Streetwise Professor

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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August 9, 2017

How Do You Eat a Norkupine?

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 7:23 pm

North Korea represents one of the most daunting challenges imaginable. Although the North Korean military has aged and obsolete equipment, and would lose in an all out war, it could inflict massive casualties on whomever it fought. Further, it has the Sampson option: with massive conventional and chemical artillery forces in range of Seoul, before it was consumed in the inevitable retaliatory strike, North Korea could kill tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of South Koreans.

North Korea has also amassed a cache of nuclear weapons, estimated to number about 60. These weapons alone, without a reliable delivery mechanism, pose little threat to the US. The Norks are also working diligently on their missile forces, and have recently achieved several apparently successful tests of ICBMs. Nukes alone are little threat. Missiles alone are little threat. Put them together, and you have a real threat.

It is this convergence between missile and nuke technology that has brought this crisis to a head. The window to prevent this threat from becoming reality is closing rapidly with every successful North Korean test. But how to deal with the threat without wreaking vast destruction on the Korean Peninsula? No easy answers.

Kim Jung Un clearly sees nukes as the best guarantor of his survival, and that of his regime. But somehow guaranteeing regime survival is unlikely to induce him to give up these weapons. First, he is unlikely to find any guarantee credible: paranoids seldom do. Second, no one, least of all the US, is likely to consider any Un promise to disarm to be credible: “unpromise” is about the most accurate way you could characterize it. Further, if KJU believes that nukes make him immune from attack, he will believe that his freedom of action is much greater with nukes than without them: he can be far more aggressive and disruptive secure in the knowledge that his nuke missiles deter any retaliation.

So what to do? In the medium to long term, continued development of more robust missile defenses will mitigate the threat he poses. But in the short term, the only real leverage is economic, and (a) that is limited, and (b) it depends crucially on Chinese cooperation (and to some degree Russian).

But the Chinese actually enjoy US discomfiture: this gives them little incentive to cooperate. China will act only if it perceives that there will be a serious price to be paid if it doesn’t.

Since the earliest days of the administration Trump has been deploying every carrot and stick to get the Chinese to cooperate. Relenting on threats to deal aggressively with trade, currency and intellectual property issues. Threatening secondary sanctions against Chinese companies and banks who keep North Korea afloat–and relenting on those threats when the Chinese cooperate.

But greatest risk that China faces would be a war on the Korean Peninsula. It would receive the most fallout–figuratively, but likely literally too. A collapsed regime on its border is a Chinese nightmare, as would the resulting storm of refugees, not to mention a substantial risk of nuclear fallout–and perhaps even a Korean launch of a nuclear missile against China.

So China is unwilling to play a constructive role unless it believes that the US may indeed attack the Norks.

It is against this background that one must view Trump administration actions, from direct presidential threats to repeated flyovers of US nuclear capable bombers to today’s statement by SecDef Mattis, which effectively reprises his famous threat to Iraqi tribal leaders (though unfortunately absent the profanity): “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you fuck with me, I’ll kill you all.”

Yes, these messages are ostensibly directed at KJU, the administration is definitely CC’ng Xi and the Chinese leadership.

This strategy does appear to have paid off: China voted in favor of  Security Counsel resolution imposing the most punitive sanctions on North Korea yet adopted. Chinese compliance on the ground remains to be proven, but it’s a start.

And there’s the dilemma. There are seldom ever purely diplomatic solutions: all negotiations depend crucially on threat points, and in international relations military force is a powerful threat point. This is especially true with North Korea, which as a pariah nation is relatively immune to other conventional blandishments. And this is also true here because the party with the most leverage, China, is likely to be most responsive to the risk of military conflict.

It is therefore hard to imagine any approach to North Korea that does not involve the threat of military force, including threats in terms that North Korea is usually the one using, rather than hearing used against them. Trump personally, and most of his top personnel, including Mattis and McMaster, have been doing just that.

This has elicited a horrified reaction among the establishment–whose opinions, I might add, deserve even less weight than usual given that they have proven singularly inept at dealing with North Korea over the past quarter century. From ex-Obama people (notably the execrable James Clapper), to senior Senators like Feinstein and McCain(!), we are told that Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous (“unhelpful”, in McCain’s case), that we can accept a nuclear North Korea, and that dialogue with North Korea is the only alternative.

But again, this is utterly vacuous. Dialog with KJU has any prospect of success only if he and the Chinese believe that a failure of diplomacy could result in mushroom clouds over Pyongyang. Further, acceding to KJU’s possession of an arsenal of nuclear weapons without contemplating what he will do next is a victory of hope over experience.

It is particularly bizarre to see this obsession with jaw-jaw in North Korea juxtaposed with the frenzy directed against Trump for attempting to talk with Russia. Here McCain is by far the most bizarre of the bizarre. For at least the past 9 years (since 8/8/8, when the Russo-Georgian War began), McCain has been spoiling for a fight with Putin. In Georgia. In the Donbas. In Syria. Further, McCain has cast attempts to talk to Russia as tantamount to treason. It doesn’t take much of an imaginative leap to picture McCain as a latter-day Major Kong, taking the big one for a final ride into Russia.

So if talking to KJU, or letting Kim be Kim, is the right policy on the 38th parallel, how can confrontation with Putin be the right policy? Putin has more military (notably nuclear) capability. Putin hasn’t made blood-curdling threats against the US. Putin is clearly a far more reasonable interlocutor than the Pyongyang Playboy. If you can transact with KJU, you can transact with Putin.

This palpable irrationality and rank inconsistency is yet further evidence that anyone spouting DC conventional wisdom should be ignored. This conventional wisdom is driven by something. What it is I don’t know exactly, but I know what it isn’t: logic.

The policy choice is therefore fold (as the Feinsteins and McCains and Clappers are proposing) or raise the stakes. But folding will just embolden Kim going forward–which is something that McCain would point out if it was Putin on the other side of the table, but which he blithely ignores here. And it is hard to see how the correlation of forces would move in favor of the US if the game is continued: indeed, it is likely to go the other way as Kim hits his nuke and missile building stride. So, as dismal as it seems, raising the stakes now, with all the attendant risks, is the best of a bad choice. The fact that John McCain and the rest of the CW set don’t like it may be the best endorsement of all.

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August 2, 2017

Tell It to the Marines: SJWs are Inimical to Real Warfighting

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 11:43 am

Everything in the military should be directed to its purpose: winning wars while being sparing of American lives. As Patton said, making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. The focus should be on lethality, and strategic, operational, and tactical prowess. All other considerations are beyond secondary, because it is a matter of life and death, not to mention national security.

This is why I read with satisfaction that SecDef Mattis wants to focus training on warfighting, not Mickey Mouse:

Notably, Mattis has ordered a review of the “requirements for mandatory force training that does not directly support core tasks” – the many hours soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines spend prior to deployment meeting the Pentagon-required tasks that sometimes have little to do with the role they will actually fulfill when deployed.

“I want to verify that our military policies also support and enhance warfighting readiness and force lethality,” Mattis said.

Damn right. And about time.  To do otherwise puts lives at risk, and jeopardizes the national interest by compromising the ability of the military to fight and win wars.

But real warriors have long been the target of Social Justice Warriors who want to use the military to advance their agendas, even when doing so is inimical to combat effectiveness, either because it diverts resources from primary missions, or because it actually undermines order, discipline, and effectiveness.

The recent kerfuffle over transgenders in the military is a case in point. The whole purpose of making transgenders in the military a cause celebre had nothing at all to do with fighting shooting wars: it was all about fighting the culture war. Some of the attacks on Trump for his bolt-from-the-blue statement that he was overturning the late-in-the-day Obama policy regarding transgenders in the military were rather astounding. One was the commonly repeated statement that there were as many as 15,000 transgendered individuals in the US military. That would be 1 percent of the force: bull. (How many transgenders do you know?) Even the Rand study that was commissioned to advise Obama administration policy put the number at less than half of that–at most–and admits that there is no empirical or epidemiological basis for the number. It is a wild ass guess. Nothing more.

Then there were statements like how terrible it was to exclude transgenders from the military because the suicide attempt rate among them is almost 10 times that of the population at large. Methinks that argument cuts quite the other way: why would you want to put in a high stress environment people who are disproportionately suffering from severe emotional problems? This is not conducive to military effectiveness, and even putting that aside, how is it helping these people? Suicide rates are already above average for military personnel, especially those who have been in combat: tell me how it is compassionate to encourage such emotionally vulnerable individuals to go into a profession that can test every fiber of the far stronger? Indeed, it is sick that transgenders are being used as pawns in the SJW war on convention and majority culture.

My policy recommendation is pretty simple: don’t ask, don’t snip. Apply the same standards of conduct and performance. Those that hack it, fine. Those that can’t–adios. That’s a truly non-discriminatory policy that is consistent with the overriding goal of the military: combat effectiveness.

The recent flap over transgenders sparked by a (go figure) Trump tweet is only the most recent example of the SJW campaign against traditional military norms. One that I’ve been keeping my eye on is efforts to change the Marine Corps, always a bête noire to the left because of its unapologetic, uncompromising stance on traditional standards of the service, and its resistance to PC tripe that the other branches have capitulated to. The anti-USMC vanguard sees an opening due to the recent scandal involving Marines sharing online naked photos of female Marines, often accompanied by unflattering commentary.

Is it gross? Yes. Would I be upset if my daughters were the subject of such indignities? Probably–although I am sure I would tell them that this is a problem easily avoided: don’t pose for (or take yourself) nude photos.

But even granting, for the sake of argument, that the Marine Corps is a socially retrograde institution, out of step with progressive values, and beset with misogyny: I don’t care! I look at the effects of its culture and traditions at achieving the purpose of the organization: on those terms, its record is unparalleled. Do not interfere with any military organization that has achieved a record unblemished by defeat. Do not interfere with any military organization that within the last 100 years has been able to get its men to fight and win horrific battles. There is no other body of troops of similar size that can match its record. Just look at the names: Belleau Wood, some bloody small wars in Central America and Haiti, Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Cape Gloucester, Bougainville, Tarawa, Peleliu, Saipan, Guam, Tinian, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Inchon, Seoul, the Chosin Reservoir, Hue, Kuwait, Fallujah I and II. Grinding, bloody battles all. Despite often fighting on a shoestring (always being last in line for equipment) and facing grave disadvantages in terrain, protection, and position, and taking grievous casualties, the Marines always prevailed. (Yes, Wake is an exception. But that was a forlorn hope in which the Marines covered themselves in glory.)

When people approached Lincoln with tales of Grant’s drinking, he responded: find out what kind of whiskey he drinks and send a barrel of it to all my generals. I have a similar response to those criticizing the retrograde social attitudes of the Marine Corps.

The truth is that we have little understanding of the unique alchemy that creates an exceptional military force like the Marine Corps. It is possible, and indeed even likely, that the attributes of the Marine Corps that most infuriate SJWs are inseparable from those that make it a nonpareil military force. PC won’t prevail on Peleliu. SJWs won’t take Saipan.

The case for letting Marines be Marines is strengthened by the fact that it is, and always has been (with some modest exceptions in WWII and Vietnam) a volunteer organization. Nobody makes you become Marine, and you should know what you are getting into: in fact, it is precisely that knowledge that induces many to join. Self-selection at work.

I have long admired the Marines, but I knew from my days at Navy that I could never be a Marine in million years–another example of self-selection. But that’s definitely a feature, not a bug. By attracting and retaining people that are suited to the institution’s idiosyncrasies, the Corps has created a culture and esprit that has allowed it to achieve great deeds. It ain’t for everybody. And that’s why it’s great at what it does.

During the recent transgender kerfuffle some criticized using the military to carry out social engineering, to which some objected that the military is nothing but a product of social engineering. But this is not true. Most longstanding military organizations are emergent, not designed or engineered. They are the products of a long evolutionary process. Channeling Hayek, organizations like the Marine Corps are the product of human action, not of the execution of any human design. They have an internal logic that is often tacit and really impossible to understand. One attempts to redesign or manipulate them at one’s peril. Or, more accurately, at ours. For doing things that undermine the effectiveness of the USMC, or of other branches of the US military, gets people killed and undermine the security and interests of the country.

 

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July 23, 2017

Ending CIA Arming of the Syrian Rebels Sparks More Zero Sum Thinking on Russia

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 5:14 pm

The latest establishment freakout is over the Trump administration’s decision to terminate the CIA’s program to arm anti-Assad rebels. This episode displays prominently all of the establishment’s mental defects and psychological obsessions.

The first question relevant in appraising the wisdom of the CIA program is whether it is in America’s interest. The objective of the program was to assist in the overthrow of the Assad regime. Which benefits the US how, exactly?

Overthrowing is merely the first–and in some respects, the easiest–step. What comes next? Who/what replaces the existing regime? We’ve seen this movie in the Middle East, and it has never ended well. The aftermath of Khaddafy’s fall is probably the most illuminating example, and anyone who contemplates it for a moment should be very dubious about what wold happen in Syria post-Assad. After all, many of those the CIA was arming in Syria were either jihadists or inferior in combat power and will to jihadists: a post-Assad Syria would likely either be a jihadist state, or a collection of warring statelets, many (if not most) of which would be dominated by Salafists and provide operational bases for anti-western terrorism.

How is that in American interests? We are approaching our 17th year in Afghanistan, the objective of which was originally, and largely remains, to deny Islamic terrorists a base: so why would we want to pursue a policy that would likely give them one that is much more proximate to vital US interests?

The second question is: even overlooking whether the mission objective is wise, has the operation been successful? Here the answer is a resounding “no!” The anti-Assad forces have been losing ground steadily on the battlefield, and have no prospect of winning going forward. Why reinforce an obvious failure? Especially when many of the weapons supplied could well be turned against the US?

AHA! The establishment responds: the opposition lost because the Russians intervened! We are therefore advancing Russian interests by terminating the program!

This is indeed the focus of most of the establishment criticism: yet more evidence of Trump’s pro-Russian stance!

This argument epitomizes zero sum thinking: something that makes Russia better off makes the US worse off, and vice versa. Therefore, we should do something that (a) is unlikely to “succeed”, and (b) even if it “succeeded” would likely be adverse to US interests, because stopping it pleases Putin.

This is exactly what I mean by “mental defect” and “psychological obsession.” This is not strategic thinking: it is dangerous foolishness driven by a monomaniacal focus on Russia.

There is a sick irony here because zero sum thinking is one of Putin’s defining characteristics. His obsession with the US leads him to pursue things which either are adverse to Russian interests, or which utilize resources that could be much better deployed elsewhere, because he believes inflicting pain on the US somehow helps Russia. Thus, those who criticize the end of the CIA program because it will help Putin are mirroring the object of their hatred.

Bizarre.

And so what can Putin “win”? He maintains influence over a country that was a dung heap and economic basket case even before it was all but destroyed by six years of civil war. Check out how much the USSR threw down the Syrian rathole–fat lot of good that it did them. Putin has basically added another wrecked country that will be a dependent on Russia for economic support for decades to his collection of stellar allies. (Note too Putin’s efforts to make deals with Venezuela, which is hurtling into chaos and destruction.)  It is an ulcer.

If that’s what he wants to do–why get in his way? This seems to e a classic case of “never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake.” Oh! He will be able to retain an expand a naval base! Which, (a) he could never support in the event of a shooting war involving the US, and (b) could be obliterated in  a trice. It makes him feel important, but has zero strategic value.

Further, insofar as proving he’s a playa in the Middle East is concerned, this has also come at a cost which hardly seems worth it. He has alienated the Saudis and other Sunni states, and has enmeshed himself with the ally from hell–Iran. Good luck with that, Vlad.

And indeed, Iran seems to be the main beneficiary of Assad’s survival. For this reason, if the debate over supporting the anti-Assad forces takes into consideration his survival’s effect on the balance of power, the focus should be Iran, not Russia. In particular, Assad’s Syria is the vital link between Iran and Hezbollah. Hezbollah’s fortunes would take a serious blow if an anti-Iran regime rules Syria. Which explains why Hezbollah has spent much blood, and Iran has spent much treasure and blood, in fighting for Assad.

Well, truth be told, Hezbollah is not primarily an American concern. Yes, we have unfinished business with them (e.g., the Marine barracks bombing, among other things) but it is not high on the list of threats to the US. Hezbollah is first and foremost an Israeli problem, and arguably is an existential threat or at least a potential one, to Israel.

But if you’ll notice, Israel has pretty much stayed out of the Syrian war. It certainly has not publicly called for his ouster, nor is there evidence that they have worked to support the opposition or to undermine him. Indeed, Israel’s behavior suggests that they think he is the devil they know, and better than the alternative.

Israeli involvement in Syria has been primarily focused on striking direct support for Hezbollah, such as missile shipments from Iran destined for Hezbollah in Lebanon. But Israel has attacked these directly, rather than indirectly by going after Assad.

Note too that the Israelis have not been exercised with Russian intervention in Syria. In fact, Putin and Netanyahu have engaged in several businesslike meetings, and the two countries seem to have an understanding about Syria.

The US should take a clue from the Israelis. If they can live with Assad, the US can too. Yes, Assad is a butcher, and a man who has shown he will commit pretty much any crime to survive. But given that Jeffersonian democracy is not on offer as a successor, and indeed, any successor is likely to be virulently anti-American, a source of terrorism, and as big (or bigger) butcher than Assad, why continue an intervention that has proved a failure on its own terms? And no, “because continuing to arm the rebels angers Putin” is not the answer to that question. At least, it’s not for anyone in possession of his/her faculties, and not gripped zero sum thinking and an unhealthy obsession with Putin. Conditions which, alas, do not characterize the American political class at the moment.

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July 6, 2017

Once Upon a Time in Annapolis

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

Please indulge me with a trip down memory lane. Forty years ago today I was inducted as a Plebe at the United States Naval Academy. I’m sure all you all* find that hard to believe. No, not that I went to Navy–the 40 years part 😉

Plebe Summer was a grind, but I can’t say that it was that difficult. There were in fact some high points. I can still get some yucks (not just from myself, but from others) with stories from that summer. Most related to my battles with authoritah! As I’ve often said–including under oath (when some attorney digging for dirt during a deposition asks why I left the Academy–but that’s getting ahead of the story)–Navy is where I learned that I had issues with authority, and that I was a libertarian rather than a conservative. During Plebe Summer I expected a lot of Mickey Mouse, and got it. But I was operating under the false belief that after the ritual was over, things would get serious and the Mickey Mouse would end. Wrong!

I soon learned that the BS was 24/7, and that standing out in any way attracted unwanted attention and harassment from some pretty twisted people. And I do mean twisted. Perhaps my experience was an outlier, but the upperclassman (along with his roommate) who took a special dislike to me was really twisted. How twisted? Killing his entire family in their sleep twisted. I really didn’t want to spend my 20s (and perhaps beyond) having to be subordinate to the likes of them.

During my years at Navy I also became sufficiently confident in my ability that I knew I could make it in many different careers and didn’t need the structure and security of the Navy. My dad was aghast when he learned (from my former high school history teacher, in whom I’d confided) that I was thinking of leaving. He was a classic manager/executive guy, and sat me down for a talk when I was home on spring break leave. In the 21st century, I’m sure he would have prepared a PowerPoint presentation. In that analog age, he instead prepared flip charts laying out the case for staying at Navy. This involved going into nuke power. Unfortunately, he gave this presentation the week after Three Mile Island blew. Really. Talk about your awkward timing!

I told him “Dad, I really appreciate the thought and effort, but that’s just not me.” As a compromise I agreed to attend the summer professional training (PROTRAMID) which involved spending a week at the surface, submarine, air, and Marine training facilities, and to defer making a decision until afterwards. But as soon as I got back to Annapolis, I prepared a resignation letter (a copy of which I found when cleaning out my mom’s house last month).

The usual routine was for a resigning Mid to have an exit interview with the Deputy Commandant. I did, but then I had one with the Commandant, and finally, the Superintendent (which almost never happens). The Supe was a bad-ass: Medal of Honor winner VADM William P. Lawrence. Admiral Lawrence asked me if there was anything he could do to convince me to stay. I cheekily said “guarantee a slot in Naval Intelligence and I will consider it.” (I was really not interested in boats, especially the kind that went underwater, and didn’t have the eyes to fly.) He said that was not legally possible, so I said, “then there is nothing you can do.” We shook hands, then I saluted, did an about face, and left.

Shortly thereafter, I went from alpha (the Academy) to omega (the University of Chicago). Many serendipitous twists and turns and 38 years later, and here I am.

A high point in that saga came about 25 years after I left Navy. My dad said to me one Christmas: “I thought you were making a big mistake, but you made the right choice.” That was good to hear, and I know he was right–the really important thing was that he knew it was right. It was the right choice to go, and it was the right choice to leave. When I look back–which I do seldom, and mainly on days like this–I do so with no regrets, and with pride. Pride at having gone there, but mainly pride at having no reason to regret deciding to leave.

* This is a Texan phrasing that I have adopted because it is so much more precise than “you”.

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