Thursday, April 30, 2015

Let's Have a Sea Power Debate

Instead of having a carrier debate, can we have a sea power debate?

Our defense budget is in question. We can't spend without regard to harming the economy and fiscal strength that is the base of our economic power. Deficit spending and debt matter. So we have to spend money more wisely rather than count on surges in defense spending. Should aircraft carriers give way to other vessels?

The budget will have serious consequences for the size of the fleet and its ability to maintain combat readiness, which in turn will have consequences for U.S. strategy. If the Navy wants to address its budget crisis, its falling ship count, its atrophying strategic position, and the problem of its now-marginal combat effectiveness — and reassert its traditional dominance of the seas — it should embrace technological innovation and increase its efficiency.

In short: It needs to stop building aircraft carriers.

It does seem as if carriers are risky and expensive ships to be the core of our fleet given new technology:

Rapid growth in the capability and quality of guided missiles — mostly Chinese in origin — is causing the U.S. Navy to rethink the number of surface ships it needs to effectively fight a high-end war.

Early estimates based ongoing war games could mean the current number of 88 large surface combatants — the Navy’s fleet of guided missile destroyers and cruisers — needs to grow to more than a hundred into the 2020s just to keep to today’s current level of risk, USNI News has learned.

However, increasing a fleet of multi-billion dollar ships by almost 25 percent is highly unlikely given declining U.S. military budgets current funding restrictions and the wind-down from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As we have this carrier debate, we have to remember that the opposing sides generally argue past each other, with carrier defenders pointing to the power projection mission--air strikes against land powers without much naval or air power to threaten them (or humanitarian missions); while carrier critics point to the problem of sea control missions--defeating other navies and air power to deny them use and guarantee our use of the seas--in the face of those guided missiles and the growing ability to aim them properly at identified targets.

I think we need means (ships and subs and aircraft) other than carriers for sea control while we need aircraft carriers for power projection.

So I think we need fewer large deck carriers and more network-centric vessels capable of focusing combat power from widely scattered and diverse assets.

It may be that we build fewer carriers to maintain a smaller force of power projection capability (and a supporting role for the sea control mission) and have some reserve carrier capability by building even larger amphibious warfare ships by building amphibious warfare-optimized Ford hulls with a backup aircraft carrier mission. (And I freely admit that I'm throwing that out without the expertise to evaluate the notion.)

Carriers are an asset to have sea power. We should want sea power, and allow the debate to honestly come to a conclusion to decide the fate of the assets to create that sea power.

UPDATE: More on the small American Cyclone class vessels that I mentioned reacted to Iran's seizure of a Marshall Islands ship in the Strait of Hormuz.

Because our Navy must travel so far to reach patrol waters, we can't really have many of these kind of ships. We need ships to be large enough to sail around the globe. The small vessels fill a niche need. In the Persian Gulf (or the South China Sea) that is an important niche, however.

Hopefully our Navy doesn't seriously still think the LCS (or the frigate replacement newer models will become) are appropriate for that threat environment, and buys more small vessels to replace the ships now all in the Persian Gulf and to have some for the western Pacific, too.

Jade Hysteria 15

If I may be so bold, we train our troops on American soil not because our leaders plan to use our military to take over America but because America is where we base the vast majority of our troops.

Oh for Pete's sake:

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday asked the State Guard to monitor a U.S. military training exercise dubbed "Jade Helm 15" amid Internet-fueled suspicions that the war simulation is really a hostile military takeover.

The request comes a day after more than 200 people packed a meeting in rural Bastrop County and questioned a U.S. Army commander about whether the government was planning to confiscate guns or implement martial law. Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said "conspiracy theorists" and "fear mongers" had been in a frenzy. ...

Suspicions about Jade Helm intensified on some conservative websites and social media after a map labeled Texas, Utah and parts of California as "hostile" for the purposes of the three-month training exercise that begins in July. Such war simulations aren't unusual, though the Army has acknowledged that the size and scope of Jade Helm makes it unique.

Texas and six other states are hosting the exercises on public and private lands. The Army says the terrain and topography in the areas selected are ideal to replicate foreign combat zones.


I know it would be nice if potential enemies allowed us to deploy our military to their countries to train on how to take them down, but until they do that (and until we decide to pay for such deployments) we have to exercise America-based troops on American soil and label different parts "red" for enemy and "blue" for friendly.

Recall the pre-World War II Louisiana maneuvers, please:

Around 400,000 troops were divided into equal armies of two fictitious countries: Kotmk (Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky), also called the Red Army; and Almat (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee), or the Blue Army. The troops were organized into a total of 19 divisions.

From August to September 1941, the armies fought over 3,400 square miles (8,800 km²) of Louisiana. The area spanned from the Sabine River east to the Calcasieu River and north to the Red River.

The exercise across 4 services involves just 1,200 troops. So I assume this is a command post exercise where leaders command paper units across a vast distance to practice the ability to control operations.

This is in contrast to a field exercise to provide training to the actual troops in the field; or a big-ass combined exercise that tests headquarters with the problem of actual units following and failing to follow orders or provide accurate information back to the headquarters.

Or I suppose it is possible that when I was in the National Guard we practiced taking over parts of northern Michigan when we were on exercises in Camp Grayling. Since I recall a map of the region marked up to look like an overseas deployment area.

People need to get a grip. Some are racing into Obama Derangement Syndrome territory as unhinged as Bush Derangement Syndrome got during the Bush 43 presidency.

Is it really insufficient to judge President Obama as inept and wrong on major issues without adding in the notion that he is preparing for a coup?

We are training our troops to defend us. Period.

UPDATE: Wow. A little paranoia about our president is all it takes to get the Left to jump to the defense of military training!

Also note that the Texas State Guard is not the National Guard. The State Guard is a type of force that pretty much all states have (under different names) in various states of unreadiness that in theory could replace the National Guard for state security duties if the National Guard is called into federal service.

That said, seriously Governor Abbot?

UPDATE: Much later update. More on the theory and reality.

The conspiracy aspect is far sillier than I imagined it could be. Foolish me. Of course, if Chinese troops come pouring out of Walmart basements, I will issue a formal apology.

Also, it is a special forces exercise. So that explains the large area and small number of troops rather than being a command post exercise.

Plus a reminder that the state guard is not the National Guard. I've seen a lot of confusion on that.

And while it could have a military role in extreme cases, it is better suited to disaster relief support.

From the "Duh" Files

Ya think?

The United States now sees the Ukrainian rebels as a Russian force.

American officials briefed on intelligence from the region say Russia has significantly deepened its command and control of the militants in eastern Ukraine in recent months, leading the U.S. to quietly introduce a new term: "combined Russian-separatist forces."

The Russians have always been good about creating faux rebels to be the front of their aggression.

Perhaps I shouldn't be annoyed that it has taken 14 months for the administration to admit that Russia is directing the war against Ukraine as much as I should be grateful that reality can penetrate their bubble at all.

UPDATE: I'm not sure why we need that fancy term when "hand puppets" works for describing accurately those Russian-controlled rebels.

And our NATO commander say that Russian actions are consistent with a renewed offensive:

"Russian forces used the opportunities presented by the recent lull in fighting to reset and reposition while protecting their gains," he said. "Many of their actions are consistent with preparations for another offensive."

File that information in the same category.

UPDATE: If factoring in Russia's timing for their waves of new draftees still matters, Russia would want to attack by mid-May to avoid losing troops at the end of their enlistment period and having lots of new untrained soldiers in the ranks.

Of course, if Russia just picks the best parts of units from across Russia as they have for the last year, as I noted in an update in this post, perhaps this limitation really only applies to major wars that need most of Russia's ground units in big formations.

Spinning Unobtanium

Don't worry about those Iranian centrifuges!

Iran has about 19,000 centrifuges, and the U.S. initially called for cutting that to between 500 and 1,500. The agreement now allows 6,104. Not only that, Iran’s foreign minister has said that advanced IR-8 centrifuges, which enrich uranium 20 times faster than the current IR-1 models, will be put into operation as soon as the nuclear deal takes effect—contrary to what the U.S. has asserted.

Silly Wall Street Journal! Like that detail or any of the other so-called "problems" interferes with our Smart Diplomacy!*

The agreement will only allow the Iranians to enrich Uhopium 44, which after 10 years creates Changium 25, the reset-grade ingredient for partnership!

So sleep well tonight. Our president has our back.

*Your results may vary. Use only as directed and do not operate heavy machinery. Past performance actually is a good guide for future results. If you have difficulty breathing or avoiding nuclear fallout, please contact CENTCOM.

UPDATE: Thanks to Pseudo-Polymath for the link.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

About That Light at the End of the Tunnel

Assad's forces and supporters are looking shaky:

The Syrian Army has suffered a string of defeats from re-energized insurgents and is struggling to replenish its ranks as even pro-government families increasingly refuse to send sons to poorly defended units on the front lines. These developments raise newly urgent questions about the durability of President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

“The trend lines for Assad are bad and getting worse,” said a senior United States official in Washington, who, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments, nevertheless cautioned that things had not yet reached “a boiling point.”

The erosion of the army is forcing the government to rely ever more heavily on Syrian and foreign militias, especially Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group allied with Iran.

This is what I've been saying. The war is pushing Assad's forces to the breaking point.

Although I'm not sure whether the strain is sufficient to cause Assad's forces to actually break in the near future.

But the trend is clear if nothing is done to change the vector.

Remember, the fall 2013 Kerry-Lavrov chemical weapons deal was supposed to hold off our aid to rebels (including air support) long enough for Assad to defeat the rebels. Assad has not made good on that promise.

Had we started helping rebels back before jihadis dominated the resistance to Assad, we might have somebody in place right now other than ISIL and other jihadis capable of marching into Damascus.

But no, we didn't want to "militarize" the conflict as our Secretary of State put it. More than 200,000 casualties later, here we are.

And we're still screwing this up:

The U.S. plan to train and arm a force that is expected to eventually total more than 15,000 troops and to get underway in the coming weeks is a major test of President Barack Obama's strategy of engaging local partners to combat extremists.

But administration officials are already scaling back expectations of its impact and some rebel leaders say the force risks sowing divisions and cannot succeed without directly targeting Syrian government forces.

Let me start with the basics. It is insane to recruit and train a rebel force while telling these rebels that our objective is not to march on Damascus and throw Assad out of power but to put enough pressure on Assad to get him to negotiate--which will eventually get Kerry a lovely Nobel Peace Prize while the rebels look forward to Assad's secret police quietly arresting and torturing them when the press corps attention dies down.

Real people won't die for Kerry's vanity.

So we won't have an rebel army as much as we have a bullet point to defend against the charge that we are doing nothing.

And back to the Times article:

Syria’s once-centralized armed forces [are being transformed] into something beginning to resemble that of the insurgents: a patchwork of local and foreign fighters whose interests and priorities do not always align.

They also give Assad credit for 125,000 regulars and 125,000 irregulars including the Shia foreign legion that Iran has provided. It is not clear if Hezbollah's 5,000 are part of that latter number.

The important point is that Assad's forces are becoming more of a static and strategically immobile force tied to local defense because so many are militias.

One of Assad's advantages has been that his military is strategically mobile while the large rebellion largely is a local force. Assad could reinforce areas under threat and strike at the rebels with greater force.

But if Assad can't do that as he once could, a rebel success in one part of Syria that leads to Assad's defenders cracking there could lead to rapid rebel advances in that area.

If that happens, morale in Assad's forces and supporters could really break quickly as it becomes every man for himself time with people fleeing to Turkey, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Jordan rather than die in a futile cause of propping Assad up.

When the revolt broke out, if things went the way the trajectory indicated, Assad was doomed. So President Obama may have felt that he was rushing to the front of the parade to collect a free trophy by demanding that Assad had to go.

But Iran intervened and Russia provided the weapons. That vector was changed and defeat was averted.

Then jihadis flocked to Syria, eclipsing and marginalizing the non-jihadi rebels. Assad did not win with his revitalized forces despite the bolstering that the Kerry chemical arms deal and our anti-ISIL aerial intervention provided, and now the pressures leading to Assad's defeat are building up again.

So the president was right--except for who would exploit Assad's going away.

What can change this? Will Assad successfully pull back to an Alawite rump Syria that perhaps abandons Damascus as the capital of his realm?

Does Iran gain such an infusion of money from a faux nuclear deal with us that Iran can pour resources into Syria to prop up Assad even more?

Does Russia make a major effort to save Assad in whatever territory Assad can hold by sending in Russian troops in an effort to bolster Assad forces' (and supporters') morale?

Or if Assad's forces break, will Turkey intervene in force (with multiple corps) to sweep into western Syria to organize the survivors of the Assad regime in an anti-ISIL force that pushes Assad's Baath Party aside?

Will Israel take advantage of an Assad defeat to hit Hezbollah while they are reeling from retreat from Syria in order to march all the way to Baalbek in the northern Bekaa Valley in Lebanon?

And will we get our act together to put some kind of decent rebel force into the field? How can we be so bad at this in Syria where so many hate Assad when Russia can seemingly astro-turf rebels at will?

It is certainly going to get uglier before it gets better. We decided to do nothing when Assad was reeling 3-4 years ago. That decision to be passive was as much a decision as any active policy we might have started. Tell me, does that count as "not doing stupid stuff," as the president proudly stated was his new guiding principle?

Let's hope that the bloodshed Syria has endured at least opens the way for something better for Syrians rather than a return to autocracy or a flirtation with Islamic republic. They deserve a real light and not the headlight of another oncoming train.

UPDATE: Arab states may provide defenses against Syrian air power to the Southern Front rebels:

“Rebel factions in the area are preparing for large-scale military operations and have received promises of Arab air cover, or at least the provision of anti-aircraft rockets,” a source in the FSA told Alaraby Aljadeed in an article published Tuesday.

I don't know if this is more than RUMORINT (rumor intelligence), but as long as Saudi Arabia is in a proxy battle with Iran over the fate of Yemen (while we make our Arab allies wonder about our reliability as we ask Iran to help calm Yemen down!), why not battle Iran in Syria, too?

As those southern rebels make some gains (despite recent Syrian efforts that included Hezbollah shock troops all the way that south), Assad's losses in the north stretch Syrian troops a great deal:

Islamic rebels captured 100 Syrian government troops and militia fighters after seizing the Syrian military's last urban stronghold in Idlib province over the weekend, according to a human rights observer group.

An array of allied militant Islamic factions, including al-Qaida's Nusra Front, stormed into the town of Jisr al-Shughour from the Turkish border on Thursday, taking most of it by Saturday.

Unless something dramatic happens to improve his fortunes, Assad can't hold the ground he is trying to fight for right now. Either his forces collapse or he contracts his realm.

And even the latter is risky with so many of his forces being local defense forces that won't want to leave their home areas. Recall that South Vietnam tried to retreat to a core area when North Vietnam invaded in 1975 and Saigon's military couldn't handle the orders to do that when it meant leaving families behind.

UPDATE: Oh, and Saudi Arabia has deployed their most loyal ground forces--the National Guard (not to be confused with our reserve force of the same name)--to the Yemen border:

SANG forces being deployed included a mechanised infantry brigade as well as artillery, air defence, reconnaissance, engineering, logistics, and anti-armour units.

So it can't be that large if it is a brigade reinforced with other assets. But it is more loyal and reliable than the regular army.

UPDATE: More on Assad's military, financial, and public support problems.

Abusive Partner

Iranian Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) armed vessels hijacked a merchant ship flagged by the Marshall Islands:

Iranian forces boarded a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship in the Gulf on Tuesday after patrol boats fired warning shots across its bow and ordered it deeper into Iranian waters, the Pentagon said.

U.S. planes and a destroyer were monitoring the situation after the vessel, the MV Maersk Tigris, made a distress call in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most important oil shipping channels.

The Marshall Islands is a group of small islands in the Pacific whose defense we are responsible for

Naturally, Iran assumes they can humiliate us and demonstrate that we won't defend those who rely on us:

The U.S. Defense Department’s lawyers have determined, however, that for the purposes of the Tigris‘ capture by the IRGCN, the U.S. has no obligation to respond or come to the defense of the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel.

I'm sure this is exactly what the Marshall Islands had in mind when we said we'd take responsibility for their defense.

I know I've never had a firm grasp of that nuance thing, but is this what we can expect from our new partner Iran, post-nuclear weapons capability?

If this does escalate to trading blows, I'm glad our carrier is out of the Persian Gulf. We moved our carrier out in response to a recent Iranian convoy that had been on the way to support their allies in Yemen. While I didn't think we needed a carrier to stop those Iranian ships, I did think it was a good idea to get our high value ships out of the Gulf before shooting started.

UPDATE: And like any enabling partner, Kerry kisses the butt of our tormenter:

“In the negotiations Kerry told [Iranian Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif that he [Kerry] wished U.S. had a leader like Iran’s supreme leader,” according to Alam al-Hoda, who is a senior member of the Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts.

Of course, that is what our partner, Iran, says. A "senior [Obama] administration official" denied Kerry said any such thing. So we disagree on the terms of the proto-deal and Kerry's ability to suck up.

Either Kerry is a suck-up or our partner Iran just wants to humiliate us.

And it is no good to say that maybe some horrible Iranian folks are trying to undermine the so-called moderates in Iran who want a nuclear deal.

Pray tell, what if those same folks undermine the actual nuclear deal despite the existence of mythical moderates who want to keep Iran's nuclear arsenal one year from construction for another decade?

UPDATE: Unrelated, but nonetheless a lesson in that nuance stuff that I clearly fail to grok.

UPDATE: You must admit, it isn't hard to imagine Spongespine Spandexpants bowing and scraping to the Iranians.

UPDATE: The Iranians must believe our president has supreme leader-like powers since their foreign minister denies Congress has any ability to interfere with the president's decisions on an Iran deal:

If Iran strikes a deal with the West, all sanctions will be lifted very quickly and there’s nothing the U.S. Congress can do to stop it, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a New York audience Wednesday.

It's interesting that he says that talk of sanctions being lifted after certain conditions are met won't be a problem for Iran to achieve quickly.

One wonders if the Obama administration condition for lifting sanctions on Iran is solely the time it takes for the signatures on the agreement to dry.

UPDATE: Back to shipping:

U.S. Navy ships will begin accompanying U.S. commercial ships during their transit through the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf to ensure they encounter no interference from Iran, U.S. defense officials said Thursday.

Apparently, "accompanying" ships is different from "escorting" them. I guess we'll be nearby in contact with ships but not a classic convoy system.

It looks like a guided missile destroyer plus 3 of our 8 (I think) patrol craft have that mission:

The destroyer Farragut, which entered the Straits at "best speed" Tuesday following the takeover of the Maersk Tigris, was joined by the Cyclone-class patrol craft Typhoon, Firebolt and Thunderbolt, said Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren.

I commend the president for taking action to protect our ships and hopefully deter the Iranians in general.

And on Yemen, it looks like hope and change had no effect on Iran from the very beginning of that outstretched hand from our president:

Iran has been shipping weapons to Yemen's Huthi rebels since at least 2009, according to a confidential UN report, indicating that Tehran's support dates back to the early years of the Shiite militia's insurgency.

Our partner.

Shhhh!! Leave Putin Alone!

Thanks, buddy:

Russia's plan to expand its navy through the construction of an aircraft supercarrier is pretty much a tremendous waste, Nicholas Varangis of the Atlantic Council argues. ...

The move to construct a supercarrier could be a move by Moscow to develop more global reach, but without the proper investments in global partnerships the carrier would become nothing more than an expensive vanity project.

President Putin! Forget him! He probably doesn't think you should hunt tigers, either!

You build that sucker. You deserve it! And I mean that.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Dots and Pictures

Before the Iraq War, I was convinced that we would invade Iraq through Anbar province from Jordan. Let's see if I can avoid making the same mistake again. Is ISIL making the same mistake?

Mind you, there were a number of dots in 2002 and early 2003 that I pointed to. And since we actually did attack Iraq from Jordan--albeit with special forces and small numbers of infantry battalions to hold air bases we captured rather than the multi-division effort I expected--there was a picture to be seen if you had enough dots to connect.

My picture was the main effort to avoid rampaging through anti-Saddam Shia areas and focus the collateral damage of our thrust in the pro-Saddam Sunni Arab areas; while avoiding the obvious option of attacking out of Kuwait, which I assumed Saddam would focus on.

Unknown to me, I found out during the war that Saddam actually did expect our main effort to come out of Jordan. I'll refrain from noting the expression that great minds think alike ...

Anyway, that's why I've noted in the past that the best way to hide your plans is not to hide them completely from a foe because they will always find out some dots. You can't hide every indication of action.

The best way to deceive is to convince your foe that the dots they see paint a picture that they expect to see. Then they do what I did--use the dots that fit perfectly into their picture and fill in the gaps with what makes sense. The only problem from the foe's point of view is that it is their picture and not our picture.

As you may remember, since the June 2014 ISIL advance in northern Iraq that added to the territory taken in Anbar starting in January 2014, I've figured that Jordan could provide a mechanized force to help the rattled Iraqi military, if supported by our air power.

I've noted several dots in support, including Jordanian troop movements, the anger of Jordan's king over ISIL's brutal killing of one of their pilots, and our military presence in Jordan as potential indicators that this option is on the table.

But while this makes sense, it made sense in 2003 and yet we did exactly what it appeared we'd do--advance north from Kuwait.

Yet now we have a dot from the other side of the battlefield:

Three suicide car bombs exploded at a border crossing between Iraq and Jordan on Saturday, killing four soldiers, a witness and an Iraqi border police source said, in an attack claimed shortly afterwards by Islamic State.

The fighting in Anbar has been at the eastern end of the province, on the approaches to Baghdad. That's where ISIL has put the most pressure on the Iraqi security forces.

Why would ISIL make an effort at the far western part of the province?

Are we engineering a western front in the fight for Anbar? In a perfect world as my picture has it, an eastern front offensive pushes the jihadis back while a western front offensive panics the eastern front and gets ISIL running for Syria--which the western front force intercepts and targets with ample air power, slaughtering them while the enemy is on the move rapidly and across open terrain.

Is ISIL wrongly expecting a western front coming out of Jordan, just as Saddam expected in 2003?

Or is ISIL just doing what ISIL does, launching terror attacks? If so, this border attack is just a spasm of violence that the local jihadis finally managed to pull off against local targets that fits in with the picture of ISIL being a band of bloody terrorists who like to kill on their mission from God.

I don't know what it is. But what I do know after nearly 13 years as an amateur intelligence analyst sifting open source resources and attempting to make sense of them on this blog is that I am more cautious about making predictions based on scattered dots with my preferences filling in the vast gaps to paint the picture.

And I will say that I still think it makes sense to have a western front in Anbar if the Jordanians are willing.

UPDATE: Strategypage, in a post on Iraq, indicates that the attacks in western Anbar is just a matter of jihadis killing people where they can as ISIL concentrates on Anbar.

A Distance-Paranoia Correlation?

I'm tired of hearing how we need to understand Russia's security worries and accept their demands for land to ease their worries.

How far west does Russia's border need to be for their paranoia to subside? Really?

[In] Russia, many claim that while Russia is willing to recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity (with the exception of Crimea), Moscow will demand no less than any other great power would on its border. Security on its western frontier requires a special relationship with Ukraine and a degree of deference expected in major powers’ spheres of influence. More specifically, Russia’s establishment sentiment holds that the country can never be secure if Ukraine joins NATO or becomes a part of a hostile Euro-Atlantic community. From their perspective, this makes Ukraine’s nonadversarial status a nonnegotiable demand for any Russia powerful enough to defend its national-security interests.

Yet many in Russia claim that Ukraine isn't even a real country at all. So let's set aside that recognition of sovereignty claptrap right now. Russia recognizes the territorial integrity of Ukraine's control of territory that Russia cannot yet seize.

As for any great power demanding deference from neighbors, do I have to mention our toleration of Cuba for so many years?

And the USSR did have to live with NATO Norway and Turkey on their actual land borders.

Along with living with an Iran under the Shah that was our ally until the Islamic Revolution.

And successor state Russia has lived with the Baltic states in NATO on their borders.

Yet we're to believe that Ukraine must be deferential to Russia. So what about Latvia? Lithuania? Estonia? Belarus?

What about Poland?

Is Sweden naturally expected to defer? Is Finland supposed to know their place?

And who believes that Russia thinks that even owning all of Ukraine would provide enough security on their western border when the Red Army sitting in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary wasn't sufficiently to the west for Russia to believe that their successful defense could rest on something less ambitious than a lunge to the Rhine River?

Face it, if Russia got Ukraine, suddenly having a deferential Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland would be something that Russia would naturally (as any great power would!) expect.

That's the way it works. If Russia gets a buffer that protects their territory, before long that buffer is their territory that itself needs a buffer to protect it.

Lather, rinse, repeat, and pretty soon Russia is worrying about Britain across the English Channel and figuring that Hadrian's Wall would be a nice buffer line.

Hey! It's what a great power has the right to expect!

For real laughs, how deferential is bordering China supposed to be to Russia? It seems to me that Russia has gotten used to that deference thing in rather a different way than these (admittedly learned, I assume they've forgotten more about Russia than I learned--but maybe that's the problem) authors suggest is natural.

Hell, how deferential are we supposed to be with Alaska a stone's throw away from Russia?

Look, I think it would be folly for either America or Russia to fight each other.

And I wouldn't go to war over non-NATO Ukraine (although I would help train and arm Ukraine as long as Ukrainians are willing to fight for their sovereignty and territorial integrity).

So thinking about how to prevent a crisis with Russia from spiraling into a war is a welcome warning, especially given that we both have nuclear weapons (but if it is fair to ask whether we will trade New York City for Riga, isn't it fair to ask if Russia is willing to trade Moscow for Riga?). The lack of calm rationality in interpreting the other side's actions in a crisis is all too true and potentially catastrophic given that great wars not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier have been fought.

But that said, I don't think that rationalizing Russia's aggression is the way to prevent a war between us.

Sure, humiliating a nuclear Russia is risky. But does that mean we have to retreat before Russia's advances?

It may be possible to use diplomacy to fix this crisis that we don't want to escalate to nuclear war between America and Russia.

UPDATE: Finland doesn't appear to be in the mood to let the Russians do as they please:

Finland's navy has dropped depth charges in waters near Helsinki as a warning to a suspected submarine.

An unidentified object was spotted on Monday within Finnish territorial waters. It was detected again early on Tuesday, the navy said.

It might not be Russian. Heck, it might not be a submarine. But the "depth charges" were not weapons either--just noise makers designed to get the attention of a sub crew rather than attack a sub.

The College Major of Peace?

The French believe that the man they arrested for plotting an attack on a church and who is linked to the killing of a woman, may not have been acting alone:

The Paris prosecutor's office says a formal terror investigation has been opened after the arrest this week of a computer science student who authorities say planned an attack on a church and is suspected in the shooting death of a woman. ...

The charges, which include killing in relation to a terrorist enterprise, make clear that investigators believe the suspect had accomplices.

Throughout the entire article, while there is mention he is of Algerian origin and that we was in possession of Arab language jihadi material, there is no mention that the suspect is Moslem as a motivation for wanting to shoot up a church.

So I guess we're looking at a rogue faction of non-demoninational computer programmers.

But please people, let's not have that dread backlash against the vast majority of coders who want nothing to do with a jihad (and no Butlerian jihad, to be sure!).

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Greater West Pacific Co-Defense Sphere

Over the last twenty years, China has graduated from being a passive lump of people that could absorb an enemy attack or invasion and outlast the invader to being a country with modern weapons and units intended to project power away from the Chinese mainland. So Japan is adapting its defense guidelines to allow them to resist this power projection capability:

Japan and the United States unveiled new guidelines for defense cooperation on Monday, reflecting Japan's willingness to take on a more robust international role at a time of growing Chinese power and rising concerns about nuclear-armed North Korea.

The first revision to the guidelines since 1997 allows for global cooperation militarily, ranging from defense against ballistic missile, cyber and space attacks and maritime security, following a Japanese Cabinet resolution last year reinterpreting Japan's pacifist constitution to allow the exercise of the right to "collective self-defense."

When China's power projection capabilities were nonexistent and when the USSR's power was concentrated north of Japan, the U.S.-Japan alliance worked fine if Japan could defend their own territory with our forces supporting them while our forces handled the fighting away from Japan.

Having a "self defense force" with narrowly defined missions was fine.

China's rise means that American forces outside of that bubble of direct defense of the Japanese home islands could now face Chinese attack and need Japanese support.

Other countries under attack by China--say the Philippines, Vietnam, or Taiwan--would likely need more than just American support to hold off the Chinese.

And a smaller U.S. Navy could use Japanese help--especially in mine warfare assets that we lack--as far away as the Persian Gulf.

If these things seem very normal, you are right. What nation couldn't do that sort of thing with allies?

That Japan did not think those activities were legal within their system cried out for changes to make them legal in the new security environment that we face in the western Pacific.

Don't think that this is just Japan helping us. This helps Japan. Without our forces, Japan cannot secure their sea lines of communication away from their local bubble of defense. Japan does not have a power projection capability. So enabling American forces nearby helps us keep Japan's trade routes open.

Oh, and the Russians are still all Russian-like north of Japan.  So American-Japanese military cooperation would help there, too, for that smaller threat. For now. Who knows when Russia's Far East (formerly Chinese land) becomes a core interest of China?

UPDATE: Stratfor has more. If Japan is to make good on its efforts to be a security partner with America in the face of rising Chinese power they will need to get their economy growing again.

Breaking Iraq?

You have to love our Left. Either it was a mistake to wade into Iraq because "they've been fighting for hundreds of years" or because Bush wrecked the place in 2003.

Here's one more on the latter:

The dangerous fantasy that Iraq was on the brink of a new democratic era in 2010 – if only the Obama administration had leaned harder on Iraq's politicians – just won't die. And it's a matter of more than historical interest, with America announcing today further support for Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen, and amid ongoing efforts to find a military solution to the civil war in Syria. ...

Al Qaeda in Iraq came to be after the US invaded in March 2003, removing a Sunni Arab strongman who hated jihadis as much as he oppressed Iraq's Shiite Arab majority. Al Qaeda in Iraq gave birth to the Islamic State, one of the most potent Sunni jihadi forces in history.

With the destruction of the secular Baath regime and Iraq's army, followed by an aggressive lustration campaign that threw tens of thousands of Iraqi civil servants and officers out of work, the US created a Sunni resistance army in waiting that didn't wait for very long. With the emergence of the clandestine Shiite Islamist parties from the shadows – many of whose leaders had survived the brutality of the Hussein years under Iran's protection – a sectarian mindset was almost inevitable for Iraq's new politics. ...

Reconciliation was in fact a very tough sell in a country that had gone through so much sectarian trauma, so recently.

We're darned close to the nonsense that Iraq was a kite-flying paradise before we destroyed the Saddam regime.

We did not break Iraq. Let me reply to that charge as I did at the end of 2007 when the surge offensive had clearly beaten down the jihadis and convinced the Sunni Arabs to flip to our side (but before the pro-Iran Shias were knocked down in spring 2008) and still opponents saw defeat and wanted us to run:

Under Saddam, the Shia south was kept under sullen control after mass killings and continuous oppression. Western Anbar was subcontracted to the Sunni Arab tribes and not under control of Saddam. The Kurdish north was de facto independent under American and British protection. And even the center was largely subcontracted out to criminal gangs. The Iraqi state was really Saddam's family and favored Tikriti Sunni Arabs plus the security apparatus and a UN seat. It lived off of the people of Iraq but was not a country at all. No unity and no stability except the quiet calm of a corpse, and surely not even Korb believed Saddam was winning those elections at 99+%.

Today, the Kurds remain part of Iraq despite their autonomy. The Shia south is again part of Iraq--and willingly so. Anbar is at least as much a part of Iraq now as under Saddam, and if oil revenue is shared out to the province it will become solid. And the government is gaining control of the center--including tackling the criminal gangs. And through it all, democracy is being honored. And stability is growing from military and political success, and Iraq will be more stable for the democracy we are helping Iraqis build rather than being the sullen quiet of people too beaten down to raise their voices in protest.

Is ethnic division still significant? Yes. But as long as the resulting competition can be confined to politics and elections, why is this ethnic division any more serious a threat to democracy than the bitter Republican-Democratic divide here? Are all of our ethnic groups evenly divided between the parties?

As long as rule of law and minority rights keep losers from pulling out their guns and keep winners from enforcing victory in perpetuity by their guns, competition is actually normal and healthy. Who says they have to get along or like each other much? They just have to play by democracy's rules for this to work.

I'd never say that our presence after 2011 guaranteed a functioning democracy any more than I claimed Iraq was doomed because we left.

What I said about a democratic Iraq was that our odds of success were reduced if we left and that our odds if we stayed were better.

The idea that the years of Saddam's, jihadis', and Sadrists' bloodletting guaranteed failure no matter what we did in 2011 forces you to say that Western Europe after World War II couldn't possibly repair the damage from the bloodletting of 1939-1945.

And it requires you to remember that 1946 and 1947 were no picnic, either.

But hey, nice try on the "it's Bush's fault" genre. Time to go back to the "ancient conflict that can't be solved" genre, I think.

UPDATE: It isn't just me. This being my second post in recent days on this subject. Instapundit notices that the Left has become more active on this front.

Are they expecting failure in Iraq? (What? Those racists don't think our first African-American president can do better in Iraq that Bushitler?)

Or maybe they expect this effort is Security Theater that will end after the next presidential election, and they need to excuse that? (Maybe we'll subcontract security for Iraq to Iran since Iran has done such a splendid job of defending the Assad regime in Syria.)

UPDATE: I think Jon Stewart is funny, but I simply don't value his judgment on the Iraq War. I just don't.

He is a Hopeful Sort, Isn't He?

China can be stopped from their creeping annexation of the South China Sea if we use environmental law provisions? Good luck with that.

Huh, dredging the sea floor to build those islands that China is constructing may be the key issue to stopping them:

Like all countries that have ratified UNCLOS, China has general legal obligations to protect and preserve the marine environment. UNCLOS specifically requires signatory nations to refrain from causing transboundary environmental harms and to take measures “necessary to protect and preserve rare or fragile ecosystems as well as the habitat of depleted, threatened or endangered species and other forms of marine life.”

It's some pretty fascinating angle with only one problem. It doesn't have a chance of working.

If international law on freedom of the seas in international water hasn't slowed down China's sea grab, in what alternate world where China actually gives a fig about their own environment let alone the sea bed's health would China quake at the thought of being found in violation of international environmental laws?

When I first saw the headline about the environment being the "secret weapon" for stopping China, I thought it might have been about the vulnerability to the artificial islands to being scoured away by a typhoon.

But no, the author suggests a solution only a partial step above wishing for the International Law Fairy's magical intervention.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Beyond Parody

Using the word "girls" to refer to women is politically incorrect.

And it isn't just incorrect because it might demean females in ways that the use of the word "boys" does not insult men. (Ah, the benefits of male privilege!)

So the word "girl" is doubleplus ungood. Don't use it.

But it is so bad that it is now apparently improper to refer to actual girls as "girls" and actual boys as "boys".

I was puzzled initially at the calendar of my daughter's middle school. They listed WBB and MBB on the sports calendar.

What is tha--oh!--Women's basketball and Men's basketball!

For actual children's teams!

Amusingly enough, sometimes the calendar makers would screw up and put in BBB or GBB. One shudders at the thought crime involved.

Clearly we need more reeducation camps.


I like Metz's work, and I certainly agree that we need to understand what our enemies fear in order to better defeat them, I'm not on board the notion that we need to reduce our casualties in order to make our enemies know we will fight as long as it takes to win; nor do I agree that Russia's so-called "hybrid" war has been fought at a level too low for us to react.

I'm fine with the idea that we need to understand enemy weaknesses. But other than that, I can't say I think much of the supporting ideas.

This, for one:

Others, like Russia and China today, have kept their aggression below the threshold of an American response, hoping that once they’ve established a position in, say, Ukraine or the South China Sea, the U.S. will not pay the price to throw them out.

I think he has a point about China and their efforts to absorb nearby sea areas.

But I don't think that Russia is waging a "subliminal" war to keep their intervention at a level too low for us to react to.

Their intervention is large enough for us to understand that Russia has directly conquered Crimea and parts of the Donbas region of Ukraine, and we are reacting.

One, I think Russia is fighting this way not to muddy the waters and prevent us from having a clear reason to intervene, but because Russia is incapable of invading and imposing their will rapidly.

Does anybody think that Russia would not have just sent in the heavy brigades and paratroopers to seize the region from Kharkov to Mariupol if they had the military capacity? Do it fast, like Hungary or Czechoslovakia or Georgia, and the world gets over the affront fairly easily, no?

Two, Ukraine is far from our relevant combat power (ground forces) and not a member of NATO. We simply would not have intervened on Ukraine's side even if Russia openly invaded in force--especially if the Russians wrapped up the major combat operations in two weeks.

By all means, figure out how to resist this type of Russian aggression, but don't make the mistake of thinking Russia did this out of fear of our potential intervention if Moscow had openly sent in the tanks to march in under their own flag.

The second concept I have problems with is this one:

America’s potential enemies must believe that the U.S. can sustain military operations as long as necessary without losing national will or public support. Part of the solution is technological: Networks of autonomous systems can augment or even substitute for U.S. troops. That means the U.S. could sustain military control over an area, even if most American forces were out of harm’s way. Imagine today’s drone campaigns, but with a combination of ground- and air-based sensor networks and robots able to function autonomously for months or years.

To further assure that potential enemies believe that the U.S. can sustain military operations as long as necessary, American leaders should develop concepts and plans for national mobilization, to include methods for expanding the military, rebuilding the defense industrial base and paying for wars by some means other than putting them on the national credit card. Certainly no one wants a full-scale national mobilization for war, but potential enemies should know that the U.S. could do it if necessary. If the U.S. is incapable of fighting a long war, that is precisely what enemies will try to do.

There are several things for me to take issue with.

First, while saving troops' lives is a good thing both for the individuals involved and for our military which trains expensive troops, I don't think that saving troop lives will extend our will to keep fighting a war.

We stayed in Iraq for over 8 years. And are back in Iraq since late 2014. Heck, if you believe President Obama (and I don't), there would not have been a nearly 3-year-long gap if Iraq hadn't stubbornly resisted his efforts to get a status of forces agreement.

We are still in Afghanistan after over 13 years.

Yes, our will to fight weakened. But there was never enough pressure to keep us from fighting long enough to see withdrawal as a result of battlefield victory rather than as a retreat.

Heck, Bush escalated the war in Iraq during the high point of Congressional resistance and public protests during the fourth year of the war.

Obama escalated twice in the eighth year of the war in Afghanistan.

Remember, we left Iraq and are leaving Afghanistan long after our casualties were heavy enough to really impact public will to win.

Remember, too, that we stayed in Vietnam fighting for about a decade with nearly ten times as many casualties as in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

Casualties are not the problem with our will. What is more of a problem is lack of light at the end of the tunnel. If our people don't think we are making sufficient progress toward winning, our people will grow tired of the burden of war even if it is the burden of paying for expensive robots rather than our troops dying.

Second, expanding the military when needed is surely a good thing to do.

But we have hundreds of thousands of reserves that can be mobilized. It would be better to increase their readiness so we can do this with less time needed to train and equip them up to active standards.

And we managed to increase our Army active maneuver brigade count by nearly fifty percent during the Iraq War in response to the need for more units to rotate through CENTCOM.

What, do we need to have active programs for a draft? That just produces cannon fodder and not the highly trained soldiers that our Army has found it really likes to have.

I just don't think this is a problem that entices our enemies to fight us.

Enemies may think they can beat us, but I sincerely doubt that any would start a war thinking that if only they can fight us for a decade or more and kill 50,000 American troops (while losing up to 500,000 in the process) that they will "win" the war.

They may be able to do that once the war is begun, but if they start a war, they will have reasons to believe that victory will be achieved much quicker and much more cheaply than that.

Third, while paying for wars is important, we've always borrowed money for wars. I think this is inside baseball territory for our enemies. Who really believes that our enemies think they have us on the ropes if the JDAM that kills them was paid for by credit and not by cash?

In some ways, it is unfair to make the current generation pay for a war just because they are earning income while the war is being fought when generations after presumably will benefit from winning that war. That's one reason states bond for lots of capital improvements: future taxpayers will benefit from such construction projects and not just the taxpayers in existence at the time the project is conceived.

Or do you imagine that in wartime we'll reduce non-war expenditures to pay for war? Hah! While we fought in Iraq, the only "sacrifice" war opponents suggested was increasing taxes. No social program no matter how obscure (like federal cowboy poetry) was ever at risk.

Also, increasing the financial burden--whether by taxation or reducing spending on them--on our people while the war is being waged will lower our will to keep fighting a war by directly taking money from our people and from lowering economic activity by moving money from a more productive private sector and moving it to war use. Borrowing for the war is really a way to extend our will to fight.

So there you go. A fine premise for an article. But I don't think the solutions address the problem at all.

Our Coldly Brutal Foes?

Every time we contemplate military action, we think about what kind of casualty price we are willing to pay to achieve victory. Why do we assume our foes are immune to such calculations?

We don't want to help Ukraine with military aid because Moscow could escalate to cope with anything we provide to Ukraine?

President Obama and others worry that providing arms to Ukraine could worsen the fighting, particularly because Moscow retains escalation dominance on the ground thanks to its ability to flow weapons and troops practically unimpeded across the Russo-Ukrainian border.

One, I don't think we need to send basic small arms or heavy armor to Ukraine. They have plenty, although they need help to put it into operation. Ukraine needs weapons and equipment to fill gaps in their arsenal that Russia exploits.

But more important, let's examine that "escalation dominance" nonsense.

Sure, Russia can escalate at will beyond much smaller Ukraine's ability to escalate. The Russians can send more troops into Donbas or even expand the war into other parts of Ukraine to strain Ukraine's smaller military.

But Russia has a relatively small army (and associated Interior Ministry light force), with an even smaller competent component, with a very long land border to protect (and interior to police).

At some point Russia runs out of good troops to rotate into UKraine and has to send in second or even third rate troops who will die in larger numbers and commit atrocities in larger numbers.

Then Russia has to take risks on other parts of their border (and remember, they're already stripping bit of units from all across Russia to fight at the relatively low level that their subliminal war requires) to continue the war.

Escalation dominance has to be matched with sacrifice dominance--the relative willingness of each side to die for their cause.

Perhaps I missed it, but did North Vietnam wilt in the face of our theoretical escalation dominance during the Vietnam War?

I'll wait while you contact the South Vietnam embassy for their view on this issue.

Okay, then.

This fallacy also applies to Taiwan's survival in the face of China's power. China has to be willing to pay a price to take Taiwan. At some point, the prospect of casualties will deter an invasion or actual casualties will prompt "peace with honor" or "responsibly ending the war." Maybe Taiwan falls before that level is met. But it is not guaranteed.

If this theory of submission to more powerful states is real, why is the United Nations nearly 200 nations strong? Why don't we have just one planetary government as stronger powers absorb smaller states until just one remains?

War is not an exercise in math. Real people have to fight and die. And real people have to cope with the price (both people and money) of war. Even Russia and China.

And real people have to decide to just give up and not try to resist aggression.

When the Actual Nixon Went to the Actual China

Other than the story about how we worked with China to arm rebels resisting Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia, nothing in this book is actually new--if the bits in this article were selected because they are the most shocking.

We aided China--including military technology to assist them in resisting a potential  Soviet ground invasion--because "Nixon went to China." Of course we focused on our common foe, the USSR. If not, the only point to "going" to any foe is to give up.

So no doubt the author got multiple permissions to publish.

Not that the book is necessarily bad. I have no idea. And just because the stories are little-known doesn't mean it isn't useful to remind people so they don't get confused about our current policies of extending open hands to foes.

That confusion about realpolitik explains defenders of the President's policies toward Iran repeatedly insisting this is a "Nixon goes to China" moment in history. Egads, the stupid hurts.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Hammer is Neither Good Nor Bad

I'm not sure what the answer is for the problem of using mercenaries without suffering bad side effects, but the issue won't go away.

Indeed, I assume such contractors are in action right now over Yemen:

The militaries of gulf nations have been “a combination of something between symbols of deterrence and national flying clubs,” said Richard L. Aboulafia, a defense analyst at the Teal Group. “Now they’re suddenly being used.”

The article is about how we've sold the aircraft for Saudi Arabia's coalition.

But I assume that mercenaries have a rather large role in flying the missions and probably almost all of the maintenance tasks to keep the planes in the air.

You can see my thoughts over the years on the issue of privatized military power (for only 99 cents!)

And don't forget that standing militaries can have bad side effects, too. Mercenaries are just a tool that can be used for good or bad purposes.

The Horror

Jonah Goldberg has attracted the ire of Donald Trump who Tweeted his non-negotiable demand:

@JonahNRO You stated that I started “relentlessly tweeting like a 14-year-old girl...” Horrible insult to women. Resign now or later!

I find it not a little bit disturbing as the father of an actual "girl" that Trump cannot distinguish between adult "women" and minor females.

But back to the point. Jonah's response where that Tweet is reproduced is typically humorous and effective.

I think the most effective response would have been "@ClownTrump I choose to resign later."

It would be in the spirit of the prisoner asked by his evil captor, "How do you wish to die?" who responds, "I'd like to die of old age, at home in bed, with pretty call girl woman asleep beside me."

I mean, Trump did offer Jonah the rather broad choice of resigning "now" or "later." I guess it is that kind of keen mind's attention to detail that built the Trump empire.

But at some level, what's the point of responding? As my dear momma always told me when I was a child, "When you wrestle with clowns you get multi-colored makeup and seltzer water all over you--and the clown likes it."

I still don't know why momma kept telling me that. It kind of freaked me out after a while.

But no matter. Best to just enjoy the fact that someone as clown-like as The Donald doesn't like you and know that when you one day (much later) stand at the Pearly Gates to Heaven, this fact will nullify a dozen snide remarks about cats and their owners on your score card.

As a point of order, comparing Trump to a 14-year-old girl was actually a compliment to Trump, whereas comparing a 14-year-old girl to Trump would have been the real horrible insult to girls (and probably all females, including women).

I now resume my usual blogging.

Apparently Unclear on the Concept

They're evil, but we should still laugh at the social justice worriers:

Why their (apparently boundless) mental health issues should be my problem escapes me.

Tips to Instapundit.

If I can't ignore and mock those idiots who live in the echelon above reality who believe my views on a host of subjects don't count because I have "white privilege," then what's the point of having white privilege?

One Tough Mother

More A-10s are going to fight ISIL. They will perform well despite Air Force brass insistence that the plane is a dangerous relic from the past.

This time, 12 planes from Selfridge air base in suburban Detroit are going:

About 350 airmen from Selfridge Air National Guard Base are overseas, deployed on an operation in Southwest Asia to eliminate the terrorist group the Islamic State.

The deployment, which includes a dozen A10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, is expected to last six months, military officials said today.

Good hunting to the Red Devils of the 107th Fighter Squadron.

As a personal aside, when I was in the service of the state legislature, I wrote resolutions urging the retention of the base (and others) during base closing and realignment rounds. I'm that good!

And when I was in the Army National Guard, "my" vehicle was "A-10" (A for Alpha Company), so we naturally called ourselves the Warthog.

We lost one A-10 in Iraq recently:

An A-10 deployed in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) suffered a "non-combat" engine failure and had to divert to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, according to an Air Force report.

The jet’s number-one engine suffered catastrophic damage during a routine refueling mission, and the pilot was able to safely land the aircraft at the air base in central Iraq, said the report Wednesday.

I would like to note that while the engine was a catastrophic loss, the plane was not. The pilot landed the plane--which was still flyable despite the engine mishap--on the remaining engine.

So the pilot lived to fly another day because of the ruggedness of the plane.

The incident is a reminder that rather than being a fragile waste of money that can only fly in "permissive" air environments, the A-10 is a tough plane as I wrote about recently:

The plane was designed to hit Soviet armored spearheads while the air fight up top took place, take damage, and keep flying, with armor and two engines in the rear and away from ground fire, which were designed (if my memory is accurate) to break away without destroying the plane, allowing the plane to limp home with just one engine.

You know, the Air Force built up a lot of credibility in the mind of this ground guy after more than a decade of effective and safe ground support for our troops in battle.

But the single-minded focus by the top brass in the Air Force to twist facts to kill the A-10 has undone all that good will.

Can the nation trust their judgment on anything given their shameful performance on this narrow issue?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Lions Led by Donkeys and Attacked by Vermin

Jihadi wannabes were foiled last week in their efforts to violently commemorate Assault on the Last Islamic Caliphate (ALIC) ANZAC Day this year:

Hundreds of Australian police on Saturday arrested five teens planning an Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack next week at an event to mark the centenary of the landings at Gallipoli during World War One, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

As I've said before, I'm tired of trying to figure out what pisses jihadis off. What doesn't set them off?

Surely a day to commemorate the courage of soldiers even when put into stupid situations by foolish leaders is no day to back down to Islamist outrage.

Remember, if this day is an insult to Islam and you cave on it, next the Islamists will say that drinking until you puke on your shoes is anti-Islamic.

Draw the line, people. And defend it. May ANZAC Day always be remembered by free people.

UPDATE: Funny enough, a Turkish officer's role in holding the line during the amphibious operation led him to prominence and turning Turkey into a parliamentary democracy, thus ending the last caliphate that jihadis pine for with such bloody-minded focus today.

Let Me Defend My Credibility

Not too long ago, I was attempting to have a conversation with a woman. Nothing heavy. It was about tattoos.

It was prompted by seeing a man with odd piercings and facial hair who also had prominent tattoos. He looked like a bad sort, she said.

I said that while I would never have tattoos and don't like how he looks, I don't assume he's a bad character.

She asked, "who do you see who looks like that?"

I said, "I live in Ann Arbor."

Seriously, that guy didn't have enough of anything to make me even blink.

I said that having tattoos is far more common these days, especially for young people. We're a different generation and the younger generation always looks odd to the older ones, I added.

She responded that in her last two jobs, no young people who worked with her had tattoos--well, one, but it was small. So I was completely wrong.

Unwilling to bow to the powerful argument of tiny anecdotal evidence in a country of over 300 million, I said that while it is certainly nice for her that her jobs have been relatively tattoo-free, I've read that it is much more common these days (that's why the military has eased its anti-tattoo rules, which is why I'm aware of this--apart from my own anecdotal evidence from my own eyes walking around my city).

She said she discounts anything I say.

I'm not credible? Well. Okay, then. That was fun.

Needless to say, I did not continue that so-called conversation. And here I thought avoiding conversations about weather made the issue safe.

Say, here are some statistics:

The latest Fox News poll finds 20 percent of voters, or one in five, has at least one tattoo. That’s up from 13 percent in 2007.

Click here for the poll results.

In addition, the number reporting they have two or more tattoos has nearly doubled in the last seven years: 14 percent today, up from 8 percent in 2007.

People under age 45 are twice as likely as those 45 and over to have one (31 percent vs. 14 percent).

And the number goes up as the age goes down: A third of those under age 30 have a tattoo (34 percent). One in five in this age group has three or more (19 percent).

And check out this gender gap: Nearly half of women under age 35 have gotten ink, almost double their male counterparts (47 percent vs. 25 percent).

I don't particularly like tattoos. I'd never have them. And while I wonder why people would waste money on getting them, I don't assume having them is a sign of being a bad person. Books, covers, etc. You might be a jerk. But that is separate from ink issues and how you project your image to the world.

And I'll even say that on a woman, a small colorful tattoo can be kind of sexy on the right sort of woman. Sorry, I'm sharing too much, I know.

Anyway, there is a point to this. While you may disagree with me, I do try to do my best to convey accurate information as a basis for my judgments here. Discount what I write if you will, but I do try to be credible.

Heck, back in the day, even my then-wife told me that although she disagreed with me on virtually everything when it came to the why issue about some foreign policy issue, she did trust that I gave her the basic outline of what was going on when she asked for some background on breaking foreign news.

Why I even tried to have a normal conversation with some people is beyond me. I really am an optimistic sort.

And conservatives are supposed to be close-minded?

Stuff Happens

The president has found that there are no "shovel ready" jihadis.

UPDATE: Actually, my point isn't that these deaths are some crime of the president. Stuff happens in war. Almost all of it bad. Not illegal or immoral, depending on the forces involved (we fight very clean)--but people die and are crippled and property is destroyed.

Friendly fire and collateral damage and simple casualties that are the price militaries pay for doing what they do take place. War is a blunt instrument even when guided by computers.

You just hope that what all that bad stuff achieves or defends is a good thing.

Mind you, it was a little annoying that the president's spokesman threw the CIA under the bus to provide a little distance between the bombing and president, but the president did not.

One of the ways we avoid friendly fire and collateral damage is the training we provide our troops to be more effective.

Our special forces get the most intense training. They paid the price far from the battlefield:

One U.S. Navy Seal died and another was critically injured on Friday while training in a pool at a Virginia military base, a Navy spokesman said.

Those men are casualties in the war on terror as much as if they had died in combat.

Stuff happens to the good guys.

UPDATE: Stuff happens:

Let me be perfectly clear: When we create rules and procedures of warfare that treat each and every civilian death as an American failure, we tie the hands of our men and women in uniform, we empower terrorists, and we cost American lives. A hidden scandal of the War on Terror is the indefensible toll in American lives due directly to excessive caution, unduly strict rules of engagement, and a military legal culture that creates palpable fear of punishment for even good-faith mistakes under fire.

This hands-tied attitude to bombing enemies is the best air defense system our enemies can afford.

This is not to say that we should declare the world a free-fire zone. We want our troops to come home knowing that they fought honorably rather than as the savages we fight, as I wrote back in the Iraq War when some war supporters wanted us to "take the gloves off:"

In addition, our rules of engagement that promote winning hearts and mind allow our troops to fight with honor and come home as soldiers and Marines--not as killers. If we let our troops loose to kill as they see fit to terrorize the population into submission, they become judge, jury, and executioner. Even if they make all the right decision in a fight with enemies in civilian clothes, our troops will always wonder if they were right in the decisions they make.

Rules of engagement, take much of the judging and responsibility out of their hands and put the responsibility on the leaders where it belongs. As long as soldiers know they followed the lawful rules of engagement they can come home with their heads held high, having fought as soldiers. As long as they allow us to fight and win, this is just fine.

But we should have a little confidence that our troops fight very carefully and within the rules of war--and beyond. How is it possible for people to condemn our methods when we fight brutal jihadis who have near-cartoon levels of black-and-white evil?

Just because our bombs kill civilians while we go after good targets does not mean we are responsible for those deaths. Our enemies violate rules of war by not wearing uniforms and by hugging civilian shields (not to limit the scope of their violations--I'm just talking target selection here). They are responsible for those civilian casualties from our bombing missions.

And even if we and our enemies follow all the rules, stuff still happens.

And as an aside, this post shows why I don't use Twitter ...

Spring Offensive is in the Air

The Russians could renew their offensive in eastern Ukraine at any time.

Our fetish for agreements with thugs who see agreements as important parts of their aggression has enabled Putin to gear up for a new offensive in the Donbas:

NATO's chief on Thursday reported a sizeable Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine that he said would enable pro-Moscow separatists to launch a new offensive with little warning.

Meanwhile, the Russians try to muddy the waters (for the benefit of the criminally stupid and ignorant) of their intervention by accusing America of being the side with troops in eastern Ukraine:

Interfax quoted Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov as saying U.S. troops were training Ukrainian forces not only in western Ukraine "as Ukrainian TV channels show, but directly in the combat zone in the area of Mariupol, Severodonetsk, Artyomovsk and Volnovakha."

The Russian Defense Ministry affirmed the report, but the Pentagon rejected it.

"This is a ridiculous attempt to shift the focus away from what is actually happening in eastern Ukraine," said Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

"Russia continues to supply lethal weapons, training and command and control support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, in blatant violation of Moscow's Minsk commitments and Ukraine's sovereignty," she added.

Now that Russia is trotting out this accusation, don't be too surprised if Russia hauls out the evidence to back their claim--from American equipment that Russia captured in Georgia in 2008:

Russian forces seized U.S. military equipment during the recent fighting in Georgia in addition to five vehicles whose capture was reported earlier, the Pentagon said Monday.

We keep trying to give Putin an "off ramp" to end his war against Ukraine when Putin clearly seeks victory rather than an exit strategy.

While we can offer the carrot of a deal to keep this crisis from expanding into a new Cold War, we do need to apply the stick of more dead Russian soldiers to get Putin to recoil from pursuing his maximalist aims.

Or are we to count on Putin deciding he's taken enough at some point?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Say, Here's a Happy Thought For You

North Korea may have more capacity to build nuclear warheads than we previously believed. Could North Korea sell Iran nuclear missiles and allow Iran to actually base them in North Korea?

Aside from the caution on basing our security on flawed estimates of how much Uranium Iran can enrich, this news about North Korea is disturbing:

China’s top nuclear experts have increased their estimates of North Korea’s nuclear weapons production well beyond most previous U.S. figures, suggesting Pyongyang can make enough warheads to threaten regional security for the U.S. and its allies.

The latest Chinese estimates, relayed in a closed-door meeting with U.S. nuclear specialists, showed that North Korea may already have 20 warheads, as well as the capability of producing enough weapons-grade uranium to double its arsenal by next year, according to people briefed on the matter.

I've long worried that Iran might bridge that breakout time gap when Iran would be vulnerable to an air campaign to destroy their nuclear facilities by importing nuclear missiles from North Korea (see here for one post) to be a deterrent against attack. I'll sleep well tonight, eh?

An increase in North Korea’s nuclear arsenal feeds international concern about proliferation from a country that, U.S. officials said, previously exported nuclear technology to Syria and missile components to Iran, Yemen and Egypt.

I've wondered if Iran could run the gauntlet to pick up nukes and bring them back to Iran.

But look at the range of North Korea's missiles under development.

I've long worried that a nuclear deal with Iran will fail to consider that Iran is likely outsourcing some parts of their nuclear program. But what if I'm thinking small?

What if North Korea sells Iran nuclear missiles and rents the facilities in North Korea to launch them?

From North Korea, these missiles could reach Europe, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and a number of targets in America. So Iran doesn't need to have the missiles inside Iran, really.

Consider that Iranian missiles fired from North Korea would offer advantages for Iran.

Missile defenses in the Middle East and Europe are designed to handle relatively short range missiles fired from Iran. Those missile defenses cannot handle the longer-ranged ICBMs that will plummet to their targets at a speed too high for those systems to handle.

Yes, our West Coast national missile defenses designed to handle missiles launched from North Korea could protect our cities from a limited number of missile launches.

North Korea surely wouldn't mind if we used up our anti-missiles on Iranian missiles, eh?

And maybe combat use would expose weaknesses that North Korea could exploit.

We'd also face greater risks in attacking Iranian nukes inside North Korea given that North Korea's nukes could deter our attacks on North Korean soil.

Eventually, Iran would want their nukes on their soil. But a fully functioning Iranian nuclear deterrent in North Korea would buy Iran the time it needs to build their own nuclear warheads from resources inside Iran.

Perhaps a decade-long deal with America over Iran's nuclear programs provides Iran and North Korea the time they need to put these pieces in place.

Hey, have an even more super sparkly day.

UPDATE: Here's a fun refinement. If Iran uses one of their nuclear missiles and we send in CSI: Nukes to identify the signature of the Uranium used in the warhead in order to find and punish the evil doer, wouldn't it be quite the water muddier if we identified the Uranium as coming from American mines?

No worries. What are the odds that the Russians could control American Uranium sources (tip to Instapundit) let alone skim some off to pass on the the North Koreans for their Iran contract?

UPDATE: But no worries! These theoretical (and other less fanciful but more actual) problems fail to imagine that Iran will be a friend in a decade, thus mooting any problems, as Kerry clicks his heels, waves his magical hope and change wand over Iran's mullahs, and declares "There's no place like Geneva!" to make the mullahs' hearts grow 3 times that day (As Marie Harf is wont to say)!

Reset Day is within our grasp!

Hey. No editor here. I'm free to start with Wizard of Oz and finish with the Grinch.

Never Mind

The Obama administration has told us that Iran is a year or more away from being able to build a nuclear warhead. Never mind:

The Barack Obama administration has estimated for years that Iran was at most three months away from enriching enough nuclear fuel for an atomic bomb. But the administration only declassified this estimate at the beginning of the month, just in time for the White House to make the case for its Iran deal to Congress and the public.

The Obama administration has already lied about the evidence of Iran's nuclear posture to further its objective, but we're supposed to believe that it won't lie about evidence of Iran's nuclear posture in deference to its objectives if Iran cheats on a new deal.

These estimates do harm, however. After more than a decade of such estimates, people could rationally wonder why a new estimate should be believed when past estimates were wrong (since Iran does not have a bomb now, to the best of our knowledge).

The problem is that these estimates are worst-case scenarios that assume everything going forward works.

It also neglects that Iran manipulates one major factor in this type of assessment--their stockpile of partially enriched Uranium. By keeping it low by using it or diluting it or otherwise putting it out of reach, the Iranians advance their ability to make nukes while on paper remaining X amount of time away from a bomb even 60X amount of time later.

In a blast from the past, let's recall that 2007 CIA national intelligence estimate that was wrongly portrayed by the media as showing that Iran had halted their nuclear weapons work.

The estimate was walked back, but only after the chance that Bush might have done something about Iran was crippled.

So never mind again. Iran is several months away--by our estimates and not Iran's estimate, I'll add--if they put their mind to deploying a nuclear weapon from their own resources.

But given that Iran has been some short period of time from getting nukes for over a decade--at least--the Obama administration spin that their proto-deal will improve the situation by putting Iran a year from a bomb (again, by our estimate) for a decade is an improvement is nonsense.

It ignores that the time-to-nukes estimate isn't a physical limit but a political limit by Iran and it ignores that it is our estimate.

And it ignores the question of whether we'd ever call Iran on violations. Tell me you can't imagine Kerry telling us that the evidence for violation is too thin and would we really want to abandon that "one-year" path and go back to the bad old days of April 2015 when Iran was three months from nukes?

Have a super sparkly day.

UPDATE: Related from The Wall Street Journal. It really is amazing how much we've retreated from past demands for Iran to reassure us that they are not developing nuclear missiles.

I like to think I'm an optimist. But not even I can believe that all this stuff means there must be a unicorn pony somewhere around here.

When Smart People Make No Sense at All

We did not break Iraq. We gave them an opportunity yet walked away when they needed our help.

This is nonsense:

When George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq and replace Saddam Hussein’s regime with a democratically elected one, he believed that this would, as he said, “serve as a powerful example of liberty and freedom in a part of the world that is desperate for liberty and freedom.” He and his team held firmly to this conviction, despite numerous warnings that war would fragment the country along tribal and religious lines, that any elected government in Baghdad would be Shia-dominated and that Iran would be the principal beneficiary from a weakened Iraq.

The Arab Spring did follow our battlefield victory in Iraq and the creation of a fragile democracy there, you must admit. Iraqis even boasted a bit about their example (and I think that is still a good post on the broader issue).

Arabs rose up in the Arab Spring demanding democracy as an alternative to mullah-style theocracy or autocracy. The results are not what I'd hope--so far--but the desire for something better is clear.

And before that there was Lebanon's successful effort to eject Syria from their holdings in Lebanon.

And Iraq was already fragmented along tribal and religious issues long before we crossed the berm and entered Iraq in 2003.

Saddam ran a Tikrit-based mafia state that let Sunni Tribes run Anbar, subcontracted control of Baghdad and central Iraq to Sunni criminal gangs, failed to control the Kurds in the north, and couldn't compete with Iran for the allegiance of Iraq's Shias in the south.

(Recall that one reason Saddam invaded Iran in 1980 was his fear that his own majority Shias were vulnerable to Shia Iran's propaganda to overthrow Saddam's Sunni Arab-minority government.)

Democracy--if supported by a robust American military presence to insist on rule of law and provide a level of trust that Iranians, tribes, and factions couldn't use force to settle disputes outside of politics--could have alleviated the existing divisions.

And of course Shias would dominate a democratic Iraq! Are these authors really suggesting that the continued Sunni Arab rule (15% of the population?) was the path to stability? Really? What is so odd and troubling about the majority having the major say in their government?

They seriously argue that Iran was the chief beneficiary of destroying the Saddam regime? Now Kuwait? Not Saudi Arabia? Not the Kurds or Jordan that was under pressure by Iraq to be Saddam's loyal vassal?

Were ordinary Iraqis who no longer had to worry about Saddam's murderous state apparatus of domestic terror not beneficiaries?

As for throwing Iraq to Iran, again, Iran already had tremendous influence in Iraq. With our military presence, even Prime Minister Maliki took on the pro-Iran Shia militias in southern Iraq on his own in spring 2008.

Without us, he saw no choice but to curry favor with Iran for his own survival.

Had we stayed after 2011, it would have been safer for Arab Iraqis to resist Persian Iranians.

And remember, too, if we broke Iraq by destroying the Saddam regime and putting in place the beginnings of democracy and rule of law, why has President Obama intervened to defend what Bush screwed up?

If President Obama ultimately defends what we won in Iraq by our sacrifice during the Iraq War, I'll forgive a lot of his mistakes.

After all, if Iraq is abandoned as an example of democracy for the Arab world, don't we just condemn ourselves to endless war with the jihadis? 

UPDATE: Link fixed to the article I quoted at the start. Thanks Eric! Although the quote is an aside in an article on a different subject, so the link is needed only for verification of the quote rather than context on Iraq.

You might want to see his post related to our premature exit from Iraq.

I know the president's defenders blame the Iraqis for the lack of a SOFA to remain after 2011. But to say this you have to believe that the president tried very hard to negotiate a deal to stay in Iraq prior to our 2011 withdrawal when he promised to get our troops out of Iraq when he ran for the presidency in 2008  and when he boasted of getting our troops out of Iraq in the 2012 re-election campaign. Please don't insult my intelligence by making that particular defense.