Saturday, October 31, 2015

How's that Responsible Regional Partner Project Going?

We're told by our intellectual betters that a nuclear deal with Iran that prevents them from going nuclear for--at best--fifteen years is perfectly fine because Iran will be transformed by hope and change into a responsible regional partner. How's that going?

Let's not even get into Iran's escalation in Syria as a partner of Russia on behalf of Assad. Let's talk small picture:

A prominent Iranian-American businessman has been detained by authorities in Iran, potentially throwing up another obstacle to closer U.S.-Iran ties in the wake of the nuclear deal between the countries.

Siamak Namazi was detained by Iranian authorities in mid-October, according to a source briefed on the matter who requested anonymity. He had been traveling in Iran, where his parents live, to visit family and was barred from leaving the country in July, the source said.

Mullah-run Iran loves to have hostages.

And please note the neutral lamentation of the reporter that the detention has potentially (!) thrown up an obstacle to closer American-Iranian ties. Darn the bad luck just when things were going so swell!

But don't worry allies, just in case we actually strengthen a hostile Iran with this nuclear deal (but what are the odds of that happening?), we'll sell you lots of weapons.

Assuming anybody in Iran shares the fantasy view of the Obama administration and its supporters that America and Iran should have closer relations with shared regional objectives.

Since Iran took the hostage, Iran has thrown up the obstacle. No? This isn't some mysterious event that came out of freaking nowhere, right?

Okay, This Offends Me

I only clicked on this story because I like going to Toronto:

Mobsters around Toronto are on the brink of armed warfare in a brewing feud between some of the world’s most powerful and wealthiest gangster clans, according to wiretaps secretly recorded in Italy.

That's disturbing. I like to think that Canadians don't like to litter. But a mob war brewing? It once amused me that I was mistaken for an undercover cop by some street person schooling his younger colleagues. I'm not sure if that would be good or bad in a mob war scenario.

Ah, I'm rather older now so that probably isn't an issue anymore.

Still, since the story says that intra-clan tensions increased after a spring 2014 killing, could my unusual experience at the border in summer 2014 be related? Was the United States looking for people of interest going to Canada who might be trying to enter indirectly to avoid scrutiny?

I know. The dots are few. Well, two. And there is no reason to connect them. But something was odd.

But I digress (as I can!)

What offended me in the story was this part about the Italian anti-mafia operation:

Last month, dozens of accused mobsters were arrested in Europe as part of Operation Acero-Krupy — the very name demonstrating the Canadian connection: acero is Italian for “maple,” while Krupy is a purposeful misspelling of the name of a family under investigation.

In what alternate world of security do you telegraph the nature of your operation?

Nobody in Italy would figure that the Crupi family was really the target if they heard the police were involved in something big called Acero-Krupy, eh?

And nobody in the mob with connections to Canada would see through that "maple" reference, right? Or google it and scroll down a bit on the Wikipedia page.

I suppose I should be amazed that the operation snared anyone at all.

God help us all if Italy's military is equally sloppy with security.

Getting Ready for the Last Piece of the Puzzle

Iran is testing missiles and they are showcasing secure places to launch missiles from. All they need are nuclear warheads to complete this picture. Which we will pretend not to see.

Iran has a place to keep missiles secure until they are ready to launch:

Iranian state television broadcast new footage from inside an underground base on 14 October that raised questions about the scale of the facility and the concept of operations adopted by ballistic missile forces.

The footage was clearly intended to give the impression of a vast underground complex that contains a multitude of transporter-erector-launchers (TELs) that are ready to fire ballistic missiles. The Iranian report described the base as "a city which is beyond the enemy's imagination". Most of the missiles carried by the TELs appeared to be liquid-fuel Shahab-3-series weapons designed to target Israel.

Or maybe this is a dog and pony show--for now.

This cave/TEL concept certainly fits with the North Korean practice.

I wonder what else the North Koreans are doing for Iran?

Yet I have full confidence that the Possible Pretending Dimensions of our Iran policy can match any questions about the Possible Military Dimensions of Iran's nuclear programs.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Engage Humor App

Hillary is a fun person.

Just "heh:"

I am fun.

I enjoy fun. I both have fun and can be fun. Fun is a word that accurately describes me and a large quantity of things of which I am fond. I appreciate fun when I encounter it, and I have even been known to partake in activities that produce fun for myself and others. Fun is something I often have when amongst a group of people. In such situations, I am capable of amusing others and, in turn, of being amused by them.

Thus, I am a fun person. ...

I have completed my argument, but I would like to reiterate the fact that I take pleasure in having fun and being fun, just like the majority of Americans. Americans such as yourself. Now that I have presented adequate evidence for the existence of my fun, accessible nature, there will be no need to revisit this subject going forward. Thank you.

Do read it all.

I think I owe a tip to Instapundit for this one.

UPDATE: Black Lives Matter activists interrupt a Clinton speech. You can write her response:

I’m actually going to get to some points that prove that Black lives do matter, but I would like to reiterate the fact that I take seriously that Black lives matter, just like the majority of Activists. Activists such as yourself. Once I have reached that point and have presented adequate evidence for the existence of my concern for Black lives, there will be no need to revisit this subject going forward. Thank you.

She is very life-like, you must admit.

Yeah, Let's Go With the Expensive Technological Solution

The Air Force, concerned about a pilot shortage for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), wants to modify ground stations so that a single operator can use the drone rather than a team of pilot-sensor operators:

One major improvement could reduce a currently two-person Reaper flight crew by half on most missions, says Lt Gen Robert Otto, the air force’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR).

“There are certainly missions today that could be done by one woman or one man managing both the aircraft and the sensors if we architected the ground station to support it,” Otto says.

Such a change could significantly reduce the air force’s manpower problem. The USAF now operates 60 continuous surveillance orbits with the MQ-9 and MQ-1 Predator, which requires a cadre of about 1,000 pilots and 1,000 sensor operators.

You know what else would significantly reduce the Air Force's self-inflicted manpower problem? Let enlisted personnel fly drones.

But no, that would interfere with the whole "officer and gentlemen" aura about pilots.

Very tired and stressed out officers and gentlemen, to be sure. But one must maintain one's standards to keep out the riffraff, mustn't one?

Maybe if we were at war, attitudes would change. But what are the odds of that happening?

When You Start to Fake It in Vienna

Sadly, with the Iran deal nonsense concluded, our State Department has the time to muck up in other areas. Behold as the department's brain power is focuses on Syria in new talks in Vienna.

Yeah, counting on Russia and Iran is a splendid idea:

The United States said on Thursday it hoped a new round of international talks on Syria's civil war would clarify whether Tehran and Moscow could eventually accept a new leadership in Damascus, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

We're prepared to up our level of pretending on Iran. Why shouldn't we pretend that any solution acceptable to Russia and Iran will actually advance our interests? Or the interests of the Syrian people?

Even if Russia and Iran are willing to seem like less-than-reliable allies by throwing Assad under the bus, what makes us think that such willingness would indicate anything other than Russia and Iran figuring they can achieve their own national interests without Assad in the front office with the big desk?

If Russia keeps their bases in western Syria and if Iran can continue to support Hezbollah in Lebanon to confront Israel, I don't think the Russians or Iranians care who is the president of all or any of Syria.

But we will think the formal removal of Assad is a victory even if a pro-Iran and pro-Russia Alawite-dominated government continues?

I suspect we're that good. I think we can fake it in Vienna.

UPDATE: It will be interesting to see the Russian and Iranian reaction to the "unbelievably small" special forces effort we will begin in Syria and Iraq:

The number of special operations troops was likely to be in the range of 20 to 30, said one U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A larger number--but still small--will go to Iraq.

Will the Russians and Iranians believe we are serious when we have reason to doubt the president is serious?

UPDATE: The New York Times has a nice series of maps on the recent fight in Syria.

UPDATE: Remember when opponents of President Bush 43 charged that he planned to follow the 2003 invasion of Iraq with an attack on Syria and other places in the Middle East?

Yeah. Well, President Obama re-entered the Iraq War in 2014 and has broadened the fight to Syria.

And now he orders a small number of boots on the ground there contrary to his reassurances to the contrary.

Obviously, rather than condemning the president for the decision, I'm more worried about whether this is a serious effort or just checking a box to insulate the president from criticism that he isn't doing enough.

And just as obviously, I'd like to point out how our Left gives this president a pass.

Well, if not "cool," at least not war crimes that justify a trial by the International Criminal Court and impeachment.

UPDATE: A coalition of one:

The Obama administration began a new diplomatic process Friday to solve the Syria crisis -- a gambit that depends on Russia to eventually push Syrian President Bashar al Assad to step down. But not even America’s allies think Russia will reverse its support for the dictator.

The administration pretended for a long time that we could recruit rebels interested in fighting ISIL but not Assad; and now we pretend that Russia intervened at this late date in Syria because it is willing to abandon Assad.

The pretending on the former continues, as a deputy secretary of state noted:

Blinken pointed to the U.S. efforts to build up rebel groups to fight the Islamic State as evidence that the U.S. is still pressuring Assad.

In his world, focusing on fighting the most potent enemy of Assad is putting pressure on Assad. So it must be totally confusing to him that the Russian intervention to support Assad pretty much ignores ISIL. Perhaps Blinken explains it as a complete lack of nuance in Moscow.

I'd sleep better at night if I knew our diplomats and foreign policy people go along with this nonsense because they are ordered to rather than accept the possibility that they actually believe this stuff.

Patriarchy Wins!

Wow. Men really are better at everything.

The Navy Will Pick a Number

The Navy has finally accepted that they cannot get the numbers of high-end ships they would like.

The Navy shall pick a number for the size of the fleet we need:

The Defense Department is placing more emphasis on affordability over capability when it comes to ship procurement, according to a top acquisition official.

“In the ship community, we’re looking at mass," said Katrina McFarland, assistant secretary of defense for acquisition. “We are looking at numbers, quantities.”

It is counterproductive to build ships with a multitude of “Swiss army knife” capabilities if the cost severely limits the amount of vessels the military can purchase, she said Oct. 27 at a National Defense Industrial Association expeditionary warfare conference in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Good. I've been boring readers with that issue for a long time. Pick a number, I say.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Riding the Tiger

China has stoked xenophobic nationalism to replace the economic socialism to motivate their people to accept exclusive communist rule. What happens when that works too well for the Chinese Communist Party to contain?

China was upset about our freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea. But they were restrained in practice:

The Chinese side took no forceful action during the USS Lassen's sail-by on Tuesday, but strenuously protested the maneuver. China's reaction fits the pattern in similar such incidents in recent years. Yang offered no details on how Beijing might respond differently in the future.

"We would urge the U.S. not to continue down the wrong path. But if the U.S. side does continue, we will take all necessary measures according to the need," Yang said. China's resolve to safeguard its national sovereignty and security interests is "rock-solid," he added.

Public reaction in China was equally strenuous despite official caution:

In the run-up to Tuesday's operation, Beijing repeatedly warned that it would take firm action against any country that violated its territorial sovereignty.

But when the long-awaited patrol finally arrived, Beijing only tracked and warned away the vessel, without intervening physically. ...

Chinese netizens demanded a stronger response from the authorities, which portray themselves as a major global power and have at their command the world's largest military, an increasing point of pride.

The Chinese government spoke loudly but did not use a stick.

So the Chinese government which has spent a couple decades stoking xenophobic nationalism in the public raised expectations of resisting such an American operation--and then did nothing.

At what point will the Chinese party-run government feel so pressured by a public clamor to do something--as they've been trained to expect--when we do the same again?

And how does the Chinese military feel? They have all this new hardware and they're feeling newly powerful.

They are much more powerful than their recent past, to be sure, but do they realize they are not all-powerful?

How much of that xenophobic nationalism has the Chinese military internalized, anyway? If there is a crisis, will the Chinese military push for action when the party wants to show restraint?

Will the Chinese military act on its own to "stand up" for China and force the Chinese Communist Party to follow lest the public turn against the party?

I wouldn't assume our next freedom of navigation operation is unopposed.

Do I expect the Chinese to shoot? No. But I'd expect them to use fishing vessels to try to foul our propellers--perhaps with fishing nets--and then send in their Coast Guard vessels to board and/or tow our ship to "rescue" it while Chinese warships watch the operation.

Our rational is not their rational. And we don't even know for sure who we have to judge "rational."

Legislatures Legislate

Good luck to Speaker Ryan, newly elected and sworn in. But I do wish people would stop saying that Republicans who control Congress (with significant limits to that power in the Senate) must now "prove they can govern."

Putting the goal in that way sets up the Republicans for failure. Congress is a legislative body. It legislates. That is, Congress passes the laws that provide the framework for how we are governed. It is very important, to be sure, but it is not "governing." It is "legislating."

The body that governs is the executive branch. It executes the laws--that is, it governs us.

Why accept that the judicial and executive branches can exercise quasi-legislative powers at the expense of Congress while diminishing Congress' actual legislative role by acting like it can quasi-govern the nation?

Are Congressional district offices to become governing bodies that carry out the laws in the home districts or states, bypassing actual agencies?

Don't set up Congress for failure by saying they have to govern. That is not in their job description.

Because you can be darned sure that the media won't insist on this measure of success when Congress is controlled by Democrats--any more than they insist on this measure for the executive branch now.

They Drone On and On and On

Left wing activists seem especially upset with our drones (unmanned aerial vehicles). The situation is pretty much the opposite of the accusation:

Another leak of American military documents revealed that not all the people killed by UAV missile attacks were on a target list. This is not considered a problem because the people running the bombing campaign accept the centuries old problem that when you are using long range weapons you cannot always be sure of who you are hitting. ... Over the last two decades the media myth was created that depicted UAVs, especially armed UAVs, as a horrific new weapon. The reality was that the only advantage UAVs had was in surveillance and stealth. As a surveillance aircraft (what the military first, and still, uses aircraft for) UAVs were a major step forward because they created an unprecedented level of “persistence” (spending lots of time watching some area below) or literally following (“tailing” in detective lingo) an individual or group. Adding guided missiles to the UAV enabled the attack to be made as soon as the identity of the target was confirmed (often after dozens or more hours of observation) and before the target could get away (into a forested or urban area where tracking was much more difficult). This sort of thing could have been done before UAVs using manned aircraft but it would have cost more than ten times as much and not have been as effective. What is also missed in the enormous reduction in civilian casualties when using UAVs. Until precision bombs and missiles came along military targets anywhere near residential areas led to high civilian casualties when attacked. The use of precision weapons and UAVs has reduced civilian casualties over 90 percent. For some reason all this never became news.

Meanwhile, our jihadi enemies kill innocents at will and in increasingly cruel ways without drawing the same level of spittle-flecked outrage. Go figure.

From the "Well, Duh" Files

Guess what? China would like to own that core interest of theirs called Taiwan.

Ya think?

China is actively building up its armed forces and they would be strong enough by 2020 to launch an invasion of Taiwan, a military report said Tuesday.

Despite closer political ties China is "continuing to accumulate large-scale war capabilities, with the threat of a cross-strait military conflict continuing to exist", according to the island's 2015 National Defence Report.

And the report notes that part of the build up is aimed at deterring third-party intervention (that would be America, and possibly Japan) while they invade.

China has been getting ready for quite some time.

And while my guess for timing has been clearly off, I don't believe that China is unable to invade before 2020, depending on whether China wants to run risks and endure enough casualties to take Taiwan.

So rather than thinking themselves safe until 2020, the Taiwanese might want to prepare do defend themselves at any moment.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

It's Come to This

Our inability to influence events in Syria where hundreds of thousands have died has driven the discussion to the point where former president Jimmy Carter is offering advice.

How bad does our policy have to be that people might follow Carter's advice?

Iran outlined a general four-point sequence several months ago, consisting of a cease-fire, formation of a unity government, constitutional reforms and elections. Working through the United Nations Security Council and utilizing a five-nation proposal, some mechanism could be found to implement these goals.

The involvement of Russia and Iran is essential. Mr. Assad’s only concession in four years of war was giving up chemical weapons, and he did so only under pressure from Russia and Iran. Similarly, he will not end the war by accepting concessions imposed by the West, but is likely to do so if urged by his allies.

Mr. Assad’s governing authority could then be ended in an orderly process, an acceptable government established in Syria, and a concerted effort could then be made to stamp out the threat of the Islamic State.

Carter actually boasts of how Assad would always talk to Carter (no doubt!) and that before the current unpleasantness, Assad's oppressive regime promoted "harmonious relations" among the various groups in Syria!

And his plan is to build on Iran's proposal in the first step? Which then goes to step 2 of negotiating an orderly transition to an acceptable government (to Iran, Assad, and Russia, remember), to be followed by the step 3 of the defeat of ISIL!

Hmm. This seems so familiar ...

That darned mysterious step 2 that if only we could spell it out would make the farcical step 1 make sense in light of the glorious step 3.

It's come to this. Jimmy Carter is offering solutions to solve our foreign policy problems.

No Harm, No Foul

You never really get too old to be stupid, do you?

At the beginning of September, I decided I had to start running again. In summer 2014, a couple vacations in a row and a sore ankle stopped me. I was actually up to running 2 miles in under 16 minutes. Still two-and-a half minutes off my best Army time, but still, that was several decades ago.

And then I put off running again since I knew after 4 weeks, it would hurt to start again. A year later and I still hadn't started running. To be fair I fully intended in the spring but I had a bout of gout. Yeah, getting old sucks a bit. Friggin' gout. It's like I'm a minor character in Game of Thrones.

Anyway, at the beginning of September I started walking to ease into the whole running thing. I did that for the entire month. No need to have a heart attack in the name of health, eh?

I started running a half mile this month, walking a mile, and then running a half mile. That was fine.

So I geared up by running a half mile, walking a quarter, running a half, walking a quarter, and then running the last half mile. I planned to do that for a week or two, gradually increase my running speed; and then, in a month or so, go to running 2 miles at a slower speed.

So I did that on Monday. And I was maybe 0.3 miles into my first half mile when I very pretty, thin, woman entered the club house to exercise.

Well. Not that I'm deluded that someone that young is in my dating pool, but I immediately decided that I simply could not stop running in her presence short of going 2 miles.

So I did that. And it didn't even hurt that much let alone give me a heart attack.

So I've got that going for me.

Having passed that hurdle, I'll stick with the 2-mile straight run from now on. Gradually increasing speed. Although I no longer seek to match my Army record when I was 27. I'm not quite that stupid, I guess.

A college roommate used to say, "you can only be young once; but you can be immature forever." I think he was on to something.

Good Enough for Anti-ISIL Work?

Iraq War 2.0 (Hope and Change Edition) continues. Iraq is still weak. But is it strong enough to finally have a go at breaking ISIL?

Iraq's army still isn't rebuilt, apparently. And the militias beholden to Iran at least in part are too strong:

Abadi's resources remain limited. Iraq's regular military has not recovered from last year's defeat by Islamic State. Most young Shi'ite Iraqi men now prefer to join the paramilitary groups, which are seen as braver and less corrupt. ...

"If they are not paid by the prime minister," this official said, "they can do what they want."

Iran pays some of those 100,000 militias. How many, I don't know, but we say the amount is significant. But all are a real problem since they don't follow orders unless they want to.

The militias were probably necessary in the dark days of summer and fall 2014. But Iraq should have used the militia to buy time to rebuild the army and then disband the militias or bring them under tight government control.

But that is going slowly:

[United States Army Lieutenant General Mick Bednarek] estimates the army has only five functioning divisions – roughly 50,000 men, whose fighting readiness ranges between 60 and 65 percent.

Some of the best military and police – more than 80,000 men – are now based in Baghdad, Bednarek said, because Abadi wants to make sure the capital does not fall to Islamic State.

There are accusations that one army division is heavily influenced if not controlled by the militias; and the Interior Ministry (only here is that a parks thing rather than a security institution) is allegedly penetrated by militias.

I'm still wondering why it is taking so long--despite the appearance of Iraq finally being ready to strike a more decisive blow.

That's the bad news. The good news is that saying that Iraq has only 5 functioning divisions doesn't mean the army doesn't have more manpower. There are others that can sit and provide security if they aren't challenged too much in quieter areas. And this force reflects the troops we initially saw as decent and which we and our allies have worked with to train and equip. So they are okay.

And ISIL is smaller. What? 30,000 across Iraq and Syria? Iraq has enough.

So let's look at the good from Strategypage's lengthy situation report:

After nearly a year of stalemate near the oil refinery at Baiji (on the Tigris River between Baghdad and Mosul 200 kilometers north of Baghdad) has been broken as government forces made major progress in October.

The Iraqis themselves have provided a lot of air support for the fight. And ISIL had stopped sending many troops to fight there, meaning their forces dwindled over time.

With Baiji in Iraqi hands, an offensive north against Mosul is in theory possible.

Meanwhile security forces have been making progress in retaking Ramadi. In the last month more American and Iraqi troops have been sent to Anbar. The Americans are there to train and advise Iraqi soldiers, police and pro-government tribal militias. Most of the several thousand U.S. troops were at al Asad airbase (in eastern Anbar) but more are being sent west, closer to ISIL occupied Ramadi and the main ISIL forces. Iraqis handle security for these bases but American troops take part in the fighting when needed. More American troops are being seen out in the countryside with Iraqi troops. There are about 5,000 ISIL gunmen in Anbar and that number appears to be declining.

Strategypage also baits me, given my frequent statements that I assume a Jordanian offensive from the west will be part of an offensive into Anbar to break ISIL there:

Jordan has doubled its troop strength on its Iraqi border, which is near Ramadi and what Jordan expects will soon be a major battle with ISIL.

So Iraqi forces are grinding forward toward Ramadi and Mosul. Jordan to the rear of Ramadi has massed troops. And in the north we helped the Kurds--who we'd like to threaten ISIL in Mosul from the northeast--rescue their people from ISIL in Iraq.

And we promise a more energetic campaign:

The U.S. military will intensify air strikes and may carry out more direct ground attacks as it steps up efforts against Islamic State militants following a failed bid to train Syrian rebels, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told lawmakers on Tuesday.

More of our careful bombing and more special forces raids are not a plan to defeat ISIL.

Unless we plan to take ground from ISIL in Iraq and really push them back, intensifying this activity is just motion for the sake of looking like we are doing more.

I retain hope. The military knows better. It depends on whether they are allowed to plan and fight a military campaign or must pretend to wage war.

UPDATE: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wants to exploit the situation based on the gnawing success around Baiji and Ramadi:

Dunford told the committee that the coalition must reduce ISIL’s territorial control, destroy its warfighting capability, “and undermine its brand and aura of invincibility.” ISIL’s main attraction is its claim to be the new caliphate.

The two main efforts against the terror group are the air campaign and the train, advise and assist campaign. Airstrikes are intended to kill key leadership and fighters, interdict ISIL’s lines of communication and disrupt their sources of revenue -- primarily oil, the chairman said.

“The second critical element in the military campaign is to develop and support effective partners on the ground, to seize and secure ISIL-held terrain,” he said.

Why yes. Kill them. Push them back. And defeat them. And find a ground partner to do all this, since air strikes and training Iraqis apparently isn't enough.

And while I think Syria must take a back seat, I don't think that the war there has shifted to Assad's side, despite the temporary boost provided by Russia's intervention alongside Iran.

Strategypage has more on this:

The Russian supported government forces went on the offensive in October and for a week or so seemed to make some progress. The Russian air strikes, guided by Syrian ground controllers, were accurate and allowed the Syrian/Lebanese/Iranian forces to advance. But by mid-October the advance had stalled.

And keep in mind that a successful intervention at best keeps Assad in control of an arc of territory in western Syria running from the Turkish border to the Israeli and Jordanian borders--territory I said in early 2012 that Assad had to retreat to in order to survive.

I don't think Assad has the ground power after grueling attrition to hold that maximum realm. I have doubts about whether Assad can hold Damascus.

And what about his supporters in the remaining enclaves away from the core? I think operations around Aleppo are about rescuing them and not pushing the perimeter of the core area north. Even if successful, what about other outposts further east? Are they--and their defenders--to be written off?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Next One Could Be More Difficult

We defied China's self-proclaimed territory in defiance of international law in the South China Sea.

This time, as we sailed by Subi Reef, China did not try to stop us:

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer sailed close to one of China's man-made islands in the South China Sea on Tuesday, drawing an angry rebuke from Beijing, which said it had tracked and warned the ship and called in the U.S. ambassador to protest.

Is it too much to hope that our ambassador told them that we would file their protest appropriately?

We also sailed to close to Vietnam and Philippines territory for a similar message: this is international water.

We need to guard against the possibility that China will try to disable one of our warships as it makes a freedom of navigation patrol.

China forced our EP-3 plane to land in China back in 2001, recall. Let's not have one of our ships disabled with a propeller fouled in  fishing nets and then set upon by Chinese coast guard vessels to tow it to port in a "rescue."

Kudos to the president for challenging China. This has to be regular to be a meaningful defense of freedom of the seas rather than just checking a box to say something was done.

UPDATE: Austin Bay comments on the mission.

Your Tuesday Thought to Keep You Awake Tonight

How paranoid were the Soviets?

This paranoid:

NATO war games in 1983 inadvertently put the world on the brink of nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union, and US officials underestimated the seriousness of the situation, according to a newly declassified document.

The incident came during a period historians now refer to as the "war scare" at the height of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was concerned about a sudden and decisive nuclear attack from the United States and its NATO allies.

During this time, in November 1983, NATO conducted a 10-day training exercise called Able Archer that involved NATO forces across Western Europe.

I don't mean to be picky, but the actual NATO exercises were perfectly normal. They did not raise the risk of a nuclear war.

No, the Soviet paranoid reaction to the perfectly normal exercise put us on the brink of nuclear confrontation. That's different. Subtle, I know. But different.

And the Russians today are just as paranoid as their Soviet ancestors. Sleep well.

You Get What You Pay For

Logistics. From long practice, we assume it when we send our military into battle. Others can't. Not even Russia:

Russian warplanes sent to Syria to back the regime of Bashar Assad are breaking down at a rapid rate that appears to be affecting their ability to strike targets, according to a senior Defense official.

Nearly one-third of Russian attack planes and half of its transport aircraft are grounded at any time as the harsh, desert conditions take a toll on equipment and crews, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive intelligence matters.

People wonder why our defense budget is so large compared to other countries. Look at the globe and you see that on top of having actual ground, naval, and air forces--and training them to high standards with advanced weapons--we have to move those forces overseas (unless we want to spend all our time pounding Canada and Mexico).

And then supply and maintain them very far from home.

Russia hasn't sent many troops to Syria, and they are having problems maintaining them in action.

Which is why I suggested before Russia invaded Crimea in early 2014 that if I was in charge of the eastern Ukraine mission, I wouldn't commit to an offensive that exceeds the capacity of vehicles to advance on one load of fuel and ammo. Just in case.

Russia will adapt, I'm sure. But their experience shows that logistics doesn't just happen.

UPDATE: The Army is trying to convince Congress that training should not be slighted in our budget difficulties:

Training is much less portable. More training means more money for wherever the troops are based and is not as sexy as new weapons and equipment. But, as the generals are seeking to make clear, the key to victory is the training. It not only takes money, it takes time.

It's easy to skip training and buy new weapons when the troops aren't in combat. Perhaps there aren't enough spare parts to keep the weapons working. Maybe the troops don't really know how to use it. But it is a weapon. And it is there and quantifiable. Training is not quantifiable until you send those troops untrained with the new weapons with insufficient spare parts to keep it working.

Then you get to add up the burnt weapons and dead soldiers on the battlefield.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Ready to Bitch-Slap Cortana

I switched to Windows 10. Not that I was particularly unhappy with Windows 8 or 7, which I had on my existing computers. But since I still have an XP computer that is now a door stop since it is no longer supported, I figured I'd upgrade while it was free. What is with their Internet Explorer replacement?

Twice now (at least), it has simply killed every open tab I had. Some stuff was for blogging. Some was for writing. The latter I tend to bookmark so they aren't gone. But the former? Well, how much time am I supposed to devote to finding them again?

Ah, I can feel my Internet experience enhancing as we speak.

Terrorists Communicate in the Virtual World. They Die in the Physical World

Networked jihadis die in the physical world like anyone else.

This author reminds us of what should be an obvious observation about the youth of terrorists or Arab Spring protesters (tip to Instapundit), but he also misses an obvious point:

Pollock’s main insight was that we shouldn’t be too surprised that a youth revolt used the preferred tools of the young: “The young make up the bulk of these movements, and inevitably they bring youth’s character to their fight for change … Organizing or attending protests gets fitted between flirting, studying, and holding down a job. Action for this generation is as likely to be mediated through screens … as face to face.”

So too, if less attractively, with ISIS. “In trying to understand why ISIS is so adept at [using social media to radicalize young Muslims], one comes back to a simple explanation,” writes Talbot. “The people doing it grew up using the tools.” Talbot quotes Humera Khan, executive director of Muflehun, a think tank that opposes extremism among Muslims: “When you say ‘terrorist use of social media,’ it sounds ominous, but when you look at it as ‘youth use of social media,’ it becomes easier to understand … Of course they are using social media! They are doing the same thing youth are doing everywhere.”

Yes. It would be odd if younger jihadis used postcards and 3 x 5 cards to organize, wouldn't it? Of course they use the means their generation uses. That's not revolutionary. It's kind of ordinary.

Not that it isn't useful to point out the obvious. Or what should be obvious. I never really thought of this in explicitly those terms, but I've long been suspicious of the tendency to call the ordinary extraordinary.

As I did with the whole 4th generation net war stuff:

Ah, "netwar." Recall the first celebrated practioners of netwar--the Mexican Zapatistas in 1994. You remember them, they netwarred their way into power, seizing Mexico City. No? Then they succeeded in creating an independent state. No? Then they convinced the Mexican government to spend more there. Wow. This example of so-called netwar was a guy with a colorful name, some college education, an internet connection, and a bunch of ill-armed indigenous peoples following him. Add an adoring press and presto! Netwar!

There was a lot of idiocy in that thinking.

But those "flat" netwar geniuses are just bloody bureacrats with Twitter accounts.

Jihadis may recruit and propagandize on the web, but they fight in the real world. Where we can kill them.

Just as protesters using those same organizational methods of their generation failed to destroy governments with the means and will to kill and imprison, we too must fight the enemy in the physical world.

And that's where the author misses the obvious:

The inescapable conclusion is that only widespread rejection of ISIS on social media by other young Muslims is likely to effectively counter ISIS’s own social-media campaign.

The notion that we must primarily engage the enemy on Twitter and social media neglects that the surest way to depress their recruiting drive that has sent thousands of jihadis to ISIL-run territory is to kill the recruits on the battlefield and inflict a defeat on ISIL.

Call it "asymmetric warfare" by our side if it makes you feel more leading edge.

You'd be amazed at how jihadi online recruiting suffers when the appeal isn't to join the new and growing caliphate (the strong horse) but to go off to sure death and an unmarked grave in a losing cause (the dead horse) in the physical world.

That's what we did in Iraq the first time we were there. Until we walked away in 2011 and let them rebuild.

We need to kill the jihadi foot soldiers. And we need to destroy their regime that seems so promising.

No hashtag can disguise that kind of defeat.

NOTE: I added the second quote from the initial article and a sentence introducing it. Sorry about that, chief.

UPDATE: Carafano has a related piece:

[It] is important to recognize that the online terrorist operations are not the crux of the problem. What makes terrorist social networks dangerous is when they connect with a physical community—people on the ground who are willing not just to tweet, “like,” or post terrorist material on Instagram, but to operationalize ideas, putting extremist calls into action.

The reverse is true, too. Connect a JDAM with the jihadis in the physical world and they won't Tweet again.

Good point. I actually spoke with him years ago when he worked for Joint Force Quarterly. Seems like a decent sort. With a good point, too.

UPDATE: If it wasn't so serious, it would be amusing that even if the fight against jihadis was primarily a social network fight, our own COEXIST Left won't let us fight that battle because they don't admit the basis of the fight exists:

Governments, be they Western or Moslem, are encountering some basic problems in countering Islamic terrorist groups using Internet social media (Facebook, twitter and so on) to publicize themselves, their message, and their goals as well as soliciting recruits and donations. The basic problem is that Western and Moslem governments cannot openly discuss the basic issues that make Islamic terrorists so popular with so many young Moslems. ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant), for example sees itself as the new leader of the Islamic world and employs extreme violence in pursuit of that goal. As a result one thing everyone (Saudi led Sunnis, Iran led Shia, the West and even al Qaeda) can agree on is that ISIL is evil and a threat to all that must be destroyed.

The basic problem is the Islamic scriptures condone and encourage the use of force to defend Islam from non-Moslems and especially from Moslems who are heretics. This has been going on for over a thousand years but now it is different because the Islamic radicals have access to more money.

For those who strangely ignore long history and wrongly insist we essentially created ISIL, let me repeat my history of jihadis in Iraq post.

Add to that the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq during and after the 2007 surge offensive (and very related Awakening that flipped Sunni Arabs to our side) and our withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 that allowed the jihadis to rebuild in Iraq, take territory in civil war-wracked Syria, and then explode into Iraq to create the Islamic State (ISIL).

We are not the problem. We are the targets. Well, some of them.

The Tides of Wars

As our pivot to Asia runs into Chinese resistance and as the places we pivoted from--Europe and the Middle East--add to our defense worries rather than remain quiet to enable a Pacific emphasis, let's review where we might be heading.

A crisis with China is brewing as we resist Chinese efforts to claim large swathes of international waters.

Algeria is shaping the battlefield for ISIL's next major front (although to be fair, this is an AFRICOM--plus EUCOM for spillover--and not strictly a CENTCOM issue):

For the last three months the ruling Bouteflika clan has been mustering political support to defeat an anti-corruption (or at anti-Bouteflika) effort backed by leaders of the intelligence and counter-terrorism services. Corruption won and that was made clear with the recent announcement that the number of generals in the intelligence services would be reduced from 25 to six by the end of the year. The intelligence and counter-terrorism generals will now be selected more for their loyalty than their competence.

So the leaders of Algeria, in their infinite wisdom after having endured a bloody jihadi uprising in the 1990s, have chosen to increase the reason for popular unrest (corruption) while crippling the ability of the security services to prevent jihadis from exploiting the opportunity of corruption that could send idealistic young people into the streets calling for "democracy."

And Russia could be preparing for a small bit of aggression in Europe:

Civil unrest in Moldova is not easing. If anything, it is picking up. Demonstrations in the capital, Chisinau, have exploded over the last few months and are increasing in ferocity and in their intransigence. The discontent stems from the alleged theft of more than $1 billion from government coffers -- a full one-fifth of the tiny, poor country's gross domestic product.

The author wonders if we will see "little green men"--the Russian Spetsnaz without insignia on their uniforms--to organize a Crimea-like takeover (even if it devolves into a bloody Donbas-style slugfest).

You must admit that it is wonderful to live in an era when the tide of war is receding and climate change is our foreign policy priority.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Keep the Conventional Mission Separate from the Nuclear Mission

Let's keep our sea-based nuclear deterrent separate from our navy conventional warfighting capability.

This article says that China fears our 4 cruise missile submarines. How do we maintain that fear after the Ohio class hulls must be taken out of service?

The U.S. Navy is working on developing a new ballistic missile submarine to replace the service’s current Ohio-class boomers, but should the Navy build some of those vessels as cruise missile carriers?

The Navy should consider building additional Ohio Replacement Program (OPR) submarines to serve as cruise missile carriers. Or alternatively, the Navy should design the twelve planned boomers so that those vessels can accept the current seven-shot Multiple-All-Up-Round Canisters (MACs) found on the first four Ohio-class boats that were converted into guided missile submarines (SSGNs). That should not be a huge technical challenge because the OPR is being designed to use the same Trident II D5 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) as the Ohios.

Yes, our SSGNs are fearsome weapons. We popped up 3 at once from Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to Subic Bay in the Philippines to Pusan, South Korea. Which China noticed.

But we should not in any case mix cruise missiles meant for conventional missions with our strategic nuclear deterrent force by putting MACs in a replacement for our nuclear missile submarines (SSBNs).

One, missiles coming from  our SSBNs will really spook enemies who might wrongly believe we have initiated a nuclear strike. If we're lucky they wait for impact to confirm whether we've initiated nuclear war.

If they launch on warning instead, we just provoked a nuclear war.

Two, with only 12 planned SSBNs, with probably up to half at sea at any one time, why would we broadcast the location of our nuclear deterrent by launching cruise missiles? SSBNs spend their time being quiet and unseen so they don't get destroyed. They are really designed not to be used--ever. They deter nuclear war. Why make the enemy's job of destroying our nuclear weapons easier?

Three, why would we erase the line between conventional and nuclear forces? Right now, there is incentive for both sides not to target nuclear systems lest it look like one side is trying to achieve a rolling preemptive strike capability by eroding enemy nuclear forces.

If our most survivable nuclear deterrent is also a conventional force, we make the SSBNs legitimate targets in a conventional campaign.

I'm not even terribly on board building cruise missile subs as part of the Ohio replacement program. Sure, the four SSGNs in the fleet now are nice to have. But they used already built platforms that otherwise would have just been retired.

Far better to have those MACs--the Virginia Payload Module (VPM)--in our conventional warfare SSNs, as the Virginia class subs are scheduled to have; cruise missile equipped-long range bombers; and surface vessels, too.

In a network-centric naval world where we can concentrate effort without concentrating platforms, it is better to distribute  firepower than to put them in a small number of baskets.

And for God's sake, don't mix up our conventional warfighting capabilities with our nuclear deterrence capability.

How Much White Noise Is There?

Is our electronic warfare capability really behind?

Faced with how the newly modernized Russian army is operating in Ukraine and Syria — using equipment like the Krasukha-4, which jams radar and aircraft — American military officials are being forced to admit they’re scrambling to catch up [in electronic warfare].

This is well beyond my knowledge base.

But an open admission of inferiority leads me to believe either we really are desperate to catch up and so are talking about it to get funding.

Or we might be just fine and are watching Russia field what we hope is their A Team while we keep ours in reserve for a big war.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Actual Enforcement Mechanism

As the United States Navy prepares to conduct a freedom of navigation mission near an artificial island that China is using to claim portions of the South China Sea, don't let fans of the Law of the Sea Treaty fool you into believing our membership would have prevented this crisis.

We are poised to begin a freedom of navigation mission in the South China Sea to respond to China's claim of sovereignty 12 nautical miles around the island and an economic exclusion zone 200 miles out:

U.S. plans to send warships or military aircraft within 12 nautical miles of China's artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, possibly within days, could open a tense new front in Sino-U.S. rivalry. ...

Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, 12-nautical mile limits cannot be set around man-made islands built on previously submerged reefs.

Four of the seven reefs China has reclaimed over the last two years were completely submerged at high tide before construction began, legal scholars say.

China claims most of the South China Sea. Other claimants are Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

A recent article, and others in the past (and even our own Navy, to my eternal disappointment), have claimed that if only we joined the Law of the Sea, we could get China to obey the law from the inside.

Which is nonsense. Note that of the other claimants, 4 of 5 are inside the treaty. How much success have they had from the inside getting China to obey the treaty?

Taiwan is not a member state of the UN and formally is considered part of China. That's really inside, even though they can't sign.

Face it, the only enforcement mechanism to get China to obey the law consists of grey hulls demonstrating that international law does not recognize China's expansive claims to control the South China Sea as territorial waters (indeed, as a city):

The Navy has defended our freedom of the seas for close to two and a half centuries without LOST. The Navy should keep doing that and not argue for some farcical aquatic ceremony to wield supreme navigational power.

It would be easier to argue that the Law of the Sea gives China incentive to make their claims to control that international body of water and now to build islands to assert that control.

Whatever we send needs to have heavy backup and we need the capability of using non-lethal force to resist the Chinese.

If we don't back international law, small powers close to China will recognize the law of China as holding sway and will begin to adjust their policies accordingly, our pivot to the Pacific notwithstanding,

Czar Versus Tsar

Our president has named a diplomat to be a "czar" to take charge of the war against ISIL (ISIS). Putin may ultimately fail in his effort to support Assad, but he is at least waging war to do so.

This really annoys me:

President Obama is tapping a new official to help oversee the multinational coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Retired Marine Gen. John Allen is stepping down as envoy and will be replaced by diplomat Brett McGurk.

Pity we don't have any kind of regional unified command with a defined area of responsibility that our military could use to command assets in time of war.

Since the Middle East seems to be the center of jihadi problems, we could call this "Central Command" (CENTCOM). It could be led by a military officer and their staff to carry out the president's orders to wage war to destroy our enemies in the region.

Nah. Some diplomat is much better. He can make sure the military effort is "unbelievably small."

Which is fine, I suppose. Why put the military in charge of this clusterfuck, since whatever we are doing in the Middle East, it doesn't seem to be waging a war.

After all, one of our most highly trained soldiers can be killed in combat without our military having an actual combat role in the fight. More work-place violence, I guess.

With a diplomat now in charge, I can hardly wait to add to my great moments in Obama administration military history.


When Forecasts Fail to Match Reality

Recall that Obamacare was sold on the premise that 40 million or so Americans couldn't get health insurance either because of their health or the price. So great was that problem that the government mandated the uninsured to get insurance or face financial penalties. Subsidies for the insurance are also available. So what has happened?

Well, despite the threats and cash, those people "denied" access to health insurance aren't in the system:

Despite subsidies to help with premiums and out-of-pocket costs, most of the uninsured who are eligible for ObamaCare are saying “no thanks.” Only one in seven is expected to sign up. That’s despite a hefty increase in the financial penalty next year for not having insurance. ...

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell predicts ObamaCare enrollment will inch up by 1 million or so, to 10 million people — half what the CBO forecasted.

I never understood why we needed to compel--by the weight of government power--people to buy health insurance if those people desperately wanted--but were denied by evil forces--health insurance.

Today, not enough healthy people have enrolled to make the system sustainable--without hefty taxpayer subsidies. So the system is in a "death spiral" of increased premiums that reduce the incentive of healthy people to sign up. Which forces premiums up.

The article doesn't mention it, but a good chunk of the people counted in Obamacare were put into the existing Medicaid system.

Perhaps nearly all, actually.

Although I suspect that's not really the case if you bore down into the stats. Some in Obamacare are new and didn't have access to health insurance. Some lost existing insurance because of Obamacare regulations and went through Obamacare to replace their insurance. But a lot are actually diverted to Medicaid, which they already qualified for without the existence of Obamacare.

So to deal with a much smaller real problem of sick people who can't afford insurance, we established a massively expensive and complicated quasi-governmental health insurance system (really, there are commercials that boast of a company's ability to navigate the "complicated health care system" by highlighting that even odd types of health problems have their own unique code to record them!).

So clearly our government will increase the pain and increase the subsidies. More cowbell!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Sixth Fleet Reborn? I Don't Think So

Our 6th Fleet is now 5 times bigger than it was earlier in the year. Ponder what that must mean as our Navy shrinks.

Take that, Putin and ISIL (aka ISIS. aka Islamic State. aka Daesh)! Our 6th Fleet is now 5 times as big as it once was!

In September, the destroyer Carney arrived in Rota, Spain, which joins the Ross, Donald Cook and Porter as forward deployed ships based there. All four destroyers are armed with state-of-the-art missile defense systems and are the sea arm of the Obama administration's European ballistic missile shield; an Aegis Ashore installation is set to come online later this year in Deveselu, Romania.

The addition of the four destroyers in Europe has quintupled the size of the 6th Fleet surface fleet, which previously only had the command ship Mount Whitney, homeported in Naples, Italy; ships on deployment in the region also report to 6th Fleet.

Got that? Sixth Fleet used to be a command ship that commanded ships and subs transiting the region to and from CENTCOM.

I mentioned that the fleet was virtual.

And I noted that the missile defense ships ended that status.

But 6th Fleet is still just 5 ships.

And the only warships serve a strategic purpose--missile defense for Europe and other allies nearby--not sea control or power projection to resist Russia or fight ISIL.

Nor is 6th Fleet likely to get the ships in peacetime needed to be a real fleet. The commandeer of 6th Fleet, Vice Admiral James Foggo, recognizes that while he'd love to have a carrier battle group or amphibious ready group with a Marine Expeditionary Unit, other theaters have priority.

But does 6th Fleet need to be a large fleet to allow NATO to control the Mediterranean Sea?

Remember, Russia is still very weak--especially in naval power. Their navy emphasized ballistic missile submarines to maintain a nuclear deterrent to make up for weak Europe-focused land power that can't protect their entire border from China.

We have NATO allies Spain, France, Italy, Greece, and Turkey--which also chokes off Russian reinforcements from the Black Sea through the Turkish straits--with decent navies (with about a 125 subs and principal surface combatants in 2012, plus smaller vessels and air support from ashore and afloat) that we can support. We don't need a significant 6th Fleet these days to control the Mediterranean Sea.

And while we can't afford a carrier battle group for 6th Fleet, I'll ask again in this context: why can't we deploy a carrier air wing to land bases?

Navy planes based at Sicily, Crete, Cyprus, or bases on the mainland of Europe could provide the air support for NATO naval operations without a carrier. There's little room to maneuver in the constricted Mediterranean Sea, anyway.

Sixth Fleet is still a virtual combat fleet, notwithstanding the four ballistic missile defense ships now assigned to the fleet. Those ships have a dedicated mission and they really aren't going to be available for routine missions.

But I don't think we really need to rebuild 6th Fleet. Our European NATO allies are mostly incapable of fighting out of area to support us. We should at least take advantage of those NATO capabilities in Europe's own back yard to make up for our smaller navy.

UPDATE: I stand corrected on the use of the anti-missile-capable ships. Amazingly, they are being used for routine work, according to the EUCOM commander:

So, we have four very capable Aegis destroyers now, that are a huge part of our rotation capability and have already been used to demonstrate Freedom Of Action in the Black Sea and other places, which the Russians would like to say is now denied to us.

I was wrong. But I shouldn't be. Those ships have no business being involved in routine missions if they affect the anti-missile role. These ships are part of the alternative to the Bush land-based anti-missile plans for Europe (with no other mission) that were changed by the Obama administration.

Between Victory and Defeat

I've been unsure of whether President Obama's decision to leave a small force in Afghanistan when he leaves is too little to win. I suspected it was too little but wanted to hear from those who are more in the know.

We have one thumbs down judgment in:

The headlines should read: “Obama to slash U.S. troops in Afghanistan by over 40% weeks before he hands over responsibility to a new President.” Instead they say: “Obama extends U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.” Talk about controlling the narrative.

We’re missing the plot here. The President announced on Thursday the most irresponsible decision he could have made about Afghanistan — second only to the promise he had made earlier to pull almost all U.S. troops. The right decision would have been to keep forces at current levels, or, better, send reinforcements.

Kagan also notes that without our air power to atomize the enemy, they can now mass for attacks. Which makes defense much more difficult as I noted oh so long ago during the Iraq War.

I do trust Kagan's judgment. But for now I'll just say that President Obama didn't make the worst decision by trying not to lose during his term. And he has time to make a better decision before he leaves.

And with American troops still scheduled to remain after his term ends, his successor has a chance to make a good decision and aim for victory.

Unless it all goes belly up before 2017. I don't suspect it will, but you never know.

After all, South Vietnam was defeated when we similarly failed to provide the air and logistics support we promised after we left.

But our enemies don't rise to the level of the North Vietnamese Army. So I'm not defeatist.

Pity the "good" war has come to this.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Raid on Hawija

We appear to have lost a member of a rescue force sent into northern Iraq to free Kurdish prisoners of ISIL:

The raid [against a prison run by ISIL] was conducted alongside Kurdish and Iraqi forces in the city of Hawija. Seventy Kurdish hostages were allegedly freed as a result of the action.

We also captured some ISIL members.

It's fairly amazing that the raid was successful given that it was made up of US, Kurdish, and Iraqi forces.

Why were the Kurdish prisoners so important to justify a rare direct action by our forces?

Although I can't rule out that the only reason others aren't known is because they haven't resulted in the deaths of any US forces.


UPDATE: Ah, I was wondering how we managed to maintain security with Iraqi forces involved, too, but it was with just the Kurds:

Early today in Iraq, at the request of the Kurdistan Regional Government, U.S. Special Operations Forces supported an Iraqi Peshmerga operation to rescue hostages at an ISIL prison near Hawijah, Iraq.

We termed them "Iraqi Peshmerga" to basically disguise that it was just with the regional Kurdish forces. Yes, they are technically part of Iraq and so the term is narrowly accurate.

But the Iraqis--as in actual Shia or Sunni Arab Iraqis--were not part of the rescue force.

UPDATE: More on the raid.

Delta Force supported the Kurds and intervened to help the Kurdish troops when their assault stalled. That's when one of our troops was fatally wounded.

Oddly, we struggled to justify the raid:

Overall, no U.S. official has been able to articulate exactly why the raid was conducted, since no “high-value” targets were thought to be at the site.

It's possible we just don't want to say who we got--or who we thought we might get, to avoid blowing a source.

It is also possible it was just an ally maintenance raid designed to keep the Iraqi Kurds with us despite our seeming failure to get on with the defeat of ISIL.

Note we also dropped arms to Syrian Kurds recently.

I hope it was worth it. Delta Force isn't just really good infantry. So losing these highly skilled operators at even 500:1 kill ratios against ill-trained rabble jihadis is effectively a jihadi victory--unless the objective justifies the loss.

UPDATE: I'll settle on ally maintenance as the reason for this rare raid:

Such rescue attempts are rare. The joint operation highlighted the status of Kurdish peshmerga fighters as key allies of the U.S.-led coalition against the militants, also known as ISIL, who control large swathes of Iraq and neighboring Syria.

"The intention was to rescue peshmerga taken hostage by ISIL," said the source in the Security Council of Kurdistan, a semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq.

The Kurds fight. We need to keep them in the fight.

Who Was at War on September 11, 2012?

Former Secretary of State Clinton will testify today before a Congressional committee on the attack on our facilities at Benghazi on September 11, 2012 that left four Americans dead.

I remain concerned by the failure of our military to even try to send help that day. The secondary question is whether for political reasons the administration tried to dismiss the attack as a video-related protest gone awry to support the notion that our wars were responsibly ending.

Those questions are related to my suspicion that there was command influence from the White House that the war was over and that nobody should act like we are at war to undermine the campaign narrative.

I've written many times that I don't believe it is true that we could not have sent troops to Benghazi to try to influence events as the crisis unfolded--as the State Department actually did (which would actually make Clinton look better if she wasn't so invested in the related video-caused explanation attempt).

Conclusions that we could not have affected the crisis as it did unfold rely on hindsight as to when the crisis ended.

My suspicions about the mindset of our senior leadership before that day is easily indicated by a blog post of mine on September 9, 2012:

The Department of Homeland Security is urging Americans to contemplate the supplies we'd need to cope with a zombie crisis:

Tongue firmly in cheek, the government urged citizens Thursday to prepare for a zombie apocalypse, part of a public health campaign to encourage better preparation for genuine disasters and emergencies. The theory: If you're prepared for a zombie attack, the same preparations will help during a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake or terrorist attack.

It's a shame we don't have a real world example of a threat.

Well, perhaps some man-caused disaster as a reason to prepare will come to mind in a couple days.

Under the circumstances, I'm deeply offended by the zombie preparation campaign.

Boy did we get a reminder in a couple days. We were (and remain) at war with murderous enemies who cared not one whit for the reelection theme that the wars were winding down.

Like I said, I want to know why our military in Europe didn't go to the sounds of the guns. That doesn't require "stand down" orders or secret arms cells in Benghazi or whatever else is out there as an accusation--and a distraction as far as I'm concerned.

UPDATE: For me, the testimony established that the administration was damned if it was going to admit in the weeks before the election that we were still at war with enemies far from defeated:

In the weeks before September 11, 2012, al-Qaeda saber-rattled about a potential Tehran 1979–style attack on the U.S. embassy in Cairo — perhaps they’d burn it to the ground, perhaps they’d take hostages to trade for American concessions like release of the Blind Sheikh (imprisoned for terrorism convictions in the U.S.).

Administration officials knew there would be trouble on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. They also knew that, if the trouble was perceived as the foreseeable fallout of their Islamist empowerment policy, it could mortally damage Obama’s 2012 reelection bid and Clinton’s 2016 election ambitions.

My suspicion is that the administration was determined to pretend the war was over--fast receding, for sure--and that this command influence was felt in the chain of command that suppressed the normal instinct in the military to move to the sound of the guns.


The overthrow of Saddam did not cause our current problems in the Middle East. Failure to build on the defeat of Saddam's Iraq certainly did contribute, however.

I don't know why this author has any appeal:

The American military project in Iraq miscarried and the “freedom agenda” went nowhere. Worse, even with all the thousands of lives lost or shattered, all the hundreds of billions of dollars wasted, US military efforts have actually made conditions in the Greater Middle East markedly worse. An enterprise intended to foster stability, spread democracy, and further the cause of human rights has instead produced something akin to chaos, while fueling violent radicalism.

And this is just an aside from his main point that the Iran deal is just dandy because it could change the region (for the better).

But his aside is such nonsense that I can't even move beyond that to address the primary nonsense.

From 2005 to 2011, we can see the exact opposite of the author's assessment. By 2005--prior to the Iranian-Syrian escalation to stoke sectarian conflict in 2006--we were pushing successfully reforms and human rights in the Arab world and Lebanon had a Cedar Spring that ejected the Syrian occupiers.

Even after we backed off on reform in the Arab world as we reacted to the 2006 sectarian explosion by cementing the Awakening and conducting the surge offensive, we broke the back of the jihad in Iraq and made jihadi recruitment a harder sell.

The idea that overthrowing a brutal dictator "justified" al Qaeda's claim that we were crusading imperialists kind of glosses over the fact that we were accused of that before we invaded Iraq, no?

Face it, looking for reasons we are to blame for the question of "why do they hate us?" is a chump's game. Anything we do or don't do is a reason for jihadis to hate and kill us. By now, given the eagerness of jihadis to slaughter everyone, shouldn't we understand that the correct question is just "why do they hate?" Full stop?

By the time we prematurely left Iraq at the end of 2011, the Obama administration even boasted how well Iraq was doing, recall, and Vice President Biden had said that Iraq could be one of the administration's "great achievements."

Even the Arab Spring that challenged the so-called "stability" of autocrats boasted the desire of protesters to replace autocracy with democracy--no matter how ill-understood the concept was--rather than with Islamism as past explosions against "stable" autocrats in Iran and Algeria aimed for (and in the former, succeeded in getting).

Yes, Islamism gained ground in the weakening of autocrats, but that was because of the organized strength of Islamists which predated our destruction of the Saddam regime.

And Islamists gained ground in Syria despite the fact that we stayed out. Their numbers dwarf the numbers who went to Iraq where our military presence supposedly "created more jihadis."

And the Islamists spilled back into Iraq as jihadi and Iranian influence spread in Iraq while we failed to bolster the Iraqi military and government to keep jihadi appeal in check.

The American military project in Iraq achieved a battlefield victory over a series of changing threats in Iraq that could be exploited to promote real stability, democracy, and human rights in the region over time if only we had made the tiny incremental investment to defend and exploit those battlefield gains.

Today, despite the own-goal of America allowing Iran and now Russia to penetrate Iraqi governing circles, we do have a much more free Iraq with a fragile democracy that actually fights jihadis at our side rather than killing its own people, threatening neighbors, and supporting terrorism abroad.

Think of what we might have achieved without walking away from Iraq at the end of 2011.

The author believes the defeat of a brutal and aggressive dictator in Iraq caused the problems we face in the Middle East now yet believes the Iran deal could transform the Middle East for the better.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What Does Assad Ask For and What Does Putin Provide?

Russia's air strikes are energetic but not decisive. So what are Putin and Assad talking about?

Syria's Assad has gone to Russia to meet Putin:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew to Moscow on Tuesday evening to personally thank Russia's Vladimir Putin for his military support, in a surprise visit that underlined how Russia has become a major player in the Middle East.

Which is a bold move considering how many people seem to think Assad should take an extended holiday abroad to end the war.

This article says that the air strikes really aren't working:

So far, the United States doesn't believe the regime has recovered significant ground in key areas since the Russian bombing began.

"Airpower alone is unlikely to turn the battlefield in Assad's favor. His army is depleted and demoralized," the official said.

"While some tactical swings along the front lines may favor the regime in the near-term, pro-regime forces face significant challenges in loosening the opposition's grip on territory it has held for months, and in some cases years," the official said, pointing to the many provincial capitals occupied by Assad's army that remain under threat.

So Assad and Putin have something to talk about.

Interesting enough, the article actually starts with how our policy is actually parallel to Russia's. We want to make sure Assad doesn't collapse in order to pave the way for a magical clean hand off to the opposition; while Russia wants to make sure Assad doesn't collapse--period--so he'll survive in a smaller Core Syria.

How will we resolve this problem other than be fully adopting Russia's objective? Will we get the worst of both worlds by doing too little to overthrow Assad up to now and then side with Assad just as he is doomed?

Could we actually be that bad at this rather than accepting that this war will go on regardless of our desire to finesse the departure of Assad as if this all centers on the fate of one man?

Easing Assad out is no light at the end of the tunnel with so many trains on the tracks.

In the current big push, Assad's forces with foreign shock troops are making progress toward Aleppo and besieged defenders holding the base at Kweiras:

Government forces advanced Monday under the cover of Russian airstrikes toward an air base besieged by the Islamic State group in northern Syria, a Syrian military official and activists said, while a rebel military commander was killed in another battle in a nearby area.

Given that I've long felt that Aleppo was a bridge too far for Assad's forces, I'll guess this is a rescue and evacuate mission.

But Assad has not shown he is willing to give up this important (although wrecked) city.

So I guess there is something else to talk about in Moscow.

But a little advice to Assad: don't route your plane flight home over the Donbas region in case Russia decides that a terrible accident with a Buk anti-aircraft missile would be just the thing needed to move the peace process forward.

Now We Get to the Part Where We Really Pretend

I've long said that the outline of a nuclear deal with Iran is clear: Iran will pretend not to have a nuclear weapons program; and we will pretend to believe them. Now we finalize that deal.

Iran's chief nutball Khamenei is insisting that we make the big pretend declaration before Iran commits to even the weak actions that they've pledged to take:

In a letter to President Hassan Rouhani published on Khamenei's official website, Iran's highest authority ordered the July 14 nuclear deal to be implemented, subject to certain conditions that the Iranian parliament stipulated in a law passed last week.

He said Iran should delay sending its stockpile of enriched uranium abroad and reconfiguring a heavy water reactor to ensure it cannot make bomb-grade plutonium - central aspects of Iran's obligations under the deal -- until U.N. inspectors had settled the issue of whether Tehran had ever sought nuclear weapons.

Gosh, I wonder what the UN inspectors will say? Declare Iran once did have nuclear programs--which we say is the case--and give Iran an excuse to walk away?

Or weasel word a declaration on possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear infrastructure that allows Iran to claim that they've been declared innocent of any nuclear weapons ambitions?

The suspense is killing me.

UPDATE: And remember that the Iranians deny a possible nuclear dimension to their recent missile test.

Hold the Mockery

More and more, I see nuance mastery as just the ability to argue away the lethality of gathering threats.

Sophisticates who sneer that it is wrong to compare any enemies we make deals with rather than confront to Germany and the 1938 Munich deal because Germany was a real military power neglect that the Germany the West appeased in 1938 (and earlier) was weak and not in the same league as the Germany that conquered half of Poland in 1939 (Moscow grabbed the other half), the Germany that conquered Western Europe from France to Norway in 1940, or the Germany that marched to the Volga River in Russia and within striking distance of the Suez Canal in 1942.

That's the problem, see? Weak enemies not stopped when they are weak get stronger. And they tend to see themselves as a potentially more successful enemy because of that strength rather than becoming our new friend with no interest in using that new strength against us.

Sure, you can dismiss the failure to stop Hitler early by saying we still beat the much stronger Germany by 1945, but the cost was enormous and extended to post-war chaos and death as people and borders were rearranged in Europe and a decades-long Cold War against the twin of Nazism--Communism--which took the place of the Nazis as the brutalizer of Europeans.

Nobody was sneering by then.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cold Hope and Change?

Canada went left wing big:

Canadians voted for a sharp change in their government Monday, returning a legendary name for liberals, Trudeau, to the prime minister's office and resoundingly ending Conservative Stephen Harper's near-decade in office.

Son of a former left winger prime minister, the new Trudeau is the second youngest prime minister, now.

So basically, Canadians elected Eh-bama. Good luck with that.

UPDATE: Wait a second. I thought President Obama restored our leadership in a world tired of cowboys?

Canada's prime minister-elect Justin Trudeau said Tuesday he told US President Barack Obama that Canadian fighter jets would withdraw from fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Trudeau won like, what? Five hours ago? And already he will responsibly end Canada's war in Iraq and Syria?

UPDATE: What the Heck, Canada might as well come home. Maybe if they mind their own business, jihadis won't target Canada anymore.

That is the theory, right?

It's a Sensitive Issue

We are sending 300 troops to Cameroon to provide drone support for local forces involved in the fight against Boko Haram, which is centered in Nigeria, and other jihadis. Even 300 troops are a sensitive issue.

Recall our decision to send troops to Cameroon. We'll be there operating from a "location" with "improvements," but don't dare call it a "base:"

“We’re not building any bases, but there is a location, and part of the deal will be that we will make some improvements,” said Charles Prichard, an AFRICOM spokesman. “Some life support things to make sure servicemembers have what they need. Food, water, shelter. That is part of the initial push.” ...

AFRICOM declined to name the exact location where U.S. forces will be operating, citing force protection concerns. However, the facility is to be a temporary base of operations.

That sensitivity has been a problem for AFRICOM, which has a very small footprint on the continent. Suspicion of a permanent American base--whether from worry about being seen working with us, losing autonomy, or attracting violent groups that might attack those bases--colors judgment of our help to Africans.

One problem is that American forces outside of the very large continent have difficulty getting to locations in Africa quickly in a crisis.

One solution is to have places where African governments say we can land to refuel planes flying from Europe:

U.S. crisis-response forces can now reach hot spots in western Africa in a matter of hours thanks to a collection of military outposts established since the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya exposed capability gaps, U.S. Africa Command’s Gen. David Rodriguez said.

Senegal, Ghana and Gabon are playing key roles as hosts to so-called cooperative security locations, which function as bare-bones launching pads for quick-reaction troops called upon to secure U.S. diplomatic facilities in the broader region, Rodriguez said.

There are a total of 11 across Africa, the article reports, with basically just equipment in warehouses that we can use when we land to leap forward from that "cooperative security location."

Of course, that requires the host government to allow this use. And it requires that the equipment be there (not stolen by crooks or destroyed by enemies) when we get there.

We have to rely on these work-arounds because of the lack of actual bases on the ground and because the Navy doesn't routinely commit amphibious warfare assets to AFRICOM that could put sovereign American steel off shore to project power.

The article also notes the exception to the rule in Djibouti where we have had forces deployed there throughout the war on terror to battle jihadis, and which now hosts an American Army infantry battalion that can react to crises if it has the transportation, staging areas, and warning time to move. Like I said, it's a big continent.

I missed that article when it was written in the spring. But it is interesting.

I'm glad we have this arrangement. But it does have limits. One day, African governments may not be so sensitive about American bases. Perhaps when the Chinese military is a common sight along with Chinese economic penetration, the value of our presence will be easier for African governments to see and justify.

UPDATE: This can't hurt our efforts to convince people in Africa that our presence on the continent isn't so bad:

This year's Confucius Peace Prize has gone to Zimbabwean autocrat Robert Mugabe for “injecting fresh energy” into the quest for peace, as the 76- member judging committee stated.

This year's Confucius Peace Prize has gone to Zimbabwean autocrat Robert Mugabe for “injecting fresh energy” into the quest for peace, as the 76- member judging committee stated.

Let's review who the Chinese Communist Party has honored and is honoring with the award:

The annual prize was started in 2010 to exemplify distinct "Asian values." Not coincidentally, that same year the Nobel Peace Prize went to jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo. Since then, the Chinese prize has gone to figures like Russian President Vladimir Putin – praised for his intervention in Chechnya – and Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Among China scholars and Confucius experts, the prize and its recipients have stirred disbelief and dismay. Initial reports on the prize going to Mr. Mugabe, who is widely accused of stealing elections, wrecking the economy, and turning the breadbasket of Africa into a net importer of food, were treated as a media spoof.

Perhaps in his old age, Mugabe has tired of turning Zimbabwe into a Heck Hole and so that counts as "injecting fresh energy" into the ever-elusive peace quest there.

At this point, I assume the White House lobbied heavily to avoid getting the prize for his potential to promote Asian values--like bestowing territorial waters around submerged rocks turned into islands.