Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy Chinese New Year

It is now the Year of the Horse in the Chinese calendar.

The Chinese Communist Party immediately drew a nine-dashed line around the year and declared it a core interest.

So screw them and the horse they rode in on.

Two Out of Three is Bad

If you think of the Syria civil war as a struggle between three parties, the only one not prepared to fight a long war is the side we want to win.

Very broadly speaking, the war in Syria has the government, jihadi rebels, and non-jihadi rebels trying to win control of Syria.

The Kurds don't fit into that. While non-jihadi, they are just hunkering down and hoping to protect themselves. But if you think of the situation very broadly, I'd put them in the non-jihadi rebel camp.

Of these groups, the government has access to Iranian and Russian financial assistance to keep fighting and keep their supporters loyal.

It is to our shame that we have increased Iran's ability to pay for the Assad war machine by easing sanctions on Iran with the interim nuclear deal with Iran.

The jihadis, too, have resources. Not only to jihadi fanboys in the Islamist world send aid, the jihadis have access to energy sources:

Islamist rebels and extremist groups have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources, a rare generator of cash in the country’s war-battered economy, and are now using the proceeds to underwrite their fights against one another as well as President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say.

While the oil and gas fields are in serious decline, control of them has bolstered the fortunes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of Al Qaeda. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is even selling fuel to the Assad government, lending weight to allegations by opposition leaders that it is secretly working with Damascus to weaken the other rebel groups and discourage international support for their cause.

The trade with Assad isn't that big of an allegation. That's common in war. There was trade between the Union and Confederacy during our Civil War. And there was trade with Britain during the War of 1812. You don't have to like it or refrain from interfering with it to accept that this is normal stuff.

Mind you, we should be trumpeting how Assad buys jihadi oil and how Assad focuses air strikes on the non-jihadi rebel groups. Do what we can to make as many of the Syrian supporters of the jihadi groups defect to the non-jihadi rebels as possible.

The important thing is that the jihadis have a source of money to buy arms.

So of the three main groupings in the fight, only the non-jihadi rebels that would be the least-bad rulers of Syria have the resources to fight a long war.

Why aren't we helping them more?

And why are we helping Iran afford to help Syria (aside from greasing the skids to a nuclear Iran) and why are we treating Assad as some type of partner?

Unbelievably Small Disarmament

Behold the big-brained, nuanced results thus far of John Kerry's diplomacy in Syria.

In the annual review, Secretary of State Kerry will put this down as a success:

Syria has given up less than five percent of its chemical weapons arsenal and will miss next week's deadline to send all toxic agents abroad for destruction, sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The deliveries, in two shipments this month to the northern Syrian port of Latakia totaled 4.1 percent of the roughly 1433 metric tons of toxic agents reported by Damascus to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"It's not enough and there is no sign of more," one source briefed on the situation said.

Last summer, Assad bought time to defeat the rebels by agreeing to give up chemical weapons. Apparently, he needs more time.

Seriously, outside of the Obama administration, who is really surprised?

Of Carts, Horses, and Proper Ordering

I recently noted that China's plans to urbanize to spark growth are farcical. Wiser heads than mine agree.

So China plans to move 250 million rural residents into cities over the next two decades?

This Long March to the Cities just won't do what the reasonably enlightened despots hope, as I said:

China benefited from lots of people moving from rural areas to cities to take jobs in factories looking for workers and desperate to take anyone.

China can't replicate that leap in GDP by sending people from rural areas to cities and hoping they find jobs not now in existence.

A blogger with more economic knowledge about China (with thanks to Defense Industry Daily for the blog) than I have recently commented on this plan, noting that urbanization accommodates growth and does not cause growth:

Like so many of the earlier bull arguments, however, this new belief that urbanization is the answer to China’s growth slowdown is based on at least one fallacy and probably more. The first and obvious reason is that urbanization is not an act of God, and therefore indifferent to earthly conditions. Urbanization itself responds to growth. Countries do not grow because they urbanize, in other words, they urbanize because they are growing and there are more good, productive jobs in the cities than in the countryside. In that sense urbanization is not a growth machine. It is simply a pro-cyclical process that accommodates growth when growth is rising and reduces it when it falls.

And pro-cyclicality is a bad thing, not a good thing. It means that increases in growth are enhanced but reductions in growth are exacerbated, so it adds costly volatility to the economy. As the economy slows, in other words, urbanization itself slows, thus subtracting economic activity.

The latter touches on what I mentioned--that urbanization creates the raw material for revolution. When an economy slows, rather than remaining on their land in the country consistently producing a small amount of GDP, these unemployed workers become non-productive, subtracting from GDP.

And if these new urban residents don't have jobs to produce GDP, they become potential foot soldiers for a charismatic rebel to harness.

So China, if they move a quarter billion people into their cities, are setting the stage for a recession or depression that creates lots of desperate people who might blame the Chinese Communist Party which made them move into the cities for their plight.

Be careful what you wish for, it is said, for it might come true.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The War Goes On

I don't assume Iraq is lost.

Yes, I wanted a post-2011 American military presence in Iraq to anchor a sizable civilian effort to keep Iranian influence and threats at bay, to help complete the defeat of al Qaeda, and to help rule of law gain ground in Iraq to provide a positive example in the Arab Middle East of an alternative to mullahcracy or autocracy.

Our absence has fueled problems.

And the failure to stick it to Assad when he was most vulnerable has provided some blowback into Iraq.

Don't forget our bizarre diplomacy that has enabled an Iranian revival that stokes added fear of Iran within Iraq.

But Iraq could still work out.

The al Qaeda resurgence is reminding Sunni Arabs and Shias that they do have a reason to work together.

Perhaps Turkish instability will deny that card to the Kurds and give Kurds new reasons to work within Iraq.

And as Iraq strengthens its military, it will gain the ability to resist Iranian pressure. Yes, Iran has the ability to use Shia religion to make inroads into Iraq. But a stronger Iraq will have Arab-Persian differences to keep Iran at bay.

There's still the rule of law problem. I don't see as much hope there without us there. But I don't rule out that a desire among Kurds, Shias, and Sunni Arabs to avoid civil strife will make these the least unacceptable common framework for resolving their problems.

So, yeah, Iraq could still be a success under President Obama. I've never abandoned that hope despite my conviction that President Obama has made it less likely to get a good result.

But while Iraq still has decent odds of being a small victory for us by having Iraq emerge as a friendly nation that opposes Sunni terrorism and Iran rather than being a Saddam-era threat to us, I have less hope that Iraq will evolve into a bigger victory that sets an example in the Arab world of a working democracy.

After 4,500 American dead there, I hoped for more than a small victory. But just getting any victory under the Obama administration would be something.

The outcome in Iraq still hangs in the balance. We should care about it.

Dreams Really Do Come True

American heavy tanks are going back to Europe.

Last spring, I lamented the departure of our last heavy armor from Europe.

But now they are going back, baby! In the European Activity Set (EAS):

What is it?

U.S. Army Europe and its partner organizations are working together to establish the European activity set. The EAS is comprised of equipment from around the globe that is being pre-positioned at Germany's Grafenwoehr training area to enable U.S. regionally aligned forces and multinational partners in Europe to train and operate as the European Response Force and NATO Response Force.

What has the Army done?

USAREUR is providing 70 percent of the equipment for the EAS from stocks of deactivating units, while much of the remainder comes from Army Materiel Command sources in Kuwait, Korea and Italy. The last major pieces -- Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles from Fort Hood, Texas, will arrive in late January and early February.

What continued efforts does the Army have planned for the future?

The EAS and ERF training will provide rotational forces from the U.S. -- a brigade combat team headquarters and battalion-sized task force with enablers -- the opportunity to participate annually in two 60-day training rotations and multinational exercises at USAREUR's world-class Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwoehr, Germany, and Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, and at partner nation training areas throughout the U.S. European command area of responsibility. Much of the training will be NRF-focused, as currently the ERF is intended to fulfill NRF force commitments. Elements of Fort Hood's 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, the assigned rotational force for Europe, deployed to Poland in late 2013 to participate in the NATO exercise Steadfast Jazz in support of the NRF, and will return to Europe in May for the first full training rotation there.

This means we will have heavy task force (a battalion reinforced with other assets to be able to operate without higher support, for at least a little bit) equipment kept in Germany where troops along with a brigade headquarters can rotate into NATO Europe to train with our allies.

Perhaps this is how REFORPOL starts.

I Can Envision Quite a Bit, Actually

A military contractor which once worked for America is now working for China on non-military missions in Africa. I'm not happy about this. But I'm not surprised.

Blackwater once provided armed security services in a war zone. After being scapegoated for a body count in a successful diplomatic protection mission, Erik Prince's company was sunk.

So now he provides services in Africa:

Mr. Prince aims to provide "end-to-end" services to companies in the "big extractive, big infrastructure and big energy" industries. Initially focused on building a Pan-African fleet of aircraft, his firm will expand into barging, trucking and shipping, along with "remote-area construction" as needed for reliable transport. A company—Chinese, Russian, American or otherwise—may have "an extremely rich hydrocarbon or mining asset," he explains, "but it's worth nothing unless you can get it to where someone will pay you for it." His investor prospectus notes that with today's transportation infrastructure, "it costs more to ship a ton of wheat from Mombasa, Kenya to Kampala, Uganda than from Chicago to Mombasa."

Such high costs also reflect the dangers of piracy and civil conflict, but Mr. Prince plays down his firm's plans in the security realm. "We are not there to provide military training. We are not there to provide security per se. Most of that security"—say, if an oil pipeline or mining camp needs protection—"would be done by whatever local services are there," including police and private firms. "We don't envision setting up a whole bunch of local guard services around the continent."

I have sympathy for the man over the demise of his company after he did so much work for our government.

But my sympathy stops when he starts working for China.

Sure, he says he isn't providing security. But logistics work is key for any such operation. And how long before he starts doing what he doesn't envision because that's where the money is?

Privatized military power is a new feature of our age (well, it's a new feature again). What happens when American companies start using private military power (including cyber-warfare) in ways contrary to our policies? Or even parallel to our policies? Would that be okay?

This is an issue to contemplate. And to read about for only 99 cents, for that matter.

No Fraternal Assistance, Thank You

North Korea, after decades of claiming a US-led invasion from the south threatens them, discovers their northern border.

This is an interesting development on North Korea's northern border:

Since late 2013 North Korea has been fortifying some parts of its [northern] border. Some units have managed to scrounge up concrete and rebar (reinforcing steel rods) and built machine-gun positions. Otherwise troops have dug trenches and reinforced them with lumber. At the same time efforts to prevent North Koreans from leaving have been increased. Security on the border (including cell phone detection teams) has sharply increased. The state controlled media is talking about the possibility of a Chinese attack and the presence of Chinese spies disguised as other foreigners.

I'm assuming from context that the post means the northern border.

In the Cold War, I always read that more Romanian military assets were pointed north to watch the Russians than were poised to attack NATO. So there is precedent.

Of course, North Korea is actually making it easier for China to invade by facilitating bridge and road building projects.

If North Korea has unrest--which the North Korean rulers are increasingly worried about--China might very well march south to put a more reliable and friendly government in place; or, in the worst case of a collapse China can't prevent under new rulers, to keep the South Koreans (and America) as far from the Yalu River as possible.

It could be a dangerous race. I hope the North Koreans do more than build speed bumps up there.

Military Intelligence

The Afghan army can't fight or read? Seriously?

So what?

According to one Bloomberg News story, more than half the [Afghan security] force's members will probably still be illiterate after a $200 million literacy program.

In a country where only one-third of the population, and just slightly more than one-tenth of military recruits, can read or write, building a literate army was going to be a tall order.

The article headline says the army can't fight. But the editors apparently don't know that the security forces are the army and the national police--not just the army.

And while the security forces will have to evolve to rely more on part-time locals because the large national force is too much for Afghanistan to afford in the long run, in the short run we need to provide the aid to keep this force fighting.

Let me explain this top secret concept that might address the problem: You expand the ground forces to win the war. And when you win, you reduce the ground forces to a level you can afford and still provide security.

I know. This is why you read this blog. Deep stuff like that.

And Afghan troops are fighting. According to the ISAF general in charge of all international forces over there, the Afghan security forces win 95% of the firefights with the Taliban:

I can tell you that there was probably somewhere in the range of 3,000 to 4,000 firefights in this past fighting season, if you will. And of those, several thousands of firefights the Afghan security forces probably lost somewhere between 100 and 150 maybe.

So bottom line is, in 95-plus percent of the tactical firefights, tactical engagements that the Afghan security forces fought in, they clearly held their ground and defeated the attacks from the enemy.

So the notion that the Afghan "army" can't fight is ridiculous.

And then we get to the reading part. In a country where the article says a third of the population and a tenth of military recruits are literate, we aim for half of the force to be literate.

But that hasn't stopped the security forces from winning 95% of the fights.

Obviously, the Taliban have lose 95% of the firefights. What is their literacy rate, one wonders? Is there a Taliban literacy program?

The Afghan security forces have to defeat Afghan Taliban--not American troops.

Stop looking for reasons to declare defeat and come home with a clear conscience.

And let's address the stunning lack of knowledge in our press corps about military matters.

I dream that one day there will be special programs that will train future journalists to be competent at their trade. I might call them "journalism schools." We should look into that. Otherwise we have a press corps that can't read history and can't write.

I know. I'm a visionary.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Global Warming Has Begun Many Times

While climate scientists debate how long the "pause" in global warming will last before it rockets up again to destroy us all, perhaps they could also tell us when it began.

I know I've had posts on this before, but it doesn't hurt to repeat it. Just when did global warming start?

I'm a "denier," it seems. I accept that mankind is putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and I don't deny that in theory this should warm the planet. That should be the basis for accepting it all, should it not?

What I deny is that the warming from the mid-1970s to a the late-1990s is unique in the history of climate. Even decades-long trends are not long enough to draw conclusions.

I deny that we can say mankind is responsible for whatever warming we've seen given the long history of changing climate and given that even if we are in a "pause" of global warming, natural factors are obviously more important than what man is doing since human-produced carbon dioxide continues to accumulate in the atmosphere and we aren't warming.

I deny that the models provide data about the future. The outputs about future climate are not data, and are even less reliable than the massaged data from the past that the climate scientists say accurately reflects the past. If past data was accurate, wouldn't the models be able to "postdict" climate up to now after plugging in data from 50 years ago? Or 100? Or 150? Or however long ago you want to say global warming caused by mankind started?

And I most certainly deny that the fanatics in the global warming movement who cry that "the end is nigh" should be trusted with controlling our economy and even private lives to prevent their prophecies of damnation.

Oh, and I deny that what the global warming fanatics are practicing is "science."

You'd think when global warming began is a simple question. It is not. But trying to answer it makes you confront that past warming has ended with cooling. Without man's impact on it at all. And then you, too, might become a "denier."

So yeah, I'm a heretic denier. Go sort your recyclables and leave me the ef alone.

Now go and emit no more.

Speaking of Sochi

Holy mother of God, just what are the Russians expecting to happen in Sochi?

Seriously?

Medals for next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi can survive extreme heat and eight tons of crushing power, manufacturers said Wednesday, less than a year after shattered medals caused red faces at a major Russian sports event.

Eight tons of crushing power? Extreme heat? Is the terrorist threat that bad?

Is the biathlon competition going to be rifle shooting but with traveling cross country in an MRAP replacing skiing?

Heck, glue the medals to the bodies of ordinary cars and you've got your MRAPs right there.

I almost miss the days when the biggest threats to the Olympics were Soviet Bloc judges in the figure skating events.

China's Turn?

When China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, Putin sat in the stands watching while his troops invaded Georgia and ripped away some territory from them.

People say Putin doesn't want to do anything harsh about Ukraine while his pageant in Sochi is approaching. I'm not sure this is accurate, but if so, that doesn't mean nobody does anything.

So what territory does China grab while Russia hosts the Winter Olympics? It is their turn, isn't it?

Just Marking Time

I did not watch the president's speech last night. I mentioned I would not. After 5 years of failure, what difference, at this point, does another speech make?

The state of the union speech is worthless. I would salute the first president with the guts to simply submit the SOTU written to Congress.

But with this president, who rails against his own failures to solve the problems that he once said we was uniquely capable of solving (it's all about the competence, his fans said), just has nothing to say.

Listening to the bits of the speech this morning, I can't help but notice the tone of voice that President Obama often gets that just signals coming BS. The tone seems to insist that listeners believe him even though the president himself knows what he says is not true.

But there's more. Now it seems like there is some disbelief in the president's tone. As if he is saying, "Look, I'm not doing anything different. Why aren't you reacting the same way? Why aren't you getting thrills up you legs? Why aren't you applauding like you worry this is your last chance and you don't want to miss the opportunity to demonstrate your loyalty and love? Why aren't people fainting in the aisles anymore??!!"

So now I just wait for three years, hoping that our country is large and resilient enough to endure the damage our enemies abroad and our ruling class at home will inflict trying to, respectively, defeat or help us.

And remember, even President Carter had his eyes opened after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and he actually began the Reagan defense build up. I can only dream of President Obama being as good as President Carter, at this point.

Thus begins the era of resignation and same. The state of the Obama is not sound.

Does Putin Even Want All Ukraine?

Ukrainian anger at Russia is a regional and not a national tendency.

The Washington Post notes this map of protests and voting:


This reflects the presence of Russian-speaking people (including ethnic Russians) in the east and south, including Ukraine. "Russification" was an active policy in Soviet days. This is one result.

I didn't realize that the Russian element extended all the way to the Romanian border, I'll say.

I wonder if Russia would like the Russified parts without the headache of the pro-Western ethnic Ukrainian parts?

But perhaps that middle light blue area noting a smaller majority of Russian speakers wouldn't be solid enough for Russia to want that entire south and southwest area, outside of Crimea where Russia would like to retain naval bases.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Not Even the NSA Knows the Details

Apparently we had to pass the interim nuclear deal with Iran to find out what is in it.

But we aren't allowed to see what is in the deal:

Lawmakers and experts alike criticized the White House for refusing to release publicly the full text of the deal, which temporary halts some of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in economic sanctions relief.

[Representative Ileana] Ros-Lehtinen said on Tuesday during a HFAC hearing about the deal that even members of Congress must climb through hoops in order to view the deal.

“Why is it that members of Congress have to go to a super secret location, a cone of silence … to look at the deal?” Ros-Lehtinen asked a panel of nuclear experts.

Even allowing for the fact that Kerry surely negotiated the deal in French, we could have translated it into English by now, couldn't we?

This is going to be just great.

UPDATE: We can't see the deal, but President Obama is already moving closer to the Iranian position:

Speaking on Iran at last night's State of the Union, President Barack Obama avoided earlier administration assertions that Iran had already agreed to “dismantle” part of its nuclear program, and would be required to do so in any final deal.

Instead, he stuck to vague, boilerplate lines, saying that the interim agreement signed in Geneva last November had "halted the progress of Iran's nuclear program – and rolled back parts of that program – for the very first time in a decade.”

By avoiding the use of the word "dismantle" and any explicit mention of Iran's centrifuges – issues on which the US and Iran have traded accusations of duplicity in recent weeks – Obama signaled that he is not about to lay down any firm markers before the negotiators meet again next month.

Was there really a worry that this president was laying down a red line firm marker?

In five more months, we'll probably say that the agreement requires us to provide Iran with actual nuclear weapons under the justificaton that Iran's ability to produce them on their own will be halted and made them reliant on us.

Nobel Peace Prizes all around!

The Art of the Continuation of Policies By Other Means

President Obama, after justifying his party's actions unilateral actions by noting that they won in 2008--and so could do what they wanted--doesn't seem to agree with the logical corollary--when you lose in 2010 (one house of Congress) you can't do what you want.

President Obama's fanboys (and girls) cheer him on as he prepares to bypass Congress because the House of Representatives has the votes to resist his policies.

His record on doing this already is pretty impressive. Here are some highlights:

Obama, a former constitutional law professor, was once skeptical of the aggressive use of presidential power. During the 2008 campaign, he accused President George W. Bush of regularly circumventing Congress. Yet as president, Obama has grown increasingly bold in his own use of executive action, at times to controversial effect.

The president (or his administration) has unilaterally changed elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA); declared an anti-gay-rights law unconstitutional; lifted the threat of deportation for an entire class of undocumented immigrants; bypassed Senate confirmation of controversial nominees; waived compliance requirements in education law; and altered the work requirements under welfare reform. This month, the Obama administration took the highly unusual step of announcing that it will recognize gay marriages performed in Utah – even though Utah itself says it will not recognize them while the issue is pending in court.

Early in his presidency, Obama also expanded presidential warmaking powers, surveillance of the American public, and extrajudicial drone strikes on alleged terrorists outside the United States, including Americans – going beyond Mr. Bush's own global war on terror following 9/11. But more recently, he has flexed his executive muscle more on domestic policy.

There will be no more talk of "shredding the Constitution" from these fans of presidential action, as they shrieked when Bush 43 was in office and not trying to bypass Congress with such enthusiasm.

An Imperial Presidency? Pshaw! The man was a Constitutional law professor, his defenders say.

I'll stipulate the professor part. Hillary Clinton didn't think so. But his school says as a senior lecturer he was considered a professor. Fine. What difference, at this point, does it make?

But being a Constitutional law professor doesn't seem so much a reason President Obama would never, ever, shred the Constitution as it is an effort to know your enemy to better circumvent it.

Look, I don't think President Obama is laying the ground for a dictatorship. But he is gathering power into his hands at the expense of the legislature that would have been unacceptable had Bush tried to justify actions this way.

But no worries. The left will rediscover limits on executive power just as soon as a Republican sits in the Oval Office.

Sanity Makes an Appearance

India is finally relaxing a bit over their reaction to the issue of their diplomat paying wages too low for our laws. It was never an issue of US-Indian relations for us.

This is a welcome approach by India's ambassador to the United States:

Jaishankar said India was "perplexed" by the decisions of U.S. authorities to arrest and strip-search 39-year-old Devyani Khobragade, India's deputy consul in New York, after she was accused of visa fraud and underpaying her maid.

"There was a fair measure of anger about both the substance of the problem and the way it was handled," he said. "It was not just done publicly; frankly it was done appallingly."

But Jaishankar, who arrived in Washington in December after serving as Indian ambassador to China, played down the impact on the practical side of the relationship - emphasizing that the two sides were still talking despite the postponement of two high-level U.S. visits this month, including one by U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

"Frankly, it's probably the most important relationship," he said. "We are not holding up business, or Pentagon dealings, or congressional dealings ... or science programs and saying, 'They don't get done until things get sorted out.'"

Yes, our relationship is very important. I was perplexed that India was making this a matter of state and retaliating against our diplomats.

We certainly didn't want the incident to affect our relationship. India may have taken this as an insult to India that must have some state purpose, but it was always about an employee being abused by an employer.

We have certain national traits (I'm speaking generalities here, and not a template for all attitudes all of the time) of rooting for the underdog, refusing to bow to so-called superior classes, and sensitivity to fairness in how people are treated. All of these were triggered by the incident in question.

Yes, we could have handled it in a more low key manner. But India should have responded in a more low key manner, too. We have bigger issues to discuss--as the Indian ambassador's previous posting should make obvious--than wrangling over a pay dispute of an Indian diplomatic employee.

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link.

Let's move on. I know at the start of the Obama administration, relations with India were "tainted" by being a product of George W. Bush's efforts, but the Oval Office has moved beyond that. Right? I've certainly read nothing to that effect and so give the administration the benefit of the doubt on this.

Opening the Southern Front

Congress has approved arms shipments to Syrian rebels. I'm a little shocked that we managed to do this while John Kerry works with his new partner in Geneva.

Actual weapons are going to rebels in southern Syria:

Light arms supplied by the United States are flowing to "moderate" Syrian rebel factions in the south of the country and U.S. funding for months of further deliveries has been approved by Congress, according U.S. and European security officials.

The weapons, most of which are moving to non-Islamist Syrian rebels via Jordan, include a variety of small arms, as well as some more powerful weapons, such as anti-tank rockets.

Good. No anti-aircraft missiles, however. Also good.

This would be the southern front I spoke of not too long ago.

I have my shopping list of what the rebels should get.

And a Win is Clawed Back

The Arab Spring shook the Arab Moslem world, bringing the option of democracy forward as an alternative to the traditional choices of Islamist dictatorship that promote wild Islamism with an international bent or secular dictatorship that appealed to safe Islamism for legitimacy within the state. Democracy finally got a win in this lont-term struggle.

The Arab Spring can't be judged for decades yet. If it is judged a success, Tunisia may be viewed as an early victory for democracy:

President Moncef Marzouki and the head of the National Assembly signed Tunisia's new constitution on Monday, enshrining one of its last steps toward full democracy after a 2011 uprising that inspired the Arab Spring.

After years of autocratic rule under Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's charter has been praised as one of the most progressive in the Arab world, designating Islam as the state religion but protecting freedom of belief and sexual equality.

It won't be easy to set aside the traditional forms of government in the Arab world. But Arabs are not doomed to the traditional choices.

This is a small victory. But it could be huge if it works.

An Explanation

If I was suspicious or simply figured Saudi Arabia has no confidence in our ability to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, I'd figure the Saudis want Pakistani-Chinese fighter planes in order to deliver nuclear bombs. But I'm sure there is a good reason that the Saudis are thinking of buying the JF-17 from Pakistan.

Huh:

After Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Salman Bin Sultan visits Pakistan and tours the JF-17 production complex, the World Tribune reports that:

“…officials said representatives of the ministry as well as the Royal Saudi Air Force were examining the feasibility of procuring JF-17 as part of cooperation with Islamabad. “This project could provide the kingdom with technology that could be used in future projects,” an official said.”

The JF-17 isn't the best fighter aircraft that money can buy:

The JF-17 is a joint Chinese-Pakistani project that aimed to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on western firms for advanced fighters, by fielding a low-cost multi-role lightweight fighter that can host modern electronics and precision-guided weapons. It isn’t a top-tier competitor, but it represents a clear step up from Pakistan’s Chinese MiG-19/21 derivatives and French Mirage fighters.

Saudi Arabia has the money to buy the best. So this doesn't make sense, right?

[There’s] no real hole in the RSAF that JF-17s need to fill.

I beg to differ.

Sure, there is speculation that Saudi Arabia could use Pakistani nuclear warheads on Saudi Arabia's Chinese-supplied ballistic missiles in order to counter an Iranian nuclear arsenal.

But it would be technologically easier to drop atomic bombs--or fire short-range air-to-surface nuclear missiles--than outfit nuclear ballistic missiles.

Iran's air defenses aren't that great, remember. And it is a short flight across the Persian Gulf.

And while Western countries would surely not help adapt their planes for nuclear weapons, I'm going to guess that Pakistan would have no problem doing that.

So this could be why Saudi Arabia wants the JF-17.

But I could be overly suspicious and/or underestimate Saudi confidence in our ability to stop Iran.

Maybe the Saudis really want to develop their own aircraft industry by getting the technical specs on a plane judged "a clear step up" from the Chinese derivatives of the ancient Mig-19 and Mig-21 and the Mirage fighter which covered itself in glory in 1967 in the Israeli Air Force.

It's kind of funny, you must admit. Not only is it highly likely that our foreign policy will allow Iran to nuclear, but our policy is making sure that Saudi Arabia either goes nuclear first or a very close second.

Have a super sparkly day.

Blink?

Ukraine's pro-Russian president has stepped back a bit from confrontation with protesters, it seems. Or is it irrelevant?

Is this a victory for the protesters who want to turn Ukraine to the West?

In back-to-back moves to try resolving Ukraine's political crisis, the prime minister submitted his resignation Tuesday and parliament repealed anti-protest laws that had set off violent clashes between protesters and police.

Or does President Yanukovych believe he has all the laws he needs to disperse the protesters?

Or, if he will simply act outside of the laws, what would the actual laws matter?

I just don't know how significant the back-to-back moves are if the dispute is what direction Ukraine goes.

If Yanukovich just wants to shuffle a couple decks and continue the game of falling into Russia's orbit, why would protesters who want to change direction by joining the West through the European Union voluntarily get off the streets?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Buh Bye

We got some murdering bastard who won't be harming anyone else from now on.

From the Somalia Chapter of Murdering Bastards, Inc., scratch one thug:

A U.S. missile strike in southern Somalia on Sunday killed a senior al Shabaab commander who had masterminded suicide attacks by the al Qaeda-linked militant group, two Somali security officials said.

Enjoy Paradise. We'll send you company, Ahmed Mohamed Amey, just as soon as we can.

Define "Stealth"

If India thought they were building a stealth plane with the Russians, the Indians weren't paying attention.

So the Russian "5th generation stealth" plane is rubbish?

Despite initial high expectations, the Indian Air Force appears to be souring on a joint development deal with Russia for a new fifth-generation fighter jet, according to the Business Standard, a major Indian business publication. The Russian prototype is "unreliable, its radar inadequate, its stealth features badly engineered,” said Indian Air Force Deputy Air Marshall S Sukumar at a Jan. 15 meeting, according to minutes obtained by the Business Standard.

Well, I only found out four months ago that the Russian and Chinese "5th generation stealth planes" are actually stealthy (with reduced radar signature) from the front only.

Russia and China can make some decent planes. But they still don't match us. My more immediate worry is that China will one day match us in aircraft crew quality.

Bliss: 12 ea.

Lamb right now is making me cupcakes.

My only job is to reach high objects and operate the oven.

And eat the cupcakes, of course.

UPDATE: I must report tragedy. The mix only made ten cupcakes. They lied!

But good. Yellow cake. Strawberry frosting. Lots of sprinkles and decorating gel.

And now I have nine.

UPDATE:


Eight.

Getting Ready to Rumble

Iraqi forces occupied areas along the border with Syria that al Qaeda had staked out. And west of Baghdad, Fallujah residents were reminded that they'd better hurry up and eject al Qaeda from their city.

The Iraqi government would prefer to have Fallujah and regional tribal members eject al Qaeda from the city they've held all this year.

That way there is less anger at the government for collateral damage during the offensive that would kill or eject the jihadis.

But progress in getting this re-awakening is not going fast enough:

Iraqi government forces battling al Qaeda-linked militants intensified air strikes and artillery fire on the rebel-held city of Falluja on Sunday, and at least seven people were killed, according to hospital officials and tribal leaders. ...

Iraqi security forces have set up a loose cordon around Falluja and have clashed sporadically with insurgents inside. But they have held off from an all-out offensive, to give community leaders and tribesmen time to convince the gunmen to withdraw.

"There is no time left for talks and we're afraid a military solution is looming," said a local cleric in Falluja, which was the scene of two major battles with U.S. troops in 2004. "A third Falluja battle is at the doors".

I think it is a mistake to try to negotiate a withdrawal. If the jihadis are kind enough to mass in one place, the Iraqis should take the chance to kill as many as possible.

Now, if the government chases and kills the jihadis the moment they step outside of the city, that's fine. But letting them escape is a mistake.

But maybe this is where this comes in handy:

A government military offensive in recent days drove al Qaeda fighters from large desert areas they had been controlling along the Syrian border in western Iraq.

If al Qaeda wants their people to get out of Fallujah (and nearby Ramadi) and reinforce their comrades in Syria, Iraq's western Iraq moves could help interdict that movement.

As well as encourage the jihadis to leave the cities by interdicting any support that might come from Syria.

I don't know how long Iraqi forces will hold off. So far the tribal allies of the government haven't been able to do the job in Fallujah or even in Ramadi where there has been more tribal support against al Qaeda.

Out of the Frying Pan

President Obama pivoted to Asia and the Pacific more to disguise a retreat from the Middle East than to really focus on the problems of Asia, it is clear. What foreign policy geniuses told the White House that the Asia-Pacific theater is the quiet portion of the globe?

I think we do need to emphasize the Pacific at this point. Europe is safer from external threats (with Brussels a bigger threat to freedom) and the Middle East is much better than it was in 2001 (although we could still blow our gains). So I'm not arguing against this Obama administration focus (as long as Europe and the Middle East aren't ignored).

But it really does seem as if the president's team thought this pivot was an easy way to avoid conflict for the rest of his time in office. Instead of a quiet front, we've pivoted into the fire. "Obama’s Asia rebalance turns into headache as China, Japan relations spiral down":

China and Japan are not talking any more, and the United States is hardly being listened to.

A dispute over a remote chain of islands in the East China Sea has spiraled into an increasingly dangerous standoff between Beijing and Tokyo in the last few weeks, deeply complicating President Obama’s attempts to forge closer partnerships in the region.

Add in China's South China Sea annexation attempt, China's desire to take Taiwan against their wishes, North Korea's instability and nuclear ambitions, India-China tensions, and the fact that the region includes the Asian provinces of Putin's paranoid republic, and we're in for a struggle with stakes higher than the Middle East we pivoted away from.

Out of the frying pan, and into the fire, as the expression goes.

And this belief of "officials" and "experts" from that headache article is just a stupid view:

U.S. officials and experts say conflict between the Asian powers remains unlikely, with both sides keen to preserve economic ties, and neither likely to emerge as a clear winner.

Thinking economics trumps passions on the question of war is just whistling past the graveyard, as Japanese Prime Minister Abe tried to say.

There are always new problems to face overseas. That's just how the world works. Even if it is inconvenient to the Obama administration's domestic agenda.

The Degooglization Begins

Emerging from economic and fiscal crises, some Californians naturally turn on those who are succeeding.

Instapundit notes that Californian leftists are targeting protests at technology workers, including Google researchers.

If Tea Party members acted this way, the press would be tutting about how it justified their prejudice against people simply tired of the government getting too large and spending too much.

But good-hearted lefties are doing it. So, you know, shut up about it.

Tech workers might have thought that the fact that they voted for President Obama and that the Occupy dolts all loved their iPhones and whatnot insulated the highly paid tech workers from their 1% tantrums, but that was not the case.

Google has as their slogan, "Don't be evil." But Google executives will find that their supposed allies want to define what "evil" means.

Kulaks are enemies of the people, remember.

This will not work out well for California if the protest movement gets really rolling. Companies moved to California. Companies can leave California.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

How War 'Accidentally' Breaks Out

Via Instapundit, check out this Chinese view shared by a Chinese professional with his dinner colleagues at a Davos dinner of the global elites that should redline your pucker factor:

The Chinese professional acknowledged that if China asserted control over the disputed islands by attacking Japan, America would have to stand with Japan. And he acknowledged that China did not want to provoke America.

But then he said that many in China believe that China can accomplish its goals — smacking down Japan, demonstrating its military superiority in the region, and establishing full control over the symbolic islands — with a surgical invasion.

In other words, by sending troops onto the islands and planting the flag.

The Chinese professional suggested that this limited strike could be effected without provoking a broader conflict. The strike would have great symbolic value, demonstrating to China, Japan, and the rest of the world who was boss. But it would not be so egregious a move that it would force America and Japan to respond militarily and thus lead to a major war.

The Davos dinner guests were stunned, it seems. There is no word about whether Thomas Friedman considered this Chinese attitude reasonably enlightened, or not.

But I can say that the version of rational objectives that the Chinese professional held (and others in China he knows) is apparently way different than the version held by the majority of Western Davos types sipping wine and enjoying--until that moment--their very fine dinner.

Why yes, I did discuss that this morning, now that you mention it.

Is Aleppo a Vital Assad Objective?

I recently noted that I'm sometimes perplexed at Stratfor conclusions. But I also noted that they offer a valuable analysis. So I can't dismiss them or assume they are wrong. Here's a good analysis of the geography of Syria that affects the civil war.

I made a similar type of analysis here. Assad appears to have done what I said he needed to do.

I don't know why the geography precludes Balkanization of the state, as Stratfor writes. Even if the ethnic and religious boundaries don't allow for clean breaks, ugly and bloody breaks are certainly possible. The history of Yugoslavia after that state fragmented showed that.

What I found most interesting is the discussion of Aleppo.

I felt Aleppo was too remote and too large for Assad's forces to absorb. It was a bridge too far, I wrote.

Stratfor says Aleppo is a vital part of any state based on Damascus ("Core Syria" as I called it):

While Aleppo has historically been vulnerable to dominant Anatolian powers and can use its relative distance to rebel against Damascus from time to time, it remains a vital economic hub for any Damascene power.

That certainly explains the reason Assad is sacrificing so much to try and take and hole the city and the region around it.

They also write that the use of ceasefires around Aleppo is for the purpose of "using a respite in the fighting to conserve its resources and make the delivery of food supplies to Aleppo contingent on rebel cooperation with the regime." I was dismissive of Aleppo ceasefire talk that Secretary of State Kerry mouthed.

Yet I have my doubts that the Alawites can generate the military manpower to wage a long war against the majority. Even Hezbollah and a Shia foreign legion paid for by Iran only provides the spearheads for assaults. They don't provide significant numbers of troops.

Yes, retreating to secure and hold some smaller portion of Syria is the first step to reconquering all of Syria. But the security force casualties have been immense so far. How could Assad's loyalists keep this up long enough to rule all of Syria?

At some point, if Assad finds he can't hold Damascus and the terrain that links Damascus to his Alawite homeland, might not Assad move the capital of Syria to the heart of his loyalist terrain?

And if Assad abandons Damascus, is it even important to hold Aleppo any more? Especially if new offshore energy resources are brought to the market, is Aleppo vital to a Rump Syria dominated by Alawites that has territory stretching from the coast inland to the main north-south highway, from Homs in the south to the Idlib region in the north?

If geopolitics means that a Syrian government must fight for Aleppo, doesn't it follow that a political entity that calls itself "Syria" but which does not try to be a Damascene power does not need to hold Aleppo?

But then we could watch whoever controls Damascus try to control Aleppo and the lines of communication between the cities.

And Yadda, Yadda, Yadda, Mister Passed the Examination

Yesterday I had to take Mister to a high school in another city for some regional musical performance that was important for orchestra grades. His quartet passed. But that's the short story. But you always work the problem, as I say.

The weather around here has been horrible. Snow and cold. Under good conditions, it should take me about an hour by surface streets and somewhat less than by freeway.

Mister was supposed to be there a half hour before his scheduled time. So I figured if we left 100 minutes before his start time, we'd be good. Light snow and roads still partly covered in snow demanded some caution.

Right off the bat, we missed my start time. We backed out of my car port 92 minutes before his start time. But I figured no problem. Getting there a half hour before the performance was a margin of error all by itself, right?

I decided to go by surface streets since I am very familiar with that route since it is mostly on the way to my parents' home, and so I was less likely to get lost. The freeway route went partly via a complicated series of turns over a short distance and I didn't want to get stuck in a wrong lane while we went the wrong way.

At about 65 minutes from Mister's start time, Mister noticed that his musical score wasn't in the folder he had with him.

I quickly asked him if he could get another. No, he said.

In Mister's defense, he woke up with a cold that day. And he'd taken his musical score out for a music lesson I took him to on Friday. So he forgot it wasn't in the folder where it once was.

I immediately turned around to go home. There was no point in driving farther from the musical score while I quizzed Mister about whether he really couldn't get it anywhere else. At worse, he'd figure something out on the way back and we could turn back toward the school with only another minor hit to our ETA.

Mister was extremely worried about making it. Me too. But what else was I to do?

I quickly did the math. We'd have to go by the freeway route, obviously. Based on the mapping I'd done the day before, I could see that we'd likely be a bit late to getting to the high school. But going home, getting the music, and going via highway--assuming no wrong turns and no accidents or construction--just wasn't going to do it.

But it took us 20 minutes to get back home as opposed to the 27 minutes it took to get to the turn-around point. When we were still four miles from home, I could tell that we would have 45 minutes once we got home. Since it should take 40 minutes to get to the high school via the freeway, we could do it.

Maybe.

We ran into our home and Mister grabbed his music. We were off again! It was 43 minutes to his performance time.

Mister told me to go as fast as I needed. I told him I wasn't going to risk an accident to do that. But I would go as fast as I thought safe for the conditions.

As I headed to the freeway, I told Mister to get my navigation app up and running and that he would help me navigate the initial highway zig zag required to get me on the right path east.

That worked. I refused to pass willy nilly and did not go as fast as a good portion of the traffic. There were probably ten fresh cars off the freeway where they'd skidded on the snow. But I often went the speed limit. I just didn't want to unnecessarily or quickly change lanes so I wouldn't make a stupid mistake.

Mister seemed calm. He talked to one of his quartet mates and told them our ETA was going to barely put us at the school by start time.

They were worried.

When we got on the last straight stretch of the freeway, needing only to get the right exit to be very near the destination, Mister started going over his piece in a dry run of finger movements.

That's my lad! Do what you can affect!

The ETA on the navigation app continued to put us on target with a few minutes to spare. As we passed exit 174, I said to Mister, "we need exit 175, right?"

"Was that the exit?!!"

No, I said, that was 174. Phew. Yes, he said, we need exit 175.

I told Mister to have one of his quartet mates meet him at the entrance to take him to their performance room. Check. That would be done.

And then we ate up all our spare time sitting at an intersection trying to make a left when traffic clears because there was no left turn arrow there. We and every other parent coming from the freeway ...

But I assured Mister that by this point, surely they were running a little late on the start times.

Obviously, making a left into the drop off point took time, too. We sat there waiting to get in with zero minutes to his start time. His friend called. Get out of the car and walk in, she said!

Not from the middle of the road, I said. But when we pulled into the drive I told Mister to get out and go on foot. I could see him walk in about a minute after his official start time.

I had to park my car down the block in a neighborhood and I ran to the school. I found the strings corridor but didn't see Mister anywhere in practice rooms. And he hadn't texted me to tell me he was too late. Clearly, he was in a room performing. Even though he had no opportunity to tune his instrument before playing.

And they passed, achieving the score they had set as their goal.

Mission accomplished.

Yes indeed, I was pleased. We didn't panic and give up--although Mister said he was convinced we couldn't make it. Well, I said, you didn't show it. So good for you.

Truth be told, I said, when we started Plan B, I didn't think we had the time. But what else were we to do?

Mister even thought of a couple alternate plans, at that point. He could have had a classmate snap a picture of the entire piece and send it to him so he could hand write his piece while we drove in the car. Or send it to my parents' house to print it out and then we'd swing by and pick it up on the way to the school! Good ideas! That's what you do when the plan fails.

Anyway. I said we'd go home--slowly to not tempt fate--by surface streets the way I'd planned to go to the school.

And on the way, as I braked to stop at a light, my car started skating toward the mini-van at the end of that line of vehicles already stopped.

Oh, crap.

It quickly became apparent that I would not stop in time. After all we'd been through, I was going to crash. A low-speed crash, to be sure. But we were going to crash.

So I turned the wheel hard right into the curb and finally the wheels bit and I turned into a snow bank on the side of the road, missing the van by a good foot on my front left corner.

A good foot! Not even close!

I couldn't push the car back into the road with Mister at the wheel. The snow had fallen in behind the track blocking the right wheel. I got out my entrenching tool and dug out the wheel. But within five minutes of going into the snow, we were freed and on our way, with no damage to my (or any) vehicle.

Although the snow compacted in my grill was a silent rebuke (or tribute, I suppose).

Nicely enough, two people offered help in that short time. An older man driving by rolled down his window and offered help. And a younger woman actually stopped her car and got out to ask me if she could help. No, I explained, I just need to dig out the snow. But thanks very much for the offer, I said. It really was nice. Many people are nice.

So I used that example as an illustration of what I'd often told Mister since he is learning to drive. If you are heading for an accident, obviously try to avoid the accident. But if you can't, aim for property to avoid vehicles. Aim for parked vehicles to avoid occupied vehicles. Aim for occupied vehicles to avoid people on foot or on bikes. I was able to hit snow and use it to stop my car and avoid involving anyone else.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful. I had Mister fill the gas tank (It was the first time he'd added gas to the car. I've read of 20-somethings who didn't know how to do that simple task and was determined to avoid that).

And we got a pizza on the way.

So there you go. We headed out to a distant high school one snowy and cold morning. And yadda, yadda, yadda, Mister passed his musical performance test. That's really the basic story.

And oh yeah, never give up when you have options. If you haven't failed yet you simply haven't succeed yet, right? Who knows, maybe the horse will sing. And maybe the quartet plays.

Always work the problem. I think I've mentioned that before.

Their Rational is Not Our Rational

The danger of mirror-imaging enemies (or just people outside of your group, really) can lead you astray. If war or peace hang in the balance, your decisions could be worthless.

This answer at the end of a press briefing by PACOM commander Samuel J. Locklear III to the question of the admiral's view of North Korea's Kim Jong Un is worrisome:

Well, I think that the young leader is -- for me is very difficult to determine -- in fact, unpredictable, I believe, is the best -- best way I've seen. I think that his behavior, at least the way it's reported and the way we -- the way we see it and sense it, makes me -- makes you -- would make me wonder whether or not he is always in the rational decision-making mode or not. And this is a problem.

Kim Jong Un is a mystery. But is he really "unpredictable"? Or is he just being predictable in ways that are alien to us? It is always a mistake to analyze rationality by what makes sense to us--mirror imaging.

We need to define North Korean rationality the way Kim Jong Un will define it. We may think it makes no sense for North Korea to attack South Korea, because the end result will be the destruction of the North Korean regime and probably the state itself.

But if Kim Jong Un believes that internal difficulties will absolutely lead to the destruction of the North Korean regime or state, it might be completely rational for the rulers to decide that attacking South Korea even if there is a 95% chance of failure is in fact the rational decision.

After all, why would the regime care if lots of North Koreans die in a war? The North Korean regime kills lots of North Korea in peace time. If North Korea can throw a scare into South Korea by just starting a war--or starting a crisis that North Korea believes won't escalate to war--the North Koreans could rationally believe that this path would start the money flowing into North Korea again, allowing North Korea to keep their people quiet.

And if the regime thinks the army isn't as loyal as it should be, it is two birds with one stone--get the aid by going to war and kill off a lot of the army in the war.

Heck, after "losing" the war, the North Korean regime could execute suspect generals for losing the war.

The problem is, the North Korean regime sees their continued rule and luxurious lifestyles as the objectives--not the North Korean nation. That's just the means to perpetuate their rule and their lifestyle.

I'm not sure what to do about this problem of mirror imaging. Subject experts seem to go native in many cases, making them too sympathetic to provide good advice on how to beat the nation they devoted their lives to studying and knowing.

And the general political tendencies of those who gravitate to these country and people studies is a problem. Remember when military efforts to study the "human terrain" of our campaigns led to outrage that the talents of these academics was being used to defeat our enemies? Enemies who are brutal and murderous and hateful at a scale that should make them beyond our sympathies?

We need to know our enemies. And know they are enemies.

SOTO

This Tuesday, I will not bother watching the State of the Obama address.

After 5 years, it is clear that this administration is inept at anything related to governing.

Which should be no shock, since when asked in 2008 about what executive experience gave candidate Obama the background to lead this nation, he noted that his election campaign was the best example.

And it is clear, an eternal campaign is the one thing he is pretty good at doing.

Pity that's not the job he was elected to do.

UPDATE: Lack of confidence isn't limited to me, it seems:

President Obama will speak to the nation Tuesday night with approval ratings lower than for any of his previous State of the Union addresses and with Americans broadly pessimistic that he or lawmakers of either party will make good decisions for the future of the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Tip to Instapundit.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

If You Want War, Prepare for Responsibly Ending It

It's not that we've pulled out of the world. It's just that it is easy to disregard us when others make decisions.

Secretary of State Kerry just doesn't get it:

"I'm perplexed by claims I occasionally hear that somehow America is disengaging from the world - this myth that America is pulling back, or giving up, or standing down. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth," Kerry told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The good news is, the perception that we are absent from the world and that our power doesn't matter is purely a matter of foreign assessments of our leadership's willingness to use our power (military and non-military) to pursue our objectives.

It is good because that assessment can be changed by having new people in charge of our country. Our power still exists. We don't need to rebuild our military, for example.

It could even happen if events abroad shake our security so much that even the people in charge now have no choice but to use our power.

The bad news is that we really don't want an event so bad that it could shake even the Obama-Kerry team of foreign policy idiocy.

You know, some readers might remember that at times I said the president wasn't as bad as I feared on foreign policy. I didn't trust him, but at least on the big things he seemed to be going along with the program.

At one time, he seemed willing to go along with the Bush plan on Iraq, which was won. President Obama continued the Bush presence in Iraq without immediately withdrawing as he promised.

At one time, he seemed interested in winning in Afghanistan, agreeing to send more troops (twice) to that campaign.

Heck, Guantanamo Bay is still open and, yes, President Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. The drones keep flying. And the president kept other war on terror things that supposedly shredded the constitution when Bush did them.

But the inertia of these relatively positive things has run out in the face of weakness.

Iraq is under intense pressure from Iran and al Qaeda. Afghanistan is about to be abandoned again (we did it after we helped eject the Soviets from the place, and got 9/11 for that error, remember). Al Qaeda is spreading. We saved Assad from defeat by going along with Russia's faux chemical arms deal. So Syria is poised to become a haven for jihadis and a more secure platform for Iran in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Iran is strengthened by a faux nuclear deal that sends money to Iran that they spend on propping up Assad and building nuclear weapons.

And more broadly, China was not deterred by our pivot, Russia continues to short-sheet our bed wherever they can--destabilizing Ukraine in an effort to reabsorb that nation, our European allies continue to weaken militarily, and budget cuts because of our poor financial situation hurt the military at least temporarily as it adjusts to the lower spending because it has needs built on higher spending levels.

So yeah, we're there. But our enemies don't seem to weigh our power when they calculate their odds. And that's a real problem. The world acts like we aren't there.

But I've long feared that foreign policy is only something that affects the president's domestic agenda. And that is the source of the problem:

I've figured our president is so totally focused on his domestic agenda that foreign policy and wars are only of interest depending on how he figures they'll hurt or help his domestic agenda. ...

Saying that foreign policy is a distant second in priorities for this administration might seem an odd thing to say for a president who has travelled abroad so much already.

But it makes sense if you think of the trips abroad as efforts to disengage from foes and retreat a bit by giving our foes what they want in order to buy time to pass domestic legislation.

Understand that when you retreat, it takes a while for an enemy to pursue you and fill the vacuum. And that time it takes for the enemy to re-engage will surely be much quieter.

And if you want to, you can argue that the period of quiet while the enemy approaches is actually "peace." It isn't peace, but you can pretend for a while that it is so you can focus on domestic issues.

Yes, foes have finally started filling those vacuums. The false peace ended. Perhaps the Benghazi 11 SEP 12 attack is as convenient a signal event as any to mark the period when we can't pretend that we've achieved actual peace.

Foes who think we are too weak in leadership to use the power that our foes will admit we still have on paper, will advance as they see us retreat to see what they can gain because they don't think we will use that technically existing power.

They will believe that they have an opportunity to make gains now, before new leadership can make it obvious to the world that America is engaged, pushing forward, competing, and standing up.

That's the ultimate bad news. The president and his team think that they have been responsibly ending a decade of war. All they are doing is inviting a new war. A new war on top of the old war on terror that we haven't won yet.

And John Kerry--and his boss--will be perplexed by that, too.

Please, Pass Me the Clue Bat

Fareed Zakaria is confused. Wait. Allow me to me more specific. He's confused about the interim agreement between the American-"led" West and Iran.

Apparently, differing views about what is in an interim agreement supposedly typed up on paper that they both signed cause Mr. Zakaria to question the value of the agreement in reaching a final settlement:

[Iranian President] HASSAN ROUHANI: So in the context of nuclear technology, particularly of research and development and peaceful nuclear technology, we will not accept any limitations. And in accordance with the parliament’s law, in the future, we’re going to need 20,000 mega watts of nuclear produced electricity and we’re determined to get it at the hands of our Iranian scientists.

FAREED ZAKARIA: So there would be no destruction of centrifuges?

ROUHANI: Not under any circumstances. Not under any circumstances.

CHRIS CUOMO: I mean, what is the deal? That’s supposed to be the whole underpinning of moving forward from the United States perspective. How do you interpret what you just heard from the president?

ZAKARIA: well, I was as struck by it as you were. This strikes me as a train wreck. This strikes me as potentially a huge obstacle because the conception of what the deal is going to look like and the American conception now look like they are miles apart. The Iranian conception seems to be they produce as much nuclear energy as they want, but it is a civilian program. The American position is that they have to very substantially scale back the enrichment of uranium and the production of centrifuges. For the fist time you have the president of Iran unequivocally saying there will be no destruction of centrifuges. So this seems like — you know, this is still — I’m not even quite sure what they’re going to talk about if these are the opening [positions?] and it’s very hard to walk back from as absolute [a provision?} as the president of Iran laid out.

Ya think?

Look, let me apply the clue bat to Zakaria. The man couldn't find his own buttocks with both hands and a GPS signal, so, you know, God bless him, and all.

But there is no problem here to getting a deal if you keep in mind what this is about.

Iran wants nuclear weapons.

We want a deal. All signed in multiple official languages and with bright ribbons affixed with wax seals! And oh! Be still Kerry's heart. Maybe a Nobel Peace Prize by the end of 2015!!

Within that penumbra where American and Iranian positions overlap lies a deal: Iran will solemnly promise not to build a nuclear weapon. And we will solemnly pretend to believe the Iranians.

Voila!

I can understand how the Nuanced-Americans in our foreign policy elite--in and out of government--can be confused about this. For they were and remain confused about the Syria deal about getting rid of Assad's chemical weapons.

The elites continue to strut about boasting about how threatened (incredibly small!) American air strikes got Assad to get rid of his chemical weapons.

But the fact is, this agreement is not about getting rid of chemical weapons. It is about buying time for Assad to defeat the rebels. While the temporary disarmament is going on, we won't do much to help the rebels and we certainly won't launch air strikes, as in Libya.

For Assad, he knew that time is more valuable than chemical weapons. Even the passive Obama administration would have to take official notice and do something if Assad used chemical weapons enough to affect the war. Even the Russians and Chinese would not have used their Security Council veto to protect Assad after that. So chemical weapons were of no value to him in this war.

After the war, of course, if he wins, Assad can rebuild his chemical weapons stocks (with newer delivery systems and more deadly agents!).

Or, if you prefer an actual nuclear deal to compare this to, consider North Korea. In 1994, we negotiated a fine deal--the Agreed Framework--that we thought would halt North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Sadly, North Korea didn't agree with our assessment. During the Bush administration, we rudely pointed out that North Korea was pursuing nuclear weapons.

And today, North Korea has blown off a few nuclear devices and is working on making their devices small enough to put on a missile warhead.

Diplomacy with nutballs sure is grand!

So yeah, Fareed, this is a train wreck. But it is not a train wreck because differing views on it are an obstacle to a deal. It is a train wreck because despite the differences, our differing objectives contain the basis for a signed deal that gives each of us what we want.

Not that a clue bat would have any effect on Zakaria. He will require a clue nuke.

Have a super sparkly day.

Surprise!

Syria is in no rush to complete their temporary chemical weapons disarmament.

Who'd have thought this would happen?

Western governments are growing impatient with Syria's failure to follow up promptly on a first small shipment of chemical weapons and fear Damascus will miss a deadline to hand over all toxins by mid-2014.

Sources at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is jointly overseeing the destruction process with the United Nations, said the concerns have been raised during internal discussions, but have not yet been reported to the U.N. Security Council.

Syria agreed to dismantle its entire chemical weapons program by June 30, under a deal proposed by Russia and agreed with the United States. It has until March 31 to relinquish around 500 tonnes of the worst substances, including more than 20 tonnes of mustard gas stored in liquid form.

That deadline had already been expected to slip, but the concern now is that the entire destruction program will be pushed back. Syria says the program faces security concerns.

Remember. Assad didn't sign a deal to rid his arsenal of chemical weapons. Assad signed a deal to buy time to crush the rebellion or at least survive in his corner of Syria.

Now does this all make sense? Kerry? Kerry? Bueller?

Friday, January 24, 2014

How Were We Over-Extended?

Stratfor seems like a good private intelligence outfit. But sometimes I just wonder about them.

Geopolitics, or the way geography shapes foreign policy regardless of era or ruler, is a useful way to look at foreign policy. So Stratfor has that going for it. But sometimes I just don't get how they get to some of their positions.

Recently, an email mentions as an aside to their main point that we over-extended ourselves for the last decade in wars in the Middle East. What does "over-extended" even mean?

Our Army was certainly stretched during the peak fighting years with a major war going on in Iraq and Afghanistan as a secondary theater. The surge saw us put Army troops in the field for 15 months with too little time between unit deployments (although keep in mind that for most lower ranking fighting troops, their deployment was their first even if the unit was going back into the war after perhaps only a year or just 9 months between deployments).

But winning, efforts to cope with stress, and keeping unit cohesion strong by keeping units intact for the deployments (by the much misunderstood "stop loss" that kept troops in their unit for the duration of the deployment rather than allowing them to complete their formal commitment to the Army and be discharged and sent home while the unit was fighting), kept the Army from breaking.

The Army was "unbalanced" to be sure, with all units training to fight an insurgency rather than training to fight high-intensity conventional combat. But the Army emerged combat experienced from the campaigns. This Army is outstanding.

The Navy wasn't stressed much at all. And even the Air Force got a lot of combat experience with the only real stress being on the airlift assets.

And you can't really say the wars over-extended us financially. The wars were a drop in the budget bucket. The entire cost of fighting the Iraq War was matched at the stroke of a pen with the 2009 economic stimulus law.

Is it simply that we are tired of war? By that measure, any war means we are "over-extended" if the war goes on for long. And that includes the "good" wars of Afghanistan and even World War II.

Was our leadership's focus on the wars the measure of being over-extended? Good grief. We were at war. With troops in the field. What were we supposed to focus on if not winning those wars? Hugo Chavez and his effort to wreck Venezuela? That was and is sad, but the threat was Islamist jihadi murder sprees.

And if a vast government like ours can't keep non-crucial theaters going reasonably well without the president and his cabinet paying constant close attention, why bother having vast defense and diplomatic bureaucracies?

But perhaps Stratfor is right. Maybe only issues that are on the front burner of our leaders get the attention they deserve.

Which may explain how we could win the Iraq War and find ourselves watching the country unravel as Iran undermines us there and al Qaeda rebuilds and takes cities.

Which may explain how we could be winning in Afghanistan and find ourselves about to go down the same Iraq road as our leadership fails to have a sense of urgency about defending our gains there, too.

Pray tell, what is distracting our leaders from defending our gains in Iraq and Afghanistan? Because I see nothing else of note to indicate they are overly focused on anything at all. Well other than the Israel-Palestinian issue, bizarrely enough.

Anyway. So I pay attention to Stratfor. They are good. And have a good template for analysis.

But sometimes I scratch my head at things they come up with. I'll ponder their position if it is contrary to mine. But often I still scratch my head at their conclusion.

I just don't see an over-extension in the Middle East over the last decade.

The East is Red. The West is Orange

Russia's attempts to compel the Ukrainian government to move into the Russian orbit are facing speed bumps from Ukrainians. Will Russia settle for absorbing the east alone?

After being treated as insurgents with new laws designed to make any protests illegal, Ukrainians are escalating their opposition in tactics and geography:

Protesters on Friday seized a government building in the Ukrainian capital while also maintaining their siege of several governors' offices in the country's west, raising the pressure on the government. ...

In Lviv, near the Polish border, some 450 kilometers (280 miles) west of Kiev, hundreds of activists burst into the office of the regional governor, Oleh Salo, a Yanukovych appointee, shouting "Revolution!" They forced a local governor to sign a resignation letter and remained in the building, refusing to let the workers in.

Protesters also have retained control of offices in four other western cities seized Thursday, though they suffered a setback in Cherkasy, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Kiev, where police barricaded the governor's building from inside and prevented them from taking control. Police reinforcements arrived later, dispersing the protesters and arresting several dozen of them.

If Ukrainian resistance makes it impossible for Russia to stealthily reconquer Ukraine in all but name (for now), would Russia settle for absorbing the more Russified regions of the east and Crimea?

Would ethnic Russians call for intervention by Russia to protect them? Or would Russian agents simply pretend to speak for these people to have a pretext to "rescue" them?

You might think that the Russian winter olympics would be a calm time during which nothing much would happen. But you'd have to forget that Russia invaded Georgia while Putin sat watching the 2008 summer olympics in China.

By All Means, Stick Your Head in the Sand

So Japan's Prime Minister Abe is getting grief for stating the obvious?

Prime Minister Abe said that the Japan-China dispute had certain features in common with pre-World War I Britain and Germany that should be a warning flag:

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said Japan and China should avoid repeating the past mistakes of Britain and Germany, which fought in World War One despite strong economic ties, according to his main government spokesman in Tokyo.

He said nothing that I haven't noted again and again--the notion that trade ties preclude war is ludicrous. I've even mentioned that trade ties among European states were rather high in 1913. I've mentioned this in regard to America and China to spell out that we shouldn't be complacent about whether a war could break out between the two of us. The caution applies to Japan and China, too.

Abe wasn't threatening to go to war. He was warning against taking actions that could spiral into war notwithstanding false but comforting notions that it would be inconceivable for the two to go to war.

But by all means, ignore the obvious truth if that keeps you from sleeping at night.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kerrycare

Apparently, if the Alawites like their dictator, they can keep him.

Ah, our chief diplomat in action:

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is not ready to step down yet to make way for a transition government, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday.

"Obviously he is not ready at this point in time," Kerry said in an interview with Al-Arabiya on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.

Oh? Assad isn't ready at this point in time to go? Well, all right then. Get comfortable, Mr. Assad.

Yes. From "Assad must go" to "Assad must go--when he is good and ready."

Oddly enough, it just took Assad's use of chemical weapons on his own people to get that qualifier added.

If we sucked any more, this would be the Hoover administration.

UPDATE: The Washington Post editors rightly note we suck:

[The] diplomatic initiative that Mr. Kerry launched offers no means to hold the regime of Bashar al-Assad accountable for these atrocities, or even to stop them. On the contrary: It may serve to prop up the Assad government by treating it as a legitimate party to negotiations about Syria’s future. Mr. Kerry insists the talks will lead to a transitional government that excludes Mr. Assad, but the Syrian delegation flatly rejects this premise, and there is no indication that its allies Russia and Iran think otherwise.

Yet the editorial also bizarrely praises the chemical weapons deal which has been the primary means of granting Assad legitimacy as a partner of the West, which Assad is leveraging into a chance to win a war he should have lost already.

And what's this slamming of "Kerry's feckless diplomacy" nonsense? Is Kerry somehow freelancing our diplomacy without the knowledge and approval of the president? Is this one more thing that will surprise the president when he reads it in the newspapers? If it isn't clear to the editors, Kerry works for President Obama.

This is President Obama's feckless diplomacy. And it sucks.

To the Shores of Tallinn

It's nice to see that there is still faith in our defense guarantees when our military stands with our friends. Estonia would like our forces on their territory.

When NATO's eastern border moved through the old Warsaw Pact nations closer to Russia (and even into the old Soviet Union in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, NATO's main line of reistance did not move east with it.

Tiny and weak Estonia would like American forces deployed in their country in case Russia gets nostalgic about owning Estonia:

In recent days, Estonian media outlets have addressed the issue of American military presence in Estonia. The issue came into the spotlight after Defence Minister Urmas Reinsalu, speaking at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, called for American tanks to be brought back to Europe and a greater American presence in Estonia. Many politicians and experts later reacted to the defence minister’s statements by saying that establishing US military bases and equipment in Estonia is not realistic in the current international security situation, especially considering the growing violence in the Middle East and North Africa. From the US perspective, the marginalisation of security politics in the stable and peaceful Baltic Sea region compared with the hotbeds of acute crises is understandable, but we must nevertheless stand for our interests in this region, especially since we ought to know our eastern neighbour better than do our more geographically distant allies.

The article notes the option of prepositioning American equipment in Estonia.

Yes, more than 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and nearly 70 years after World War II, the presence of American troops to defend our hot and cold war gains in Europe is still necessary. This doesn't mean our efforts over the last 70 years were a failure. (Please note this as we debate Afghanistan and ponder Iraq again.)

But we are unlikely to add forces to Europe. I'd like to see prepositioned equipment for our Army and our allies in southern Poland, to put a credible NATO force at the disposal of our new NATO allies. And I'm on record as wanting heavy brigade capabilities in Europe--although not too far east, as I've noted, in this call to keep a corps in Europe.

(Please note that the table of contents for my article states I have a Ph.D. I don't know whether to be insulted or flattered that they assumed I had a doctoral despite not even hinting that I did. They published my email the next issue in which I corrected that error. Remember, Doctor Defense is not an actual doctor. He has a master's degree. In history.)

For the Baltic States, something less threatening than an Army heavy brigade would be nice. But we aren't going to add more forces to Europe.

So what if we moved the prepositioned Marine equipment for a Marine Expeditionary Brigade now in Norway to Estonia?

Russian military capabilities are not a threat to Norway's survival these days. Nor could Russia's navy prevent us from reinforcing Norway if there was a threat. So the prepositioned equipment isn't needed in Norway, I think.

But placed in Estonia, instead, it would be a force more consistent with defense without representing the tip of an Army spear that could grow to threaten St. Petersburg.

This isn't a new military capability in NATO europe, at least. So we'd be better able to defend it against charges we are threatening Russia. I'd give this serious consideration.

The Life of Wendy

Who knew that when President Obama said "you didn't built that," he was talking to Wendy Davis?

About her career? And about the husband who helped build it.