Monday, June 30, 2014


With all due caution about declaring mission accomplished, today is the third day in a row I could access Netflix via the Wii console with minimal effort.

I do find it interesting that the months-long problem that just got worse with time seems to be resolving itself after I made a label for this issue. I'm assuming a coincidence.

If this holds up, I'll never say another bad thing about Netflix again.

UPDATE: It did not hold up. Now they're just flixing with me.

UPDATE: It worked a day later. And then I missed a day. We'll see if it works tonight, perhaps.

This Is Fun to Watch

I actually have little use for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I tend to agree with Charles Napier on religion trumping Western secular traditions. I worry what non-Western religious outrage might fall under its provisions even as I hope that the provisions for compelling state interest prevent that.

But the Hobby Lobby case outcome is really quite funny given the rather narrow scope of the ruling.

As if the administration didn't ram this mandate through absent specific statutory authority.

As if proper consideration of Obamacare wouldn't have allowed a legislative exception to RFRA if Democrats hadn't just rammed Obamacare through.

As if birth control in general rather than some specific abortion-like methods has been addressed in the ruling.

As if this isn't restricted to a very narrow category of companies.

As if women are denied birth control rather than those specific methods under Obamacare insurance policies provided by companies, if the companies don't want to provide them for religious reasons.

As if women can't legally purchase their own specific methods ruled out of bounds as a mandate for company policies.

As if, more generally, women can't pay for their own birth control rather than rely on the government.

As if women are too stupid to understand these details rather than reacting as if Republicans have just glued their thighs together. Yes, women, Democrats truly hope you are that stupid.

And the best part?

As if the Religious Freedom Restoration Act wasn't sponsored by Senator Chuck Schumer, passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress, and signed by President Bill Clinton.

And the Left is losing its mind over the ruling.

Grant me this is funny.

UPDATE: It strikes me that I should define "secular" given that it is a loaded word these days. I meant the West broadly in a non-sectarian manner not excluding religions tradition. The second definition in my dictionary puts it well: "Not specifically pertaining to religion or to a religious body." Napier would not have excluded Western religious values, I trust.

UPDATE: This pretty much sums up my amazement at the outrage from the left:

The notion that denying a subsidy for a product is equivalent to banning that product is one of the odder tenets of contemporary liberalism.

In what world is a ruling that prevents the government from forcing a company to provide something free to employees a denial of the right of those employees to buy that perfectly legal product with their own money?

Do Not Allow Kerry to Talk to Lavrov About Iraq

We strongly suggest that Maliki has to go to get our aid to beat ISIL. Why would we do this when some say we should help Assad kill ISIL? And when Iran and Russia help Iraq without any preconditions?

Russia is sending aircraft to Iraq's air force:

After the United States delayed a sale of fighter jets to Iraq, Russia sold planes to the Iraqi government. Now they've sent military experts to Baghdad.

Gen. Anwar Hama Ameen, who heads the Iraqi air force, explained that the secondhand jets would quickly be deployed in the government's fight against the Sunni extremist group ISIS.

I don't think it is fair to say we've delayed the sale of F-16s to Iraq because it takes time to train Iraqis to fly and maintain a new plane; and the Iraqis are fighting for the main base we planned to send the aircraft to. This is just a convenient excuse by Maliki to show us he has alternatives.

I do wonder who will fly and maintain these planes. Is Iraq buying crews and ground personnel to keep them flying?

Unlike the dilemma it poses for us, the fusion of the Iraq and Syria fronts is a windfall for Russia. They can portray their support for Maliki and Assad as a fight against ISIL jihadis--allowing Putin to pose as the good guy. And show us up as a less-than-reliable partner when the chips are down.

Reducing our role in Iraq by supplanting us to some degree also helps Iran--Russia's other buddy in the region--gain influence at our expense.

This is what smart diplomacy looks like, people.

We should help Iraq fight ISIL, and make sure that Iraqis know we will support whatever leader Iraq's laws put in the seat rather than trying to pull strings to choose Iraq's leader.

And for God's sake, don't let John Kerry talk to Russia's Lavrov about Iraq. Kerry will shake Lavrov's hand and then walk away without his watch, wallet, and underwear.

Please tell me that Kerry isn't so confused that he still believes he might earn a Nobel Peace Prize with his spasmodic contortions across the world stage. He has a better chance of getting a Hero of the Soviet Union award, at this rate.

And yes, I wrote "Soviet Union" on purpose.

UPDATE: Yes, Russia is providing pilots and ground crews. That will speed up procurement.

A Marketing Fail, At Least

Have the Chinese extracted all the pleasure out of self-pleasuring? Because if "Automatic Sperm Extractor" is the best they can call it, I do believe they could eff up a wet dream, too.

Let's hope that China doesn't take the lead in sexbot technology.

Strong Horse

The last time al Qaeda declared a caliphate in Iraq during the Bush administration, we kicked their asses so badly that President Obama could eventually proclaim that al Qaeda is dead. What happens this time?

I know, this declaration doesn't count as a defeat for us because al Qaeda Prime expelled ISIL (ISIS):

The al Qaeda breakaway group that has seized much of northern Syria and huge tracks of neighboring Iraq formally declared the creation of an Islamic state on Sunday in the territory under its control.

But if we don't work to defeat this caliphate, how long before ISIL expels al Qaeda Prime from the jihadi world and declares itself the al Qaeda Wing of the al Qaeda jihad?

UPDATE: You have to admit, the jihadis are patient in the face of setbacks.

UPDATE: Al Qaeda "Prime" might want to update their resumes':

In an audio recording distributed online Friday, ISIL's spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani declared Baghdadi "the caliph" and "leader for Muslims everywhere".

We'll see who the "splinter" group is.

I know some analysts are saying ISIL has "over-reached" with this announcement. But unless we defeat them, this isn't so.

UPDATE: Hostile takeover:

By claiming such preeminence, ISIS is seeking to eclipse al Qaeda and its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in what analysts see as the most dramatic shift in militant jihadism since 9/11.

The Obama administration insists that the weakness of al Qaeda Prime--they who attacked us on 9/11--is all the victory that matters. The Obama administration is wrong.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Drivel With a Chart

If this defense of the Obama administration's decision to withdraw our troops from Iraq in 2011 is the best that can be done, the defense side is pretty much done.

Right off the bat, this author's defense of the Obama decision to leave Iraq is just wrong:

Did President Obama usher in Iraq’s current crisis when he withdrew all U.S. forces and shattered the stability achieved by former president George W. Bush’s “surge”? Foreign policy hawks have vigorously promoted that narrative, but their account does not withstand scrutiny. For one thing, it is now abundantly clear the Iraqi government was not “stable or self-reliant” at the end of 2011. Further, U.S. boots on the ground would not have made it so. Before the troops came home, Americans watched for eight years as the United States failed to resolve Iraq’s internal conflicts.

Of course, the Obama administration justified withdrawal on the notion that Iraq was just fine. And war supporters believed Iraq was not ready to go it alone without our presence despite the fact that at that moment, Iraq was stable.

And while we didn't resolve Iraq's internal conflicts, we certainly did help reduce them to a low rumble and put in place democratic institutions that could tackle those internal disputes through politics rather than violence.

As for the internal conflicts, we did keep the Kurds inside Iraq where they provided the best units of the new Iraqi army when, in the Saddam era, the Kurds were completely separate from Iraq.

And we got the Sunni Arabs--who had every reason to hate us for wrecking their party by ending their minority-run dictatorship in Iraq under Saddam--to join us in large numbers in 2007 and work with the newly empowered Shia majority to fight al Qaeda in Iraq.

Further, even Maliki--who is the designated fall guy for Iraq's problems--subdued the pro-Iranian Shia militias in operations in the spring of 2008 with a military campaign.

So that was a pretty good record of reducing Iraq's internal conflicts and setting the stage for Iraq to be stable and self-reliant.

And as an aside, just what does the standard of "self-reliant" even mean when NATO nations needed much American support just to take on revolution-wracked Libya in 2011?

He says that Iraq's problems started with our intervention in 2003. Is he seriously trying to revive a notion of a pre-war kite-flying paradise on the Tigris and Euphrates?

Saddam was a bloody butcher using force to unsuccessfully keep Iraq together under minority Sunni Arab rule. The Kurds were autonomous (under our no-fly zone aerial umbrella); Anbar ran its own affairs as Saddam subcontracted rule to the tribes if they behaved; the Shias were barely suppressed with Baath party bully boys and the imported jihadis of Saddam's Fedayeen deployed to keep them down; and even the Baghdad region most under Saddam's control had criminal gangs given the power to maintain order on the streets.

In what alternate campus faculty world was Iraq stable and self-reliant before we invaded?

But what really gets me is the chart that the professor uses to prove our interventions make things worse rather than better.

Amusingly enough, after noting the dangers of cherry-picking cases, he ignores our continued presence in West Germany and Japan, ending our presence in 1952; and fails to include post-Korean War South Korea where our troops also still help provide security; while putting Afghanistan and Kosovo on as "ongoing." Either include the three biggest success stories of American long-term military presence or take Afghanistan and Kosovo off, since all are pretty much ongoing, aren't they?

And how do you treat Italy? They were an enemy that switched sides to being a friend. And a bonus is that our military presence continues to this day, too. In what world did our presence end in 1948? And Italy's revolving door governance is not the best measure of stability, is it?

And not all interventions are the same, meaning not all occupations have the same objective as the one in Iraq.

Grenada and Panama, for example, were efforts to change hostile regimes that were the problems. We weren't needed to keep internal divisions peaceful and there were no foreign threats to deter.

Kuwait was the victim of conquest that we reversed. Having reversed the conquest, pre-conquest governance was revived easily. Besides, we have had a continuous military presence in Kuwait since 1991, so how does the author claim our military presence lasted but a year?

Speaking of invasions, so our 3-year presence in South Korea from 1945-1948--after South Korea had been a colony of Japan for half a century--failed to leave a stable country? Well, yeah. And there was also that 1950 invasion by North Korea that ended the possibility that it might have worked out given some time.

Speaking of invasions. South Vietnam was stable enough with the Viet Cong largely defeated by 1973. But then there were those small matters of our Congress cutting off aid and our support plus the detail of a mechanized North Vietnamese invasion that prevented a longer view and a potential "yes" in the stable column,

Cambodia is on the list of countries we occupied and therefore tried but failed to make stable? Are you kidding me? In what alternate world was that what was going on? In fact, we conducted operations against North Vietnamese-controlled border areas being used as supply depots for the war in South Vietnam.

Our intervention in Lebanon was because of instability existing already and we were invited in by the government to deter attempts to defeat the government. Nor did this coded "success" end there as the next Lebanon entry shows.

That second intervention was partly the result of Israel's invasion, Syria's partial occupation, Iran's intervention with terrorism, and further demographic changes that the "stable" Lebanon's system would not change to reflect. Inflexible is not the same as stable. And we basically sat at the Beirut airport. In what Bizarro world did we "occupy" Lebanon?

And the chart rather implies, as the author's implication that Iraq was stable before we intervened supports, that these states were stable prior to our interventions. Even if most states were not stabilized after our interventions, doesn't the fact that we felt compelled to intervene indicate that continued instability was likely without us there? So isn't it pretty likely that all those cases would have been coded as unstable without our intervention? It is way too simplistic to simply count outcomes on even a well-constructed chart and say our presence is good or bad without pondering what our lack of intervention would have resulted in.

For Iraq, saying Iraq was not stable after 2011 ignores the fact that Iraq initially was pretty stable after we left. The Obama administration boasted of it and used that stability as a reason we could leave. If the author can say South Vietnam was not stable after we left when it actually took an invasion to destroy their government, Iraq should be coded as stable.

Sadly, South Vietnam and Iraq do share similarities. Both were ultimately successful military operations undermined by our refusal to defend what we gained by battlefield victory.

Really? Haiti and Somalia were stable and self-reliant until we arrived? Really?

Bosnia is stable? Huh. And I dispute the end date of 2004. In 2008 there were a couple thousand foreign troops in Bosnia from a number of nations, including America. And a European force continues to help stabilize the place to this day. Ah, the joys of being stable and self-reliant!

And what of his durations of interventions? We went to war with Japan and Germany in 1941. If that doesn't count because it isn't post-war, why is South Vietnam counted from 1964 when that war continued even after we left, making a mockery of the notion that a post-war occupation is what the author is portraying?

And what of Iraq's date range? Shouldn't that post-war occupation really start in 2009 when we formally ended our combat operations by ending Operation Iraqi Freedom and beginning Operation New Dawn?

The Dominican Republic wasn't so much an occupation as an effort to protect Americans on the island. Our few casualties in that intervention should be a clue. We did pressure the sides in the civil war to make a deal, and that worked.

Austria is an odd case since all foreign forces withdrew and refrained from interfering in a neutral state. Iraq did not have that kind of restraint from Syria, Iran, or the global Sunni Arab jihadi movement.

Honestly, the chart that provides the basis of the author's analysis is worthless as a tool to judge pre-intervention stability or the effects of our occupations in stabilizing a defeated enemy nation or in allowing an ally we successfully defend from an internal and/or external threat thrive.

The author is basically flinging poo from his monkey cage. If this article is the best that the defenders of the Obama administration failure to stay in Iraq can do to escape responsibility for the Iraq crisis, they can't make the case.

NOTE: I expanded a couple sections after publication to flesh out points that should have been clearer.

Staging Area

Call me suspicious, but is Israel's endorsement of Kurdish independence given in order to get Kurdistan on Iran's border as a staging area to attack Iran's nuclear facilities?

Recon drones based from there before the strike would be useful.

Aerial refueling problems would be much easier to solve if Israeli planes could land in Kurdistan on the way back from strikes to refuel.

Search and rescue assets in this region could help retrieve downed pilots.

Israel might even be able to stage a second-strike package into Kurdistan while the initial attack commences, after the need for surprise is gone, and after they assess the damage done in the first wave of strikes.

That would lessen the pressure on Azerbaijan to carry the whole burden.

And every little bit of innovation helps Israel create the capability to strike Iran's nuclear facilities and achieve surprise.

Pivot to Killing Jihadis

This ISIL invasion of northern Iraq was more of an uprising by Sunni Arabs that the mobile forces of ISIL supported and exploited. Without uprisings to weaken the Iraqi security forces, ISIL doesn't seem like it can gain and then hold much more territory.

Soon after the uprising began, I doubted that the media fears that ISIL was about to bounce Baghdad would come true. A retired Marine general thinks the worst is over:

The worst of the insurgency in Iraq is "over", a former general who commanded US Marines and British forces in the 2003 US-led invasion said Friday, in a rare note of optimism over the crisis.

Speaking on the sidelines of the annual conference of Iran's exiled opposition -- in which he was a guest speaker -- General James Conway said the insurgents who have overrun major parts of Iraq were unlikely to make any further significant gains.

His point out, as I and others have noted, that the success is in Sunni Arab regions and now ISIL is up against Kurdish and Shia-majority areas where local support will be scarce.

He also anticipates friction between the locals who rose up and ISIL jihadis.

I think this is right on the money.

Let me also add that all that hand wringing that ISIL captured lots of equipment from the Iraqi army ignores the fact that once the vehicles break down, who repairs them? Who has the spare parts? Logistical support is critical to keeping an army's armored vehicles and trucks just running.

That's one reason I wanted our troops in Iraq after 2011 and why I want troops to remain in Afghanistan for longer than we plan.

The money (especially), small arms, and ammo that ISIL took are far more significant. The heavier stuff needs to be used before it wears out.

Iraqi forces are gathering and regrouping in Baghdad and the front to the north, and have even counter-attacked.

Much depends on how many Sunni Arabs rose up to benefit from the ISIL mobile force. (As an aside, ISIL's success against static Iraqi garrisons shows why I've been pining for a rebel mobile force for the Syrian rebels.)

And whether the Iraqis can find a mobile force to spearhead their drive north.

But do stop panicking about the Iraqi army. It was never very good. Which is why our invasion was a cake walk.

Yes. The invasion was historically a cake walk, notwithstanding the subsequent Syrian and Iranian intervention to support Baathist and Sadrist resistance, and to funnel al Qaeda in to slaughter and wreak havoc. We speak of the "Splendid Little War" with Spain in 1898, do we not? Yet insurgency in the Philippines raged for years and our casualties dwarfed the conventional war's death toll.

But I digress.

We made Iraq's troops better than they ever were, but it wasn't equipped and trained to be more of an army than a counter-insurgency light infantry force. And without us there to sustain the progress we made--training is only as good as what your latest recruits receive after the better trained troops leave the service, after all--the Iraqi army lost its quality edge while not getting the firepower to make up a little of that.

We'll see how many of Iraq's 900,000 ground security forces are actual soldiers rather than glorified security guards.

Remember, dividing up Iraq merely ratifies the Sunni Arab jihadi gains before we can react and help the Iraqis fight back effectively. It is giving up in the face of a setback.

That is not how a superpower should react to events on the ground in Iraq. It's worse than an immoral decision to abandon people to the tender mercies of jihadi nutballs. It's a mistake.

Work the problem. Kill jihadis. If they are going to mass to take territory, the least we can do is kill as many as possible while there is a target-rich environment.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Go West, Young Man

A couple decades late, Ukraine has finally decided to move West while they have any territory and independence from Russia left:

Over Russia's objections, Ukraine's new president on Friday signed a free-trade deal binding his country more closely to Western Europe, sealing the very agreement that triggered the bloodshed and political convulsions of the past seven months.

The EU will be awful--for people who already have freedom. Oddly, it is better for those like Ukraine who face a bleaker immediate future. Kiev can worry about a future Brussels when Moscow is safely in the distance in the rear view mirror.

I stand corrected. Ukrainians may have lost a province, but they may have escaped the bear trap that gripped them and appeared to doom them all.

Let Crimeans enjoy their stupid choice.

And to protect their choice, Ukrainians need to prepare for the next Russian aggression--if the current one in the east is actually over, of course.

The First Step North

The Iraqi military appears to have gained the upper hand in Tikrit even if it hasn't--as claimed--retaken the city.

Iraqi special forces spearheaded the attack by flying into a stadium to establish an airhead.

Iraqi troops with armored vehicles, other security forces, Shia volunteers, and local Sunni Arab gunmen who did not join ISIL converged on Tikrit along for axes of advance.

There is no word if non-special forces were flown in to support the initial air assault on the stadium.

Iraqi helicopters provided fire support.

I'm assuming we provided surveillance support.

It isn't clear how much actual fighting has taken place, although some clashes were reported.

Reports of mass graves from the so-far brief ISIL occupation are already coming out, as well as killings by retreating Iraqi forces. Wonderful.

See here and here.

UPDATE: The Iraqis landed troops north of Tikrit, too, which hopefully disrupts ISIL more and keeps them from holding the line at Tikrit.

To Be Clear, TDR Is Not Within Any Nine-Dashed Line

I've long gotten a lot of hits from Russia and Bulgaria registered on my Blogger statistics that I assume are spam- and malware-related. But over the last month, China has gone from being a minor source to second on my audience source. Very odd.

Uh Oh, Another Stupid Internet Video Sets Off a Nutball

North Korea is upset about a movie made in America. Clearly, whatever happens, we have it coming to us:

Apparently Kim sees nothing funny about a plot line that has a bumbling American talk-show host and his producer, played by James Franco and Seth Rogen, accepting a CIA proposal to turn their trip to North Korea to interview Kim into a hit, so to speak.

The movie, titled “The Interview,” isn’t set to debut on world screens until this fall. But a trailer for the film has been posted on Youtube, prompting a gush of invective from the Pyongyang regime.

Calling the movie “the most blatant act of terrorism and war [that] will absolutely not be tolerated,” the North Korean government said in a statement that “if the US administration allows and defends the showing of the film, a merciless countermeasure will be taken.”

A YouTube trailer?

Well, that's all you need to know, really. If North Korea strikes, we'll have to put James Franco and Seth Rogen in jail. Let's hope they have probation terms we can scrutinize.

Kim Jong Un is yet another reason God gave America JDAMs.

And really, we owed The Un some payback after his last video.

Friday, June 27, 2014


Lamb and I discovered the carnival is in town when we went grocery shopping this morning.

So we hit the pool. Ate dinner. And then rolled to the high school.

I was trying to time the shot when Lamb roared toward me at her closest approach. So .... close.

She had a ball and was only slightly nauseous after two hours. So that's when we called it quits.

I'm glad we didn't miss it. It's a summer tradition. I was expecting it next weekend!

My Soccer Prediction

As America makes it to the next round with a strangely unsatisfying loss to Germany that nonetheless did not prevent us from advancing because Portugal won their game (wow, it isn't enough to watch your own boring game--you have to watch a completely different boring game!), I remain perplexed about the game. Yet I can offer a prediction that nobody can refute.

One, let me start with this (tip to Mad Minerva):

I cried with laughter. Oh my God.

But I digress. My prediction is more important.

The rest of the world continues to berate America for not appreciating soccer.

One, they'd help their case if they stopped calling it "football" since we have football.

Two, my prediction: the rest of the world will stop berating us for not appreciating soccer the moment we play in a game for the World Cup.

It's one thing to insult us for failing to appreciate soccer as long as we don't win in the sport. But the moment we threaten to dominate the sport, the world will stop insisting that we embrace soccer.

I suspect at that point that FIFA will become the official sponsor of curling.

But I do hope that we keep winning. My son is oddly into the World Cup. I think the painful summer void after NHL hockey ends but before fall football begins has something to do with it. But it is hard not to be affected by his youthful enthusiasm for the only game in town at the moment.

Yet I'm reasonably sure that Mister's enthusiasm for the sport peaks the moment American is out of the tournament. And that will pretty much be the peak of American interest, too. So the world will be able to continue to berate us for not appreciating soccer the way they do.

Until we dominate the sport, of course.

The Spirit is Willing

I'll hand it to the Iraqis. They have balls. They launched an airmobile assault into ISIL-held Tikrit:

Iraqi forces launched an airborne assault on rebel-held Tikrit on Thursday with commandos flown into a stadium in helicopters, at least one of which crashed after taking fire from insurgents who have seized northern cities.

Eyewitnesses said battles were raging in the city, hometown of former dictator Saddam Hussein, which fell to Sunni Islamist fighters two weeks ago on the third day of a lightning offensive that has given them control of most majority Sunni regions.

If just a few helicopters made it in, that's not more than a platoon. And Iraq does not have a lot of commandos.

But I would like to again shoot down the notion that Iraq has a million-man army as the article incorrectly states.

The army--which is a counter-insurgency light force for the most part, had fewer than 300,000 prior to the Mosul debacle. The other 600,000+ ground troops are police and facilities security guards.

Those 600,000 are good for guard duty only--and not against threat levels that are too high. ISIS is clearly too high a threat level if they can mass forces to strike.

If the army has 250,000 left, a good proportion of those troops will be needed to bolster the security guard-level forces against the higher threat level of ISIS killers.

Other troops are needed to watch the Anbar front. More are needed to protect sprawling Baghdad.

So I'm not sure how many real troops Iraq has to launch a counter-attack north.

I do know they need more than the 4,000 or so good quality counter-terror forces--if they are the ones who landed in Tikrit, as I suspect--in order to beat ISIL.

And I think I know that using these kind-of special forces as simply reliable infantry will burn them out in missions that they really shouldn't be performing. Iraq needs reliable infantry for missions like this. Or at least they need them to follow the commandos who open the door in order to take over the burden of the fight.

So while the instinct to counter-attack is good, I hope that Iraq finds the appropriate forces to combat the jihadis rather than burn out their few really high quality special forces-type soldiers.

Did ISIL Engineer Their Own Awakening?

Obviously, the ISIL/ISIS invasion of northern Syria was merely the organized spearhead of a Sunni uprising. Otherwise the extent of the ISIL offensive doesn't make sense. How many armed Sunnis are up there?

The new war of ISIL trying to create its own caliphate out of eastern Syria and western and northern Iraq doesn't involve that many ISIL forces:

The ISIL forces are not numerous with total strength of about 10,000. Some 70 percent are still in Syria and 3,000 in Iraq are joined by even more Sunni tribal militias and various other Sunni groups (pro-Saddam Baath Party groups Sunni Nationalist groups). What ISIL lacks in numbers they make up for in ferociousness. This shows how effective having so many men willing to die fighting larger forces of men who are only willing to kill.

But by definition, the spearhead can't be everywhere. Just how many Sunni armed men are holding all that territory?

This would help answer the question of how so many Iraqi troops could just fold and run since ISIL captured Mosul. If we're talking tens of thousands of armed Sunni Arabs joining the ISIL shock troops, the security force collapse is bad but not quite as shameful.

As an aside, that Strategypage post puts the Shia foreign legion shock troops in Syria fighting for Assad at 20,000. That's way larger than I'd thought earlier estimates had placed the total. And that's pure tip of the spear. I'm reasonably sure that they plug into Syrian military logistics. So that's a lot of trigger pullers.

But with only 3,000 ISIL in Iraq, there have to be a whole lot more Sunni Arab militias joining in. And that will be a problem for ISIL control of Iraqi territory even if Iraq doesn't counter-attack:

The question looms over who will triumph: the al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which aims to carve out a modern-day Caliphate, or myriad Iraqi Sunni armed factions, who fight based on a nexus of tribal, family, military and religious ties and nostalgia for the past before the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Many experts and Western officials believe ISIL, due to its internal cohesion, and access to high-powered weapons and stolen cash, will overpower its Sunni rivals.

As I've noted, the Iraqis need a well-trained mobile force that can be the means of smashing through the thin ISIL control. Without that--as the French provided in Mali--the Iraqi government can't quickly defeat the ISIL offensive if there are sizable numbers of Iraqi Sunni Arabs siding with ISIL.

If Iraq can't start driving back ISIL fairly quickly, the ISIL territory will hold out and the Sunni Arabs may once again find out that they can't use the jihadis to leverage their way back into power as they are left to face the jihadis in their own communities. They tried and failed to do that in 2004 and less than three years later turned against the jihadis to side with us in the Awakening.

But can we afford the time it will take to alienate enough Iraqi Sunni Arabs from the ISIL alliance? Or will the Sunni Arabs tire more quickly of the jihadis given their past with the jihadis?

And just where is the main ISIL front? In Syria where they might drive a minority government from power? Or in Iraq where they'd have to drive a majority government from power? So far, ISIL seems to value the Syrian front more:

The equipment taken includes armored vehicles, small arms, ammunition, artillery, communication devices, uniforms and logistical vehicles. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant may have also seized night vision equipment and air defense weaponry. This gear would provide a substantial boost on the battlefield in Syria, and the group has indeed already begun to transfer some of this equipment across the border.

If ISIL views Syria as the main front, will ISIL strip it of enough assets that the Iraq front vulnerable to a serious counter-attack?

A focus by ISIL on Syria should leave the ISIL/Iraqi Sunni Arab (including Baathists) alliance vulnerable to divide and conquer tactics since the Sunni Arabs might start to feel that ending up on the losing side again in a hard fight against the Shias could end with their expulsion from Iraq. We aren't in Iraq to prevent that now, are we?

If we (I say that broadly meaning America and the Iraqis) can start prying Sunni Arabs away from the ISIL-led uprising, and organizing those Sunni Arabs who haven't joined ISIL, the Sunni Arabs could perhaps decide that the ISIL offensive is leverage to get a better deal with the Iraqi government rather than risk massive ethnic cleansing in a losing uprising.

It would really help to know just how many armed Sunni Arabs rose up as ISIL charged forward. Then we'll know the true scale of the problem.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Good grief. Is my Netflix problem over?

Just for hoots, I tried to sign in to Netflix via the Wii.

And it worked! I wasn't actually intending to watch TV, but I hated to waste the chance.

I watched a show.

Then it locked up.

The Xbox 360 didn't work.

Then I hit reset on the Wii--and it worked again!

I'm almost giddy. I wonder if it will work tomorrow?

UPDATE: It did not work Friday. Once again, I was informed that it could not connect to Netlix, and perhaps I'm not connected to the Internet.

So reset that wall sign to 0 Days Since Last Netflix Fail.

Insert Unbelievably Small Threat Here

I remain impressed that the Russians manage not to laugh out loud in Kerry's face whenever he speaks to them.


"We are in full agreement that it is critical for Russia to show in the next hours, literally, that they're moving to help disarm the separatists [in eastern Ukraine], to encourage them to disarm, to call on them to lay down their weapons and to begin to become part of a legitimate process," Kerry told reporters in Paris.

In what alternate world do the Russians--literally or figuratively--wet their pants in fear when Kerry speaks all forceful-like?

I mean, did Kerry threaten unbelievably small sanctions, or something?

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link.

UPDATE: I know. This is shocking:

Last week, John Kerry said that Russia needed to pull back in Ukraine in a matter of "hours, literally."

But more than 100 hours later, Russia has done no such thing.

John Kerry couldn't issue a believable ultimatum to the bus boy who cleans his table at his favorite French restaurant.

Face it. John Kerry himself is the "flexibility" that Preident Obama promised Russia back in 2012.

When Everyone is the Enemy of an Enemy

This Stratfor analysis as applied to Iraq seems reasonable at this point. But rather than being a case for staying out, it allows us to win:

To the extent that the United States has any interest in the regions, it cannot act with direct force. Instead, it must act with indirect force by using the interests and hostilities of the parties on the ground to serve as the first line of containment. If the United States intervenes at all, it will do so by supporting factions that are of interest to Washington. ... In Iraq, it would mean applying sufficient force to prevent the annihilation of any of the country's three major groups, but not enough force to attempt to resolve the conflict.

That's basically why I wanted to keep troops in Iraq after 2011. Our presence would prevent any parties from going outside of politics to wipe out their opponents, and keep outside powers from supporting one faction to achieve a violent victory.

With the safety net of survival in place, the groups could negotiate deals. We don't need to suppress the divisions with violence as Saddam did. Just make the divided factions keep competition within peaceful means.

Like I've said since January, send Biden to Iraq and keep him there until there is a deal among the parties to fight the ISIL invasion.

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Map

China issued a new official map making China's claim on the South China Sea more clear:

China has unveiled a new official map of the country giving greater play to its claims on the South China Sea, state media said on Wednesday, making the disputed waters and its numerous islets and reefs more clearly seem like national territory.

Previous maps published by the government already include China's claims to most of the South China Sea, but in a little box normally in a bottom corner to enable the rest of the country to fit on the map.

The new, longer map dispenses with the box, and shows continental China along with its self-declared sea boundary in the South China Sea - stretching right down to the coasts of Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines - on one complete map.

The maps keep getting bigger.

One day, everyone will be on the map, I'm sure.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ugly Is as Ugly Does

Obviously, there is no chance I would donate to Occupy Wall Street.

I was initially shocked that any Occupy sympathizers had any money at all to donate. But then the article says that the researchers provided the donation to the subjects.

I'm reasonably sure that the rate of donation would have been higher among the Occupy fans if the payment had been in the form of soap.

But more importantly, since we've gotten to this level of scienfic inquiry, we've obviously cured cancer and figured out all our actual problems via science.

Tip to Instapundit.

The Four-Stage Plan for Nuanced Foreign Policy

When thinking about how the West would deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions, I long understood the end stage of accepting Iran's nuclear capabilities. I did not appreciate the three stages to reach that final stage.

As we continue to talk to Iran about Iran's nuclear ambitions, I've always been certain of how it would end:

I remain convinced that diplomacy is as much about the non-U.S. West trying to buy time for Iran to go nuclear as it is Iran buying time to go nuclear.

If Iran would only get on with it and go nuclear at long last, western diplomats could stop pretending they are trying to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. The West could then just shrug and say, darn it all, too late! We'll just have to learn to live with the Iranian bomb. Israel or America will be nuked after all, not Europe. And think of all those post-nuclear strike rebuilding contracts that European companies might snag!

Of course, America is now in that category as our European-Americans run our foreign policy. Now we pretty much all are impatient for Iran to hurry up and go nuclear so we can give up, exclaiming, "Darn! Too late! We were so going to stop them."

But I totally neglected the first three stages to that final stage of our diplomacy (tip to Weekly Standard):

And I failed to foresee that every foreign challenge would be met with the same strategy.

Now I understand nuance.

Fight Concrete With Concrete

China continues to build islands and structures in the South China Sea in order to bolster their illegal claims for the South China Sea. The Philippines had best respond by building permanent structures to bolster their own claims.

I assume this proposal by Manila is intended to bolster future building by the Philippines (that one LST grounded on a reef under siege by Chinese vessels is a prime candidate), because there is no chance at all that Peking will go along:

China rejected a suggestion by the Philippines on Monday for a regionwide ban on construction in the South China Sea after Beijing began building a school on a rugged outpost it created to strengthen its claims to disputed waters.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he will propose that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations call for such a moratorium. "I think we would use the international community to step up and to say that we need to manage the tensions in the South China Sea before it gets out of hand," del Rosario said.

I will admit that building a school is a nice touch by China. Although fish might be the only ones able to attend that remote outpost's "school."

The Philippines should call China's school and build a large concrete kitten and puppy rescue shelter--with a helicopter landing pad, naturally.

The Synergy of Failure

The Iraq War and Syria War are merging into one ISIS (ISIL) war to control the Sunni portions of each state rather than try to drive on the tougher nuts of the Alawite/Shiite core areas. This is a problem for us in a way that the separate wars were not.

When Iraq was fighting jihadis and Assad was fighting jihadis and non-jihadi rebels, proponents of intervention could make a case to support Iraq, naturally. We fought there with the Iraqis and the jihadis are our enemies, too. We didn't do that. But the argument lay dormant until President Obama revived it in justifying our limited intervention after the recent dramatic jihadi gains.

Supporting the rebellion in Syria against Assad could get around the jihadi problem by seeking to arm the non-jihadis to help overthrow Assad and strengthen the non-jihadis for the follow-up war to defeat the jihadis rather than welcome them into the new government.

I'm not saying that this was an easy plan. But it at least defeats a major enemy with lots of American blood on his hands--Assad and his Alawite backers--and is more defensible as a sequence than arming the Soviets to defeat the Nazis in World War II and then waging a long Cold War to defeat the Soviets. Nobody has said we need to arm the jihadis, after all--just risk that jihadis could get arms we send to non-jihadis.

And truth be told, the jihadis are having no problems getting arms so why worry about leakage from our supplies?

But now that ISIS has a western front in Syria and an eastern front in Iraq, fighting ISIS creates a problem.

In Iraq, it is no problem because we should have been fighting them already.

But in Syria, fighting ISIS puts us in the position of siding with Assad. If we defeat ISIS, Assad can turn on the non-jihadis and wipe them out. This reverses the sequence of defeating Assad into one of saving Assad.

And all this because we did not act when we could when each country was a mostly discreet problem separate from each other.

But both problems got worse and bigger as we boasted of Osama bin Laden's death and the revival of General Motors, until the jihadi uprisings in each country became one big problem that makes our intervention more problematic as far as getting a good outcome in both places.

Gosh, I love our smarter foreign policy!

UPDATE: This rather fits with the problems of a joined war, no?

One day after Israeli planes struck targets in Syria, Syrian warplanes attacked targets inside Iraq late on Tuesday, a sign of the broadening conflict.

Our partner!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


On a lark, I tried to access Netflix via either my Wii or XBox 360 so I could watch it on my TV. Naturally, it does not work.

Netflix, if you will recall, told me that rather than being the fault of their programming for their game consoles, the fault was that my wifi signal was obviously fluctuating too much.

So now I'm watching Netflix on my laptop.

Which is connected to Netflix via my wifi.

I hate them.

Cashing In His Chips?

Given that Russia denies it has militarily intervened in Ukraine at all (Lord knows how Crimea ended up in Russia!), I'm not sure what significance this measure has:

President Vladimir Putin asked Russia's upper house on Tuesday to revoke the right it had granted him to order a military intervention in Ukraine in defence of Russian-speakers there.

It could be that Russia has decided that they threatened eastern Ukraine long enough to get the short attention span leaders of the West to overlook that small matter in their relief to not have to react to another takeover.

Or maybe sending gunmen, tanks, and anti-aircraft missiles to secessionist forces doesn't count and Putin is just going to go that route.

UPDATE: Putin has not changed his objective:

President Putin asked parliament to rescind a May 1st authorization for Russia to occupy and annex the eastern Ukraine Donbas region. This was seen as a good-will gesture towards Ukraine and the West. NATO intelligence does not see this as Russia giving up on annexing Donbas, but simply seeking to defuse the Western anger and threats of more economic sanctions. NATO nations are continuing to impose sanctions against individual Russian officials and threatening wider sanctions if Russia does not back off on its efforts to take territory from its neighbors. Intel efforts are still detecting Russia supplying weapons and other military equipment to some of the rebel factions. That also spotlights another problem for Russia; the disunity among the Donbas rebels. Russia needs to deal with this before they can muster sufficient force in Donbas to drive out Ukrainian security forces. At that point the annexation process can proceed as it did in Crimea.

The question is, will NATO pretend Putin has stood down?

Finding the Core to Defeat the ISIL Iraq Front

Jihadis are great at scream and leap tactics, especially when the targets have shaky morale. ISIL scared the Iraqi security forces out of Mosul and much of Iraq by using fear. But trained soldiers can rip apart jihadis who try to hold ground.

Our few special forces and intelligence agents backed by air power smashed the Taliban army in 2001. The French used a tiny military force to blitz their way through the jihadis controlling northern Mali last year.

The Iraqis probably don't have that military capability, unless their counter-terrorism forces are capable of fighting as formed units. That's probably a waste of their capabilities even if they could do it. We don't treat 30 SEALs as a really good platoon of infantry, now do we?

We could organize the general purpose Iraqi units for a plodding assault north. But it will be ugly even if successful.

We need a core of a mobile offensive force that can shatter the jihadis by moving north and calling down precision fire to smash up the jihadis as they try to defend their newly won caliphate.

Could Jordan provide a mechanized force to drive across the main highway from Jordan to Fallujah?

With our forces already deployed in Jordan in support of the Jordanian troops and our air power providing the hammer, could we break up a good part of the new caliphate in Anbar?

I've hoped that the Kurds might provide a similar force to spearhead the Iraqi drive north from the Baghdad region. But might the Jordanian provide this force, too?

Jordan could certainly be a target for destabilization by ISIL if the jihadis aren't defeated. Jordan may want to strike first. We might want to help Jordan.

UPDATE: Secretary Kerry is trying to get the Kurds to commit to Iraq's defense. It's either unlikely or the Kurds are bargaining, apparently.

Keeping the Kurds in Iraq is probably key to keeping Sunnis interested in staying in Iraq. The Sunni Arabs can at least think of allying with the Kurds to counter the Shia majority that will be split among factions in parliamentary maneuvering. Neither the Sunni Arabs nor Kurds could get majorities, but they could be kingmakers in the balance.

But if the Kurds leave Iraq, the Sunni Arabs are all by their lonesome with nobody else to look to for help. In that case they are likely to want to leave, too.

Then we'll see the joys of a partitioned Iraq.

UPDATE: I somehow neglected to note that during the 1980s war with Iran, Iraqi troops ultimately relied on firepower and sufficient discipline to slaughter far larger attacks by human waves of Shia jihadi--the Basij cannon fodder volunteers in the Revolutionary Guard Corps (Pasdaran). Iraqis can beat jihadis in far larger numbers than ISIL deploys if the Iraqis have the organization and weapons to do the killing.

Usually, My Fantasies Involve Summer Glau

President Obama spoke on a national security issue. So naturally my contempt was reinforced by the fantasy world he apparently lives in.

I've noted before that my sympathy for our president always increases the longer I don't hear him speak about his views on an issue. We have difficult foreign policy problems for even the best president to cope with.

But the president's explanation of why we didn't help the Syrian rebels early on is why I have so little respect for our president:

“I think this notion that somehow there was this ready-made moderate Syrian force that was ready to defeat al-Assad was simply not true,” he said. “The idea that they could have defeated” Assad and jihadist groups, he added, “if we just sent a few arms, was a fantasy.”

Are you kidding me?

In what alternate world of reality was there a suggestion that "a few arm" would defeat Assad made?

What was needed was the conviction that we had a chance to harm an enemy of the United States if we'd stepped in to help rebels.

What was a fantasy was the president's apparent belief that his decree that "Assad must go" would be enough to defeat Assad.

If we're talking fantasies, that is.

I keep telling myself that we are a great enough country to endure 8 years of this kind of idiocy.

I have to believe that, really, just to sleep at night.

Yeah, just looking at Big Hope can inspire despair.


For me, it isn't so much that the Middle East has deteriorated a lot under the Obama administration--it has always teetered on the brink of wars and disasters, after all--but that the Obama administration once had such lofty ambitions for solving those problems that in their hubris the administration thought they uniquely could solve.

Where is the Main Jihadi Front?

Don't panic about Iraq. It is not lost. Restoring the situation is doable. And the job may be easier if ISIL sees the Syria front as their main front.

Jihadists who overran northern Iraq have moved their captured war material into Syria:

Jihadists fighting in Syria's war put to use for the first time on Sunday American-made Humvees that they seized during a lightning offensive in Iraq this month, a monitor said.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, used the armoured vehicles to capture the villages of Eksar and Maalal in Aleppo province, which borders Turkey, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Which compels me to ask again if the ISIL (ISIS) threat to Baghdad ever really existed. Was this Iraq front operation that first took Mosul intended as a raid to establish a rear area for the main jihadi fight in Syria? There aren't that many jihadis and Baathists fighting in Iraq while there are a reported 120,000 rebels fighting Assad in Syria.

The rebellion in Syria has faced reverses in the west where Assad has concentrated his forces:

Syrian troops backed by fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah on Sunday launched an assault to oust rebels from the foothills of the Qalamun mountains north of the capital, state television said. ...

Regime forces took parts of the strategic Qalamun region near the border with Lebanon in April, but some 2,000 rebel fighters withdrew to the hills from where they have launched guerrilla attacks.

I'd noted at the time that simply depriving the rebels of control of the region didn't end the fight if the rebels went guerrilla. So the area is not secured by Assad's forces.

And the rebels there would benefit from pressure elsewhere that could draw off Syrian troops from Qalamun.

As ISIL reinforces their Syria front, Iraqi Shias in the Shia foreign legion that Iran sent to Syria are returning to Iraq:

Iraqi Shias who have fought alongside Bashar al-Assad's troops in Syria are returning home to defend their country from Sunni militants, The Telegraph has learned.

So pressure in Iraq is having an effect on the Syria front.

As Syrian forces advance into areas like Qalamun to deny rebels control, the Syrians must stay to hold the ground. That stretches the Syrian troops, who are not numerous and who are already shaken by years of fighting with no rotations home.

This two-edged sword for Syria's battered ground forces is taking place in the Golan region, too, which had been controlled by rebels:

The Syrian army recently regained control of most of the Israeli border and that was apparently done with the help of Hezbollah. This may explain the increased mortar, rocket and gun fire from the Syrian side. Most of that fire has been unintentional but recently it has been noted that some of it appears to be deliberate attempts to kill Israelis. The Syrian government is also very mad at Israel for several air attacks on recently imported Russian missiles. Meanwhile Israeli intelligence has concluded that only about 20 percent of the 120,000 rebels fighting the Assad government are secular. The rest are, to one degree or another, “Islamic” and that means all of them want Israel destroyed.

Taking territory there means that they must hold the ground but must face Israel directly.

The far fewer Syrian troops compared to those in Iraq if the Iraqis can whip them into shape is certainly a reason for ISIL to think of Syria as the main front.

If the rebels in Iraq--jihadi and Baathists combined--are even 20% of the estimated 120,000 in Syria, I'll be shocked. I've heard 12,000 in the north of Iraq. But some returned to Syria. Although they'll have local recruits, of course, to fill their ranks. I didn't think there were that many jihadis in Anbar where local protests have kept the Iraqi army from going in hard to fight the jihadis. So there are far fewer rebels in Iraq than in Syria. Again, this is a reason for the rebels to see Syria as the main front.

It is certainly disturbing tha only 20% of rebels are deemed secular by Israel. But perhaps we should arm them to increase their power and appeal before there are none.

Yet I wonder about definitions. I've read a minority of rebels in Syria are al Qaeda types, including foreign jihadis. That's the important faction to oppose. Given that almost all the Syrian rebels are Moslem, wouldn't being "Islamic" to one degree or another be expected?

Back on the Iraq front, as I've noted, the Kurds of Iraq are so far not really engaged in the new fight. As some of the best "Iraqi" troops, the Iraqi government needs them to enter the battle against ISIL and the reborn Baathis resistance.

If Syria is the main front for ISIS, that makes our job easier. And it makes the Iraqi Baathist decision to again side with the jihadis seem like a mistake:

For 10 years, members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party -- including many of the dead dictator's top generals -- have hidden in the shadows of Iraq, persecuted by government in Baghdad and plotting, praying and preparing for the chance to reclaim their country.

Now they are back, paired in a bloodthirsty alliance with the brutal jihadis of the Islamic States of Iraq and Syria/Levant. These vicious Islamic radicals fighting alongside top officials from Hussein's dictatorship, are working to seize control of the battle-scarred nation. For now, their objectives converge.

In the end, Iraq's Sunni Arab Baathists want to control Iraq while their jihadi allies want a caliphate somewhere. And Syria rather than Iraq seems to look like more fertile ground for them right now. Those interests don't seem to converge enough for the Baathists to ride back into power.

Monday, June 23, 2014

It's the Regime, Stupid

Syria has turned over the last of its declared chemical weapons:

Syria has handed over the remaining 100 tonnes of toxic material it declared to the global chemical weapons watchdog, clearing the way for destruction of the stockpile at sea, sources told Reuters on Monday.

Which is nice. And makes future foreign intervention easier, since the chemical weapons threat will be much lower. I'm sure the Turks are breathing a sigh of relief.

But Assad has used chemical weapons that weren't declared--and which are dual use, in any case (chlorine gas)--since that declaration.

And we don't know if Assad declared everything.

Nor can we have much confidence that Assad won't rebuild a modernized chemical arsenal after this whole ugly mess is behind him.

Assad has used the past 9 months to reclaim territory in the west from rebels and rebuild his ground security forces with Iran's help. Assad has starved civilians which is also helping Assad restore control of territory in the west.

The demoralization of the non-jihadi rebels as we abandoned them by refusing to defend our red line on chemical weapons use and as we continue to dangle small amounts of aid to assist a diplomatic bargain with Assad rather than go all in to support the non-jihadi rebels achieve a victory over Assad is also helping Assad counter-attack.

I always believed Saddam was the problem and that even if he did not have chemical weapons before we invaded, Saddam would have rebuilt his stocks eventually had he lived and remained in power.

We may have the opportunity to see Assad rebuild his chemical arsenal as an answer to Israel's nuclear weapons, demonstrating that a dictator willing to kill remaining in power is the real WMD.

Israel was always the justification for Assad's chemical weapons (which he denied having until last year, just as Israel won't talk about their nukes). That won't change under Assad or his ilk. The only thing that could change things for the better is the defeat of Assad's regime that wants chemical (and nuclear, ideally) weapons.

By all means, let's celebrate that in the short run, Assad's chemical capabilities are probably minimal.

But let's not be fooled that this is Nobel Peace Prize-worthy (Sorry, Kerry). The problem is the Assad regime. And it is still there, and killing with barrel bombs, chlorine gas, and starvation.

Rebuild and Counterattack

My estimate that perhaps 10% of Iraq's army collapsed in the north (plus other security forces) may or may not be in the ball park, but based on that initial collapse and other problems that have gone unchecked the last two years, it seems that a quarter of the Iraqi army is combat ineffective.

This is bad but still not something that dooms the Iraqi army to defeat in the face of the ISIL-Baathist offensive:

Michael Knights, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote recently that 60 out of 243 Iraqi Army combat battalions “cannot be accounted for, and all of their equipment is lost.”

American officials said their assessment was that five of the Iraqi Army’s 14 divisions were “combat ineffective,” including the two that were overrun in Mosul. Remnants of shattered units and soldiers who were on leave when the ISIS offensive began have been sent to the military base at Taji, north of Baghdad, to be cobbled together into fresh units.

What we've continued to train is still good. And others are fighting hard, too, but overall the Iraqi military is a glorified police force:

One bright spot, officials say, is Iraq’s elite counterterrorism force, which the United States has been quietly training at the Baghdad airport. Yet since the withdrawal of American troops at the end of 2011, the skills of Iraqi forces have atrophied, American officials said. The Iraqi military is not practiced at maneuvering on the battlefield and has become a “checkpoint army,” a force that is adept at checking identification but not at taking the fight to its enemy, Western officials said.

Lots of armies in the Third World are nothing but glorified police forces, to be fair. But our interest is in the one in Iraq that we need to be an army right now and fight for territory. They aren't going to be great. They never were. But we can get them in good enough shape to take on the enemy.

People too eager to write off the Iraqi military don't understand what the army was trained to do and the deterioration that has taken place since 2011.

After we first defeated Saddam, we began to create a small Iraqi army of 40,000 designed to fight external enemies. This would have been a conventional army.

But the insurgency and terror campaigns led us to add what eventually were called National Guard units--light infantry designed to fight insurgents--and then integrate them into an army designed to fight internal enemies rather than external foes.

We successfully built that army (to about 280,000, if memory serves me) so that it could fight alongside our troops and with our support. Security forces much larger than the army (over 600,000) that could guard communities, lines of supply, and facilities, complemented the counter-insurgency-focused army. The small counter-terrorism force was the spearhead for leading other units into battle. That's the army and security force that we left in Iraq at the end of 2011.

The plan was to keep training the army to become one that could also fight as a conventional army against other large units rather than chase insurgents and terrorists.

Iraq is not there yet. Yes, they are buying F-16s and Abrams main battle tanks and other equipment, but the organization and training to use these weapons in maneuver warfare just isn't there yet.

Without us, that transition is taking longer.

Worse, the army has deteriorated a great deal from sectarian policies and corruption that has undermined the units' capabilities and morale.

It isn't just the sectarian nature of the Iraqi army that is causing problems.

The Kurdish army--based on a narrow sectarian base--is apparently still good. The ISIS are sectarian on steroids. Mere sectarian dominance did not cripple the Iraqi army.

It contributed. But corruption in leadership, supply, and pay seem to have undermined the northern divisions that collapsed after facing months of attacks that sapped their morale as they perceived themselves left on their own. Indeed, northern units were stripped of some assets that were sent to Anbar, according to other reports I read.

And these weaknesses clearly affect other units of the Iraqi army if a quarter is combat ineffective right now.

Work the problem, people. We really don't want jihadis owning their own country.

UPDATE: More on over-stating the sectarian divisions as the source of the problem. Dividing Iraq on that mistaken notion would lead to more bloodshed and misery.

Point of Order

Thank goodness President Obama has restored our reputation abroad:

A Polish news magazine said on Sunday it had obtained a secret recording of Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, in contention for a senior European Union job, saying that Poland's relationship with the United States was worthless.

After blindsiding Poland by cancelling one defense plan on the anniversary of the Soviet Union's invasion of Poland in 1939 and then pretending to have stared down Putin over Ukraine, Poland is worried about our commitment?

To be fair, Poland should never rely on anyone but themselves to stop the Russians. And Poland does seem to be doing that, as I note in this post.

And I think that the value of Poland's relationship with America will rise dramatically in January 2017.

Ghosts in the Machine

Instapundit quotes an article wondering if that email backup company might still be able to retrieve those "lost" IRS emails:

Everyone seems to assume that Sonasoft would have deleted whatever information it had gotten from the IRS at that time. That is certainly a logical assumption; in fact, it would make sense to require Sonasoft to get rid of any customer’s data once the business relationship ends. But it wouldn’t hurt for a House committee to lay a subpoena on Sonasoft to learn more about the IRS’s dealings with that company and make certain that it doesn’t still have any IRS records.

I don't assume they are gone. More than five years after I stopped using a particular Internet service, they still host a 1997 paper I wrote that I uploaded to the site before I cancelled that service.

Unless the IRS specifically told Sonasoft to delete and scrub everything, this seems like a possible source.

I Can Be Surprised

Secretary of State Kerry just said something that is actually smart.

I'm kind of shocked:

"The United States is not engaged in picking or choosing or advocating for any one individual, or series of individuals, to assume the leadership of Iraq," [Secretary of State Kerry] said. "That is up to the Iraqi people and we have made that clear since day one."

Yes. Choosing Iraq's leader is a first degree stupid.

So I salute Kerry for saying this. I hope Iraqis believe him.

I need to go shower now. I'm feeling slightly unclean for admiring something Kerry said.

Perhaps It Works Better in the Original Chinese

The idea that China and their apologists are asserting that China's claims on the South China Sea are no different than our Monroe Doctrine as applied to the Caribbean Sea is just nonsense:

So let’s not drink the Kool-Aid Beijing is peddling. When it disavows its claim to “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea, reverses longstanding policy to favor freedom of the seas and skies, and, most importantly, wins buy-in from Asian neighbors, then I’ll be glad to welcome comparisons like the ones drawn by Kaplan’s senior colonel.

If I may re-state the obvious, we don't claim the Caribbean as our territory.

If China's claims and the Monroe Doctrine are so similar, the Caribbean Sea would be an American city with the seat of government in Saint Croix.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Oh That Joe!

You'd think Vice President Biden would keep a low profile given events in Iraq, but no:

As Iraq edges toward chaos, Joe Biden is having a quiet I-told-you-so moment.

In 2006, Biden was a senator from Delaware gearing up for a presidential campaign when he proposed that Iraq be divided into three semi-independent regions for Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Follow his plan, he said, and U.S. troops could be out by early 2008. Ignore it, he warned, and Iraq would devolve into sectarian conflict that could destabilize the whole region.

The Bush administration chose to ignore Biden. Now, eight years later, the vice president's doom-and-gloom prediction seems more than a little prescient.

So let me get this straight:

Then-Senator Biden predicts in 2006 doom unless we divide Iraq into three semi-independent regions and withdraw from Iraq by early 2008. I explained why this was a bad idea then.

By late 2008, it was clear we had achieved a battlefield victory because of the 2007 Surge offensive and Awakening defection of the Sunni Arabs to our side.

Indeed, by the end of 2007 I was able to compare the level of unity in Iraq under the post-Surge Offensive Iraqi government favorably to the unity that Saddam had imposed by brute force.

In 2010, Iraq was so peaceful that Vice President Biden claimed that Iraq could be "one of the great achievements" of the Obama administration.

Silly me, I thought by owning the war with that statement, the administration would be more interested in defending our gains. While Iraq ranks right up there alongside other administration outcomes abroad, "achievement" isn't the metric.

But I digress.

Despite the success, rather than expend the relatively small effort needed to increase chances of success, in 2011 we left Iraq without any American military presence to keep the military development on track, hunt al Qaeda in Iraq, reassure the factions within Iraq, and deter Iran.

Vice President Biden could well boast, given that he was designated the administration point man on keeping Iraq afloat.

But now that Iraq is experiencing increased internal divisions as well as a jihadi and Baathist counter-offensive, Vice President Biden says this outcome proves he is "prescient?"

Got it.

Is this really how the vice president wants to defend his reputation? By claiming he was prophetic? As the expression goes, I do not think that word means what he thinks it means. Pathetic, is more like it. Robert Gates is not rebutted by this line of defense.

I can't believe the vice president's people are still flogging this absurd notion.

In a way, I suppose the vice president is right since a divided Iraq in 2008 without the Surge offensive and Awakening that took place in 2007 between his initial call in 2006 and his departure date of 2008 would not have been peaceful or a good outcome for us or Iraqis--the current condition.

If you need another piece of evidence for the folly of Vice President Biden boasting of his so-called vindication and prescience, Fareed Zakaria is still in favor of the idea.

We won the war. President Obama is losing the peace. But all is not lost. Don't panic over reversals. By definition, those too are reversible.

President Obama should send Vice President Biden, as our point man on Iraq, to Iraq so the vice president can put his money where his mouth is and hammer out an agreement between the factions to resolve political differences and undo the damage Iraq has experienced by maximizing our assistance to help the Iraqi government defeat ISIS and the Baathists, and keep Iran's influence down.

It is not too late to help the Iraqi government win this war and get back on the path of being a great--if perhaps the only--foreign achievement of this administration.

Drawing the Frontlines

Sunni jihadis and their Baathist allies are continuing to pick up gains in Sunni Arab-majority areas; while the Shia-dominated Iraqi government begins to fight on its home turf.

First, there are some numbers for the original disaster:

But since an estimated 90,000 soldiers shed their uniforms and abandoned their posts as ISIS swept across northern Iraq this month, it has called for new “volunteers” to join the armed forces.

I suspect this doesn't mean 90,000 soldiers but 90,000 security forces. There would have been a mix in the north of army, police, and security guard-type units, so I doubt that just the army broke and ran.

Which means that Iraq suffered the loss of under 10% of total strength (of just over 900,000). Which is a defeat. But the loss is survivable.

In the west, the Sunni jihadis continue to make gains:

On Saturday, fighters seized the border post near the town of al-Qaim, helping ISIL secure supply lines to Syria, where it has exploited the chaos of the three-year-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad to establish a major presence. ...

On Sunday, Sunni militants led by ISIL expanded their grip to the towns of Rawa and Ana along the Euphrates River east of al-Qaim, as well as the town of Rutba further to the south on a road leading from Jordan to Baghdad.

This is along the old "rat line" that allowed Assad to funnel supplies and suicide bombers to al Qaeda in Iraq when we fought there. So dormant supporters have the opportunity to become active again.

North of Baghdad, Iraqi resistance is stiffening:

Overnight, ISIL fighters attacked the town of al-Alam, north of Tikrit, according to witnesses and police in the town. The attackers were repelled by security forces and tribal fighters, they said, adding that two ISIL fighters had been killed and two others arrested. ...

There was a lull in fighting at Iraq's largest refinery, Baiji, 200 km (130 miles) north of the capital near Tikrit, Sunday morning. The site had been transformed into a battlefield since Wednesday as Sunni fighters launched an assault on the plant. Militants entered the large compound, but were fended off by Iraqi military units and currently surround the refinery's main gates.

Knowing that getting captured means their death has apparently stiffened resolve to hold. That's the problem with brutality. it can make you run or it can make you fight with desperation. Hard to say how that plays out ahead of time.

The jihadis and their Baathist friends would be smarter to leave an escape route for Iraqi defenders rather than surrounding them in order to encourage the run reaction rather than the fight reaction.

But the Iraqis are still having problems gathering troops to fight on the front north of Baghdad. Remember, the Iraqi military is still a counter-insurgency force. Most of the 800,000 ground forces left are security guards or police and are strategically immobile, tied to defending their specific locations.

Much of the army is probably in the same condition. Our presence after 2011 was supposed to turn this force into a conventional army capable of fighting other big units. But we didn't do that.

So relatively few of Iraq's military are capable of moving to the the front and conducting offensive operations, I imagine. This is one reason why Iraq is calling for Shia volunteers.

The tiny Iraqi air force is at least attempting to strike back:

An air strike on the insurgent-controlled Iraqi city of Tikrit killed at least seven people on Sunday, as the authorities seek to stem a swift Sunni militant offensive.

But the air strikes are unbelievably small, thus far, limiting their effectiveness. And some are worried that Iraq's call for Shia volunteers means our intervention would be seen as becoming the Shia air force (back to the first link):

Speaking in London, retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, the former head of coalition forces in Iraq, raised similar concerns on Wednesday. “This cannot be the United States being the air force of Shia militias,” he said of potential U.S. strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq.

He has a point. But a very limited one. We'd be supporting the Iraqi military and not the small militia presence (although at the front, the militias would be a larger fraction of the front line force, of course).

Nobody seems to mind all that much that Assad of Syria is relying more on sectarian loyal militias and foreign sectarian spearheads (Hezbollah and the Iranian-created Shia foreign legion). At some level you go to support the army at war that you have and not the one you wish you had.

I'll note that in the early days of the Iraq War, I counted Shia militias despite their problems for the long run in the Iraqi order of battle because they defended home turf that freed up Coalition and new Iraqi forces from having to protect. In 2008, Maliki took them down in Basra.

So militias are always a potential problem in the long run. But in the short run you have to survive.

I'll also note the oddity of arguing that Shia militia presence--some backed by Iran--to fight ISIS and the Baathists disqualifies Iraq from our air support; but some are arguing we should work with Iran (!) to fight the Sunni Arab offensive! I'll take the lesser of two evils to support the Shia militias rather than cut out the middleman and go right to supporting the proxy sponsors in Tehran, thank you very much.

Anyway, the Sunni Arab jihadis and their Baathist allies of the moment (they are already fighting each other in clashes--just green-on-blue friction and probably not crippling at this point) are securing Sunni Arab majority areas while the Shias are falling back to Shia majority areas.

Then we'll see if the Iraqis can use their numerical superiority to retake ground.

And we'll see if there are Sunni Arabs left who remember the disaster of letting the jihadis in and will again work with the Shia-dominated government to redefeat the al Qaeda types.

Meanwhile, the Kurds have been quiet. I assume that they are improving their positions around Kirkuk and are preparing for a major operation to go after Mosul.

In a less-imperfect world, Kurdish units would go to the Baghdad area to spearhead the counter-attack back north and into Anbar. The Kurds could gain a lot in a bargain for that type of assistance.

Sadly, the real war against al Qaeda jihadis is taking place in Iraq right now. We need to fight them there by providing Iraq the needed aid to kill the jihadis.

If we don't, on the theory that they are a "splinter" and not "core" al Qaeda, that cast out splinter group will become strong enough to take over the franchise and declare themselves the real al Qaeda. Strong horses get to do that.

UPDATE: The Iranians don't seem very "outreachee" on this issue:

Iran's supreme leader condemned U.S. intervention in Iraq on Sunday, accusing Washington of seeking control as Sunni insurgents drove toward Baghdad from the Syrian border and consolidated positions in the north and west.

They're evil--not stupid. We sometimes seem like the reverse.

Thus Spaketh the Giant Brain

Fareed Zakaria thinks we should split Iraq into three pieces. Of course he does.

The idea that we could achieve victory by splitting Iraq into a Kurdish state, a Sunni Arab state, and a Shia state was awful when proposed by then-Senator Biden (and others), and it is awful now that Fareed Zakaria is proposing it:

The United States should recognize that Iraq is turning into a country of enclaves and work to ensure that these regions stay as stable, terrorism-free and open as possible. The Kurdish enclave, bolstered by having captured the vital city of Kirkuk, is already a success story. The Shiite region of the south can be stable. It will be possible to work with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan to influence the Sunni groups in the middle of the country, purging terrorists and empowering moderate Sunnis.

The idea that we can avoid the cost of defeating our enemies in Iraq by splitting Iraq into a Kurdish, Sunni Arab, and Shia states is ridiculous.

Let's just assume that somehow the borders within Iraq can be drawn and populations moved--including who gets Baghdad--without a major struggle as Zakaria's proposal would require.

And let's assume that the assets and liabilities of Iraq can be apportioned among the three new states.

Once you get past those minor piddling details that I'm sure the ginormous brain of Zakaria could dispose of with a one-page memorandum to the parties on the wonders of a "soft" partition that avoids those hard details, then we face the reality of three sectarian-based states.

Splitting off an independent Kurdistan could wreck that de facto independent success story taking place within the formal legal status of being part of Iraq. Why risk that success by making a formally independent Kurdistan a magnet for hostility by Turkey and Iran who face sizable unhappy Kurdish minorities? What if Kurdistan wants to unite with the Kurds of Syria, too?

If the Kurds can't get the Turks and Iranians to sign off on this, the Turks could pressure the Sunni Arab state to block the Kurdish state's access to the world. And Iran could pressure the Shia state to do the same. How does the landlocked Kurdish state thrive in those circumstances?

Splitting off an independent Sunni Arab state essentially just gives the region to jihadis who already dominate the region. Without Iraqi troops trying to stop the jihadis, just who would? The local Sunnis haven't controlled the jihadis. Just who will help defeat the jihadis if anti-jihadi Sunni Arabs can't call on Iraqi government troops that include Shias and Kurds?

But Zakaria seriously thinks that Saudi Arabia and Jordan will influence those jihadi groups to behave or will strengthen non-jihadis to create a non-jihadi Sunni state in the west? In what alternate universe would Sunni Arabs be a source of stability rather than offering support for jihadis?

Even if wealthy Gulf Arab states didn't support a jihadi Iraqi state in the west as a counter-weight to Iran and the Shia state in the south, wealthy Arab Sunnis who support jihadis around the Middle East would simply add the Iraqi Sunnis to their list of grant recipients--and put them to the top of the list since they'd control a state of their own.

And what of Shia Iraq left in the south? Without Kurds and Sunni Arabs as counter-weights to the pro-Iran elements within the Shia community that helps limit Iranian influence in current Iraq, the pro-Iran elements obviously become a larger part of that new Shia state. Even if the pro-Iran elements are still a minority, they will be a larger minority. In what world does that contribute to a stable state? How is that possibly in our interests?

One day, when Iraq is peaceful--say as peaceful as it was at the end of 2011 when the Obama administration was boasting of our success, Iraqis could agree among themselves to go their separate ways. Under those conditions, a partition could go as peacefully as Czechoslovakia rather than looking more like Yugoslavia.

Why does anybody listen to Zakaria on anything but the correct spelling of his name?

Yes, I know. I say this a lot. But Fareed Zakaria couldn't find his own buttocks with both hands and a GPS signal.

I say it because it is true. Don't listen to this man. God bless him, but he hasn't a clue.

And if God is just and loving, he will keep this man from getting a position in the Obama foreign policy establishment.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Another War Not Responsibly Ended

I know, we declared the Ukraine crisis as over. But Russia didn't sign off on that fantasy.

Russia continues to wage war on Ukraine:

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels that "at least a few thousand more" Russian troops had been deployed in what he said was "a new Russian military build-up" around the Ukrainian border. He called it "a very regrettable step backwards."

He said the Russian troop deployment would be a "positive step" if it were aimed at sealing the border and preventing the flow of fighters and weapons to the separatists,

But this is not "what we're seeing," said Rasmussen.

No, we're seeing Russia send tanks to the pro-Russian secession militias in eastern Ukraine:

The Ukrainian government briefed Western diplomats in Kiev on Friday and told them it has evidence that 10 additional tanks, along with fuel trucks and supporting vehicles, crossed the border between the countries in the last 24 hours. The U.S. official said the U.S. government has independently confirmed additional tanks departed from a deployment site in southwest Russia on Thursday.

I noted that Russia's dispatch of forces to the Ukraine border had nothing to do with reducing violence in Ukraine:

Putin can claim it is to stop illegal crossings and cope with refugees fleeing "fascists", but the real reason is surely to enable Russian men and supplies to enter Ukraine to participate in the fight.

And fancy that, Russian tanks are being supplied to the separatists in Ukraine.

The Obama administration declared "mission accomplished" over Ukraine and the president resumed his golfing schedule.

But despite the president's fawning court jesters who argued that Putin "blinked" in the crisis and backed down, the aggression is not over and we must act like it:

ALMOST three months have passed since Russia annexed Crimea and began stirring up rebellion in eastern Ukraine. For most of that period the hope of Western leaders has been that tensions there will gradually dissipate and that the crisis will just go away. That hope now looks deluded.

The argument was that Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, had got most of what he wanted in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, not least a big boost in popularity at home. Partly thanks to two rounds of sanctions against individuals close to him, he had blinked: hence his decision to pull troops back from the border and more or less to accept Petro Poroshenko as Ukraine’s legitimate president after his election on May 25th. Thus there is no need for further sanctions that could wreak damage on Europe’s shaky economies as well as on Russia. ...

The past two weeks have exposed this as wishful thinking. Violence has increased in eastern Ukraine as the government in Kiev has sought to regain control and the rebels have fought back. The government’s unilateral ceasefire announced this week looks unlikely to work (see article). Evidence of deeper Russian involvement is ever clearer: not just rising numbers of Chechen and other Russian mercenaries but also the supply of weapons, including missiles that may have been used to shoot down a Ukrainian military aircraft, and even tanks that have rumbled over the border.

If our administration didn't have wishful thinking, there'd be no thinking at all. In their defense, they're not the first to believe that an aggressive thug regime has no more territorial ambitions.

But at some point, you'd think that the standard bearer of the "reality-based community" would recognize reality after being beaten by the reality stick over and over.

Russia sees us as their foe and is acting like it. That's the new reality rather than fantasies of a "reset" Russia or Putin "blinking" in the face of our steely resolve.