Streetwise Professor

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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June 5, 2015

Is the NSA Spying on Foreign Government Hackers? I Sure As Hell Hope So

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia,Snowden — The Professor @ 7:08 pm

The latest expose from Putin’s little monkey, Edward Snowden, desperate to maintain his relevance, is that the NSA monitors addresses and cybersignatures linked to foreign hackers, and specifically, foreign government-connected hackers:

In mid-2012, Justice Department lawyers wrote two secret memos permitting the spy agency to begin hunting on Internet cables, without a warrant and on American soil, for data linked to computer intrusions originating abroad — including traffic that flows to suspicious Internet addresses or contains malware, the documents show.

The Justice Department allowed the agency to monitor only addresses and “cybersignatures” — patterns associated with computer intrusions — that it could tie to foreign governments. But the documents also note that the NSA sought permission to target hackers even when it could not establish any links to foreign powers.

To which I say: I sure as hell hope so.

It is more than a little ironic that this article appeared almost simultaneously with the revelation that some foreign organization or government hacked into US government computers, and stole the personal information of millions of government employees. It’s hard to imagine a more telling, vivid contrast between the highly abstract and limited treat to American’s personal privacy posed by the measures described in the NYT article, and the very real threat to that privacy posed by the target of those measures.

This all points out the utter asininity of the Snowden fanatics (who, alas, include some members of Congress and at least one presidential candidate), who appear completely unwilling or unable to think of trade-offs and real world choices, but instead focus monomaniacally on the threat to their personal privacy posed by the US government, while ignoring other more serious threats that (unlike the NSA) operate subject to no legal constraint or oversight whatsoever. Yes, the USG can be abusive, at times to the point of being tyrannical. But we need to speak of specific cases.

Tell me. Whom do you believe is a bigger threat to your privacy? The NSA or hackers, foreign hackers in particular?

There is a pronounced whiff of narcissism from those who think that the NSA really gives a damn about them and their precious online secrets. Sorry to break it to you, but it doesn’t, unless perhaps you have had a bad breakup with an NSA employee. It hoovers up vast amounts of information, but is focused on filtering out the noise to get at intelligence-relevant signals. And believe it or not, the hours you spend on Tinder are nothing but noise.

Hackers, on the other hand, find your information quite fascinating, precisely because they can monetize that information. They can turn ethereal bytes into solid gold.

So there is a real trade off, and when you conceive of it as a trade off the choice becomes pretty obvious. At the cost of allowing the NSA to touch a highly limited sliver of your personal data, you can increase the odds of detecting or deterring a truly malign hack. Or, you can protect your address and cybersignature from the prying eyes of the NSA, and dramatically increase the odds of having your most valuable personal information fall victim to hackers. That’s the trade-off. That’s your choice. Deal with that reality. Those who choose to let the hackers run riot rather than have a few limited pieces of information reside on an NSA-controlled server deserve to have Died of a Theory as their financial epitaph.

(Regarding the hack of the US Office of Personnel Management, the administration pointed the finger at China with unseemly haste. Perhaps. But this seems more like a Russian MO than a Chinese. The Russians are interested in information they can monetize, the Chinese less so. Perhaps China is the culprit, but I wouldn’t rush to judgment.)

The NYT/PP article makes it clear that the DOJ only asked the FISA court for authority to collect the data from intruders connected to foreign governments. The NSA wanted a broader mandate,  including the ability to collect from foreign intruders not reliably tied to a government, but DOJ didn’t ask for it.

That’s too bad. Non-Government hackers, mainly operating from Russia, other FSU countries, and China, are arguably a bigger threat to personal privacy than governments. The non-government hackers have mercenary motives, and your data is particularly attractive to them. Most of the major hacks of valuable personal information have been executed by foreign criminal organizations with no demonstrable connections to foreign governments (though in the case of Russia, they likely operate under Russian government protection) So again looking at the trade-off, I’d prefer that the NSA have the broader authority. That would give me more privacy, and more information security.

With regards to Snowden, isn’t it interesting that Snowden’s organ grinder-Putin-would be one of the main beneficiaries of a restriction on the NSA’s authority to track foreign government hackers? Surely just a coincidence, right, because little monkeys never dance to their master’s tunes, do they?

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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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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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