Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Deeming the War Over

It is getting clearer and clearer that the Obama administration's reaction to the Benghazi attack was all about minimizing damage to the president's reelection campaign. My particular interest is in wondering whether this political objective affected the failure to send military forces to Benghazi that day.

You don't say?

National Journal’s Ron Fournier on Wednesday argued the Obama Administration always “put politics first” rather than disclosing the truth when dealing with their latest scandals.

Recent emails show that effort to blame an Internet video for the 2012 Benghazi attack was an effort to protect the president's campaign slogan that Osama bin Laden was dead and al Qaeda (as if that's the only jihadi problem) was on the run.

Tip to Instapundit.

As horrible as that motivation is, I've always been more interested in why those Americans under attack were left to fight on their own.

I did not and do not buy the notion that we could not have sent military forces to or over Benghazi to attempt to affect the outcome on the ground.

An an additional failure, the jihadis who attacked our facilities and killed our people have so far gotten away with the assault.

The war isn't over. Our president said he was responsibly ending our wars. But the enemy votes, too, and they pulled the lever for war. Let's try defeating our enemies rather than informing them we are kind of tired of fighting and asking them if they will go along with that fiction for at least a little while longer.

UPDATE: In testimony today, retired Brigadier General Lovell stated that we should have gone "to the sound of the guns" at Benghazi. He said we could have sent troops to intervene. Not that we could have saved the first two Americans, who were killed too quickly, but to reach the ground in the absence of knowledge about how long the crisis would last.

In retrospect, I think we could have reached the Annex while the fighting was going on. We did not. We wrote off the Americans on the ground and were lucky that they made it out on their own rather than just being killed where they held their ground all on their own.

Before the testimony, this is how his testimony was previewed:

“There are accounts of time, space and capability discussions of the question, could we have gotten there in time to make a difference,” Lovell will testify. “Well, the discussion is not in the ‘could or could not’ in relation to time, space and capability. The point is we should have tried.”

Yes. We should have tried. Many of the specialized ground forces could not have reached the Annex in time. But that's only known in retrospect.

But we should have sent troops and aircraft toward Libya in the absence of knowledge of the outcome and time frame. That's what I've been arguing all along.

And I find it outrageous that we didn't move whatever we had on hand towards Libya in case we could have had an impact on the attack.

The witness's testimony is still going on. I hope the right questions are asked. We shall see.

UPDATE: Thus far, Democrats are doing their job by bringing up irrelevant issues (seriously, the Iraq War--again?) while the Republicans largely ask poor questions or fail to give the general time to answer when they get close to the right question of what could have we done by acting on the old adage of heading for the sound of the guns.

In part this is because many members of Congress are more focused on the political angle of the talking points and how the administration blamed an obscure video for the attack. I still want to know why we didn't move to the sound of the guns.

Where Voting is Prized

Despite violence and shaky rule of law that I hoped a continued American military presence after 2011 would help entrench, Iraqis are out to vote in parliamentary elections.

Reasonably honest voting isn't enough to create a democracy, but it is certainly a requirement. Iraqis are voting:

Unshaken by the latest surge in violence, Iraqis braved the threat of bombs and attacks to vote Wednesday in key elections for a new parliament amid a massive security operation as the country slides deeper into sectarian strife.

Hundreds of thousands of troops and police have fanned out to guard voting centers in what is also the first nationwide balloting since the 2011 American pullout. Polls across the energy-rich nation opened at 7 a.m. local time and will close at 6 p.m. Iraq's 22 million voters are electing a 328-seat parliament.

The only good thing to say about the violence that has risen up in Iraq is that so far, violence isn't accelerating this year:

The U.N. says 8,868 people were killed in 2013, and about 2,000 people were killed in the first three months of this year alone.

I know the phrasing wants to imply a higher rate, but since three months is a quarter of an entire year, that means that the rate of killing (2,000 X 4 = 8,000 per year) is so far lower than last year.

And this casualty rate reflects both al Qaeda's attempt to disrupt these elections and the result of their January offensive that led them to occupy parts of Anbar province:

Anbar province (most of western Iraq) has become a major battle zone as ISIL continues fighting in both Iraq and Syria. Efforts to expand the fighting to other parts of Iraq have failed. Not for want of trying as ISIL has conducted raids as far east as Abu Ghraib, with is 20 kilometers west of Baghdad and the outskirts of Baghdad itself. Efforts to get closer to Baghdad have been foiled by a strong and aggressive army presence around the city. Same situation in neighboring provinces. ... Pro-government tribesmen are losing patience with all this ISIL violence and disruption to life in Anbar and have managed to prevent ISIL from getting more gunmen into the city. A lot of the fighting now revolves around ISIL efforts to break the army cordon around Fallujah and to defend the rural ISIL bases that the army is now targeting for air and ground attacks.

While the Iraqis are taking way longer to defeat the jihadi offensive, at least the long jihadi occupations are reminding Sunni Arabs why they "awakened" in late 2006 and early 2007.

And the violence is reminding Iraqis that they need us to defend the gains of overthowing Saddam and defeating the Baathist, al Qaeda, and Iranian-backed Sadrists (as well as dealing with criminal gangs contributing to the carnage as they took advantage of the violence). Their confidence in coping without us has been recognized as an error:

Iraqi military commanders continue to demand their government do more to obtain help from the Americans. The U.S. has promised more intelligence support, including adding more military intelligence officers to the embassy staff to directly assist their Iraqi counterparts. The U.S. will also expand its Jordan based training program for Iraqi commandos.

The Obama administration was happy to let Iraq take the blame for no agreement rather than work to get to "yes." I don't expect us to send troops to Iraq in the numbers I wanted back in 2011 (25,000), but it would be nice to get to "yes" so that in case we do need to provide more substantive anti-terrorism support, the legal groundwork is in place.

Yet Iraqis vote despite the dangers and continue to defend this gain from the war. And in this country, some claim that the need to present picture ID to vote is a deterrent to voting. Amazing.

(Largely) Corrupt, Conscripted and Decrepit

This is a good overview of Russia's military prowess:

Russia's military operations in Crimea and on Ukraine's border suggest the country's poorly resourced armed forces have made improvements in recent years but would struggle to extend operations in central Europe and elsewhere, experts say. ...

"When I think of the Russian military, I think corrupt, conscripted and decrepit," Thompson said.

Of course, I think it is good because it includes a number of points I like to make: Crimea was not a real military operation (but it was an effective operation); Ukraine is weak and close to Russia, making Russia's military threat credible; Russia's decent armed forces are limited, which limits Russian objectives in a real military campaign; and Russia's military is not good enough to push West into Central Europe where more effective NATO militaries will oppose them.

But I keep going back and forth on what Putin will do in eastern Ukraine.

Objectively, based on my own back-of-the-envelope calculations, I think Russia would have trouble defeating a Ukraine that resists, if you include the pacification that would have to follow a seizure of the Ukraine's eastern bulge.

But Russians are pretty good at calculating correlation of forces. They may judge differently. Whether or not I am right or they are right would be irrelevant to the decision to invade.

And Russian nationalism might push Putin to invade if violence breaks out. Putin might not want to invade, but his political survival might rely on not resisting that nationalistic outpouring.

Russia still seems to hope for a subliminal invasion that rides their Spetsnaz operations to a separatist coup followed by a fake referendum in eastern Ukraine followed by a request to Russia for fraternal assistance to defend eastern Ukraine (followed by eventual annexation).

Until the last few days, it seemed as if the Russians were failing to simulate an uprising the way the Russians succeeded in Crimea. But the last few days seem to show a renewed Russian effort to achieve that Potemkin Secession:

The new seizures in Luhansk, 80 miles east of the centre of the rebellion in Donetsk, suggest that the separatists are continuing the pattern of occupations that has spread across eastern Ukraine over the past month.

If Ukraine cannot manage to counter this renewed Russian effort by retaking eastern Ukrainian cities and government buildings with their own assets and using minimal force, Russia may yet manage to take the east while denying that they are invading Ukraine (whether the Russians deny that their operation is an "invasion" or whether they deny they are moving troops into "Ukraine"--likely both).

We need to bolster Ukraine's ability to retake the east from Putin's subliminal invasion, resist a Russian invasion, resist a Russian occupation of Ukrainian territory, and potentially retake Crimea.

This effort (assuming Ukrainians are ready to fight for their country) exploits the fact that while Putin boasts that his military is freaking awesome based on the Crimea Operation, his military is largely corrupt, conscripted, and decrepit. He shouldn't want to put his boasts to a real test.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Who Didn't See This Coming?

Stealth planes have low radar visibility under certain circumstances. But not under all circumstances:

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—the jet that the Pentagon is counting on to be the stealthy future of its tactical aircraft—is having all sorts of shortcomings. But the most serious may be that the JSF is not, in fact, stealthy in the eyes of a growing number of Russian and Chinese [VHF band] radars.

You simply have to assume that the race between hiding and seeking will ebb and flow. After all, the original stealth light bomber, the F-117, no longer flies while the F-16 and F-15 still do, because the F-117's stealth is no longer up to the task of hiding from radar.

Stealth isn't a silver bullet. But I admit I kind of assumed that the new F-35's stealth advantage would at least last long enough to put the plane into operational squadrons.

But that didn't happen. As the article explains, the plane was supposed to be operational four years ago and the new radars have gotten better faster than we thought. So that killed that assumption about lasting long enough to give us an actual advantage in the field for a while.

The plane isn't useless because of this. We can adapt, too. But it will be more expensive to cope with this situation.

Technology is never the last word. And never assume the enemy is helpless in the face of our technology.

Make sure our military personnel are well trained to make the best use of the technology we have and make sure that our readiness levels are high to fight with what we have. That usually is the last word.

The Limits of Snowden

I guess Snowden's NSA leaks to Russia have limits:

The United States has proof that the Russian government in Moscow is running a network of spies inside eastern Ukraine because the U.S. government has recordings of their conversations, Secretary of State John Kerry said in a closed-door meeting Friday.


But no worries, Russia's defense minister, Shoigu, finally returned Secretary of Defense Hagel's phone calls to assure us that Russia won't "invade" Ukraine:

The Pentagon says Russia's defense chief has assured Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Russia will not invade Ukraine.

I feel silly now. With an assurance like that, what could go wrong?

One wonders what Russia will call it when their troops roll across the international border. Whatever the terminology, it won't be an "invasion."

Everybody is From Somewhere, Right?

By creating "micro-aggression" crimes, aren't leftists actually building barriers between groups by making the price of simple attempts at friendliness an opportunity for a denunciation for a thought crime?

Jonah Goldberg goes off on the "micro-aggression" movement (it is annoying):

The leftwingers — racial, gender, feminist whatever — all subscribe to this “micro-aggression” claptrap. This is the latest term of art for the same political-correctness spiel we’ve been hearing for decades. A “micro-aggression” is when you unintentionally say something (allegedly) insulting or insensitive that only an incredibly sensitive and politically programmed person would immediately take as a sign of oppression. Wikipedia tells me that “microinvalidations” are “communications that subtly exclude negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person and their social identities.” It offers an example of such a microtravesty: “White people ask Latinos where they are from.”

This of course raises the question of whether Sonia Sotomayor is a Wikipedia user or author. As Rich Lowry (Praise Be Upon Him) notes in his column, she makes a great deal of hay about these horrible affronts to human dignity, on the strange assumption that they had anything to do with the legal question before the court.

So here’s the double standard. According to the doctrine of microaggression, if I innocently ask a Latino, “Where are you from?” I am committing some grave, bigoted, thought crime that the Latino has every right to be furious about. But when some lefty screams at me that I am a white supremacist racist blankety blank based on nothing other than some conjured offense drawn from Marcusian hogwash and hooey, I am not only supposed to stand there, take it, and feel guilty about it — I’m also supposed to repent of my evil ways. Asking a Latino “Where are you from?” might be a faux pas — or it might be a friendly way to start a conversation! But as far as aggressions go, it seems awfully micro, even nano, compared with being called a racist because you asked the question.

I find it astounding that your average victim studies student can hear a micro-aggression, and from that tiny visible tip of some perceived "ism" or "phobia" instantly construct an entire iceberg of evil.

It's amazing, really, that a portion of the political spectrum that assumes conservatives are stupid, thinks that conservatives have entire secret languages both to subtly attack minorities when talking to them, but also to speak to each other in coded "dog whistle" terms!

But I digress (as I can!)

Back to the main point. If I may be so bold, everybody is from somewhere.

If someone asks me where I'm from, I say "I'm from Detroit." If I'm away from Michigan, I'll usually say, "I live in Ann Arbor, but I grew up in Detroit."

What I don't say, is "How dare you!? You assume I'm from Europe as if I don't belong here?!!"

Or from Canada. I get that, actually.

In this country, I actually assume someone who speaks with no identifiable foreign accent--regardless of skin tone--is from America. Apart from Native Americans, we are all immigrants or the offspring of immigrants at some point (even Native Americans simply have older immigrant lineage traced through the Bering Strait rather than the Mayflower, no?).

And even if I ask you where you are from in an effort to be friendly and start a conversation, I won't think more or less of you if you say "Mumbai" or "Bogota" rather than "Cleveland."

In this country, asking where you are from doesn't have the same overtones as it does in other parts of the world where blood and soil determine whether you "belong" or not. If you are from Tokyo or Togo, I'm really fine with that.

Russia's population of ethnic Russians is declining, and they may see Ukraine and other pockets of ethnic Russians in their "near abroad" as the raw materials of great power status that Russia must conquer. You can say you are "Ukrainian" now, but Putin just sees a Russian waiting to come out. Blood and soil trumps all.

We, by contrast, create Americans every day when immigrants raise their hands and pledge allegiance to our country--assuming we don't emphasize policies that reduce the incentive to assimilate as past waves of immigrants have become Americans. I know, you look at my picture and it just screams "privileged oppressor." But there was a time when Irish and Central European ancestry were not badges of white privilege in America. Naturalization and assimilation made me a presumed guilty micro-aggressor--not my place of birth.

Come on, people! In other parts of the world, people dream of mere "micro-aggression" as Heaven on Earth! Yet here, leftists want to build walls by making people afraid of starting a perfectly normal conversation with someone with a different skin tone by opening with a "where are you from?" ice breaker, lest they be accused of being a racist or xenophobe, or whatever.

Heck, the funniest response I ever got from a "where are you from?" conversation starter got me the reply "From the sea, if current theories are correct." Heh. We went out on a few dates, although that (predictably) didn't work out. Luckily, she was paler than I am. So no offense was taken about her watery origins.

We're all mutts, right? We're all from somewhere. Give somebody the benefit of the doubt if they ask that question. Have no worries, if they really are some "-ist" or "-phobe" you won't need to seek translation assistance for long to find out for sure. And if that doesn't happen, you might make a friend out of that whole messy conversation thing.

The Ultimate Renewable Resource

Unless we run out of innovation, we are unlikely to run out of natural resources.

Despite repeated predictions that we will run out of this or that, we always seem to find a replacement for (or more efficient way to use) this and that to keep moving forward.

Or are you still relying on straight-line projections from the turn of the 20th century that didn't account for innovation to fight the great horse manure blight threatening our cities?

Monday, April 28, 2014

When Yanukovich Was New

Here's a blast from the past relevant to the current Ukraine crisis.

I find it amazing that so many pundits in the media keep insisting, "who would have ever thought Putin would want to invade Ukraine?" From my original blog site (frozen in time by Reocities):

"Support Democracy in Ukraine" (Posted November 24, 2004)

Ukraine is in crisis over a government rigged election that has declared the pro-Russian candidate the victor in the presidential election over the pro-Western candidate. This is also a result of the division between ethnic Ukrainians from the west and ethnic Russians in the east of Ukraine. The Russians are quite simply trying to cobble together the empire they lost in 1991:

In Russia's view, the country remains a vital part of the "near abroad," the former Soviet republics with deep economic, historical and, in Ukraine's case, cultural, linguistic and ethnic bonds. Mr. Putin has invested considerable effort in drawing Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan into an economic and political union.

And there is nothing subtle about how the government rigged the election. This is blatant and the EU should be ashamed for its silence. Good God, the Ukrainian government couldn't even pull off a good vote stealing campaign like Hugo Chavez did in Venezuela! I bet even Jimmy Carter would have to admit something is wrong. Poland, to its credit and with its own experience in 1946 of having the Russians snatch democracy from them, has been vocal (via Instapundit) in defending democracy in Ukraine.

President Bush has rightly called for a peaceful inquiry into this rather than letting the 1,200 or so Ukrainian troops in Iraq silence us over this blatant power grab:

The United States is deeply disturbed by extensive and credible indications of fraud committed in the Ukrainian presidential election. We strongly support efforts to review the conduct of the election and urge Ukrainian authorities not to certify results until investigations of organized fraud are resolved. We call on the Government of Ukraine to respect the will of the Ukrainian people, and we urge all Ukrainians to resolve the situation through peaceful means. The Government bears a special responsibility not to use or incite violence, and to allow free media to report accurately on the situation without intimidation or coercion. The United States stands with the Ukrainian people in this difficult time.

The Ukrainian government doesn't look like it is in any mood to follow the rule of law:

Ukraine's election commission declared the Kremlin-backed prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, the winner of the country's bitterly disputed presidential election, sharpening a crisis sparked by the opposition candidate's allegations that the vote was fraudulent.

I have to wonder if the Ukrainian government will be willing to back this up with a Chinese-style throat stomping that kills thousands.

And what will Russia do? While Putin's Russia is far better than Soviet Russia, it is possible that this is in large measure only because the empire has been lopped off and the Russian military is far weaker than in the Soviet era. We must stop the Russians. I don't say this in some strange nostalgia for the Cold War. I want Russia to be our friend. I want them to be successful in fighting Islamic terrorists so that no more Beslans happen. I want them to prosper in a democracy under rule of law that even if imperfect is at least on the right path.

But that does not mean we should sacrifice our ideals to placate Putin and stand aside while he pursues goals that trample on our ideals. We must oppose Putin's blatant attempt to steal the Ukrainian election and put his own people in charge in Ukraine. If this is like Poland in 1946, will our silence allow freedom to be crushed in Ukraine for another forty years?

It is better for us to support democracy and rule of law over supporting a particular regime that may bring its troops in Iraq home in retaliation if the vote-stealers win in the end. Because one day the democrats will win and they may recall that we let them down because we could be bought with 1,200 troops in a quiet area of Iraq.

Besides, what exactly could Russia do? The broken shards of their conventional army are tied down in tiny Chechnya. The Russians can send in the FSB (old KGB) or launch nukes (and the nukes might work). That is the limit of their forceful response. Do they really want chaos on their southern border? I don't think they'll push this too far if the West stands up to them.

This incident is also why we expand NATO eastward. You never can tell what the future may bring. I hope it brings a Russia free and allied with us. But Putin doesn't seem to have that high on his list of things to do lately.

This year, Yanukovich was willing to kill a hundred to maintain power. But beyond that, there was no stomach for a slaughter. Russia did send in the FSB (with the Spetsnaz) to Crimea. And that worked. And Russia's military is somewhat revived now. So moving into into eastern Ukraine became an option.

I have no idea if any of the links still work.

Perhaps We Were Hasty

After ejecting us from our large air and naval bases in the Philippines after we won the Cold War (and we left without a fuss), the Philippines has reconsidered that decision. We want more places to be forward staging areas for operating in the western Pacific. We aren't restoring the Cold War situation, but then, this isn't the Cold War.

We will have access to Filipino bases on a more consistent basis:

The United States and the Philippines have reached a 10-year agreement that would allow a larger U.S. military presence in this Southeast Asian nation as it grapples with increasingly tense territorial disputes with China, White House officials said Sunday.

Two Philippine officials confirmed the agreement to The Associated Press before the White House announcement.

The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement would give American forces temporary access to selected military camps and allow them to preposition fighter jets and ships. It will be signed Monday at the main military camp in the Philippine capital, Manila, before President Barack Obama arrives on the last leg of a four-country Asian tour, following earlier stops in Japan, South Korea and Malaysia.

And the Philippines has a visible sign of our friendship. Thinking that the demise of the Soviet Union meant the end of all threats to the Philippines failed to account for a future rising China.

While this will help with reacting to natural disasters, the main point is to deter China from aggression or, failing that, increase our ability to defeat Chinese aggression.

This is a diplomatic success for the Philippines and for us. Let's hope that neither natural nor man-made disasters require us to use these bases in a crisis.


So the Obama administration spiked the ball by boasting that their threats of air strikes on Assad compelled Assad to give up his chemical weapons. Well, except for the chemical weapons he didn't declare and except for the chemical weapons he could make. But other than that, smart diplomacy and Nobel Peace Prizes all around!

As we prepare to conclude the destruction of the chemical weapons Assad has turned over to the West, Assad retains the ability to use chemical weapons. Somehow I just know this will be in the State Department annual report for 2014 as a 90% success.


Syria maintains an ability to deploy chemical weapons, a senior Western diplomat has said, citing intelligence from Britain, France and the United States.

"We have some intelligence showing, that they have not declared everything", a senior diplomat told the Reuters news agency, adding that a "substantial" part of the chemical weapons programme was hidden.

Yeah. I think I mentioned that possibility:

[We] won't really know if Assad provides a comprehensive listing, will we? Or is it late enough for Kerry to trust Lavrov on this?

And not to beat a dead horse, but if Saddam shipped chemical weapons or raw materials to Syria before, during, and even after we captured Baghdad, Assad might not count those "off the books" chemicals, eh?

And it seems as if Assad can still produce chemical weapons, notwithstanding the agreement that supposedly stripped Assad of this capability:

Syria maintains an ability to deploy chemical weapons, diplomats say, citing intelligence from Britain, France and the United States that could strengthen allegations Syria's military recently used chlorine gas in its bloody civil war.

The result is that despite shipping out 90% of Assad's declared chemical weapons stockpiles (including raw materials):

"We are convinced, and we have some intelligence showing, that they have not declared everything," a senior Western diplomat told Reuters, adding that the intelligence had come from Britain, France and the United States.

When asked how much of its program Syria has kept hidden, the diplomat said: "It's substantial." He offered no details.

I know:

Yeah, I mentioned the production of new chemical weapons angle, too, in my post above:

What about raw materials to make chemical weapons? If Assad really does get rid of all chemical weapons, having the means of production just allows Assad to make sure he has the freshest WMD available in the future.

In light of Assad's possible use of chlorine gas recently (while noting the possiblity that rebels could have done the deed), I also noted the possiblity of dual-use raw materials:

And, Oh! say the Assad people, you thought that kind of poison gas is included? We thought it was dual use and since it has a civilian purpose in agriculture (and really, aren't the food shortages bad enough without doing this to poor, suffering Syria?) it really didn't count... But okay, give us a few months to write up this list for you. If only you'd been more clear from the beginning, you see.

The second article even repeats the ridiculous notion that our threatened "unbelievably small" strikes compelled Assad to give up his chemical weapons.

In fact, this deal has bought time for Assad to defeat the rebellion by interrupting our support for the rebels and buying time for Iran and Russia to bolster Assad. With the deal time frame winding up, Assad still has chemical weapons capability and is stronger than he was in the fall of 2013 when the deal was signed.

On the bright side, Assad was not able to make good on his promise to deliver a knock-out blow to the rebellion during this period. As we begin to arm and train the rebels, this may merely be an unfortunate distraction into the realm of unsmart diplomacy that only delays the defeat of Assad's government.

Truly, our chief diplomat's intellect is dizzying.

Explanation Two

Iran says that the fake American carrier they are building will be used for military exercise purposes:

The Sunday report by independent Haft-e Sobh daily quotes Adm. Ali Fadavi, navy chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guards as saying Iranian forces should “target the carrier in the trainings, after it is completed.”

Earlier reports were that the "carrier" (built on a barge platform) was to be used for a movie may be wrong. I guess the explanations are not mutually exclusive.

The notion that the target vessel will help Iran's military learn our carriers' strengths and weaknesses is absurd. It's a barge that simply superficially looks like a scale model of one of our aircraft carriers. All Iran's military can really learn is how to sink a barge.

At best, I guess the platform could be used to see if missiles can target the silhouette of a carrier. If the Iranians have any missiles designed to pop up and then dive at the flight deck, that would be useful. But this is an awful lot of effort for a pseudo-SINKEX, isn't it?

Although I assume that they will film the flaming wreckage to play to their people should there be a war between America and Iran in order to prove that Iran is defeating the Great Satan at sea.

Rather than sinking the vessel, the Iranians would be better off towing it out to sea and using it for aircraft crew visual recognition training so they can distinguish a carrier from a tanker or container ship at a distance.

Controlling the Eastern Salient

So if Russia tries to hold the corner of eastern Ukraine defined by the Kharkov region in the north down to Donetsk in the south and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov, how many security forces would Russia need to control the region?

I'll assume that Russia takes all of the Luhansk region plus chunks of the Kharkov and Donetsk regions without trying to hold all of the latter two.

Luhansk Oblast has 2.3 million people.

Kharkov city has about half of that oblast's 2.7 million, and with other populated areas I'll guess Russia will need to control 2 million of this region's people.

Donetsk Oblast has 4.3 million people. The city of Donetsk has a million people and Mariupol has under half a million. With other populated areas, I'll assume 2 million people here, too.

So Russia needs to police 6.3 million people.

Assuming Russia needs 2% of the people in security forces, Russia will need 126,000 security forces to pacify the region.

Obviously, not all the security forces need to be Spetsnaz quality--but some will need to be Spetsnaz. A good number can be locally recruited police and paramilitaries. Others can be Interior Ministry troops from Russia designed for this kind of fight. Some will need to be Russian paratroopers from the higher quality force pool, while others could be second and third line motor infantry units that are not part of the most ready portion of the Russian army.

Yet the lower quality troops will suffer higher casualties and commit atrocities and otherwise abuse the people in ways that will potentially alienate the local population.

We didn't have too much of this problem in Iraq because we sent high quality volunteers with a good amount of training into the fight and not draftees as Russia will have to rely on for the bulk of their army in Ukraine. Russia has only about 100,000 decent quality army troops, and Russia surely doesn't want to tie down too many pacifying one corner of the empire.

If Ukraine continues to resist, much of the Russian conventional units allocated to Ukraine will need to stay concentrated to face Ukraine's military to keep it from counter-attacking into Russian-occupied territory. So Russia will need more troops than just the standard COIN level of troops in the eastern region. Some will need to stay formed maneuver units in order to conduct a conventional defense while others behind this screen break down to small units to conduct COIN missions.

And Russia will need to protect the frontier in sufficient density to prevent Ukraine from slipping special forces, irregulars (some recruited from refugees who flee the conquest), and supplies to bolster local partisans. And those Russian border posts trying to control the frontier will be vulnerable to attacks by Ukraine's conventional military.

Under these circumstances, Russia could very well face the temptation to drive deeper into Ukraine to stop this low-level war of attrition--and put themselves in the position of having to occupy even more territory with even fewer local supporters to count on than they can get in the far east of Ukraine.

This assumes Ukraine is capable of carrying on resistance and that the West provides military and economic aid to allow Ukraine to fight on. That's beyond my ability to guess.

But I can say that pacifying even a corner of eastern Ukraine if they resist and have the means to fight will strain Russia's military manpower until they can put sufficient locals into uniform. But even then Russia will need to keep significant regular and Interior Ministry forces in the area to guard the conquest from both internal resistance and a potential Ukrainian counter-offensive.

And if Ukraine doesn't sue for peace after losing that campaign for physical control of the region (and Ukraine will lose that fight--the only question is the price Ukraine inflicts on Russian forces for that win), the cost to Russia to actively defend the gains will go up dramatically.

Just because I can, I'll assume Russia will need 2 good motor rifle or tank division equivalents--or 20,000 troops--in a conventional defense role to hold off the Ukrainian army from just rolling back into occupied Ukraine.

Assuming Russia needs 126,000 security forces just for pacification and assuming local Ukrainians can eventually supply 2/3 of the security forces, Russia would need 42,000 of their own troops, from Spetsnaz to spearhead the fight to good paratroopers to support them, and mostly decent Interior Ministry infantry for security in higher threat areas and limited offensive missions. Plus helicopter units and artillery. Aircraft could be based within Russia. Let's say 22,000 Spetsnaz and paratroopers plus 20,000 Interior Ministry troops.

Until Russia can organize, train, and equip that local 2/3, Russia's first line units will be stretched and will need second and third tier Russian army units and more Interior Ministry troops to hold their ground.

I don't even mention Crimea. The 2 million people there have a lot of pro-Russian elements to staff local security to have a sufficient security force-to-population ratio. And the narrow isthmus to the mainland means that a relatively small Russian conventional force--from the higher quality force pool--can hold their ground in the face of a Ukrainian offensive long enough to allow Russian reinforcements to fly in to the region to hold Sevastopol and to cross the Kerch Strait to march on the base to break any siege the Ukrainians manage to impose if they break through the neck of the peninsula. But that is still probably 5,000 troops of higher quality committed to Crimea.

So out of Russia's perhaps 100,000 decent quality troop force pool, Russia would need 47,000 of them--about half before you even consider the need for troop rotation. You like to have a 3:1 ratio of forces at home to forces in the field. One third fighting, one third recovering from fighting, and one third preparing to go fight.

So already, Russia is at the worst point of our Iraq and Afghanistan combined campaigns during the Iraq surge when our units were either fighting overseas or preparing to go back, sometimes with less time at home than in the field.

Russia can substitute second and third tier army units to lessen the strain on the first line units, but to repeat, that will increase Russian casualties and guarantee outrages that alienate Ukrainians. Will Russia really go all Chechnya on the Ukrainians when Russia supposedly came in to save fellow Slavs?

Eastern Ukraine would be a tougher nut to pacify than Crimea. Russia can certainly occupy the eastern region's main cities and major roads relatively quickly. I don't know if Ukrainians will resist. But if Ukraine resists, I don't know if Russia could hold it at a price they are willing to pay.

On paper, Ukraine is a lovely asset for Russia. But only if Ukrainians cooperate.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Between Flexibility and Targeted Sanctions

We can all be grateful that post-reelection "flexibility" for Russia doesn't encompass conquering (all?) of Ukraine. But we do need to do more to help Ukraine fight Russia.

I'm actually fine with President Obama moving slowly on sanctions against Russia to keep the Europeans and others on board. If we charged ahead, I could see Europeans saying America is doing swell all on our own, so why should they get involved?

And I'm even fine with the notion that sales or gifts of major weapons are pointless, as this administration official said:

[National Security Adviser Tony] Blinken, however, made clear that Washington would not meet Ukraine's demands for weapons despite menacing Russian military exercises on its borders.

"Here is the bottom line. We could send weapons to Ukraine. It wouldn't make a difference in terms of their ability to stand up to the Russians," he said.

Instead, he said Washington would focus economic aid to Kiev, with an estimated $37 billion being rounded up by Washington, the IMF, World Bank and others.

"We need to be deliberate and do this in coordination with our partners," he said.

That economic aid is great and all--assuming it isn't wasted--but Ukraine first has to survive Russia's threats in the short run, no?

In regard to military needs, define "stand up" please.

We certainly have no need sending major weapons systems like fighter aircraft or armored fighting vehicles. Those would take too long to integrate into Ukraine's military. Egypt is still switching over weapons systems from Soviet origin to American, 35 years after Egypt dumped the Soviet Union and got America as their major sponsor.

Ukraine has a bunch of equipment. We can help by scrounging among our new NATO allies for spare parts and ammunition for what Ukraine already has.

We can supply things like landmines, small arms, hand grenades, anti-tank rockets, and night vision gear. Make it Russian stuff to go with what Ukraine has. Surely we can scrape up this stuff from around Europe alone. Add in uniforms and field gear to equip Ukrainian irregulars to complement Ukraine's conventional military.

Help the Ukrainian conventional forces with logistics assistance and advice. Help them with intelligence and planning advice.

If the definition of "stand up" means halting the Russians at the border, well no, we can't help Ukraine stand up to Russia.

But if "stand up" means helping Ukraine survive the initial invasion and still resist both with conventional forces that have avoided being destroyed in that first campaign and with special forces assisting irregulars waging partisan warfare behind Russia's lines (Russia will not have a high troop-to-population ratio after they occupy chunks of eastern Ukraine), then we most certainly can help Ukraine stand up to Russia.

If helping Ukraine "stand up" means helping Ukraine inflict casualties on the Russian invaders during the invasion and then during the occupation, then yes, we can help Ukraine stand up to Russia and at minimum remind the Russians that total conquest of Ukraine will not be pleasant or easy the way Crimea was a chance for Putin to boast of his military's prowess.

If Putin moves, and if Ukraine is able to resist Putin, we can help make Ukraine Putin's Ulcer.

Ya See, The NYT Editorial Board's Judgment Isn't the Standard

Silly me, worrying that Putin will order his troops to invade eastern Ukraine!

Yet the reasons for Mr. Putin to refrain from further military adventurism make a longer, more tangled list: the cost of a huge occupation force and the responsibility for the welfare of millions more people; the effect of new, more severe Western sanctions on an already weak economy; the possibility of significant Russian casualties caused by an insurgency in eastern Ukraine; a new, implacably anti-Russian western section of Ukraine; and likely pariah status internationally.

On balance, the negatives would seem to outweigh the positives, analysts said.

I'm just not convinced that (our) rationality is the way to judge Putin's decision-making process.

Hillary Did Get the Participation Ribbon

So what did Hillary Clinton accomplish during her tenure as Secretary of State?

When [Department of State Spokeswoman Jen] Psaki announced that the 2014 edition of the [Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, or QDDR] is now underway, to "build on the foundation established by the 2010 review," Associated Press reporter Matt Lee asked: "Off the top of your head, can you identify one tangible achievement that the last QDDR resulted in?"

Psaki could not. ...

"So I’m sure there are a range of things that were put into place that I’m not even aware of were a result," Psaki concluded.

"I won't hold my breath," said Lee.

Psaki's non-answer created an obviously embarrassing situation for the Department, and on Wednesday Psaki came to the briefing with an answer ready to go. ...

With plenty of time to prepare, the State Department came up with a number of mostly bureaucratic reorganizations as the legacy of Secretary Clinton's QDDR.  ...

After a bit of back-and-forth, Lee tried again: "I'm asking for actual demonstrable outcomes, not the creation of a new position or a new job." ...

Hillary Clinton's memoir of her time as secretary of state, "Hard Choices," is scheduled to come out in June. If, as many observers believe, it is part of the rollout of Clinton's 2016 presidential candidacy, the recent statements from the State Department raise a question: Will voters care if Clinton reorganized the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment? Or will they be looking for something much, much bigger?

No doubt, Hillary Clinton faced hard choices. But were there any decision points that she actually acted on? Or did she just get the Participation Ribbon?

On the bright side, she can get a lot of mileage simply by not being Secretary of State Kerry.

Life in "Russia"

Finally, we have proof of abuse of minorities in Ukrainian territory.

Crimeans should be learning that their referendum to join Russia was a case of one vote, one rigged outcome, one time. Enjoy your new Russian citizenship:

On April 15, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on Crimea documenting what the Russian government has tried to hide by denying international monitors access to Crimea: the imprisonment, torture, and killings of Crimean citizens who opposed Russia’s illegal annexation of the peninsula prior to the March referendum. ...

If the Russian government begins to impose through its occupation and purported annexation of Crimea the repressive laws it is increasingly implementing in Russia, Crimean residents may experience surprising restrictions on the rights they once freely exercised.

Surprising? What the Hell did those pro-Russian Crimeans expect when they chose to break in to the prison?

"If?" That will be a "when." "Mainland" Ukrainians should at least be grateful that the Russians couldn't wait a bit longer to begin abusing Crimeans. Waiting to imprison, torture, and kill opponents until after Russia took eastern Ukraine would have made far more sense, right? But the Russians couldn't manage business before pleasure, I guess.

Ukraine should use their UN seat while they can. Call for a UN peacekeeping mission in Crimea. Demand UN access to Crimeans who want to escape the prison of Russia rather than live under the new tsar.

Let's make sure that everyone in eastern Ukraine gets to see this information about life in Russia, eh? And this information about who is trying to lead them into the prison.

And spread the word before the UN needs to write a far longer report on abuses in eastern Ukraine under Russian occupation.

That Had to Be Humiliating

After coming into office assuming that being the anti-Bush and bringer of hope and change would magically change the foreign policy landscape, this had to be humiliating for our president to say:

Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye presented a united front against North Korea at a joint news conference following their summit on Friday, warning that they would respond firmly to any "provocations" by Pyongyang which routinely threatens the United States and South Korea with destruction.

"We don't use our military might to impose these things on others, but we will not hesitate to use our military might to defend our allies and our way of life," Obama told cheering U.S. forces at the Yongsan garrison on a sunny spring morning.

Wow. After thinking the world would swoon over him as much as a 2008 college dorm pizza party, and after getting a Nobel Peace Prize for not being George W. Bush, having to rely on our military power to back his words had to hurt President Obama a lot.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

The New Normal

The Un urged his troops to prepare for war. The accepted limitations under which they must operate to prepare for that war are pretty amazing.

As North Korea apparently gears up for another nuclear test, Kim Jong-Un tells the troops they have to do better:

[After] watching a shelling drill by an artillery sub-unit on Friday, he upbraided soldiers for their lax approach, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.

"Dear Supreme Commander Kim Jong-Un said nothing is more important than preparing for combat now, in the face of an impending conflict with the United States", KCNA reported. ...

"Watching the drill, he severely criticised the sub-unit for failing to make good combat preparation" citing the time it had taken to deploy, it said. ...

"The minds of the commanding officers of this sub-unit and relevant unit seem to be away from the battlefield", he said, KCNA reported. It is unusual for the agency to carry direct quotes from Kim.

Yet despite his criticism, The Un was understanding:

"Of course, they might do sideline jobs for improving service personnel's living conditions and do their bit in building a rich and powerful nation.

"However, they should always give priority to combat preparations", he said.

Got that? The Splenetic Rooster (or whatever animal nickname is authorized for Kim 3.0) not only knows that military units spend time on non-military tasks like growing food for the better living conditions and working in the civilian economy to produce GDP, but Kim approves of it.

It's just that Kim is reminding them that military training has to take priority over those things that should only be done in their spare time. They can sleep all they want when they're dead, right?

North Korea's military is in pretty bad shape if the supreme leader has to accept his military doing non-military training tasks just to survive his mis-rule.

UPDATE: Good luck with that:

Kim led a meeting of the Central Military Commission and "set forth important tasks for further developing the Korean People's Army and ways to do so", KCNA news agency said.

"He stressed the need to enhance the function and role of the political organs of the army if it is to preserve the proud history and tradition of being the army of the party, win one victory after another in the confrontation with the U.S. and creditably perform the mission as a shock force and standard-bearer in building a thriving nation."

The North Korean army is in shambles. Enhancing the political organs of the army aren't going to help them fight a war. Enhanced political organs and a buck will get you a cup of coffee, eh?

But that's all Kim Jong-Un has to offer. The reason North Korea's military is in the shape it is in is because the North Koreans can't afford the army to be a pillar of the state. Long before The Un rose to power, North Korea was forced to rely on a spooks and nukes to keep the kooks in power.

And efforts a few years ago to magically find the funds to restore the military have failed.

But what choice does Kim have when the army's loyalty is suspect, even the secret agents are being infected by corruption, and the nukes haven't been built and may not be as effective as the rulers hoped? The alternative is that Kim Jong-Un will be the last Kim to run North Korea.

So he'll tell the army to be more loyal and hope for the best.

To Be Fair, Shoigu is Busy Planning the Invasion

Why yes, now that you ask, my pucker factor is going up rather a lot.

Secretary of Defense Hagel can't get his phone calls to Russian Defense Minister Shoigu returned:

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters that Hagel is trying to speak with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, but the Russian Defense Ministry won't return his calls.

"We have made it clear to the Russians that Secretary Hagel is available for a phone call anytime," Warren said. "We have reached out to them and made it very clear to them that he is willing to speak with his counterpart" -- but, Warren said, "we have not heard back."

It's not just Hagel:

The Daily Beast also reported that, according to sources close to Russian leadership, the Kremlin has shut down high-level contact between top U.S. and Russian officials, for now.

Let's recall that the last time Hagel couldn't get a call returned (from the Yanukovich defense minister), the Russian subliminal invasion of Crimea was already underway.

I've got a really bad feeling about this, given that Russian troops are on the move across from eastern Ukraine and Russian aircraft are probing Ukrainian air space.

It could be that this is another fake invasion threat to keep the pot boiling. But when communications are shut down, that seems to indicate that a decision has been made. Otherwise, the Russians would be willing to talk to keep the situation from boiling over.

And President Obama is in Asia. Putin may feel that if he acts now, our reaction will be delayed just getting the president back to Washington, D.C. and up to speed on the latest events.

Russia could have their troops on the ground well before the scheduled (by pro-Russian groups) May 11 referendum by the so-called "People's Republic of Donetsk." Voting always goes better with Russian troops nearby.

So yeah, my pucker factor is way up.


North Korea is holding a second American. If Pyongyang's version can be trusted, the American seems to be trying to defect.

This is all sorts of stupid, if accurate:

KCNA said [Miller Matthew] Todd had a tourist visa for the DPRK, but tore it to pieces and shouted that he had come "to the DPRK after choosing it as a shelter."

One, I have to wonder if the man is really named Matthew Todd Miller, and the North Koreans are confused by name order.

Two, if Mr. Miller(?) is really seeking sanctuary in that gulag with a UN seat, I think we can safely say that the average IQ of both Americans and North Koreans just went up.

The Earnest "Why Does Putin Hate Us" Lament Continues

Ah, another entry in the "we are at fault for Russia's hostile policies" genre.

So basically, Russia worked with us in Afghanistan after 9/11, which Russia had an interest in pacifying given their own problem with Islamists in the Caucasus region--remember the Chechnya wars in the 1990s?

And Bush continued to see Putin as a man he could work with. Then in 2008 we wrecked the mood by accepting a Kosovo declaration of independence from Serbia (as if Russia has the veto over any actions affecting any Slavic people--let alone just ethnic Russians--anywhere in Europe); pulling out of the missile defense treaty with Russia (in order to defend against an Iranian threat that Russia helped prop up); and proposed to expand NATO into Ukraine and Georgia (shockingly, Russia has since seized land from both--just what were we thinking, eh?).

That wrecked our relations, the authors say.

Until the 2009 Obama administration "reset" which supposedly addressed the problem by accepting that we needed to do things to fix the relationship. We abandoned the Bush missile defense plan in eastern NATO countries that shook up our alliance there, agreed to a one-sided nuclear weapons agreement that left Russia's large stock of theater nuclear weapons intact, and fought jihadis in Afghanistan which the Soviet Union had fought but failed to defeat in the 1980s.

Yet despite those new efforts, Russia soon saw our evil hand in unrest within Russia in reaction to Putin's growing autocracy. So Russia went back to being all Russian-like, paranoid, and hostile.

I always find it amusing that the book of American sins that "caused" Putin to act aggressively never mentions the 2011 Libya War. The UN Security Council passed a resolution allowing a no-fly zone over Libya and Russia did not veto it. In my view, because a no-fly zone was pointless. But President Obama twisted that no-fly resolution into the legal basis for becoming the rebel air force and aiming for regime change in practice. Russia did not like being tricked that way, at all.

While I did not think it was worth it to go to war over Libya, I did not think it was immoral to overthrow the Khadaffi regime. And I don't blame the UNSC resolution bait and switch as something that justifies Putin's aggression in Europe and bloody hand in Syria. I'm just noting that if the war had taken place in 2008, it would be prime evidence of our blame (and let's not forget the lack of Congressional authorization and the administration's refusal to act under the War Powers Resolution, which would have led to impeachment talk had the war taken place in 2008--when Bush was in office, in case I'm not clear).

Face it, relations with Russia are bad because of Russia. Whether we think Putin has a soul that we can work with, deny that Russia has a veto power over the status of former colonies or our efforts to defend against nuclear rogue states, or operate under "reset," Russia eventually sees our plots to undermine Holy Mother Russia.

The funny thing is, as the article notes, Russia's paranoia about us developed in an environment where we actually didn't think much of Russia as we pursued other objectives. Plot against them? We were barely aware of them after 2001 as long as they didn't act against us out of spite and fond memories of pounding shoes on desks to shake the world.

If only we'd been nicer to Russia, all would be well. We should have scrapped NATO and included Russia in a new US-EU-Russia defense arrangement. Really? We should have pledged our country to a defense arrangement that put us on the line to defend Russia's border with China?

And if you want to argue that it could have been an anti-jihadi effort, why couldn't Russia have cooperated outside a formal alliance even with an atrophying--albeit expanding--NATO with nothing to do as Russia demonstrated it was nothing like the old Soviet Union the alliance was formed to oppose?

Yeah. If we do something abroad the left doesn't like, it is always our fault. Nobody on the left ever asks if we have reason to hate them.

And if some foreign nutball does something we don't like--well, ultimately that is our fault, too. Let the "why do they hate us?" debate begin. And they always have answers to that question.

Not Waiting to Be Rescued By Putin

Russia quickly simulated an uprising in Crimea with the fertile ground of ethnic Russians and actual Russians on the ground around the Russian naval base at Sevastopol. Eastern Ukraine is proving to be a tougher place to simulate pro-Russian attitudes.

If Russia wants eastern Ukraine, more and more it looks like they'll have to invade rather than rely on their Spetsnaz to capture it the way they took Crimea. The reason is that there are far fewer fools in eastern Ukraine who want to break into the prison that is Putin's Russia:

Donetsk, one of the largest cities in eastern Ukraine, is missing one element that proved vital to the success of the Kiev protests in toppling Ukraine's pro-Russian president: people. ...

A recent poll showed that only about 28% of people in the Donetsk region want to become part of Russia. Just 18% supported the seizure of the regional assembly, according to the survey, which the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, one of the country's most respected, independent pollsters, conducted from April 8-16.

Russia has fans there, to be sure. The like trade. They have family in Russia. But be part of Russia? No thank you, it seems.

Sure, Russian agents can rent a mob and import some loud talkers, but when the paycheck is gone, the protesters are mostly gone. True Putin believers are scarce on the ground.

Does Russia really want to test their military in taking an area this large? They might pull it off. But they might not. And even if they win, the Russians might lose that aura of competence that the Crimea operation lets Putin brag about.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Nobody Wants a War, But We Could Get One Anyway

I continue to think that Russia would make a mistake by going to war with Ukraine. But I don't know if Russia is bluffing. And if Russia is bluffing, I don't know that Putin can manage the crisis to avoid a war if this drags on too long.

I've written that I don't think that Putin's boasting about the rebirth of Russian military prowess is justified by the virtually bloodless conquest of Crimea. That was an impressive Spetsnaz operation. But it was not a military campaign.

Thus far, it seems as if Russia has failed to pull off a similar operation in the far east of Ukraine between Kharkov and Donetsk.

Yet Russia continues to apply pressure by holding the threat of invasion over Ukraine and by supporting the Spetsnaz-organized uprisings in the east in defiance of the Geneva agreement to de-escalate the crisis.

Ukraine is beginning to carry out operations to reverse those operations. If this goes on, Russia will find that they must escalate to their own conventional military intervention (which they did not need to do in Crimea, although they were ready for that) or accept defeat.

Russia is heightening the risk of war by insisting that Russia can define what is an acceptable use by Ukraine of military power within Ukraine's borders:

"They (Kiev) are waging a war on their own people. This is a bloody crime, and those who pushed the army to do that will pay, I am sure, and will face justice," Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told a meeting of diplomats.

If Kerry said that, I'd assume the payment would be karmic, in the fullness of time and counting on the judgment of history to place them on the wrong side of that tale.

With Lavrov, I assume that payment might be enforced by the 40,000 Russian troops massed near Ukraine and ready for action.

Ukraine, however, is ready to fight unlike during the Crimea situation where they were completely off guard and unprepared mentally as well as practically to resist--even apart from Russian operations to paralyze the Ukrainian forces in Crimea:

[Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy] Deshchytisa said his country had been taught a lesson by Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

"We will now fight with Russian troops if ... they invade Ukraine," he said. "The Ukrainian people and Ukrainian army are ready to do this. Ukraine will confront Russia. We will defend our land. We will defend our territory."

If Russia is determined to make Ukraine pay a price and Ukraine is willing to pay the price, there could be a war.

Even if Putin just wants to destabilize Ukraine with all this sabre rattling, could Putin paint himself into a corner with all his talk of protecting ethnic Russians suffering abuse from reborn Gestapo storm troopers roaming eastern Ukraine? Might an incident compel Putin to act if he doesn't want to stoke anger within Russia for failing to defend those ethnic Russians from the fascist threat?

And with loose Russian talk of how America is orchestrating events in Ukraine to undermine Holy Mother Russia (Their Foreign Minister Lavrov said the West--we wish it was that united--seeks to "seize control of Ukraine," of all things. In fact, "the West" collectively would have been happier if Ukraine had quietly slipped into the Russian orbit without guilt tripping us about ideals of national sovereignty and democracy.), can we count on having no Russian pilot or ship captain get carried away in the vicinity of an American ship or plane?

We say we are ready to act against Russian aggression, too, although that readiness is sanctions-related only, at this point. But Russia will point to this as just the tip of our plot against them.

Russia would quickly occupy eastern Ukraine if they moved. They could probably even link up with Crimea along the north shore of the Sea of Azov if they try to go that far.

But I have strong doubts that Russia could hold the area cheaply--if Ukrainians truly resist within occupied Ukraine and if the Ukrainian armed forces continue to fight--with harassment that avoids a decisive battle--while not suing for peace to accept this further loss.

As I've said, Ukraine needs to fight even a war they would lose just to make sure that Russia knows they must pay a price for attacking Ukraine. Ukraine could still make Russia look bad by making Putin win an ugly war that forfeits the reputation of military excellence that Putin is claiming the Crimea operation proved. That's the only way to hold off their more powerful neighbor in the long run.

So No Outreach to the Moslem World?

Great. This part of the Islamic world didn't get an outreach from our adminsitration.

We wouldn't meet with the leader of Crimea's Moslems who oppose Russia's conquest of the region:

Mustafa Dzhemilev was seeking to meet with visiting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Kiev, the Tatar assembly said late Monday. However, a senior U.S. administration official said they didn't meet and no meeting had been planned. Mr. Dzhemilev couldn't be reached on Tuesday for comment.

You'd think that we might want to leverage opposition to Russia's occupation of Crimea rather than act like talking to opponents of Russia's aggression is inconvenient for our smart diplomacy.

I Am Feeling Queasy, Now That You Mention It

President Obama stopped in Japan on an Asia trip to reassure our allies. I sincerely wish our president good luck.

This is going to be a tough presidential trip to Asia:

Rice described the purpose of the tour in vague and airy terms: “This is a positive trip with a positive agenda that underscores that the United States’ commitment to this region is growing, and is a cornerstone of our global engagement and is going to be there for the long term.”

Nothing is wrong with an American president spreading goodwill and eating good sushi, but the photo-op nature of the trip risks contributing to a perception that Obama’s Asian policy, and his foreign policy in general, is similarly itinerant. He’s seeing the sights, getting some good pics and moving along — more tourist than architect of world affairs.

I suspect that in retrospect, the Japanese will have fonder memories of that state dinner with George H. W. Bush a couple decades ago.

President Obama did state that the Senkakus fall within our security pact with Japan, while stating the mostly irrelevant caveat that the status of the islands must be settled peacefully between Japan and China:

“The policy of the United States is clear—the Senkaku Islands are administered by Japan and therefore fall within the scope of Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. And we oppose any unilateral attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of these islands,” the U.S leader stated ahead of his visit to Japan starting Wednesday. ...

He also stressed that maritime issues should be handled constructively. “Disputes need to be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy, not intimidation and coercion,” the president said.

Obviously, Japan could sell the islands or whatever and that is not our business. But as long as Japan holds them, we'd help defend them. That's a good statement to make to reassure Japan and provide fair warning to China.

At this point, the danger is that China will simply disregard what Peking views as another meaningless White House red line against taking steps that supposedly have consequences.

UPDATE: The president also offered military support for the Philippines, but did not guarantee we'd be fighting at their side against China.

I'm actually fine with that. The Philippines might want more, but that's not happening. As I've written before, we cannot pledge to automatically fight while the Philippines do not. Manila cannot escape the need to build up forces sufficient to fight China in small-scale campaigns that our pledge of assistance hopefully keep at a low enough level for the Philippines to win (with our support out of the line of fire).

I'm more worried that after losing a reputation for resolve, our president's welcome statements of resolve won't be believed in Peking:

In February, following Mr. Kerry's visit to Beijing, Chinese leaders told a visiting American delegation that they didn't take U.S. warnings seriously.

"Unfortunately, I don't think they're convinced by our muscularity," said a former administration official who took part in the delegation. "If we think we're ready to pull the trigger but they don't think that we're ready to pull the trigger, that's when bad things happen."

That's the problem. Once you lose a reputation for resolve, you probably have to fight to regain the reputation.

Have a nice day.

Correlation is Causation in This Case

I've noticed that my natural good nature that leads me to have sympathy for the challenges the president has in foreign affairs--notwithstanding that I believe many of his problems are self-inflicted (another sign of my basically good nature)--fades quickly whenever I hear the president speak on any particular issue.

Here are some good reasons why this inverse correlation has developed.

Reorganizing the Army

I missed some information over last summer about the Army's reorganization. It answers some of my questions of late.

On our active component brigade composition:

[The] Army will be left with a mix of 12 armored BCTs, 14 infantry BCTs, and seven Stryker BCTs.

Infantry includes paratroopers, light infantry, and airmobile. I'm not sure what this will include. A more recent article on the 101st Airmobile reorganization says that the 4th brigade of the division will be used to add an additional infantry battalion to the other brigades. So the division will go down to 3 brigades from 4.

Does this mean 10th Mountain and 25th Infantry provide 3 infantry brigades each? (But doesn't the latter include a Stryker brigade?) Then add 3 101st and 3 82nd Airborne brigades plus the 173rd Airborne Brigade? That's 13. What else is there in the broad infantry category? Are a couple heavy brigades also converting to infantry types?

And that's not as many active Strykers as I'd recently read about. Perhaps the higher total I read about included Army National Guard Stryker brigades.

According to that 101st article, not only are brigades getting assets, but the division headquarters are being beefed up with unspecified assets.

Back to the brigade composition article, the brigades are getting not only a third maneuver battalion, but a complete engineer battalion and a couple more artillery pieces:

Maj. Gen. John M. Murray, director of force management with Army G-3/5/7, said the Army will convert brigade support troops battalion within remaining BCTs into "brigade engineering battalions." Additionally, he said, BCTs will get additional "gap-crossing" capability, and route-clearance capability.

"We will also increase the fires capability," Murray said. "Specifically, we'll go from a 2x8-gun fires battalion to a 3x6. So two additional guns, one additional battery to support the three maneuver battalions. And then in order to do that, some of the echelon-above-brigade structure in terms of engineers will have to be reorganized to provide that additional engineering capability to the BCT."

The total will be 4,500 troops in the larger brigades. Nothing is mentioned about reorganizing the battalions so I assume they remain composed of 4 companies each.

What happens to the non-engineer support forces in the support troops battalion? Am I mistaken in assuming the brigades remain brigade combat teams capable of operations independent of a division headquarters and its assets? Is the division bolstering at the expense of brigade-level assets? I don't know. The units are still called brigade combat teams, so I guess the division role isn't being restored.

The only mention of Stryker brigades is this:

Stryker brigades, Murray said, currently have three maneuver battalions, but no brigade support troops battalion. Those brigades will get a brigade engineer battalion.

So they stay at 3 maneuver battalions of 3 maneuver companies each.

There is no mention of the small and light "recon" element of the brigade combat teams--intelligence, surveillance, targeting, and reconnaissance (I forget the official designation). I think they are too light and would like to see them more like an armored cavalry squadron (battalion-sized combined arms unit).

Anyway, I'm not sure how I missed the June 2013 information since I'd normally look for that stuff.

Quick pre-publication note. I just checked. I did not miss that news. I forgot it. I'm not sure which is worse ... I will say my concerns are remarkably (or perhaps not so remarkable) similar.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Asking Iranians to Give a Little More for Assad

If we had smart information operations, we'd be slipping into Iran discussions of how Iranians should be proud of how they sacrifice to keep Hezbollah and Assad fighting.

Iran is feeling the pinch of supplying Assad and Hezbollah:

Iranians have rushed to gas stations to fill their cars before a price surge expected at midnight on Thursday, as President Hassan Rouhani pushes ahead with a policy to cut fuel subsidies.

The new prices of subsidized petrol, diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) have not been announced, but the increases will test Rouhani's support among a population battered by soaring inflation that has been exacerbated by economic sanctions.

You have to free up money for adventures abroad some way.

Pity we eased those sanctions. Oh well. At least we can remind Iranians of what their leaders spend their nation's money on supporting. We'll do that, right?

The State of the Iraq-Syria Wars

Strategypage looks at Iraq and Syria. Our enemies can lose much in Iraq and Syria, but we have to support policies that defeat our enemies in Iraq and Syria.

Iraq continues the pattern of poor governance, but with the Shia majority instead of the Sunni majority in charge:

Iraq is a mess, and it always has been. It’s worse since 2003 because now there is no dictatorship to keep foreign (and domestic) journalists from reporting the details the true extent of the mess. In the last decade the international organizations that measure how effective (or ineffective) a country is at running its affairs have been able to measure Iraq. By over a dozen measures Iraq always comes in near the bottom. Local and foreign journalists like to blame this on the 2003 U.S.-British invasion that overthrew the decade’s old Baath Party dictatorship. But Iraqis, and many in the U.S. Department of Defense know better. Iraq has always been a mess, no matter who was running the place.

This is why I wanted to stay in Iraq after 2011 (I wanted 3 brigades in a 25,000-man force that trained and supported Iraqis, rather than fighting). After defeating the military threats and building Iraqi security forces capable of continuing that fight to the end, we needed both to support the campaign against the remnants of resistance and to build a stronger civil society--which would have been made easier by deterring Iranian interference with our military presence.

But we're out. Iran bullies Iraq. Sunni jihadis have regenerated. And we haven't been able to make a lot of progress in promoting rule of law to make progress in reducing the mess Iraq has long been in. Iraq could have been a beacon of hope for the Arab Spring.

Not that I'm defeatist. Our failure to stay has reduced Iraq's chances, but did not doom Iraq. Iraq may yet succeed as an example of an alternative to autocrats or Islamists in running your country. The Iraq War was certainly a local success that could eventually prosper if they get some breaks and we retain enough interest in helping them.

Read the rest, which goes into an interesting related topic of our 2003 invasion based on Iraq's institutional "mess."

Syria is a related struggle that has contributed to the rebirth of al Qaeda in Iraq and made Iranian pressure on Iraq to allow support for Assad more intense, thus undermining Iraq as collateral damage in Iran's battle for Syria.

Syria has endured the rebel surge and is clearing up the west. Strategypage for the first time seems to give Assad the edge:

The Syrian government has become more confident and boastful about its belief in ultimate victory over the rebels. The government’s principal allies Russia and Iran agree that this is now possible, although it may take years. Iranian media and officials are now openly declaring this as fact. The Assads believe (and proclaim) that the main fighting will end this year, followed by “counter-terrorist” operations for as long as it takes. There is much evidence to back these claims. The government apparently controls nearly all of the Lebanese border and is making progress in Homs, Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs. The official U.S. line is that the conflict has evolved into a “war of attrition” but even that description admits that the rebels have lost the initiative and that the government is now better off. The biggest advantage the government has, besides the Iranian mercenaries is the continuing civil war among the rebel Islamic terrorist groups.

But this edge is in the western region. Early on that seemed the only way for Assad to win and I judged Assad could control the west. So an Assad victory is redefined as surviving in a Core Syria built around his ethnic home base and the capital. So Assad is making progress in this narrower version of victory.

The question of whether Assad can then regain the rest of the country is a different story.

And the question of whether Assad can hold his Core Syria where non-allied people live after clearing the rebels out is a question that has yet to be answered. Will the rebels fight on after losing control of pockets of terrain in this Core Syria?

And my question is whether the Alawites and their allies can endure the casualties necessary to defend their narrow victory, let alone move against the rest of Syria. Assad will need to expand his base of support and induct Sunni Syrians into the armed forces to endure the casualties needed for these missions.

If we are serious about helping the rebels regain the initiative with training and weapons (and intelligence and advice?), we could reverse Assad's progress in achieving even his narrow victory.

In what would be a nice touch if Assad falls, Russia would lose their Syrian naval base; and Russia's shiny new Crimea loses a main use for its Sevastopol base in supporting Russia's naval operations in the eastern Mediterranean that could use Syria as its forward naval base.

And Iran would suffer a major defeat, too, losing a forward base in Syria and threatening Iran's ability to support Hezbollah.

Putin Will Tell the Separatists What They Want

It is interesting but irrelevant to report that separatists in eastern Ukraine aren't clear about what they want. Putin will tell the world what they want, and that will be the end of speculation about what eastern Ukrainians want.

Interesting. But what of it?

Despite largely uniform calls for a referendum on "federalization" of Ukraine, the anti-Kiev protesters now occupying government buildings across the restive Donbas region in eastern Ukraine don't appear to have a plan for how to bring that about – or even what their realized goal might look like.

As if their opinion matters. Putin will tell them and the world what these protesters want.

And if Russia succeeds in capturing eastern Ukraine, bringing all Ukrainians--ethnic Russians and not that group--into Mother Russia, that will be the end of wondering about the opinions of those ethnic Russian Ukrainians.

Well That's a Bloody Giveaway

The Russians are passing out medals for the conquest of Crimea. Inconveniently the medal dates the operation from February 20 to March 18.

Given that the Russians like to claim they had nothing to do with the spontaneous uprising by Crimeans, this is embarrassing.

Here's part of the Google translation:

[These] days not only Crimean faleristics (the science of collecting orders and medals), but also enriched by a new international forensics rarity. So, hundreds of people in Russia and the Russian Crimea were awarded the medal "For the return of the Crimea."

Medal this particularly interesting because her Russian Ministry of Defense, which manufactures a medal and on whose behalf the award, the date designated military operation to return the Crimea: February 20 - March 18, 2014.

That's well before the Little Green Men (disguised Spetsnaz) appeared in Crimea, which I noted on the 28th.

Let's see, on February 19th I wondered if Ukraine would be the consolation prize Putin would collect for losing in Olympics men's hockey.

On the 20th, I noted the eruption of violence and the possibility of a Russian partition of Ukraine.

On the 21st, I wrote about Yanukovich's people fleeing and wondering if he'd call for Russian help.

On the 23rd, the situation seemed bad enough for me to write up a Russian invasion scenario.

So yeah, speaking of the Russian invasion starting on February 20, 2014 makes sense.

The bright side is that in about a week from beginning that operation in Crimea, the Russians had perhaps 10,000 local militias and imported gunmen rising up under the direction of their Spetsnaz.

Russia has yet to achieve that level of simulated uprising in eastern Ukraine after a longer period of time, whether you start the clock from February 20th or the more recent building takeovers I noted on April 12th.

Russia will need to fight a war to take ground in eastern Ukraine. And I don't think Putin wants to risk an ugly showing in such an operation that would tarnish the undeserved reputation his conventional military has collected from the impressive Spetsnaz operation in Crimea.