Thursday, June 30, 2011

Le Bizzaro World

Back when George W. Bush was president, it was wrong to overthrow a homicidal dictator without the cooperation of France.

Today, France can unilaterally attempt regime change in defiance of what the world community has authorized and we're fine tagging along on that mission:

A French military spokesman confirmed on Thursday a report in Le Figaro that rocket launchers and assault rifles were among arms parachuted in, prompting an angry reaction from Russia, one of many countries who have kept doors open to Gaddafi.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said supplying arms was a "crude violation" of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970, which imposed a comprehensive arms embargo in February.

Like I said, France defends their action in Libya and we're fine with this:

Washington agreed. "We believe that U.N. Security Council resolutions 1970 and 1973, read together, neither specified nor precluded providing defense materiel to the Libyan opposition," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

"We would respectfully disagree with the Russian assessment," he added.

I'm so confused. This is beyond my capacity to absorb nuance.

Same Place, Different War

Israel is preparing to refight the 2006 Hezbollah War, but this time to win. But a war in the same place against the same enemy will require a different plan if the objective has nothing to do with Hezbollah and Israel.

Hezbollah has been preparing to refight the war, too. And with Syria in chaos, Hezbollah may want to trigger a war with Israel to save Syria:

Israel believes that Hezbollah is preparing for another war with Israel. Like the last one, it would be started by a Hezbollah attack on Israel. But this time around, the war would be for the purpose of reducing political pressure on the Assad clan, which has ruled Syria for decades and is threatened by a growing public uprising. A war with Israel would, normally, demand that all Arabs get behind the war effort. There is some doubt, even in Arab circles, that this would work if Hezbollah attacked Israel now. For one thing, Hezbollah was created by, and subsidized by, Iran. Three decades of Iranian support has turned Hezbollah into the most powerful religious militia in Lebanon.

Without Syria in their corner, Hezbollah will be much weakened even with continued Iranian support. Hezbollah needs the supply line and direct support that Syria provides. Without Assad in power, Syria may not want to help a Shia Iranian ally like Hezbollah.

While I figured I knew what Israel would do in a round two, if it is to be a war for Syria fought in southern Lebanon and northern Israel, it should not be fought with means and objectives to defeat Hezbollah. It would be a Pyrrhic Victory indeed if Israel smashes up Hezbollah in a brilliant military campaign only to see Syria's Assad regime saved by the war.

If Hezbollah triggers a war to save Assad, Israel will need to be very careful to make sure Hezbollah alone bears the brunt of any Israeli military action and does not even appear to threaten Syria. That would appear to rule out a deep penetration of Lebanon to destroy Hezbollah infrastructure that would also put Israeli armored forces on the road to Damascus outflanking the main defenses southwest of Damascus.

The Clock Is Ticking

If Khaddafi can hang on (and avoid a smart bomb landing within its blast radius), he can run out the clock despite his generally deteriorating situation. The easy NATO win has not happened and the coalition of the barely willing is getting fidgety in the ranks:

The Dutch defense minister warned NATO allies on Wednesday against "mission creep" in Libya and forecast heated debate in the military alliance about the future of its campaign if it was not over by the end of September.

Hans Hillen called NATO allies who had thought bombing would force Muammar Gaddafi to step down "naive" and said a political solution was needed, underscoring deep divisions in the alliance about a campaign of air strikes launched in March.

While images of dead civilians killed by mistake in NATO air operations is surely the most straightforward way of breaking the NATO alliance, Khaddafi could go for the long ball by doing everything he can to trigger a Greek default. Get Europe worried about money issues in a big way and the Libya War will be forgotten.

The French are already saying that their aircraft carrier will have to be withdrawn by the end of the year for maintenance. Up to 40% of the strike missions over Libya have come from this ship, according to the article. There is no other big-deck European carrier to take its place. And Italy, where NATO planes are based to fight the Libyan regime, is already talking about ending the war.

From where will the NATO alliance launch strikes by the end of the year if Khaddafi is still standing? From bases in rebel-held eastern Libya?

Of Course They Are

How the sainted international community works (part 104), without any comment:

Despite numerous breaches of arms embargoes and continued threats to expand its nuclear weapons program, North Korea has assumed the presidency of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament. In a speech to the 65-nation arms control forum in Geneva, the newly-appointed president, North Korean Ambassador So Se Pyong, said he was “very much committed to the Conference.”

Have a lovely, multilateral day.

In That Other African War

We continue our low-key operations against al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa:

A U.S. drone aircraft fired on two leaders of a militant Somali organization tied to al-Qaeda, apparently wounding them, a senior U.S. military official familiar with the operation said Wednesday.

The strike last week against senior members of al-Shabab comes amid growing concern within the U.S. government that some leaders of the Islamist group are collaborating more closely with al-Qaeda to strike targets beyond Somalia, the military official said.

It is a war on terror front that rarely makes the headlines.

I Enjoyed This Part

So President Obama has to defend his war of choice in Libya. I can comment on his press conference freely because while I question his decision to intervene and his strategy, I still want to win. And I don't believe it is wrong to push for regime change in Libya.

I have consistently defended the Iraq War in this blog. One of my basics was that however much you want to argue whether the methods or even the decision to go to war or continue fighting were correct, the idea that it was immoral to overthrow the savage Saddam regime and then defeat Baathist, al Qaeda, and Sadrist thugs in a counterinsurgency is just ridiculous. Yet the anti-war side managed to claim (in their own minds, anyway) the moral high ground for being anti-war.

So when questioned about the Libya War, President Obama's answer is just priceless:

We have engaged in a limited operation to help a lot of people against one of the worst tyrants in the world -- somebody who nobody should want to defend -- and we should be sending a unified message to this guy that he should step down and give his people a fair chance to live their lives without fear. And this suddenly becomes the cause célèbre for some folks in Congress? Come on. 

Come on, indeed. Until someone against the Libya War starts speaking of the Khaddafi loyalists as "Minutemen," don't even talk to me about celebrating an enemy and sending a unified message.

I mean, come on.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dead Man Squawking

The North Korean government really is just too annoying to be allowed to go on living:

North Korea threatened on Wednesday to launch "a retaliatory sacred war" against South Korea for alleged slander as the two sides held rare talks on a stalled joint tourism project.

A Pyongyang government spokesman accused the South's frontline army units of displaying slogans slandering the North's "army, system and dignity" and said they are "little short of a clear declaration of war".

Good God, just die already.

We Could Lose

Defense Industry Daily highlights this RAND assessment of the Afghanistan campaign:

The current research effort involved developing and conducting an expert elicitation exercise to complete the scorecard for operations in Afghanistan in early 2011. A panel of 11 experts on Afghanistan were asked to make “worst-case” assessments of the scorecard factors. Based on consensus results for the scorecard, early 2011 Afghanistan scores +3.5. This score is lower than the lowest-scoring COIN win in the past 30 years (which was +5), but it is higher than the highest-scoring loss (which was 0). This highlighted that certain factors are absent whose presence would likely increase the prospects for success.

Factors that need improvement are:

Early 2011 Afghanistan was scored as having eight of a possible 15 good factors present and thus seven (actually, six and two half-points) absent. The absent factors are as follows:

• COIN force realizes at least two strategic communication factors
• COIN force reduces at least three tangible support factors
• Government realizes at least two government legitimacy factors
• Government/state is competent
• Majority of population in area of conflict supports/favors COIN forces (0.5)
• COIN force establishes and then expands secure areas (0.5)
• COIN force provides or ensures provision of basic services in areas it controls or claims
to control
• Perception of security created

Two areas that drag us down are governance (services, competency, and legitimacy) and population security (cutting support for insurgents along with providing perceived security). The former is why I want to bypass the central government as much as possible to bolster local governance legitimacy which is where most people have contact with "the government." Security for the people must come from counter-insurgency inside Afghanistan and reducing support flowing to insurgents from Pakistan and to a much lesser extent Iran.

We have our work cut out for our side, assuming the worst interpretation of the data. But after 10 years of war, we haven't alienated the people of Afghanistan into rallying against "invaders." Far from being a doomed fight, we can win.

Submission Accomplished?

Is the Bahrain government secure enough to keep control after this?

Saudi Arabia will withdraw most of its 1,200 troops from neighboring Bahrain by next week after a three-month mission to quell an uprising against the monarchy there, a Saudi official said on Tuesday.

I hope so. While I want the government to reform, our bases there are too important for me to want us to side against the government. We have too much to lose and Iran has too many opportunities to gain for me to make a stand for people power there.

Hopefully, this is just a close call that gets the Bahrain minority Sunnis to reform enough to keep the Shias invested in the current system.

UPDATE: Stratfor has more on this. Apparently, the Saudis won't go entirely and will build a base to quickly return across the causeway connecting Saudi Arabia with Bahrain.

I would like to object to the statement that Saudi Arabia has problems dealing with this issue because America is too "distracted" to contain Iran. That is a conscious decision by our president and not even Iran's continued efforts to kill Americans (3 in Iraq on Thursday) have persuaded him to treat Iran as an enemy rather than as a potential friend we just haven't done enough to make.

Indeed, it is almost as if Ahmadinejad and his sick regime's survival are a cause célèbre for some folks in Congress.

In the Long Run, All Regimes are Changed

Strategypage thinks that the rebels--under the NATO air umbrella, have enough of an edge that over time the rebels will win as the loyalists crack:

Given the rate at which rebels are pushing back Kaddafi troops, and the effects of the air and sea blockade of Kaddafi controlled western Libya, Kaddafi is not expected to last more than three months. Kaddafi now has a goal. If he can hang on into October, the coalition fighting him might fall apart, enabling some kind of peace deal that would partition the country. But with the embargo and war crimes indictments, that is unlikely.

I accept that the rebels are slowly gaining ground. I've noted that. And I've long admitted that if the coalition can continue the bombing campaign indefinitely, eventually we'll crack Khaddafi's regime.

I'm just not confident that the NATO alliance can hold together that long and I'm not confident that Khaddafi's supporters abroad can't come up with some wording on his fate that will fracture the coalition and leave Khaddafi effectively in power in a divided Libya even if technically the terms of a ceasefire don't explicitly call for that outcome.

In the long run, Khaddafi's reign will end. I'm just not sure NATO will cause that to happen any time soon.

Continental Drift

Stratfor has an interesting article about how European states could splinter into regional groupings. It is the most politically divided continent on the planet and political unity has a lot to overcome.

This doesn't eliminate the importance of NATO in at least setting some minimums for standardization for coalitions of the willing for specific military missions even if the alliance as a whole won't commit to them. But it is interesting when you consider that unity required the Soviet threat to push the continents many pieces together. Without that threat, unity is not a primary goal of many countries.

Actually, what strikes me about Europe's divisions isn't that they are divided but that others aren't. China, in particular, is a country-sized continent that could easily become divided politically, could it not? Might we not one day come to think of "China" in geographic terms the way we speak of "Europe" today? Europe isn't on the road to political union and will likely go backwards on that front. Might not China go backwards, too?

The Great Leap Nerdword

The world's worst summer internship program:

Reports in South Korea indicated that the government in Pyongyang on Monday ordered all universities to cancel classes until April of next year. The only exemptions are for students who will be graduating in the next few months and foreign students.

The reports suggested that the students will be put to work on construction projects in major cities while there are also indications that repair work may be needed in agricultural regions that were affected by a major typhoon recently.

Tip to an obviously alarmed Mad Minerva.

Headline-Substance Mismatch

The headline of this article on the recent Taliban attack in Kabul annoyed me:

"Kabul raid shows Taliban's strength, tests Afghan security coordination"

My first thought was that the raid proved that the Taliban could send a small team into a hotel, kill some people, and then get wiped out. That could be said of any armed group in any big city in any country. How is that a sign of Taliban strength?

But the article is better than the headline:

The attack highlights the Taliban’s strength at penetrating security in Kabul, which is one of seven areas slated to be handed over to Afghan security next month.

Ah, the attack highlights the Taliban strength at penetrating security. Well, that's a much narrower definition of strength and one fully in line with my initial reaction.

And the Afghan response was pretty good, apparently, including coordinating with Coalition support. So I guess they passed the security coordination test.

I know that headline writers can't condense the whole story's nuance, but might not  a better headline be:

"Taliban Kabul hotel attackers wiped out"

Just a thought.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Pivotal Review

If Australia wants to take the role of the pivot point to help America project power between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, Australia needs to build a new military and develop a new military posture that pushes Australia's forward defenses to the north and west of the continent rather than relying on the continent to shield the core in the southeast:

A military assets placement review will align the nation even more closely with the US in any future conflict with China. The Defence Force Posture Review is the first of its kind in more than 25 years and will move Australia on from WWII-era Brisbane line thinking that treated Townsville, Cairns, Perth and Darwin as 'secondary defence areas'.

Of course, we need to remain strong enough for Australia to have confidence that sticking their necks out to the north and west won't get them chopped up by the Chinese if we don't stand with the Australians if the balloon goes up.

The Reporting Quagmire Continues

United States forces need to move into the eastern part of Afghanistan and knock down the Taliban just as we did in the south over the last couple years. This article describes one big effort by a brigade of the 25th Infantry Division:

The offensive operation is the largest for the 3rd Brigade since its deployment to eastern Afghanistan in April. A brigade spokesman, Maj. David Eastburn, said it was at least "five to seven times larger than any previous operation conducted by the brigade."

Taming this volatile area of Kunar province is not an easy task, a lesson that U.S. forces have learned in recent years in this region. American troops have suffered heavy casualties in Watahpur District and the surrounding area.

A small combat outpost in the restive Korengal Valley, just to the west of Watahpur, was overrun in 2009, leaving eight soldiers dead just weeks before it was scheduled to be closed.

Despite the accelerated withdrawal schedule of the 2010 surge forces, this needs to be done or we leave the enemy with a base area to attack out of once our presence is reduced. Remember that the Taliban made the mistake of letting the Northern Alliance survive, which was our springboard for toppling the Taliban regime starting in October 2001.

What gets me about the article is not the discussion of the battle in question, but the reference to the enemy overrunning one of our outposts in 2009.

The enemy did not overrun one of our outposts in 2009. Or ever, for that matter. I've been impressed by our campaigns in both Iraq and Afghanistan that we've never lost even a platoon-sized element in a battle.

In 2009, we did lose 8 troops at Combat Outpost Keating. Yes, the large enemy force penetrated the perimeter and our outnumbered troops had to rally in the interior of the base.

But we held out and counter-attacked to retake the rest of the base. And killed more than 75 of the enemy for their troubles. We made some mistakes to let it get to that point, but the base was not overrun as the article states. And locals were upset with the Taliban for losing so many of their men in an attack on a base we were planning to close anyway.

But what the heck, the enemy convinced at least one Western reporter that they "overran" one of our outposts. So it wasn't a total loss.

Our press corps doesn't have to fight the battles in our wars. It would be nice if they could take a shot at accurately describing the battles.

False Prophet

Al Gore is not the One:

A fawning establishment press spares the former vice president the vitriol and schadenfreude it pours over the preachers and priests whose personal conduct compromised the core tenets of their mission; Gore is not mocked as others have been. This gentle treatment hurts both Gore and the greens; he does not know just how disabling, how crippling the gap between conduct and message truly is. The greens do not know that his presence as the visible head of the movement helps ensure its political failure.

Consider how Gore looks to the skeptics. The peril is imminent, he says. It is desperate. The hands of the clock point to twelve. The seas rise, the coral dies, the fires burn and the great droughts have already begun. The hounds of Hell have slipped the huntsman’s leash and even now they rush upon us, mouths agape and fangs afoam.

But grave as that danger is, Al Gore can consume more carbon than whole villages in the developing world. He can consume more electricity than most African schools, incur more carbon debt with one trip in a private plane than most of the earth’s toiling billions will pile up in a lifetime — and he doesn’t worry. A father of four, he can lecture the world on the perils of overpopulation. Surely, skeptics reason, if the peril were as great as he says and he cares about it as much as he claims, Gore’s sense of civic duty would call him to set an example of conspicuous non-consumption. This general sleeps in a mansion, and lectures the soldiers because they want tents.

Never say I haven't done my part in the mocking department.

UPDATE: More. Part two on Gore. This summarizes the problem with the whole scam:

The idea was to develop and present a scientific case that global warming was happening, that it was caused by human activity, and that its consequences in the near future were so devastating that a binding and effective GGCT (Global Green Carbon Treaty) was the only way out.

I reject the totality of this, which is why my Ex once called me the last global warming denier in the world.

One, while I admit that the temperature has generally gone up since 1850, it has fluctuated by decades (and I'm old  enough to remember being taught in middle school that a new ice age caused by man was going to happen) when their theory says it should keep going up. And since the starting point for their conclusions begins around when a little ice age was ending, it isn't too shocking that temperature are going up over the last century and a half. I just don't think the time scale is long enough to conclude that temperatures will keep going up.

Two, given the inadequate time scale, the starting point of data that has caused the alarm, the small fraction of human contribution to the small part of carbon dioxide in the air that supposedly causes global warming, and the problems with the models, I don't accept that the global warming we are seeing is caused by mankind.

Three, even if our temperatures are actually warming in a long-enough time frame to be real and even if we are the cause of it, I don't buy their solutions that would cripple our economy and put somebody in charge of our very lives to regulate everything we do that emits carbon. The suspiciously socialist solutions to the problem

But for that I am a dangerous global warming, anti-science "denier." I for one think that Al Gore deserves whatever happens to his reputation and fortune--as along as it is all bad, of course.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tribe Building

It was never a bright idea to try to create a strong central Afghanistan government. This is interesting although I think that too much is being made of the shift:

Military intelligence officers were scrambling a year ago to collect and analyze the social, economic and tribal ins and outs of each valley and hamlet in Afghanistan.

This information wasn't the kind of secret or covert material many military intelligence specialists were used to. But it was seen as crucial to helping commanders tell the good guys from the bad, learn what Afghans really needed from their government and undermine the Taliban-led insurgency by winning hearts and minds over time.

Since last fall, top intelligence leaders in Afghanistan shifted their focus back to targeting the enemy in the more traditional way, by mapping their networks and analyzing what made the Taliban tick.

They didn't stop collecting the other information. But their goal now was helping tell commanders what they needed to know to kill insurgents and drive the enemy to the negotiating table.

One, the former is surely needed for classic counter-insurgency to win the population over--but if we were trying to win the people over to Kabul's "central" government, that was never going to happen. My goals for a surge were far less ambitious:

Backed by a stick of constant military operations that continue to hunt jihadis through the winters over the next couple years and lack of support from outside Afghanistan, Pro-Taliban and anti-government tribes will hopefully tire of the fight. Many are in it for the money and not the ideology. We'll negotiate terms of surrender for the less committed tribes so they'll abandon support for drug gangs and Taliban warlords. We won't call it surrender any more than we called the Sunni "Awakening" movement in Iraq a surrender--although it was. ...

The end result in Afghanistan, if all goes well, will be a nominal national government that controls the capital region and reigns but does not rule local tribes and which actually helps the locals a bit rather than sucking resources from the locals, who in turn do not make trouble for the central government or allow their areas to be used by jihadis to plan attacks on the West. We press for reasonable economic opportunities, with bribes all around (I mean, foreign aid), to keep a fragile peace.

Second, there is more of a link between counter-insurgency (protecting the people and separating them from insurgents) and counter-terrorism (seeking body counts of the enemy). Without the former, there isn't enough intelligence to effectively carry out the latter; and without the latter, we can't protect the people from the insurgents.

Third, when dealing with a hostile population, counter-insurgency has to focus less on hearts and minds and more on separating the insurgents from support from the people even if the people prefer the insurgents. Southern Afghanistan is the enemy heartland, and many of the hearts and minds simply hate us and love the Taliban. There are limits to what we can do to persuade these people to work with us.

If this shift in intelligence focus is simply a reflection that we recognize we can't build a unified Afghanistan government in a land of tribes, then that's a good sign we aren't aiming for a bridge too far.


As shaky as our alliance with Pakistan is, remember that we'd consider similar relations with Iran a foreign policy triumph.

Since Pakistan has nuclear weapons, let's not make the quest for fair be the enemy of the adequate.


You have to love the international community.

Having condemned the Libyan government, it fails to deploy sufficient force to decisively defeat the Khaddafi regime.

And it seemingly rules out negotiations by ordering the arrest of Khaddafi and two key henchmen:

International judges ordered the arrest of Moammar Gadhafi on Monday for murdering Libyan civilians who rose up against him, as NATO warplanes pounded his Tripoli compound and world leaders stepped up calls for the Libyan leader to resign.

The International Criminal Court said Gadhafi, his son Seif al-Islam Gadhafi and his intelligence chief Abdullah al-Sanoussi are wanted for orchestrating the killing, injuring, arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of civilians during the first 12 days of an uprising to topple Gadhafi from power, and for trying to cover up their alleged crimes.

This will work out just swell, I'm sure.

Is Victory Attainable?

Khaddafi seems to have an alternative to boarding a plane to Belgium to be tried for war crimes as a price for ending the fighting:

The Libyan government on Sunday renewed its offer to hold a vote on whether Muammar Gaddafi should stay in power, a proposal unlikely to interest Gaddafi's opponents but which could widen differences inside NATO.

Pressure is growing from some quarters within the alliance to find a political solution, three months into a military campaign which is costing NATO members billions of dollars, has killed civilians, and has so far failed to topple Gaddafi.

Moussa Ibrahim, a spokesman for Gaddafi's administration, told reporters in Tripoli the government was proposing a period of national dialogue and an election overseen by the United Nations and the African Union.

NATO might grab for any result that can be portrayed as a victory. And the African Union seems interested in this line of thinking:

African leaders met on Sunday to discuss efforts to broker an end to the four-month-old conflict in Libya, after the rebels said they expected a new offer from Moamer Kadhafi "very soon" but it must involve him stepping down.

The African Union's Libya panel gathered in Pretoria to discuss the way forward after a visit to Tripoli by South African President Jacob Zuma last month failed to secure a truce deal acceptable to NATO or the rebels.

The rebels seem like they might be open to some formulation that involves Khaddafi formally stepping down--perhaps for an election that he would accept.

Could NATO continue bombing given the costs and divisions apparent so far? And if movement for a ceasefire takes place, won't the loyalists be able to endure bombing with the end in sight?

UPDATE: More on NATO divisions as the expectations of air power leading to rapid victory evaporated. The rebels actually seem like they are grinding away at the loyalists under NATO's umbrella. But is sure seems like the loyalists can last longer than NATO can.

UPDATE: China is against regime change:

Following talks in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the Chinese leader said his nation backed attempts to reach a political solution over Western calls for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi to step down after 42 years in power. ...

We hope that the issue of Libya will be resolved through political, peaceful means, to reduce the humanitarian harm and in particular the harm of innocent civilians," Wen said.

He said China has had recent contacts with both Gadhafi's regime and the main opposition leadership based in eastern Libya.

The clock is ticking. NATO will end its war. I'm not confident it will happen before Khaddafi is forced out.


If China can navigate through the demographic changes of the next two decades, let's talk of China's rise and potential as a new world leader replacing America. Our current leadership may be working overtime to send us into decline with our leadership's perverse pride in "leading from behind," but at least we can choose to reverse course. Can China?

Over the next few years China will undergo a huge demographic shift. The share of people over 60 in the total population will increase from 12.5% in 2010 to 20% in 2020. By 2030 their number will double from today’s 178m. The dependency ratio—the number of people of non-working age, both young and old, as a proportion of those of working age—will bottom out between 2012 and 2015 at an exceptionally low level before rebounding, says a report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Put another way, China’s “demographic dividend”—the availability of lots of young workers—which helped fuel its growth will soon begin to disappear. The overall population will start to grow faster than that of working age. One trigger for this could be a sharp economic slowdown. Many Chinese have recently become familiar with the “Lewis turning point”, named after a 20th-century economist from St Lucia, Arthur Lewis, who said that industrial wages start to rise quickly when a country’s rural labour surplus dries up.

I never heard of the Lewis turning point, but I've droned on about it for years, it seems:

Like the old Soviet Union, China’s economic growth is coming from moving peasants to city factories. And even the most productive peasant turned into the most inefficient factory worker will produce more GDP and bump up national statistics. This is not sustainable. Eventually, established workers must become more efficient for an economy to really take off.

I addressed this point again recently when I note that this era may be China's Golden Age. By 2100, things could be quite different.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

If You Can't Join 'Em, Beat 'Em

The Taiwanese may want to take advantage of Chinese tourism to promote democracy:

Taiwan's parliamentary speaker has said he will consider opening the legislative floor to Chinese tourists so they can learn from the island's freewheeling democracy.

Lawmaker Wu Yu-sheng of the ruling Nationalist Party proposed late Friday that the legislature open its floor to the visiting Chinese because "out of all places in Taiwan, the legislature is where democracy is most thoroughly implemented."

Speaker Wang Jin-pyng agreed to study the proposal to help spread the island's democracy to authoritarian China, according to television reports.

Good idea.

Down to Just the Kooks

North Korea, short of money and options, appeared to be relying on a strategy of spooks and nukes (oops--link fixed many months later) to keep the kooks in power. That is, rely on nuclear weapons to keep foreigners at bay and secret police to control the people and army. Do that and you can stop spending money you don't have on maintaining a conventional military capability to invade South Korea.

Well, even the spooks aren't so reliable these days:

South Korean intelligence officials believe that the corruption and economic mess up north have fatally weakened the communist dictatorship there. In particular, the Kim dynasty is seen as one of the weakest of several factions. The army leadership is perceived as the strongest faction, followed by the secret police. But the army is a huge organization (about a million people) that is largely composed of conscripts. While these draftees may be eating well because they are soldiers, their folks back home often are not. This is not good for morale. The secret police are corrupt, and now being torn apart by anti-corruption efforts.

Read the whole thing, as the expression goes.

There are only two apparent questions: when does the collapse happen and does it take the form of regime collapse (with another faction taking power) or state collapse (with South Korea essentially absorbing North Korea)?

I suppose a third question is whether North Korea tries to invade South Korea in a low odds attempt to avoid the certainty of some type of collapse by actually surviving such a clash. Not even the kooks could be that deluded. Could they?

And would the army, without access to money, go on a Viking funeral ride to save the skins of those that deprive the army of money and prestige? Really, without the secret police to control the army, an army as big as North Korea's--with just small arms--could be the major player in an internal armed struggle for power.

The Only Battle That Counts?

Libya's loyalists have lost the eastern part of Libya, have lost control of their air space, have been pushed back from Misrata, have lost territory around the Tunisian border and Berber mountain areas, have lost access to oil exports and much of their overseas cash, and have lost a lot of international support.

Yet the NATO alliance and air campaign that prevent Khaddafi from defeating the rebels rests on a foundation of zero tolerance for collateral damage. The fragile coalition requires no errors and the few mistakes made have shaken the alliance. So far, constant Libyan claims of civilian casualties have failed to get traction. But this loyalist effort is likely to be the one front that Khaddafi might win:

Libyan authorities accused NATO of killing 15 people Saturday in an airstrike that hit a restaurant and bakery in the east, while the alliance said there were no indications that civilians had died.

It was the latest outcry from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's government blaming NATO for killing civilians amid a four-month uprising that has sparked a civil war. NATO insists it does all it can to avoid such casualties.

It remains mind boggling that the standard of perfection is what keeps much of the alliance together waging war on Khaddafi. Can NATO hold together longer than Khaddafi's loyalist regime?

Living In Their Own Private Idaho

Rather than seeing a common time standard as an advantage, the Moslem world's leadership has declared war on time with their own Mecca Clock. Although it is annoying to see Islamic years and have to translate them into common era, I can at least understand their desire to avoid using a Christ-based standard. But getting all worked up for Greenwich Mean Time? Oh, please.

But at least amongst the easily excitable, even this revolt against modernity isn't taking hold:

The Mecca Clock is a more aggressive challenge to the Greenwich standard, countering not only the specific time assigned but the very notion of a global standard seated in the West. As such, far more than daylight saving time, it shares the spirit of the broader and fiercer original objections to Greenwich Mean Time, and even of the symbolic threats on the observatory. The problem is that nearly one year after its initial unveiling, the Mecca Clock (which, after a three-month test last year, is undergoing further construction) has failed to gain widespread political traction. In an online poll by an Arabian business news site, only 15 percent of respondents stated they would change their watches to Mecca Time, while more than 57 percent affirmed their belief that Greenwich should remain the standard. After initial pronouncements that Mecca Time would stand proudly “in the face of Greenwich,” the Royal Hotel Clock Tower has generated more debate over its garish architecture than the time it plans to display.

But don't do a victory dance over this rejection of time wars. You just wait. Jihadi lifestyle enforcerss will start enforcing your watch setting along with your haircut, facial hair, and head covering choices.

Really, it's just a matter of time.


Public approval of the Libya War is sinking fast:

Americans are more likely to say they disapprove than approve of the U.S. military action in Libya. That represents a shift from three months ago, just after the mission began, when approval exceeded disapproval.

This is quite a feat for a war launched by President Obama in which exactly zero Americans have even been wounded in action and whose costs are a rounding error in the "good war" in Afghanistan. You'd think that a man celebrated by his fans and the media (but I repeat myself) as the world's greatest speaker would haul out the Greek columns and toss off a "win one for the Gipper" speech and rally the nation, but no.

I don't need such a speech to support victory. But I suffer from an affliction of traditional patriotism or God- and guns-clinging syndrome, or something. Much of the country needs that speech, however.

I guess for a war that he can't possibly blame on George W. Bush, President Obama's speech writers have nothing to say.

UPDATE: Of course, if all President Obama can do is channel Tom Friedman, perhaps his silence is the best option.

UPDATE: Pity Friedman didn't have a Medal of Honor article for the president's speech writers to copy. None of them would made such an error about some community organizer getting an award.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Level Enemies--Not Playing Fields

Early on in the Libyan crisis, I argued that we should let the Europeans handle the crisis. But once President Obama stated that Khaddafi "has to go," Khaddafi's defeat became an American issue. I still can't blame Obama for wanting to let the Europeans take the lead. But letting Europe take the lead can't guide our actions if Europe is unable to actually win the war. If Europe can't (or won't) win, we must win it. We now have interests there:

The U.S. has a large stake in the outcome in Libya. Not because of its oil production but because of the dangerous nature of the Gadhafi regime—made far more dangerous by the current conflict—and because of the effect that Libya can have on the rest of the Arab world at a critical time in history. ...

Gadhafi's fall would provide inspiration for the opposition in Syria and perhaps even Iran, whereas his survival would embolden the regimes in power there to cling on. The sooner Gadhafi goes, the greater the impact will be.

In Libya itself, the U.S. might gain a much-needed friend in the Arab world. A British diplomat in Benghazi, the unofficial temporary capital of free Libya, has said that it is the first time during his many years in the Arab world that he has seen American flags displayed in appreciation. Even in Tripoli, still under Gadhafi's control, people go to the rooftops to whistle in celebration during NATO bombing raids.

But NATO is not winning. Even just leveling the playing field hasn't been achieved despite NATO claims about the effects of over three months of bombing, even though there are rumors that Khaddafi might relocate out of Tripoli:

Speaking at the Rajma military installation, 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Benghazi, Bani said the rebels were up against vastly superior firepower.

The mostly volunteer force has, with the help of NATO air strikes, kept Kadhafi's forces at bay on several fronts across the country, but has made limited progress toward Tripoli -- allowing loyalist forces to dig in to key positions.

The inability of the rebels to march on Tripoli and their realization that NATO bombing may not defeat the loyalists has led them to retreat from their demand that Khaddafi leave Libya:

Rebel spokesman Mahmud Shamam told French daily Le Figaro the insurgents were in indirect contact with the regime and may be prepared to allow Kadhafi to stay in Libya, but that he and his family must agree to leave power.

We are at war. We can pretend we aren't at war, but we can't pretend that it isn't important to win it. And we can't pretend that we can rely on the Europeans to win it in the lead.

Commit the forces to level Libya and win this war.

Collateral Damage

The anti-Iraq War crowd has repeated the claim that Iraq distracted us from winning in Afghanistan. Well, ever since we won in Iraq they don't claim that since now they want to lose the only war we have, but you get the point. President Obama has already effectively undermined that contention that Iraq distracted us from Afghanistan. And now,  one of his senior officials does the same while defending the aggressive withdrawal timetable:

"We haven't seen a terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan for the past seven or eight years," said a senior administration official in a briefing given to reporters in Washington before Obama's speech. "The threat has come from Pakistan over the past half-dozen years or so, and longer."

Huh. So despite the failure of the Bush administration to pour troops into Afghanistan after overthrowing the Taliban regime and scattering al Qaeda, we haven't seen an al Qaeda threat from Afghanistan since perhaps 2003? Or 2004? Just when the Iraq "distraction" was kicking in? Are you saying that had we drawn down troops in Iraq in 2004 to focus on Afghanistan or even declined to invade Iraq in 2003 that we'd have had no impact at all on the Taliban question because the threat was in Pakistan? Oh, and without those American troops in Iraq, Iraq would be either still under Saddam (or one of his evil spawn) or under al Qaeda or Sadrist rule--or broken apart in civil war.

I can't imagine this is the conclusion that the senior administration official wanted drawn from that statement. But how can you avoid the logical consequences?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Provoking the Wrong War

Syria's Assad may think that risking a war with Israel is a no-brainer to distract his people from protesting his rule, but that hasn't worked out. Israel doesn't have enough friends to want to risk a war with Syria unless they have to.

Turkey on the other hand, won't have the handicaps that Israel would have and also has the military power to overpower the Syrian armed forces. So what is Assad thinking?

Syrian troops massed on the Turkish border overnight, witnesses said on Thursday, escalating tensions with Ankara as President Bashar al-Assad uses increasing military force against a popular revolt.

The Turkish troops on their side of the border are now wearing their helmets, just in case. And the Turks are sounding ominous:

Turkey had warned Assad against repeating mass killings in cities witnessed during the rule of his father in the 1980s. A senior Turkish official said on Sunday that Assad had less than a week to start implementing long-promised political reforms before foreign intervention began, without elaborating.

Would Turkey really push into northern Syria to carve out a safe haven for the protesters? Or push all the way to Damascus? I find it hard to believe the UN Security Council would authorize either mission given the Russian and Chinese  veto power. And I doubt NATO would let itself be pulled along in the wake of Turkish action.

Still, it will be interesting to see what happens if Assad doesn't start implementing political reforms in less than a week.

UPDATE: We're worried:

The United States is concerned by reports that Syria is massing troops near the border with Turkey, which could escalate the crisis in the region, and is discussing the issue with Turkish officials, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.

I wonder if the Turks feel that they have a duty to protect Sunni Moslems?

Dissent is Bad

Look, I want to win in Libya. But as we debate what to do, please don't think that we are operating under Bush-era rules where dissent is the "highest form of patriotism." Case in point, secretary of State Clinton has a caution for legislators debating whether to hamstring President Obama in conducting the war (yes, it is a war):

She's asking bluntly, "Whose side are you on?"

Give them time and they'll note that Thomas Jefferson never made that patriotism statement.

Still, perhaps I'm being unfair to Clinton. Maybe she is truly unsure of whose side we're on given her past statement that our military objective is to provide a "level playing field" in Libya.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Always Get the Money First

Palestinians continue to make bad decisions:

Pro-Syrian Palestinians killed 14 Palestinians who were complaining about not being paid for staging the "Palestinian demonstration" on the 5th. The Syrian government used a pro-Syrian Palestinian group to recruit Palestinians, with offers of $1,000 each if they joined the march into Israel, and $10,000 each if they were killed, and free medical care if they were injured. This was to be a non-violent demonstration to commemorate the 1967 war, which is seen as a great catastrophe by Arabs. Once in Israeli territory, Israeli troops opened fire on the demonstrators, aiming for the legs. Syria claimed that 23 people were killed and 350 injured. Israel claimed that there were few deaths, and less than a hundred injured. The money was never was paid to the demonstrators, who later went and demanded justice (and cash) from the pro-Syrian Palestinians (who then opened fire when they felt threatened.)

Odds are, Syrians killed far more Palestinians over this protest march, especially since the Syrians herded the protesters into uncleared Syrian minefields and most likely exaggerated the deaths to make Israel look bad.

Birds Gotta Fly

When the going gets tough, liberals get going. Richard Cohen thinks the "good war" is over and we need to get out of Afghanistan:

From the start, America’s huge investment in Afghanistan has been a mistake. It was always necessary, not to mention just plain right, to go after Osama bin Laden and kill every last member of al-Qaeda. That job has mostly been done. But the rest — the routing of the Taliban and the building of a democratic state — is beyond America’s reach. The troops — most of them — should come home.

What a shock. But don't think he simply wants to run away! Oh no! There are bigger threats than Afghanistan that Afghanistan distracts us from confronting:

Staying in Afghanistan will only buttress the argument of the New Isolationists. This is the larger danger. America remains the sole nation capable of playing the role of adult. The world needs us. The world will soon need us even more. China, India, Pakistan, Japan and the two Koreas are about as compatible as the Real Housewives of New York. They all either have or are capable of developing nuclear weapons. Iran is on its way. Its program could cause the Israelis to attack, and it might also prompt Saudi Arabia and maybe Egypt to go nuclear. Jordan could implode, and Iraq could come apart. Have I mentioned cyber-warfare? That’s the one that gives military planners insomnia.

Afghanistan is an odd, irrelevant place to get bogged down. We can kill terrorists but not the culture that produces them. The corruption is staggering, our lack of understanding is humbling and our war aims are incoherent. It’s time to say goodbye and save our powder for what really matters — the demons of sleepless nights to come.

This is just sad. At least the people opposed to the Iraq War pointed to North Korea during the pre-war debates as a bigger threat. And after the insurgencies started, they pointed to Afghanistan as the place we should be fighting. Cohen, unable to pick a single threat we really must address, adopts a shotgun approach and says that virtually the entire world is a greater threat than the Afghanistan campaign.

It was easy to predict that Afghanistan would lose its status as the "good war."

It was easy because while the left is willing to bomb enemies (indeed, if they don't shoot back in a sustained manner it doesn't even count as war!), it is unwilling to defeat them. When liberals are faced with an actual war, they can always think of a bigger threat that we should be vigilantly confronting, instead.

I think I'm Satisfied

President Obama will apparently announce that we will withdraw 5,000 troops from Afghanistan this summer and 5,000 more over the winter or in the spring of next year:

In a prime-time address from the White House, Obama is likely to outline a phased withdrawal that will bring 5,000 troops home this summer and an additional 5,000 by winter or spring 2012, according to a senior U.S. defense official. That timeline could allow military commanders to keep high troop levels in Afghanistan for two more crucial fighting seasons.

If the military is allowed to choose what to withdraw, we can keep the line units fighting while we pull out support personnel who were needed to enable two surges over the last two years (one authorized by Bush that pushed us to 69,000 and one authorized by Obama that put us near 100,000). I don't know if our military will have the flexibility to do this:

It's not clear whether Obama's decision would require the Pentagon to pull out two full brigades or, instead, withdraw a collection of smaller combat and support units with an equivalent number of troops.

We shouldn't need as many support troops now, and if reductions of 10,000 are too much, we may have the option of hiring civilian contractors to make for no net loss of required support.

I can't complain with this apparent course of action. I don't think this reduction cripples our war effort. It may have no effect at all (which is probably why the anti-war people will be outraged over this decision). As I've written, I think we could win at 69,000, although it would take longer.

So you'll have no complaints from me about this decision on the Afghanistan War. Kudos to the President for resisting his anti-war base. But as polling shows, where are they going to go?

UPDATE: I didn't hear the actual speech. I was drinking beer downtown on a patio with thunderstorms lurking all around. The initial drawdown is a bit faster since 10,000 are supposed to be out by the end of this year rather than the spring. What really bothers me is that 23,000 more are supposed to be out by the end of summer 2012--timed nicely for the election. It bothers me because it seems based on politics rather than strategy. Hopefully, conditions justify that timetable. Hopefully, if conditions don't justify the pace, President Obama would stretch it out.

Also, will our NATO allies use our partial drawdown as an excuse to leave before they should?

That said, I can't condemn the withdrawal. Yes, after focusing on the south and southwest, we are poised to turn to the east for a major effort to defeat the Taliban, so major fighting is still ahead despite the drawdown. But with 65,000 troops left after next year, tens of thousands of Coalition troops (I assume), 300,000 Afghan troops and police, and whatever number of local defense forces there are, we should have enough to defeat the Taliban. I still think that we shouldn't aim for too much there. I don't think we should push for a unitary state with a strong Kabul government. I think that is a bridge too far:

The end result in Afghanistan, if all goes well, will be a nominal national government that controls the capital region and reigns but does not rule local tribes and which actually helps the locals a bit rather than sucking resources from the locals, who in turn do not make trouble for the central government or allow their areas to be used by jihadis to plan attacks on the West. We press for reasonable economic opportunities, with bribes all around (I mean, foreign aid), to keep a fragile peace.

And we stick around this time, unlike after the Soviets left Afghanistan when we ignored the place, for a generation or two to see if we can move Afghanistan into the 19th century (hey, let's not get ahead of ourselves).

It will take longer to win with a faster withdrawal, I concede, which means there are more chances to blow it and lose. But I am also worried about having so many troops in landlocked Afghanistan at the end of less-than-ideal supply lines.

So bottom line, I'm worried that politics is trumping strategy with this decision. But I think we should still win despite the lower troop numbers, even though it will take longer. As long as we don't walk away from the place when our troops are leaving, we can still prevent Afghanistan from being a haven for al Qaeda.

UPDATE: Admiral Mullen says that the aggressive pace of drawdowns is risky. That tracks with my judgment ("... more chances to blow it and lose."). Even though I think we can win, much of my unease with President Obama's decision stems from my lack of confidence that deep down our president wants to win this war more than he wants to avoid losing it before his reelection campaign.

UPDATE: More doubts about our president's commitment to victory:

President Obama isn't terribly concerned with winning wars.

In his speech last night, Obama talked about "our effort to wind down this war," "responsibly end[ing] these wars," and "tak[ing] comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding." He did not use the words "win" or "winning"; the word "victory" appeared only in a reference to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

The stylistic decision is revealing; ideologically and temperamentally, Obama is still not entirely comfortable as a war president. He is still naturally attracted to the political appeals to war-weariness that his 2008 campaign was largely built on.

The objective of fighting a war shouldn't be the White House.

On the surface, President Obama has committed forces to win. But deep down, I just don't trust him on war issues.

They Could Eff Up a Wet Dream

So the House of Representatives will likely have a vote this week on two competing resolutions regarding the Libya War (tip to Instapundit):

One resolution would mirror a version proposed Tuesday by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) that authorizes a limited U.S. military mission for one year, but prohibits the use of ground troops except to defend American officials in danger. The other resolution, Boehner said, would remove U.S. forces from Libya under the War Powers Resolution “except for forces engaged in non-hostile actions such as search & rescue, aerial re-fueling, operational planning, intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance, and non-combat missions.”

So one resolution lets us continue to provide the bulk of the support missions and continue to shoot in limited circumstances; while the other lets us continue to provide the bulk of the support missions and ends the limited circumstances where we could shoot. That's a choice? What's the practical difference?

If either resolution is passed, we basically continue on the same road we are on. The only advantage is to the Obama administration which gets the embarrassing situation of being in violation of the War Powers Act lifted and gains the support of Congress which will share in the blame if our coalition splinters before we can win.

If the House of Representatives wants to offer a real choice to its members, it should declare war on Libya and establish real objectives for actual victory.

The End is Nigh

The Libyan War will end.

The loyalists are slowly being ground down over time under a near-blockade, air attacks, and growing rebel resistance:

Based on current trends, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is losing his war against his own people. That's good. Gadhafi's defeat will be another significant victory in the struggle against tyranny.

However, inept coalition leadership, especially from the Obama administration, means the war is far from won.

We want to win. But we can't admit we want to win. And we aren't committing the resources to win as rapidly as possible. Yet if we are committed to an endless war, we will eventually break the loyalists--or get lucky and kill Khaddafi in an air strike (or from someone close to him cracking under the pressure and administering high velocity lead poisoning).

The problem is, we aren't committed to endless war (which in the real world apart from bumper stickers just means fighting until victory rather than on a timetable). Indeed, NATO is reevaluating on a quarterly basis. Which helps Khaddafi and other loyalists believe they can outlast NATO. I can't say they are wrong to think this:

Italy on Wednesday called for an immediate halt to hostilities in Libya to allow humanitarian aid to reach the population in the strife-torn country, while NATO defended the credibility of its air war after a bomb misfired killing civilians.

China has staked out a position calling for an end to the war:

Yang repeated China's stance that both sides in the conflict should stop fighting and negotiate a political settlement on their own.

While Beijing says it won't take sides in the 4-month-old conflict, its increased engagement with the rebels is an attempt to hedge its bets over the outcome in the country, in which it has major investments.

And since Khaddafi has accepted that he can't crush the rebels and can only endure NATO attacks, he's ready to cut a deal to keep something:

Kaddafi apparently seeks to partition Libya, keeping control of Tripoli and the west Libyan oil fields.

He doesn't have that yet and can only get it through diplomacy. Will the Russians or Chinese help Khaddafi by getting an agreement that allocates that territory to a rump Libya and reduces the NATO war to a true no-fly operation over rebel territory?

The outlines of our smart foreign policy are becoming clearer. Just as our NATO partners are edging toward the exits, our Congress is about to authorize American participation in the war. We'll be the only one on our side fighting. And unless we authorize more than more of what NATO is doing now, the loyalists and rebels will both survive. Since we attacked the loyalists, they'll obviously be mad at us. But since we have failed to fully side with the rebels, they'll at least resent us, too.

Meanwhile, China will get credit from the loyalists for saving the regime even in truncated form; and will get credit from the rebels for reaching out to them at the expense of the loyalists.

At this point, I'm just choking on the nuance.

Will They Fight the Way We Assume?

Is the F-35 capable of maintaining our air superiority? Quantity has a quality all its own and we will never have more F-22s than we do now. The F-22s can't do it on their own. The F-35 is still in development so it is tough to judge that question:

The clear implication of the RAND study is that the F-35 is very likely to wind up facing many more “up close and personal” opponents than its proponents suggest, while dealing with beyond-visual-range infrared-guided missiles as an added complication. Unlike the F-22, the F-35 is described as “double inferior” to modern SU-30 family fighters within visual range combat; thrust and wing loading issues are noted, all summed up in one RAND background slide as “can’t [out]turn, can’t [out]climb, can’t [out]run.”

Some critics have said that enemy planes can get close to our F-35s and that when they do they can out-dogfight the F-35. This is something I have worried about. The F-35 will make up the vast majority of our fighter inventory eventually and needs to work. Is the maneuverability problem even a problem? On the surface it seems like the answer must be "yes it is a problem."

But the designers think otherwise. (And let me note that I have a small amount of Lockheed Martin stock) According to their design assumptions:

Rather than entering a turning fight at the merge, the F-35 barrels through and takes an over-the-shoulder defensive shot. As a Northrop Grumman video puts it, "maneuvering is irrelevant".

So the plane constantly looks 360 degrees and the plane does not need to be pointed even in the general direction of the target to fire a missile at it.

I hope it works. But is it safe to assume how our enemies will fight us? The last time we assumed dogfighting was obsolete we got our asses handed to us in the skies over North Vietnam. In the short run, training helped reverse that, and in the long run we developed our current inventory of highly maneuverable fighter planes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just Do It

So are we about to have a bipartisan and executive-congressional joint screw up of the Libya War?

Sens. John McCain and John Kerry introduced a resolution Tuesday that would give President Barack Obama the green light to continue limited military operations in Libya.

Ah, Congressional authorization of a flawed war plan. That's the solution?

Congress should simply declare war on Libya. If I understand it correctly, the President can't even veto the declaration of war. It is simply a Congressional power. Declare war and state that our objective is the destruction of the Khaddafi regime and death or arrest of the dictator.

Then let the commander in chief fight the war for the Congressional objective as he sees fit.

Authorizing what we are doing now just gets President Obama off the hook for a flawed war strategy that he started if we don't get lucky and instead end up losing the war.

Those Who Can't Do?

Instapundit notes this story:

Professor Charged With Running Prostitution Website. Best bit: “A police official said that Flory said he did not make money from the site, but maintained it as a hobby.”

This is not going to enhance the reputation of college professors. Are you seriously telling me that the man couldn't turn a profit selling sex?

A Tale of Two World Views

So smoking is bad and while people are free to smoke, government restricts the right, taxes it, and tries to discourage smoking. These people, with the power of bureaucracy behind them, came up with this:

Dead bodies, diseased lungs and rotting teeth were among the among the graphic images for revamped tobacco labels, unveiled on Tuesday by health officials who hope the warnings will help smokers quit.

The new labels must be on cigarette packages and tobacco advertisements no later than September 2012, as part of a law that put the multibillion-dollar tobacco industry under the control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Private enterprise came up with this for $1.99 to nullify the shock value of those graphic images:

Wait. What?

You can cover the government-mandated images?

Sink the Shi Lang!

The Chinese will begin trials for their new aircraft carrier:

China is planning an initial sea trial of its first aircraft carrier next month, a Hong Kong newspaper said Tuesday, a move likely to further worry neighbors amid heightened tensions over territorial disputes.

Some form of limited testing of the ship is planned to coincide with celebrations of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1, the Hong Kong Commercial Daily said.
The article says the ship is unnamed as yet. I thought the old ex-Russian Varyag was now Shi Lang, but maybe that was just for sport, since that was the name of a Chinese admiral who conquered Taiwan in 1681.

Remember, this won't be an effective fighting ship for many years while pilots and crew train, and the carrier itself learns to operate with escorts, and as admirals learn how to use it. And it isn't as effective even with all of that as one of our big carriers. I imagine one of our amphibious warfare ships with F-35s aboard will be more than a match for it. If the Chinese carrier is committed to fight--whether soon or after lots of training--against anybody with a decent navy or air force, it will lead a short but exciting life.

Still, this is a start. And even without much training, it will be useful for show-the-flag missions around the world as a symbol of China's advances. It will also allow China to gain experience to build more.

Mind you, I wonder about the survivability of large surface ships like our carriers in modern naval warfare. Unless we network defensive missile screens to a high degree, these ships will be missile magnets. So China may just be giving us big targets to sink that will help restore our morale when the Chinese sink our big targets.

No Two-Front War

This article seeks to explain "Why Europe no longer matters." It doesn't, however, actually argue that point. It just notes that Asia is rising in importance while Europe declines. Point accepted. This has been long discussed. But the author argues we should stay in NATO and get what we can from our allies there without complaining that the world is changing.

He's right.

NATO is worth keeping. And we need to stay in NATO:

American involvement in NATO keeps Europeans from threatening each other, keeps NATO members from fearing a united Germany, keeps even a weakened but aggressive Russia from thinking about recapturing eastern NATO countries, sets the standard of democracy and rule of law in member countries (and candidates for membership), provides the infrastructure and command relationships to intervene in the arc of crisis from Morocco to Afghanistan, and allows NATO countries to train together so that when a coalition of the willing is needed to intervene outside of the defense of NATO territory, NATO countries can join together and fight effectively. I've written about the value of NATO before (here and here, for example). So what if NATO no longer has the huge military task of stopping the Red Army? That means we succeeded! We don't want a military mission that vital, remember? Accept that less dramatic objectives are appropriate and remember that trying to find a new mission as dangerous and dramatic as stopping the Soviet Union will wreck the alliance and undermine those other less dramatic objectives.

Face it, even if European military power is feeble, the economic, military, and scientific assets would be formidible if in the hands of a hostile power. Europe may not be powerful allies, by they are a powerful asset that it is worth struggling over to make sure it is not organized against us.

Rather than complaining that NATO doesn't help much, maybe we need to help willing allies gain the ability to plug units into our military. If we can add a Polish brigade to an American division or a German battaliion into a brigade, we'll do better than hoping the Poles or Germans will develop the power projection capacity to send a brigade into battle with us. Better to have plug and play allies for coalitions of the willing in distant lands.

Yes, the main front is shifting to Asia and we are shifting our focus to Asia. But as we emphasize Asia we need to hold Europe secure. We don't need to fight on two fronts, and with Europe friendly and neutralized as a threat we need to keep it that way. We've fought in two world wars and a long Cold War over the last century to keep a hostile power from organizing and commanding the resources of Europe against us. You can think of Europe as our economy-of-force operation, but we should still struggle to win this theater so that it we don't face a two front war as we are forced to once again send resources there to protect our interests just as a rising China forces us to seriously expand our presence in Asia and the western Pacific to compete with China.

Oh, What a Giveaway!

The hatred of the Vanguard of the Warmetariat for mere democracy is always stunning to see:

Ask a stupid question and you'll get a stupid answer. That's what happened in the Italian referendum on nuclear power on Monday, where voters overwhelmingly backed anti-nuclear campaigners' demands to block any new atomic power in Italy. Referendums are not a good way to set energy policy, nor many other aspects of national policy either – if a referendum were held on capital punishment in Britain, a hefty majority would support bringing back hanging.

Bloody peasants!*

Yes, banning nuclear plants is rather inconvenient. But plenty of global warmers hate nuclear power more than they hate the prospect of the global warming they believe we are causing. The near enemy takes priority over the far enemy, so don't go blaming the dumb people without the benefits of higher education for the anti-nuclear opinion. Blame those elites for scaring people about nuclear energy for the past decades.

So Italy will endure the consequences of this vote. Perhaps when the rolling blackouts take place, they'll vote again and demand nuke plants and anything else that keeps the power flowing.

And God forbid that the worst criminals be punished by hanging if the majority wants that! The distrust of democracy is amazing. Yes, there should be limits so that the majority doesn't learn that it can vote to enrich itself at the expense of the minority, but questions of nuclear power and punishment for crime are hardly matters of plundering the economy. Rule of law safeguards are appropriate. Denying democracy is far worse than the problems of democracy.

That's what I'm on about! Did you see him repressing me? You saw him, Didn't you?

What I object to is you automatically treat me like an inferior.


*With thanks to the Dennis the Peasant scene for many of the lines lifted from the script.

Training For War

Iraqi soldiers are just starting to get the tools and skills to defend their country from foreign invasion. Until recently, light infantry skills were needed to fight a counter-insurgency campaign. The 155mm artillery is new to Iraq:

The soldiers from the Iraqi Army’s 2nd Division gawked, posed for pictures, rubbed their hands on it, and then stood in crisp form when U.S. soldiers introduced them this week to their newest weapon.

There, in a two-story warehouse on the grounds of an old Iraqi ammunition storage site. stood a confidence-builder for the beleaguered Iraqi army, an M198 Howitzer cannon. For Iraqi soldiers yearning to just be respected, never mind feared, the arrival of American-made artillery was a big step toward gaining an essential quality of any effective army: pride.

This is a weapon for an army as opposed to a para-military force.

But just giving them a weapon is not enough. We need to train them. Iraq used to have lots of big guns, but they might as well have not bothered to show up on the battlefield in 2003 for all the good they did:

One important lesson for the Iraqi Army, according to Garcia and Brewster, is that a well-trained soldier using a M198 Howitzer will be far more effective than Hussein’s army was in its use of artillery. ...

“We would see a round go off far away,” recalled Brewster, who took part in artillery battles with Iraqi forces during the 2003 invasion, “Then they would readjust and it would go off even farther away. We would counter fire once, and then hear no more.”

The artillery, if accurate, will be useful both to provide local fire support in a still-lingering counter-terrorist campaign against al Qaeda and Baathist remnants (and against that scumbag Moqtada al-Sadr, if he tries for a fourth insurrection) and against conventional invaders.

Luckily for Iraq, Syria is in no condition to invade and Iran is weak enough in conventional strength that even a modest American presence in Iraq would likely deter them until the Iraqis can stand on their own. Turkey, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are unlikely to want a chunk of Iraq these days.

UPDATE: The T-50 is a reasonable transition aircraft, capable of preparing pilots for high performance fighters and also useful as a light attack aircraft (from my Jane's email updates):

South Korean defence officials have indicated that they are prepared to accept an offer from Iraq to purchase the advanced jet trainer (AJT) through the countertrade of crude oil.

All this takes time, however.

When Dinosaurs Go Extinct.

A prominent historian doesn't think much of current history teaching, including:

What's more, many textbooks have become "so politically correct as to be comic. Very minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable space, whereas people of major consequence farther back"—such as, say, Thomas Edison—"are given very little space or none at all."

Yeah. Twenty years ago when I taught introductory American history (to the Civil War), the textbook I had to use was all social history, all the time. And when it is social history, it is politically correct. I can't imagine how bad it must be today.

I'd start the class by telling them that it would be an old-school military and diplomatic history when it came to foreign policy stuff. The textbook didn't even mention the Tripolitan War.

Actually, for me, the textbook was a blessing. I was weak on social history anyway. So I could rely on the book for that aspect and use other resources to develop the rest of the course.

Of course, that gets back to another point that teachers often aren't subject experts. I could teach what was not there because I knew the subject (and knew enough to know what I didn't know so I could do further research for the class). If I had used a textbook that emphasized diplomatic and political history, I could not have taught the other aspects--not even poorly. I just wouldn't have known.

Heck, I still remember my introductory American history course in college, eagerly awaiting the professor's take on World War II. He said, "We won. You can read about it in the reading list material. Now on to the post-war ... " Now that was a history lesson.

Oh well, I remain grateful to have had Professor Abbott's military history class in graduate school. He was a dinosaur in a world of furry politically correct mammals scurrying about the faculty lounges.


Pakistani police assert (the article says it is not a verified claim):

An eight-year-old Pakistani girl was kidnapped by Islamist militants who forced her to wear a suicide vest to attack security forces, police said on Monday.

Of course, it isn't like this is out of character for the jihadis.

Remember just who it is we are fighting.

They're Starting to Notice

The Libya rebels are starting to notice that we really aren't on their side in this civil war:

Throughout parts of Libya under rebel control, people are frustrated with NATO. Between its slow pace of attacks and the errant strikes that have killed rebel fighters, the speculation now is that the Western coalition lacks the resources and resolve to help the rebels topple Gaddafi.

The chief problem plaguing both NATO and the rebels is lack of coordination. Rebel leaders complain that they must jump through hoops to reach NATO officials. ...

Unable to order airstrikes, rebels in the field are forced to wait for unannounced NATO bombings before they can advance. ...

The rebels never know when NATO will fly in to their rescue. ... The alliance's officials have responded to such comments in the past by noting that their mandate extends only to protecting civilians, not toppling Gaddafi.

We're bombing Khaddafi's forces and trying to kill him, so he's obviously mad at us.

But in our new grand world of smart foreign policy, we're also failing to do what we could easily do to help our nominal allies on the rebel side. They, fighting and dying to topple Khaddafi, are naturally upset that we fly high above them and help according to our apparent mood. So the rebels are getting mad at us. They just don't appreciate the American foreign policy goal of "leveling the playing field," I guess.

If this war goes on much longer, we'll have a Libya angry with the West no matter who wins the civil war. Is that nuanced enough for you?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Worse Than I Thought

When I mentioned that Syria had to shuttle loyal security forces around to hot spots, I also assumed that the less reliable troops could at least be trusted to watch locations not actively demonstrating.

Apparently, according to Strategypage, that is not the case. The less reliable troops are being kept on base and disarmed. Of 400,000 security forces, half are kept disarmed on bases and only 100,000 are trusted to shoot at people. And Iran has provided thugs who don't mind killing Sunni Arabs, of course.

That does leave about 100,000 Syrian troops who are in between the untrusted and trusted, who might be capable of deploying to watch and intimidate people but who aren't willing to shoot at people.

That the Syrians have to worry about troop loyalty is indicated by the government's claim that 500 troops have died (1,500 civilians have died). The only way that many security forces could have died is by fights with other security forces. Remember that at the height of the Iraq War, we never lost more than 1,000 in a full calendar year.

Breaking the Phalanx

The NATO air campaign against Libya hasn't shocked and awed the Khaddafi loyalists into pants-wetting flight. As we finish three months of bombing, the vast alliance is losing cohesion:

On three fronts of the Libyan war, the rebel advance has slowed considerably, sometimes to a near-standstill.

Now entering its fourth month, NATO's air campaign over Libya has dragged on for longer than its 11-week war in 1999 to drive Serb forces under Slobodan Milosevic out of majority-Albanian Kosovo. ...

There are growing fissures in the 27-member Western military alliance, which was already uneasy when the war began. Some have voiced doubts over their ability to sustain the campaign.

But the rebels appear incapable of providing a knock-out blow.

The alliance hasn't broken yet, although some are drifting toward the exits.

At least in Kosovo, as the bombing failed to dislodge Milosevic, NATO started to get the machinery of invasion put in motion as a developing threat. For Libya, we don't even have that. The rebels aren't an army and NATO won't provide the small one needed to defeat Khaddafi's forces.

We may yet get lucky and see the loyalists fracture and retreat under isolation and bombardment before NATO fractures and retreats. I have no way of knowing who is more solid.

UPDATE: Despite being a relatively clean campaign, the NATO air attacks can't be perfect. Two recent air attacks that caused civilian deaths are the exception to the great care we take to avoid civilian deaths:

The Libyan government said on Monday 19 civilians were killed in a NATO air strike on the home of one of Muammar Gaddafi's top officials, a day after NATO admitted killing civilians in a separate aerial attack.

An alliance serious about winning would shrug off the errors as things that happen in war. But with the will to keep going until victory already faltering, this will be an excuse for some to get out, claiming the war is not what they signed up for three months ago:

Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said on Monday civilian deaths pose a risk to the NATO-led military alliance. NATO states have been hitting targets in Libya since March 19 in what they say is an operation to protect civilians.

"NATO is endangering its credibility; we cannot risk killing civilians," Frattini told reporters before an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg to discuss ways to aid rebels.

The Arab League, which in March asked the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya to protect civilians, condemned the loss of life in Sunday's incident.

Nobody has bolted yet. But how many more accidental (or staged by the loyalists) civilian deaths can the alliance endure before members start to pull out?