:

Russia hit out in a blistering statement today against a UN resolution that declared invalid Crimea's referendum to secede from Ukraine.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Western states used the "the full force of the unspent potential of the cold war-era propaganda machine" to push through the vote, which passed Thursday.

"It is well-known what kind of shameless pressure, up to the point of political blackmail and economic threats, was brought to bear on a number of [UN] member states so they would vote 'yes'," the statement said, according to Reuters. "This counterproductive initiative only complicates efforts to resolve the domestic political crisis in Ukraine."

This from the Russians who announced a vote in Crimea to join Russia that tallied a 97% pro-Russia outcome.

You'd think the Russians would merely mock our "shameless pressure" as amateur hour since we only managed to get 59% of the UN General Assembly to vote for that resolution.

Invasion Threat: More Likely

When I heard the word "imminent" yesterday, that seemed like an invasion of Ukraine was ordered and ready to kick off. I think that somebody who heard an intelligence briefing interpreted the briefing as saying the Russian invasion was "imminent." But Russian troops could cross into eastern Ukraine rapidly after the order is given.

I went from anticipating a Russian invasion of Ukraine to going back to my standby mode of waiting to see what the Russians plan to do. This news from the day before reinforces my standby mode:

A new classified intelligence assessment concludes it is more likely than previously thought that Russian forces will enter eastern Ukraine, CNN has learned. ...

The buildup is seen to be reminiscent of Moscow’s military moves before it went into Chechnya and Georgia in both numbers of units and their capabilities.

U.S. military and intelligence officials have briefed Congress on the assessment.

So what of the Russian troop deployments?

American officials believe the more than 30,000 Russian forces on the border with Ukraine, combined with additional Russian forces placed on alert and mobilized to move, give Russian President Vladimir Putin the ability to rapidly move into Ukraine without the United States being able to predict it when it happens.

What the additional forces are is important. But with 30,000, operations in just eastern Ukraine seem most likely.

I'm not sure what to make of this:

The United States believes that Russia might decide to go into eastern Ukraine to establish a land bridge into Crimea.

The belief is that Russian forces would move toward three Ukrainian cities: Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donetsk in order to establish land access into Crimea. Russian forces are currently positioned in and around Rostov, Kursk, and Belgorod, according to U.S. intelligence information.

Again with the deep drive theory. But taking Kharkov, Luhansk, and Donetsk does not create a land bridge to Crimea. All those locations are in eastern Ukraine and consistent with just slicing off the eastern industrial area.

The Ukrainian cities are in the east and marked with orange.

The Russian cities of Kursk, Belgograd, and Rostov are--north to south--noted as red dots off of the Ukraine map in the blue area to the east. Those locations are consistent with my routes of advance to Crimea (just start the southern thrust further south from Rostov rather than along the major road that I projected).

But 30,000 troops aren't enough to go all the way to Crimea or Transdniestria if the Ukrainians effectively resist. Russia had half of that amount just for the invasion of Georgia--which had to pull back due to casualties and difficulties. So unless the Russians expect round two to be just as uncontested as round one in Crimea, doing more than occupying those three Ukrainian cities in the east, and then stopping, is too much to expect of Russia's military.

Knowing what is on alert and where would be helpful. I'm assuming that refers to airborne and Spetsnaz units. Those could be well away from the border and still used in an invasion, of course.

And Russia has fresh troops in Crimea, now, of course.

Also, the Russians have direct access to Crimea now via Kerch Strait ferries. The Russians have already said they will go ahead with building a bridge to span that strait. And nobody is threatening Russian control of the Black Sea to contest resupply by sea. So if the reason for Russia invading Ukraine (again) is a land bridge, that's just a pretext to take more land.

The main point of the intelligence is that the invasion could kick off any time a political decision is made rather than needing to wait for the Russian military to get ready.

A Hero Without Battle?

The Ukrainians may want to increase their standards for "hero":

After Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia, a man in a black raincoat turned up at the gate of the Belbek Air Base to demand that Ukrainian forces holed up inside surrender to Russia.

The Ukrainian commander of the base came out wearing his cap decorated with gold wings — and refused. ...

"As an officer with honor, I tell you I will stay," retorted Air Force Col. Yuliy Mamchur.

That act of defiance against the overwhelming force of Russian troops that had put Belbek under siege created a new Ukrainian national hero.

At best that officer displayed spunk. Perhaps with a touch of panache.

But hero? I think not. The heroes Ukraine needs are men who are simply too tired to retreat any more, and stand their ground.

Ukraine will need actual heroes if they are to survive this crisis with Russia.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Don't Panic About Afghanistan

We aren't doomed in Afghanistan, so don't act like the Taliban are destined to win.

Strategypage writes about the situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban aren't that powerful in the larger scheme of things:

Afghans find it amusing when they discover that some foreigners really believe the Taliban could ever regain power. This is seen as another example of foreigner ignorance of how things work in Afghanistan. The reality there is that the Taliban never completed their conquest of Afghanistan in the 1990s and fell apart so quickly (in two months of U.S. supported fighting) because the Taliban were widely hated and still being resisted with force. Given that the foreigners have brought unprecedented peace and prosperity in the last decade, who in their right mind would want the Taliban back?

We can defend our gains in Afghanistan. Will we? I sure thought we'd do it in Iraq, after all.

Revise the Charge

President Obama is not responsible for the killings in Syria. But his inability to stop the killings undermines the claim that Bush is responsible for killings in Iraq.

This is the wrong charge to level:

It has been alleged by some commentators that U.S. President Barack Obama -- by doing nothing to halt the carnage -- is responsible for more deaths in Syria than President George W. Bush was in Iraq.

The article goes on to describe the complexities of Syria that argue against the easy success of an early and decisive intervention. Fair enough. But I never charged that the results would be cleaner--just that we lost an opportunity to depose an enemy by supporting rebels when Assad was on the ropes.

But the article's angle and my hopes are not relevant for my purposes here.

My focus is that I reject the charge as wrong and irrelevant. President Obama is not responsible for the killings. The correct charge is that President Obama's hands-off, anti-Iraq approach has not been superior to President Bush's intervention in Iraq.

With deaths in Syria at 150,000 in three years and deaths in Iraq less than that in 11 years (in countries with roughly the same population), the question is the effectiveness of foreign policies in response to killings.

Remember, Saddam was killing Iraqis long before we got there. But the Left has consistently charged that we made the situation worse by intervening. If only we'd left Iraqis alone, they would have sorted it out on their own and not provoked jihadis to flock to Iraq and raise the body count beyond what Iraqis would have done.

Heck, some proposed we simply arm the Shias and Kurds to resist Saddam (remember, too, that regime change in Iraq was our official policy long before 2003, signed by President Clinton)--the proposal they rejected in Syria.

So when the fighting in Syria started, the Obama administration, citing lessons from Iraq, declined to intervene so we would not "make matters worse," as they charged we had in Iraq.

Matters got way worse in Syria without us (but with Russia and Iran helping Assad freely). The body count escalated faster, making the rate of killing higher in Syria (50,000 per year on average in Syria and probably well under 13,000 per year in Iraq--so even if you double Iraqi casualties beyond the best-documented estimates, the rate is still half of Syria's casualty rate).

And jihadis flocked to Syria in even higher numbers than they did to Iraq, which the Left alleged they would not have done if we were not there to "provoke" them.

And remember that the killings in Iraq the last couple years have gone up as the result of our departure from Iraq and because of the blowback from Syria fighting--which our hands-off approach did not alleviate. So our policies are affecting both sides of that better-or-worse equation.

Remember, too, that the casualties in Iraq were far higher because the Iranians and Syrians funnelled arms, fighters, and jihadis into Iraq to foment civil strife and try to provoke a full-blown civil war. By the time these two invasions kicked off during spring 2004, the largely Baathist resistance was burning out through fall and winter 2003-2004, with Saddam captured in December 2003. Our total casualties in Iraq dropped during this period, and we suffered about 20 KIA in February 2004. Absent the Iranian and Syrian intervention--which created a whole new war beyond the war to overthrow Saddam and then defeat his Baathist resistance--the death count "because of our invasion" would have been far lower all around.

And at the end of our battlefield victory in Iraq, we left the Iraqis with mostly defeated enemies and the opportunity to build a democratic country.

In Syria, the murderous dictator Assad may win or the murderous jihadis may win, but we are only belatedly trying to support non-jihadi rebels with arms.

Although I understand why the charge by some commentators is being made, the charge is not precise enough to accurately describe the situation.

Seriously? This is a Controversy?

Russia strips away a province of Ukraine and the controversy is that Ukraine's former prime minister Timoshenko said rude things about the Russians? Seriously?

Now, now, Ukrainians. You'll take it and you'll like it:

"This really crosses all the boundaries," Tymoshenko is heard to say in the leaked phone call posted on YouTube and broadcast extensively on Russian television Monday.

"One has to take up arms and go wipe out these damn 'katsaps' together with their leader," the voice said in Russian, without mentioning Putin by name.

The word "katsap" is a derogatory Ukrainian term for Russians.

So what if Putin's hand puppet, recently deposed leader Yanukovich, had imprisoned Timoshenko for three years?

If this manufactured scandal isn't enough, Ukraine's new prime minister, Yatsenyuk, gave this as the reason for not resisting the Russians:

His government ceded Crimea without a shot in order to demonstrate to the world that Russia was the aggressor, he said.

Seriously? Even under the United Nations charter, it is allowable to defend yourself when invaded rather than wait for the sainted international community to come to your defense:

Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.

But the international community is so twisted, that fighting back is just as bad as invading in the first place.

Russia may not have killed the United Nations, but their adventure in Crimea set it up for the killing blow.