Streetwise Professor

February 18, 2015

Ukraine Grieves: Putin Gloats

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 9:55 pm

Ukraine bowed to military reality and hastily withdrew its remaining forces from Debaltsevo. There are only so many Alamos that one country can survive. It was unwise in the extreme to have attempted to defend that salient for so long.

Yes, an earlier withdrawal would have damaged Ukrainian morale, but the flight under the current circumstances has harmed morale far more than would have been the case earlier. Not least because it has given Putin the opportunity to gloat. Twisted little man that he is, he seized upon it:

“Of course, it’s always bad to lose,” Putin told reporters. “Of course it’s always a hardship when you lose to yesterday’s miners or yesterday’s tractor drivers. But life is life. It’ll surely go on.”

Not only is this an unchivalrous swipe at Ukraine (which he despises as much as he covets), it is a gratuitous insult directed at Merkel and Obama and the West generally. The reference to “miners and . . . tractor drivers” implies that Russian forces had nothing to do with Ukraine’s humiliation at Debaltsevo, when he knows, and knows that everyone else knows, that they had everything to do with it. Putin is saying, in essence: “Yeah. I’m shamelessly lying about Russian troops and equipment being in Donbas. What are you going to do about it? I know exactly what you are going to do about it: nothing.”

And in that, he’s correct. Today “Germany said it was too early to call the broader Minsk peace plan dead or ratchet up sanctions against Moscow.” It’s not dead. It’s resting. It’s stunned. It’s pining for the steppes. Extend and pretend is the European response to Russian depredations, just as it has been to fiscal profligacy in the south.

One can only hope that these words come back to haunt him. That his hubris calls forth nemesis.

No eulogist will say of Putin: “He was magnanimous in victory.” Well, given that the eulogist will be Russian, and perfectly capable of saying up is down with the straightest of faces, he probably will.

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Obama Delivers Another Speech From the Banks of Denial

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:00 pm

Very early in his first term, Obama stood near the banks of the Nile and delivered a speech on the relationship between the west and Islam that was praised effusively. It was widely predicted that this speech would heal the civilizational rift that had long existed, and had been cracked wide open by the evil Bush and his tribe of neocons.

That’s surely worked out well, hasn’t it?

If you read the speech, it is full of banalities, bromides, false history, criticism of the west, and condescending portrayals of Muslims as victims of outside forces. And we are witnessing the consequences of that vision put into presidential action.

Not to be deterred by reality, Obama spoke at his Summit on Violent Extremism, and basically expounded the same vision, tweaked slightly to address the current situation. That is, it was yet another speech delivered on the banks of denial.

There’s no transcript yet, but you can get the idea from this LA Times oped that ran under his name. It’s what Marie Harf said, only longer, basically.

Obama’s diagnosis of the causes of “violent extremism” is fundamentally flawed, and predictably progressive and materialist. In his view, it is caused by economic deprivation, corruption, and poor governance. Economic development, the eradication of corruptionm and reforming government to allow the disaffected to “address legitimate grievances through the democratic process” are essential in combating terrorism.

A few comments.

First, this is a very dubious prediction as an empirical matter. Corruption, poverty, and undemocratic governments are the rule, rather than the exception, throughout a good portion of the globe. Most of these benighted areas are not afflicted by “violent extremism” of the kind that is threatening the Middle East, parts of Africa, and even Europe (although they may be violent places, e.g., Venezuela or South Africa). Thus, these variables have little explanatory power.

What does? The very thing Obama is at great pains to deny: Salafist strains of Islam tracing their origins to Ibn Taymiyyah.

Intra-country comparisons make this plain. Take Nigeria, a notoriously corrupt, wretchedly governed, poor country. These conditions prevail throughout the entire country, but although violence is ubiquitous, extremist movements are found almost exclusively in the Muslim north, and are Islamist. They are not found in the non-Muslim south, even though it is also poor, corrupt, undemocratic and abysmally governed.

Similarly, Thailand’s and the Philippine’s insurrectionary movements are concentrated in Muslim regions, and are Muslim supremacist in nature.

These intra-country comparisons show that holding governance, corruption, and poverty roughly constant, the variation in the prevalence of extremist political movements across regions is explained by variations in the religious makeup of these regions.

Second, it is beyond rich to claim that democratic reforms will tamp down violent political movements. Islamist movements detest democracy with a passion. In their minds, it is an un-Islamic “innovation” (in the formulation of Taymiyyah). It is something that they are fighting to destroy, not fighting to create. Attempts to democratize, or to impose democracy, would only spur these people to greater violence.

Islamists use democracy mainly as an instrument to destroy it, and to obtain power. The “Freedom and Justice Party” (aka the Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt is an excellent example. As soon as Morsi had been voted in, he and the Brotherhood began a systematic campaign to make sure they could not be voted out. Ditto with Hamas in Gaza. Democracy was purely a means to power, and something to be destroyed after power had been achieved.

Third, even if Obama’s diagnosis was correct, if success against terrorism requires making Middle Eastern nations democratic, uncorrupt, tolerant, and governed by the rule of law, we might as well give up now. It’s more likely that I will ride a unicorn to Mars than that these things will happen.

Fourth, Obama’s prescription is neocon to the core. Bring democracy and freedom to the Middle East, and peace and prosperity will flourish. How bizarre is that?

Obama hit all of his usual notes. All religions are violent: Islam is not unique in this regard. He even managed to bring Timothy McVeigh into it. Muslims have been “woven in the fabric of America since the founding.” Fun fact that I bet you didn’t know: Muslims helped build our railroads! And you just thought it was Irishmen and Chinese, you bigot you.

He also inveighed against Islamophobia, capped with a treacly story about getting a Valentine from an 11 year old Muslim girl who expressed fear that people hated all Muslims. (He didn’t mention that if the girl attempted to celebrate Valentine’s Day in ISIS territory, she risked a flogging or a stoning.) This is incredibly condescending, and insults hundreds of millions of Americans who are more than capable of judging people on individual behavior, and who do not lump all Muslims together.

He reprised his role as the determinant of what is and what isn’t legitimate Islam, effectively declaring ISIS and al Qaeda et al takfiri. Kind of presumptuous for a kafir, especially since takfir is reserved for Mohammed or the caliph.

In making this declaration he used his usual argument that most Muslims reject Salafism (though he did not use that word).  This is another of his straw men. Even if true, it does not change the fact that ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all the other Islamist groups ardently believe themselves to be extremely faithful adherents to the truth revealed by Mohammed. They are fundamentalists in the truest sense of the word, and view those Muslims who reject their vision as blasphemers and apostates: anything that is not in the Koran, or which post-dates Mohammed and his companions, is un-Islamic. In their eyes, they are the true followers of Mohammed, and nothing Barack Obama says is going to convince them otherwise.  Put differently, Obama’s opinion on the legitimacy of their claims to be Muslims means exactly squat.

In practical terms, Obama endorsed restrictions on government surveillance of Muslims, thereby buying into an agenda being pushed hard by CAIR, which just happens to be a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot. In so doing, he knocked down another of his straw men, and in the process, slurred law enforcement: “Nobody should be profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith.” Of course not. Who said otherwise? Is he suggesting that has happened? It sure sounds like it.

All in all, just what you should have expected. An exegesis on “violent extremism” that denies the fundamental nature of the threat, and denies the undeniable roots of movements that are ripping apart vast swathes of the Middle East and Africa in one specific religion, which posits causes that are present where the alleged effects are not, and which denies the cause that is as plain as the nose on your face. Such a fundamental-and willful-misunderstanding of the nature of the threat and its causes will inevitably undermine efforts to fight it. Indeed, it is already doing so.

As Mark Twain said, “denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.” No, it ain’t. It is the foundation of Obama’s beliefs about terrorism and how to combat it.

 

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February 16, 2015

ISIS’s Eschatology Is Its Greatest Vulnerability, Not a Reason to Shrink From Confronting It

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 11:09 pm

I am a distant relative of William Tecumseh Sherman: we share a common ancestor (a Puritan who settled in Connecticut n the 1630s). I like to think that my red beard and slightly crazed look is a reflection of that genetic connection. Be that as it may, I do share something of a philosophic affinity for him. Ruthlessly practical and unromantic (even though he lived in a decidedly Romantic era). Nothing demonstrated this better than his views on war, including in particular this quote:

War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.

@libertylynx reminded me of this quote when she was debating a wannabe wonk on Twitter. Said wonk claimed that ISIS should not be confronted militarily, because that is what they want. He therefore condemned the Egyptian bombing raids on ISIS in response to its latest atrocity, the slaughter of 21 innocent Copts for the crime of being Christian “crusaders.” (Copts have been in the Middle East since hundreds of years before Mohammed. Just who are the invading holy warriors here? Continuing its craven refusal to acknowledge the reality of ISIS’s religiously inspired rampage, the White House condemned the murder of “21 Egyptian citizens.” The words “Copt” and “Christian” were absent.)

It is becoming a idée fixe on the Left that confronting ISIS militarily is futile. There will be civilian casualties! Yes, those are inevitable: but how many civilian casualties will there be while such monsters are on the loose? Attacking them will rally recruits to their standard! Apparently the killing ISIS fighters is akin to sowing dragon’s teeth: it will just make more enemies. So we might as well just give up, until their blood lust is sated. Or something.

This meme reached the levels of absurdity in the hands of State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, who apparently strives daily to make a box of rocks look like John von Neumann by comparison to her, and largely succeeds in her mission:

HARF: We’re killing a lot of them and we’re going to keep killing more of them. So are the Egyptians, so are the Jordanians. They’re in this fight with us. But we cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war. We need in the medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs, whether —

MATTHEWS: We’re not going to be able to stop that in our lifetime or fifty lifetimes. There’s always going to be poor people. There’s always going to be poor muslims, and as long as there are poor Muslims, the trumpet’s blowing and they’ll join. We can’t stop that, can we?

HARF: We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people…

Memo to Marie: when Chris Matthews makes a lot more sense than you do, it’s time to give up.

And yeah. It’s all about jobs and governance.

It’s not really, as this excellent article from the Atlantic demonstrates. ISIS is not of this age, or even of this world. Materialistic concerns projected by western leftists are completely irrelevant to it. Obama’s and other western leaders’ denials to the contrary, it is a fanatical religious movement imbued with a fervor totally alien to comfortable western minds, and progressive minds in particular, who believe that such forces were left behind several turns of the dialectical wheel ago.

In particular, as the Atlantic piece brings out, ISIS has an apocalyptic vision, and crucially, its adherents fervently believe in an imminent eschatology, culminating in a climactic battle against the “Romans” on the Plains of Dabiq in Syria. (Note that the latest ISIS snuff film documenting the beheading of the innocent Copts included a warning that they were coming to Rome.)

So yes, they want a battle. In the worst way.

So why not give it to them? Now usually, one tries to avoid doing what the enemy wants. But when the enemy’s firmest desire is based on delusion, that rule no longer applies. ISIS has no real conception of how militarily mismatched it is. Yes, Kobane gave them something of an inkling, but even there the US deployed and displayed only a fraction its capabilities. Nothing like an Arc Light raid of the Vietnam War, or the kind of power unleashed in Desert Storm.

This does not mean rushing in to fight on their terms. It means forcing or maneuvering them into a position where they have to stand and fight in a way that makes them vulnerable to a pounding. To use their eagerness to fight a climactic battle to lure them into a fight they cannot win.

The closest historical analog to ISIS is the Mahdist War of 1881-1899. This conflict culminated in the Battle of Omdurman, in which a massive Islamist army was lured into attacking a much smaller British-Egyptian army equipped with the latest in small arms, machine guns, and artillery, which resulted in the Mahdists’ utter destruction: they lost over 50 percent casualties. The very fanaticism that had carried the Mahdists to victory after victory was the cause of their utter ruin. That could be a model for the war on ISIS.

We only defeated the fanatical Japanese and the fanatical Nazis in WWII by killing them in vast numbers. That is the only way to defeat the current breed of fanatic. And fortunately, ISIS is neither so numerous, nor militarily capable, as either such foe, and current American capability makes the forces of the 1940s look like toys by comparison.

So rather than being a reason to shrink from fighting it, ISIS’s eschatological vision and mad thirst for battle against the New Romans is its greatest vulnerability. The smart thing for them to do would be hit and run: but we can use their fanaticism to get them to stand and fight. American strategy should be focused on making their dearest wishes come true. As Sherman said, War is the remedy ISIS has chosen, and I say let us give them all they want, but on our terms, exploiting our advantages.

ISIS needs to be introduced to the America of Billy Sherman and Andy Jackson. But we have Barry Obama.

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February 15, 2015

Who Is Kayla Mueller’s Boyfriend, Omar Al Khani?

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 5:41 pm

Last week the Arizona Republic released a story detailing the fate of Kayla Mueller, an ISIS prisoner whose death was announced a few days earlier. The most novel part of the story (and the reasons for my choice that word will become evident shortly) is that her Syrian boyfriend, who had been abducted with her in Aleppo on 4 August, 2013 before being released, attempted to secure her freedom by returning to an ISIS camp and pretending to be her husband. The ruse was uncovered, and she was not liberated. The boyfriend was detained for a time, before being released again.

The Republic withheld the boyfriend’s name:

The Arizona Republic is withholding the name of Mueller’s boyfriend out of caution for his safety. At least one friend says the name is an identity he assumed to lessen the risk of reporting in Syria.

This is rather odd, because said boyfriend was quite voluble in an interview with the Daily Mail. He goes by the pseudonym Omar Alkhani (or al Khani). And he tells a rather dramatic story:

It was the moment Omar Alkhani believed he was about to secure the release of his girlfriend, the last American hostage held by Islamic State.

Kayla Mueller stood before him in her dimly lit cell dressed in a traditional long black abaya cloak, her face covered.

At great personal risk, Omar had ventured into the heart of the terror group’s power base in Syria to try to bring her home.

Naively, perhaps, he was convinced that all Kayla had to do was confirm their cover story that they were man and wife to the IS ‘judge’ standing between them.

He spent two months there before being freed.

In the five months after his release, Western hostages including Britons David Haines, 44, and Alan Henning, 47, would become victims of the British executioner known as Jihadi John, whose voice Omar heard every morning interrogating Western prisoners.

Speaking for the first time about his four-year relationship with Kayla, 26, and the events that led to her capture and his own incarceration, Omar told MailOnline and the Mail on Sunday: ‘To this day I don’t know why she didn’t go along with the story.

‘Because I am Syrian and not a spy, and she was my wife, they would have let her go. I came to get Kayla out but that was the last time I saw her.’ 

He added: ‘She once asked how much I loved her and I said that I would risk my life for her. And I did. I tried for her. She was the most beautiful thing that happened to my life. We were planning our future together.’

Quite dramatic, no? Quite romantic, no? Quite touching, no?

Adding to all this is his farewell Facebook post to her.

Dear Kayla…
I’m not writing her to say goodbye, this is a thank you. Thank you for coming into my life and giving me joy, thank you for loving me and receiving my love in return.
You were everything I wanted. You were so beautiful and charming, and you supported me in everything I did, even if it was extremely stupid.
You came into my dream nights ago, with that charming smile, All l remember from the dream is a feeling of peace. l woke up with that feeling , and tried to keep it in my mind as long as l could. l’m writing to tell you l’m sorry about so many things. I’m sorry l didn’t ‘t take better care of you , ”I’m sorry I didn’t try harder to find the words , to tell you what I was feeling. And how much I loved you.
I’m sorry for all our nonsense fight and argue we ever had before , I just wanted to love you for ever , I’m sorry I didn’t hold on to you with so much strength. That even God couldn’t take you away. ”
Koki habibi
You Left our world for a bigger and better place now . . .
You were the shining light that gets me through my darkest hours, you were the most beautiful thing that happened to me once, and you ll always be…
Always & Forever. . .

For all of this, we have the uncorroborated word of al Khani. Period. Color me skeptical.

Why? For one thing, how many people does ISIS release not once, but twice? And it’s not as if al Khani was some random Syrian guy who was getting it on with a kafir (which is not exactly something that ISIS condones). As I will detail below, he was a very well-known Syrian in opposiiton circles. Further, I have not been able to find any statement by ISIS hostages that were ransomed, and who gave interviews about hostages including Sotloff, Foley, and Mueller, mention al Khani, who claims he was held in the same place at the same time.

For another, despite his expression of undying love last week, he said precious little about her on Facebook while she was in ISIS’s hands. His Facebook page is replete with images from Syria and Istanbul taken as a Reuters photographer, mentions of publication of his photos in Vanity Fair, and touts of his film. He does have one post that alludes to her on 21 September, 2013, about 3 weeks after he posted a statement that he had been released from ISIS captivity. (Since he had been captured on 3 or 4 August, the Daily Mail claim that he had been imprisoned for 2 months is obviously wrong.) Then nothing. He says nothing about her after his purported rescue effort in November, 2013-January, 2014. This hardly screams undying love.

(It is also somewhat odd that the story of this trip is treated now as a revelation, as it was reported in the region at the time-again based on what al Khani said.)

Something also doesn’t ring true about his account of how he met Mueller. He claims she answered an ad for a roommate in Cairo, where he’d moved after spending several years in Sudan working as “events marketing” executive, and where she’d traveled on a short vacation. (Who knew there was a market for event planning in Sudan?) The Sudan connection jumps out, because at home in Arizona Mueller had been actively engaged in Darfur-related protests. Maybe the story in the Mail is accurate, but it is also plausible that they had been in contact online regarding Sudan before, and that’s why she went to visit him in Cairo.

Al Khani was in Cairo when the Arab Spring broke out. Soon the ferment spread to Syria, and he went back there to participate in the anti-Assad movement. He soon became a “coordinator” of a “Facebook battalion of revolutionaries” that facilitated communications among anti-Assad forces. He claims the title of “Secretary General of the Syrian Revolution Coordinators.” Before long, he was a go-to guy for western media, being quoted about Syrian events in the Telegraph, Financial Times, Die Welt, Public Radio International, and other publications. He also worked as a photographer for Reuters, and his photos were run by Vanity Fair, AFP, and other media. He was regularly traveling to rebel-held areas of Syria as a photographer.

Most bizarrely, he wrote a profile of ISIS leader Al Baghdadi while Kayla Mueller was in ISIS captivity. (The article was originally written by al Khani, and Maya Gebeily, but their names were not on the byline of the piece as it ran in Newsweek. Another odd thing.)

In other words, al Khani was pretty much a celebrity in Syrian revolutionary circles, with considerable familiarity with ISIS. It is almost inconceivable that ISIS did not know who he was. But in the Daily Mail interview he presents himself as just some Syrian guy, and plays down his activism: indeed, that isn’t mentioned at all. Why so shy all of a sudden about describing his work? He was General Secretary, after all, and had been quite assiduous in promoting his role as an activist in print and film. Now all of a sudden he hides his light under a bushel basket.

And of course Syrian revolutionary circles are rife with Islamists of all stripes, from the Muslim Brotherhood to numerous varieties of Salafists. Al Khani navigated in those circles for years. He did not mention much about religion from what I’ve seen, though an acknowledgement of receiving funds from Muslim Brotherhood members and  an expression of gratitude to people in Turkey for help are tantalizing clues.

That all raises questions about his relationship with ISIS, and their treatment of him. He obviously had deep connections in the Syrian opposition. That had to have mattered.

Again, his word is the sole basis for reports that ISIS held him captive and tortured him, and then freed him. Twice. Maybe it happened, but maybe it didn’t.

The story of the reason for his fateful trip with Mueller in August, 2013 also strains credulity. He supposedly made the trip to one of the most dangerous cities on earth to fix the wifi at the Medicins Sans Frontiers office in Aleppo. Events marketing executive, photographer, activist, filmmaker, and . . . wifi repairman? Quite the Renaissance Man.

The Daily Mail story also suggests that Mueller insisted that al Khani take her to Syria with him on this trip, and insinuates she hadn’t been there before. But she posted pictures from “Souria” (a tell that she had been radicalized) she had taken earlier, so why the suggestion that she had to pester al Khani to take her along?

Finally, I don’t find the story of Mueller ruining her chance at freedom by refusing to acknowledge that she was his wife to be credible. Stockholm Syndrome? Maybe. But it sounds like a convenient tale to explain why he could not bring her out. Again, we have only his word that he tried.

I can’t but conclude that there is much more to the story of Omar al Khani that what is being breathlessly repeated today. There are many loose ends, which no one wants to pull, apparently being content with the romantic tale of tragic love. Many questions, but nobody is asking him to answer them. His story is being taken as gospel.

What makes this particularly infuriating is that despite the fact that al Khani was widely known among western media for his activism, this is not being mentioned at all today. It appears that even the media that used him as a source on the revolutionary movement is conspiring to support the tragic love narrative.

Finally, this all sheds some light on Kayla Mueller. She cannot have been unaware of al Khani’s opposition activities. Her biography suggests that those activities would have been a great attraction to her. Her short video (linked in the Daily Mail story) expresses solidarity with the struggle of the Syrian people, and that is a piece with her involvement with the International Solidarity Movement which unabashedly supports the Palestinian “struggle” against Israel: Rachel Corrie was an earlier American in ISM, and Mueller seems to have much in common with Corrie. And like Corrie, she put herself in harms way in connection with an opposition movement. And like Corrie, she paid for this with her life.

On one level, this was Kayla Mueller’s decision. She ran the risk, she paid the price. You can admire her or question her as you will. But there are broader issues involved. Policy issues.

What got me chasing this rabbit was a story in the Washington Post describing the extreme risks the US ran to mount a rescue raid for Mueller and the other hostages. This means that the decisions of people like Mueller and Foley and Sotloff did not just affect them. They put other Americans at mortal risk. They also put the lives of Syrians (whom they professed to want to help) at risk. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries or fatalities in the US special operations direct action to attempt to release them. But that wasn’t inevitable. It was training, planning, skill, and luck.  Sometimes bad luck can undo the best training, planning and skill in the world.

Given the pronounced narcissism and romanticism that characterizes all of those Americans who have been kidnapped and killed by ISIS, I wonder about the prudence of a policy that risks American soldiers, sailors, and airmen to rescue the reckless. People should be on warning: swim at your own risk. No lifeguard on duty. If you want to engage in entrepreneurial activism in very dangerous places, without the official sanction of the US government or any credible NGO, more power to you, but you are on your own. Risking lives to rescue American military captives, or those seized while engaged in official aid missions, is one thing. Risking lives to retrieve romantic free-lancers (including love struck ones who may have fallen in with the company of questionable characters) is something else altogether.

Note: h/t to @libertylynx for all of the links and research.

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February 12, 2015

Merkel and Hollande: Insane. Putin: Very Sane. Poroshenko: Sane and Screwed.

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 9:39 pm

Einstein famously defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

By that definition, there were two insane participants in the “negotiations”over the war in Ukraine held in Minsk, and two sane ones.

The insane ones were the Euro “leaders”, Merkel and Hollande. They went to Minsk to negotiate a new deal with the man who flagrant violated the last deal then lied shamelessly about it, apparently in the hope that he’ll adhere to a new deal. Only the insane would expect that.

The man on the other side of the round table, Putin, is clearly not insane. He did the same thing as he did last time, but very much expected the same result. And he got it. That’s not quite true: he got a better deal this time.

Ukrainian president Poroshenko clearly went into the meetings with no illusions. He could see that Putin was implacable, and that his erstwhile benefactors were intent on playing the roles of Chamberlain and Daladier in a reprise of Munich!, and that he was cast in the role of Eduard Benes, watching his capitulation being negotiated over his head.  He gamely dragged things out, but in reality it was three against one, and that one was in dire straits with a crumbling economy and a desperate military situation. He did the same thing he did in September, out of necessity, but I am sure he expects the same outcome.

The cease fire does not begin until Sunday, and therefore it is inevitable that there will be a flurry of fighting in the next days, especially around Debaltselvo. Putin made it plain today that he expects the 8000 or so Ukrainian soldiers in the pocket to surrender. The implicit threat is that they will be crushed if they do not.

Even if a cease fire takes hold after Sunday, it will not last. Putin has learned that violations have no adverse consequence, and that after some interval the fighting will start again and he will take another slice of Ukraine. And Merkel and Hollande will harrumph and express grave concern but when push comes to shove they will scurry back to Minsk to do it all over again. Insane.

Wash, rinse, repeat. The low, dishonest decade grinds on.

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February 10, 2015

A Whole Lot of Shaping Going On

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 7:52 pm

The shaping of the battlefield in northern Iraq that I have discussed over the past several months continues. Most notably, the peshmerga are moving to isolate Mosul:

U.S. and allied warplanes conducted airstrikes in support of Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Iraq who retook main routes into Mosul from Islamic State forces, officials with the international coalition said Monday.

Coalition officials said the Peshmerga forces seized three strategic corridors that defense officials called bridgeheads north of Mosul along the Tigris River in territory formerly controlled by extremist forces with Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and its Arabic acronym Daesh, military officials said.

This puts them in position to cut off the roads connecting Mosul to Syria.

ISIS is clearly transitioning from an offensive posture to a defensive one. It has vacated Kobane, and is retreating from the surrounding villages as the Syrian Kurds advance. It has withdrawn from its more distant outputs east of Aleppo. It is digging a trench line surrounding Mosul, though it is unlikely that it has the manpower to fill all of it, which makes it rather useless in the face of an enemy that can see every unmanned section. It has undertaken some offensive operations, in Anbar and Kirkuk, but these seem to be spoiling attacks meant to prevent the peshmerga and the Iraqi army from concentrating. In Kirkuk in particular, it was pounded hard from the air when it came out to play. They had bee able to make some progress when attacking in a fog, but when that cleared they were hammered.

This is their fundamental problem. They cannot maneuver. They would have been similarly vulnerable last summer, but that opportunity passed.

The Kurds are anxious to increase the pace, but the US is counseling patience while elements of the Iraqi army are trained up enough to undertake offensive operations. While that happens, I would anticipate further local attacks by the peshmerga in the north, the cumulative effect of which will be to cut off Mosul from supply and reinforcement. After that, a grind it out battle in the city, most likely. The gradient is apparent, but it is not steep.

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February 9, 2015

Obama: On a Roll. Us: Getting Rolled

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:19 pm

Obama is on a roll. A roll. It’s hard to keep up!

Last night he delivered an anti-sexual assault bit at the Grammys. Is anybody pro-sexual assault?

Then, in a Vox (!) interview released today, he continued his Terrorism: It Ain’t No Thang tour:

“It is entirely legitimate for the American people to be deeply concerned when you’ve got a bunch of violent, vicious zealots who behead people or randomly shoot a bunch of folks in a deli in Paris,” Obama said. “We devote enormous resources to that, and it is right and appropriate for us to be vigilant and aggressive in trying to deal with that — the same way a big city mayor’s got to cut the crime rate down if he wants that city to thrive.”

But, he added, “we also have to attend to a lot of other issues, and we’ve got to make sure we’re right-sizing our approach so that what we do isn’t counterproductive.”

Um, the people shot in the “deli” in Paris weren’t randomly selected. Well, randomly selected Jews, maybe, which means it wasn’t random. And that is about the most extreme statement of terrorism is a law enforcement issue I’ve ever seen. Let’s get Mayor Quimby on it!

Then there was today’s Merkel-Obama presser. Where to begin?

When asked about arming Ukraine, he said he hadn’t quite made up his mind:

“It is true that if, in fact, diplomacy fails, what I’ve asked my team to do is to look at all options,” Obama said. “But I have not made a decision about that yet.”

Sure! Take your time. It’s not like this situation hasn’t been metastasizing since the Minsk accords were signed in September. Why haven’t the options been explored long ago, and contingent decisions been made?

And about that diplomacy thing and contingent decisions. First, negotiation and diplomacy depend on threat points. Bolstering-or even threatening to bolster-Ukraine’s military capacity affects the outcome of negotiations by changing substantially the threat point. This idea that diplomacy floats in a world of its own is just cracked, and in fact dooms diplomacy to failure.

Second, Merkel and Hollande scurried to Moscow because Putin had flagrantly violated the Minsk accords. So now they are going to  . . . Minsk, to negotiate new accords. With the guy who broke the last ones. Have I got that right? Am I missing anything?

Obama emphasized the unity of the allies on the Ukraine issue. Recall that earlier he has said he did not want to get ahead of the Europeans. Translation re unity: leading from behind, and deferring to the least common denominator, which in Europe is very low indeed. Germany is bad enough, let alone France, Hungary, Austria, or Greece.

(Sorry. “Leading From Behind” has been rebranded: It’s now called “Strategic Patience.” Same dog food, different label.)

He praised Russia for its constructive role on talks with Iran, and said he looked forward to their future cooperation. As if Putin has the slightest inclination to help out the US. Well, since the deal Obama is panting for will likely harm US interests, maybe Putin will pitch in on that one.

He said that the Ukrainian people knew that America stood behind them. Really. He said that. He didn’t say how far behind. All Obama is providing is warm blankets and hot air, and I am sure that Ukrainians can muster only a bitter laugh at his claim of support.

Obama reiterated his view that Russia’s isolation would bring Putin to heel:

“Even as we continue to work for a diplomatic solution we are making it clear again today that if Russia continues on its current course, which is ruining the Russia economy and hurting the Russian people, as well as having such a terrible effect on Ukraine, Russia’s isolation will only worsen both politically and economically,” he told a joint news conference after meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Yes, Putin is so, so isolated. He’s a hero on the European right. Several nations in the EU are far more sympathetic to Russia than the US. And he was welcomed like a conquering hero in Cairo today: check out the photo here (h/t @libertylynx). Sisi greeted him at the airport-a first. The Egyptians did everything but treat Putin like Pharaoh, complete with a procession down the Nile on a royal barge.

By giving such a lavish reception for Putin, Sisi was also giving Obama the middle finger. Or two middle fingers. If Obama were to visit, Sisi would probably have him picked up in a cab and driven to the nearest Cairo slum.

Obama’s obvious affinity for Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is going over very badly in Egypt, and not just among the military and the government. Sisi and many Egyptians believe themselves to be in an existential struggle with the Brotherhood, and Obama’s meddling and continued support for it angers them deeply. (What, mayors can’t handle them?)

So glad he made that Cairo speech. It surely changed the world didn’t it? Really built a bridge between the US and the Muslim world, and healed all those wounds dating from the Crusades down to the evil Bush.

And speaking of the Muslim Brotherhood. Remember that supersecret meeting with Muslim “leaders” I wrote about last week? So yeah, among the “leaders” were ranking members of Muslim Brotherhood-linked organizations, including one that was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a terrorism case. (But I forget: terrorism ain’t no thang.) No wonder he wanted to keep the guest listees and the subject matter secret.

What a week. The man is on a roll. On. A. Roll. And we’re the ones getting rolled.

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February 6, 2015

Get Off Your High Horse! Whatabout the Crusades?

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 1:10 pm

On Wednesday, 4 February, 2015, ISIS released a film that ended with the immolation of a Jordanian pilot, Muath al-Kaseasbeh, whom it had captured after he bailed out from his malfunctioning F-16 in December. The production is a bizarre and disturbing mix of snuff porn and slick, special-effects laden filmmaking. It is beyond vile. The product of twisted minds inflamed by a monstrous ideology.

There are likely multiple audiences for this depravity. The first, and probably most important, is young Muslims especially in Europe whom ISIS wants to recruit. ISIS is being attrited at a rather rapid pace, and needs new bodies to feed into the meat grinder. The sense of power and control that the these depraved videos convey is no doubt intoxicating to aimless youths seeking to fill empty lives and to transcend their tedious existence. But such people get bored easily. Beheadings had no doubt have become routine. Something new was needed to rejuvenate excitement. ISIS had to outdo itself: burning a man alive certainly did that.

But then of course there will have to be a succession of new and more horrible ways of killing people. I shudder to think at what their sick imaginations will turn to next.

The other audience was the outside world. Outraging the world is a way of demonstrating power, and sadly, since the world appeared to becoming inured to beheadings, something novel was necessary. Moreover, ISIS actually wants to provoke a confrontation with the world. Note that its slick online publication is named Dabiq, a city in Syria that will supposedly be the scene of an apocalyptic confrontation between the “Romans” (i.e., the West) and the Muslims, that will result in the triumph of the latter (who will be aided by the Mahdi). In their twisted minds, such vile acts serve a higher purpose.

This is what the world has come to.

Disturbing in a different way has been Obama’s reaction to this. Jordan’s King Abdullah happened to be in DC when the video was released. He met with Congressional leaders and vowed revenge. He had not been scheduled to meet with Obama, but a meeting was hastily arranged. Obama’s remarks after the meeting were perfunctory, diffident and oddly detached.

Obama also met with a group of 15 Muslim-American “leaders”, who are actually better described as activists. The main topic of discussion was not the crime committed in Syria, or the threat posed by Islamism, but an entirely fictitious, or at least heavily exaggerated, wave of Islamaphobia:

My next comment echoed the sentiment we heard often in the meeting. In fact, it was clearly the No. 1 issue raised: The alarming rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in America.

If you want to find bigotry in a country of 316 million people, you can find it. Against any identifiable group you can think of. But this is hardly issue No. 1. Indeed, it should hardly make the top 100.

But Obama outdid himself at a prayer breakfast attended by the Dalai Lama. He said some of the right things about ISIS, and about the depraved killing of the Jordanian pilot: specifically he referred to ISIS as a “death cult”, which it is. But then he completely undermined this with a bizarre turn of whataboutism that insinuated that Americans must temper their criticism of Islamist barbarism because of the sins of our forefathers. Our forefathers going way, way back. Like to the Crusades:

And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion.

The  invocation of the Crusades is a pitch perfect imitation of the narrative spun by Islamists and their enablers, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, who bring it up any time Westerners criticize anything in the Arab world, no matter how depraved: like all whataboutism, it is intended to silence critics. What’s more, the invocation of Jim Crow in this context is almost a parody of the classic Soviet whataboutism: “And in America you are lynching Negroes.” (And although there were definitely appalling religious justifications of slavery in the South, I’m hard pressed to recall it being even a minor theme in the justification of Jim Crow.)

Obama’s exegesis is profoundly ahistorical. But even overlooking that unsurprising fact, of what relevance are Godfrey of Bouillon or Richard Plantagenet or Louis VII or Gregory IX or Bull Conner to a serious discussion of or response to the mass slaughter that is plaguing Syria and Iraq today? Of what relevance are these people and events to the thoughts or actions of any living American? About as relevant as the Trojan War. So religion-inspired violence isn’t historically unique. So what? How does that matter when trying to confront a particular outbreak religion-inspired violence that is raging today? The fact that it isn’t reveals Obama’s true motivation: he is trying to avoid confronting it.

Further, the apparent need to reach back centuries, and almost a millennium, to find reasons to knock “us” off our “high horse” actually cuts the other way. For it demonstrates that the Christian West has transcended bloody religious struggles and religiously justified violations of human freedom: indeed, the very fact that Christianity is hardly the West’s distinguishing characteristic in 2015 makes these historic comparisons utterly irrelevant straw men.

The contrast with Islam could not be more stark, as the rampages of warriors clinging to their guns (and knives and torches) and religion from the Philippines to Syria to Nigeria attests. Even slavery (of the most brutal and demeaning kind) can be filed under current events in parts of the Muslim world, including notably in the areas controlled by ISIS, and its practice is vehemently defended by Islamists who cite Koranic authority. The problem is not that religion motivated war and conquest in the West in the historical past: it is that it does today in the Middle East, Africa, the Subcontinent, and Asia. The problem in the Muslim world today is that the past isn’t even past: in the present it is still mired in its medieval pathologies. Dealing with the orgy of violence of which the immolation of Lt.  al-Kaseasbeh is only the most recent lurid example requires facing that reality head on.

But the “high horse” slur, and the stubborn refusal to acknowledge the undeniable religious roots of ISIS , Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and numerous other groups and movements wreaking havoc from Tripoli to Thailand (a denial repeated in the prayer breakfast remarks), demonstrate that Obama is dead set against such an honest reckoning. In fact, he wants to stifle any such discussion because, you know, Crusades.

The tragic irony of this is that by so doing, Obama empowers the most retrograde forces in Islam, and that the primary victims of their ascendance are Muslims. Obama’s moral equivalence kills Muslims. Pace Orwell, that is an objective reality, regardless of Obama’s subjective motivations. His exquisite sensitivity to Muslim feelings costs Muslim lives.

Obama’s remarks provide yet another example of his superciliousness towards his fellow citizens whom he believes need to be knocked off their high horse, because of misguided belief in their exceptionalism makes them unfit to judge others. They spring from the same place as the slap about bitter clingers and their guns and religion. In a weird way, this actually contributes to the rather disturbing tendency of those who belong to that maligned demographic to admire Putin: at least he praises his folk, rather than disdains them.

In sum, Obama’s behavior and words in the days after one of the most horrific and obscene acts in an era of them reveal a great deal about his beliefs and thinking. And what they reveal is disturbing indeed.

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February 2, 2015

Arms and the Man

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia,Uncategorized — The Professor @ 9:26 pm

The Obama administration is apparently reconsidering its refusal to provide lethal military assistance to Ukraine, although reading between the lines I suspect Obama is reprising his star turn as Hamlet. The security establishment seems solidly behind the idea, but Obama frets about getting into a proxy war with Russia.

Merkel came out steadfastly against the idea:

“Germany will not support Ukraine with guns and weapons,” said Merkel, speaking in Budapest. “We are putting all our bets on sanctions and doing our best to find a diplomatic solution.”

Telegram from Mr. Trotsky to Barack and Angela: you may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.* Nattering on about diplomacy is pathetic given where things stand now, with the collapse of the Minsk accords and the dramatic escalation of conflict all along the contact line, but especially in the Debaltseve pocket. Merkel is engaged in wishful, not to say magical, thinking. Diplomacy and force are complements, and Putin will be uninterested in talk, except as a diversionary or delaying tactic, as long as the military option is viable.

One of the weapons the US is supposedly considering supplying to Ukraine is the Javelin anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). This could be a decisive weapon, and some wicked turnaround for Putin. Hezbollah inflicted great losses on Israel using Russian-made Kornet ATGMs in 2006.  If supplied in quantity, Javelins could neutralize Russia’s substantial advantage in armor, and dramatically raise the cost to the Russians and their proxies in blood, treasure, and equipment in any attempt to expand military operations in Ukraine.

How would this affect Putin? We don’t know what he is willing to pay for various outcomes in Ukraine, but making Ukrainian defenses substantially more effective could make the price for an outright conquest of part or all of Ukraine greater than Putin is willing to pay.

Putin has been able to get by so far by having his proxies bear the brunt of the casualties, and by suppressing news about Russian casualties. But even he would be unable to keep a lid on a large spike in losses. What’s more, his manpower and material resources are in fact quite constrained. Substantial losses could render his forces largely combat ineffective and incapable of a decisive victory.

The main risk is that it may be too late. The arms won’t magically appear in Ukraine overnight, and it would take some time to train the Ukrainians in their use after they arrive. If arms start to flow, Putin may conclude that he has a time window in which to advance, and therefore decide to move now, whereas he might be inclined to wait and rely on other means to dominate Ukraine if he believed that he could invade later if need be. Ironically, the more effective the arms we provide (or more accurately, the more effective Putin and his generals believe those weapons will be) the greater the incentive he has to move before those weapons arrive. Thus, the interval between the decision to arm and the time that the weapons are in Ukrainian hands will be quite fraught, and the US would need to be prepared to deter Putin in other ways during that interval.

There are widespread concerns that Putin would react to the arming of Ukraine by escalating elsewhere, such as the Baltics. He is clearly trying to signal his truculence, as with a provocative flight of nuclear armed Bear bombers through the English Channel. Thus, the issue becomes whether he can be deterred from challenging Nato directly in Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania, or Poland for that matter. If he can’t be, Ukraine is the least of our problems. Or put differently, we need to revitalize our deterrent regardless of what we do in Ukraine, because Nato countries would be at risk.

If Putin’s madman strategy-real or feigned-is potentially effective in intimidating the West into acquiescing to his subjugation of Ukraine, magical thinking and Hamlet-like fretting are certainly effective at egging him on. People like him sense weakness as a predatory beast can. Arguably the strongest argument for arming Ukraine in the face of Putin’s threats is that it could get him to reassess the strength of American resolve. Obama’s record of temporizing-on Syria, on Isis, on Ukraine-has given Putin considerable reason to believe that when pushed, Obama will back down. It will take something rather dramatic, such as arming Ukraine in a big way, to convince Putin otherwise: even that is merely necessary, rather than sufficient. But if it’s done, it must be done lavishly, and not in a token fashion. But given how stingily we are with arms to the Syrian opposition and even the Kurds (who are actually accomplishing something against Isis), I find it hard to believe that Obama will do that.

The conundrum is that Putin will view American (and European) passivity as an invitation to keep pressing forward. Those who oppose doing something more robust, such as arming the Ukrainians, argue that this action will goad him forward as well: they are deluding themselves if they think he can be appeased. So it seems that regardless of what course is taken, Putin will keep trying.

At least Bloomberg is somewhat consistent. It says that we’re not going to seriously oppose Putin anyways, why give the Ukrainians any false hopes by giving them weapons? Just tell them to get used to living under Russian domination again and don’t encourage them to wage a futile war on their own.

But if you don’t want to acquiesce to Putin dominating the entire Warsaw Pact space, you have to make a stand somewhere. If the Ukrainians are willing to make that stand, give them the means to do it.

* This phrase is widely attributed to Trotsky, but the closest anyone can find written by him is “you may not be interested in the dialectic, but the dialectic is interested in you.”

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January 30, 2015

ISIS May Be Heeding SWP’s Military Analysis, Unfortunately

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 10:46 pm

ISIS has acknowledged that it was defeated in Kobane:

The first fighter said that “it was fated for us to retreat from Ayn al-Islam [Ayn al Arab, or Kobane] bit by bit, because of the bombardment and because some of the brothers were killed.”

The second fighter said that “the reason behind our retreat is that we did not find points in which to remain garrisoned. We stayed in garrisoned positions inside more than 70% of Ayn al-Islam, but the aircraft did not leave any buildings and destroyed everything.”

“They flattened the land with their rockets, so we were forced to retreat,” he continued. Later, he stated that the aircraft “bombarded day and night.”

What I found most interesting is the statement that ISIS would shift tactics to hit-and-run:

The second jihadist warned that the Islamic State would “return” to Kobane, presumably once Coalition aircraft turn their attention elsewhere.

“This is the style of hit and run since the days of the Messenger … We will return once again and we will disperse them [the Kurds],” the second fighter said.

Compare that to what I wrote in December:

T. E. Lawrence and other British officers assigned to the Arab rebels during WWI despaired of making them conventional soldiers. Lawrence, per his telling in the grips of dysentery-induced delirium, conceived that their genius was as irregulars who utilized mobility to carry out a war of hit and run attacks on a relatively immobile Turkish army of dodgy morale. Keegan’s History of Warfare states that this form of warfare was the Arab way going back to the times of Mohammed. For the Arabs, there was no dishonor in retreat. Hit weaker forces at a vulnerable point, don’t engage in standup fights, and run when a superior force appears.

ISIS is most formidable when it fights in the traditional Arab way. (Chechens were also historically guerrillas and raiders.) It does its opponents a favor when it fights the Western way.

Perhaps ISIS has learned that lesson.

Today they launched an attack on Kirkuk that could be viewed as such a hit and run attack. They hit, and they were pushed back, but it’s not clear whether they intended to take and hold ground but just couldn’t do it, or decided to pull back before getting pounded by airpower when the fog lifted.

Enemies learn. ISIS should have known that standing up against American airpower was foolish, but they tried for months and paid the price. They may be slow learners, but they are learning.

There’s an old adage in the military: the Four Fs. Find ‘em, fix ‘em, fight ‘em, finish ‘em. Our ubiquitous sensors make finding them easier than has ever been the case in military history. Fixing usually involves infantry, and we really don’t have a reliable infantry force at our disposal in Iraq. ISIS did us the favor of fixing themselves in Kobani. They’ve given that up, and hence it will be harder to fight and finish them.

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