Saturday, February 28, 2015

Will Warlords Return to China?

China has made great strides in both increasing their GDP to the benefit of their people and in moving toward and advanced economy. Whether or not statistics have been fiddled with, there has been tremendous growth. But what obstacles remain to enjoying this success?

Could civilian-military differences lead to a military-supported coup?

And what happens to China as a political entity if the outcome isn't clean, as the above article speculates?

It is an unlikely outcome, however, because the PLA is divided. Many within it have a stake in Xi’s survival. Far more probable is a scenario in which officers in charge of one of China’s military districts—in Sichuan, say, or perhaps in Jilin—decide that they have tolerated more than enough interference from the central government and declare war. There might be considerable local support for such a move; regional identities remain strong within China and resentment of a rapacious central government is easy to foster. Bo Xilai fell in part because of his popularity in Chongqing. Affordable housing and the idea that he would not let his Chongqingers down made Bo a hero to many locals. Beijing’s arresting him was for many just another example of the central government interfering with Chongqing’s well-being. Capitalizing on local discontent and China’s militia-rized culture, an enterprising military commander could well gather enough strength to challenge Beijing.

Were such a thing to happen, China’s fate could go in one of several different directions. If our imaginary commander were strong enough, an outright seizure of the capital after long, bloody warfare would be one outcome. Mao Zedong, after all, managed to seize power and unify the country after battling a series of foes. But given Xi’s strength, outright victory would be unlikely. Instead, one can expect a bloody stalemate, with the country dividing along north-south lines as old as China itself. “Two Chinas”, to use that dreaded phrase, could emerge. Balkanization might not stop there either. Once other military commands see the possibility of successful defiance, they too might act.

Xi might find that quashing secessionists costs more blood and money than he can get his hands on. China might fall back into a new Warring States or warlord era, in which little fiefdoms spar, subside into coexistence, and then start sparring again.

This is very speculative, as the author says. But with a basis in history, it is at least a subject of speculation.

As I've written before:

With a state both cruel and failing economically, governing a continent-sized population with a history of fragmentation, I don't know why we need to guess which course the government of China will follow. The continent of China is big enough that it could follow all the possible paths.

"Failing" may be defined as failing to grow fast enough to satisfy demands for economic progress rather than recession, but it will be failure enough to matter.

To add to the fun, what if the fear in Chinese ruling circles that they are potentially in a pre-revolutionary situation leads them to push the military too far, thus triggering a civil-military conflict?

Or what if China's rulers seek a "foreign" fight to cement their rule? In their way of thinking that is not the escalation that we might see it as being.

Heck, it might not even be a "foreign" target in their way of thinking.

But no worries. The world is a safer place according to our Secretary of State. That and a buck will get you a (small) cup of coffee, eh?

Send in the Clowns

Really? It's come to this?

In a new blog post, the White House declares that "7 out of 10 Doctors [say] Climate Change Is Already Harming Patients’ Health."

How is it possible to make that claim when we've been in--charitably--a "pause" in global warming for the last 17 years (give or take a year or two)? Just how is American health being harmed because of increased heat when the global temperature has been flat?

And given that cold-related deaths are twice as likely as heat-related deaths in America, how can global warming even be harmful if it was taking place, at least in the short run?

This poll just in! Six out of ten clowns say global warming is already making us sadder.

There Was No Battle Inside Basra

While Iraqi forces moved into Basra in spring 2008 in the Charge of the Knights operation against pro-Iran Shia militias, there was no battle inside Basra during the Iran-Iraq War.

In an otherwise interesting piece on the issue of Mosul and whether we telegraphed our intentions, the author says this about the ability to fight and seize Mosul:

Whatever the rationale behind the U.S. statements, the overall plan to retake Mosul carries serious tactical and strategic risks. These risks exist whether CENTCOM releases a trailer for the campaign or not. Urban combat is costly—even if you win. The United States knows this from its own history in cities such as Hue during the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War. The Iraqis know it from their history, too, such as the battles for Khorramshahr and Basra during the war with Iran.

I'll ratify the Khorramshahr experience.

But I don't know what the author is talking about when citing Basra.

Basra was the subject of many Iranian offensives in the Iran-Iraq War. But I don't believe the Iranians ever made it closer than 6 miles to the city in the face of stiff Iraqi resistance and many fortifications and obstacles.

So there is no urban warfare experience inside Basra for Iraq to draw from.

UPDATE: This was as close as Iran got to fighting inside Basra:

In January 8, 1987, Karbala Five signaled its beginning when waves of Iranians rushed the Iraqi lines northwest of Khorramshahr. As Rafsanjani predicted, the Iraqis stood their ground and fought. Final victory was not, however, the result. In standing to fight, the Iraqis gunned down the Iranians who stubbornly attacked in the face of crippling losses as they slowly shoved the Iraqis back. By January 22, 1987, the Iranians had advanced to within ten kilometers of Basra, the objective on which Iran pinned her hopes of victory. By the fourth week of the offensive, Iran's attack force was spent and the Iranians dug in to hold their exposed positions at the outskirts of Basra. Iraq's counter-attack called upon all the available reserves and smashed the Iranians to end the offensive for good. Perhaps 20,000 Iranians died in the battle. Iraq's casualties were about half of Iran's. Iraq's performance is notable in that Iraq withstood and won the kind of brutal bloodletting that supposedly only Iran could endure. Observers at the time saw only that Iran had launched yet another in a seemingly endless series of big offensives. They speculated about how many more of these attacks Iraq could endure. Actually, Iran broke at Karbala Five. It would be many months before observers began to wonder what was wrong with Iran when no further attacks were begun, yet it was true that the "Islamic Revolution bled to death in Karbala V."

So there you go.

Well, That's Convenient

A prominent dissident in Russia was murdered:

Boris Nemtsov, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis, was shot dead steps from the Kremlin in a murder that underscored the risks taken by the Russian opposition.

Nemtsov, 55, was shot four times in the back by assailants in a white car as he walked across a bridge over the Moskva River in central Moscow with a Ukrainian woman, who was unhurt, just before midnight on Friday, police said.

Steps from the Kremlin? That's convenient, too. The killers could kill the man while on a coffee run. No overtime pay. Which is nice for cash-strapped Russia.

Leaving the Ukrainian woman unhurt won't look good on their annual fitness report, of course.

But don't you worry, Putin is on the case:

Putin condemned the "brutal" slaying and took the investigation under presidential control, saying it could have been a contract killing and a "provocation" on the eve of a big opposition protest Nemtsov had been due to lead on Sunday.

Putin will reportedly put famed murder expert and dogged pursuer of "real killers"--O. J. Simpson--on the case.

We now resume our regular foreign aggression programing.

UPDATE: Interesting:

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was murdered because he planned to disclose evidence of Russia's involvement in Ukraine's separatist conflict.

Although I'm bewildered by the notion that Russia's direct involvement isn't already clear.

So who else has the proof? Surely Nemtsov didn't dig this up on his own?

Or are there other bullet-riddled bodies all around Moscow this morning?

UPDATE: Nemtsov's death is a tragedy. So when does Putin increase the death toll to mere statistic?

UPDATE: I admire their courage:

Tens of thousands of people are marching in central Moscow to honour opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead on Friday.

They carried portraits of Mr Nemtsov and banners saying "I am not afraid".

He had been due to lead an opposition march on Sunday but his killing turned the event into a mourning rally.

But I worry too, if Putin just considers a rally like that a "target-rich environment."

Friday, February 27, 2015

Obviously, It's George W. Bush's Fault

Seriously, what part of "we're fighting barbarians" is unclear to you?

A video of jihadists in Iraq gleefully smashing ancient statues to pieces with sledgehammers sparked global outrage and fears Friday that more of the world's oldest heritage will be destroyed.

I guess the job of smashing our cultural heritage doesn't count for Marie Harf.

Let's get on with our job of killing these breathing pieces of garbage.

That's WAY Different, Eh?

What are the limits of Chinese understanding of Russian security concerns?


Western powers should take into consideration Russia's legitimate security concerns over Ukraine, a top Chinese diplomat has said in an unusually frank and open display of support for Moscow's position in the crisis.

Say, let's continue this unusually frank way of thinking, shall we?

Vladivostok is really close to China, isn't it? No reason for Russia to worry at all, right?

Should China "abandon the zero-sum mentality, and take the real security concerns of Russia into consideration," when it comes to China's control of all of Manchuria?

I know, I know. China would say that's way different.

But really, this isn't about China. It's about Russia and how utterly stupid their rulers are proving to be.

Russia could have joined the West, and European Russia would be a vast safe rear area to guard against the real threats Russia faces to their territorial integrity.

But no, by invading Ukraine, Russia has repudiated any hope of relying on past treaties and agreements or international law under the United Nations system to defend their own territorial integrity should China raise dormant claims on Russia.

Granted, Russia thinks they have this covered, too. Surely Russia thinks, China will get involved in a fight at sea that will keep Russia's Far East safe.

Maybe we should say, as we do about disputes over islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea, that we take no position on who should own the Russian Far East as long as nobody resorts to war against one of our allies to settle these issues outside of diplomacy. Perfectly reasonable, I say.

China is surely taking notes on the new rules that Russia has written. Maybe Peking will start thinking that they have legitimate security concerns about the Russian Far East? Lots of important Chinese assets lie so close to Russian territory there, no?

Maybe China will dust off Russian-established precedents sometime around, oh, the year 2021.

NOTE: I rewrote the fifth-to-last paragraph to clarify it.

Ripples of War

Strategypage explains how Ukraine's military declined and how plans to rebuild it faltered on lack of cash.

Although in defense of Ukraine, they were finally winning in the east until Russia's August 2014 direct intervention; and it is too risky for Ukraine to send too much of their military to the east when Russia could trap those troops in a pocket if Russia escalates to general war and marches on Kiev from the north and northeast; and out of their Crimea positions from the south.

In the meantime, Mariupol's defense may rely more on French resolve than Ukrainian military capabilities:

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said this morning on French radio that if separatist troops advanced on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, that would constitute a new red line.

"I told my counterpart Sergei Lavrov that such a move would mean Russia wants to make a link with Crimea, and that would change everything," said Fabius.

Does Putin want those French-built amphibious warfare ships he bought but has not yet received more than he wants Mariupol?

Although I'm not sure why the loss of Mariupol means there is a land bridge to Crimea along the north shore of the Sea of Azov. Russia would have to push west a great deal more through more cities and towns before they can claim that objective.

Is there an assumption that Ukraine can't defend anywhere else along that route? Truly, Ukraine's military capabilities are low if that is the case.

There should be lots of bridges wired to blow and engineers ready to create obstacles on that potential line of advance. If those precautions aren't being made, why not? Shouldn't we be advising them to do so? Shouldn't they know better anyway?

Hasn't Ukraine made some progress in rebuilding military capabilities?

Speaking of that objective:

Ukraine's president says his country has signed an agreement to cooperate with the United Arab Emirates on military and technical issues as he kicked off a visit to the Western-allied Gulf nation.

That's interesting. How can Ukraine pay for arms? Could it be that Ukraine will trade some of their surplus Soviet-built weapons for anti-tank weapons, for example?

The UAE could conceivably use those Ukrainian weapons to arm anti-Assad rebels.

So Ukraine would get weapons they need to resist Russia's war of aggression and strike back at Russia by harming Putin's ally, Assad.

This comes on top of Russia's continuing effort to blackmail us into doing their bidding by threatening to sell advanced air defense missiles to Iran.

The war continues to affect a wider region than just Crimea and the Donbas.

Remain Calm. All is Not Well

John Kerry is taking heat for saying the world is a safer place. To be fair to him, it is. But justifying his low ranking among our secretaries of state, that is irrelevant to American security which he is supposed to advance through diplomacy.

So here we go:

Kerry testified at a separate hearing that, "Despite ISIL, despite the visible killings that you see and how horrific they are, we are actually living in a period of less daily threat to Americans and to people in the world than normally; less deaths, less violent deaths today, than through the last century."

But hold on:

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, testifying on Capitol Hill, catalogued the growing terror-fueled violence in stark terms.

"When the final accounting is done, 2014 will have been the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has been compiled," Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

It is almost too easy to recall Animal House:

To be fair to Kerry, both statements are actually correct.

Let me explain, as I did when President Obama made Kerry's claim:

President Obama has stirred some outrage by saying that we are safer now from terrorism than we have ever been; and saying that we only think the world is more dangerous because of Twitter and whatnot making us more aware of disorder. Most narrowly, I imagine he is actually correct--and yet 100% wrong.

On world disorder, I have no doubt that a look at global statistics would show the world growing less violent over the last 25 years.

This is the peace dividend of our victory in the Cold War as Soviet support for violence around the world ended and the impact of that support dwindled over time.

Yet does less violence in much of the Third World mean anything for our security when we face increased threats in eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the western Pacific? These are the areas that matter to our national security.

As much as we (and those living in those areas) can be grateful that violence in sub-Sahara Africa and Latin America is down, that is not sufficient to make up for the increased violence and threats in our areas of interest.

Similarly, given the massive amount of money that we have spent to create a homeland defense apparatus (the civil liberties aspect of that aside), I have no doubt that the president is technically correct that we are safer now than in 2001.

But this reflects an ability to detect and repel attacks from a greater array of threats rather than a reduction in those overseas threats to us.

Would we pass out Kevlar body armor to the people of Chicago and then tell them that they are now safer because their chance of dying in gun violence is dramatically lower now?

What the president has told us is, at best, accurate but fake.

These measures the president cites are no reason to believe we are not still engaged in the Long War against Islamo-fascist terrorism that we realized we were in 13 years ago.

I quoted the whole thing. Fair use doesn't apply to myself, eh?

I'm sure if you searched Strategypage, you could find the statistics to show the decline in deaths.

That doesn't mean America is safer when Russia is regaining power and is nursing a sense of persecution as it carves up Ukraine and threatens NATO states; when China is growing in power and seeking a role befitting its new power; when Iran is working for nuclear weapons, and when Venezuela and Argentina have foreign targets that could tempt their leaders to distract their people.

And Lord knows what is going on in Mexico where narco-"governments" at the regional level using jihadi terror tactics compete with the actual local governments and the corrupt national government.

Then when you consider all those threats despite the lowering of the body count, you have to admit that the potential for really bad body counts is expanding. What is Kerry doing about that other than going on about global warming as a threat and dreaming of a Nobel Peace Prize for getting Iran to pretend to stop their nuclear work?

Oh, and there is still that post 9/11 war against jihadis who are slaughtering across the arc of crisis from Libya to Afghanistan. Which has gotten worse.

Yet John Kerry is our chief diplomat who is tasked with keeping these threats from becoming a military problem.

If only he would be the only one to get trampled when that fails. Now that would be fair to John Kerry. Alas, that's not how it works. Face it people, we're an interpretive dance away from chaos.

Come on people, we pivoted to Asia on the assumption that Europe was peaceful and the Middle East quiet only to find Europe is a new theater that demands our attention and the Middle East had but a few years of looking quiet as an all-too short peace dividend of our battlefield victory in Iraq before it became an even bigger call on our attention.

Remain calm. But not all is well. The world that matters to us is not better.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

An Election Must Be Approaching

Nigeria has clawed back some ground from Boko Haram jihadis in the north. Don't hang out the "mission accomplished" banner yet.

Boko Haram has suffered some defeats:

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday said the military was gaining the upper hand against Boko Haram, despite two bombings in the country's north that killed at least 27.

"The President assures all Nigerians, and the people of the northeastern states in particular, that the days of mourning victims of incessant terrorist attacks in the country will soon be over as the tide has now definitely turned against Boko Haram," his office said in an emailed statement.

The city of Baga was retaken from Boko Haram; and forces of Chad, Cameroon, and Niger have helped go after the jihadis.

Of course, delayed elections now coming up in about a month might have something to do with the president's assurance.

But at least President Jonathan didn't say Boko Haram is just the jayvee team.

Onward Christian (Private) Soldiers

The war on jihadi terror will be waged whether or not our government does enough. These people don't think we are doing enough:

VanDyke, who rose to fame as a foreign fighter backing Libyan rebels against Moamer Kadhafi, has just finished leading his new military contracting firm through its first assignment -- training Christian volunteers to take on jihadists.

Funded by Christian groups from abroad, mainly from the United States, the Nineveh Plains Protection Unit (NPU) aims to bring a local Christian militia to bear against the Islamic State group that has seized swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Our government wrongly stated that the war on terror is basically over. Despite our enemy's demonstration that the war is on, our leadership seems reluctant to wage war on them. Even though they are willing to drop bombs, it seems motivated more by an effort to avoid pressure to do something more that would be effective.

With a government eager to avoid winning this war, it should be no shock that private warfare against the jihadis has emerged.

Some will no doubt be scams. But enough will be real. Do we really want to match jihadi non-state fanatics with our own religiously motivated rather than fighting them with our trained professional troops?

We entrust our government with the job of national defense. When the federal government doesn't do that core job (in part because it wants to do everything else but that), much as vigilantes arise when government doesn't provide justice and local defense, voluntary organizations will do the job.

You can purchase a collection of essays from this blog on the reappearance of private warfare related to this trend).

No Militarily Useful Purpose

Iranian speedboats swarmed a barge built to look like an American carrier. What a waste of effort.

Ooh. Scary:

With rockets roaring and guns blazing, more than a dozen swarming Iranian speedboats assaulted a replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier Wednesday during large-scale naval drills near the strategically vital entrance of the Persian Gulf.

The nationally televised show of force by the country's elite Revolutionary Guard comes just weeks ahead of a deadline for Iran and world powers to forge a historic deal on the fate of the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.

Oh those wacky friends the Obama administration just hasn't made yet!

I mentioned this building project here and here.

What a waste.

If Iran was thinking big, they'd have built the fake carrier to test their nuke on. Imagine the footage of that explosion!

Or Iran could have used the replica to test anti-ship missiles with inert warheads in order to tweak their ability to hit vulnerable parts of a carrier.

But by carrying out a demolition derby-style Islamist-porn show of an American aircraft carrier going down off of Iran, all they did was create footage that they'll put in the vault and haul out in case of a war with America.

Surely they have angles that they didn't publish now in order to avoid comparisons with this month's "show" of force.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Russia's Place in the Sun

Russia has a base place in Cyprus to call their own:

Cyprus on Wednesday signed a deal with Russia allowing its navy ships to make regular port calls on the island.

The deal with European Union member Cyprus, which also hosts British military bases, comes amid Russia-West tensions over Ukraine, the worst since the Cold War times.

Well, they did it after all.

This isn't a Russian military base. It's just a place their ships can go to for resupply and repair. So way different.

But the distinction between bases and places has eluded me, I admit.

I imagine access to an airport will come soon.

This all makes sense from Russia's point of view. Now that they have a bigger presence in the Black Sea with the conquest of Crimea, they need an eastern Mediterranean Sea buffer for that asset.

That's the way it works. Get a buffer and pretty soon you get attached to that land and want a buffer for that, too.

Repeat until stopped.

I'm Sure There is a Completely Innocent Explanation?

Are you kidding me?

Toronto's deputy police chief asked for the public's help Tuesday in determining who built a mysterious tunnel near a major sporting venue and a university in Toronto, and why.

A wildlife official was walking through woods near York University and the Rexall Center last month when he spotted a piece of corrugated metal on the ground, lifted it up and found a passageway.

Deputy police chief Mark Saunders said the tunnel was more than six feet (1.8 meters) high, almost three feet (0.9 meters) wide and about 33 feet (10 meters) long, and was hidden in a densely wooded area of the city, "well off the beaten path."

Had it continued, the tunnel would have exited on the other side of a hill overlooking nearby tennis courts and a sports facility that will host the Pan American Games in July.

The tunnel was reinforced with plywood and wood framing, and was equipped with a generator and sump pump.

The rosary and poppy (a symbol of remembrance for soldiers who died in World War I and subsequent wars) found in the tunnel sound like obvious disinformation, to me.

I would like to emphasize that the tunnel doesn't have to come up covertly before it is used to be a very serious threat.

All the tunnel has to do is approach the surface so that attackers can push a small periscope up and then wait until the attackers want to hit the sporting events and quickly break through to the surface and come out with their weapons (rifles, grenades, suicide vests) ready to fire.

How quickly would security react if some guys came trotting down the hill? Perhaps sporting bright clothing indicating they were big fans of the Venezuelan tennis players?

I assume police are merely acting so calm in order to try to catch whoever was building the tunnel before they get too scared and board a plane to flee to ISIL-held Syria.

Because it would be criminal stupidity not to see this as a potential threat, especially given recent attacks in Canada.

Or are Christian Canadian Afghanistan war veterans--perhaps Catholic Quebec independence fighters--really high on your list of suspects?

UPDATE: Pictures of the "mystery" tunnel.

Vulcan Death Grip?

Could a successful Russian attack on Narva, Estonia, wreck the entire NATO alliance?

American forces from our 2nd cavalry regiment (Stryker) paraded through a city that is likely on Putin's potential target list:

The soldiers from the U.S. Army’s Second Cavalry Regiment were taking part in a military parade to mark Estonia’s Independence Day. Narva is a vulnerable border city separated by a river from Russia. It has often been cited as a potential target for the Kremlin if it wanted to escalate its conflict with the West onto NATO territory.

Other NATO states participated in the parade, too.

This is just one of many moves we are making across Europe to reassure jittery friends and attempt to impress upon the Russians that there are lines that Russia crosses at their peril.

There is a lot of talk that Russia could try to replicate in Estonia (because of its large ethnic Russian population) their aggression against Crimea and the Donbas--both in Ukraine--by creating a faux revolt with Russian special forces spearheading the effort.

Russia is very close and if Russians want Ukraine as a buffer against a non-existent NATO threat to Russia, Putin  surely wants Estonia (and possibly Finland by similar logic) as a buffer for St. Petersburg.

Once Russia gets stronger, they could just launch a rapid assault all the way to Tallinn and stop at whatever line they think they can get away with before significant NATO ground troops arrive, from the Latvian border down to the Polish border, depending on whether they want to quickly link their isolated Kaliningrad enclave with Russia.

But even before Russia rearms enough to conquer a country the old-fashioned way, there is an alternative method of aggression that makes it good that we are getting familiar with Narva:

Could Russia seek to use their relatively few quality troops on a narrow front rather than try their "little green men" astro-turf revolt tactic again that we will be more attuned to reacting to if applied to Estonia, a member of NATO, with its relatively large (a quarter of the population) ethnic Russian minority?

What if Russia attempts a page out of Pakistan's long territorial struggle against militarily superior India in the 1999 Kargil War?

What if Russia sends in their regular troops--while denying they are their troops--to seize the Estonian ethnic-Russian city of Narva on the northeast border and dares NATO to counter-attack, which would devastate NATO's reputation if we did nothing?

If we're smart, we develop very detailed maps of Narva, Narva's underground (sewers and whatnot), and the region around it so we have grid coordinates of every important piece of terrain and building in the Narva region.

Heck, make a mockup of representative and key parts of Narva for our National Training Center to train troops in urban warfare, generally.

And make sure we have facilities in Europe to conduct similar training for European NATO armies.

Right now, Putin's Russia is just the modern sick (but angry) man of Europe and Putin risks much with this risky schemes to raise Russia's stature.

But he wants to be remembered as Putin the Great. So watch the bear closely.

And for those of you who are annoyed that there really isn't a "Vulcan death grip," I know that. Hold your emails.

Also, there's no such thing as a Vulcan nerve pinch.

UPDATE: Meanwhile in Russia:

Up to 2,000 Russian soldiers took part in drills in the country's west on Wednesday as Moscow conducted an inspection of its paratrooper units in the latest show of strength likely to alarm its neighbours.

Some 500 units of equipment were also to be included in drills in the western Pskov region which borders EU members Estonia and Latvia, defence ministry spokeswoman Irina Kruglova told AFP.

Gosh it's great having an expansionist, paranoid ex-KGB guy in charge of nuclear-armed Russia!

Sequestration is the Beginning of Wisdom?

I do believe Lieutenant General McMaster read my book--well, my article, anyway.

The Army can no longer throw money at our industry to create the revolutionary wonder tank--light, fast, lethal, and survivable. And it won't try:

The Army for decades has been chasing the holy grail of land warfare: A combat vehicle that is light enough to travel by air but also has sturdy armor shielding to protect occupants against bomb blasts, and big enough guns to blow out the enemy.

The Army has poured billions of dollars into this pursuit over the past 15 years, and has failed every time. The latest effort, known as the infantry fighting vehicle, was terminated in 2014.

The lesson for the Army: It needs to set realistic goals and get on with modernizing the armor fleet before current vehicles become hopelessly outdated, said Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster Jr., deputy commanding general of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command for futures and director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center.

“We are downscaling expectations, based on what we know industry can deliver,” McMaster said Feb. 19 during a breakfast meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C.

The plan is to start updating existing vehicles and gradually progress to a new design as technology and budgets permit, McMaster said.

Holy Hell. And he even mentioned smaller squads for the mechanized infantry (and this may be the way to get it) and evolving our tanks, including with more fuel efficient engines.

I do believe that my Military Review article (page 28-33) on this subject was on the general's reading list.

Let me quote the very last part of that article, anyway:

The tentative assumptions of 2001 will change by 2025. When they do, the Army will rue its failure today to accept that the wonder tank will not be built.

We've finally accepted that we can't build the wonder tank. Hallelujah.

While I'm at it,let me toss in this essay on the value of heavy forces that I submitted for an essay contest that fell through the cracks between editors, and which I put up on this blog nine years ago.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Little Green Men in Space

Russians will even secede from the International Space Station:

Russia's space agency expects the International Space Station to stay in orbit through 2024, and plans to create its own space outpost with its segment of the station after that.

Roscosmos' scientific council concluded Tuesday that several Russian modules could eventually be undocked to "perform the task of ensuring Russia's guaranteed presence in space."

I really think it is time the international community made a note that Russia "does not play well with others" on their permanent record.

Let me just say that it would be wise if the people screening for volunteers to colonize Mars excluded ethnic Russians.

You never can tell when Putin might consider the red planet part of Cosmos Russia.

UPDATE: I did warn about this potential problem.

Is This the Reset, Nuance, or Leading from Behind?

Our friends, the Russians:

Russia has offered Iran its latest Antey-2500 missiles, the head of Russian state defense conglomerate Rostec said on Monday according to media reports, after a deal to supply less powerful S-300 missiles was dropped under Western pressure.

Explain to me again why we aren't sending Ukraine weapons?

But, ha ha! The joke is on the Russians! As if we would attack Iran to halt their nuclear programs!

So that effort to screw us over and make it easier for Iran to go nuclear is a complete waste!

Funny stuff. Funny stuff.

Next Administration on Jerusalem

John Kerry will do what it takes to get a Nobel Peace prize for signing a nuclear deal with Iran.

This is disheartening:

The United States and Iran are shaping the contours of a deal that would initially freeze Tehran's nuclear program but would allow it to slowly ramp up activities that could be used to make nuclear arms over the last years of the agreement's duration. ...

The idea would be to reward Iran for good behavior over the last years of any agreement, by gradually lifting constraints on its uranium enrichment program imposed as part of a deal that would also would slowly ease sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

I would love to see the definition of "good behavior" in the secret annex of the "phased" deal.

I've long feared that the basic outline of our future deal with Iran is painfully clear: they will pretend not to have a nuclear program; and we will pretend to believe them.

That, however, lacked the nuance of our State Department.

Iran will pretend not to have a nuclear program; we will pretend to believe them; and then we will pretend that lifting constraints on their enrichment program is justified.

And everyone involved on our side will pretend that when Iran goes nuclear during the next American administration that it is all that administration's fault.

Have a super phased sparkly day.

Monday, February 23, 2015

At the Hot Posts

I've always considered James Lileks this blog's blogfather. So when he contemplates the (again?) pending death of blogging, I have to at least ponder that future.

Yet Lileks is not too put off:

Speaking of which: If blogs are dying I suppose I shall go with them, he said, using “shall” to put you in mind of someone tossing a scarf over his shoulder and facing the bracing wind. There’s been a few stories here and there about the expiration of the form, occasioned perhaps by Andrew Sullivan stepping away, and noting how everything is going Social and Sharable. I’ve thought of adding social buttons to the bottom of the post again, but it would make more sense to add them to individual pages so people could share links to whatever caught their fancy. There are thousands of pages.

So no.

Am I worried about time and trends passing me by? Not at all. This has always been just what it is since the very first entry, and while it’s expanded in length and subject, I am not going to convert it to a series of sharable snacks for Facebook feeds. Perhaps that’s unwise. But I hate Facebook and have no desire to spend any time there, so tailoring the Bleat or for Zuckerberg’s dull blue borg cube would be like spending a lot of time and money getting fitted for clothes I don’t like so I can blend in amongst people I don’t know in a country I don’t like.

I'm on Facebook but I just don't use it. It's merely the required option to be found in this age.

Lileks likes Twitter. I'm neutral-ish on it. I've pondered using Twitter. Sometimes I make really short posts to see how that feels.

But like Lileks, this site is about me and not about you. Oh, I hope you get good information out of my writings. But the reason for this blog is that I like to explain stuff.

To my surprise, I enjoyed my limited teaching time (intro US history in community college) far more than I expected. And my main job was, at the heart of it, explaining stuff.

And I didn't see the media doing a very good job--with rare exceptions--of explaining the war we embarked on after we were hit on September 11, 2001. I believed (and still believe) our war effort deserves our public's support. I gave the media until July 2002 to demonstrate any kind of learning curve at all on reporting on war, and they failed. So here I am still.

So there will never be comments here any more than there are in a book you read. Email me if you must. Mock me (or praise me) on your own site if you like. Have a ball. That is your right.

I'll probably join Twitter just when a new service that sends a sense of your emotions directly to your frontal lobe to spare you the effort of reading 140 characters becomes popular.

Our ancestors built this world wide web. If the Tweets and social network posts and pictures blot out the sun, and if they descend on me to destroy this blog, then I shall blog in the shade until that day.

And the Spartans wore even less than pajamas! How can I endure less?

Especially when Lileks will be right there at the front of the phalanx, hacking the social media foes like the annoying Immortals they are, while I remain in the fifth rank trying to poke somebody with the sharp thing.

Although I admit that it would be nice to have 300 unique visitors per day.

UPDATE: It is looking like we lost one blogger. Mad Minerva has been silent since January 8th. And it has been a while since she blogged on Taiwan matters, which got me to follow her blog. And her email is no longer working, it seems.

Perhaps she was absorbed into the higher ed borg collective and is now eagerly watching MSNBC. Pity.

Hopefully all is well and a better life has taken priority over mere blogging!

It Really is a Long War

I didn't jump on the Marie Harf ridicule-fest over her jobs for jihadis comments. There is a basis of truth in that statement, although it is wrong as a stand-alone assessment of root causes.

Mind you, I think Harf is awful in her role. She displays more unjustified arrogance and hostility to the American press corps she works with than any diplomat would dare express to our pre-friends the Iranians.

And for the record, Psaki never ticked me off even if I sometimes shook my head--consider who she works for.

Regarding the recent Harf Kerfuffle, I had more ridicule for the activist left that let her apparent glee about bombing brown people slide in their effort to defend her from "jobs or hijabs" criticism.

So really, the recognition by even Marie Harf that we are in a long war is gratifying.

But the last thing I want to hear from her is using George W. Bush to defend her statement that jihadis need jobs to keep them from killing.

It isn't just a matter of jobs (although I think this aspect is probably still more important in the West as opposed to the Middle East itself). If that is true, why are only poor Moslems beheading people? There are lots of poor people who aren't murderous lunatics.

Yes, a modernized Islamic world will have more jobs as young men learn skills rather than the Koran, but that is a side effect of moving out of the 7th century. Give 7th century barbarians a bunch of jobs and they'll still kill, even if just at night and on weekends.

Or they'll write checks to help others kill for God.

But jihadi terrorists aren't defined by poverty. Like revolutionaries everywhere across history, jihadis tend to be led by the well off. The poor are generally too busy surviving to organize a revolution and lack the education to even know where to begin (or pen a good manifesto). They make good cannon fodder and suicide bombers, but that's it.

As for a purported shortage of jobs in the Arab Moslem world to distract them from jihad, the jobs are there. But too many Moslems don't want that work and so they import lots of immigrants to do those jobs.

Look, I remember Bush 43. He fought jihadis hammer and tong. That man could get away with the polite fictions (that had a relation to the bigger truth of the long nature of the struggle) that served to soothe those on the fence in the Islamic civil war that we weren't at war with all of Islam even as we killed jihadis.

So Harf shouldn't defend her fictions that encompass the new emphasis of our current anti-jihadi policy that relies on Twittering them into submission by relying on George W. Bush.

I said it before and I'll say it again, when you Twitter a king, kill him.

Yet there are those fragments of truth. I'm not as dismissive of the Arab Spring as many conservatives are these days. Societal change is not made in a weekend of Twitter-enabled demonstrations.

The French Revolution was motivated by good intentions to defeat autocracy and replace it with liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Sure, it didn't work out so well and ended up being the start of a bloody nightmare in France,  across Europe, and even reaching other parts of the globe.

But eventually France got democracy and rule of law (and kept their Harf-like arrogance!). As did much of Europe.

The Arab Spring has not led (let's wait on Tunisia) to democracy and rule of law. But it did show that a sizable number of Arab Moslems hoped for government different from their traditional alternatives of theocracy or autocracy.

This is a hopeful sign despite the resilience of their anchor-like society that drags them down and the power of the forces of theocracy and autocracy to resist losing power.

Nobody ever said that defeating jihadis only involved killing jihadis.

But until the Moslem civil war is resolved against the jihadis, killing jihadis to contain that hateful faction is absolutely necessary both to protect us until the Long War is over and to allow other Moslems to safely turn against the jihadi impulse.

I knew George W. Bush. Barack Obama is no George W. Bush.

You Are Cordially Invited to a JDAM Event

Complaints continue about our revelations over the planned offensive on Mosul. I still think that the briefing discussed what was known or could be assumed from basic military knowledge.

Regardless of whether that briefing was an accurate reflection of our plans or was intended to obscure an Anbar offensive first, there could be another reason for the briefing and the questions even from some retired officers.

When some analysts I respect questioned the details, I had to reassess my lack of concern. On reflection, I'm still not worried.

I've blogged about pretty much everything in that briefing, whether it was the numbers, use of Kurds, or reserves and forward air controllers. So what gives?

Could it be that we don't care if ISIL knows we are coming (and they already did) as long as they start moving their assets to meet the assault?

That is, ISIL has adapted to our air campaign. While we still hurt them, it takes more effort because the enemy stopped being easy targets. One good way to get the enemy to be easy targets is to get them to move.

So if ISIL believes they need to redeploy to meet an offensive on Mosul, we may be able to hit more targets from the air. If this is accurate, we believe we gain more by killing jihadis than we lose by (apparently) confirming the bloody obvious.

I hope ISIL accepts the invitation.

Also, I still expect an operation into Anbar first. I just don't like the idea of an Iraqi thrust so far north with the units we embed with to advise while jihadis remain so close to Baghdad from their positions in eastern Anbar.

UPDATE: I'm reasonably sure that Anbar-based jihadis had a major role in this carnage:
A wave of bomb attacks around Baghdad killed 37 people and wounded dozens more on Tuesday, as at least seven explosions struck in or near the Iraqi capital, police and medical sources said.

Note that Iraqi troops are fighting right now in Anbar to clear al-Baghdadi, which is just 3 miles west of Ain al-Asad airbase where our Marines are training Iraqi troops.

Could this be an opening move in a fight for Anbar province that could precede a drive on Mosul?

UPDATE: Here's one ISIL reaction north of Baghdad:

Islamic State fighters have abducted 100 Sunni Muslim tribesmen near the city of Tikrit, local tribal leaders said on Wednesday, apparently to neutralize suspected opponents before a widely expected army offensive.

We'll see if this is good or bad for us. Does it anger Sunni Arab tribesmen to make them eager to work with Iraqi forces or cow them into submission?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A New End Game?

The Obama administration is back to "Assad must go transition" thinking. Does this correct a failing about the fate of Assad in what I think is otherwise a basically sound plan to defeat ISIL?

The war militarized without our intervention, so what the heck:

President Barack Obama suggested Thursday that U.S. and international efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy Islamic State militant group may only be achieved after a political transition in Syria.

That transition from foe back to partner seems to have been halted for now.

Although that "transition" language comes from the proto-partner era, leaves plenty of room to keep Assad in a position of power even if he loses the front office.

This change of language may explain something else about the Syrian rebels we are training:

The U.S. revealed that it had so far screened 1,200 Syrian rebels to be sent to training at camps in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Those selected are believed much less likely to be radicalized and the United States hopes to have 3,000 trained and in action by the end of 2015. Such screening is difficult but the Americans had help from Saudi Arabia, which has had more success in that respect. The American effort is criticized for being too slow and producing too few armed and trained fighters to make a difference. At the moment American government policy limits what U.S. counter-terrorism efforts can do. Under these conditions the Americans plan to use their reliable rebels to call in air strikes and provide accurate information of what is going on inside Syria. This decision is based on the success the U.S. has had with the Kurds. Thus the Americans are trying to find equally reliable Arab rebels in Syria to call in air strikes. Using contacts the Kurds have developed over the years the U.S. is seeking small teams of Arab rebels who can be taught how to call in airstrikes. These teams will be equipped with armed (with a machine-gun) pickup trucks and the special radios and sent them back to Syria.

One, we came to an agreement with Turkey which has insisted that rebels trained in Turkey be allowed to target Assad and not just ISIL. So perhaps this is a two-step now of weakening Assad to make sure going after ISIL in Syria doesn't strengthen Assad.

And we have an interesting Turkish ground operation inside Syria itself:

Turkish forces swept into Syria overnight to rescue about 40 soldiers who had been surrounded for months by Islamic State militants while guarding the tomb of a revered Turkish figure.

The operation rescued Turkish guards who were in Syria under a 1921 treaty to protect a tomb of Suleyman Shah, whose grandson founded the Ottoman Empire. The bones were moved to a safer location inside Syria.

The Turkish force moved through Kurdish rebel-held Kobani, with tank and aerial support.

Syria strongly protested. I assume we were informed so we wouldn't bomb the Turks, thinking they were an ISIL tank force on the move.

Could this be a test operation to see how Turkish troops would be treated inside Syria, how Turkey's public would react, and how their own troops would react to the mission?

Two, it could explain something that had puzzled me when I first read that Strategypage post I quoted above.

I was puzzled because I thought the plan for Syrian rebels was to create a small force that could operate inside Syria along the Iraq border in order to essentially isolate the Iraqi front from the Syria rear area (from the perspective of the Iraq front).

Critics said (and still say, as that post indicates) this was too small a force to really go after Assad, and they were right.

But this new description implies that the men we will train won't be an army so much as the heavy weapons component of an army. And the headquarters element, I assume.

That is, with a force that has the trained troops and communications gear for fire support and command and control, it could be the backbone that attracts other rebels who provide the basic foot soldiers of an army. This training effort could leverage a far larger force as I speculated in the fall:

10 battalions of trained troops with good weapons including heavier weapons to bolster and lead the strategically immobile rebels on attacks could be sent singly or in groups to different parts of the war to grab land from Assad and ISIL, ending these two groups' monopoly on mobile shock troops.

This kind of impact will raise the prestige of the non-jihadi rebels and encourage recruitment to their ranks.

Yet I assumed that these could be assault battalions that would themselves be shock troops. But if the rebel force is to be the headquarters and fire support element, they must have other rebels to be the trigger pullers and bullet stoppers. Which means it would be part of a much larger force that could have a major presence on he battlefield.

But again, it is difficult to judge whether new information I read indicates more detail of the plan all along or whether it represents a change.

And of course, there is the problem of seeing evidence that supports what I would do, although in my defense my new interpretation is at odds with my older thinking.

Yet with the Turks on board and with the Obama administration speaking of having to go through the Assad regime to get at ISIL, it does seem that for now Assad is not assumed to be the proto-partner that he seemed to be when Kerry signed that Syrian chemical weapons deal with Russia's Lavrov.

I wish the president believed Assad had to go because Assad is our enemy rather than being a hindrance to hurting ISIL enough to responsibly end that war as soon as possible. That leaves too much room for Assad to survive if we hurt ISIL enough this year.

But you go to war with the president you have and not the president you wish you had.

Sitting on the Foggy Throne

John Kerry, our chief diplomat (who is already world renowned), stood firm against the biggest threat we face:

The rise of violent extremism represents the pre-eminent challenge of the young 21st century. Military force is a rational and often necessary response to the wanton slaughters of children, mass kidnappings of schoolgirls, and beheading of innocents. But military force alone won’t achieve victory. In the long term, this war will be won only by deploying a broader, far more creative arsenal.

If only, somehow, we could figure out who is killing innocent people and just who these innocent people are! I mean, if Baptists were slaughtering Animists, that would simplify our problem and help us focus our broad arsenal, no? Alas, it is a mystery.

#WeStandWithRandomPeople. (Release the Kraken Hashtag!)

Only one year ago, our chief diplomat wasn't nearly as vague about the biggest threat to all of us that he could see:

Climate change may be the world's "most fearsome" weapon of mass destruction and urgent global action is needed to combat it, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday, comparing those who deny its existence or question its causes to people who insist the Earth is flat.

Kerry was sure the enemy was oil and coal.


I'd say the science on who is killing people is more solid than what is causing our 17-year-long "pause" in global temperature increases. No odd data manipulation is needed to indicate that Islamo-fascists are killing people who are not Islamo-fascist. Denial problems, indeed.

Perhaps we need a State Department glossary to see the order of concern for something that is a "pre-eminent" challenge and one that needs "urgent global action."

I'm sure the nuance involved is breathtaking and only Marie Harf can fully appreciate it.

But a year from today, who knows what threat Kerry will groan about and raise to the top priority for his stunning intellect to take on?

Perhaps Putin's Russia will have taken enough ground and rearmed enough to raise alarms about global action. Certainly, Kerry noted Putin's aggression recently:

Speaking in London alongside UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Kerry said Russia was "continuing to do land-grabbing in Ukraine" even as it professed to support peace efforts.

Russia's actions are "just simply unacceptable, so we are talking about additional sanctions, additional efforts," Kerry said.

"We are confident that over the next few days we are going to make it clear that we are not going to play this game, not going to sit here and be part of this extraordinarily craven behavior at the expense of the sovereignty and integrity of a nation.

At least Kerry isn't in denial that Russia is invading Ukraine. That surely gives Russia under Putin a leg up in ascending the threat assessment ladder past global non-warming and the threat of mysteriously motivated killers in next year's threat matrix.

#UnitedForUkraine. Oh wait, that's a real one--God help us.

And I just love the "craven" label the Secretary of State applied to Putin. I think somebody has been binge watching a lot of Game of Thrones, lately, eh?

Not that it hasn't affected me, I admit.

Pity Kerry isn't on the small council of Westeros, instead. His knowledge might be useful.


I think we can all agree that "boob" is a large part of our diplomacy, these days. Because when you play the game of groans, you either win a Nobel Peace Prize or just resign to spend more time with your family and go home with lovely parting gifts.

But no worries. Kerry is also on the Iran nuclear issue:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif will try to narrow gaps in another round of nuclear talks in Geneva on Sunday as they press to meet a March 31 deadline for a political framework agreement.

They want to kill us all and we don't want them to kill any of us. Obviously there's room for give and take in those opening positions.

And Zarif has to give us one of his dragons, obviously.


Good Enough for Government Work

I've heard some comments that the Iraqis aren't capable of taking Mosul with the hasty training they're being given to do the job. I disagree.

One, it is clear from the recent CENTCOM briefing that the five Iraqi army brigades we are training and advising are intended for the drive on Mosul and not for battling through the city itself.

These brigades will probably help to hold the ring outside the city to isolate it from outside ISIL support (or retreat) just as three Kurdish brigades will do the same on the north side.

The Iraqis will send in tribal forces, police units familiar with the city, and counter-terror forces that are pretty decent forces within the Iraqi ground forces.

Two, Iraqi forces did take the Iranian city of Khorramshahr in the Iran-Iraq War.

Mosul may be much bigger, but Iraqi forces with far less training captured the city of Khorramshahr in 1980 in a little over a month despite initial setbacks during the Iraqi invasion of Iran:

In the extreme south, Iraqi armor was repulsed with heavy losses after storming Khorramshahr unsupported. Iraq hastily trained commandos in urban warfare and renewed the attack. On October 25, 1980, the Iraqis succeeded in capturing the city. Ominously, the victory cost the Iraqis 5,000 casualties.

I dare say that even when going after a larger city, Iraqi casualties will be lower due to the fact that the city won't support the ISIL defenders and because of our fire support.

How long it will take to clean out the city, I don't know. It depends on whether the ISIL guys are in a mood to go to Paradise quite so soon rather than skedaddle back to Syria before the city is surrounded.

I don't know how long it will take to drive to the outskirts of Mosul, either. It may depend on how many mines and obstacles ISIL sows on the roads north and how many places ISIL holds in place to stop the offensive.

French forces moved fast in Mali two years ago to route jihadis there. But I doubt the Iraqis could manage that, from the time ISIL has had to plant obstacles and mines alone.

But I could be surprised, I suppose.

But Iraqi forces with allied fire support and advice are perfectly capable of battling through Mosul.

Heck, Mosul will probably look far better than Aleppo, Syria, which is "mostly rubble," when the fight for the city is over.

UPDATE: An Arab army can' beat a hopped-up jihadi enemy?

Please. Iraq beat revolutionary Iran on points, at least, in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, as that link above to my summary of the war shows.

The war was ugly, costly, and long, but in the end Iraq won because Iranian jihadi morale broke and they would not fight any more.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

When Red Lines Represent the Limits of Russia's Advance

As Russia shreds another ceasefire in eastern Ukraine by capturing Debaltseve and prepares to assault Mariupol, let's review a recent argument against arming Ukraine.

So far, Russia's plan to pretend they have no idea how the war in Donbas is continuing is working just fine, so don't expect it to end any time soon when more objectives beckon:

Pro-Russian separatists are building up forces and weapons in Ukraine's south east and the Ukrainian military said on Saturday it was braced for the possibility of a rebel attack on the port city of Mariupol.

So let's review an argument against arming Ukraine to resist Russia:

Going down that road would be a huge mistake for the United States, NATO and Ukraine itself. Sending weapons to Ukraine will not rescue its army and will instead lead to an escalation in the fighting. Such a step is especially dangerous because Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons and is seeking to defend a vital strategic interest.

I don't have a ton of respect for the author. Or many grams, for that matter. Just so you know.

Basically, the author says Russia can match any escalation; that Russia will pay any price for such a vital objective as keeping Ukraine a buffer; and that Russia could escalate to nuclear weapons.

Can Russia match Ukraine in escalation? Not really.

If Russia could have taken Donbas while they took Crimea, they would have. I assumed they'd do both before the invasion, yet I apparently over-estimated Russia's conventional military capability. Russia had to go after the two regions sequentially. And they did the easier one first.

And Russia has to protect Crimea as they escalate with their limited pool of decent troops.

If the war escalates too much, why will Crimea be off limits as a theater of war? Will Russia risk Ukraine using long-range missiles and aircraft to bombard Sevastopol naval base and using naval mines to hinder use of the port?

Eventually, if Putin's rearmament goes forward, Russia will have a decent military capable of conquering and pacifying Ukraine, but Putin does not have that military now (see 4th update). Any victory they achieve in the near term will be costly, in both money and lives--perhaps more than they can pay.

Or do you think that protesters paid or ordered to march in Moscow against the "fascists" in Kiev are signs of popular support for bearing any burden to bring Ukraine into Holy Mother Russia?

And if Russia naturally has superior will power to do as they will in Ukraine, why is Putin denying Russia is fighting in Ukraine?

Human rights groups have received dozens of complaints in the past month alone from Russian conscripts like Alexander who say they have been strong-armed or duped into signing contracts with the military to become professional soldiers, after which they were sent to participate in drills in the southern Rostov region. ...

Because only contract soldiers can legally be dispatched abroad, worries are spreading among families that inexperienced young conscripts could be sent to fight in eastern Ukraine.

An astro-turf rebellion in Donbas is being fought by reluctant Russian troops secretly sent and backed by an astro-turf movement at home to resist mythical Ukrainian fascists and nonsensical NATO plots?

Any escalation that Russia is technically capable of over-matching will have a price tag associated with it. If not, no small nation could ever beat or hope to beat a larger nation. Why do small nations even exist today if resistance to larger nations is futile?

Of course, the notion of the futility of resisting Russian escalation is based on his second argument that Russia will pay any price to keep Ukraine inside Russia. As the links above suggest, that's hardly a slam dunk assumption.

His argument neglects that Russia didn't want to pay any price at all to keep Ukraine or any other part of the old Soviet Union that wanted to go after 1991.

And he makes the mistake of comparing Russia's will to fight for Ukraine with our willingness to fight for Ukraine and then judges that since Russia is close and we are far, that Russia will out-will us.

This is in error on two counts. One, it ignores Ukraine as if it is a mere battlefield rather than a player itself that has people with a will to resist Russia and determine their own future. Defending their homeland is likely to give Ukraine more will to resist Russia's invasion than Russia has to conquer Ukraine.

On this count, there is also the lesser (because they are window dressing and not the driving force of the "rebellion") mistake of ignoring the morale of Russia's local hand puppets.

Of course, if Ukraine can't resist from lack of appropriate arms, capabilities, and training, we guarantee that Ukraine's will to resist will shatter rather than sustain their resistance. Then it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, no?

The second error is that the author compares apples and oranges by weighing American interest far from America and Russian interest close to Russia.

If it was a matter of sending in America's armed forces to eastern Ukraine to fight Russia, yes, Russia would have way more will to sacrifice lives and cash to win the war. Nobody, least of all me, is arguing we should fight Russia over Ukraine.

If we did that, Russia wouldn't need to astro-turf supportive demonstrations against evil NATO plots, eh?

But the contest between America and Russia is a contest between our willingness to spend cash to arm Ukraine and Russia's willingness to die to control Ukraine.

That's a very different contest of wills than the author assumes, isn't it?

As for the nuclear angle, threatening nuclear weapons is really only credible if you are insane or if you are protecting the very existence of your country. Russia exists without Ukraine now, so it isn't that level of vital.

Nor does it make sense to say you will risk destruction of your country in order to get a buffer zone. Putin will risk nuclear war that right now can destroy him in order to forestall a non-existent conventional threat of NATO invasion?

If Putin is that crazy, we've got real problems bigger than the future of Donbas or Crimea or even the fate of our Baltic NATO allies.

Indeed, if Putin's nuclear threats are that real, where would we stop them? Where would the buffer stop? The Vistula River? The Rhine River? The French Atlantic coast?

Ukraine is willing to fight Russia's attempt to rebuild the Soviet empire at their expense. Ukrainians deserve our support morally, and it is in our interests to keep Russian power as far east as possible.

Let's recall Russia's novel defense recently that they didn't commit genocide in Ukraine during the 1930s because the USSR was trying to kill lots of people besides Ukrainians! Under the circumstances, don't NATO states have a far better case for needing a buffer against Russia?

UPDATE: I've long assumed that Russia wanted Kharkov, yet that city has escaped Russian attention.

Until now:
Ukraine said on Sunday it feared unrest could spread beyond territory held by pro-Russian separatists, after an explosion killed two people at a memorial rally in an eastern city far from the front line.

Kiev said it arrested four people who had been armed and trained in Russia after the blast, which killed a policeman and a demonstrator at the rally in Kharkiv, the biggest city in the east, 200 km (125 miles) from the war zone.

The Russian threat will only get bigger and closer under Putin or his like-minded successor if the Russians get away with this aggression without paying a price.

While the Cat's Away

I noted that Assad has sent forces, including his Hezbollah assault force, down south to fight near the Israeli and Jordanian borders against rebels who had been making gains. Assad has too few forces and so he is having trouble at the northern end of his realm.

Assad has suffered setbacks around Aleppo:

Syrian rebels on Friday seized back territory from regime forces north of Aleppo, stymying government efforts to sever a key opposition supply route into the city, a monitor said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebel forces had taken back the strategic Mallah Farms area outside the city, as well as several villages seized by government troops in an offensive that began Tuesday.

Strategypage discusses Syria here, including the southern fighting.

So Assad's efforts to get the UN to broker a 6-week ceasefire around Aleppo make sense. He lacks the troops to hold the line while his troops are far away in the south and so counts on the UN to help him out.

The city is basically destroyed from the fighting. I never did think it was a good idea for Assad to try to hold Aleppo.

Speaking of Hezbollah, how long can it keep fighting for Assad? It isn't a large force yet it has already suffered a thousand dead while fighting in Syria, according to that Strategypage post.

If other rebels rouse themselves to take advantage of the southern focus by Assad, those Syrian and Hezbollah forces will be looking over their shoulders soon and find themselves tugged back north.

So Assad probably has limited time to hurt the southern front rebels before he has to shift his troops elsewhere.

Praying for the Right Backlash

Given this recent post of mine, we have an appropriate reminder of the the left's relentless search for the real killers involved in "extremist" terrorism:

n Washington, they are practically praying for a Christian terrorist. At a breakfast in January, President Obama reached all the way back to the Crusades for an example of violence purportedly motivated by Christian extremism. Days later, when three Muslims were murdered in Chapel Hill, social media erupted with demands that Christians be called upon to condemn the attacks in the same way that Muslims are called upon to condemn acts of Islamic terrorism, and the disappointment was palpable when the man charged with those murders turned out to be a militant atheist and Rachel Maddow fan who was angry about a parking dispute.

State Department flack Marie Harf, fresh off her jobs-for-jihadis bit, offered up Joseph Kony — a practitioner of Ancholi mystical traditions with 88 wives, a flair for Biblical apocalypticism, and, if we take him at his word, 13 spirits (one of them Chinese) dwelling within him — as an example of “Christian militant” terrorism. This isn’t new: Timothy McVeigh (agnostic) and John Salvi (a schizophrenic who believed himself to be one of the thieves crucified with Jesus and who obsessed over an imaginary scheme in which the Vatican would issue its own currency) have been presented from time to time as evidence that the violent jihadist tendency is not limited to the religion of which jihad is a central tenet.

I will never say that Christians can't be violent. Our prisons say otherwise. But if you are talking about organized violence for sectarian purposes, going with violent forces within Islam rather than Christianity this century would be the way to bet.

And even if we finally get one of those long-awaited "backlash" attacks, it really won't excuse the long stream of attacks from the Islamo-fascist side that the rest of the world has endured from the Islamist terrorists.

No, we're not at war with Islam. But we sure are suffering collateral damage in the Islamic Civil War that is seeking to define what Islam should be.

And if the jihadis win that Islamic Civil War, by definition we will be at war with Islam, no?

And have no doubt, then the "backlash" will arrive.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Adding Insult to Injury

Are you freaking kidding me?

Ukraine must pay for Russian gas being supplied to rebel areas in the country's war-torn east, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Friday, raising the possibility of another gas dispute in the midst of winter. ...

"According to existing contractual obligations, Kiev must pay for the Russian gas," Medvedev wrote on his Facebook page.

Well, contracts are sacred! (Cue Lenin spinning in his tomb) Unlike the UN Charter and the Budapest Memorandum which are more guidelines than iron-clad rules, apparently.

Not to mention a 1997 agreement that Russia signed with Ukraine to ratify Ukraine's borders.

I've come to expect the Russians under Putin to act aggressively. But I thought some things were still beyond them.

I stand corrected. They are just total a-holes, now.

In reply, let me expand on my notion early in the crisis that Ukraine should send a rental bill to Moscow for Crimea.

Ukraine should also add on rent for the portions of Donbas that Russia has taken.

Oh, and the cleaning deposit is obviously forfeited.

Still, Ukraine should have been more careful about what they signed, given Russia's intent has been all too clear all along.

The Shiny Objects

There will be a spring offensive to take Mosul, according to CENTCOM. Mosul is the shiny object. Is it the immediate objective or the distraction?

There is some anguish in conservative circles that we are telegraphing our intentions. But it is hardly a secret that we want to retake Mosul and are preparing to do that. I can't get worked up about it.

My question is whether the Mosul operation is really the first operation. Could we be trying to conceal an Anbar-first operation to take advantage of Jordanian anger and to help the distressed Sunni Arab tribes in Anbar who have been under attack for over a year now?

In any case, this briefing establishes the outline of a Mosul operation:

What we know as of right now is there -- in the attack force, there will be five Iraqi army brigades, there will be three smaller brigades that will comprise a reserve force, there will be three Pesh brigades that will help contain from the north and isolate from the west, and then there will be what we're calling a Mosul fighting force, which will be compromised of largely police and tribal that are being put together right now of mostly former Mosul police, and then finally, a brigade equivalent of CTS forces.

Which is similar to what I wrote about a few weeks ago:

So the attack north from the Baghdad region will be with 2 divisions and 5 brigades, I think.

That leaves us with another division headquarters and 4 advised brigades for a thrust from the Kurdish region aimed at Mosul.

It is still unclear if we will be allowed to put forward observers with the advancing Iraqi and Kurdish units to make best use of our air power. Perhaps we'll use Canadians, other allies, CIA, and contractors so we won't officially have "boots on the ground." Ridiculous, I know.

And Iraqi forces we don't advise can follow to garrison and hold ground taken and support local anti-ISIL Sunni Arab militias.

We have to be careful with the pro-Iran Shia militias that are part of Iraq's ground forces. I'd try to burn them as shock troops and keep them away from garrison duties in Sunni Arab areas.

The briefing notes the forward observer issue. We'll see.

And it speaks of a force dedicated to operating inside Mosul, composed of police who fled Mosul plus I assume Sunni Arab tribal light infantry. Plus the good counter-terrorism service (CTS) forces who remained pretty good despite the general erosion of Iraqi ground units since we left Iraq in 2011.

I even mentioned the CTS when I was searching for the core forces that could lead a mechanized force north, but hoped they wouldn't be wasted as a conventional maneuver unit. They won't be. They'll spearhead the city fight, it seems.

There is no mention of Shia militias.

I guess one brigade we advise is uncommitted in the north.

And the briefing confirms that existing Iraqi brigades not currently in training will be the spearhead. Newly trained units will replace those existing brigades on the line, undergo some training, and then go into battle.

I'll say again that I'd rather have the Kurds be the main effort from the north, but apparently the Kurds have no interest in enduring casualties in street battles inside the city. So they'll be a blocking force, it seems, with any offensive operations designed to get into better blocking positions rather than pushing into Mosul.

But we aren't the only force training Iraqis for offensive operations. What about the others?

The briefer dismissed immediate concerns about Anbar. But Marines are in Anbar training Iraqis (at a large base largely surrounded). These don't appear to be part of the 9 brigades and 3 division headquarters we are training and advising as part of the Mosul operation.

And what about the Canadians, British, and Australians and whoever else is in Iraq training Iraqi units? Could our trainers be other shiny objects we want people (ISIL) looking at?

I still expect an Anbar first operation to help the Sunni Arab tribes there who have had a year to get angry at ISIL, whereas the northern Sunni Arabs have only had about half a year to get antsy. The northern Sunni Arabs might need the encouragement of seeing an ISIL defeat in Anbar first.

This would help secure Baghdad from ISIL terrorism in nearby eastern Anbar positions.

Plus, as I've been going on about for a while, an Anbar operation would allow the Jordanians to make good on their vows to get revenge on ISIL for burning their pilot to death. A spasm of bombing won't cut it, on that issue.

The timing could be that rather than going north in April or May we'll go west. Or maybe the Anbar operation will take place imminently to allow time for success prior to the April-May Mosul operation timeframe.

I guess there could be a simultaneous offensive north and west. That would exploit the focus on Mosul, too. We certainly have the airpower to support both (plus Syria).

Or it could be exactly as it seems. We'll go north first in April or May. There is always tension between guessing what I'd do and what we will do (and what is possible to do).

One more thing, what's with this "we have to avoid fighting during Ramadan" BS? The Left constantly said it was inconceivable to do that, but every Ramadan while we were fighting in Iraq there would be a surge of casualties as the enemy attacked more during Ramadan. And don't forget that Arabs call the 1973 Egyptian and Syrian attack on Israel the "Ramadan War."

Wait. One more thing. Strategypage has written (in this post, for example) that ISIL has lost a lot of ground in Iraq. But that isn't my impression even if it does seem as if ISIL's hold is loosening.

The briefing above says  ISIL has lost 700-800 square kilometers of territory--which is a tiny fraction of Iraq's total 437,072 square kilometers. I'm not sure what fraction of Iraq that ISIL captured in Anbar and the north (outside of the Kurdish region), but the liberated terrain is miniscule.

I don't get the differing interpretations of ground control, unless Strategypage is saying that ISIL has lost effective control of territory to rebellious Sunni Arabs because ISIL is pulling back into bigger cities and towns, even if Iraq hasn't moved in to re-establish control. That seems the most plausible explanation.

Anyway, there will be action soon. Somewhere.

UPDATE: I don't understand the anguish about the details.

All the pieces of the puzzle have been published and Mosul is the obvious ultimate objective.

Does anybody think that ISIL doesn't anticipate an effort against Mosul from the south and north?

Lord knows I'm no fan of this administration. But this line of attack is complaining for the sake of complaining.

And it rests on the assumption that we will do exactly what we said we will do in a couple months or so.

UPDATE: France's aircraft carrier entered the Persian Gulf:

French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91) has entered the Persian Gulf and could soon start strike missions against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) fighters, defense officials told USNI News on Friday.

Two things.

One, if the French wanted to strike targets in Syria or even around Mosul, they would have remained in the Mediterranean Sea.

So the ship is there to strike targets in the more southern parts of Iraq, unless the French intend to fly the planes to land bases and are just using the carrier as a plane ferry.

Two, when the French send their carrier, they can't rotate another to replace it the way we do.

So France will want to take their shots relatively soon before it needs to return to port empty handed. Again, unless the ship is being used as a plane ferry.

So this news doesn't persuade me that action isn't pending in Iraq, quite possibly against ISIL in Anbar.

There is No Future History

I remain concerned about Afghanistan. Although the evidence for eventual success stands alongside evidence for defeat, I can't say that I have a feel for the war.

Is Afghanistan losing the war?

Europeans think Afghanistan is losing control of the countryside:

"The overall trend is one of decreasing government control outside the larger towns and cities, escalating violence and more insurgent attacks," observed the European Asylum Support Office (EASO).

In its latest report, Afghanistan Security Situation , released on 13 February, EASO noted that Taliban, Hezb-e Islami Afghanistan, and other insurgent groups operating in the country are carrying out more large-scale attacks against the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

There seems to be evidence for optimism and pessimism.

Unlike Iraq, where the flow of news reports--even when the press misinterpreted events--allowed me to get a feel for the ebb and flow of the effort, there is so little news out of Afghanistan that I just never have gotten that "feel" for the war.

So reports make credible cases for eventual victory and eventual defeat.

Which only makes sense, really. The future is not predetermined with only our analysis of what the future will be in doubt. We could win. Or we could lose.

Which is why I am worried about disengaging completely from Afghanistan too soon--the way we did in Iraq. The outcome is in doubt and our efforts will help determine whether we eventually win or eventually lose.

UPDATE: Secretary of Defense Carter went to Afghanistan as his first foreign trip. He said we may slow our pace of withdrawal:

The United States is considering slowing a planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan to ensure that "progress sticks" after more than a decade of war, new Defense Secretary Ash Carter said during an unannounced visit to Kabul on Saturday.

We're supposed to get down to 5,000 by the end of this year and then leave by next year's end. That rate may be slowed down--but not the zero state at the end of 2016.

Pardon me for being cynical, but is this just an effort to claim progress in Afghanistan and make a tiny adjustment in troop strength as if that will defend it, and so allow President Obama to escape blame for defeat after he leaves office by allowing him to say he did all he could?

By all accounts, Carter is a decent sort. So I'll count on his assessment as being honest.

That doesn't speak to why his boss agreed to consider changes in the drawdown, of course.