Sunday, January 31, 2016

Faulty IFF? No, Just on Team Europe

Tom Friedman wrote a column about helping our "most important ally." Not that I care one whit about his opinion on that--or any--issue, because since the Russian invasion of Ukraine I find him a repulsive creature. But I was curious to see just who he sees as our most important ally. He does not disappoint.

So I won't quote or even link to Friedman. I used to in order to criticize him, always noting that I wasn't saying you couldn't drown in a pool of his wisdom--but that you'd have to be drunk and lying face down to do so. But since the Ukraine Crisis started, he disgusts me.

To the matter at hand, Friedman actually considers the European Union to be America's most important ally.


Is his IFF broken? Nah. He's just on Team Europe rather than Team America.

Europe is surely our friend and partner in the concept of the West. But Europe is not the same as the European Union.

Individual Europeans can be our friends. European states can be our friends. But the institution of the European Union cannot be our friend--only levels below that can:

We can't let our frustration with the European Union distract us from gaining friends and help from European countries. And we can't let our frustration with individual European states distract us from reaching out to their citizens.

We have friends in Europe. Don't abandon them because they aren't the majority. Not yet anyway. If we ever have to give up on keeping friends and allies in Europe to fight with us, we will have to start looking at the continent as an asset that we have to keep out of the enemy column.

And this is something I've complained about back in the Bush administration:

It is a tremendous failure of our diplomacy that the Bush administration has continued to formally back European political union. While admirably adapting our foreign policy from the Cold War to fight Islamo-fascist terrorism, this adminstration remains locked in a Cold War template that saw a unified Europe as a bulwark against Soviet aggression instead of an abomination that must die.

Europe will not be our friend. European states can be our friend. And Europeans even in countries without governments friendly to us can be our friends. Why let these sources of support, friendship, and alliance be submerged in an EU supra-elite culture of hatred for America?

Which gives you a clue about why Friedman--a member of that supra-elite--thinks so highly of the EU.

Me? I say of the EU, die, die, die--with festering boils, die!

UPDATE: The lack of democracy is baked into how the EU was built.

It's the Soviet Union Lite and should be opposed for that. I believe efforts to reform the monstrosity are futile.

Supreme Folly

One reason backers of the Iran nuclear deal have made is that by bringing Iran back into the community of nations by ending sanctions, we can make Iran a responsible regional partner. So even if Iran goes nuclear after the deal is completed in 10-15 years (and yes, these backers assume Iran won't cheat and go nuclear in that time), it won't matter because Iran will be a normal country at peace with the West and the world.

Feel the reset!

Iran's most powerful figure told Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit Iran wanted to expand ties with "more independent countries", adding the United States was "not honest" in the fight against terrorism in the region.

"Iranians never trusted the West... That's why Tehran seeks cooperation with more independent countries (like China)," [Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei said.

That's something we can build on to achieve Iran as a responsible regional partner, eh?

Feel the reset!

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran. This replaces the Travel Warning for Iran of August 5, 2015, to reiterate and highlight the risk of arrest and detention of U.S. citizens, particularly dual national Iranian-Americans, in Iran. All U.S. citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and carefully consider nonessential travel.

Various elements in Iran remain hostile to the United States. Since the United States and Iran reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to address the international community's concerns over Iran's nuclear program on July 14, 2015, Iran has continued to harass, arrest, and detain U.S. citizens, in particular dual nationals.

(As an aside, the OSAC email updates are a great source of information on global events.)

Mission accomplished!

I'm sure that one day when Iran is a nuclear regional power, the State Department talking points will claim one out of three isn't bad, significant success-wise. And with just a few more concessions we'll build that partnership by the end of the fiscal year!

Face it, Iran isn't going to change into a better country because of this deal--just a better armed country.

Je Suis Sorry

France has groveled in apology for a cartoon "insulting" Islam.


An influential French news magazine Friday removed a cartoon of a revered Senegalese Muslim leader that sparked outrage in the west African nation in a row involving Islam, handbags and homosexuality.

Okay, it wasn't the government. It was a magazine doing the groveling. But is this the start of a general retreat? Is this the first broken pencil in the war with Islamist censorship?

Is that whole Je Suis Charlie pretense over? Are the French all just sorry now?

From Anti-war Slogan to Journalistic Fact

The notion that President Bush 43 "lied us into war with Iraq" is a persistent error that just will not die. This author--who served as co-chairman of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction--notes that AP reporter Ron Fournier has repeated the lie recently and truly seems to believe it. There was no lying involved yet this belief will not die in the face of facts.

Repeat after me, both sides of the aisle here and our allies abroad--even those opposed to war--accepted the idea that Saddam Hussein had WMD programs and weapons. Writes Laurence Silberman:

The intelligence community’s 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stated, in a formal presentation to President Bush and to Congress, its view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction—a belief in which the NIE said it held a 90% level of confidence. That is about as certain as the intelligence community gets on any subject.

Recall that the head of the intelligence community, Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet, famously told the president that the proposition that Iraq possessed WMD was “a slam dunk.” Our WMD commission carefully examined the interrelationships between the Bush administration and the intelligence community and found no indication that anyone in the administration sought to pressure the intelligence community into its findings. As our commission reported, presidential daily briefs from the CIA dating back to the Clinton administration were, if anything, more alarmist about Iraq’s WMD than the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate.

The "lying" issue is so dishonest that you have to use the WayBack Machine to remember that many opponents of the war with Iraq did not dispute that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. These anti-war people said that Saddam's possession of chemical weapons did not justify overthrowing his regime--which was official Bill Clinton-era law, recall--by invasion.

Yet after we found Saddam did not have actual post-1991 chemical weapons on hand, the anti-war people declared that the lack of chemical weapons invalidated the reason to invade!

Remember, the Persian Gulf War ceasefire required Saddam to prove to us that he had disarmed--it did not require us to prove Saddam had not disarmed.

You want to talk lies? Let's talk lies.

Saying Bush lied us into a war with Iraq is a mistake so persistent that it surely borders on lying to make at this point.

The fact is, the only way to keep Saddam Hussein or one of his evil spawn from getting chemical weapons was to destroy the Saddam regime.

Silberman is astonished that the "Bush lied" belief has gone from antiwar slogan to journalistic fact so thoroughly. Why is he shocked? It's really a short journey.

Saddam lied about WMD. And now the anti-war/journalist class lies about WMD. At least the murderous despot Saddam and his loyal minions paid the price for lying.

You wonder why I mistrust the media?

UPDATE: Eric from Learning Curve emails that Silberman is in error that the pre-war intelligence on chemical weapons in Iraq was not the basis for the legal case for war. Eric is correct on this, as he lays out.

I read Silberman's focus on WMD as the basis for the public case for war that was needed to get the American people's backing for the war. Yes, legally Saddam had to prove he had to disarm. And he did not.

But that distinction from proving Saddam had WMD was lost to the media in the years before the war as the left twisted the ceasefire requirement 180 degrees.

So when the Bush administration based our war on Saddam's possession of WMD and the means to produce them, I never believed that was the sole reason to go to war. But given that the CIA said that reason was a "slam dunk" and even Secretary of State Powell was convinced by the evidence he saw that Saddam had chemical weapons, I was content to have a reason the public could back.

Sadly, we (and everyone else) was wrong. Although the bright side is that our troops weren't hit by chemical weapons, as I worried; and the WMD didn't disperse to terrorists around the region in the post-war disorder the way some opponents of the war said could happen,

Yet once that reason was shown to be untrue, that did not unravel my other reasons for war or the legal case that Eric lays out.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

When Far, Appear Near?

We sailed near a Chinese-claimed island and China reacts angrily:

Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said no ships from China's military were in the vicinity of the guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur when it passed near Triton Island in the Paracel Islands. ...

"The American warship has violated relevant Chinese laws by entering Chinese territorial waters without prior permission, and the Chinese side has taken relevant measures including monitoring and admonishments," China's foreign ministry said in a statement.

But given our diplomacy of late, I have to ask whether we pretended to carry out a freedom of navigation operation that was actually innocent passage while China pretended to be outraged to bolster our pretend resolute stand, while giving up nothing in practice.

And this does nothing to increase my confidence:

"We conducted a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea earlier tonight," Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said in a statement.

Davis said the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur made the "innocent passage" off Triton Island in the Paracel island chain, which is claimed by China, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Oh good God! Was it a freedom of navigation operation? Or was it innocent passage? Those are different things!

Sailing close to the island is not enough. That is actually allowed under international law. What we need to do is operate weapons systems (that doesn't mean shooting) while transiting to prove that we are in international waters.

UPDATE: This does not appear to be a true freedom of navigation operation:

While a Pentagon statement to USNI News on Saturday didn’t specify the type of transit Wilbur took past Triton Island but it’s likely it was an innocent passage – a stipulation in maritime law that allows warships to transit through a nation’s territorial waters “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state,” according to Article 19 of the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention.

The transit did violate Chinese law, which says that no ship can enter "their" waters (which is overly broad in violation of international law, too) at any time under any circumstances without Chinese permission.

But Chinese law exceeds what is allowable under international law and practice.

So I guess we didn't do enough and China protested anyway because even that was too much for them.

Germany Has a Military?

Germany's military is in poor shape. Which is fascinating. Who knew Germany had a military?

From the God Help Us All files:

[Despite having the fourth largest economy in the world,] the German military is not fit for purpose, according to Hans-Peter Bartels, the German parliamentary ombudsman charged with overseeing the country's armed forces, known as the Bundeswehr.

"The military forces are tired," Bartels remarked in an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt on Wednesday, a day after he released a report that depicted Germany's military as small, demoralized, and struggling to fulfill missions with malfunctioning equipment. "There are too many things missing."

The German military is tired? From what? Typing too fast??

Yeah, yeah, Nazis and all that. The Germans don't want to revive the militaristic ideas that led Germany to rampage across Europe twice in the last century.

The Russians are getting all Russia-like and I think Middle Eastern migrants can put more infantry into the streets of Germany than the German army could. But the chance of the Fourth Reich is the real threat.

Get over that Stomponeuropeophobia, will you?

Let me try to apply the clue bat to the Germans again:

I keep reading that the Germans hate their militaristic past so much that they don't want to fight.

Let's try applying the clue bat to Germany's collective skull on this issue.

Conquering and setting up death camps under the shield of a powerful military? That's bad. By all means, don't do that.

Having a military capable of fighting death cult enemies or stopping the Russians from moving west? Well, that's a good thing. Try doing that.

Seriously, Germany should try doing the latter. Defending the West is a good thing. Really.

The Charge of the Shiite Brigade

The pending assault on Mosul--which could take place by mid-year--will leave the Iraqi government with the problem of Shia (Shiite) militias favorable to Iran and eager for a religious dictatorship sitting in the rear. What to do?

The assault on Mosul could be near:

American officials talk of driving ISIL out of Mosul and Raqqa soon, as in by mid-2016, while some senior Iraqi officials openly doubt that Mosul will be liberated this year at all.

But there is a problem, as the Iraqi worries indicate:

A lot of Iraqis still doubt the capabilities of their armed forces and are more afraid of the Iran-backed Shia militias that openly call for a religious dictatorship in Iraq. So while the Kurds report that they have surrounded Mosul from the north and are ready for the final battle the Iraqi government forces south of the city are pointing out that they have to keep an eye on ISIL as well as their “allies” the Iran-backed Shia militias. ...

Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, the head of the Iran backed Shia militias in Iraq has said publicly that if Iran ordered him to overthrow the Iraqi government he would do so. This confirms what Iraqi leaders have long feared.

And have no doubt, Iran, especially after the nuclear deal which puts this administration in the position of not wanting to pressure Iran our of fear it will provoke Iran into ending the deal (after Iran has reaped the up-front financial benefits), has more influence in Iraq.

To me, there is a solution--send the Shia militias into the battle in the first wave before our air power has really had an effect on the ISIL defenders. These guys dismiss our air power, after all:

Flush with cash and weapons, Islamic State is attracting huge numbers of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria and withstanding U.S.-led air strikes that are failing to hit the right targets, a powerful Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary leader [Hadi al-Amiri] told Reuters in an interview.

Heck, this would be culturally sensitive since the militia guys would rather have Allah than air power backing them. Right?

And if the Shia militias refuse the order to go into battle? Well, use that refusal as a reason to disband the disobeying militia unit. So as much as I've worried about the time it has taken to defeat ISIL, one result of all that time being taken is that a new threat has arisen--the pro-Iran Shia militias.

So hold off the assault on Mosul while one Shia militia unit after another is either sent into battle in ill-supported frontal assaults or is surrounded by loyal Iraq units and disbanded (and militia leaders arrested and tried for cowardice in the face of the enemy).

Every Shia militia fighter who dies at the gates of Mosul or who is sent home disarmed, now lacking their leaders, is one fewer to back a coup in Baghdad to put a pro-Iran religious dictatorship in power--and prompt immediate Kurdish independence and a re-ignition of the of Sunni insurrection in Anbar province as these guys declare independence.

When the People are the Objective

Max Boot addresses the nature of insurgencies. I'd like to point out one aspect in particular: winning hearts and minds.

Throughout the Iraq War I argued against "taking off the gloves" to really hammer the Sunni Arabs in Iraq. No matter how frustrating the fight seemed, I argued that we had to wage a war for the people to defend friends, move neutrals to friendship, and move enemies to neutrality. Plus, since most Iraqis were our friends, it would only risk losing friends more than it promised to scare enemies.

Nor was it right to ask our troops to become beasts in a mistaken notion that we could brutalize the Iraqis into supporting our victory. It would take near-genocidal levels of killing to win an insurgency that way. In Syria, we can see that Assad has been unable to brutalize his way to victory over insurgents there.

But even if I only mentioned the concept in passing, I did always recognize that if we fought a war where we weren't essentially protecting friendly populations from an enemy insurgency (and terrorists), we'd have to fight it differently. We could afford to be more ruthless in fighting enemies--even if that doesn't mean being indiscriminate in violence--if we truly conquered a hostile country and had to suppress national resistance.

I never really explored how we might win that fight since we didn't have that one. But if we have to actually pacify a hostile population, it would have been better to think of population-centric operations not as "protecting" the people from insurgents as much as it is "separating" the people from insurgents, as I mentioned here in regard to Iraq, as we fought in the Taliban south in Afghanistan:

[It] was crucial that we go in to hammer the enemy and stay in the areas instead of commuting to the war in order to break the enemy and make them weak enough for strengthening Iraqi forces to handle. Counter-insurgency 101, right?

And I absolutely worried about thinking we could take what worked in Iraq where we teamed with Sunnis and Shias to combat the alien al Qaeda terrorists and expecting it to work in the Taliban heartland where the people supported the Taliban insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists. But counter-insurgency can handle that. Like I said, "hearts and minds" isn't about gaining the love and gratitude of the people by protecting them from insurgents. It is about separating the insurgents from the people so the people can't support the insurgents. That can be done whether the people love us or [are] the enemy. It is harder. But it can be done.

Winning hearts and minds doesn't mean just being nicer than the enemy. That may be the "hearts" part but it neglects the "minds" part. If we are defending people, we can expect their hearts to be in the right place and want to help us. But regardless, we have to address the "mind" part, too. Whether or not people are basically friendly or basically hostile, our presence in a community separating the people from the insurgents will help convince the "minds" that it is safer to support us or at least safer not to support the enemy. The idea, as Boot writes, is to separate the people from the insurgents:

In Iraq in 2007-08, Gen. David Petraeus showed how successful a "population-centric" strategy could be, at least in narrow security terms, by sending troops to live in urban areas and by wooing Sunni tribes.

The best-known term for this strategy is "winning hearts and minds"—a phrase popularized by the British Gen. Gerald Templer, who saved Malaya from a communist insurgency in the 1950s. But the term is misleading, since it suggests that a counter-insurgency campaign is trying to win a popularity contest. In reality, the populace will embrace the government only if it is less dangerous to do so than to support the insurgency. That is why successful population-centric policies aim to control the people with a 24/7 deployment of security forces, not to win their love and gratitude by handing out soccer balls, medical supplies and other goodies.

I suppose, in a way, handing out the soccer balls is as much about the hearts back home so our people think well of our troops who are waging wars for minds. By killing insurgents and keeping the insurgents from getting help from the people because we are always around interfering with that, we can make supporting American forces seem safer than supporting insurgents. Their hearts are a nice bonus, at that point.

Winning hearts and minds isn't some wimpy alternative to fighting insurgents. It is how you fight an insurgency when the objective is the people themselves. You want their hearts. You can settle for their minds. And when you are pacifying an enemy population, you need to grab the insurgents by the balls so the people's hearts and minds will follow.

NOTE: I discovered this post as one scheduled to go up on 30 APR 2013, but it did not post and I did not notice the failure to post. So here it is. The subject isn't a fleeting one whose time has passed.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Orbital Backbone

The United States military needs satellite bandwidth for battlefield data transmission. Strategypage writes about new satellites and the growth of commercial capacity that the military can compel the commercial firms to rent to the military:

There is a growing need for more commo birds. Between 2000 and 2002, Department of Defense satellite bandwidth doubled, and more than doubled every 18 months after that. Back in 2000, some 60 percent of Department of Defense satellite capacity had to be leased from commercial firms. While the Department of Defense had its own communications satellite network (MILSAT), it underestimated the growth of demand. Greater use of the internet and reconnaissance aircraft and UAVs using video cameras quickly used up MILSAT's capacity and forced the military to lease capacity on commercial satellites. This was done on the "spot market," meaning the Department of Defense had to pay whatever the market would bear at that moment.

Do read it all. It is easy to overlook this basis for the images we see of our troops using high tech equipment.

But I'm an old signal guy. So it is interesting to me.

Man Up, France

America is calling for action on Libya but has no military plans to take action. While we obviously need to act in our interests regardless of what other countries do or don't do, I continue to believe France should step up over Libya.

Yes, Libya is a problem, ISIL-wise and otherwise:

"The President directed his national security team to continue efforts to strengthen governance and support ongoing counterterrorism efforts in Libya and other countries where ISIL has sought to establish a presence," the White House statement said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Not that we have military plans to make an effort, according to our secretary of defense:

Washington is "developing options for what we might do in the future," Carter told reporters.

But he added: "We're watching the situation very carefully, and there's a lot going on there right now. But we haven't made any decisions to take military action there."

I continue to believe that France should take the lead in Libya rather than wasting their time adding to the American-dominated effort in Iraq and Syria.

France was pretty eager back in 2011 to take down Khadaffi. You'd think they would feel some responsibility to follow up when things have turned sour rather than let us (again) re-intervene to win a war we withdrew from before solidifying the win.

Not that we are relieved of responsibility to act in our interests if France won't. But I'd think France would like the glory of their own sector on the front in the ISIL War rather than be a minor sidekick on the main front.

UPDATE: A sniper is at work in Sirte:

In recent weeks, no fewer than three Isil commanders in Sirte have been shot dead from long range, according to local media.


Why It Is a Long War

I've long held that our military campaigns to protect our homeland by killing jihadis "over there" is really only a holding action until the Islamic world gets its house in order to suppress the easy justification for jihad that Islam has provided since the religion was born.

It's going to be a Long War, as the terminology once called this struggle, given what the Islamic world has to overcome:

Interviews with refugees from the fighting in Iraq and Syria as well as people still in those countries shows that over 80 percent believe the Islamic terrorists in general and ISIL and al Qaeda in particular are creations of the West (particularly the United States) and Israel as a means to destroy their countries and Islam. This is nothing new and while all this is unbelievable to most Westerners and largely ignored by Western media and politicians it is very real and has been for a long time. Media in these countries is full of even more fanciful (to Westerners) inventions.

Not that the West is immune to this type of thinking. Think "truthers" on various subjects, whether 9/11, our president's place of birth, or Area 51.. But this is fringe thinking and not dominant in our society as it is in the Islamic world.

So we'll be on the frontlines of fighting jihadis to keep them at bay for a long time, unless we want to go back to the days when jihadis could plot against us and send their jihadis to America, relying on our homeland defenses to stop the attacks at or within our borders.

I know it is tiring. It is expensive and it is draining to be at war. But it is not true, as the pacifist thinking once routinely claimed, that it takes two to make war. In a perfect world, only your own side wages war against a passive enemy.

And if we decide to responsibly end our part of the war, figuring there is some acceptable collateral damage we will accept rather than fight (and perhaps we'll hope that at some point they will have killed enough of us to satisfy their limitless sense of grievances), our enemies will happily kill us for as long as they want.

Don't count on that. Our jihadi enemies are on a mission from God, as Strategypage is wont to put it.

Second Life

Israel retired the last of their elderly A-4 attack planes last year.

Could Israel modify these surplus planes to make them strike drones for a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities?

We are thinking of this for old F-16s, after all.

I still think Israel could pull off a strike on Iran, if they are able to think outside the box.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

French Lessons

Do you want to see foreign policy nuance in action?

Act I:

France has asked the European Union to consider new sanctions against Iran over recent missile tests, in a request made shortly after the EU ended sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, officials have told The Associated Press.

Act II:

President Hassan Rouhani was accompanied on his official visit to Paris, the first by an Iranian president since 1999, by ministers and business leaders who announced deals including a joint venture between carmakers PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA) and Iran Khodro and plans for Iran to buy 118 Airbus (AIR.PA) passenger planes to update its aging fleet.

And there were more deals so numerous that quoting them all would violate fair use of the article content.

Ponder the likelihood that France just used the threat of sanctions to get better trade deals with Iran.

And consider the sanctions threat as simply a response to Iran's opening bargaining shot.

What the heck, Iran won't target France, right? Just what are the odds of Paris being attacked, anyway?

Thus ends France's nuance lesson. For now, of course.

The Syrians are So Screwed

When our diplomats are boasting about a "peace process," understand that they will value maintaining the process far more than actual peace.

Aw, Hell no:

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to reporters in Riyadh, following a meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council states in the Saudi capital:

"We are confident that with good initiative in the next day or so those talks can get going and that the U.N. representative special envoy, Staffan De Mistura, will be convening people in an appropriate manner for the proximity talks that will be the first meeting in Geneva." ...

"I won't announce a date, but we all agreed that immediately after completion of the first round of the Syria discussions, the International Syria Support Group will convene, and that will be very shortly, because we want to keep the process moving," said Secretary Kerry.

You'll recall how well the peace process has worked for the Israel-Palestinian dispute.

And how well the process worked for South Vietnam.

But our diplomats are working hard to get a process for Syria. And once established, they'll invest much effort to keep that process going.

So just wait for the casualty count in Syria to pass a cool half million. No sacrifice is too great to keep Holy Process going.

Even On Crazy Pills, What Hillary Did Was Bad

Hillary Clinton's private email server that bypassed secured government systems is a violation of common sense and national security safeguards even before you look at what was on that system.

Yet Clinton defenders insist that we find a "smoking gun" about what was in those emails that can be proved to harm America, as if she really did only use it for setting up yoga schedules and emailing family and friends about Chelsea's wedding.

Even if you are on crazy pills and fail to see that the server itself is the crime (as Jonah Goldberg so eloquently describes this tendency), the smoking guns continue to dribble out:

In another Fox News exclusive, Catherine Herridge reports that according to two sources, "at least one of the emails on Hillary Clinton's private server" contained highly sensitive reporting of human intelligence sources engaged in ongoing operations, known as "HCS-O" in the intelligence community. "This is the most sensitive category," Herridge said, "because of the jeopardy to the source."

The private server is the crime. It is the smoking gun.

The individual emails are just the bullets that cycled through the server to hit our national security.

Bringing Equality to Art?

James Lileks (PBUH) goes off on the effort to staple social justice on to art.

That was enjoyable. Do read it all.

Although I prefer the simpler "It's the flag of Japan!" approach.

Let's bring talent to art, eh?

Tip to Instapundit.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Cheetah Mark I Collision Avoidance System

The purrfect solution to bird strikes:

Since the 1990s the South African Air Force has been using cheetahs to keep birds and small animals away from military air fields. ...[The] cheetahs raised in the breeding programs are comfortable enough around humans to be released onto military air bases so they can hunt (and chase away) large concentrations of birds or small animals who are, if left alone, are a major threat to aircraft landing or taking off.

This is a worldwide problem, as Strategypage writes. But I've never heard about the South African solution.

And really, I'm sorry about that link verbiage. Really.

Now I Know What is Going On

Apparently, I was involved in a process designed to stop terrorists from coming to America on visas and just staying.

This is interesting:

In Washington, it's been a rare week of progress on what has been one of Congress’s more protracted issues: setting up an exit system to track the departure of people leaving the country.

For the first time, the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday released a report on how many people entering the United States overstay their visas. Congress has been requesting such data, repeatedly, over the past 20 years.

At the same time, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) deployed a biometric pilot program at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to test facial recognition on some returning US citizens – it's a bid to make such data more reliable. But that move may raise privacy concerns for some.

Lessons learned from this experiment “will inform the use of facial biometric matching during departure,” DHS officials told a Senate oversight hearing on Wednesday.

This is a big part of the problem of border control, although the popular image is people--bad guys included--rushing the border where we have inadequate barriers and defenses.

Recall, I was fairly stunned when I was fingerprinted and photographed while leaving the United States for Canada in summer 2014 by US Customs. I wondered, what the heck is going on?

Apparently, this is what is going on.

So if we have biometric data--photos and fingerprints--on people who come in to America legally, we can track them if they ... leave again?

Is our problem really that people enter America on a visa and then leave with a different name, and so we just don't know that they left like they are supposed to?

That makes no sense.

The problem is that people arrive in America legally, don't leave when they should, and then--if they are a jihadi--could attack us at home.

The only way the biometric data can help us solve that problem is if there is a way to track people (including people like me who are not here on a visa, but who had their biometrics taken anyway) with biometric data while they move within America. Right?

Or am I missing something?

And it is so reassuring to know that by exercising my basic right to travel abroad freely, the federal government has my biometric data on file. Sure, the Army already had this stuff on me. But that was in the pre-digital age. So thanks!

The Battle for Helmand

I've been worried that we aren't helping the Afghan security forces enough to inflict a serious defeat on the Taliban in Helmand province. Strategypage looks at the front.

Afghan forces are reacting to the threats in the south:

The Taliban were threatening on Tuesday to capture three key strategic districts in Afghanistan's province of Helmand as fierce fighting with government forces stoked fears over the Islamist insurgents' gains in their traditional heartland.

The arid, semi-desert southern region is a major center of opium cultivation where the Taliban have stepped up pressure on security forces since the withdrawal of international troops from combat last year.

The government has sent reinforcements from Kabul to protect the districts of Gereshk, Sangin, and Marjah around the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, Helmand's police chief, Abdul Rahman Sarjang, said.

Strategypage looks at the situation, where the Taliban control about 20% of the territory in Helmand:

It has been a disappointing year for the Taliban. In early 2015 the Taliban undertook a major military effort against the Afghan security forces now that that foreign troops were no longer doing any of the fighting. That role ended in late 2014. As a result the 350,000 personnel of the Afghan security forces (170,000 troops and 180,000 police) have suffered 27 percent more casualties in 2015 compared to 2014. Taliban losses have also been very high, but they have lower recruiting standards and can offer drugs as well as money for those young tribesmen willing to take a chance during the “fighting season” (the annual warm weather period between the time crops are planted and harvested). ...

Being part of an organized army is s different matter. American advisors believe that losing nearly three percent of its strength a year to combat deaths or crippling wounds, as occurred in 2014, is not sustainable. While the Taliban suffer higher losses the Taliban are more flexible in how they operate. This is more in line with the traditional Afghan way of warfare, which is more about raiding and ambushes than it is in operating like soldiers. The army and police are often standing guard in exposed positions (checkpoints or in bases) or obliged to go after fleeing Taliban, who often pause long enough to ambush the troops then move off again. Afghan soldiers and police know they are more effective fighters than the tribal warriors, but that their job requires them to expose themselves to danger regularly in order to maintain control of territory. The Taliban are not tied down nearly as much and that makes a big difference in morale.

There is much more, including the drug gang angle.

To take advantage of their better training, Afghan forces have to go after the Taliban so that the Taliban are always worried about being killed rather than the Afghan security forces worrying all the time because they are just sitting passively in checkpoints and bunkers.

For that the Afghans need our support for logistics, air power, recon, special forces, medical care, and even getting paid on time.

As Strategypage notes, it's tougher to be a soldier or police officer holding your ground than it is to be an insurgent who can go off to war when he feels like it and go home when he doesn't feel like it.

But that better situation (for morale) requires a government force that doesn't go after you and just sits in their fortifications waiting for you to feel like hitting them.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Yeah, Snap That Back

You will recall that one of the justifications for rewarding Iran up front with large sums of cash by releasing sanctions in exchange for worthless promises not to go nuclear over the next 10-15 years is that we can "snap back" the sanctions if Iran violates the nuclear deal.

Yeah, explain how we snap this back to zero?

Iran and China agreed to expand bilateral ties and increase trade to $600 billion in the next 10 years, President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday during a visit to Tehran by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Of course, the deal itself says that existing deals can continue on. So once this is signed, the 10-year deal cannot be ended just because we insist. No matter what Iran does.

What are the odds that any deal Iran signs won't be for multiple years to avoid the "snap back" provisions of the faux deal?

Like this one:

Italy is poised to sign deals worth up to 17 billion euros ($18.4 billion) with Iran during President Hassan Rouhani's visit to Rome, which started on Monday, a government source said.

And this from an ally. No word on duration, but given the size of the deal, it must last years.

You'd think that if our allies were interested in being able to snap back sanctions, they'd at least structure deals in short term pieces. But no, I'm sure that is not happening.

Remember, we're dealing with fanatical nutballs--not stupid people.

And on our side, we're dealing with greedy people--not stupid people.

The Russians Strip-Mine the Stuff

The Russians have nuclear weapons, I remind you.

Oh good grief:

The head of Russia's Security Council said in a newspaper interview published on Tuesday that the United States wanted a weakened Russia so as to gain access to its vast mineral resources.

Yeah, we're in desperate need of Paranoiamite and Asshatium.


UPDATE: Nobody really likes Russia.

UPDATE: Stratfor writes that the Russian charge is nonsense because America doesn't need Russia's mineral resources, we don't want Russia to collapse into chaos that will spill into part of Eurasia we care about, and because we hardly want all those loose nukes looking for a new home:

The idea that the United States would risk this level of chaos in order to secure control of Russian minerals runs counter to all strategic or geopolitical thinking.

The problem is not that the United States is plotting the disintegration of the Russian Federation. The problem is that the Russian Federation is moving toward disintegration on its own.

Indeed. I've wondered if Russia is done breaking apart because of their own idiocy. But I admit I kind of assumed that Russia west of that would retain state cohesion despite the secession of the Far East.

Could it be far worse than that?

Could Putin be the first president of the Grand Duchy of Moscow?

One of These Things Does Not Belong

Iran will show off its capabilities and intention of shutting down the Strait of Hormuz in wartime, cutting off the Persian Gulf from the world. Which leads me to again ask why the Hell do we put our expensive aircraft carrier in that constricted body of water where it could be trapped and attacked?

Please note this, 5th Fleet:

Iran says it will hold a "massive" naval drill near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the first such exercise since the incident involving 10 U.S. sailors who were briefly captured by Iran when they drifted into Iranian territorial waters earlier this month.

Which again makes me ask why on God's green Earth do we have aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf?

If Iran--somehow despite all the hopes our administration has for turning Iran into a responsible regional non-nuclear power--wants to fight us, they will fight us in the Gulf. And if they do, an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea where it has room to maneuver can safely project air power into the Gulf.

Indeed, the only good news out of the whole Iranian seizure of our 2 small Navy boats (other than the safety of the crews) is that we have small boats in the Persian Gulf.

Get more of these to support the Cyclones.

Small and medium boats backed by air power projected into the body of water are the way to go to contest Iran for control of the Gulf. Aircraft carriers have no business being there until Iranian sea, land-based missile, and air power are knocked down.

If our Navy really believes it needs its own planes in the region to fly north over Iraq rather than relying on Air Force planes on plentiful land bases of regional allies, why couldn't the Navy deploy a carrier air wing without the carrier?

Seriously, why are we dangling a carrier at Iran's door step, inviting them to launch a first strike in a crisis to get a good shot in while they can and some lovely footage of a burning American carrier?

Two Possibilities

Will China's new carriers make the South China Sea a Chinese lake--as the Chinese assert?

This author thinks that Chinese aircraft carriers will allow China to dominate the South China Sea:

China will have so many aircraft carriers by 2030 that the South China Sea will be “virtually a Chinese lake,” a new U.S. study warns, arguing that the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region was shifting away from the United States.

That's one possibility.

Or, the South China Sea could be a kill sack for China's fleet:

[Consider] what China would face in a fight for the South China Sea.

Japan with American naval and air power would hold the gap from Japan to the Philippines. South Korea would hold Japan's western flank.

Taiwan's air and naval power would also soak up attention, even if Taiwan doesn't want to fight alongside nations who challenge Taiwan's claims along with China's.

The Philippines, while militarily weak, has bases that American naval and air forces practice using in contingencies. Behind Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines stand our Guam bases in a supporting role.

Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore (which will soon host American Littoral Combat Ships) hold the southern end, with Australia also available to bolster new Indian and local forces at the southern end of the South China Sea.

And along the west is our new friend Vietnam, with a strong army that once bested China's attempts to "teach them a lesson" over thirty years ago, and which could be a thorn in the side of any Chinese fleet element operating in the South China Sea. Behind Vietnam stands Thailand, an American ally. American aircraft flying from Thailand, possibly refueling at Vietnamese air bases, could reach the South China Sea.

And this leaves out India, which is no friend of China.

People rightly worry about China's anti-access/area denial weapons that will force our Navy to operate cautiously in the western Pacific in range of those weapons.

But the same kind of anti-ship missiles operated from our ships and planes and bases in those states bordering the South China Sea will pose the same sort of anti-access/area denial weapons to China's surface fleet--as those ships leave their home ports.

Even the Philippines could turn the sea into a shooting gallery:

The Chinese are too numerous and too strong and if they become too aggressive the Philippines will not be able to resist with current and planned forces. That might changes if the Philippines bought affordable weapons that would damage Chinese forces. One way to do this is by using land based anti-ship missiles with enough range and heft to hit Chinese ships. One of the best candidates is from India, which manufactures and offers for export the PJ-10 BrahMos. This three ton missile is 9.4 meter (29 foot) long and 670mm in diameter. It is based on a Russian the Yakhont.

As I've long argued, the Philippines might be able to deter China if the Philippines gets forces powerful enough to need a battle to defeat rather than not rising above an armed incident. Anything that allows the Philippines to resist longer and inflict casualties on China faces Peking with the prospect of escalation that would draw in America.

I worry about China. We need to keep our guard up. But unless China gains control of the states bordering the South China Sea to prevent them from being bases to contest control of the South China Sea, China's carriers won't be a factor in that control.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A New "Good" War

American forces have set up shop in Syria in small numbers:

US special forces and experts are setting up an airbase in northeast Syria as part of the battle against the Islamic State group, Syrian military and security sources said Saturday.

They told AFP work was underway to expand an airfield in Rmeilan, in Hasakeh province, from where aircraft used to take off to spray pesticides on crops before Syria's war started five years ago.

A Syrian military source said nearly 100 "American experts," alongside forces from the anti-IS Kurdish People's Protection Units had widened the landing strip and refurbished some infrastructure.

There will be no rallies by liberals protesting this escalation (and potential quagmire, naturally). Yes, for the next year, this will still be the "good war." Even with the revival of body counts.

That "good war" designation never lasts, of course. See Afghanistan.

But we can count on this being a good war for at least a year--if a Republican wins the presidency--but perhaps a bit longer if a Democrat wins.

But I freely confess that I lack the nuance to distinguish between good and bad wars.

And say, we can count on the Russians not to bomb this airbase, right?


After getting Syria's Assad to pretend to get rid of his chemical weapons capability and getting Iran to pretend to end their nuclear weapons ambitions, Secretary of State Kerry turns his ginormous (and nuanced!) brain to Russia. God help us.

Be very afraid. Secretary Kerry can envision the ending of sanctions on Russia over their conquest of Ukrainian territory in Crimea and the Donbas:

"I believe that with effort and with bona fide, legitimate intent to solve the problem on both sides, it is possible in these next months to ... get to a place where sanctions can be appropriately ... removed," said Kerry during a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

I love the even-handedness. We could solve the Ukraine Crisis if only Russia would stop invading and if Ukraine would stop being invaded! Because "both sides" have to do their part.

Clearly, the outline of a solution will be that Russia will pretend to stop invading Ukraine--and we will pretend to believe Russia.

UPDATE: Kerry pledged to pressure China on reining in North Korea. China is having none of that:

China on Tuesday criticised what it said were "irresponsible" remarks made by a U.S. official this week calling for Beijing to do more to curb North Korea's banned nuclear program.

But Putin will be an easier despot to push around, right?

UPDATE: Check out the Russians complaining about invaded Ukraine not doing what they can to cooperate with invader Russia to end the crisis:

Ukraine is dragging its feet on implementation of the Minsk peace agreement because its wants to keep in place the Western sanctions imposed on Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.

I have serious problems with Ukraine's corruption that interferes with defending Ukraine and joining the West, but let's not get confused about who is at fault in this crisis.

But you just know Kerry nods in agreement when Lavrov talks about this.

Operation Anvil

ISIL in Syria and Iraq is under enough pressure that they are thinking of preparing Plan B in their Libya territory. Why won't France take command on this front now?

It is looking like it might not be Allah's will for Caliphate Prime to survive much longer:

Islamic State military losses in Syria and Iraq may prompt some of its leaders to relocate to Libya where they will face less pressure, the EU's counter-terrorism coordinator said Thursday.

So why doesn't France take command of the Libya front to break ISIL there and allow the Libyans to keep ISIL out?

This will also allow France to take a leading role rather than a slightly larger role in the effort we are leading in Iraq and Syria against ISIL?

Taking down the Libya citadel of ISIL would have the effect of helping secure France's position in West Africa where jihadis are running loose with a chaotic Libya hosting jihadis bolstering this threat.

And given the potential for a repeat of the bloody decade of the 1990s in Algeria because of poor leadership, corruption, and economic stagnation (or is the memory of the 1990s casualty toll strong enough to deter another round? Strategypage seems to think the government has the jihadis under enough pressure), it would be helpful if Libya was under stable governance to reduce the ability of jihadis in Algeria to use Libya as a deep sanctuary.

And helping the Libyans control the territory would help stifle the movement of migrants and refugees (and jihadis) to Europe. If France thinks the situation is bad now, wait until Algeria goes belly up with jihadis tearing apart the country and appealing to the many ethnic Algerians in France.

France really should focus on Libya and leave Iraq and Syria to the American-led effort.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Not A Long Time Ago,

In a city far, far away,

Americans were left to die without support as their facilities in Benghazi were attacked on September 11, 2012.

I saw 13 Hours on Sunday. You should, too.

I know it is a movie and not an after-action review. But my basic question I've asked since that day of why help was not sent from our troops in Europe remains a mystery to me.

It isn't enough to say we couldn't have made a difference in the outcome. That requires hindsight about knowing when and how the crisis did end.

When the crisis began, we had no way of knowing it would be over the next morning with the Americans evacuated and "only" four of our people dead.

It could have gone on much longer. More could have died. Or Americans could have been captured and held hostage.

Yet we did not move forces in Europe? Or even begin to move them?

Sure, the loss of two Americans at the consulate (I know it wasn't, but that is what it is commonly called) took place too soon for help from American forces in Europe to have really mattered.

But don't tell me that American forces don't rush off to battle without 5 PowerPoint presentations made first.

The security personnel at the CIA annex in Benghazi rushed to the sound of the guns.

The State Department reaction force in Tripoli rushed to the sound of the guns.

But none of our tens of thousands of troops in Europe could be roused to even begin to head for Benghazi?

No aircraft--even unarmed--could be sent to buzz the area? When our enemies have learned over the prior decade of fighting us that engaging our forces for any significant time risks massive and accurate firepower ending their personal part of the jihad?

I don't believe our military was that relaxed on September 11, 2012.

I do believe that the civilians back in Washington, DC, were that relaxed. What with messages that the tide of war was receding as wars were responsibly ended (and Osama bin Laden's life ended, too), on September 9, 2012, I noted that our homeland security people felt that they had to use the threat of zombie attack to get people to prepare for disasters:

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

Little did I know that is exactly what would happen in Benghazi.

This zombie warning campaign was just before the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on our homeland that left just shy of 3,000 of us dead. This speaks of a determination not to see our nation at war and under threat by enemies.

So I hope this movie gets people to ask--and our government to answer--the question of why no troops or aircraft were sent to Benghazi on September 11, 2012, when outnumbered American defenders were left virtually on their own within the shadow of our military presence in Europe.

Let Me Bask in the Glory of This Moment

Hillary Clinton's backers are resorting to calling Bernie Sanders a socialist:

Democrats backing Hillary Clinton, nervously eyeing Senator Bernie Sanders’s growing strength in the early nominating states, are turning to a new strategy to raise doubts about his candidacy, highlighting his socialist beliefs to warn that he would be an electoral disaster who would frighten swing voters and send Democrats in tight congressional and governor’s races to defeat.

Living in one of the named communities that would welcome a full-on raging socialist, I've actually taken some grief for calling Sanders a social democrat--which is how Sanders describes himself.

So allow me to relish this experience of hearing those whose knuckles are supposed to be several more inches above the ground than mine are calling Sanders a socialist--and not as a compliment.

Killing Jihadis is Fun and Easy!

As the Era of Hope and Change brings back the body count to measure our war effort, let's review, shall we?

The pace of air strikes in Iraq is up:

Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria have killed more than 6,400 Islamic State fighters in the past three months, and the militant group is showing the effect of the losses, according to coalition military statistics.

Casualty counts have not been a reliable measure of success against the Islamic State in the past because it replaced fallen fighters with new recruits. But as offensives by Iraqi troops reclaim territory from the radical group, the Islamic State is losing its ability to conscript fighters from areas it had controlled, which had been the major source of new troops.

U.S. commanders say the combination of airstrikes and Iraqi ground offensives has weakened the terror group in Iraq and Syria and hurt its morale.

Which as a reflection of wanting to seriously wage war is a good thing.

But killing jihadis--while a necessary component of defeating them--is not sufficient to win.

The article on the pace notes the declines in quality of ISIL troops and their morale. But do you know what you call an army with lower quality and morale because they are being hammered from the air?

You call them the army that holds the ground. By 1943, the Italian army was down in morale and quality after being defeated in North Africa and Sicily, but it still held Italy. They didn't truly collapse until the Allies invaded Italy.

For the lower troop quality and morale of ISIL to matter, you have to exploit those factors to defeat them on the ground and drive them from the land they hold.

And that is happening in Iraq, too, if slowly. Ramadi and other ground clawed from ISIL in Anbar (but not Fallujah which again gets to experience the joys of jihadi rule--as they did through half a year in 2004); Baiji and Tikrit and other territory on the road north to Mosul; and other territory that the Kurds have wrestled from ISIL north of Mosul in order to help cut off Mosul from ISIL's Syria branch.

I want a sense of urgency to defeat ISIL because if given time, morale will improve and poor quality troops will gain quality from training and experience.

And while the big push is organized, people continue to die and suffer under brutal ISIL rule, as they do in Fallujah, for example:

Two years after Fallujah became one of the first prizes claimed by ISIS, the Iraqi city is a ghost town where fearful residents turn on one another and resistance is met with unspeakable brutality, according to sources trapped inside the Pittsburgh-sized community just 40 miles west of Baghdad.

The sources, who spoke by phone with, painted a bleak picture of life under an increasingly brutal and desperate ISIS, as it prepares for an expected assault by Iraqi government forces.

Oh, and I want us to win on the ground before a body count mentality results in a counting process that assumes that any running Sunni Arab man is a member of ISIL--and any Sunni Arab standing still is a well-disciplined member of ISIL.

That would be the Russian rules of engagement, actually.

Not Loving Death So Much These Days

During the Iran-Iraq War, signs of Iranian troop morale collapse were overlooked as observers marked episodes of Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards)  jihadi failures on the battlefield (I'm thinking of Iran's loss of the Fao peninsula in 1988) as exceptions to the long-established rule of fighting to the death that would pick up in the next big battle. Is that what we are missing in Iraq regarding ISIL?

Fallujah in Iraq's Anbar province is still under ISIL control after 2 years, and the prospect of taking the city is daunting:

“They have had almost two years to build up the city for defenses, make strong points, set all sorts of booby traps, dig tunnels for ease of movement between positions,” said former U.S. Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, now a foreign policy analyst. “I’d expect they’d fight much more fanatically for Fallujah.”

Don't forget that ISIL made the same kind of defensive preparation in both Sinjar and Ramadi. But the enemy did not hold and die in place in those places.

Do you really think that a round of brutality directed against retreating ISIL gunmen has stiffened ISIL morale enough to get them to die in place in Fallujah when the threat of death while holding the city is very real while ISIL enforcers are far away?

I think we have to consider whether ISIL morale is shaken enough for the Iraqi ground forces (with our air power in direct support) to shatter ISIL's forces with a sharp offensive on the ground in Iraq that makes dramatic territorial gains, rather than the slow clawing back we've seen over the last year and a half.

Will we exploit this apparent enemy problem? Will we even recognize it if it is true?

UPDATE: How solid are the jihadis these days?

Many ISIL members are sensing this danger and desertions are up while veteran troops in contact with ISIL find the enemy less effective and apparently demoralized. ...

A side benefit of the recent ISIL attacks on the Kurds was the capture of many wounded (and unwounded) ISIL fighters. Many of these men, once they realize that their wounds will be tended and they won’t be executed or tortured, talk freely to Kurdish and American interrogators. They report that ISIL is having more problems with desertions in Mosul and has been carrying out more public executions of ISIL fighters caught trying to leave. Some of the recent executions included mid-level ISIL leaders who sought to flee what many consider a hopeless situation.

We really could have a rapid advance once begun in earnest.

Which leaves the lingering problem of the militias loyal to Iran, of course. Always new problems ...

UPDATE: A leader of one of the militia's claims ISIL's morale and capabilities are still high and that our air strikes have been ineffective:

"Many of its leadership have been killed but one should know that Daesh (IS) is still strong," said Amiri, leader of the Badr Organization whose armed wing has been fighting alongside Iraqi security forces to recapture territory seized by IS.

"Their attacks are still daring and swift and their morale is high. They still have money and weapons."

Of course, he's a hand puppet of the Iranians, and so would be expected to dismiss our assistance to the Iraqi war effort.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saddam and Jihadis and Causation, Oh My!

Speaking of the rise of ISIL, don't forget the hand of Saddam.

The battle against Saddam's boys continues in the war on ISIL.

Which fits nicely with this writer's take on Saddam and jihadis (tip to email from Eric at Learning Curve):

WHOM should we blame for the Islamic State? In the debate about its origins, many have concluded that it arose from the American-led coalition’s errors after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In fact, the groundwork for the emergence of the militant jihadist group was laid many years earlier by the government of Saddam Hussein.

The Arab nationalist Baath Party, which seized power in 1968 in a coup in which Mr. Hussein played a key role, had a firmly secular outlook. This held through the 1970s, even as religiosity rose among the Iraqi people. But soon after Mr. Hussein invaded Iran in 1980, it began to change. ...

The Islamic State was not created by removing Saddam Hussein’s regime; it is the afterlife of that regime.

So we go another couple steps back in the causal chain.

Saddam, in a variation of the saying, "false patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," turned to Islam to bolster his regime under the pressure of the Iran-Iraq War. And that laid the ground work for Saddam's boys to join ISIL and help them organize into a proto-state.

I'm not sure where you draw the line between the overlap between Saddam's Baathists and jihadis and a merging of the two as the author describes (and in more detail here). My sense was that through 2004, at least, Baathists as a whole wanted to use the jihadis as their shock troops to defeat us and would try to shove the jihadis aside to regain power. And that after that the jihadis began to dominate the array of resistance to our liberation of Iraq. Indeed, even I've noted that in so-called "secular" Iraq, the history of jihadis predates our 2003 invasion.

But I may under-estimate the conversion of Baathists to jihadis.The author makes a strong case for that.

In any case, we did not create jihadis--we are their victims (well, we and everyone else not a jihadi).

And yes, Iraq under Saddam did support terrorism.

Finally, do remember that everything and anything make jihadis mad at us.

The Blame Game

Former Secretary of Defense Gates offers his opinion on the rise of ISIL:

He said the Syrian civil war and the policies of Iraq's former prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, contributed to the terrorist group flourishing in the region more so than the 2003 US invasion of Iraq or eventual troop drawdown.

"I think the primary reasons for the rise of ISIS are the Syrian civil war and the policies followed by the government in Baghdad," Gates told Business Insider on Monday.

The Syrian civil war certainly is the major factor in allowing ISIL to rise after that fighting dragged on to pull in jihadis from abroad.

Perhaps if we'd actually made an effort to defeat Assad rather than just declare that he had to go while doing nothing to achieve that assumed inevitable outcome, this would have been a revolt and overthrow rather than a sectarian civil war. But it is hard for me to say that an aggressive American-led effort would have worked. We just know that hoping for a better outcome than sectarian civil war, 300,000 dead, the use of chemical weapons, the rise of ISIL to spill into Iraq and the wider region, and Russia's intervention in Syria, did not work.

And Maliki's policies certainly did alienate Sunni Arabs who decided to support ISIL.

But the Maliki who alienated Sunni Arabs is not the Maliki who we backed while we were in Iraq in force prior to our departure in 2011.

That Maliki went after the pro-Iran Shia militias in the spring 2008 Charge of the Knights offensive in the south, centered on Basra.

Our sizable presence meant that Maliki had a counter-weight to Iranian religious-based influence. But without us there, Iranian power lacked a real check, and so Maliki had to alter his policies to favor Shias (and Iran) at the expense of Sunni Arabs just to survive.

On the other side, without our presence in strength, the Sunni Arabs did not have a champion to call on to argue for their side of the argument. Remember, even though we destroyed the Saddam regime in 2003 and ended Sunni Arab minority rule in Iraq that exploited the Shias and Kurds for Sunni Arab benefit, the Sunni Arabs turned to us for help in the 2006-2007 Awakening that led the Sunni Arabs to largely turn against al Qaeda in Iraq (the foundation of ISIL).

As long as we remained in Iraq in strength to defend rule of law, the Sunni Arabs could appeal to us to prevent the Iraqi government (dominated by the Shias, as their numbers justify) from treating them unfairly. When we left, the only power to appeal to was the still-surviving jihadi movement in Iraq.

And without our sizable presence in Iraq after 2011, the efforts we made to create an effective Iraqi military ended and the resulting corruption and sectarian policies undermined the ability of the Iraqi army to fight, meaning that Iraqi forces did not finish off al Qaeda in Iraq. Instead, the Iraqis allowed the remnant jihadis who survived the Surge offensive/Awakening to rebuild and eventually eject the Iraqi security forces from northern Iraq in June 2014 (and from western Iraq in January 2014).

And of course, don't forget that the ultimate underlying cause for the rise of ISIL is the unfortunate tendency of Islam to provide holy justifications for jihadi murder sprees. Islam has to put their house in order to delegitimize the jihadi impulse.

That's why this is a long war and ISIL is just the most prominent enemy at the moment.

The Life of a Real Julia

I actually love it when ordinary people respond to incentives to maximize their gains even when our intellectual superiors design a system designed to thwart the ability to choose what is best (or choose what is less bad).

Ten thousand pages of regulations still can't wring out the ability of pesky real people to thwart the plan.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Don't Be the Last Rogue on the Block to Have Your Very Own American Hostage!

Now North Korea has an American hostage.

When crime pays, this is what happens:

A KRT news reader said in a Friday broadcast that "according to information available from a relevant institution, Warmbier Otto Frederick, student of Virginia University of the U.S., was arrested while perpetrating a hostile act against the DPRK after entering it under the guise of tourist for the purpose of bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity with the tacit connivance of the U.S. government and under its manipulation. He is now under investigation."

I will admit that going to North Korea as a tourist is suspicious. It's clearly the worst park in the Commieworld system.

But a "hostile act" in North Korea could have consisted of handing out a choco pie (which I actually saw in the Asian food section of my grocery store the last time I was there--I almost bought them) to a North Korean.

I'd pay good money to hear our president tell the North Koreans that we want Frederick back alive or Kim Jong-Un dead.

Window of Opportunity

Hezbollah is reeling from their casualties in Syria while fighting for Assad. Now would be the time for Israel to hammer Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Israel is looking north:

Israel's military has conducted a drill to prepare for simultaneous combat along its northern frontier with Syria and Lebanon.

It said Wednesday the two-week exercise that combined air, ground and naval forces was aimed at "preparing troops for a long-term multi-front conflict."

Hezbollah has suffered a lot for Assad:

Hezbollah had suffered so many losses in Syria since 2013 that morale within Hezbollah was low.

I think the Israelis are looking north to Baalbek, Lebanon.

Given that the release of so much money to Iran will allow the mullahs to increase support for Hezbollah to threaten Israel, it would probably be a good idea to tear up Hezbollah before Iran can ramp up support.

Doing Jobs Americans Won't Do

The Iraqi offensive to retake Ramadi relied on American firepower to a greater extent than past operations. And it worked. The big part of what made the firepower work was the presence of Australian special forces who called in the firepower on ISIL forces.

While we are edging away from the initial administration position that there will be no "boots on the ground" in Iraq to fight ISIL, we still try to maintain the fiction that boots aren't needed. Australia is one reason we can live in this fantasy world:

At the end of 2015 Australia revealed that 80 of its SAS commandos played a crucial role in helping Iraqi forces retake Ramadi (the capital of Anbar province) in a battle that began on December 8th and was largely complete by the end of December. The Australian SAS were advising one of the two Iraqi brigades that led the assault of the city. What made the SAS men key was that they could call in air strikes and they did so, at the rate over fifty a day when the fighting was most intense.

The Australians had trained that brigade, too.

Remember, I've long called for core trained army units capable of mobile warfare and backed by our air power to lead offensives against ISIL. Even foot infantry can conduct mobile warfare, as pre-industrial military history shows.

But I still feel frustrated that it is taking so long to defeat ISIL.

A Long Time Ago

In a galaxy far, far away,

There was no OSHA to regulate workplace safety standards.

I just saw the latest Star Wars--I've been occupied--and while I liked it, what's with construction standards that include walkways over and next to virtual canyons with flimsy or no safety guard rails?

Or perhaps there are no lawyers in the Empire.

Just saying.

See No Evil. Hear No Evil. Stop No Evil

Fasten your seat belt:

President Obama spent the week defending his proposals to curb gun violence, culminating in a CNN town hall. Think about that. What else happened during the last few days that might warrant a presidential town hall?

Oh, nothing much:
  • Iranian protestors stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran after the House of Saud executed a Shiite cleric, escalating sectarian warfare in the Middle East
  • The stock market tumbled on fears of a global economic slowdown
  • A U.S. soldier was killed in action in Afghanistan, where the Taliban controls more ground than at any time since 2001
  • Iran revealed the existence of an underground ballistic missile launch site
  • North Korea detonated a nuclear device
  • A terrorist was foiled in Paris on the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo massacre
We have entered a most dangerous period of the Obama presidency. It’s not just that every rogue actor from Kim and Putin and Castro to Maduro and Khamenei and Xi knows he has one last year to behave badly without fear of reprisal. It’s that the president and his team are isolated, aloof, detached from reality.

As I noted early in the Obama presidency, if you start retreating and break contact with enemies, the resulting quiet can be called peace, if you like. But eventually the enemy catches up and you must confront that you don't have peace--you just have enemies who have advanced and who want more.

Our enemies still want more.

Drama? No Obama.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Stirring the Pot

While protesters surely have reason to worry about government corruption in Moldova, have no doubt that Russia is fomenting unrest in this broken remnant of the Soviet Union that lies in a gray region between independence and Russian dominance.

The Moldovan government wants to move closer to the West. Some don't like it:

About 7,000 people held an anti-government protest Thursday in the Moldovan capital, a day after demonstrators stormed the legislature after it approved a new pro-European government. ...

Some demonstrators who support opposition political parties want closer links to Russia.

And have no doubt that Russia would use that faction--with broader discontent over corruption making their faction look bigger than it is--to back a Little Green Men offensive to decisively end that attempt to forge links to the West.

Russia would love to bring Moldova back into the fold. Which would have the effect of putting Russian-dominated territory to the west of Ukraine, the south (in newly conquered Crimea), and the east (the Donbas conquered region and Russia proper), leaving only the north still up in the air (where Belarus hosts Russian forces but resists full surrender to Russia).

My Nuance Deficiency Continues

Let me show you my shocked face.

Because after the success of getting Iran to release Americans that the Iranians were holding hostage, Iran's proxies in Iraq restocked the hostage supply:

Three U.S. citizens who disappeared last week in Baghdad were kidnapped and are being held by an Iranian-backed Shi'ite militia, two Iraqi intelligence and two U.S. government sources said on Tuesday.


As Iraq's prime minister--no doubt feeling the pressure from Iran--says, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Asked at the start of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Davos if he thought there was an Iranian link to their disappearance, Abadi said: "I doubt it very much. We don't know if they have been kidnapped ... They just went missing."

Well, perhaps it was really a rescue mission from great peril that we owe Iran a proclamation of gratitude for, eh?

It is increasingly clear that the Obama administration's plan to bring Iran into the community of nations relies not on getting Iran to behave better but by defining what is acceptable down to what Iran is already doing.

And this pursuit of the Holy Grail of mullah-run Iran reset is called "smart diplomacy."

UPDATE: The Taliban naturally expect that their behavior can be normalized rather than normalizing their murderous behavior:

Afghanistan’s Taliban want to be removed from a U.N. blacklist before considering rejoining peace talks aimed at ending a 15-year civil war, a senior member said, as its political wing met activists at an unofficial forum in Qatar.

Why wouldn't we give in on this? Did our chief diplomat get a spine transplant recently?

Unclear On the Concept

Sure, Russia is in Syria for the long haul to save Assad. But Assad still needs a main effort.

Russia got an open-ended status of forces agreement with Assad before directly intervening in Syria:

Russia and Syria in August signed an agreement giving Moscow the go-ahead for an open-ended military presence in the war-torn country, Moscow has revealed.

The agreement was signed in Damascus on August 26, 2015, more than a month before Russia launched a bombing campaign against the Islamic State group and other "terrorists" at the request of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.

Yet what has Assad done with this support? What has he done with the Iranian-provided manpower for the bleeding edge of their offensive efforts?

Well, the Syrian military is trying to do everything:

Last summer, Syria's regime was on the back foot after a series of military defeats, but in recent weeks it has capitalised on a Russian air campaign to recapture territory.

The gains have been limited, and have relied heavily on support from mostly Shiite foreign fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, as well as Afghan and Iraqi forces, and Iranian "advisers".

But they have allowed the regime to retake the initiative and go on the offensive after a humiliating string of defeats.

Perhaps the regime's biggest success since Russia began air strikes last September was this week's capture of Salma, a town in coastal Latakia province that became a rebel stronghold after its 2012 capture.

Simultaneously, the army is seeking to encircle the city of Aleppo, advance in the south of central Hama province and east in Homs, and is on the offensive in the key rebel town of Sheikh Miskeen in southern Daraa province.

Syria is making gains in the west, in the north, in the center, and in the south.

Perhaps it is just me, but I'm not seeing a main effort. As the article notes (and as I have), Assad lacks the manpower to secure all this territory.

And yes, as the article notes, Assad's troops demonstrate improved morale. But as I've written, that morale is a sugar rush of seeing somebody come visibly to their aid to hammer rebels and terrorists fighting them. When it becomes clear to these troops that they are still manning front lines and outposts that they have too few troops to hold, that morale will plummet again.

Assad needs to focus on holding a core Syria. That objective requires efforts in the west to hold the core Alawite area and the coast that prompted Russia to intervene (ports and air bases).

That objective requires efforts in the center to provide a buffer zone for the west and to secure lines of communication to the capital.

That objective does not need to hold the south near the Jordanian and Israeli borders.

That objective does not need to retake Aleppo. I've recently read that if Assad wants to call himself the president of "Syria" that he has to hold Aleppo. I disagree. One, Aleppo is wrecked. Two, as long as Assad holds the capital (and I think he could make the argument that he controls legal Syria even if he moves the capital from Damascus to the west) he controls the UN seat and all that goes with that authority. And three, even if Assad can recapture the city, it is a bridge too far that he cannot hold with his manpower.

And that objective does not require Assad to hold outposts still holding out in the east. Although I freely admit that Assad lacks the assets to rescue them or evacuate them. (Perhaps Russia would gain a lot of good will with the Assad faction by dropping/airlifting troops to those outposts to hold the perimeters while Russian planes fly out all those trapped troops and their families.)

In the east, jihadis slaughtered civilians in one of those outposts:

A source close to the Syrian government side said the Islamic State fighters killed at least 250 people, including pro-government fighters and their families when they attacked the neighborhoods of Begayliya and Ayash in the city.

He said some of the casualties were beheaded.

You don't need to be a fan of Assad to be horrified that civilians would be treated this way.

Assad can do more with Russia's new help. But Assad can't do everything. Assad seems to be trying to do everything under the mistaken notion that he has the troops and troop morale to control (or at least contest) all of Syria.

Main effort, people. Look into it.