Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What Are The Chinese Up To?

The Chinese charm offensive continues:

Chinese President Hu Jintao said Wednesday that often-hostile relations with Taiwan have improved greatly over the past three decades and that Beijing remains committed to its long-term goal of peaceful reunification with the island.

"Great changes have been made in the cross-strait relationship with efforts by compatriots from both sides of the strait," Hu said in an address marking the 30th anniversary of a message from China to "compatriots in Taiwan" calling for reunification by peaceful means.

Hu also laid out the possibility of discussions with Taiwan on the highly sensitive military level."The two sides can engage in ... contacts and communications on military issues when appropriate, and discussions on building a trust mechanism for military safety," he said. ...

Earlier this year, the two sides agreed to begin direct air and shipping services across the Taiwan Strait, ending a nearly six-decade ban on regular links. Regular direct flights resumed Dec. 15.

Hu said China would be willing to work with Taiwan on getting it admitted into international organizations.

"The issue of Taiwan's involvement in events held by international organizations could be reasonably arranged through pragmatic negotiations under the condition of not causing "two Chinas" or "one China and one Taiwan," Hu said.

So China is suddenly willing to allow Taiwan to do things that in the past were considered characteristics of an independent state? And China wants to take a peak at Taiwan's military? And all this taking place in an increasingly crowded Taiwan Strait filled with civilian air and sea traffic?

Maybe hope and change is breaking out all over, and China really will just wait and see if Taiwan wants to peacefully join China at some point in the future--even as Taiwan gains international space that China has vigorously denied Taiwan up until now.

Or maybe the charm offensive has another purpose. Maybe China figures that any concessions made now just won't matter before too long.

Getting Twitchy

Pakistan and India remain locked and loaded for war, and Pakistan seems to be getting a little twitchy as the crisis over the Mumbai massacres drags on:

A near-daily, frenzied exchange of words has added to bilateral tensions that touched the boiling point after last month's attacks in Mumbai in which 179 people were killed. India says the attackers were trained in Pakistan."

I believe if India deactivates its forward air bases and similarly, relocates its troops to peacetime positions, that will be a positive step," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said in a televised address."

I believe by this, the existing tension in the region will be reduced," he said, calling for resumption of a dialogue suspended by India after the Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan has condemned the Mumbai attacks and has denied any role, blaming "non-state actors."

But Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee refuted suggestions India was mobilizing its military and aggravating an already tense atmosphere.

"We have not escalated any tension, so where is the question of our de-escalation?" he told reporters, referring to Qureshi's suggestions on reducing tensions between the two neighbors.

So let's review why I'm worried about all this.

India is stronger than Pakistan.

India may believe that a "surgical strike" on jihadi camps in Pakistan is not an act of war against Pakistan. The Indian government may reason that America launches Predator-launched Hellfire missiles against jihadis in Pakistan without more than a formal note of protest. Why not India? And besides, the Moslem world is getting all worked up over Gaza, who'd notice one little Indian air strike?

Pakistan will likely view any India military incursion as an act of war. And Pakistan is not Gaza--limited in its arsenal in how it can respond.

Pakistan's best hope for winning a war against India is to launch a preemptive strike and hope for a ceasefire before India can gather its strength and counter-attack.

India might see Pakistani defensive preparations as preparations to launch a preemptive strike, and so build up their troops to defeat a Pakistani offensive.

Pakistan might then see Indian deployments as shrinking their opportunity to launch a preemptive strike.

Oh, and both sides have atomic weapons.

Is that Missile TOW, I see? Yes indeed, the pucker factor is still high in South Asia.

Are we having a happy new year's eve yet?

Arrested Development

The Iraqis may have prevented a mass murder by Shia cultists determined to trigger the end of the world:

In the southern city of Basra, Police Chief Maj. Gen. Adil Dahham said his forces had arrested a leader of the "Soldiers of Heaven" cult that has carried out bloody attacks during the Shiite Ashura holiday the past two years.

Ashura, which falls on the 10th of Muharram under the Islamic lunar calendar — or Jan. 7 — is one of the most important holy days for Shiite Muslims. It marks the death of Islam's Prophet Muhammad's grandson Imam Hussein.

According Dahham, a man identified as Arshad Abid Dayem and four of his aides were arrested late Tuesday near the center of Iraq's second-largest city.

Dahham said police seized documents showing that the group planned to launch terrorist attacks in and around Karbala during Ashura. Karbala is home to the golden-domed mosques of Imam Hussein and his half-brother Imam Abbas, sons of the founding saint of the Shiite faith.

"The group has admitted during an investigation that they intended to carry out terrorist acts during Muharram days and particularly on the 10th of Muharram on Ashura," Dahham told The Associated Press. "They planned to carry out their acts against visitors in Karbala."

This arrest beats the battles fought with the cult this year and a big one in 2007. I wouldn't be surprised if Iran is providing help to the cult. Iran is quieter now because we defeated them and not because they don't want to undermine Iraq and perhaps seize control of southern Iraq.

Even if the war in Iraq is already won, that doesn't mean that violence in Iraq is over. But it does mean that Iraq can handle the internal threats with less and less help from America. In ten years, Iraq could handle external threats, too.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Hope is fragile in the Middle East and change takes time.

Which is It? Tough or Peace Loving?

This Haaretz reporter is confused. On the one hand, Hamas just wants peace:

Khaled Meshal, the Damascus-based head of Hamas' political bureau, has been calling for a cease-fire for two days now.

Yet a little further down, Hamas welcomes an Israeli ground invasion:

But Hamas officials and analysts said Monday that the organization would actually like Israel to launch a ground operation; it hopes this would let it inflict such heavy losses on Israeli tanks and infantry that Israel would flee with its tail between its legs.

Yeah, that's the ticket. And pretty unlikely. What's Hamas going to do, bleed on the Israeli army as it rolls in? The world is filled with jihadi grave sites filled with the corpses of fanatical men who welcomed ground combat with American and Western soldiers in Afghanistan or American soldiers and Marines in Iraq. And the Israeli army hasn't been too shabby either--except for that disastrous performance in Lebanon in 2006 against Hezbollah.

Analysts who claim that jihadis welcome ground combat have a point. Many jihadis probably do welcome close combat. They say it a lot. But would it hurt for these analysts to wonder if those 7th century nutjobs are correct to believe that God is on their side and will lead them to smite their Infidel foes?

Because if you ask me, lately the jihadis have been enduring repeated ass-kickings on the battlefield. Even Hezbollah's decent performance in 2006 was only made possible by an Israeli army that fought poorly and on Hezbollah's terms.

I say the Israelis should give Hamas what they wish for--send as many of them as want it to Paradise. If Israel can't overrun the Gaza Strip with armor, airborne, and seaborne troops and do a better job than Russia did in Georgia, then Israel has bigger problems than Hamas.

Break a Leg!

I know they say that Vaudeville is dead, but check this out!

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law extending presidential terms from four years to six on Tuesday in a move seen as paving the way for Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency.

Medvedev's final endorsement of the legislation follows its quick approval by the Kremlin-controlled parliament and all of Russia's 83 provincial legislatures. The change won't apply to Medvedev's current term, due to end in 2012.

Putin was barred constitutionally from seeking a third straight term as president. He tapped Medvedev, his longtime protege, as his favored successor, ensuring a landslide victory in a March election.

The picture is amazing. Medvedev gets the fancy stationery and office, but Putin pulls the strings. I swear to God you can't see Putin's lips move when Medvedev is speaking, and I can't spot the wires for the life of me. Medvedev seems so life-like!

Mere laws can't stop the creeping autocracy that has gripped Russia under Putin. The show must go on, after all.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ah, Proportion!

Israel's strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza are stirring up that old complaint about Israeli "proportionality."

You see, despite thousands of Hamas rockets and mortar shells that have been fired at Israeli civilian targets, relatively few Israelis have been killed. Israel's military response has killed a lot of Palestinians--mostly Hamas thugs--in a few days. So it is not "proportional" and hence is wrong, illegal, and probably a war crime, in that Global Left view.

Gateway Pundit links to a defense of the scale of response. It has footnotes and discusses international law and everything. In my mind, that's lovely but so what?

In my view, it isn't a disproportionate response if your enemy keeps trying to kill you. Is it Israel's fault if Hamas has a high tolerance for dead Palestinians as the price they are willing to pay for a mere chance at killing an Israeli?

When the Israeli attacks lead to no enemy attacks on Israeli civilians and the Palestinians in Gaza raising a white flag in stunned shock at the carnage around them, then you may ask about proportionality. Of course, that would mean the Hamas thugs had stopped shooting.

Which is a problem for the "proportionality" crowd. Nobody asks if it is proportional to riot over cartoons, stab someone over a movie, or fly planes into our buildings because some Moslems are angry with us over this or that. Nor does anybody ask if it is proportional for Hamas to rain rockets on Israeli cities because Israel--what? Evacuated Gaza and let the Palestinians there run their own lives? Which as it turns out is focused on killing Israelis. The fiends! Who wouldn't crank out the home-made rockets and let 'em rip at the Jews?

But should Israel fight back, suddenly they must make a "proportional" response only. Which for the Global Left means not enough force to stop Hamas from attacking the Israelis.

And if you doubt this, let's run a proportionality thought experiment. Let's say that Israel announced a policy of firing a single unguided rocket into Gaza for every Hamas rocket that falls in Israel. Does anybody think that the Proportionality Fetishists out there would refrain from condemning Israel for acting all proportional?

To ask the question is to answer it.

In that case, it would be all about that "cycle of violence" thing that is only triggered when Israel or America fights back against jihadi enemies.

The New Taiwan! Now Less Uppity!

Taiwan's Ma is finally proud of his country, or province, or whatever he thinks Taiwan is:

President Ma Ying-jeou on Sunday said his efforts to ease nearly six decades of hostilities that have occasionally brought Taiwan to the brink of war with China, have paid off.

The two split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, and tensions between them flared frequently during the eight years the island was ruled by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party until Ma of the China-friendly Kuomintang took office in May.

"Taiwan is no longer a troublemaker but a peacemaker," Ma said on a visit to the central Taichung county.

No longer a "troublemaker!" That's what Taiwan's governor--or president if you want to get all technical about it--thinks Taiwan has been! How dare the past Taiwan government assert its right to be left alone by the giant to the west!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Still Warming Up

Yesterday's Israeli aerial blitz over Gaza was, in my mind, a way to shape the battlefield for a ground assault on Hamas:

Israel just prepped the battlefield. The next time aircraft are spotted coming toward Gaza, Hamas leaders will scatter from their headquarters to avoid the missiles. They wish they'd done that this time.

But the next time planes come at them, an Israeli ground offensive will roll in too. And regardless of whether Israel hits all those security installations, by scattering to avoid the air attacks, the Hamas rulers will lose their command and control capabilities for many hours. Hamas fighters and terrorists will then be headless and easier to kill by a coordinated Israeli ground offensive.

The Israelis have continued the aerial attacks a second day:

Israeli warplanes pressing one of Israel's deadliest assaults ever on Palestinian militants dropped bombs and missiles on a top security installation and dozens of other targets across Hamas-ruled Gaza on Sunday.

Infantry and armored units headed to the Gaza border for a possible ground invasion, as the Israeli Cabinet authorized a callup of thousands of reserve soldiers. Some 280 Palestinians died in the first 24 hours of the campaign against Gaza rocket squads — most of them Hamas police.

Unbowed by 250 Israeli airstrikes, militants fired dozens of rockets and mortars at border communities Sunday. Two rockets struck close to the largest city in southern Israel, Ashdod, some 38 kilometers (23 miles) from Gaza, reaching deeper into Israel than ever before. The targeting of Ashdod confirmed Israel's concern that militants are capable of putting major cities within rocket range. No serious injuries were reported in any of the attacks Sunday.

Hamas is not prepared to halt their long campaign of firing rockets at Israeli civilians despite the aerial punishment. This should be no shock. Hezbollah kept firing rockets in large numbers at Israel in 2006 despite far heavier aerial bombardment.

The article also notes this effect which I figured was part of the plan:

Senior Hamas leaders went into hiding before the offensive began, shutting off their phones.

It is unclear if this means prior to yesterday's attacks or today's. Ares thinks that this campaign is attempting to take advantage of the fact that Hamas is a government with aspirations to conventional-type military force that means Hamas has assets that can now be destroyed from the air (tip to Strategypage emails):

It now seems that such objectives have been laid down. The realistic goal of any military operation should not be to oust Hamas, which would take too long and cost too much, but rather, to undermine its military capabilities and weakeni its regime. Such an operation must end with a clear bilateral truce based on terms Israel can live with.

The IDF is delivering powerful surgical blows, simultaneously, from the air, the ground and the sea, against selected prime targets in the Gaza Strip in a manner that would jeopardize the Hamas regime in Gaza.

For months, military analysts have seen that Hamas was creating a full-scale army in the Gaza strip. This may create substantial difficulties for a massive Israeli ground operation, if it is conducted according to expected military procedures, using access routes already known by the enemy and prepared with IEDs.

However, if reliable, accurate and (as far as possible) real-time intelligence is available, it's possible to achieve strategic success against an enemy who has known and identified military installations. Targets such as training camps, supply depots, weapon construction facilities, command and control centers are legitimate high-value targets, which once destroyed weaken the former guerilla organization considerably.

Moreover, a military-style organization can be robbed of its cohesive operation if its senior leaders are targeted and its communications network is disrupted or effectively jammed. One should not forget the immense effect of the 2004 assassination of Sheikh Yassin and his replacement Rantissi on Hamas’ activities, which virtually ceased for nearly six months.

This is not an unreasonable conclusion. I made much the same comment when the Palestinians elected Hamas.

However, what has changed is the 2006 Hezbollah War. Hamas in the past had little ability to project military power past its border. Israel could punish Hamas in Gaza and Hamas would have a choice of enduring without being able to strike back or halting until they could sneak suicide bombers into Israel. Now, with lots of rockets, Hamas can continue to fight. And the 2006 war showed that air power can't shut off the rocket barrage.

As for casualties among Gazans? Sadly, more martyrs, but oh well. You can't make a Jew-free Middle East without breaking a few Palestinian families. Why would the Hamas true believers care more about the lives of fellow Moslems than any other group of jihadi thugs who've eagerly slaughtered Moslems in Iraq or elsewhere? That's also a common attitude in the Middle East, as demonstrated by eager Moslem protesters who aren't fighting Israelis--they'll fight Israel to the last Palestinian.

Why would Hamas easily agree to a formal ceasefire? Why not endure, keep fighting, and hope that European and Arab countries can put pressure on Israel to stop "picking on those poor Palestinians"? Heck, might not Hamas believe the United States will join that chorus by about the end of January 2009?

And we are to believe that the Israeli analysis of the Hizbollah War concluded that they relied on air power and failed--yet think air power can work in Gaza? I don't think so. Early in the year the Israeli army indicated they were ready to invade if ordered. The Ares post notes that ground forces are moving into position.

As the Ares post notes, the aerial attacks disrupt the enemy's cohesion. If the Israelis can't invade Gaza in the face of enfeebled Hamas resistance despite IEDs, occupy Gaza for the weeks it will take to really tear up the leadership of Hamas and root out/destroy their infrastructure of political control and offensive terror (and plant surveillance devices where they can), why have an army at all?

I'm still expecting a ground invasion. Israel retreated from Gaza once, so I don't expect Israel has the stomach to reoccupy the place for an indefinite amount of time. But defanging Hamas will weaken them at home in the long run despite any short-term rallying effect and will make Hamas anger at Israel less threatening without longer range rockets in the medium term until they can rearm.

Solutions in the Middle East are rarely complete. They are either temporary or just allow another problem to become the most dangerous. But you work with what you've got.

Who knows? Maybe one day the Palestinians will stop being the most self-destructive people on the planet and end their role as television and web entertainment for the Moslem world and large swathes of Europe eager to see somebody (But not themselves! So why no talk of chicken-hawks there?) fight those "damned Jews."

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Smells Like ... Victory

An article in the Telegraph about how we've been winning the war on terror under Bush.

The Lefties in the comments who see nothing but defeat are perplexing to me, as I wrote in the comments:

"We've (America and our allies) defeated Saddam's Iraq and Taliban Afghanistan, disarmed Libya, turned Pakistan to an imperfect ally, stopped the Khan nuclear network, strung out North Korea until they are too weak to invade South Korea (and, no, they don't have nuclear weapons as their test fizzled), broke al Qaeda in Iraq, beat back Iran's attempts to control Iraq, kept jihadis from seizing power in any Moslem state, let Europe try to talk Iran into giving up nukes [and] so showing this path is barren, discredited jihadi ideology, and have broken up numerous enemy attempts to kill us in the West.

If this isn't victory, as so many on the Left here are asserting, one has to wonder if they are rooting for the West to win at all."

Do read the article. Nile Gardiner is a brave man to express such comments in today's Europe.

Sneak Preview

Hamas in Gaza just got a preview of what Rocket War II could look like from their perspective:

Israeli warplanes retaliating for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip pounded dozens of security compounds across the Hamas-ruled territory in unprecedented waves of airstrikes Saturday, killing at least 155 and wounding more than 310 in the single bloodiest day of fighting in recent memory.

Hamas said all of its security installations were hit and responded with several medium-range Grad rockets at Israel, reaching deeper than in the past. One Israeli was killed and at least four people were wounded.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said "the operation will last as long as necessary," but it was not clear if it would be coupled with a ground offensive. Asked if Hamas political leaders might be targeted next, military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich said, "Any Hamas target is a target."

The strikes caused widespread panic and confusion in Gaza, as black clouds of smoke rose above the territory, ruled by Hamas for the past 18 months. Some of the Israeli missiles struck in densely populated areas as children were leaving school, and women rushed into the streets frantically looking for their children.

Israel just prepped the battlefield. The next time aircraft are spotted coming toward Gaza, Hamas leaders will scatter from their headquarters to avoid the missiles. They wish they'd done that this time.

But the next time planes come at them, an Israeli ground offensive will roll in too. And regardless of whether Israel hits all those security installations, by scattering to avoid the air attacks, the Hamas rulers will lose their command and control capabilities for many hours. Hamas fighters and terrorists will then be headless and easier to kill by a coordinated Israeli ground offensive.

Friday, December 26, 2008


A month after the Mumbai terrorist attacks that launched from Pakistan, the threat of war between Pakistan and India has not abated.

The Indians are still justifiably angry and demand that Pakistan take real action against the jihadis. India's patience is not limitless.

And the situation remains tense:

India warned its citizens on Friday it was unsafe to travel to Pakistan and the prime minister met his military chiefs, while Pakistan canceled army leave and moved some troops from its western border.

The travel warning marked a dramatic rise in tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors after last month's attack on Mumbai that killed 179 people and which India has blamed on Islamist militants based in Pakistan.

The story says war is unlikely. I don't buy that reassuring line. Perhaps war really is unlikely when you look at it from a pure percentage point of view. But if the chance of war is 40%--that is, "unlikely"--over the next month or so, is that really reassuring to you?

Strategypage writes that perhaps the troop movement to the east is to secure the eastern border to keep jihadis from crossing into India, and that the Pakistanis continue to operate against the jihadis on the western border:

Pakistan has moved two brigades to the Line of Control (which divides Pakistani and Indian portions of Kashmir). No reason given, although the Pakistanis may want to help keep the Islamic terrorists from crossing into India. That would be nice.

The Pakistanis continue military operations against the Taliban along the Afghan border, but things have slowed down because of the Winter weather.

The posts also indicate that Pakistan is actually taking action against the jihadis inside Pakistan.

However, Pakistan does not want to cooperate so much that Pakistan's involvement in jihadi terrorism against India becomes openly clear. The Kashmir terrorists are particularly popular in Pakistan. Can Pakistan do enough this way to satisfy Indian public opinion without angering their own people?

India and the United States are watching closely exactly what Pakistan does to the "Kashmir (dedicated to taking Kashmir from Indian control) terrorists" like Lashkar e Toiba. Pakistan has made a few arrests, and everyone is waiting to see if, or when, Pakistan will do some real damage to these groups. So far, Pakistan has not. Groups like Lashkar e Toiba are very popular in Pakistan, because getting control of Kashmir is very popular. The government fears that going after the Kashmir terrorists would cause a civil war inside Pakistan. That has always been a risk, which even India acknowledged. But now the Indian government has a population enraged about the activities (like Mumbai, and similar attacks earlier) of the Pakistani Kashmir terror groups, and wants something done. Pakistan is being forced into a corner, where the choices come down to civil war with their Islamic conservatives and radicals (about a third of the population), or war with India, which could escalate into a nuclear conflict that Pakistan would lose. The civil war would be messy, but the government would almost certainly win it.

I think Dunnigan in this article is too focused on what is rational for Pakistan to do, both in protecting our supply lines to Afghansitan and in deciding whether to risk civil war or nuclear war:

Risking nuclear war with India might seem far better to Pakistan's rulers than the humiliation of letting an investigation that India wants reveal just how powerful the jihadis are in the Pakistani government and society.

Christmas was lovely. But that was a day off from our reality. NORAD must set aside Santa tracking, and we have to get back to coping with the world and the many nutballs who also call it home.

Have a nice day.

UPDATE: War certainly doesn't make sense for India and Pakistan:

India and Pakistan have said they want to avoid military conflict over the Mumbai attacks, and most analysts say war is unlikely, not least because both sides have too much to lose if conflict breaks out.

When both sides have nukes, nothing decisive will be achieved since the threat of nukes by the losing side should deter the winning side from exploiting any initial success.

But the Indian public so far insists its government press Pakistan for effective measures or take them themselves:

But India — which is under domestic pressure to respond aggressively to the attacks — has not ruled out the use of force.

Yet Pakistan is unwilling to press their jihadis so much that it exposes Pakistan's many levels of involvement in that terrorism. And giving in to Indian pressure would be humiliating. Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari insists Pakistan will take care of the problem--on Pakistan's terms:

"We shall do it because we need it, not because you want it," Zardari said at the family home in Naudero of his dead wife, former premier Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated one year ago in a gun and suicide attack.

Zardari said war was not the solution to the region's problems and pleaded for dialogue, amid a growing perception here among top officials that India could carry out limited military strikes on militant hideouts in Pakistan.

"In case there are people in the region who feel they want to test our mettle, I would like to tell them this mettle has been tested many times. Please do not test it again," he said in remarks broadcast on state television.

"Allow us the freedom of democracy, allow us the freedom of choice, allow us the freedom of opportunity. We will choose our own time."

I have no doubt that the Pakistani government wants to fight the jihadis. While attacks on India kill Indians, India itself will survive (UPDATE: This article already quoted in this post makes it clear that India believes the terror strike was a blow that threatens India's rise to great power status, which is an important goal for India. Said the prime minister: "Referring to terror strikes in Mumbai, he said these were 'an attack on the country's ambitions to emerge as an economic power' but 'India would not accept a situation where terrorism is used as an instrument to cripple India's economy or the values it stands for.'".). Pakistanis know that the jihadis are a threat to Pakistan's existence:

"We have non-state actors. Yes, they are forcing an agenda on us," Zardari said, but added that a solution to extremism in the region could be found.

"We will cure it, we will solve it, we will correct it," he said. "We will be accountable to ourselves. We will fight our own wars."

And those non-state actors are supported by elements withing the state acting contrary to the official government policy. So will this be enough to satisfy Indian popular opinion that something be done about the jihadis to strike India?

Further raising the risk is what exactly will each side consider an act of war? The Pakistanis, I think, will perceive any military strike against targets on Pakistani soil as attacks on Pakistan. Earlier in the week, Pakistan sent up their fighters as a warning to India:

On Monday, Pakistan put its air force on high alert, with several fighter jets conducting exercises over the capital, Islamabad, as well as Rawalpindi, Lahore and Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

The signal?

A Pakistani official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Kiyani told Mullen that Pakistan was trying its best to defuse tension with India.

"We want peace with India, but any aggression will be matched by a befitting response," the official quoted Kiyani as saying.

The Indians, by contrast, may say they don't want "war"--and I believe them--but what does "war" mean to India? "War" does not include "surgical" strikes on jihadis inside Pakistan:

[Indian Prime Minister] Singh said India does not want war with Pakistan but would like Islamabad to dismantle the "terror machine" existing on its soil and the international community to use its "power" to persuade Islamabad to do so.

"The issue is not war. The issue is terror and territory in Pakistan being used to provoke, to aid and abet terrorism. I think that is the issue, the issue is not war. Nobody wants war," he said when asked to speak on the present standoff with Pakistan in the wake of Mumbai terror attacks.

So how do we help Pakistan do enough to really take down the jihadis enough to satisfy Indian demands for real action, keep that action from sparking a civil war inside Pakistan that would end Pakistan's efforts to control the frontier tribal provinces adjacent to Pakistan and threaten our supply lines to Afghanistan; and keep India from launching a "surgical" strike that Pakistan will see as an act of war that will end Pakistan's fight against jihadis in the tribal areas and cripple our supply lines to Afghanistan?

Oh, and then there's that small matter of escalation to nuclear war between India and Pakistan once conventional combat expands in scale and duration.

It has been quiet in the month since Mumbai. But don't become confused. It isn't over, over there.

Rocket War II

Following on the 2006 Hizbollah War that sprang from the First Gaza War in 2006, it looks like the Hamas-ruled Gaza is preparing to emulate their brethren in southern Lebanon. The Israelis, however, aren't going to rely on air power as they did in Lebanon if a Second Rocket War is launched against Israeli civilians.

One aspect of the coming war is trying to contrast what Israel can do if there is peace with what Israel can do if Hamas chooses war. The outline seems clear:

"We are sending them a message that the Hamas leadership has turned them into a punching bag for everyone," he told Israel Radio. "It is a leadership that has turned school yards in rocket launching pads. This a leadership that does not care that the blood of its people will run in the streets."

The deliveries did not persuade Gaza militants to halt their rocket and mortar fire on Israeli border communities. The military said more than 10 rockets and mortars were fired toward Israel early Friday. One home was struck but no injuries were reported.

Israel had originally agreed to open the cargo crossings with Gaza on Wednesday, but shut the passages after militants began pounding southern Israel with dozens of rockets and mortars.

The attacks were the heaviest since an Egyptian-mediated truce between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers expired last week. The truce, which had taken effect in June, began unraveling in early November.

Pressure has been mounting in Israel for the military to strike forcefully against Gaza militants and Israeli leaders have been voicing strong threats in recent days. But on Friday, military officials said the army was planning a routine rotation of its troops along the Gaza border in the coming week. That, coupled with current winter weather, made an imminent operation seem unlikely, they said.

I personally view troop rotations as an opportunity to increase troop strength in the potential combat area rather than being a time of lessened chance for war, but that's just me apparently.

So Israel now sends in supplies. Iranian-backed Hamas at some point decides to launch Rocket War II. Israel cuts off supplies to Gaza and invades to clear out Gaza of weapons and kill/capture Hamas leaders and terrorists (not that there's a lot of difference there, but you know what I mean).

What is unclear is how long Israel would stay in Gaza and whether Iranian-supported Hizbollah joins in the war. If Hizbollah attacks, too, Israel would expand ground operations into southern Lebanon.

And then the question becomes what Syria and their Iranian masters do in response.

If Iran stays out of direct military involvement it could remain a localized Syria-Israel fight. If Iran steps in openly, then we'd likely get involved.

If we get involved do we keep our military response narrowly focused on Iran's role in the fighting or do we take advantage of the war to go after Iran's nuclear infrastructure?

From home-made rockets cobbled together in Gaza metal shops, much misery can potentially unfold.

The Silent Attributes

While most people think of military power as the technology and equipment, the real base of military power is training and maintenance.

High quality troops who know how to use even average weaponry that will work when used are better than ill-trained troops who barely know how to use high tech weaponry that is likely to fail because of lack of spare parts and maintenance. The troops behind our weapons has been our invisible advantage in recent decades. And don't forget maintenance for those weapons.

Not that good weapons aren't important--in the hands of good troops, they can turn victory over an enemy into a rout over the enemy.

The Australians just demonstrated how important training and maintenance are when one of their submarines was perhaps 20 seconds from sinking to the bottom of the sea forever:

"There was a loud bang ... then the water flooded in and I got tossed around like a washing machine. It was coming in so fast I thought it was all over."

A flexible seawater hose had broken, causing some 12,000 litres of water to flood in within seconds, filling up the room. The words "flooding, flooding, flooding in the motor room," echoed through the intercom as crewmates fished a near-unconscious Seaman Bunting out of the flooded motor room by his lapels.

In the control room, the officers instantly shut all of the submarine's external valves en masse, hoping it would stem the flood.

It stopped the inflow of water, but the submarine had taken on so much that it was uncertain whether it would be able to make it back to the surface.

The commander, Peter Scott, ordered his stricken submarine to gather speed and blow the ballast tanks to make the submarine lighter. He ordered the sub to rise but it failed to respond, causing hearts to freeze.

"There was a period of time before the submarine reacted and there was a lot of tension in the air," recalled Lieutenant Commander Geoff Wadley.

I am greatly relieved that our Australian friends escaped such a tragedy.

A hose broke. Did the Australians skimp on maintenance? Or was it a design flaw or fluke? Thank goodness the crew reacted promptly and correctly. They had little margin for error or delay. They reacted rather than pulling out manuals to study the proper response.

Please always remember that in tight budget times, it is very tempting to reduce maintenance and training rather than procurement of shiny new weapons because the former isn't as quantifiable as one less shiny weapon. It can seem like an acceptable risk to get that shiny weapon.

It isn't acceptable, people. It isn't quantifiable until you mourn 55 dead submariners.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Cute and Cuddly, Boys. Cute and Cuddly

The Chinese have sent two Pandas, whose names together mean "reunion," to Taiwan:

China sent two of its prized giant pandas to Taiwan Tuesday, the latest installment of a charm offensive aimed at persuading the island's people to embrace their Communist rival.

Millions of Taiwanese watched the televised arrival of Tuan Tuan, a male panda, and his female companion, Yuan Yuan, at Taipei airport. The pandas, the first to inhabit the island, are typically loaned in pairs with the hope they will mate.

A charm offensive, indeed:

Call me suspicious, but I have always expected a Chinese charm offensive prior to an actual offensive to conquer Taiwan in order to gain the element of surprise[.]

The Taiwanese need to be wary of the bear hug that Peking is extending to them. That kind of embrace tends to be rather stifling and will never end happily.

UPDATE: The opposition in Taiwan is certainly aware of the problems of the Trojan Pandas landing in Taiwan:

Legislative aides from Taiwan's pro-independence opposition donned panda suits Wednesday, part of a public relations effort by anti-China lawmakers to paint the mainland's panda gift as a stalking horse for its pro-unification agenda.

If enough Taiwanese people as well as Japanese and American leaders believe the threat of a Chinese attack is over, reflexes will be dulled in those countries, and China may get the time they need to steal a march on Taipei.

This may sound odd, but I hope none of the pro-independence people decide to kill the pandas as a statement against Peking. Killing adorable pandas being used a tool for a communist regime will help the communist regime's goals. Which might be the ideal outcome from Peking's point of view, of course.

Never Mind

The liberal side of the aisle here in the US has long claimed that we need more troops in Afghanistan, and that Iraq "distracts" us from sending more troops.

Of course, right up until the President decided on a surge in Iraq, the left side of the aisle claimed that we had too few troops in Iraq. Once we decided to add troops, the loyal opposition reversed course.

So, of course, even as Barack Obama argued for more troops for Afghanistan and his loyal minions backed him up, you had to know that the left side of the aisle would change their minds about the surge for Afghanistan. Be careful what you wish for, right?


Sending more U.S. forces to Afghanistan is an idea whose time has come. The question is whether the time when it could work has already gone.

President-elect Barack Obama, departing President George W. Bush and holdover Defense Secretary Robert Gates have backed a plan to send 20,000 or more troops next year. Those forces must confront an increasingly entrenched Taliban enemy and a population grown hostile to foreign troops after seven years of U.S.-led warfare.

“We may have missed the golden moment there,” said Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official who has long advocated an increased U.S. focus on Afghanistan.

Well what do you know? Korb long supported more troops. But now that we will do exactly that, it's too late! Never mind. That mythical "golden moment" sadly passed! It always does for them, doesn't it? They're the Goldilocks Warriors.

Look, I don't think we really need a surge of troops in Afghanistan. We simply aren't losing and our objectives shouldn't be that high for the country. And most of our Afghanistan problem is actually a Pakistan problem. Besides, I worry about the safety of our supply lines to Afghanistan through Pakistan.

But the point is, I knew our Left would come to think the "good war" was bad once it becomes the only war they have to oppose. With Iraq all but won, Afghanistan is rising up on the Left's hit list.

Good God, man. Don't tell me you ever believed our Left wanted to win in Afghanistan!

Get a Second Life, Dudes

The Russians are continuing their fantasy world claims about the August 2008 Russo-Georgian War:

Russian investigators said Tuesday that volunteers from the U.S. took part in the August fighting over the separatist province of South Ossetia.

Russia says 162 South Ossetia residents were killed along with 48 Russian servicemen. Georgia says it lost 169 soldiers and police, and 69 civilians.

We officially deny that any Americans fought in the war or that our military fought during the war.

The Russian claim over civilian deaths apparently means the end of their accusation that South Ossetians were being slaughtered by the Georgians, which is why Moscow says Russia invaded Georgia.

The Russians are beyond reasoning with at the moment. For a while anyway, we need to stay wary and armed, saying "nice doggy," while keeping our hands away from their jaws.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is a great holiday. And I even like shopping on Christmas Eve.

If you have kids, it is even better. Check out the NORAD Santa tracking site tonight. When my son believed, it really affected him. He didn't seem like he was impressed when I showed it to him but years later he said he really thought it was real.

So tonight my daughter will get to check it out.

Getting What We Wish?

It seems that for decades now, I've mocked the tendency of some beauty pageant contestants to say they want to work for world peace.

Ah, perhaps I was too hasty:

A reigning Mexican beauty queen from the drug-plagued state of Sinaloa was arrested with suspected gang members in a truck filled guns and ammunition, police say.

Miss Sinaloa 2008 Laura Zuniga stared at the ground, with her flowing dark hair concealing her face, as she stood squeezed between seven alleged gunmen lined up before journalists. Soldiers wearing ski masks guarded the 23-year-old model and the suspects.

Zuniga was arrested shortly before midnight on Monday at a military checkpoint in Zapopan, just outside the colonial city of Guadalajara, said Jalisco state police director, Francisco Alejandro Solorio.

Zuniga was riding in one of two trucks, where soldiers found a large stash of weapons, including two AR-15 assault rifles, .38 specials, 9mm handguns, nine magazines, 633 cartridges and $53,300 in U.S. currency, Solorio said Tuesday.

Working for world peace is sounding pretty good right now.

Check her out:

Photo Source: AP

Yowser. I'll be in my bunk.

And another thing, what is it with such pretty women hanging with such loser thugs? And I'm not just talking personal dating experience. In ten years, my daughter might be bringing home losers for dates, all sparkly-eyed over how cool the scum-of-the-day is. I clearly need more firepower at home.

This involves weapons and foreign nationals, so I'm relaxing blogging standards and calling it a foreign affairs event.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Victory

I've been stubborn in refusing to declare victory in Iraq. I've seen lulls before--though not this long--that turned out to be transitions in phases of the war rather than the end.

But this news is certainly an indication that we might be in a post-V-Day period:

Iraq suffered an average of 180 attacks per day this time last year. But over the past week, the average number was 10, Army Brig. Gen. David G. Perkins, a Multinational Force Iraq spokesman, said.

“This is a dramatic improvement of safety throughout the country,” Perkins told reporters during a wide-ranging news conference in Baghdad yesterday.

He added that the country’s murder rates have dropped below levels that existed before the start of American operations in Iraq. In November, the ratio was 0.9 per 100,000 people.

If this keeps up even as we pull our forces back from routine combat operations and large-scale presence in the cities, I think that by June I'd be willing to look back and call November 27, 2008, Victory in Iraq Day.

But June is an eternity away. So I won't prepare the celebration yet.


Should China attack Taiwan, we will surely intervene. But it would be fighting with one hand tied behind our back to fight a purely defensive struggle in the Taiwan Strait and on Taiwan.

I've thought that a potential target for our Marines in a war over Taiwan could be the increasingly important Chinese island of Hainan.

The Chinese are building up this base even more:

New Google Earth images of China, show underground hangers for aircraft at an airport outside the city of Le Dong, on the southern island of Hainan (near Vietnam). For over two years now, commercial satellite photos have been revealing details of a military buildup on Hainan. The most obvious example of this is the submarine base that China was building at Yulin, near Sanya. The base has underground docking facilities for nuclear and diesel-electric subs, created by tunneling into coastal hills.

I may have been very wrong about thinking the Marine Corps will not be likely to ever need to mount a division-sized amphibious invasion ever again.

Monday, December 22, 2008

When is Enough Enough

We may be focused on other things, but the subcontinent is still primed for an ill-advised war as India remains deeply unhappy with Pakistan's response to the Mumbai massacres:

"Pakistan's response so far has demonstrated their earlier tendency to resort to a policy of denial and to seek to deflect and shift the blame and responsibility," India Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee reiterated that India was keeping all its options open after the Mumbai attacks, comments the Indian media have widely interpreted to mean that a military response was still possible. Mukherjee said that was not his intent.

At some point, Pakistani inaction may propel India, goaded by Indian public opinion, to do something.

This attitude (from my Jane's email updates) could push the Indian government on a path to all-out war:

"Enough is enough, go for war." Members of a candlelight vigil in Mumbai on 3 December call for military action against Pakistan after the 26 November Mumbai attacks.

Given the lack of robust second strike capabilities and short flight times, any major conventional war could lead to nuclear war between Pakistan and India.

Let the Planning Begin!

Zimbabwe under Mugabe's misrule keeps getting worse even when you think nothing could possibly deteriorate further there:

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe is "a mad dictator" who has lost all sense of reality, a United Nations human rights expert said on Monday.

The only way Mugabe can be removed from power is for Europe to convince his "great protector South Africa" to withdraw all support for him, Jean Ziegler, an adviser to the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, told Swiss Radio.

Mugabe, Ziegler declared, "is a former hero of the liberation struggle who has lost all sense of reality.... and become a mad dictator." He added: "The horror in Zimbabwe today is absolutely intolerable."

But Africa's neighbors won't intervene. And Britain, the former colonial ruler, is incapable either physically or psychologically of doing anything militarily.

Which, of course, leaves America.

So I assume that before we intervene, we'll spend the years necessary to plan for any eventuality, gather the proper ratio of allied soldiers to American troops to prove it is multi-lateral, get the UN Security Council resolutions required to demonstrate the sainted international community's approval, set out our "exit strategy," and expand our ground forces by whatever amount is deemed necessary to keep from stressing our ground forces, before we even think of giving the order to intervene.

I mean, we'll do all this first if we go by our Left's positions staked out in the Iraq War debate over the last five years, that's what we should do.

Oh, and just in case, maybe we need to solve the Palestinian issue first.


Showing that demented behavior is not just limited to jihadis, our Mexican friends south of the border are experiencing the joy of finding decapitated bodies:

Authorities found the decapitated bodies of 12 men in the southern state of Guerrero on Sunday, and some of the victims have been identified as soldiers.

State Public Safety Secretary Juan Salinas Altes said nine bodies were found on a major boulevard in the state capital, Chilpancingo, just a few hundred yards (meters) from where the state governor participated in a traditional religious procession later in the day amid heavy security.

Mexico has been hit by a rising wave of drug-fueled violence, and officials estimate that more than 5,300 people have died in organized crime-related slayings so far in 2008.

Mexican drug cartels have increasingly taken to chopping the heads off their victims, who include rival traffickers and lawmen. On Aug. 28, a dozen decapitated bodies were found outside Merida, the capital of Yucatan state.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if Mexico is the first real foreign policy challenge President Obama faces in 2009.

Adding to the Near Abroad?

I sometimes wonder how long Russia's Far East will want to remain part of Russia:

Russia – Riot police clubbed, kicked and detained dozens in the Pacific port of Vladivostok on Sunday in a harsh crackdown on a protest that was one of dozens across Russia by people outraged over an increase in car import tariffs.

With unemployment spiking, prices rising and the ruble sliding, the protests over a seemingly mundane tariff appear to be broadening into a wide expression of public discontent — and beginning to present a genuine challenge to the Kremlin.

One day we might wonder in amazement why Russia expended so much treasure and effort to grab scraps of land from Georgia while letting the vast Far East drift away from neglect and malice.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New Reality Show for 2009!

The Obama presidency promises us an exciting news media entertainment world.

Victor Hanson goes over the many realities of war and foreign policy that will become part of the new MSM series this spring, Tales of the Newly Discovered Reality! (See here and here for pilot episodes.)

Our media denied them before, but the publicity arm of the reality-based community will come to understand that when President Obama does it, it's all about the hope and change!

I hear they've already picked up the contract through 2012!

Age, Experience, and Size of Course, Matter

Strategypage reports on how reservists often beat their active component counter-parts in skill competitions. Experience matters in this area:

The reserve pilots are former active duty pilots, many of them retired after two decades of service. These pilots often left active duty to fly as commercial pilots, but joined the reserves so they could continue to fly the more exciting military aircraft they had spent years working with. While the reservists don't fly as many hours (in military aircraft) as their active duty counterparts, they do have experience, and are more mature in years. Reservist bomber crews also tend to stay together longer, and this improves their teamwork and overall capabilities.

The army has found the same pattern with combat troops. Reservist tank and artillery crews often best their active duty counterparts in competitions.

Remember, however, that these measure individual vehicle crews or single planes. It is true that at the lowest level, reservists are often better. No National Guard division, however, is going to be better than an active component division. Same with brigades. The reservists can be better than the active services right up until you get to company level--the level of local units. At company level and below, the same personnel will train together for years, leading to excellent performance. This is especially true over the last twenty or thirty years as the country club feel of reserve units (especially Guard) declined with greater responsibilities and resources.

But once you get above company levels, reservists don't get the same opportunity to train together as active forces do, so quality of reservists does not match active forces for the most part. But the experience is still there, so once a reserve unit is mobilized it can use the training time to build on its experience and become an excellent combat unit.

This applies to ground units, mostly, since we don't plug small reserve units into larger active formations. It would actually probably make more sense to limit Guard units to battalions to be plugged into active brigades or used independently. But the Guard is politically powerful. And there is the issue of unit identification and pride that would suffer. So maybe we'd regret losing that by revamping the Guard.

In a sense, the active Army has done an end run around the Guard by making the brigade rather than the division the basic maneuver unit. When everybody is at a lower echelon of deployment, we haven't singled the Guard out. And it is easier to prepare a Guard brigade for war than gearing up an entire division scattered across perhaps many states. We've been mobilizing brigades for combat for many years now and the Guard's units have performed well.

The Air Force has been able to integrate their reservists into the active forces better. But it is easier to plug their reserve units in to the active component when many missions are simply single-plane runs.

Our reserves are truly outstanding. They are both numerous and high quality. If we sent just our reserves to war, there are few active militaries that could beat our reservists without relying on overwhelming numbers. If our enemies grant us the luxury of time, of course.

Mixed Message

I'm on record as worrying about putting too many troops into Afghanistan because I have little confidence that our supply lines through Pakistan are stable enough to risk more than 10% of our active force there.

I'm also worried that we might be trying to achieve too much in Afghanistan. My hopes for Afghanistan are really limited to preventing it from becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks against us.

So Admiral Mullen makes me worry a bit and makes me feel a bit better, too.

On troops, the numbers seem to keep going up:

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that between 20,000 and 30,000 additional U.S. troops could be sent to Afghanistan to bolster the 31,000 already there.

Sixty-one thousand? I have nightmares of the Stalingrad pocket at worst. Or maybe just Bastogne that works out in the end.

But on strategy and objectives, I feel much better:

But the chairman conceded that the U.S. may have misjudged the central government's ability "to have the kind of impact that we wanted."

Afghanistan, Mullen said, has never been run by a strong central government, and the U.S. may look to communities and tribes in the country's provinces to take on a greater role in future strategy.

He called U.S. goals in Afghanistan "moderate," and said the long-term U.S. vision is for a country that can govern itself while respecting international law, while providing both material and economic security for its people.

So there you go. On the objectives front, I think we're on the right track. As long as our Afghanistan surge is just temporary to achieve specific missions of knocking down the tribes that still feel like making trouble, we could draw down again with decentralized security taking hold in the theoretical country of Afghanistan.

UPDATE: President Karzai also states something I've wanted to see about our surge to Afghanistan:

Karzai's office said in a statement that Mullen told the president the new troops would be sent to insecure regions, particularly along the Pakistan border.

Since much of our Afghanistan problem is actually a Pakistan problem, I've long wanted efforts to control the border better.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Oh Yeah, This is a Helpful Attitude

The Russians are no help at all to themselves or us in recognizing that their true threat is China. We have no interest in destroying Russia.

The Russians are developing their paranoia nicely:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Russia's foes on Friday against trying to destabilize a country facing broadening economic crisis, Russian news agencies reported.

Putin did not specify who might pose a threat to Russia's stability. But in the past, he has often blamed Western security services of trying to destabilize the country using opposition groups and non-governmental organizations as their instruments.

"Any attempts to weaken or destabilize Russia, harm the interests of the country will be toughly suppressed," they quoted ex-KGB spy Putin as telling an annual meeting of top spies and security officers ahead of their professional holiday.

Putin and his fellow nutballs truly believe we are out to destabilize them? Good grief, at this point the best hope we have is that they don't actually believe this but are using this line to consolidate dictatorial power inside Russia.

This attitude is unfortunate since as much as we must contain Russia from threatening the West, from Georgia to Norway, we need Russia as a bulwark against a more powerful China that could rise in the future:

The Western response to the rise of Imperial Russia that is nuclear armed, pining for past glory, paranoid, militarily fragile yet with residual power sufficient to overpower isolated neighbors, demographically declining, and reliant on energy exports, is still in its infancy.

All we know for sure right now is that Russia has declared they are not our strategic partner. Yet they may one day be a critical partner for containing China. Russia is the Angry Sick Man of Europe. We must prop them up even as we contain them. This is a delicate mission, to say the least.

So Russia's oft-repeated claim that we are out to "get" them is ludicrous. We just want to hold them off from doing something stupidly destructive--as their Georgian adventure almost was--until they realize that they need the West, too.

I fear that Russia is immune even to hope and change. We're going to need a lot of luck on our Russia Project.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Reasons to Stay Engaged

Without even getting into the help we can provide Iraq in developing rule of law and democracy in Iraq, the Iraqis need us for military issues well beyond 2011:

[We need] a residual American presence there to both protect our American assets -- our people, our facilities -- and also to conduct counterterror operations, should they be needed, and also to help train and equip the Iraqi military. ...

[And] the need for a long-term American presence there, much reduced in size, and with an entirely different mission than it currently has, but that that would be potentially necessary, given the current weaknesses we see in the Iraqi -- and the -- and the Iraqis, for that matter, see in their -- in their military capabilities.

While they are an excellent combat force at this time and have demonstrated it time and time again, they will acknowledge that they still lack many of the logistical capabilities, the intelligence capabilities, aviation capabilities that are essential to sort of protect themselves internally and externally.

The current and forthcoming administrations both recognize this need so I think we can safely assume that we will provide these forms of assistance for many years to come, as needed.

A Little Sympathy for Pakistan, Please

I am certainly frustrated by Pakistan's inability to fully fight jihadis on their soil. But even as the black sheep of our alliance, the Pakistanis are trying in spite of the significant support for jihadis inside their country and even their security forces.

Secretary of Defense Gates put it well:

Well, the problem that we face is that, for most of its history, Pakistan has regarded India as its existential threat. And I think it's only been in the last few months that they have come to realize that what is going on in the western part of their country also represents an existential threat to their country from their own standpoint.

And so we've seen their army going from basically doing nothing in the northwest frontier area earlier this year to being pretty actively engaged in combat. They're getting better a counterinsurgency. They're a little bit like the U.S. Army 10 years ago, just as our Army was principally trained to take on the Soviets at the (folded gap ?), the Pakistani army is trained largely to take on the Indians.

And so they are learning as we learn here in Iraq how to do counterinsurgency. And they are suffering a lot of casualties. They are in the fight and have been for the last number of weeks.

We are eager the help them. We have to partner with them. We are ready, willing and able, but we are also sensitive to their sovereignty. They are very sensitive to the size of the American footprint in their country. But I think we are beginning to see the growth of trilateral cooperation among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States in trying to deal with this threat on the border.

I think it's a long-term problem, but I am heartened that the Pakistanis are taking it seriously and do, I think, now appreciate the dangers to them of what is going on out there in those ungoverned spaces.

So it's going slowly at this point, but they are making sacrifices. Pakistanis are dying in conflict with these violent extremists. And we just want to help them as much as we can.

It is admittedly tempting to just say screw 'em and put them in the enemy category. That would be a mistake. An imperfect ally is better than an enemy. Especially when that imperfect ally has atomic weapons.

When we rely on Pakistan for our supplies in Afghansitan and the major military effort against jihadis in the Pakistani tribal areas, it is wise to act grown up about the whole situation. Let's help Pakistan be a better ally and not just ensure they become an enemy.

Rolling the Dice

It is certainly not unheard of in history for countries with internal problems to seek solutions abroad that unite their increasingly resltess people prone to blaming the government for their problems.

Will economic problems lead Russia to embark on more military adventures in their near abroad?

Since Medvedev is on record as saying Russia neither fears a Cold War, nor a rupture in ties with NATO, it is not clear whether the Kremlin can dispassionately evaluate the risks it might face in any future crisis. For this reason, the Kremlin’s sphere-of-influence attitude raises the likelihood of a future crisis in its neighborhood. Russia’s economic difficulties are bound to call into question its regional leadership status. No doubt Russia will be tempted to crack the whip in the CIS to show that it remains the regional boss.

This is a risk. It is a risk for our dealings with Iran and China, too, I dare say. And it has been our problem with North Korea for years--will they abandon hope of blackmailing us into supplying lots of cash and just invade South Korea, or bombard Seoul from their DMZ positions where they have lots of artillery?

So add a paranoid Russia to the mix.

Wonderful decade we're having, eh?

Mr. Helprin, Meet Reality. Reality, This is Mr. Helprin

I find this thinking fascinating:

The administrations of George W. Bush have virtually assured such a displacement by catastrophically throwing the country off balance, both politically and financially, while breaking the nation's sword in an inconclusive seven-year struggle against a ragtag enemy in two small bankrupt states. Their one great accomplishment -- no subsequent attacks on American soil thus far -- has been offset by the stunningly incompetent prosecution of the war. It could be no other way, with war aims that inexplicably danced up and down the scale, from "ending tyranny in the world," to reforging in a matter of months (with 130,000 troops) the political culture of the Arabs, to establishing a democracy in Iraq, to only reducing violence, to merely holding on in our cantonments until we withdraw.

Good grief. His little historical introduction is made with no real attempt to connect it to the second paragraph quoted above. I'm sure in his own mind, it is a brilliant and irrefutable link.

We've endured economic problems in the past and we will again. The global nature of the problem should be a clue that it isn't a uniquely American problem.

The rest of that one paragraph is filled with nonsense so dense that it has a reality event horizon that doesn't allow the real world to escape his prose.

The fact that we have not endured another 9/11 is tossed off as simply not happening yet. We would have thought that simple fact unimaginable on September 12, 2001, as we woke up to our second day of war. You'd think that this fact would be incompatible with our so-called incompetence.

We've broken our sword? Our military personnel have become the most lethal and experienced troops on the planet. We beat well-armed, well-financed, and fanatical enemies inside Iraq in only five years when insurgencies can last decades. Ask the Colombians and Sri Lankans about that. As for Afghanistan, the real problem lies in Pakistan beyond the reach of our military.

Yes, our Army and Marines are unbalanced, having focused on winning in Iraq. That is how it should be. But as combat subsides in Iraq even more and our troops deployed abroad go down, our military will retrain for conventional warfare and become the best and most well-rounded military we've ever fielded. Our Army especially was stressed by Iraq, but is emerging stronger and not weaker from this war. But give it (and the Marines to a lesser extent) several years and we will have a well-armed, well-trained military led by combat veterans. Our Navy and Air Force retain their capabilities to defeat any other conceivable coalition of enemies right now, since they were not similarly stressed by the fights in Afghanistan and Iraq.

His part about "bankrupt" states is just empty calories devoid of substance designed to get rave reviews from types or perhaps Pat Buchanan.

As for supposed war aims that fell away as the reality that only Mr. Helprin sees raised its ugly head, what is he talking about? Ending world tyranny? When was that our objective? Surely, we discovered that Realpolitik support for tyrannies doesn't make a lot of sense in the current Middle East. But we've never set our sites on ending all tyrannies in the world.

As for the rest of his supposed slide in objectives down to holding on in our cantonments until we can get out? Dream on, Helprin. Only in your dreams are we facing such a defeat.

Our planned withdrawal from Iraq is made possible by beginning a change in the culture of the Arab world, which at least now rejects al Qaeda and suicide bombings and celebrates shoe throwers rather than celebrate airplane hijackers who slam our planes into our buildings.

And we never planned on doing this in a matter of months with 130,000 troops. We have, in fact, established democracy in Iraq. It has growing to do that requires our help, but this is real democracy that we see in Iraq.

It is also sad that the dramatic reduction in violence is met with a shrug, when surely Helprin was arguing not that long ago that we could never end the violence of the "civil war" in Iraq. We can't end all violence in Iraq. Even when all the jihadis and Iranian stooges are killed, there will still be gang violence. I don't know what the natural level of violence in Iraq is, but what we have achieved is real progress against well-financed, well-armed, and fanatical enemies who stooped to new lows in torture, poison gas bombs, suicide bombs, and death squads.

We are on the way out in Iraq, with victory as our means. Mr. Helprin seems too angry for some reason to even begin to admit this, but I hope my introduction to Mr. Helprin of Reality is the start of a fast friendship that will benefit Mr. Helprin in the years to come.

His damn the left and right attitude may seem to him to be wise cynicism that sees all when the majority of America is dense to the needs to fight the war properly, but it comes off as just idiotic in the face of reality.

President Bush has made us safer and has made our enemies vulnerable. He did not end the Long War, but never promised to do that in his time in office. That's why it is called the "Long" War.

Man up and grow up, people. Let's get on with killing jihadis and their friends. I expect better from the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Let Us Use Small Words and Speak Slowly

The Russians continue with their farcical argument that our planned ten anti-missiles that we will deploy in Eastern Europe (the "third positioning region") are meant to stop Russia's large arsenal of nuclear weapons:

If Americans give up plans to deploy the third positioning region and other elements of the strategic missile defense system then certainly we will adequately respond to it," Colonel-General Nikolai Solovtsov said.

"We will simply not need a number of expensive programs," he added echoing earlier Kremlin overtures to the new U.S. administration.

Look, Nikolai, those missiles aren't designed to face your arsenal. Why would we halt missile defense deployment in exchange for you guys reducing your ability to bounce the rubble in Europe from a lot to just a little less than a lot?

If you really want to see linkage, why don't you try helping us disarm Iran by refusing to sell them arms and by actually helping us to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons? You want to see us halt our missile deployment? Stop those thug regimes in Syria and Iran from going nuclear.

Or is that too logical to understand. I swear, the Russians are proud of their paranoia.

Those Darned Lutheran Youth!

We have a mystery on our hands in Sweden:

Dozens of youths have rioted in the southern Swedish city of Malmo for a second consecutive night, setting cars on fire and clashing with police.

Just who could those youths be and what might be motivating them? The BBC isn't clear on identifying the youths, but there is a subtle clue provided in the story by a police spokeswoman:

She said the trouble was linked to the closure of an Islamic centre.

Aha! This could be a clue! No, never mind. The fleeting thought skipped from my mind.

So perhaps radicalized Lutherans are the culprits? Or maybe some rogue Roman Catholics? Would you believe, angry Hindus?

No, huh? If only the BBC had been able to investigate a little longer, I'm sure they could have figured out just what was going on in Malmo. Just who could those car-torching "youths" be?

I guess we'll never know.

Gosh, They're Going Bankrupt?

The sheer refusal of our Leftist media to bend to reality in their eagerness to take swipes at the Bush administration continues to amaze me. I knew the idiotorials would continue, and they have. You don't even need to go past the first paragraph:

Most Americans have long known that the horrors of Abu Ghraib were not the work of a few low-ranking sociopaths. All but President Bush’s most unquestioning supporters recognized the chain of unprincipled decisions that led to the abuse, torture and death in prisons run by the American military and intelligence services.

Really? Horrors? Torture and death at Abu Ghraib? There was one detainee death, as I understand it. This is unfortunate and a crime, but it does not indicate torture nor does it indicate that the soldiers taking part in criminal activity were part of a responsiblityless "chain of unprincipled decisions" higher up. This is how the military, which identified the abuse, investigated it, and punished the guilty, describes that abuse in a lengthy report:

For clarity of analysis, my assessment divides abuses at Abu Ghraib into two different types of improper conduct: First, intentional violent or sexual abuses and, second, actions taken based on misinterpretations of or confusion about law or policy.

(3) (U) Intentional violent or sexual abuses include acts causing bodily harm using unlawful force as well as sexual offenses including, but not limited to rape, sodomy and indecent assault. No Soldier or contractor believed that these abuses were permitted by any policy or guidance. If proven, these actions would be criminal acts. The primary causes of the violent and sexual abuses were relatively straight-forward — individual criminal misconduct, clearly in violation of law, policy, and doctrine and contrary to Army values.

(4) (U) Incidents in the second category resulted from misinterpretations of law or policy or resulted from confusion about what interrogation techniques were permitted. These latter abuses include some cases of clothing removal (without any touching) and some uses of dogs in interrogations (uses without physical contact or extreme fear). Some of these incidents may have violated international law. At the time the Soldiers or contractors committed the acts, however, some of them may have honestly believed the techniques were condoned.

Crimes took place. But torture? No. Death? Well, one, it seems. But recall that an American soldier who found the detainee reported the incident and attempted to get medical help for the man. Horrors? From our point of view, yes. Which is why we stopped the abuses and prosecuted and punished the guilty. But if you want actual torture, death, and sheer horror, look to our enemies for that.

The piece then goes on to the fantasy world of Leftist indignation that our Senate recently produced. God, the whole lot of them are worthless when it comes to our war effort. If we truly had a debate on torture and interrogation held in good faith, it would be a good thing. But who knows, maybe that will change in 2009.

As the new administration ramps up the fight in Afghanistan, there will likely be a case of our troops committing some crime. That happens even in our military which is rigorous in making sure our troops fight in accordance with the rules of war. I'm sure our newspaper editors will be equally quick to claim a chain of unprincipled decisions leading all the way to the Oval Office as the cause of that crime.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

When Nobody Wants the Stuff

One reason that some have given to refrain from attacking Iran's nuclear infrastructure is the fear that oil prices would skyrocket in response as Iran's production is taken off line and as war jitters spook buyers.

This objection is no longer quite as potent a reason for inaction:

Oil prices tumbled below $40 for the first time since the summer of 2004 Wednesday despite an announcement from OPEC of a record production cut of 2.2 million barrels a day.

The drop shows that even the mighty Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has little sway over a growing global recession, analysts said. Crude prices are down more than 72 percent from their summer peak of $147 a barrel, yet tankers continue to idle in the Gulf of Mexico and other ports waiting for buyers.

"There's just so much oil in inventory out there right now," said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research. "Nobody wants to buy this stuff."

The oil glut and the reduction of production now means worries about oil supplies is no longer an issue. There is excess production capacity that could make up for Iran's exit from the oil market. And the downward pressure on oil prices would muffle the upward pressure that would result from an attack.

Iran has counted on Western oil hunger to protect them. Will they make a major mistake in the belief that this factor still holds true, which would justify an American-led attack?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Charmed, I'm Sure

The Chinese government is suddenly allowing Taiwan some international space:

China may allow Taiwan, which the Chinese government considers a runaway province, to join world bodies including the World Health Organization through a process of talks, an official said.

Any attempt for Taiwan to join international bodies should be done through “a process of consultation, negotiation and mutual understanding,” the Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Li Weiyi said today at a televised press briefing in Beijing. “That’s the overall direction that we’re progressing toward.”

China has been vigilant in denying Taiwan any type of role in any international body. Why relax that practice now?

Call me suspicious, but I have always expected a Chinese charm offensive prior to an actual offensive to conquer Taiwan in order to gain the element of surprise:

Surprise will be important. The Taiwanese military has problems but it is far from toothless. And US and Japanese naval and air power are capable of defeating the Chinese at sea and in the air. With tensions high over the obviously increased Chinese military capabilities and their long history of saying that Taiwan must be absorbed into China, a nice charm offensive will be in order to lull potential enemies. In late 2007, China could initiate or accept more cross-Strait talks on various issues. They might even—in the spirit of the Olympics—suggest talks on how to have the Taiwan athletes march in the opening ceremonies. Perhaps behind a symbolic contingent of all Chinese marching under the PRC flag, the remaining Chinese athletes will march in under flags of their home provinces, so the Taiwanese could march under the Taiwanese flag. Whatever the details, the point will be that the warm fuzzy of the Olympics will be used to create a false thaw after years of tension.

I was wrong on the timing, obviously. But the basic point remains regardless of when the Chinese decide to act. Before attacking, China would likely try to seem far less threatening. That's Sun Tzu 101.

The real problem for Taiwan is that Taiwan's belief that China is all warm and fuzzy now will dull their reaction to early signs of being attacked. Remember, gaining the element of surprise doesn't just mean hiding what you are doing from an enemy. It is in large measure manipulating the information so that your enemy believes they see what you want the enemy to see. The Taiwanese government could easily dismiss early ambiguous signals of a coming Chinese attack because the Taiwanese leaders fervently want to believe that their wise policy has ended the Chinese threat, and so reacting with even prudent defensive measures would jeapordize the thawing relations.

So what are the Chinese up to? Do you really believe they've abandoned their objective of absorbing Taiwan?

The Only Form of Patriotism

The Russian government is determined to demonstrate they are even bigger SOBs than they already appear to be by crushing any dissent with a new proposed law:

The legislation expands the definition of treason to include damaging Russia's "constitutional order," and "sovereignty or territorial integrity."

The activists believe each proposed addition cynically targets potential threats to the Kremlin, shattering what remains of civil society in Russia.

Activists said expanding the term "constitutional order," would effectively outlaw opposition protests. "Territorial integrity" would forbid anyone from calling for independence or perhaps autonomy, an issue of particular concern in the volatile North Caucasus where Chechnya is located.

The bill broadening the definition of state treason is the latest in a series of measures taken since Putin's rise to the presidency in 2000 that have systematically rolled back Russia's post-Soviet political freedoms.

Really, it's OK to hate the Russians again. They had a chance to join the West and they blew it. Let's treat them as the annoyingly hostile but weak nuclear-armed entity that they are.

ASOP's Fables?

We will try to set up local militias in Afghanistan which we have called the Afghanistan Social Outreach Program:

For months, Congress has been asking how soon the military could roll out "some sort of Awakening movement"—a reference to the Iraq program—in Afghanistan, according to U.S. officials. After initially being rejected by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the plan was developed this fall and approved just over two weeks ago.

But some senior U.S. officials worry privately about launching a program modeled on the U.S.-financed militias of Iraq, given the considerable differences in the wars.

I hope we understand the differences between Iraq and Afghanistan enough to avoid the mistake of trying to make Iraqi solutions fit in the very different Afghanistan.

Victory in Afghanistan won't look like victory in Iraq. I'm just not as ambitious about Afghanistan.

We have different objectives and a different environment. And so simplistically moving the surge strategy of Iraq to Afghanistan as if it is a recipe for success won't work. We need to first figure out our objective and accept that victory will look different than in Iraq.

Strategypage makes me feel better about our efforts:

The "Taliban" (religiously conservative, and violent, factions) are on a mission from God to impose strict lifestyle rules, and turn the country into a religious dictatorship. The Taliban were unable to do that by the end of 2001, and are less likely to do it in the future. But fueled by a share of the drug profits and the proceeds of other criminal enterprises (especially extortion and kidnapping) they can still entice poor, but adventurous, country boys to come along and raise some hell. And usually get killed by smart bombs the star struck kids cannot comprehend. Meanwhile, more and more of the tribes are getting a clue and making peace with the central government. While the national rulers tend to be thieves, they are also willing to share the loot. That's another ancient Afghan custom, and U.S. and NATO commanders are willing to play along in order to prevent the country from slipping back into anarchy (real anarchy, not the Taliban terrorism that passes for it these days) and once more becomes a terrorist haven. The foreign generals believe it will take another year or two of smart bomb magic to kill enough thrill seeking tribesmen, to get all the tribes on board. The math is simple; the foreign troops can kill Afghans much better than the other way around. Even the most pro-Taliban tribes eventually come to realize that, and live with it. The country will not be peaceful at that point. There will still be the drug gangs and bandits (groups of armed tribesmen out of steal or settle some feud). But that's been going on for thousands of years, and won't change until the national police get themselves pulled together. That will take another generation or two. For most Afghans, "police" is an alien concept, and the corruption of most of the cops in service has been really bad public relations.

So our military clearly does understand the differences. We will bolster local defense forces rather than count on trying to make the central government in Kabul an effective force throughout the country. And we will help these militias with a surge of forces while we pound the difficult tribes until they come to terms with the central government. Still, does Congressional leadership understand the differences or will they try to insist on a rigid recipe in Afghanistan?

If true, our surge of forces really will be limited in time (a couple years) and not just an open-ended escalation that puts more of our troops at risk should we lose our Pakistan supply line.

And the end result will be a friendly "mayor" of Kabul, mostly friendly tribes, and an Afghanistan that is not a haven for al Qaeda. That will be good enough for me.

And when the war is over and violence is down to normal levels and restricted to normal non-jihadi reasons, we will need to remain engaged in Afghanistan not just at the nominal national level but down to the tribes and clans out in the hinterland. It will be a good place to start post-Westphalian foreign policy.