Friday, October 31, 2014

Ponder Russia's Paranoid Stupidity

Russia has Crimea and wants the bits of Ukraine's east that it has managed to grab via their unacknowledged invasion and support for local allies. Instead of trying to localize the conflict in Ukraine, so Western countries might fool themselves into thinking this is a one-off act of aggression with no impact on them, Russia pokes everyone near them. That's pretty stupid. Yet Western stupidity might cancel that out.

Behold the strategery!

While Russian aggression in Ukraine gets most of the headlines, there’s plenty of Russian misbehavior against other neighbors as well. Finland reports growing Russian military activity on the border and against Finnish ships in the Baltic. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (the “Baltic States” that were long part of Russia) are receiving similar harassment, as well as Russian offers of a large discount on what they pay for Russian natural gas if they will leave NATO. ...

Russian neighbors, particularly Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are increasing defense spending and getting their military forces ready for Russian aggression. ...

The aggressive Russian response to the sanctions is being expressed in the east as well as the west. Thus in the last six months Chinese aircraft fell from first to second place as the most common threat Japanese air defense forces have to deal with. Now, again, it’s Russian aircraft that are most frequently triggering a response.

And don't forget Sweden's recent search for a presumed Russian sub in their territorial waters.

Poland is reacting to Russia's spasm of aggressive intent around their periphery:

Poland said on Tuesday it is drawing up a long-term plan to shift some of its military strength towards its eastern border, closer to Ukraine and Russia, in response to Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

Ponder all this.

Russia could have deployed their Ukraine argument of "we're just trying to help" and insist that they have no more territorial ambitions (obviously, they'd need to wordsmith that language). That could have allowed much of the world to continue to plod along, unworried about Russian military revival, convinced that Russia had no interest in them.

But no, Russia commits aggression and instead of being nice to everyone else, throws their still-limited weight around against European neighbors and even as far away as Japan!

Seriously? Is Russia so convinced that everybody is out to get them that they might as well act is if every potential threat is active?

And to think I despaired of our diplomacy.

Really, is Russia incapable of having friends or allies? Is Russia only capable of dealing with foreigners as conquered people or client states, targets for conquest or dominance, potential enemies that have to be resisted before it comes to armed conflict, or potential enemies who must be appeased while Russia prepares to resist them?

We have serious problems if Russia is that paranoid and stupid.

An yet, who can say that we don't have more:

Through all this Europe wants to be reassured that at some point somewhere Russia will be satiated enough to just stop on its own. Dream on.

Russia has proven incapable of providing that reassurance. But it just might not matter if the will to delude itself means Russia doesn't have to do the job itself by pretending that this is all just about Ukraine.

So ponder the West's blind stupidity, too.

UPDATE: Japanese note the counter-productive nature of Putin's military maneuvers:

It is not clear what Russia hopes to accomplish. Putin could be trying to intimidate his neighbors, but that does not seem to be working. The Baltic states are NATO’s newest members and an aggressive Russia has only reinforced their inclination to seek shelter under the trans-Atlantic alliance. The United States and other NATO members have given no indication that their commitment to the defense of these new allies is slackening. The Ukraine fiasco has led NATO to focus on the prospect of an immediate threat in their neighborhood after years of drift — characterized by shrinking defense budgets and attention on more distant problems, such as Afghanistan — and revitalize that organization. At the same time, those European governments are increasingly wary of their dependence on Russian energy supplies and actively exploring alternative strategies to reduce their vulnerability.

Japan is intercepting Russian planes, too. They don't seem intimidated.

Putin pines for the glory days of the Soviet Union. I remember the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union could scare the crud out of people.

Today's Russia is not the Soviet Union.

Russia can win when they can pick off one of the weaker members of the herd while the rest aren't paying attention. Why Russia goes to the absurd level of denying that they are invading Ukraine while also taking steps to remind everyone else of Russia's aggressive intent is just amazingly stupid.

In a Complicated War, Assad is Simply Losing

Although our air campaign against ISIL in Syria effectively helps Assad survive the rebellion, Assad may have accumulated too many problems for this to save his regime.

Making Syria the secondary theater compared to Iraq makes sense (with the caveat that I don't know if our strategy envisions a final stage of overthrowing Assad).

But we risk losing the Syria front before we are ready to address it if Assad uses our anti-ISIL air campaign in Syria to help him defeat all the rebels.

Yet even with our effective help against ISIL, Assad has too few people trying to control too much, while enduring too many military casualties, to be sure he can exploit our anti-ISIL air campaign.

Have no doubt, the casualties have been astounding:

Some 4,000 soldiers from Tartous have been killed in the war, according to a Syrian official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to media.

The death toll forms some 10 percent of the estimated 40,400 soldiers killed, even though Tartous' population is fewer than a million people — less than one-twentieth of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million. Alawites form some 13 percent of Syria's population, concentrated in the coastal provinces and the central city of Homs.

Other groups back the Assad regime, but if you assume a quarter of Syria's population is backing Assad, about 6 million people have lost 40,000 dead soldiers (and militia) so far.

There were people here who believed that 4,500 troops (from all services) lost to combat and other causes in Iraq over more years from a population of over 300 million Americans would break our Army.

Assad could be running out of loyal troops (contrary to the happy talk of Assad's army growing stronger from the war):

As the war grinds on, with no decisive winner and no political headway, the military is becoming low on personnel resources, meaning there'll be no rest for Alawites soon. ...

This week, soldiers at checkpoints in Tartous began stopping men aged between 23 and 42 years old, examining their ID cards and ordering some of them to report for reserve duty. Men were taking alternative routes to avoid being caught.

There was no formal announcement of the move, and an official on state-run television this week denied what he called "rumors" that men were being seized.

And what is their sacrifice achieving? They are just buying time, yet even the battered rebellion is putting pressure on the the government:

Despite ISIL being tied down in Kobane and with rebellious Sunni tribes in the east, government forces are losing ground. That’s because ISIL has allowed an informal truce to evolve with other rebel groups. This allowed all rebels, including ISIL, to go back to fighting government forces. That has led to a growing number of setbacks for government forces. For example, earlier this year, after a two year long battle rebels conceded defeat and abandoned the central Syrian city of Homs. The army had been fighting to take Homs for nearly two years and in late 2013 was reinforced by a “foreign legion” (of Iran sponsored volunteers from Lebanon and Iraq). Government forces destroyed most of the city as they drove the rebels back. The city had been surrounded for over a year but the army cordon was not impenetrable until 2014. Supplies became impossible to get into the city. This led the rebels to agree to a deal that had them abandoning the city in return for safe passage out. The Assad forces saw Homs as a key battle because it was astride the roads from Damascus to the pro-government Alawite areas on the coast. For that route to be useful the Assad forces had to gain control of the roads and villages between Damascus and the coast. That only lasted until October and now rebels are again capable of attacking traffic on the roads between Damascus and the coast. This means supplies for Damascus, especially fuel, can no longer move unhindered. Heavy fighting continues around Aleppo and Damascus where the rebels are retaking areas they lost earlier in 2014 to government forces. The government is having similar problems around Aleppo and throughout central Syria. [emphasis added]

Yes, many Syrians believe they must defend Assad to avoid the alternative of a Sunni Arab jihadi win.

But some are beginning to worry that the cost in lives might be futile, with only the Assad family escaping unscathed. If that thinking spreads, Assad's supporters might head for Lebanon or other places abroad rather than pay the price of resistance and pay the price of losing.

Assad is keeping his head above water because he is getting substantial support from Iran and Russia while his internal enemies lack anything similar. But he is losing this war.

That doesn't mean we win it, if there is no viable alternative to ISIL or other jihadis sweeping into Damascus should the Assad military break and run for the exits.

No Plan Survives Contact With an Enemy

As we pivot from the Middle East and Europe to China, we find that China is not taking our pivot lightly while the Middle East continues to burn and European fires start. Is Secretary of Defense Hagel too quiet on matters of wars now underway?

This is interesting, in a critique of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and National Security Advisor Rice (but which oddly doesn't include Kerry at State in the criticism):

Part of the problem facing Obama’s national security team, perhaps, is that so much in the international environment has changed for the worse in the two years since the president, in a surprise move, nominated Hagel. At the start of his second term in January 2013, before the rise of ISIL and Russia’s annexation of Crimea, it was clear the president was looking for a peacetime consigliere at the Pentagon, having declared more than once that he “was elected to end wars, not start them” and was “doing everything” he could “to reduce our reliance on military power.” The retired Nebraska senator, who appeared even more leery than the president of putting new boots on the ground abroad—he opposed not only George W. Bush’s invasion and “surge” in Iraq, but Obama’s own 2009 surge in Afghanistan—seemed just the choice to reduce the Pentagon’s profile to a vanishing point. [emphasis added]

Tip to Instapundit. The article does credit Hagel with internal reform successes, among other things. And repeats the idea that part of the problem is White House centralization at the expense of the cabinet.

A vanished Defense Secretary disappearing the Pentagon? The idea that Hagel is quiet in the face of wars because he is not expected to have a foreign policy role is correct, I think. Why yes, that was obvious:

Chuck Hagel's selection by President Obama to be Secretary of Defense probably has nothing to do with Iran or Israel. We have civilian control of our military and it is not necessary to make sure you have "your" guy in charge to issue orders. No, I suspect that selecting the Republican Hagel has everything to do with an intent to gut our military and make sure that a Republican is seen as responsible for the effects.

President Obama had no interest in war. But war is very interested in us. And a Secretary of Defense sent in to gut the military flies along on his original mission. Just another drone with his own presidential kill list programmed into his robotic brain.

Off They Go

The Taliban have had the advantage of being able to mass their forces against Afghan targets as we draw down our troop presence, including our air power. We hope to reverse this trend:

The U.S. has agreed to provide Afghanistan with 62 more armed helicopters and twenty ground attack aircraft, including training for Afghan pilots and maintainers, by 2017. The helicopters are the MD-530F, which is the civilian version of the U.S. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) MH-6. ...

The ground attack aircraft is the A-29 Super Tucano. This is a single engine turbo-prop trainer/attack aircraft that is used by over a dozen nations. This aircraft carries two internal 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns along with 1.5 tons of bombs and rockets under the wings. It can stay in the air for 6.5 hours at a time.

Hopefully, we provide the cash for contractors to provide maintenance and air crews, if necessary. These are simple aircraft compared to high performance craft, but it still could be beyond the ability of the Afghans to keep in the fight.

I noted our receipt of these planes a month ago.

As we ramp up air support in Iraq because our absence allowed the enemy to regroup and advance, I hope our leadership can learn the lesson that letting Afghanistan deteriorate by leaving too soon could lead to defeat there.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

This is Not Comforting

Maybe it is just anti-nuclear activists, but it wouldn't be safe to assume that this is not a warning of a threat:

France has launched an investigation into unidentified drones that have been spotted over nuclear plants operated by state-owned utility EDF , its interior minister said on Thursday.

Seven nuclear plants across the country were flown over by drones between Oct. 5 and Oct. 20, an EDF spokeswoman said, without any impact on the plants' safety or functioning.

Greenpeace denies involvement, for what that assurance is worth.

All Geo-Politics are Local?

I've wondered why Russia remains so fixated on an imaginary NATO threat while Russia essentially appeases China. Would Russia's government think differently if Moscow was in Asia rather than Europe?

Russia, I believe, is essentially carrying out a policy of appeasement when it comes to the increasingly powerful China that looms over Russia's sparsely populated Far East (which Russia took from China, recall).

Loudly standing up to an imaginary NATO threat could be seen as an effort to hide that appeasement by insisting in a cost-free way (NATO can't respond militarily to Russian belligerence in a manner that threatens Russia) that China isn't really a threat so Russia really isn't appeasing them.

Could Putin's fixation on NATO just be a result of geographic myopia?

There has been much talk of globalization and the interdependence that has flowed from it. There is clearly much truth in arguing that what happens in one part of the world affects the rest. But that simply was not evident. The eastern and western ends of the Eurasian landmass seem to view each other as if through the wrong side of a telescope. What is near is important. What is distant is someone else's problem far away.

From Moscow, is China just a distant problem that is someone else's problem?

And could the people in the Far East start to think that they are that "someone else" who needs to take responsibility for their own future?

I guess I don't assume that the Russian empire has completed the process of falling apart that began in 1989.

How Much Help From Jordan is Iraq Asking For?

Iraq wants more help against ISIL from Jordan. I'm still hoping for ground troops to open a western front in Anbar.

No doubt:

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi called for greater cooperation with Jordan in the battle against the Islamic State jihadist group, as he held talks Sunday in Amman, state media reported.

Jordan, which borders Iraq's Anbar province, much of which has been overrun by IS, is one of several countries taking part in US-led air strikes against the jihadist group that began in Iraq but has since been expanded to Syria.

Air strikes are nice. But Jordanian participation in an air campaign has diplomatic value only given that we have the ability to ramp up an air campaign purely with our own resources if we so choose.

Given the reluctance of the Obama administration to provide ground troops to focus and exploit our air power (and I think our nation wouldn't sustain support for such a commitment, so I agree with the Obama administration but not its reasoning), we could use Jordanian ground forces to open a western front in Anbar when we finally get the Iraqis moving on the eastern front of Anbar.

I wonder what the Jordanians told the Iraqis?

Peace and Neutrality for Taiwan's Absorption

Taiwan should not delude itself into thinking that a policy of dismissing allies is the path to safety from China's ambitions to own Taiwan.

This is folly and it boggles the mind to think that people can honestly think this will save Taiwan from China:

Concerned that Taiwan’s security and sovereignty is being gradually negotiated away to Mainland China, a group of civic organizations has announced a new national strategy to promote Taiwan’s neutrality.

Formally launched on Oct. 25, the campaign is called the “Peace and Neutrality for Taiwan Alliance” and is being led by former vice-president Annette Lu.

China is preparing to conquer Taiwan over the potential of America and Japan to intervene against China.

In what alternate world is it better for Taiwan to resist Chinese ambitions by deliberately pushing these de facto allies (and any other--like India?) away in a farcical attempt to appease China?

In what alternate world will Taiwan decide to spend a lot on defense to defend themselves on their own resources alone when Taiwan doesn't spend enough when Taiwan believes America (and Japan) will come to their rescue?

And in what world is this even remotely true?

As in the case of armed neutrality in Switzerland and Sweden, Taiwan will need to build up its national defense to safeguard its security and neutrality.

Sweden and Switzerland are militarily weak.

Switzerland has about 25,000 active forces. They have fewer than 100 fighter aircraft and more than half are obsolete. Switzerland relies on reserves and distance from any potential military threat having to go through a lot of NATO countries to reach Switzerland.

Sweden has 20,000 active forces with an army of fewer than 7,000 troops, a tiny navy that recently floundered around trying to find a reported Russian sub in their territorial waters, and an air force of a little more than 100 combat planes. Sweden relies on reserves, too. And Russia's recent aggression has raised the popularity of joining NATO--getting allies--rather than relying on barely armed neutrality to keep an aggressor at bay.

If Taiwan wants an example of armed neutrality, they should look to Belgium. In both world wars, keeping allies at arms length in the hope that Germany would stay away did not work to defend Belgium.

In that long debate the Taiwanese are supposed to have over this "peace and neutrality" idea, explain what power comes in to reverse the foreign conquest, the way Belgium had to have in order to survive their notion of neutrality.

Remember, in the end, Taiwan is a road, too, as far as China is concerned, and not a nation,

In what world is making Taiwan easier for China to conquer the way to prevent China from conquering or absorbing Taiwan?

UPDATE: While there is no good time for Taiwan to ponder a policy of pushing allies away, this is a particularly bad time:

Unrest in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and signs that Taiwan may be “slipping away” after half a decade of cautious rapprochement, seem to have engendered a new phase of paranoia in Beijing, as evidenced by the detentions of and travel restrictions imposed against dozens of Chinese individuals in recent months.

Those measures have been accompanied by an increasingly xenophobic line in Zhongnanhai. President Xi Jinping, the hoped-for reformer who, as it turns out, is very much the strongman, has repeatedly warned against “pollution” by Western values and has directed the implementation of policies to counter such nefarious influences. Chinese agencies and propaganda outlets, meanwhile, claim to have uncovered “evidence” of several plots hatched abroad to destabilize China.

If we believe the rhetoric, Uyghur “terrorists” from Xinjiang have been acting on behalf of foreign organizations and Taiwanese “separatists” are pawns of American and/or Japanese forces. Meanwhile the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong, which has brought part of the metropolis to a standstill, is said to have simultaneously been funded, scripted, fomented, and influenced by a plethora of disparate foreign groups[.]

China's smile is more accurately described as baring their fangs, I'd say.

Preparing to fight tooth and nail for every inch of Chinese progress toward Taipei is the best strategy to remain free and independent.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

And He Doesn't Believe in Unicorns, Too

You must admit, Netanyahu is no community organizer:

“The thing about Bibi is, he’s a chickenshit,” Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic writes that a “senior Obama administration official” told him about Israeli Prime Minister and former IDF member Benjamin Netanyahu.

We treat our enemies better than our allies. That can't end well.

Rain Dictator

Better relations with Russia can only come after Putin has passed from the scene.

Because he is close enough to nuts for the difference not to matter:

If President Vladimir Putin is Russia, as a senior Kremlin official said this week, then this country is angry, humiliated and suffering from an almost paranoid fixation on the U.S. as the root of all the world’s troubles.

In a closing speech and question-and-answer session today at Russia’s annual state-sponsored Valdai conference, Putin said he was going to be frank -- he was more than that. He dived into a long list of slights and wounds inflicted by the U.S. on Russia and the world since the end of the Cold War, and gave every sign of digging in for a long period of confrontation.

Ow! A long list of slights and wounds? Serious injuries? Is Putin serious? Uh oh:

And Putin is only up to half of G in his list of slights and wounds. Give the man his tooth picks and maple syrup, for God's sake. Because on Wednesdays he has Ukrainian territory.

Like I said, Russia is not our fault. And they have more nuclear warheads than we do.

Have a super sparkly reset day.

UPDATE: The Soviet Union is dead. But the useful idiots in the West who parrot Putin's charges of American guilt for the problems of the world remain.

Would We Want to Belong to a Club That Would Let Us Join?

I've been pondering a League of Democracies, which I've seen brought up again. Could we qualify?

I've both supported a League of Democracies as an alternative to the United Nations and then discarded the idea.

I'm pondering the idea again, but not as a substitute for the United Nations but as a club within it to make the UN less odious. I plan to post on it soon, I hope.

Not that this is some major foreign policy piece that I'm expending so much effort on. I'm "pondering" it, as I said.

I bring a League of Democracies up to explain linking to a piece about the state of democracy in Wisconsin that relates to my future post (tip to Instapundit):

In collaboration with Wisconsin’s misbegotten Government Accountability Board, which exists to regulate political speech, [Milwaukee County’s Democratic district attorney, John] Chisholm has misinterpreted Wisconsin campaign law in a way that looks willful. He has done so to justify a “John Doe” process that has searched for evidence of “coordination” between Walker’s campaign and conservative issue advocacy groups.

On Oct. 14, much too late in the campaign season to rescue the political-participation rights of conservative groups, a federal judge affirmed what Chisholm surely has known all along: Since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling 38 years ago, the only coordination that is forbidden is between candidates and independent groups that go beyond issue advocacy to “express advocacy” — explicitly advocating the election or defeat of a particular candidate.

But Chisholm’s aim — to have a chilling effect on conservative speech — has been achieved by bombarding Walker supporters with raids and subpoenas: Instead of raising money to disseminate their political speech, conservative individuals and groups, harassed and intimidated, have gone into a defensive crouch, raising little money and spending much money on defensive litigation. Liberal groups have not been targeted for their activities that are indistinguishable from those of their conservative counterparts.

Such misbehavior takes a toll on something that already is in short supply: belief in government’s legitimacy.

Do read it all. The mis-use of government offices to suppress political speech of opponents under the pretext of regulating speech should be an outrage to anyone who identifies as a "liberal." It should outrage anyone, of course. But liberals claim to be unique champions of freedom and civil rights. This behavior is an outrage.

This relates to a League of Democracies because I've considered it as a club working within the United Nations to improve it. For better or worse, we have the United Nations.

So a League of Democracies would need to have rigorous rules for who qualifies to join if it is to be a moral force within the UN. Voting is not enough as a qualifier. Russians and Iranians vote. Even North Koreans vote. They are not democracies.

We need to have rigorous rules to avoid granting powerful states membership in the hope that they will evolve to club standards, much as Russia was allowed into the G-7 of top economic powers.

The problem is, given what is going on in Wisconsin, could we qualify under whatever rules we might establish for an organization of true democracies with rule of law?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

All Roads But One Lead to Rome

Libya could see the rise of jihadis in the same way that Iraq and Syria have seen the rise of jihadi movements. This is why the fight has been called the Long War and why military means have always just been a treatment of the symptoms. Eventually, the Arab world has to reform enough to marginalize the impulse to wage jihad.

Libya is under threat:

Libya is now in the throes of an extreme political crisis. If the conditions remain unchallenged and, hence, unchanged, it will turn into another Syria or Iraq.

While ISIL has managed to capture the attention of the international media with its powerful propaganda and its violent tactics, the world’s has ignored the equally threatening Islamist groups and movements that have prospered in North Africa in the post-Arab Spring vacuum. Nowhere is this threat more profound than with the rise of radical Islam in Libya.

We overthrew the dictator by supporting locals and refused to put Western troops on the ground on the theory that it is the presence of Western troops that provoke jihadis.

This is an evolution of the theory that refusing to overthrow the dictator by sending in US troops would prevent Syria from getting worse, when in fact jihadis have thrived in the chaos. And now we are trying the Libya model of air-only intervention to solve the problem.

Which is an evolution over the theory that overthrowing a dictator and putting Western troops on the ground to build a new state in Iraq caused jihadis to rise up in that country. Iraq is two examples in one in that it is also a Libya model where US absence allowed jihadis to rise since 2011. Perhaps it is a fourth model, too, in that we are helping an existing--if weak--government to contain the jihadis. Yemen could be in this category, too, really.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: the Long war is at its heart a struggle to reform the Arab Moslem world to control the jihadi impulses that lead young men to believe killing is the proper solution to their many internal problems.

Military means are absolutely necessary to contain the problem away from our shores as much as possible, but in the end military means can only set the conditions to attack the real problem, which is the lack of democracy (and rule of law) in the Arab Moslem world.

We need a real alternative to autocrats of Islamists to run these states. This is why I hoped Iraq--in the heart of the Arab Islamic world--could set an example, however imperfectly, of how the path to democracy and rule of law is superior to the traditional governance models.

I still have that hope and I'm grateful that the Obama administration has belatedly re-entered the struggle for Iraq.

And it is why I still have hope that the Arab Spring started something that will in time lead to democracy and rule of law.

The Arab Spring at least witnessed people calling for something other than Islamism to replace autocracy. The people calling for democracy didn't fully understand what "democracy" meant, but they did reject Islamism and autocracy in theory.

I wanted the West to engage to help them set up institutions that could survive votes for bad men and avoid mere voting as a one-time legitimizing tool for new autocrats or Islamists.

Islamists have exploited the fall of autocrats, making it impossible for the Arab Spring to have a rapid effect. But Islamists given the chance to show their true colors are showing that they are not the alternative to autocracy.

Autocracy has reclaimed governance in Egypt. It has endured in the monarchies. And too many here think that supporting new autocrats is the best way to achieve stability in the Middle East.

But if we don't support democracy and rule of law, those new stabilizing autocracies will simply pave the way for discontent and the revival of Islamism as the alternative to autocracy.

Islamists are strong enemies who keep rising up in different places despite different approaches to addressing the autocracies in the Arab world, as Iraq, Syria, and Libya show.

I firmly believe that democracy and rule of law are necessary to defang the Islamist impulse that keeps forcing us to use military power to contain the bloody anger that erupts from that impulse.

As the technology of WMD gets pushed down from state-level to sub-state or even individual levels, Islamists who now use chlorine gas will eventually get much worse. Let's defeat the jihadi urge before it gets to that stage.

UPDATE: Austin Bay on Tunisia which remains a hopeful test case of the Arab Spring, although it sadly may have unique factors that help its progress. Perhaps Carthage was not destroyed, after all.

Just What Did We Start?

I think the Russians are using that "reset" button that Hillary Clinton gave them for something completely different:

Now for the first time, according to the latest New START data exchange, Russia actually has more actively deployed nuclear warheads than the U.S.

The minor Russian advantage in strategic nuclear weapons comes despite the incredible asymmetry in both countries’ commitments to global security and despite Russia’s 10-to-one advantage in tactical nuclear weapons systems in the European theatre.

And you wonder why Putin has felt free to rattle his nuclear sabre so often lately over Ukraine?

Note that Russia is adding warheads in a most destabilizing manner--increasing the number of warheads per missile.

That is destabilizing because it increases the incentive for an enemy to launch a first strike and take out 10 warheads mounted on one missile with only one (or maybe 2) warheads. And that will encourage Russia to rely on "launch-on-warning" rather than ride out a first strike, which puts Russian nukes on a hair trigger vulnerable to problems with the early warning system that might falsely alert the Russians of a strike on the way. If Russia can't take the time to see if they are actually under attack before launching, they could accidentally initiate a first strike.

Worst case, Russia actually plans to launch a first strike as part of their national security strategy. I doubt that, but you never know. Russia could be that paranoid.

One can argue just how many nuclear warheads we need for our security and whether a slight Russian advantage at the strategic level is meaningful.

And you can argue whether or not British, French, and Chinese nukes balance Russia's shorter-range nuclear dominance over our theater-range warheads.

But it is hard to argue that the assumption that provided the basis for the New START nuclear agreement--that Russia is not our opponent--is still meaningful.

The news is old, but I only recently read this via Instapundit.

Monday, October 27, 2014


What with Kerry's odd focus on the Palestinian issue as a reason for the rise of ISIL, let's contemplate how the Arab world's past fixation on Israel actually hampers a current fight against jihadi terrorism.

In Sinai, jihadis continue to fight Egyptian forces:

A coordinated assault on an army checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula killed 30 Egyptian troops on Friday, making it the deadliest single attack in decades on the military, which has been struggling to stem a wave of violence by Islamic extremists since the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The war raging in Sinai is a surprisingly bloody affair that gets little attention despite the fact that we have troops there (as part of a multi-national non-UN force) to monitor the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

The ability of jihadis to operate in Sinai is greater because the peace treaty limits the amount and type of forces that Egypt can put in Sinai lest they become a military threat to Israel.

And contrary to Kerry's claim of what Arabs think, Egypt isn't reacting to jihadi attacks in Sinai by trying to solve the Israel-Palestinian problem:

Egypt announced on Sunday it was postponing talks in Cairo on cementing the Gaza war ceasefire after closing its border with the Palestinian enclave in response to deadly attacks in the Sinai peninsula.

Israel has relented on allowing more Egyptian forces into Sinai to fight the jihadis, but it clearly isn't enough and it isn't clear that Israel would feel secure granting permission for too many troops to camp out in Sinai.

UPDATE: If Israel was blowing up houses and evicting Palestinians, this would be the subject of anguished protests by the world community. Just where are the Westerners who like to stand in front of bulldozers to protect Palestinian homes?

With bulldozers and dynamite, the Egyptian army on Wednesday began demolishing hundreds of houses [in Rafah, on the border with Gaza], displacing thousands of people, along the border with the Gaza Strip in a panicked effort to establish a buffer zone that officials hope will stop the influx of militants and weapons across the frontier.

It is journalistic malpractice not to note that smuggling tunnels used by terrorists cross the border there and use houses on both sides as the entry points to disguise the tunnels.

And what makes the effort "panicked"--a term that judges the effort misguided, you must admit--rather than "rapid?"

What the Heck, Take Your Time, Taiwan

After waiting 13 years to decide to buy subs that we don't sell, Taiwan will--if all goes well--build their own by 2025.

Hey, what's the rush?

Taiwan is moving ahead with plans to build its own submarines, with an initial design to be completed by the year-end, after lengthy delays in getting eight vessels under a 2001 U.S. defense deal and as China's navy expands rapidly.

Seven months ago they were pondering the notion. Now they will have a plan by the end of the year. The initial design, anyway. Perhaps a general view scribbled on a napkin?

The new article says that Taiwan judges China will be capable of invading Taiwan by 2020.

This article says the subs will be ready by ... when?

Military officials here recently said Taiwan will build its four of its own 1,500-tonne displacement diesel-electric attack submarines by 2025, with a budget of about NT$150 billion (US$4.9 billion).

Ah, four by 2025. Five years after Taiwan judges China capable of invading Taiwan.

I'm sure that schedule of building a new type of weapons system won't slip at all.

And assuming Taiwan has any submarine expertise left by then.

Taiwan just doesn't seem to have a sense of urgency on this issue. Or about any other defense issue, it seems, despite the lengthening military shadow that China has been casting over that island democracy.

UPDATE: Taiwan still uses their World War II subs. But I assume they really are only used for training as I've read in the past despite the article's focus on their staus as active subs in Taiwan's fleet considering this information:

The navy is planning to spend more than Tw$800 million ($26.35 million) to overhaul one of the old subs next year.

Both will get new hulls as they are currently unable to dive more than 20 metres (66 feet) -- less than a tenth of their design depth -- due to warped pressure hulls and metal fatigue.

So Taiwan really just has two subs dating from the 1980s for combat missions.

On the bright side, rebuilding the hulls will be good practice for building all new subs.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Unbelievably Small Nuance

In a region where battles rage against ISIL (and other jihadis) in a kaleidoscope of shifting alliances, our Secretary of State has it all figured out. It's the Jews.

According to Secretary of State Kerry, our ISIL problem is simple, really:

"As I went around and met with people in the course of our discussions about the [anti-Islamic State] coalition ... there wasn't a leader I met with in the region who didn't raise with me spontaneously the need to try to get peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it was a cause of recruitment and of street anger and agitation that they felt they had to respond to," said Mr Kerry, at a state department gathering to mark the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the one group that ISIL (now the proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) isn't fighting and killing is Israel.

Is it possible that ISIL is just confused about directions? Are we jamming their GPS navigation systems?

Is that whole Kobani siege just a big misunderstanding? Could we have ended it not by air dropping weapons and ammunition to the defending Kurds but by notifying the ISIL attackers that the defenders are not, in fact, Israelis? Or even Jewish?

The fact is, ISIL hates Moslems with any deviation from their own views of what Islam is. Israel and the Palestinian issue have nothing to do with the rage that motivates ISIL and the appeal of the murderous group to young men in the Moslem world.

John Kerry's single-minded devotion to restoring the reputation of Madeleine Albright continues.

Will Our Enemies Wait Their Turns?

While I think the general thrust of our plan for action against ISIL in Iraq and Syria is correct, allowing the once separate Iraq and Syria problems to merge into one problem complicates our fight. (link that post) We need time for our plan to work. Will that plan survive contact with the enemy?

I'm not nearly as pessimistic as this analyst, but our plan will take years to implement in a complicated environment.

Again there is word that Iraqi forces aren't yet ready to go on offense:

Iraqi forces are months away from being able to start waging any kind of sustained ground offensive against the Islamic State and any similar effort in Syria will take longer, officials at the U.S. military's Central Command said on Thursday.

In Iraq, the timing will depend on a host of factors, some out of the military's control - from Iraqi politics to the weather. Iraqi forces also must be trained, armed and ready before major advances, like one to retake the city of Mosul, which fell to the Islamic State in June."It's not imminent. But we don't see that that's a years-long effort to get them to a place to where they can be able to go on a sustained counter-offensive," a military official said, instead describing it as a "months-long" endeavor.

The officials, briefing a group of reporters, said the priority in Iraq was halting the Islamic State's advance but acknowledged Iraq's western Anbar province was contested, despite U.S.-led air strikes.

While we seem to have helped the Iraqis make some gains north of Baghdad and in the Kurdish region (link), the situation in Anbar continues to slowly erode where 5 Iraqi divisions have lost significant strength to combat and desertions while they've lost ground. So we haven't even really stabilized the Iraq front yet.

Syria is the secondary front mostly because we failed to help rebels earlier and so there are fewer acceptable and capable rebels we can help.

Yet we have to help the Kurds of Syria resist ISIL attacks since we need enthusiastic support from Iraq's Kurds who may balk at our timetable of Iraq first while Syrian Kurds are wiped out by ISIL.

So we help more at Kobane now, where Syrian Kurds are desperately holding off a major ISIL offensive--which also is a good target of opportunity to kill ISIL forces and keep them from reinforcing the Iraq front.

Yet actions against ISIL in Syria effectively assist Assad.

Worse, the failure to help non-Kurdish Syrians resisting ISIL and Assad threatens our plan to eventually focus on helping non-jihadi rebels in Syria:

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the United States has determined that newly trained rebel fighters will not be able to capture strategically important towns from the so-called Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, without the support of forward-deployed U.S. combat troops. So instead, those rebels will only be assigned to defend already controlled territory.

On Thursday, the Syrian National Coalition, which is recognized by the United States as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, told Foreign Policy that the plan "just doesn't make sense strategically.

"The only way to defeat ISIS is to defeat ISIS. You cannot be reactive and wait for them to besiege liberated towns and villages," said Oubai Shahbandar, a senior advisor to the group.

How can we be sure that these rebels will still be willing to fight--or even alive--when our plan gets to the Syria stage?

We may not want to go on offense in Syria yet, but unless we want to effectively become chemical weapon-using Assad's ally a mere year after nearly going to sort-of-war against him over that issue, we need to help Syrian rebels now in order to compensate for the damage we are doing to Syria-based ISIL with our air campaign in support of the Iraq First strategy.

UPDATE: Helping those who help themselves:

US cargo planes have parachuted aid to a beleaguered Sunni tribe in western Iraq, the Pentagon said Tuesday, in a sign Iraqi government forces remain in a tenuous position against Islamic State jihadists in Anbar province.

American C-130 aircraft carried out an airdrop of food near Al-Asad air base early on Monday at the request of the Baghdad government, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters.

This is good. Not all air power is kinetics stuff.

But if we really want these guys in the fight against ISIL, we need an active Anbar front as soon as possible.

And Syrian rebels could use some visible help, too, for that matter.

Distracted Again?

The air campaign in Syria against ISIL is not a distraction from attacking ISIL in Iraq.

While we have reason to worry about whether we can mesh all the moving parts across two incompatible fronts in Syria and Iraq to achieve victory over ISIL in a matter of years (without helping Assad survive), I find this criticism of our actions nonsense:

The U.S. air campaign has turned into an unfocused mess as the U.S. has shifted limited air strike resources to focus on Syria and a militarily meaningless and isolated small Syrian Kurdish enclave at Kobani at the expense of supporting Iraqi forces in Anbar and intensifying the air campaign against other Islamic State targets in Syria. As of October 20th, the United States had flown some 310 strikes in more than 2½ months of air activity in Iraq, and 231 in Syria. It began its strikes in Iraq, however, on August 8th, escalated to major air strikes on the Islamic state and an Al Qaeda element in Syria on September 22nd to October 3rd, and then let the Kurdish crisis in Kobani dominate the air campaign after October 5th.

Given the vast capabilities of our air power represented by our Air Force, Navy air and missile assets, Marine Corps aircraft, and even Army drones and armed helicopters, the notion that our Iraq fight is handicapped by a focus of our "limited air strike resources" on Kobani is nonsense.

Kobani is both a target of opportunity to kill jihadis as they expose themselves and a necessary fight to prevent ISIL from gaining a propaganda victory and to keep the Kurds in both Syria and Iraq in the fight against ISIL. This is no lack of focus.

If we aren't doing enough with air power in Iraq, it is because we have chosen to do less in Iraq.

Obviously, we have limits on our air strike assets. We haven't even begun to approach that limit.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Failed State?

As we try to recover from our premature withdrawal from Iraq and prepare for a probable premature exit from Afghanistan, let's ponder how South Korea is doing sixty years after the Korean War ended its highly active stage.

South Korea is not quite ready yet to take command of their own armed forces in case of war with North Korea:

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that delaying the handoff "will ensure that when the transfer does occur, Korean forces have the necessary defensive capabilities to address an intensifying North Korean threat."

The agreement to delay the transfer has been discussed for more than a year and comes at the request of the Seoul government. There is no longer a deadline for the transfer; instead, it will be based on the progress of the South Korean military and the ongoing situation there, including tensions with North Korea and its ongoing nuclear ambitions.

South Korea is a modern arms-exporting nation. They built the smart phone and television that I use.

And they still aren't ready to stand on their own.

Nor is European NATO ready as the Libya War and Ukraine War have demonstrated.

Yet the fact that Iraq and Afghanistan still need our help to fight their (and our) enemies is proof that they don't deserve to survive?

What's Good for the Gander

Will everyone rush to cash in their foreign policy chips while they believe they have the chance?

Hey, remember that grand Kerry-Lavrov chemical weapons deal a year ago that led to passing out Nobel Peace Prize laurels for removing chemical weapons from Syria? Yeah, Syria is attacking their enemies with chemical weapons:

ONE GRIM indication that the regime of Bashar al-Assad has been emboldened by the U.S. air campaign in Syria is the fresh reports of chemical weapons attacks on civilian areas. The Institute for the Study of War has compiled 18 allegations by Syrian sources of chlorine gas attacks by the regime since U.S. strikes against the Islamic State began in August. The first strike was reported Aug. 19 — the same day that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it had completed the neutralization of the chemical weapons stockpile surrendered by the regime. The most recent was reported last week, when government forces allegedly used chlorine gas against rebel positions in the suburban Damascus area of Jobar.

And here we are for all the world to see, looking like a de facto Assad ally by bombing ISIL while doing nothing significant (and certainly not visible) to assist non-jihadi rebels defeat Assad:

The [Syrian] army "took full control of the town of Morek in the northern Hama countryside and killed a number of terrorists and mercenaries," state television said in a news alert, citing a military source.

The town is significant because it sits on the main route between two of Syria's most populated cities. President Bashar al-Assad's force has intensified air raids on western areas in the past month and has been making incremental gains on the ground. ...

A rebel brigade in northwestern Syria said Morek should not be overlooked as a battle rages further north around the Syrian town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish. ...

"Morek is more deserving of forces to prevent the progress of Assad," a statement from the Syria Revolutionaries Front said.

The group is aligned with the western-backed Free Syrian Army.

Iran has every reason to believe that if their client Syria can achieve this, they too can get a similar deal with America--become our partner and have their WMD status validated by our failure to do anything to stop them:

The Obama administration has sweetened its offer to Iran in ongoing nuclear negotiations, saying it might accept Tehran operating 4,000 centrifuges, up from the previous 1,300, according to a semiofficial Iranian news agency.

We keep moving closer to the Iranian position. And by refusing to end the negotiations that only result in our position weakening, even no agreement simply allows Iran to expand their centrifuge arsenal which stands at "9,400 operating centrifuges and another 10,000 that are installed but not in operation."

We are clearly not considered a serious power. Why should the world when at home, people don't think our president is motivated to do anything to solve problems that aren't already on his agenda?

Obama’s determined detachment conveys the feeling that nobody’s home. No one’s leading. Not even from behind.

A poll conducted two weeks ago showed that 64 percent of likely voters (in competitive races) think that “things in the U.S. feel like they are out of control.” This is one degree of anxiety beyond thinking the country is on the wrong track. That’s been negative for years, and it’s a reflection of failed policies that in principle can be changed. Regaining control, on the other hand, is a far dicier proposition.

With events in the saddle and a sense of disorder growing — the summer border crisis, Ferguson, the rise of the Islamic State, Ebola — the nation expects from the White House not miracles but competence. At a minimum, mere presence. An observer presidency with its bewildered-bystander pose only adds to the unease.

Drama? No Obama. And our enemies abroad are taking advantage of our apparent refusal to address crises.

Even in Iraq and the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, which I think is the correct approach on paper, our ability to carry out this plan could be unraveled if people don't have confidence of our ability to stay the course amidst setbacks and even defeats in order to emerge victorious.

People have to carry out plans. If other people don't think our people will display a resolve that is in no way inherent in this administration's foreign policy, even a good plan can fail.

Nobody believes our "red lines" on bad behavior any more. God knows what level of pain we'll need to inflict to rebuild our reputation before more bad actors decide that they need to cross their local red lines while the opportunity is there.

Far From Partners

I don't assume China must be our enemy. But they don't have an attitude that speaks of friendliness.

China's little pet pscho regime, North Korea, is pursuing nuclear weapons that make our allies nervous.

So what does China get upset about when we react to that nuclear threat that China seems unwilling to stop?

The United States is damaging stability in the Asia-Pacific region by positioning a missile defense radar in Japan, China said on Thursday.

Japan, an ally of the United States, has voiced growing anxiety over China's more assertive posture in the East China Sea, where the neighbors are locked in a dispute over control of a group of uninhabited islets.

North Korea has carried out a series of missile tests this year, including two medium-range missiles capable of hitting Japan. Pyongyang has also threatened another nuclear test.

Speaking of idiocy, China's other little pretend partner has its own bit of nonsense:

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States on Friday of endangering global security by imposing a "unilateral diktat" on the rest of the world and shifted blame for the Ukraine crisis onto the West.

Huh. Russia invades a sovereign nation in the sainted international community whose territorial integrity Russia itself had guaranteed, annexing one part of Ukraine (Crimea) while still keeping troops in the eastern part even after the so-called ceasefire was signed), and our opposition to this aggression is "dictating" to the world.

Yeah. We're the one hurting stability. That makes total sense.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Now That's a Littoral Combat Ship

I have never believed that the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has any business fighting in the littorals where shore-based artillery, helicopters, aircraft, and small boats could overwhelm the expensive ship. Now we are getting vessels we can afford to lose in combat in littorals.

Our Navy could buy nearly 50 of these boats:

The 85-foot long MK VI accommodates a 10-person crew and up to eight additional passengers. It can sprint in excess of 35 knots and is equipped with a covered fly bridge, reconfigurable main deck cabin and shock mitigating seating that offers greater comfort in high sea states.

This says that the vessel is potentially well-armed:

She is bristling with weaponry, including a pair of remotely operated and stabilized 25mm chain guns and six crewed 50 caliber machine guns in her primary configuration.

Seeing as the Mark VI was built to be armed depending on the mission, other weapons such as mini guns, grenade launchers and smaller caliber machine guns can also be installed. Guided missiles, such as the Griffin or Spike, are planned for the Mark VI in the near future as well.

Hand-held air defense missiles could be carried, too, I'll note. And should be for Persian Gulf missions.

The idea of fighting in the Persian Gulf with ships even as small as the LCS--let alone putting large destroyers or even carriers there--has always seemed like madness.

The Cyclone-class patrol vessels we are putting in the Gulf should be the largest thing we put in there until the Iranian threat is greatly reduced. Okay, this is okay, too.

And minesweepers and barges, of course.

If we want anything larger, try a Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser, eh?

Whistling Past the Graveyard

So the Syrian ground forces are thriving under the experience of their civil war? In Assad's wet dreams, I say.

Huh. Who knew the Syria army was in such good shape?

The army has shrunk by nearly half since Syria's conflict erupted in 2011 but experts say the remaining military force is now both more flexible and capable.

It has transformed itself from a traditional military built on the former Soviet model into an effective counterinsurgency force.

And with sustained military support from Russia and Iran, and the guerrilla warfare expertise of its ally, Lebanon's Hezbollah group, it has gradually regained ground.

Let's look at a few factors in this remarkable renaissance:

"Defections, desertions and attrition after three years of civil war saw Syria's total manpower decline from a high of 325,000 in 2011 to 295,000 in 2012 to an estimated 178,000 in 2013 and 2014," he told AFP.


Nearly 190,000 people have been killed in the conflict so far, including some 40,000 soldiers and 27,000 pro-regime forces, as well as 55,000 rebel fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.


Despite its losses, the army has avoided recruitment campaigns and relied on compulsory military service to replenish its ranks.

Men of between 18 and 50 have to serve for at least 18 months, and the term can be extended on orders from the military leadership.

So Syria's much better army is much smaller, has--along with the supporting militias--suffered tremendous losses (67,000 dead in three years, which must include Hezbollah and the Shia foreign legion adding a small part of the total), and churns their (surviving) soldiers with new conscripts.

These are the building blocks of a much better army?

Do recall that our volunteer Army (including mobilized reservists) strength of probably 600,000 (which grew during the war) suffered probably 3/4 of 4,500 dead (killed in action or other causes) fighting in Iraq in the nearly 8 years we were there. The Army was routinely judged (by others--not me) as being "broken" or in danger of breaking by the casualties and stress of long deployments.

Yet the Syrian ground forces are a model of adapting under the pressures of war to become a "more flexible and capable" force?

I think not. At 23,000 dead per year (we never lost more than a thousand total per year in Iraq), a Roman punishment decimation was easier on a Legion than this civil war has been on Syria's ground forces.

The question isn't this big wet kiss of an article to Assad of just how good has Assad's army gotten--it is how much can Syria's ground forces take before they break?

Although with Syria's air force now capable of 200 sorties in a day, I'll say that is a remarkable come back from years past when their air efforts seemed rather pathetic. You can thank Russia for that rebound.

You Can't Rule Out That Elephant in the Room

Southeast Asian nations around the South China Sea are beefing up their amphibious warfare assets. The reason for this, apparently, is a mystery.

This is kind of funny:

ASEAN navies are rapidly acquiring amphibious capabilities. Their intentions, however, remain unclear.

Hey, here's a clarifying thought:

Chinese construction efforts on Woody Island (one of the disputed Paracel Islands) continue as China recently announced the completion of a 2,000 meter long air strip. This is long enough to support warplanes and work continues on facilities adjacent to the air strip, apparently to support warplanes based on the tiny island. Earlier a school building was completed. This is being used for the 40 children of officials and their families stationed there. The workers continue construction of facilities for the capital of Sansha, a new Chinese municipality (city). Sansha is actually Woody Island and dozens of smaller bits of land (some of them shoals that are under water all the time) in the Paracels and the Spratly Islands to the south. In fact, the new "city" lays claim to two million square kilometers of open sea (57 percent of the South China Sea).

Yeah, China's low-level creeping annexation of the South China Sea under the pretext that the region is their "city of Sansha" could require slightly higher levels of force by other countries to repel, reverse, and otherwise contest.

China would like to keep gaining ground without resistance or with resistance that can be quickly overcome. It is possible that the cost of a bigger fight might seem to risky if it leads to a war and disrupts China's economy (and therefore causes political problems for the Chinese Communist Party).

Or the Chinese could think that a big escalation that rapidly teaches a lesson to one of these ASEAN opponents will bolster nationalist street cred for the CCP and be over fast enough to avoid risk to the economy.

You never can tell how the thinking will end up. That, at least, is truly unclear.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Paper Tigers

The military goes to war with lawyers to screen our use of firepower. I worry the soldiers doing the fighting need them more.

The Soviets had political officers to ensure that military officers did their duty in accordance with the party line. We have political correctness officers, instead (tip to Instapundit):

U.S. Army combat brigades are now being deployed with lawyers in the command post. ...

David Woods, the HuffPo’s military correspondent, cites it as a “good-faith effort” to uphold “American values.” But nobody is suggesting that this is necessary because American troops routinely violate the norms of civilized warfare. Instead, this seems to be an effort to sanitize something that is inherently messy (“War is heck”). This is a classic peacenik proposition: the whole world can be tamed, and not only that, so too can the means by which it is tamed.

Our troops fight clean. Does anybody really want to argue that but for the lawyers we'd carpet bomb civilians?

At best this slows down operations--perhaps tolerable in counter-insurgency but deadly in conventional fighting.

At worst it provides the means to prosecute officers for fighting a war rather than policing.

More than worry about whether our troops fight according to the rules of war, I worry that simply fighting will be criminalized:

When we have a battlefield where we see all of our troops and record all that they do, how will we treat our soldiers? Even in "good" wars that are universally agreed to be justified, such as World War II, we had our share of criminal actions and mistakes that cost lives. Civilians were killed or abused. Prisoners were shot or robbed or abused. Americans died from incompetent commanders or shoddy equipment or just bad luck.

Our military fights very clean based on any combat standards you want to apply--from a historical basis to a contemporary comparison. But war will never be completely clean. Even police commit crimes and abuse prisoners or detainees. Combat is far more stressful and so our troops will commit crimes or simply make lethal mistakes on occasion. How will we react to this? How will we make sure our troops fight even cleaner and how will we protect out troops from unfair prosecution? ...

How do we get our military to win when human rights groups might get a hold of tapes that show fatal mistakes and even isolated crimes?

We want our troops to fight clean but when even a good war like World War II would be flyspecked in our day, how do we deal with all this recorded material and how do we bring our troops home with their heads held high over a war well fought and won?

The objective of going to war should be to win, not to get the fewest penalties. While we should (and do) fight clean, that's a relative term given that this is killing people and breaking things. An over-emphasis on fighting super clean risks that whole "winning" notion.

Ah, what the Hell. Our leaders don't send our troops to do anything as 20th century as "winning" these days. We should just take our standard infantry company and strip out that dangerous heavy weapons platoon, and just replace it with a JAG platoon to be the company's attorneys when the inevitable charges are drawn up for "fighting while American."

UPDATE: Maybe our police departments should have these lawyers, instead.

Baby Steps, People. Baby Steps

Whoa big fellas, hold your enthusiasm:

EU leaders will urge Russia at a summit this week to do more to stabilize Ukraine, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters, but diplomats expect no change in sanctions on Moscow in the near future.

Let's not jump all the way to the big idea of getting Russia to do more to stabilize Ukraine.

That's too ambitious.

Let's just settle for the short-term goal of getting Russia to do less to destabilize Ukraine.

I fear that is still too ambitious.

Putin--Not the West--Made Russia the Paranoid Aggressor It Is Today

We did not provoke Russia into their current bout of paranoid expansionism.

We need to hear more of this rather than another counter-productive round of "why do they hate us?"

Instead of celebrating this achievement on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is now fashionable to opine that this expansion, and of NATO in particular, was mistaken. This project is incorrectly “remembered” as the result of American “triumphalism” that somehow humiliated Russia by bringing Western institutions into its rickety neighborhood. This thesis is usually based on revisionist history promoted by the current Russian regime — and it is wrong.

Indeed. I agree:

Russia isn't a part of the West because Russia's leaders lately have been a bunch of a-holes. Right now I'm glad we've pushed NATO east as fast as possible. Russia has a lot further to go if it ever rebuilds its military and that alone will deter the Russians. I seriously get an eerie inter-war feel for the whole situation.

You know, the common wisdom is that the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh on Imperial Germany after World War I, which led to the rise of Hitler. When you compare the occupation, dismemberment, and de-Nazification of Germany after 1945 which created a prosperous and democratic allied Germany, you have to conclude that the Allies weren't nearly harsh enough in 1918.

And since 1991, we've treated the Russians with kid gloves, and now they too think they've been betrayed and deny they were really defeated in the Cold War. Now the Russians pretend they were being reasonable and just voluntarily gave up their empire. Of course, occupying Russia and de-Commiefying Moscow was never going to happen. We didn't have much choice at the time since Russia still had lots of working nukes. But the result has been a Russia that increasingly acts like they want to be our enemy.

I wrote that in July 2008, the month before the Goons of August war.

In the south, Georgia still wants our help:

Georgia will not allow pressure from Russia to stop it hosting a NATO training center on its territory or deter its plans to deepen ties with the West, the former Soviet republic's defense minister said.

In the north, Sweden wonders what the Russians are up to:

The Swedish military said Sunday it had made three credible sightings of foreign undersea activity in its waters during the past few days amid reports of a suspected Russian intrusion in the area.

Rear Adm. Anders Grenstad said the armed forces had observed the activity in the Stockholm archipelago and nearby coastal area, but declined to give details of an operation reminiscent of the Cold War, when Sweden's armed forces routinely hunted for Soviet submarines in its waters.

The armed forces published a photograph taken on Sunday by a passerby showing a partially submerged object in the water from a distance, but it was unclear what kind of vessel was in question.

Ukraine in between them continues to fight Russian aggression while Poland and the Baltic States worry about Russian designs on them.

And Putin rattles a nuclear sabre even as NATO as a whole continues to field armies that are nothing but civil servants in uniform.

Russia is not our fault.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Boldly Going

The X-37B came home to Earth from a two-year mission in orbit. Let's hope the Air Force learned enough to become the Aero-Space Force.

The Silent Eagle has landed:

A top-secret space plane landed Friday at an Air Force base on the Southern California coast.

The plane spent nearly two years circling Earth on a classified mission. Known as the X-37B, it resembles a mini space shuttle.

I noted it on the way up.

And I first mentioned it four years ago in the hope that it represented a move by the Air Force to become the Aero-Space Force:

I think the Air Force needs to go up to space and let the ground guys take over the aerial missions needed to directly support the troops.

Air superiority (including counter-air missions against enemy airfields), space control (both offensive and defensive), ICBMs, air transport, and electronic warfare should be the Air Force missions. Missions that are directly in support of ground forces should be controlled by those services with either helicopters or UAVs.

Science fiction calls space assets "ships" but there is no reason we must have a space navy in the future. Aim high, Air Force. Space Force has a nice ring, too.

I later added cyber-warfare--plus include missile defense that they do now, too.

I remain unclear about what could motivate the Air Force to aim high--the thought of Chinese competition or U. S. Navy competition--rather than fixating on Army aviation as the real threat.

There is speculation about the payload of the X-37B and what such a small craft can do. I believe that while as designed it could do interesting work, the craft is a scaled down version of what could be a larger space vessel. Then it gets real interesting.

Droit du Seigneur Invoked

Luckily, our president isn't a college student.

Otherwise this incident would be part of the rape culture we hear so much about lately.

Or maybe the president's view on marriage is just evolving again.

What the Hell is Going On in Canada?

A Canadian soldier was shot in Ottawa outside their parliament building:

A uniformed Canadian soldier has reportedly been shot the War Memorial in Ottawa. Police are on the scene.

One incident is odd.

But this is the second of late:

A young convert to Islam who killed a Canadian soldier in a hit-and-run had been on the radar of federal investigators, who feared he had jihadist ambitions and had seized his passport, authorities said Tuesday.

The suspect was shot dead by police after a chase in the Quebec city of Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu. A second soldier suffered minor injuries in Monday’s attack.

So now we are at the "coincidence" stage.

But do remember that Canada's parliament was targetted by jihadis not all that long ago.

Although to be fair, we don't have a motive for this current incident. So we can't officially be at the "pattern" stage.

Perhaps the current incident has nothing to do with Islamists. We'll see.

UPDATE: If this is jihadi terror, I'll guess that this is home-grown locals since while they may have worked themselves up to kill government (including military and legislative) people, they had not worked themselves up to just kill civilians they ran across:

"He was wearing blue pants and a black jacket and he had a double barreled shotgun and he ran up the side of this building here and hijacked a car at gunpoint," construction worker Scott Walsh told Reuters.

The driver got out safely, then the man drove the car to the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, where construction work is underway, Walsh said.

The suspected gunman rushed past a woman with a child in a stroller, who ran away screaming. He did not attack the woman or child, he said.

I'm sure the after-action terrorist review will mark him down on this oversight.

UPDATE: The shooter was a recent convert:

Court documents show he previously faced a robbery charge in Vancouver and multiple drug-related charges in Montreal.

U.S. officials said they had been advised the dead gunman in Wednesday's shootings was also a Canadian convert to Islam.

I've read elsewhere he may also have been a bit nuts. So that could still be the primary cause rather than Islamist thinking.

More Irrelevant Than Usual


Fox News' Bill O'Reilly recommended in recent weeks that President Obama raise 25,000 mercenaries to battle the Islamic State. The use of such forces has been banned by the United Nations General Assembly. [emphasis added]

I commented on the O'Reilly position. I disagree but it doesn't deserve the scorn it has received from the left.

But what's that latter statement about?

Mercenaries are a pretty routine factor in global warfare and have been for a long time.

My so far one and only (I keep meaning to do more) e-book collects posts from here to discuss the theme of private warfare.

So I have no idea what the UN banning mercenaries even means.

There have been thoughts that the UN should regulate the use of mercenaries, but even aside from the question of whether the UN should have the authority to regulate the practice, the notion that lack of regulation is the same as a ban is not true.

Just where did the idea that there is a ban come from?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Don't Let the Long War Become the Thirty Years War

As long as the jihadis wage war on civilization, somebody will fight back even if our governments try to "responsibly end" the fight.

The fight against ISIL is also raising the issue of Westerners going to fight ISIL:

As an estimated 2,000 expatriates from the United States and other Western nations join the Islamic State to fulfill a passion for conflict or jihad, a much smaller number of Westerners have signed up to fight against the militants. The latest: members of a biker gang from Holland.

The head of Never Surrender, Klaas Otto, told a Dutch radio station that three of its members went to Iraq to join Kurdish fighters battling the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS. ...

The bikers join others outraged over the brutality displayed by Islamic State fighters, who have seized wide swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria. A former U.S. soldier from Racine, Wis., joined Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq and was wounded in a mortar attack.

"I couldn't just sit and watch Christians being slaughtered anymore," Jordan Matson, 28, told USA TODAY last week from a hospital bed in Derike, Syria. "These people are fighting for their homes, for everything they have."

Our jihadi enemies recruit without regard to national boundaries. Why should those who resist the jihadis behave differently? Especially if Western governments are seen as being insufficiently aggressive in fighting the jihadis?

Vigilantes arise anywhere when the authorities fail to provide security or justice. If lawfare undermines our government's ability to defend our society from our enemies, private military groups will wage war on the jihadis--or even against Islam in general. ...

In many ways, our state-centric views hobble our efforts against non-state actors who may wield destructive power hitherto reserved to states. But our state-centric system is not all bad. If freebooters join our Long War, and the system of Westphalia is breaking down and private military entities return, we might want to remember the impact of religion and private military forces on Europe in another long war--the Thirty Years War.

If we worry that Islamist sympathizers from the West will return home from war radicalized enough to start a front in their home towns, what happens when anti-jihadis come home, too?

We may think we can responsibly end the war on terror by refusing to send our military to fight it.

But all we can really do by trying to avoid using our military is change the nature of that fight to emphasize private warfare as long as our enemies continue to wage jihad.

Teach Them to Elect Good (Non-Islamist) Men

If we can re-win in Iraq, reduce Iranian influence there, and restore our efforts to build a functioning democracy in Iraq, we can yet help the Arab Moslem world escape the dismal traditional alternatives of autocracy or Islamism for governance and exploit the earnest if vague yearnings for democracy that the Arab Spring revealed.

I am not demoralized by the failure of the Arab Spring in 2011 to inspire immediate progress for democracy (and the necessary rule of law). I am encouraged that people expressed a desire for democracy even if they had a weak understanding of what that requires. At least these protesters did not call for religious dictatorship as an alternative to autocrats.

This project to undermine the appeal of jihadi thinking that reappears from time to time and which one day could involve WMD as it spills over into the West, is a long-term struggle that requires our support to reinforce indigenous efforts to reform the Moslem Arab world.

Strategypage discusses the problem:

Moslems in general and Arabs in particular have developed a peculiar relationship with democracy. Since the 1960s, when many Moslems were able migrate to the West, millions of Moslems have come to understand democracy from personal experience. They did this either by moving to live in the West, or being visited by family or friends who had and were eager to explain this curious but wonderful form of government in great detail. As a result of this opinion polls in Moslem countries have shown a growing approval of democracy. This was especially true in 2011 after the Arab Spring uprisings. But since 2011 that approval of democracy has dimmed a bit as Moslems unaccustomed to running a democracy found that doing so was not easy. A majority of Moslems still think democracy is the best form of government, but a quarter of Moslems also believe that democracy may be unsuitable for Moslem countries at this time. This disappoints and confuses many Moslems. They can see that democracy creates superior results where is has been established, but the process of getting democracy to work reliably is a lot harder and more difficult than many Moslems originally believed. This is largely because of some unique problems in Moslem states.

Do read it all, as the expression goes.

This is a necessary struggle and the forces in the Moslem world resisting reform are strong. If we don't win this struggle, we'll have more (and worse) war in the future.

Monday, October 20, 2014

On Target

As we ramp up air strikes around Kobani to rack up the jihadi body count as ISIL commits forces to the conquest of that city from the Kurdish defenders, keeping those defenders in the fight has become much more important.

We dropped weapons to keep those ISIL fighters in action:

The U.S. Central Command said it had delivered weapons, ammunition and medical supplies to the Kurds who are trying to stave off an onslaught by Islamic State fighters who have overrun swathes of Syria and Iraq this year.

The main Syrian Kurdish group defending Kobani from the better armed Islamic State militants said on Monday the town had received "a large quantity" of ammunition and weapons.

Three C-130s carried out the drop. Good.

I've heard that with our air strikes inside the city in support of the Kurds, somebody wearing boots must be on the ground calling in those strikes.

Turkey, at least, is allowing Kurds into the Kobani region where they can use those arms:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington had asked Ankara to let Iraqi Kurds cross its territory so that they could help defend the town which lies on the Turkish frontier, adding that he hoped the Kurds would "take this fight on".

If we can really fix the attention of all those ISIL fighters into Kobani to their front from the west, south, and east, the Turks--if they choose--could do some serious damage to ISIL from the rear.

Iraq First

Iraq is our priority front against ISIL. But don't worry that air strikes around Kobani in Syria indicate that we are being distracted because we have more than enough military power to deal with both. But do worry that it isn't apparent that Iraq is the main effort.

I've advocated acting against ISIL in Iraq first and in time set it out as a Win, Build, Win formula of winning in Iraq while building up the forces to win in Syria, and then winning in Syria.

Central Command (CENTCOM) commander, General Austin, verified that Iraq is our priority despite the high profile of the air campaign in Syria the last several weeks:

The intent of the expanded airstrikes is to degrade ISIL's capability and their ability to threaten U.S. interests and the interests of our partners.

More specifically, we are enabling the efforts of the Iraqis in their fight against ISIL, acknowledging that, in addition to halting ISIL's advance, the Iraqis must secure the border. They must regenerate and restructure their forces to ensure that they are able to provide for the sovereignty of their country going forward. And this represents our main focus right now -- enabling the efforts of the Iraqis. ...

Again, Iraq is our main effort and it has to be. And the things that we're doing right now in Syria are being done primarily to shape the conditions in Iraq. And once the Iraqis are able to get a better handle on the situation inside of their country and regain control of their border, that will help to localize the problems a bit more.

And certainly, this will serve to restrict ISIL's freedom of movement and specifically, his ability to send reinforcements from Syria into Iraq. [emphasis added]

He also noted that the air attacks in Syria are going after military assets, command and control capabilities, and revenue-generating oil refineries:

With respect to the airstrikes, and together with our coalition partners, we are purposely and necessarily targeting very specific capabilities, again, with the intent to degrade the enemy's ability to command and control, to degrade his ability to project combat power, and to degrade his ability to sustain himself.

We've conducted precision strikes, for example, targeting ISIL's communications equipment and hardware, their command centers, and their vehicle parks, and tanks and Humvees which were stolen from the Iraqi army, as well as oil refineries which are now under ISIL's control.

Yes, we've recently seen an upsurge in activity in support of the Kurds around the Syrian city of Kobani. But that is important to kill ISIL members, deny them a victory that could be a recruiting tool, to gain the good will of Kurds who we need both in Iraq and Syria, and to prevent Turkish Kurd anger against the Turkish government for failing to intervene to save Kobani from developing into a very distracting revival of the Kurdish war inside Turkey.

But this doesn't represent a distraction from Iraq. The relative inaction in Iraq is not caused by air strikes committed to Syria. It is caused by too little activity in Iraq

Remember, that after Japan attacked our naval base at Pearl Harbor in December 1941, we had a "Germany First" strategy since Germany was rightly judged the bigger threat.

Despite that declaration of a main effort in Europe, our initial combat was weighted against Japan since there was nobody else to carry out that effort to halt Japan's advances. Our ground forces didn't go into combat in Europe until the invasion of North Africa in November 1942, 11 months after the Pearl Harbor attack.

North Africa wasn't a particularly important objective in Europe, but attacking there did have the advantage of not confronting the toughest problem we'd have to face--the invasion of German-occupied France--and risk early defeat. And it got us involved in Europe so that pressure could be resisted to send resources to the Pacific where we were actively (and desperately) fighting the Japanese on Guadalcanal and the seas and air around that island.

In the end we had the power to go on offense in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters rather than rely totally on a sequential effort (remember that Army troops from Europe were needed for the planned invasion of Japan prior to using atomic bombs to compel Japan to surrender).

Despite the weight of recent air attacks tilting to Syria, our air effort fits within my calls for air actions in Syria to be limited to attacks that support the primary fight in Iraq rather than attacks that strengthen Assad in Syria too much.

And General Austin actually provides needed news that the Iraqi ground forces are fighting, even as the situation in Anbar deteriorates under ISIL assault, and even as Austin couldn't say when the Iraqi military would visibly go on offense to roll back ISIL gains:

It's difficult to put -- to designate a specific point in time when they'll be able to do this. As you know, we're doing some things now. They are doing some things now to incrementally recapture ground that's been lost. In the north, we've seen the Kurdish security forces conduct an excellent operation on the Mosul Dam. They took back the port of -- the Rabiya port of entry. They are currently still operating, still pushing to recapture ground that has been lost.

We're seeing some of the same things in the south. About a week-and-a-half ago, you saw the 9th Division attack west to, you know, towards -- north of Karma, towards Ramadi, and link up with the 1st Division and open up a line of communication so that you're -- they're able to -- to provide logistical support to the forces that are out in Ramadi.

And so this morning, Iraqi time -- Iraq time, excuse me, you saw Iraqi security forces elements attack north from the Baghdad area up to Bayji And that that assault -- attack is ongoing as we speak. Their effort is to relieve the forces that have been defending Bayji for a period of time and make sure that they open a line of communications there as well.

So we're doing some things to -- to incrementally improve conditions. At the same time, we will begin to train and equip Iraqi security forces to regenerate some much-needed combat power. But it will take time.

Q: What about Mosul? Are they making any progress at all to retake Mosul?

GEN. AUSTIN: Mosul's going to be probably a much bigger effort. And again, it's going to -- we're going to need to regenerate a bit more combat power and do some more things to shape the environment a bit before we go after Mosul. I think Mosul will -- you heard the chairman describe it as potentially the decisive fight. Certainly, it will be a -- an important fight and a difficult fight.

You know, as you know, Bob, I was a corps commander in Iraq, and I was a force commander there as well. I've spent a lot of time in Mosul. It is difficult terrain. And -- and so, we want to make sure that when we take that on, that we have the adequate capability and we set the conditions right to -- to get things done.

We're building up local forces in Iraq that our air power can support. We have advisors in both the north with the Kurds who will be able to drive southwest and in the center with the Iraqis who will be able to drive west and north.

On the bright side, Iraq may finally be ready at the top to fight:

Iraqi lawmakers approved defence and interior ministers on Saturday, filling the key posts after weeks of delay as security forces battle Islamic State jihadists who hold swathes of the country. ...

Khaled al-Obaidi, a Sunni who was named defence minister, was a senior officer in the air force of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein who specialised in engineering. ...

The new interior minister, Mohammed al-Ghabban, is a member of the Shiite bloc Badr.

Right now the high profile fight to resist ISIL in Kobani seems like the Guadalcanal of today. It's important to win there but it does not mean Syria is the main front. It just means that we aren't yet ready to go on offense in Iraq.

I worry that we need to have visible victories over ISIL sooner rather than later, and that we don't have the luxury of time to set the conditions just right.

Remember that the French in Mali wanted to wait until local and regional forces were ready to lead the offensive north into jihadi-held territory. But a jihadi offensive south compelled the French to use their small ground forces to launch the offensive lest the war be lost before the non-French forces were ready.

We may have to figuratively invade North Africa in Iraq to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that ISIL in Iraq is the main effort and that the end of the beginning is here even if the beginning of the end is years away.

UPDATE: Assuming our enemy gives us the time to set up the perfect killing blows, in a few months and then throughout next year, we will help Iraq retake their lost ground:

The United States and Iraq are drawing up a campaign plan for offensive operations by Iraqi ground forces to gradually reclaim towns and cities that have been occupied by the Islamic State, according to a senior administration official.

The plan, described as methodical and time-consuming, will not begin in earnest for several months and is designed to ensure that Iraqi forces­ do not overextend themselves before they are capable of taking and holding territory controlled by the militants.

ISIL will just sit patiently and wait to be destroyed, right?