Streetwise Professor

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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May 17, 2015

One Does Not Win Wars By Special Operations Alone

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

The administration is hyping an allegedly successful Delta Force attack on an Isis target in Syria. I say “allegedly successful” because even though it appears that at least one high value target was killed, and some intelligence was seized, there are doubts that the raid killed the original target. But even if the raid was successful in that it achieved its objective, it testifies to the broader strategic failure of the American campaign to “counter Isis.”

One does not win wars by special operations alone. As their name implies, special operations are special, exceptional. They can be an important and very specialized component of a military campaign that uses all elements of combat power to destroy a conventional or semi-conventional enemy force that holds territory: they cannot be the entire campaign, or even the main element of that campaign. Special operations support the main operations. They are not a substitute for infantry, armor, artillery, and airpower: they are a complement.

One important function that special operations can perform is reconnaissance and intelligence collection. The information provided by special operators can be used to identify enemy weaknesses and strengths, anticipate enemy movements, and plan main force attacks to destroy enemy units and wrest territory from them.

Even if the Delta operators seized considerable intelligence in the raid, this information will be largely useless in operations against Isis combat power because there is no American or coalition combat force that can use it to devise an effective attack against that power.

Another important task special operation forces can perform is direct action against enemy command, control, and logistics. Such actions can sow confusion in the enemy’s ranks and the minds of its commanders; disrupt communications; impede coordination, command and control, thereby reducing the enemy’s operational effectiveness; and divert forces that otherwise could be used to attack or defend against one’s main forces. But a main force is required to exploit these benefits.

Special operations were employed in these ways during the Iraq War, and in particular in Anbar during the Surge. SEALs and Delta conducted almost daily raids on insurgents and collected significant intelligence that was used by conventional infantry, armor, and air forces in near real time to mount attacks against insurgent targets, and to repel insurgent attacks. The pressure from special operations direct actions attrited the enemy and forced its leadership to devote considerable resources on self-defense. Snipers provided by special operations forces were particularly effective at killing and demoralizing the insurgents.

That is, special operations were a major force multiplier in Iraq, especially in 2007-2008. But that was because there was a force to multiply. Special operations were a key component of a full-spectrum campaign involving conventional American forces and local Sunni tribal auxiliaries. This campaign eventually resulted in a hard-won victory that Obama frittered away in 2011. Today’s news that Ramadi, and with it virtually all of Anbar, are in Isis hands shows that the reversal of fortune is all but complete.

But if you multiply nothing by something, even a big something, you still end up with nothing. And it is abundantly clear that in Iraq and Syria, we got nothin’ for special forces to multiply. Meaning that the ultimate effect of yesterday’s Delta raid, and any other raids to come, will be effectively zero.

Given the grave risks of these raids, the limited number of operators, and the very high cost of training and retaining these unique personnel, they should not be employed in operationally and strategically barren operations. It is almost certain that the recent raid in Syria will be operationally and strategically barren. It should not have been mounted, and similar operations should not be mounted in the future, except as part of a sound operational plan that utilizes conventional forces to achieve a strategically meaningful objective.

Obama is categorically opposed to using conventional forces in Iraq and Syria, but feels that he has to do something, and drones and special forces raids are something, even if they accomplish little or nothing of strategic importance. It is pointless to rely  on these instruments of national power, which are only truly useful if joined up with other elements of that power, as the backbone of a campaign against Isis. If there is a more telling testament to the strategic vacuity of Obama’s “slow burn” campaign than the daring raid in Syria, I would be hard pressed to name it. So much professional expertise and courage put at grave risk to achieve a glittering tactical victory that will have no effect on the ultimate outcome in Syria and Iraq. One cannot win wars by special operations alone, and it borders on the criminal even to try.

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May 16, 2015

Spinning Like Dervishes on Iran, Syria, and Iraq

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:22 pm

Obama held his stop-worrying-and-learn-how-to-love-the-Iranian-bomb “summit” with the GCC at Camp David. Well,”summit” is something of an overstatement, because four of the most important GCC leaders (most notably Saudi Arabia’s King Salman) took a pass and sent deputies instead. The world saw this as a snub, but the administration spun it as no big deal.

Speaking of deputies and spin, afterwards Ben Rhodes, “deputy national security adviser for strategic communication”, came out spinning like a dervish. One statement was more ridiculous than the next. The Iranians would use the 11 (or is it 12) figure windfall to rebuild their sanction-stricken economy rather than to arm themselves or sow discord abroad. (If they are so anxious to address domestic issues, why endure sanctions for so long?) Further, Ben intoned, the the Iranians are indeed acting aggressively in the Middle East, but their preferred methods are inexpensive, so they have no need to spend the added billions on further aggressive measures. (That’s supposed to inspire confidence? Ever think that its current choice of methods is a concession to their financial straits, and with more money Iran just might adopt new, more expensive-and effective-methods? Further, I’m pretty sure they will pour a lot more into Syria once they get more to pour.) The administration also opined that there is no reason for an arms race in the aftermath of the deal. (Easy for them to say.)

My favorite, though, was Rhodes opining that the deal was “transactional” and not “transformational”, and was focused on the nuclear issue alone. Sorry, Ben, but you don’t get to limit the effects to the ones you intend. Unintended consequences are inevitable. And unintended does not mean unpredictable. The predictable implications-an arms race, including a nuclear arms race, increased Iranian aggressiveness, and higher likelihood of a confrontation that results in a war-are pretty transformational.

Later, Obama strode out to deliver his own spin. More unpersuasive, not to say delusional, bilge. The only real memorial moment was when he was asked about alleged Syrian use of chlorine bombs, and whether this breached his notorious “red line” (ha!) An obviously peeved Obama (he snarkily said he didn’t know why the Al Jazeera America reporter who asked the question was there) gave a lesson in alternative history. He said that “Chlorine, chlorine, itself, historically has not been listed as a chemical weapon, but when it is used in this fashion, can be considered a prohibited use of that particular chemical.” (Obviously, there was no teleprompter.)

Er, the first major chemical weapons attack, almost exactly 100 years ago at the Battle of Ypres (22 April, 1915), involved chlorine. Chlorine was widely used in WWI, and has been used subsequently. Try telling the French, Algerians, and Canadians gassed at Ypres that “historically” chlorine isn’t considered a CW. As Powerline put it, Obama’s epistemology is narcissistic. He believes (or says to believe) things because they are convenient and useful, rather than because they are true. Another Assad violation of the (already risible) chemical weapons red line is inconvenient, so Obama believes that chlorine is not a chemical weapon.

But the spinning didn’t end with the Iran deal or red lines. The administration has been spinning events in Iraq with particular fury, in large part because things there are spinning out of control.

Just yesterday, the chief of staff of Operation Inherent Resolve claimed that the US strategy against ISIS is working:

The coalition and Iraqi security forces strategy to defeat and dismantle the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant extremist group is clear and on track, the chief of staff of Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said today.

As he was saying this, ISIS was mounting a furious assault at Ramadi, and was capturing most of the government buildings. If you look at a situation map, you’ll see that ISIS controls the central position in the city, and that Iraqi units are in isolated pockets strung out around its perimeter, vulnerable to being assaulted and taken one at a time.

The official take on the battle is a barrage of euphemisms. “Contested.” “Fluid.” “Dynamic.” Well, maybe, but the best interpretation to put on that is that the battle has yet to be decided. One certainly cannot spin that into “our strategy is working.”

The execrable Brett “Slow Burn” McGurk, “Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter-ISIL” (doesn’t that strike fear?!), took the spin to Twitter, claiming that the coalition was mounting intense air attacks in Ramadi. Intense, as in four, which is a joke. Perhaps we are not able to hit more because we don’t have the necessary targeting assets on the ground. But if that’s true, it tells you that the campaign is doomed to be ineffective. (I asked McGurk to please point me to the military text which espoused the “slow burn” strategy. Curiously, he didn’t respond. He was probably too busy reading Clausewitz or something.)

The yawning divide between what appears to be happening on the ground in Ramadi, Baiji, and elsewhere and the Pentagon’s and administration’s Winning! narrative is bringing back unpleasant memories of a similar disconnect that cratered the military’s and government’s credibility in Vietnam. This is not good.

Iran, the Persian Gulf, Syria, Iraq. Everything is going pear shaped, but everything emanating from the administration is a mix of magical thinking and transparently ridiculous spin. Observing this, people in the region are going to figure that at least for the next 20 months, American policy will be adrift, and the administration will be content to watch the region spin out of control. And it will proceed to do so. But you can be sure that all the while, the administration will insist, Kevin Bacon like, that all is well, when anyone with eyes will know it isn’t.

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May 12, 2015

Samantha Power, Magical Thinker–Like Her Boss

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 12:45 pm

This administration has a well-documented track record for making delusional statements, but this one by Samantha Power (in an interview with Charlie Rose) is in the running for Most Delusional:  “I think you’re going to see a push on diplomacy in the coming weeks, and it is our hope that perhaps also, if the nuclear deal can go forward and we get the terms that we need in that space, that you’ll start to see a shift in Iran’s posture [on Syria].”

Why? First, because “Iran is stretched” by its commitments to Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

Um, the $50 billion “down payment”, with more to follow, will unstretch Iran quite a bit. It will provide a lot of wherewithal that they can pump into Syria, and elsewhere. That Iran has spent such large sums on Syria at a time when it is desperately burdened by sanctions demonstrates clearly the high strategic value that the mullahs place on Assad, and controlling Syria. The deal which Powers is flogging will increase Iran’s capability to achieve its strategic objectives. The clear implication is that Iran will increase dramatically its support for Assad once a deal is done, not withdraw it as Powers fantasizes.

Second, she claims that Iran “wants to be part of the international community.” Typically idiotic transnational progressive projection. No. The mullahs don’t crave to be liked by Samantha and the transnatprog set: countries that screech daily about exterminating Israel aren’t all that concerned about their image in the West. Indeed, these theocrats despise the West. That they say they want to be part of the international community just tells you that they have figured out that Western elites lap up that bilge.

Iran wants to be free to pursue its objectives without constraints from the international community. Its role in Syria has nothing to do with the constraints it currently faces, and once the sanctions are lifted, there is zero possibility that other constraints will be imposed because of its role in Syria.

Now let’s turn to reality. There are reports that Assad’s chief of the National Security Bureau has been arrested. Why? For plotting a coup. The reason for his dissatisfaction? Iran’s increasing control over the Syrian government:

The role being played in the war by Iran, Syria’s regional ally, is said to be at the heart of the arguments, with some of the “inner circle” afraid that Iranian officials now have more power than they do.

Iran’s influence has been crucial in bolstering Syria’s defences against the rebels, but even that has been crumbling in the face of recent rebel advances in the north.

So Iran is just going to drop Syria because it wants to be popular at Davos? Obviously not. It is intent on controlling Syria, and a nuclear deal will enhance its ability to do so.

Like with so many other things, this administration’s view of reality is totally inverted. Obama and his minions say the Iran deal will cure every ill in the Middle East. In fact, it will exacerbate almost all of them because it will dramatically enhance the resources and capabilities of a revisionist power that threatens virtually every other nation in the region. The conflict in Syria will become more intense and protracted, not less, when Iran gets its hands on billions with the potential to make billions more. And conflicts with Gulf countries are much more likely in a post-deal world. It is also likely that a resurgent Iran would raise deep alarm in Turkey, especially given that Turkey is adamantly anti-Assad. Thus, conflict with Turkey is more likely too.

This deal is a Pandora’s Box. With one difference. I don’t think that hope is inside of it.

 

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May 11, 2015

Merkel in Moscow: A Laudable Sentiment, A Misguided Message, and a Lost Opportunity

Filed under: History,Military,Russia — The Professor @ 7:17 pm

Angela Merkel tried to walk a thin line on VE Day. She traveled to Russia, but did not attend the atavistic, militaristic, and jingoistic parade on the 9th. Instead, along with Putin, she laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on the 10th. She also met with Putin, and criticized him for Crimea and Donbas.

Merkel said this to explain her visit:

“We cannot close the book on our history,” Ms. Merkel said in her weekly video message May 2. Despite deep differences with Russia over Ukraine, she said, “it is important for me to lay a wreath on May 10 together with the Russian president in remembrance of the millions of dead for which Germany is responsible from World War II.”

Those are laudable sentiments, but she could have done things differently, and better. Indeed, her Russian-centric approach is deeply flawed, and has implications for current events.

Ukraine and Belarus suffered far more, proportionally, than did Russia during WWII. Not that Russia got off lightly. Clearly not. But in terms of loss of life, and in terms of German war crimes, Ukraine and Belarus were ground zero.

Merkel could have and should have gone to Kiev to participate in Ukraine’s far more restrained and somber commemoration. She should have laid a wreath there, in remembrance of the millions of dead in Ukraine for which Germany is responsible. Then she could have gone to Moscow on the 10th.

By going to Moscow only, and not Kiev, she implicitly accepted Russia’s assertion that it is the heir to the Soviet Union; that to Russia is due the honor and the glory for defeating the Nazis; and that Germany owes apologies to Russia, or that at least Russia accepts apologies on behalf of all other ex-Soviet peoples. This implicitly subordinates Ukraine, Belarus and other former-SSRs to Russia. By going to Russia only, she implicitly stated that Russia is the first among nations spawned from the collapse of the USSR, and that the others are inferiors.

This is a particularly dangerous message to be sending now, when Russia is quite explicitly attempting to subordinate these other nations by force, economic pressure, and subversion. Merkel is effectively validating Putin’s belief that Ukraine is not a “real country,” and that Ukraine’s independence is illegitimate and a historical injustice.

By visiting Kiev, Merkel could have sent a very different message. She could have paid homage to those that Germany victimized from 1941-1945, while also saying that the lesson and legacy of the Second World War should be that large aggressive nations should not dominate small and weak ones.  Should could have implicitly upbraided Putin, given support to those he wants to dominate, and made amends for wrongs that Germany inflicted on non-Russians.

Merkel walked a thin line, but she could have walked a much better one.

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May 7, 2015

No Buts. Period.

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 6:48 pm

A few words about Garland.

First, the traffic cop who blew away two Islamist would-be mass murders is a total badass. He took out two guys who surprised him and were spraying him with assault weapon fire: pictures from the scene show dozens of evidence markers on the ground, most of which are likely indicating ejected brass from their assault weapons. His assailants were wearing body armor, which means he took them out with freaking head shots while taking rifle fire. With a service pistol. If that isn’t coolness and courage under fire, I don’t know what is.

I wonder if the guy has a military background, because most cops are not noted for their marksmanship. That was some serious shooting under the most disadvantageous and stressful conditions possible. He must spend a lot of time at the range, and must be thanking God that the freaks who attacked him apparently didn’t, going with the tried-and-true Muslim spray and pray thing. There are a lot of Salafists pushing up rocks in Iraq and Afghanistan because of that. I hope they keep it up.

Second, the American-born leader of this suicide mission had been convicted of a terrorism-related offense, and was on a watch list. So how the hell was he able to get his hands on weaponry that was fortunately too powerful for him and his Pakistani buddy to handle? The FBI watched this guy about as well as he watched Tamerlan Tsarnaev. (So yeah, Al Sharpton. Let’s federalize all law enforcement. Here’s a case-excuse me, another case-where the feds fucked up, and the local yokel saved the day.)

Third, this event has provoked the left into paroxysms of rage . . . at Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders, for having the audacity to engage in politically incorrect speech. As in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, I’ve lost count at the number of talking heads and pixel stained wretches who condemn the violence but . . . The “but” involves some variant on the theme that Geller engaged in hate speech, and had it coming, or at least the government should constrain such offensive speech to prevent such unfortunate events from recurring.  Indeed, the “buts” are more frequent and insistent here, because the Hebdo staff were hard core leftists, and Geller and Wilder are most definitely not.

As my father would say when I would try to talk my way out of something: No buts. Period.

I will not spend a millisecond discussing Pamela Geller’s words or beliefs, because they are utterly irrelevant. Utterly, completely irrelevant. The government’s powers to limit speech are extremely limited, and rightly so. Geller’s speech and actions are clearly within the protected zone, and for good reason, particularly for speech with political or religious content.

What is “hateful” or “offensive” is inherently subjective. Giving the government the power to censor or silence or punish speech because someone might be offended, or because he or she might deem words to be hateful, is to give it virtually unlimited power to oppress its political opponents. It is an instrument of social and political coercion and control.

As surely as day follows night, when being offended is grounds to call on the government to silence those who oppress those giving offense, the ranks of the offended and aggrieved will metastasize like the most virulent cancer. The ins will use “hate speech” as a club to bludgeon the outs. It will stifle all public discourse, as the circle of offensiveness will grow ever wider, like a drop of oil on still water. The most insistent and fanatical and politically driven-who are the most easily offended, and the most willing to opportunistically claim to be offended-will have a veto over what can be said, and will use it ruthlessly to enhance their power.

Cliff Asness asked on Twitter where the leftists who were die-hard advocates of free speech back in the ’60s and ’70s went. The answer to that question is almost trivial. When the left was seeking power, free speech served its interests as a way of undermining the establishment that it hated and wanted to displace. As its power grew, its interest in free speech contracted accordingly. What was a weapon that it could employ against the establishment became a threat as it became the establishment. Put differently: the left’s interest in free speech varies inversely with its power.

This can be seen in the time series, but particularly in the cross section. The institutions that the left dominates are the most hostile to free speech. Just look at any university if you doubt this. Conversely, they are most insistent about contrarian voice and speech in those institutions that they do not control, such as churches.

Insofar as those whom the left is rallying to defend in the Geller/Garland affair-that is, Muslims-are concerned, they outdo themselves. In defending Muslims, they infantilize and patronize them: apparently they believe Muslims are so incapable of self-control that they must be shielded from any hateful words, because they are liable to go on a murderous rampage if they hear them. And since when was the left so solicitous of the sensitivities of the religious? Well never, actually, including now. Muslims, and the phantom phenomenon of “Islamaphobia”, are merely battering rams that the left can use to attack its real enemies, i.e., anyone to their right, religious Christians (n.b., one of whom I am most definitely not) and Jews, Jacksonian Americans, traditionalists, libertarians, etc. (The left’s “other” is quite diverse.)

The fact that a local traffic cop was the only thing that saved hundreds from the homicidal plans of two Islamist fanatics (one of them a native born American citizen) is deeply concerning. But what is far more disturbing is that this isn’t what disturbs what I would wager is a clear majority of the chattering class. What disturbs them (or what they opportunistically claim disturbs them) is speech that they disagree with, and which they are hell-bent on limiting the rights to engage in such speech. They are not targeting hate speech: they are targeting speech and speakers that they hate.

Fine. As we say in Texas: Come and take it.

come_and_take_it

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May 4, 2015

The Return of the Five O’Clock Follies? The Military Is Risking Its Credibility In the War On ISIS

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 4:07 pm

The US military’s credibility is at serious risk due to its don’t-worry-be-happy disclosures about the war against ISIS. Much independent reporting today strongly suggests that ISIS is in control of a substantial portion of the Baiji refinery, and that the small Iraqi garrison is in danger of being overrun: and you know what ISIS does when that happens. But the military’s Kevin Bacon-esque take couldn’t be more different:

 While Beiji and Ramadi in Iraq remain contested between Iraqi security forces and extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants, ISIL is experiencing setbacks, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said Friday.

If things are going so swimmingly  in Baiji, why the relatively intense air activity there today?:

Near Bayji, eight airstrikes struck one large and five small ISIL tactical units, destroying five ISIL fighting positions, three ISIL buildings, an ISIL command and control facility, an ISIL mortar system, and an ISIL VBIED.

Remember Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Dempsey (who can’t leave soon enough to suit  me) declared that Baiji (in contrast to Ramadi) is strategically important. Then why are there only 200 Iraqi police and special forces there, hanging on for dear life?

Further, the military has been extremely slow in responding to accusations by the very dodgy Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (which appears to be one guy in a flat in London who is a conduit for Islamist agitprop) that US airstrikes had killed 64 civilians in a town near Kobani. All coverage of this event takes Syrian Observatory’s account as gospel. This is a very damaging charge, and the US should have responded quickly and authoritatively immediately, rather than letting this portrayal go around the world unchallenged. The military should also investigate the Syrian Observatory very closely and report what it learns about its sources, methods, and connections. If, as it appears, it is an information war outlet, it is unconscionable that we are letting it go unchallenged as the authoritative source on events in Syria that independent reporters cannot observe.

It’s not just me that is appalled by the Pentagon’s performance. The authoritative and respected analyst Anthony Cordesman rips the Pentagon’s recently released report on the progress of the “counter-ISIS” operation. This sentence suffices, but read the whole thing:

To put it bluntly, it seems to be far more of a public relations exercise than a serious attempt at reporting on nature and success of Operation Inherent Resolve.

We need to be honest and be real, and not repeat the self-defeating performance of the “Five-O’Clock Follies” of Vietnam infamy. Credibility is vital, and methinks it is being squandered to protect an administration that is only half-heartedly  (if that) committed to destroying ISIS. Reality will rear its ugly head sooner or later, and better to confront it now when something can be done about it.

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May 3, 2015

Does the CIA Believe in Unicorns and Faeries Too?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 9:30 pm

Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell made a rather stunning admission that the US intelligence community believed that the Arab Spring would be the death knell of Al Qaeda:

“We thought and told policy-makers that this outburst of popular revolt would damage al-Qaeda by undermining the group’s narrative,” Morell wrote in the book, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post ahead of its release later this month.

Instead, “the Arab Spring was a boon to Islamic extremists across both the Middle East and North Africa,” he said. “From a counterterrorism perspective, the Arab Spring had turned to winter.”

Do they also believe in unicorns and faeries at the CIA? Revolutionaries exploit political turmoil: the vast majority of political upheavals in the developing world have empowered radicals, rather than neutered them. And since when did a revolutionary situation in the Middle East in particular result in the emergence of a stable, peaceful state? The region’s nations have see-sawed between anarchic strife and repressive regimes. The region’s history is fodder for cynicism and world weariness, not flights of political fancy.

Neocons were rightly savaged after the Iraq invasion for their naive belief that Saddam’s overthrow would lead to the creation of a stable, peaceful, and democratic Iraq, and that this in turn could provide the foundation for a democratic Middle East. We all know how that worked out, which makes the naiveté of the CIA almost a decade later astounding.

Arab societies are deeply broken, and as Iraq demonstrates, throwing off the shackles of an authoritarian regime is almost certain to result in chaos and anarchy that provides opportunities to Islamist radicals. Indeed, the failure of the CIA in 2011 is more damning than the neocon failure in 2003 because the former had the benefit of the sad example of Iraq, which should tempered greatly any temptation to indulge in flights of optimism.

And God spare us from anyone who bases policies on “narratives,” or believes that the roots of Salafism in the Middle East are so shallow that it will wither and die because a few aging dictators are overthrown. Islamism is deeply embedded in Arab societies, and to believe that the fall of a Mubarak or a Khaddafy will transform Islamists into Jeffersonians is delusional.

It must also be noted that this benign view of the effect of the Arab Spring on Al Qaeda was very politically convenient for the administration. Especially in the aftermath of the elimination Osama, it supported Obama’s campaign pitch that “Al Qaeda is on the run.” This raises the possibility that the CIA slanted its analysis to benefit its political masters.

In brief, this is an intellectual failure of the first order. What confidence can we have that the mindset that led to this failure is not still exerting a baleful influence on intelligence analysis today? The CIA’s intellectual failure is particularly troubling given the extremely fraught situation in the Middle East. We need all the penetrating analysis we can get, and the thought that those charged with providing such analysis have very recently have proved to be naive fantasists is deeply troubling.

During the Cold War, Reagan’s dissatisfaction with the analysis provided by the CIA led him to form a Team B to give an alternative viewpoint about the USSR. In light of Morell’s admission, something similar is desperately needed now. But we all know that the likelihood we will get it is somewhere between zero and nil.

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May 2, 2015

Doing a Slow Burn

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:56 pm

I have read and re-read these remarks by Brett McGurk, “deputy special presidential envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL” (counter?-that tells you all you need to know) more times than I can count, and I still can hardly believe my eyes:

 Well, you certainly hope for such a tipping point, but our plan is for a long, steady, slow-burning campaign against Daish.

I have read more military history than I should have, and I cannot recall ever reading anything like this. I keep shaking my head. The closest thing that comes to mind is the Johnson-McNamara “gradual escalation” strategy, and if that’s the best comparison, it’s very bad news.

“Slow-burning” is the antithesis of pretty much every basic military principle. I remember one quote from Reef Points from my days at Navy, from Bull Halsey: “Hit hard, hit fast, hit often.” We are doing the reverse: hitting ineffectually, hitting slowly (by McGurk’s admission) and hitting infrequently. I further remember Napoleon: “The reason I beat the Austrians is that they did not know the value of five minutes.” Speed and initiative put the enemy on his heels. “Slow-burning” gives him the opportunity to prepare an dig in and marshal resources.

And that’s exactly what ISIS is doing, especially in Mosul. It is delusional to think that the Iraqi Army will be able to take Mosul, especially the way that ISIS has burrowed itself, literally and figuratively,  into every nook and cranny of the city. The Iraqis had a helluva time taking Tikrit, which was held by a few hundred ISIS fighters. Mosul will be orders of magnitude more difficult, no matter how many excavators we blow up.

The chance to keep ISIS out of Mosul was lost last June, when ISIS was exposed on the roads and deserts around the city. But Obama stayed his hand.

“Slow-burning” also allows ISIS to slaughter at its leisure, including hundreds of Yazidi prisoners who were massacred yesterday. By the time our slow-burning is over, will there be anyone alive left to save?

ISIS is actually on the offensive in places like Baiji and Ramadi. The US military is trying to spin that this is the last gasp of a force facing defeat:

While Beiji and Ramadi in Iraq remain contested between Iraqi security forces and extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants, ISIL is experiencing setbacks, a U.S. Central Command spokesman said today.

Speaking to reporters in the Pentagon via teleconference, Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder provided a weekly update on Centcom’s operational highlights in the fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

In central Iraq, Iraqi security forces continue to conduct operations to secure the city of Karmah, and they have retaken territory around the Tigris River canal, Ryder said.

“We’ve seen these efforts help isolate ISIL fighters who are in the town, and this has helped choke off their lines of communication,” he said, adding that from an operational perspective, such gains help to secure ISIL approaches to Baghdad.

Iraqi Forces Hold Ramadi

There have been no significant changes from last week’s operations in Ramadi, a city in western Iraq, where Iraqi forces continue to hold onto key ground while ISIL forces try to keep territory they captured in the eastern part of the city. “We expect Ramadi to remain contested,” Ryder said.

ISIL also continues to contest the Iraqi forces’ hold on Beiji’s oil refinery, he said.

“ISIL has shown that Beiji and Ramadi are strategically important to them, and they are committing a significant amount of limited resources to secure these locations,” Ryder said.

ISIL wants to “score a win” after suffering numerous recent setbacks, most notably in Tikrit, he added. “Because of this, both cities are expected to remain contested for some time,” he said.

Sorry. Not buying it. Most other information strongly suggests that the Iraqis are hanging on by their fingernails in both places. The initiative is with ISIS, not Iraq. At best, US airpower is keeping ISIS at bay and saving the Iraqis from another massacre. That’s not defeat, but it sure as hell ain’t victory. It’s sad to see the the military spinning so pathetically in defense of a campaign that you know deeply offends their professional and patriotic sensibilities.

In other embarrassments, the United States is telling citizens in Yemen: “Good luck! You’re on your own!”

That’s not true, exactly. The State Department is setting up the equivalent of a ride sharing program. Not exactly civis romanus sum, is it?

And there’s more! Iran seized a cargo ship in one of the most strategically important waterways in the world, the Straits of Hormuz, during a period of heightened tensions in the region: indeed there is an ongoing proxy war between Iran and the Saudis in Yemen. The Iranians are using some flimsy legal pretext to justify the seizure, but we all know that Iran is sending a message.

We also know that Obama is pretending not to hear. Again the Pentagon carried his water, issuing several mealy-mouthed statements to the effect that we aren’t sure whether the Maersk ship was in international waters, and that the US is under no obligation to defend a Marshall Islands flagged ship, despite the fact that the US has treaty obligations to that nation:

The Government of the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense matters in or relating to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. (b) This authority and responsibility includes: (1) the obligation to defend the Federated States of Micronesia and its people from attack or threats thereof as the United States and its citizens are defended;… (c) The Government of the United States confirms that it shall act in accordance with the principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations in the exercise of this authority and responsibility

And even if the US had no treaty obligation, for centuries-and especially since WWII-it has been a stalwart defender of the freedom of navigation. Twice (in 1981 and 1986) Reagan dispatched carrier groups to the Gulf of Sidra when Khadaffy claimed that these waters were off-limits to foreign ships. When the Libyans insanely challenged the carriers, F-14s splashed several of their fighters. When the Iranians began attacking tankers in the Persian Gulf in 1987, foreign tankers were put under the US flag, and escorted by US ships. Later, the US shelled and destroyed oil platforms that the Iranians were using as command and control facilities to coordinate their attacks on tankers.

By the way, the Iranian seizure of the Maersk Tigris has to be viewed against the background of this history.

But Obama is hell-bent on doing a deal with Iran, and he will sacrifice pretty much any American policy principle and alliance to get it.

All of this has me doing a slow burn.

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