Sunday, March 18, 2018

Meanwhile Near Iran

For all the focus on the North Korea nuclear problem, a potentially far worse nuclear problem continues in the Middle East with Iran.

Well, yes (tip to Instapundit):

Will the Iran deal set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East? Mohammed bin Salman doesn’t want to go nuclear, he tells Norah O’Donnell in a 60 Minutes interview due to air on Sunday, but Saudi Arabia will not wait long after Iran creates a nuclear weapon to follow suit.

Unless you are delusional enough to believe the 2015 nuclear deal will make Iran normal:

“There's incredible talent and resources and sophistication inside of Iran, and it would be a very successful regional power that was also abiding by international norms and international rules, and that would be good for everybody."

Yeah, that would be good.

But we're not going to get anything good from the deal.

No, Iran will go nuclear--possibly enabled by North Korea--and nuclear proliferation will take off with Saudi Arabia, possibly Egypt, and certainly Turkey at some point. Add that to Israel, Pakistan, and off to the side, India, who already have nukes.

What could possibly go wrong with all those nukes in such a small area? Yes indeed, the dawn of interesting times.

And Saudi Arabia's path is already locked in place from past Saudi backing for the "(Sunni) Islamic bomb" in Pakistan.

I noted this path some years ago, including a reference to the Chinese-made CSS-2 missiles mentioned in the BBC link that could likely be the delivery system waiting for the warheads given that the Pakistanis have warhead designs made for the missile.

Have a super sparkly day.

How Bad is Yemen?

Unless I'm missing something, I don't understand what appears to be the exaggeration over the Yemen civil war:

[Saudi heir apparent Mohammed bin Salman] seems to be scaling back his war in Yemen after three years that have achieved little beyond mass civilian slaughter, famine and a cholera epidemic, at huge cost to both the kingdom’s reputation and its finances (a cost of $120bn so far, according to one Saudi defence expert).

Slaughter? The death toll doesn't support that claim, as I noted recently in a data dump:

I don't understand why Westerners so often say that the scale of death in the Yemen civil war, as an aside in an otherwise interesting article on reforming Islam said, "has brought famine, disease and death on a scale that is almost unimaginable." The death toll in nearly 3 years in Yemen is under 14,000 dead. People are dying and suffering, but the scale is hardly unimaginable at under 5,000 per year. Yet Yemen inspires indignant horror in Britain while Syria's 400,000+ dead in about 6 years of serious fighting (the first year seemed more protest based with casualties rather than a civil war it evolved into, to me). Or compare it to the war in Russian-occupied Ukrainian Donbas where about 12,000 had died in nearly four years of war. The world yawns at 3,000 dead per year but 5,000 is unimaginable?

Famine? A recent Washington Post article doesn't say more than that millions are at risk of famine--not dying in actual famine:

Nearly 80 percent of Yemen's population is food-insecure; millions are teetering on the edge of famine. The situation — described as critical for nearly two years — has grown even worse since early November, when Saudi Arabia enacted a near-complete blockade on its borders with Yemen, making it nearly impossible for anyone to import food, water and medical supplies from Saudi Arabia.

I have no doubt that food is scarce and something should be done. But the blockade is for the purpose of stopping Iranian arms shipments to Houthi rebels who fire missiles at Saudi civilian targets.

Yes, there seems to be a cholera epidemic. And while it could cause mass deaths it doesn't seem to have yet. That's no reason to remain passive, but I don't think the claims so far are accurate.

Nor do I see the Saudi reputation taking a hit. The Saudi effort did stop the pro-Iran momentum in Yemen's civil war and is slowing achieving results.

Besides, if the Saudi reputation has survived the Islamist ideology that spawned 9/11 and the terrorism we've fought since then, it can survive opposing Iran.

And I seriously doubt the financial cost claim unless it counts military expenses that would have been incurred even in peacetime.

Also, this is misleading from the Post:

Thousands of bombs have been dropped; many have hit and killed civilians. According to research, out of about 8,600 of those attacks, 3,577 hit military sites, and 1,510 struck residential areas, school buildings, hospitals and other civilian sites.

Does the "research" (linking to a far-left Guardian article!) indicate whether rebels were using civilian sites as fighting positions or otherwise using them? If so, that makes them military targets. The rules on war do not require combatants to treat any civilian site as a sanctuary for enemies.

I'll not deny that being in a war zone is anything but a horror show. But so much of the Western reporting on Yemen seems like Iran-inspired propaganda, quite honestly. I'm open to being persuaded by better information. But so far I don't see it.

And I want the Saudis to win.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Weekend Data Dump

A Pakistani author worries about India and China getting closer rather than intensifying friction. Pakistan would be isolated if America makes good on threats to punish Pakistan for supporting Islamist terrorists. Given border disputes between India and China I don't know how they get "close" notwithstanding any movement right now to be closer.

For whatever reason, my summary of the Iran-Iraq War is getting steady hits these days. I mean, other than the obvious reason that it is rather good, of course.

Naturally, the Chinese are attempting to infiltrate institutions that are already close to being Maoist indoctrination centers. Tip to Instapundit. I've mentioned the Chinese Confuse Us Institutes before. Yet still our institutions welcome them and their money.

It is absolutely wrong and counter-productive to punish the instinct of those who protect us to "head to the sound of the guns" as their first reaction to a crisis. Effing idiots, those "superiors" are. I fully understand that too many responders can clog the scene and diminish capacity to action. But in the initial stage before there is effective command and control to deploy assets and issue orders, the first unorganized responders could be key. Punish that instinct enough and we won't have it when we need it. Tip to Instapundit.

Countries spanning the Pacific agreed to a trade pact (ratification must follow) that reduces tariffs without America. The implication is that America is hosed for not participating. As a rule I prefer free trade. And I think it is good for America to participate in free trade agreements. But the terms of a deal are important. And all those countries want to trade with America which means there is no reason we can't have bilateral pacts with members of the agreement. Also note that China is not part of the pact. I admit things could turn out badly. But it might be fine, too. I'll not predict so soon.

It isn't too shocking that the broad failure of the Arab Spring has led to an increase in jihadi terrorism in Africa. The Arab Spring offered democracy as an alternative to the traditional autocracy or mullah-run government as means to run Arab Moslem states. This does not mean that the Arab Spring was a long-term failure. In the long run the choice of democracy (and rule of law) has to be a real option of governance. But in the short run the autocracies were weakened even though they turned back the reach for democracy; and with a weakened government security forces, the jihadis who kill naturally benefit. Perhaps this shores up the appeal of the traditional forms of government to control the violence. Ideally those autocracies add rule of law to their tool kit that eventually leads to more opportunities for democracy.

If a future heavily armored battleship was equipped with active missile defenses and long-range missiles and drones, it could have a place in the fleet again. Remember, aircraft gave the carrier the edge over battleships in the ship-killing (with strike plane range) and fleet defense (with fighter aircraft) contests. If missiles can provide the range without the risk to planes going up against enemy air defenses and an edge in defense with a combination of active defenses and passive armor, battleships could re-enter the contest. Although I wonder if modern weapons would overwhelm battleships as they were overwhelmed in World War II by simpler "dumb" weapons. And I wonder if we could even make the thick steel armor needed. Or would new materials and electric armor be able to replace steel?

The language of presidential hate: "All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That's why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by barring welfare benefits to illegal aliens. In the budget I will present to you, we will try to do more to speed the deportation of illegal aliens who are arrested for crimes, to better identify illegal aliens in the workplace as recommended by the commission headed by former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. We are a nation of immigrants. But we are also a nation of laws. It is wrong and ultimately self-defeating for a nation of immigrants to permit the kind of abuse of our immigration laws we have seen in recent years, and we must do more to stop it." Dog whistle phrases for hate, for sure.

Cultural appropriation defended.

Big boom. Don't forget the far more numerous little booms.

For a while I've said that America should look for alternatives to Incirlik air base in Turkey and quietly remove our nukes from the base, given problems with Erdogan pushing Turkey to Islamist politics. We are scaling back use of Incrirlik and apparently did the latter a couple years ago. I don't remember hearing about that, but I did say do it "quietly." Kudos to the Obama administration on the latter, which was done notwithstanding their encouragement of Erdogan as a "tame" Islamist we could work with. Now make some progress on making sure Turkey doesn't get our advanced F-35 (sell them a simpler "monkey version" as the Soviets called their export weapons), as I also advised. Perhaps in 5 years I'll read we did that, too.

To protect and serve their multi-cultural PC credentials. Shameful.

Let's hope the repulsive alt-Right is waning. It was never influential in America despite "resistance" panic attacks, never large--or even a sizable fraction--of course. Sadly, the hard Left will not wane as long as professors and administrators sympathetic to the hard Left control the institutions (and our media, of course). Tip to Instapundit.

If this allegation of false conviction rates is true, it's really bad. It would be even worse if you consider that prosecutors only bring charges on cases they think they can win (it is bad politics to have low conviction rates), explaining the amazingly high conviction rate. But is it true? I have no background to judge, honestly. But rule of law, which I drone on about, requires a low false conviction rate. And I do think juries are prone to believe forensic evidence is Golden because of television cop shows, despite its deep flaws. If "expert" witnesses could be sued in civil court by defendants, that might help reduce overly broad or definitive conclusions and provide a means for the wrongly convicted to recover damages.

Good charts on NATO states reaching (or mostly not reaching) 2% of GDP defense spending. It's a blunt measurement but it is the foundation of real defense capabilities.

The headline makes it sound like Russia pledged to fight America if America strikes Assad: "Russia says U.S. plans to strike Damascus, pledges military response". Which made me wonder if the Russians are dangerously reckless. But the Russians didn't quite say that. There was a condition. They said America plans to strike Assad's facilities in Damascus and that Russia would respond militarily "if it felt Russian lives were threatened" by the attack. So Russia drew a very closely drawn red line that leaves a lot of Syria exposed to American attack (over possible chemical weapons use or the death toll in the Ghouta pocket) that doesn't expose Russian troops to risk. I wonder if this is brushing Russia back from the plate for an Israeli operation against Hezbollah in Lebanon that also allows Russia to save face doing nothing about that by posing as the protector of Assad despite no threat to Assad?

Lack of transparency and accountability is a feature of the European Union and not a bug. The Brussels elites can knight anybody into their new pan-European royalty. So the peasantry can get back to tending the fields and just shut up while the proto-imperial state in Brussels erases the "proto-" part.

Tillerson was fired as secretary of state. I wasn't a big fan but other than his fondness for the Iran nuclear deal, didn't offend me. So firing him isn't a bad thing. And if Tillerson was promoting a European foreign policy in regard to Iran, that was a problem. Tip to Instapundit.

Saddam Hussein reached out to useful idiots and allies within the West to shield Iraq from Western military action and sanctions.

An overview of the Baltic region. I'm trying to get an article on my views on defending the forward Baltic NATO states published.

Hillary Clinton's claim while in India that she lost because married white women succumbed to pressure from their husbands leads me to ask just where do you meet these subservient women? I kid. I kid! But seriously, I haven't met any of these mythical women. I think they fall in the category of "moderate Democrats" and Big Foot.

It should be obvious that thugs like these deserve prison time.

On the bright side, America suddenly had half a million fewer fugitive criminals!

I hate to even glance at Yahoo! News comments these days. Long stupid, these days they often seem so over-the-top stupid that I can't see them without assuming they are Russian trolls.

See something, say something, do something--get rebuked. Volkswagen should re-hire the man as a crash test dummy.

I remain deeply disappointed in Russia. The Russians could have joined the West after the Cold War on the basis of the notion that they too were victims of communism. I wanted them to become friends. Germany, Japan, and Italy didn't do too bad as former enemies, now did they? But instead the Russians have turned the West into an enemy while ignoring China's rise to their resource-rich rear where only Russian nukes could stop China from grabbing land ceded by them to Russia in the 19th century. The Russians aren't foreign policy geniuses. They're morons. With nukes and poison gas. Is it impossible for sanity to break out there?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Just in case you doubt my full right wing credentials, for whatever reason. It blows my mind that this isn't universally supported in America.

Good grief, people, the White House has air defense missiles!

While I'm not happy that Trump wrongly told Trudeau Canada did not have a trade deficit with America, this Canadian author erases my sympathy by loudly arguing Trump "lies" to America's closest allies. But the quote clearly indicates that Trump simply didn't know the facts and asserted his own convenient fact. Which isn't quite a lie, is it? Again, Trump shouldn't have done that. But it wasn't a lie. It was incorrect. And another thing, Canadians who elected a one-man boy band to be their prime minister have little credibility in belittling Americans who voted for Trump. And as for all those quotes about how we are mis-treated in trade? That's called negotiating. International trade will be just fine.

I have a great deal of respect for H.R. McMaster. Losing his advice would be bad if he truly is to be fired as national security advisor.


Karma: Hillary slips twice on stairs and fractures wrist while in India in separate incidents after going off on "shithole" red states and the "deplorable" people--including the Stepford wives who voted for Trump--who live in them. Funny all this happened in India.

To be fair accurate perceptions of liberal bias in colleges are still perceptions. Tip to Instapundit.

Ah Hell, we lost all 7 crew and passengers on a helicopter that went down in western Iraq.

The gender fluidity nonsense is all fun and games until consequences rear their ugly head. So, is "she" to be believed?

I never much liked Stephen Hawking notwithstanding admiration for his coping with his condition and respect for his scientific skills.

Coping with this vulnerability would be nice. I don't like the Internet of things one bit.And I'll ask again, given the damage that a cyber attack could inflict on us, why isn't a kinetic response justified by such an act of war?

The Left mocked new economic advisor's statement that things would go well, God willing. MSNBC expressed that mockery on the air. I eagerly await the nonstop MSNBC mocking of Moslems who commonly say "Inshallah." Any minute now.

I admit I am open to persuasion about whether conservative things are happening because of Trump or despite him; as well as the related question of whether there is chaos in the White House or just media amplification of what is going on and perhaps an over valuing of dullness. At the very least perhaps we'll gain some perspective about the role of the imperial president we invest so much attention on in a vast governmental structure with lots of parts that continue to work along. I've never panicked over the election of Trump despite worries about his liberal heritage and I'm not a particular fan of his style or character and make no excuses for that. You will never find panty-throwing fanboy literature here any more than you found it during the Bush 43 administration or demonization during the Obama years. But I remain deeply grateful he defeated the deeply corrupt and perhaps more divisive Clinton (and by "he" I suppose I mean Trump and Obama).

Add livestock in the passenger compartment to the indignity of modern air travel and our airlines have basically re-invented Soviet-era Aeroflot without the accident rate. I'm starting to think that success against terrorist take-overs of airline flights since 9/11 has less to do with improved security and more the result of the sheer unpleasantness of a flight that might be the terrorists' last moments on Earth. How many virgin vouchers for Paradise are needed to overcome that?

Somebody Needs to Aim Higher

President Trump mentioned the possibility of a Space Force. Rather than a separate Space Force, I'd make the Air Force the Aerospace Force to control the skies and space above Earth.

People not paying attention to the issue can mock this proposal, of course, because Trump:

President Trump is a political force of nature who refuses to be hemmed in by the bureaucratic status quo. He proved that again Tuesday when he raised the possibility of creating a Space Force to oversee U.S. military efforts in space. Not a space command or a space corps, but a Space Force.

This makes sense as a concept if not the precise nature of the force.

I think of space around the Earth as an extension of the atmosphere above the planet that we need the Air Force to control to support operations lower down to ground and not a truly separate domain. That doesn't happen until we have military forces moving beyond the Earth-Moon system.

Then we can discuss a separate space service, whether modeled on the Navy or Air Force, pulling people from those services to man the new force. I'd go with the Navy with their planes, subs, and long-endurance mission experience. Although I'm open to drone-based rather than crewed models of a Space Force/Navy that plays more to Air Force drone experience.

But I am in danger of digressing.

In my ideal world, the Air Force sheds the close air support mission (and money and force structure) to the Army, leaving the Army with capabilities to fight for the air over its units and support them in combat that the Marines have, while leaving the Air Force to focus on strike missions not primarily in support of Army units in combat, air superiority, cyber, transport, nukes, missile defense, anti-satellite assets (ground, airborne, and space-based), and space control (off the top of my head, this is hardly set in stone).

I'd call the re-focused Air Force the Aerospace Force.

Strategypage has related thoughts on the Russian space farce. Clearly, China is the spacefaring nation America will see the most in space.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Crouching PLA, Hidden PAP

After decades of shedding light infantry to the People's Armed Police, the Chinese official army seems to want to bring the "police" closer again.

Well that's interesting:

After the recent takeover of China’s 1.52-million-strong Armed Police Force by the Communist Party’s Central Military Commission, which is also the PLA’s command and control center, further militarization of training and management of the armed police have become a new emphasis.

It has been reported by Chinese media that themed war games of armed police units versus PLA regiments have been arranged, and some observers believe that the majority of the paramilitary police could be absorbed by the PLA.

Exercises for the Armed Police Force have been put at the center of strategies, Bao Yingxiang, commander of the armed police corps of Tianjin, told People’s Daily.

The Chinese seem to want to make sure their "police" light infantry can work with their army. Which they used to be part of.

Although perhaps just as interesting, making these police units capable of carrying out their former army role and practicing fighting PLA regiments makes those party-controlled troops capable of ... fighting PLA regiments.

Like I said, every threat to the Communist Party's control of China is part of a continuum of threats to be dealt with.

Change. But What Kind?

I'm not sure what to make of the Saudi Neom multinational city to be built at the top of the Gulf of Aqaba in partnership with Egypt and Jordan.

The vision is certainly grand:

To observers, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman Al Saud’s flagship idea may seem overly ambitious – to build a mega-city known as Neom along the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea that extends across the borders to Jordan and Egypt.

Indeed, its proponents are describing the planned 26,500 square kilometer city in almost messianic terms. “Neom is positioned to become an aspirational society that heralds the future of human civilization by offering its inhabitants an idyllic lifestyle set against a backdrop of a community founded on modern architecture, lush green spaces, quality of life, safety and technology in the service of humanity paired with excellent economic opportunities,” says Neom’s website.

Israel seems to be a glaring hole in that project denying it land contiguity. Is Israel envisioned as a partner in the future if anti-Israel bias can be reduced?

I tend to see things in terms of security issues. Tying Egypt and Jordan to Saudi Arabia does help Saudi Arabia in confronting Iran.

And the bridge plan at the southern end of the gulf would make it easier for Egypt to send troops to support Saudi Arabia.

I have to believe it would help Egypt economically as a route for Moslems making the trip to holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

The Neom project could certainly provide economic advantages to Jordan and Saudi Arabia (which wants to diversify from oil export dependence) if it brings in investments into an oasis of business-friendly rule of law and absence of Islamist ideology. Security better be tight.

Would it also provide help with the Salman project to move Saudi Arabia away from Islamist ideology that supports jihadis? Could it be an incubator for modernity using Jordan and Egypt as foreign shields to protect it from internal Saudi opposition?

It will be interesting to see if the Neom project is even started let alone built.

Answering the Call from the 1980s

The Army is adding equipment sets for two armored brigade combat teams in Europe:

Four years after the Army rolled its last tanks out of Europe, the service has sent back a brigade’s worth of equipment to have on stand-by and plans to add a second set this year. ...

The vehicles, housed in Belgium and the Netherlands, are in addition to the brigade’s worth of equipment and personnel that are continually in Europe, as part of a heel-to-toe rotation that began in 2016.

So America can quickly have three Army heavy brigades in Europe in addition to the parachute brigade and Stryker brigade already based in Europe.

I'm assuming that after we get enough practice moving brigades to Europe for the heel-to-toe deployments from the continental United States that a brigade will be permanently stationed in Poland, notwithstanding any now-obsolete agreements with Russia about that.

The Marines are also beefing up their equipment stored in Norway to support what sounds like possibly a brigade of Marines.

And eventually we'll need a corps headquarters back in Europe, (although because of Russian aggression now we need a heavy corps rather than a lighter corps as I wanted when I argued for keeping a corps--see pp. 15-20).

We took our eye of the European ball and now are making up for our mistake.

And please note that America pulled out our last tank from Europe 5 years ago, demonstrating how ridiculous the Russian claim that NATO poses a military threat to Russia has been.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Special Forces in the Baltics

American special forces are getting upgraded facilities in Estonia for their work with our allies there:

Since 2014, SOCEUR has had forces working with allies in the Baltics to help bolster local militaries. With no end in sight to a broader U.S. military campaign to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, officials said there was a need for upgrades for the special operators. The facilities, which serve as a small base of operations in Baltics, are on an undisclosed Estonian military site.

Special Operations Command Europe working with local militaries and militias will help with low-level enemy operations. But an invasion by Russia won't be stopped in Estonia, Latvia, or northern Lithuania--at best.

But for that case, I assume that the special forces (as well as other NATO special forces) are also preparing for stay-behind operations should the Russians overrun NATO's Baltic states.

I've noted that mission since the Russian invasion of Ukraine that started with the Crimea take-over.

The Navy and Air Force will need to support these special forces and the Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians who resist the Russian occupation until a NATO counter-offensive can liberate them.

UPDATE: And obviously, the better NATO can carry out these missions, the less Russia will believe they can get away with a rapid smash and grab.

Keep It Simple

Britain's major allies accused Russia of carrying out a chemical weapon attack in Britain in an effort to assassinate enemies of Putin. It's getting overly complicated now.

The British have persuaded over Russian denials that Russia committed the nerve gas attack in Britain:

The leaders of France, Germany, the US and UK say there is "no plausible alternative explanation" to Russia having been behind the nerve agent attack in the UK.

They condemned the "first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War", calling it an assault on UK sovereignty.

Britain has started retaliatory measures and more will follow, I'm sure, from Britain and their allies.

Add those to sanctions put on Russia for dismembering Ukraine.

And add these American sanctions for Russian interference in our election process:

Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated five entities and 19 individuals under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) as well as Executive Order (E.O.) 13694, “Blocking the Property of Certain Persons Engaging in Significant Malicious Cyber-Enabled Activities,” as amended, and codified pursuant to CAATSA.

“The Administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia. Treasury intends to impose additional CAATSA sanctions, informed by our intelligence community, to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities by severing their access to the U.S. financial system.”

So sanctions for invasion. Sanctions for election meddling. Sanctions for nerve gas murder.

The West should just get rid of all the various reasons to streamline the process and sanction Russia for being Russia. Keep it simple.


UPDATE: Our ambassador to the UN seems to back my idea:

"We take no pleasure in having to constantly criticize Russia, but we need Russia to stop giving us so many reasons to do so."

"Russia" would be a handy umbrella reason to act, no?

Wait a Bit to Judge Syria


American expeditions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya―and probably Syria, too―have led to stalemate, exhaustion, anarchy, or political defeat. The Russians, waging true coalition warfare with their Iranian, Syrian, Hezbollah, Shiite, and Turkish allies, have succeeded in achieving their primary war aims.

I see we have more of the boundless praise for an enemies' results and excessive criticism of our outcomes, which annoys me so much.

Iraq started as a hostile state that sponsored terrorism, wanted WMD, invaded allies, and was a brutal regime to its own people.

American-led intervention created an imperfect ally that at least is not brutal to large classes of people, fights terrorists at our side, does not pursue WMD, is not a threat to our Gulf allies, and is willing to host American forces. And the American effort in Iraq continues through five administrations (Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43, Obama, and Trump). That's continuity and not exhaustion.

Iraq is an imperfect ally but Germany, Japan, Italy, and South Korea were hardly stellar allies early after the wars that turned them into prosperous allies. Give Iraq some time before judging.

I don't see stalemate, exhaustion, anarchy, or political defeat.

Afghanistan started as a brutal Islamist government that hosted al Qaeda which struck us big on September 11, 2001.

American-led intervention created an imperfect ally that has not been a sanctuary for terrorists to plan attacks on America. Afghans fight at our side to kill terrorist enemies. If there is stalemate, it is at least a stalemate that keeps Afghanistan from being a sanctuary for terrorists to hit us. And perhaps our regional strategy will finally get Pakistan to stop supporting the Taliban which contributes to the stalemate.

I don't think stalemate must continue and don't see exhaustion, anarchy, or political defeat.

Libya? I'll grant that there is a lot of anarchy and a good deal of stalemate, but this war seems to have been waged on behalf of Europe that was eager to do something. And a civil war was already raging. So the anarchy problem is not on America. It started before the intervention and the Europeans didn't seem interested in post-war intervention.

But efforts continue to solve the anarchy and stalemate of Libya. So I don't see exhaustion or political defeat.

As for Syria, we beat ISIL! And stalemate that at least protects eastern Syria to help Kurds escape Assad's control and shields Iraq is not too bad. Even if Assad survives he is much weaker and the costs of winning may yet be too much to endure. If seeking revenge for past Assad regime killing of American troops is a goal, we'd done that. Also, I don't see anarchy as much as I see multiple powers controlling different regions, with Assad's allies mostly dominant in the western core region. If Assad's victory there is a political defeat for America that is fair enough. But we never made a serious effort to defeat Assad and I wouldn't invest much in that objective.

If you count Russia's presence in Syria as a political defeat, that is true. But Russia's achievement came before we geared up the effort against ISIL. Defeating ISIL surely helped Assad, but are you seriously arguing we had no interest separate from Assad's fate to defeat ISIL? So it is hardly a critical political defeat. I certainly don't see exhaustion as much as I see limits on what we will commit for our limited aims. That is a form of pre-exhaustion for the level of commitment we might make, but it doesn't say we can't achieve objectives at this level.

What about Russia?

Yes, they have Assad in western Syria secured. And that gives Russia bases. This is indeed a success. Although how long the bases or forces located there would last in a war and what good they'd do is another question. And will Assad survive the civil war? If he does, will he serve Iran more than Russia and eventually harm Russian interests in Syria?

And Russia is kind of pre-exhausted given the low limits they place on paying a price in order to avoid opposition at home. And Assad, while winning, has not won yet and has suffered massive casualties and economic damage to get this far. Can Russia continue to back their position with a low level of commitment?

Plus, Iran--with its Hezbollah and Shia foreign legion allies, is an ally of the moment with different objectives, as is Turkey. And by backing Iran and Turkey--which will not remain Russian allies in all likelihood--Russia has alienated Sunni Arab states that view Iran as a threat and still remember being run by Turkey with less than fond memories.

Let's not even bring in Israel which has its own interests.

And are Syria's Sunni Arabs going to remember Russia's terror bombing with admiration?

So let's wait at least a bit before we conclude Russia doesn't have to face the problems of stalemate, exhaustion, and political defeat. Or even anarchy, for that matter.

To be fair, the author does say that the Russian success is qualified ("so far") and does note the tensions with competing powers with different goals, but that's a big asterisk to add to an argument about Russia's superior approach to the Middle East, isn't it? And the ability to jump ahead to conclude American defeat seems to ignore such nuance, eh?

Honestly, I'd at least like to be judged by the same standards as foes for measuring success, okay?

And as an aside, I was not taken surprise by Russia's intervention in 2015. I had speculated about that before the Russians moved in. Not that I predicted Putin would take the step when he did. But the possibility was long on my radar.

Show Them the Money

If America needs a regional approach to Afghanistan that includes the control of the Pakistani side of the border to prevent it from being a sanctuary for Afghan jihadis, what do we do if Pakistan continues to oppose America on this?

Well, start spreading the money around the tribal territories that already resist Pakistani control:

The United States on Thursday said it was offering a $5-million reward for information on Mullah Fazlullah, the chief of the Pakistani Taliban militant group that has waged a decade-long insurgency in the South Asian nation.

The offer came amid worsening U.S.-Pakistan relations, and coincided with a visit to Washington by Pakistan’s foreign secretary for talks expected to focus on boosting counter-terrorism cooperation and the U.S. war strategy in Afghanistan.

If Pakistan won't cooperate, America needs to demonstrate that we have an alternative:

In light of the idea of options in the broader South Asia region, I will revive my [2008] suggestion that our efforts to win should include a major effort to create friendly forces on the ground inside Pakistan the way we have done inside Syria[.]

And if the money is the carrot, the stick to encourage Pakistani tribal leaders to work with us comes from above (from the first link):

On Wednesday, a suspected U.S. drone strike on a training camp in a remote part of Afghanistan killed more than 20 Pakistani Taliban militants preparing to launch suicide attacks in Pakistan.

This will take time. Pakistan continues to be a problem.

Although progress could be faster if Pakistan sees jihadis as more of a threat to their strategic depth versus India and seriously turns against the Afghan jihadis who keep fighting.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Keep Your Friends Close and Enemies Closer

This Iraqi move regarding the Popular Mobilization Force militias either institutionalizes Iran's presence within Iraqi security forces or gives Iraq a chance to squeeze out the Iranian influence:

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a decree on Thursday formalizing the inclusion of Shi’ite paramilitary groups in the country’s security forces.

According to the decree, members of the Shi’ite militias, an assortment of militia groups known collectively as the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), which are mostly backed and trained by Iran, will be granted many of the same rights as members the military.

The power to spend or withhold money on these units that contain 60,000 members and oversee the commanders and troops by training them (and firing them) and supervising them could gradually squeeze the pro-Iranian elements out of the units.

Hopefully Western military advisors are involved in this effort to de-fang the threat the PMF pose to Iraqi sovereignty and enable Iraq to resist Iranian pressure to fall into Iran's orbit.

Threat Perception

China's spending on domestic "security" (that is, security from the people and not security for the people) has been going up fast and is about 20% greater than defense spending:

China has substantially increased spending on domestic security, official figures show, reflecting mounting concern about threats inside its borders as President Xi Jinping moves to acquire more power and reassert the authority of the Communist Party.

Is that 20% greater than official defense spending numbers or the higher real figure (maybe 50% higher than published?)?

Although you should keep in mind that for Chinese leaders, threats are measured as they affect the Chinese Communist Party and not how they affect China. Foreign and domestic threats are all part of a continuum of threats to the party.

This is most easily seen when you consider that China's military has gotten smaller over the last few decades by shedding low tech leg infantry divisions and turning them over to the People's Armed Police and painting "police" over the "PLA" insignia. Otherwise the units are largely the same.

The Chinese surely worry about what stupid thing might spark unrest that threatens the party's monopoly of power.

Bonus video at the top link about the Beta version of Dystopian State 1.0 being built in Xinjiang.

Strategypage has a tour of China with additional information on defense spending and DS 1.0, among other things.

What's Deadly and Persistent and Gray All Over?

Britain basically (with a narrow but damning "out") accused Russia of an unlawful use of force against Britain for the nerve gas poisonings in Britain.

Russians responded by reminding Britain of Russia's nuclear arsenal.

Nice. #WhyRussiaCan'tHaveNiceThings.

So is this an act of war?

Putin's Kremlin practices what some analysts call "gray zone warfare."

Waging a gray zone campaign requires maintaining "plausible deniability" -- in order to escape retribution, be able to deny responsibility for the dirty and destructive operations.

Propaganda, crime, covert influence operations, cyber intrusions and old-fashioned bribery are gray zone weapons.

The Putin-led Kremlin employs all of them and more.

As I've said, Russia wages war, denies it is waging war, and counts on the West going along with the fiction and doing nothing effective. Would Western sanctions over Ukraine seem effective absent depressed oil prices?

But Britain doesn't need to make a legal case against Russia--which Russia would ignore if that happened (witness China's rejection of the South China Sea case that the Philippines "won"). But Britain can act. In equally gray areas. Short of murder of innocents, of course.

But I think the best British retaliation would be to raise and deploy a tank brigade to Poland. And deploy mine warfare capabilities in the Baltic Sea and Black Sea.

UPDATE: I'm not sure why this author is claiming America is not backing Britain when "President Trump said the US was with the UK all the way." America understandably would like to have evidence to condemn Russia.

Nor do I get what the author means by saying Brexit's effect is to "tear up our alliance with our EU allies." The EU is no defense alliance. It is a proto-imperial project. NATO is an alliance and NATO remains strong, with Britain as a leading European member of that alliance.

America is already resisting the Russians in Syria and eastern NATO as well as pledging to upgrade nuclear weapons including non-strategic weapons to counter Russia.

In what way is America refusing to stand up to Russia? In what way is the EU even a factor in Russian calculations?

UPDATE: Again, I don't understand the "Britain alone" angle:

The United States, European Union and NATO voiced support for Britain after May said it was "highly likely" that Russia was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter with Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the Soviet military.

Russia took an action insufficiently gray by using a nerve agent that Russia appears to make.

Britain will announce measures today, that will include economic sanctions and the expulsion of Russian diplomats on a large scale.

UPDATE: Britain announces a halt to high-level contacts with Russians and the expulsion of 23 Russian intelligence people operating under diplomatic cover. More actions will follow.

The brigade thing would be good.

UPDATE: If America strikes Assad's forces in the near future, I wonder if Britain would join saying it is a blow against poison gas use as a pointed response to Russia via Russia's poison gas-using ally Assad?

UPDATE: I'm not sure if Russia could afford to cut off natural gas exports to Britain, but European reliance on Russia does give Russia that option.

I'm sure America would make an effort to replace supplies, but I don't know how fast that could be ramped up. Probably not fast enough during a cold snap.

All the more reason that another response to Russia's attack should be to unleash the power of fracking in Britain and Europe to reduce reliance on Russian supplies.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Most Interesting Man in the World

If Islam is to reform itself and eliminate the scourge of Islamist extremism that seeks to define Islam in the bloody template of Islamist extremism, Saudi Arabia has to succeed in bin Salman's push to marginalize Islamist ideology that Saudi money has promoted and spread but which threatens to turn on Saudi Arabia.

This is some big-time effort. Do read it all (and tip to Instapundit).

And the West (and everybody experiencing jihadi violence) should do what it can to help the man shift Islam.

But as I noted, it is dangerous for Salman personally given the strength the Islamists still have.

I've long said that fighting Islamist terrorists (and their state sponsors) is a necessary (to protect our people) but insufficient objective for winning the war on terror.

The war is ultimately an Islamic civil war over who defines Islam, with Westerners mere bloody props in that civil war.

Bin Salman's path could get us there, although it could be a long time; and he has to survive long enough to make sure that the effort spreads widely enough to survive his death.

Tread carefully, my friend.

Contain Erdogan and Work the Problem

America should absolutely stop pretending that Turkey is an ally. But America should not push Turkey away fully and abandon those in Turkey who would prefer to be an ally of America.


Rather than sacrificing American values and interests, Washington should drop its fantasy expectations and establish a more realistic relationship with Erdo─čan.

But what does that mean in practice?

I'm fully on board quietly pulling our nukes out of Turkey to prevent Erdogan from seizing them (for just the raw materials even if Turkey could never use them); refusing to sell Turkey advanced F-35s that Turkey could let Russia examine (sell them "monkey" versions way scaled back in critical technology and capabilities); downgrading intelligence sharing with Turkey; keeping Turkey out of the most sensitive parts of the alliance structure; and seeking alternatives to Incirlik air base in Turkey.

But I wouldn't eject Turkey from NATO. And I would try to bolster the still-present pro-American forces inside Turkey to strengthen them rather than abandon them and give them no choice but to submit to Erdogan's Islamist drive.

The relationship is not all bad and we shouldn't try to make the it all bad.One day Erdogan will be gone and we want a core of pro-American factions in Turkey to strengthen and rebuild the alliance.

I don't want to walk away and give Russia a free hand to open up the Turkish straits to secure the path between the Crimea base complex and the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

We need to contain the damage and work the problem for long-term benefit.

Also, I'm not sure why the first author is so sure that Russia would never attack a NATO ally.

Don't Be Conned by the City Slickers

I'm uncomfortable with the recent focus on urban warfare. Being capable of fighting in the city must not evolve into fighting in cities being the first option we take when confronted with an enemy-held city.

Should the Army focus on urban warfare insurgencies as its priority mission in an urbanizing world?

Sure, we need to prepare for it. To the extent we have to control at least part of a city.

Where I get really uncomfortable is saying the Army should focus on urban warfare in a conventional fight.

That I'm against.

But I'm fine with an urban warfare school just as we have jungle warfare and cold weather schools without having jungle or cold weather brigades.

Indeed, I think Army engineers would be a great place to hone and house the skills of urban warfare given that engineering support to keep American troops mobile and secure in an urban environment would be necessary.

No matter how big cities get (what's beyond a "megacity?" An "ultracity?"), the first instinct should be to bypass them as much as possible--holding just the key urban terrain--and let them wither on the vine much like our island-hopping campaign in the Pacific during World War II that seized only important Japanese-held islands on the road to Japan rather than assaulting every damn one of them.

Monday, March 12, 2018


Oh good Lord, the man craves attention?

Since he last faced election in 2012, Russians have invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, blanket-bombed Syria, been accused of meddling in the U.S. presidential election and claimed to have a scary new nuclear arsenal.

"No one listened to us. You listen to us now," he said earlier this month, boasting about those weapons.

Well congratufrigginlations. Count Scary got attention. Putin made Russia grate (on our nerves) again.

Where once the West ignored Russia, traded with them, and generally gutted its European defense capabilities, since Putin began blustering and committing aggression, the West pays attention.

And now NATO states increase military capabilities focused on Russia.


Also, "blanket-bombed?" I think the author means "carpet-bombed."

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Vulnerability

China is seeking to emulate America's military by becoming "smarter, better, faster, and smaller." That also makes their military less resilient. Which gives America an opportunity to present new dilemmas in the land domain to the Chinese effort to dominate the region.

As that article indicates:

Traditionally, the PLA has been dominated by the ground forces and organized with large infantry armies to defend against invasion along its long land borders, as well as serve as the ultimate guarantor of internal stability.

China's military had been a lump of proletarian fury designed to be a sponge that absorbs an invasion until the invaders are exhausted.

A Chinese military that is smaller and higher tech makes it more formidable but it becomes a small force that cannot endure casualties and replace losses as easily as it could do when giving some peasants rifles, grenades, and mortars was all you needed to be a sponge. What kill ratio would the invaders need to achieve to defeat that kind of enemy?

So now if China's better army is beaten in battle, they lose a lot of combat power for quite some time because of the difficulty of replacing a higher quality military.

This change from a large poorly trained and equipped but stubborn and resilient peasant army to a high tech force gives the United States Army a new opening to be a major factor in the Asia-Pacific region, as I explore in this Military Review article, "The Tyranny of the Shores."

One could even envision opportunities on the Chinese mainland short of an invasion (the People's Armed Police in theory could provide the bulk infantry to resist an invasion).

If the landing was a raid designed to really tear up Chinese power projection assets or to set up temporary bases to enable deeper air raids or to shield military operations in the littorals, the Army could have a role on the Chinese mainland.

Indeed, what if there was civil war within China that provided local allies to support?

I still think there are more options around China's periphery in support of allies for the most part that could justify a major Army role not focused on being a naval and air defense auxiliary.

And given the combat experience of the Army, America may have the greatest advantage, quality-wise, in the land domain rather than in the air or at sea. Assuming we re-balance from the long counter-insurgent focus of this century to major combat operations, of course. Which our national defense strategy commits America to doing.

Mind you, I did not in that article and am not advocating an invasion of China. But I do think that a refusal to plan for using the Army for its core function of large-scale combat operations simplifies China's military planning and allows them to focus on air and naval power.

Let's Count the Rewards

An American military presence is eastern Syria is surely a risk. But the idea that there are no rewards is nonsense.

While I wouldn't send 150,000 ground troops to Syria (and never have been interested in that), the idea that a small commitment in support of friendly forces on the ground isn't in America's interest is just not true.

Securing Iraq is surely an important American interest. A hostile Iraq is a problem for us and our allies. And three wars and a long quasi-war under five presidents shows that. Bush 41 waged the Persian Gulf War and enforced a no-fly zone; President Clinton enforced a no-fly zone and struck Iraq's WMD infrastructure in the Desert Fox air campaign; President Bush 43 waged the Iraq War; President Obama returned to Iraq to begin Iraq War 2.0; and President Trump continued Iraq War 2.0.

So protecting eastern Syria is in America's interest to protect Iraq. Eastern Syria was a haven for Baathists after the overthrow of Saddam, a "rat line" for al Qaeda terrorists during the Iraq War, and the launching pad for ISIL to take over western and northern Iraq in 2014.

Demonstrating that America will stand by those who stand with us is important. Are we really to abandon the Kurds and Arabs who fought and died to fight ISIL? How will we get help in the future and avoid sending 150,000 troops to carry out a mission somewhere else if America is not trusted?

Blocking Iran's overland access to Lebanon and undermining Iranian efforts to turn Syria into a satellite are important. Or do you still believe that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will turn Iran into a responsible non-nuclear regional power?

A free region within Syria as an alternative to refugees who might otherwise flow to Europe, Lebanon, or Jordan where they cause problems for our allies and otherwise promote instability is useful. Note that one reason Turkey is carving out areas in northwest Syria is to be an alternative (to Turkey) refugee haven.

A role in protecting Syrian Kurds will give America some leverage to reduce the threat to Turkey from Syrian Kurds backing Turkish Kurds. That might help ease American disagreements with Erdogan's Turkey until pro-American Turks can regain strength within Turkey.

Denying Russia an easy win in Syria is in America's interests both in itself and to keep poor Russia from being able to pivot back to Ukraine to complete their war in the Donbas and potentially move on to other targets to restore the Russian empire in the west.

And having the ability to pressure Assad either diplomatically as we now seem to intend or by shielding an eventual non-jihadi Syrian force capable of being the alternative to Assad's rule would get revenge on the Assad family regime for their role in a lot of American dead troops from Lebanon to Iraq.

Are these things really of no benefit to America and worth the effort of a relatively small commitment on the ground east of the Euphrates River line (the Deconfliction Line, or DCL, as I call it) backed by air power?

And if we don't make this commitment, what problems will arise elsewhere as a result that would require the commitment of 150,000 American troops on the ground?