Sunday, February 28, 2010

Defender of the Faith

Al Gore issues a Letter to the Warminians in the Book of Nyt, to bolster faith in these trying days of Climategate and skepticism gone wild. Saeth Al the Captist:

From the standpoint of governance, what is at stake is our ability to use the rule of law as an instrument of human redemption.

"Redemption?" What is this? Religious salvation?

And what is with the idea that what is at stake is our ability to "use rule of law" to enact his formula? Is he really saying that redemption is the goal whether or not rule of law is used to achieve it? Is he really saying what I think he's saying--that rule of law could be thrown aside if it stands in the way of redemption?

The man is a loon. He believes, and he's getting agitated that belief in the religion of global warming is wavering. Why does it seem like this chapter will end with ATF agents surrounding the Gorean compound on some hot summer day?

Now go and emit no more.

UPDATE: I'm not sure how to tie in the religious angle with the Terminator angle, but I'm sure the link exists.

The Coming Earthquake in North Korea

Strategypage lays out the looming disaster in North Korea. The scope of Pyongyang's problems is just staggering.

I don't know when the collapse will come, but it seems hard to argue that it won't happen.

Step One on a Long Journey

The Heritage Foundation argues for selling F-16s to Taiwan:

The sale of 66 advanced F-16s will not exactly address the aerial imbalance across the Taiwan Strait, but it would nonetheless improve the situation slightly, especially given the age of the F-5s that they would replace.

This tracks what I wrote about a week ago:

But more broadly, the issue of air power isn't just the planes. Taiwan needs good pilots. Taiwan needs good maintenance to keep sortie rates up. Taiwan needs hardened aircraft shelters and capabilities to rapidly repair runways. Taiwan needs radars and air defense missiles and command and control capabilities to wage an air campaign. Taiwan needs sufficient ammunition to arm those planes for weeks on end of high intensity combat.

Back to the issue at hand, it is also clear that the sale of even 60 or so newer F-16s won't repair just the narrow issue of Taiwan's aircraft inventory. Nearly 250 of Taiwan's fighter aircraft cannot participate in a sustained manner in an aerial campaign to defend the island.

Taiwan needs a sustained defense build-up to reverse the rate of decline in the years ahead and then start pushing the balance in the air and at sea back towards Taiwan in the decades ahead.

Just getting those F-16s is a start, but much more is needed than even more planes. But a long journey needs that first step, eh?

The Heritage report addresses a number of issues that I've droned on about a lot over the history of this blog. Do read it all, as the saying goes.

UPDATE: Thanks to The View from Taiwan for the link.

Just Currying Favor!

Progress in Iraq comes in funny forms.

I find this report on Iraq's reinstatement of 20,000 former Baathist military personnel pretty amusing:

Iraq on Friday reinstated 20,000 former army officers dismissed after the U.S.-led invasion, a landmark gesture at reconciliation ahead of the March 7 elections.

It's a move designed to allay some of the bitterness that still rankles Iraq — years after the Bush administration first made the controversial decision to dismantle Saddam Hussein's army.

The 20,000 returnees are the largest known group to rejoin the officer corps.

The timing of the announcement also raised suspicions that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies were just currying favor ahead of the election for a new, 325-seat parliament.

News of the reinstatement was followed by a U.N. announcement that Iraq was gaining momentum with its bid to end U.N. sanctions imposed after Saddam's army invaded Kuwait in 1990. The U.N. Security Council pledged "to review, with a view toward lifting" the sanctions once Iraq's safeguards against acquiring weapons of mass destruction are shown to be sufficient.

The 2003 order by Iraq's then-American governor L. Paul Bremer to dissolve Saddam's 400,000-strong army, the largest in the Middle East on the eve of the 2003 invasion, is widely seen as a key factor that fed the alienation many Sunnis felt toward the new Iraq.

The progress is evident in two areas. One, can we admit that it is tremendous progress when the leader of Iraq makes a big decision designed to improve his electoral chances?  My how governing has changed for the better in Iraq since 2003.

Second, there is progress in that Iraq's security situation is strong enough to risk the potential problems of having true-believing Baathists amongst the "former" Baathists. These former military members, with colonel being the highest rank and including non-commissioned officers, should help with the middle ranks of the military. Well, as long as they can get with the program and adjust to a Western-oriented army rather than a Soviet-model army. The NCOs especially will have a big adjustment to make.

I do wish to protest the long-standing idea that we "disbanded" the Iraqi army after the war. The army self-disbanded and we formalized that disappearance by dissolving the legal status of the army.

Further, the idea that Baathists who lorded over and abused the Shia and Kurd majority needed the indignity of dissolving the Iraqi army to join the insurgency is ludicrous. Add in centuries of Sunni Arab rule over the Shias and Kurds, and the idea that the Sunni Arabs were ready to submit to a Shia majority is absurd. Even today many Sunni Arabs dream of somehow returning to power and restoring the old days. So what is possible today with reintegrating the Sunni Arabs into the military was not possible in 2003 or even 2006.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, can you imagine the disaster that would have unfolded in spring 2004 during the twin Sadrists and al Qaeda offensives when half of the new Iraqi army units dissolved when faced with attacks? If "former" Baathist officers had been in place, I have no doubt that significant numbers of units (and government offices if Baathists were in the government, too) would have defected and not dissolved. We would have had a Sepoy Revolt of our own and possibly a civil war right then and there.

A successful election next month is indeed crucial to establishing habits of rule of law and settling differences through politics and not bullets. I don't hope for election results that lead to Sunni Arabs, Kurds, and Shias learning to love one another. How's that working here with our Red and Blue state divisions? All I hope for is that all sides view elections and legal maneuvering--and yes, even pre-election stunts--as the way to resolve even deep-seated divisions.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Get. A. Grip

China is not about to eclipse us. They've got problems that we ignore in our rush to panic over their growth rates. This was the best part, regarding the purported "engineer gap":

In 2006, the New York Times reported that China graduates 600,000 a year compared with 70,000 in the United States. The Times report was quoted on the House floor. Just one problem: China's statisticians count car mechanics and refrigerator repairmen as "engineers."

Thank goodness they don't count "sanitation engineers" in their stats!

I wouldn't bet the farm on China taking the number one slot this century--if ever.

Not that China won't be a regional power that will challenge our interests in east and southeast Asia. After all, Japan and Germany in 1941 were regional powers. So I don't underestimate the challenge of a rising China that decides to be hostile towards us rather than a friend.

But get a grip, people. I'm amazed that some people think that China has already passed us by.

You Never Know With Crazies, Indeed

You know, when some Moslem leader declares jihad on you, you have to accept that such anger is the price you have to pay for being a unilateralist, arrogant, cowboy power that invades Moslem countries like Iraq and Afghanistan with obvious intent to steal their oil.

So take that, Switzerland:

After two centuries of neutrality, Switzerland found itself in a bizarre and unprecedented situation Friday, facing a would-be "holy war" announced by Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

The Swiss government declined to comment on Gadhafi's latest salvo in a simmering diplomatic saga stemming from the Geneva police's 2008 arrest and brief detainment of his son, Hannibal, and his wife for allegedly beating up their servants.

Although Gadhafi's jihad declaration late Thursday was widely viewed as a stunt by a leader given to outlandish behavior, the danger was difficult to dismiss in an era of Islamic-Western foment over issues ranging from headdress bans in Europe to faraway Middle East disputes, Iran's nuclear program and Nordic newspapers' caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Analysts urged caution and Swiss citizens and politicians expressed alarm that a nation which managed to steer clear of direct involvement in the world wars and other bloody European conflicts was being dragged into an increasingly messy — if still nonviolent — conflict with an unpredictable government.

"You never know with crazies," nationalist lawmaker Oskar Freysinger told The Associated Press. "I can imagine that this won't be taken very seriously. But nevertheless, it's the head of a state making a declaration of war against Switzerland."

Yest, Swtzerland is the target of the anger. Two centuries of staying out of the world's conflicts don't count for a lot, I guess. Not with crazies, anyway.

Sure, Khaddafi is a loon--his frightened abandonment of WMD programs after watching Saddam go down for the count, notwithstanding. But a lot of the people hopped up on jihadi ideology are loons, too. And for such loons stewing in resentment and anger in their parents' home glaring at their jihadi website news, taking on the Swiss might seem like a much safer jihad than heading to Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, what with Americans and our allies killing off the faithful jihadis in such large numbers over the past nine years.

Let the "why do they hate the Swiss" lamentations begin!

Time for 4th Fleet to Move Again

Chile has been hit by a massive earthquake and a tsunami threatens a large area in the Pacific:

A devastating earthquake struck Chile early Saturday, toppling homes, collapsing bridges and plunging trucks into the fractured earth. A tsunami set off by the magnitude-8.8 quake threatened every nation around the Pacific Ocean — roughly a quarter of the globe.

A tsunami could reach as far as Asia in the next 24 hours, and even the west coast of North America up to Alaska, although that is unlikely according to a source in the article.

Chile is at least a more prosperous nation so there are more resources at hand. We shall see how quickly we can ramp up help in a more distant Chile after dealing with the initial response in Haiti. On the bright side, if one can speak of that, knowledge and experience still fresh from working in Haiti will come in handy with this disaster.

Casualty counts--still reported as low--will rise unless Chile is very lucky. A lot will depend on the building codes (and actual practices) and whether they are closer to Western standards than Haitian standards.

I hate the news on days like this.

UPDATE: Hawaii is in the cross hairs, although the strength of the waves is still in doubt. Warnings have blared in Hawaii and we'll know in a matter of hours. Hopefully this will just be an opportunity to have a realistic test of the tsunami warning system rather than a real event that could cause mass casualties.

UPDATE: Why Chile will suffer far, far fewer deaths than Haiti:

The earthquake in Chile was far stronger than the one that struck Haiti last month — yet the death toll in this Caribbean nation is magnitudes higher.

The reasons are simple.

Chile is wealthier and infinitely better prepared, with strict building codes, robust emergency response and a long history of handling seismic catastrophes. No living Haitian had experienced a quake at home when the Jan. 12 disaster crumbled their poorly constructed buildings.

And Chile was relatively lucky this time.

Saturday's quake was centered offshore an estimated 21 miles (34 kilometers) underground in a relatively unpopulated area while Haiti's tectonic mayhem struck closer to the surface — about 8 miles (13 kilometers) — and right on the edge of Port-au-Prince, factors that increased its destructiveness.

Yeah. That sums it up.

Oil War

During the Iran-Iraq War the Saudis began efforts to bypass the Strait of Hormuz by seeking to export oil through Red Sea outlets to avoid Iranian interdiction attempts.

I noted the possibility that Iran's Eritrea links were an effort to extend Iran's reach to this new route for oil exports.

Strategypage notes the Iranian-Eritrean ties and the oil implications:

Several years ago Eritrea began developing a strategic relationship with Iran. As both nations have become more isolated, that relationship has strengthened. Iran can already close the Strait of Hormuz (temporarily, with mines). Eritrea sits on the Bab al Mandab (Gate of Tears), the strait between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. This is a major route for international shipping traffic (to and from the Suez Canal).

And the region is an alternate oil export route for Saudi Arabia, which I consider far more significant than the shipping traffic angle. Oil is what drives Iran to embrace Eritrea.

If Iran can get away with it, they'll put miltiary assets that can target oil tankers into Eritrea.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Hint of Things to Come?

China is still upset about upgrades to Taiwan's defenses:

China's military warned the United States against considering selling fighter jets to Taiwan, telling Washington to "speak and act carefully"[.]

China already got us to delay the sale. The question now is whether Chinese pressure will delay or halt the sale--already inadequate to reverse the decline in Taiwan's capabilities to defend themselves from China in my opinion.

Taiwan seriously needs to consider what they will do when Chinese power enables Peking to pressure America even more successfully than they do now. Who'd have thought China could even delay a sale of F-16s? But Chinese pressure is apparently working more now than it did in the past, and could work more effectively on us in the future (it has already worked on Europe to isolate Taiwan from their weapons).

I hate to say it, but Taiwan should consider buying Russian fighter aircraft (and submarines).

A Piece of the Puzzle

Israel's new UAV has gotten some press attention as a possible weapon for a strike on Iran's nuclear infrastructure:

The Eitan can carry a ton of payload and can reach Iran's nuclear facilities, which the United Nations last week determined is hiding an active weapons program. But that does not mean these will be used as bombers. The IAF has been buying and upgrading airplanes specifically for long-distance strikes such as a potential attack against Iran. At least 50 F-15 Raam and F-16 Soufa aircraft have been converted by installing extra fuel tanks for greater range and countermeasures to defeat radar and missiles. So maybe the warplane/UAV tag team presented at the "operational acceptance ceremony" speaks to how manned and unmanned aircraft will work together on missions: The drone provides information while the manned airplanes drop the guided munitions.

Working from high altitudes, the Eitan will likely be used to provide prestrike information on targets, to eavesdrop on electronic communications and to send battle damage assessments back after an attack. It will also undoubtably be used to monitor any retaliation for the airstrike—seeking rocket launches and eavesdropping on Iran.
Forget about notions that this UAV would function as a strategic bomber. Battle damage assessment would be valuable for determining whether Israel needs to follow up an attack by aircraft with attacks using conventional ballistic missiles or cruise missiles, as I speculated in this WAG about the outlines of an Israeli attack on Iran.

Reauthorizing the Shredding of the Constitution


The House of Representatives reauthorized the Patriot Act for one year Thursday.

The vote was 315-97 .

Many liberals in the House opposed the controversial act, saying it tramps Constitutional protections and civil liberties.

Well, they approved the extension of the expiring provisions of the act--not the whole thing. But still, you'd think the chance to stitch together even a bit of our Constitution would be a great opportunity.

The Senate already passed the bill, and the president will sign it.
So does this mean that pre-hope and change claims of shredding the constitution were just BDS-induced hysteria?

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I guess we really didn't get Russian agreeemnt to sanction Iran in exchange for giving up the Bush administration's plans for missile defense in eastern Europe:

Oleg Rozhkov, the deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s security affairs and disarmament department, said Moscow would only consider sanctions aimed at strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

“Call them what you want – crippling or paralysing – we are not got going to work on sanctions or measures which could lead to the political or economic or financial isolation of this country,” Mr Rozhkov said.

When asked what sanctions Russia might be able to support, he said: “Those that are directed at resolving non-proliferation questions linked to Iran’s nuclear programme.”

“What relation to non-proliferation is there in forbidding banking activities with Iran? This is a financial blockade. And oil and gas. These sanctions are aimed only at paralysing the country and paralysing the regime,” he said.

The Obama administration pretended their abandonment of missile defense was an example of smart, nuanced, foreign policy realism. But it was just a retreat in the face of Russian bluster.

UPDATE: I will give credit to the Obama administration for working to make up for their Bush plan cancellation with more modest air defenses:

"The Defense Ministry expects the first stage of the stationing of a Patriot air-defense battery and a 100-man service team to get under way in the [northern] town of MorÄ…g at the turn of April," stated the agency.

Of course, this is good from an alliance perspective, but still provides no protection to the United States, which the Bush plan would have addressed, as well as defending Europe.

The Russians, it goes without saying, aren't happy with this development either.

There's a Reason Boy Assad is Standing So Straight

When will we realize that our enemies are usually our enemies because they are evil and not because we didn't say the magic word and so alienated them and provoked their hostility?

It is folly for American diplomats to--once again--believe we can flip Syria by making concessions to them. Any flipping should be based on the Libya model--come with us if you want to live. I once thought it was possible to flip Syria this way, and hoped we could. But Syria endured the loss of their buddy Saddam by embracing Iran again (as they had during the Iran-Iraq War).

It is folly because the Syrians have thrown in their lot with the Iranians and Assad has come to enjoy the feeling of Ahmadinejad's arm up his nether region to make Syria Iran's docile little puppet:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, vowed increased cooperation during a meeting in Damascus and canceled visa restrictions between the countries.

"We hope that others don't give us lessons about our region and our history," Assad told reporters when asked about Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's comments this week that the U.S. is troubled by Syria's relationship with Iran. "We are the ones who decide how matters will go and we know our interests. We thank them for their advice."

It is almost funny that some think that if we give Syria's regime enough, they'll become decent people:

Assad could be open to a breakthrough with the Americans. He is hoping for help in boosting a weak economy and for American mediation in direct peace talks with Israel — a recognition that he needs U.S. involvement to achieve his top goal of winning the return of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War.

The president's outreach efforts to our enemies haven't worked out very well so far. I think it is safe to say that Bashar Assad is immune to the soothing balms of hope and change. The idea that we can help Syria's economy and help get Golan back and then get Syria to abandon Iran and stop their support for terrorism is completely backwards. Let Syria flip first, and then we'll discuss appropriate rewards. Anything else is just playing Charlie Brown to Assad's Lucy.

UPDATE: Michael Totten explains the proper order of events for flipping Syria.

A Little Bit of Red

Ukraine's tilt toward Moscow under the new president, Yanukovych, will be most visible in two actions:

Yanukovych, a native Russian-speaker, is expected to bring Ukraine closer to Moscow. He has said he will welcome Russia into a consortium that would jointly operate Ukraine's natural gas pipeline network, restoring influence that the Orange leaders had worked to revoke.

He has also said he would extend Russia's lease on a naval base in the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol that is due to expire in 2017. Russia's Black Sea fleet stirs emotions in Ukraine, and Yushchenko had fought to kick it out, calling the fleet a hostile presence on Ukrainian soil.

While Yanukovych had to win some ethnic Ukrainians--based on his promises to restore the economy--to win the election, if the visible signs of his rule are pro-Moscow and viewed as anti-Ukrainian by these ethnic Ukrainians, his base of support will slide to ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine and Russia itself.

It would not be out of the realm of possibility to see a domestic crisis between the ethnic communities with Russian miltiary intervention that turns the Russian-dominated parts of Russia into bigger versions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Miss Him Yet?

I'm sure the British people, who welcomed the election of President Obama, are scratching their heads trying to figure out if this American policy is the hope part or the change part:

Washington refused to endorse British claims to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands yesterday as the diplomatic row over oil drilling in the South Atlantic intensified in London, Buenos Aires and at the UN.

Despite Britain’s close alliance with the US, the Obama Administration is determined not to be drawn into the issue. It has also declined to back Britain’s claim that oil exploration near the islands is sanctioned by international law, saying that the dispute is strictly a bilateral issue.

Britain has been our best ally, contributing more than anybody else to fight our common enemies. And this is how the Obama administration repays them. I'll count my country lucky if we have any allies left at all in three years.
Still, this is what the British people (and the rest of the Europeans) said they wanted back in 2008. Now they've got it. Shared hatred of George W. Bush counts for a lot now, eh?  Any regrets?
I wonder if Prime Minister Brown will again gaze at our president with that puppy dog look he had at their first meeting in Britain?

UPDATE: Mad Minerva notes this British reaction to our president's Falklands policy:

Over the course of the last year, we’ve seen a staggering array of foreign policy follies by this administration, from the throwing under the bus of the Poles and the Czechs over missile defence to siding with Marxists in Honduras. But this latest pronouncement surely takes the biscuit as the most brazen betrayal so far of a US ally.

The British-American special relationship is strong enough to endure one president's time in office. It is a special relationship between our nations--not a special relationship just between Obama and Brown.

I fully expect our nuanced, smart diplomacy will convince Argentina that we won't help Britain if it comes to war. But if Argentina actually launches a war, we will help the British as we did in 1982--logistics and intelligence. That would be the logical outcome of a policy of appeasing aggressors--you get war and lose your honor.

So to our British friends, stiff upper lip and all that. I've gotten over your calls to Ohio to sway American voters to vote Democratic, after all. If our special relationship endured that, we'll endure nuanced, big-brained, Leftist diplomacy, too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

United in Common Envy and Common Terror?

Greece may be at the front of the pitch fork and torch mob forming in Europe, but they aren't alone:

A wave of industrial and social unrest is building across Europe as workers resist attempts by governments and private companies to impose austerity policies, drive down wages and rescue some nations from near-bankruptcy.

Huge protest rallies took place in cities across Spain last night; today a general strike could paralyse Greece while industrial action at French airports and oil plants as well as the narrowly averted stoppage at Germany's Lufthansa promise to be just the start of the greatest demonstration of public unrest seen on the continent since the revolutionary fervour of 1968. Europe's industrial economy is not clear of recession yet either and with unemployment rising and demands for austerity growing, Europe's workers are becoming increasingly restive.

Is it 1968? Or is it 1848? Could Europeans revolt against the still-forming European Union bureaucratic soft dictatorship out of fear of what the elites want to do to them? Is this the last chance for European states to break out of the regulatory embrace that will stifle freedom if the EU imperial project goes on long enough?

Or will the EU elites attempt to enforce a Brezhnev Doctrine for their members to keep one chink in the armor from bringing down the whole still-fragile institution? Or will the EU attempt to deflect anger at the EU for causing the financial crisis (and it doesn't have to be a true allegation to inspire anger at Brussels) by singling out the Moslem population for blame. Or heck, maybe they'll blame the remnant Jewish population--again.

Or maybe Germany will take this opportunity, despite the cost, to bail out the weaker links and cement its control over central Europe, finally gaining the security that militarism failed to achieve at great cost to Germany, Europe, and the world.

What Tom Knows and Doesn't Know

Thomas Friedman is uncertain about the future of Iraq:

From the very beginning of the U.S. intervention in Iraq and the effort to build some kind of democracy there, a simple but gnawing question has lurked in the background: Was Iraq the way Iraq was (a dictatorship) because Saddam was the way Saddam was, or was Saddam the way Saddam was because Iraq was the way Iraq was — a collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist?

That's fair enough. Banal--but fair. Although for his leftish readership raised on 7 years of prophecy about how we are doomed in Iraq, I suppose even this bit of ordinary analysis is a shocking revelation.

A lot is up to the Iraqis even though we have a role in promoting their better instincts and providing reassurance that some Iraqis won't revert to the bad old days.

But at least Friedman thinks it could go either way for Iraq. Funny enough, with his crush on China's rulers, Freidman thinks America is just a collection of warring sects incapable of self-rule and only governable with an iron fist. For him, that's a known known.

Toadying Up to the next Shah

I believe it was a mistake for the Bush administration, after 2005 when democratic winds seemed to blow in the Middle East (killed by violence in Iraq that surged in 2006), to downplay our concerns for Egyptian human rights and democratic advances.

It is still a mistake for the Obama administration to do so:

The U.S. government has never been shy to criticize Iran over its dismal human-rights record, particularly since Tehran launched a crackdown on opposition voices following last summer's election. But the U.S. stance remains considerably more subdued when Egypt, Washington's biggest Arab ally in the region, exercises similar bad behavior. And the months ahead will test just how subdued it intends to be.

All we do is align ourselves with the despot against the people. Which is fine "foreign policy realism" as long as the despot is winning. But if the people finally rise up, you have a revolutionary Iran type situation at the heart of the Arab world with revolutionaries who have no reason to love America and every reason to hate us.

Long term, we need to push Egypt to reform and show that we are not just supporting a repressive regime.

Oh, They Have a Choice

Secretary of State Clinton has a more elevated view of the "international community" than I do:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that Iran's continuing refusal to come clean on its nuclear program has left the international community "little choice" but to impose new, tough sanctions on Tehran.

In congressional testimony, Clinton said Iran's failure to accept the Obama administration's offers of engagement and prove its nuclear intentions are peaceful had given the U.S. and its partners new resolve in pressuring Tehran to comply with international demands through fresh penalties.

"Litlle choice"? Is she serious? has she not been paying attention? Of course they have a choice. The sainted international community has chosen to ignore Iran's drive for nuclear weapons so far. They can still do so.

Indeed, the thugs and nuanced but cynical thinkers of the international community may think Iran getting nukes is a potential three-fer. Iran may nuke Israel, ridding these community members of those pesky Jews; Israel will respond with nukes, ridding the world of those pesky nuclear-armed mullahs in Tehran; and everyone can condemn America for not stopping the slaughter, taking us down a peg! The Belgian foreign minister might even shed a tiny tear, while signing the criminal complaint against President Obama. And every NATO member will head for the exits in Afghanistan in protest. Win-win-win!

Now that's hope and change the international community can embrace.

Spite, Own Noses, and the Cutting Thereof

Some Iraqi Sunni Arabs are flirting with not participating in the elections next month because some Sunni Arabs have been barred for allegedly being tied to the now-outlawed Baath Party. That would be an act of monumental stupidity, but given their history of stupidity we can't rule out that they'll carry out their threat and sit out the election.

General Odierno thinks it is too soon to see if the threat is real. More importantly, he asks for some perspective when you consider that we're talking about fewer than a couple hundred candidates, of whom only a small fraction have a shot at actually winning a seat:

Obviously we are for all groups participating in the elections. It's important that we have a broad-based group associated with the election.

Now I will tell you today there are 6,242 candidates that are going to run in the elections for 325 seats. And those numbers represent Sunni, Shi'a, Kurds, and so we still have a broad-based group there running for elections inside of Iraq. So we have a small contingent that's talking about potentially not running. We'll see what the impacts of those are. But we still see a broad-based number of candidates running. We have over 1,500 -- I think it's 1,700 female candidates running for election. So there's a broad base of candidates still involved in the elections.
Even if the Iraqi body that banned the candidates is 100% wrong, it would be folly for a minority with blood on its hands that relies for its safety and future on the former victims (85% of the population) not exacting revenge to abandon democracy and rule of law.

Contest the bans, by all means. And pursue legal options even after the elections. But for the Sunni Arabs to boycott the elections would be sheer rock-pounding stupidity.

UPDATE: Withdrawing was apparently a bit of brinksmanship theater. The Sunnis are not boycotting:

Saleh al-Mutlaq during a news conference on Thursday reversed his earlier position and said he would now allow his party to take part in the vote. He called on all Iraqis to go to participate in elections.

Good. There is no way that boycotting the election is good for Iraq's Sunni Arabs. As I've said, they should by all means pursue redress within the system or in the court of public opinion. We'll work hard to make sure that elections continue to be held in Iraq and that rule of law is strengthened, so this avenue will be far more productive for Sunni Arabs than supporting terrorism or just staying home.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's the Regime, Stupid

Admiral Mullen notes that many Persian Gulf Arab states are worried about Iran's nuclear ambitions. But it is broader than that:

The second overarching theme was of course Iran. If there was one great concern shared by all of the nations I visited, it is over the direction they believe Iran is going and what that means for them and for their citizens. I maintain my conviction that Iran remains on a path to achieve nuclear weaponization, and that even this very pursuit further destabilizes the region.

But like us, it isn't just a nuclear-capable Iranian military our friends worry about -- it's an Iran with hegemonic ambitions and a desire to dominate its neighbors. This outcome drives many of the national security decisions our partners there are making, and I believe we must be mindful of that as we look to the future, post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan.

Let me be clear: We owe the secretary and the president a range of options for this threat. We owe the American people our readiness. But as I've said many times, I worry a lot about the unintended consequences of any sort of military action. For now, the diplomatic and the economic levers of international power are and ought to be the levers first pulled. Indeed, I would hope they are always and consistently pulled. No strike, however effective, will be, in and of itself, decisive.

While I'd rather buy time than see Iran go nuclear, Mullen is right that the real problem is Iran. They are a threat to the region and more given their position astride the main oil exporting routes, even without nuclear weapons and even with a military whose equipment should be sitting outside Veterans of the Iran-Iraq War posts throughout Iran.

It remains mind-boggling that our CIA hasn't been able to engineer a revolution against an unpopular regime. Just what do they do with the billions spent on them every year? Label Google Earth photos, or something?

Collateral Damage

I guess we know why Afghan president Karzai has been so vocal in condemning our rare killings of innocents as we fight to safeguard Afghanistan's new and fledgling democracy. He wanted to use our resulting defensiveness as an opportunity to send a figurative missile into the hovel of rule of law that is Afghanistan these days:

Afghanistan's president has raised concern he's reneging on promises to clean up corruption by taking control of a formerly independent body that monitors election fraud, complicating Obama administration efforts to erode support for the Taliban.

It was nicely timed with McChrystal's televised apology for inflicting civilian casualties during our recent operations centered on Marjah.

To be fair, we are fighting to keep Afghanistan from being a threat to us and not to personally preserve Karzai's rule. So Karzai's action does not erase our reasons for fighting.

But his action does make it just a little more difficult to justify our continued sacrifices there.

Come on, is it really a good idea to try to build a centralized government when Karzai is at the center? Decentralize our efforts to minimize the mischief the center can make for the provinces.

Hell No, They Won't Go--For Us

You know, in one sense it is unfair to portray the Taliban strategy for fighting in Afghan as "scaring" the Europeans into leaving by killing their soldiers. This under-estimates the Europeans and their ability to endure casualties in a tough fight. Really, the casualty rate the Taliban have inflicted on foreign troops in Afghanistan is low even by Iraq standards. And the latter is low by historical standards as Strategypage often reminds readers.

The real problem with keeping Europeans on the line in Afghanistan (and earlier in Iraq where they largely did not fight even when they deployed--except for the British) stems from lack of capability and the fact that Europeans to a large extent side with our enemies.

On capabilities, Gates slams the Europeans for failing to maintain armed forces capable of contributing to collective defense.

And on the sympathies angle, Strategypage notes:

The enemy is encouraged by the recent Dutch decision to withdraw its 2,000 troops from Afghanistan. The Taliban deliberately targeted the Dutch because they knew that the leftist parties in Holland were eager to get out of Afghanistan. The leftist parties in the West are more likely to be sympathetic with Islamic radicals and prefer a policy of no military intervention. The Islamic radicals play on this, with some success, at every opportunity. Australian, Canadian, German and British leftists are now pressuring their governments to withdraw, the implication being that the Americans will take care of it or, if the Americans pull out, it won't really be a problem that military forces can do anything for.

Given the general sympathies of so many European leftists, maybe it is a blessing in disguise that the Europeans lack the capabilities to fight for what they believe in.

UPDATE: Strategypage covers the casualty-rate issue in Afghanistan.


Yesterday morning in our local snow storm, when I went out early to brave the roads to pick up Mister and Lamb, I discovered a driver with a limo company stranded in my parking lot. He missed the right driveway and was trying to turn around to pick up a customer for an airport run. Efforts to push him into motion were rewarded with much sideways movement but no progress. That's what rear wheel drive and near-treadless tires will get you, I guess. I retreated to my home to grab my shovel to try and dig to dry pavement, but when I returned, the driver's day had gotten worse--he locked himself out of his running car with his phone inside the car.

So I let him use my phone to call his company for help and they said a tow truck was on the way. Luckily, it wasn't blistering cold and he had winter gear on, so I told him I'd be back soon. I honestly didn't think a tow truck would arrive that morning for quite some time.

When I got back 45 minutes later he was still under the parking structure, starting to feel the cold. So I told him to come on in where he could use my phone and warm up. I made coffee, too. he was very thankful and shocked that the plowing company that came to my complex had a guy who just let him use his phone to double check about help while the guy continued plowing.

We ended up spending a good hour and a half in my kitchen drinking coffee and talking about his work and the economy and the weather and whatnot. He was having a bad day, no doubt. Even after the tow truck finally arrived to open his car up and make sure he could drive out under his own power.

So the man was very touched when Lamb came in to the kitchen and gave him a small bracelet she'd just made for him with a crafts kit she has to cheer him up.

That was so sweet. My little girl is an award-winning budding scientist, artist, and baker--plus she has a good heart. So notice to any young man who, sometime after a decade or so from now, comes a calling on that older version of Lamb: you are not worthy of her and you'd best prove to me that you can even hope to deserve such a wonderful lass. You'll recognize me. I'll be the one cleaning and maintaining my carbine while whistling the Psycho Dad theme from Married With Children.

Getting What We Wished For

After the first half of the last century when Europeans plunged into bloodletting that exceeded even their earlier centuries of warring with each other, it seemed like a blessing that the Europeans turned to pacifism. The Germans, especially, turned their backs on militarism. Peace within Europe (mostly) was the result.

But Secretary Gates says enough is enough:

"The demilitarization of Europe — where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it — has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st," he told an audience filled with uniformed military officers from many of NATO's 28 member countries.

The danger, he added, is that potential future adversaries may view NATO as a paper tiger.

"Not only can real or perceived weakness be a temptation to miscalculation and aggression, but, on a more basic level, the resulting funding and capability shortfalls make it difficult to operate and fight together to confront shared threats," Gates said.

The problem is that the threats to peace no longer originate within Europe. So a Europe unwilling and unable to defend itself is a problem rather than a blessing.

And let's cease that silly talk about how Euroepans really do pull their weight in defense matters.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Airing Taiwan's Deficiencies

The Defense Department has concluded that Taiwan's air defenses are in dire need of modernization:

The DIA report, dated Jan. 21, says Taiwan's 60 U.S.-made F-5 fighters have reached the end of their operational service, and its 126 locally produced Indigenous Defense Fighter aircraft lack "the capability for sustained sorties."

Taiwan's 56 French-made Mirage 2000-5 fighter jets, the report says, "are technologically advanced, but they require frequent, expensive maintenance that adversely affects their operational readiness rate."

The report notes some of Taiwan's 146 F-16 A/Bs may receive improvements focusing on avionics and combat effectiveness, but says "the extent of the upgrades, and timing and quantity of affected aircraft is currently unknown."

Taiwan's new F-16 request is for the C/D model of the plane, which is considered a substantial improvement on the A/Bs.
Hopefully, this pushes an agreement for the sale of later model F-16s.

But more broadly, the issue of air power isn't just the planes. Taiwan needs good pilots. Taiwan needs good maintenance to keep sortie rates up. Taiwan needs hardened aircraft shelters and capabilities to rapidly repair runways. Taiwan needs radars and air defense missiles and command and control capabilities to wage an air campaign. Taiwan needs sufficient ammunition to arm those planes for weeks on end of high intensity combat.

Back to the issue at hand, it is also clear that the sale of even 60 or so newer F-16s won't repair just the narrow issue of Taiwan's aircraft inventory. Nearly 250 of Taiwan's fighter aircraft cannot participate in a sustained manner in an aerial campaign to defend the island.

Taiwan needs a sustained defense build-up to reverse the rate of decline in the years ahead and then start pushing the balance in the air and at sea back towards Taiwan in the decades ahead.

So even if we sell Taiwan the requested F-16s, Taiwan needs to buy many more modern fighter aircraft. I still think the Taiwanese should explore Russian sales of modern fighters to supplement their American-made planes.

The Middle--Not Top--Kingdom

I have consistently written about the China threat while tempering worries about what China can do in their own region to harm our allies and interests with reassurance that we are far stronger than China and are likely to remain far stronger for a long time:

The fundamentals of China’s economy are stronger than those of the old Soviet Union. It has the world’s largest population, a rapidly expanding middle class and a frightening amount of US bonds — but again, in comparison with America, its weaknesses are legion. The one-child policy has created a rapidly ageing population and, in common with the old Soviet leaders, the Beijing elite is painfully aware of simmering ethnic tensions on its own border regions.

Beijing faces periodic riots in Xinjiang and Tibet, daily worker unrest, unruly provincial leaders, and mounting ecological catastrophes. It has three enduring rivals (Japan, India and Vietnam) as neighbours. Its allies — North Korea and Myanmar — are sources of international embarrassment. And for all the fuss about Chinese cyber-attacks, internet experts agree that the United States possesses more ‘online offensive capabilities’ than any other country in the world. Even more than the old Soviet Union, China is both a great power and an extremely poor country.

The positive assessment of our cyber-war capabilities is heartening. But more broadly, recall all these problems that could hobble China, and hold off on handing off the leadership of the world to China until they actually take it from us.

Indeed, I don't assume we will ever relinquish our lead to China. At worst, we will be the leading power simply because we will always retain the most uncommitted miltiary power on the planet:

I don't lose sleep at night over China's rise in power and wouldn't change places with them. Oh, if China is able to focus their power on a localized area, like Taiwan, they can generate local superiority for a short time--perhaps long enough to win that battle--but if we are able to mobilize and deploy our power, we can beat China on any battlefield. And we'd likely have powerful local allies to help us. China is a threat to our interests even now, but only if they catch us off guard.

Remember that geography (and our completely dominant Navy) means our power is free to deploy worldwide while China is hemmed in by hostile or potentially hostile neighbors. It's the Expeditionary Kingdom versus the Trapped in the Middle Kingdom.

Why some analysts have man-crushes on the Chinese government is beyond me.

The Last Jihad

I have no doubt that we can defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. I think we could have done it without the surge, honestly. The surge speeds up the pace we can win, in my judgment. The surge is not reversing a looming defeat of our forces.

The key, since 2006 or so if memory serves me well, has been the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan which has seemed like more fertile ground for the jihadis rather than trying to reverse looming defeat in Iraq and gain traction in Afghanistan where the locals learned to hate the Taliban and their al Qaeda hired guns. It is in Pakistan, then, that we (relying on the Pakistanis, but helping them with intelligence, financial aid, training, and Predator strikes) will win or lose the war against the latest jihad against us:

Al Qaeda has, as in Iraq, made itself very unpopular in Pakistan. That is increasing their casualties, and causing more security conscious al Qaeda to seek another sanctuary. But there are few left. Somalia and Yemen are more dangerous than Pakistan, and offer fewer amenities, or good targets. Thus Pakistan may prove to be the end of the road for al Qaeda. Ironically, it was in the tribal territories of Pakistan that al Qaeda was founded in the 1980s. In some cases, you can go home again, if only to die.
I speculated about this outcome nearly 2-1/2 years ago:

If Pakistan may finally realize that they cannot make deals with jihadis, al Qaeda and their jihadi Taliban allies may be waging war on Pakistan because they have no choice.

If Pakistan will fight this war with no quarter, this could be the final jihad.
I do give credit to the Obama administration for keeping Pakistan on the line and in the fight--and for intensifying our efforts on the AFghan side of the border. But there is no partial credit in war should our progress be reversed. We need to see this through to victory.

Don't Let Up

We ovethrew the Saddam regime and created a pro-Western government that won't be seeking nuclear weapons.

We've won on the battlefield in Iraq against Baathists, al Qaeda invaders, Sunni nationalists, and Iranian sponsored Sadrists.

And we've won the debate on how to set up a democratic Iraq.

So we've achieved a lot already. Which explains why the country and the war have dropped off the radar screens of our press and domestic politics. In many ways, that's a good thing, given how badly our press covered the war.

But we have to keep paying attention to Iraq and working to entrench democracy and rule of law; and to defeat neighbors like Syria and Iran that wish to undermine democracy and exert influence over Iraq.

General Odierno is generally optimistic about the future of Iraq, while recognizing that we have to work the problems to achieve that.

He also mentions the de-Baathification issue that has raised worries recently over candidates being banned by a body suspected of too-close ties to Iran:

One of the things that's concerning to me now is in the early stages of this process, I think the story's been diverted a bit and I think it's been diverted trying to drive it more down the sectarian line which I think is unfortunate today, based on the de-Ba'athification, disqualification of some candidates.

It's not the fact that we believe there shouldn't be de-Ba'athification because we all agree there should be de-Ba'athification, but it's about is it transparent, is it going by the Rule of Law, and so what's happened is the early part of the campaign process has turned in -- has turned into mainly about de-Ba'athification and trying -- in fact, in some cases driven some people towards back to sectarian issues.

What I think we'll see, though, as we get closer to the elections, I think we'll see a drive away from that and I think we'll see it return to what are the issues of the people which goes back to do I feel secure, am I getting the services I want, do I have the job I want, how is the economic development going, and how are these political leaders representing me regionally, and I think it will go back to those issues over time.
That seems about right. De-Baathification is a legitimate goal. But there needs to be rule of law in carrying it out. Iraq will stumble as they seek a path forward. We have a role in helping them find the right path. But don't forget that we stumbled too in defining how potential enemies could participate in our government.

Warmists Still See the Heat at the End of the Tunnel

The "settled" science of global warming keeps taking more hits:

The climate-change campaign is in catastrophic free fall.

Nearly every day brings a new embarrassment or retraction for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the supposed gold standard for "consensus" science. The withdrawal this week of BP, ConocoPhillips and Caterpillar from the main US business lobby for greenhouse-gas controls is the latest political blow to the campaign.

The anti-warming lobby long demonized skeptics as the moral equivalent of Holocaust deniers while warning of climate "tipping points." Now, the "Climategate" scandal that broke in November is looking like a true tipping point: The leaked e-mails have done to the climate-change debate what the Pentagon Papers did for the Vietnam War debate 40 years ago -- changed the narrative decisively.

And I proudly wrote early on that Watergate comparisons were not appropriate, and that the Pentagon Papers was the proper way to look at the potential for the revelations.

The climate science may not be settled, but the panic sure is settling in.

Getting Out of the Good War

The Dutch coalition government has fallen over its plans to continue to deploy troops in Afghanistan. Their departure could set off a chain reaction of retreat:

Some 2,000 Dutch soldiers have been stationed in Afghanistan's southern Oruzgan Province since 2006.

Twenty-one Dutch soldiers have been killed in the restive province and the Afghan mission is hugely unpopular among the Dutch.

According to initial plans, the troops were to have returned home in 2008, but the Dutch government extended their deployment after no other NATO country offered replacements.

Earlier this month, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen asked the Netherlands to take on a new training role and remain in Oruzgan until August 2011. The Christian Democrats said today the future of the Afghan mission now depends on forming a new government. An early election is expected to take place later this year.

Experts warn the Netherlands' potential decision not to extend its Afghan mission could have a domino effect among other NATO nations with troops with Afghanistan.

I thought that NATO was supposed to be a collective defense organization--not a collective retreat organization. It is pretty sad that the departure of one small--but valuable--ally could cause a stampede for the exits by our NATO allies.
I guess we can finally lay to rest the idea that it was Bush's fault that the mission in Afghanistan is so unpopular in Europe.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Limits of Compassion

Operations continue in Marjah and the surrounding region. We move slowly to avoid killing civilians, and decline to use firepower when we could to save our own lives in order to avoid killing civilians. So far, 12 NATO troops and one Afghan soldier have died. We estimate 120 enemy have been killed.

President Karzai really annoys me by his enthusiastic embrace of his role as "good cop" by placing America and NATO in the "bad cop" role over civilian casualties:

On Saturday, President Hamid Karzai had urged NATO to do more to protect civilians during combat operations to secure Marjah.

NATO forces have repeatedly said they want to prevent civilian casualties but acknowledged that it is not always possible. On Saturday, the alliance said its troops killed another civilian in the Marjah area, bringing the civilian death toll from the operation to at least 16.

Though NATO had made progress in reducing civilian casualties — mainly by reducing airstrikes and restricting combat rules — more needed to be done, Karzai said.

"We need to reach the point where there are no civilian casualties," he said. "Our effort and our criticism will continue until we reach that goal."

I understand that he is reacting to the incredible ability of the Taliban to buy and threaten local journalists into writing about the non-existent carnage from our air strikes (and counting on our idiot Western press to parrot that line). The fact is, our efforts are very careful and historically speaking very few Afghans die because of us. Far more die from Taliban violence directed at civilians and more die from Taliban use of civilians as human shields. Both of those tactics place the responsibility on the Taliban. Very few civilians die from accidental US/NATO weapons--which are our fault, if not crimes--let alone deliberate murders.

Yet Karzai acts as if he is the defender of his people against sloppy (at best) Western firepower.

Let me just say that his criticism will continue until the point that his own soldiers are routinely on point against the Taliban. When it is an Afghan unit out there with their lives on the line, with American advisors holding a radio able to call in firepower, my bet is that Karzai won't be nearly so worried about civilian casualties and will instruct his guys to call in the orbitting planes with their JDAMs.

This is the hand we've been dealt. We have to play this hand until we can counter with our own information operations the Afghan belief that our firepower kills too many civilians --if we can do that, of course. Until then, we have to fight the war we're in and not the war we'd like to be in.

Shy Town?

Let me just say that I understand that wonderful thing called the InterTubes can carry email from Chicago to Ann Arbor with reasonable reliability.

Just sayin'.

Party Time!

I took Lamb to a classmate's birthday party yesterday. She had a grand time (she's quite the social butterfly).

Luckily, amidst the massive number of boy classmates and cousins present, Lamb had three of her classmates to form a girl's table. I jokingly told them that they should go rescue one of the other rare girls (one of the cousins) from a table filled with boys.

Oh, and last week Mister participated in Orchestra Night at Hill Auditorium. They all sounded good--especially the two established high schools. I was very impressed. Although since I'd gone straight from work to the science fair (And let me add that I saw Lamb warmly congratulate her classmate for winning the science fair trophy that she really wanted to win, when I picked her up from school on Friday)  and then off to orchestra, by the the high schools played I was just ready to drive Mister back to his mom's (after dropping off the cello at the school), get home, and peel off suit and contact lenses.

One aspect that was kind of funny was that all the schools pretty much played classical music (or close enough with the Pink Panther theme and 2001: A Space Odyssey), my son's school played one classical piece and then a medley of Queen songs. The audience reacted well to it, but it just smacked of a bad movie where the plucky urban school goes into the alien world of the established suburban schools and wins snooty hearts with their authenticity and unexpected skills.

Ah, I'm a lucky dad.

You'll Put Your Eye Out, Kid

Iran will likely get nuclear weapons. President Bush failed to attack, but the state of Congress and the loyal opposition was such that he would have been impeached for that good deed and our country would have been splintered very badly. President Obama could get a second Nobel Peace Prize for doing the deed, but he won't. And the pressure he'll put on Israel to refrain from striking may well be strong enough to stop that hope for stopping Iran. We won't even try to overthrow the mullahs. Our only salvation is luck, counting on the still-narrow opposition to topple the Iranian mullah regime.

It astounded me that our intelligence agencies could conclude a couple years ago, in that infamous National Intelligence Estimate summary made public, that Iran had halted nuclear weapons work and that there was no evidence they'd restarted it. Even if they were right about just the warhead issue, disregarding the weapons implications of enrichment and missile work just astounded me.

But guess what, Iran didn't stop warhead work:

The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency now not only admits that Iran's at work on nuclear warheads, but acknowledges that Tehran never stopped working on them -- despite no end of pleas, pledges and promises.

Burned by its miscall on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, the US intelligence community has played it too safe on this one, long insisting that Iran halted warhead research in 2003.

There were plenty of dissenting voices. But President George Bush didn't want another fight, and President Obama's already punch drunk.

Now the genie's out of the bottle of isotopes. With the departure of anti-Israel IAEA chief Mohammed el Baradei, the UN's nuke monitors can finally tell the truth.

And the truth is that Iran wants nuclear warheads badly.

President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and the Tehran regime never stopped declaring their intention to destroy Israel. Inconvenienced, our diplomats and the White House insisted those funny-ha-ha Iranians were just kidding. Now even the UN's taking them seriously.

Will we?
We debate endlessly the precise place Iran is on in the path to nuclear weapons, pretending that knowing where Iran is now is right now the key question rather than understanding the ultimate objective--possession of nuclear weapons--is the key piece of knowledge.

Mark Steyn has the answer for whether we will take the Iranian problem seriously, sadly noting that our governments will "protect" us from the sharp corners of everyday life, but won't address Iran:

This is a perfect snapshot of the West at twilight. On the one hand, governments of developed nations micro-regulate every aspect of your life in the interests of “keeping you safe.” If you’re minded to flip a pancake at speeds of more than four miles per hour, the state will step in and act decisively: It’s for your own good. If you’re a tourist from Moose Jaw, Washington will take preemptive action to shield you from the potential dangers of your patio in Arizona.

On the other hand, when it comes to “keeping you safe” from real threats, such as a millenarian theocracy that claims universal jurisdiction, America and its allies do nothing. There aren’t going to be any sanctions, because China and Russia don’t want them. That means military action, which would have to be done without U.N. backing — which, as Greg Sheridan of the Australian puts it, “would be foreign to every instinct of the Obama administration.” Indeed.

The problem isn't that our governments think that saving you from an improperly drained hot tub is a higher priority, but that ordinary Westerners agree. I swear that it drives me nuts when I read Lefties arguing that more Americans die in auto accidents than in terrorism incidents. Other than the retort of, well yeah, now that's the case--what would the friendly body count be if we didn't fight them, strict body counts isn't the real issue. Auto accidents, tripping while running with pancakes, and even horrible hot tub accidents are part of the sharp corners of life that we live with. Being gunned down in a mall shouldn't be one of those ordinary sharp corners of life. And it isn't progress to learn to live with terrorism as a normal thing to endure along with food borne ilness at the salad bar from bad bean sprouts.
Sure, we calculate the balance between freedom to risk life and limb driving and safety regulations that constrict freedom or raise costs, but we accept the risks of living and having fun, rather than strapping ourselves into pillowed suits and staying at home. There are some Westerners who really think that the risk of dying in a car bombing of a mall is no different than the risk of slipping in a bath tub, and so if the government reduces the risk of bath tub slipping, that will reduce the body count more than killing jihadis. So it would be best to focus our resources on padding those sharp edges of life. Halting a highly speculative Iranian nuclear threat pales in comparison to reducing the dreaded pancake flipping fall.
So we'll let Iran go nuclear. It's logical. It avoids giving in to unreasonable fear, they say. And when Iran goes nuclear, we'll finally put in some toothless sanctions. But the new power that nukes give Iran will mean that sanctions will erode quickly (remember how even Saddam eroded sanctions by the beginning of the Bush administration?). And who will dare retaliate against even common explosives-based Iranian terrorism?
But we'll comfort ourselves that we can deter Iran from using nukes. We'll have a nice intelligence estimate that tells the president that the nuts don't actually control the nukes, so Iran will behave rationally--as we define rational.
Eventually, I'm sure that the Congressional inquiry into the slagging of Charleson or Tel Aviv will do a wonderful job of explaining where we went wrong. 20:20 hindsight is like that.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Rhythms May Change But the Trees Will Survive

Does anybody but me find this article funny?

Parker's data, which showed the trunks gradually fattening over time, indicated that many of the trees were growing two to four times faster than expected. That raised questions about climate change's impact on the age-old rhythms of U.S. forests.

Got that? Global warming (notwithstanding that even Phil Jones admits there has been no statistically significant global warming for the past 15 years) may be causing these trees in the eastern United States (Group A, let's say) to grow faster.

But wait!

In the tropics, however, some studies have seemed to show trees growing more slowly: It might now be too hot for some trees there.

Got that? Global warming may be causing other trees (call them Group B) to grow more slowly.

Which means, of course, that prior to global warming, Group A trees were growing more slowly; and Group B trees were growing faster. But we pine for the days before so-called global warming kicked in?

So why are we so anti-Group A? Was it really a better climate when Group B trees grew faster but Group A tress grew more slowly?

This is just one of my problems with the global warmers. We have to cripple our economy if  necessary to maintain the current temperature, at worst allowing no more than a degree or two of more warming. By chance, the Golden Age of Temperatures was apparently in the late 1970s or so.

Yes, yes, I know that the warmers say that it isn't that we had ideal temperatures then, but that we adapted to that particular temperature and so it would be too disruptive to adapt to further climate changes. But how disruptive would wrecking our economy be to avoid the purported disruption of a couple degrees warming?

Perhaps I'm just lucky, but my home manages to keep me comfy through a range of temperatures throughout the year, from sub-zero winter nights to 100+ August afternoons. Indeed, sometims over the course of a day the temperatures outside can swing wildly from 4:00 PM to 4:00 AM. Yet I do not suffer.

So yeah, in some places plants may suffer if global warming is taking place (which is a completely different question than wondering if we are the cause of it), but in other places plants will do better.

Is it really being a denialist to think we can probably adapt if the planet is warming? Or cooling? Or weirding? Or whatever term you want to invent to scare me into letting the global warmers run the economy and my very life?

Democracy Upbraided

Ukraine will get their pro-Russian satrapy:

Ukraine's embattled premier Yulia Tymoshenko said Saturday she has withdrawn her legal challenge to the results of the presidential runoff election that she lost by a narrow margin earlier this month.

So Viktor Yanukovych will take office in 5 days.

But hey, that's what the Ukrainian people want. They're free to be stupid and self destructive as much as any people on this planet. Though you have to put a good deal of blame on the Ukrainian Orange Revolution leaders to govern well and deprive voters of the hope that a man who can suck up enough to Moscow will solve their problems.

Perhaps I'm being overly pessimistic. Perhaps democracy in Ukraine will survive this one vote and not deterioriate into the mockery of elections that Russia now has. Perhaps Ukraine won't fall into Russia's orbit and become just a bigger version of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Perhaps. But if I was a betting man, that's not how I'd bet.

Going for the Gold!

Foolish me. I thought that Iraq's Sunni Arabs couldn't possibly be so stupid as to boycott next month's national elections despite some controversy over the banning of alleged Baathists from participating in the election. As I wrote only yesterday:

Having ended their war because they were losing and losing badly, the Sunni Arabs are in no position to re-start the war. They'd face complete expulsion from Iraq. They'd be fools to boycott another election. And they don't appear to be leaning toward that level of self-destructive behavior.

Another day, another stupid decision:
Iraq's main Sunni party said Saturday it is dropping out of next month's national elections, seizing on U.S. concerns about Iran's influence in the political process as proof that the vote will not be legitimate.

A statement from the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue stopped short of urging Sunni voters to boycott the March 7 parliamentary election. But the party called on other political groups to join it in withdrawing from the ballot.

Saturday's announcement raises the likelihood that the results of the vote will be called into question. U.S. and United Nations diplomats have expressed fears that a Sunni boycott that hands victory to Shiites would throw the results of the election into doubt. In turn, that could open the door to a new round of violence and delay plans for American troops to leave Iraq.
Note that the Sunni Arabs seem to have been decisively influenced by our statements (including General Oderno's warning), saying the vote might not be legitimate without Sunni Arab participation. That is false, but if the Sunni Arabs believe it, they won't vote thinking they'll get a better deal outside of democracy. Now that's smart American foreign policy!

If the Sunni Arabs were smart, they'd understand that their only option is to participate in elections to the fullest extent possible. If road blocks are in their path--even grossly unfair ones--they still need to participate and work to earn the trust of Shias and Kurds to remove those blocks within the system. Resorting to war with the Iraqi government will just result in the rest of the Sunni Arabs being killed or expelled from Iraq. Terrorism and violence didn't work in 2005 and 2006 when the Sunni Arabs were much stronger and the Iraqi government much weaker. It won't work now.

But I guess I can't assume the Sunni Arabs won't act stupid and make decisions so self-destructive that you'd have to assume it is all a Zionist plot. How else could they commit community suicide when they have options that make sense?

I was stunned and amazed pre-Awakening at their persistent stupidity in allying with the jihadis and angering the Shias and Kurds. Truly, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq are trying to become the new Palestinians.

We're even encouraging the Sunni Arabs of Iraq to wallow in their purported victim status! And the press is going along with this fiction, ignoring the years of Baathist-funded al Qaeda bombings against Shias, the decades of Baathist repression and mass murder of Shias and Kurds, and the centuries of dominance by the Sunni Arab minority. The Sunni Arabs have the burden of proof to show they are worthy of participating in free elections and a democratic Iraq rather than suffering the traditional Middle Eastern consequences of losing a war (repression or destruction).

While I may have been very wrong about whether the Sunni Arabs are capable of mass suicide, I at least did get it exactly right on the press attitude in that three year old post above:

Iraq's Sunni Arabs may be stupid in their choices, but they will continue to get a sympathetic Western press eager to portray them as victims.

This could all be a negotiating ploy by the Sunni Arabs to get a better deal from the government, under pressure from us. But if the Sunni Arabs really do boycott the Iraqi election, they will once again--as they did after the 2005 boycott--regret their decision and vow to participate the next time. And when next time rolls around, the itch to be really stupid will demand to be scratched, and the Sunni Arabs will truly prove that the Palestinians are not the most stupid, self-destructive people in the world.

But hey, if they follow that course, they'll always have that victim status to cling to. They'll always have the comfort of that to explain away their sorry state of affairs.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Challenges--Not Doom

As we face the problem of helping the Iraqis carry out a new national election next month while coping with the problems of Sunni Arab resentment and possible over-exclusion from political life, Shia anger at past Sunni Arab atrocities and worry that the Sunni Arabs would love to run the show again, and Kurdish worry that any Arab regime--whether Sunni or Shia--might abuse them, let's not forget that we are a long way from fall 2006 when Iranian- and Syrian-instigated sectarian violence threatened to plunge Iraq into the chaos of a civil war:

[General Odierno] met with the secretary shortly after the publication of that front-page Washington Post story -- you know, the sky is falling; sectarian violence is about to break out again; we're going to have a repeat of 2005, 2006 in Baghdad -- and he just couldn't disagree any more strongly with the story and can point to any number of examples of why it is not akin in any way to the horrors that we saw in 2005, 2006.

I mean, fundamentally, let's remember the context. We are now a few weeks away from a major election in Baghdad -- in Iraq. This is -- as horrific as some of these attacks have been, it is -- it is not unexpected. This is the kind of pre-election tension and violence that had been anticipated. Frankly, it has not been to the levels that some might expected.

We are clearly heartened by the fact that unlike 2005, there is no credible call for boycotting these elections by any noteworthy politician. In fact, the leading Sunni politician, al-Mutlaq, is actually encouraging widespread Sunni participation in the election as a means to redress some of their concerns. I think all the major coalitions involved in the election understand the importance of trying to form a government as quickly as possible after the election, so that there is not this period of uncertainty and potential turmoil in the wake of it, and that they all recognize that it's going to have to be some sort of coalition that's built among competing parties.

I think -- and by any objective measure, the number of security incidents is down dramatically and that even ethno-sectarian violence remains extraordinarily low.

And we're always heartened by the fact that the -- that there is no evidence thus far that the Iraqi people are in any way losing confidence in their security forces or that Shi'a militias are starting up or that the Sunnis are turning to al Qaeda. And even if they were to, al Qaeda has been so decimated, they aren't in a position to undermine things to the extent that they -- that they did back in 2005, 2006.

So I -- yes, I come back to the same point we've made time and time again: that al Qaeda has been diminished to the point that they have to husband resources, ammunition, personnel and launch high-profile attacks with less and less frequency and attempt to reignite sectarian violence. And time and time again they have done it, and time and time again it has not resulted in the outcome that they had wished.

Having ended their war because they were losing and losing badly, the Sunni Arabs are in no position to re-start the war. They'd face complete expulsion from Iraq. They'd be fools to boycott another election. And they don't appear to be leaning toward that level of self-destructive behavior.

So worry about the challenges we face and continue to work the problems. But don't worry that it could completely undo our success so far.

Make the PLA Fight For Every Inch of Ground

In the debate over how Taiwan can prevent China from conquering it, I find this advice to be ridiculous:

Tamkang University's Lin argues that Taiwan needs F-16s and submarines. But as a last resort, it should also develop a lower-tech deterrent to dissuade China from attempting an occupation of the island.

"Taiwan needs to develop its asymmetrical capabilities, because we cannot confront the PLA head-on," he says. He envisions home-grown, perhaps US-trained "cement jungle guerrilla warfare" units, consisting of trained reserves and snipers who can operate independently and harass PLA occupiers.

"When the PLA comes, let them in – don't engage in bloody, Stalingrad-type warfare," he says. "Give them one shot today, two tomorrow, and three afterward, so they cannot conclude a war." [emphasis added]

Excuse me? I think it is fine to prepare for guerrilla war as a last resort. But the idea that the Taiwanese should fight in the strait but basically fold their hand if the Chinese make it ashore in force is folly. The Taiwanese darned well better engage in bloody urban warfare. Even if the Chinese get ashore they have the task of holding against counter-attack and bulding up their forces faster than the Taiwanese can knock them out.
If the Taiwanese surrender their cities and people, China will win. Do you seriously believe China is unwilling to be as brutal as possible to suppress Taiwanese resistance? Do you really believe the Chinese could find no collaborators to form a "Taiwanese" puppet government? Shoot, if I was in charge in Peking, I'd ship out native Taiwanese by the millions to become involuntary colonists in Tibet and the Moslem west where the disloyal Taiwanese will find themselves viewed as "Chinese" with the choice of becoming the de facto instrument of Chinese ethnic cleansing of those ethnic minorities or suffering at the hands of the angry locals. I'd ship in ethnic Chinese to replace those Taiwanese expelled.
It is folly for the Taiwanese to think in any terms other than fighting as hard as possible, from the Chinese ports and airfields from where the invasion force will come, to the strait, to the air, to the airfields, beaches and ports in Taiwan where the Chinese will land, in the cities, and--yes, just in case--behind enemy lines as irregulars. Do all that and the Chinese will think twice about even starting an invasion.

Dilberthu Akbar

Thank you to the dipwad who slammed his plane into a government building yesterday:

A software engineer furious with the Internal Revenue Service launched a suicide attack on the agency Thursday by crashing his small plane into an office building containing nearly 200 IRS employees, setting off a raging fire that sent workers running for their lives.

We may "only" be looking at one dead victim. But it could have been worse if the plane had been packed with explosives.

We don't have enough trouble with jihadis, eh? Thanks for showing those nutballs how to go about exploiting our freedoms to strike a blow for the caliphate.

UPDATE: This article explains how small planes are a real problem:

"It's a big gap," said R. William Johnstone, an aviation security consultant and former staff member of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks. "It wouldn't take much, even a minor incident involving two simultaneously attacking planes, to inflict enough damage to set off alarm bells and do some serious harm to the economy and national psyche."

But what do we do? Shut down private aviation? That would be a mistake.

I don't know what we do, quite honestly. But we'll probably do nothing until a jihadi uses this method. And then we'll react stupidly.

A Silver Cloud and a Dark Lining

Ok, first the good news for American foreign policy:

One of the more remarkable international stories of the past year has been the fate of Honduras. Somehow this tiny, plucky, and extremely poor Central American country managed to outwit and outmaneuver the regional authoritarian, the United States, and the much-ballyhooed power of “international opinion.”

I salute the Hondurans for preserving their democracy in the face of the odds they faced:
[The] United States did everything short of invading Honduras to see the “coup government” fall.
This, of course, is the bad news amidst the good news of Honduras remaining a pro-American government despite the odds, in a bizarre tale of Hondurans defending their democracy in the face of ridiculous claims that Zelaya was the wronged party and not the scoundrel out to wreck Honduran democray.
It is bad news because Hondurans quite literally had nobody on their side but a relative handful of writers who wrote about the affair. Yet despite our own government weighing in against the isolated Hondurans, we were unable to achieve our objective.
Consider that. We attempted to reverse what we called a coup and could not--even though Honduras is weak and reliant on our aid and trade. Mind you, I'm glad we failed. We were on the wrong side (Chavez and Castro). But we were unable to achieve our objective. How inept is our foreign policy establishment?
At some level, that failure is disturbing. After all, I can't rule out the possibility that our government will try to achieve something actually in our national interest.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Not All Canadians are in Vancouver

We've opened up our National Training Center to prepare an entire Canadian brigade as Canada prepares to rotate a new unit into Afghanistan:

The unique experience will last six-and-a-half weeks, because Canadian Soldiers will conduct two training rotations, back-to-back. It's the first time the NTC has hosted a brigade-size element from a coalition partner in the war in Afghanistan for a full training rotation, let alone two. The U.S. military facilitates training of coalition partners, but not to the extent that the NTC is currently performing.

"We conduct training for coalition partners at combat training centers routinely, primarily at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels, Germany, but not to this magnitude," said NTC and Fort Irwin Commander Brig. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams. "This is the first time we've had an allied brigade come and train at a combat training center. So, it's a first for the combat training center program. It's a first for the National Training Center."

Canadian military conducts NTC-style trainings for battalion-level rotations at its Canadian Maneuver Training Center (CMTC) near the town of Wainwright in Alberta, Canada. But, because the area is covered in several feet of snow at the moment, and because the NTC had an opening this month and the next, the opportunity to train here was not passed up the Canadian Army.

Good luck and thank you, Canada.

Not the War We'd Like to Have

The marjah offensive is highlighting the fact that the Taliban use human shields:

Taliban fighters holding out in Marjah are increasingly using civilians as human shields, firing from compounds where U.S. and Afghan forces can clearly see women and children on rooftops or in windows, Afghan and U.S. troops said Wednesday.

The intermingling of fighters and civilians also has been witnessed by Associated Press journalists. It is part of a Taliban effort to exploit strict NATO rules against endangering innocent lives to impede the allied advance through the town in Helmand province, 610 kilometers (360 miles) southwest of Kabul.

Well, yes. That's what the enemy does. I complained bitterly about it a while back.

Another article (in the New York Times, no less!) notes how this enemy tactic--which only works when the media advertises civilian casualties and then blames us for them--restricts our use of air power:

American and NATO military leaders — worried by Taliban propaganda claiming that air strikes have killed an inordinate number of civilians, and persuaded by “hearts and minds” enthusiasts that the key to winning the war is the Afghan population’s goodwill — have largely relinquished the strategic advantage of American air dominance. Last July, the commander of Western forces, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, issued a directive that air strikes (and long-range artillery fire) be authorized only under “very limited and prescribed conditions.”

So in a modern refashioning of the obvious — that war is harmful to civilian populations — the United States military has begun basing doctrine on the premise that dead civilians are harmful to the conduct of war. The trouble is, no past war has ever supplied compelling proof of that claim.

This over states the problem, I think. We have not relinquished the strategic advantage of air power. We retain exclusive use of the air for resupply, movement, and persistent reconaissance. We can still use air power for strike roles, despite the limitations we place on ourselves.

Remember, too, that we may be extra restrictive in the Marjah offensive while the world watches and the locals wait to see if we are better than the Taliban. I wouldn't say that our restrictive rules of engagement are counter-productive at this time and in this place.

As I have mentioned before, while it would be good to erase the heightened sensitivity of Afghans to what are historically low civilian casualties with our own information campaign, in the short run it is pointless to complain of how unfair it is that we can't use bombs (or artillery) out of fear we'll kill civilians that the Taliban deliberately expose to our fire in the hopes we'll kill them. This may not be the war we wish we had. But it is the war we have. We have to deal with the fact that Afghans are very sensitive to civilian casualties that can be blamed on us--it doesn't matter that it is an unfair perception. Ignoring public opinion is a recipe for alienating Afghans--especially Pushtuns who will be extra hard to win over because they are the base of the Taliban. And ask yourself if the Soviets failed in Afghanistan because they used too little firepower?

We may well loosen up our restrictions in the months to come as the campaign evolves. Or maybe the rules of engagement are too strict. If so, I have no doubt we'll tweak them to be more effective while keeping our goal in mind.

The Flying Nicetryski

Much is being made of the so-called Russian F-22ski:

In an open-source assessment of Russia's Sukhoi PAK-FA, aka the Raptor Killer, Air Power Australia concludes, "once the PAK-FA is deployed within a theatre of operations, especially if it is supported robustly by counter-VLO capable ISR systems, the United States will no longer have the capability to rapidly impose air superiority, or possibly even achieve air superiority."

I'd have been more comfortable with having enough F-22s to maintain two full squadrons for the next 30 years or so (requiring enough spares for accidents and some combat losses over that period), but let's not make too much of the Russian plane. So far, it is a Potemkin plane:

Russia's effort to develop an F-22 class fighter (the PAK FA) is going to require a lot of work. The prototype, that took its first flight recently, was clearly the basic Su-27 airframe modified to be stealthier. This included changing the shape of the aircraft to be less radar reflective, and providing internal bays for bombs and missiles. But there's much more to do in order to achieve anything close to the stealthiness of the F-22.

Russia may convince some buyers that they'll get something good enough to smash our Raptors, but reality is not likely to be as kind as the flashy brochure portrays the plane.

OK, Now I'll Worry

I've been skeptical that the complaints about banning Baathists from next month's election in Iraq are a real issue. But when General Odierno is worried, I'll pay attention:

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, in a speech, accused Ali Faisal al-Lami, the executive director of the Accountability and Justice Commission along with Ahmad Chalabi, the panel's chairman, of being "clearly influenced by Iran."

Gen. Odierno said both men, according to intelligence reports, were in close contact with Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, the top Iraqi adviser to Iran's Quds Force commander. The Quds Force comprises Iran's unconventional military units, which have orchestrated anti-U.S. paramilitary and political operations in Iraq.

In one sense, it makes sense for Iraqis to get information on Baathists from Iranians since the Iranians have been tracking Saddam's boys for decades now in order to exact revenge for the Iran-Iraq War. So I wouldn't automatically assume something is really wrong.

It all depends on whether the close contact with the Iranians involves more than just receiving information on Iraqis tied to Saddam.

But until I read more about this issue, I'll worry about the election commission and give the Sunni Arabs a little more of a hearing. Not that this would justify the Sunni Arabs resorting to violence. They should pursue all options within the law.

UPDATE: And I'd like to clarify that I really don't worry that the Iranians can take over Iraq in a stealth campaign of seeking influence. If they could have done that before, they would have rather than trying to bomb their way to power by arming the Sadrists and inflitrating their own astro-turn Shia rebels. We should seek out Iranian agents and work to minimize their efforts to infiltrate Iraq.

But I don't worry we'll lose Iraq to the Iranians. Especially since I think we'll be in Iraq long after 2011. The Iraqi government will renegotiate our presence in Iraq before the current status of forces agreement compels us to get out completely. We're still needed there to train the Iraqis, deter the Iranians and Syrians from making too much mayhem, and setting limits for domestic entities as they jockey for power within the new Iraqi system.