Monday, April 27, 2009

Oil Spots in Afghanistan

Just finished this nice little article over on the Small Wars Journal (PDF). Nothing there which is especially new to any who are conversant in COIN theory. But it does present in promisingly fine-grained operational detail some of the ways in which that theory may be applied in the 'Stan.

I do so love reading about this COIN stuff; I'm routinely, forehead-smackingly floored by just how smart it is, how it balances force with (admittedly utilitarian) philanthropy, routing the fruits of each to where they will do the most good. It is an imperfect learning process which balances risk with benefit, and often falls short in its execution. But I see this as a feature, not a bug (I am quite fond of that phrase). When you link the rising and falling of your fortunes with the people you seek to woo and win, your intentions can become plain in the ways in which you recover from those inevitable errors. The first (or at least the third) time coalition forces suffer casualties and do not respond with a hail of angry, ill-aimed bullets, some will see exploitable weakness, while others will see that-much-more plausible partners in deals they just might honor...And we'll get better at telling the differences between these groups.

Pakistan is one rabid rhinoceros of a wild card in all this, of course. But one of the benefits of successful COIN operations is the insulation of a local population from the influence of external actors who have not shown themselves to be as capable as agents of desirable change. This a necessary, though most assuredly not a sufficient condition for success in the AO. But applying pressure on the assorted avatars of the Taliban on both sides of the Af-Pak "border" by mounting credible competition for the hearts and minds (and bellies and skins) of susceptible populations cannot help but raise the temperature of the situation to a more malleable condition.

At that point, we best aim our hammers really freakin' true.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Verry Niiice.......NOT!


I finally had an epiphany when Obama, reacting to the public outcry on runaway spending, ordered that $100 million in cuts be made from the budget. The $4 trillion budget. With a projected deficit of $1.8 trillion. That’s like suddenly gaining a thousand pounds and trying to offset the weight by trimming one fingernail. If Obama’s people can find $100 million to cut every year, they’ll have the budget balanced in the year 20,009 AD, by which time the human race will probably have flown to distant galaxies in an attempt to escape the massive debt that has consumed their home planet.

So why would Obama propose something so pathetically silly? I haven’t heard anyone defend this one, but the usual explanation that he’s politically tone deaf doesn’t quite cover it. This is beyond tone deaf. There is, in fact, only one rational explanation for it: it’s a joke.

There’s a conspiracy theory out there that because Obama hasn’t released his real birth certificate, that proves he isn’t a natural citizen and is thus not eligible to be president. I was dismissive of that, but now I think it’s true. If we found his real birth certificate, my guess is that it would say that he was born in England and that his name is Sacha Baron Cohen.

That’s right; we elected Borat president.

Friday, April 24, 2009

IDF Animation Shows Hamas Tactics

Via Powerline comes this very effective vid released by the IDF, which visually summarizes the results of their investigations of "Operation Cast Lead" in Gaza earlier this year. Nothing especially new to those who have even a passing familiarity with Hamas' penchant for placing their civilian populations in the path of any reprisals for their casual atrocities. Still, the vid does a good job of depicting the chillingly systematic calculations whereby Hamas uses the deaths of innocents to deflect their own guilt. Seen in their broader context, it is difficult to conceive of those who engage in these tactics as anything even remotely resembling a legitimate authority or a realistic "partner in peace."

Think about this the next time the IDF is blamed for an exploding apartment complex or Mosque, or that Israeli Intransigence is blamed for the lack of progress toward the eternally-receding "Two State Solution."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

To Go, Boldly

There. I've dispensed with that niggling split infinitive. Kirk, I could understand, but Picard? quel horreur.

A bit of needlessly pedantic revisionist copy editing, and just the sort of error which the upcoming JJ Abrams "Star Trek" reboot is showing great promise of avoiding. Literally (and I do mean that literally) every review I have read to date has filled me with anticipation of what looks to be a rousing and intelligently crafted reimagining of the Star Trek universe. And this is not a thing I am predisposed to take lightly.

When I was a kid (let' say between the ages of 6 and 8), I remember being an avid fan of "Lost In Space," "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," and any hackneyed pastiche which partook even peripherally of the SF genre. Drank it up like it was The Antidote.

But I avoided Star Trek. At least till I was 10 or so, I simply felt as though it was beyond me. I recall feeling as though the stories it told were above my intellectual pay grade and, as consciously as one does anything at that age, I never did more than check in on it from time to time. I was a little intimidated. I was probably just about 10 when I read one of James Blish's Trek anthologies ("Star Trek 4," in point of fact), and finally got it. After that, I never missed a syndicated episode on New York's WPIX, channel 11.

Star Trek was a formative element in my development as a human being. The Enterprise as an interstellar allegory for the just man (and the just State), balancing intellect, empathy, and will, attacking intellectual problems with eyes and minds and hearts (and, if necessary, gun ports) open has been one of the guiding archetypes in my pervasive construal of how I would choose (or at least aspire) to move through the world.

Any attempt, then, to go back and edit the basic code of the construct has a steep hill to climb before I buy into it. (c'mon, count the metaphors)

All accounts indicate that Abrams may have found The Equation. This film has been described as embodying real reverence for the spirit (and many of the details) of the original, while still finding a way to justify the juxtapositions of the familiar with the subtly (or blatantly) divergent aspects of what I am comfortable treating as an alternate universe. As a lifelong SF junkie, I can roll with the alternate universe thing, no problem. What amazes me about this is the degree to which Abrams and his team have finessed the Many Worlds device in such a way that I might just be able to let myself be surprised by a new set of stories, without having to check all that is best about Trek at the door. If they really pull this off, it will be one for the history books.

And I've come at least this far since breaking the double digits in laps round the Sun: I'll be there on opening night (midnight, if possible).

Starfleet Dress uniform optional, of course.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Gen. Hayden on Declassifying "Torture Memos" (UPDATED)

This past week-end, former CIA Director General Michael Hayden appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. It was 15 minutes of pure gold, in which he laid out most eloquently the multitude of reasons why the Obama Administration's decision to release its so-called "torture memos" was such a blindingly bad idea. Opposed by current CIA Director Panetta, as well as four of his predecessors, this release of operational details concerning past and potential methods of intelligence gathering has given a tremendous gift to the enemies of this Nation, and has unquestionably made us less safe.

The President is the ultimate arbiter of classification, as Gen. Hayden points out, so there was nothing done here which exceeds Presidential authority. It is the judgment of this particular POTUS which has been called into serious question. In pandering to the ACLU and to international critics, Obama has committed a grievous blow to the spirit of his responsibilities as Commander In Chief during an on-going war. He has sacrificed a measure of our security for the sake of some chimera of goodwill, whose fruits it is difficult to imagine being worth the potential cost.

It was a foolish and reckless move, and I hope most fervently that we manage to dodge the bullets which it invites.

UPDATE: Here's Rich Lowry from NRO, bringing this matter of torture into much-needed perspective:
Rightly considered, the memos should be a source of pride. They represent a nation of laws struggling to defend itself against a savage, lawless enemy while adhering to its legal commitments and norms. Most societies throughout human history wouldn’t have bothered.

UPDATE 2: And for those in the "'torture' doesn't work anyway" camp, here's Marc Thiessen in the WaPo.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Blood In The Water

I've been thinking quite a bit about pirates lately. Mainly, I've been hoping that we've not come to a time in which that statement will no longer be funny (AAaarrrr).

First things first. President Obama deserves a definite "attaboy" for this one. End to end, the President appears to me to have handled it spot-on right. He authorized force, but did not appear to try and micro manage on an operational level. Also, he did so on the D-L, and so refrained from complicating the operation by giving it too much focus from the Head of State/Government (drawing derision from some on the Right for focusing on domestic issues, and so appearing to denigrate the seriousness of the unfolding situation). He has also said many of the right things about how the US plans to treat piracy in the days to come.

It's this last part which is so very very crucial, though. As important as it was to treat the Maersk Alabama incident with due seriousness and strength, it is arguably at least as much so to stand strong against piracy at large. These attacks on the lawful conduct of trade on the high seas signify an efflorescence of anarchy which simply cannot be tolerated. It is an assault on the fabric of Civilization itself. I know: sounds a little histrionic. After all, what's a few fire ants to a wildebeast?

Part of why pirates are funny today is that they are so quaint and dated. There's a reason for that. The laws on what do do with pirates in the 18th and 19th centuries made for a lot of stretched necks over those peg legs. Faced with all those laws and guns and ropes, would-be pirates judged it prudent to look to other career options. So, quaint.

Now, what happens when a growing group of people discover that the ropes are gone, and the guns are muzzled under labyrinthine layers of legalisms? What happens when they start making more money on one run than their families had made in many combined generations before them? Suddenly, not so quaint.

People will tend to do what they can get away with, if it serves their ends as they define them. Part of what civilization does is to constrain the "what they can get away with" part. In return, it extends the range of defined ends which people may act to serve. On the whole, folks tend to do pretty well out of the bargain. But successful populations can tend to attract predators. At best, they develop defenses which keep the wolves at bay. At worst...well, pass the horseradish, Elaine.

Quoth Andrew McCarthy:
“Civilized” is a much-misunderstood word, thanks to the “rule of law” crowd that is making our planet an increasingly dangerous place. Civilization is not an evolution of mankind but the imposition of human good on human evil. It is not a historical inevitability. It is a battle that has to be fought every day, because evil doesn’t recede willingly before the wheels of progress.

There is nothing less civilized than rewarding evil and thus guaranteeing more of it. High-minded as it is commonly made to sound, it is not civilized to appease evil, to treat it with “dignity and respect,” to rationalize its root causes, to equivocate about whether evil really is evil, and, when all else fails, to ignore it — to purge the very mention of its name — in the vain hope that it will just go away. Evil doesn’t do nuance. It finds you, it tests you, and you either fight it or you’re part of the problem.
Like the Jihadis or the narco-terrorist, or the garden-variety street sociopaths, Pirates feast on the neglected flanks of the the civilizational beastie. They use its unwieldy bulk to their advantage through brutality and guile. And to the extent to which they perceive vulnerability, they concentrate their efforts with terrifying intensity. I am more than passing concerned that the legal niceties which can make Western Civilization so cushy may also be encouraging the re-emergence of these "atavistic barbarisms." When a group of dinghy-borne yahoos with AK-47s, RPGs, and handguns can command a $20m ransom (which they then split with complicit officials of a rubble-state like Somalia), and face no penalty greater than a jail cell which is better than their homes, and the real prospect of returning to those homes ere long, it's fair to say that their inhibitions will not win the day.

Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging, wrote Samuel Johnson. Perhaps it is time to revisit this concept. Operating in international waters, and so perceiving and exploiting great huge chasms in the carapace of law enforcement, these marauding parasites are proving all-too adroit in using the timidity and inertia of our civilized societies to their advantage. They are testing the will of those societies, and that will must not be found wanting. These pirates must be interdicted in the act, very harshly punished for the perpetration, and find no safe harbor for the planning and exploitation of their rapine escapades.

We may be able to buy time by attempting to circumvent the corridors which these pirates patrol (though the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean routes are crucial and devilishly difficult [impossible?] to by-pass). But ceding territory (and I'm not just talking about geography here) to opportunistic predators is little more than an invitation for them to take more ground. And they know it.

Whether it is a reluctance to use military force, an aversion to the idea of armed and trained merchant crews, or a porous babble of maritime statutes, we are in danger of setting some very perilous precedents here. If we do not push back against these eruptions of chaos, we simply enrich the medium in which they proliferate. President Obama has been speaking some of the words, and taking some of the actions which indicate that he is aware of the deep connection of this issue and the wider counterinsurgency which we currently wage. I will continue to watch very carefully the ways in which this is handled in the days and months to come.

Let's hope we have more than a bit of the captain in us.

Friday, April 10, 2009


I know it's lazy to just piggy-back on someone else's blog post, but I'm leaving for NYC in scant minutes, to re-unite with a host of old friends (including a certain "Libertarian Weirdo" [his words] regular readers may know).

Ed Morrissey over at Hot Air has a thing or two to say about the Obama Administration's belated coming-to-jebus moment when it comes to the importance of protecting secret information for the sake of protecting the country. Now, to be clear, I think they are coming to some smart conclusions which will keep us safer. The kind of "transparency" which the Obama campaign bleated so relentlessly about would lay bare some very sensitive information which could be utilized by our enemies for hurting us more effectively. It is a relief to see that, given access to the sort of classified information to which Presidents are privy, Obama is arriving at the same sensible conclusions for which his predecessor took so much heat.

As usual, it is the sheer hypocrisy of this Administration which irritates me mightily, along with the free pass which he still gets from the media (answer true, Liberal readers: is this the first you've heard of this?).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Totten in Sadr City

Short and linky tonight. Just read this excellent article over at Michael Totten's site about the history and current status of the infamous Shiite slum in Northeastern Baghdad. It is yet another in a swiftly-growing list of stories which highlight the subtle intelligence (in both senses) utilized by the US military in its COIN operations, as well as the breadth and depth of the positive changes taking place in Iraqi society as a result.

The Mahdi Army and its Iranian Quds Force enablers are going to have a hard time of it in their old stomping grounds, by all appearances. For one thing, it is increasingly clear that the valor and professionalism of the US military has rubbed off on their Iraqi proteges. For another, the citizenry of Sadr City and environs are seeing for themselves how their lives have improved under American and Iraqi protection. This is not a thing easily forgotten.

A nice tonic to end the day. If you agree, do consider dropping a little something in Michael's tip jar (scroll to bottom of post); his caliber of journalism is a lamentably rare thing these days, and it's impossible to encompass an environment as complex as Iraq without people telling these stories.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Exam Week (UPDATED)

And the Global Tests keep on coming.

In addition to the Iranian bluster, the North Koreans' big splashes, Russia's rearmament plans, and a host of others, we can now add this to the growing pile of gauntlets at President Obama's feet. The fact that these Somali pirates have now seized an American-flagged merchant vessel could be a game-changer in the US' response to these on-going challenges to the lawful conduct of trade on the high seas. It could create just the opportunity to deploy the considerable resources of the US' intelligence-gathering and other tactical capabilities to a degree which might not have been justified when it was other nations' ships which were getting jacked (though I personally feel that such justification has existed all along, since it is in the US' interests to protect trade, even if it is not its own vessels which are involved...yes, Mike, I know you don't agree with this!).

The way to pass this test is to assemble a Delta or DEVGRU team, gather real-time intel about the status of the vessel and its assailants and captives, and strike, hard and fast, while the iron is hot. Ideally, this would be followed by gathering and swiftly acting on the products of interrogation of any pirates who survive the engagement, and striking at the base from which these brigands operate. Longer term, dummy merchant vessels (or real merchants, with SF operators on board) should randomly ply these waterways, with satellite and (armed) UAV support. That would put a badly-needed caution to these miscreants, and show the world that the USN is anything but a paper boat.

I await any evidence that the current Administration possesses the vertebrae for this.

Maybe Obama will manage to Sparknote this one in time to seem less of a doormat (you know, those things on which people wipe their shoes...which is a damn sight worse than having them thrown at you).

UPDATE: Well, that was quick! Looks like the military didn't need to get involved in this one at all. Instead, it appears that a bold and alert crew saw and seized an opportunity to re-take their vessel. If indeed one of these pirates is in custody, then this was a very bad day for their ilk (I expect counterinterrogation training is not high on the list of skill sets for these jagoffs).

Bravo to the valiant crew of the Maersk Alabama!

UPDATE 2: This article from the CSM nicely lays out the issues and the stakes with regard to this incident. Meanwhile, my thoughts go out for the speedy return of the good captain.

Iraqi Air Force Looks to Add Talons

Via Strategy Page comes this bit of news on the development of the Iraqi military. Specifically, the Iraqi Air Force (IAF) is looking to add a squadron of American F-16s to their fledgling foray into potential battlespaces along the Z-axis:
The Iraqi Air Force has convinced the government to spend $1.5 billion to buy a squadron of 18 F-16 jet fighters. The U.S. is inclined to cooperate, and sell Iraq the 96 F-16s Iraqi Air Force wants to eventually purchase over the next decade.
As the article points out, the US has a fairly large number of F-16s available for export, a number which is apt to increase as the USAF fields new airframes (unless, of course, the Obama Administration continues to target air superiority as an expendable indulgence...). When you factor in the training and support infrastructure which would accompany these sales, it adds up to a pretty penny. In return, the Iraqis would go a long way toward closing one of the main gaps (another being logistics) in their military's ability to function completely independently of Coalition forces.

This story strikes me as a promising sign of the increasing benefits which stand to follow from the economic and political development of the nation of Iraq as a partner in the critical region of the Middle East. The sale of arms to a government which uses them responsibly (the jury for which, I'll grant, is settling in for long deliberations...) solidifies that partnership, and portends other favorable trade arrangements (and no, I'm not just talking about oil). I am seeing little cause to dampen my decreasingly guarded (but never unexamined) optimism about the favorable trajectories (PDF) of the Iraqi State, society, and economy.

As Iraq becomes increasingly able to mind its own security (including patrolling its own airspace), using its own resources (or duly purchasing those of others), it inches ever further toward the full expression of its national sovereignty. While it will take a lot of very profitable trade to even begin to defray the raw costs of OIF for the US, it is gratifying to see what may be remembered as the beginnings of that long journey. A free and prosperous Iraq stands to offer much to the region and to the world, and many of those benefits are difficult to quantify in these early stages. It is certainly too early to tell whether Iraq will escape the trap so many of its oil-rich neighbors have fallen into, and will use its petro-lucre to diversify its economy and develop its human capital, rather than using it only to buy the expertise it fails to nurture at home.

I know: a long way to go from the proposed purchase of a few fighter jets. What can I say...I'm pretty tired (which is often accompanied by a tendency to free-associate), and still pleasantly burnt from a certain recent thread. Still, it perked me up a little.