Streetwise Professor

November 8, 2018

To Bad the Drydock Sank, Instead of the Carrier It Was Lifting

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 5:17 pm

A week ago Russia lost its largest drydock, while it was towing the country’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov.   This is amusing, though not surprising: “The cause of the accident was reportedly an electrical malfunction that left the pumps in the dry dock’s ballast tanks stuck on, causing it to sink rapidly.”

The Kuznetsov was itself damaged, when a crane from the drydock toppled onto the carrier’s deck.

All things considered, the Russians would have been much better off had the Kusnetsov plunged to the bottom, rather than the drydock.  The drydock is actually potentially useful.  The carrier is a near hulk that is more trouble than justified by its military value, which to a first order approximation is zero.

I will take credit for being one of the first to point out the comical fact that the Kusnetsov always sailed with a salvage craft–a towboat–bobbing along in its wake.  Prudent precaution, you say? Never leave home without one?  Well, no other aircraft carrier in the world needs to take this precaution.

The Russians will reportedly attempt to raise the drydock, although as the linked article points out it may have been damaged by the sinking.   And if the electronics were dodgy before, think what months/years under frigid seawater will do to them.  The Russians will also apparently continue with refurbishing the Kuznetsov, although this is already running over time and over budget.

Hey, if they want to burn money, who am I to stop them?  Better for the US that they waste resources on this rather pathetic vessel than put it into something actually useful.

It’s not August, but Russia has been suffering an August-like autumn.  And no, I don’t mean the weather: I mean the fact that for years August was regularly marked by major accidents in Russia.  In addition to the Kuznetsov/drydock fiasco, recent weeks have seen the failure of the manned Soyuz launch.  The failure has been blamed on a sensor damaged during installation:

“The reason for the abnormal separation … was due to a deformation of the stem of the contact separation sensor…,” Skorobogatov told reporters.

“It has been proven, fully confirmed that this happened specifically because of this sensor, and that could only have happened during the package’s assembly at the Baikonur cosmodrome,” he said.

I can imagine the conversation: “What do you mean it doesn’t fit, Boris?  Get a bigger hammer!”

Further, four bridges have collapsed in Russia since September.

In brief, Russia remains a shambolic place.   The gap between Putin’s chest-thumping and reality is as wide as ever.  The hamster wheel keeps spinning.

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October 27, 2018

When You Strike at a King, You Must Kill Him

Filed under: Military,Politics,Turkey — cpirrong @ 6:44 pm

Ralph Waldo Emerson penned those lines in a letter to Oliver Wendell Holmes more than 150 years ago: in the last 27 months, a latter day sultan, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has put them into practice.  In the aftermath of the July, 2016 coup that failed to topple him, Erdogan has ruthlessly cracked down on anyone he or his minions even suspected were involved in, or even supported, the coup.  The military and civil service have been purged, and Turkey lives in fear.  Anyone with the even remote ties to the Gulenists whom Erdogan believes were behind the coup is at risk of losing his/her job, and even his/her liberty.  People struck at Erdogan, failed to kill him, and he is taking his revenge.

Today, Erdogan is taking advantage of the Khashoggi killing to strike at a monarch–in this case, an actual monarch, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (and by extension, his father, King Salman).  One wonders if Erdogan is paying proper heed to Emerson’s warning, or whether he is merely an arrogant chancer who is failing to recognize that MBS will respond as ruthlessly to an existential threat as Erdogan did to his own.

Erdogan imagines himself the leader of world Islam, and views this as his chance to strike at his main rival for that distinction.  Indeed, MBS (or his creatures) committed a blunder by killing Khashoggi, and on Turkish soil no less.  But despite this blunder, Erdogan’s success is far from certain.

Turkey is only months past a near collapse of its currency, and its economy: only a climb down in the Brunson conflict with the US bought Erdogan some breathing room. (At the cost of considerable ridicule within Turkey, I might add, given Erdogan’s boasts that he would NEVER let the American pastor go.)  But the fundamentals that led to the crisis over the summer–not merely huge debts, unfavorable foreign balances, and most notably, Erdogan’s impetuosity, arrogance, and economic idiocy–remain.  Turkey is still divided.  Although Erdogan won an election that effectively granted him an imperial presidency, it was by a narrow margin.  Turkey’s position in Syria is problematic.  And crucially, its relationship with the US is still fraught.

If Erdogan truly tries to go so far as to threaten MBS’s and King Salman’s preeminent position in Saudi Arabia, MBS will have no compunction about responding in kind.  And they have weapons at their disposal.  No not military–there is no common frontier, and regardless, the Saudis have proven themselves to be militarily inept (something KSA shares with most Arab militaries).  But economic?–Definitely.  It is well within Saudi capability to launch a speculative attack on the lira.  And the KSA has other financial weapons it can wield.

Indeed, the Khashoggi affair shows how ruthless the Saudis can be when confronted by even a rather trivial challenge.  Think of how they will respond if they really feel threatened.   Turkey’s currency and economy are an Achilles Heel that they could readily strike.

Further, the United States could squash Turkey financially like an overripe grape.  Even modest US measures, like tariffs on Turkish metal imports into the US, greatly exacerbated the swoon in the TRY–think of what would happen if Trump really put his mind to it.  This is not something that the US would want to do, given that Turkey is a Nato member, and has some strategic value to the US.  But KSA has strategic value too, arguably greater than Turkey’s, and if Erdogan overplays his hand with Saudi Arabia, and/or continues to be a pain on issues like the US support for Syrian Kurdish forces, Trump could bring a world of hurt onto Turkey and Erdogan.

So Erdogan must tread very carefully indeed, and keep Emerson’s injunction in mind.  And what are his odds of knocking off MBS, or even damaging him all that severely?  Not great, given the nature of the Saudi regime, MBS’s obvious willingness to use all measures necessary against internal opponents (who can disappear with far less attention than Khashoggi did in Istanbul), and its economic and geopolitical leverage.

But one should never underestimate Erdogan’s arrogance.  Given this arrogance, it is quite possible that he will ignore Emerson, overplay his hand, and be the ultimate loser in this Game of Thrones.

 

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October 15, 2018

The Media on Trump on Lee: Don’t Trust, But Verify

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 11:08 am

The latest media Trump freakout derives from his statement during a campaign rally in Ohio last week that Robert E. Lee was “a great general.”  Since every Confederate is beyond the pale 153 years after the end of the Civil War, any praise of any Confederate is deemed evidence of racism.

As we’ll see, that spare characterization of Trump’s remarks was grotesquely misleading.  But hit pause on that for a moment, and just consider the objective truth of the part of the statement that was reported.  (Does truth even matter any more?)  There is little doubt that Lee displayed excellent generalship and leadership at the operational level.  Some of his campaigns–Second Manassas and Chancellorsville in particular–are justifiably renowned as examples of a smaller force defeating a larger one through maneuver.  His defense during the Overland Campaign was also laudable. Other campaigns–notably Gettysburg–were less creditable: but no modern general (not even Napoleon pre-Waterloo) was uniformly successful in campaign or battle.  The main objections to his generalship were that his operational success was not achieved pursuant to a broader strategic vision, and relatedly, that his tactical methods produced casualties that the Confederacy could not afford.  (Indeed, the casualties at his greatest victory–Chancellorsville–cast some shade on the achievement.)

Further note that acknowledging that someone was a great general does not imply an endorsement of the cause for which he fought.  Were Manstein and Rommel great generals?  Yes–much to the world’s cost.  Similarly, Zhukov.  The greatest generals in world history–Alexander, Caesar, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Napoleon–drowned their worlds in blood in their pursuit of grandeur.  Alas, one of the tragedies of history is that generalship exhibits some correlation with the depravity of the cause in which it is employed.  (This raises interesting questions regarding causation.)

So even if Trump said only what was widely reported, the facts were on his side.  But what was reported was not all he said.  Here are his remarks in full:

But maybe someday he will. It also gave you a general, who was incredible. He drank a little bit too much. You know who I’m talking about, right? So Robert E. Lee was a great general. And Abraham Lincoln developed a phobia. He couldn’t beat Robert E. Lee. He was going crazy. I don’t know if you know this story. But Robert E. Lee was winning battle after battle after battle. And Abraham Lincoln came home, he said, “I can’t beat Robert E. Lee.”  And he had all of his generals, they looked great, they were the top of their class at West Point. They were the greatest people. There’s only one problem — they didn’t know how the hell to win. They didn’t know how to fight. They didn’t know how. And one day, it was looking really bad. And Lincoln just said, you — hardly knew his name — and they said, don’t take him. He’s got a drinking problem. And Lincoln said, I don’t care what problem he has, you guys aren’t winning. And his name was Grant. General Grant. And he went in and he knocked the hell out of everyone. And you know the story. They said to Lincoln, you can’t use him anymore. He’s an alcoholic. And Lincoln said, I don’t care if he’s an alcoholic. Frankly, give me six or seven more just like him. He started to win. Grant really did. He had a serious problem. Serious drinking problem. But, man, was he a good general. And he’s finally being recognized as a great general. But Lincoln had almost developed a phobia, because he was having a hard time with a true great fighter and a great general, Robert E. Lee. But Grant figured it out, and Grant is a great general, and Grant came from right here.

So in a campaign rally in Ohio, Trump was praising Ohioans–a staple of stump rhetoric.  One Ohioan he praised was Ulysses S. Grant.  In the process of praising Grant, he touted the generalship of Grant’s most famous foe–Robert E. Lee.  This wasn’t about Lee, except indirectly.

Trump employed a standard rhetorical technique: he enhanced the achievements of the person he was praising by emphasizing the personal obstacles he had overcome (in Grant’s case, alcohol) and the brilliance and strength of the enemies that he vanquished (here, Lee).  Would David have become a legendary figure had he felled Irving, the Philistine Dwarf, instead of Goliath, the Philistine Giant?  Er, obviously not.  Nor would Grant have been as famous if he had vanquished Benjamin Huger or Leonidas Polk or any of the many non-entities that achieved general rank in the Confederacy.  (Indeed, one reason to question Lee’s brilliance is that his victories were won against a parade of incompetents.)  But beating Lee is a true accomplishment.

But the media ignored this in its haste to find another charge to add to the Trump indictment, and to further the narrative that he makes racist appeals to the Confederacy.   Indeed, some media couldn’t satisfy its frenzy by stopping merely at ripping a sentence fragment out of context: NBC falsely enhanced the narrative by claiming that Trump had said that Lee was “incredible.”   Actually, that is a classic case of projection: It is NBC, and the rest of the media that ran with the “Lee is great” meme that lacks credibility.

Yet they whine when he blasts them for spreading “fake news.”  Here’s a thought: if you don’t want Trump to accuse you of spreading false news, don’t spread false news!

If there’s anything objectionable in Trump’s remark, it is the first part of that rhetorical technique: Trump arguably exaggerated seriously Grant’s alcohol problem, at least as of the time of the Civil War.  There is still much debate over whether and when and how much Grant consumed alcohol.  Many of the reports of his abuse of liquor were insinuations by nasty backbiters (e.g., Henry Hallack) that exploited the reputation Grant developed in the 1850s while marooned at Fort Humboldt in California.  There is no credible report that he was impaired at any time in the conduct of his duties 1861-1865.

And as Lincoln said when those backbiters criticized Grant: “I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.”  For Grant carried out one, and arguably two, of the greatest campaigns of maneuver in the Civil War.  The Vicksburg campaign, in fact, is one of the most brilliant campaigns in modern military history anywhere.  The crossing of the James in June, 1864 was also operationally brilliant, though barren of results due to the blundering of the generals in charge of carrying the attacks at Petersburg home–and arguably due as well to the exhaustion and casualties and loss of aggressiveness brought on by the relentless grinding of the Overland Campaign of the prior 5 weeks.

Further, Grant excelled Lee in that his operational successes all advanced broader strategic goals.  By March, 1864 Grant had responsibility for Northern grand strategy, and seized the opportunity with a relish, whereas Lee invariably avoided this responsibility.  Although the frictions of war–notably the incompetence of Franz Sigel, Benjamin Butler, and Nathaniel Banks–prevented the immediate consummation of Grant’s strategic vision, its breadth and flexibility eventually led to its success.  (There is some similarity between the fate of Grant’s strategic plan and his grand tactical scheme at Chattanooga in November, 1863.  Neither scheme worked according to plan, but since neither was dependent on the success of any single element, the failure of one or two aspects of the plans did not preclude their ultimate success.)

This sorry episode illustrates yet again what should by now be obvious.  If the media reports anything about Trump, modify Reagan’s famous remark about the USSR: don’t trust, but verify.

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October 7, 2018

The Apotheosis of an American Army: The Meuse-Argonne, 100 Years Ago

Filed under: History,Military — cpirrong @ 4:38 pm

The next few days are the centennial of some of the bloodiest fighting in the history of the American army.  The Lost Battalion underwent its horrific ordeal 2-8 October, 1918.  On 8 October, one of the 82nd Division soldiers who attacked in the desperate effort to rescue Major Whittlesey and his men–Corporal Alvin York–killed an estimated 25 Germans and captured 132 more.  On 7 October, John Barkley clambered into an abandoned tank and used its machine gun to beat back several German counterattacks.  On 12 October, Samuel Woodfill took out several German machine gun nests with expert marksmanship, and out of ammunition, dispatched two Germans with a pickaxe.

All of these men (two from the Lost Battalion) won the Medal of Honor.  I could go on.  Forty-three American soldiers won the MoH in action in the first two weeks of October, 1918.

If you read the medal citations, you will find that most of them were for single-handed attacks on German machine gun positions.  Yes, machine guns were major killers on the Western Front, but the Meuse-Argonne was different than say, the Somme, or the Chemin de Dames, where Allied armies attacked established trench lines in fairly open terrain.  Instead of extensive linear trench lines, the German positions in the Argonne Forest and the more open terrain to the east consisted of a dense thicket of machine gun nests.  The terrain was appalling.  Much of it was heavily wooded, cut by dense ravines.   The Americans had to crawl their way through it, yard-by-yard, taking out nest after nest, all the while subject not just to the fire from chattering Maxim guns, but to horrific shelling of high explosive, shrapnel, and gas from German guns posted on the high ground to the north and east.

Most of the American units in the initial waves had not been blooded before.  For instance, the 77th Division (in which the Lost Battalion served) and the 82nd Division (York’s) were rookies.  They had to learn the hard way, through bitter experience against an experienced foe fighting from prepared positions.

The inexperience showed initial phases of the  American assault.  Although the pivot that the 1st Army made from its attack on the St. Mihiel salient to the east to the Meuse-Argonne sector to the north and west was truly marvelous–and under-appreciated–the attack itself was beset by all of the problems of World War I offensive action, compounded by American greenness and a stubborn refusal to learn from bitter British and French experience.  American artillery support was inadequate.  The logistics–admittedly made difficult enough to start with by the wretched state of the roads–were botched.  American tactics, inspired by General Pershing’s belief in “open warfare” and the primacy of the offensive (heedless of the horrific fate of the French operating on the same beliefs in 1915 and 1917) were suicidal.

Yet the Americans learned quickly–by necessity.  It was adapt, or die.  Adaptation, combined with an almost preternatural self-confidence and aggressive spirit, ultimately prevailed.

Even as early at the battles of late-May/early-July 1918 (Chateau Thierry, Belleau Wood, Soissons) the Germans were taken aback by the aggressiveness of the Americans in the offense and their stubbornness in the defense.  “The Americans kill everything” wrote a shocked German grenadier.  “They showed a bestial brutality.”

Yes, tens-of-thousands of Americans leaked to the rear during Meuse-Argonne, but hundreds of thousands stuck it out–often sticking their bayonets in German bellies, as if to confirm the grenadier’s assessment.

World War I was a ghastly combination of inept leadership (often overwhelmed by the mismatch between the defense and offense) and individual courage.  Though the US army came late to the war, its experience from 26 September-11 November 2018 re-enacted this same combination.   And in the end, the incredible bravery and tenacity of the American soldier–farm boys and cowboys and immigrant slum dwellers alike–prevailed, and dealt the Germans body blows from which they reeled, and in the end, from which they could not recover.

But today, the centennial is passing almost completely unnoticed.  Where else but here are you reading about it?

In the aftermath of the war, the federal government, and many state governments, erected large monuments commemorating American service in the war.  Although the remains of most of the tens-of-thousands slain in the Meuse-Argonne were brought home, many thousands more were interred in large cemeteries,  most notably the Aisne-Marne Cemetery to the west of Rheims, and the Romagne Cemetery to the east.  The monuments are truly epic in scale–the US erected nothing comparable in the aftermath of WWII.  The cemeteries are immense–Romagne is larger than the cemetery at Omaha Beach.

Yet these places are almost forgotten and unvisited today.*  Located in an isolated pocket of France, commemorating a war that is largely outside of the consciousness of modern Americans (for whom even WWII is a vague memory), few Americans see them, either on purpose or by accident.

The isolation and loneliness makes them truly haunting places.  I visited the Argonne battlefields with my dad in June, 2010.  We were alone everywhere.  We seldom saw even a car on the road as we wound our way across the Argonne, from the ravine to where the Lost Battalion bled to Chatel-Chéhéry where Alvin York started his advance to Montfaucon and Romagne where the Americans clawed for yards day after day, to the Heights of the Meuse from where German guns ruthlessly pounded the Americans.  The monuments and cemeteries were inhabited only by the ghosts.

In many ways, America came of age in the Meuse-Argonne, but today those who fought in that epic battle are not just forgotten–they have never even been known by most Americans.  So please, take a moment in these October days to remember, and pay tribute to, men who do not deserve the oblivion to which an easily distracted nation has consigned them.

*But fortunately, not abandoned.  The American Battle Monuments Commission has done a marvelous job  of maintaining and preserving these testaments to the bravery of American soldiers.

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July 19, 2018

Freakouts Cause Flashbacks–to Montenegro, of All Places

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:55 pm

The freakout du jour–Trump’s questioning whether it made any sense to have Montenegro in Nato–triggered a flashback (from inauguration day, in fact):

Another example of dysfunction is Montenegro’s impending bid to join Nato. Just what is the rationale for this? There is none: Montenegro brings no military capability, but just adds an additional obligation.

But it’s worse than than. Nato’s biggest weakness is its governance structure, which requires unanimity and consensus in major decisions. This is flagrantly at odds with one of the principles of war–unity of command–and makes Nato decision making cumbersome and driven by the least common denominator. Nato’s governance, in other words, makes it all too easy for an adversary to get inside its decision loop.

Coalitions are always militarily problematic: Napoleon allegedly rejoiced at the news that another nation had joined one of the coalitions against him. Nato’s everybody gets a vote and a trophy philosophy aggravates the inherent problems in military coalitions.

Put differently, decision making power in Nato bears no relationship to contribution and capability. This is a recipe for dysfunction.

So what is the point of adding yet another non-contributor (population 620K!) whose consent is required to undertake anything of importance? This is madness.

It is especially insane when one considers that Montenegro is a Slavic country with longstanding ties to Russia, and in which Russia has a paternalistic interest. Parliamentary elections last year were extremely contentious, with the pro-western incumbents barely hanging on. Post-election, there were allegations of an attempted coup engineered by the Russians. The country is extraordinarily corrupt. All of which means that if you are concerned about Russia undermining Nato, Montenegro is the last country you would want to admit. It is vulnerable to being suborned by Russia. Outside of Nato-who cares what Russia does there? Inside of Nato-that is a serious concern, especially given the nature of Nato governance.

But apparently current Nato members believe that it would be really cool to collect the entire set of European countries: frankly, I can think of no other justification. There is no better illustration of how Nato has lost its way, its strategic purpose, and its ability to think critically.

Now Trump’s particular objection (that Montenegrins are excitable types who might trigger WWIII) was typically Trumpian, in that it was a rather bizarre thought process/formulation that ultimately led to the right conclusion: it makes no sense to include Montenegro in Nato, and doing so can only cause trouble.  Arriving at the correct conclusion based on fractured reasoning–or a fractured articulation of the reasoning–usually occurs only by accident, but it happens enough with Trump that it is unlikely to be totally accidental.  But given that the establishment places undue emphasis on articulateness and verbal polish, the convoluted explanation completely prevents people from taking the conclusion seriously–in part because they are too busy freaking out.

Something that I pointed out in my post goes double–or triple–today.  Simultaneously freaking out about the existential threat posed by Russia and the outrage of objecting to including Montenegro in Nato is utterly illogical to the point of idiocy, and no amount of verbal acuity is going to change that fundamental fact.  That circle cannot be squared.

So here’s what we have on offer: articulate and invariably wildly wrong, or wildly inarticulate and sometimes right, especially on big issues.

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July 3, 2018

When It Comes to Its Pathetic Military, Economic Powerhouse Germany Can’t Even Manufacture Decent Excuses

Filed under: Economics,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 8:15 pm

Trump sent a letter admonishing European nations that have failed to meet their solemn promise to spend 2 pct of GDP on defense.  In reply, Merkel dispatched her Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to deliver a whinge that would embarrass a teenager explaining to mom why he hasn’t cleaned his room.  For the last 10 years.

Shall we begin the beating? Let’s!

Nato, she said, was not just about “cash” — but also about “capabilities” and “contributions”.

Just what “contributions,” exactly? Tiresome, supercilious lectures, with a heavy emphasis on Germany’s moral superiority?  Nothing that actually goes boom or risks killing anyone downrange, apparently.

And what capabilities? By Germany’s own accounting, its lack of readiness is “dramatic”:

What’s wrong with the Bundeswehr?

  • Bartels pointed to “big gaps” in personnel and equipment. At the end of 2017, no submarines and none of the air force’s 14 large transport planes were available for deployment due to repairs.
  • Other equipment, including fighter jets, tanks and ships, was outdated and in some cases not fully operational because of bad planning or a lack of spare parts. Some air force pilots were unable to train because too many aircraft were being repaired.
  • Soldiers have experienced increasing levels of stress and there was a lack adequate leadership due to some 21,000 vacant officer posts.
  • The report said the government needed to pursue reforms “with greater urgency” and increase defense spending.
  • A lack of funding and inefficient management structures and planning were behind the problems. Germany has cut defense spending since the end of the Cold War. In 2017, it spent about 1.2 percent of its economic production in 2017 on the armed forces, which is below the 2 percent target recommended by the NATO alliance.

Other than that, they’re a powerhouse!

Tanks? Did you ask about tanks? Planes?

The Bundeswehr is due to take over leadership of NATO’s multinational Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the start of next year, but doesn’t have enough tanks, the Defense Ministry document said.

Specifically, the Bundeswehr’s ninth tank brigade in Münster only has nine operational Leopard 2 tanks — even though it promised to have 44 ready for the VJTF — and only three of the promised 14 Marder armored infantry vehicles. [An American tank company has 14 M1s, by the way.  A company.]

The paper also revealed the reason for this shortfall: a lack of spare parts and the high cost and time needed to maintain the vehicles. It added that it was also lacking night-vision equipment, automatic grenade launchers, winter clothing and body armor. [It would probably be more efficient to list what they aren’t lacking.]

The German air force is also struggling to cover its NATO duties, the document revealed. The Luftwaffe’s main forces, the Eurofighter and Tornado fighter jets and its CH-53 transport helicopters, are only available for use an average of four months a year — the rest of the time the aircraft are grounded for repairs and rearmament.

And I guarantee you, these problems are NOT because of intense use and deployment.  It is neglect and stinginess–pure and simple.

German leadership is apparently deaf.  So deaf that they can’t even hear Trump:

Bundeswehr Chief of Staff reacts: Volker Wieker defended the military, saying “no complaints have come to my ear either in Germany or from our allies.” He did however admit that combat-readiness needed to be improved.

Back to Frau van der Leyen:

“You can easily spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence without actually offering anything to Nato,” she said in Berlin on Tuesday evening. “The question for Nato is not just how much you spend nationally on defence, but how much does the country provide in terms of contributions that Nato needs.”

Maybe so, if this example of pointless military expenditure is representative of the best Germany can do.  But if you don’t spend squat you clearly won’t offer anything to Nato.  And squat is pretty much what your contributions are to Nato needs.  Training with broomsticks and shouting “bang! bang!” is not what Nato needs.

So let’s see whether you can spend money on defense and buy some capabilities with it, shall we?  Let’s put that vaunted German efficiency to work!

Germany, Ms von der Leyen stressed, was the second-largest supplier of troops to Nato behind the US, as well as the second-largest supplier of troops in Afghanistan.

Germany also has the second-largest population and economy in Nato, and on a per capita basis and a GDP basis, so it should supply the second-largest number. Even so, it definitely does not pull its weight.  It is a free-rider by every measure whose contribution does not match its population or economic heft.

Insofar as Afghanistan is concerned, Germany has suffered fewer KIA there than not just the US, but the UK, Canada, and France.  On a per capita basis, it has suffered far fewer than Australia, Italy, Poland, Denmark (which has suffered only 14 fewer KIA, despite its vastly smaller population–and the disdain with which Germans treat them), Spain, the Netherlands, Georgia, Latvia, Estonia, New Zealand, Norway, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

None of which, I might add, hosted anything like the Hamburg Cell of Al Qaeda for years.

Given that record, any decent, self-respecting government official (perhaps an oxymoron!) would pass over Afghanistan in silence.

The minister also pointed to the prominent role of the German Bundeswehr in Nato’s push to bolster the security of member states in eastern Europe.

Prominent? Like how, precisely?  The VJTF is the primary Nato contribution to the security of eastern Europe, and we’ve already seen just how pathetic Germany’s contribution to that is.

“To be clear: we stand by the 2 per cent goal that we set ourselves in Wales. We are on the way to meeting it. And we are ready, and have shown that we are ready, to take on substantial responsibilities inside the alliance,” the minister said.

“We are on our way to meeting it.” On your way? When will you get there? In time to celebrate Putin’s 90th birthday?

I can guarantee you that this pathetic response will not mollify Trump.  To the contrary–it will only make him more pissed off.  Meaning that the next Nato summit will be loads of fun!

In other news, Germany says that sanctions will not affect Nord Stream 2:

Germany has been assured by the United States that any sanctions imposed on Russia will not affect the building of a gas pipeline to bring Russian gas to Europe, a spokeswoman for the German economy ministry said on Friday.

The spokeswoman said that guidelines provided by the United States suggested that construction of Nord Stream 2 would be unaffected.

I dunno, Fritz.  Sounds like a dare to Trump, and if he takes you up on it, it will be to screw you, not the Russians.  And continuing to make pathetic excuses for reneging on Nato commitments just might spur him to do so.

Finally, Merkel, who has become the epitome of the careerist politician who clings to power at all cost, jettisoned her supposedly principled moral stand on refugees and agreed to set up camps at the German border to detain them for processing.  Her Bavarian gadfly, Horst Seehofer, was apparently mollified by this concession.

The Social Democrats in the coalition have yet to sign off.  I would not be surprised if Merkel uses their opposition to renege on her commitment to Seehofer–it is probably as firm as her commitment to boost defense spending.

I will not be surprised at anything Merkel will do to hang on to power.  No doubt she will suffer pretty much indignity to do so. Because that is pretty much her overriding concern, to which everything else is subordinate. Meaning that I sincerely hope that Trump continues to bust her chops about Nato, and pretty much anything else, for that matter.

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May 15, 2018

Merkel Seems Intent on Proving Churchill (“Germany Is Either At Your Feet or At Your Throat”) Right

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 6:25 pm

The political and commercial elite in Germany generally, and Angela Merkel in particular, are having quite the meltdown of late.  Angela angrily said that Germany would no longer hold back its anger against the United States. And a mere few days after lamenting that Europe could no longer depend on the US to defend it, Merkel huffily said Germany would not comply with Trump’s “demand” that it increase its defense spending.

The proximate cause of Merkel’s rage was Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran “deal”–a secretly negotiated, and largely undisclosed, transaction negotiated between Obama and the mullahs, never submitted for ratification, and which therefore is a legal nullity insofar as the US is concerned.  Obama refused to formalize it because he knew such an attempt would fail, but figured that it would live on because Hillary would succeed him.  Ah, Barack, the best laid plans, eh? Your personal agreement as president could be undone by your successor, and with the same effort that was exerted to give it the force of law: that being none whatsoever.

Germany is particularly distressed at the prospect of losing investment in and trading with Iran.  Even if Europe does not reimpose sanctions, it knows that is irrelevant because the secondary US sanctions of the kind that cost BNP Paribas a cool $9 billion, and risk destroying Rusal, make it suicidal for any European company to deal with any Iranian entity the US sanctions.

One reason that Merkel, and other Europeans, are beside themselves is that their utter impotence is exposed.  They pretend as if they are an independent geopolitical force, but can act only at the sufferance of the US.   Being exposed as powerless and subordinate does breed rage, no?

The evidence of this is all around, both in Trump’s punitive actions (the sanctions on Rusal or ZTE, for instance), and in his proffers of mercy (again to Rusal or ZTE).  Mercy is the prerogative of the powerful: masters can extend mercy, and doing so is the most powerful demonstration thereof.

This whole episode also demonstrates the irrelevance of the Europeans to the process from its beginning.  What is happening now demonstrates that German, French, and British participation was utterly irrelevant to imposing economic hardship on the mullahs.  The US could have–as it is doing now–unilaterally deterred the Europeans from offering Iran aid and comfort.  Including them only led to a more Iran-friendly deal.  (Actually, it just basically cheer-led for Obama’s Iran friendly deal, because he was about as friendly as could be imagined to the mullahs.)

It must also be noted that the German posture towards Iran is beyond unseemly, given Germany’s history.  The moral obtuseness of Germany, of all nations, panting after the business of a nation that has vowed to destroy Israel is mind boggling.

It is especially mind boggling given the German predilection for moral preening, and their tendency to lecture all about their moral superiority.

If you think this is too harsh, consider the fact that Germany’s Incitement to Hatred law (i.e., its Holocaust Denial law) makes it a felony punishable by five years imprisonment for those who:

  1. incites hatred against a national, racial, religious group or a group defined by their ethnic origins, against segments of the population or individuals because of their belonging to one of the aforementioned groups or segments of the population or calls for violent or arbitrary measures against them; or
  2. assaults the human dignity of others by insulting, maliciously maligning an aforementioned group, segments of the population or individuals because of their belonging to one of the aforementioned groups or segments of the population, or defaming segments of the population,

So, if the mullahs did in Germany what they do in Iran on a daily basis, they’d be in the slammer for a nickel.  But they’re OK to do business with, even though they have far more power to act on their threats than some skinhead in Leipzig. AfD is beyond the pale, but the mullahs–now there’s somebody to do business with!

Got it.

As for Merkel’s threats to show her displeasure–who’s stopping you? Go ahead.  Act like any respectable Resistance member. Stomp your feet.  Roll around on the floor screaming.  Hold your breath until your face turns blue.

I won’t say that it won’t have any effect on me–because I’ll genuinely enjoy the spectacle, primarily because it just makes all the more clear your impotence.

As Putin is fond of saying: the dog barks, but the caravan moves on.

As for Trump’s “demand” regarding defense spending.  Um, this was a commitment that Germany voluntarily made to Nato, on more than one occasion long before Trump came to office.  So I guess it’s utterly outrageous for the US to walk away from a deal with the mullahs that did not involve the imprimatur of America’s designated representative body (the Senate), but it’s totally OK for Germany to stiff the US and other Nato allies–all European, mind you–because they are just too fucking cheap (despite having the healthiest fiscal condition of any large nation).  (I further note that Germany is more than happy to “stitch up” (Tim Newman’s phrase) its European confreres when there’s money to be made, kumbaya rhetoric notwithstanding.)

Churchill came close to the truth when he said that the Germans were either at your feet or at your throat.  They certainly go for the throat of the weaker members of the EU, and now at the UK for having the audacity to leave. These days, however, they don’t have the might to tear at the US’s throat, their presumptions notwithstanding.  So while they practice proskynesis at Persian feet, the best they can muster is to nip at Donald Trump’s ankles.

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March 1, 2018

Teetotaler Putin Channels the Bourbons–And I Don’t Mean Old Granddad or Maker’s Mark

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:35 pm

Talleyrand famously said of the Bourbons: “They had learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.” That thought came to mind in reading more about Putin’s speech.  He has obviously not forgotten a single slight, perceived or real, from the west, ever.  But he obviously learned nothing from the demise of the USSR, which was economically ruined attempting to compete in military power with a far more economically vibrant and productive rival–the west generally, and the US in particular. If anything, the economic gap has widened since the Cold War.  Indeed, this is especially the case in most military production: the hollowing out of the Russian military-industrial complex is manifest, and the loss of skilled labor in particular has been severe.  The USSR was unable to compete in an arms race, and Russia is in an even worse position to do so.

Yet Putin is announcing a new arms race.

Perhaps this is why Putin’s speech focused on nuclear weapons.  It is the one area in which Russia is competitive, and may actually have some advantages.

But the enemy (and Putin definitely perceives the US to be an enemy) gets a vote too, and Putin cannot unilaterally limit the locus of competition to nuclear weapons.  The US is likely to respond to a more truculent Russia with some new nuclear weapons (e.g., air-launched cruise missiles), but also by expanding conventional forces, and by innovating in technologies that Russia cannot hope to compete in.

This is a sobering thought though–or if you look at it a little differently, one that might get you to hit the bourbon. If nukes are the only tool in Russia’s kit, the likelihood of use becomes higher.

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February 16, 2018

Putin’s Rock-and-a-Hard-Place Situation in Syria

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Profesor 2 @ 11:17 am

The Syrian war has been dragging on for a bloody seven years, but now the sh*t is truly getting real–because now it has become a cockpit for global and regional power rivalries. The most fraught development involves the potential for escalating conflict between Iran and its proxies (notably Hezbollah) and Israel–and that puts Vladimir Putin and Russia into a very difficult position.

Last week an Iranian drone allegedly violated Israeli airspace. The Israelis shot down the drone, and then launched a massive attack that apparently destroyed half of Syria’s air defenses, losing an F-16 in the process.  The Israelis also bombed Iranian forces in Syria. Things have settled down a bit since then, but the potential for escalation is clearly present.

Despite Russia’s long-term (and by long-term I mean centuries-long) rivalry with Iran/Persia, the countries have been de facto allies in Syria because both have a strong interest in saving the Assad regime.  But the interests in Assad are vastly different, and now that the Syrian regime’s survival seems assured, those interests are not aligned.

Iran views the Assad regime as vital because under its control Syria is a vital component of Iran’s anti-Israel strategy.  In particular, Syria is the essential logistic bridge to Hezbollah in Lebanon.  With Syria in unfriendly hands, Hezbollah would be completely isolated.  With Syria in Assad’s hands, Iran can funnel massive supplies to Israel’s arch-foe.  Given the centrality of Israel to Iran’s strategic ambitions, Assad is a vital Iranian national interest, and an ongoing national interest.

Putin’s interests in Syria were always more limited.  A naval base (which would be completely useless in a real shooting war given its isolation and Russia’s lack of a real blue water navy), a few airbases, and an ability to reassert Russia as a player in the Middle East. Those objectives have largely been achieved, and Putin was no doubt hoping that the stabilization of the Syrian regime would permit a drawdown of Russian activities there.

Furthermore, Putin has always tried to maintain good relations with Israel.  Netanyahu and other high-ranking Israelis have made numerous trips to Moscow.

But if Iran pushes issues with Israel, the Jewish state’s heretofore relatively benign approach to the Syrian regime (which has involved no more than occasional punitive strikes and a largely hands-off attitude in the Syrian civil war) will change. The regime is Iran’s and Hezbollah’s center of gravity, and if Iran escalates confrontation with Israel either from Lebanon or Syria directly, Israel will hit Assad’s regime very hard.  This will again put its survival at risk, and cost Putin what he has gained so far.

In other words, it is in Russia’s interest to restrain Iran, but it is not clear that Iran can be restrained. Putin has nothing to gain from an Iran-Israel conflict in Syria and Lebanon, and all that he has gained so far is at risk from such a conflict.  For its part, if Iran decides to escalate, it means that it has decided that the Syrian regime’s vulnerability to local forces has been largely eliminated, and it doesn’t really need Russia anymore.

All of which means that Putin is now largely at the mercy of a highly ideological regime with an agenda that not only does Putin not share (the destruction of Israel), but which he actually opposes.

Note that Russia has also been exploring cooperation with Iran’s other arch-enemy, Saudi Arabia, especially in the field of energy.  Siding with Iran puts that at risk too.

So what will Putin do? Hard to know. But it is clear he has no real good options.

The other big story involving Russia in Syria relates to the devastating American response to an attack mounted on a base of US-supported fighters where some American advisers were located. The US responded with extreme–and I mean extreme–violence. In response to a battalion-sized attack, they threw just about everything in the arsenal at the assault–artillery, F-15Es, MQ-9 drones, AH-64 Apaches, B-52s(!), and AC-130s.

This extremely forceful response was clearly sending a message.  It reminds me of what Mattis told Iraqi tribal leaders: “I come in peace. I did not bring artillery. But if you fuck with me, I will kill you all.”  The assaulting force was f*cking with the US, and Mattis’ military responded by pretty much killing them all.

They’ll think twice next time. And that’s the point.

The biggest mystery is the identity of “them all.” Was it regime paramilitaries leavened with a few Russians, or a force predominately made up of Russian mercenaries? The Russians first denied Russians were killed, but after some widows went public it admitted to the deaths of 5 Russians.  Other reports, supposedly sourced from Russian military sources, put the casualty toll in the hundreds, with 100-200 KIA. (The Russian government dismisses these reports as “disinformation,” but its credibility is near zero.)

The big question is why was the attack made? A purely regime-directed operation that used Russian mercenaries without the knowledge or approval of the Russian military? (Highly doubtful.) An attempt by the Russians to test the Americans, or to send a message? (If so, the answer was given with extreme prejudice.) One theory floating around in Russia is that the mercenaries (from the firm Вагнер) had become inconvenient to the Russian military and government, and were set up to be destroyed.  I have no idea–I just hope that Mattis, Trump, et al do.

Then there’s the conflict between the US and Turkey over support for Kurdish fighters (who were the only anti-ISIS troops who can, in the words of George Patton, “fight their way out of a piss-soaked paper bag”).  Turkey has mounted an attack into Syria, and Erdogan has threatened to give the US an “Ottoman slap” if we interfere. (By the way–did the Ottomans have nukes? Just wondering.)

All in all, Syria makes Game of Thrones look simple, and now the potential for a conflict between the big dogs is greater than ever. It’s hard to see this ending well for anyone–Vladimir Putin least of all.

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October 26, 2017

John Kelly is From Mars: The New York Times is From Planet Clueless

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 7:55 pm

It’s quite amusing to observe the dismay and panic expressed in this NYT article about Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly. OH MY GOD. HE ACTUALLY BELIEVES IN TRUMP’S AGENDA! WE THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO TAME THE BEAST! WE’RE DOOMED! DOOMED I SAY!

For all of the talk of Mr. Kelly as a moderating force and the so-called grown-up in the room, it turns out that he harbors strong feelings on patriotism, national security and immigration that mirror the hard-line views of his outspoken boss. With his attack on a congresswoman who had criticized Mr. Trump’s condolence call to a slain soldier’s widow last week, Mr. Kelly showed that he was willing to escalate a politically distracting, racially charged public fight even with false assertions.

And in lamenting that the country no longer holds women, religion, military families or the dignity of life “sacred” the way it once did, Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general whose son was killed in Afghanistan, waded deep into the culture wars in a way few chiefs of staff typically do. Conservatives cheered his defense of what they consider traditional American values, while liberals condemned what they deemed an outdated view of a modern, pluralistic society.

A Marine who “harbors strong feelings on patriotism.” Who could ever conceive of such a thing? And interesting choice of words, isn’t it? “Harbor” is often used to suggest something illicit, like harboring a fugitive, or to insinuate concealment. No, I would imagine that Kelly wears his patriotism on his sleeve.

And again, what does one expect from a career Marine who achieved four star rank? Yes, there are exceptions–cf. Smedley Butler–but high ranking Marines do tend to be conventionally patriotic, and in the right tail of the patriotism distribution.

And a Marine who takes national security seriously. Again–who knew?

Insofar as immigration is concerned, this should not be surprising either, for two reasons. First, as the transnational progressives/globalists at the NYT never cease telling us, there is a strong correlation between American nationalist beliefs (which, I must note, are different in key ways from the European nationalism which the likes of the NYT and its readership wrongheadedly confuse it with) and hostility to open borders. Second, is it any surprise that Trump chose someone who was in agreement with him on immigration to head DHS, which is responsible for immigration policy?

This article is self-satirizing. Which makes thing easy for me. I just have to point you to it, and you can take the laughs from there.

The Times and others (including house broken “conservatives” like Jennifer Rubin at the WaPo, who cites Kelly as a reason there should be no generals in the White House) somehow think that because the steely, disciplined, controlled Kelly is temperamentally different from the mercurial and indisciplined Trump that he must be ideologically different as well.

What idiocy! I would in fact think it highly likely that Kelly is more innately and consistently committed to MAGA and a MAGA agenda than Trump: Trump has been all over the ideological map in the last nearly 40 years, and there is a lingering suspicion that his new identity as American nationalist champion is little more than a cannily chosen political strategy, rather than a matter of conviction.

In contrast, there is little doubt that Kelly is a man of conviction, and the irony–which is driving the NYT into apoplexy, and which is probably enriching many therapists on the Upper West Side (who are probably themselves getting therapy)–is that it is eminently possible that Kelly will get Trump to internalize those convictions, and moreover, attempt to achieve them in a more disciplined, strategic, and steady way.

In other words, NYT: be very, very careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

One last thing. The very article that frets neurotically about Kelly’s pointed remarks about how few Americans serve in uniform (he calls those that do “the one percent”) and how little those who don’t serve know about those who do provides proof of the ignorance that Kelly criticizes. For catch this:

Correction: October 27, 2017 

An article on Thursday about the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, misidentified the branch of the armed forces in which his son, who was killed in combat, served. He was a Marine, not a soldier.

Anyone with passing familiarity with the US military would know that members of the United States Marine Corps are not “soldiers,” and indeed, bridle at the term: they are Marines, dammit. There was a time (and there may still be occasions) where making that mistake could get you a black eye and a bloody nose. The NYT (including the writer, fact checkers, editors) obviously does not even have passing familiarity with the US military, which is why they  find someone like Kelly utterly unfathomable.

John Kelly is from Mars: the New York Times is from the Planet Clueless.

 

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