Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Two Birds With One Opinion Piece

This author condemns the Obama administration for its failures to promote rule of law in the Balkans and Eastern Europe:

Obama’s global influence, or lack thereof, also led to a spike in chaos and corruption throughout Eastern Europe, harming American interests. I’ve personally seen this on recent think tank trips, speaking and touring for a collective three months in 12 European countries to include 7 former Soviet Republics and several satellite states.

The writer has a point. Although he focuses on Moldova as the worst case of what he says is a regional trend.

But consider that despite lack of American attention to combat that trend, why hasn't the European Union been more successful within its own sphere?

Shouldn't any failure by America been made up by the nearby EU foreign policy bureaucracy to show their mettle?

Yet still there is a spike in chaos and corruption?

America at least has an excuse, things are screwed up in so many places that we have plenty to keep our people busy.

What about the European Union that has pretensions of being an autonomous power in its own right?

Why has this well-paid body spent more time condemning the British for Brexit than in maintaining stability in an expanded democratic free Europe that the American-led NATO provided to Europe?

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Yes, But They're So Darned Pretty!

Patriarchy, male privilege, glass ceilings, blah, blah, blah. Men bad.

Wait. What?

“With the exception of the age group between 45-59 (a 15 year span) years old, women cost more to the state than the tax they provide. In contrast, men generate more tax revenue than they cost between 23 and 65 (a 43 year span). In the brief period in which women generate more or as much tax money than they consume, men outscore them by at least 3 times.

Huh.

Well, it isn't a very good patriarchy, it seems.

Tip to Instapundit.

Yeah, That Would Be Pretty Good

I've often spoken of Iran's recruitment of a Shia Foreign Legion to fight for Assad in Syria. Iran is formalizing their practice for a general purpose tool of intervention. So much for Iran becoming a responsible regional power.

Assuming Al Jazeera is reliable, this formation of a multi-national Shia military force is interesting and not too shocking:

Iran has formed what it calls the Liberation Army whose units will be deployed in Arab countries, according to reports.

I'm not sure how "responsible" (as in  abiding by international norms and international rules) this is but it sure does make Iran more of a "regional power":

[President] Obama told NPR that Iran should seize the chance of a [nuclear] deal that could lift crippling sanctions.

"Because if they do, 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," he said.

Hell, from the Obama administration's perspective, two out of three ain't bad, eh?

Oh well, in theory this was supposed to be good for everybody. Just like Summer Glau falling madly in love with me would be pretty good, eh? I'm not sure which is less likely to happen.

When Leading from Behind it is Easier to Stab in the Back

So are we downgrading our cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the Yemen civil war because of civilian casualties?

The U.S. military has withdrawn from Saudi Arabia its personnel who were coordinating with the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, and sharply reduced the number of staff elsewhere who were assisting in that planning, U.S. officials told Reuters. ...

The June staff withdrawal, which U.S. officials say followed a lull in air strikes in Yemen earlier this year, reduces Washington's day-to-day involvement in advising a campaign that has come under increasing scrutiny for causing civilian casualties. ...

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the reduced staffing was not due to the growing international outcry over civilian casualties in the 16-month civil war that has killed more than 6,500 people in Yemen, about half of them civilians.

But the Pentagon, in some of its strongest language yet, also acknowledged concerns about the conflict, which has brought Yemen close to famine and cost more than $14 billion in damage to infrastructure and economic losses.

I'm not sure why the civilian casualties are a major factor in any decision we make. As I recently wrote, the 6,500 casualties in nearly a year and a half are really a low rate--assuming the casualty count is accurate.

And the article says that civilian casualties are half of the total, making the toll even smaller.

A "arms watchdog" group is calling for a reduction of arms to Saudi Arabia in punishment:

An arms watchdog on Monday urged major weapons exporters, including the United States and France, to cut sales to Saudi Arabia over its actions in Yemen, as a conference on global arms trade opened in Geneva.

As I noted, the death toll isn't that high compared to other wars. Plus, does the watchdog group account for enemies using human shields? Saudi Arabia is not obligated by the rules of war to refrain from striking valid military targets just because civilians are close. In that case, the responsibility for the civilian deaths lies with the side that places civilians close to their military assets for protection.

And the rebels seem to have plenty of weapons, as does Assad where the death toll of Syrian civilians is an order of magnitude greater than civilian deaths in Yemen (and possibly a couple orders of magnitude greater by now).

I don't know, but this whole issue sounds more like caving in to Iranian information operations designed to portray the Saudi-led intervention against Shia forces that Iran backs as bloodthirsty.

Why we'd go along with Iranian efforts to turn America into a responsible (according to Iranian definitions) power in the region is beyond me.

And given that the Obama administration prides itself in "leading from behind," why we'd undermine an ally actually willing to get in front of us is also beyond my powers of analysis.

But I've always been nuance deficient, I admit.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Signs of Imminent Mosul Assault?

America is preparing to assist an Iraqi offensive to capture Mosul. Are there signs indicating an offensive sooner rather than later at the end of the year?

Our new commander of the war against ISIL is prepared to ramp up our air effort:

The United States will increase the tempo of operations in support of ground forces in Iraq and Syria as they prepare to tackle the Islamic State’s twin capital cities, according to the new commander of the U.S. military operations against the militant group.

Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, who takes command on Sunday of U.S. and allied operations against the Islamic State, said U.S.-backed forces in Iraq and Syria were preparing to move on the Iraqi city of Mosul and the Syrian city of Raqqa for what he said would be the conclusive urban battles.

Iraqi Kurdish forces are unwilling to slow down their advances near Mosul at the request of the Iraqi government:

The Kurdish government is rejecting calls from the Iraqi government for the Peshmerga to stop advancing towards the city of Mosul in the battle against the Islamic State.

Iraqis can see that ISIL is not fighting hard against the Kurds:

In the north the Kurds have been on the offensive around Mosul and have used their better training and leadership, as well as American air support, to appear unbeatable to many of the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) fighters facing them. Not only are ISIL defenders being defeated and destroyed, with little visible loss to the Kurds, but details of these defeats have circulated throughout the ISIL forces defending Mosul. This has led to more desertions including leaders of units. This last item requires swift, strong and public response from senior ISIL leadership and that’s what happened. In the last week there have been several public executions of ISIL field commanders who deserted, often while with units under attack by the Kurds.

Why, the Iraqi government may figure, will ISIL fight harder against the Iraqi army?

Why would the government ask the Kurds to slow down unless the Iraqis figured the Kurdish help was not needed at the price of taking ground the government considers Arab land?

There is also this in Syria:

Kurdish fighters on Monday captured the central prison in Hasakeh after fierce clashes with Syrian regime forces and are in control of 90 percent of the northern city, a monitor said.

We would certainly like to stress out ISIL in Syria while the Mosul offensive is conducted to make it tougher for ISIL to even order troops to run our gauntlet to reinforce Mosul.

The Kurdish assault on Syrian government positions in the northeast where we are putting air power into the skies to deter Syrian air strikes could indicate that we paid the price of getting the Syrian Kurds to move on Raqqa in partnership with Syrian Arab rebels we support at their side.

I've been writing for a long time that the time we are taking to prepare to take Mosul is ridiculous. If the offensive truly doesn't begin until the end of this year, that means that we took about as much time following the Pearl Harbor attack to prepare for the Normandy freaking invasion as we are taking to prepare for the liberation of Mosul after its capture by ISIL in June 2014.

And I've been writing all year (and a little earlier) that jihadi morale isn't as fierce as they'd like us to believe.

I sure hope that the assault begins months before the end of this year.

Get on with the offensive. Bad things happen when you give an enemy time.

Cunning bastards that they are, they may annoyingly refuse to patiently await the meticulously planned killing blow.

In the Long Run We are All Dead

Even if Iran abides by the nuclear deal without cheating, I believe that Iran has routes to nuclear weapons that go through North Korea.

This article (direct link, or alternate access here) shows how all the hopes of of the Iran nuclear deal for shifting Iran away from a hostile and aggressive foreign policy are not working out.

And while that aspect isn't working it--yet, the administration says--the nuclear parts of the deal are working just fine, they say:

Today, only 5,000 centrifuges are spinning, the plutonium-making reactor has been made inoperable, and most of Iran’s enriched uranium has been shipped out of the country.

But if this nuclear deal is preventing Iran from going nuclear in the short term, as the administration says in contradiction to indications of problems already, they concede that in the long run--and that seems to range from anywhere from 8 to 15 years from the start of the deal--the deal will free Iran from all constraints on their nuclear programs and allow Iran to use the short run to gain knowledge and experience with nuclear technology free from worry about American military power.

So the long run prospect of a non-nuclear Iran requires Iran to undergo a metamorphosis in the short run from hostile, mullah-run, nutball regime that reaches out around the region to harm American interests to responsible regional power that might not even want nuclear weapons.

Yet consider the signs of claimed short-range success on the nuclear front: that Iran has their plutonium route shut down and can't accumulate enriched uranium. This means Iran can't get nukes, right?

Yeah, not so fast sparky.

Consider that Iran and North Korea are working together on nuclear missile development.

And then recall that North Korea has ramped up both their uranium and plutonium routes to nuclear warheads. As I wrote about this development:

I will note what I asked about a year ago when the news of new Plutonium production on top of their Uranium production came out:

North Korea increases production of two types of nuclear weapon material just as Iran agrees to suspend their work with possible military dimensions.

Isn't that a crazy coincidence?

Given that we know that Iran and North Korea have worked together, why do we assume that North Korean actions are related to tensions with America?

According to North Korea, we've been planning an invasion of that Pearl of Northeast Asia for 50-plus years now. It's imminent war 24/7 as far as Pyongyang is concerned.

But North Korea is desperate for money to survive. North Korea has but two potential exports: ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.

And Iran has money. And because of the Iran deal, Iran has more money--including $400 million in cash.

Even if Iran abides by the nuclear deal without cheating, I believe that Iran has routes to nuclear weapons that go through North Korea.

What part of "Axis of Evil" was unclear?

Our President Spent His Time Dealing With Sand Traps

President Obama probably actually thought that he could wrap up all our problems with the proper infusion of much-needed hope and change and a few speeches to inspire people and officials here and around the world to just get stuff done. Cue the credits.

Remember, President Obama complained quite a bit about the problems he inherited.

The economy still creeps along more than seven years after we came out of the Great Recession.

And abroad, rather than solving the problems by getting America out of the way--justifying that Nobel Peace Prize he got for his "potential" (!)--bad stuff has happened:

It would be a fitting story to tell of the man who ascended to the presidency while simultaneously winning a Nobel Peace Prize. Obama returns America's sword to its sheath, and earns the praise of his fans and admirers. Just as he passed on a better economy to his successor than the one he inherited from Bush, so he passed on a safer world.

Unfortunately this story is a lie from end to end. The world the next president will inherit is full of traps.

Do read it all.

Although the author unnecessarily genuflects to the Left by ending with this:

President Obama was given a very difficult foreign policy situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. But his decisions in the Middle East and elsewhere have set a number of traps for the next president, while weakening our allies. And this in turn has invited other global powers to test America's historic commitments. [emphasis added]

I will remind readers that Iraq was a battlefield victory by the time President Obama took office. All he had to do was not do stupid shit to defend and exploit the gains. The administration boasted of this success before we walked away in 2011 and that JV team ISIL swarmed over northern and western Iraq in 2014.

And Afghanistan was a low-level fight during the Bush administration, where 660 American troops died in battle since 2001. President Obama tripled our troop strength and our forces suffered nearly 1,700 dead since 2009 in a campaign that he prematurely ended before the military plan of the president's escalation could be completed (which had puzzled me repeatedly).

And even if you insist that Iraq and Afghanistan were major problems unjustly passed on to President Obama, our president failed to use his big-brained and nuanced powers to resolve them. These problems too get passed on to the next president.

Hell, I'm just grateful that President Obama didn't just wash his hands of both campaigns and is able to leave the solution to the next president.

The next president will inherit quite the list of problems to deal with. Pity our current president is more skilled at dodging golf course sand traps than in solving foreign policy traps.

President Obama would have been livid to have been handed this list by such an inept predecessor.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Blame It on Rio?

As the Olympics end, it is interesting to ponder that Russia has an Olympics doping scandal (and worse for their Paralympics team) while America has a scandal about dopes at the Olympics.

Or is this just one more thing to blame on Rio?

How to Lose Iraq War 2.0 in a Dramatic Fashion

If I was a nutball Iranian mullah in charge of foreign policy, newly confident of deterring American military action because of the nuclear deal that defanged our military option and because Russian aircraft are now operating out of Iran, I'd time a coup or uprising against the Iraqi government based on the tens of thousands of pro-Iran militias inside Iraq to coincide with the last phases of the capture of Mosul, which would cripple ISIL in Iraq.

If I was a nutball Iranian mullah, I'd also block the Strait of Hormuz with mines, block ships, and shore-based anti-ship assets to trap American naval forces (please include an American and/or French aircraft carrier, I'd pray) in the Persian Gulf; and I'd foment unrest among the Shia of Bahrain in order to at least make America's naval base in the Gulf insecure and at best successfully take over that island--thus denying America our base when our ships can't leave the Gulf.

Add in troops entering southern Iraq to support the Shia revolt in response to their request for fraternal help in order to threaten American supply lines to Iraq and position in Kuwait, and you'd have a lot of American troops distracted by looking north trapped in Iraq, ships trapped in the Gulf, and personnel endangered in Kuwait who would be wonderful leverage (to borrow the current term of art in Washington, D.C.) against America to get us to cave in to the Iranian operation.

If I was an Iranian nutball mullah completely unaffected by the nuanced American efforts to turn Iran into a responsible regional partner of America, of course. Thankfully, I'm not.

As I've long said, giving an enemy time is always an error. Sometimes they use the time granted to thwart our objectives rather than patiently await our killing blow.

Iran has been on notice for two years now about what we plan to do about taking Mosul. If I was a nutball Iranian mullah in charge of foreign policy, I'd have used that time.

And really time the coup or uprising right to coincide with a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, and Secretary of State Kerry might throw Ukraine under the bus to get Russia's "help" to save our people from Iran Hostage Crisis 2.0 on a scale orders of magnitude greater than the original.

Thank goodness I'm not a nutball Iranian mullah in charge of Iran's foreign policy.

Trust? The Answer is Verified

The Russians appear to be violating both the INF treaty on medium-range nuclear weapons and the New START treaty on intercontinental nuclear weapons. We clearly can't trust them, as this demonstrates:

The House Armed Services Committee has put Russian noncompliance into some perspective:

According to the testimony of senior officials of the Department of State, the Russian Federation is not complying with numerous treaties and agreements, including the INF Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Vienna Document, the Budapest Memorandum, the Istanbul Commitments, the Presidential Nuclear Initiatives, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and the Russian Federation has recently withdrawn from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).[v]

We are clearly dealing with a pervasive problem of noncompliance that involves virtually all of the arms control agreements.

Good Lord, people, the entire Russian Paralympic team was kicked out of the upcoming event because of widespread doping of disabled athletes! WTF?

And it gets worse than "just" Russian cheating. We apparently have no interest in making sure Russia complies with the treaties:

The Obama administration appears not to be pressuring Russia to comply with the INF and New START Treaties. There is no indication that the Obama administration has done anything to close the New START loopholes discussed above. It reportedly may offer Russia a five year extension of the New START Treaty,[lxv] apparently without resolving any of the outstanding compliance issues or dealing with the circumvention issues.

Yet we seek Russia's "help" on Syria.

And for real yucks, our president thanked Russia for helping us get that farcical nuclear deal with Iran.

How likely do you really think it is that Russia helped us get a deal that benefits America?

Hell, the Russians probably gave Iran the list of violated agreements above to convince the mullah nutballs of how easy it is to violate any agreement with America.

A Revolution is No Problem at All?

You doubt me when I note that communists exploit problems for their own purposes?

Behold the vanguard!

A Chicago-based communist revolutionary group blamed by Milwaukee's police chief for stoking a second day of violence said that some of its members did go there to "support a revolution" but didn't set out to cause trouble.

Police chief Ed Flynn said members of a Chicago chapter of the Revolutionary Communist Party turned what had been a peaceful night into a tense one by leading marchers down several blocks at around 11:30 p.m. TV footage showed a small group of protesters walking or running through the streets, sometimes toppling orange construction barriers.

"The (communist group) showed up, and actually they're the ones who started to cause problems," Flynn said at a news conference Monday.

The communists hold that an armed overthrow of the American government is necessary but "didn't set out to cause trouble" in Chicago? Somebody needs to study their Lenin a little more diligently.

I hate Chicago communists.

Bonus: Carl Dix who is quoted in the AP article above was featured in a post I wrote last year.

The usual suspects, of course.

The communists don't give a damn about saving Black lives.

Tip to Instapundit.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

I Spent Years Gluing Models Together-Am I in the UAW?

So will there be a giant clamp or just two burly auto workers pushing on opposite sides of the chassis for 10 minutes?

Gluing a car together might seem like a dangerous way to reduce weight, but it turns out that the practice of using advanced adhesives to construct vehicles is not so new. The Boeing Dreamliner airplanes have used a kind of super-superglue since 2009. ...

Now, General Motors is taking this idea and applying it to their cars. Though it's unclear if GM is using the exact same method as the Boeing Dreamliners, making use of intense glue and lighter materials creates a similar result.

I don't like this. If this holds, in ten years they'll be duct taping the cars together.

Tip to Instapundit.

Taking the Proxy Out of Proxy War?

How bad is our foreign policy? We have tried to pivot to Asia while downgrading Europe and the Middle East in our hierarchy of interests, but may find that we fight Russia in Syria. That's how bad.

Kurds in Syria are fighting for themselves remember, as we see Kurds fight Assad's forces over a city in northeast Syria:

Civilians fled a city in northeastern Syria where government warplanes bombed Kurdish-held areas for a second day on Friday, as the Syrian army accused Kurdish forces of igniting the conflict by trying to take over the area.

The fighting this week in Hasaka, which is divided into zones of Kurdish and Syrian government control, marks the most violent confrontation between the Kurdish YPG militia and Damascus in more than five years of civil war.

We hope that the Kurds can spearhead our efforts to win in Syria, but they will prove less willing to spearhead offensives to take territory that isn't basically Kurdish or important to consolidating Kurdish territory:

[Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council,] said the United States would increasingly be forced to contend with the fact that its military objectives may differ from those of the Syrian Kurdish forces it has leaned on to fight the Islamic State. Kurdish forces appear to be focused on their own territorial gains over the U.S. goal of capturing Raqqa.

“The main difference is that the [Kurdish force] is highly enthusiastic about moving west through Aleppo province toward Afrin canton,” Itani said. “I expect they’ll come under U.S. pressure to feel otherwise and head to Raqqa. At best, you’ll have a less motivated Kurdish component.”

So yeah, the Kurds work with us to take Manbij from ISIL--who Assad's forces also fight.

But the Kurds will fight Assad, too. Which makes our ground forces inside Syria de facto part of the anti-Assad coalition despite our total disinterest in really working to overthrow Assad.

In that regard, isn't this all sorts of sphincter-tightening interesting?

On Thursday, the United States sent fighter jets to head off air strikes conducted by regime planes and to protect coalition advisers, but the Syrian planes had left by the time they arrived.

It was apparently the first time the coalition had scrambled jets in response to a regime action, and possibly the closest call yet in terms of Syrian forces coming close to killing American or coalition advisers.

"This was done as a measure to protect coalition forces," Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis said.

The warning of Coalition fighters overhead didn't stop the Syrian aircraft from bombing, although the next day there may have been some effect:

Two Syrian regime warplanes attempted to fly to the area again on Friday, but were met by coalition aircraft, a US defense official said in a statement.

"The presence of the coalition aircraft encouraged the Syrian aircraft to depart the airspace without further incident," he said. "No weapons were fired by the coalition fighters."

Perhaps the show of force was enough.

But perhaps not. We didn't shoot the Syrian planes down (and this article says the planes were American F-15s). So perhaps the Syrians learned that we won't shoot before they bomb. So next time the Syrian planes might bomb and then run fast to see how that goes.

Which means that Coalition fighters will have to shoot down the attacking aircraft on the way in to protect Western special forces on the ground even if we didn't want to protect Kurdish forces or civilians from Syrian bombing.

And what if the Russians decide to join in the bombing to see if we are as willing to shoot at them?

Ah, now your pucker factor goes up.

Even if we keep American fighters away from direct air-to-air combat, that gets dicey.

And with Russian fighters and air defense missiles in Syria, with many months of watching our air effort over Syria to guide their actions, might not Russia try to plink an F-22? Knocking down just one would dent America's military reputation and cause Russia's to soar.

When wars drag on and on, bad things happen.

Pity we didn't put our weight behind the uprising in early 2012 when the death toll was 400,000 lower, ISIL was actually a JV team, Russia was just watching, poor Moslem (and largely male) "refugees" weren't pouring into Europe, Assad was reeling, and jihadis were a minor factor in the rebellion, eh?

But we thought further "militarising" the conflict was a bad idea, you'll recall.

UPDATE: On Friday we sent F-22s to intercept Syrian planes:

The U.S. military on Friday dispatched two F-22 Raptors stealth fighter jets to intercept a pair of Syrian Su-24 Fencer aircraft that flew in the vicinity of Hasakah, Syria, according to news accounts citing an unnamed Pentagon official.

That makes me nervous. The F-22 is no invisible. It's tough to spot on radar. So it is best when it detects targets beyond the target's ability to detect the F-22 and then shoots the target down with long-range missiles.

Doesn't this type of interception just allow the targets to potentially close the range enough to get a visual ID and so negate the plane's main advantage? If it closes with us, do we really shoot "just in case" the Syrian planes want to shoot?

Or do we let them get closer to avoid an incident only to give them a chance to take a shot at our planes.

Do We Really Know What We Think We Know?

North Korea says it has restarted Plutonium production and the talk from them and us is that it is related to US-North Korean tensions. How do we know this is true?

From the Asian branch of the Axis of Evil (if we still believe in such things):

North Korea says it has resumed plutonium production by reprocessing spent fuel rods and has no plans to stop nuclear tests as long as perceived U.S. threats remain, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported on Wednesday.

North Korea's Atomic Energy Institute, which has jurisdiction over the country's Yongbyon nuclear facilities, also told Kyodo it had been producing highly enriched uranium necessary for nuclear arms and power "as scheduled."

I will note what I asked about a year ago when the news of new Plutonium production on top of their Uranium production came out:

North Korea increases production of two types of nuclear weapon material just as Iran agrees to suspend their work with possible military dimensions.

Isn't that a crazy coincidence?

Given that we know that Iran and North Korea have worked together, why do we assume that North Korean actions are related to tensions with America?

According to North Korea, we've been planning an invasion of that Pearl of Northeast Asia for 50-plus years now. It's imminent war 24/7 as far as Pyongyang is concerned.

But North Korea is desperate for money to survive. North Korea has but two potential exports: ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.

And Iran has money. And because of the Iran deal, Iran has more money--including $400 million in cash.

Am I really too suspicious when I wrote this?

I've long worried that a nuclear deal with Iran will fail to consider that Iran is likely outsourcing some parts of their nuclear program. But what if I'm thinking small?

What if North Korea sells Iran nuclear missiles and rents the facilities in North Korea to launch them?

From North Korea, these missiles could reach Europe, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and a number of targets in America. So Iran doesn't need to have the missiles inside Iran, really.

As I've observed every once in a while, hiding what you are doing from an enemy is often impossible. It was always unlikely that North Korea could hide their nuclear work.

What is key is having a plausible alternative reason for doing what can be seen that your enemy will believe instead of the true reason.

Nobody would believe that North Korea is pursuing cheap and clean nuclear energy (as so many here are willing to say they believe in regard to Iran--Iran has muddied the waters enough, eh?).

Everybody is willing to believe that the psychotic regime in Pyongyang wants nuclear weapons to threaten South Korea, Japan, and America.

And truth be told, they do want that.

But how many consider that a major reason for North Korea's program is to make money? And that Iran is likely customer number one?

This Guy Was Better as a Mercenary Than an Analyst

The use of military contractors (or mercenaries) was once thought of in liberal circles as horrific. Contractors were less than human ("screw them" as one leftist said of dead American contractors in Iraq). In the era of hope and change, contractor use is a higher percentage.

What do you know?

Now, as President Obama prepares to hand off combat operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere, to his successor, he’s also bequeathing a way of war that relies on large numbers of guns-for-hire while, at least formally, restricting the number of American “troops” sent overseas. Since 2009, the ratio of contractors to troops in war zones has increased from 1 to 1 to about 3 to 1.

In Vietnam, the ratio was 1 to 8.

But we had conscription for the Vietnam War. It was cheaper and a matter of habit to use poorly paid troops for these tasks.

Now we have a smaller volunteer military and we like to focus our training for these high quality people on fighting rather than potato peeling.

So we use contractors more in the volunteer military era. Few in Iraq or Afghanistan during the Bush administration were there for combat duties. Of those who were expected to fight, few were more than base perimeter guards.

Rather than recruit more expensive soldiers for jobs that don't really require soldiers to do, we saved money by hiring contractors; and kept our troops trained enough to suffer fewer casualties than they would have if they were saddled with other duties that took away training time and subtracted rest time.

The Left hated that.

And given how our Army is smaller than before 9/11, how much worse would the disruption of reduction be if we'd expanded the Army even more than we did by getting even more volunteers?

Remember, part of how we added brigades during the Bush 43 administration was by shifting military slots to civilians in order to add combat soldiers under the allowable military end strength.

Nor did it make sense to institute a draft to get needed troops. We have so many new 18-year-olds and needed so few of them that the exemptions would have made a mockery of the concept of a draft.

And the draftees wouldn't be as good as volunteers, and so would have died in larger numbers.

But now we have a 3 to 1 ratio of contractors to troops in Afghanistan. In Iraq it is a little more than 1 to 1. In the era or hope and change. Even though troop deployments are way down from peaks nearly a decade ago.

Was this done for a military reason as it wasn't done in Vietnam and as it was done during the Bush era (and it started before that in the Clinton era, for the Balkans deployments, to be fair)?

No, it is being done to observe artificial administration-defined ceilings on US troop deployments. When you responsibly end our wars, more than token numbers of troops in the "war" zone is inconvenient, to say the least.

The missions now require more US troops, but the Obama administration wants to avoid admitting that we need more troops even to just lead from behind. So contractors proliferate even though uniformed troops could be found to send overseas.

Rather than complain about the Obama administration, I'll just be happy they are trying to meet the need for troops somehow.

Although I'm happy to note the hypocrisy of the left for complaining about the trend under Bush 43 while ignoring it under Clinton and Obama.

As for the "dramatic" increase in contractor casualties?

Today, more contractors are killed in combat than soldiers—a stunning turnaround from the start of the wars Iraq and Afghanistan, when fewer than 10 percent of casualties were contractors. By 2010, more contractors were dying than troops.

That's a meaningless comparison. Before, our troops were in combat on a daily basis and were the main fighting force out killing enemies. Contractors were mostly in the rear (although exposed to some violence, just not nearly as much).

Now our troops for the most part aren't committed to routine daily combat, but are engaged in support functions. If there are more contractors than troops and all are mostly doing the same thing, of course contractors will suffer more casualties.

Still, the use of contractors is something common throughout history, only receding with the rise of drafted mass armies. As we return to volunteer militaries around the world, the use of contractors is naturally making a comeback. And the scope isn't nearly as great as it was before when combat maneuver units were available for hire.

But until the contractor industry starts creating and hiring out formed combat maneuver units and higher command elements rather than kitchen help and gate guards, the hyper-ventilating this author does about oil companies and oligarchs potentially having private armies is just silly.

The article would have been really good if the author had stuck to describing what was going on rather than trying to condemn the practice.

I have a collection of posts on this trend available here (for just 99 cents!).

So we have more contractors now. At least the Left isn't saying "screw them" when they die.

Maybe next year.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Out of Many, More

Many on both the left and right argue that Arab states can't handle democracy. Corruption fueled by tribalism is too bad to allow democracy. Are we headed that way, too?

I don't believe Arab states are incapable of handling democracy. Latin Americans, Asians, and East Europeans largely achieved democracy despite experts saying the weights of culture and history were too great to overcome and achieve rule of law.

The problem is that everyone with democracy was once too tribal and corrupt for rule-of-law-based democracy--until they overcame that. Saying that democracy must await rule of law and suppression of tribalism neglects the role that beginning on the road to rule of law and democracy has on rolling back tribalism and corruption.

So it is with great concern to see how successfully Democrats have revived tribalism and corruption in our democracy. Oh, it is called interest group politics, but it is tribalism.

Through it all, this strategy to mobilize tribal loyalties relied on the majority to maintain a democracy based on rule of law to enable newly awakened tribes to gain ground.

If the majority as a tribe, too, the majority tribe could corruptly slap down the minority tribes, eh?

The corruption that Hillary Clinton represents is too obvious to detail yet again here. Republicans and Bernie Sanders fans agree on that if on nothing else.

The rise of Trump is the last stage of the revival of tribalism here rather than "nationalism" as many think of the Trump phenomenon. Jonah Goldberg put it well:

Every year, liberal pundits metaphorically rub their hands in glee at the latest demographic projections forecasting the dissolution of the white majority in the United States. Is it so shocking that some white people might not greet that prospect with the same glee — particularly when they have not seen tangible benefits from the immigration that is the source of all that diversity? ...

If nationalism is supposed to do anything, it’s supposed to unify the country. When I look at these so-called nationalists, though, I don’t see a unifying force. I see the latest entrants into a decades-old game of subdividing the country into tribes seeking to yoke government to their narrow agendas.

So what happens when we are all tribal, tolerant of corruption to benefit our own tribe, and convinced that the system is zero sum?

We can't handle that stress. America was designed to allow a sort of tribalism--the states pursuing policies to suit their people--to look to their own benefit with the blessings of the Constitution and the federal government ensuring rule of law.

But now with the federal government extending its powers into virtually every corner of state and local government authority, the federal government is now the ultimate prize for gaining an advantage in ethnic, racial, and religious tribal-based warfare (and the communists who infiltrate groups like Black Lives Matter give us low-level street fighters) rather than the force that defends rule of law.

And now white people have decided to play the game by the rules the Democrats wrote long ago. Instead of a country built on the idea that we could build one nation out of many, we will now make as many as possible, each out for themselves.

How long before people say America just isn't capable of handling democracy and rule of law?

How long can we even remain a single nation under those conditions?

Have a super sparkly day.

A Ruse by Any Other Name

After repeated and offended (how dare you say we paid a ransom!) denials from the Obama administration that stacks of cash airlifted to Iran were in any way a ransom to get Americans held by Iran released, the Obama administration admits that something like that happened. So we have a bad nuclear deal that has allowed Iran to partner with Russia and which is not preventing Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons under the deal.

Do tell? Our lying eyes were right?

The State Department conceded for the first time on Thursday that it delayed making a $400 million payment to Iran for several hours in January “to retain maximum leverage” and ensure that three American prisoners were released the same day.

For months the Obama administration had maintained that the payment was part of a settlement over an old dispute and did not amount to a “ransom” for the release of the Americans. Instead, administration officials said, it was the first installment of the $1.7 billion that the United States intends to pay Iran to reimburse it for military equipment it bought before the Iranian revolution that the United States never delivered.

But at a briefing on Thursday, John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, said the United States “took advantage of the leverage” it felt it had that weekend in mid-January to obtain the release of the hostages and “to make sure they got out safely and efficiently.”

Our officials can call this coincidental dispatch of piles of cash to Iran which wouldn't release American hostages until they saw the piles of cash nuanced "leverage" to convince Iran to release hostages.

But in the real world, hostage-takers see that Iran took hostages and then got piles of cash from America to "leverage" the release of the hostages.

Yet this refusal to confront reality to maintain their illusions of so-called Smart Diplomacy extends to the entire nuclear deal that the administration is equally proud of:

The Obama administration official in charge of monitoring Iran’s implementation of the nuclear agreement, Ambassador Stephen Mull, testified in Congress that Iran has fully complied with the agreement.  Unfortunately, his testimony does not appear to be the truth.

Do read it all.

If we don't look for violations, we can honestly say that we see no evidence of Iran cheating.

And in a really hilarious commentary on those safeguards in the nuclear deal to make Iran confirm their adherence to the deal's provisions on making nuclear warheads, we won't try to get access to the Parchin military facility to double check indications (trace Uranium) of violations. Why (back to the first article that you should have read by now)?

The IAEA and the U.S. are not pressing for re-sampling or visits because they fear that Iran would refuse.

Yeah, that might make a mockery of assurances that the deal is rigorous.

Unbelievable.

Actually, it isn't. I called this back in September:

Let's go to the deal (page 42):

Requests for access pursuant to provisions of this JCPOA will be made in good faith, with due observance of the sovereign rights of Iran, and kept to the minimum necessary to effectively implement the verification responsibilities under this JCPOA. In line with normal international safeguards practice, such requests will not be aimed at interfering with Iranian military or other national security activities, but will be exclusively for resolving concerns regarding fulfilment of the JCPOA commitments and Iran's other non-proliferation and safeguards obligations.

Clearly, Iran will consider a visit to a military base a violation of their sovereign rights and will interfere with their military or other national security activities.

And Iran will say there are no concerns regarding the JCPOA (the deal) that require such visits.

And we will be unable to insist on our interpretation.

Because we are unable to insist on our right to visit the Parchin site (well, until the Iranians can scrub it again), we just don't try to gain access to avoid having our noses rubbed in the fact that the so-called intrusive 24/7 nothing-is-off-limits inspections are a farce.

And I wrote about that issue in August when I went through the Iran deal (well, what was made public, anyway):

At page 19 we start the dispute resolution part--as if the provisions on obeying the spirit of the intent of the deal will be disputed!

If a party believes the other side isn't meeting their commitments, the party can refer the issue to the joint commission. There is no word on how long a dispute should last before such referral. I assume this could be months.

Once referred, the commission has 15 days to resolve the issue, unless by consensus the time is extended. No word on limits on that. I assume this could mean months, too.

After the commission has considered the issue and the issue is still not resolved, parties can refer the issue to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. This can apparently be parallel to joint commission consideration rather than sequential. How likely is that?

The ministers have 15 days to resolve the issue, unless there is consensus extension. Again, months are possible to give them time to peacefully resolve a highly technical issue that is surely just a difference of opinion.

Then the issue can go to the Advisory Board, consisting of one member appointed by each side of the dispute and one "independent" member. No word on how that is decided. Please God, tell me Russia is not involved in that determination. That board has 15 days to issue a non-binding opinion.

If, after this 30-day (at least) period the issue is not resolved, the joint commission (which includes Iran, remember) has 5 days to consider the non-binding opinion.

If a party believes the issue is not resolved, the complaining party can deem this a "significant non-performance" and cease performing any or all duties under the act.

So Iran could complain and withdraw after getting the cash; and we would have to ponder whether, after giving Iran the cash, it is worth it to risk Iran ending the deal in retaliation for our decision to cease performing duties. [emphasis added]

Forgive the length of that excerpt. But I wrote of how the deal gives Iran the incentive to raise a stink and how it discourages America from pushing inspections because it would allow Iran to exit the deal after having pocketed the up-front benefits! Iran can be the complaining party about how we are trying to violate their sovereignty by trying to get access to military sites, claiming it is not in the spirit of the deal!

And that's after Iran strings out the ill-defined process to stall us while they scrub their site in question!

And here we are unwilling to press Iran on clearing up possible (and likely) violations!

Still, the Obama administration can always claim that these are mere details in the big picture of leveraging the nuclear deal to turn Iran from an aggressive, nutball, terror supporting state into a responsible regional power worthy of being our friend and partner!

About that:

As soon as the Iran nuclear deal was concluded last July, the Russians and Iranians began plotting a surge for Syria on behalf of the dictator, Bashar al-Assad. As Kerry made plans for talks in Geneva, the Russians set up air bases in Syria. Once their campaign started, they bombed U.S.-backed Syrian rebels. In June, Russian planes bombed a U.S. and British special operations base near the Syrian border.

But the announcement of the bombing from Iran stings Kerry the most. Kerry himself, only a year ago, told the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, had told him after the completion of the nuclear deal, "I am now empowered to work with and talk to you about regional issues."

Now the Iranians can't stop working with the Russians about regional issues. Meanwhile, Iran keeps detaining and arresting American dual-nationals, testing missiles and threatening American allies.

The Obama administration has spent all its efforts on fooling the American public that it got a good deal with Iran rather than trying to get a good deal.

It's Never That Easy

I hope South Korea doesn't hope a lot of new offensive missiles solve their North Korea problem.

As long as this plan is just one piece of a land-centric strategy, it is fine:

The {South Korean] military plans to increase the number of Hyunmoo surface-to-surface ballistic and cruise missiles that can simultaneously strike missile bases all across North Korea in a time of war, sources said Sunday.

This is part of Seoul's plan to establish the "Kill Chain" preemptive strike and Korean Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) systems by the 2020s.

Even if North Korea's long-range missiles are smashed up with the remnants shot down by South Korean air defenses, this won't protect Seoul which can be turned into a sea of fire by North Korean conventional tube and rocket artillery just north of the DMZ.

To defend Seoul from this threat, the South Koreans will really need to advance north and carve out a no-launch zone.

Has the Republic of Korea learned nothing from Israel's dilemma against Hezbollah and Hamas?

Of course, I wonder if Israel has learned enough from that 2006 debacle.

I suppose it is human nature to hope a new weapon can solve all your military problems:

Japan will develop a new land-to-sea missile as part of plans to beef up its defence of remote southern islands, as tensions with China increase over the disputed territory, a report said Sunday.

Yeah, missiles alone won't solve Japan's China problem.

Military problems still require determined infantry to close with the enemy to kill them and stand on their ground (or remain standing on their own ground).

Thursday, August 18, 2016

All Your Emails are Belong to Us

The Clinton Foundation email system was likely hacked by the Russians.

This is on top of other hacks of Democratic Party systems:

In addition to the computer systems of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Russian agencies may have also gained access to the email accounts of Hillary Clinton’s campaign officials, party operatives and other party organizations.

Yet we are to believe Hillary Clinton's promises that her homebrew Bathroom server private email system that bypassed State Department security equipment and procedures was safe from similar hacking by the Russians or other hostile entities?

God help us, but I think Hillary's bet that the American voters are dumb enough to believe that will pay off.

What are the Odds of Hitting an Iceberg, Anyway?

Normally I find Thompson a fine analyst, but I have no idea what he is talking about when he defends big carriers on cost and survivability.

Oh?

The cost [of carrier battlegroups] issue is a canard. It only costs a fraction of one-percent of the federal budget to build, operate and sustain all of the Navy's carriers -- and nobody has offered a credible alternative for accomplishing U.S. military objectives in their absence. Critics say carriers are more expensive than they seem because an accurate accounting would include the cost of their escort vessels, but the truth of the matter is that the Navy would need a lot more of those warships if it had to fight conflicts without carriers.

The vulnerability issue is harder to address because putting 5,000 sailors and six dozen high-performance aircraft on a $10 billion warship creates what military experts refer to as a very "lucrative" target. Taking one out would be a big achievement for America's enemies, and a big setback for America's military. However, the likelihood of any adversary actually achieving that without using nuclear weapons is pretty close to zero. It isn't going to happen, and here are five big reasons why.

When you have to resort to comparing the cost of something to our massive federal spending totals, you've already admitted that carriers are really expensive.

More to the point, a navy to "fight wars" requires you to appreciate the difference between a sea control war to battle a peer military for control of the seas and a power projection war to bombard smaller enemies that lack the ability to strike our carriers.

It's apples and oranges.

While the carriers are extremely useful for power projection wars, the credible alternative to carriers in a sea control war is networked missile-armed subs, surface ships (who might also have long-range rail guns), land-based aircraft, and even sea-based aircraft on our amphibious ships acting in their secondary role or legacy big deck carriers kept on duty (but safely back from threats until conditions are better) through the remainder of their useful lifespans--hey, once they are built the money is spent, eh?

The notion that carriers aren't really vulnerable because they are virtually impossible to sink short of someone targeting them using nuclear weapons (or running into an iceberg?) is nonsense. My view is that if it is made of steel it can sink. I know I'm outnumbered in reasons 5 to 1, but I believe I'm on solid ground here.

More importantly, even if not sunk, a carrier can be mission-killed well short of sinking the ship. Old 19th century wooden ships of the line were nearly impossible to sink, yet they could be pounded into worthlessness.

It is insane to think that our carriers cannot be taken out of the fight short of being hit by a nuke. Or are land-based airfields never put out of action despite the impossibility of sinking them?

Just how long does a carrier have to be temporarily out of commission for it to be unavailable for the duration of any war with a naval power?

That attitude that dismisses the threat to carriers just guarantees we will arrogantly risk a carrier on the assumption that the chance of losing one (and 5,000 crew) is pretty close to zero.

Oh, and this is a hoot:

[The big deck carrier] will tend to stay in the open ocean rather than entering confined areas where approaching threats are hard to sort out from other local traffic.

That's pretty funny (in a we're so screwed sort of way) when you remember that we routinely put our carriers into the Persian Gulf to launch strikes against ISIL in Iraq where Iran could easily strike them.

I'm fine with having a sea power debate. We don't have battleship debates. Or ships of the line debates. Or trireme debates. Why have a carrier debate rather than a sea power debate?

Starting out the debate on the assumption that the carrier is a constant factor with an extended sneer at those who question how these expensive ships can survive against modern surveillance and precision weapons is no way to have a sea power debate.

This Strikes Me as Stupid

The North Korean army is looking shaky:

There has been a significant increase in North Korean soldiers deserting to China since July, or maybe even earlier. Chinese intelligence analysts noted that all the dozen or so deserters showed signs of malnutrition. None of them weighed more than 50 kg (110 pounds) or was taller than 157cm (five foot two inches). The few taken alive indicated poor discipline and food shortages in their units. Despite lifelong exposure to lots of propaganda about how great North Korea is the border guards could see better fed and more affluent Chinese across the river. This included the Chinese border guards who seemed to have better uniforms and equipment as well as being heavier and taller. The starvation among North Korean troops, especially among the border guards, is more widespread this year because food normally allocated to the military is now going to senior officials who are using it for their own families and supporters or even selling it in the free markets.

There is much more on related military issues, as well.

In one sense, this news about the fact of and condition of deserters makes sense. North Korea lost their generous patron, the USSR, when that communist empire fragmented a quarter century ago. Russia isn't as generous and China has not picked up the slack.

To cope with fewer resources to maintain their police state run by a pampered minority class, North Korea decided to focus limited resources on nuclear weapons and the secret police. The nukes (which North Korea doesn't have yet--nuclear "devices" are all they have and not warheads) are to deter invasion and shake down neighbors for cash; and the spies are to control the people (and army).

I called this "kooks, spooks, and nukes."

Demoting the army is a complicated thing, of course. Denying it resources risks it becoming a threat to the regime. But the army is just too darned big to afford yet too weak to be a threat to South Korea.

Somehow, North Korea needs to pare down their army to a size that it can afford and which won't be a threat to the regime.

So this reaction to fewer young men because of the mid-90s famine makes no sense at all:

“Recently, the Central Party partially cancelled some recruitment regulations because of a decrease in the number of military-age recruits,” a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In the past, those who were the only son in their families, whose parents worked on collective farms, or who were the children of mine workers did not have to join the military, he said.

“A new recruitment regulation requires that all men up to their mid-30s, who have been exempt from the military in the past, now serve,” he said.

Recent university graduates who have been exempt from military service, those who work in factories, and those who have a family are now among the citizens being recruited, the source said.

This should be considered a blessing in disguise. North Korea should start cutting down their force structure.

But instead the North Koreans will put more stress on the population to maintain an army that is more of a danger than an asset?

And to do this the North Koreans will anger a privileged class of people who had managed to keep their sons (and now daughters, it seems, although it seems unlikely that a lot of women would be subject to military service) out of the army? An army that is starving and often little more than near-slave labor for civilian projects?

This strikes me as stupid and dangerous.

UPDATE: The beatings will continue until morale improves:

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has reportedly ordered the execution of those who failed to prevent the high-profile defection of Thae Yong-ho, a Pyongyang diplomat based in London. Thae, in a dramatic move, defected to South Korea this week along with his family.

He is believed to have directly flown to Seoul from London.

The rats are leaving the ship of state.

Make Russia's Mothers Grieve

Russia is in no position to seek more than limited objectives in a renewed war with Ukraine:

Russian efforts to reform its Soviet era military system to match the effectiveness of Western troops continues to encounter problems. While Russia tried to keep the problems secret, the Internet and the government programs to reduce crime and corruption interfere with that.

Do read it all.

Russia is a threat to NATO because Russia is close to weak targets and America is far away--not because Russia is an awesome military power.

Russia has pockets of excellence, a significant slice of adequate, and a mass of crap to commit to war.

Oh, and lots of nuclear weapons. So they've got that going for them.

Which means that if Russia reopens a war of movement to conquer more Ukrainian territory, Ukraine needs to drag out a fight while sending as many dead Russian soldiers back to their mothers in body bags as they can.

The key will be to inflict losses on Russia and preserve their own army above all else, even if territory has to be ceded.

I stand by my advice from mid-2014:

If Putin does escalate to openly waged warfare against Ukraine to take eastern Ukraine, Ukraine needs to do three things: preserve the Ukrainian army; wage irregular warfare in eastern Ukraine to stress Russia's still-inadequate ground forces; and strike Sevastopol.

Ukraine must not give Putin a short and glorious war. As long as the Ukrainian army fights on, Ukraine lives.

UPDATE: Strategypage thinks Russia is bluffing and trying to get an edge to end their failed effort to shatter Ukraine. But they warn that the preparations involved in a bluff might have a life of their own if the awakened Ukrainians don't back down and accept their losses and otherwise bend to Russia's will:

It appears many Russian leaders now believe the Ukraine effort might be made to work after all. But this involves a risky bluff. Russia has been sending more troops to new (or temporary) bases on the borders of Ukraine and East European nations that recently joined NATO to gain a measure of protection from Russian aggression. Russia is threatening an invasion or Ukraine and perhaps other nations as well. This idea has not gotten beyond the “let’s make preparations and see what happens” stage. Russia is a place where things often go from bad to worse so this gamble, no matter how risky, might become a reality.

I guess I tend to see the "life of its own" of massing forces being the logic that goes forward. After all, would President Obama agree to something that involves retreating before Russia in the last months of his presidency, just to be known as the president who "lost" Ukraine?

UPDATE: Let me just add a data dump of articles I ran across. No particular theme:

Russia rattles sabers: for war or diplomacy?

Ukraine naturally fears invasion but is it just bluff?

Whatever Russia plans--or will do despite whatever plans they have right now--they need to do something because the low-level war is stalemated and the economic cost of alienating the West isn't going away soon enough to help.