Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Hottest of Red Hot Lines

American diplomats have secret talks with Iran and the Taliban and who knows what other odious groups, and yet there is a tizzy of people taking to their fainting couches when Trump talks to Taiwan's president briefly? Take a hike.

Behold the crippling lack of nuance!

Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, a conversation that breaks decades of U.S. protocol and risks a clash with China.

Trump’s transition team confirmed late Friday that the president-elect had spoken by phone on Friday with Taiwan's president, the first conversation between a U.S. president or president-elect with Taiwan's leader since 1979, when the two countries severed diplomatic ties.

We sell advanced weaponry to Taiwan, but a phone call with their elected leader is forbidden?

People here are seemingly horrified at Trump, yet seem to think that it is perfectly reasonable that China might react to a phone call with actions that risk a military clash with America? Really? This is how their "horror" meter is set off?

I'm inclined to tell these people to take a hike. Our president can talk to whoever he wants--even if it is to a friend that our Chinese colleagues seek to crush and control--if it is in our interests.

I expect the Chinese to get all huffy. And they did:

"We have already made solemn representations about it to the relevant US side. It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory," the statement said.

"We urge the relevant parties in the US to abide by the commitment to the one-China policy" and "to handle Taiwan-related issues with caution and care to avoid unnecessarily interfering with the overall situation of Sino-US relations," it said.

So who made China the offshore call center for our leadership? China sets a red line at phone calls and we are supposed to go along? I could live with that when China was cooperating with America in containing the Soviet Union. Now China is the threat to peace and stability in east Asia.

So I suggest we file China's solemn representations about the phone call:


We violated our own "protocol" as the first article notes. Nothing official. China still gets the UN seat. China still gets the state dinners. China still gets all the official name plates at international conferences. That is not under threat.

I'm not saying we go out of our way to anger the Easily Excitable over the Taiwan issue. But I don't see how it hurts to throw a hard block every once in a while to remind China that they don't get to be Miss Manners on how we conduct foreign policy; nor do they get a veto on what our policies are.

If our president wants to talk to Taiwan's freely elected president over the objections of China's top autocrat who finds it inconvenient that there is an example to his own subjects of Chinese people (as well as native Taiwanese) living under democracy to ask her how our weapons are performing--or any other subject--we should be free to do it notwithstanding China's solemn representations.

I might be right about this worry, eh?

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Weekend Data Dump

Back when President Obama took office, I wondered if Mexico would be his first foreign crisis as drug gang killings virtually indistinguishable from terrorist attacks raged. Mexico still stands but the drug gangs still kill.

I know that Hillary supporters make a lot of her edge in counted popular votes over Trump. Obviously, that is irrelevant because we elect by electoral votes that is almost completely based on winner-take-all at the state level. But it is more than that. We don't really know what the real count is because we don't need to know with absolute accuracy what the count is (remember the electoral vote thing). If we want to know the true count, we'd need to do expensive recounts in every state rather than just the counts that will take place in three states that Trump won. Do we really want to abandon the fast determination of the outcome based on the lack of a need to have an exact count? As I've said, do we really want Florida 2000 in every state every year to eek out any extra vote edge you can get (or fake)? And this doesn't even address the fact that our candidates and voters don't make decisions in a system where total vote determines the winner. How many protest votes would instead go to the main candidates rather than waste them on a protest vote in states where your vote probably wouldn't matter? How many California Republicans who probably sat our the vote without a chance to affect either the presidential or senate races would have voted in a national vote election? The national vote issue is a non-issue for several reasons. I understand the frustration. In 2000 on the eve of the election I resigned myself to the idea that Gore could win without a majority vote--unaware that late news about a Bush drunk driving conviction would flip that script.

Strategypage writes about the problem of post-9/11 truck-driving "combat" experience for our pilots and the need for hours in the air honing air combat skills. We're making improvements but it still isn't enough in case we find ourselves in combat against an enemy air force.

Donald Trump proposed (in a Tweet, which is not even in "pen and phone" territory) making the burning of the American flag illegal. While I find the practice repulsive, as long as it is your own flag I don't know how we ban it while maintaining freedom of speech. I'd be happy to live in a world where burning the American flag in protest could coincide with a world of constitutional protections of free speech. We don't live in that world. And even if we did live in that world, a slightly altered "protest flag" could be made and legally burned because it isn't actually the American flag. Of course, liberals have paved the way for this type of proposal (which Senator Clinton co-sponsored in 2005, please note) after years of "hate" crimes and the ridiculous focus on "micro-aggressions." Isn't burning the flag an expression of hate that a lot of people take very personally? I sure do. And isn't this rather more than a "micro-aggression?" I'd be happy to leverage an abandonment of the flag-burning provision for a repeal of hate crimes (that simply add punishment to already illegal acts based on who the victim is) and the denunciation of the whole "micro-aggression" nonsense.

Japan is working on land-based anti-ship missiles with a range of 300 kilometers. This will provide a potent anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capability in combination with planes, ships, and submarines in the gap between the main islands of Japan and Taiwan that China's fleet will operate in under constant threat. We worry about entering such a region after we cross the Pacific and face China's A2/AD assets. China will have to worry about such a region when they leave home ports. The Russians would also have to worry about this capability if Japan deploys them on Hokkaido Island.

We are fairly dismayed at the state of India's carrier construction capabilities. India should be too, given that China will base their warships at the port of Gwadar in Pakistan that China built. And that port base will have a land line of supply back to China.

Yes, Democrats are the ones who have racialized (and Balkanized) our politics. Tip to Instapundit.

The Russians are wondering about Erdogan's statement that Assad must go and that's why Turkey is inside Syria. Russia's reset with Turkey may yet stumble over Assad's fate.

I have to admit that I'm still relieved that Hillary Clinton was defeated. I may not transition to worrying about focusing and constraining Trump until after the electors formally vote for Trump and eliminate the chance that Hillary has managed to bribe and/or blackmail 70 or so Trump electors to vote for her.

China is already suffering a birth problem that will eat into economic growth. There are other problems that raise the question of whether China will ever actually surpass America in economic power. I never assumed China would pass us by given that so much of their GDP growth involved jamming peasants into factories. As the Soviets showed, that makes for spectacular annual growth--until you can't add another peasant to yet another factory. China hasn't stumbled yet despite many years of reading articles that it was about to happen, mind you. But this could well be another American century if we don't shoot ourselves in the foot. Strategypage has more, having clearly read the article (or the sources that author used) on other problems that I link to above.

I'm not happy at all about this intrusion into our lives.

The excess male population in China isn't as bad as thought because parents of daughters long ago bribed officials into ignoring their birth. As these girls age to adulthood, they are popping up in statistics, revealing the past corruption. Well good. As a father to a daughter that always really disturbed me. Still does, but some parents managed to defy the system. Which is encouraging.

Can everybody play the guild by association game?

After all the Obama administration talk of pivoting to Asia while ending our wars in the Middle East, it is perhaps illustrative that all three of our forward deployed carriers (one super carrier and two big-deck amphibious warship ships, each with a Marine Expeditionary Unit (a battalion task force) embarked) are in CENTCOM as of the end of November.

We are testing upgraded missiles for our missile defense sites in Europe.

Are the Russians preparing to renew their aggression against Ukraine? "The head of the independent body monitoring the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine has told VOA the conflict is on the brink of a major escalation."

I'm not sure what Turkey is doing. Siding with America to fight ISIL is a problem because Turkey wants Assad gone--as Turkey demanded 5 years ago. Yet signs of cutting a deal with Russia collide with a history of wars and Russia's support for Assad. And now Turkey is on a "collision course" with Assad, who Erdogan said was his enemy, as Aleppo is being overrun? A couple years ago I thought the government pressure on Aleppo might cause Turkey to escalate their effort against Assad. Will Turkey act to rescue rebels in Aleppo now with a purged Turkish military (although that will keep it busy) and with Russian troops inside Syria backing Assad?

Iran seems to have waged a cyber-battle against Gulf Arab states. Reset!

So Trump isn't Putin's White Knight?

For all the loose talk of Putin working to get Trump elected, the Russians sure don't act like they believe Trump will be pro-Russian:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has endorsed a new foreign-policy doctrine accusing the United States and its allies of undermining "global stability" by trying to "contain" Russia.

Putin said that Moscow had the right to "react harshly to unfriendly" moves by Washington.

The doctrine, published by the Russian government on December 1, continues a steady ratcheting up of rhetoric toward the West in official policy documents amid a sharp deterioration in Moscow’s relations with the United States and the European Union in recent years.

Much of the language in the document mirrors that of Putin’s previous foreign-policy doctrine, endorsed in 2013, and of his national security strategy published in December 2015.

Russia's WikiLeaks campaign was strategic warfare to undermine the appeal of American democracy, at the very least:

My view is that Russia is meddling in our election to weaken whoever wins and more importantly to weaken the appeal of American-supported democracy around the world--and especially the appeal in Russia itself.

Remember, Russia's rulers consider the series of "color" revolutions for democracy as little more than American plots to deny Russia client states and to destabilize Russia itself with the "alien" invasion of democracy.

And I believe it was also designed to weaken a future Clinton administration by exposing some of the lesser misdeeds of Clinton's people while indicating that Russia had far worse that it could use against Clinton in office if she didn't renew the "flexibility" Russia was promised by President Obama back n 2012.

Really, the election of Trump was a defeat for Putin.

Trump voters came out to vote for their candidate who won against the combined establishment political system (the Democrats and even plenty of Republicans understandably horrified that a recent Democrat like Trump won the Republican Party nomination) and allied liberal media complex, which included paid street theater and violence by Democratic Party operatives.

That is not the kind of message that an autocrat like Putin who relies on a compliant media, street thugs, and the weight of Russia's government apparatus to keep the people supportive of Putin's continued rule. Is anybody safe when the usual rules don't seem to work?

Is Russia Really Willing to Trade Vladivostok for Western Syria? Winning!

The Russians continue to poke NATO while far to the east a real threat to Russia gathers strength. That might be a source of a true "reset" in Russian-American relations that actually benefits the West.

Russia is increasing the proportion of volunteer troops over far less effective conscripts. One problem with this solution is that Russia's defense budget is dropping as a result of lower oil prices and Western hostility to Russia's Ukraine and Syrian adventures plus general Russian hostility. The Russians know they have a problem that has nothing to do with paranoid imaginary NATO plots:

Russians note with fear that the Chinese now have an army three times the size of theirs and spend three times as much on defense. China is also building an effective NCO corps, something that has long made Western forces much more effective.

The one weapon Russia has while they try to build an effective army that doesn't have the ability to fall back on quantity is Russia's reliance on nukes to stop a serious invasion.

America went through this early in the Cold War and we found out that a strategy of massive retaliation threatened against an invasion of the NATO West through West Germany was not credible against lower-level threats that threatened less than vital interests. Russia will find the same thing: that threatening mutual nuclear annihilation makes no sense when the stakes are small.

To be fair to Russia, losing their Far East and access to the Pacific would cripple Russia's pretensions to being a great power with global impact and relegate Russia to being a regional European power at best. So threatening nuclear weapons against China which does not have a large arsenal might actually be credible.

Why Russia has spent their time provoking a near-militarily helpless NATO into creating the actual ability to defend eastern NATO (but not the ability to invade Russia), the Chinese threat looms with little being said in Moscow.

It is understandable that Russia would appease China in the short run, but masking that policy by talking tough on NATO will just create a two-front problem if Russia's nonsensical aggression continues.

The year 2020 is not so far off any more. That's the year a two-decade freeze of border disputes between China and Russia ends. Recall that Russia's critical Far East holdings were taken from China in the 19th century.

Perhaps that looming Russian problem could be a source of a true "reset" between America and Russia that doesn't rely on America flexibly going along with Russian aggression against our interests.

PRE-PUBLICATION UPDATE: Strategytalk discusses Russia, and mentions the Chinese threat to the Far East and penetration of former Soviet republics in Central Asia.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Trust But Verify

You know, I'm not Kissinger hater the way a lot on the left are, but I also don't elevate him very highly as the big-brained Lord of Diplomacy given that during his era he led an effort by some conservatives who assumed the Soviet Union would basically beat us in the Cold War and that the height of strategy was to manage our decline and make the best of it:

Even Washington seemed to believe America’s best days were behind it. Leebaert records an exchange between Admiral Elmo Zumwalt and Henry Kissinger in which Kissinger concluded the United States had “passed its high point like so many other civilizations,” adding that he was trying “to persuade the Russians to give us the best deal we can get.”

By all means, listen to Kissinger. In his old age Kissinger is far better at diplomacy and strategy than Spongespine Kerry could ever dream of becoming, no matter how many miles he logs shuttling about making deals with foes who will miss him when he's gone.

But remember that we won the Cold War and the Soviet empire is no more. Kissinger didn't see that. And while he is far from alone on that, there were those that believed we could win.

At Least Try to Be Believable

I'm calling qualified bullshit on this claim:

A total of 1,600 Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters have been killed since the start on October 17 of a huge offensive to retake the jihadist bastion of Mosul, a spokesman said Thursday.

Add in 10,000 wounded, the spokesman said.

The Kurds have not been doing much more than holding the perimeter rather than going into Mosul. There is no way they've suffered that many losses. I'd be shocked if it was ten percent of that claim.

So if this is an effort to leverage more aid from the West, give it a rest.

And if the Kurds are truly that inept to suffer this level of casualties I don't know how on Earth they keep their reputation as the best fighters in the region.

The only reasonable explanation for the claim is that the Kurds are trying to draw ISIL attention away from a looming Iraqi thrust from the southwest.

UPDATE: Okay, that's not what the spokesman said (or meant to say, perhaps). This is plausible:

"Since the beginning of the war against Daesh, which means June 2014, until November 30 (2016), the total number of martyrs is 1,614 and the wounded are 9,515," peshmerga ministry secretary-general Jabar Yawar told AFP.

I can buy that toll.

UPDATE: ISIL is battling Shia militias to the west of Mosul:

An official from Iraq’s state-sanctioned Shiite militias says Islamic State militants have breached their defenses at a village west of the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar.

May the Sunni jihadis and Iran-friendly Shia militias both lose heavily.

Yeah, Go Snuggle That Puppy

Just. Wow:

"America’s election has led to a boomlet for therapists"

Liberals horrified that Trump will be the president are hiring up therapy dogs and seeking therapy. The article says they are showing signs of PTSD.

But what doesn't make them sad?

We all know that the people seeing these therapists are mainly left-leaning types who probably tend to be less happy in general. According to some research, liberals are less happy in general than conservatives, and have a harder time when politics don't go their way[.]

Perhaps liberals are inherently fragile, which is why they like a nanny state (or college)-enforced "safe space" to replicate the womb they hated to leave.

Eight years ago (and four years ago) after the presidential election, conservatives went to work the next day. And overseas, conservatives in the military (working side-by-side with liberals, I'll add) were humping through Afghanistan and/or Iraq or sweating far from home on air bases or on ships and submarines at sea doing their jobs to protect civilization from macro-aggressions consisting of jihadis who lack all subtlety in their killing rages.

Grow the ef up, people. General Patton would have been justified for slapping the people in this basket of inconsolables.

Tip to Instapundit.

UPDATE: Quick update (also tip to Instapundit):

A Hillary Clinton supporter admitted himself to the psychiatric ward on election night because he realized she was going to lose to Donald Trump.

Benjamin Ryan — considered a “Hillblazer” because he raised over $100,000 for the former Democratic nominee — detailed his suicidal nervous breakdown for the Huffington Post on Wednesday.

Even more amazing than the fact that a top supporter was that emotionally unstable is that the man believed telling the world about it--like it is a badge of honor--was a good idea.

He likened his ordeal to that of a combat veteran:

“Poetically, I was given my walking orders at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. I was now a veteran of institutional care — shell shocked, but on my feet.”

Yeah, that man deserves a good Patton slapping.

Of course, the signs of his issues were apparent well before the results trickled in election night:

Ryan described what he was wearing in the VIP section of what was supposed to be Clinton’s victory party in New York — “a red belt, white skinny jeans, and a blue Hillary-as-Rosie-the-Riveter T-shirt, my hair lavishly coiffed into a confident pompadour.”

Yeah, that screams "mental health."

On an unrelated note of people happy that Hillary lost the election, check out this picture from that article:

:

I assume that was concession speech time. Hillary Clinton looks stunned and miserable.

Her running mate looks catatonic in his misery. While it is a static picture, I get the impression that even in video he would not be blinking. Just a thousand-yard stare after seeing the elephant.

Bill Clinton? Not so much. Is it just me or do his eyes look happy and relieved just as his official frown of disappointment looks more like a smile trying not to escape?

That is not a sad face. That man was not about to commit himself in a suicidal funk.

Throughout the election campaign, Bill Clinton said things that made me wonder if he really wanted Hillary to win and so outshine his presidency. That picture erases my wonder.

UPDATE: That "Hillblazer" has company, mental health-wise, over Trump's win:

David Remes, a lawyer, citing one of his clients who is an inmate [at Guantanamo Bay], told CBS News: “He said that many detainees thought that it was the end of the world and felt terrible and that many detainees asked for tranquilizers, sleeping pills, because they were so distraught.”

If the jihadis are suicidal, who are we to stop them?

I'm sensitive that way.

UPDATE: Regarding the expression on former President Bill Clinton's face, let's contrast that with truly unhappy faces:



That is what unhappy looks like. Those White House officials are people who needed tranquilizers that day.

Bill Clinton did not look like that.

Converging on Mosul

Iraqi forces are plowing into eastern Mosul in the most visible part of the Iraqi offensive. Is this really the only part of the offensive?

The battle on the east bank of Mosul continues:

Iraqi special forces fighting Islamic State militants on the eastern side of Mosul have retaken 19 neighborhoods from the extremist group since the battle for the city began last month, a senior Iraqi commander said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile:

We expect tough fighting to continue in the weeks ahead. As the Iraqi security forces and other axes converge on the city, we expect that pressure on ISIL will continue to increase, and their resistance will begin to wane. This is not a race, so patience is required. The protection of civilians continues to be a top priority for the ISF. It's going to take time and a lot of tough fighting, but we're confident of Daesh's defeat in Mosul.

The briefer, British Major General Rupert Jones, had just described the efforts of "Iraqi security forces" in eastern Mosul, so I assume the British general means that Iraqi forces from the south are finally moving within striking distance of the city itself.

Which could mean that a strike from the southwest will attempt to sweep into western Mosul as the ISIL forces are heavily committed to stopping the eastern axis of advance.

I fully realize I'm connecting few and faded dots. But it is what I'd do if Lord of the Mosul Offensive.

UPDATE: Iraqis continue to grind away in eastern Mosul led by the CTS:

Lt. Col. Muhanad al-Tamimi of the special forces told The Associated Press his men were now in full control of the Zohour neighborhood, more than a week after they first entered the district.

He said his men also captured the neighborhood of Qadissiyah-2, bringing to 23 the number of neighborhoods retaken by the special forces in the eastern sector of the city since the campaign to retake Mosul began on Oct. 17.

As the Iraqis worry about casualties and the pace of the offensive, there is a hint that ISIL could be hit from the southwest as ISIL focuses on their eastern front:

Commanders hope that security forces still stationed a few miles south of Mosul will advance soon and open a new front inside the city, with the aim of stretching the militants' defenses more thinly.

The CTS with an assist from elements of Iraq's 9th armored division to their south have grabbed ISIL by the neck in eastern Mosul, with 4 of 5 bridges spanning the Tigris River disabled.

Hell, the jihadis probably think they are kicking ass and taking names in their heroic stand for the caliphate.

This would be a good time for those Iraqi forces to the south of Mosul on the western bank of the Tigris to swing into western Mosul, supported by American artillery and helicopters in addition to air strikes, and kick ISIL in their ass, put them to flight, and kill them from the air and ground as they run.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Compare and Contrast to Micro-Aggression

Well, the Ohio State attacker wasn't a Michigan fan gone batty:

The Somali-born student who went on a car-and-knife rampage at Ohio State University railed on Facebook against U.S. interference in Muslim lands and warned, “If you want us Muslims to stop carrying lone wolf attacks, then make peace” with the Islamic State group, a law enforcement official said today.

The posts from Abdul Razak Ali Artan’s account came to light after Monday’s violence, which left 11 people injured. Investigators are looking into whether it was a terrorist attack.

“America! Stop interfering with other countries, especially the Muslim Ummah. We are not weak. We are not weak, remember that,” he wrote, using the Arabic term for the world’s Muslim community.

This man clearly isn't representative of all Moslems. He has taken sides. And despite the welcome he received here (he was a student at OSU) he sides not with tolerance, freedom, and not plowing into and stabbing fellow students, but with the ISIL monsters who hope to define Islam as a monstrous religion that celebrates intolerance, control, and plowing into and stabbing people who disagree with that view of Islam.

Funny enough given his outrage at the treatment of Moslems, only a minority of Moslems who think like the Somali-born Abdul Razak Ali Artan try to kill us. The rest manage to drive minivans and live and work and otherwise live the way jihadis like Artan get worked up into a killing rage over.

What Artan wanted is for America to stop helping non-jihadi Moslems fight and defeat the jihadis like ISIL, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, al Shabab, and other disgusting people like himself.

I want the Moslem enemies of Artan to win their civil war. I think we need to help these Moslems.

And no, I don't assume that just because Artan used the term "Muslim," that all who spell "Moslem" with that alternate transliteration are hateful jihadis and their supporters.

UPDATE: Sometimes I amaze even myself:

[In one of his classes, Artan] had a group project on "microaggressions" due later this week. The assignment, worth 15 percent of his grade, required students to find a dozen examples of microaggressions on social media and explain which identity groups were the victims, according to the syllabus.

The purpose of the class is to promote "intercultural leadership" and transform students into "actively engaged, socially just global citizen/leaders." [emphasis added]
You can't say that Artan wasn't actively engaged about a global issue.

Which is a problem:

Historically outbreaks of Islamic terrorism fail and do so relatively quickly. The problem is that because such violence is encouraged by Islamic scripture, it keeps recurring and will continue to do so until there is a fundamental cultural shift in the Moslem world. Efforts to make that happen in the last thousand years have been few and futile so far. On the plus side there have been some serious efforts, since the 1990s, to achieve such reforms. So far it’s been mostly talk, often sponsored by the Saudis. It’s not much but it is progress.

And this is why I haven't dumped on the Arab Spring of 2011. Yes, it mostly failed in one sense because only Tunisia--where it started--showed good results.

But the fact is that the Arab Spring protesters finally showed that they wanted an alternative to the traditional choices given Moslems in the Arab world--autocracy or Islamism--for government models.

However little the protesters understood the full concept of democracy, which in addition to democratic free voting encompasses rule of law that protects minority rights in order to prevent democracy from merely being the tyranny of the majority, they knew that democracy worked in other societies and that they wanted to try it.

Few Moslems in America are willing to kill. They want to live in our democracy and prosper under rule of law. These American Moslems are a potential resource for reforming the Islamic world.

And sadly, we have to help by killing the jihadis who think like Artan and who contribute to the innocent body count around the world.

Remember this image from the Iraq War?


That Iraqi boy knew that the American soldier facing the threat would protect him.

UPDATE: Will the young people who want something other than autocracy or Islamism be a source of more strife or a source of hope in the Arab Moslem world?

I'm hoping for the latter, but that issue is out of my lane. Past experience would argue for the former, but the status quo always continues--until it doesn't.

And I tend to be an optimist, at heart. Really.

None So Blind as Those Who Will Not See

To state the obvious, it is harder to accuse Iran of cheating on the Iran deal if we don't have the ability to get evidence of cheating:

The international agency responsible for monitoring last summer's nuclear deal with Iran is deliberately not reporting on Iranian activities that may indicate Iran is violating the deal, setting up a potential confrontation with the incoming Trump administration, according to nuclear and nonproliferation experts.

But I'm not sure that the Trump administration can compel the IAEA to provide more information. I thought that failing was baked into the atrocious deal.

And as for the claims that Trump can't walk away from the deal, in what sense is it even a deal at all?

Face it, the Obama administration set up a system where it would never have to confront Iran over violating the deal by the simple expedient of making sure no inconvenient information could ever reach us.

And recall that this nuclear nonsense for which we flopped like a fish is called Smart Diplomacy.

Given that so many of the benefits to Iran were front-loaded in the deal, I'm willing to explore the possibility that we can rigorously enforce the deal and actually stop Iran from going nuclear and make their lives miserable for their regional aggression and support for terrorism.

But I seriously wonder if we can to that. If not, we should walk away notwithstanding the damage already done and start squeezing mullah-run Iran again.

If It is Going to Be This Easy to Spark a Reaction

Trump tweets desire to punish flag burning and American communists (yes, look closely at the site they advertise in the next link) burn the American flag.

Could Trump please tweet his proposed ban on taking baths and wearing business casual?

Tip to Instapundit.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Potemkin Carrier Operations

Russia is operating their carrier planes from the Kuznetsov out of a land base in Syria:

Many of the fast jets that were embarked on the Russia aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov have been flown to the main Russian air base in Syria, Airbus Defence and Space satellite imagery obtained by IHS Jane's shows.

The imagery shows eight Russian Federation Navy Su-33 and one MiG-29KR jets alongside various Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) aircraft at Humaymim Air Base in Latakia province on 20 November.

This isn't to say that nothing is operating off of the carrier. But the Russians clearly aren't confident in the carrier to do a whole lot.

Well, the Russian carrier didn't get off to a good start for carrier flight operations.

And I did mention that the Russians might be better off sending their carrier planes to a land base.

UPDATE: Of course, this begs the question of why we can't deploy carrier air wings without a carrier when land bases are present.

Three Sources of Russian Weakness?

I ran across an interesting early 19th century assessment of Russian power by Lord Durham:

Russia has ... three sources of weakness, inherent and irremediable--Poland, the Caucasus, and the Fleet. All these deprive her of immense sums of money and large masses of men.

So what about those three sources of weakness today?

The fleet surely hurts. I've mentioned more than once that for such a large country, building a fleet capable of fighting for control of the oceans is foolish.

And Russia has fought three wars in the Caucasus (two against the Chechens--that is still kind of active, really; and one against Georgia) since the fall of the Soviet Union; and must deal with terrorism coming from Moslem subjects there who don't like being controlled by Russia.

The Poland comment is interesting even though Russia doesn't control Poland as it did when the comment was made nearly two centuries ago (and as it did during the Cold War). So Russia doesn't have to devote money and masses of men to control Poland--from the Poles or from a modern Western European state that might contest Russian control of Poland.

But with Russia determined to pose as the enemy of NATO, Russia would need to build an army capable of advancing through Poland to the German border to pose a real threat to NATO (and link up with Russia's Kaliningrad exclave).

So if Russia builds an army (and air force) capable of driving all that distance, Russia will indeed have to spend immense sums of money and gather large masses of men.

So Lord Durham is still right, it seems.

Strike and Hold?

America and Japan are worried that China is preparing to grab the Senkaku Islands that Japan administers but which China claims as their territory.

If Secretary of State Kerry hadn't assured me that mere issues of owning territory had no place in the 21st century, I'd be worried:

China is escalating a campaign of military maritime coercion against Japan’s Senkaku Islands, according to Japanese intelligence data disclosed as part of a joint Pentagon-Japan research program. ...

“You get the sense that the PRC is preparing its military forces for the ‘short, sharp war’ that they have written about,” Fanell [a retired Navy captain and former Pacific Fleet intelligence director] said.

While many analysts dismiss the Chinese threat by correctly noting that American military power is far greater than China's--even before adding in our allies' to the equation--dismissing the threat fails to consider that at the point of contact, China can mass superior power for some period of time before we can mobilize and move our superior power to resist China.

Japan in 1941, recall, judged that they could use a temporary advantage in power over the Americans, British, Dutch, and French to grab enough terrain to deter America from mobilizing power for retaking that territory.

And that judgment was made despite America having a GDP 8-10 times greater than Japan.

China would not be attempting to push out a perimeter nearly as big as Japan did; and China's GDP isn't nearly as inferior. So China wouldn't be as stretched but wouldn't hold so much that the thought of retaking it would be too daunting (and it wasn't for America in 1941, anyway).

China may believe that their possession of nuclear weapons is the ultimate deterrent against an American and Japanese counter-attack rather than a deep buffer that failed to deter America in 1941.

But nuclear deterrence really doesn't work below the level of ensuring national survival. Does China really believe that a threat to destroy Japan and America's cities from Hawaii to the West Coast is a serious threat to hold a bunch of small islands when America would surely destroy a lot of Chinese cities and assets in a nuclear counter-strike? Would China really ensure their national destruction to hold the Senkaku Islands?

The problem is that in any fight between nuclear powers, the pressure to end the fighting regardless of who controls what because of the threat of irrational escalation to nuclear weapons use will tend to restrict the campaign.

But does America have to get involved directly?

And as I've written, I think a fight on a narrow front over the Senkaku Islands where quality is more important than quantity favors Japan--especially if we are helping Japan even short of actively shooting at the Chinese.

Would lack of direct American involvement give Japan more time to defeat China and retain control the islands?

Yet China's plans to quickly take the islands and then hold them do give the Chinese an advantage if China can pull that off, leaving China in possession of some or all of the disputed islands before pressure to end the conflict builds up.

And if the war expands to American and allied sea blockade of Chinese trade, at what point does this broader fight seem like an actual threat to Chinese national survival, which would justify using nukes in the minds of Chinese rulers? Would we recognize that shift in thinking?

And what if the Chinese try to muddy the waters between peace and war by pulling off a subliminal invasion with "civilian fisherman" landing on the islands who are willing to use baseball bats to attack Japanese troops landing there in response, providing China with an excuse to escalate? Which China will magically be ready to do quickly. Would Japan even try to do more than the Philippines have managed to do in the face of similar tactics by China?

Which is why I'd be happier if Japan actually defended the islands rather than counting on a seaborne version of the British-French Dyle plan to rush in defenders just ahead of the Chinese attackers

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Fragile Sword of Damocles

Russia's deployment of advanced anti-ship, anti-aircraft, and surface-to-surface missiles in their Kaliningrad exclave does indeed give Russia the ability to block NATO reinforcements by sea, land, and air going into eastern NATO countries. Until we pound the exposed outpost into submission.

Yes:

However much of a threat Kaliningrad can pose to NATO, it can only ever have a temporary impact. Russia has no plausible means of long-term defense of the enclave beyond an offensive that would open a corridor through NATO territory. While Russian forces might enjoy temporary superiority in the Baltics and eastern Poland, NATO forces would undoubtedly concentrate on overrunning Kaliningrad as quickly as possible. NATO would also subject the enclave to consistent and overwhelming electronic and PGM attacks at the initiation of hostilities, hoping to destroy or disrupt any offensive capabilities before they could do the same to NATO.

Russian leverage is highest in peacetime. It will drop as ammunition is used up and nor replaced, as NATO inflicts losses on Russian weapons and infrastructure in Kaliningrad, and as NATO troop defeat the Russian defenders (three brigades, I believe, plus whatever paramilitary forces are available as light infantry) and take the exclave.

Preventing a Russian link up with Kaliningrad should Russia use force against NATO is why I want a robust defense of the Suwalki Gap.

And why I want a NATO offensive to defeat the Russian ground forces in Kaliningrad.

Apart from nukes, Russia is not a formidable military power except when faced with far weaker opposition.

And honestly, part of Russia's nuclear potential relies on believing that weaknesses in the rest of their military aren't present in their nuclear forces, too. We kind of have to assume that Russian nuclear weapons are a serious threat in case they are. And even in the worst case of Russia having only a fraction of their nuclear forces capable of launching would mean Russia could devastate Western cities.

But in the conventional sphere? Russia would lose a land war if confronted by real enemies willing to fight them.

UPDATE: On the nuclear factor:

Any American president faces the same basic dilemma. Russia is a country in decline, but it remains a potential threat to the United States and others because it is the one country with enough missiles and nuclear warheads to destroy the United States.

The nuclear-armed sick man of Europe which we don't want gobbling up weaker friends or propping up dictators and fomenting death and destruction; but which we don't want to fall apart and leave large pieces to be picked up by China, leave smaller pieces to become jihadi havens, or put lots of nuclear missiles, material, and know-how on the black market.

Can't live with them. Can't live without them.

UPDATE: More on Russia's reliance on nukes to make up for their weak conventional ability to stop a serious invasion.

America went through this early in the Cold War and we found out that a strategy of massive retaliation threatened against an invasion of the NATO West through West Germany was not credible against lower-level threats that threatened less than vital interests. Russia will find the same thing: that threatening mutual nuclear annihilation makes no sense when the stakes are small.

Good Lord, under what cloud of medically sanctioned marijuana is it really credible to threaten nuclear war in order to save Assad in Syria?

The Russians are Hacking! The Russians are Hacking!

So Jill Stein, the Green party candidate, backed by Hillary Clinton, is challenging the votes in three states (but missed the recount request deadline for Pennsylvania, if I understand the situation correctly, making this absolutely futile) on the theory that Russia could have hacked the systems and changed the results.

Will these recent converts to standing up to Moscow demand we declare war on Russia if the inquiry demonstrates that charge of Russia's attack on our democracy is true?

Jill Stein, it should be noted, was a welcome guest on  Moscow's propaganda arm, RT. Talk about fake news.

There Will Be Another Battle for Aleppo

Yes indeed, rebel defenders in Aleppo seem to be breaking under the strain of Assad's Russian- and Iranian-supported offensive. How will Assad hold the ground taken?

After holding their ground for more than four years, Aleppo's rebel defenders seem to be cracking:

Syrian government forces captured more than a third of opposition-held eastern Aleppo on Monday, touching off a wave of panic and flight from the besieged enclave as rebel defenses in the country's largest city rapidly collapsed.

I've long felt that Aleppo is a bridge too far for Assad's forces to take and hold.

Four years after that assessment, Assad will finally take the city, it seems, unless Assad's ground troops are so thin on the ground that the rebels bring in forces to counter-attack.

And then there is the question of whether Assad can hold the city once taken.

Four years ago I doubted Assad had the manpower to control the city. After four more years of the Syrian army bleeding out and essentially becoming a skeleton of firepower and logistics around which militias can rally, how will Assad defend the city and control whoever remains in the city?

Assad seems desperate for men:

The announcement this week by Syria's embattled military that it will form an all-volunteer unit is an indication that the government is struggling in its fight against rebels and the Islamic State group, analysts say.

"The Syrian regime is running low on manpower," said Syrian researcher Khorshid Alika, who closely observes the dynamics of Syria's civil war. "They need additional reinforcements on so many fronts, particularly in Aleppo, Damascus and Hama."

This "The Fifth Attack Troops Corps of Volunteers" is no way to defend and pacify a city unless you are fine with killing and brutalizing your way to victory. Which Assad has no problem with and which could possibly work if carried out ruthlessly enough.

But a militia is likely to be too ill-trained and too ill-disciplined to be an effective force even in this kind of war.

But it is even more unlikely that Syrian people will be happy if the foreign assault troops like Hezbollah and the Iranian Shia foreign legion stick around to hold the city.

Unless rebel morale in general cracks, this Assad victory does not win the war for him. Even taking Aleppo is just the start of a long road back to controlling Syria (map from Wall Street Journal):


 



We'll see if Assad can complete the conquest of Aleppo and then hold it without losing too many men in the process.

And if Assad can take and hold Aleppo, we'll see how many volunteers he can get to reconquer the vast stretches of Syria still lost to Assad's forces.

UPDATE: I don't know why the map above is lacking text, because when I added it there was text on the map. Pink is Assad; yellow is non-ISIL rebels; green is Kurds mostly in the north;  dark blue is ISI; and that olive drab green is mixed. The blue areas is sea where the Russian squadron is sailing. White is just sparsely settled territory where control colors are pointless. See here for map original.

Strategypage has more. Assad wants the looming capture of Aleppo to be seen as a turning point in the war. Of course he does.

But capturing Aleppo (the left-most of the three top dots (cities) still leaves Assad with very little territory under his control with so many losses that absent a general collapse of rebel morale and the end of foreign support for the rebels, I don't see how this is the decisive turning point.

Also the Kurdish dominated SDF that we are helping move on Raqqa (the middle of the three top dots) is attracting more Arab rebels who see this group as successful.

Which is what I said a long time ago about arming acceptable rebels. People like the strong horse and if we help acceptable rebels succeed, the recruits will flow to "our" guys.

UPDATE: Looking bad for the rebels in Aleppo. A UN envoys pleas to rescue the civilians in Aleppo will fall on deaf ears--as they have for the last 4+ years.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Blunder Siege

Yeeesssssss! Putin falls for our ploy!

Russian President Vladimir Putin presented a Russian passport to U.S. actor Steven Seagal on Friday and said he hoped it would serve as a symbol of how the fractious ties between Moscow and Washington are starting to improve.

One, who does Seagal think he is? An American leftist celebrity who can embrace any left wing nutball anti-American communist or socialist leader and escape with their career intact?

And two, Putin is doomed. The bad guys never suspect the cook:


This All Seems So Familiar

I'm worried about Afghanistan already. Will the defeat of ISIL in Iraq and Syria send ISIL jihadis to Afghanistan?

Like I wrote, I'm not happy about trends in Afghanistan. Unless there is a robust Afghan-coalition winter offensive that really knocks the Taliban back before the traditional warm weather fighting season returns, we are going to have serious problems in 2017.

And with ISIL facing defeat in Iraq and then Syria, where will ISIL choose to flee?

They can't flee to Libya since that fall-back bastion has been wrecked by ISIL's loss of Sirte.

Will ISIL try to fade into the population to wage a terrorist and insurgent campaign in Iraq and/or Syria?

Or will ISIL flee to Afghanistan where the mountains and less effective opposition than in Iraq and Syria will allow them to survive and rebuild?

Remember that Afghanistan didn't become a real problem for us after 9/11 and our initial invasion until after al Qaeda's main effort in Iraq was defeated. Between that victory and Pakistan's decision to bolster support for "friendly" jihadis in the region, America's low-level effort to hold Afghanistan began to falter. President Bush had started to reinforce Afghanistan as Iraq was being won, and President Obama dramatically escalated the fight in Afghanistan after he assumed office.

So now, with a weaker position in Afghanistan, will another jihadi retreat from Iraq (and Syria) destabilize Afghanistan even more?

Will Pakistan behave better this time and make it harder for jihadis to seek a safe haven in the region?

I'd pay good money for Moslems to win their civil war against jihadis trying to define Islam in the sick and bloody way that jihadis want Islam to be.

The Return of the Most Core of Core Interests?

 Despite the attention paid to islands in the South China Sea and East China Sea, should we be thinking more about Taiwan?

Given that Taiwan is backing away from soft reunion with China, given that Taiwan is updating their military and even plans to build their own subs, and given that China doesn't even seem to be willing to pretend to allow Hong Kong significant local autonomy until the 50-year deal with Britain which returned Hong Kong to China expires, I am starting to think more about the chances of China invading Taiwan to bring that "core interest" of China into the loving embrace of the mainland.

So when I read that China wants helicopters, I say "huh:"

China has ordered 18 more helicopters from Russia. This includes eight Ansats (a three ton transport similar to the UH-1 and used as an ambulance), four Ka-32s (the civilian version of the 12 ton Ka-27 naval helicopter that can carry up to four tons).and six Mi-17s. Despite having their own helicopter industry (including licensed manufacture of some European and Russian designs) China continues to buy Mi-17s from Russia because China needs more military transport helicopters right now and still needs other types of Russian helicopters in such small quantities that producing them in China is not practical.

One example is for high altitude choppers that could operate in China-occupied Tibet, which is certainly a valid Chinese need given that India is finally starting to respond to Chinese power by building up their forces and infrastructure on India's side of that border.

But given China's shortage of specialist amphibious warfare ships (which I think would be supplemented by civilian ships for an invasion), having a lot of helicopters that could be used on the relatively short hop across the Taiwan Strait seems like a reason China "cannot build or buy enough helicopters," as the headline says.

China insists they must have Taiwan. China's military is improving fast and until Taiwan can react, will continue to outpace Taiwan's defense efforts. So the chance of China deciding to invade Taiwan has to be going up.

One more thing to worry about in a new untested administration.