Streetwise Professor

January 11, 2020

Contingency and Coordination in Iran

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 4:03 pm

Totalitarian regimes are acutely aware of the old adage: “there’s strength in numbers.” What they fear most is mass protest on a scale that can only be repressed with draconian brutality that further undermines whatever internal and external legitimacy they have.

The biggest problem that those who oppose such a regime face is coordinating such a mass protest. Who wants to be the first to step out, uncertain of how many will follow?

This is why such regimes devote considerable resources to impeding coordination. The measures they adopt include propaganda, which supports preference falsification and spreads doubt among individuals about how widely their dissatisfaction is shared. Another is brutal repression: cracking down hard on those who rise up even without universal support, pour encourager–ou, réellement–pour discourager les autres.

We have seen both of late in Iran. The organized mass funerals and mass displays of public bereavement for Suleimani is an example of propaganda at work. The (ironically, Suleimani-directed) brutal repression of anti-regime protests over fuel price hikes is another.

But sometimes chance events create a rallying point that overcomes the coordination problem. Something that is so universally reviled among the public, and which everyone in the public knows that everyone else reviles, can coordinate the spontaneous mass resistance that totalitarian leaders dread.

We may be seeing that in Iran this very moment. The admission–mere hours after statements saying that it was an impossibility–that the IRGC had shot down a civilian airliner, killing 176 people, has catalyzed mass protest in Iran. Among the chants: “Soleimani was a murderer, his Leader is too.” And “Reza Shah, Reza Shah, Rest In Peace!” And, most ominously for the regime: “Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, we are all in this together.”

The shoot-down encapsulates the incompetence, brutality, and lies of the regime. It is out there for all to see, inside and outside Iran. It is exactly the kind of event that is most likely to unify discontented Iranians, and to overcome the coordination problem.

By the nature of such social phenomena, there is a positive feedback mechanism. If enough people rise up, that encourages even more to do so. It is precisely this feedback mechanism that leads totalitarian regimes to devote inordinate efforts to prevent it from starting. But sometimes chance–or a moment of cosmic incompetence and brutality that everyone can witness–overwhelms those efforts.

It is too early to see whether the grotesque murder of 176 people will culminate in the fall of the mullahs. But is the kind of thing that is most likely to do so. An act that all can witness. An act that implicates the regime. An act that evokes universal revulsion. No one has any doubt that most Iranians are shocked by what happened.

These events bring moments of truth to totalitarian regimes. Do they have the will to exert the force necessary to crush them, when the world is watching? Totalitarian regimes that survive do. Those that don’t, don’t. The jury is out on the mullahs.

They enter this crisis without their most reliable enforcer, who was just incinerated by the United States, which touched off the string of events that are climaxing in the streets of Iran. That changes the odds considerably.

This demonstrates the contingency of history, and the law of unintended consequences. Most of the criticism of Trump’s decision that has focused on unintended consequences has emphasized bad potential outcomes. But this string of contingent events shows that unintended consequences can lead to pleasant surprises too.

We shall see.

One last comment. The events in Iran demonstrate, as if further demonstration is needed, the fatuity of the American media. We have witnessed more than a week of fawning over Suleimani, with an emphasis on how universally beloved and revered he is.

Apparently, not so much.

Will the American media admit error? I don’t know about where events in Iran will lead but I do know the answer to this question: Never.

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January 9, 2020

It Is Better to Be Feared by the Mullahs Than to Be Loved By Them (Which Will Never Happen Anyways)

Filed under: Energy,History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:29 pm

Where’s my World War III? I was promised a World War III!

As for indicators that the fact that the US blowed up Qassem Suleimani real good will not set off WWIII, or even Middle East Regional War MCCCLV, look at the oil price: it’s lower today than when Gen. Suleimani’s bell tolled.

The vaunted Iranian retaliation was of the “we have to do something but please don’t hurt me anymore” variety: they launched a few missiles towards bases in Iraq, and fewer still landed there, and those few that landed did not even inflict a scratch on an American.

This allowed Trump to act magnanimously. And limit his response to imposing more sanctions.

That is, the Dirty Harry equilibrium appears to be playing out. A rational thug put his hand on the gun, looked into the muzzle of a 44 magnum, and thought the better of it. Expectations have been reset. Deterrence has been revitalized.

“It is better to be feared than loved, when one cannot be both.” There is no way in hell the mullahs will ever love us: so fear it has to be.

There is other evidence that the mullahs and their security forces were petrified at the prospect of a robust US counterstrike–tragic evidence. It appears increasingly likely that a Ukrainian 737 that went down about the time Iran shot off its missiles was shot down by the Iranians. Interested parties–the US (though not yet officially), Ukraine, and Canada (which had many nationals on board)–have said it was highly likely that was indeed the case. Occam’s Razor says the same: the likelihood of a relatively new 737 spontaneously catching fire and crashing with no communication from the pilots is small indeed.

Shooting down a civilian airliner betrays an extremely jumpy–i.e., afraid–Iranian military that was dreading a US strike. It is horrible outcome–but one that rests entirely on the mullahs.

But not in the minds of many of the American “elite.” Apparently a memo went out dictating that talking heads assert that the plane was the victim of “crossfire,” and that the US generally, and Trump specifically, was to blame.

Representative of this regurgitation of the crossfire talking point was Susan Hennessey, well-known member of Lawfare, and hence a polyp in the colon of “The Resistance” and the deep state:

Hennessey received much push-back on her “crossfire” remark (as apparently did NBC journalist Heidi Przybyla, who cravenly deleted her tweet), and she felt compelled to respond, pissily:

Susie brings to mind Humpty Dumpty: “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less. ” To non-Humptys, the word “crossfire” requires, you know, at least two people shooting. There was only one party shooting (evidently) in Iran. That being Iran. The US fired nary a shot after Senor Suleimani bit the dust.

Insofar as this was a consequence of Trump’s decision to respond to Suleimani’s extremely long history of terror–a history he reveled in–and the threat of terror to come, that is also squarely on the mullahs. They acted as if there were no consequences that they weren’t prepared to accept. Then there were. And then they panicked, and killed a further 176 people.

But everything must be blamed on Trump. Everything.

Along these lines, the media keeps slobbering over Suleimani, telling us how universally revered he is in Iran (while ignoring the other places in the Middle East where he is hated), and speaking in awed tones about the crowd at his funeral.

Arguendo, let’s assume that he is/was universally venerated in Iran. That is, a man who avowedly hated the United States, and ceaselessly waged war on it, and panted for its destruction (and that of Israel). What would that say about Iranians, and their attitude to the US?

Is that really the mullaphiles want to convey? Or are they just too stupid to grasp the implications of their idolatry?

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January 6, 2020

Media and Political Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing (Except, Perhaps, Severe Mental Defect)

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 7:09 pm

The obliteration of Qassem Suleimani has done a great public service, if only for demonstrating the extreme levels of mental retardation among the so-called “elite.”

ZOMG! This will start WWIII.

Which is an extreme dumbing down of the concept of WWIII, which formerly was used to refer to a conflict between two powers possessing tens of thousands of nuclear warheads, and alliances encompassing dozens of nations. Iran has no nukes, and no allies. So other than that–totes the same!

A corollary stupidity is: ZOMG! They will reintroduce the draft! (Note that the Selective Service website crashed because of queries prompted by Gen. Suleimani’s impromptu car-b-que.)

ZOMG! Iranians are in the streets, chanting “Death to America!”

Which they’ve been doing for 40 effing years.

ZOMG! The Iranians will retaliate with terrorism!

Which they’ve also been doing for 40 effing years.

And let’s apply a little game theory. The equilibrium prevailing prior to January 2 could be characterized as the Chump Equilibrium. The Iranian leadership, Suleimani most notably, clearly believed that they could engage in a significant level of asymmetric warfare against the US without fear of serious retaliation or escalation from the US. The best evidence of this is the brazenness with which Suleimani operated.

Iranian beliefs were fully consistent with past American behavior. This explains their escalation in Iraq and elsewhere.

But then Trump demonstrates conclusively that the old beliefs are incorrect by smoking Suleimani. Whereas before, the mullahs and their military and paramilitary henchmen could operate on the belief that the US would not target their sorry selves, they now have to assign a considerable probability to the possibility that if they take American lives, they will pay a very personal cost.

So we have transitioned to the Dirty Harry Equilibrium: “Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

In the original Dirty Harry, the rational thug backed off: the crazy thug didn’t, and took a 44 magnum round to the chest.

We will now see whether the mullahs are rational thugs, or crazy ones. Personally, it doesn’t really matter to me. Or to reprise another Dirty Harry trope: “Go ahead. Make my day.”

The Iranians will certainly “play” crazy, in the hope of buffaloing the Euroweenies and the bedwetters in the US. Here, the very fact that said Euroweenies and bedwetters are virulently anti-Trump means this is another losing tactic, for this means that Trump DGAFF what they think or what they say.

So my prediction is that the intensity of Iranian asymmetric warfare will decrease, not increase.

There is other evidence that Trump has totally upended the mullah’s calculations. They are suffocating under the sanctions that Trump has imposed, and have engaged in various provocations (shooting down a US drone, attacking Gulf shipping and Saudi oil installations), almost certainly in the hope of provoking a response (e.g., a bombing campaign against Iran) that would that would rally world opinion behind Iran, eventually leading to the lifting of sanctions.

But Trump didn’t fall for that. Instead, he made a completely unexpected play greatly raised the dangers the mullahs face, and which did not create the innocent victims that the mullahs were hoping to exploit to undo the sanctions regime that is throttling them.

Not that the retarded elites in the US, and the West generally, have not done their level best to make Suleimani look like an innocent victim. The slobbering and blubbering over this evil thug in the media precincts, and the Democratic Party (same diff, I know) is a sight to behold.

Which will also redound to Trump’s benefit, as the Americans the Democrats need to persuade will be revolted by their eulogizing and lionizing someone who has waged war against the US for his entire adult life, and who reveled in killing and maiming Americans.

If anything, the idiocy is metastasizing, rather than abating. Today the media seized on an alleged letter from a US brigadier general to some Iraqi military figure, supposedly stating that the US was preparing to withdraw from Iraq.

Why would anyone take this seriously, or without a Siberian salt mine? Consider the problems:

  1. The letter was not signed.
  2. Does anyone with two synapses to rub together believe that such a major decision would be communicated first by an Army BG, rather than by the President, the Secretary of State, or the Secretary of Defense? FFS, there are BGs who serve coffee in Pentagon meetings.
  3. What is the likelihood that this represented US policy a mere hours after the cause of yesterday’s media freakout: Trump’s tweets saying that the US would not leave Iraq until they paid billions for the bases we built, and if they tried to force the US out, we would impose sanctions that would make those imposed on Iran “look somewhat tame by comparison”?

The story is now that this was a draft of a letter regarding redeployments within Iraq, and was sent without authorization–or a signature! Maybe–or maybe it is part of some accidentally-on-purpose psyop. It definitely psyched out the media.

But regardless, rather than expressing skepticism, the media ran with it, breathlessly–and brainlessly. (And maybe that was the point of the psyop–to demonstrate just how retarded the media is.)

Nigerian princes should focus their email scams on journalists. They’ll believe anything, apparently.

Another story making the rounds (courtesy of the NYT–you’ve been warned) is that, based on anonymous sources (I’m sure you’re shocked) the US military presented Trump with many options, and included whacking Suleimani as the extreme option, expecting Trump to choose the middle door instead. They were shocked, shocked!, that Trump went for the extreme.

Remember: there are loads of Obama-appointed people embedded throughout the government, including at high levels of the armed forces. Take every leak with a huge degree of skepticism.

And of course there is a counter narrative, 180 degrees from the NYT version. The WaPo states that Pompeo had been pushing to kill Suleimani for months, and that it took considerable persuasion, and the removal of numerous Pentagon officials, to get Trump to agree.

So take your choice. But discount both.

The fact is that Suleimani is dead, and that as a result the mullahs have to think seriously that Lockheed Martin or Boeing is putting the finishing touches on a toy with their name on it. All of the rest is sound and fury, signifying nothing. Or less than nothing.

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January 3, 2020

Suleimani the Not So Magnificent

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 12:15 pm

If reality mirrors Beetlejuice, wherein you spend eternity in the condition in which you left this mortal coil, sometime last night a cloud of pink mist reeking of RDX and rocket fuel wafted through hell, that being all that was left of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Force commander Qassem Suleimani after an aptly named Hellfire missile interrupted his trip from the Baghdad Airport. I’d say rest in pieces, but I don’t think there are any.

I asked an Iranian friend what he thought. Beyond being giddy (for pace the WaPo, not every Iranian “revered” the thug or hates Trump), he related that he had been reading the “regime media,” and that it was in a state of “absolute shock.”

As well it might. Suleimani was no doubt shocked, or would have been in the instant before Hellfire lived up to its name. He obviously thought he was untouchable, shuttling between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, frequently appearing in public, and pretty much living the life of a terrorist rockstar who never dreamed that Great Satan (or even Little Satan) would attack him personally.

And perhaps that sense of impunity was understandable. The Bush and Obama administrations blamed him personally for hundreds of American deaths–and did nothing. They restrained the Israelis from snuffing him.

And Trump did nothing after Iran shot down an American drone. Or after attacks on Gulf shipping. Or after an attack on the most important Saudi oil installation.

Complacency is quite understandable, therefore.

So what changed? Well, in fact Trump made this abundantly clear, and did so on Twitter of course. Under Suleimani’s direction, Iraqi militias killed an American, launched an attack on sovereign US territory (its embassy in Baghdad) and was apparently planning additional attacks on American. Trump said if you kill Americans, you will pay. And he said that wasn’t a warning, it was a threat.

Khameini retorted “you can do nothing.” And Trump replied: “Really? Hold my Diet Coke.”

Trump’s red line is clear as day: Iran kills Americans, and he will kill those responsible. A return to the “Pedicaris alive or Raisuli dead” model of foreign policy, but expressed via Twitter rather than the telegraph. And using Hellfires and JDAMs rather than the Marines or gunboats.

The conventional wisdom set is of course in a state of apoplexy. Despite the fact that Suleimani gleefully directed the deaths and maiming of hundreds of Americans, the media and Democratic politicians engaged in a frenzy of but tweeting; “Yeah, he was horrible, but . . . ” Hell, some skipped over the horrible part altogether and made the guy sound like some sort of paragon.

The most comment lament–shriek would be more accurate–is that this will cause a massive retaliatory response from Iran. Really? These people remind me of the See-and-Say Barbie my daughters used to play with: pull the string, and they say the same damn thing over and over.

The Iranians will no doubt compelled to do something, but Trump has obviously completely upended their assumptions about American responses to their actions. They killed one American contractor, threaten our embassy, and we take out their most important operational figure.

The Iranians, unlike the bleating conventional wisdom complex, understand escalation dominance. The American capacity to escalate dwarfs Iran’s. The US can extirpate Iran, or its leadership, or its military capability, or any inconvenient individual. The American potential for escalation dominance in beyond question.

The mullahs of course knew this, but clearly doubted the American will to escalate in a way that seriously threatened them. Hence Suleimani’s hubristic existence up to the moment of his vaporization.

The mullah’s palpable shock demonstrates that they now understand Trump’s will is far different from his predecessors, or that of the foreign policy establishment in the US.

Deterrence requires a combination the capability to destroy and the will to use it. The capability has always been there. The Iranians now know that they have to dramatically alter their assessment of the will.

Given that, don’t be surprised if the hand wringers are wrong. Again.

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November 28, 2019

America is Exceptional, and Its Foreign Policy Failures Stem From Americans’ Failure to Acknowledge That Fact

Filed under: Civil War,History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 1:47 pm

When reading Allen Guelzo’s review of Elizabeth Varon’s narrative history of the Civil War, Armies of Deliverance, this jumped out at me:

What will redeem even this quibbling is the significance of the basic trope around which Varon builds her narrative. It is Varon’s fundamental belief that Northerners entered into—and stayed in—the Civil War out of the conviction that they were rescuing the deluded Southern white masses from the tyranny of Southern slaveholders. Northerners saw the Confederacy as a vast kidnapping by these elites, who had turned the slaveholding states into a closed economic system approximating what Karl Marx called “feudal socialism.”
By overthrowing this slaveholder coup d’etat, and by destroying the yoke of slavery for both white and black, the way would be opened to redeem the South, through opening its doors to “free labor”—to open markets, competitive wage contracts and, in a word, capitalism. “What a commercial world this State of Virginia should be,” marveled a Union army surgeon in 1862. With the overthrow of the slave oligarchs, insisted Henry Ward Beecher, “Schools will multiply. Books and papers will spread. Churches will bless every hamlet.”
Confidence that Northern victory would bring this deliverance in its train motivated the constant refrain in Northern writing that the war was aimed only at the oligarchs, and that poor whites and freed slaves would flock eagerly to the banner of Unionism. Hence the joyful predictions that, sooner or later, a latent Southern Unionism would rise from its repressed well; hence, also, Lincoln’s attempt to negotiate a generous amnesty and Reconstruction policy. Varon acknowledges that other historians have recognized the attraction of “the deluded-masses theory,” but virtually all of them limit its influence to the early months of the war, before the stiffening of Southern resistance led Northerners to embrace instead a “hard war” of conquest and subjugation. Varon sees no such evaporation. To the contrary, she demonstrates the “deliverance” idea’s persistence, marshalling evidence from Edward Everett’s 1863 Gettysburg oration (the “other” Gettysburg address) to soldier diaries to newspaper pronouncements—all the way to Lincoln’s last cabinet meeting on April 14, 1865.
The painful irony of this conviction was that Southerners—and not just the oligarchs—simply did not share it. They repudiated the accusation of oligarchy and instead stressed Southern white solidarity, a solidarity fired by the sufferings they endured during the war. The end of the conflict left Southern whites militarily defeated, but even more defiant in their loss—and more contemptuous of Yankee missionary efforts to convert them to free labor—than they had been in 1861. And from this refusal springs the bitter fruit of Reconstruction.

During the nadir of the American experience in Iraq, I often drew parallels with Reconstruction. One major parallel was that utter military defeat was a necessary, but by no means sufficient, condition to bring a vanquished region to heel. Conquering a populace is much harder than defeating armies.

The other major parallel is related to Varon’s interpretation of Northern thinking about the implications of victory. Per Varon, Northerners believed they were liberating oppressed masses from a small ruling class, and that the subjugation of that class would make the oppressed Southerners, black and white alike, into stereotypical Yankees who would adopt Yankee institutions and ways. In 2003, Americans (especially the neoconservatives) believed that the US was liberating oppressed Iraqis from a small (Sunni) ruling class, and that once liberated, (mainly Shia) Iraqis would adopt American (Western) values and institutions, and we could ride off into the sunset, like the Lone Ranger.

The happy visions of 1865 Northerners and 2003 Americans soon crashed into the reality that white Southerners and Iraqis didn’t want to become Yankees. The underlying reality here is that culture goes deep, culture is extremely particularist, and most of the world doesn’t share universalist American (Yankee) pretensions. Indeed, Civil War and Reconstruction demonstrate that at one time many Americans didn’t share such universalist pretensions.

If you look at many of the myriad debacles of what passes for American statecraft (e.g., the Wilsonian failure post-1918, Vietnam), they can be traced to a similar source: the American failure to understand the immense power of civilizational and cultural identity, and the concomitant belief that if given the chance–if “liberated”–everyone everywhere would become Americans.

Ironically, these beliefs have proved utterly resistant to repeated and decisive empirical refutation. Indeed, the near hysterical (well, maybe not so near) reaction to Trump in particular, and various strains of “nationalism” generally, among the establishment/government class demonstrates that they are still in thrall to such beliefs.

The ongoing impeachment farce is the most pathetic manifestation of this. Trump’s instinctual distrust of a corrupt and dysfunctional Ukraine clashes with the most deeply held convictions of The Interagency, AKA, the establishment Blob, which still pursues the chimeras that enticed Civil War-era Yankees and Iraq War-era policy elites. This time it will work! Trust us on this! Pay no attention to the sad litany of failures! We can make Sovoks into Yankees!

In a weird way, this is why I am an American exceptionalist, in the literal meaning of that term. I believe that the United States is largely an exception that proves the rule. America’s repeated attempts to make its very historically contingent institutions, culture, and development the universal rule are doomed to failure because they founder on the very historically contingent institutions, cultures, and developments of those it presumes to change.

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November 23, 2019

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, Right Vova?

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 6:15 pm

At a ceremony where he gave awards to scientists fried by the explosion of a Skyfall missile to the wives of the deceased, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “We will certainly be perfecting this weapon regardless of anything.”

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!

“Regardless of anything.” Rather scary thought, considering what has already happened.

What is particularly scary is not the fact that so far, the weapon has been far from perfect–apparently failing every test. No, what is scary is the fact that if the weapon is perfected, it is certifiably insane.

But Vova evidently puts great stock in it. It will ensure Russian “sovereignty and security for decades ahead,” he says.

And oh yeah: “Simply possessing these unique technologies is the most important, solid guarantee of peace on the planet.”

World peace. Sounds like Vladimir is practicing for the Miss Universe contest. Can’t wait for the swimsuit competition.

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November 7, 2019

Like I Said: It’s the Chase that Matters

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 3:45 pm

In my post on the reasons to target terrorist leaders like al-Baghdadi, I said it wasn’t the killing, it was the chase. A leadership focused on avoiding catching a JDAM or taking a 556 to the noggin isn’t able to take the initiative. I specifically mentioned paranoia, fear of traitors, stress, and the disruptions of communications from constant moves and the need to reduce the possibility of detection.

An AP story from yesterday says, yeah, all that happened:

In his last months on the run, Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was agitated, fearful of traitors, sometimes disguised as a shepherd, sometimes hiding underground, always dependent on a shrinking circle of confidants.

Associates paint a picture of a man obsessed with his security and well-being and trying to find safety in towns and deserts in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border as the extremists’ domains crumbled. In the end, the brutal leader once hailed as “caliph” left former IS areas completely, slipping into hostile territory in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province run by the radical group’s al-Qaida-linked rivals. There, he blew himself up during an Oct. 26 raid by U.S. special forces on his heavily fortified safe house.

. . . .

During that time, al-Baghdadi was a “nervous wreck,” pacing up and down and complaining of treason and infiltrations among his “walis,” or governors of the group’s self-declared provinces, his brother-in-law, Mohamad Ali Sajit, said in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV aired last week.
“This is all treason,” Sajit recalled al-Baghdadi shouting.

. . . .

At times, al-Baghdadi was disguised as a shepherd, he said. When al-Baghdadi’s security chief, Abu Sabah, got wind of a possible raid on the desert Syrian-Iraqi border area where they were hiding they took down their tents and hid al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajer inside a pit covered with dirt, Sajit said. They let sheep roam around on top of the pit to further disguise it. Once the threat of the raid was over, they returned and put the tents back up, he said.
Al-Baghdadi moved with a circle of five to seven people, including al-Muhajer, al-Zubaie and Abu Sabah; and the group’s former governor for Iraq, known as Tayseer or Abu al-Hakim. Al-Muhajer was killed on the same day as al-Baghdadi, in a separate U.S.-led military operation, following a Syrian Kurdish tip, in Jarablus, also in northwestern Syria; al-Zubaie was killed in a raid in March. On Monday, Turkish officials said they arrested al-Baghdadi’s older sister in northwestern Syria’s Azaz region. All are areas outside of government control.

Now Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi is in the cross hairs. Enjoy, dude!

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November 2, 2019

Ain’t No Pay Grade High Enough

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:37 pm

In a post last week, I wrote that LTC Alexander Vindman arrogated authority beyond his pay grade. I was wrong, to the extent that statement implied that there is a pay grade in the uniformed military that does have the authority that Vindman claimed for himself. There isn’t.

Here’s the Washington Post’s description of Vindman’s thinking and motivation: “he was deeply troubled by what he interpreted as an attempt by the president to subvert U.S. foreign policy.”

Hello! U.S. foreign policy is always set by the president. This is a Constitutional fact and a practical reality. As of 20 January, 2017, U.S. foreign policy has been set–to the accompaniment of wails, rending of garments, and gnashing teeth–by President Donald Trump. Full stop.

It is the job of everyone in the U.S. military, from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to some recruit getting screamed at in boot camp (if they do still scream at them) to implement that policy. It is also their job not to substitute their own view of what that policy should be, and act contrary to the policies of the lawful Commander-in-Chief.

Vindman’s view is an oxymoron. It is self-contradictory. The president cannot subvert what he sets. QED.

It is also incredibly dangerous to the military as an institution, and to the stability of the United States. The US military has been almost unparalleled in subordination to civilian authority. Having O-5s (or even retired O-9s, like McRaven) openly challenge that is the road to perdition. (I note that most coups are led by field and company grade officers, for a variety of reasons. Vindman’s middling rank is actually makes his actions more of a concern.)

Maintaining this subordination is of far greater importance than any passing policy matter, let alone Ukraine, a Sovok basketcase. (I am reminded of the line from A Man For All Seasons:  “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world [Matt. 16:26]. But for Wales?” (Substitute “but for Ukraine?” and the meaning remains the same.)

Now we hear that Vindman is whining that he was told not to discuss the phone call with anyone. Well, obviously for good reason, given his evident agenda, not that it made any difference.

Was this a direct order? Is there even a colorable case that it was an unlawful order? If it was lawful, he acted in disobedience of that order.

Further, if the phone call was classified–as it apparently was, which is another gripe of Schiff and his fellow grifters–to discuss it with anyone without a need to know would also be a violation of the UCMJ.

And what about the guy with whom it appears that Vindman did discuss the call, in violation of his duties? It is evidently Eric Ciaramella. Does he look like the soyboy from central casting, or what? Who elected him to anything?

Just where the hell do these people get off?

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Nobody Ever Went Broke Underestimating the Intelligence and Integrity of the American Political Class

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 5:50 pm

The conventional wisdom spouted by the political class in the US is almost always wrong, and often laughably so. The only question on any particular issue is the exact mixture of stupidity, ignorance, and manipulative malignity behind the conventional wisdom on that subject.

The political class’s narrative regarding the Kurds in Syria is a perfect example. According to this narrative, the Kurds are a veritable band of Gunga Dins, selflessly fighting alongside the United States in its war against ISIS. Hence, we owe them. We owe them so much, in fact, that we should risk conflict with Turkey and support their dream of an independent Kurdistan.

As I’ve argued several times, however, this is close to an inversion of reality. The Kurds were fighting ISIS out of necessity because ISIS wanted to destroy them, and American intervention on behalf of the Kurds saved them from mass slaughter, even though this was not a necessity for the US. This fascinating account of a raid in which a Delta Force soldier was killed provides a great illustration of just who was sacrificing for whom:

A number of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) sources with intimate knowledge of the operation spoke to SOFREP about that fateful night.  What they described is a story of leadership and bravery under fire.
Intelligence indicated that the prisoners were facing imminent execution after freshly dug mass graves were spotted in the compound’s perimeter.  Discovering this, the Kurds were adamant to go in even without American forces (the U.S. didn’t have a real stake in assaulting the compound). They thus took the mission lead. The plan that the Kurds came up with, however, was below average and would have resulted in a catastrophe if it hadn’t been for the tactful recommendations of their Delta partners.
The Unit agreed to accompany the Kurd assault force, and the 160
th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR) chipped in the air transport. But once on target, the Delta operators were supposed to stay back and let the Kurds breach and clear the target. The compound was surrounded by a wall. Behind the wall, there were a number of buildings. One of those buildings contained the hostages.
Once on target, the assault force was divided in to two parts: The Kurds took the lead and assaulted the compound while the Delta operators stayed behind and provided support. The Kurds breached the wall and flooded into the compound. Identifying the correct building, they ran toward it and breached it. At that moment, however, they began receiving accurate fire from the other structures, which were occupied by ISIS fighters. The Kurds began suffering casualties, and the attack lost momentum at the most critical point.
The Delta operators could see and hear everything from their vantage point. And they understood that if they didn’t do something then the Kurdish assault would turn in to a bloodbath.  The imposing figure of MSG Wheeler was in the front of the Delta group. He turned around, locked eyes with the nearest operator, and shouted: “On me!”
These were his last words.
The two shooters run through the wall, into the compound, and past the pinned down Kurds. MSG Wheeler led the way into the target building. As he stormed into the breach, a random bullet went through his throat. He died almost instantaneously. His fellow operator neutralized the enemy fighters in the room. The rest of the Delta shooters came in and cleared the rest of the building.
This would have been a disaster hadn’t Wheels been there,” said one Delta operator. [Emphasis added.]

And that is the reality of the Kurdish-American relationship. The Kurds needed to assault a compound to save Kurds. It wasn’t in the direct interest of the US to participate in the assault, but they did, selflessly assisting an ally. When the Kurds ran into a buzzsaw, a few brave American GIs ran into it with them, snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, and saved dozens of Kurdish lives.

Who? Whom? Read that story, and you get an idea of how the political class in the US as the answers to those questions backwards.

Maybe the inversion is the result of mere ignorance or stupidity. But read this piece and one gets the sense that it’s more malign than that. The gravamen of the article is that elements within the State Department, the CIA, and the military had a far bigger agenda in Syria than defeating ISIS. These elements were actually scheming to affect the broader outcome of the Syrian war, presumably desiring to overthrow the Assad regime.

And replace it with what, pray tell? What has happened in the last 20 years that could lead any sentient being to conclude that the outcome would be any better in Syria than in Libya or Yemen or Iraq? (Maybe I should go back 30, and add Somalia to the list.) The probability of “success”?–close to zero. And what would “success” even look like? A failed state with warring factions like Libya or Yemen or Somalia? A state in the hands of Islamist fanatics? As horrible as Assad is, it is necessary to compare him to the real-world alternatives, which include exactly zero good outcomes. In the battle of the bads, Assad may well be the least bad. And the State Department, CIA and Pentagon types who claim otherwise have no record that they can point to to argue otherwise. Theirs is a sorry litany of failure.

Viewed from this perspective, the attention being lavished on the Kurds appears manipulative in the extreme, and the tears being shed for them of the crocodile variety. The permanent bureaucracy wants to use the Kurds as a pawn in their wider–and delusional–game. They wanted to use them in Syria to achieve their broader aims. They are using them now to attack a president who is thwarting their attempt to achieve these broader aims.

Trump has upset their game–although he continues to vacillate after making categorical declarations, meaning that he has not escaped the pull of the blob altogether–and hence the players need to turn on him. Turning the Kurds into betrayed selfless allies, rather than a people that survives in Syria by the grace of the United States (and its Sergeant Wheelers and JDAMs), is merely part of the scheme.

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October 28, 2019

Trump Releases the Dogs of War (Literally!) Against Al Baghdadi, and the Media Has a Stroke

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 2:22 pm

Yesterday President Trump announced that ISIS leader Bakr al Baghdadi had blown (himself) up real good. His death was the culmination of a Delta Force raid, and al Baghdadi self-detonated when he was cornered by running American dogs. No, not “American running dogs” in the way that old Chicom and Nork propaganda used the term, but actual German shepherds. Trump (and Delta) literally released the hounds, and let slip the dogs of war on Baghdadi.

Beyond the satisfaction of a seeing a bad man come to a bad end, what is the benefit of such actions? Are they worth the risks they entail?

On one level, this just presents a promotion opportunity with the ISIS organization. (Although the heir apparent, ISIS propaganda chief–Baghdadi Bob?–also apparently met his doom yesterday.) If the dispatched leader is some sort of exceptional genius, his demise may degrade the organization as he would replaced by someone less capable. But you never know . . . maybe this could result in the terrorist equivalent of Lou Gehrig replacing Wally Pipp.

At a more substantive level, the role of such decapitation strikes is not so much the killing itself, or the capability of the target, but the chase. Threatening the leadership of a terrorist organization can deprive it of the initiative, and creates Clauswitzian frictions that reduce its lethality. The leadership spends disproportionate time and resources playing defense instead of playing offense. It has to utilize less effective means of communication, command, and control to avoid being detected. The constant threat of betrayal ramps paranoia to 11, which also limits communication, and can lead to paralyzing internal strife. All of these things degrade operational effectiveness.

In order for these things to happen, the terrorists’ opponents must make the threat credible. This requires them to devote the resources necessary to track down the leadership, and to execute strikes with sufficient frequency pour encourager les autres.

Since hardcore types like ISIS are unlikely to give up altogether, one cannot execute a raid like this and ride off into the sunset. The Lone Ranger’s job is never done here. It must be repeated over and over in order to keep the threat real, and thereby impair the effectiveness of its terrorist opponent.

Not willing to give Trump a single accolade, the media has utterly beclowned itself in the aftermath. I’m sure you’re surprised, right?

The first two clowns out of the car were the WaPo and Bloomberg, whose obituaries of Baghdadi portrayed him as an “austere cleric,” and student and teacher of the Koran.

Careful there folks, because pushing that line demolishes another one of your narratives: a clear implication is that deep study of the Koran encourages sectarian mass murder.

These dead-on-arrival obituaries unleashed a torrent of hilarity on Twitter, with mock obituary headlines containing benign descriptions of historical monsters from Hitler to Jeffrey Dahmer.

Most of the post-‘splosion coverage was a carnival of mass murder of straw men. A repeated theme has been that Baghdadi’s death will not be the end of ISIS, let alone terrorism.

Of course not.

Most “analysts” at best gave grudging compliments to Trump, but then unleashed a barrage of cavils and caveats. I have a dare for the media: write a column about the raid, and Trump’s role in it, without using the word “but.” Go ahead. I dare you.

And those who chided the media for not giving Trump even one day of credit–like lefty Nate Silver–were assailed relentlessly for their heresy. Die, Deviationist! Die!

Then there are jewels like this:

ISIS could attack the US as revenge for Baghdadi’s death, security experts say

Security analysts are idiots, people with actual brains say. We went after ISIS and Baghdadi because they were already attacking us. This cause and effect thing is apparently quite confusing to some people.

The Derp State weighed in too. A former ambassador to Qatar hacked up this hairball:

Yeah. As if ISIS people weren’t already panting to kill Americans. A far more important message in Trump’s very Jacksonian statement was that we will hunt you down–literally with haram dogs–in whatever hole you crawl into. Attempting to instill terror into terrorists is far more important than any infinitesimal increment to their desire to kill Americans.

Bloomberg panted to give credit to some mysterious international coalition:

What military coalition would that be? The early airstrikes on ISIS included a few UAE and Jordanian planes (one of which was shot down, resulting in the gruesome immolation of the pilot). The Europeans contributed their usual window dressing. But this was a US-Kurdish (and Iraqi) show.

Speaking of the Kurds, they provided vital intelligence that contributed to tracking down Baghdadi, and did so after Trump announced that the US would not oppose the Turkish border clearing operation.

This reinforces a point I made in an earlier post. The Kurds have a very strong incentive to fight ISIS, because ISIS wants to slaughter them. They aren’t so stupid as to withhold cooperation with the US in the fight against ISIS, because they would be cutting their own throats–literally. An autonomous zone in Syria and cooperating in fighting ISIS are not linked, at least not as inextricably as the Dunning-Kruger commentariat apparently thinks.

In sum, killing Baghdadi is a good thing, even though it is only another battle in a long war against Islamic terrorism. It has also given another demonstration of the utter stupidity and ill-will of America’s alleged elite, which has shown yet again that it is mean spirited, obsessed with Trump, and incapable of rising above banalities and trite analyses.

The media dogs bark, but the Trump caravan moves on. American dogs of war barked, and an evil man moved on to hell.

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