Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Some Like It Hot

It's almost amusing that everybody says that the objective of the talks on Iran's nuclear program leaves an end state of Iran with no nuclear weapons (Iran simply denies wanting or trying to get them). But that isn't how it will work out.

You've heard the expression, "don't let the pursuit of the perfect be the enemy of good."

In regard to the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran, the Obama administration's saying is "don't let pursuit of the perfect be the enemy of the bad."

Business and Pleasure

So Russia can't afford to bail out Greece, so that is no option for Athens to avoid their creditors? What if Russia has bigger plans?

I've wondered if Greece might play the Russia card. This author says Russia won't pay:

If Moscow fears it has lost (most of) Ukraine, might it have designs on the allegiance of Greece, as some sort of recompense?

This is the alarmist scenario that is being held out in some quarters, including Germany’s Bild tabloid. The argument goes that if Athens and Berlin cannot come to terms that would allow Greece to remain in the euro, then Greece could flounce out, accept a bailout from Moscow, and make a new start as the western outpost of an Orthodox world, rather than soldiering on as a poor relation at the eastern edge of the EU.

Such thinking, however, ignores a host of realities. The first, and most basic, is Russia’s present situation. Of course, Moscow has an interest in courting possible new allies, at a time when it finds itself quarantined by the EU and the US. More elementary even than this: it is probably grateful for anyone to talk to, at a time when few people want to go to Moscow unless it is to make representations about Ukraine.

But it has to be asked whether Russia could actually afford to bail Greece out, even if it thought the price worth paying.

Indeed, finding the money for a bail-out of Greece to pay their debts would be difficult for Russia.

What if Russia offers not a bail-out, which requires Russian money, but a way out--which only requires Greece to repudiate their debts and seek credit in an alternative Russian-Chinese banking network?

As the EU wrings its hands over what to do about renewed fighting in Eastern Ukraine, Russian bankers are opening a new front against the West: by threatening to build a financial transfer system that Western sanctions can’t throttle.

While Russia doesn't have the resources for something like that, their big brother China sure does with its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB):

AIIB is one of several new financial institutions that China has tried to midwife over the past year or so that many have viewed as direct competitors to the U.S.-created international financial institutions like the IMF, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank (ADB). The United States has articulated two concerns about the AIIB: that it was an organization designed to marginalize the ADB, and that in doing so, China would be applying rules and standards in project lending that would be far less friendly to the environment than the U.S.-led institutions.

Whether these concerns are overstated or not isn’t the point. The point is that in recent weeks the Obama administration’s year-long effort to delegitimize and marginalize the AIIB has failed and failed spectacularly. First Britain announced that it would be a founding member of the AIIB against U.S. wishes, surprising even Chinese officials. And then the other dominoes started to fall in rapid succession. Germany, France, and Italy quickly followed suit.

Do read it all. Any writer who correctly applies the term "clusterfuck" deserves a read.

And there is blame to spare for Republicans in Congress in giving China an incentive to build a new system rather than work within ours, so this isn't just a failure of this administration. I remain open to how the blame should be portioned out for China's creation. But the point right now is that it exists and there are consequences.

An alternate (to the US-led) banking system that Russia helps run--even a little--would help avoid Western banking pressure over Ukraine. Attracting other countries using the existing SWIFT system might be something China and Russia would pay for to get the political control in their hands and weaken the existing banking system. Perhaps it doesn't make financial sense. It may make national security sense.

I have to believe that Russia would love to sit in former American bases on Crete as revenge for what Putin sees as our aggression in Ukraine in "his" sphere of influence (on top of what I'm sure is a long list of serious injuries that Putin has written down in a notebook).

And Greece gets a fresh start and the chance to stick it to the Germans.

But since China would be involved, too (and their money would dominate), maybe China gets the facilities in Greece while Russia makes do with Cyprus.

Just don't assume Greece has no options but to knuckle under and play (and pay) by Western rules. There's a new game that Greece can play.

Monday, March 30, 2015

If Israel Can Be Underbussed ...

If President Obama really does push Israel under the bus in retaliation for their opposition to his grand plan at rapprochement with Iran, how do you think Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey will react?

Is President Obama going to turn on Israel under Netanyahu? Never mind the hypocrisy of the president's team over a Netanyahu warning little different than the president's own campaign tactics as a pretext for a break.

Just how do you think Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey will react to a major break with Israel?

Oh sure, in the short run they will probably draw some satisfaction at seeing Israel knocked down a peg by President Obama. They might even be a bit giddy and dance in the streets.

But then they'll realize that Israel has been a very close ally of ours. And still President Obama threw them under the bus. In defense of Iran:

The U.S. negotiating team are mainly there to speak on Iran's behalf with other members of the 5+1 countires and convince them of a deal.

And then the Sunni Arab Saudis, Egyptians, and Turks will remember that they also worry about Shia and Persian Iran a lot, too.

And then they'll wonder just how much President Obama would help them against Iran if he'd throw Israel under the bus? They believe the Jewish lobby in America is all powerful--yet even they couldn't prevent this? Whoa.

This is when their pucker factor redlines.

And then they'll say, well at least Israel has nuclear weapons if worse comes to worst regarding a nuclear Iran.

And then Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt--probably in that order--will get their own nuclear weapons to hold off Iran--lest they find themselves under the same nuclear bus as the Israelis.

Do recall that our president won the Nobel Peace Prize for his potential for fighting nuclear proliferation and that he professes to practice "smart" diplomacy.

Combine these two delusions and this is what you get.

Yes, Kerry is probably the worst Secretary of State in living memory. But consider the marching orders he has to work with.

That's What I'd Do (if I was a Nutball Mullah)

Does Iran have nuclear weapons sitting in North Korea? For a long time, that's what I figured I'd do in Iran's position.

I'm kind of surprised that this type of article isn't common:

But no inspections of Iranian sites will solve a fundamental issue: As can be seen from the North Korean base housing Tehran’s weapons specialists, Iran is only one part of a nuclear weapons effort spanning the Asian continent. North Korea, now the world’s proliferation superstar, is a participant. China, once the mastermind, may still be a co-conspirator. Inspections inside the borders of Iran, therefore, will not give the international community the assurance it needs.

This is the way I'd go, as I've been droning on for years. Here's one from a couple years ago, quoting a 2009 post:

The problem from Iran's point of view is that they can't know if crossing one of these lines could trigger an American or Israeli preemptive strike out of fear that further delay in attacking would be too late to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. And if I was an Iranian nutball, I wouldn't assume the Americans and Israelis couldn't knock out my infrastructure.

Were I an Iranian nutball, under those circumstances, I'd want at least a few atomic warhead on hand before I announce capabilities to produce atomic weapons-grade material. Which would mean I'd have had to have bought some from either North Korea or Pakistan--or possibly even from some broke custodian of Russia's arsenal.

If Iran can announce both the ability to make nuclear bomb material and the possession of actual nuclear weapons--perhaps by detonating one in a test on their own territory--Tehran would quite possibly deter an attack on Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

We're not dealing with idiots. If the Iranian mullahs believe there are red lines that trigger Israeli or American action, why wouldn't they take counter-actions rather than just blindly cross those lines and provide a pretext for military action against them?

Has Iran practiced the delivery run to get any nukes they subcontracted to North Korea?

Strategypage even mentioned this notion.

If I was the chief nutball (remember, they're crazy from our point of view but not stupid) in charge of negotiating with Kerry, I'd resist hammer and tong any inspections at all so that when I give in on essentially meaningless inspections because nobody will be inspecting the really key facilities abroad, Kerry and President Obama will crow over their masterful negotiating plan and declare victory.

Or Iran goes all hard-line on another meaningless concession that they can eventually "cave" on to allow Kerry to strut about like he's a 21st century Metternich:

With a negotiating deadline just two days away, Iranian officials on Sunday backed away from a critical element of a proposed nuclear agreement, saying they are no longer willing to ship their atomic fuel out of the country.

Don't be too shocked if Iran "gives in" on this point.

And remember, by relaxing sanctions on Iran, we'd be allowing Iran to afford North Korea's price.

And remember, North Korea is desperate for cash to survive.

Once Iran has nuclear missiles, they can then ignore the West and turn their own buried facilities into the primary nuclear research and production facilities.

Even if we intercept the Iranians on the way home with a nuclear shipment, what if they make a run for a port and then threaten to detonate the nuke in port, allowing Iran the time to break out of the existing restrictions and build their own nukes inside Iran?

But by then it will be too late. Kerry will have his Nobel Peace Prize and no amount of nuclear fallout will pry it from his fingers. If the Obama administration gets its way, Iran will go nuclear, they won't be our friend, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey will go nuclear, and we will have a far worse war before it is all over.

Yet Kerry will think he was brilliant in 2015. I'd like to think that President Obama will feel shame for his error, but even if he does, what difference, at that point, would it make?

Have a super sparkly day.

UPDATE: Even a smart guy assumes the universe encompassing the terms of a negotiated deal is all that matters.

But what if focusing on the ramifications of the terms of the deal just doesn't really matter? What if it really is the regime that matters? What if all the focus on break-out times and sanctions misses the point that Iran is playing another game altogether?


Paranoid much?

President Vladimir Putin accused Western spies on Thursday of plotting to undermine his rule and "destabilize" Russia before elections by using public organizations for their own goals.

The man is not normal by any standards we understand. And he has lots of nukes.

Pucker factor still pretty high, I must say.

UPDATE: If Putin thinks NATO is a threat pushing east, just what does he think China is doing in Russia's "near abroad in Central Asia?

Until recently, Central Asia played only a modest role in world politics, a reflection of its economic weakness, domestic problems, and distrust of integration. Russia’s presence in the region as the primary political mediator and economic partner was incontestable. In the last few years, though, China’s growing economic interest in Central Asia has come to be seen in Moscow as a threat to its influence. Russia is watching closely the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, which would give Beijing the dominant role and could supplant the Eurasian Economic Union. With Kazakhstan the core state in any integration project in the region, it looks set to become the frontlines of the tussle between China and Russia for regional influence.

Yeah, Russia's treatment of Ukraine as an illegitimate state that really belongs to Moscow won't affect Khazakstan's diplomacy toward China.

And what happens when China starts calling huge chunks of Russia's Far East their own "near abroad" unjustly lost?

Remember, Russia has just 5 years until a 20-year treaty freezing their border dispute with China ends.

What if China has internal problems that require a foreign victory to defend their monopoly of power, and Peking decides it is safer to pick on Russia while they've alienated everyone but Venezuela rather than America and our powerful allies in the western Pacific?

Yet Russia remains fixated on a largely defanged European NATO.

Russia needs to join the West before they've alienated the West too much to join us.

UPDATE: Russia continues to seek territorial gains and economic pains:

Russian-backed separatists are planning a fresh offensive in eastern Ukraine that could come within a matter of months, warns retired General Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander.

Actually, he thinks the window could begin after Orthodox Easter on April 12th.

As for the pains, Russia even finds they need to sell energy to Ukraine, which was a surprise to the West when the European Commission asked Russia to cut prices:

The Russian response — requesting Gazprom lower its prices for Ukraine — hints that Russia is seeking to cool tensions in the region to wriggle out of international sanctions as it attempts to pull itself out a deep economic downturn.

Russia's GDP is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to fall by 3% this year and by a further 1% in 2016 sanctions and a collapse in oil prices have dented the country's prospects.

The pain extends to Russia's troops:

Russia has [apparently] brought in over 40,000 combat and support troops from over a hundred different units. These troops are usually brought in for a few months, or as many as six months, then sent back to their home base and replaced by another unit. This is causing problems in Russia because many of the troops involved are conscripts and when these are killed the official story is that they died from something other than combat.

I mentioned this before, I know. What I didn't mention is that although this procedure may serve to spread out casualties and hide the deployment of units; by mixing up men from units all across the Russian empire, the Russians commit units without unit cohesion. This increases casualties. During the Iraq War, opponents of the war ignorantly droned on about a "backdoor draft" when we (legally) extended the active duty time of soldiers scheduled to leave the service while their unit was deployed.

By keeping those soldiers in their deployed unit until the unit rotated home, the unit was more effective at fighting and in avoiding casualties.

While it appears that Russia has endured hundreds of deaths and many more wounded, the number is surely higher than it would have been if Putin had sent complete combat units into Donbas.

So we have more reasons to understand why Russia can't have nice things.

UPDATE: Putin's people really are clueless:

The Russian Foreign Ministry said "propagandists" working on orders from Washington were producing "Russophobic lampoons, carefully building an image of Russia as an enemy, instilling hatred of anything Russian in ordinary people."

Yeah, there is that ongoing invasion of Ukraine thing even as they deny even being involved. (But boy, there sure are a lot of fatal training accidents in the army the last year! Safety officers need to be fired, eh?)

And don't forget threatening us with nukes. Yeah, there is that, too, as part of an alternate explanation for why we worry about Russia.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Renting An Army

While states have a near monopoly on military force, it is a weakening share of the market.

The UAE wants a mercenary battalion for defense and special operations regionally (tip to Instapundit).

While not untrue, this is an odd recycling of old news from May 2011:

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show.

I remembered this and would have sworn I blogged about it. But I can't find anything on it.

I did note that the UAE was looking to private contractors (mercenaries) for logistics.

This is an old trend that is coming back (and only 99 cents!).

Nigeria has done it to fight the surging Boko Haram threat that delayed elections.

Although they sure haven't highlighted their role in recent victories as they carry out an election.

It's a pre-Westphalian way of looking at legitimate sources of military power. As our jihadi enemies bypass the post-Westphalian notion that only states have legitimate military power, it shouldn't be a shock that we might fight fire with fire.

Western religious-based private military forces to fight jihadis aren't farfetched.

Another part of the pre-Westphalian world was the hiring another state's military forces. We could see that in Yemen if Egypt goes forward with hints that they will send in ground troops to oppose the Iranian-supported Shias in that reignited civil war.

Egypt cannot afford to pay for such an expedition. So if Egypt does this, Saudi Arabia is going to pay for it. Saudi Arabia will essentially be renting an army. Egypt will likely turn a profit on the job (well, other than casualties).

Lest you be too horrified, this is how the UN gets troops. The UN pays Western rates for troops and the "donating" country does not pass on all of that pay to the troops sent to some Third World Heck-hole to keep the peace (or keep it at a dull roar to avoid disturbing our supper while we watch the evening news).

I imagine that the logistics of an Egyptian expeditionary force, if it is sent, will be handled by a private company, too. Paid for by Saudi Arabia.

Heck, anybody with money will be able to wage a battle if not an entire war one day, I think.

Al Gore will finally be able to use his enormous wealth to get that punitive expedition he's been demanding!

The need for force does not decline just because the West's capacity to deploy it has been declining.

This is a business opportunity for both private groups and countries.

UPDATE: More on Nigeria, where close election results and the abandonment of the north-Moslem/south-Christian presidential trade deal could spark a civil war. With oil and poor quality local troops, this could be a mercenary destination if it goes belly up.

UPDATE: Just when you think bad news is hardwired, Nigerians go and do something good:

Nigerian election winner Muhammadu Buhari congratulated outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan for peacefully relinquishing power on Wednesday, a day after becoming the first politician in Nigeria's history to unseat a sitting leader at the ballot box.

In an unprecedented step, Jonathan phoned Buhari to concede defeat and urged his supporters to accept the result, a signal of deepening democracy in Africa's most populous nation that few had expected.

Once could be a fluke. Let's wait for another peaceful transition by a losing president to celebrate.

But the good news is that Nigeria won't be a big market for mercenaries. But there will be work to be found to fight Boko Haram, I imagine.

And in Syria

Assad is not out of the woods in his war.

Jihadis made gains in the north:

An alliance of Syrian Islamist rebels including al Qaeda's Nusra Front have overrun 17 defense posts around Idlib in an offensive to take the city from the army and allied militia, a monitoring group said on Thursday.

They've exploited this to actually capture Idlib:

Syrian rebels captured the key northern city of Idlib from government forces Saturday in what amounts to the most significant defeat for forces loyal to President Bashar Assad in two years.

The rebel force, led by the al-Qaida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, surged into the city center overnight Saturday and by day’s end had ousted government forces almost entirely.

I did mention that by shipping forces to the deep south, Assad had to be taking risks by stripping forces from other areas.

Assad already lost ground around Aleppo in the north.

And more normal rebels are making some gains in the south:

An alliance of mainstream rebels who are backed by Western and Arab foes of President Bashar al-Assad said they had taken Bosra and declared the start of a new attack against government forces in another area of Deraa province to the northwest.

I'll ask it again, how much more can Assad's battered and stretched army endure?

Assad is actually putting women into combat positions:

Sergeant Rim, 20, and Chief Sergeant Samar, 21, belong to the First Women's Commando Brigade of the Republican Guard, an elite unit stationed on some of the most dangerous battlegrounds on the outskirts of the Syrian capital.

There are roughly 800 soldiers in these all-female commando brigades, who face determined and entrenched rebels to the east and southeast of Damascus.

No, Assad isn't some feminist pioneer to spit in the face of Moslem sensibilities about the proper role of women in society. He's friggin' desperate to find bodies.

God help those women if jihadis capture them.

Or if they survive the war and have to explain to their own side what they did once the danger is in the past. Yeah, they'll be considered good wife material, eh?

Assad certainly thinks it is worth the risk (well, maybe with this administration it isn't much of a risk) to use chemical weapons to try to even the odds:

The world's chemical watchdog on Wednesday said it is monitoring "with serious concern" reports alleging that Damascus unleashed a chlorine gas attack in northwestern Syria earlier this month.

"We have been monitoring the recent reports suggesting that toxic chemicals may have been used as weapons in the Idlib province in Syria," Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons chief Ahmet Uzumcu said.

And Assad is looking for Russian boots on the ground, too:

"I can say with complete confidence that we welcome any widening of the Russian presence in the eastern Mediterranean and on Syrian coasts and ports," including the port of Tartus, Assad said.

"For us, the larger this presence in our neighbourhood, the better it is for stability in this region," he told journalists.

Which would be helpful if Assad has to retreat to a rump Alawite homeland.

Both Iran and Syria are under tremendous stress. And they both seem to be counting on us to ultimately save them. I can't say they are wrong.

UPDATE: Assad's finances are in bad shape:

Syria's government, presiding over an economy ravaged by war and facing dwindling foreign currency reserves, is taking new measures to slash imports and prop up exports.

And rebels in the south are active:

"Fierce fighting over the control of the Nasib border crossing with Jordan erupted early this morning between Islamists and rebels and regime forces, with the rebels putting the crossing under siege," said the Britain-based [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights].

Assad has not won this war.

UPDATE: Assad's stretched ground forces have suffered a setback in Damascus itself:

Islamic State militants infiltrated a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus on Wednesday, marking the deepest foray yet by the extremist group into the capital, seat of President Bashar al-Assad's power, Syrian opposition activists and Palestinian officials said.

Assad is trying to hold too much ground with the troops he has available.

The Best Air Defense System in the World

While reducing civilian casualties during military operations is a good thing, let's not forget that the purpose of military operations is to win.

ISIL has exploited our hyper-sensitivity to inflicting civilian casualties while we seek to kill ISIL forces by hugging civilians even more tightly:

In Syria and Iraq the Islamic terrorists are benefitting from pioneering work done by the Afghan Taliban to make it more difficult for Western air forces to use their smart bombs and superior sensors to find and cripple Islamic terrorists on the ground. American, Iraqi and other Arab leaders are complaining that the restrictive American ROE (Rules Of Engagement) are and how these rules severely limits the number of targets that can be hit. As a result ISIL can move around more freely despite the constant presence of coalition aircraft overhead.

In effect, ISIL has a rather effective air defense system that consists of our leadership, global media, and military lawyers.

It's bad enough for this type of war, but if casualty aversion extends to high intensity warfare, we will lose that fight.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hope and a Big Change

China may gain a naval base in Namibia:

While Walvis Bay enjoys a 138-year history with the Royal Navy, it could soon be home to a powerful Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy surface squadron.

In Jan. 2015, The Namibian reported the existence of a "confidential letter from Namibia's ambassador to China, Ringo Abed, to Namibia's foreign minister stat[ing] that 'a [Chinese] delegation will visit Namibia ... for discussions ... on the way forward regarding plans for the proposed naval base in Walvis Bay'.” According to the letter, a Chinese delegation, including technical staff and naval architects, will meet with Namibian officials sometime after March 21, 2015 to discuss a field feasibility study for the base. Beijing has told Namibian diplomats that a "Chinese naval presence will deter any would-be illegal trawlers and smugglers.”

Well that's interesting.

Supertanker traffic from the Middle East to points west of the Cape of Good Hope would be vulnerable to Chinese interdiction.

For a while, anyway, until Western air and naval forces could destroy them.

And it would pale in comparison to our ability to choke off China's oil imports (and trade in general).

But if China assumes a short war where they grab an objective nearby and then dare us to take it back--backed by the threat of Chinese nuclear weapons--then the Cape of Good Hope capability doesn't have to survive very long.

The author notes that we really don't have the ships to patrol the South Atlantic (and Britain's ability is thin). On the west side of the region, SOUTHCOM is already hard pressed with non-military tasks. And AFRICOM does not have significant forces.

Perhaps Modularized Auxiliary Cruisers could fill the gap in the South Atlantic.

March Madness

The end of March deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran is nigh. At this point, I imagine the Iranians are desperately searching for the hidden tricks in the too-good-to-be-true nuclear agreement that President Obama is trying to give Iran and force on some of our allies.

We stand on the brink:

Iran and major powers are close to agreement on a 2- or 3-page accord with specific numbers that would form the basis of a long-term settlement aimed at ending a 12-year standoff over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, officials said on Friday.

Page 1: Iran pretends to not have a nuclear weapons program.

Page 2: We pretend to believe Iran.

Page 3: Sanctions are lifted.

And here's where the confusion starts:

U.S. and Iranian diplomats gather at a Baroque palace in Europe, a historic nuclear agreement within reach. Over Iraq's deserts, their militaries fight a common foe. Leaders in Washington and Tehran, capitals once a million miles from each other in ideological terms, wrestle for the first time in decades with the notion of a rapprochement.

No! This is not a rapprochement. Not even if you affect a French accent--and the French to their credit are not that deluded.

Iran considers us their enemy. And if we grant them a deal that keeps America's planes and missiles out of Iran's skies while opening the spigot to Iran's economy, Iran will get the nuclear weapons that they believe are necessary to keep their enemy at bay and even push us out of the Middle East.

If Iran is still pondering our offer, it is surely because they are furiously debating what our terms mean.

Oh, I'm sure they recognize it paves the way for their nuclear weapons program to proceed. They can read.

What they are debating boils down to one side being those "pragmatists" who insist that the Great Satan would never be so stupid, and so their must be some deep Devilish trick designed to destroy Iran.

They'll say that President Obama got a Nobel Peace Prize before he knew where all the bathrooms were in the White House for his potential for nuclear disarmament, and we're to believe he is blessing our nuclear path to achieve a "legacy" that will last only until we set off a nuke? Do you think we're stupid?

(Even boot lickers like Vox will have trouble accepting the Earnest/Psaki/Harf spin that the nuclear detonation is proof that the policy is a success. Tip to Instapundit.)

On the other side are the "mission from God" types who insist the agreement that grants every wish is a sign that Allah is with them and has delivered this deal to the true believers of Iran after their many decades of suffering so that Iran can finally smite the Great Satan. Do you lack faith in Allah?

So at one level, we may be saved by the Iranians who refuse to accept that they can get a good deal right now. The Iranians may believe that they have two more years of an ineffective and irresolute Obama administration to get closer to nuclear weapons, so why why risk the poison pill hidden by the crafty Great Satan? Do you really believe Kerry is as stupid as he looks and sounds?

Or we may be saved by France leading the Europeans who have started to get a little nervous about the way we are driving this nuclear bus (tip to Instapundit):

During the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program, reports have leaked indicating simmering tensions between the United States and its European partners, especially France, but England and Germany as well. Despite public insistence on the their unanimity in these protracted negotiations, significant if subtle differences in their strategies toward Iran and their long-term goals point to fault lines within the trans-Atlantic partnership. The US and Western Europe are not fully aligned with respect to their grand strategy.

Who knows? The Europeans may see us as an unreliable ally, with the Obama administration release of Israeli nuclear secrets (old, but still significant) demonstrating that we will screw even a close ally if they stand in the president's way (what's the curse about being careful about what you wish for?).

[UPDATE: This seems appropriate now:

Stupid cowboy Americans.]

The Europeans may not trust us to protect them, figuring that Iran will have the ability to nuke Europeans first and so buy us time to go after Iran before we are a target.

Or the Europeans may be too weak to see any other way than to simply go along and pretend all is well.

So it is all up in the air.

Perhaps our own eagerness to get the Iranians to sign (I can see Kerry trying to press the pen into Iranian fingers and attempting to force a signature) will just scare the Hell out of the Iranians that this is all a deep trick that they must not fall for. We're out of here, spawn of Satan!

Or perhaps God really is on Iran's side and our president is His will made into flesh to allow Iran to go nuclear.

Have a nice day.

UPDATE: Good Lord, the Dumb and Dumber pair are still fluffing their delusion; and Pat Buchanan also sees Iran under the mullahs as our natural ally.

If Iran is such a natural ally, why would it take so much work to make sure they don't get nukes to threaten us?

It's pure madness out there.

UPDATE: Israel is not happy over the deal as it appears to be taking shape:

"This deal, as it appears to be emerging, bears out all of our fears, and even more than that," Netanyahu told his cabinet in Jerusalem as the United States, five other world powers and Iran worked toward a March 31 deadline in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Noting advances made by Iranian-allied forces in Yemen and other Arab countries, Netanyahu accused the Islamic republic of trying to "conquer the entire Middle East" while moving toward nuclearization.

"The Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis is very dangerous to humanity, and must be stopped," he said.

Yes. Lausanne is where the capitulation agreement is being negotiated, BTW.

Defenders of the deal call it a rapprochement with Iran. But it isn't. Nor is it a "Nixon goes to China moment."

Iran is doing what it has long done under mullah rule--undermine regional states by arming Shia opposition and seeking nuclear weapons--and we are now saying that we don't mind that so much.

That is called capitulation. It is a "Chamberlain goes to Munich" moment.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Model Theater Evolves

Saudi Arabia is leading air attacks against the Shias who are seen as pawns of Iran. Would Saudi Arabia really send in ground troops?

The Saudis entered the raging Yemen Shia-Sunni civil war and jihadi free-for-all (ISIL and al Qaeda running amok):

Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi left his refuge in Aden for Saudi Arabia on Thursday as Houthi rebels battled with his forces on the outskirts of the southern port city.

Throughout the day, warplanes from Saudi Arabia and Arab allies struck at the Shi'ite Houthis and allied army units, who have taken over much of the country and seek to oust Hadi.

Warplanes resumed bombing the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Thursday evening, shaking whole neighborhoods and terrifying residents. Several civilians have been reported killed in Sanaa.

So far the coalition lacks ground forces:

Al-Arabiya said Saudi Arabia was contributing 100 warplanes to operation "Storm of Resolve" and more than 85 were being provided by the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco and Sudan.

Egyptian air forces were participating and four naval ships headed to secure the Gulf of Aden. Turkey said it might provide logistical support.

Strategypage says that the Saudis have 150,000 troops near Yemen's border:

Saudi Arabia already has over 150,000 troops on the Yemen border, many of them very near the areas where the Shia tribes live.

I don't get that since my bible of military power--the 2012 The Military Balance--indicates that a commitment of that size would strip the rest of Saudi Arabia of pretty much any defense.

This article relies on the most recent version and says:

The Saudi military numbers 227,000 troops, including 75,000 in the army, 13,500 in the navy and 20,000 in the air force.

Some 16,000 personnel are committed to air defences, 2,500 responsible for strategic missiles and 100,000 man the National Guard, according to the IISS Military Balance, 2015.

The kingdom also has 24,500 paramilitary forces.

How on Earth could the Saudis mass 150,000 troops on the Yemen border?

There is no way that Saudi Arabia would strip their border with Iraq or the eastern oil region of troops or leave Bahrain at the mercy of Iranian counter-moves to stir up Shias. I don't know what the normal deployment patterns are, but I really doubt this is even possible.

As an aside, the strategic missile force is new since my edition (hey, if this site actually made money for me I'd pay the outrageous sums of money for the latest edition).

And while it is the best equipped in the Gulf region, it isn't very good. Nor is the regular army even that trusted. The larger National Guard is a tribal-based force counted on to be the loyal "republican monarchy guard" to keep the royal family in power.

So I seriously doubt that the Saudis would make any major commitment of ground troops inside Yemen despite their ambassador's claim on TV that they don't rule anything out.

Bomb, send weapons and maybe mercenaries and special forces, sure. But regulars or National Guard? I'm doubtful. Saudi Arabia has been historically very cautious about using their forces.

Would Pakistan send troops? They did once hire out a heavy brigade to protect Saudi Arabia. What's the price for sending troops into combat in Yemen? But Pakistan doesn't seem eager despite receiving the request:

Pakistan's defense minister says his country is considering a request to provide ground troops to complement the Saudi Arabian-led airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen.

Perhaps this is just Pakistan's bargaining stance to increase the price.

Egypt's role is interesting in this light. They committed a rather large ground army to Yemen in the 1960s (using poison gas in their operations, I'll add). Could Egypt's reliance on Saudi money lead them to commit several divisions if local Sunnis can't handle the jihadis and Shias?

And that would help explain Egypt turning to France for more aircraft--the French don't get all intrusive about how the weapons they sell are used.

Of course, that level of commitment would keep Egypt from increasing their level of intervention in Libya to combat jihadi influence there.

If this Yemen theater of war that was once a model for dealing with ISIL drags on, will we be dragged in back home?

Iran is issuing warnings:

Iran demanded an immediate halt to Saudi-led military operations in Yemen on Thursday and said it would make all necessary efforts to control the crisis there, Iranian news agencies reported.

Remember, the Iranians committed an act of war against us by their attempt to bomb the kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States (and bomb the Saudi and Israeli embassies) not too long ago--but no worries, that was barely a ripple in the waters of seeking Iran's partnership for this administration.

If you wonder why we are so awful at diplomacy with Iran, this is one more data point.

What would Iran have to do to push us away, the Iranians must think: "We attempt to bomb their capital, support Assad's murderous campaign; seek to destabilize the home of the American 5th Fleet; undermine Iraq; destabilize Lebanon; support Hamas; seek influence in Eritrea; kill American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan; work with North Korea, and now try to expand our influence in Yemen! And the nuclear missile programs, of course!

Let's not mention the stuff that doesn't work out despite Allah and our best efforts.

Yet still President Obama courts us like a reluctant virgin for our hand in marriage!

At this point we could probably get away with nuking a smallish Israeli--or Red state!--city and face no consequences from the Great Satan!"

God, we suck.

Yeah, I know I wandered away from the original topic. But it always seems to come back to the foundation of this administration's ineptitude. Just 22 more months. That's a long time.

Alert George Carlin

We've got the list of words and phrases that can never, ever be used by reporters to describe Hillary Rodham Clinton:


They are NSFHRC according to "HRC Super Volunteers." And not safe for reporters using them, of course.

Luckily, there are plenty of other forbidden words that can be used since they aren't on that list--on cable, anyway. NSFW, naturally.

Meanwhile Back on the Main ISIL Front

So now we get to demonstrate that having America as your friend is better than having Iran as your friend. Can the Obama administration pull this off?

We insisted on sidelining the Shia militias as the price for our air support:

The United States persuaded Iraq to sideline Iranian-backed Shiite militias as a condition to American airstrikes in the strategic Iraqi city of Tikrit, a senior U.S. general said Thursday. The move limits Iran's influence, at least temporarily, and could re-invigorate a ground offensive that U.S. officials said had become stalled under Iranian leadership.

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, told a Senate hearing that he had insisted that Iranian-backed militias pull back before the U.S. began flying intelligence-gathering flights over the weekend and dropping bombs Wednesday in support of a reconfigured Iraqi force of soldiers and federal police.

We said--rightly--that the militias were essentially Iranian forces rather than Iraqi forces.

The militias claimed they were offended by our air support and were taking their partial collection of marbles home:

Akram al-Kaabi, secretary-general of the Harakat al-Nujaba militia, threatened the United States.

"The US-led international coalition is trying... to hijack victory," said Kaabi, whose outfit is a splinter from the powerful Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia.

"They agreed with the government but the government did not consult the Hashed Shaabi or commanders on the ground," he said.

There have been no reports of US military advisers or other forces on the ground in Tikrit but he warned nonetheless that his group were on "maximum alert" to target US troops.

Lovely lads, those Iranian puppet militia fellows. Having Iran's arm so far up his posterior that Iran can pick his teeth from the inside doesn't count as "foreign" influence.

We definitely did not want that Iranian atrocity-waiting-to-happen to be involved in pacifying the mostly Sunni Arab city.

Perhaps we figured the militias had been bled enough in the assaults thus far.

But with only 4,000 Iraqi regulars in the area, the militias are still needed to hold the lines around the city even if the assault relies on Iraqi special forces and other regulars and federal police units.

Yes, if the ISIL jihadis have mere hundreds holed up in the city center, this should be enough with our air power in close support. But we don't want the jihadis to infiltrate reinforcements.

Or will more Iraqi regulars be brought up?

Now it is important to show a contrast of fighting methods: Iran will fight to the last Arab while we send the other side to Paradise.

UPDATE: I try not to be infected with Obama Derangement Syndrome. So let me just remind you that I do think that our basic strategy for Iraq (and Syria, if we follow the logic and conclude Assad really does have to be defeated) is correct, but that I worry we lack a sense of urgency:

While I think our strategy for dealing with ISIL in Iraq is basically sound--if our enemy gives us the time to set up the killing blow--Iran could yet undermine any battlefield victory we achieve. It's well past time the Obama administration recognized that Iran is no partner.

Yemen falling apart as ISIL, al Qaeda, and Iran pick apart the carcass of the former state of Yemen is one problem with giving enemies the most precious resource of all--time.

UPDATE: In a bit of a schadenfreude moment, I guess we can look forward to President Obama being accused of war crimes for using air power to support our friends (and lower tier enemies) against our priority enemy:

Here at the headquarters of Iraqi ground forces, after three days of American airstrikes that at times witnesses here described as “carpet bombing,” Iraq’s military seemed in no great hurry on Saturday to press its advantage.

"Carpet bombing," they say. In the lead paragraph.

Carpet bombing is using massed bombing to drop huge numbers of unguided bombs in such a dense pattern that there are wall-to-wall explosions that are a virtual carpet of indiscriminate death.

You'll recall the BS charges during the Bush administration that we were slaughtering Iraqis from the air.

Of course, this is all part of the most clever integrated air defense network ever devised by mankind.

It requires useful idiots to be effective. But there's no short supply of that in the world.

UPDATE: The Iraqis are working to fill the holes in their front lines because of the militia skedaddle:

Some Shiite militiamen have drawn back from the fight to protest U.S. involvement. While that may suit the American commanders, who do not wish to be seen giving air cover to Iranian-backed paramilitary groups, Iraqi officers on the ground are struggling to plug the gap while negotiations take place to persuade the militiamen to return to the battle.

Some regulars have been brought in.

Also, let me note that Iraq's urban warfare experience at Khorramshahr took place when they captured the city from Iran in 1980 and not 1981.

Onward Greenian Soldiers

Al Gore is dangerously close to declaring a holy war.

The heretics must be punished:

For the third time in the last few years, Al Gore, founder and chairman of the Climate Reality Project, spoke at the festival on Friday. Naturally, his interactive discussion focused on addressing the climate crisis. The former vice president focused on the need to “punish climate-change deniers, saying politicians should pay a price for rejecting ‘accepted science,’” said the Chicago Tribune.

He's gone quite mad, it is clear.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the greening of the Al.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Let's Go With the Good News First

I've got good news and bad news regarding John Kerry.

Let's go with the good news first: Kerry is not our nation's chief science advisor:

Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s recent remarks on climate change at the Atlantic Council were so scientifically illiterate that I find it difficult to believe that he managed to barely get a D in geology at Yale University. As a US citizen and geoscientist, I feel it is my patriotic and professional duty to provide Secretary Kerry with a few complimentary science lessons.

The bad news is that he is our nation's chief diplomat.

But in Kerry's defense, making predictions about the future is hard whatever the field is.

(Still) Unclear on the Concept

If there was really a deadline with real consequences for failure to reach a good deal with Iran, right about now Iran would be starting to experience a surge in their pucker factor. But no, we're the side that is worrying. God our diplomats are idiots.

An end of the month deadline for Iran to demonstrate they don't have nuclear weapons ambitions?

Iran should be panicking about now, right? You're new to this administration, aren't you?

The United States will struggle to secure a framework nuclear deal between Iran and major powers by a March 31 deadline, due to resistance from Tehran and scepticism among other countries, officials said.

With the two sides resuming negotiations this week, Washington is under heavy pressure as it pushes for the political framework accord that would lay the foundations for a full deal with Iran by June 30.

We're under heavy pressure?

Bombers should be moving and carriers sailing. More stringent sanctions paperwork should just be awaiting a signature and transmittal.

Iran should be the one to feel under heavy pressure to conclude a deal we will accept!

Remember, we can have a bad deal that paves the way for Iran to get nukes; a good deal that slows or stops Iran's path to nukes; or military strikes that slow Iran's progress to get nukes.

Iran should be made to worry about a "only Nixon can go to China" moment.

Oh, not the BS one where President Obama seeks to make mullah-run Iran our partner. Comparing that to a known anti-communist being trusted to make a deal with communist China in our interests does not apply.

No, the real "Nixon goes to China moment" for President Obama would be the president who is a citizen of the world beyond being a mere American president who dislikes our military and military record, and has a Nobel Peace Prize for nuclear disarmament already under his belt, launching a major military campaign to smash up every bit of Iran's nuclear infrastructure in Iran or elsewhere that we can reach.

Bush 43 would have been impeached for doing that. President Obama would probably get a second Nobel Peace Prize.(Although I no longer think he'd get one for nuking Iran.)

Then we'd have a new saying: "Only Obama can level Iran."

But no, the deadline is meaningless. We will either accept a bad deal to make that deadline; or we'll set a new deadline 6 months in the future.

I'd rather overthrow the Iranian regime, since it is the regime that matters and not the nukes. Nobody worries about France owning nukes. And funny enough, as I've mentioned before, nobody in the Middle East really worries about Israeli nukes as the lack of proliferation worries prior to Iran's effort testify.

A non-mullah government with nukes wouldn't be great but it would be better than mullahs with nukes.

And there's probably a good chance that a normal government would not want to waste money on nuclear weapons.

But since I've long given up hope of an effort to support a revolt against the mullahs and since I have little hope that we can convince Iran to sign a good deal, a military strike seems like the only reasonable option left.

If Iran believed we would do that, we might actually get a deal close enough to being good to be worth signing if we keep our eye on the ball of regime change before Iran gets nukes.

Of course, for all of our president's reputation as being the pacifist anti-Bush, he does have the lead in wars waged. So I don't actually think it is out of the question that President Obama would strike Iran--I just think his inept diplomacy makes that option more likely and perhaps more difficult.

So I retain hope that President Bush left President Obama--or the next president--one last option to disarm a nuclear Iran.

We really have no clue how to do this diplomacy thing, do we?

UPDATE: On the eve of the deadline, we remain unclear on the whole concept of deadlines:

U.S. officials are insisting that Tuesday is a "real deadline" for reaching an agreement to roll back Iran's nuclear program, but they also aren't threatening to walk away from the talks if a deal isn't struck by day's end.

If I may be so bold, if we don't walk away and impose consequences on Iran for failing to agree to something acceptable to normal human beings who don't believe Iran is just an innocent but very enthusiastic supporter of cheap, clean nuclear energy, then what happens Tuesday is just "Tuesday."

I'd say that our reputation is dead if we allow Iran to cross this line, but our foes have crossed so many lines and ignored so many "deadlines" that our reputation is just a zombie thing now.

Helping Themselves

Ukraine, as I've long said, doesn't need the hassle of getting American tanks when they have plenty of their own that can be put into the field. Sadly, our help to fill gaps falls short of actual help.

Strategypage describes the efforts:

Ukraine is refurbishing existing equipment with Ukrainian resources. Emphasis is on armored vehicles, which Ukraine has lots of. Most are elderly, but little used in the past but still effective. The best tanks available to Ukraine right now are 250 T-64BMs and 350 T-64BVs. Ukraine also has 1,000 older T-64B tanks in storage. Only the T-64BM and T-64BM are operational and are in use with the Ukrainian Army. The Since 2007 Ukraine has been upgrading about one of the older T-64Bs to the T-64BM each month. This costs about $600,000 per T-64B. Ukrainian arms factories are also building the T-84 Oplot-M tank and fifteen are already in service and another 40 are to be ready by the end of 2015, and 120 more in 2016 at a cost of $3.7 million each. All this is possible because Ukraine contained many Soviet era armored vehicle plants and inherited them when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

The Poles could be of use to Ukraine in upgrading these tanks. Other former Warsaw Pact nations now in NATO who want to update their armor could contribute hulls and repair expertise, too.

There are weapons and equipment we could supply, according to Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the NATO and American European Command commander:

A decision to provide that lethal aid “could cause positive results, could cause negative results,” he added. “But what we’re doing now is not changing the results on the ground.”

Breedlove, however, said he was ready with plans for the U.S. to provide military assistance to a beleaguered Ukrainian Army fending off Russian backed rebels—should the Obama administration ever make a decision.

The U.S. has conducted comprehensive studies of Ukrainian military needs, he added, and has a good sense of what it could provide to assist with an effective defense with Russian troops in the east.

But a decision has to be made at political levels to provide that support.

Russia continues to pull apart Ukraine and continues to deny they are even involved. So our restraint has not caused positive results.

Indeed, Ukraine won't hold against the next anticipated offensive:

Surveys of the front lines around the Donetsk and Lugansk regions by a team of independent experts - including Dr Phillip Karber of the Potomac Foundation in Washington and retired former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Wesley Clark - note a number of critical issues that "would have to be addressed in a very short time frame if there is to be any chance of holding back a Russian offensive", one of the team members told IHS Jane's in Kiev.

Combined reports from frontline surveys and official briefings from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence (MoD) paint an alarming picture of a Ukrainian military that is over-extended, under-armed, and may not have the depth to hold against another Russian-backed drive further into Ukraine.

Sadly, our administration remains at stage 3 in the 4-stage plan to help Ukraine--and is eagerly awaiting stage 4.

We should actually help Ukraine. They are willing to fight. But they need material help (and we should provide friggin' grid coordinates from our satellites to help target the Russians) to have any hope of stopping the Russians or imposing a cost high enough to deter them from the offensive after the next one that is coming.

UPDATE: AFP is really going to have to pay for a new computer screen after I spewed my morning coffee all over it:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has awarded several military units a hugely prestigious title that was given to troops for heroism during WWII, sparking new questions about the Kremlin's involvement in Ukraine.

Putin this week bestowed the honorary "guards" title on two air assault brigades and a communications regiment, with the award being seen by some analysts as a tacit acknowledgement that Russian troops have been fighting in east Ukraine.

New questions? Russia has been invading Ukraine for over a year now!! The only new question is what kind of mind-altering drugs are you guys taking to think this is some subtle clue about the mysteries of little green men and exploding Malaysian airliners!

God, the stupid is more contagious than Ebola these days.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

So Gotland is Irrelevant?

While this article has an interesting point that Russia might occupy Sweden's Gotland Island in order to conquer the Baltic states and isolate Poland from the rest of NATO, ultimately the scenario rests on the threat and actual use of nukes that make capturing Gotland rather irrelevant.

The article sets out the scenario:

Last week Russia’s air force progressed from testing military preparedness to dry runs for a major air assault. A combination of transport planes and fighter jets flew from Russia over the entire Baltic Sea to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. While Sweden didn’t even manage to get a plane in the air, Italian air force jets flying out from ┼áiauliai air base in Lithuania intercepted and identified the Russian jets. The Italian fighters were outnumbered 4 to 1.

The obvious targets of Russian aggression along the Baltic Sea, namely Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, all share a land border with Russia, so there is no need to mount a large scale air assault to overrun these tiny states. But to keep these three nations occupied and oppressed, Putin must keep the US air force and the US Navy out of the Baltic Sea. This is why Russia is preparing to assault, occupy and fortify Sweden’s Gotland Island.

On the one hand, such a possibility would mean that if we want US Marine equipment stored in the Baltic states, we'd best not move our stores in Norway in case we need them to eject the Russians from Gotland.

And it means that if we kept Baltic state islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Riga in our hands should the Russians march into the Baltic states, they'd be cut off too if Russia holds Gotland.

But then the scenario escalates way beyond the Russians using Gotland to hold us off in the Baltic Sea.

Why would Russia capture Gotland Island to screen their conquests in the Baltic states if ultimately Russia needs to use nuclear weapons to keep NATO from counter-attacking? Gotland Island becomes completely irrelevant in that case.

Gotland Island should be on our radar screens, I admit. I hadn't figured that Russia would take actions to draw in neutrals. But it could make sense in a conventional conflict.

And I just can't see Russia initiating nuclear weapons use that way.  That's a Hell of a risk to take when we would absolutely have to retaliate with a nuclear strike--likely against a Russian military target--if we had any hope that nuclear deterrence would work in the future against anyone with nukes and an attitude.

I think a Russian attack on NATO could be made at Narva with much lower risk to Russia than flinging nukes around.

Also, I wish we still had a couple armored cavalry regiments in our force structure. Basing one in Latvia to conduct a delaying action south to attrite the Russian invaders would be helpful.

UPDATE: Doh! I don't know why I wrote Bornholm in the title. Bornholm is a Danish Island off the southern tip of Sweden.  It would have been important to hold the Soviet Baltic fleet out of the North Sea.

I think it was on my mind because I was shocked that Sweden was going to send a small force to Gotland and I recalled that Denmark had during the Cold War a decent sized force on Bornholm.

I wasn't making an indirect comment on a Russian threat to Bornholm. I meant to indicate that the whole scenario that started with the Russian capture of Gotland didn't actually require the capture of Gotland at all since the scenario escalates to nuclear warfare to scare us off.

Although if the logic of taking Gotland holds, the logic would apply to Bornholm.

A Dangerous Period, Indeed

We may yet face a big war as an enemy misjudges our willingness to resist.

As I wrote early in the Obama presidency, it is all too easy to mistake the quiet that comes from retreating as peace rather than just a lull in fighting until the enemy follows and catches up with you.

By 2014 it became all too obvious that our enemies have caught up.

Which makes the remaining two years of the Obama administration very dangerous. Our enemies are used to us retreating. But even a president who wants to retreat--and thinks we should retreat--has limits, as re-engaging in Iraq this year demonstrates.

But if enemies continue to pursue us as if they expect us to continue running, we will have war where we might not have had war if our enemies believed we could not be sent into flight so easily.

Remember, Hitler didn't expect his invasion of Poland to start World War II. He still thought he had a few years before beginning the war against the West on his terms when he was ready. How was he to know that the West that had given up so much to his blustering threats would suddenly discover their spine?

If we're really lucky, we'll still have allies willing to stand with us.

Have a nice day.

Where's Kimniss?

North Korea's army is involved in a giant version of the hunger games:

One of the more disturbing revelations is the growing hunger problem in the north and how that is impacting the military. Apparently North Korea has shifted more military resources to the nuclear and ballistic missile programs and part of that shift involved cutting food supplies to the troops. The way this works officers and their families still eat well but the most junior troops (recruits and those only in a year or so) are given just enough to stay alive. Soldiers who demonstrate their loyalty are given more food and this works to control the growing unrest in the ranks. What it does not control is the growing incidence of theft (especially of food or anything that can be sold or exchanged for food) by the constantly hunger young soldiers.

So much for the "military first" policy that The Un tried to reimpose.

Given the reason North Korea abandoned that policy for a survival strategy of "kooks, spooks, and nukes," this development is no surprise.

Okay, there's a bit of a surprise. The saying is never do an enemy a small harm, since it just angers them without crippling their ability to retaliate. I assumed that starving the military of resources might prompt resistance to the North Korean regime.

I never suspected that the regime would take that advice to heart for their own army and literally starve the military to keep them too busy surviving to think of resistance.

Will someone arise from the impoverished districts to lead a rebellion?

About That History Lesson

A Western diplomat, amidst rumors that we will soon provide air support to the Iranian-led Iraqi offensive on Tikrit, took a lesson from World War II to justify American-Iranian cooperation against ISIL. Let's expand the history lesson, shall we?

We appear to be ready to provide air support for the Tikrit offensive. And this makes sense, one of our diplomats said:

"Iranians fighting alongside the coalition is not a bad thing," the diplomat said, comparing the potential U.S.-Iranian alliance against Islamic State to the Western allies and Soviets battling Nazi Germany in World War Two.

"Strange bedfellows, isn't it?" he said. "What did Churchill say? 'I would sup with the devil himself if it defeated Hitler.'"

Just remember that the devil doesn't stop being the devil just because he helps us defeat one evil.

And after that "supping" in World War II, that particular devil, Stalin, gobbled up all the land where his troops stood, and ushered in a Cold War with the threat of nuclear war hanging over the entire post-sup era.

If we work with Iran now against ISIL, let's not become confused and believe Iran is suddenly our partner.

Iran's mullahs still call us the Great Satan, recall. Projection. Look it up.

UPDATE: The Iraqis are starting to question their scream and leap tactics that they have used in the Tikrit offensive:

The Iraqi forces’ progress has put them closer to the doorstep of Nineveh Province, where the city of Mosul looms as the most important battle against the Islamic State. But the hard lessons of the Tikrit offensive, with a heavy cost in casualties for the Shiite militiamen and soldiers involved, have Iraqi officials thinking more cautiously about their next steps.

And the Iraqis are thinking that securing their western flank in Anbar is more important right now:

To that end, officials say, their next goal will be securing the western province of Anbar, in part to keep Islamic State fighters there from ambushing and harassing the main Iraqi force to the east.

“We will secure Anbar first, and then move on to Nineveh,” Iraq’s defense minister, Khaled al-Obeidi, told reporters recently. He added that new army troops were still training for Mosul, where Islamic State militants were constructing berms and trenches, preparing to “destroy the city to defend it.”

As Anbar has deteriorated, that's been my view. ISIL is too close to Baghdad where they are now and could push suicide bombers and other attackers into the capital as Iraqi forces push north.

It also gives Jordan the opportunity to really engage ISIL if they are serious, by striking ISIL in Anbar from the west.

And watch the Iranians. No good can come from "supping" with them.

NOTE: I corrected the first sentence to indicate a Western diplomat of nationality not-stated made the comparison. I knew that, but wrote American.

UPDATE: Our air strikes begin:

"I can confirm that the government of Iraq has requested coalition support for operations in Tikrit," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said.

"Operations are ongoing."

We fight to the last smart bomb. Iran fights to the last Arab.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Come With Us If You Want to Live

After some confusion, Strategypage is now coming down on the side of Iraqi militias taking heavy casualties in the battle for Tikrit.

The Iranian-led offensive on Tikrit is showing the results of "scream and leap" tactics (yes, that's a Kzin reference):

Going in the troops were told there would be heavy casualties and that was generally accepted. The 27,000 man force has suffered about 15 percent casualties (dead, wounded and missing) since March 1 st . During that advance some 8,000 square kilometers of territory was cleared of ISIL gunmen. Hundreds of ISIL men were killed and these men often fought to the death.

So that is probably around 1,300 dead for the Iraqi Shia militias that Iran is leading. Which fits with reports.

ISIL has suffered "hundreds" dead.

On the bright side, heavy civilian casualties seem to have been avoided.

And the battle against the thousand or so remaining ISIL defenders in the city center has yet to begin.

We have so far refused to provide air support to the Iranian-led effort. Could this be a problem for us despite the fact that Strategypage rightly notes that the Iranians realize this approach can destroy morale even among the fanatics?

Yet not providing air support also benefits Iran because Iran can make the point that they are a more reliable ally than the Americans who are withholding air support at the cost of Iraqi lives.

I disagree with this is a heads they win and tails we lose dilemma. During the Iran-Iraq War, Iranian offensive alternated between the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard)-led attacks that resulted in heavy Iranian casualties and the army-directed offensives that relied on better planning and tactics.

If we (America or other Western aircraft) do provide air support going forward (new recon flights likely telegraph this step), we should contrast our help with Iran's.

We should certainly highlight Iran's approach to focus the attention of the Iraqis we are training:

Hundreds of American advisers are working at the Camp Taji military base just north of Baghdad to train Iraqi forces on issues like weaponry and better coordination and integration of ground action with coalition airstrikes.

The goal, U.S. military officials say, is to teach the different divisions of the Iraqi military how to harmonize the operations of its various fighting units.
Played right, we can show a contrast between the death toll that Iranian friendship requires of Iraqis and our methods.

Especially if we circulate propaganda praising the Iranian efforts and thanking Allah for the opportunity for so many Arab Iraqis to achieve martyrdom under the guidance of their Persian brothers.

Remember, Iran is our long-term enemy in Iraq, as awful as ISIL is and as necessary as it is to destroy them:

[CIA Director John] Brennan said he "wouldn't consider Iran an ally right now inside Iraq" even though Iran and the U.S. both consider the Islamic State group an enemy.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, testifying at a congressional hearing this past week, said the U.S. worries that Shiite militiamen eventually might turn against Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis, further destabilizing the country.

But Brennan said he didn't believe the presence of Soleimani and his advisers pointed to Iran having a larger position in Iraq and its future. However, he acknowledged it's not for lack of trying. Baghdad's Shiite-led government has forged closer ties with Iran, its adversary in a 1980s war.

"We're not letting them play that role," the CIA chief said. "I think they're working with the Iraqis to play that role. We're working with the Iraqis, as well."

Former General and CIA director David Petraeus also reminds us that Iran is no partner.

I hope Brennan is right that we can cope with Iran. I've never been in the camp that said our defeat of Saddam threw Iraq to Iran. But I have recognized that our efforts (and presence) are necessary to combat Iranian efforts to do that.

Afghanistan Still Needs Our Help

Recently, the Obama administration said that we would not reduce our troop presence in Afghanistan at the end of this year, as originally planned. That's good. There is no word about the end of 2016, however. We surely need to stay longer if this is to be an effort to win rather than an effort to avoid blame.

Iraq's experience without us after 2011 has led Afghanistan to push us to stay:

Afghans were shocked by what happened to Iraq in 2014. What was especially scary for Afghans was that Iraq had a better educated population and better access to modern technology and the world in general and was much better organized than Afghanistan. Afghans also knew that Iraq suffered, as did Afghanistan, from corruption and tribalism. But it was still a shock when the Iraqi security forces fell apart in mid-2014 as Islamic terrorists took control of the second largest city (Mosul). Now more Afghans, especially their leaders, are pressuring the United States to modify their current plan, which is to reduce American military personnel in Afghanistan to about 5,500 by the end of 2015 and to zero by the end of 2016.

The situation actually isn't as bad as it appears by the official numbers:

The Afghans are satisfied (but not entirely pleased) with the current deal. That means there are only a few thousand American combat troops and a lot of support troops to help keep the Afghan soldiers and police operational. While the United States only has 10,600 troops in Afghanistan there are nearly 40,000 contractors. Over 40 percent of these contractors handle keeping American, NATO and Afghan equipment operational. That means maintenance, repairs and moving in and accounting for all the spare parts and other items needed for the maintenance and repairs. American troops, civilian contractors and more than 5,000 foreign troops and officials from American allies still in the country all depend on these support services along with the Afghan security forces.

The contractors carry out jobs that would otherwise need to be done by troops.

The concept itself isn't a shock. I just hadn't seen numbers on this for Afghanistan. But the contractors are real assets that count for providing stability, as we once did in Iraq.

Our effort to build an Afghan air force will help but won't replace our capabilities. I'd be happier if we provided sufficient air power to help Afghan forces in their fight. Why we won't continue to do for Afghanistan what we find we must do for Iraq to defeat ISIL is beyond me.

Have no doubt that Afghanistan needs more than our firepower. Without us, Iraq's government failed to maintain support of Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and many Shias who looked to Iran rather than Baghdad for support. Without us, the same could happen in Afghanistan:

According to a Human Rights Watch report released in early March, Afghanistan is under siege by a “new generation” of strongmen, warlords, and militias that are terrorizing local populations. Their menacing presence only effectively differs from the Taliban in that they have enjoyed the complicity and support of U.S. forces—including former General Petraeus—and major elements of Afghanistan’s government.

So while Petraeus is busy advising the White House on what to do with Iraq—another country whose reconstruction he left unfinished—unchecked corruption and violence threaten to undo every last good thing the West has tried to accomplish in Afghanistan since 2001.

“The Afghan government and its supporters should recognize that insecurity comes not only from the insurgency, but from corrupt and unaccountable forces having official backing,” Phelim Kine, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said in a March 3 release.

“Kabul and its foreign supporters need to end their toxic codependency on strongmen to give Afghanistan reasonable hope of a viable, rights-respecting strategy for the country’s development.”

Why there is such anger at Petraeus, I do not know. He led us to victories, personal issues notwithstanding. So WTF?

Problems with local defense forces do not invalidate the concept of local defense forces. It means we need to stay to keep them under some control.

One, HRW always seems to be harder on us and our friends than on our enemies. So there's that.

But more important, "Afghanistan" is a geographic and not a political term. Even if the central government of "Afghanistan" was pure as the driven snow (hah!), locals who do not under any circumstance think of Kabul as "their" capital will pull away from the central government.

As I wrote as our first surge in Afghanistan was planned:

The end result in Afghanistan, if all goes well, will be a nominal national government that controls the capital region and reigns but does not rule local tribes and which actually helps the locals a bit rather than sucking resources from the locals, who in turn do not make trouble for the central government or allow their areas to be used by jihadis to plan attacks on the West. We press for reasonable economic opportunities, with bribes all around (I mean, foreign aid), to keep a fragile peace.

And we stick around this time, unlike after the Soviets left Afghanistan when we ignored the place, for a generation or two to see if we can move Afghanistan into the 19th century (hey, let's not get ahead of ourselves).

Hopefully our military surge recedes by the end of 2011 and we can get down to a single combat brigade plus air power that function as a fire brigade and a hammer for the central government should a local difficulty exceed Afghan military capabilities.

These "warlords" are locals with more legitimacy than Kabul will ever have.

Not that they aren't problematic. I've always recognized they are a two-edged sword: needed to resist insurgents yet potentially dangerous once that danger has passed.

For those in the administration so eager to make Iran our friend based on the fact that ISIL is our common enemy ("the enemy of my enemy is my friend"), that "friend" status becomes non-operative once the common enemy is damaged enough not to require joint operations to defeat.

So yeah, local defense forces are a potential problem. If we want to check tendencies of local commanders who fight a common enemy to evolve into warlords who look to their own gains and harm the locals, we need to stay in sufficient strength to be a factor in local defense force thinking and ability to get away with being predators rather than protectors.

And don't think for one minute that the solution is to disband these local defense forces and rely on the central government's forces. Those are seen as alien invaders just as the Taliban and their drug gang allies are.

We need to stay to support our friends. Do recall our friends in Europe 66 years after we defeated Nazi Germany still needed a lot of military support to take on a civil-war ravaged Third World despot with trivial military power to oppose us (Libya).

UPDATE: While the president will keep close to 10,000 US troops there through this year, he is firm on completely leaving at the end of 2016.