Streetwise Professor

August 22, 2015

Political Correctness and Building Social Strife in Europe–and America

Filed under: History,Politics — The Professor @ 7:13 pm

About a month back I wrote about my experiences in Sweden. As if to illustrate my point about the Swedes’ attempt to flee from their historic identity and current cultural realities, horrific events occurred on 10 August. An Eritrean refugee who had just been denied asylum in Sweden went into an Ikea, grabbed two knives from the shelf, and proceeded to butcher two shoppers, a woman and her son. Some reports indicate that one of the victims had been beheaded.

Swedish officialdom immediately shrouded the events and the perpetrator in a veil of secrecy. Tellingly, the name of the assailant has not been released. There is only one reason to have done this: to prevent revelation that the assailant was not just an immigrant, but a Muslim one. But, of course, this attempt was futile because any sentient being can infer immediately the reality from the very fact that the Swedish authorities attempted to suppress the reality. Meaning that the authorities did not succeed in their object, and in the bargain proved themselves to be craven and afraid to recognize that their immigrant community harbors a terrorist threat. As if everyday Swedes are blind to this reality. Further meaning that the authorities insult the intelligence of the citizenry, increasing the alienation of large segments of the population from the elite.

Swedish officials compounded the insult by ostentatiously rushing police to protect refugee centers, insinuating that native Swedes were prone to indiscriminate violence against immigrants.

This behavior is precisely why, to the shock of the Swedish establishment, that a far right nativist party now leads the polls in the country. The suppression by the elite of frank discussion of matters such as the integration of immigrants into society, the failure to deal with potential terrorist threats emanating from the immigrant population, and the creation of protected classes inevitably pushes people towards the fringes, and strengthens  those whom the elite despises most. This problem is particularly acute in Europe, where mechanisms of conformity and social control are more pronounced than in the US. But the US is not immune. Indeed, the appalling success of Donald Trump here is the result of the same dynamic.

As if another illustration were needed, consider the events on the Amsterdam-Paris train yesterday. A Moroccan with terrorist connections who was known to authorities in three European countries, and who had been to Syria, boarded the train in Brussels, armed with an AK-47, an automatic pistol, and boxcutters. As he emerged from the bathroom intent on mayhem, three Americans, including two enlisted servicemen on vacation, rushed him, forced him to the floor, and disarmed him. When he was down, a 62 year old Brit jumped on to keep him down.

But for the actions of three brave Americans, there would be dozens of dead Euros.

The train crew, if you have to know, took cover, barricading themselves in a safe room on the train. One French actor did suffer injuries while breaking the glass on the alarm.

Consider the reaction of French officialdom:

The motives behind the attack were not immediately known, although a spokesman for the interior minister said: ‘It is too early to speak of a terrorist link’

As the Swedes show, it is always too early. No doubt the French will attempt to put this issue behind them quickly, so they can get back to truly pressing matters. Such as the existential threat from Uber.

And the strains are about to get worse, as a metastasizing refugee crisis in southern Europe is about to spill over into rich Europe, most notably Germany, which is already experiencing a backlash.

Suppressing discussion of uncomfortable and thorny issues can buy social peace. For a while. But shutting off all outlets for civil discussion of controversial matters just causes the buildup of latent pressures that eventually cannot be contained, leading to a potentially calamitous disruption of social harmony. Allowing a little strife now can avoid a lot of strife in the future. But the Euros (and increasingly the US) have chosen the opposite course.

As long as the Euros keep denying they have an Islamist terrorism problem, they will have an Islamist terrorism problem. And their denial is creating another problem: a rise of the reactionary right.

 

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August 6, 2015

70 Years Ago, A Violent Ideology Was Destroyed By A Better Idea: Nuclear Fission

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:48 am

Today is the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. In commemoration, we are being bombarded with moralizing criticisms of the US’s actions. Japan is playing the victim card for all it is worth, and it is getting considerable support in the predictable quarters of the US and Europe.

These criticisms only survive in a vacuum in which history begins on 6 August, 1945.  Put into proper historical context, Truman’s decision to drop the bomb is readily understood and easily defended.  Real decisions require an understanding of the choices at hand, and Truman’s choices were grim.

The alternative to the bomb was a continued relentless air assault on Japan with conventional weapons, likely culminating with a series of invasions of the home islands, combined with a Soviet assault in Manchuria and then into China. The human toll of this alternative would have far exceeded that of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, especially in Japanese lives.  Curtis LeMay’s firebombing campaign inflicted horrific casualties: the firebombing of Tokyo on 8/9 March, 1945 alone killed over 100,000 Japanese civilians. The collective toll of the conventional bombing campaign was over 300,000 from November 1944-August 1945, and its continuation would have killed more Japanese than the atomic bombs did.

Then there is the invasion itself, for which the Japanese had prepared a last ditch defense that would have put every civilian in the front lines with bamboo spears, grenades and old rifles. On Okinawa, April-June 1945, an estimated one-third of the civilian population died, many by suicide.  The civilian toll on Saipan a year earlier was also large.

Then add in the horrific military casualties the Japanese would have suffered. In  most previous island battles, Japanese death rates were above 90 percent due to the fanaticism with which they fought. The same fanaticism would have been inevitable in a defense of the home islands, with similar results.

And I haven’t even gotten to the American (and British) casualties, which were rightly Truman’s first responsibility. On Okinawa, the US lost 20,000 KIA, approximately 8 percent of the peak US force.

To this add the massive Chinese civilian casualties that would have resulted from an extended Soviet attack.

Many critics of the dropping of the bomb counter that these horrors would have been avoided, because the Japanese were on the brink of surrender. This is the most ahistorical claim of all. Any leader contemplating the recent experience on Okinawa and Iwo Jima would have thought the idea of an impending Japanese surrender utterly delusional. Further, the most fanatical elements of the Japanese military were violently opposed to the idea of surrender even after the bombs were dropped. Officers mounted a last ditch coup in an attempt to prevent the playing of the recording of the Emperor’s surrender statement. There was a large hardcore element in Japan that would have resisted to the last had not the Emperor ordered them to lay down their arms.

In sum, by any reasonable calculus, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as horrific as they were, saved lives.

Japanese claims of victimhood ring particularly hollow. The fire in the sky was not a bolt from the blue. It was the climax of an orgy of destruction and death brought on by the Japanese, and carried out by them with a ruthlessness perhaps rivaled only the the Nazis in eastern Europe and the USSR. Indeed, Japanese atrocities pre-dated Nazi ones: millions of Chinese died at Japanese hands, often in the most brutal and inhumane ways, starting in 1931 (in Manchuria) and 1937 (in China proper).  Babies on bayonets were not a figment of wartime propaganda. They were a reality. Indeed, the Japanese reveled in such conduct, in large part because of a belief in their racial superiority. And don’t forget that Japan: (a) had its own nuclear program, (b) had an extensive chemical and biological warfare program which involved testing on POWs and civilians, and (c) waged chemical and biological warfare in China.

Further, while the Japanese make a moral claim against the US, they are adamant in their refusal to admit the validity of any such claim against them. Unlike the Germans, who have for the most part come to grips with their past and acknowledge and have paid reparations for the actions of the Hitler government, the Japanese have largely obfuscated and denied what their forebears did with no justification even approaching Truman’s.

Japan sowed the wind, and it reaped the whirlwind. That should be the focus of Japan’s commemoration of Hiroshima.

Some weeks ago, Obama said “ideologies are not defeated with guns but better ideas.” There is at least one instance where that is true. In August, 1945, the violent ideology of Bushido was defeated by an idea. The better idea was nuclear fission.

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August 5, 2015

Five Guys Isn’t a Burger Joint: It’s What’s Left of the US Trained “Force” in Syria

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:19 pm

With considerable embarrassment, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter admitted to Congress that the US had trained a grand total of 60 fighters in Syria after the expenditure of tens of millions. But his numbers are out of date. For in an arguably criminal move, no sooner had Carter reported to Congress that the US sent this platoon, grandeloquently  named “30 Division” into Syria, in the naive hope that Syria’s Al Qaeda group Al Nusra and other Islamist groups would treat them as allies not enemies. Since when was Al Qaeda fond of American lackeys?

The US was soon disabused of its fantastical notion. Almost as soon as they set foot in Syria, Al Nusra captured many of the 30 division, including its leader. Several of those have thrown over to Al Nusra. Yesterday, Al Nusra attacked the American-trained troops, killing and wounding several.

I have seen various counts of the casualties, one of which states that there are 13 left. So Five Guys isn’t that far off.

In other news of the wretched US policy in Syria, the US and Turkey have reached an agreement on US use of the Incirlik air base. But the Turks consider it a “red line” to use Incrilik-Bcsed aircraft to support Kurds fighting ISIS even though the YPG is the only effective ground force currently fighting the head choppers. And of course, even though Obama ignores his own red lines, he scrupulously adheres to Erdogan’s. Since the US cannot bomb from Incirlik in support of the Kurds, it will either (a) bomb in support of no ground force, meaning that the airpower will be ineffectual, or (b) it will bomb in support of non-Kurdish units in the “safe zone” on the Turkish border west of the Euphrates, most of which are Islamists of one sort or another.

This all makes the Bay of Pigs look like the height of military genius and moral courage.

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August 2, 2015

They Are Spinning in Valhalla

Filed under: History — The Professor @ 3:56 pm

In June I visited Stockholm, and was able to fit in a trip to the Swedish history museum. I was quite interested in viewing the Viking exhibit, but was rather aghast when I did. First, the signage disclaimed any Swedish responsibility for the Vikings: “Vikings were not Swedes.” Whatever. Second, another sign claimed  “the Vikings were peaceful.” I’m sure the monks at Lindisfarme and myriad other English monastaries, the inhabitants of any navigable river from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, etc., would beg to differ. And those Sagas. So peaceful! But the best was what a tourguide said: “The Vikings were inclusive people who treated everyone equally.” Sure they were! Talk about anachronism. Who knew the Vikings (who weren’t Swedes!) personified postmodern Swedish values. (But if they did, why the haste to deny that Vikings were Swedes? A little cognitive dissonance?)

To put an exclamation point on how far the people who reside in the country now called Sweden have changed since the 8th century, consider this: “Nine ways to become a truly Swedish man.” At least those 9 ways don’t involve peeing while sitting, which is a subject of raging debate in Germany. So there’s that.

Thank God-or would it be Odin?-that my ancestors got on the boat in the mid-19th century. And if the Swedes are denying they are Vikings, I’m pretty sure the residents of Valhalla are now willing to agree.

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July 30, 2015

Perfidious America: The Allegedly Anti-ISIS Turkish Campaign is Objectively Pro-ISIS.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 1:42 pm

Last week the administration breathlessly announced that it had secured Turkey’s participation in the anti-ISIS campaign. This would entail Turkish airstrikes against ISIS positions, and Turkey granting the US use of Incirlik and other airbases for strike and drone aircraft. The straw that supposedly broke the camel’s back was an ISIS suicide bombing of a Kurdish protest on the Turkey-Syria border (by people wanting to cross to Kobane to help in reconstruction) and the subsequent killing of two Turkish policemen by Kurds who blamed Turkey for the bombing.

With great fanfare, Turkey launched an airstrike against ISIS. And then it has spent the last week bombing the snot out of Kurdish PKK positions in Iraq. If Turkey has engaged in further attacks against ISIS, I haven’t seen it reported, whereas there Turkey has attacked Kurdish positions on a daily basis. Nor do I believe that an extensive campaign would be possible without close coordination between the US and Turkey to avoid fratricide, mid-air collisions, etc., if their forces are operating in the same airspace against the same targets. And as I discuss below, it is unlikely such coordination is occurring.

In sum, under the pretext of attacking ISIS Turkey is attacking its real enemy, the Kurds, who happen to be the only effective ground force against ISIS, and who in addition to pushing them out of Kobane have been taking territory from ISIS and pushing it back towards Raqqa. Indeed, the Kurds have pushed ISIS away from virtually all of the Syria-Turkey border. But in addition to inflicting damage on the Kurds, the Turkish attacks will also no doubt divert Kurdish resources into a renewed war against Turkey, thereby further diminishing pressure on ISIS.

Put differently, the allegedly anti-ISIS Turkish campaign is objectively pro-ISIS.

This is not surprising, because Turkey has always perceived the Kurds-especially the PKK-as a true enemy, and has hardly been stalwart anti-ISIS. Indeed, there is much circumstantial evidence that elements in Turkey support ISIS. Turkey did precious little to seal the border with Syria, thereby allowing ISIS to move men from Turkey into Syria. Furthermore, most of ISIS’s oil is sold in Turkey. Turkey says that the PKK are atheist Marxists, but it is more accurate to say that the real beef is that they are not Sunni Islamists like Erdogan, which means that he has more affinity on sectarian grounds for ISIS than he does the Kurds.

Today Egypt went even further, explicitly accusing Turkey of supporting ISIS fighters in the Sinai.

But it gets better! The supposed deal between the US and Turkey for the use of airbases is only a verbal understanding. And we know about the reliability of verbal understandings in that part of the world, don’t we?  (This is why I doubt there is any serious coordination between US and Turkish air forces, and why I believe that there is no serious Turkish action against ISIS.)

Further, no formal deal is expected for weeks:

But the Pentagon said it will take “weeks” before U.S. airstrikes are launched from Turkish soil, as officials are still working out final arrangements. Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters Monday that several bases were being looked at to house U.S. aircraft for missions against the Islamic State.

My guess is that “weeks” will turn into “never.” Erdogan, engaged in an intense domestic political battle following his bruising electoral defeat (to which a Kurdish party greatly contributed) is waging war on the PKK both because he hates them and because it plays well domestically, thereby boosting his position in coalition negotiations or a snap election. He will string out negotiations with the US until he accomplishes his political objectives, and then his enthusiasm for letting the US use Turkish bases will evaporate. Erdogan dangled supporting the US against ISIS to get a US (and NATO) green light to attack the Kurds: he will take the latter and renege on the former.

Even if, against my strong expectation, Turkey does permit US use of its bases, this will matter militarily only if the airpower supports and is coordinated with a strong ground force. At present, the only real ground force is Kurdish, and (a) Turkey is attacking the Kurds and (b) do you really think Erdogan is going to permit the use of the bases in a way that strengthens the Kurds? This is all so farcical.

This is not the first time the US has betrayed the Kurds: it has been a habit for going on 30 years. But this most recent action, betraying them again in the name of fighting ISIS, when in fact this betrayal will undermine the anti-ISIS campaign, is the most shameful of all.

Turkey has been opposed to US interests since Erdogan’s assumption of power. It has thwarted us at every turn. Only a fool would believe Erdogan (one of the leaders whom Obama said he got on best with-ha!) has changed his tune. I will certainly not discount the possibility that Obama and Kerry are fools of the first order, but I think it is more likely that this is a truly cynical ploy, with Obama pretending to have achieved a great diplomatic victory that advances the campaign against ISIS, when in fact it does nothing of the sort (and indeed is likely to do the exact opposite).

Idiocy or perfidy. Hell of a choice.

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July 21, 2015

Perhaps There is an Alternate Universe Where This All Makes Sense

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 6:45 pm

The US has entered into  deal with Iran that will unfreeze $100 to $15o billion in assets, and which will also unleash an investment bonanza in the country going forward. (With unseemly haste, the German vice chancellor has already run to Tehran to rekindle economic ties.) Iran is a longtime supporter of Hezbollah and the Syrian government, and all sentient beings (and by saying this I understand I exclude John Kerry and Barack Obama) realize that Iran will spend some of this windfall on Hezbollah, Syria, and other equally charming organizations and countries. Indeed, Iran has made plain that it will do so:

In relevant remarks on Monday, renowned political analyst Dr. Mohammad Marandi said that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told him in Vienna last week that Iran would continue to supply arms to the regional nations even under a final nuclear deal.

“When we were in Vienna, the Arab reporters asked me if Iran would continue arms aids to its regional allies under the final deal, and when I asked Mr. Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, the question, he told me that Iran would continue the arms supply policy,” Marandi, a Tehran University Professor, said.

“Mr. Zarif told me that Iran would continue its arms aid to the regional nations and he told me that it would be in violation of the UN Security Council resolution (that was adopted earlier today), but it would not be in opposition to the agreement (also known as the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action),” he reiterated adding that Zarif had not asked him to remain unnamed when reflecting the answer to the reporters.

Simultaneously, however, the US is sanctioning Hezbollah officials for their involvement in the Syrian bloodbath:

The U.S. government on Tuesday imposed sanctions on three leaders of the militant group Hezbollah and a businessman in Lebanon, saying they were key players in the group’s military operations in Syria.

The sanctions were imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department.

“The United States will continue to aggressively target (Hezbollah) for its terrorist activities worldwide as well as its ongoing support to (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad’s ruthless military campaign in Syria,” said Adam Szubin, the Treasury Department’s acting under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Jesus H. Christ: Who is the biggest supporter of “Assad’s ruthless military campaign in Syria”? Iran! So we are freeing billions to a country that will use it to support Assad’s butchery but we are sanctioning Hezbollah (which is pretty much a wholly-owned Iranian subsidiary) because it supports Assad’s butchery.

You cannot make up this stuff. It is impossible.

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June 23, 2015

Alexander the Great: Why Hamilton Deserves His Spot-Alone-on the Ten Spot

Filed under: Economics,History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 7:20 pm

Last week the Treasury Department announced that in a redesign of the $10 bill, Alexander Hamilton would be replaced, joined, or supplemented by a Historical American Woman to be Named Later. Considering that Jackson, Grant, McKinley, and Cleveland also grace US Federal Reserve Notes, the decision to replace Hamilton of all people is lamentable in the extreme. Even overlooking his, to put mildly, controversial career, as a hater of paper money, assassin (and proud of it!) of the predecessor to the Fed, and an economic imbecile, Jackson in particular is a dubious choice to grace a greenback.

Hamilton, in contrast, merits sole possession of a widely circulated bill because it is hard to identify any figure, of any sex, president or no, who made a greater contribution to American history, and to its economic success. Off the top of my head:

  • A successful and brave staff and line officer during the Revolution. After long service on Washington’s staff (which led some to conclude, wrongly, that he was Washington’s brain), he took command of the Continental light infantry at Yorktown, and led the successful assault on Redoubt Number 10 which, along with the fall of adjoining Redoubt Number 9 to the French, sealed the fate of the besieged town.
  • The moving force (along with Madison) of the Annapolis Convention, which played a role in the convocation of the Constitutional Convention the next year.
  • Played a major role in the Convention.
  • Along with Madison, as the author of the Federalist Papers, provided the intellectual case for the passage of the Constitution. Worked assiduously to secure ratification of the Constitution.
  • First, and most important, Secretary of the Treasury. He righted the nation’s fraught fiscal situation, and made the nation creditworthy. He crafted a comprehensive fiscal and financial framework, including taxation, debt, and a national bank. (Even as the descendent of some Whiskey Rebels who objected to the whiskey taxes that were part of Hamilton’s system, I even understand his role as commander of the US forces sent to disperse the Rebels.) His Reports on Manufactures and Public Credit were incredibly economically sophisticated, and eminently practical. (I remember Robert Lucas in Econ 331 or 332 expressing his awe at Hamilton’s Reports.) It is not an exaggeration to say that the United States could not possibly have developed the way it did and as rapidly it did without his farsighted fiscal and economic stewardship
  • Founder of the Bank of New York, which exists to this day.
  • A man of liberal (in the Adam Smith/David Hume sense of the word) views, i.e., a lover of liberty. For all races. He was one of the few Founders who was not only a frank opponent of slavery and advocate of emancipation, but who also viewed those of African heritage equal as humans to whites.
  • A man who rose from extremely poor beginnings to become a colossus. Proof that birth is not fate, and that America has long been a land of opportunity for the able, ambitious, and hard working. (At Cal-Berkeley those sentences would be considered a “microaggression.” 1. I don’t do microaggressions. I move straight onto macroaggressions. Or maybe I pool and tranche my microaggressions to create MBS: Microaggression Backed Securities. 2. Cal-Berkeley can sod off.)

In sum: Military hero. Political giant. Political scientist. Economist. Practical manager. Entrepreneur. I defy you to find anyone with as diversified a portfolio as Alexander Hamilton. He truly was Alexander the Great.

The fact that the Treasury is even countenancing removing Hamilton is proof of the historical idiocy of supposedly educated Americans. The excuse that the $10 bill was next in line for a redesign doesn’t cut it. That sounds like typical bureaucratic cowardice, hiding behind procedure and routine to avoid defending a position that is indefensible on the merits.

So by all means put a woman on a bill. Just not the $10. And use this as an opportunity to teach Americans who know far too little about their past about one of the most remarkable figures in American history.

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May 26, 2015

Contrary to What Obama Says, the Ayatollahs Don’t Believe That It’s the Economy, Stupid

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 12:48 pm

Obama gave an interview with his Boswell (on Middle East matters, anyways), Jeffrey Goldberg. In it, Goldberg asked how Obama could be confident in making a deal with a virulently anti-Semitic state. (Goldberg omitted  that it is also a state that has “death to America” as its rallying cry, which is as or more important to Americans.) Respondeth the (self-identified) sage:

“Well the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival. It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations. You know, if you look at the history of anti-Semitism, Jeff, there were a whole lot of European leaders—and there were deep strains of anti-Semitism in this country—” [Of course, Obama can’t resist slagging Americans by comparing them to “Death to Israel” ayatollahs and “European leaders”, e.g., Hitler.]

I interjected by suggesting that anti-Semitic European leaders made irrational decisions, to which Obama responded, “They may make irrational decisions with respect to discrimination, with respect to trying to use anti-Semitic rhetoric as an organizing tool. [Does Obama believe that anti-Semitic rhetoric was an “organizing tool” for the Nazis? If he is excluding them from this, then he is dodging Goldberg’s question.] At the margins, where the costs are low, they may pursue policies based on hatred as opposed to self-interest. But the costs here are not low, and what we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have. That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country, which requires that they get themselves out of what is a deep economic rut that we’ve put them in, and on that basis they are then willing and prepared potentially to strike an agreement on their nuclear program.”

That all sounds coolly analytical and everything (“organizing tool”, “at the margins where the costs are low”) but it is poppycock dressed up in academic jargon grounded in a category error. Specifically, Obama profoundly misunderstands rationality, and projects his own views of what is rational on others, specifically the Iranians (though he projects on others, including Putin, in other contexts).

Obama argues that “being rational” involves things like “staying in power” and “keeping your economy afloat.” Conversely, he believes that except as an instrument to achieve these ends, anti-Semitism, expansionism, and presumably anti-Americanism and Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic exceptionalism, are irrational. Obama further believes, apparently, that rational imperatives (e.g., a stronger economy, better living standards for Iranians), will trump these irrational urges.

This fundamentally misunderstands what Hayek pointed out long ago: rationality relates to the application of the means best calculated to achieved desired ends. It does not relate to the desired ends themselves, which are inherently subjective and effectively beyond objective reason or logic. In economic terms, if the Iranian leadership gets subjective utility out of killing Jews and Americans and Sunnis, and extending the reach of the Islamic revolution, “rationality” involves the effectiveness of the means chosen to kill Jews, Americans, and Sunnis, and extend the reach of the Islamic revolution, not these objectives themselves. Again, the Nazi example is instructive. Given the costs of pursuing the Holocaust, it may seem irrational. But the Nazis pursued it with a purpose despite these costs. This was rational because they got intense satisfaction out of killing Jews. The huge cost of exterminating the Jews is a testament to its importance to them, not an indication of their irrationality.

In other words, Obama is engaged in the worst kind of mirror imaging, defining his preferences and world view to be “rational”, and projecting them onto the Iranians. In the near term, the main implication Obama and the administration draw from this is that “rational” economic imperatives will drive the Iranians to moderate their aggressiveness and imperial ambitions. The administration is basically the ventriloquist for this article from Reuters.

This is flatly at odds with their current behavior. A severely economically constrained Iranian regime is bending every fiber and digging deep into its limited resources to prop up Assad, foment revolt in Yemen, and fight Isis in Iraq. This indicates what its strong preferences are, and if it receives tens of billions of additional resources, it will inevitably indulge these preferences by increasing its spending on them. Expand their opportunity set, and Iran will engage in more anti-Semitism, more anti-Americanism, more Islamism, and more Persian imperialism. Further, it will respond to domestic discontent not by appeasing it through focusing like a laser on the economy, but by focusing like a laser on crushing the opposition, as it did in 2009 (when Obama stood aside, clearly signaling that he had chosen the ayatollahs over the Iranian people). And all that will be perfectly rational.

Narcissist that he is, mirror imaging comes naturally to Obama. And this very mirror imaging explains why Obama has been surprised so frequently by world events, most notably in the Middle East, but not limited to there by any means. People don’t do what he expects because he expects them to do what he would even though they inhabit different universes. These surprises have translated into failures and fiascos, and the most dramatic decline in America’s strategic position since at least Vietnam, and perhaps even including Vietnam. John Kerry says to give him and Obama the benefit of the doubt. Sorry, but sad experience tells us that would be truly, well, irrational.

Mirror imaging was bad enough when the Soviets were the object of it, but it is beyond insane with the Iranians, who inhabit an entirely different mental, moral, cultural, and religious universe than most Americans do, and certainly different than the one that transnational progressives like Obama inhabit. Ayatollahs don’t believe that it’s the economy, stupid. They believe it’s Islam and Shia Persian superiority, stupid. Given their very different values and preferences, they will make very different choices than Obama projects on them, meaning that he will be surprised, yet again.

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May 23, 2015

Don’t Sh*t the Troops

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 7:31 pm

I have been scathing in my criticism of the administration’s and the Pentagon’s dishonest spin about the ongoing fiasco in Iraq. Just when I think they’ve pegged the BS meter at 10, they crank it to 11, as in this statement by the appalling Chairman of the JCS, Martin Dempsey, who shamelessly covers for Obama  and his failures:

 Iraqi security forces weren’t “driven from” Ramadi, they “drove out of Ramadi,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here Wednesday.

. . . .

“This group of [Iraqi security forces] had been forward-deployed in al Anbar [province] – arguably the most dangerous part of Iraq,” he said. “They believed they were less well-supported. The tribes had begun to come together, but had not … allied themselves with the [security forces].”

The sandstorm precluded U.S. air support against ISIL, and the Iraqi commander on the ground made “what appears to be a unilateral decision to move to what he perceived to be a more defensible position,” the general said.

A more exquisite job of sh*t-house lawyering (or sea lawyering, as they call it in the Navy) would be hard to imagine. Excuse me, General, but they drove out because they were driven out. They drove out because they bugged out. They bugged out because they were outmanned, outgunned, unsupported, and suffering from the typical failures of leadership and morale that beset Iraqi formations. It is impossible to put a favorable gloss on this, but Dempsey did his level best to do so, and in the process brings shame and discredit onto the US and its military.

When he heard a statement that was transparently intended to cover up an unpleasant truth, my dad would say: “Don’t sh*t the troops.” Well, the senior uniformed officer in the US military establishment is shamelessly attempting to sh*t the troops, and the American people.

What’s almost as astounding is that both www.centcom.mil and www.pentagon.gov are leading their anti-ISIS war coverage with Dempsey’s remarks, meaning that the establishment is complicit in sh*tting the troops. This wasn’t a gaffe. It is official writ.

Dempsey is a repeat offender. Not long ago he said Ramadi was not important militarily or symbolically, thereby giving great offense to thousands of soldiers, sailors, and Marines (and their families) who fought and bled for Ramadi, and wrested a hard won victory from the predecessors of ISIS. Dempsey then compounded the offense by giving the typical celebrity non-apology-apology that included an “if” (“if I’ve added to your grief”) and a “but.” Real apologies are unconditional and unqualified. The man cannot leave soon enough.

What would someone telling it straight, and not sh*ting the troops, say? He wouldn’t say what Dempsey said:

“At the start I said three years,” he said. “That still might be the case, we may be able to achieve our objectives in three years. But I said then, and I reiterate now, that there may be tactical exchanges – some of which go the way of Iraqi security forces and others which go the way of ISIL. But the coalition has all the strategic advantages over time.”

He would say the current planned is doomed to failure, and that major changes are needed.

One change being considered is deploying American tactical air controllers/targeters. I wrote posts about this some months ago (like this one), and I definitely agree that this is necessary to make the air campaign more effective.* But in the absence of an even marginally credible ground force in Iraq, even a serious air campaign cannot defeat ISIS. A full-blooded American ground intervention would be required-either that, or turning the place into radioactive glass (which wouldn’t require TACs!). But the cost in lives and treasure is unlikely to be worth the gain. I therefore tend to agree with commenter Chris, and Bob Baer, that Iraq and Syria are doomed to devolve in to bloody statelets run by warlords, divided on sectarian and ethnic lines, and we should learn to live with that. Secure our economic interests, and let the locals party like it’s 699. Focus our attention on China and Russia, both of which have been particularly truculent lately.

In retrospect, it is clear that once Obama pulled out of Iraq in 2011, catastrophe was foreordained. The Iraqi state and military were too dysfunctional to combat effectively a relentless enemy.

Perhaps the situation could have been retrieved, at least partially, if the US had aggressively employed air power when Isis was on its rampage about a year ago, but Obama demurred. That allowed Isis to take Mosul, and expand in Anbar. It is now well-entrenched, and has sufficient human and material resources to withstand whatever the militarily feeble Iraqi and Syrian governments have to throw at it.

It’s about time to admit that. But from Obama through Dempsey to Pentagon press flacks we don’t get such honesty. Instead, we get a constant litany of troop-sh*tting. Enough already. All the spin in the world can’t conceal the obvious.

* I find it interesting that Anthony Cordesman, whom I admire greatly, says that TACs are “critical” because his first analysis of the air campaign mentioned their role only in passing. I wrote him about this, provided several historical references (e.g., some material about Arc Light raids in Vietnam and the role of controllers in aiding the XIX Tactical Air Force in NW Europe in WWII). He said he would put is research assistants to work on the subject, and I guess he has become convinced.

 

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May 19, 2015

Fiasco on the Euphrates

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 7:54 pm

The situation in Ramadi (and Anbar generally) is an utter fiasco, with the Iraqi forces reprising the rout that occurred in Mosul almost exactly a year ago, thereby helping re-equip Isis with brand new American equipment. To paraphrase Wellington: Isis came on in the same old way, and the Iraqi army ran away in the same old way.

The Shia Hashd militia are claiming that they will retake Ramadi. As if. In Patton’s felicitous phrase, they couldn’t fight their way out of a piss soaked paper bag, especially in the offensive: “militia” means “militarily ineffective amateurs”. Oh they will no doubt die in large numbers, but in another Patton phrase: “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” (Or sect, as is the case here.) Their reputation alone will drive those few Anbari Sunnis who haven’t thrown over to Isis out of self-preservation into arms of the caliphate.

The only thing that can redeem the situation is a major commitment of American ground forces. But that is not in the cards. The most Obama could muster today was a milquetoast statement that he was “weighing” “accelerating” training of Iraqi troops. That is so wildly inadequate to the emergency of the moment that one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Obama has no one to blame but himself for the appalling choices that face him: he is entirely responsible for this dilemma because of an earlier choice that he made eagerly, indeed, triumphantly. When a preening and supercilious Obama decided to declare victory in Iraq, and withdraw every American soldier, Marine, and airman from the country, he opened the door for Isis. And once Isis barged through, he was left with two, and only two, alternatives: go back in heavy with a major commitment of American combat forces, or turn the mess over to Iran to sort out.

He is constitutionally unable to make the former choice, so by default, he is left with the latter. This helps to explain (but is not the entire explanation) for his deference to Iran on everything. But this will prove unavailing as well, because for all of its blood curdling rhetoric, Iran does not have the military capacity to achieve anything except get a lot of people killed.

So absent a road to Jerusalem conversion by Obama, Isis will consolidate, and likely expand, its hold in Anbar and other parts of Iraq.

Adding insult to injury are statements from the administration and the Pentagon that are so divorced from reality that they would make Baghdad Bob blush. Baghdad Brett McGurk is probably the worst offender, but he has much company.

As I’ve written before, you know that most people in the military must be beside themselves watching this. As I’ve also written, this is being enabled, rather than opposed, by the senior military leadership, especially the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. They should all be reading Dereliction of Duty, and thinking very, very hard about how its lessons apply to them, today.

The situation is arguably beyond recovery, at least at any affordable cost. And even were Obama to go against ever instinct in his body and decide to intervene with American combat troops, I shudder to think of going to war under such an uncertain and inept commander.

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