Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Was a Funny Year

Dave Barry's take on 2013 is hilarious and much needed.

This part of the article, in particular, got me going:

In other government news, the Federal Communications Commission meets to consider allowing airline passengers to talk on their mobile phones in flight, as it has been shown that this does not interfere with navigational equipment. Other activities that do not interfere with navigational equipment include blowing air horns, throwing knives and beekeeping, so WHAT THE HELL LET’S ALLOW THOSE ACTIVITIES ON PLANES, TOO.


Yeah. I nearly passed coffee through my nose over that one.

Though to be fair, I believe that the FCC only ruled on phones on that narrow technical issue. Airlines are free to continue to ban their use for other reasons along with banning air horns, throwing knives, and beekeeping.

And a Good Year, Personally

I know I've increasingly despaired over our inept foreign policy apparatus this last year. But I never forget that this is separate from my actual life. The year 2013 was good for me--as all the years have been, really.

Yes, this was a good year for me in so many ways. I hope next year is just as good. It might even be better.

Happy New Year!

Although our foreign policy establishment will likely continue to suck.

How Many Regulations Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?

Via Instapundit, people still don't like the alternatives to incandescent light bulbs. One "problem" is that the traditional (and starting tomorrow, banned) bulbs give off heat. Huh.


The problem with incandescents is you end up paying more in electricity costs. Incandescents are inefficient – 90% of the energy goes toward heat and only 10% toward light.

As I write this, the temperature outside is 16 degrees Fahrenheit.

If I may be so bold, I am perfectly fine with that heat output. And I resent these light nannies telling me I shouldn't be fine with them.

Also, as the article notes, the new bulbs are way more expensive and their odds of reaching their theoretical long life spans seem low given the restrictions and fragility of the new bulbs in actual production.

On the bright side, if the bulbs last much less than claimed, I guess that undercuts my protest that I don't want to buy bulbs that I'll need to leave to my children in my will.

And even if the new bulbs are cheaper when you consider actual life spans and that "waste" heat the incandescents give off, so far the new bulbs just don't look as good.

That will change, I assume. But it still rankles that this was a choice denied me, "for my own good."

Bugger off.

Why I can't be trusted to choose my light bulbs is beyond me.

Hey, how many people does it take to change a light bulb? Obviously, it takes an army of activists and bureaucrats along with a compliant Congress and a president who never should have signed this stupid piece of legislation (and yes, I'm aware that Bush 43 signed this law).

I'm still hoping some enterprising soul will export incandescents to America under the pretext of being replacement heat sources for the old Easy Bake ovens.

Because really, it only takes one person to figure out a way around the rules that legions of busy bodies come up with.

How Is It Too Late When We Are Three Years Into a Fifteen Year War?

Writing off the more secular rebels in Syria seems premature to me. Especially when you consider we may be only 20% through the war, and considering the casualties the casualty averse government forces have already endured.

The Syrian Civil War could go on a long time:

[Most] Alawites and possibly other minorities, view the civil war as threatening the future existence of their communities. It is also viewed as beyond compromise by many rebels. Assad’s regime rules by fear, and that kind of system requires people to be punished harshly for disloyalty and to keep others in line. Forgiveness is viewed as weakness, and brutality is the default approach of the Syrian regime for all problems. Rebels who lay down their arms face death, and they know it. This leaves the international community with two sides which have no reason to compromise and every reason to continue fighting. Neither side will compromise in the middle of a conflict that they view as potentially detrimental for themselves, their families, and their communities. Moreover, the death of any leader, including Assad, will probably not result in a more compromising successor under such conditions. To make matters worse, the collapse of the Assad regime would probably only lead to a new phase of the civil war in which very different kinds of rebel groups fight each other for power.

Unfortunately, at the present time, diplomatic solutions also seem unlikely, and the war could well go on until all sides are too exhausted to continue. The Lebanese Civil War lasted 15 years under similar circumstances.

Can Assad really carry on the fight for that long? The author notes that Assad's forces are using indiscriminate firepower to preserve loyalist lives:

Since the regime does not want to use up its Alawite soldiers and militiamen in battle, these troops often use firepower, including artillery and airpower, to strike at rebel forces despite the tremendous collateral damage inflicted by the near indiscriminate use of these weapons.

But if this strategy is preserving their lives, one shudders to imagine the toll with a strategy that isn't trying to preserve Alawite lives. In September 2013, the government casualties were just astounding:

[It] is believed that 27,000 soldiers and 17,000 pro-Assad militia have also died, along with over 21,000 rebel fighters.

Remember, the fighting as really only gotten going in the last two years after protests and repression escalated to civil war. So Assad's forces have endured 44,000 dead in about a year and a half of significant fighting.

Indeed, as I wait to post this, new statistics put the total at over 130,000 dead, with government force casualties standing at 52,290, including over 500 from Hezbollah and Iran's Shia foreign legion. That's 8,000 more in about 3 months. And this is a rate consistent with trying to avoid military casualties?

I know, Assad has been on offense since the spring 2013. But he is fighting for his corner of Syria and has enjoyed an influx of militias and foreigners to spearhead attacks.

Barring a rebel collapse--and is that likely given their fear of retribution if they lose?--I don't think Assad has the numbers to really pacify his corner let alone reconquer all of Syria.

Does the war in Syria have 10 or more years left? That's quite likely. The war in Iraq is still going. As is Afghanistan.

See also Colombia and the Philippines for that issue, not to mention Sudan. This list could go on.

People speak of the Assad loyalists fighting hard out of fear of losing. That same force will keep rebels fighting, too, remember.

But I think it is too hopeful to think that all sides will fight to an exhausted stalemate. One side will break. At some point, even fear of retribution won't keep people fighting.

I just don't think Assad's small population base can endure ten years of this kind of blood letting. And I don't think Iran's Shia foreign legion and Hezbollah can compensate for this weakness. I could be wrong, but I think Assad's side is more likely to break than the rebel side--if the rebels receive enough outside support.

Nor do I think our options are limited to coping with possible spillovers around the region. If the war is likely to end with an Assad collapse and subsequent factional war, isn't it better to get past that Assad collapse faster?

Indeed, trying to accelerate the defeat of Assad could be the best way to cope with the spillover threats to neighbors.

And remember what Lebanon looks like, if that seems like our best case after an exhausted Syria simply stops fighting in place. Do we really want Syria to join Lebanon as a fractured state with factions carrying on their own foreign policies as effective states within the formal state?

No. Given that this war will likely go on for a long time, we should make efforts to support those we'd prefer to emerge victorious, even if their chances look bleak now. In a long war, their current status isn't written in stone, is it?

Having a clear victor will also be superior on a humanitarian level in the long run, remember. I know there is a strong strain in our society that thinks we make things worse if we intervene, but Syria's civil war without us more than nominally involved is way worse in a way shorter amount of time than Iraq ever got with our direct intervention (and recent problems are more from our lack of involvement in Iraq after 2011 and our failure to act in Syria).

This doesn't mean I support direct American intervention. Even if I thought we should do it, I wouldn't advise it because I don't think we have the national morale to intervene directly for the time required to win. But it does mean preparing for the long haul and sticking to it when the going gets rough.

When Accountants Run the Military

I've said it before and I'll say it again, when we lack money for our military, I'd cut size and procurement of new weapons before cutting training and readiness. As we build the most expensive planes ever, our pilots become less skilled in using them.

Just ... God damn it:

The political battles over chronic deficit spending in the United States has led to sharp and often unexpected cuts in the military budget over the last few years. This has forced the U.S. Air force to make major cuts in the hours combat pilots fly for training. The latest cut reduces many pilots to 120 hours a year. That’s about half of what it was a decade ago. There is concern that this will threaten the domination of the air the United States has had since World War II. Moreover it’s been over 60 years since any American troops have been attacked from the air. Much of that is attributed to high number of hours American pilots spend training in the air each year. But with it costing over $20,000 an hour to keep combat aircraft in the air many military budgets can’t handle it.

Yes, increasingly sophisticated simulators can make up some of that training deficit. But we can't really know for sure, as opposed to knowing for sure that reduced flying hours reduces the odds of surviving let alone winning aerial combat.

The same applies to ground forces and naval forces, of course. Train the way you want to fight because you'll fight the way you train.

I noted in 1997, back when we thought history (and war) had ended, that training and readiness are too easily discounted because they aren't quantifiable in peacetime:

The critical advantages provided by highly trained soldiers with good morale are not easily quantifiable in peacetime. The lack of quality becomes quantifiable, indirectly, when one counts the burned-out armored vehicles of an army whose troops did not know how to use their equipment and who lacked the will to fight on in adversity.

So I have no doubt we'll stop teaching these lessons of war to our troops, as memory of war fades.

But we won't face that price since we aren't going to war any time soon. We don't want to fight so we don't need to train. Right?

Because war is always a question that we answer--not our enemies.

UPDATE: Strategypage's number 10 on their list of things that matter that you almost never hear about:

Who's Ready for What? The size of armed forces usually is reported in terms of quantity, not quality. This is odd, since most wars are decided by the quality of the troops, not how many of them there are. "Readiness" is the term most often used to describe this and you rarely get a straight answer when looking for the readiness of any armed forces. But it's how much readiness a forces has, not how many troops or weapons, that says it all regarding fighting power.

The funny thing is, if everyone is stupid about this, focusing on numbers will fool your potential enemies (and allies) into thinking you have a good military.

But in the end it is still a bad idea to give readiness a lower priority. Because some foe might figure it out. Or just as likely your own leaders will find a mission that needs to be done (whether for national security or humanitarian reasons) and wrongly believe they will be ordering a good military into action to achieve it.

Hilarity does not ensue.

Monday, December 30, 2013

To the Shores of Hillary

The idea that an obscure YouTube video caused a mob to launch a military-style assault on our facilities in Benghazi on the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is like a modern version of the Tonkin Gulf Incident.

The New York Times has generated a lot of buzz over their first Hillary Clinton election piece revisionist piece on the September 11, 2012 Benghazi attacks. The author says that al Qaeda was not involved, using weasel words that seem to narrowly focus on al Qaeda Prime in hiding in Pakistan, rather than counting any of the affiliates that kill in al Qaeda's name:

Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault. The attack was led, instead, by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Colonel Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.

Yes, months of talking to jihadis who'd rather not hear a drone overhead now that they reflect on the joys of not being a martyr in the cause; and to Hillary Clinton operatives who at this point certainly do think it makes a difference how the attacks happened, no doubt.

Later, another weasel word is used to minimize the planned nature of the attack:

The attack does not appear to have been meticulously planned, but neither was it spontaneous or without warning signs.

Ah, it wasn't meticulously planned! The jihadis didn't even have a PowerPoint presentation involved, so it doesn't count as "planning." Or something.

And just because locals joined in spontaneously after the assault began is not an argument against an assault planned for the anniversary of the original 9/11 attack.

Suffice it to say, that many people are stunned at the conclusion that al Qaeda was not involved and absolutely reject that conclusion, which seems to rest on the notion that if those involved didn't directly work for al Qaeda Prime it doesn't count as al Qaeda.

As for the video? Surely, it is possible that somebody over there heard of it. Although there is no evidence that it was known enough to spark a spontaneous mob attack, complete with heavy weapons.

And even if true, it begs the question of what won't set those nutballs off in a bloody rage?

Seriously, this Mohammad video approaches the status of the Tonkin Gulf Incident. Something that almost certainly didn't happen which sparked our overt intervention in Vietnam, but which symbolized actions that did take place in the recent past. And which would have taken place again.

I mean, it's not like trivial things don't set Islamists off on a regular basis.

So I'll even admit that in theory, a mere video could have set off Islamist nutballs. But that's not an excuse--that's an indictment of the intolerance of the Islamists and how easily provoked to violence they are. As I've asked, what doesn't set them off on a spasm of violence?

But the evidence doesn't support the conclusion of Kirkpatrick.

And even if the video was the exclusive and direct cause of the attacks, this still does not answer the main question that I had early on and still ask: why didn't we send help at any time during the 7 hours that the crisis lasted?

Seriously, who in the White House decided to write off the score or so of people on the ground rather than even make an effort to send forces--any forces--to, over, or near Benghazi?

Yeah, that's a lovely vase that Kirkpatrick writes about in his piece. That's the kind of detail we rely on the Times to provide us.

It will look lovely on the mantle in the Hillary Oval Office. But fresh flowers, please. Let's not be tacky.

UPDATE: Yeah, this seems to be the point of the Times article:

The really disappointing part of Peter Hoekstra’s post below is the failure to recover any official al-Qaeda membership cards from the scene at Benghazi. I have a Justice League membership card in my wallet (supernumerary) and had always assumed that the other side had it together at least as well on an organizational level.

Question: If only al Qaeda Prime counts, just who is on the presidential kill list that our drone fleet uses?

And more here.

The Times article is long, I'll grant. The better to hide the lack of substance, I suppose.

Paying for Survival

Assad is on offense in a core Syria in the west that encompasses the capital region, the Alawite homeland, and the lines of communication between those two poles. Now Assad just has to pay for the war. Oil and gas would do that.

Syrian oil production has plummeted 90% with the loss of eastern oil fields and gas production is half of pre-revolt levels. While in the short run Iran is paying for Iraqi oil to sustain Assad's war, in the long run Iran wants Assad to pay for his regime and so does Assad.

Remember, Assad is winning within his core Syria, following a script I laid out two years ago:

Syria has too few loyal troops to control the entire country of 23 million people. At some point, they are going to need to concentrate on holding the core regions of Syria to maintain the regime even if the price of maintaining the regime is territory. ...

Outposts at other critical locations outside that zone could become the focus of conflict if the opposition can exploit abandoned zones and turn them into liberated zones. What will Syria's Kurds do out in the far northeast of Syria?

Syria would probably need to use air power to hit the abandoned zones to try to keep them from becoming liberated zones that are launching pads for attacks into the core zones. And Russia is willing to sell cheap Yak-130 aircraft useful for such missions and is willing to veto UN Security Council resolutions that might seek to punish Syria for bombing civilians.

At that point, Syria would need to consolidate their power in their core zones and then expand ground power to begin expanding their controlled zones. Would Iran send forces to help? If not, Assad will have to call on a lot of sacrifice from his minority supporters to provide recruits to fight the majority Sunnis. Even the well off won't be able to avoid sending their sons into the security forces.

Unless the protesters lose the will to resist, it seems that the situation has to evolve into a civil war with each side holding its own territory. Assad doesn't have the horses to hold everywhere against anything but token resistance. If armed resistance continues to grow, Assad is going to have to write off peripheral areas, at least temporarily, to hold what he needs to maintain his regime in power.

That's pretty much how it is playing out. Iran isn't sending troops, but it has sent advisers and arranged for troops from Hezbollah and a Shia foreign legion. And Iran has helped organize militias to fight for Assad.

If Assad is to hold his core Syria (that isn't secured yet, I hasten to add) in the face of mounting loyalist casualties or even ask his demoralized army to go on offense to reconquer all of Syria, he'll need money to fund those objectives.

That's where Russia comes in:

Damascus signed an oil and gas deal with a Russian company Wednesday which will allow for the first-ever exploration off Syria's coast.

The agreement was signed by Syrian Oil Minister Suleiman Abbas, Syria's General Petroleum Company and the Russian Soyuzneftegaz company, according to an AFP reporter present at the signing.

Granted, this will take time. But defeating the insurgency--if Assad can pull that off rather than just securing a core Syria--will take time, too. Assad can't know for sure that Iran will be able to fund his regime and supporters for long enough to reconquer all of Syria.

Besides, Iran really just needs western Syria to be a conduit to Hezbollah in Lebanon to face Israel. So Assad's objectives diverge from Iran's minimum objective.

This war is still going on. Assad, Iran, and Russia are acting like it is.

Pretending like Assad has already won and so it is futile to influence the war is simply giving up and ensuring Assad can survive.

Give 'Em a Real Lesson in Humility

David Brooks will teach a course in humility to Yale students.

I'm not one to pick on Brooks--although his mind numbing swoon over Obama's pants crease still boggles my mind--despite his being liberals' favorite conservative. He may not be really conservative, but surely he is more conservative than the most conservative Democrat in Congress, and that really has to be enough if building a winning coalition is important to conservatives rather than enforcing ideological purity.

My real purpose for this post is to suggest a quick and easy way for Brooks to teach humility to those sons and daughters of privilege.

In this day of grade inflation, Brooks should open the class with two statements.

One, normal drop-add deadlines don't apply to this class. You are in this class and can't do anything about it.

And two, he should say that he has marked everyone in this class as getting an "F" for their final grade.

Then, after reading them a definition of 'humility' as "the quality or state of being humble; modest opinion of one's own importance or rank; meekness," he should announce that class is dismissed for the term.

How's that for a lesson in humility?

When You Strike an Assad, Kill Him

When we fail to lead, allies won't just be led from behind. They'll lead in the direction of their own interests. And sometimes that might be good if we can't or won't pursue our interests. Like over Syria.

Saudi Arabia is upset with our policies on Syria and Iran. They fear Assad and Iran are strengthened by our diplomacy. It's hard to argue with that assessment.

So Saudi Arabia is looking to France instead of us for support:

"The Saudi monarchy cannot fathom the fact that Assad might survive this crisis and then turn against them. They reject this possibility and are willing to do what they can to make Assad go," said Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Gulf Affairs.

Both countries say they will continue to back the rebels fighting to overthrow Assad, in contrast with the Obama administration's hesitation. Unlike the U.S., the French have resisted suspending non-lethal aid to the rebels and show no signs of changing course.

It's almost like the Saudis understand the concept that you never inflict a small injury on an enemy because all you do is enrage them and let them live to seek revenge.

This is similar to my philosophy that using military power isn't counter-productive when fighting our enemies--ineffective use of military power is counter-productive.

French arms sales are of course part of the support--and reward.

And Iran is also an issue, of course. Both in backing Assad to the hilt and their nuclear programs. Remember, the administration that was going to restore our reputation abroad cut out the Saudis to talk secretly with Iran before going public about the new interim nuclear deal that had no input from Saudi Arabia. That's not partnery, is it? It's like that deep presidential bow to their king was meaningless. Who knew?

So after several years of our dithering, will Saudi Arabia be able to lead us and not just the French? Strategypage writes:

[The] Saudis and other Gulf Arabs believe that the war in Syria is a two-stage process. The first stage is removing the Assads from power, followed by a second war to put down the Islamic terrorist rebels. The West does not go along with this but the Arabs counter by pointing out how the refusal of the West to provide air support, or more active logistics support for the rebels leaves no other choice. The Arabs accept that the Islamic terrorist groups are hostile to the moderate rebels and that is never going to change. The Arabs believe that it is not practical to try and destroy the Islamic terrorist rebels before making a final push against the Assads, especially given Western reluctance to help the rebels in a big way. The Western nations point out that, as democracies, they cannot openly back Islamic terrorist rebels and that’s what air support would end up doing. Meanwhile the more extreme Islamic terrorist rebels (like ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) are sending death squads after leaders and other key people in moderate rebel groups. The West seems to be coming over to the Arab assessment of the situation and agreeing to make whatever deals are necessary to get the Assads defeated. After that the Islamic terrorists can be dealt with.

This fits with my view since the jihadis gained in strength within rebel ranks. First Assad. Then jihadis. Of course, I've always been focused on getting rid of Assad. Pity our administration wasn't.

The notion that democracies can't use one group of murderous thugs to defeat other murderous thugs is ludicrous. One, we sided with the murderous Soviet Union to beat murderous Nazi Germany and Japan in World War II. Two, we sided with Islamists to beat the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Three, under this administration we effectively sided with Islamists to overthrow Khadaffi. So what's this "we can't" support murdering SOBs against other enemies?

And the notion being floated that accepting an Assad win at 120,000 dead (and counting) is the lesser of two evils is just morally wrong.

It is also--as our president likes to say--a false choice between Assad and jihadis. If we focus on removing Assad the right way, we support non-jihadis to strengthen them over the long haul. Any aid to jihadis is simply spillover from aiding non-jihadis and hurting Assad, rather than a policy of choosing to aid jihadis as an alternative to accepting an Assad victory as a lesser of two evils.

And it should be painfully obvious that trying to find the perfect plan that gets rid of Assad, crushes al Qaeda, and empowers the Damascus Chapter of the League of Women Voters to take power in Syria has led us to the point we are at now when Assad is on offense, jihadis are rising, and the non-jihadis are demoralized and losing ground to Assad and the jihadis.

And our allies are looking at us in horror and seeking alternatives to our friendship.

So focus on step one--getting rid of Assad--without letting the next steps dissuade us from acting at all. And we must not forget that we can't declare mission accomplished when Assad is driven from power.

I hope that Strategypage is right and that we are belatedly coming to the conclusion that Assad must be defeated. Pity we didn't come to that conclusion 120,000 dead ago. But it would be nice if we come to that conclusion before the next 120,000 are planted in the ground.

If not, I hope the Saudis and their new French allies manage to do what we refuse to do. The French do hold the patent on sophisticated, nuanced foreign policy, don't they?

UPDATE: In very related news, Saudi Arabia will spend $3 billion to build up the Lebanese army (to resist Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran):

Saudi Arabia pledged $3 billion to bolster Lebanon's armed forces, in a challenge to the Iranian-allied Hezbollah militia's decadeslong status as Lebanon's main power broker and security force. ...

Lebanon would use the Saudi grant to buy "newer and more modern weapons," from France, said Mr. Sleiman, an independent who has become increasingly critical of Hezbollah.

And the French angle, too, of course.

Although equipment is the least of the Lebanese army's problems. As the article notes, how can the army fight Hezbollah when so many troops are Shia with divided loyalities?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Breaking Rob

In an effort to draw American viewers who don't consider curling a sport, CBC announced that it will fill the void of the end of the hit American series, Breaking Bad.

The CBC's new series will be called Breaking Rob, a show about a Toronto mayor stripped of all official powers who embarks on a crack-producing career based on one of the Toronto harbor shuttles that only stops at the clothing optional beach.

China's Secret Weapon

Taiwanese belief that they can't defeat the much larger China is a recipe for defeat if China invades and can only encourage China to risk an invasion.

This Taiwanese attitude is just astounding:

In Taiwan the military has lost a lot of popular support over the last decade. Despite the continued threat from China, many Taiwanese have opposed efforts to upgrade military equipment and buy new weapons. Part of this is a reluctance to spend all that money, partly it’s the realization that no amount of arms buying will stop China if they are determined to take Taiwan.

A "realization?" No. A Chinese victory is not a simple fact to be realized. It is an outcome to be resisted. And what Taiwanese believe matters.

One, Finland managed to hold off the Soviet Union in 1939-1940 despite a huge imbalance in size and despite lack of a 100-mile-wide anti-tank ditch protecting Finland.

Two, Israel has managed to hold off far larger Arab armies despite lack of a 100-mile-wide anti-tank ditch protecting Israel.

So what's with the whining that they are doomed when Taiwan has a 100-mile-wide anti-tank ditch (the Taiwan Strait) to complicate China's plans?

And there is also that caveat that China can defeat Taiwan "if they are determined" to take Taiwan.

What defines "determined?" If China is reasonably sure they will pay a high price to conquer Taiwan, will China's rulers feel it is worth the cost? At some level of casualties and economic destruction and risk of war with America and Japan, China won't want to risk a war with tiny Taiwan.

It is ridiculous to argue against defense efforts on the theory that if China is determined enough that they can win. That's true of us, too, you know. If we are determined enough to defeat a foe, we can mobilize our resources and pay the price from our large economy and population. But so often, the risk of even one life stays our hand.

Cuba remains a hostile communist state just off of Florida, recall.

I'm assuming China's level of pain is higher than ours. But is it higher than what a determined Taiwanese military could inflict on invaders?

I think Taiwan can inflict enough pain on China for long enough to make the entry of America into the fight a big enough risk that China can be deterred (unless China is already in political chaos and considers the risk of losing a war a minor price to pay for stabilizing their political power).

But if Taiwan starts out believing they are doomed, I don't care how many fancy weapons Taiwan buys or develops. Taiwan will lose. And lose before we can even begin to make a decision to intervene.

Because if China believes that Taiwan's troops and people will crack as soon as a significant Chinese force makes it ashore, the price China would have to pay plummets tremendously.

And worse for Taiwan, the moment we think that Taiwan won't use weapons we sell them, we will stop selling Taiwan advanced weapons to match China out of fear that China will simply capture large amounts of advanced American weapons technology.

And we'll have to consider attacking Taiwanese ports, airfields, and army depots as Chinese troops fan out over the island to turn as much of what we provided into piles of junk rather than allow the Chinese to examine them at their leisure. Remember the British in World War II and how they viewed the Vichy French fleet.

China's best weapon against Taiwan is a Taiwanese belief that China can't lose a war with Taiwan. Sadly, we can't sell Taiwan the kind of resolve they need to survive so close to China.

UPDATE: Music to China's ears:

Last year, 24-year-old Anthony Tseng managed to get out of something that many Taiwanese men dread - a mandatory year in the military.

He went on a crash diet, eating only jelly and seaweed for dinner, and lost so much weight that he was exempt.

"I think it's a total waste of time. Even if we were to serve a year, that doesn't mean we would be ready for battle. And besides, it's unlikely Taiwan will go to war," said Mr Tseng, who after graduation got a job as an auditor instead.

Others don't even see a need for a military.

"It's useless. China doesn't need weapons to invade, they only have to use economics to defeat us," said Steven Tsao, a 21-year-old college student who will be drafted once he graduates.

I have difficulty understanding these attitudes. I enlisted when keeping the Soviets away from the Rhine River seemed doable if in doubt. And I went to basic training after I was half way through my master's degree. How can Taiwanese young people think that military service is futile or beneath them? Is freedom valued so little?

It's the Hate, Stupid

Assad's forces will run out of acceptable weapons long before running out of the hate that really fuels the killings in Syria.

First we told Assad that killing civilians with chemical weapons is unacceptable.

Now we are saying that barrel bombs rolled out of helicopter doors over civilian neighborhoods are wrong.

And now the UN Secretary General says that heavy artillery is a problem:

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced concern over use of heavy weapons and mortar shelling in the conflict in Syria.

He brought up the barrel bomb issue, too.

We can gradually limit what Assad kills civilians with, I suppose. If Assad cooperates.

Eventually, we might get him down to grenades, rifles, and machetes. That's not a problem, right?

UPDATE: Thanks to Stones Cry Out for the link.

Although it is a good point that rebels who dress as civilians bear responsibility for mistaken killings of civilians by the counter-rebel force--and one I've made often enough about our campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan--Assad is deliberately trying not to discriminate between combatants and civilians. Indeed, targetting civilians is deliberate. Which is a war crime separate from rebel failure to wear uniforms to distinguish them from civilians.

Given that the rebels hold territory, it really wouldn't be much of a problem for them to wear distinctive dress and avoid this problem.

But Assad targets civilians, regardless of rebel guilt in looking like civilians.

This Might Be Kind of Funny, Actually

Early in the uprising, Turkey issued an ultimatum to Assad to stop killing his people. Could Turkey's internal problems propel the Turkish government to invade Syria and topple Assad?

Turkey did not make good on its ultimatum to Assad back in the beginning of the crisis.

In part, it seemed as if the Islamist-friendly government could not trust the military and the military was too dispirited from purges to be reliable.

Whether Turkey could pull off the logistics is another question, given that their Cold War role was to defend in place as part of the NATO alliance.

But foreign wars are often a distraction from internal problems. Might not Turkey's leaders decide that economic collapse and the danger of a military-led coup could be countered by sending the army into Syria to overthrow Assad?

I only ask because Turkey is in trouble:

Turkey is coming apart. The Islamist coalition that crushed the secular military and political establishment–between Tayip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and the Islamist movement around Fethullah Gulen–has cracked. The Gulenists, who predominate in the security forces, have arrested the sons of top government ministers for helping Iran to launder money and circumvent sanctions, and ten members of Erdogan’s cabinet have resigned. Turkey’s currency is in free fall, and that’s just the beginning of the country’s troubles: about two-fifths of corporate debt is in foreign currencies, so the cost of servicing it jumps whenever the Turkish lira declines. Turkish stocks have crashed (and were down another 5% in dollar terms in early trading Friday). As the charts below illustrate, so much for Turkey’s miracle economy.

Now, I don't share the author's notions that troubles in the Middle East are not soluble and that "except for the state of Israel and a couple of Sunni monarchies that survive by dint of their oil wealth, we are witnessing the unraveling of the Middle East. The best we can do is to insulate ourselves from the spillover effect."

I'm certainly not in favor of trying to defend the current weave of the Middle East. Supporting autocrats--however necessary it was in the Cold War--just helped Islamism thrive both in opposition to those autocrats and in service of the autocrats.

The Arab Spring at least offers the hope of an alternative to autocracy or Islamist rule. Even though that struggle will last decades if it is to change the culture that has made the traditional alternatives the only choices.

I digress because I have no idea what "insulating ourselves from the spillover effect" even means, given that jihadis in even isolated and backwards Afghanistan managed to hit us hard on September 11, 2001.

Anyway, if Turkey is coming apart economically, their rulers wouldn't be the first to attempt to distract with a foreign war.

And after nearly three years of unrest and increasing violence, the Syrian armed forces are a shell when it comes to conventional warfare. The logistics burden on Turkey might be low enough now to work well enough even if no efforts to prepare to support an invasion were made over the last few years.

Those Hezbollah gunmen and the Shia foreign legion Iran pays for may be able to spearhead attacks for Assad on rebels, but they'd be slaughtered if they tried to fight the Turks as they marched on Damascus and Latakia.

Heck, the Turks could claim they are just trying to secure the routes for chemical weapons disarmament efforts.

So watch those chemical agents that we are trying to get out of Syria in the next weeks to destroy at sea. Once Assad loses those, a possible deterrent to Turkish invasion is greatly reduced. NATO Patriot batteries may shield Turkey enough from whatever residual threat there is to make the risk of war seem better than the risk of coming apart internally.

Not that the prospect of war is funny, actually. War is death and tragedy whose only excuse is that without it the death and tragedy might be greater for more people or for longer periods of time.

But it is funny in the sense that we played with Islamists we thought were tame in Turkey and might find that their failure to run an economy compels them to undo the stupid agreement we made with Assad and short circuit the even dumber idea that Assad might be a partner in the fight against al Qaeda.

Could multiple screw ups in our foreign policy actually cancel each other out and give us a better result than you'd think?

And if it works out, don't dare tell me that this bank shot was the Obama administration plan all along.

Let Kabul Be the Capital of Kabul?

I've always recognized that the notion of a national government in Afghanistan is a polite fiction in our state-centric world. Our government is prepared to ignore that fiction if the Karzai faction ignores that fiction.

Before our first of two Obama surges in Afghanistan took place, I had low expectations for the nominal national government in Kabul. Nation-building was far down on my list of things to do:

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

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

Indeed, I felt working with tribes was a logical step to take in a world with weakening Westphalian standards of who governs what:

When nation-states no longer have the monopoly on the use of world-altering power and when states cannot control the threats from disease and terrorism that gestate inside their borders, we must not be hobbled by being chained to the capitals of the world.

So it is nice to see that we have an alternative to pretending that Kabul is the capital of the Afghanistan nation-state:

The U.S. has made it clear to the Karzai clan that it understands the tribal politics and if there is not sufficient cooperation to get the Status of Forces agreement signed than the U.S. would play tribal politics and only send money to tribes it could depend on. If the Afghans want to play by tribal rules the U.S. will oblige and some clans, like the Karzais, will be big losers.

So we've got the right idea, anyway.

Just keep Kerry away from the problem, okay?

UPDATE: The CIA is pessimistic about Afghanistan after we leave:

A new American intelligence assessment on the Afghan war predicts that the gains the United States and its allies have made during the past three years are likely to have been significantly eroded by 2017, even if Washington leaves behind a few thousand troops and continues bankrolling the impoverished nation, according to officials familiar with the report.

But the administration says we checked enemy momentum:

“By no means has the surge defeated the Taliban,” the official said, but its stated goal was to “reverse the Taliban’s momentum and give the government more of an edge. I think we achieved that.”

That's COIN 101. Build up friendly forces and weaken the enemy. We did that.

So will the Taliban recover and win? Could be. Nothing is guaranteed. The enemy gets a vote, too. As they are in Iraq with our too-small post-war role.

But don't make it a self-fulfilling prophecy, eh? Work the problem. Provide Afghan forces with needed capabilities to maintain the edge we bought with our lives and money. It can be their own. It can be contractors. If necessary, make it our forces who provide the capabilities.

Otherwise, the Taliban certainly will regain strength since we won't be there. The question then becomes whether we built up our allies enough to continue to beat the stronger Taliban.

And don't measure failure against standards we don't need to achieve. We don't need to create a modern Afghanistan, complete with bike path debates. We just keep people in charge of the land of Afghanistan who will deny Islamists the ability to use that territory to launch terror attacks on us. You remember that, right?

I mean, unless President Obama ordered two separate surges and much higher American casualties just to put off the date of defeat in Afghanistan past his second term. You're not willing to argue that, are you?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Let's Not Be War Criminals on Okinawa

We will finally be able to move our air base at Futenma to another location on Okinawa. Which should end that potential war crime in the making.

This is good news:

The governor of Okinawa gave the go-ahead Friday for land reclamation to begin for a new U.S. military base, advancing the effort to consolidate the massive U.S. troop presence on the southern Japanese island but also making protests from residents likely.

Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved the Japanese Defense Ministry's application to reclaim land for the base on Okinawa's coast to replace the U.S. Marine Corps base in Futenma, a more congested part of Okinawa's main island.

Over the decades, civilians structures advanced toward the Futenma base and crowded in so close to the base that a Chinese air assault on the base would have killed lots of civilians.

I know that the concept of human shields relies on the hesitation of an enemy to risk hitting civilians and that China is unlikely to be deterred. But it is still bad form to have a base close to civilians even if the civilians hugged you rather than the other way around.

So even apart from the local opposition to a base right in their midst, I've been uncomfortable having a base with so many civilians way too close for comfort.

It will take many years to move the base, but at least we can see the day when we can move without losing military capabilities in the region.

For Lack of a SOFA

The Iraqis must feel horribly discriminated against. Assad gets to kill (with the death toll in under three years already at the entire Iraq War total) with only a couple methods ruled out (chemical weapons and barrel bombs). Iraq isn't even supposed to arrest people who plot against the government with terrorists.

This seems minor league, all things considered:

Iraqi security forces arrested a prominent Sunni Muslim lawmaker and supporter of anti-government protests in a raid on his home in the western province of Anbar, sparking clashes in which at least five people were killed, police sources said.

The violent arrest of Ahmed al-Alwani is likely to inflame tensions in Sunni-dominated Anbar, where protesters have been demonstrating against what they see as marginalization of their sect by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shi'ite-led government.

The problem is, a lot of Sunni Arabs are plotting with terrorists against the government. The Sunni Arabs still resent losing power when their patron, Saddam, was chased from office.

And other Sunni Arabs who don't want to work with jihadis are too afraid of the jihadis not to at least look away given that the Shia-dominated government isn't terribly helpful.

The Iraqi government really hasn't given the Sunni Arabs enough reason to actively support the Iraqi government against those Sunni Arabs who want to return to power--through Islamism or other means.

And, as Strategypage writes, it was not supposed to be this way:

Terrorist related deaths for the year so far are going to be nearly 8,000 and the government is under a lot of popular pressure to stop the mass murder. While 10-20 percent of these deaths are the result of gangsters, not Islamic terrorists, it does not diminish the fact that the main threat to the country is religious and politically motivated terrorism. ...

Terrorist deaths are still much lower than they were during the peak years of the post 2003 violence, but have doubled since 2011. Back then terrorist deaths went from 29,000 in 2006 to 10,000 in 2007 and kept falling until 2011 (when there were 4,100 deaths). ...

The Sunni terrorists (mostly the local al Qaeda and Sunni nationalists who are not eager to have a religious dictatorship that al Qaeda wants) continue to use all the terrorist violence to trigger a civil war between Shia and Sunni. This would be disastrous for the greatly outnumbered (4-1) Sunnis but most Sunnis are still bitter over the loss of power and income that came with the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein. The 2007 peace deal, arranged by the United States, brought with it a sharp drop in terrorism and a halt to the Shia death squads that were randomly killing Sunnis. But after the Americans left in 2010 the Shia dominated government reneged on the terms of that deal, mainly by not supplying the promised jobs and share of the oil income. Sunnis also accused the Shia government of not supporting them in the north where Kurds were trying to reclaim property Saddam had stolen in the 1980s and given to poor Sunnis from the south. Then came accusations that some Sunni politicians (including several senior elected officials) were supporting Sunni terrorists. Some of these accusations appear to be true, but for most Sunnis it was the last straw and the Sunni terrorists found themselves with more fans and recruits. While many Sunni leaders oppose the terrorism, speaking out can get you killed by Sunnis who consider any peace proposals treason against the Sunni community. Now the Sunni uprising in Syria has further encouraged the Sunni terrorists, despite the lack of any real progress in Iraq and the growing risk of a devastating Shia backlash.

Do read the rest. Iraq had good hopes for a bright future in 2011. Now? I wouldn't say that Iraq can't muddle through on their own. But the odds are far lower. And we had it within our power to increase Iraq's odds--and our military presence in Iraq would have made it impossible for Iran to use Iraq as a major resupply route for Assad, remember.

Our president wouldn't press for a status of forces agreement to keep US troops in Iraq, where our presence could keep factions acting within democratic boundaries of politics. Our presence could have helped foster rule of law to make sure resources could be spread around rather than lost in corruption. Then maybe oil wealth could have kept Sunnis content in Anbar even as Kurds were allowed to reclaim land lost to Saddam era ethnic cleansing in the north.

But no, President Obama had to "responsibly end" "Bush's" war--never mind the declaration of war that made it America's war to win or lose--ss if that was in his power to do. The war goes on.

And in refusing to take decisive action (aiding rebels--not direct military intervention) against Assad--a long time enemy suddenly vulnerable in spring 2011--we not only saw violence spiral out of control there, but saw it blow back into Iraq, rekindling jihadi groups that we beat down in the surge offensive of 2007 and putting a weak Iraq (without our presence) under more pressure from Iran to help Assad, splintering Iraq even further.

Indeed, in flirting with Assad as a partner in chemical weapons disarmament and battling al Qaeda even as he slaughters and starves his Sunni majority opposition, haven't we taught Iraq that being brutal is acceptable to us as long as it works? How long will Iraq keep up their stupid but still restrained policies against their Sunni minority?

And let's not forget that with this idiotic interim nuclear agreement we strengthened Iran who, inter alia (see? I can use terms more refined than "freaking" on occasion), stands behind Assad and seeks to control Iraq.

The really scary thing is that I think our leadership believes they are brilliant in managing all of this, and that if only black swan events like poorly made Internet videos didn't sidetrack their plans out of freaking nowhere, it would be all peace and prosperity now.

Getting Close Enough

We aren't in a new Cold War with China and Russia? Tell that to them.

So we aren't involved in "a deadly, apocalyptic competition with Russia, China or anyone else. We are not fighting proxy wars." (tip to Instapundit)

But it kind of looks like it:

But although we are not fighting a new Cold War, the tactics of the old Cold War are now, at the dawn of 2014, suddenly being deployed in a manner not seen since the early 1980s. We in the United States may not believe that we are engaged in an ideological struggle with anybody, but other people are engaged in an ideological struggle with us. We in the United States may not believe that there is any real threat to our longtime alliance structures in Europe and Asia, but other people think those alliances are vulnerable and have set out to undermine them.

Well, we aren't plotting against Russia and China.

But we would like them more democratic and would prefer that they not push around neighbors, especially those who are friends of ours.

And we'd prefer they don't unilaterally grab territory, as China is slowly doing around their periphery and as Russia is doing in their "near abroad" of former empire and trying to do in the Arctic.

And we don't much like their autocratic systems of government. They may like state capitalism, but they like to keep competition in the private sector--not government.

Heck, Russia and China resist any efforts of the UN to intevene against brutal thugs slaughtering their own people on the theory that Russia and China don't want to set the legal precedent for us to mobilize the world against them! What they do to their own people is their own damn business, they reason. Humanitarianism doesn't motiviate us--sinister plots against Russia and China motivate us.

And so to Putin and his ilk and to the Chinese Communist Party, we logically are trying to undermine them.

Russia is fighting us in Syria. And sees our hand in Ukraine. Their paranoia knows few bounds. And resented us for supporting Georgia when Russia invaded that country. And seethes that former parts of their empire are now in NATO. And sees a US threat in a missile defense system in eastern NATO.

China is maneuvering against us in the South China Sea and East China Sea. And sees our hand in "their" affairs from India to Japan, trying to contain China. And is convinced we are seeking to weaken and overthrow the Chinese Communist Party (their military made a movie about it). And worries more about North Korea being on our side if it collapses than ending the murderous regime of the Kim family dynasty that runs a gulag with a UN seat.

Others can resist China or Russia because we exist as a military power and China and Russia have to account for us rather than roll over them at will.

In many ways, our very existence is a challenge to their systems of government. We supported democracy in Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan rather successfully, showing that democracy isn't alien to Asian society as China long claimed.

Democracy's appeal is also making Russia's former European empire seem farther away. And maybe within Russia itself.

So here we are, on the cusp of the sixth year of the Era of Hope and Change when the water levels themselves were supposed to recede, and Russia and China act as if some cowboy president is trying to destroy them.

So China and Russia seek weaknesses in our alliance structures and seek to exploit them to bring down our alliance structures that they believe are part of a system out to destroy them.

That's not unstable and dangerous at all.

Well, not until Russia (low odds) or China (higher odds) gain the military means to challenge us. Remember, Soviet Russia was a military challenge to us mostly because they had military power massed in East Germany. If they had been able to advance the relatively short distance to the Rhine River, they might have shattered NATO and driven us from Europe. If we'd lost control of Europe to a hostile power, we'd have been in deep trouble.

And assuming that the soothing balms of hope and change have no effect on Russia and China, at all. What are the odds of that happening?

So whether or not we elevate this new tension to a Cold War, Russia and China are challenging us--although not usually together because they have their own differences.

We're just not really noticing their efforts because they don't yet have the power to pose a military threat to key pillars of our power.

If it isn't a Cold War now, it's just because it isn't a Cold War yet.

The Ukraine Welcoming Committee Forms

Putin continues to rebuild as much of the Soviet Union as possible. Can Ukraine stop Russia before being swallowed up?

The old agreement was too loose:

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday the final pieces were in place for the 2015 launch of an economic union with Belarus and Kazakhstan that Moscow hopes can also be joined by Ukraine.

Putin promised following talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko that the so-called Eurasian Economic Union would turn into a new source of growth for all involved.

The alliance would replace a much looser Eurasian Customs Union that Russia formed with the two ex-Soviet nations in an effort to build up a free trade rival to the 28-nation EU bloc.

The new agreement that might be called the Eurasian Union will be tighter still, have no fear.

We'll see if Ukraine gains any protection from the nuclear umbrella that China extended to Kiev.

I remain puzzled that I've heard nothing else about that nuclear development. Perhaps it didn't happen. Perhaps the agreement wasn't translated correctly and it is far less than first reported. Perhaps I over-state the significance of even an accurate report on the agreement (but I don't think so).

But I do know that Ukraine could surely use such a guarantee.

The Russians are coming for the Ukraine. And I don't think they'll stop short at a lesser objective than integration into the USSR EAU.

Friday, December 27, 2013

It's Almost Like We Didn't Responsibly End That War

We are visibly helping Iraq fight al Qaeda. I hope this is the tip of the iceberg.

We decided to send to Iraq recon drones and smart missiles for their fledgling air force to hunt jihadis:

The United States is quietly rushing dozens of Hellfire missiles and low-tech surveillance drones to Iraq to help government forces combat an explosion of violence by a Qaeda-backed insurgency that is gaining territory in both western Iraq and neighboring Syria.

I read a while back that our intelligence people are there, too, and the article says the CIA is helping analyze data to focus Iraqi efforts.

It would be nice if some special forces people are around.

It would be really nice if we had some information operations to remind Iraqis that Iran is doing nothing to help Iraqis defeat al Qaeda killings that have put 8,000 Iraqis in graves this year (including almost a thousand security forces).

Help them. Don't despair. Iraqi casualties are nothing compared to what is happening in Syria. So this isn't futile.

And insurgencies and terrorist campaigns can last decades without threatening the state itself. Colombia is finally winning, as I recently noted. And the Philippines is still fighting communist guerrillas without them threatening the state:

The NPA rebellion has been going on since 1969 and left 30,000 dead so far but it’s become increasingly common to have these holiday truces and generally observe them. The leftist rebels are down to about 4,000 gunmen and many of the NPA leaders are now willing to negotiate a peace deal.

The mere fact that insurgents and terrorists still kill in Iraq does not mean Iraq is a failure any more than Chicago city government is a failure because there are murders.

Okay, maybe that's a bad example.

Still, the fact that our enemies don't want to accept defeat as easily as we'd like is no reason for us to accept defeat in mistaken despair.

Work the problem.

Now That's a Drone

Israel could conduct follow-on air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities without risking pilots.

By thinking outside the box, I think Israel could get the strike-equivalents to make the initial attack on Iran.

Saudi cooperation based on shared fear of a nuclear-armed Iran makes this easier, as I noted more recently:

What if Israeli pilots quietly go to Saudi Arabia to fly Saudi F-15s on a short flight across the Gulf? Israeli F-15 pilots could use simulators to gain experience with the Saudi cockpit layout. That option could reduce by a considerable amount the number of planes Israel needs to launch from Israel itself, reducing the launch signature that would telegraph the strike to Iran.

One problem is the issue of follow-up strikes, assuming Israel achieves surprise in the first wave. Could Israel re-hit a target once Iran is alerted?

Again, by thinking outside the box, couldn't Israel use older attack aircraft configured as drones?

We have a long history of turning older warplanes into target drones to test new weapons:

The UAV version of an aircraft is superior, in some ways, to one with a pilot in it. This is mainly because pilots black out when the aircraft makes turns too sharply at high speed. The air force discovered how effective this capability was during the 1970s, when they rigged some jet fighters to fly without a pilot and had them go up against manned aircraft. The QF-16 has already demonstrated its ability to carry out acrobatic maneuvers under remote control.

But why couldn't these planes be attack drones, instead? Remotely piloted, they could release precision weapons and either return home or--if damaged--ram a target to inflict some more damage.

Israel does have old A-4s they no longer need, you know.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

This Nuance Stuff is So Hard

I really don't get nuance.

The New York Times notes our double failure in fighting al Qaeda:

A number of factors are helping the Qaeda affiliate. The terrorist group took advantage of the departure of American forces to rebuild its operations in Iraq and push into Syria. Now that it has established a strong foothold in Syria, it is in turn using its base there to send suicide bombers into Iraq at a rate of 30 to 40 a month, using them against Shiites but also against Sunnis who are reluctant to cede control.

We left Iraq after defeating al Qaeda with the surge and Awakening when we should have stayed t0 pursue them, thus allowing al Qaeda to rebuild in Iraq.

Then we failed to push Assad when he was weakest, giving the rebuilding al Qaeda in Iraq and opportunity to expand into Syria.

Then al Qaeda in Syria recreated the ratline that Assad established during the Iraq War to push suicide bombers back into Iraq to help al Qaeda fight in Iraq.

And now we ponder allying with Assad--mass murderer though he is when only in the summer it was a moral imperative to strike Assad over his chemical weapons use--in order to fight al Qaeda in Syria.

I always thought that nuance meant something other than sheer ineptitude. I guess I'm wrong.

Will we really make this a triple mistake by thinking Assad is a member of the coalition of the willing to fight jihadis?

Panzers in Poland

Poland is flat. Russia is all Russian-like. And German armor is cheap.

We withdrew our last main battle tank from Europe not too long ago. While I hope we have the ability to ship afloat heavy unit sets of equipment to Europe (and wish we'd put a couple heavy unit sets in southern Poland), Poland is making sure they don't get left on the wrong side of a new Iron Curtain that might come down across Europe:

Poland has agreed to buy 119 more German Leopard 2 tanks for about $2 million each and the deal includes lots of spare parts and support equipment. Most of these are 2A5s although 14 are older 2A4s. Back in 2003 Poland obtained 128 of these tanks from Germany for the bargain basement price of $21.6 million along with 23 MiG-29 fighters for only $30 million. ...

Poland is using the Leopards as part of its ongoing post-Cold War military reforms. In 2000 the Polish military had 185,000 troops and depended a lot on conscripts who were in for only a year. By 2010 troop strength was down to 100,000 and, as of 2009, conscription was gone.

Germany and other users of the Leopard II have been shedding tanks on to a flooded market.

Back in 2008, Poland also had close to a quarter million reservists, too. I assume that has been trimmed.

By the end of this decade, Poland's armed forces are supposed to be up to NATO standards. Their soldiers won't be civil servants in uniform, we can be sure.

Add Barrels to the List

I assume that Russia's Lavrov and Kerry will come up with some type of Barrel Bomb Disarmament plan that will remove the latest trend in killing civilians by spring 2015.

Assad's forces have been dumping barrel bombs on civilians lately. We don't approve of this particular method of killing civilians, joining chemical weapons in that category:

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Washington deplored the attacks on civilian areas by Syrian government forces, accusing the military of using barrel bombs and SCUD missiles "indiscriminately."

"The United States condemns the ongoing air assault by Syrian government forces on civilians, including the indiscriminate use of SCUD missiles and barrel bombs in and around Aleppo over the last week," Carney said.

"The attacks over the weekend killed more than 300 people, many of them children. The Syrian government must respect its obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population."

Oh, and we don't like Scud ballistic missile strikes, too.

So that's--what?--about 2,000 dead killed by unacceptable means out of 50,000 dead civilians in the war (the balance of the total consists of government and rebel forces).

I guess we can look forward to a new agreement with Russian help to ban barrels in Syria and remove even this method of killing.

Assad must be so confused. He agrees to stop killing people with chemical weapons. Logically, everything else is cool. Heck, even cutting off food doesn't seem to bother people overly much.

And especially with Assad's application to join the coalition of the willing to fight al Qaeda as our ally, Assad has to wonder why we now complain about barrel bombs and Scud missiles?

Well, I sympathize with Assad. It's all pretty confusing to me, too. I have no idea what our government is trying to do in Syria.

It's like we're voting "present" and hoping it all goes away.

Fire Discipline

Christmas with my family was really nice. Nobody wore pajamas and talked about Obamacare. But more impressive was the fire discipline that Lamb and her cousin Very displayed.

When it was time to go home, Lamb and Very disappeared. They'd been disappeared all afternoon and evening, off playing, but this was a different disappeared.

I wandered off looking for them in my niece's new home (which is very nice), but obviously felt constrained in opening anything up to look. Not my home. So I looked under Very's bed and I looked behind doors. But I wasn't going to open up closets.

But I had a strong suspicion that they were in Very's closet. So I went up to the door, grabbed a handle, and rattled the door.

I figured that if they were in there, I'd hear giggles, or "shhhh!" sounds.


So I got my niece to look. sure enough, they were hiding in that closet.

On the drive home, I noted that I expected noise. Lamb said she had coached her cousin to stay quiet.

She also said she'd opened the door a crack just as I walked in the room! Sadly, peripheral vision did not catch that before I turned my head.

I told Lamb I was quite impressed with her fire discipline.

I had to explain that, of course. You're approaching a tree line. You wonder if there might be an enemy waiting to ambush you when you get close. So you spread out and open fire as if you see them. You hope that if the enemy is waiting they will return fire, confirming an enemy and avoiding an ambush.

But well trained or experienced troops will sit and take it, not assuming they are spotted. If the fire is just flying overhead, they duck and wait. Then, when the enemy resumes movement, confident no enemy is in the tree line, the hidden troops open fire.

Lamb and Very did not assume I knew they were in the closet, they stayed quiet, and I moved on.

Still, they didn't know I had a Mom Drone to search the area. That changes everything from the old days.

Hey, it's not like Lamb will get this kind of knowledge from her mom or in school.

I hope your Christmas was good, too!

An Easy Four Bucks

The Iran negotiations are a win-win for Iran. Even if they founder, Iran pockets $7 billion and gets half a year or so of time just for sitting at the same table as John Kerry.

There's a Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin tries to cut a deal with his dad over school grades:

Calvin: I've got an idea, Dad. Maybe I'd get better grades if you offered me $1 for every "D", $5 for every "C". $10 for every "B", and $50 for every "A"!

Dad: I'm not going to bribe you Calvin, you should apply yourself for your own good.

Calvin: Rats. I thought I could make an easy four bucks.

Sometimes I think that all Iran wants in these negotiations are the easy $7 billion and 6+ months time.

Sadly, it could be far worse. The West isn't wise enough to avoid the temptation to think we can bribe Iran into foregoing nuclear weapons capability.

Iran is fully capable of pretending to get "As" and we're fully capable of pretending to believe Iran as long as we get a treaty signing live on television (as Secretary Kerry says, "All right, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, I'm ready for my close-up.")


Patrick Buchanan asks if Vladimir Putin is one of "us."


Buchanan writes up a lot of arguments for the "yes" camp.

So is Putin one of us?

In a word, the answer is "no."

In two, "hell, no!"

In three, "are you stoned?"

In four, "in what alternate universe?"

And if you want five (expand the contraction ...), "who's this 'us,' Kemosabe?"

The sad thing is, Russia could have joined the West after they managed to wriggle free from communism.

But instead, Putin has stoked paranoia and fear to justify reimposing as much authoritarian power as he can manage and to rebuild the Soviet/Czarist empire.

When the Designated Reaction Force is Committed

We've deployed our designated emergency military reserve to the Horn of Africa in case our diplomats and citizens need rescue in South Sudan. So everybody else is back to Benghazi status.

South Sudan is carrying on the African tradition of fighting madly for what little there is. There's oil to add incentive to this game. Our people there could get caught in the crossfire.

So we've deployed our Spain-based Marine force designated as the military reaction force in the aftermath of the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on our diplomatic and CIA missions in Benghazi:

The United States has sent 150 Marines to a military base in Djibouti to respond as needed to the crisis in South Sudan. Repositioning of soldiers comes after four U.S. soldiers were wounded during an evacuation operation in Jonglei state.

The U.S. military’s Africa command, known as AFRICOM, said Tuesday that soldiers have arrived at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti from an airbase in Spain.

AFRICOM said this is the first time the Marine Air-Ground Task Force has deployed to Africa in support of an operational mission.

A spokesman for AFRICOM, Benjamin Benson, said the movement is based on the “possibility of threats against U.S. personnel and facilities” in South Sudan. “By positioning these forces forward we’re able to more quickly able to respond to a crisis in the region, if required,” he said.

You remember, we said we had no assets to deploy to Benghazi in time to do any good:

What I do know is that when we learned our people were under attack, we didn't try to help them. Well, except for the pathetically few civilian security personnel under State Department control who immediately moved toward the sounds of the guns to see what they could do.

With tens of thousands of troops in nearby Europe, we didn't even put in motion a single effing platoon of something--anything--to get to Benghazi in case we could do something.

We didn't send any combat aircraft just to buzz the area as a warning that more power was on the way--even if it was a bluff.

But apparently we couldn't even get a platoon-sized base reaction force into the air to reach Benghazi in a few hours with the balance of a company following an hour or two later--with a battalion gathering as that was done. ...

But we did not even try to react. If it was because we didn't have forces specifically earmarked for embassy rescue, that's a stunning indictment of a military or civilian leadership that doesn't really think of itself as at war.

If we didn't react because we didn't have a week to polish a plan complete with PowerPoint presentations to make it look nice and glossy, that's a stunning indictment of our leadership.

Because if our senior people felt we were at war, they would have scraped up cooks and typists--and even the officers who usually make PowerPoint presentations--to send to the sound of the guns if that is all they had.

So we set up the Marine force. Rather than explain why we didn't send forces to Benghazi, we claimed we couldn't, and then set up a Marine force as if the problem was a matter of capabilities rather than leadership decisions.

And now that force is committed to a South Sudan mission, sitting in Djibouti. So it can respond more quickly to a crisis inside South Sudan.

So every other diplomatic facility around the Mediterranean Sea basin that might have called on that force is on its own for a longer period of time, apparently, reliant on the same leadership that failed September 11, 2012, at Benghazi.

Because now--like on September 11, 2012--we are unable to scrape up any military power from the tens of thousand of troops we station in Europe. That's their story and they're sticking to it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Santa is On the Move

Hey, have a Merry Christmas!

I like the holiday season. I never understand why this is a tough season for so many people. Yet that seems to be the case.

If it is for you, I'm truly sorry. May the spirit and food kindle some hope for the new year we will soon have.

Life is good, people. And when it isn't good at the moment, at least there is hope for better days!

Welcome Back, Canada

Why has Canada turned away from peacekeeping to embrace warfighting? Because reality came to Canada's shores.

This article laments the ending of Canada's tradition of peacekeeping that developed during the Cold War:

After almost two decades of service to Canada and the world, the Pearson Centre, formerly known as the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, is shutting its doors this month. ...

The demise of the Pearson Centre is the latest evidence of the government’s neglect of UN peacekeeping. Why has the government of Stephen Harper rejected this widely supported Canadian military tradition that every other prime minister since St. Laurent has embraced?

But the author neglects ugly incidents in peacekeeping in a thankless and pointless mission in Somalia that tarnished Canada's image.

And the author neglects that after decades of being in the rear areas of the global struggle against the Soviet Union (for which Canada did prepare to fight, with a good heavy brigade based in West Germany then), Canada is now on the frontline.

Canada stepped up to fight in Afghanistan at our side, keeping a good battalion in the fight for many years. I thank Canada for their sacrifice.

But this was as much in Canada's interest as a favor to an ally. On 9/11, Canada discovered that terrorism could come to North America and strike hard. So Canada fought the terrorists. And fought well. There was no peace to keep and the enemy that proved it could reach as far as Canada had to be killed and beaten.

And now Russia will confront Canada across the Arctic Circle. Again, Canada is on the frontline.

Not to mention that the author ignores the bloody obvious that without a Cold War raging, keeping even the imperfect peace that UN peacekeepers provided which helped keep those conflicts from sparking a war between America and the Soviet Union is no longer needed. Imperfect peace then was preferable to risking nuclear war over some petty local squabble. But what's the payoff now?

Canada needs real soldiers and has too few to spare to send on often futile and always thankless deployments at the butt end of nowhere to hold the lid on war rather than truly create peace among factions that only want victory and loot.

So yeah, Canada's flirtation with being a polite power more interested in doing duty in the cause of the UN is over.

Good. Canada had a large navy and air force at the end of World War II, and fielded an entire army in the European Theater of Operations. That is a military tradition worthy of maintaining. And defeating the enemies of the West is a better service to Canada and the world than babysitting violent factions who wouldn't know what to do if peace broke out.

This Should Be Sold in Kegs

I'm busting out the egg nog!

God, I love that stuff.

And don't even think of polluting it with rum. Straight up, only.

Eyes on Targets?

Could plentiful long-range anti-ship missiles make a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan too difficult to execute?

It occurs to me that the Taiwanese eye of Sauron sitting on the Leshan Mountain, if it can provide targeting data for our submarine-launched cruise missiles and new (when deployed) air-launched missiles (LRSAM) plus Taiwanese cruise missiles, might chew up a Chinese invasion armada enough that Taiwan's army could repulse any troops that make it ashore.

Protecting (or destroying, from the mainland perspective) that radar becomes more important, of course, if that is the case.

It just might come to pass that the main Chinese capability to subdue Taiwan will be a blockade of the island that breaks Taiwan before a counter-blockade breaks China's will to continue the fight.

And if China starts looking inland more, that might save tiny Taiwan from the Leviathan across the strait.

And to My Beloved Children ...

... I leave my light bulbs. May you enjoy their harsh glow and pass them down to your children one day.

Because the new ones we're allowed to buy will last longer than the actuarial tables say I'll live:

The United States has been phasing out the lights and next year companies won't be allowed to make them anymore.

The alternatives that hardware stores recommend include halogen lamps, CFL, and LED lights. "They're more up front. They're going to last forty years versus lasting three or four months."

Three or four months? I can go years between changing incandescent bulbs anywhere in my home!

And as I noted, in my car port, the old incandescent over my car still glows while the new forty-year bulbs already died.

Yeah, the new bulbs are great. Much better than the old ones.

That's why the government won't let us buy the old style bulbs. We're just too stupid to make the right choice. We can't have a repeat of the Beta versus VHS fiasco, can we?

And yes, I curse George W. Bush for letting this nonsense pass.

Tip to Instapundit.

The Long March South

It is not too late to support the Free Syria Army.

The hand wringing over the rise of al Qaeda jihadis in Syria's rebellion and the problems of the Free Syria Army is just discouraging.

Did Iran, Russia, and Assad give up when they were on the ropes? No. When they looked around and--possibly in amazement at their luck in opponents--discovered that America wasn't making an effort to support those rebels, they began to work the problem.

Assad abandoned non-vital terrain to fight for a core Syria in the west, bolstered the depleted army with militias, brought in foreign volunteers to provide shock troops for the offensives, gained outside financing to make up for losses, and even neutered the threat from America by signing a pointless chemical weapons agreement.

And began killing and starving Syrians on a vast scale.

We, on the other hand, have gone from believing we don't need to do anything (other than a presidential statement that Assad should leave, in order to get in front of the parade) because Assad was doomed, to believing we can't do anything because either Assad wins or the ISIL al Qaeda jihadis win.

Indeed, we're dangerously close to having a policy that essentially supports Assad's slaughter as the best option to beat the jihadis.

Even those not giving up on getting rid of Assad have given up on the Free Syria Army, seeing the non-al Qaeda Islamists as the best hope:

Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre and an expert on Syria's Islamist groups, says the Islamic Front ''presents the best opportunity … to re-establish some Syrian authority over the armed opposition and to re-emphasise the original objectives of the revolution, which was to overthrow Assad''.

The Front could grow into a ''competitor to al-Qaeda'', he says, stemming the rising tide of Syrians joining groups linked to the terrorist network.

While I have no problem with supporting these nationalist Islamists--a revolution in a Moslem country is bound to have Moslems inspired by Islam, no?--I don't understand why we won't go all in to support FSA.

Yes, they are down now. But that isn't a permanent condition unless we make it so by denying them support.

Mao's Communist Army took a drubbing in China's civil war yet managed to conduct a "long march" to the north where they could escape the nationalists (while also fighting the Japanese at the same time). With Soviet support, Mao's forces strengthened and eventually emerged victorious to control China.

Why can't we do the same with the FSA if their position in northern Syria is being destroyed by rising Islamist fighters?

We have a position in Jordan where we hope to train rebels. Why not try to gather the FSA in the south where they can consolidate, train, arm up, and then try to expand their hold north and east to hopefully march on the capital one day?

Fortunes in war ebb and flow. They did in Iraq yet we adapted and worked each new problem, remember (and events are ebbing now, but it is not too late to help Iraqis achieve a good outcome).

We should be trying to bend events in our favor. But instead of working the problem, why are we more interested in joining Putin's coalition of the willing to save Assad?

One might think that America’s policy toward Syria couldn’t get any worse, but the rise of extremists there is generating dangerous thinking in Western capitals. High-level advisers and former officials have recently started to talk about Bashar al-Assad as a lesser evil than whatever comes next; some even see him as a potential partner in fighting jihadi terrorists.

Yes, I do believe I mentioned this bizarre spasm of so-called foreign policy thinking.

We can still win in Syria. But we have to try to defeat Assad to do that. We seem to have difficulty with comprehending that concept.

War on Christmas

A Northern Santa Agency toymaker, Elfin Snowed In, has released a data dump on Santa's global eavesdropping network.

One of Santa's many elves, a low-level final inspection supervisor, Elfin Snowed In, who toiled in the vast North Pole Santa toymaking operation, has smuggled out and released data on the extent of Santa's espionage operations. Said Snowed In, from a hotel room in Hong Kong:

We all speak of children being naughty or nice, but do we ever think about the enormous violation of privacy that it takes to make that judgment? The world had to know this.

Let's not even start on the working conditions.

A spokeself for Santa, Cay Jarney, declined to comment on the nature of the leaks, but said that the theft of this data would have a major impact on rewarding the nice and preventing the naughty from enjoying the same privileges.

"Present inequality will only get worse this holiday season," she added.

Before jumping down from the stool behind the official Santa podium and scurrying off the stage, the spokeself darkly hinted at possible retaliation, noting that Santa's sled could stealthily travel to any portion of the globe at speeds that mere humans cannot comprehend. "Letting NORAD track the sled is a courtesy, I assure you," she insisted.

Major retail associations have pledged to seek the extradition of Snowed In for his role in inspiring saboteurs to compromise credit and debit card users at member stores.

There was no comment from Snowed In on rumors of a "doomsday" file on the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy that would be released if anything happens to the former Santa employee.

What is Chinese for "Chutzpah?" Or "Uh Oh," For That Matter?

China is upset that Japan will increase their defense budget. No, really. Stop laughing.

From the "Are You Freaking Kidding Me?" file:

China has denounced Japan's plans to boost military purchases, accusing it of playing up regional tensions as an 'excuse' to ramp up defence spending.

I mean, why would Japan even need more military hardware?

China has been boosting its defence budget for decades, and last year was the world's second biggest military spender with an outlay of $US166 billion ($A187.88 billion), according to Sweden-based think-tank the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Sure, there is that ...

But that's it!

Oh, wait. China has been pretty aggressive of late in the East China Sea:

China has sent ships and aircraft into the area on scores of occasions, prompting counter deployments by Japan.

Tensions were ratcheted up last month when China abruptly declared a new Air Defence Identification Zone over the East China Sea, including over disputed Tokyo-controlled islands called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.

Oh, so China has been on a decades-long arms build up even as Japan's spending declined, and China is increasingly aggressive in demanding territory that Japan has owned for quite some time?

Still. You know, shut up. We're freaking China. The Middle-effing kingdom between Heaven and Earth. That century of humiliation is over, and we're back, baby!

Who are you? Japan? World War II, and stuff!!! So accept your place and stay out of our way.

China keeps pushing--a little at a time--all their neighbors. And pushing our forces. Each incident China provokes has a small chance of escalating to a war. War had not broken out so far, after all. So this must be true despite some armed clashes in the past.

But keep on provoking incidents and the likelihood of an accidental war shoots up tremendously.

I know, I know. Nobody wants war. There's too much trade at risk.

But if shooting starts, explain to me how the Chinese government tells their people--who China increasingly rile up with nationalistic furies--that going to war with one (or more) of those evil foreigners is unwise?