Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Dog That Did Not Bark

George W. Bush's democracy project in Iraq could still be the biggest foreign policy success of the Obama era in the Middle East--or anywhere. Which is kind of funny, actually.

I've wanted us to stay in Iraq and think we should return to help nurture rule of law in Iraq by keeping Iranian influence down and making sure talk of coups does not run louder than negotiations on power.

I did not rule out that Iraq could be successful without our sizable presence. I just said that the odds were lower and it was a shameful decision to take that risk given what we could achieve and what we sacrificed to get us to that point.

Yet I was pleased that thus far, ordinary politics was still the means of achieving power despite the too-prevalent corruption inside Iraq's fledgling democracy:

Iraq isn't as good as I'd like. But we're not there to influence events as much as we could. Yet let's at least be grateful that voting and negotiations are the basis for figuring out who sits in the big offices rather than shooting and prison terms[.]

Someone else has noticed the relative yet historic success of Iraq in a sea of war and failed Arab Spring revolts (Tunis excepted, so far):

By far the most important thing about the preliminary results of Iraq’s April 30 parliamentary election is the nature of the conversation that is now taking place about them. It is a conversation about what it means for a sitting Prime Minister when he wins less than 30 percent of the vote but does much better than his rivals—and about whether Iraq’s next government should be one of broad national unity or formed on the basis of a simple majority. It is a conversation about deliciously esoteric and endlessly iterative matters of parliamentary arithmetic in a place where no identity group is close to monolithic and where almost any of the ten main factions is capable of working with any other.

It is a conversation, in other words, about government formation in a functional, stable, and constitutional electoral setting. There is no talk of coups, of disenfranchised minorities, or politicized electoral commissions. The process of forming the next government may take months, and current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the front-runner, although his victory is far from certain. Whoever does emerge atop what Disraeli called the “greasy pole”, there is no chance of a government that harbors al-Qaeda or belongs to the mullahs in Tehran, that invades its neighbors, assassinates its enemies, or gasses its own people. All of these things are vote-losers in Iraq, and in Iraqi politics today it is the vote that matters most.

Despite the resurgence of al Qaeda in Iraq (and why aren't we fighting the war on terror there, too, alongside Iraqis who are clearly willing to fight jihadis?), Iraq is still a functioning democracy. Lack of rule of law may yet undermine that democracy. But so far Iraqis seem willing to take the rare chance we gave them to escape the traditional choices of autocracy or Islamist rule that the Moslem Arab world has had up to now.

So I hope that we just let Iraqi politics decide this. Our influence should be used not to sway the results one way or the other, but to make sure that the outcome is decided by a legal process that even losers concede is legitimate.

And then use our influence to make sure that everyone knows that the next election is the time to challenge the outcome--not with guns hidden away just in case.

In a region that gives us horrible headlines every day, Iraq is the dog that is not barking all that much these days. Not too bad for what some still wrongly claim was a huge mistake.

The Cairo Outreach didn't move many. But George the Liberator may have moved enough.

For opponents of the Iraq War, Iraq will always be a curious case.

UPDATE: Strategypage discusses the Arab Spring and the poison pill of jihadi opposition to autocrats that helped kill much of the hopes of early 2011.

One of these days, a spring has to take hold to allow Arabs to escape the stranglehold of their dismal choices for governance.

Bracing for Impact

If China keeps pushing in the East China Sea and South China Sea, they're going to meet resistance eventually.

Instead of waiting in line to take their turn at getting a beating from Peking, neighbors seem determined to stop China's creeping aggression at sea:

On Friday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Singapore forum that Tokyo would offer its "utmost support" to Southeast Asian countries in their efforts to protect their seas and airspace, as he pitched his plan for Japan to take on a bigger international security role.

In a pointed dig at China, he said Japan would provide coast guard patrol boats to the Philippines and Vietnam.

We have pointedly said we will stand with those who stand against China:

Using unusually strong language, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told an Asia-Pacific security forum that the United States was committed to its geopolitical rebalance to the region and "will not look the other way when fundamental principles of the international order are being challenged".

Our position is clear. Although we take no positioin on ownership of any islands, we insist that ownership be decided by negotiations. And regardless of who owns them, we insist on freedom of navigation for ships and planes through what is international waters and air space.

In practice, this means we oppose China which seeks to take islands from others and which declares the region part of China, contrary to international law.

China, unfortunately, seems determined to keep pushing:

"We will never stir up trouble, but will react in the necessary way to the provocations of countries involved," Xinhua quoted Xi as saying in a meeting on Friday with Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia.

That might seem reasonable, except that China considers opposing China's expansive claims as provocations.

So there will be some shooting at some point. Ideally, our support can help allies win small-scale clashes while our military power (along with Japan's, increasingly--with a likely assist from Australia) deters China from escalating to measures that allies (other than Japan) can't handle without direct American intervention.

In a perfect world, ASEAN unites to oppose Chinese territorial claims while Japan and Australia (and South Korea, as it looks beyond the DMZ) build capabilities to fight with us against China if needed, and China reacts by looking at an easier target to intimidate and defeat--Russia.

UPDATE: Related:

TEMPERS frayed rather alarmingly at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual forum for Asia's defence establishments, held in one of the eponymous hotels, in Singapore. First Japan and then America criticised China. Then China reciprocated in furious terms.

This does not reassure me. China is getting very clear notice that their neighbors think China's actions are unacceptable. If China either doesn't believe them or doesn't care, there will be shooting. The questions then becomes how long does the shooting last and who joins in?

Countering a Flak Trap

Deep strike is back on! This is interesting for the development of the Army "air force":

The latest version of the U.S. Army attack helicopter, the AH-64E, is equipped to share video being taken by army MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs. An AH-64E is also equipped for the pilot to briefly take control of a nearby MQ-1Cs for a short while. This is usually to quickly give the UAV a specific route to patrol and for how long. The new version of the smaller Shadow 200 UAV is getting the same capability for AH-64E control. Most of the time one or more MQ-1Cs are “flown” by their operators, who are assisted by a sensor operator. Both of these are usually army NCOs operating nearby on the ground. The AH-64E pilot and weapons officer can also constantly observe the video the UAVs are taking and ask the NCO operator to look for specific items or move to a new area. The army has been testing this capability recently and is pleased with the results. AH-64E pilots take quickly to controlling or just cooperating with UAVs. An AH-64E with one or two UAVs under its command (or occasional control) makes for a very potent combination.

Directly controlling drones will be a great capability for our attack helicopters.

During the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, a large-scale Apache deep strike mission went awry and got shot up pretty badly by the Iraqis. After working in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, I wondered if the mission was out of the play book.

Later, I read that a number of factors led to the defeat. We were sloppy, as I wrote over 10 years ago (pre-Blogger and even pre-text anchors, see January 30 if you wish):

[The] attack was smaller than first planned and delayed by hours; failed to attack from a better direction; lacked good intel on the target; and squandered an artillery strike mission that occurred hours earlier, when the helicopters were supposed to attack. Instead of suppressing the Iraqis as the helicopters attacked, the artillery mission just warned the Iraqis that we were up to something.

Having the Apaches able to send drones forward of their flight path, we'd be able to see waiting anti-aircraft weapons (and any direct fire weapon able to elevate enough to shoot at low-flying helicopters).

I assume we will take care not to be sloppy with the mission, too.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Target Drones or Drones With Targets

Strategypage notes the possibility of turning surplus F-16s into combat UAVs for high threat environment missions:

There is an effort underway to develop a UAV version of the F-16. This would be based on the QF-16, the remotely controlled target version of the F-16. The air force is already in the process of converting 210 retired F-16s to QF-16s and it was noted that with a little extra work the QF-16 could be turned into a combat UAV for dangerous missions like SEAD (suppression of enemy defenses) or attacking ground targets guarded by heavy air defenses.

As I noted the last time they addressed the issue, I'll note that Israel has some surplus A-4s.

This could be important if you are thinking outside the box over Israel's capacity to strike Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

Mission Accomplished?

The notion that President Obama put forth that we've achieved a multilateral victory by deterring Russia from invading eastern Ukraine is just nonsense.

One, this fits with a number of administration backers who claim success because Putin "just" got Crimea while we "got" the rest of far larger Ukraine, but which ignores that round one is not the entire game. Or was Chamberlain right to claim "peace for our time" when Hitler "just" got the Sudetenland while the West retained the rest of productive Czechoslovakia?

And it treats Ukraine like a prize to be measured as if it is not a sovereign nation of actual people free to make their own choices. It would also mean that you'd have to still judge us the victor if Russia had actually taken eastern Ukraine since the majority of GDP and people would still be in free Ukraine.

Further, you have to ignore that the glorious multilateral coalition that resisted Putin failed to prevent Putin from taking Crimea despite the fact that the United Nations in general prohibits that and requires the glorious international community to fight such aggression to restore national sovereignty.

And you have to ignore that specifically the Budapest Memorandum multilaterally required Russia, America, and Britain to guarantee Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Further, you have to believe that the weak sanctions we multilaterally imposed on Russia were the decisive factor that stayed Putin's hand.

I've argued that if Ukrainian will to resist held firm that Putin's military is not capable of taking and pacifying even eastern Ukraine let alone large chunks of eastern and southern Ukraine.

I argued that a successful May 25 election could demonstrate that will to resist and be the turning point of the crisis over eastern Ukraine.

Austin Bay commented on the election impact:

Though not a decisive political victory, the election may prove to be "just enough of a win" to thwart the Kremlin. Conducting successful nation-wide elections, despite turmoil exacerbated by Russian agents and propagandists, demonstrated Ukrainian institutional strength. ...

The great Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote that at its most fundamental human-level war is a clash of wills. Will to resist expressed with ballots can quickly translate into sustained resistance -- with bullets, if necessary.

Unfortunately, bullets are necessary. And bullets are flying.

In the aftermath of the successful May 25 election that had both high turnout (despite almost complete lack of cooperation in the east) and a clear winner, Petro Poroshenko, Russia appears to be standing down their conventional invasion threat:

Russia has withdrawn most of its troops from the Ukrainian border, but seven battalions, amounting to thousands of men, remain, a U.S. defense official said on Friday.

Yet the fighting in the east continues and Russia's hand in that is obvious:

Ukraine's armed forces suffered devastating new losses Thursday, underlining the scale of the challenge the country faces in quelling a guerrilla-style insurgency that has proven to be agile and ruthless.

A rebel rocket attack brought down a military Mi-8 helicopter ferrying out troops, including a general, on the outskirts of Slovyansk, killing at least 12 people onboard.

Russia simultaneously insists that Ukraine not apply military force to the separatists while providing the separatists with military assets that require a Ukrainian military response to defeat:

Russia's Foreign Ministry on Thursday denounced the use of aircraft and artillery against the rebels and demanded that Kiev end a "fratricidal war and launch a real political dialogue with all political forces and representatives of the regions." ...

The Kiev government condemns the insurgency as the work of "terrorists" bent on destroying the country and accuses Russia of fomenting it.

So much for the multilateral success even on President Obama's terms. Putin's subliminal invasion round 2 failed and his military isn't good enough to achieve a rapid victory over a determined Ukraine, so Putin decides to deny Ukraine a clean victory by supporting the minority separatists with arms and personnel and denying that Ukraine is a sovereign state free to choose its future path.

Ukraine is faced with a fight it must win:

Ukrainian forces will press ahead with a military offensive against rebels in the east until peace and order have been restored there, Ukraine's acting defense minister said on Friday.

Let's hope Ukraine doesn't need more than MREs and camping gear from us to win that fight.

And while Ukraine can defeat these separatists, Russia is not done with Ukraine, which Russia continues to view as a lost province that must be reclaimed when Russia rebuilds their military some more.

Do not doubt that the struggle is not over as far as Putin is concerned:

Reports by Ukrainian border authorities and journalists on the ground now appear to show increasing evidence of direct involvement by volunteer fighters from Russia in the rebellions that erupted two months ago in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea.

According to these reports, fighters may be coming into Ukraine from former hotspots in Russia and its North Caucasus fringes such as Chechnya whose own troubles in the past 20 years have spawned a proliferation of armed groups.

Ukraine's authorities say Russian border guards are doing nothing to stop fighters crossing the long land border from Russia, along with truck loads of ammunition and weapons.

In the latest such report, Ukrainian border guards said on Friday they had seized a cache of weapons including guns, machine-guns, grenade-launchers, sniper rifles and 84 boxes of live ammunition in two cars they stopped as they crossed from Russia.

Ah, revel in the multilateralism of Russians and Chechens fighting inside Ukraine!

In the meantime, Russia has cemented their control of Crimea and is making sure trained troops from Crimea don't get second thoughts about joining Russia.

In our self-congratulatory mood of proclaiming "mission accomplished" over Ukraine, our president does remember that Russia's sublminal invasion, conquest, and annexation of Crimea began the crisis, doesn't he?

Hope Amidst the Ruins

This is why I don't like to listen to the president speak and why I did not listen when President Obama spoke at West Point:

Rather than defend or explain these policy failures, the president chose instead to attack critics, real and imaginary. He challenged “critics who think military intervention is the only way for America to avoid looking weak,” though no one actually thinks this. He rejected as “na├»ve and unsustainable” any “strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks” despite the fact that there are no advocates for such a strategy.

My sympathy for the president is directly related to how long it has been since I heard him speak on an issue. The longer the time, the more I sympathize.

The dishonestly of his defense of refusing to take significant actions is astounding.

But I want to focus on that "invading" part. Just who does he mean?

He can't mean Afghanistan. That's the "good" and "necessary" war. Or it was the good war, in any case. But I called that, too.

So what country did we invade because it harbors terrorist networks?

It can't be Libya. Not only wasn't it an "invasion," but the administration denied it was even a "war".

Pakistan? No. The president (rightly) celebrates the raid that killed Osama bin laden, and that was part of his boast of defeating al Qaeda Prime in Afghanistan.

So what other invasion was there?

Oh yeah, Iraq. The "bad" war of "choice" that had nothing to do with the war on terror.

Now wait, I'm not saying that Saddam supported the 9/11 attack. It's like a Left-wing "dog whistle" response whenever terrorism and Iraq are mentioned in the same paragraph. There is no evidence of direct Saddam-bin Laden cooperation.

Although Saddam's people had contact with al Qaeda's people as they interacted in the international terrorist community; and Saddam did host al Qaeda elements after Operation Enduring Freedom; and Saddam did host and train other terrorists and otherwised support terrorists in other countries; and Saddam most certainly created his own jihadi foreign legion called Saddam's Fedayeen to help keep the Shias down (we killed them in large numbers during the invasion); there was no direct link regarding the attack.

I wouldn't have been shocked if such a link had turned up, but such evidence never did surface. And I never asserted such a link. Neither did the Bush administration, for that matter. But that's what the Left always heard.

Anyway. Let's revel in President Obama's admission that the invasion of Iraq was an attempt to solve a problem of a country that "harbors terrorist networks."

Missed It By That Much

This author came so close to making a valid point.

What can I say about a title (that the author admits is provocative)?

Why military force is usually the wrong choice for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency

He writes that the violence problem (terror/insurgency) stems from some other deeper problem that must be addressed to halt the visible problem of violence.

Well, yeah.

This is why I've long spoken of the need to give Arab Moslems another choice for governance than their traditional alternatives of autocracy or Islamist government.

That's why I had hopes for the Arab Spring (and still do, given a long enough frame of reference).

And that's why I always thought the Iraq War and aftermath was more important than Afghanistan.

Afghanistan was the surface problem--where the 9/11 attack was organized--and too peripheral to the Arab Moslem world to matter for that deeper problem. Iraq was in the heart of the Arab Moslem world.

So a successful post-Saddam Iraq that avoided the Islamist alternative would be a victory in addressing the deeper problem that a post-Islamist Afghanistan that avoids the autocrat route could never be for the Arab Moslem world.

So the author could have made this point. But he didn't. He simply says that force is the wrong way to fight terrorism or insurgency (except when the insurgent/terrorist group is already isolated or if massively brutal forces is applied) because it fails to address the deeper problem.

What the author fails to realize is that until the deeper problems can be corrected, the insurgents and terrorists will continue to kill their target audience. Are we really to shrug off the losses and look forward to the day when the thugs decide they don't want to kill us any more?

And success in that killing (and they do love to video them) will strengthen the thugs, countering the hearts and minds campaign with both fear of resisting these thugs and the appeal of success.

Military actions are a necessary but not sufficient aspect of a fight against terrorists or insurgents. Military actions are absolutely crucial to protecting the targets of the thugs until the deeper problem can be addressed. Let me repeat a quote in an old post from an old Vietnam hand about this very same subject:

George Jacobson, an "old hand" who altogether served eighteen years in Vietnam and was a mainstay of the pacification program in these later years, often observed that "there's no question that pacification is either 90 percent or 10 percent security, depending on which expert you talk to. But there isn't any expert that will doubt that it's the first 10 percent or the first 90 percent. You just can't conduct pacification in the face of an NVA division."

So close to arriving at a good point, the author ends up just totally wrong.

UPDATE: Oh, about that title.


Syria War SITREP After the Kerry-Lavrov Deal

The Syria Revolution continues, with casualties going north of 160,000 (with a third civilians). The West is nearing the goal of removing Assad's declared chemical arsenal from the country. So what's the situation report on the war?

Under the shield of the Kerry-Lavrov deal that ended the threat of American-led air strikes on Assad's forces to retaliate for Assad's use of chemical weapons,  Assad's forces have made gains in asserting government control over territory in the west.

Iran and Russia have provided a lot of support. Weapons, shock troops, cash, and diplomatic support have been crucial in allowing Assad to claw back ground from the divided rebels.

Strategypage reports that Assad has 300,000 security forces on hand:

The government has over 300,000 troops and militiamen and their forces are much more disciplined and united.

These forces face 100,000 rebels.

The rebels are split into al Qaeda, jihadis too extreme for al Qaeda, non-jihadis, and Kurds who wrongly believe that they can sit out the rebellion and emerge intact if they just keep their heads down.

Read all of the post. I'm going to focus on the 300,000 security forces and Assad's chances to win the war, which are higher now than before the Kerry-Lavrov deal.

Nearly two years ago, I looked at whether Assad could possibly secure the western part of a "core Syria" extending from the Mediterranean Sea coast down to the Israeli border.

I concluded that with the 200,000 security forces Assad was reported to have, he could control the just over 10 million people in the area I defined. I excluded Aleppo, I'll add, which Assad is fighting hard to retain. So the number of people to protect/control is higher.

With 300,000 security forces, Assad had enough to add Aleppo into that area. So it isn't surprising that Assad has been able to regain control of more areas in the west.

But Assad does not have complete control, especially in the northern and southern portions of the west. The east remains out of control. And while Iran has provided Hezbollah and Shia foreign legion shock troops to spearhead the largely demoralized Syrian army troops, the army is tired. There is no rotation home for them.

And the new militias the Iranians have helped set up are not a replacement for the majority of the army--except for technical branches like artillery--that is fit for defensive duties only.

So the prospect of holding western gains, gaining more ground in the west, and trying to regain the east is a daunting task for Assad despite the successes over the last year or so.

Further, Syria's economy is a wreck and who knows how long Iran can prop it up (at the cost of a billion dollars a month)?

Syria's economy, rocked by four years of civil war, is shrinking fast as industrial and agricultural output falls, leaving almost two thirds of the population in extreme poverty, according to a U.N. sponsored report released on Wednesday.

The study, conducted by the Damascus based-Syrian Centre for Policy Research and commissioned by the United Nations, International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates of a 40 percent contraction in GDP since the start the conflict in 2011.

Granted, the state of the economy hurts the rebel side, too. And Iranian money only goes to Assad's supporters, lessening that impact somewhat. But on top of the casualties, Assad's supporters are straining under the economy, too.

And as I've said before, the one positive aspect of the Kerry-Lavrov deal is that Assad's chemical arsenal is greatly reduced, making that threat less of a deterrent to Western intervention. Assad cannot credibly threaten to fire chemical weapons at our side nor can Assad threaten to let chemical weapons loose in the chaos where jihadis can grab them.

As long as the rebellion is not crushed during the time it takes to complete the deal, we could still defeat Assad.

It looks like we will make that effort:

In a keynote speech to the West Point military academy on Wednesday, Obama vowed to increase US support for the rebels fighting Assad's regime and to help them confront their extremist rivals.

"I will work with Congress to ramp up support for those in the Syrian opposition who offer the best alternative to terrorists and a brutal dictator," said Obama.

Which is good. Assad has plenty of external support to overcome the challenges of a minority faction trying to defeat a majority-faction rebellion.

Substantial external help for the rebellion will go a long way to negating the Russian and Iranian support for Assad. And if fighting escalates even in a stalemated fashion, I just don't think that Assad's supporters can endure the casualties and economic strain longer than the rebellion.

Just as important, with our substantial help the rebels will not be defeated by the brutal methods of the Assad forces in terrorizing the opposition.

This post notes a RAND study exploring these issues and others.

Assad and his Iranian and Hezbollah backers have been saying that victory is near. It is surely nearer than a year ago. But they are stating a hope more than a reality, figuring that if they say it that the rebels will believe it.

But the Assad victories reversed severe losses endured before Iran started major support for Assad rather than reflecting the total defeat of the rebels.

The price Assad's side has paid for these limited gains has been so high that I don't see how they can endure much more to defeat a rebellion that does not lose its will to fight.

And with our external arms and training and other support, there is no reason for the rebels to give up before the government does.

We may be intervening in time to make a difference after wrongly thinking that Assad was doomed and so all we had to do was pronounce the verdict that "Assad must go" to collect a cheap victory.

UPDATE: Strategypage writes that after looking doomed, Assad now looks like he will win the war.

The inflow of jihadis who drew fighters and support from the initial secular rebels made Assad's job easier:

Despite the religious angle some Shia, even some Alawites, initially sided with the rebels despite trust issues. Before too long the Islamic radical rebel groups, who consider all non-Sunnis as the enemy, demonstrated a hostility and inflexibility that destroyed most minority support for the rebels and made these minorities even more staunchly pro-Assad. Thus the Islamic terrorist rebel groups have not only made the usual Assad followers more loyal, but they eventually (by late 2013) forced many other rebels into a growing civil war within the rebel movement.

If only we'd sent arms to these rebels earlier, we could have reduced the appeal of the jihadis who fought more effectively and siphoned off supporters.

And helping the rebels win would have ended the war and denied jihadis the opportunity to go to Syria.

Assad has the troops to fight now:

In 2011 Syrian security forces had 450,000 personnel (50,000 secret police, 300,000 troops and 100,000 police). Over half this force is now gone. Over 50,000 have been killed or badly wounded and over 150,000 have deserted and nearly 100,000 troops are in units that the government is reluctant to send into combat because of loyalty or morale issues. But since 2011 over 100,000 armed men have joined the Assads, mostly as local militia. There’s another 100,000 that are, in effect, garrisons in places like the east (near the coast), Damascus and towns and cities in central Syria that will fight defensively, but will not (or the government will not order them to) move elsewhere.

The army has suffered combat losses and desertions (mostly of Sunnis who were not allowed to rise too high in the officer or NCO ranks) that have not been replaced. Thus the Assads have fewer than 100,000 Syrian troops they can move around to fight the rebels. But these troops still have plenty of armored vehicles, artillery, constant ammo resupply (from Russia) and air support. ...

Most importantly Iran organized (and paid) thousands of Shia mercenaries to give the Syrian army some shock troops. The most important of these mercenaries were well trained and combat experienced Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon. Other mercenary units were recruited from Iraqi Shia and smaller numbers of Shia from elsewhere in the Arab world. These Shia mercenaries were fanatic and that countered the fanaticism of the Islamic terrorist rebels. Moreover, the Shia volunteers were more disciplined and better organized.

With 100,000 garrison-only troops, 100,000 militias that won't be strategically mobile, and 100,000 troops capable of being moved around backed by thousands of foreign Shia shock troops, Assad has been able to focus his efforts on the western part of the country where he has increased his force-to-area ratio enough to regain the initiative and gain ground.

Indeed, early on in the rebellion I wrote that Assad had to focus on the west and abandon the east; recruit new forces; and divide the enemy to gain some of their supporters in a Syria version of the Awakening in Iraq.

Assad managed the first two with help from Russia and Iran. Jihadis opposed to Assad managed to accomplish the third.

Yes, Assad's forces are fighting with desperation born of knowing jihadi enemies will kill them all if they win.

But the casualties the Syrian loyalists are suffering is just astounding. I don't assume they can keep enduring these casualties from such a small base of support if they don't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Endless war that promises eventual death won't look much riskier than running and taking your chances.

Remember, the north, south, and east are still under rebel control. Assad's people have a lot more war to look forward to if they are to win the war.

And while the loyalists control more ground in the west after capturing rebel-held areas, rebels can fight as insurgents (and the jihadis will fight more as terrorists) to deny full control to the loyalists. The war will go on here, too.

I don't assume Assad will win the war. Absent major Iranian and Russian help for Assad, I think the rebels would have won with minor Western aid. But Assad did get help and our minor aid was not enough to outweigh that aid. So Assad is winning at the moment.

If we finally start seriously helping non-jihadi rebels, we reduce the threat of a jihadi win if the Assads lose, making the thought of escape or surrender more appealing to Assad's supporters than endless war and heavy casualties in defense of the Assad regime.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Let Our Foes Play the Great Game

Why yes, Russia's "rescue" of ethnic Russians in Crimea should make the ex-Soviet states of Central Asia very nervous:

Moscow thus showed that it means businesses and is perfectly willing to use force to redraw Eurasian boundaries if so moved. And unlike 2008 when China supported Central Asian governments against Russia’s annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in 2014 Beijing has refused to take a stand. Therefore all these governments publicly, if visibly reluctantly, accepted the outcome of the Russian-initiated referendum in Crimea. The equivocal formal responses of Central Asian states despite their visible distress are therefore quite understandable.

China should be who these states look for support, but China doesn't seem interested.

Although perhaps they'll have a little more interest now that Russia is attempting to rebuild the Russian Empire in Central Asia.

Pity we can't figure out how to encourage Russia to focus on Central Asia by making NATO (with a minor in Ukraine) too tough to handle and encourage China focus on Central Asia, too, rather than the East and South China Seas.

That would be smart diplomacy that leverages hard flanks in Europe and the Pacific to push China to support the "stans" who would really like support against Anschluss with Russia.

And Putin Takes the Lead!

Along with setbacks to the Europe project, Putin's latest diplomatic effort has put Moscow in the lead over Brussels in the race to see who will create the Soviet Union Lite in Europe.

The empire strikes back:

The presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus signed a treaty on Thursday creating a vast trading bloc which they hope will challenge the economic might of the United States, the European Union and China.

The treaty forging the Eurasian Economic Union will come into force on Jan. 1, once it has passed the formality of being approved by the three former Soviet republics' parliaments.

Ukraine was supposed to be in the parade. Russia has not given up on that goal, as evidenced by continued Russian-supported unrest in eastern Ukraine despite Putin's pledge to "respect" the Sunday vote.

And the Revolution is Complete

The hopes of the Arab Spring rode high in Egypt. Then it was hijacked by Islamists. That bad result was ended by the Egyptian military and now the revolution has come full circle, with the army back in power.

Well, it could have been worse:

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general who toppled Egypt's first freely elected leader, took more than 90 percent of the vote in a presidential election, provisional results showed on Thursday, joining a long line of leaders drawn from the military.

But a lower-than-expected turnout figure raised questions about the credibility of a man idolized by his supporters as a hero who can deliver political and economic stability.

The Arab Spring started with people unhappy about autocracy or the traditional alternative of an Islamist government calling for democracy.

Associating "democracy" with modernity, these people didn't really understand what democracy is. Which is where I though our job was. The Iraq War was part of that job. We walked away from that part of the job, sad to say.

In what was possibly a rigged election, the Islamists won, betrayed the trust that they weren't really Islamist, and saw enough people content that the military overthrew the Mursi-led Islamist government.

And now a dismal election turnout--and quite possibly rigged, too, puts the military back in charge.

The revolution is always complete when you reach the point you started from.

Maybe the next time the people demonstrate their unhappiness with the corruption and poverty that autocracy and Islamism deliver, they'll really try democracy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Head Start

Japan will move small amounts of troops to their southwestern islands to make sure they can put troops on the ground if China moves to occupy Japanese territory.

I worried that Japan's plans to react to a Chinese attempt to seize Japanese islands by moving to the islands faster than China could take them was a mistake.

Apparently, Japan agrees:

Officials at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the JGSDF confirmed to IHS Jane's on 21 May that it is considering setting up new GSDF bases to house QRF troops on Amami Oshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture and on the islands of Miyakojima and Ishigakijima, which are both located in Okinawa Prefecture. The plans were first reported in The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

The JGSDF units would be responsible for taking the lead in defending surrounding islands, including uninhabited islands. "We have not decided where to set up those security forces yet," a JGSDF official said. "We may create new security forces on some or all of those islands."


These quick reaction force (QRF) troops are separate from the marine unit the Japanese will establish to retake islands from the Chinese.

Now just send in the robots to hold the line at the uninhabited islands until the QRF can arrive.

And right behind Japan, our forces can help, of course. We will retain a sizable presence on Okinawa even after moving Marines to Guam.

Flight Club

As I feared, the Obama administration is willing to pretend to believe a false Iranian promise not to develop nuclear weapons.

Worse, President Obama is willing to surrender even more than our European allies are willing to give up to get such a deal:

Rather than continuing to work with his European partners, it appears the U.S. will once again leave the multilateral negotiations and conduct bilateral talks. The assumption is that on their own, American diplomats will be able to entice the Iranians to sign on the dotted line with concessions that even the French and the British wouldn’t consider. If true, this illustrates that what the president started last year with the interim deal is a process that has one goal and one goal alone: getting a deal with Iran no matter what the price.

Like his objectives for Afghanistan and Iraq, President Obama just wants to delay Iran from going nuclear until he is out of office to escape blame for his decisions.

Obviously, the first rule of Flight Club is don't talk about Flight Club. If this report is true, the president wants to run and worries that even the friggin' Europeans will balk at his objective. So secret direct talks with Iran, it is.

Have a super sparkly day.

Be Fertile and Multiply?

I can hardly wait to see the hash tag for this Iranian program:

In his 14-point decree, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said increasing Iran's 76 million-strong population would "strengthen national identity" and counter "undesirable aspects of Western lifestyles".

"Given the importance of population size in sovereign might and economic progress ... firm, quick and efficient steps must be taken to offset the steep fall in birth rate of recent years," he wrote in the edict published on his website.

In other words, Khamenei just told Iran's women that they are pretty much screwed.

You have to admire that honesty, at least.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

When the Surge Ends

President Obama announces the Afghanistan Dirge:

U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday outlined a plan to withdraw all but 9,800 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and pull out the rest by the end of 2016[.]

I know I'm supposed to be grateful that President Obama apparently learned the lesson that the total withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011 was a mistake.

But fewer than 10,000 American troops for 2015, fewer than 5,000 in 2016, and none in 2017 when the president steps down is no decision for victory. It is a a decision to avoid responsibility for losing the "real" war in Afghanistan.

On the bright side, at least we don't get down to 5,000 for another year, putting off a massacre a bit.

It Really is the Nutball Regime, Stupid

Iran's top leader has promised to destroy America with cheap and clean nuclear electricity.

Well, they deny wanting nukes, so how else would they do it?

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, all but said on Sunday that negotiations over the country’s illicit nuclear program are over and that the Islamic Republic’s ideals include destroying America.

It's the regime, stupid.

Yes, yes, I know the nuclear program is popular with Iranians. But as I've long argued in pushing regime change as the preferred option over a strike campaign to knock out nuclear arms or negotiations that will never touch the core of the nuclear program, even if a non-nutball Iran has nukes, their possession will be less threatening.

And I've argued that if a free Iran has a choice between economic progress and nuclear weapons, the popularity of nukes could fade:

People opposed to striking Iran's nuclear facilities like to say that Iran's nuclear program is a matter of pride for even non-nutball jihadist Iranians. Fine. But an Iran not under the control of nutball jihadists simply isn't in the same order of nuclear danger as a nutball regime with nukes. It would be a proliferation danger and not an attack danger. A nutball regimes in Tehran proves it is a danger even without nukes every week, does it not?

And an Iran under non-nutballs might actually decide that the cost of the nuclear program is too high given Iran's other problems and limited money to address them. Pride is one thing. Providing for your family might be preferable to eating grass and having nuclear weapons. Iranians might want to ask Pakistanis how that bargain is working out for them.

Huh:

Iranians have become increasingly and openly hostile to their government over the last year as the increased sanctions hurt the economy and hit most Iranians directly. To the relief of the government there were no major uprisings in reaction to the increased prices, but opinion surveys show falling morale and more Iranians believing that if it comes down to prosperity or nukes, they prefer higher living standards to being a nuclear power.

Get rid of the nutball rulers who aim to destroy us--somehow--and Iranians could be friendly and unwilling to waste money on nuclear weapons.

Gosh, somebody might point out that even though apologists for Iran's expensive nuclear program claim Iran needs nukes to deter an American invasion, in 35 years of mullah nutballery, we haven't actually invaded Iran.

I remain frustrated that we can't seem to get anything going to get rid of a regime that has such little popular support among the people.

Sadly, the small base of support for the mullahs is ruthless and willing to kill as much as they need to when confronted with Twitter revolts.

UPDATE: Seemingly related:

Spies based in Iran created a bogus news organization used for espionage since 2011 against US and Israeli military targets, security researchers said.

Others were targeted, as well.

You have to go a long way in the article to get to "why":

Of particular interest to the network were people involved in nuclear non-proliferation and sanctions that could affect Tehran.

Iran wants to know what they can get away with. I'm sure they now know that if Iran pretends to halt their nuclear weapons track that we will pretend to believe them.

Mine! All Mine!

Fresh out of the oven.


Lamb baked 25 peanut butter blossom cookies from scratch for me. Well, some for her. But mostly for me.

It was nice to have a baking project that didn't involve me carrying the results off to her school for other people to eat.

This will work out just swell!

You Really Think the EU Elites Care What the Peasants Think?

There seems to be a bit of triumphant anti-EU talk after the latest EU elections put anti-EU parties in stronger positions. As if the EU cares about that.

What part of bureaucratic dictatorship of experts are you unclear about? You really think that mere MEP counts will count for anything when it matters?

“Shock,” “Anger,” “Earthquake”—those are among the more frequent epithets employed to describe this weekend’s European elections. All across the continent, voters turned out to deliver a resounding defeat to the top-down, politically correct, big-government, Brussels-centric, rule-by-unaccountable-elites project that is the European Union. For years, Brussels has demanded allegiance to its mildly socialist species of transnational progressivism. Local initiatives were everywhere forced to give way to the whimsical diktats disgorged by distant bureaucrats.

As if.

The forces of counter-revolution have the advantage.

I'll believe that anti-EU forces can win when a country successfully withdraws from the EU based on popular rejection of the Soviet Union Lite in Brussels without invoking the New Brezhnev Doctrine.

Why we officially support the idea of the European Union is beyond me. Europeans can be our friends. European states can be our friends.

Europe will not be our friend.

Dawn of the Dead

Stupid never dies. It just gets a new acronym and lives on.

The Army sadly needs to prove its relevance in a casualty-averse budget world.

Good luck with that. The Army can never win this battle in peacetime, it seems.

As for the casualty issue, we only think ground warfare is cheaper in lives because we haven't fought a real navy in a long time:

We like to think of land warfare as casualty intensive and air and naval warfare as cheap in lives. But lose one carrier battle group in the middle of the ocean and we could lose more sailors in one day than we lost in the entire Iraq War on the ground over years.

And we forget that in World War II, it was about as dangerous to be a bomber crew flying over Germany as it was to be in the infantry.

So let me just dwell on the stupid within the stupid in that "relevance" article:

The phrase “we have to reduce our tail is creeping back into our lexicon,” said Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, Army deputy chief of staff for logistics. “But how much risk can we take?” he asked. “People bring up just-in-time logistics … and talk about business practices,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. There's a place for business practices. But the closer you get to where people are fighting, business practices don't make sense,” said Mason. “Just-in-time logistics is a dangerous thing. There are money people and programmers who want to drive us there.”

Ah. "Just-in-time logistics." Otherwise known as "dying efficiently." I eagerly await the new acronym.

This is a concept that won't die despite experience.

I attacked the concept in 2002, before the Iraq War, as an aside in an article in the May-June 2002 Military Review:

Such a solution, if even possible, may not be wise if it creates a force that is vulnerable to even a hiccup in the supply line. Think of how simple the enemy's task is if he knows that merely slowing the supply flow can bring great benefits. That is far easier than severing a supply link for weeks as is necessary when iron mountains can sustain forces without a supply line. Some in-theater support and iron hills, as opposed to iron mountains, may be necessary so units can defend themselves at least a short time if the supply link is severed.45 Otherwise, we rely on an enemy who is too unimaginative, passive, or incapable for secure logistics. The Persian Gulf war taught many Americans that winning is easy, but the Army should not act on that assumption. Underestimating an opponent to that degree would be criminal.

I know I brought up the issue of our supply dumps during the twin Sadrist al Qaeda offensives in spring 2004. When our supply lines were under attack, having supply depots rather than just-in-time logistics was vital. That was pre-Blogger and I can't find anything. Perhaps I'll look a little harder.

And in Afghanistan, it seemed like we learned our lesson:

The Army keeps 45 days worth of fuel on the ground in Afghanistan so that operations can withstand severe disruptions to its supply lines, Stevenson said.

That was three years ago.

But now? Well, efficiency is the goal. Not victory. Not even force protection. The stupid does not die.

I can hardly wait for the acronym.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Where the War on Terror Inconveniently Rages

Iraq's request for our air power capabilities to help them defeat al Qaeda's defenders at Fallujah and other points in Anbar province stem from Iraq's poor air force.

Strategypage explains why the Iraqi air force still sucks:

The Iraqi Air Force is not very effective. It not for lack of trying. The government has spent billions to buy new aircraft, support equipment and weapons (including Hellfire missiles). Money isn’t the problem, people are. During decades of rule by the Sunni minority (the last Sunni leader being the late Saddam Hussein) the Sunnis monopolized most technical jobs. That included flying aircraft and maintaining them. With the overthrow of Saddam most of those Sunnis fled the country and many of those who stayed were not trusted by the Shia majority (who now controlled the government.) The Shia now had plenty of access to all those good tech and management jobs the Sunnis had long monopolized. The problem was that not enough Shia had the skills or experience to handle all the high tech work now available.

Amazingly, they say that Iraq has three planes capable of firing Hellfire precision missiles! Three!

Given time, Iraq will have an acceptable air force--compared to likely regional opponents, of course. The air force became acceptable under Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War. At the start of that war, it sucked, too.

Then it sucked because Saddam was afraid of even his Sunni pilots taking a shot at him with a low pass or an attempt to carpet bomb a palace. So Saddam hadn't let his bombers practice bombing. Which made Iraq's attacks on Iran's airfields at the start of Iraq's invasion completely ineffective.

So the current Shia-dominated government can hardly afford to trust Sunni pilots and ground crews with precision weapons that might put a Hellfire into a pool where Maliki is sunning himself some quiet afternoon.

And who knows if all the Shias are reliable, eh?

So the Iraqis need time to get their air force trained, the sense to do what Gulf states do with foreign contractors (since we aren't there to help).

And hopefully some American armed drones to help with the al Qaeda jihadis their troops are facing right now. Or are you telling me there aren't enough jihadis to fill a "kill list" right there in Fallujah alone?

Filling the Vacuum

Are we still leading from behind in Libya?

Libya's embattled parliament approved Sunday an Islamist-backed government despite boycotts from non-Islamists and threats from a renegade general who considers the chamber illegitimate.

Well that's just great.

Let's hope that Hifter's revolt against Islamist domination is a good factor in all this.

Groundhog Day

Mali's government is determined to muck things up be refusing to grant a measure of autonomy to the minority Tuaregs in the north.

The Mali government is blowing the French campaign that ejected Islamists from large sections of northern Mali; and the Mali government is blowing the Tuareg realization that siding with Islamists to achieve independence was an error:

Fifty Malian soldiers died this week during a failed army attempt to seize the Tuareg separatist northern town of Kidal, the West African country's defense minister said on Sunday.

The fresh fighting on Wednesday, the worst since the government and separatist groups signed a preliminary peace agreement last year, threatened to sink struggling peace talks to end a long cycle of Tuareg uprisings.

The Tuaregs have reason to want autonomy from the south. But calling in jihadis to help them win was a serious mistake. It both denied them any sympathy from the West and gave Tuaregs the experience of living the joyous life under jihadi rule.

Yet the Mali government was unable to hold the north when the Tuaregs rose up. Even American airlift of supplies to mali forces in the north was unable to stem the tide.

So the French had to come in and drive the jihadis out of power.

The French are still hunting jihadis who survived and scattered. The Tuaregs have been helping the French.

And now, as I warned (and it didn't take a genius to warn about this), without a serious Mali government effort to reconcile with the Tuaregs and grant some autonomy, the post-jihadi peace is breaking down.

And with Islamists strong in Libya and still active in Alegeria, jihadis could return to Mali and turn an internal dispute into a matter that we have to pay attention to.

We've seen this story before.

Those Rude, Impatient Japanese!

China isn't happy about Japan protesting China's behavior in the South China Sea:

China warned Japan on Friday to stay out of a growing dispute with its neighbors over the South China Sea, as the Philippines implicitly accused Beijing of delaying talks aimed at a solution.

Line-jumping Japanese! Can't they see that China is busy bullying Vietnam and the Philippines? China only has two hands, you know.

Japan should just wait their turn! China will get back to the East China Sea in short order, I'm sure.

I guess Japan will have to accept some limited attention for the time being:

Chinese SU-27 fighters came as close as 50 meters (170 feet) to a Japanese OP-3C surveillance plane near disputed islets on Saturday and within 30 meters of YS-11EB electronic intelligence aircraft, the ministry said.

China really insists that everybody just line up and take their beatings when their number is called by Peking.

UPDATE: Taiwan has a lower number:

Taiwan is building a $100 million (59.4 million pounds)port next to an airstrip on the lone island it occupies in the disputed South China Sea, a move that is drawing hardly any flak from the most assertive player in the bitterly contested waters - China.

The reason, say military strategists, is that Itu Aba could one day be in China's hands should it ever take over Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province.

Yes. Conquering Taiwan makes the base issue irrelevant. One day, Taiwan's number will be called. I'm off on the timing but not the form.

Step One

Ukraine has a new president, notwithstanding Russia's successful efforts to disrupt the voting in the east:

Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire chocolate manufacturer, claimed the Ukrainian presidency with an emphatic election victory on Sunday, taking on a fraught mission to quell pro-Russian rebels and steer his fragile nation closer to the West.

Exit polls show he won 55% of the vote, although official results won't be released until Monday.

It will help the situation by having the voting over in one round rather than giving Russia more time to cause chaos.

Now we get to see what Putin meant when he said he'd "respect" the outcome.

Poroshenko should keep the victory party short and get to work.

UPDATE: Ukrainian forces are battling separatists at Donetsk:

Ukraine launched air strikes and a paratrooper assault against pro-Russian rebels who seized an airport on Monday, as its newly elected leader rejected any talks with "terrorists" and said a robust military campaign in the east should be able to put down a separatist revolt in "a matter of hours".

I appreciate the spirit, but Ukraine lacks the military power to put down the open revolt in hours.

Of course, if the local separatists see their Russian Spetsnaz and mercenary friends leave and go back to Russia, the open revolt could evaporate in hours.

UPDATE: Ukraine is serious about defeating separatists:

Ukrainian aircraft and paratroopers killed more than 50 pro-Russian rebels in an assault that raged into a second day on Tuesday after a newly elected president vowed to crush the revolt in the east once and for all.

All the Ukrainians have to do is finish the victory, deter a Russian invasion, and persuade enough non-fighting Ukrainians to reject the separatists and Russia while accepting the government in Kiev.

In Memory and Gratitude


Sunday, May 25, 2014

I Am Irony Man

Is President Obama the Superhero of excuses?

The launch of the Affordable Care Act and the worsening of conditions at the Veterans Affairs Department are emblematic of Obama's inattention to the hard work of governing. He is slow to fire poor-serving Cabinet members and quick to dismiss controversies as "phony scandals." To the Obama administration, transparency is a mere talking point. The great irony of his progressive presidency: Democrats privately admit that Obama has done as much to undermine the public's faith in government as his GOP predecessor.

Green Lantern? (Honestly, I'm not up to going into that defense of the president. You're on your own.)

No, he's Irony Man, who boasted of a non-ideological, pragmatic administration focused like a laser beam on competence yet finds himself pushing left wing positions and unable to govern even when his team designs and runs the programs it is fouling up.

Overseas, as the president alienates friends, we'll soon have the Just Us League, I suppose.

It's just about come to this:



Really. It isn't the president's fault. He swears to God.

UPDATE: The competence! It burns!

The CIA’s top officer in Kabul was exposed Saturday by the White House when his name was inadvertently included on a list provided to news organizations of senior U.S. officials participating in President Obama’s surprise visit with U.S. troops.

And then the reporter matches that competence:

The disclosure marked a rare instance in which a CIA officer working overseas had his cover — the secrecy meant to protect his actual identity — pierced by his own government. The only other recent case came under significantly different circumstances, when former CIA operative Valerie Plame was exposed as officials of the George W. Bush administration sought to discredit her husband, a former ambassador and fierce critic of the decision to invade Iraq.

No. Richard Armitage exposed Plame--who was a desk officer rather than a field agent. And Armitage worked for Secretary of State Powell--who at that point could not be counted as someone who would want to discredit an opponent of the Iraq War.

Yet "Scooter" Libby is the one who went to jail for the incident even though he had nothing to do with the "outing."

And through all of it, nobody asked the question I wanted answered: just who sent the buffoon Wilson to Niger on such an important mission?

As the reporter did admit, there were significantly different circumstances. Pity he didn't even remotely make that clear.

In fact, the trumped up Plame Affair was about getting Bush and not about getting Wilson--or Plame.

Irony Man strikes again.

Oh, Really?

Putin has nerve, you have to admit.

Putin is upset that Ukraine is demanding Russia cut the price of natural gas that Ukraine buys from Russia:

We are ready for a constructive dialogue, but it should not be carried out though baseless demands and ultimatums, but rather on the basis of civilized market cooperation.

The man is vaguely aware that he just took Crimea from Ukraine, right? There was no dialog. Heck, there wasn't even an ultimatum. It was just a home invasion, really.

Because if this is really a matter of who owes what to who, I'm thinking Russia will be providing free natural gas to Ukraine for a long time.

I Disapprove of What You Pay, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Pay It

Remember when the Left said that President George W. Bush was "shredding" the Constitution?

Yeah, thank God we got hope and change in the nick of time:

The Justice Department’s “Operation Choke Point” initiative has been shrouded in secrecy, but now it is starting to come to light. I first heard about the program in January through this article and since then it has been difficult to discover details about it. It is so named because through strangling the providers of financial services to the targeted industries, the government can “choke off” the oxygen (money) needed for these industries to survive. Without an ability to process payments, the businesses – especially online vendors — cannot survive.

The general outline is the DOJ and bank regulators are putting the screws to banks and other third-party payment processors to refuse banking services to companies and industries that are deemed to pose a “reputation risk” to the bank. Most controversially, the list of dubious industries is populated by enterprises that are entirely, or at least generally, legal.

And note that the government is simultaneously encouraging banks to handle marijuana commerce.

In what world of a working Constitution does it even matter what legal businesses the government approves or disapproves?

As the saying goes, a government big enough to give you everything you need or want is big enough to take away everything you need or want.

Tip to Instapundit.

Commander-in-Chief

President Obama is on the ground in Afghanistan to visit the troops. I'm sure the troops will appreciate the gesture.

Halal Sausage-Making

Iraq isn't as good as I'd like. But we're not there to influence events as much as we could. Yet let's at least be grateful that voting and negotiations are the basis for figuring out who sits in the big offices rather than shooting and prison terms:

There is therefore no doubt that al-Maliki will be asked by the president (when parliament can agree on one) to form the new government. In 2010, he had to battle with Allawi for months to get that chance. But putting together a coalition with the needed 164 votes may prove even harder than in 2010, when the process lasted nine months, only coming to an end with an agreement to form a government of national reconciliation in which all parties participated.

This time, al-Maliki has already announced that he does not want another government of national unity, but he will find it difficult to get sufficient support. After four years of increasingly authoritarian rule, the prime minister has little backing among Sunnis and Kurds, and has even failed to unite Shias behind him.

The article focuses on the possibility that Iraq will eventually become a loosely run confederation as the result of these negotiations. Perhaps. I hope not. The abstract notion of confederation is probably a better idea before you start negotiating actual boundaries on the ground.

So if things don't go our way in Iraq after we bled and spent to achieve something better, this failure to remain engaged in Iraq will be a dark chapter in the history of the Iraq War:

We are winning the Iraq War on the battlefield. We need to win the long-term battle for a free, prosperous, and democratic Iraq to start the process of providing an alternative to despotism or jihadi rule in the Arab Moslem world.

We did well enough so that when the Arab Spring against despots broke out, Arabs spoke of "democracy"--even though they did not know what that really meant in practice (rule of law and not just voting)--rather than Islamist rule as the alternative.

But we've yet to provide the working example. We may yet despite Iran's attempt to subvert democracy and despite the grip of Iraqi history that impedes movement towards democracy. Again, this is why I wanted to keep 25,000 garrison and training troops in Iraq after 2011.

But if Iraq does split as the result of negotiations over the new government, at least it could be done peacefully, like Czechoslovakia, rather than like Yugoslavia. That's not a bad day's work, really.

Does Assad Stay or Does He Go?

So Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has endorsed the deal to disarm Assad of chemical weapons? Nor more than I did, I suppose. The bottom line remains Assad's survival.

Is this really an endorsement of the Kerry-Lavrov deal?

“It’s not complete yet," he went on. "We are concerned that they may not have declared all of their capacity. But what has been removed has been removed. We’re talking about 90 percent. We appreciate the effort that has been made and the results that have been achieved."

The chemical weapons of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime have posed a murderous threat to Israel, and there is broad relief in Jerusalem that this particular menace appears to be dissipating. Obama actually gets more credit for the deal in Israel -- particularly among leaders of the country's national-security apparatus -- than he often does in Washington.

For now, Syria is less of a chemical weapons threat to Israel. So they like that. No doubt.

And remember that a lot of Israelis like dealing with Assad as the devil they know. Despite everything else, the Assad regime kept the Golan frontier quiet. So if Assad has no chemical weapons, that's a bonus.

We, of course, can care more about the "everything else" that Assad does more than Israel cares.

Most importantly, even from Israel's point of view, the deal is only good if it disarms Syria and Syria does not rearm when the crisis passes.

Even from our point of view, I did admit there was a silver lining to the deal:

This deal isn't necessarily a fatal blow to our national interests and reputation if the end result is fewer WMD out there by the time Assad's regime falls despite the best efforts of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah to save Assad.

But this requires our government to keep their eye on the ball and remember that chemical warheads don't kill people--bloodthirsty dictators and their minions who order chemical warhead use kill people.

If the worry is that our intervention will lead to Syrian chemical weapons use against us and others, eliminating Assad's declared WMD reduces that threat.

If the worry is that the fall of the Assad regime will leade to loose WMD that could get into the hands of jihadis in the post-Assad chaos, eliminating Assad's declared WMD reduces that threat.

But the key to these good side effects is that Assad does not use the deal to leverage his own survival by defeating the rebellion.

Indeed, I reviewed the progress of the deal and saw hope of a success that would require me to reverse my condemnation of the deal:

If we can get chemical weapons out of Syria quickly, the Kerry-Lavrov deal won't be so bad. Indeed, it could be very good.

Can we get Assad's chemical weapons out of Syria by the end of the year? If so, that frees us to resume pressuring Assad to go without the fear that Assad could use chemical weapons on our forces or against an ally that helps us--on top of protecting civilians from that particular brand of horror.

And resuming our pressure, support for rebels, and threat of military force will destroy Assad's pledge to his supporters that he can defeat the rebellion in six months under the shield of the Kerry-Lavrov agreement.

I did say that if the rebellion endures the suspension of our pressure while the chemical weapons are eliminated that it would give us more freedom of action to focus on getting rid of Assad.

As originally portrayed, the deal was stupid, giving Assad at least a year of respite as we destroyed chemical weapons. But if we can implement it by getting the chemical weapons out of Syria quickly, then it doesn't matter how long it takes to destroy them at sea. Assad loses his shield much faster than he counted on.

So expect Assad to interfere with that timetable as much as possible as he realizes what the December 31st deadline means.

If we pull that off, I will retract every dismissive thing I've said about this deal and the embarrassment we suffered leading up to the deal, and congratulate President Obama for a true episode of smart diplomacy.

The key was and remains will we seek the defeat of Assad?

I will repeat, if we can avoid the defeat of the rebels while the chemical weapons are removed, we will create more freedom of action to actively seek the defeat of Assad. Without chemical weapons, Assad has no answer to our ability to intervene--from actively helping rebels to direct intervention (and I lean to the former).

As long as you can live with the idea that this was purchased at the price of several thousand dead per month of Assad's continued resistance, we're good.

And as long as we actually seek the defeat of Syria (which, do not forget, will be a defeat for Iran, Hezbolllah, Hamas, and Russia, not to mention al Qaeda if we get a government in Damascus that will fight jihadis rather than treat them as an asset).

If Assad is defeated, we win. Our enemy Assad is defeated and Syria has no (or fewer, depending on what was declared) chemical weapons.

If Assad survives, we lose. Assad lives to terrorize another day and he will be able to rebuild (and modernize) his chemical arsenal destroyed over the last year.

Sanctions Busting

Russia is already working on breaking the sanctions put on them over Ukraine by trying to pry Japan away from the nations punishing Russia. Maybe something less obvious will work.

Really? After all these decades since World War II--and after Russia just added territory by naked aggression--Japan is supposed to believe now Russia will return Japanese territory?

President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that Russia is ready for talks with Japan over disputed Pacific Islands, but Japan may not be ready for negotiations.

No reset for you. Next!

UPDATE: Japan and China would both like Russia's support against the other, of course. I'm sure both are aware that you can only rent Putin's friendship and not buy it.

And if you can't rent Russia's help (or don't trust them), you at least want to keep bidding to prevent the other bidder from walking away with it.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Re-Reset!

President Putin of Russia wants better relations with the West:

President Vladimir Putin said on Friday he wanted better ties with the West but fiercely criticized U.S. policy on Ukraine and the global economy - and acknowledged that sanctions were hurting Russia.

Well, duh. After grabbing Crimea, naturally he wants a fresh "reset" rather than pay a price for aggression.

Naturally, he blames America:

"The world has changed," Putin said. Indirectly criticizing Washington, he added: "The unipolar vision of the world ... has failed."

Yeah. Russia violates the UN charter in general and the Budapest Memorandum specifically written to guarantee Ukraine's territorial integrity by invading Ukraine to take Crimea and destabilizing the east with a so-far failed attempt at round two of annexation--and it is America's fault.

I guess we're supposed to give Putin a world-weary Gallic shrug and send a new amphibious warfare ship to Russia without a peep of protest.

If Putin tells us not to worry because he has no more territorial ambitions, I think I'll puke up my dinner.

Seriously, we're not dumb enough to fall for this, are we?

Chlorine Gas Use in Syria

Chlorine gas is apparently being used in Syria:

Activists said Kfar Zeita was attacked twice on Thursday, as well as the village of Al-Tamana'a in northwest Idlib province. There have been more than a dozen reported chlorine attacks in Syria since April 11.

Reportedly, a helicopter dropped a chlorine gas bomb.

Syria denies using chlorine--or any other--poison gas.

And to be fair, al Qaeda in Iraq used chlorine gas in their terror campaign while we were fighting there. But they used them in truck bombs combined with conventional explosives, if memory serves me. So Syria's denial is possible.

And it is possible that Syria is using chlorine gas precisely because the could blame it on jihadis and because chlorine is a dual-use chemical (but using it as a poison gas is still illegal) not part of the Kerry-Lavrov deal to allow Assad time to destroy the rebellion deprive Assad of chemical weapons.

The organization tasked with removing declared chemical weapons from Syria may investigate.

Meanwhile, 160,000 people (including troops and combatants) have been killed in Syria during the uprising.

The Good News RFI

The Navy is seeking cheaper alternatives to the Littoral Combat Ship that will bring more capabilities to the fleet per hull. I'm sure this will succeed. Don't be shocked.

The Navy is seeking better and cheaper hulls:

The task force working to come up with ideas for the US Navy’s small surface combatant (SSC) got a major data download Thursday, as industry submitted their proposals for modified or entirely new designs.

Both builders of littoral combat ships — Lockheed Martin and Austal USA — submitted ideas to modify their designs. Huntington Ingalls proposed frigate variants of its national security cutter design. And at least one outlier, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, put in a bid. ...

“We’re not going to have time for them to go through and do a [new] design,” John Burrow, head of the task force, told reporters on April 30. “We’re asking for existing designs and mature design concepts,” he said, and “systems and technologies at the component level.”

So the LCS builders who couldn't bring the LCS in under budget with a decent armament package have submitted bids to use their hulls for the new design? How can this work out, you might ask?

Because that is how the system is designed:

Seawolf is grossly too expensive to build? Cancel it. Then when we build the new Virginia class subs that use lots of technology developed for Seawolf, the Virginia class sub looks downright frugal by comparison.

Spend ungodly amounts of money on Crusader? Well, the one "bright spot" in Army procurement is the new Paladin PIM self-propelled howitzer that uses the Bradley chassis along with--as I've read elsewhere--technology from the Cancelled Crusader project. Voila! Fast, cheap, and effective!

I'm sure that the 3 DDG-1000 destroyers we will build will live on in future Navy ships as technology developed for this ship is made available for future ships but which will not be cursed by having the development costs of that technology put on their bottom lines.

I just wish the Air Force could at least manage to get in on this. Or will F-35 technology find its way into advanced armed drone aircraft?

Anyway. I'm no procurement expert. But we're either getting good at making weapons lemonade out of technology lemons; or our procurement bureaucracy and their industry partners have gotten good out of making program lemonade out of procurement system lemons.

All the development cash spent on LCS systems will be used on the new SSC--but all those technology costs will die with the LCS program! Voila! Cheaper, better, faster!

Still, perhaps the Navy has picked a number and we'll be fine--broken procurement system notwithstanding.

Translate "Respect" Please

So Putin will "respect" the Ukrainian vote results tomorrow?

President Vladimir Putin pledged Friday that Russia will respect the results of Ukraine's presidential election, a strong indication the Kremlin wants to cool down the crisis. But new violence and rebel vows to block the balloting made prospects for peace appear distant.

Could somebody not affiliated with our "reset" translation tell me what that means?

Because Russian elements are still inside eastern Ukraine stirring up the violence noted in the article. Putin is not some spectator watching from the sidelines. He's calling plays, you know.

And he still controls Crimea. Which until recently was Ukrainian territory.

So excuse me if I don't rush to celebrate the prospect of peace for our time.

When Putin says he will "respect" the results, does that mean he will judge that a failure to vote in large numbers in the east means Putin will judge that he has to respect the wishes of the people of that region not to be part of Ukraine?

Will all that packing activity at Russian units forward deployed near Ukraine just allow the Russians to move in to the east to seize control and dare Ukraine to fight Russia?

UPDATE: Of course, the whole Russian exercise of looming over eastern Ukraine could just be a ploy to make everyone happy that Putin "just" gets Crimea out of this act of aggression.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Well, Clearly Not That Eager

Six thousand American troops will begin exercises in Jordan this Sunday:

Eager Lion involves a total of more than 12,500 troops from more than 20 countries, Cmdr. William Speaks told Military Times on Tuesday. The major U.S. units taking part include the Army’s 17th Field Artillery Brigade, 1st Armored Division; the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade; elements of the Navy’s Task Force 51/59; and the 407th Air Expeditionary Group.

No troops will remain behind, as F-16s and Patriot air defense missiles did last year to help protect Jordan should Syria act against Jordan for working with Syrian rebels in the south.

No word if equipment will be left behind, however.

What Upsets Feminists

I noted that at least the Nigerian mass kidnapping of girls could mobilize the hitherto conscientious objectors found in the feminist world in the war on Islamist terrorists. But that's probably too optimistic of a view, really.

Ponder this reason given by Brandeis University faculty for opposing the appearance of Hirsi Ali at their school:

These faculty members said that “the selection of Ms. Hirsi Ali further suggests to the public that violence toward girls and women is particular to Islam or the Two-Thirds World, thereby obscuring such violence in our midst among non-Muslims, including on our own campus.” And they also could not “accept Ms. Hirsi Ali’s triumphalist narrative of western civilization, rooted in a core belief of the cultural backwardness of non-western peoples.”

Ponder that. Ms. Ali wanted to speak of how women are being abused, subjugated, and even killed by Islamist fanatics. Yet the faculty protesters of Brandeis didn't want that problem to compete with their privileged world of micro-aggressions and dog whistle hostility.

Really, what's forced female circumcision when you have to fight to get college funding for yet another run of Vagina Monologues?

What's keeping women uneducated and separate and out of sight of men when you've got another Slutwalk event to organize?

I mean, how could actual triggers being pulled to kidnap and kill girls compete with petitions to expand trigger warnings for ever-expanding issues?

As for whether the West is superior to Islamist societies? The ability to judge this is disputed by faculty who probably sprinkle their conversations with smirking comments about "rednecks" who cling to God and guns, own 5 dogs, let their kids go barefoot, and fix their cars by the side of the road?

UPDATE: About that backwardness that feminists don't want to address:

An interesting trend in Arab media is the growing number of articles, letters-to-the-editor and online comments that points out some obvious (but unpopular) truths about the Arab world. ...

In the past reference, especially by Israelis or Westerners, to cultural differences to explain Arab problems was immediately jumped on by political demagogues and media pundits worldwide as a racist remark. But it was never that and now that is obvious as Arab leaders have been openly discussing the same problem. Those discussions are often ignored by the demagogues and pundits, especially in the West. More's the pity because there is a cultural crisis in the Arab world in particular and the Moslem world in general and it is very serious. The crisis is expressed by a lack of economic, educational and political performance. By whatever measure you wish to use; Nobel prizes, patents awarded, books published or translated, GDP growth, the Arabs have fallen behind the rest of the world. Part of the problem is the Arab tendency to blame outsiders, and to avoid taking responsibility. Tolerating tyranny and resistance to change doesn't help either. Those attitudes are shifting, and for most of the last decade the war in Iraq became the center of this cultural battle.

We're in bonus territory considering how so many insist that Iraq was a blunder. This is fascinating:

The shift began with the 2003 invasion, which was reported by the Arab media at the time (as it was still going on) as a great defeat for the Western "crusader" army. Until, that is, it was all too obvious that American troops had battled their way to Baghdad in three weeks and were rapidly defeating Iraqi forced defending this cultural capital of the Arab world. This triggered a debate among Arabs that got little coverage in the West. It began when some Arab journalists openly pointed out that, in the Arab media Arab reporters had not only been writing fantastical stories that had no relationship to reality, but that this sort of thing had been going on for a long time and, gosh, maybe it had something to do with the sorry state of affairs in the Arab world. That particular debate is still going on, largely unnoticed in the West. This is the real war against terrorism, because the terrorists represent the forces of repression and backwardness in the Arab world and this talk of fundamental reform strikes at the heart of popular support for Islamic terrorism.

This is why it was such a mistake to cut loose Iraq after 2011. I wanted our troops to stay in order to promote rule of law within Iraq and help win that long war--that real war--against the jihadis. Warfare has always been the holding action while the real fight attempted to support Arab Moslems who understand that cultural backwardness is the reason for the Arab Moslem world's backwardness. Absent that culture, Arabs can thrive--witness the success of Arab immigrants in America who work within our culture.

But by all means, let's focus on our micro-aggressions and dog whistle crimes rather than bolstering the forces of modernization in the Moslem world.

I obviously want you to read this blog. But if you have to limit yourself to just one site, I'd pick Strategypage as the one.