Thursday, July 31, 2014

No Room On the Kill List?

We have a drone "kill list," people. But there is no room on it for jihadi terrorists in Iraq?

How is it possible to be this blinded by ideology that insists Iraq was the "bad war?"

Obama officials have publicly claimed that Iraq requested air support only in May of this year, after Islamic State had already taken Fallujah and was marching on Mosul. That is untrue. And it is Royce’s version of events that is borne out by the public record. On Aug. 17, 2013, in a little-noticed story entitled “Iraq Open to U.S. Drone Strikes on Terrorists,” Bloomberg News reported that Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was in Washington “seeking U.S. advisers, air surveillance or even drone strikes” and that “the top Iraqi diplomat’s comments are the first time he has publicly raised the possibility of working with the U.S. on anti-terrorist drone strikes.”

Seriously? The Obama administration is willing to kill terrorists via drone everwhere except Iraq?

Clearly, the Obama administration retrospectively knows they screwed up since they admit--contrary to the paper trail--that the Iraqi requests came much later.

But hey, at least General Motors is alive. They'd have to be alive to recall seemingly every car model they've ever produced.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Assad has been defeating his enemies in the Core Syria of western Syria based around the coast and Damascus. But I still have my doubts that Assad's forces can endure the casualties that they have been taking long enough to win back the country--or even hold what they have.

From the brink of seeming defeat, Assad has recovered his balance through the contraction of his realm to western Syria, Iranian advisers, Iranian and Russian material support, new loyal militias, and foreign (mostly Iraqi) and Hezbollah shock troops.

But Assad's forces have in just a few years (and the first year was fairly low level fighting) suffered troop losses more than ten times our losses in the longer Iraq War.

Despite the victories over their enemies, Assad's enemies can still sting him:

Last week, 700 people died in two days in Syria, in what has been described as the deadliest 48-hour period in the country since its conflict began more than four years ago. And 1,700 are reported to have died in the last seven days, in one of the worst weeks on record.

Total casualties are north of 170,000, with a third civilians. Of the rest, about 60% are government troops and militias. The rest are rebel casualties--including intra-rebel fighting casualties. I assume the recent casualties are a mix of these deaths.

The jihadis remain particularly cruel, as they were a week ago in northern Syria:

In the two-day assault on the base in Raqa province, an IS bastion, the jihadists killed at least 85 soldiers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

More than 50 troops were summarily executed, 19 others were killed in a double suicide bombing and at least 16 more died in the assault launched early Thursday.

The remainder of the Syrian troops retreated from the base.

And even a Syrian government success highlights the price Assad's forces are paying to tilt the war their way:

But government forces retook the key Shaar gas field in Homs province, nearly a week after it fell to IS, who killed some 270 government troops in the attack, the Observatory said.

Or merely clever:

Opposition forces in Syria exploded bombs in tunnels under Aleppo late on Tuesday and killed at least 13 fighters loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in the northern city, a group tracking the violence said.

The bombs were placed in two tunnels running under historic parts of the city close to an old police station, said the Observatory, a Britain-based group which reports on Syria, using a network of sources on the ground.

Yes, Assad's forces are winning on the battlefield. But Assad's forces have not beaten the rebels and driven them from the field--not even the non-jihadis starved of Western support so far.

And Assad's forces are suffering staggering casualties among a small population base to achieve his very limited and localized victories.

I just don't assume that Assad's forces can endure this level of casualties without breaking. One day, his troops will not be willing to even support the Hezbollah and Shia foreign legion shock troops that have led Assad's attacks over the last year.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

If Putin Invades

If Putin does escalate to openly waged warfare against Ukraine to take eastern Ukraine, Ukraine needs to do three things: preserve the Ukrainian army; wage irregular warfare in eastern Ukraine to stress Russia's still-inadequate ground forces; and strike Sevastopol.

If Putin truly does believe that he is in the position of needing to add eastern Ukraine to Russia just to survive politically, how should Ukraine respond?

I looked at Russian invasion options before Russia pulled back their massed army. With far fewer Russians massed now, Russia's options are initially more limited to eastern Ukraine.

One, Ukraine cannot risk their army to hold that far east in Ukraine. Ukraine is doing well projecting power to grind down the increasingly well-armed secessionists and their Russian masters, but against Russian conventional power, that would be a foolish mission that just risks the army close to Russia where Russia can best destroy Ukrainian conventional forces and then exploit to drive deep into Ukraine if need be.

Ukraine would do better to preserve their army to maintain it as a threat to Russia's army in the field.

Second, with an army in being poised outside of eastern Ukraine, Russia will have an even harder time pacifying eastern Ukraine as Ukraine denies Russia the ability to completely disperse their army to hunt Ukrainian irregulars and militias fighting the occupation; and as the regular forces funnel supplies and men into occupied eastern Ukraine to resist the Russians.

Third, as I noted in the first point link, Ukraine needs to put at risk the major gain of Russia's aggression against Ukraine--the Sevastopol naval base.

Ukraine should first declare the port--as it is legally their port and not a Russian port to be blockaded--closed for all shipping.

If projecting Russian power around the Black Sea and into the Mediterranean is so important to Putin, Ukraine needs to wreck the port.

Ukraine should burn air power trying to hit targets in and around Sevastopol. If we can help Ukraine get long-range missiles to avoid losses, that's great.

Long-range surface-to-surface missiles should be the main weapon and used to bombard the facilities and ships in port.

Planes and what's left of Ukraine's navy should attempt to lay mines off of Sevastopol.

If Ukraine is really ambitious, they could take a fourth step and attempt to seize Russia's Transdniestria pocket in the west as a bargaining chip.

If Putin decides to go to open warfare to redeem his fortunes, Ukraine needs to make sure that the war is neither short nor glorious for Putin. Survive, drag out the fighting, and inflict losses on Putin's forces. And let the oligarchs squirm some more.

UPDATE: And when I say, "if Putin invades," I of course mean an open invasion. Even though Russia has fewer troops near Ukraine, these troops crowd the border allowing them to ship in weapons, fire artillery into Ukraine, and slip their own men across to wage a war that Putin denies he is fighting.

One Russian soldier's selfies give away more information than Putin is willing to admit--until the medals are awarded, of course.

Unbelievably Small Influence

Neither Hamas nor the Israelis seem to have much interest in Secretary of State Kerry's diplomatic efforts to end the fighting.

I recently heard a critic of Kerry say he is out of his depths when he is in the same room as the hardened leaders of the Middle East, and that Kerry isn't the smartest man in the room when they talk.

I dare say that Kerry isn't the smartest man in the room when he is all alone.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Victory!

That which was mine is mine again.

I went to the mall with Lamb. We bought some stuff and window shopped.

When we hit the mall portion that is the site of my greatest culinary defeat, I told Lamb I wanted to go by the sushi place and sneer at them.

Lamb was only mildly mortified at the thought of being humiliated by her dad despite my noting (accurately) that I could feel my eye twitching as we approached the desecration location,

You may or may not recall (I'm sure I've mentioned this here at some point) that about a decade ago, our local mall suffered a great loss when the donut shop closed.

It was a glorious donut shop. It actually made the donuts while you waited.

You watched the machine dump the dough into a river of hot oil where the proto-donuts travelling downstream become donuts, where they were dumped out automatically into a bin where you could have various sugary concoctions sprinkled on your fresh donuts.

I get misty eyed just describing it.

Then the unspeakable happened. The store closed. To be replaced by a sushi shop.

There is no deep frying in sushi.

I hated that sushi shop deeply. I burned with irredentist fury these many years.

And then at the mall with Lamb, as we approached the location where I could ritually curse the usurper, I saw the sushi shop was no more.

I would not know my reaction except that Lamb recalled it word for word.

I said, "It's not a sushi store! I don't know what it is, but they fry something!

Indeed they do fry something. I don't recall the store name, but they fry all matter of potatoes, cheeses, and formed pressed chicken.

They have chili cheese fries, people.

And so, after a long decade of sushi Hell, my people--the Fry Cooks--have reclaimed our lost land.

Oh yes, I shall return.

Perhaps If We Bowed More Deeply and Apologized More Sincerely?

Let's recall that in the 6th Year of Hope and Change after "outreach" to the Islamic world and "reset" with Russia, that Islamist jihadis and Russians are on the march and more determined than ever to defeat us.

I guess being the anti-Bush isn't the solution to our problems abroad.

Pre-Modern War

Stratfor notes that the latest Gaza War seems rather pointless. Perhaps that is only from a modern Western point of view.

Hamas can't defeat Israel because they are too weak and Israel can't defeat Hamas because Israel won't (can't) use its fool power to annihilate Hamas and other jihadis who would take their place if crushed:

War's purpose is to impose your political will on your enemy. But unless the Israelis surprise us immensely, nothing decisive will come out of this conflict.

This is interesting because it occurred to me that the calls by some in the West for Israel to respond "proportionately" to Hamas' rocket attacks reflects a pre-modern notion of war that has nothing to do with imposing a political will on an enemy.

Israel is not being harmed much whether from Iron Dome or good civil defense, so the critics argue that Israel's attempts to stop Hamas from firing rockets is "disproportionate."

That this standard is not part of the rules of war is another issue altogether. But the idea that Israel should respond to ineffective war with their own version of ineffective war reflects pre-modern thinking about warfare.

The 2014 Hamas War of the Children (whether you want to focus on the murder of 3 Israeli kids that really triggered Israel's response or the death toll of Palestinian children in Gaza during the response) is symbolic and so is pre-war in both the minds of Hamas and the critics of Israel who respond to symbolic war with real war.

Pre-modern war was not as Clausewitzian as we in the West conceive of War. And if you try to think of Hamas' attacks as a Westerner would and wonder why they risk casualties in a seemingly futile effort to kill Jews, you won't get very far.

While pre-modern war could get bloody, it often had formalistic early stages that could either end the conflict or serve as a waypoint to more violent phases. Hamas certainly wants to get to the bloody kill all the Jews stage, but right now they are satisfied with the symbolic phase of showing they can strike. It's all a lot of prancing about, yelling, and chest thumping.

Israel, Hamas complains, should not be jumping right to the bloody phase. And critics in the West seem to agree, with their odd notion that Israel should only respond "proportionately" in violence levels.

Suffering casualties as Israel tries to stop Hamas from firing ineffective rocket barrages is just part of the symbolism stage, letting Israel figuratively punch Hamas in the chest repeatedly to demonstrate that Hamas can take it (with a side benefit of propaganda videos of dead civilians).

If Israel cannot inflict a Clausewitzian defeat on Hamas and impose their will on the Palestinians of Gaza, perhaps Israel will undermine Hamas by fighting a war as symbolic as Hamas is waging:

Israel escalated its military campaign against Hamas on Tuesday, striking symbols of the group's control in Gaza and firing tank shells that shut down the strip's only power plant in the heaviest bombardment in the fighting so far.

Dead Palestinian children don't deter Hamas from shooting as Israel. Maybe shots at Hamas' image of power and control will have an effect on the leaders of Hamas.

UPDATE: Strategypage addresses the Arab Dead Civilians Gambit that Hamas is carrying out.

Reset All the Way to Eleven

Russia, not content that the New START treaty (which I'm not happy with) left them with uncontested theater nuclear weapon superiority (relevant for Europe and China, if not us directly), attacked our planned thin nuclear shield in Europe as interfering with Russia's ability to nuke Europe.

And now we find, violated the limits already agreed for Russian theater nuclear weapons:

In an escalation of tensions, the Obama administration accused Russia on Monday of conducting tests in violation of a 1987 nuclear missile treaty, calling the breach "a very serious matter" and going public with allegations that have simmered for some time.

We say the Russians tested a nuclear cruise missile illegally.

Russia apparently couldn't care less about our protest:

Russian officials say they have looked into the allegations and consider the matter closed.

So the Russians have set the Bastard dial to "11."

Monday, July 28, 2014

Never Die and Never Learn

Is it just me? Or do you wonder why vampires don't wear body armor?

Given that death from the slightest penetration of their chest to touch their heart seems to kill them, you'd think that somewhere along the line, vampires would have started wearing chain mail. Or just reinforced leather or perhaps nice plate armor on their chests.

It should go without saying that modern Kevlar would be a Satan-send for them.

And maybe armored collars to protect against beheading would be a good idea.

And what about covering their skin against the burning of Holy Water?

Would SPF 500 sun screen offer any protection against sunlight?

I'm not sure what to do about the repellent nature of crosses and garlic.

But if any of the above defenses work against the lethal threats, mere repulsion seems like a small thing to put up with.

The body armor thing just bothers me at some level. They live forever but learn nothing from experience.

Unacceptable Losses

Israel's casualties thus far (a couple score) in the war against Hamas have been described as too high for Israeli comfort. 

This failure to tear up Hamas at low casualties has been described as enhancing Hamas' deterrence against future invasion.

Which makes ask, explain to me again why Iran needs nukes to deter Israel?

Can Putin Survive?

Putin has captured Crimea but miscalculated on the willingness of Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine to revolt and join Russia. Add in the downing of the Malaysian 777 with all 298 aboard and Stratfor wonders if Putin will survive this crisis.

In an effort to snatch a victory from the gathering defeat in eastern Ukraine, does Putin escalate to directly and openly intervene in eastern Ukraine? Does he go deeper to threaten Kiev and Odessa with conventional forces?

Or does he recoil from eastern Ukraine and be content to consolidate Crimea?

And does he survive the loss of business investment in Russia caused by foreign fear of instability?

But Putin's political survival isn't that big a deal if more like him assume power. Don't get so caught up with personalities. Or is the slogan "Osama bin Laden is dead" still reassuring to you?

If Russia still owns Crimea and Europe restarts business as usual with Russia in a short period of time even if Putin is sent out to pasture to enjoy his pastimes of Tiger wrestling and whatnot, why is that a victory for us?

We may get Ukraine in the West as the result of this crisis. Which is good as long as we stop further aggression against Ukraine (and new NATO states in eastern Europe) in the future. Otherwise this is a meaningless victory.

And to call it a victory and prevent that further aggression, we have to make Ukraine a Western country with Western rule of law rather than just a corrupt Russian-style regime within Europe but not really part of Europe. The latter just gives Putin (or his successor) opportunities to keep eating pieces of the Elephant as the years go by.

UPDATE: Is Putin alienating his base of support that values their net worth more than pieces of Ukraine?

“According to German intelligence it is quite possible that some of the oligarchs who are worried by European Union sanctions will soon start putting economic interests above political concerns and try to put the brakes on Putin,” Der Spiegel reported.

Adam Smith is punishing Putin more effectively than Western sanctions as investors remain wary of risking money in Russia.

But the oligarchs aren't against Putin seizing territory for the glory of Russia and Putin (or reverse the order, if you wish). They are against a drawn out fight that doesn't allow Russia to get back to business and enrich the oligarchs.

So maybe Russia escalates to just take the territory and end the pretense of supporting local secessionists:

"Everything so far points to a further hardening in Russia's stance. Mr Putin has too much invested - both from a geopolitical and, just as importantly, domestic political standpoint - in his standoff with the west to be swayed by sanctions alone," said Nicholas Spiro, Managing Director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, a London-based consultancy.

I didn't understand why people thought Putin would abandon the secessionists (with a large portion of his own people within that group) after the Malaysian plane shoot down. I mean, has Putin abandoned Syria's Assad after 170,000 casualties and a poison gas attack to highlight the more mundane methods of barrel bombs, executions, and starvation? Talk about mirror-imaging a foe!

And if Putin thinks his political survival hinges on success in Ukraine, what might he do beyond shipping heavy weapons and providing artillery support to the so-called rebels?

Scrap of Paper

I just don't understand why fans of the Law of the Sea Treaty (uncharitably called LOST) insist that if we join the treaty we can constrain China's expansive sea claims against their neighbors.

Why would LOST with our participation be any more important to China than any other treaty they ignore?

China has refused to abide by any international agreements when it comes to their claims on nearly all the South China Sea. As far as China is concerned the area is owned by China and China will seek to establish control over it all as peacefully as possible.

For China's rulers, paper is useful only to confirm Chinese ambitions. Power and not paper will constrain Chinese ambitions.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Being Putin

Nearly 300 dead civilians at the hands of rebels they support have not stopped Russian support for the largely astro-turfed separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.

Apparently, notwithstanding Secretary of State Kerry's warnings to Russia to behave, the arms still flow into eastern Ukraine:

“We know that they sent, for example, last week a column of over 100 vehicles which included tanks, artillery, multiple launch rocket systems,” Army Col. Steve Warren said, adding that these actions are consistent with Moscow’s behavior in eastern Ukraine for several months.

Like I said, a ceasefire as we bizarrely call for in the aftermath of the MH17 shoot down can only allow Russia to do more of this. The proper response is to help the Ukrainians defeat the pro-Russian forces and regain control of the east.

Just ... Wow

Malaysian Airlines, stung by two catastrophic losses of its planes and passengers this year (one missing in Asia from suicide or possibly terrorism (but if that, why no claims of success by terrorists?) and one shot down over Ukraine by pro-Russian forces). Naturally, the Malaysians want to avoid a third loss.

So Malaysian Airlines is avoiding Ukraine for a new route between Europe and Asia. Thank goodness, you may say. Not so fast:

After Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down Thursday by a ground-to-air missile in eastern Ukraine, airlines began to avoid the airspace above where the Ukrainian military has been fighting Russian-backed rebels. Swedish flight tracking service Flightradar24 AB posted a flight map on its Twitter account on Monday showing the change in the route of Malaysian Airlines flight MH4, which flies from Kuala Lumpur to London.

Flight tracking data showed this flight had previously crossed over eastern Ukraine. (Flight path: bit.ly/1wPJDUr) Syria is in the middle of a civil war in which 170,000 people have died since 2011.

Are you kidding me? Malaysian Airlines rerouted their flight over Syria? What? Was the air space over the Russian Buk SAM test range facility unavailable?

UPDATE: Thanks to Mad Minerva for the link.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Civil Disobedience Abroad

Bad things are ideally illegal. Never assume that all things that are illegal are bad.

Defending Taiwan from a Chinese invasion would be illegal because Taiwan is not a member state of the United Nations?

I suppose that is true. Legally speaking.

But that does not make defending a free people from conquest by an autocratic state that denies its subjects freedom would be a bad thing to do.

And if the legality is your only standard, please explain inaction in response to Russia's conquest of Crimea when Ukraine is a member state of the UN (and also a founding member).

Actions are not necessarily bad because they are illegal.

Democratic Anvils

Jonah raises the League of Democracies idea to bypass (but not  replace) the United Nations.

Ten years later, I still think it is a bad idea.

Democracies are often not supportive of our actions.

And unlike the UN which lacks the moral authority to deny us freedom of action, could we ignore the refusal of a League of Democracies to endorse our actions?

Icing on the Cake

Lamb baked me more peanut butter blossom cookies! They are delicious. Bless her heart, Lamb even asked me if she could have a couple for dessert! I said of course she could, if you are rude enough to wonder about my answer.

If Lamb didn't bake at all, I'd still count myself a lucky man to be her dad.

And Mister, too, I hasten to add. If I write less about him it is because at the advanced age of 17, I don't wish to embarrass him. But he is growing up to be a fine young man.

The Dots Multiply

Hey, remember that outreach to the Islamic world that would end Islamist rage against America? And remember how the American embrace of "soft" Islamist Turkey would be our focal point to create a new America-friendly (now with fewer beheadings!) Islamic world?

Yeah. We already see how the jihadis have learned that America under President Obama is way different than under cowboy Bush. Bush fought them and put them on their heels. Obama "responsibly ends" the fight against them, giving the jihadis the opportunity to rebuild and advance again.

And now that focal point of outreach has no interest in us:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he has stopped talking to US President Barack Obama on the phone, amid growing strains between Ankara and Washington over Syria and the Gaza conflict.

Turkey, a fierce opponent of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and an open supporter of armed rebel fighters, felt betrayed when the United States backed away from military action against Damascus in September.

I'm so confused. Is this the "smart" part of our diplomacy or the nuanced part? Because I thought that being the anti-Bush would solve all our problems in the Moslem world?

Ten years ago, I warned people that the Islamists hate us--not Bush:

We indeed have traveled a long way since 9-11. Too many people are back to 9-10. They hate us, people. All of us. Not just the current administration. Not just the Red State citizens. Owning a bongo and tie-dyed shirts won’t save you. Nor will spouting sympathy for their cause. We’re all targets and they’ll dance over our graves if we let them.

Stop debating to the point of paralysis over what dots should have been connected and what dots existed. The dots keep killing us in the most gruesome manner they can come up with. Just kill the freaking dots! We are at war and we must win.

The jihadis still hate us. Kill the dots. "Outreach" should be for the purpose of target acquisition and identification.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Symmetric Property of Caring?

Say, if people who like to jet off to Vail to ski can do so with a clean conscience if they recycle, can I not recycle without getting grief about my caring if I also don't jet off to Vail to ski?

Yeah, But What Have You Killed For Us Lately?

Al Qaeda is not our primary enemy. Islamist ideology that allowed al Qaeda to recruit jihadi nutballs is our primary enemy.

With al Qaeda beaten on the battlefield in both Afghanistan and Iraq, al Qaeda Prime is struggling to survive and remain relevant to the jihadi cannon fodder that wants a strong horse to lead them to the caliphate glories they know are their just reward.

As I noted recently here and here, the new flashy jihadis are claiming the mantle of leadership for the global jihad from the guys in the caves who are collecting their AARP fanny packs:

In hiding, targeted by drone strikes and unable to land a blow in the West, al Qaeda's ageing leaders are losing a power struggle with ultra-radical young militants in Iraq and Syria who see themselves as the true successors to Osama bin Laden.

The shadowy network that targeted the West and its Arab allies for almost a generation is increasingly seen as stale, tired and ineffectual on the hardcore jihadi social media forums and Twitter accounts that incubate potential militant recruits. ...

The generational divide opening up in radical Islamist ranks threatens to topple al Qaeda from its primacy in trans national militancy, a stunning loss of prestige for a group whose hijacked plane attacks killed nearly 3,000 people in New York's World Trade Center, Washington and Pennsylvania.

The Islamic State, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) until the June 29 declaration of the caliphate, has galvanized young followers by carving out swathes of territory in Iraq in a rapid advance last month.

President Obama's Cairo outreach to the Islamic world, embrace of Turkey's "tame" Islamist government, and withdrawal from Iraq has not achieved what the administration assumed it would achieve--a kinder, gentler Islamist world.

We have to go back to the cowboy methods of defeating the jihad--killing jihadis--and supporting Arab states in reforming itself to reduce the appeal of Islamism to their young men.

That is why I had hopes for the Arab Spring. I drew hope from the new sight of Arabs calling for democracy rather than Islamism as the solution to autocratic corruption and stagnation.

President Obama's outreach to the Islamic world wasn't bad itself. But to work, an appeal to the moderates of the Islamic world had to go hand-in-hand with our efforts to kill the violent radicals who enjoy killing moderate Moslems just as much as they enjoy killing Jews, Christians, and Hindus.

But now we're back to the pre-9/11 situation where a group of Islamist nutballs with a sanctuary seem like a hopeful future to young Moslem men who eagerly seek to sacrifice themselves to wage jihad.

Sometimes We Forget the Obvious

As we re-debate the decision to invade Iraq and whether re-engaging in Iraq is smart, the idea that it was all a mistake to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack is again popular.

But the distance from September 11, 2001, makes it easy to forget that while the Afghanistan campaign was about responding to the 9/11 attack to destroy the perpetrators and deny them that particular sanctuary, the Iraq campaign was in large measure about preventing another even worse 9/11 attack in the future.

Not a Stick

Sanctions--as minor as they are--especially the secondary effects of discouraging private money from staying in Russia, seem to be hurting Russia. But if sanctions do replace military options as an effective means of pressuring Russia, don't be shocked if Russia responds with military escalation.

As we seek to punish Russia over their serial invasions of Ukraine (Crimea and eastern Ukraine), don't forget that any sanctions that are effective in coercing Russia will from Russia's point of view be no different than military action designed to coerce Russia.

If that's the case, Russia might respond to sanctions and their secondary effects not by ending their support for secessionist forces (some actual Russians) in eastern Ukraine but by directly intervening in eastern Ukraine to conquer it with army and Interior Ministry troops.

So we need to beef up our military assets to limit Russian threats to NATO states and to help Ukraine's army survive a conventional Russian invasion.

I'd also help Ukraine develop the ability to threaten Russia's Sevastopol naval base. Naval mines and means of delivery plus surface-to-surface missiles to attack and close down the naval base and threaten ships in port would be a very visible Ukrainian counter-strike should Russia seek to invade eastern Ukraine overtly.

Do those things and maybe we deter Russia from escalating to win rather than accept defeat in eastern Ukraine. Because while we hope sanctions can work instead of a military stick to alter Russia's behavior, ultimately sanctions are not a stick.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Mapping Perceptions

In an article about how map design shapes perceptions of foreign policies, I find it amusing that the map that accompanies the article shows Hong Kong as British territory and Macao as Portugese territory. Heh.

I Mean, Who Could Have Predicted the Utter Failure of Our Syria WMD Deal?

As Assad looks like he could survive the rebellion, the jihadis thrive to the point of expanding into Iraq, and the non-jihadi rebels of Syria are left to wither and die, let's recall what I said about the Syria chemical weapons deal at the time.

Bonus quote from the State Department's Marie Harf before I comprehended what an insufferable dolt she is.

Eliminating Syria's chemical weapons--if Syria actually declared all their chemical weapons and raw materials to make chemical weapons (recall that these raw materials count as chemical weapons for lauding the Syria deal but don't count for Iraq, which had no chemical weapons capability according to the critics of the war)--is a useful objective if we intervene against Assad.

But if the deal just bought time for Assad to defeat his enemies (and make ISIL seem like a worse enemy than him), Assad could rebuild his arsenal (modernizing it in the process, obviously).

Say, what about those facilities?

The OPCW also announced that the 12 former chemical weapons production facilities in Syria would be placed beyond use. Seven hangars would be razed to the ground, it said, while five underground structures would be sealed off permanently.

They "would be" disabled? They would be if Assad allows it.

Do recall that ISIL captured an old Saddam chemical weapons facility in Iraq where old weapons (unusable, according to the press reports) were stored. Why wasn't this facility disabled by now? Are we really sure that the Syria facilities will truly be made unusable before Assad terminates the deal, having wrung as much out of our pause in helping rebels as he can?

Iraq: Executive Summary

If we're to reopen the 2002-2011 debate about Iraq, let's at least try to get back up to speed on what happened over the last 34 years.

Saddam Hussein lit the Persian Gulf on fire with his ambitions for conquest, first with Iran in 1980 and then by conquering Kuwait in 1990 until we ejected his army in 1991.

Saddam used chemical weapons against both the Iranians during that 1980s war and against his own Kurdish population.

During the ceasefire following Desert Storm in 1991, Saddam refused to live up to the terms of the ceasefire, leading to years of low-level conflict with Saddam over the no-fly zones designed to make him obey the ceasefire.

During the Clinton administration, it was the official policy of the United States to overthrow the Saddam regime and replace it with a democracy. Many reasons for set forth to implement this policy.

In 1998, we even launched a 4-day air campaign to degrade Saddam's WMD and missile capabilities.

So don't forget that prior to the Iraq War, Democrats considered Saddam's Iraq to be a threat:



In 2002, in a bipartisan vote reflecting the common view that Iraq was a threat, we declared war on Iraq, adding new reasons to the Clinton-era law justifications.

I set forth my reasons for going to war with Saddam's Iraq in two posts (here and here), neither of which relied on charging Saddam assisted in 9/11. Although anti-war notions that Saddam was at least a secular thug are incorrect. Saddam relied on Islamist nutballs long before al Qaeda entered Iraq to fight with the Baathists to defeat us there.

Yes, despite the war being a bipartisan effort at the start, during the war most Democrats recanted their support and in the Senate even tried to lose the war by defunding it, eager to damage Bush. And recently, many Republicans have done the same, seemingly eager to damage Obama by tying him to his failure to defend stability in Iraq.

Even war supporters speak of failures fighting the war. No war is fought perfectly. But I think it is wrong to see the war as a string of blunders that we miraculously salvaged in the Surge offensive of 2007. The fact is, we faced an evolving series of different wars in Iraq that we defeated in sequence. Broadly speaking, we had the right strategy to win.

The Surge and Awakening built on the past campaigns. People forget that we saw Baghdad as crucial earlier and that we surged forces into Baghdad in summer 2006 but they did not work. Timing mattered for the Surge that worked.

One decision that gets a lot of traction as a so-called failure is that we erred in disbanding the Iraqi army. I strongly disagree. The Saddam army disintegrated on its own, so our order was a pure formality. And if it hadn't evaporated, we would have had to disband it to prevent the victims of Saddam from thinking we were betraying them again, as we had in 1991 when we watched Saddam kill the Shias who rose up in southern Iraq in 1991.

"Disbanding" the Iraqi army did not cause the Baathist resistance or the Syrian and Iranian "invasions," nor did it prevent the Sunni Arabs from switching to our side in the Awakening that began in earnest at the end of 2006.

When the insurgencies and terrorist fights continued, war opponents wrongly charged that the Bush administration had lied about Iraqi WMD, neglecting that every country's intelligence agencies believed Saddam had them, as did Clinton-era officials and members of Congress familiar with the intelligence.

They neglect that if Saddam did not have them when we invaded--and I'm not convinced that he didn't dispose of them in our long-telegraphed approach to war--Saddam was bluffing to hold off the Iranian threat and would have made good on his bluff to get those chemical weapons just as soon as the collapsing sanctions eroded enough. Can you really doubt that Saddam would have rebuilt his chemical arsenal had we not invaded?

Remember, our deal with Syria to remove their declared chemical weapons capability included classes of precursor chemicals needed to make poison gas that were all over Iraq after the war.

So by the standards of the Obama administration success in Syria, Iraq had chemical weapons capabilities when we invaded.

Now, Iraq's Shia-dominated government has alienated many Sunni Arabs and weakened the Kurds's allegiance to Iraq.

I'm astounded that Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is the fall guy for left and right to abandon Iraq. He may not be who we want now. But he had potential and without us there to push him to being who we need rather that what he needed to survive, we bear some responsibility for how he has turned out.

President Obama promised to get out of Iraq and in 2011 he did. I cannot believe that he tried as hard as he could to get the opposite of what he loudly claimed he wanted--a continued American military presence in Iraq.

Indeed, the Obama administration boasted of the success in Iraq. Which is no shock since we won the war.

This despite the fact that a 3-year SOFA was as good as outgoing Bush could get and that it was obvious a follow-on agreement would be necessary. Face it, we left Iraq way too early.

I really am discouraged by the anti-war side's inability to analyze the effect of the war.

But don't forget what we could have chosen had we left Saddam in power.

We won the Iraq War. But then we blew it. But it is not too late to reverse the enemy advances and regain our lost ground in replacing the Saddam regime with a democracy as we pledged to achieve in 1998.

Yes, part of the Iraqi army collapsed. Who should be shocked given the track record going back decades? Kasserine Pass was not exactly a moment of glory for us, you know.

But at least the Iraqi army rallied to fight back. With our support, they can win the war that was not responsibly ended in 2011.

[UPDATE: As a late addition, Eric at Learning Curve has done a lot of work on laying the groundwork for the legal basis of the war and other issues. Tip to Eric.]

The war never ended, obviously, no matter how much our president pretended it had. As I argued since 2011, we could only end our role in the war that continued to be fought at a low level but then snowballed into the crisis we face today.

We can re-win the Iraq War.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Battle for Baghdad?

So ISIL/ISIS (now known just as Prince Islamic State) could be preparing to launch an attack on Baghdad over the next 5 days?

I remain frustrated that the initial jihadi seizure of Ramadi and Fallujah back in January, among other locations in Anbar, was allowed to stand without more vigorous Iraqi efforts to reclaim the cities and defeat the jihadis.

When ISIS exploited Sunni Arab uprising in Mosul and the north in June, rather than being a more limited gain, that offensive created along with Anbar a vast area of jihad-friendly territory joined to the Syrian provinces under jihadi control.

If the Iraqis can't manage to start seriously counter-attacking and driving jihadis back somewhere, the track record is that the jihadis could add more territory to their realm.

At some point, the Iraqis have to defeat the Islamic State. We have an interest in helping that along. With a little sense of urgency, please.

They Keep Using Those Words

Those on the side of Hamas in the war with Israel insist that Hamas (or whatever uncontrollable "militant wing" is firing those rockets at Israeli civilians) is justified because Israel has Gaza "blockaded" and under "siege." That notion is wrong.

I've gone on before that lopsided civilian casualties is not indicative of who is waging war lawfully. It's more complicated than the body count in weighing guilt.

(Although you wouldn't know that if you rely on the New York Times for your news.)

Turkey's Erdogan is a fool if he thinks Israel is the side with the small moustaches in this fight.

But I'm not here to discuss the ridiculous notion that Israel's response is "disproportionate." That concept as defined by the pro-Hamas side is nowhere to be found in the laws of war.

No, I want to discuss the so-called Israeli "blockade" of Gaza that has the Palestinians under "siege."

One, Israel borders Gaza on three sides, controlling the southern, eastern, and northern sea borders.

Egypt controls the western border of Gaza.

You don't have to be a geometry genius to undrstand that even if Israel was instituting a total blockade of Gaza, that whatever Gazans could buy could flow through that western border.

So right off, there is no blockade and no siege based on that simple fact of geography. Whatever difficulties Gazans face are not solely the fault of Israel.

And what of those difficulties?

By Israel's account, they only try to limit Gazan imports of materials that could be used to wage war. Concrete and other materials that can harden bunkers and such.

The launch of more than a thousand rockets (imported whole or the raw materials to build them in workshops) plus an infrastructure of reinforced underground bunkers and tunnels demonstrates that the Israelis have been unsuccessful in that narrow objective of limiting imports.

But perhaps the blockade has only been unsuccessful in this narrow range of materials while the larger siege is squeezing Gaza to death.

I don't need to even look into the details of what is going into Gaza. I'll just note that Israel has had a blockade on Gaza for at least 7 years of siege.

You'd think that in 7 years of siege that there wouldn't be a Gazan alive in that food-deprived wasteland.

But no. Gaza's population, as a spokesman for Hamas noted today, is 1.8 million.

In early 2009, just after the last ground war, the population was 1.4 million.

In what alternate world does a population "under siege" because they are "blockaded" grow by close to 30%? In America, our birth rate dropped from the recent recession yet Gazans have the 13th highest population growth rate in the world?

Look, I don't like that Palestinian children are being killed. But Hamas is dangling children in front of the Israelis counting on Westerners to care more about Palestinian children than Hamas does. Hamas wants a higher child body count to shield them from Israeli military power.

Palestinians have survived the so-called blockade of Gaza.

Surviving Hamas' rule is another thing when no Palestinian body count is too much for Hamas to pay in order to kill or capture even a single Israeli.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Words Matter, I've Heard

Federal subsidies for Obamacare insurance policies through the state exchanges rather than the federal exchange were subjected to two court rulings:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in a 2-1 decision that the language in the Affordable Care Act dealing with subsidies shows they should only be provided to consumers who purchase benefits on exchanges run by individual states. ...

But plaintiffs in the D.C. Circuit case, known as Halbig v. Burwell, claimed that Congress did not intend to provide subsidies through federally operated marketplaces. The plaintiffs were identified as a group of individuals and employers from states that did not establish their own marketplaces.

My experience is with Michigan legislation and not federal statutes. And I'm not an attorney, I hasten to add (not that there's anything wrong with that).

But here, you don't go to the legislative intent if the plain language of the statute allows the courts to rule on the issue. If you don't have this concept at the federal level, too, we aren't really a nation of laws. If the law as written is not the law, what can we rely on? I don't see how you can't agree that the DC Court of Appeals ruling is correct and the Circuit decision is political.

Even if you want to go to the legislative intent, recall that the law was rammed through over united Republican objections and the difference in state versus federal exchanges was intended by the drafters to dangle federal money in front of any governors who might not want to set up a state exchange. So the intent was not to have the federal and state exchanges the same.

Maybe if the Democratically controlled Congress hadn't rammed this massive law through without going through the normal process to gain at least some Republican cooperation, we could have worked out these kinks and perhaps even read the bill to find out what is in it.

Words matter, as the president once said. And if the words in our statutes don't matter, what kind of nation are we?

Learning Curve

I wondered who learned more from the 2008-2009 war--Israel or Hamas?

So far, Israel is losing more troops than they did in the last ground war:

Israel's casualties also mounted, with the military announcing the deaths of two more soldiers, bringing the number of army fatalities to 27 - almost three times as many as were killed in the last ground invasion of Gaza, in a 2008-2009 war.

Israel lost 10 in that battlefield victory over Hamas.

So I have to assume that Hamas learned more from that defeat than Israel did.

It all depends on what Israel's objective is before we find out if Israel actually learned more. Will Israel achieve more to justify the higher casualties?

UPDATE: Yeah, the simple level of casualties indicated Hamas learned something along these lines:

Using tunnels, mines, booby traps and snipers, Hamas fighters have inflicted record casualties on Israeli troops waging an offensive in the Gaza Strip, applying years of training in urban warfare with a new tactical acumen and suicidal resolve.

Hamas learned more tactically from their defeat 5 years ago.

The question is whether this is a replay of the Israeli 2008-2009 winter offensive that gives Hamas the advantage with their superior tactical learning curve; or whether Israel is attempting to achieve something else that makes Hamas' new tactical skills irrelevant to the Israeli objective.

As Far From Cyber-War As It Gets

Salute Ryan Pitts, newest Medal of Honor recipient:

Alone and losing blood, Pitts radioed Myer to inform him that everyone at the OP was dead or gone. Myer told Pitts, he had no one to send as reinforcement for the OP. At this point, the insurgents were in such close proximity to Pitts, Soldiers at the command post and those listening on the same channel at FOB Blessing could hear enemy voices through the radio. Despite this, Pitts remained determined to bring the fight to the enemy before they overwhelmed the OP.

It was obvious at the time that the troops at Wanat fought an epic battle.

Never forget that all the high-tech weapons and Internet reach-back capabilities that people dream will make war a push-button exercise are just so much expensive junk if not wielded by determined soldiers who fight, kill, and die at the pointy end of the stick against bloodthirsty enemies within hand grenade range.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Appreciate Our Edge While We Have It

We really have no memory of what it is like to fight without air supremacy:

With a few teeth-clenching exceptions (the Korean War's MiG Alley battles), since 1944, American land, sea and air forces have enjoyed the military and diplomatic benefits of U.S. air superiority. Unfortunately, in 2014 there are strong indications that America's air advantage is diminishing.

Given the increase in precision, we should not want to find out what failing to achieve aerial supremacy means:

Each CBU-105 is actually a container carrying 40 BLU-108/B SFW (sensor fused munitions) bomblets. These were originally called SADARM (Search And Destroy Armor Munitions) when first created in the 1980s. Individual SADARMs have their own radar and heat sensor that searches for armored vehicles below and destroys them with a special shaped charge warhead. ...

The first use of the CBU-105 was on April 2nd, 2003, when a B-52 dropped six of them on an Iraqi army column moving south from Baghdad. Most of the vehicles were later found destroyed by SADARM.

We should not be on the receiving end of weapons like that. I'm a land guy. But I appreciate that we need a dominant Navy to deploy and supply our Army and dominant air power (Navy, Marine, and Air Force) to keep the CBU-105s falling on the enemy rather than on our troops.

A Political and Not a Refugee Crisis

Controlling (defending) our border is a basic right of nationhood. The problems we face with Central American minors crossing into America through Mexico is a political crisis caused by Obama administration policies and statements, and not a refugee crisis obliging us to keep all those crossing into our country.

If the Central Americans are refugees from conditions that legally justify refugee status, Mexico, as the first country of refuge for those Central Americans, has the obligation--as is generally accepted--to rescue the refugees and not pass them on through to America.

Whatever you may think of that policy, the reason we intercepted Haitian refugees at sea and took them to refugee camps at Guanatanamo Bay, Cuba, was to avoid the legal responsibilities of refugees touching down on our soil.

If those kids are refugees, Mexico has the responsibility to host them.

UPDATE: Ah, a longer post on exactly this issue.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Harangue Nach Osten

Did one of our senators really just send Germany to the Eastern Front?

Well, I'm sure this will go over well with the paranoid Russians who actually have been invaded twice by the Germans in the 20th century:

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein called on Germany to lead an international campaign to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin to abandon his support of the pro-Russian separatists who shot down a commercial jetliner Thursday.

This will work out swell.

Degree of Difficulty

The last time Iraq's Baathists joined up with the al Qaeda types to launch a Sunni Arab uprising, they had far more success than they've had this year.

In spring 2004, when we faced a Sunni Arab uprising that consisted of the Iraqi Baathists joining arms with al Qaeda, the situation was a lot worse.

Back then, all of Iraq was set ablaze as the Shias backed by Iran (Moqtada al Sadr and his ilk) joined in the mayhem.

Half the Iraqi ground security forces dissolved in that 2004 offensive and we had to take the lead in the fight againts the Baathists, al Qaeda, and the pro-Iran Shia militias for the remainder of that year.

This time, Iraqi security forces in the north collapsed. But outside of that area, the remainder did not evaporate. Damage done to the rest of Iraq's security forces predated the ISIL offensive and was from lack of rule of law and the effects of corruption.

So outside of the Sunni Arab areas, the Baghdad region is not ablaze. And the Shia south is fairly secure, without Iran's violent meddling.

I confess that clashes between a Shia militia and security forces in Karbala is a worrisome development on this score. But as long as it doesn't get to 2004 levels of resistance, it's still an improvement.

Although Iran is taking the opportunity to fill the vacuum that our perceived insufficient attention has left to put their men back into Iraq, unfortunately. But still, seing Iran going in as better than their being in Iraq, as they were in 2004.

And there are more Sunni Arabs still willing to fight ISIL jihadis than in the 2004 uprising. In addition, those who welcomed the ISIL "liberation" last month are already learning that their joy might have been a big mistake.

So from a distance, we aren't facing a problem as bad as we successfully coped with in 2004. We can decisively intervene in Iraq without putting combat brigades into action.

Let's not panic. Work the problems of defeating ISIL, supporting rule of law and effective military force in Iraq, and keeping Iranian influence in Iraq to as low a level as possible.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

About That Post-War Plan

During the Iraq War, plenty of war opponents slammed the post-war planning for Iraq, contrasting it with the years that we planned for the post-war occupation of Germany. Not so fast, Sparky.

When we ran into difficulties in Iraq after the major combat operations, war opponents pointed to all we did to plan for the post-World War II in Europe.

I protested that we planned for post-war Iraq. It's just that many of our assumptions went awry.

I also protested that we had years to make plans for the treatment of defeated Germany. Were we really to be condemned for winning in weeks rather than years?

Or should we have spent years on the plan before invading?

As it turns out, I shouldn't have been generous in assuming the anti-war account of the smooth post-World War II occupation was accurate.

That was always a hole in my education. I knew that things were rough in Europe after World War II, but basically it was the interlude between World War II and the Cold War. Even my post-World War II European history education skipped over the end of the 1940s for the most part.

So it has been with some horror that I have been reading Savage Continent by Keith Lowe. It is honestly numbing in the horrors of the post-war in failed plans, hatreds erupting that led to new slaughters and ethnic cleansing, hunger, and political violence:

Imagine a world without institutions. it is a world where borders between countries seem to have dissolved, leaving a single, endless landscape over which people travel in search of communities that no longer exist. ...

Nothing is made here: the great factories and businesses that used to exist have all been destroyed or dismantled, as have most of the other buildings. There ar no tools, save what can be dug out of the rubble. There is no food.

Law and order are virtually non-existent, because there is no police force and no judiciary. In some areas there no longer seems to be any clear sense of what is right and what is wrong. People help themselves to whatever they want without regard to ownership--indeed, the sense of ownership itself has largely disappeared. Goods belong only to those who are strong enough to hold on to them, and those who are willing to guard them with their lives. Men with weapons roam the streets, taking what they want and threatening anyone who gets in their way. Women of all classes and ages prostitute themselves for food and protection. There is no shame. There is no morality. There is only survival.

It was painful to read. There was shame enough to go around. No wonder it is so easy to skip over this period between periods.

But the point is that compared to Europe after World War II, our post-war occupation of Iraq was friggin' brilliant. Sure, the scale was far less. But the fact is, but for the Iranian, Syrian, and al Qaeda invasion of Iraq after Saddam's regime was destroyed, the Iraq post-war would have gone pretty smoothly. Remember, Europe was not invaded right after the fall of Hitler's regime. Yet still it was a horror show.

I should also point out the obvious: Don't assume that because we did succeed in Europe that it was inevitable. We can look back on Europe as a success despite the horrible post-war because we stayed for the long haul and struggled to rebuild the institutions and repair the physical damage.

Do you really want to say that Iraq had to fail when we walked away in 2011?

Perhaps we are getting involved enough now. If so, perhaps the last 30 months will seem like an interlude like the time between VE Day and the the era when we passed the Marshall Plan and formed NATO.

If we ultimately succeed, I can forgive lapses like prematurely walking away from Iraq. Stuff happens.

And I don't want to hear how the poor Sunni Arabs were mistreated after their bloody reign was ended. They had it easy after 2003, all things considered.

Remember the Forest

I know there is a rush to condemn Putin for the downing of that Malaysian 777. But aren't we missing the point on this?

If Russia's proxy secessionists shot down the plane (as it seems), it was surely a mistake. 

So I'm not sure this is a war crime rather than a horrible accident.

Perhaps the manner of targeting--if the shooters failed to do what rules of war require to distinguish between a military target and civilians--makes it a crime.

But isn't the bigger crime that Putin invades Ukraine to capture Crimea; and is trying to seize eastern Ukraine by a proxy war?

I find it a little stunning that the whole war of Russian aggression against a member of the sainted international community in violation of the UN charter and other international agreements isn't sparking outrage while an incident that flows from the aggression suddenly sparks outrage.

UPDATE: Ah, there could be problems with the targeting process:

If a missile was fired without attempting to identify the aircraft, the destruction of Malaysia Flight 17 would be an act of criminal negligence, said retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert Latiff.

So it could be a war crime. Remember, too, that there was no heat of the moment excuse since that plane was at such a high altitude that it wasn't any threat to the shooters.

UPDATE: And Applebaum beat me to the basic point:

Before there is any further discussion of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, it’s important that one point be made absolutely clear: This plane crash is a result of the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, an operation deliberately designed to create legal, political and military chaos. Without this chaos, a surface-to-air missile would not have been fired at a passenger plane.

Yet even Appleabaum misses the point that Russia's invasion started not with eastern Ukraine, but with Crimea--which Putin still controls.

Amazing. How short is our attention span?

Target Baalbek?

Israel has mobilized 30,000 troops for the Gaza operation and authorized 18,000 more.

Is it me or does that seem like an awful lot of troops to comb northern Gaza for rocket-launching and Hamas infrastructure?

If I was the suspicious type, I'd wonder if the Gaza operation was just securing the Israeli flank before plunging into Lebanon to hammer Hezbollah while that group is committed to Syria fighting for Assad.

UPDATE: Strategypage says that Israel has mobilized 60,000 (I assume all services) to fight the 1.6 (or so) million Gazans.

But rather than being prepared to take on Hezbollah, Strategypage's Dunnigan and Bay said (in Strategy Talk) they suspect Israel is going in heavy to Gaza to really damage Hamas.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The First Casualty

Remember when Russia's invasion of Crimea--the "subliminal war," as I called it--was considered nearly bloodless?

And Russia still has Crimea, I'll add.

Perverse Incentives

The idea that the secessionist shoot-down of a civilian airliner should lead to a ceasefire in the Ukraine fighting when the secessionists need a ceasefire to survive in the face of government advances is just the most morally repulsive notion I've heard all day.

Call on the Russian-supported (and sometimes Russian-staffed) secessionists to surrender. But rewarding the secessionists for killing 298 civilians (even in error as seems likely) by granting a ceasefire is grotesque.

Ukraine should argue that defeating the secessionists to regain control of eastern Ukraine is the best response.

Honestly, we've already rewarded Syria's  use of chemical weapons by turning Assad into our disarmament partner (and some want to be his anti-ISIL partner, now).

Are we to make the Ukraine secessionists and their Russian masters our partners as a reward for this tragedy?

Logically

I heard that Russian President Putin said that the government of the territory from which the missile that shot down the Malaysian 777 was launched bears responsibility for the shoot-down.

Since the missile was launched from secessionist territory in eastern Ukraine, is Putin blaming his secessionist proxies?

Or is Putin admitting that eastern Ukraine is lawfully part of Ukraine and not part of some make-believe "New Russia?"

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Dug-in is Hamas?

Israeli ground troops have entered Gaza.

In theory, Hamas should have learned more than the Israelis in the 5-1/2 years since they last tangled on the ground.

Uglier

Somebody shot down a Malaysian 777 airliner over eastern Ukraine, killing all 295 aboard.

It had to be a big missile at the altitude it was hit.

Pro-Russian separatists announced shortly before news of the 777 downing that they had shot down a Ukrainian transport plane. The separatists deny firing at the 777, but unless Ukraine is short an Antonov, it seems likely that the separatists did it--albeit by mistake.

I have to believe Russian air defense wouldn't make that error.

And it makes no sense for Ukraine to even have their air defense missiles active when Ukraine is using air power. I have to believe their ability to deconflict the air space precludes having aircraft and air defenses active at the same time at the same place.

But with wreckage in Ukrainian territory, there will be answers.

I wonder if NATO AWACS planes have coverage that far east? 

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link.

Don't Count On Our Eight-Dashed Line

Do not count on our submarines to deter or defeat China from invading Taiwan. And the fact that China discounts them is reason to worry whether Peking is right or wrong.

We're safe from a Chinese offensive because of 8 forward-deployed attack submarines?

The bad news first. The People's Republic of China now believes it can successfully prevent the United States from intervening in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan or some other military assault by Beijing.

Now the good news. China is wrong — and for one major reason. It apparently disregards the decisive power of America's nuclear-powered submarines. ...

Cliff estimated that in wartime, each American submarine would be able to get off "a few torpedo shots" before needing to "withdraw for self-preservation." But assuming eight subs each fire three torpedoes, and just half those torpedoes hit, the American attack boats could destroy all of China's major amphibious ships — and with them, Beijing's capacity for invading Taiwan or seizing a disputed island.

One, I think it is right that China assumes they can deter us long enough to defeat Taiwan. Attacking Japan or Guam draws us (and Japan) into the fight over Taiwan immediately rather than exploiting the time it will take us to decide to intervene to fight with Taiwan.

But the idea that 8 subs can defeat the Chinese invasion assumes way too much.

It assumes all eight are close to Taiwan.

It assumes that all eight subs can quickly target China's relatively few amphibious warfare ships.

It assumes that sinking those amphibious warfare ships ends the invasion threat.

Those assumptions are wrong.

Those eight subs will be stretched from Singapore to Japan--not clustered around the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan is not our only mission.

The idea that China's invasion would be defeated by sinking their amphibious warfare ships requires you to simultaneously believe that China would conduct an invasion successfully with only those few amphibious warfare ships.

In fact, those amphibious warfare ships can lift about a division and that isn't enough to conquer Taiwan. Obviously, if China is invading Taiwan, they have other means thatn those amphibious warfare ships to invade.

Invasion would consist of those amphibious warfare ships, a parachute assault on Taipei, and lots of Chinese troops lifted to Taiwan on civilian ships (including ro-ro ships) and converted obsolete warships, and special forces and light infantry deployed into Taiwan or Taiwan's ports hidden in merchant ships before the invasion.

And the amphibious invasion would go right for Taipei, too, in addition to assaults elsewhere to dilute Taiwan's response and overwhelm their command and control already under cyber, missile, and air attack.

Worse, even if the author is right and our few subs are capable of staking our a perimeter and holding it, the problem is that if China believes the subs can't stop them, we'll have a war. China defines "rational" for their decisions, recall.

I will say that it is good to see that there is recognition that China faces a window of opportunity to exploit their growing relative power, as that article author writes:

If American subs can hold the line for another 20 years, China might age right out of its current, aggressive posture without ever having attacked anyone. That's because economic and demographic trends in China point towards a rapidly aging population, flattening economic growth, and fewer resources available for military modernization.

I agree.

The long run is better for us. The short run is still okay. But I won't sleep better over the medium term because 8 nuclear attack submarines patrol the western Pacific.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Defining Appeasement

Saying we can solve the Ukraine crisis by giving Russia eastern Ukraine while bringing in the rest of Ukraine is both morally bankrupt and won't work.

Seriously?

Third [of four options, which is the best option,] is a de facto partition of the country, in which the Russian areas secede and join Russia and the continuing Ukraine is made less ambiguous politically. It could then join the West, having adopted a consensus to behave fiscally and politically like a serious country, something it has never managed before, in distant or recent history. The West should be pulling itself together for the achievement of this objective, which is distinctly attainable.

Morally, this is bankrupt. It assigns the people (even ethnic Russians) of eastern Ukraine--who have little interest in joining Russia--to live under Putin's increasingly autocratic rule.

Practically, it counts on Russia accepting this deal as final rather than as step one of a multi-stage effort to regain all of Ukraine. Say? How'd that 1994 Budapest Memorandum agreement about Russia respecting Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity work out?

That Russia would want to keep pushing for more of Ukraine rather than basking in peace for our time after settling the Czechoslovakia Ukraine question is conceded by the author, who even says that to keep Russia from seizing more of what we "give" to Russia, the West would have unite and step up to absorb a properly Westernized rump Ukraine into the West, which would then protect these Ukrainians from Russia.

And as an aside, despite the author's assertion that Germany has no tanks,Germany does have tanks since their conventional army is based around two tank divisions.

I Ask For So Little, Really

In my criticisms of our Benghazi response, I've focused on our failure to even try to help.

We may not have been able to alter the results by trying to intervene. But at the time, we had no way of knowing how long the crisis would last.

My concern was that our military leadership was under command influence of our civilian leadership which argued--as the November election approached--that the war on terror was over.

So our military lacked the wartime reaction of "going to the sound of the guns."

Our military seems to have gotten over that delusion:

We learned here in DOD--we learned certain lessons from Benghazi, and one of them was to make sure that because of the instability throughout that arc, all the way from the Levant to the Sahel, we need to be even more forward-leaning than perhaps we are in some other parts of the world.

"Forward-leaning."

In order to march to the sounds of the guns, unless I misread the admiral's intent.

So our military, at least, is at war again.

Sadly, Not Too Stupid to Be Believable

Did we allow shipments of Stinger missiles to Libyan rebels back in 2011? Why would we do that given we were providing air power to support the rebels?

I didn't see any news about this, but apparently a Stinger used by the Taliban against one of our helicopters in Afghanistan (luckily, we lost no troops although the helicopter had to make a hard landing) on July 25, 2012, opened up a link that went back to Qatar and the Libya War in a State Department plan to send hand-held anti-aircraft missiles to the Libyan rebels:

My sources in the US Special Operations community believe the Stinger fired against the Chinook was part of the same lot the CIA turned over to the ­Qataris in early 2011, weapons Hillary Rodham Clinton’s State Department intended for anti-Khadafy forces in Libya.

Up to 60 Stingers were sent as well as more than three times as many Russian models, according to the author.

Even though I favor arming friendlier rebels in Syria, this is why I've always opposed sending anti-aircraft missiles. I just don't believe the gain would outweigh the possible problems. And I believed alternatives like auto-cannons (to keep the aircraft away) and longer range mortars and rockets (to fire at the airfields) would be good enough given the air threat.

Just who in the world thought the Libyan rebels needed advanced terrorist-friendly missiles when the NATO alliance was providing an air force to the rebels?

I know that the air umbrella was less capable of stopping low-flying helicopters, but there is not way that it was worth it to send those missiles to Libyan rebels.

Our air patrols would have gotten some of the helicopters and air strikes could have been sent to attack the helicopters when they landed at bases. And we could have helped the rebels put auto-cannons captured from the government depots back into action.

If we absolutely had to send those missiles, we could have given them to the Western special forces on the ground who were helping to call in the air strikes. If you are forward enough to do that, you are forward enough to be able to use Stingers.

If true, this plan was just stupid.

And if we had diplomats on the ground in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 because we were trying to sweep up the missiles still in Libya as RUMORINT had it, we did suffer casualties because of this decision.

Tip to Radag, who emailed me the news.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ah Yes, I Remember Iraq Well

What really gets me about charges that Bush lied about Iraqi WMD isn't so much that President Clinton's administration acted on it and other leading Democrats believed it because every major intelligence agency here and abroad believed Iraq had chemical weapons.

No, the charges resurrected by the left that the war is proven unnecessary by the lack of many post-1991 chemical weapons* found in Iraq after the invasion is what annoys me.

It annoys me because before the war, they too believed what Democrat leaders who had reason to know believed--Saddam had chemical weapons.

Yet despite that agreement, they did not think even the presence of chemical weapons justified war.

Ignoring that there were lots of reasons to go to war with Saddam's Iraq (for our national interests, regional stability, enforcement of past agreements made by Iraq to disarm and prove they disarmed, and humanitarian reasons), these anti-war activists made the argument that attacking Saddam could either compel Iraq to use chemical weapons against us when otherwise he would not if left safe in his palaces; or that in the chaos of invasion, chemical weapons could get loose from Saddam's control and proliferate to terrorist groups.

So before the war the anti-war activists assumed Iraq had chemical weapons but didn't want to invade; and now they argue that lack of chemical weapons nullifies the other reasons to destroy Saddam's dangerous and evil regime.

*Note that hundreds of old munitions were found, illegal delivery systems were found, and Saddam retained raw materials that the Syria Disarmament deal of 2013 included in Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Still Wishing

The Obama administration really does think that the world works like a campus "teach in."

The "reality-based" community in action:

The Obama administration has developed a bad habit of founding its Middle East strategies on wishful thinking. In the past year, it has supposed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would peacefully agree to cede power at a Geneva peace conference, that the Egyptian generals who carried out a military coup would lead the country back to democracy and that Israelis and Palestinians were ready and willing to reach a final peace settlement in a matter of months.

Now the administration has a new hope: that the frighteningly extreme and war-hungry al-Qaeda state that has established itself in western Iraq and eastern Syria can be tackled through the creation of a new, “inclusive” government in Baghdad that will unite Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish forces against the terrorists.

Like the administration’s previous schemes, the unity government plan has the advantage of basing itself on preexisting doctrine and of requiring little action from the United States other than diplomatic jaw-boning.

Yeah, I was pretty astounded at their revised, "more modest" Middle East hopes before Iraq went belly up:

Good grief, what did they think they'd achieve before they settled on these "more modest" objectives? Did they really believe their own BS about that Cairo Outreach to the Moslem world?

We are so screwed.

Yeah.

Reputation Matters

I read that Jordan is balking at hosting the floated administration plan for a $500 million training program for Syrian rebels fighting Assad.

The Jordanians fear Assad retaliation or the presence of armed rebels on their soil   (if the rebels fail and have no place to go).

If we still had a reputation for overcoming difficulties to win, this wouldn't be an issue of concern for Jordan.

But the Obama administration squandered our reputation built on Iraq and the surge.

Remember, all the talk so far from the Obama administration about arming and training rebels has been for the purpose of pressuring Assad into negotiations rather than for helping non-jihadi rebels win.

I asked how do you get Syrians to fight and die in a revolt for anything other than victory?

Also, I wondered, how do you frighten Assad into negotiations if he knows we aren't trying to defeat him?

Now we can ask how do we get Jordan to help arm, train, and host rebels who aren't expected to defeat Assad?

Jordan obviously has to wonder what they will do after striking Assad but not killing him? Will we stick around to defend Jordan after President Obama declares the Syrian revolt "responsibly ended?"

It's tough enough to achieve victory when we are trying to win. How much more difficult is it to win when Assad, the Jordanians, and the rebels we want to help all know we aren't even trying to win?


The Modularized Auxiliary Cruiser is Built

It will be interesting to see where this ship type is deployed:

In late 2013 the U.S. Navy began converting a 30,000 ton container ship to serve as a seagoing base (MSV or Maritime Support Vessel) for SOCOM (Special Operations Command) commandos and support troops. Over $100 million is being spent to do the conversion. What’s interesting about this is that it’s an old idea. Back in 2004 the U.S. Navy was asked by SOCOM to look into the idea of modifying a container ship for use as seagoing base for Special Operations troops (Special Forces and commandos). ...

The facilities on board would include command, medical, recreation and storage for weapons, ammunition and explosives, and so forth. All would all be built into standard modular containers, as the U.S. later did extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These would include a landing deck and hangar for vertical takeoff aircraft (Osprey and helicopters).

The post notes that use of containers will make it easier to update the equipment. Extra ones will be stored on land.

This seems very familiar. But I must say that I have no memory of any news of this sort back in 2004.

The current project uses a 30,000 ton hull with room for up to 100 Special forces operators and up to a dozen aircraft, and will keep one or two active at all times.

Using large hulls, one could have the capacity to hold 800 special forces troops (at that level, I assume you are talking about a Ranger battalion plus extras) and 200 support troops.

I'm guessing that Africa Command is the first place this ship deploys. I even mentioned this recently.

Although the Strait of Malacca could use the SOCOM carrier, too.

Great minds think alike, I guess. Although I don't eat snakes. Radio guy, here. I once ate an old MRE fruitcake that I found stuffed into a corner of a radio van. But that doesn't count, I know.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Number You Are Calling is No Longer in Service

This article asks if we have a "European foreign policy." The answer is no.

Actually, the author asks if America's foreign policy is too European. But it is impossible for us to have a European foreign policy.

Western Europe believes they can afford to have a weak defense structure and an, ah--accommodating--foreign policy because they believe in the end we will rescue them from their own weakness if sacred soft power somehow actually fails to protect them and they call us for help.

If our foreign policy is to be Europeanized to any degree, just who do we call to rescue us?

Strong Horse

ISIL (ISIS)--or just the Islamic State that straddles Syria and Iraq--now claims to be the leader of the jihad that fights in the name of all Moslems (whether you agree or not).

Which shows that all the focus on defeating core al Qaeda while downplaying the Long War on Islamism was a mistake.

Did we defeat al Qaeda?

Yes.

Does that defeat of the main group to fight us matter now that ISIL might take over jihadi leadership after we ignored their rise on the odd notion that only core al Qaeda counted as a jihadi enemy?

Obviously not. Osama bin Laden as fish food notwithstanding.

The Ideal Syria Solution Requires a Time Machine

Is arming a rebel army in Syria a bad idea? Not if you either want to defeat Assad and the jihadis or if you want to end the death toll.

There is news that the British are thinking of arming more acceptable Syrian rebels. This writer thinks it is a mistake:

The last thing Syria and the rest of the Middle East needs at the moment is more guns and militiamen. To my mind that is simply a recipe for disaster.

Rather than pushing for military intervention, perhaps our ministers would have been better employed trying to put pressure on the warring parties to agree a ceasefire, and bring to an end the murderous cycle of violence that has so far killed in excess of 120,000 people.

Keep in mind that this requires you to believe that a Syrian civil war with Assad and the jihadis well armed and over 160,000 dead (perhaps the writer isn't counting government casualties) is not a recipe for disaster.

Somebody is going to win this civil war. And people will die on the way to that outcome. The question is who do we want to win and not some notion that if we "put pressure" on all sides that they'll agree to a ceasefire.

Would Assad agree to a ceasefire? Would ISIL (ISIS) or other jihadis?

And what if we could get a ceasefire?

That just ratifies Assad's rule in the west where he can still host a Russian naval base, destabilize Lebanon and help Hezbollah threaten Israel, and directly face Israel on their common border.

And it ratifies ISIL's control of eastern Syria, which gives ISIL a safe haven to focus on the Iraq front.

And al Qaeda jihadis will remain standing in the areas they hold.

Could the non-jihadi rebels survive such a ceasefire if they are the one side without significant support?

In the end, a ceasefire would just be a chance to rest, reorganize, and rearm. And if we get a ceasefire as an alternative to arming acceptable rebels, the sides that resume fighting will be Assad, ISIL, and the other jihadis. The non-jihadi rebels will fade away by going home, fleeing Syria, or joining the jihadi rebels who will fight Assad.

If your only objective is to limit the casualties, you should have either backed the rebels early when Assad was weak or even earlier backed Assad in inflicting a rapid slaughter of 10,000 protesters and hostile civilians in an effort to shock the protesters into giving up before it escalated to rebellion.

The disaster ship has sailed. The question now is who wins? Staying out just increases the odds that the very worst will emerge victorious.